The sports news came on Radio Two and as Johnny Saunders uttered the words which jarred; ‘Italian cyclist,’ I thought; “no, please not Vincenzo!” But no, it was Vini Fantini’s Mauro Santambrogio.
I try not to rant, honestly – but sometimes I have to. It just gets to a stage where someone has to say something. Take Monday; I was driving the van, the window was down, it did actually feel like summer and I was mellow.
There are times when it gives you no satisfaction to be right.
But at the start of the mountain time trial from Mori to Polsa in the Giro, as we took pictures of the last 15 starters, I took one look at Santambrogio’s hamster cheeks and said to Dave; ‘he looks just like Kohl did at l’Alpe d’Huez.’
When Kohl was rumbled back on the Tour in 2008, Martin and I saw him awaiting the jersey presentation – it was clear that something wasn’t right.
Kohl had a “baw face” – all climbers look like they need a good feed – Santambrogio displayed the exact same facial characteristics as Kohl.
They look like a cancer patient who’s been on steroids and their system is retaining water.
Why do they do it?
With Di Luca, I suspect that there’s no ‘Plan B’ – he won’t slide into the Media or drive ViP cars on a Grand Tour.
It’s Danilo the swashbuckling cavalier on the transition stages – or nothing.
And now, it’s ‘nothing.’
Santambrogio has always been ‘there and thereabouts’ but this season, his results have definitely gone up a level.
And whilst you accept the, ‘fresh team, fresh motivation’ rationale at face value, there’s a wee ‘too good to be true’ voice at the back of your mind.
If you’ve raced yourself then you know that sometimes it all just ‘clicks’ – the guys who have been killing you in training can’t live with you in the race and as others grovel you can hardly feel the pedals.
Or the point in the time trial when you try to change up but the chain is already in the smallest sprocket.
But as an observer of pro cycling, it’s hard to tell which is which – someone having it all come together, at last.
Or someone who’s risking micro-dosing…
But with word that Nibali’s latest contract is for four million euros per annum, the risk of a two years’ earning hiatus may be high – but so are the rewards, if you manage to get away with it.
But it is good to hear virtual universal condemnation of Di Luca and Santambrogio.
But not from everyone – and that is a wee bit of a worry…
* * *
And staying with the ‘D’ word – according to the papers; isn’t it great to see good old Frankie Dettori back?
It’s not like he was using cocaine to enhance his performance – just to get him through hectic days where he had lots of mounts and was maybe even riding at a couple of race meetings in the one day.
Oh yeah, and it helped kill his appetite to keep his weight down.
Where’s the harm in that ?
It exasperates me – cool guy that he is, Frankie should have gone down for two years, like Santambrogio will.
* * *
And as if Johnny Saunders hadn’t done enough damage to my equilibrium, he was back at tea time with Ned Boulting, who’s promoting a new book about British cycling.
I haven’t seen much of Ned in action but I’m told he’s a witty guy.
However, when he comes on the wireless and tells us that Britain is the greatest cycling nation in the world and that Chris Boardman was the ‘pioneer’ it’s guaranteed to spark a rant.
Brian Robinson was a pioneer, John Kennedy, Alan Ramsbottom, Tommy Simpson, Barry Hoban, Derek Harrison, Billy Bilsland…
Chris Boardman’s route to the top was very different to that of the men I’ve named above.
I have huge respect for Chris Boardman and what he achieved – but you can’t compare him to the guys who crossed the channel and lived in cold water flats in the days when watts were how you rated light bulbs.
And whilst Wiggins and Froome have done sparklingly well, remember that the score still stands at one Grand Tour.
Nor should we forget that Tom Simpson won Paris-Nice and both Brian Robinson and Robert Millar both won the Dauphine.
It should be two Grand Tours; but Robert Millar was undone in the 1985 Vuelta by managerial incompetence and Spanish combines.
And Classics-wise we have a long, long way to go.
In the time I’ve been involved in cycling – since 1970 – I’ve seen two classics won by British riders.
There was the 1974 Gent-Wevelgem which Barry Hoban won in brilliant fashion.
And the 2009 Milan-Sanremo which Cav won in equally brilliant style.
But that’s it.
Remember that Tom Simpson won Milan-Sanremo, The Tour of Flanders and Tour of Lombardy back in the 60’s – so when old Ned tells us that we don’t have a history of cycling success and the current riders are the best ever, I have to shake my head.
Simpson was Sportsman of the Year and a nationally known, charismatic and popular figure.
As for the track, the success achieved by Brailsford & Co. is remarkable; but let us not forget that Reg Harris was a household name in Great Britain and Sportsman of the Year in 1950.
And he was a real professional – not state sponsored – who actually raced more than three times each season.
In fairness to Boulting, he does describe himself as a ‘Johny come lately’ to the sport.
But Ned, let’s not re-write history; perhaps we didn’t have the quantity in years gone by – but we had the quality.
To say otherwise is to disrespect the men I’ve named above; and least we forget, in Hugh Porter Great Britain has the best pursuit rider who ever graced the boards.
OK, I’m calm now, but best lay down for a while, I’ll just shut the curtains…