It is that time of year when a bunch of skinny, obsessed men don lycra and cycle madly all over France for 21 days, in an attempt to be the one standing atop the podium in Paris, wearing the yellow jersey that signifies him as the winner of le Tour de France.
Or, in the post-Lance Armstrong era, it is now the time of the year when the world watches and has its suspicions as a bunch of skinny, obsessed freaks high on the latest performance-enhancing drugs spend 21 days parading round the back roads of France in the hope that they will (a) win le Tour de France and (b) not get caught after they win le Tour de France.
One of the great things about le Tour de France is that not only is it one of the most phenomenal sporting achievements on the planet, but it is also two races in one. On one hand there is the actual race and all the intrigue that goes with it: this year, with Bradley Wiggins out, is it Chris Froome's turn? Or will Alberto Contador rise like the phoenix from the ashes of shame to rightfully (this time) claim the title?
And then there is the race between the drug cheats and the testing authorities; which is just as enthralling (and possibly easier to understand) than the Machiavellian machinations of the actual cycling. Who will get caught and how? And who will ride like they are totally on drugs but still not get caught until, like, five years later when the testing procedures catch up and they are stripped of their title?
Every year it seems like the pharmacists and geneticists behind these cycle teams are racing the authorities to come up with new and intriguing ways to cheat so, with that in mind, here are some of the ones I think they should take a crack at - but only in the name of the glory of road-cycling, of course.
Testeserone is testosterone taken from the testicles of a bull then injected into the testicles of the rider. It is virtually undetectable except for a tendency for the rider to snort through the nose and to ride wildly at any other cyclists wearing red. Long-term use, however, leads to the rider growing horns, which is a bit of a giveaway and makes it difficult to wear a cycle helmet.
Nandortanczosterone, at the other end of the drug spectrum, is a muscle and body relaxant derived from a Jamaican herb. Although most definitely not a performance-enhancing drug, its post-ride stress-relief use has seen it banned on the grounds that it stays in the bloodstream for a long time and it is not a good look if the next morning the entire peloton decides to flag the hill climb in favour of pulling into the drive-through of le McDonald's for breakfast.
UBT is also out of Jamaica, but is a gene-doping process in which the DNA of Usain Bolt is spliced with the genetic material of a weedy road cyclist. It first came to the attention of the World Anti-Doping Agency when several Ukrainian cyclists started exhibiting physical features and attributes more in keeping with a 1.9m Jamaican sprinter than a 1.7m Ukrainian hill-climber. Further investigations by WADA undercover agents exposed a global smuggling ring dealing in stolen Usain Bolt hair and toenail clippings.
Adrenalmethamphetamine is adrenalin and crystal meth mixed with a time-released laxative and diuretic agents. It is undetectable, except during post-mortem. This is because it acts on the rider's metabolism for precisely the length of the stage, and then any remaining chemical residue is excreted from the system, along with everything else.
A typical sign of adrenalmethamphetamine use is that the rider sprints from the start line and then maintains that sprint for the following 200km before collapsing on the finish line in a puddle of his own body fluids. The support team waiting at the finish line with a bucket, mop and a defibrillator is a sign of team-sanctioned adrenalmethamphetamine abuse.
Zomatozol is the ultimate drug-cheat substance in that if a rider actually dies on le Tour, he can be injected with a substance that will not only revive him but it will turn him into a mindless cycling machine under the impression that if he gets to the finish line of the next stage first there will be a dish of cerveaux sautés (fried brains) waiting for him to eat. It is undetectable because any attempt by a WADA official to test for zomatozol inevitably leads to the official being dismembered and eaten by the angry (and famished) cyclist.
Le Tour de France: drama, scenery, sport, chemistry, intrigue and potential cannibalism: how can this not be the greatest sporting event of the year, if not ever?