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BIOLOGICAL PASSPORT LATEST: SPAIN 3 ITALY 2
Pat McQuaid was certainly right when he said he couldn’t imagine any of the riders who’d fallen foul of the biological passport riding the Tour de France.
After days of waiting and some astonishing rumours, the UCI has requested that the relevant national federations open anti-doping proceedings against five riders based on irregularities shown by the biological passport. None of them was likely to ride the Tour anyway.
Former world champion Igor Astarloa is the most famous. The Spaniard hasn’t been able to buy a result since that freak win in Hamilton, Canada, six years ago, and was sacked by Milram last May after registering irregular blood values. This season he’s been riding for the tiny Amica Chips team. Best result – 22nd in the GP Costa dell Etruschi.
Pietro Caucchioli is a 33-year-old Italian riding for Lampre. Caucchioli’s best result this year – ninth in the Giro del Trentino. This is yet more bad news for Lampre. They had two positive tests last year.
He spent four years riding for Crédit Agricole, a French team. Not looking so good for the argument that the French teams are cleaner and have tighter restrictions and better moral values. Their rider Dmitri Fofonov tested positive during last year’s Tour. Oh well, maybe the French riders on the French teams are on the level…
Riccardo Serrano. Rides for Fuji-Servetto, the team that rose from the ashes of Saunier Duval. Serrano is a 30-year-old Spaniard, and the only one of the five to have won a race this year – a stage of the Tour of Romandy in May. He’s currently riding the Tour of Switzerland and will be in for a nasty shock when he gets to the finish today.
Francesco De Bonis is a 27-year-old Italian. Rode for Gerolsteiner last year, the same team as Bernhard Kohl and Stefan Schumacher. He joined Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni this year, the same team as Davide Rebellin. De Bonis recently completed the Giro d’Italia.
Ruben Lobato Elvira hasn’t even got a team at the moment. The 30-year-old Spaniard was with Saunier Duval last year but failed to find a pro team this season.
Remember, folks. Only the small fry and the has-beens dope.
Except when they win a couple of Tour de France stages.
Or finish on the podium in Paris.
Or win the king of the mountains jersey.
But then the passport will catch them. No, really, it will.
The passport would have caught Riccardo Ricco and Bernhard Kohl eventually, and, y’know, any other riders achieving results by unfair means. Look, it helped catch Antonio Colom, didn’t it?
But there’s definitely nothing suspicious about any of the famous riders you’ve seen on the telly. They’re all squeaky clean.
It’s not that we want big names for the sake of it. Far from it. But nor do we want a cover-up, or bodies buried under the patio to be uncovered in July, or after they've left their mark on the Tour.
This batch of results gives the same impression that every single one of the UCI’s previous hard-line anti-doping initiatives has given – that the big names and the stars are playing by the rules, and that a tiny minority of losers are up to no good.
Considering the number of high-profile riders to have been caught out somehow or other in the past five or six years, is that really credible?
Has the culture changed? Are there some high-profile riders out there who have just breathed a massive sigh of relief? Or is there more to come, as the rumours continue to suggest?
In the meantime, it’s funny how the only people doping are the ones not winning, isn’t it.
BON CHANCE, LAURENT!
It was very saddening to hear that Laurent Fignon is fighting advanced intestinal cancer.
It was sadder still that among the first questions, were whether doping had anything to do with it. But it was another reminder that there was no golden age of innocence in cycling.
Fignon tested positive twice in his career and he told French television that he had been open with his doctors when it came to talking about his past. He said that as the substances he took were intramuscular, doctors thought it very unlikely doping had caused cancer.
When I first got into cycling, Fignon was one of the sport’s most exciting and engaging stars. I remember watching him fly up the mountains, swapping his the red, white and blue French champion’s jersey for the maillot jaune as he dominated the 1984 Tour.
I recall in 1986 when suffering badly with tendonitis and he threw a water bottle at a motorbike-mounted TV cameraman, who was hanging back to capture the moment Fignon abandoned the race.
People often forget that Fignon was the stage winner at La Plagne in 1987. His victory is perhaps over-looked because of Stephen Roche’s remarkable pursuit of Pedro Delgado, which was happening just behind.
