THE TUESDAY COMMENT
|READING BETWEEN THE LINES|
However, it’s been just as interesting to see who’s not going to be in Brest on Saturday.
There are a few high-profile riders who have been omitted, either as a result of illness, or a sudden, unexpected and spectacular loss of form.
With the Tour’s organisers threatening big fines for any teams that bring the race into disrepute over doping scandals, could there be more to it than meets the eye?
Certainly any team that takes a risk on a rider is stepping out on a rather precarious limb.
After Rabobank’s disastrous inclusion of Michael Rasmussen last year, when it was clear he should never have been allowed to start the race, and considering the comical stage whispers about Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin (seriously, did anyone not see what was going on there?) the emphasis this time is on prevention.
The message is: Bad apples stay away.
Understandably, given the all-out war between ASO and the UCI, there has been speculation that the UCI – which is now holding considerable biological passport data and the results of a lot of out-of-competition tests – may be tempted to ‘leak’ some results in order to damage the Tour.
This was a suggestion the UCI’s head of anti-doping, Anne Gripper, strongly denied when I asked her last week. She said that the UCI has been conducting out-of-competition tests right up to the start of the Tour de France – more than ever before.
Remember the Tour is being run under French Cycling Federation rules this year, so the UCI will not be involved in the dope-testing process. Instead, the governing body will hand dope-testing baton to the French anti-doping authorities. “We can trust them,” said Gripper.
So, while ASO and the UCI seem to be intent on getting one over on the other, on an anti-doping level there seems to be some sort of accord.
Hopefully it means there will be no ticking time bombs in the peloton when it rolls out on Saturday. There are one or two riders I can scarcely believe have managed to dodge the bullets so long, so I am not naïve enough to think we can have an entirely scandal-free Tour.
Will it be cleaner? Yes. But are there riders with skeletons still in the cupboard? Almost certainly.
Former Six-Day star Tony Doyle has announced that a London Six will take place on a portable track somewhere in the borough of Newham in October 2009.
He may be a little premature in saying that the event is already confirmed on the UCI’s 2009-10 track calendar, because the calendar won’t be announced for a few months yet.
But with some of the Six-Day races in the rest of Europe struggling a bit the UCI will welcome a high-profile event in the city.
There isn’t a better time to put together a showcase of top track racing in London. Britain’s track riders are the best in the world, the Olympic Games are coming to the city and the wider public are starting to catch on.
Let’s hope, though, that Doyle tweaks the traditional format of a Six-Day to make it as inclusive as possible.
Yes, we all want to see a Six-Day race to rival the Ghent event, but we also want the opportunity to showcase the most talented riders in the country.
A mix of Six and a World Cup-style programme would maximise interest and entertainment. After all, a track event in the capital wouldn’t be the same without the likes of Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton involved.
Doyle says he has a three-year deal with Newham to hold the event on a portable track that’s used for the Rotterdam Six in Holland. After that, it’s not impossible to imagine the event could move to the new Olympic velodrome and Six-Day racing will be here to stay.
|WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY|
I wonder how his supporters, who had pledged money to his Floyd Fairness Fund, felt when the decision to uphold his positive test for testosterone.
There were some pretty loud bleaters who were very keen to see fraud, ineptitude and conspiracy at every turn in the Landis case. Unfortunately for them, and for Landis, the legal experts who assessed the finest detail of his case did not agree.
I remember cursing him as he weaved his way up La Toussuire and out of the yellow jersey because I got a call from the desk of the national newspaper I was writing for at the time to say that they were spiking my 2,000-word Floyd Landis profile and could I supply them with something else to fill the hole. By six o’clock.
I was not alone in watching, awe-struck, as Landis rode away from the peloton and recouped almost all of the previous day’s losses.
Because friends of mine who are cycling fans see me as some kind of doom-mongering über-sceptic, I received a number of texts asking the same thing. “What do you make of this?”
At that point I remembered Lance Armstrong’s words on the podium as he signed off from his seven-year domination. He felt sorry for those of us who did not believe. Truly sorry that we were too cynical and miserable to accept the veracity of what we were watching.
Although I’d sniggered when it turned out the two people standing alongside him on the podium that day in Paris were up to their necks in Operacion Puerto’s bloody mess, I wanted to believe.
All fans of this sport wanted to believe. “It’s either the greatest comeback ever, or the biggest example of sporting fraud ever,” was my answer.
I remember the crushing feeling of hearing that Landis had tested positive. It wasn’t that I wanted a cheat to prosper, just that this was an even more damaging blow to the solar plexus than the ones that had preceded the Tour.
There were the requests to talk on radio and television stations when it seemed I was being asked to defend the entire sport of cycling when I felt like doing nothing of the sort.
Landis went for the scattergun approach when it came to defending himself. He fired out a barrage of different explanations, all of which had a ring of plausibility but when put together they looked like the excuses of a child who hadn’t done his homework. “The dog ate it. I left it on the bus. I didn’t realise it had to be in today.”
The despicable episode when a member of Landis’ entourage attempted to smear the reputation of Greg LeMond showed Landis in the poorest possible light and from that moment any sympathy with his plight drained away.
Instead we had a two-year battle to clear his name, which followed a tried and tested American legal and PR tactic, which is to repeat loudly and often one or two simple statements that played in his favour, while drowning out the evidence against with long, complicated babble.
It didn’t work.
It was a monumental waste of time and money and even less people believe in Landis now than they did in early August 2006.
