THE TUESDAY COMMENT
|TOMMEKE, YOU’RE HAVING A LAUGH|
While the rush of interest in the track does plenty for the profile and prestige of the events, it’s a bit rich of the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen to think they can come from nowhere and challenge the very best at extremely specific disciplines.
After all, you don’t hear the dominant cyclo-cross superstar Sven Nys saying he’s going to win the Olympic mountain bike title – he’s been talking down his chances because he respects the event and the riders as the very best at what they do.
This week Boonen let his mouth talk before he’d properly engaged his brain when he floated the idea of a Quick Step-dominated squad for the team pursuit
Boonen, Gert Steegmans, Wouter Weylandt and Sebastien Rosseler is certainly a power-packed quartet, no doubt about it, but it’s not as easy as rocking up straight from the Tour de France and knocking out a 3-59. Winning an Olympic team pursuit title is about learning the nuance and subtlety of the event, honing a team over time and ironing out the tiny imperfections that can be incredibly costly on the stopwatch.
But it’s not just the assumption by accomplished road riders that they can pitch up at the Olympics that’s disrespectful. It’s the lack of research into the qualifying process before speaking that grates. Admittedly the UCI doesn’t make it easy. Clinching a spot for the Olympics requires the logic and intuition of a code-cracking genius. Is there really any need for the rules to be so complex?
Anyway, Cancellara was giving it large about riding the individual pursuit – until his coach pointed out that qualification might be a bit tricky because the World Cup track meetings clash with his training schedule for the spring Classics. Having never raced in the pursuit, Cancellara quietly dropped his plans.
And Boonen doesn’t seem to realise that Belgium face an uphill battle just to qualify a team. Currently they lie 12th in the UCI’s team pursuit ranking – with the top eight qualifying. Belgium finished 14th in qualifying in the Sydney World Cup, with Kenny De Ketele, Ingmar De Poortere, Tim Mertens and Stijn Steels. And the same four were 12th in Beijing.
There are two World Cup events (one this weekend in Los Angeles) and the World Championships left in which to rack up enough qualifying points. Boonen, Steegmans and co are going to be a bit busy with the road season to do the hard yards to qualify. The Belgians with the responsibility of qualifying don’t look up to it.
And even if they did, Boonen and co have barely a moment to get on the track, let alone the experience and craft to threaten.
No wonder Bradley Wiggins could barely stifle a laugh when told of Boonen’s comments.
|DON’T WRECK ANOTHER TOUR|
The Italian Olympic Committee’s anti-doping prosecutor, Ettore Torri, wants to question more than 50 riders about Operacion Puerto.
There could be some far-reaching consequences of this investigation. If Signor Torri were to uncover any evidence that riders were involved in Dr Eufamiano Fuentes’ doping operation, he could press to ban them from competing on Italian soil.
Where Spain drags its heels and hides behind the feeble assertion that there is no legal authority to proceed with sanctions, Italy seems determined to confront the issue head on. Under new laws the Italians can prevent non-Italians implicated in doping cases from working in their country.
But it could mean a third summer in a row disrupted by the fall-out from that Madrid laboratory.
Imagine if the Italian anti-doping officials decide to bar riders from racing in Italy – it could have dire consequences for the Giro d’Italia and World Championships, which are due to be held in Varese.
Even the Tour de France could be affected because one of the stages finishes in Italy. Imagine the potential farce of the Italian police waiting at the border to stop certain riders crossing it.
For that reason, CONI should play fair and set a deadline before the Giro. If nothing has been uncovered by then, the investigation should continue behind closed doors, allowing the riders to race on, and only resurface out of season when hard evidence can be produced.
In effect, call a temporary truce. Don’t disrupt more racing.
The cheats are not sitting cosily in the peloton, they are racing on borrowed time
That’s not to say that the guilty should be protected rather that the sport should be spared more humiliation and damaging headlines.
Whatever their past misdemeanours, the ongoing investigations demonstrate to riders with something to hide that the past will catch up with them eventually. The cheats are not sitting cosily in the peloton, they are racing on borrowed time.
Who knows, perhaps it’s time to show a little faith in human nature. Maybe those who were doped by Dr Fuentes have cleaned up or will have the good grace to melt into the background.
And if a rider with some skeletons in the cupboard wins a big event, let him be safe in the knowledge that it won’t pay off in the long run. After all, Danilo Di Luca is hardly the toast of cycling, is he?
|SAFER? BETTER? NOT REALLY|
Last year’s crashes were terrible to see but was altering a well-established parcours really the answer?
The Kemmelberg is Ghent-Wevelgem. Without it, the race would have little more character than a kermesse and would almost certainly end in a bunch sprint.
Fans wait all day on the climb and the atmosphere is electric as the riders pass by twice in the space of an hour or so.
The crashes were caused in part by the dry conditions, which made the cobbles dusty. But the real culprits were loose water bottles and inexperienced riding.
Bidons bounced out all over the place both times the bunch clattered over the cobbles.
Fourteen riders fell heavily on the Kemmelberg and did not continue in the race. Jimmy Casper of Unibet.com was one of the worst hurt, crashing heavily and wrecking his season. He broke his cheek bone. Marco Velo of Milram fractured his knee. The costs were high for the unlucky few.
But crashing is an ever-present risk in professional cycling. What will they call for next? Ban bunch sprints because they’re too dangerous? Impose a speed limit on Alpine descents?
The Kemmelberg is not an excessive danger, if ridden sensibly.
The descent is treacherous, yes, but the real problem is that the race route is not hard enough to break up the peloton before they reach it. So, 150 or more guys arrive there all together, too close to each other, all battling to get to the front. Then a bottle bounces out, someone hits it or brakes and that’s it, down they go.
And the skilled technicians at the front use it as an opportunity to open a gap, meaning the less-skilled push themselves to their very limits, increasing the danger.
Hilaire Van der Schueren, his directeur sportif, said after the race: “Every year inexperienced riders do things they shouldn’t, like braking on the descent.”
My bet is that within a couple of years or so, the Kemmelberg will be crossed in the traditional direction. In the meantime, put your money on a bunch sprint in Wevelgem.