CAVENDISH IS A SUPERSTAR

It is 19 years since a British sprinter won a stage of a grand tour.

That was Malcolm Elliott, who won two stages of the 1989 Vuelta a Espana on his way to winning the points competition and the blue jersey that went with it. That was before they added the little yellow fishes to the design or changed it to the current maroon.

I remember scouring the classified results of the daily paper that arrived at my parents? house and seeing the magic words. ?1. M. Elliott (GB)? There would then be a wait for Cycling Weekly to fill in the story that the stark black and white result did not tell.

It?s changed a bit now, thanks to Eurosport. Yesterday we gathered round the television in the office to watch the final stages of the race and, like the partisan sports fans we are, were rooting for Cavendish. There was a brief moment of panic after the crash until someone spotted him and said: ?He?s still there.?

Then the camera switched to the overhead view and it was obvious from a long way out he had it.

Then it sunk in what a really huge deal this was. Cavendish, a week and a day off his 23rd birthday, has won the first of what will surely be a host of grand tour stages. He?s only the third British rider to win a stage at the Giro, after Vin Denson and Robert Millar.

It has been obvious to anyone with any eye for talent identification since his early days as an espoir rider that Cavendish would be the real deal. In his first year as a professional he won a staggering 11 races. Scheldeprijs is no kermesse, the Tour of Catalonia is not a chipper.

But there were detractors, people who said he wouldn?t win the very biggest races over the longer distances. Or they said he?d get dropped on the hills. Or that he was all mouth and no trousers.

Nonsense the lot of it.

I?m happy to stick my neck out ? although it?s hardly a prediction of Nostradamus proportions ? to say that Cavendish will win many more grand tour stages. He will become the first British rider to win the green jersey at the Tour de France and, when the circuit is right, he will be world road race champion. He could even be Olympic road race champion in London in 2012. He will also win a Classic or two with Milan-San Remo and Ghent-Wevelgem the most likely, although there?s no reason why the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix could not be within his grasp over the next decade or so. The lad is going to be a bona fide superstar, the prolific roadman British cycling fans have been crying out for.

Of course there will still be the miserable bunch who write him off because he can?t climb and won?t win the Tour de France but you can?t please everyone and Cavendish will learn that it?s not something he should worry about.

Cavendish is not everyone?s cup of tea. British sports fans do not seem to like the edge of self-belief and competitive spirit that borders on arrogance in top sports people.

It?s sometimes puzzling to work out what sports fans in Britain do want. Chris Boardman was not popular with all because he was ?just a time triallist?. David Millar divided opinion long before his EPO confessions because he was a dandy, he was a bit sulky on telly sometimes and he had a personality of his own.

Cavendish is outspoken, he does rub people up the wrong way, and he doesn?t take criticism particularly well. But if he needs to focus on a perceived slight in order to find the aggression and single-mindedness to win, fair enough.

He?s only just beginning his journey as a professional rider but the impressive thing is is he?s winning big races while he?s still in the classroom.

WHEEL OUT THE DOPERS

Ah, it must be grand tour season, because the positive tests are happening.

Let?s hope that the cases of Lampre?s Francisco ?Testosterone Patxi? Vila and Maximilian Richeze of CSF Navigare, who tested positive for the steroid stanazol at April?s Circuit de la Sarthe and was prevented from starting the Giro, are isolated incidents and not a prelude to another summer of carnage.

That?s not to say ?Let?s cover up the cheats so we can all enjoy the racing? it?s simply a hope that cycling is cleaning up and that this year will be less blighted by scandal than last.

Amid all this, there was the news that the Court of Arbitration for sport has suspended Alessandro Petacchi for a year after exceeding the dose of asthma drug salbutamol permitted by his Therapeutic Exemption Form.

Petacchi was permitted to use three 200mg doses per day. The salbutamol concentration level recorded at doping control after his third stage win at the Giro on May 23 last year was 1352ng/ml above the allowed level of 1000ng/ml.

The 12-month ban was backdated to November 2007, with two months removed because he didn?t compete for two months after the end of the Giro. So, he?s eligible again on August 31 this year. It means he misses the Giro, a second Tour de France in succession and the Olympics because, he says, he took too much of his asthma medicine by mistake. That?s a costly mistake.