This judgment is the footnote to the least relevant race ever won. Feel free to consider Oscar Pereiro the winner, if you like. Personally, I feel the 2006 Tour has no winner.
Now Landis is said to be ‘considering his legal options’. What’s the point? No one in their right mind will ever consider him the winner. His attempts to prove the tests are scientifically flawed or that the French were institutionally biased against him have failed.
|CAV WILL DEFINITELY WIN NOW|
Instead I will travel out on Monday and pick it up in Nantes. With a bit of luck we’ll be there in time to see the finish.
Knowing I won’t be in St Brieuc on Sunday, I am resigned to the inevitable fact that Mark Cavendish will win his first Tour de France stage and I will not be able to see it. I won’t even be watching on television.
Cavendish won’t win on Saturday. He’s already said the final climb does not suit him so he will help the Columbia team put Gerald Ciolek or George Hincapie or Kim Kirchen into position and then sit up at the bottom of the hill.
But he could win on Sunday afternoon. I will be at the Hop Farm festival in Kent, waiting for the headliner, Neil Young. When tickets went on sale for the festival I didn’t hesitate, even though I knew it clashed with the Tour de France.
That was before I knew Cavendish would be riding. He’d started the season only on High Road’s long list for the Tour.
When I was a child, and an avid follower of football, I used to get a twinge of regret if I missed my team winning away because I wasn’t there to see it.
For some reason, I have the same sensations this week.
The thing is, Neil Young is in his 60s and won’t be playing in Britain too many more times, whereas Mark Cavendish will, I am sure, win plenty of Tour stages.
|MANAGING THE NEWS|
“Tom Boonen will not participate in the 2008 Tour de France. The decision was taken in agreement with the athlete,” reads the team’s rather Pravda-esque statement.
Er, the decision was taken in agreement with the athlete? That really is putting a shiny gloss on the story.
Boonen’s absence is not his choice. The Tour de France organisers decided that Boonen’s appearance at their race would be too controversial considering the rider’s out-of-competition positive test for cocaine.
The Belgian is keeping quiet about the circumstances that led to him testing positive for coke in May. He’s wheeled out a sketchy story about possibly having his drink spiked while on a night out.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if he said: “I made a mistake, it’s cost me a lot and I realise that taking recreational drugs is a very bad idea for a professional sportsman.”
Anyway, ASO’s stance is to be applauded. Even though Boonen is not banned from racing, cycling can hardly take a stand against the use of performance-enhancing drugs if it appears to be free and easy on the use of recreational drugs.
Proof, if any were actually needed, that illegal recreational drugs and professional sport simply do not mix. Except in cycling, of course, there is still a double standard.
Perhaps Quick Step should have said: “Tom Boonen is going to take a brief break from competition, of his own accord, to reflect on recent events in order to start afresh in August.”
Instead, the team are sending him to the Tour of Austria and the Tour of Wallonie in Belgium in July. We wonder if that decision was taken ‘in agreement with the athlete’.
Simeoni has been a virtual outcast ever since he was chased down by Armstrong after getting into a break in the Tour de France and forced to sit up and go back to the peloton, where he was summarily abused.
Simeoni is no saint. He doped and he was suspended, but when the authorities caught up with him he attempted to shine some light into cycling’s murkiest corners by explaining some of the secrets. He said that Ferrari explained what he should take and how he could evade the dope tests, that Ferrari had prescribed doping products.
That amounted to spitting in the soup and it made him very unpopular among some of his peers.
I can only hope that Simeoni gave up using the substances Ferrari recommended long ago. If so, I hope he enjoys his year in the champion’s jersey.
Meanwhile, over in Spain, Oscar Sevilla took the silver medal in their national road race behind Alejandro Valverde.
As they stood on the podium, linking arms and smiling, I wonder what was going through their minds.
Sevilla and Valverde represent two faces of Operacion Puerto. One suffered – though not to the extent of the likes of Jaksche or Ullrich. Sevilla was sacked by T-Mobile and had to scratch around for a team. He rides for Rock Racing now, and is rumoured to be on a fraction of the salary he once enjoyed.
Valverde, who vigorously denies the Operacion Puerto codename Valv.Piti refers to him, has not suffered any such consequences. No suspension, no cut in salary. He continues to win and is one of the big favourites for the Tour de France.
Whoever said doping levelled the playing field?
|TAT’S THE WAY TO DO IT|
It’s great that top riders are echoing the message of Cycling Weekly and Cycle Sport campaign I Support Drug Free Sport, which we launched almost two years ago.
But I had to chuckle when I read that Cunego’s tattoo will be only temporary.
What does that mean? The mind boggles.
|WE’RE TAKING A BREAK|
Thanks for reading so far this year. If you enjoy this column, worry not. Cyclingweekly.co.uk’s team of writers will continue to bring you the best reporting, comment, analysis and blogs from the Tour de France.
If you see us out on the road, feel free to come and say hello. We'll be in a rather cramped hire car festooned with the magazine's logos...
Enjoy the Tour. See you in August, but in the meantime look out for our commentary from the roads and restaurants of France…
PREVIOUS TUESDAY COMMENTS
June 24 – Bad Blood and what’s rocking cycling
June 17 – The Tour accommodation dilemma
June 10 – Boonen’s cocaine positive
June 3 – Watch out – the Brits are coming
May 27 – What should we make of this Giro? Credible or incredible?
May 20 – Conte reveals a cheat’s charter
May 13 – Why Cavendish is a superstar
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
|TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE|
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