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ARMSTRONG?S INTERVIEW

Lance Armstrong made a few points in his interview with The Guardian that don?t quite add up.

Talking about fears for his safety, he said Eddy Merckx broke a rib when he was punched by a spectator on a climb in the Tour de France. He?s presumably referring to the incident in 1975 when Merckx was indeed punched, although he didn?t break a rib. Why exaggerate an already dramatic incident from the Tour?s history?

Secondly he makes a rather dubious claim that ?there are directors of French teams who have encouraged people to take to the streets elbow to elbow?.

What exactly is Armstrong alleging here? It sounds very serious indeed if a manager of a professional cycling team in France, or otherwise, is inciting spectators to take a physical stance against Armstrong. If this is the case, Armstrong should name names.

And finally, Armstrong said: ?We sued David Walsh in the high court and we won that case.?

Not quite. Armstrong sued The Sunday Times over an article written by another member of the paper?s staff, Alan English, who wrote about some of the allegations made in David Walsh and Pierre Ballester?s book. Armstrong and The Sunday Times settled out of court, which is a very different outcome.

My colleague Edward Pickering was in Austin this week to interview Armstrong. You can read the feature in the January issue of Cycle Sport, which is out next Thursday and also on this website shortly afterwards.

BRITISH SCENE ENJOYING A BOOM

It?s great to see the British scene enjoying a resurgence, with the Halfords Bikehut team strengthening, and the other teams putting plans in place to try to topple Russell Downing in 2009.

It?s fair to say the Premier Calendar has endured a tough few years. In 2006 there were only seven rounds of the series and races were going to the wall because of the increasing difficulties of holding races on the road. Even this year, the Archer Grand Prix, succumbed to the pressures in the face of a lack of enthusiasm from the police.

With all the positive publicity surrounding cycling in this country, there has never been a better time for British Cycling to attempt to clarify the legislation that governs cycle racing on the highway. I know British Cycling is doing a lot of work behind the scenes on this. And there are areas in the country where significant headway has been made as race organisers have engaged local businesses, local government and the police in their projects.

As far as the racing goes, Downing?s dominance has actually had a positive effect on the competition. It gave the Premier Calendar a story. Never in the 16-year history of the competition has one rider won so many events. Downing won seven of the ten races and already the opposition are mobilising to ensure it doesn?t happen again.

Halfords Bikehut has shifted its support from Nicole Cooke?s Project Beijing to the men?s team led by national champion Rob Hayles. Team pursuit world record holder Ed Clancy is one of the riders joining the team, along with Ian Wilkinson from SIS-Trek and Rob Partridge from Rapha.

Rapha have added Simon Richardson and Tom Southam and have their eyes on a couple of Australians. And Plowman Craven has joined forces with Pearl Izumi, adding Madison as the second sponsor. CandiTV-Pinarello have kept hold of Downing, who will remain the man to beat.

You could argue that Downing shouldn?t really be racing at this level, and it does seem strange that a rider of his ability has not been picked up by a Pro Continental squad, if not one of the top teams.

But Downing is such a competitive rider, can you really see him settling into a supporting role in another team? When weighing up whether to sign him or not, presumably team managers are considering whether he can win races at a higher level. I?d argue that he could, if given the chance, but in difficult economic times there appears to be no one willing to take a gamble.

Europe?s loss is Britain?s gain, and his presence on the domestic scene will ensure the bar remains high.

CRIT SERIES CAUTION

The Tour of Britain?s organisers, Sweetspot, are working to put together a series of televised criteriums to be held in May and June.

Details are patchy at the moment, with only Woking and Southport confirmed for the ten-race Tour Series.

Other venues mooted by the organisers are Darlington, Derby, Exeter, Milton Keynes, Stoke-on-Trent and York.

On the face of it this is great news. I remember the 1980s crits broadcast on Channel 4. They capitalised on the interest generated by the Tour de France and meant the domestic scene was booming.

But the televised crits must not be allowed to endanger the already-establish Circuit Race Series.