But hang on, Petacchi?s been racing this year, albeit in small races such as the Presidential Tour of Turkey. Do those races not count? Perhaps next year the Turkish could invite Landis, Ullrich, Mayo, Vinokourov, Kashechkin and we can see a right tear-up.

Anyway, CAS ruled that Petacchi?s was not a doping case and the substance was not taken to improve performance, but nevertheless they stripped him of the three stage wins and other prizes earned from May 23 onwards.

That means we have to rewrite history again. Petacchi did not win five stages of the 2007 Giro, he won three.

So, the runners up on the three days in question can step forward and accept their rewards. Gabriele Balducci, you are now a Giro d?Italia stage winner. Congratulations.

And so too, is Max Richeze (Doh!) who ?won? two stages. It also means Di Luca wins the points competition? purple jersey.

Do you have that in a child?s size?

THE MYSTERY 23

One of the more puzzling stories of the week was the witch hunt sparked by the UCI?s announcement that after several months of testing and biological profiling there were ?23 suspicious cases? that warranted further examination.

Now, the UCI is refusing to comment any further, but even they must have realised the chain reaction such an announcement would spark.

Newspaper journalists across Europe reached for their contact books and started making calls. Rumours spread and in the space of a couple of days Cycling Weekly had heard enough ?names? to account for the 23 riders three times over.

Perhaps the UCI was trying to alert the suspicious riders that they were being watched.

Unfortunately, the consequences of the statement were that one rider, Frenchman Clement Lhôtellerie, who rides for Skil-Shimano, was among the 23. A Dutch newspaper seized on the rumour and ran the story, even going as far to say that a five-week break in his race programme was actually because he?d been suspended by the French Cycling Federation.

We?ve all heard it before. In the 1990s and first half of this decade ?stomach illness? could sometimes mean ?haematocrit mishap?. Lengthy lay-offs for knee injuries would end, conveniently, after exactly six months. It?s happened.

Lhôtellerie was cornered and forced to deny he?d had any problem with the anti-doping authorities. I do not know Lhôtellerie and I do not necessarily agree that it is inherently suspicious that a promising young French rider chooses to ride on a foreign squad, as some seem to.

But what is clear is that the UCI has not released the names of the 23 nor has it written to teams or individuals to say they are either on, or off, the list. So, no one, apart from the UCI?s key personnel know who the riders are.

So why would certain team managers be shouting about how they had received a letter to say they had nothing to do with the suspicious 23?

With six weeks to go until the Tour de France, let?s hope that the UCI does not repeat its mistake of a year ago when riders it had identified as a specific threat (including the infamous Men In Black) were allowed to start the Tour.

ASO and the UCI should unite behind the motto: If in doubt, keep them out.

TOUR OF RUSSIA ANYONE?

Is everyone looking forward to the Tour of Russia and the Tour of China next year?

The UCI seems to be pressing ahead with these extravagant white elephants despite the fact that time and time again the governing body has failed to make it work when trying to invent ?prestigious new events?.

Talking of which, does anyone know anything about the proposed UCI ProTour Final to be held in October? We?ve asked but we?re being kept waiting for details. The suspense is killing us ? hopefully it?ll be a time trial in Kazakhstan.

Last year I interviewed the ProTour?s manager Alain Rumpf for our sister magazine Cycle Sport. He made some interesting and conciliatory points about the row between the UCI and the grand tours before pressing on with talk of globalisation with a sort of manic zeal.

But he couldn?t answer the one question: ?Why?? very satisfactorily.

Now we all know that the real reason the UCI wants to encourage major stage races in two huge markets like Russia and China is because of the old wedges of cash that might be on offer and the possibility that the UCI might get a bigger slice of the action.

But Rumpf and McQuaid can?t quite say that in public because it doesn?t play well. Instead they have to wheel out the guff about growing the sport and promoting cycling.

Here?s a warning. The Tour of Russia and Tour of China will only work if they have a very strong field and an engaging parcours.

You can?t invent the mystique that surrounds Mont Ventoux or Alpe d?Huez or the Gavia or even the Muur overnight, so the parcours bit will be tricky in the first four or five years.

They?ll need a very strong field to make it work, otherwise it?ll be just another training race taking up space on an already jam-packed calendar with the consequence that solid, established races in Europe that have survived decades and attract actual fans to watch them (okay, I?m not talking about Spain here) will fold.

