Oh dear. I hate this carry on, writing about drugs scandals. And please, Froomists don’t pick me up on a point of semantics; to the man in the street, it’s a ‘drug scandal,’ pure and simple. OK, here goes. What’s up? The winner of the 2017 Vuelta a España, Christopher Froome of Team Sky returned an Adverse Analytical Finding for the asthma drug ‘salbutamol’ on Stage 18 of the race.
The Tour de Trossachs: when the alarm blasts at 06:30 on a Sunday morning the question is; ‘do I really have to go all the way to Aberfoyle?’ But once you’re breathing that sweet fern scented air on The Duke’s Pass then driving along lovely Loch Achray side you remember why you love this race. Great history, wonderful scenery, a course which challenges your abilities as a bike rider. So why do entries drop every year?
As VeloVeritas pundit and critic, Viktor said after the Bergen World Championships; ‘where would we be without him?’ Peter Sagan. Cipo had it, Boonen had it, Peter has it – but Vik and I are both worried about who can pick up the ‘cycling’s showman and charismatic star’ baton when he finally hands his in.
I wandered down to Meadowbank the other Saturday, I thought it was for the ‘closing gala’ or some such but apparently the Track League can go on for another year? It was a disappointment to all those looking for coffee tables. The 1970 Commonwealth Games were just slightly before my time to spectate but I did read about them at the time; however I did witness the 1986 Games events and did a few laps of me own in anger round those boards.
It was Public Image Ltd. who sang; ‘Two Sides To Every Story’ and whilst VeloVeritas and many of our regular readers feel that the Manx Missile committed ‘Cavicide’ by going for a gap which wasn’t there in the ‘Sagan Saga’ where the Slovak was alleged to have deliberately decked Cavendish and was consequently turfed off the race, not everyone shares our view.
It’s been a funny old week – it’s always the same, there’s that void after a Grand Tour and it’s hard to fill. Dumoulin ‘done good’ to win; if you’re as old as me you can remember the last Grand Tour win by a Dutchman, Joop Zoetemelk in 1980 in the colours of TI Raleigh; he’d won the Vuelta the previous year and as well as his Tour win finished in second spot six times – with a record 16 Tour finishes off 16 starts.
Last Saturday I, like many others, was stunned by the news of Scarponi's death, and every day I've become increasingly saddened, indeed, angered by it. I don't know why his death should affect me this way and not any other cyclist's needless demise on the public road and I'm writing not only in the hope that I'll get it out of my system, but to make some observations I believe need making. The regular reporting of the vulnerability of cyclists, traffic incidents involving injury to or death of cyclists, seems to be creating a climate of apathy towards these events.
It’s that time again when I go from being that old weirdo who’s always going to bike races no one has heard of to the ‘go to guy’ (I do hate that expression) – yeah, you’ve guessed; 'Brailsford, corticosteroids, package, Sky, Wiggo'... I’ve lived through all the doping scandals; Festina, Riis, Pantani, Lance, Tyler, Floyd and the fact is that just like that 1976 disco classic by Bugatti and Musker contends, ‘Ain’t no Smoke Without Fire.’ The pattern is always the same, revelation, vehement denial, steady drip of more damning facts and finally there’s a tearful confession or a ‘guilty’ verdict. Can you remember one ‘doping scandal’ which ended with vindication and media apologies? Me neither.
“A Team Sky spokesman said they remained fully behind their team principal (Sir David) despite the claims in the Daily Mail and his admission to the select committee on Monday that he had made mistakes.” If you’re a soccer aficionado you’ll know that if Sky was a football team Sir Dave would be out by Tuesday after a message of support like that from the Board. But word is that if Dave goes then Sky pulls the plug.
Honestly, we think that Jason Kenny is a great sprinter - he can go short, long and is tactically very sharp. He's not six times Olympic Champion across three disciplines because he's a dud. We also think that if he got himself off to Aguascalientes then Monsieur Pervis' 2013 world 200 and 1000 metre records of 9.347 and 56.303 respectively would be in jeopardy; not to mention Chris Hoy's 2007 standard of 24.758 for 500 metres. But how can he be a professional?
It wasn't just Vik and I who thought the Gent Six Day finale was a tad too obvious to be true - "a Fairtytale" Cycling Weekly said, they got that right - we've had feedback from two men who were there. Our man who lives in Gent said; "It was without a doubt the most historic Gent Six I've attended and I don't think we'll see another in our lifetime ( I did say 10 years ago or so that there will never be a British winner of the Tour - what do I know). It was however the most blatantly fixed Six Day I've seen."
