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‘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.
A few weeks ago I posted on social media a picture of Davide Rebellin in his new Sovac-Natura4ever team strip for 2018; his 27th season as a professional. I commented that he was a ‘remarkable man.’ Immediately I was informed that I was, ‘glorifying a doper.’ When I responded by asking how he was any different to the pundits, TV commentators, self-styled fashion gurus and authors who have all fallen foul of the testers but are now accepted by the cycling community - no one could tell me. Former ‘cross star Barry Davies suggested that I organise an interview with the Italian; ‘good idea,’ I thought to myself.
We hope you enjoyed our series of interviews with Scotland’s medal prospects for The Gold Coast – we certainly enjoyed speaking to such talented and highly motivated young men and women. But let’s not got too cocky...
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.
Let’s start with the price of wheels; £3,300 for a pair of Lightweights – as Woody Allen might say; ‘what ! are you crazee ?’ Men are winning kermises every day in Belgium on thousand euro bikes; if you’re a Grand Tour rider looking for every advantage on some horrible mountain stage – yes. If you’re riding Ingliston criteriums – NO!
Inga Thompson started racing as a professional cyclist in 1984 and went on to ride the Los Angeles Olympics Road race the same year, where she finished 21st. She rode two more Olympics and has ten National Championships. Add three World championship silver medals and you have a full palmarès.
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.
If you watched the recent live stream of the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hearing (part of the inquiry into "Combatting Doping in Sport") you'll know the bulk of the session focused on the key question "what was in the jiffy bag?" which was transported from the UK by Simon Cope, handed to Dr. Richard Freeman at the end of the Critérium du Dauphiné, for use by Sir Bradley Wiggins. Committee member John Nicolson (Member of Parliament for East Dunbartonshire and the SNP spokesperson on Culture, Media and Sport) demonstrated an amazing ability to ask logical, 'boiled-down' questions which presented a narrow set of options as answers.
“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.
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.
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.'
"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?
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.
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...
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."
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.
It's hard to believe it's nearly five years since we sat down with hime and conducted the David Walsh Interviews, his dogged pursuit of the American Armstrong's own doping and team-enablement, and the recently-published USADA "Reasoned Decision" to ban Armstrong for life and to strip all seven Tour de France wins from his palmarès. David had been in Edinburgh to give a talk in the city's Lyceum Theatre as part of his speaking tour on the subject, and we took the opportunity to spend a few hours with him the following morning at his hotel.