Okay, so it may not have the glamour of television coverage or the potential to attract the likes of Mark Cavendish or Geraint Thomas as Sweetspot hope they will be able to, but the Circuit Race Series is the life-blood of racing.

The organisers should be encouraged and their events must be preserved. It would be a terrible shame if all the top British riders had to turn their back on these events because the lure of racing on telly proved too great.

I know British Cycling?s calendar planners are seeking to strike this careful balance because they have to think of the long-term. The Circuit Series must be maintained because if races disappear from the calendar they may not be noticed while everyone is excited about the TV series. But what happens if the TV series comes to an end and the riders are left without races again.

After all, this is what happened in the 1990s, and it has taken to now to build up again.

PUT A SOCK IN IT

Is there anything more nauseating than the pathetic protestations of innocence and accusations of wrong-doing from a rider who has tested positive?

Tyler Hamilton started all this, with his lengthy ?Believe Tyler? campaign, which roped in his pet dogs as unwitting cheerleaders. Floyd Landis went down the academic route with a PowerPoint presentation stating his case.

It seems that the current trend is to just keep protesting until you get your way. Contest the result, contest the labs, contest the ban. Just keep appealing.

Stefan Schumacher, Alexandre Vinokourov and Riccardo Ricco have all been whining recently that they have been harshly treated.

Schumacher believes that retro-active testing is unenforceable and the result of his positive test should not be allowed to stand. Vinokourov reckons the laboratory made a mistake, and Ricco wants a shorter ban because, well, just because he does, okay?

Do these guys think we were born yesterday?

So fond of quoting rules and regulations when they want them applied in their favour, they seem unable to accept the consequences of their actions. At the time of all these offences, the WADA code said two years. Not one year because you said you were retiring. Not 18 months because you co-operated a little bit. Two years.

Here?s a novel idea for Schumacher, Vinokourov and Ricco. If you feel so strongly that you have been wronged, if you feel that the sanction is unjust or the test was flawed or the rules are unenforceable, put your money where your mouth is and sue the relevant bodies.

If you believe you have been wronged, sue the laboratories for screwing up. Sue WADA for drafting illegal laws. Sue the sport?s governing body and your national federations. See how far you get with that kind of action.

But do us all a favour and stop whining to favourable sections of the press, who are only too happy to help make your apologies for you and prove your case.

Otherwise, shut up, serve your ban and stop bleating, because it will only make you even more unpopular than you already are, which is jolly unpopular indeed.

NICE ONE, MR MOTIVATOR

That?s gratitude for you. Alberto Contador wins three grand tours in the space of 14 months and his team boss shrugs his shoulders and says ?Meh, so what.?

Johan Bruyneel has admitted that Lance Armstrong is the only cyclist who gets his competitive fires burning and that working with Contador is a not as exciting.

Bruyneel?s attitude stinks. The media is often blamed for elevating Armstrong above all else, but it starts with Bruyneel himself.

When asked this week who he considered his greatest rivals are, Armstrong said that they were all on his team.

Anyone else got a sense of deja-vu?

PREVIOUS WEDNESDAY COMMENTS
November 12 ? Revolution: The future for the Six-Days?
November 5 ? Why it?s ludicrous to blame British Cycling for domination
October 29 ? The BBC?s Sky dilemma and too much Lance?
Bonus comment: Assessing the 2009 Tour de France route
October 22 ? Is the Tour coming back to London in 2011?
October 15 ? How to pick a winner
October 8 ? UCI bends the rules for Lance
October 1 ? Armstrong again?
September 24 ? Why Contador must leave Astana for his own self-respect
September 17 ? Let?s leave the dirty generation in the past
September 10 ? The Armstrong Edition
September 10 ? The Armstrong-free Edition
Bonus comment ? Why Sevilla, Botero and Hamilton must not start Tour of Britain
September 3 ? Want to be national TT champ and ride the Tour of Britain? Tough, you can?t
August 27 ? Defending Great Britain
August 20 – Gold, gold, glorious gold
August 13 ? Gold rush starts
August 6 ? Team LPR in the Tour of Britain
July 30 ? Assessing the Tour
The Tuesday Comment – January to July 2008

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