Sir Brad wasn't even off his bike when the phone rang; "Are you watching this? Isn't it heartwarming, nostalgic? I'm almost in tears ..." Yes, friend and sage of VeloVeritas, Vik had just watched the finale of the Gent Six Day on the box – so did I; for the first time in years I wasn't there – that ‘real life’ stuff got in the way. And last week's Cycling Weekly brought us ’12 things you didn’t know about Jason and Laura Kenny’ – to push their new book (that one I said Vik has pre-ordered the other week): "Jason once ate four out-of-date yoghurts, despite not being hungry. And not liking yoghurt." Enough said, I think.
Snakes and Ladders; Let’s be positive and start with the guys on the way up; 17 year-old Englishman Thomas Pidcock for instance, who won the European Junior Cyclo-Cross Championship in France recently. He’s now one of the favourites for the Worlds in Luxembourg come late January; he was fifth in the Worlds last year and is a year wiser and stronger. But if there are ladders then there are snakes, too. It’s over Matt Goss; he won a World Team Pursuit Title, Grand Tour Stages, a Worlds Elite Road race Silver, Plouay and – The Primavera. That last result means he’s a Legend.
‘Why do you rant about cycling?’ they ask us. ‘Because someone has to!’ we reply. There has to be a voice in the wilderness ... Did you watch the Worlds? Dave, Ivan and Vik all boycotted it – although they admitted to watching the finale. The Belgian offensive in the desert would have done Field Marshal Erwin Rommel proud – but apart from that and Sagan’s killer finale the race was processional.
VeloVeritas resident prophet and Guru, Viktor is in Spain just now. His old bones can't handle the Scottish weather these days - a nice wee apartment in Benidorm. There's a Belgian and a Dutch bar, both within crawling distance and both with big TV's permatuned to sport, often bike racing. He has his bike out there and is about as happy as Vik ever gets. I rang him the other day to ask if he'd seen Etixx-QuickStep's beautiful ride to win the Worlds TTT...
TUE's - once again I'm reminded of Elton John's words; 'and all this science I don't understand...' The forums are ablaze with righteous indignation from carpet fitters and bike shop mechanics, all of whom are well versed in conditions which affect an athlete's breathing and the treatment of any ailments related thereto. Me? I'm a glazier originally and I can't remember Prednisolone ever cropping up once during my 'apprenticeship.'
It's all clear to me now, Lady Laura explained it: "The Worlds are irrelevant, all that matters are The Olympics." Right! So those riders who win the world individual pursuit championships and world kilometre title are just wasting their time, horsing around? I'm glad we've clarified that - and there was me hero worshipping Hughie Porter for 45 years for nothing ...
"She’s at it, they all are! And you know she’s at it!" The reaction of a friend of mine when I explained the basics of the Lizzie Armistead case to him – he’s no right-wing balm pot, on the contrary he’s a working class former international sportsman who’s represented Scotland at the highest level. Perhaps if it hadn’t been for Lance feeling sorry for the doubters; Tyler and his phantom twin; Floyd and all that Jack Daniels; Bert and his steak and all the rest he wouldn’t feel that way?
Greipel had just blasted the field to win his first Giro stage the day before; surely there'd be a good write up in the Guardian? I guess he got around 100 words? I used to get more of a word allowance to write up races for "The Comic" [Cycling Weekly] back when Scottish racing got a bit of coverage. Meanwhile said Comic and British Cycling continue to tell us that cycling is now mainstream...
Buoyed by the great reception our piece on Shane Sutton received - Darryl Webster branded it; "utter garbage" - we thought we'd fire off a few more opinions on what's been happening recently in our 'King of Sports.' Sky finally got their Monument, not from a 'Brit' though; Lowlands hard man Wout Poels was first into that most unglamorous of Monument finishes - the retail park in Ans.
The 'Sutton Saga' has me yet again scratching my head about cycle sport and this nation's attitude towards it. Great rides by Ben Swift and Steve Cummings get hardly a mention but Saturday’s Guardian sports section screams; "The Sutton Saga: 10 questions after a week of crisis." There's one question missing though - 'in a week's time, who'll give a rat's backside?'
There’s never a good time to be in hospital but Grand Tour times apart, the start of March isn’t bad with cycling printed matter and video footage aplenty readily available, and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad...
