MADISON MALARKEY

The decision to move the National Madison Championship to March 2 so that the UCI points on offer can count towards Olympic qualification, is within the regulations even if it brushes the boundary of the spirit of the rules.

And before setting the date, you can bet British Cycling made absolutely certain Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish would be free to ride.

Not surprisingly there have been a few complaints that the World Class staff are calling the tune and everyone else must dance to it.

Wouldn?t British Cycling be mad not to take advantage of the situation? Of course, we?re not suggesting that the result should be fixed. The race must be fair and if Wiggins and Cavendish are to win it, they must do so without any hint of impropriety.

But as Dave Brailsford pointed out, if they can?t get a result at the national championships, they shouldn’t be thinking about the Olympics.

The domestic riders caught by surprise at the hasty rescheduling will no doubt grumble but in the grand scheme of things what?s more important? Surely everyone in Britain wants to see the red, white and blue jerseys in the mix in the Madison in Beijing?

Fact is, last year?s Madison title race ? postponed in the summer because of rain and finally held in Scunthorpe as part of an Omnium meeting ? attracted eight teams. This year?s race in Manchester gives those riders a chance to go up against Wiggins and Cavendish. In August they could be saying: ?We raced against the Olympic champions.?

The biggest scandal, though, is the complexity of the Olympic qualification rules. No wonder Doug Dailey was nominated for an MBE. He deserves an honour for being the man who has to sift through the mind-bending array of rules, file the paperwork correctly ? after all the UCI bureaucrats are a less forgiving of other people?s mistakes ? and work out what needs to be done.

Ludicrously the UCI track rankings are updated so infrequently ? the last update was on December 20 since when there has been plenty of racing. All the national federations are relying on accurate rankings to ensure they don?t miss out on qualification for Beijing.

Sometimes the UCI doesn?t help itself. The complex qualifying system will cause more headaches before the Olympic places are finalised at the end of March.

The reason for using the world rankings rather than the World Cup standings as the qualifying criteria for Beijing is to allow the less wealthy nations a fair crack, rather than forcing them to enter all four World Cups ? which would be a costly exercise. But why bother if they then weight all the points towards the World Cups and World Championships anyway?

A GLORIFIED SPRINT-FEST?

Fair play to Mark Renshaw. The first official winner of 2008. The Crédit Agricole rider is undoubtedly a decent sprinter but he?s clearly made sure he hit the ground running in January because of the Tour Down Under?s ProTour status.

As have a number of other riders, as we?ll probably see over the rest of the week. But for the bulk of the field, the Tour Down Under is no bigger, better or more important than it ever was.

Renshaw was quick to remark that his victory in the first stage of the race showed he could step up to ProTour level.

Really?

Is this really the crème de la crème, or is it a glorified training race?

Yes, the Tour Down Under?s elevated status is a great boost for racing in Australia. It has captured the imagination of the marketing people and attracted more attention to the race than ever before.

But it?s not suddenly a ?great? race. Nor is the Eindhoven team time trial, the ENECO Tour or the Tour of Poland.

The Australian race has earned ProTour status for geographical and commercial reasons. After all the talk, it?s clear that the ProTour is really nothing more than a marketing tool. An easy-to-understand sales pitch and consumer-friendly branding designed to prise a few more dollars out of the pockets of the sponsors.

Because if entry to the ProTour were based on purely sporting criteria the Tour Down Under would not make the cut.

For the time of year, the Tour of Majorca or the Tour of the Mediterranean are better races.

There?s the very real possibility of six bunch sprints Down Under this week. Sure, the racing will be keen but the hills are not severe enough to sort it out. There?s not even a time trial decider.

Next year the Tour Down Under?s route plotters need to design a parcours worthy of the ProTour. Oh, but hang on, it?s January and there?s a very long season ahead.

It may be average racing, patchy fields and results that do little more than raise the eyebrow but the packaging is nice and glossy. If this is the future of the ProTour ? with similar events dotted around the globe in China, Russia, Argentina, wherever ? it hasn’t got much future at all.

TURNING BACK THE CLOCK

Good old Cipo.

He always knew how to maximise his sponsor’s investment, whether it be dressing as a Roman Emporer, wearing a skinsuit that looked like a skeleton, or getting fined for matching his shorts with his leader’s jersey in the days before it became de rigeur.

He’s not racing at the moment so one can only wonder whether his way of grabbing attention for Rock Racing was to prolong the ‘is he? isn’t he?’ saga over whether he’s joining the bizarre American team.

Well now it appears he is, and he’s going to make his debut at the Tour of California, it seems, at the age of 40.

He last raced, for Liquigas, in April 2005, before calling it a day after 16 seasons as a professional and 191 wins. He was honoured at the Giro d’Italia that May by being asked to ride the one-kilometre prologue course last, wearing a pink skinsuit bearing the names of the towns that greeted his record 42 stage wins.

But is his decision to come out of retirement anything more than a publicity stunt? A chance, after two years out of the limelight, to give the crowd an encore.

Reports from Italy say he’s been training hard and is in good shape.

The reality, though, is that he could be embarrassed. The Lion King was an iconic figure. It’d be sad to see him swamped by men almost 20 years younger than him.

So, for the sake of his legacy, perhaps he ought to be convinced of his ability to last the distance and at least compete. Getting dropped ? or worse, finishing in mid-pack obscurity ? won’t win any favourable headlines for Cipo or his sponsor.