And, of course, perhaps the defining moment of Fignon’s career was the 1989 Tour de France, which he lost on the Champs-Elysees by just eight seconds, in all probability because he didn’t wear an aero helmet or take a chance on using a pair of triathlon-style handlebars for the first time.
I can remember rooting for Greg LeMond all through that Tour, and then feeling terribly sad for Fignon as he slumped onto the cobbles in the Parisian boulevard, defeated in the cruellest way.
Fignon had ridden so aggressively in that race, attacking whenever he could, but he had not managed to put enough distance between himself and the American.
Age had mellowed Fignon’s irascible temperament somewhat when it Cycle Sport magazine challenged him to a game of golf in London a few years ago.
My colleague Edward Pickering had been trying to persuade Fignon to give an interview for months, but the answer was always the same. ‘Non’. In the end, Edward asked whether there were any circumstances under which he would talk. Golf, Fignon replied.
It turned out that he was an extremely keen player, and a member of the Golf Club de Paris, so we invited him to London and took to the fairways of Hampton Court Palace Golf Club in London. The only proviso was that we didn’t talk to him about cycling while we were on the course.
I prefer not to remember my second shot on the first hole – a stone cold shank that flew at right angles, never rising above head height, straight at Fignon. I just about had time to contemplate the horror of killing a two-time Tour de France champion when Fignon heard my yell of ‘FORE’ and ducked out of the way.
Quite what he made of his four-hour round with three English cycling journalists, I don’t know.
Fignon was a very handy player, certainly a low-handicaper, but he wasn’t immune to the odd temper tantrum.
After failing to get out of a bunker first time on one hole, he threw his clubs, swore, and marched sulkily up the fairway.
I managed to birdie one of the par five holes, while Fignon took a six. Rather unwisely I smiled and shrugged semi-apologetically in his direction. On the back nine, I had a disastrous time on the other par five, while Fignon got on the green in two and two-putted for a birdie.
“No birdie for you zis time, I see,” he said, grinning broadly.
Fantastic. I was being mocked for my lack of golfing prowess by Laurent Fignon.
To be fair to Fignon, he took it well when CW’s deputy editor, Simon Richardson – who arrived at the course claiming not to have swung a club for two years – beat him.
It goes without saying I hope Fignon wins his battle against cancer.
MY EYES! MY EYES!
If this isn’t the worst jersey ever, I don’t know what is.
AG2R will wear this jersey in the Tour de France. Please, please tell me they’re not pairing this with white shorts.
KING CAV KEEPS ON WINNING
Mark Cavendish’s stage win in the Tour of Switzerland this week was the 40th of his professional career. One more and he’ll equal the British record of professional wins held by Chris Boardman.
It’s an astonishing strike rate for a rider who is in only his third year as a professional.
Of course, the pure sprinters do rack up the wins more frequently than everyone else, but Cavendish adds quality as well as quantity. A monument – Milan-San Remo – and three Giro d’Italia stages are among his wins this season.
If all goes well, he’ll equal and then overtake Boardman’s record of 41 wins at the Tour de France next month (if not before).
But there’s still some way to go before he can be rated as the greatest British rider of all-time. The debate continues to rage between the Tom Simpson fans and the Robert Millar fans.
Given that Cavendish is never going to finish in the top ten of a grand tour, I wonder what it’ll take for Cavendish to be considered the best? A handful of green jerseys? A world title? A Paris-Roubaix win? Twenty Tour stages?
The all-time list of male British pro winners
A BRITISH BOOST
Bradley Wiggins riding, and winning, the Beaumont Trophy gave the domestic racing scene a huge boost.
It’s great for people to have the opportunity to see Britain’s best riders compete at home – as they will in the National Championships next weekend – it also adds power and prestige to the arguments put forward by those fighting to preserve racing on Britain’s roads.
The Beaumont Trophy and the other events held as part of the Cyclone festival in the north east at the weekend are a shining example of what can be achieved. Yes, yes, I know the organisers have significant sponsorship from Northern Rock, but that cash didn’t just fall out of a tree, it had to be pitched for, and value had to be offered.
The scrap over how best to fight for the future of the sport on the roads has got a bit personal of late, but British Cycling has seemed unable to really grasp the nettle and take the fight onto the public stage.