Who’s Filippo Ganna? Just the World Individual Pursuit Champion, that’s all. But don’t worry, we’d never heard of him either, until he won it. The rot first set in when the UCI ‘unified’ the professional and amateur pursuit titles in 1993 and cut the distance back to 4000 metres – the pros had previously contested the title over 5000 metres. But wet rot gave way to even nastier dry rot after the Beijing Olympics when the UCI announced that the individual pursuit was being chopped from the Olympic programme.
We make no apology for more ranting – there’s much to get upset about in the sports firmament at the minute. It’s hard to believe that the public would be so naive as to believe that Athletics would be squeaky clean given the sums of money washing around and the vested interests of the massive sportswear companies who depend on big results from their sponsored athletes to shift their sweat shop trainers, track suits, sweats and Tee’s.
It’s a while since we had a decent VeloVeritas rant and the year end is always a good time to take stock; in this VV View edition we compare the Six Day men of then and now, Chris Froome's data, Cycling Weekly's change from specialist to generalist magazine, disc brakes and of course, sadly, doping.
I’ve read Edgar Allan Poe, I’ve seen The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby; I’ve even been to a Folk Festival - so I thought I’d witnessed what true horror was. I was wrong. The Bradley Wiggins Limited Edition Pinarello Dogma F8 is beyond my worst nightmares.
Righteous indignation - we’re all good at it. The Astana situation gives us the opportunity to use words like ‘scandal,’ ‘disgrace,’ ‘joke,’ ‘appalling’ and all the rest. Here’s the ‘but’: whilst here at VeloVeritas we’re not card carrying members of the UCI and Brian Cookson Fan Clubs we do understand that that the organisation has to work within a framework called ‘rules.’
You have to be in the right frame of mind to rant – unless you’re a Master, like Vik – VeloVeritas’s cycling sage and soothsayer, Vik can waken up ranting and probably rants in his sleep. I can’t do it to order – but the stars have aligned this morning and there’s a lot to get off my chest...
First of all we have to congratulate Jens Voigt (presumably this is the same person as ‘The Jensie’ whom ‘that commentator’ continually referred to?) – anyone who can cover 51.115 K on a bicycle in one hour unaided by gravity or pace making deserves plaudits. However, I have to argue the point about his, ‘having broken the world record hour record’ – surely he has 'established a new standard' ? To compare his distance to that of the incumbent of the ‘Athlete’s Hour,’ Ondrej Sosenka’s 49.700 is ridiculous.
The splendidly named ‘Bugatti and Musker’ released a disco classic in 1976; ‘Ain’t no Smoke Without Fire,’ it’s about a guy who's worrying that his girl is straying. ‘Please don’t do nothin’ to make me ashamed of you . . . when I heard the news it broke me in two... But it could just as well have been written about cycling’s problems...
Back in December in our year end rant we mentioned the fact that there seemed to be one law for ‘genial Aussies’ and another for ‘dodgy Spaniards.’ What we said was: "And whilst Contador’s ‘contaminated beef’ defence was largely scorned, the mood surrounding Michael Rogers’ positive for Clenbuterol seems to be; ‘poor old Mick’ – with Matt White telling us that the UCI should sort out the Chinese meat industry."
‘Waiting for Godot’ is a famous play by Samuel Beckett; two characters wait in vain for Godot – the play’s much discussed third character who gives the drama it’s name but never appears. As the others looked at each other and waited for Godot - whether his name in this case was Sep or Bradley or Greg - Boonen drove and drove. It’s not like a champion of Boonen’s stature to give it the; ‘come through for f##k’s sake boys’ routine but his frustration was palpable.
I can remember perfectly where I was when Marco Pantani died; sitting in my living room in Dysart. The flash came over Eurosport News and I rang Viktor to tell him; ‘hardly surprising’ was the reply. I knew what he meant, the little Italian’s life had been on a self destructive spiral for a some time - rehab or disaster were the only two possible destinations. It was the Spartan philosophers who first coined the expression, ‘never speak ill of the dead.’ And whilst it’s always dreadfully sad to see a young life wasted, I’m puzzled by the current revisionist accounts of his life which are doing the rounds on the 10th anniversary of his death.