Mr McQuaid, if your vision is to be the Bernie Ecclestone of cycling (note I said Ecclestone, not Max Mosley!), carry on with your globalisation programme. Invent half a dozen stage races around the world and have a true global tour of stage races.

But you?ll need to get the commitment from television first, because if little old Europe can?t watch it on the box, it?s going to fail.

STATE OF OUR ROADS

Someone started a thread on the Cycling Weekly forum late last week complaining about the state of our roads.

Potholes, craters, huge cracks, broken kerbstones, wonky drain covers, raised manhole covers.

Stones in the gutter, broken glass, litter of all shapes and sizes, faded or confusing road markings, obstacles in cycle lanes, broken headlamps, bits of lorry tyre, old bumpers in the hedge.

Five minutes of moderate rain turns lanes into fast-running rivers because the drains are full of leaves and litter, passing spaces are used as municipal dumps by fly-tippers and verges boast their own washing machines, deep fat fryers and shopping trolleys.

Anywhere there is construction work the roads turn to mud, lorries shed their loads all over the place without thought.

Hedges and trees are allowed to grow out of control and overhang the edge of the roads at a particularly threatening height for cyclists.

And then the motorists wonder why we have to duck and weave and move out from our rightful six inches of gutter to avoid these obstacles.

Is any other country in Western Europe in this kind of mess?

Ranting about this makes me feel like I?ve ingested a copy of a particularly hysterical edition of the Daily Mail but it really is beyond the joke. The roads in rural Eastern Europe are better.

Worse is that the state of the smaller roads once considered safer for cyclists seeking somewhere quiet to train has deteriorated because of volume of traffic on them.

I blame sat-nav. You can?t move in the lanes these days. Drivers use them as a cut-through because they?ve allowed their brains to be replaced by the dashboard-mounted computer with the soothing voice.

Of late I?ve noticed the time between 3pm and 6pm is the worst. You get the triple whammy ? the school run (panicky mums ferrying Little Tarquin in the 4×4), white van man knocking off for the day (never later than 3.30pm) and the start of the rush hour (office workers made dull-witted by a day at their desk, suddenly put in charge of half a ton of metal).

HOW?S YOUR TRAINING GOING?

The four most dreaded words any under-training cyclist can hear are?.

How?s. Your. Training. Going?

Even when you know the question is coming, it rocks you. Your mouth goes dry and you start to stutter. ?Er, yeah, well, er?. Yeah! Not bad. Of course the weather?s not been good and I was at a wedding last Saturday so that kind of ruled out Sunday as well, and er, the fence in the garden was in need of repair, but I got out for a couple of hours?.?

The professional wind-up merchant, the one who knows how to really turn the knife on someone who has not been training enough, uses the even briefer, even more brutal, three-word alternative? ?How?s the form??

This removes any opportunity for bluff and bluster about weather conditions and the fact you were going to do a six-hour ride but then had to take the cat to the vet instead. No. The only answers to ?How?s the form?? are ?Good? ?Okay? and ?Crap?.

Well, with less than a month to go until the Paris-Roubaix cyclo-sportive on June 8, I have lifted myself up a category from ?Crap? to ?Okay?.

Twelve days into May and my strict 30-Day Challenge is going well. Week one saw me cover 190 miles, including a 100-mile ride and a 50-mile ride on consecutive days. Week two was slightly less distance, at 140 miles, but with a couple of higher intensity and interval sessions.

Now my mind is dominated by a question of my own. ?Will it be enough??

PREVIOUS TUESDAY COMMENTS
May 6 ? Astana for the Giro! Yawn
April 29 ? Yeah, well done, Liquigas
April 22 ? I?ve had a brilliant idea!
April 15 – Thanks a bunch, Eurosport
April 8 ? The Tuesday Comment live from Belgium
April 1 ? Why I believe Rob Hayles
March 25 ? Just how good can Emma Pooley be?
March 18 ? Forget sitting in a bath of beans, cycling is the new charity fundraiser
March 11 ? Can Sportive riders defy UCI ban?
March 4 ? Why Het Volk is the real deal
February 26 ? Pendleton Poses Nude and the Demise of the Archer
February 19 ? Let Levi Ride? Leave it out
February 12
February 5
January 29
January 22
January 15