Last month The Times ran a couple of stories about the difficulties of holding cycling events on the roads, partly in response to the difficulties of organising races (as highlighted by Cycling Weekly) and partly because an idiot scattered carpet tacks all over the road before the Etape Caledonia.
Perhaps Sky’s involvement and the launch of the Skyride series will make the public more accepting when a bunch of cyclists causes them a rare morning of disruption.
The key has always been to engage the local communities and make them part of the event, so they don’t see a cycle race or sportive as a bunch of 60 (or 600) selfish cyclists taking over the roads, weeing in hedges, dropping litter and riding on the wrong side of the road into the face of on-coming traffic.
As Cycling Weekly has argued for a long time now, a combination of racing and mass participation events are the key to securing the support and backing of local people, councils and businesses.
Holding rides for children, families and novices would make the events more people-friendly.
British Cycling’s role now is to encourage race organisers to broaden their events, offering support, expertise and, yes, funding to enable races to become festivals of cycling.
After all, if there were to be a race, followed by a sportive, followed by a fun ride, point-to-point road racing could be revived in this country.
Did my eyes deceive me during the Dauphiné Libéré? Was that Cadel Evans on the attack, not once, but several times?
I’ve often criticised Evans for not being an exciting rider, but all credit to him for trying to beat Alejandro Valverde last week.
Had he not been asked to contend with Alberto Contador, who was doing a mighty fine impression of Cadel the Wheelsucker, Evans may have broken free.
I'm not convinced that it means Evans has a hope of winning the Tour, but it was good to see him trying something different.
ASTANA’S DAYS NUMBERED?
The UCI appears to be helping to prise the ProTour licence from the grasp of the Kazakhs, while Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong stand poised below, ready to catch it in a blanket.
Astana’s woes have been well documented. Staff and riders went unpaid for some weeks as money from the team’s Kazakh sponsors was not forthcoming.
The bills are reportedly up to date now, but the UCI has requested the Kazakhs deposit an extra six million euros into a UCI bank account to ensure the team can meet its obligations up to the end of the year. The money has not yet been paid.
I’ve searched the UCI’s rulebook and can’t find anything that allows the governing body to insist a large deposit like this is made in advance.
But it won’t surprise me if the UCI strips the Kazahks of their licence and hands it over to Bruyneel and Armstrong.
The only thing that might persuade the Kazakhs to pay up is the confirmation that Alexandre Vinokourov is eligible to race again at the end of July. That would present Bruyneel with a dilemma, and perhaps that's why he wants out of the Kazakh deal.
In the meantime, they could face a battle to hold onto Alberto Contador. Any opportunity to escape and it's hard to imagine him not jumping ship to Caisse d'Epargne.
WHY IS DOPING WRONG?
I’m often asked whether doping is cheating if everyone’s at it.
Firstly, not everyone is at it. Those who are playing by the rules are being cheated every day of their career by those who show a total disregard for the rules.
Secondly, the rules of the sport are very clear. The UCI and WADA websites list all the substances and techniques that are banned. It’s not rocket science. It’s all there in black and white. Dopers don’t make ‘honest mistakes’, they make conscious decisions, admittedly sometimes as a result of having their spirit and resolve and morals crushed, or because they’ve opened their ears to the unscrupulous types.
I believe that there is no rider who enters the sport thinking: “Yeah, I’ll train really hard as a junior and if I’m any good I hope to get a pro contract and then I’ll start doping and get even better.”
No 15-year-old dreams of sitting in their hotel room hooked up to a drip, filling themselves up with fresh, rich red blood cells ready for the next day’s race. They dream of crossing the finish line first, and standing on the podium, listening to the cheers.
They don’t dream of having to lie and cheat and be constantly on their toes, ready to manipulate their blood to evade detection.
The news that four riders at the Girobio – the Giro d’Italia for young riders – were prevented from starting because they had unusual blood values was extremely depressing.
Riccardo Ricco was said to have started doping as a junior. Bernhard Kohl said he started doping as a 19-year-old.
Professional cyclists doping is one thing. Young riders, in their teenage years, being groomed by selfish, unscrupulous coaches is quite another.
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