VeloVeritas thanks you for reading in 2013, hopes that you are having a good holiday season, enjoyed the company of family and friends, ate and drank too much and didn’t have too many arguments. We’ve now entered that no man’s land between Christmas and New Year and whilst we’ll do our best to keep the interviews coming from the track men who are making the boards hum, the rising talents and the men who skim through the mud as sweetly Fred Astaire coming down a staircase – the year cannot be let slip without a rant.
It's easy to sigh and shake your head when you read or hear that a drone has yet again 'zapped' the wrong target out there in the Middle East - and easy to carry on with your day. But when it's on your door step, in a place you love, it's altogether different. I heard on the radio, early on the Saturday morning that a helicopter had crashed on to a pub in Glasgow at 10:30 pm on Friday but didn't catch the name of the bar. 'That's horrible' I thought to myself and carried on editing our Yuriy Metlushenko interview.
In the film, ‘A Few Good Men’ Tom Cruise’s military lawyer character is cross examining Jack Nicholson as a high ranking officer; ‘I want the truth!’ says Cruise. Jack’s reply has now entered movie folklore and cliché; ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ He got that one right, I can’t handle the truth – whilst I’m well aware that most of the peloton was kitted up for two decades and that it's indefensible, I can’t see how yet another biopsy is going to change anything.
It creeps up on you, the need, nae, the burning desire to rant. The last straw was Chris Froome's comments about the Tour organiser's intention to include cobbles in the 2014 race. Chris isn't keen - he wants just long, flat time trials and mountain stages; but we guess he's OK with the sprinter stages. too? The TT stages are for the specialists, the "rouleur" who can find the groove and churn the big gear. Anquetil, Indurain and Wiggins all fall into this mould - punish your opposition in the TT then hold on to your gains in the mountains. It’s the classic Grand Tour tactic; effective but not the most inspiring to watch...
On the one hand we don’t think that disinterring the dead is the way forward; the French Senate mass exhumation was a pointless exercise as far as we’re concerned. But once you have a Zabelombie walking the streets you have deal with it. As I recall from George A. Romero’s classic ’78 movie – ‘Zombies, Dawn of the Dead’ you have to part the head from the body, shoot it in the head or at last poke a long screw driver through the 'lug-hole' (messy). But do we see a rush from the UCI to comment on the latest gore fest and efforts to contain the virus - originally returned on a space probe from Venus, if I remember correctly? Or was it a laboratory in California?
The release of the French Senate ‘findings’ on the ’98 Tour – why do it now, what do it at all? What’s the point, other than to create a mess and give Brian Cookson a fresh crock of manure to hurl at Pat? Justice is not meant to be a lottery – of course it’s not right that the riders named cheated but what can we do now? And if you’re going to have an expose then it has to be full – not selective. It’s not right that O’Grady gets crucified simply because he’s about the only one still racing – up until last Sunday, that is.
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. Then 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.
The Italians love a good 'Giovani' - Under 23 rider. Today's Edinburgh edition of the Gazzetta deals with Battaglin's fine Stage Four win. The Italian journo's are already thinking about when he's going to buy a Lambo/date a model/move to Monaco and they can say; 'he's not serious!'
In 2014, both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia will visit the UK. The 2011 World Road Race Champion was a British rider and the current Tour de France champion is British also. You’d be forgiven for thinking that participation in UK road racing would be booming. But it isn’t.
I didn't stay up, I must confess; but I was trawling YouTube as the clips were still being posted. The man, Lance Armstrong, "fessed up" - my jaw dropped, I never thought I'd see the day. Albeit I think his memory is flawed about the comeback years. I thought Oprah made a decent fist of the rest of the interview.
‘Barredo retires in light of biological passport violations case,’ says the CyclingNews headline. ‘So what, all them Spaniards are dodgy,’ we hear you say. But let’s go back two years. We're standing in the low cloud and cold drizzle of an Asturian afternoon. We’re high above the cave where Pelagius and his men had the vision of the Virgin the night before the battle; past the unmarked graves where the dead still lay on the mountain side and even higher above the twin Lagos of Enol and Ercina which give this strip of rough tarmac its name. We’re very near to the finish of one of the most evocative stage finishes in the Vuelta – Lagos de Covadonga.
The USADA Reasoned Decision; just like those CNN images from Iraq when the Saddam statues crashed to the ground, Lance is in pieces in the dust – the legend shattered. The Zealots told us that it was a great day and the start of a new era in cycling.
I had intended to start this piece on the subject of Mr. Dettori’s current woes by saying that Frankie seems like a cool guy to me; but then reminding us that so too did Tyler H. and Lance. But one of our readers has given me a better intro which underscores my point. Namely that it’s not just about Lance and ever stiffer penalties.
