WILL OP PUERTO EXPLODE, OR FIZZLE OUT?
Oh to be a fly on the wall in Geneva tomorrow (Tuesday, June 19) when the UCI and the ProTour team managers meet to decide who, if anyone, is going to be ‘voluntarily’ pulled out of the Tour de France.
Will the 6,000-page Operacion Puerto opus that has sat like a ticking bomb under cycling for 12 months explode?
Gerolsteiner boss Hans-Michael Holzcer thinks so. He said that ‘before the Tour, something big will happen’.
Another team manager has admitted to Cycling Weekly that the ProTour teams are split into three camps. Some have taken significant steps to clean up and have paid the price in terms of results and their popularity in the bunch. Others have been slow on the uptake but even they realise they must put an end to the old habits.
And then there are those who simply don’t give a damn and continue to allow their riders to play by their own rules.
For now it must be up to each individual to decide who fits into which category but already there is a danger that the credibility gap is about to split into an unbridgeable chasm.
Cycling has reached a stage where almost every dominant victory is greeted with sceptism. There have been results this season that have caused eyebrows to rise.
So, is the sport about to reach a critical mass where the teams that have cleaned up start to realise the injustice and fight back?
How long will they allow themselves to be made fools of and tarred with the criticism that they are grouchy losers simply because they ‘don’t work hard enough’?
The proposed riders strike at the Tour of Catalonia – in protest at the presence of certain riders named in the Operacion Puerto documents – failed to materialise. But how long will it be before the split in the peloton is so obvious that those who are missing out begin to get very angry?
Tomorrow’s meeting is designed to spare the London Grand Départ the humiliating mess that was Strasbourg 2006. Even the most selfish individuals realise that, as the sport’s flagship event, with the eyes of the world watching for even the slightest twitch of scandal, the sport needs a blemish-free Tour.
And that does not mean sweeping it all under the carpet, it means performing a little surgery to the most diseased roots.
The men inside the conference room in Geneva tomorrow will have greater cause for suspicion than most. Now is the time for strong words and even stronger actions. Patrice Clerc of ASO has got it right: it’s time for the clean riders to stand up and declare it. What a perverse world that they are embarrassed and vilified for doing so.
Oh, and while we’re at it, perhaps the UCI should consider publishing the full list of riders who have therapeutic exemption forms (TUE).
One of the over-looked strands of the Floyd Landis farrago is that he had a TUE to use cortisone to treat a degenerative hip condition. Surely that is the very definition of ‘performance enhancing’. It’s not hard to argue that a man scheduled to have a hip replacement operation should probably not be capable of winning one of the toughest endurance sports events on earth.