LanceGate is divisive, no question. Our editor, Martin and I have similar views on many things in cycling – but not on this one. Martin thinks that the boil must be lanced; (pun intended) get the puss out before the healing can begin. My feeling is that what’s happening is the equivalent of dropping a nuclear depth charge into a huge cesspit – spectacular, very messy and with no real positive effect, unless you’re a tabloid editor or a ‘forum sitter.’ But maybe I’m wrong, maybe we need to get the tube down there into cycling’s stomach and pump it dry?
If you write, one of the most satisfying things is when someone takes the time to tell you that they’ve enjoyed something you’ve written. On the other hand, if you stick your head above the parapet and say what you think – and don’t inhabit the twilight world of aliases in forums or Twitter – then it’s inevitable that someone will take a ‘pop’ at you. Generally we don’t get involved in email ‘ping pong,’ much as we appreciate anyone reading our site and taking the time to write to us. However, once in a while a communication comes in which we think we should answer fully – perhaps other readers are thinking along similar lines, but don’t have the time or inclination to write to us.
It’s not hard to dislike Lance Armstrong; he’s arrogant, controlling, self-obsessed, hypocritical and brought to cycling the horrors of bodyguards, blacked-out SUV windows, black socks and celebrity visits to the Tour de France. He scarcely bothers to conceal his contempt for journalists, but used them to ‘spread the gospel’ when it was convenient. But on the other hand, it’s hard to dislike Michael Barry – smiling, polite, helpful, intelligent and grounded; a pleasure to meet and interview. But here’s the rub – they both regularly ‘kitted up’ as part of their stage race regime. So how come one is a ‘monster’ and one is a ‘victim?’
Putting to the side for a minute the fact that Tyler lied for years about his PED use before finally coming clean and whether that means everything he says can or can't be trusted, and just reading this book with an open mind, it quickly becomes clear just how much an everyday part of pro cycling in the 1980's, 90's, and 2000's PED and illegal blood manipulation actually was. Of course, anyone with an interest in the sport already had more than an inkling that such cheating had always played a part, and fans of the sport have had to contend with scandal following scandal since forever, and particularly since the Festina affair in 1998.
That man John Archibald is back in action again – and with a 48 minutes and 13 seconds ‘BANG !’ down on the Westferry course in the CTT ‘25’ Champs on Sunday past. It gave us a good excuse to catch up with the Commonwealth Games individual pursuit silver medallist and see what he’s been up to since The Gold Coast and what’s next on the agenda for him?
‘I’m a Believer,’ a great song, the Monkees had the hit back in 1968. I used to be a ‘Believer’ and can remember the sense of relief when we discovered that Lance’s Tour ‘positive’ back in 1999 was all a big mistake; those tricky corticosteroids had been in a cream he used to treat a saddle sore and he had a TUE to cover it. What a relief.
Sometimes on the big tours you have to change plans; road closures, janitors, barrier crews, motorway crashes can all influence your 'best laid plans.' At the end of the day you may not have missed deadline - we rarely do - but there'll be that feeling that you could have done better. Then there are days when you have to struggle then struggle some more but eventually it comes together, you get to where you want to be and get those special pictures. This day was such a day; lost, lost again, a massive detour through the mountains - against race route to the top of the Colle Delle Finestre - but we really enjoyed our pizza after this one...
‘The best Commonwealth Games performance ever by the Scottish cycling team’ – that’s for sure. VeloVeritas hopes to speak to all of the athletes concerned and we’re proud to start with individual pursuit silver medallist, John Archibald.
In 2016 in Belgium Ethan Hayter won the tough junior races, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, GP Serge Baguet, De Klijte-Heuvaelland, was in the winning team in junior European team pursuit champs and was British Madison champion with Joe Holt. Last year he won the u23 Berlin Six Day with Matt Walls, took a medal in every British track championship he rode and was part of the winning u23 Europeans team pursuit squad. This season he began training with the senior team in January and was world champion within weeks, at 19 years-of-age.
Despite his flyweight 56 kilos Eddie Dunbar has already established himself as one of the worlds' best U23 riders with top ten finishes in the European and World U23 Time Trial Championships - and riding for the Irish team rather than his usual US Axeon Hagens Berman team he took Ronde victory in that bike riders’ Mecca, historic Oudenaarde.