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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.
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.
Somehow Matt DeCanio and his 'Stolen Underground' website had passed me by. You may think that I keep abreast of all the forums and Twitter feeds which bang out the latest kitting gossip - usually behind half baked aliases - but I don't. I'd much rather talk to Michael Nicholson about how he's doing in Belgium or Doug Dewey about his new team in France.
Erik Zabel has confessed... 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.
The release of the French Senate Report ‘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?
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.
In part one of the interview respected and award-winning Irish journalist David Walsh discussed his interest in Lance Armstrong's motivation, his willingness to take part in a lobby of Irish cycling clubs to call for an EGM so that Pat McQuaid's nomination for a third term as UCI President was not backed, and recounted some startling stories including Johan Bruyneel shooting up with cortisone just for fun. Here in part two Walsh tells us about his time spent with Team Sky during their training blocks in Tenerife, what's happening with the action group "Change Cycling Now" and exactly what he thinks about Garmin rider Dan Martin's win in Liège last Sunday...
Chief sports writer for The Sunday Times, Irishman David Walsh is best known in cycling circles for being one of the people who have doggedly sought out the reality of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France victories, not believing the "fairy tale" that defined the American's recovery from cancer and record series of wins in the world's toughest race. The award-winning journalist is the author and co-author of a number of books on the shamed American rider's career and his subsequent fall from grace, the most recent being "Seven Deadly Sins" which Walsh describes as 'more light-hearted' than the others!
I didn't stay up, I must confess; but I was trawling YouTube as the clips were still being posted. The man, Lance Armstrong on Oprah, he "fessed up" - my jaw dropped, I never thought I'd see the day.
‘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.
As a man who’s incurred the wrath of the UCI and the professional teams for ‘fessing up,’ and is in London this weekend to take part in the "Change cycling Now" meeting, we thought that it would be interesting to get Jörg Jaksche's views on the current situation. If you read the first interview, you’ll remember that at the end of 2010 he was living in Austria, still without a team and wondering about his future – two years later, here’s what he told us...
Jörg Jaksche is an interesting man to talk to; a top rider in his day - until he was one of the relatively few actually punished as a result of being implicated in Operatión Puerto. But unlike most, Jaksche didn’t, ‘deny, deny, deny.’ He did the ‘right thing’ and ‘fessed up’ – but the UCI twisted his words and to the teams he was a pariah.
I haven’t written an update on the Tomás Swift-Metcalf Blog since the penultimate stage of the Volta a Portugal. I have been wary of writing bullshit in such stressful, emotional times. I don’t like to speak of the problems in cycling, since I find them so boring. It’s the first thing anyone outside the sport mentions when I say I’m a cyclist.
He's best known around the world for his engaging commentary for over 16 years of the MotoGP races, these days for Eurosport, and this year has also been covering the British Touring Car Championship for ITV Sport - but not many of his 'petrolhead' listeners and viewers realise that super-busy Englishman Toby Moody was a racing cyclist in his formative years and remains a huge fan of the sport.
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.’
Amidst the welter of Tweets, outraged forum posts, recriminations and blame culture which have followed in the wake of 'LanceGate' we decided that it may be educational to speak to a man who's ridden the whirlwind of a dope test positive, Joe Papp.
Despite the Lance Armstrong Scandal, 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.
I was chatting to a friend the other day who expressed how sad he was about the whole Lance Armstrong situation; I think that is something we can all agree on... Heroes, Heroism and Amorality. Then later in the conversation he went on to say how he hoped Sky were clean, thus setting himself up for more potential sadness and disappointment.
If you're a rider, you've have had issues with 'les vitamines' and Paul Kimmage turns up at your press conference, best ask for a brandy to sip, forget that Vittel. Kimmage is the man who wrote 'The Rough Ride', an exposé of his experiences as a young 'green as grass' young pro and his flirtations with 'the needle.'
Paul Kimmage has been a near-lone voice in the wilderness for a long time, questioning the ethics in cycling and railing against the alleged corruption amongst the riders and the people charged with running the sport for over 20 years. We thought it would be interesting to revisit a couple of interviews with Kimmage, to see if his position and message have changed any in the interim.
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.
This interview was first published in December 2009, but in light of current events, we thought it would be interesting to re-read it and compare it's contents with what's in Tyler's book 'The Secret Race'... Now that the initial furore has died down following the shocking news of Tyler Hamilton's positive doping test, VeloVeritas thought we should hear what the man himself has to say. It took us a long time and a lot of patience, but eventually he came back to us with the answers to our questions.
The last time I wrote on this subject my pal ‘Denis from Montreal’ said; ‘Hood should stick to derailleur reviews.’ But you have to give grudging respect to any man that still refers to a rear mech as a ‘derailleur.’ Least I be accused of practicing ‘Omerta’ here’s what’s on my mind regarding a certain cycling commentator and his much criticised views on LanceGate..
The Lance Armstrong Downfall: King Pyrrhus of Epirus gained a victory over the Romans in 279 BC at the battle of Asculum in Apulia. The Epiriotic forces, although they won the battle, suffered severe losses to the elite of their army. A Pyrrhic victory has come to be known as one which comes with a devastating cost.
I have chronic-doping-scandal-fatigue. We always knew that Lance Armstrong literally had a never-say-die attitude. Perhaps in recent days this fact has become more abundantly clear even than when he was actually on his deathbed. He’s had a lawsuit chucked out of court within a few hours of submitting it because it was so terrible; it was for a restraining order against the US anti-doping agency. It was 80 pages long and contained “improper argument, rhetoric, [and] irrelevant material”, not my words, the judge’s. Lance Armstrong just got benchslapped.
In the welter of knee jerk reactions to judge/condemn Contador and his Clenbuterol and/or criticize the UCI the real issues of this situation are being missed; there are two main points that I can see.
Contador, the best grand tour rider of his generation has finally been re-found guilty of being a drug cheat. For those who have (understandably) forgotten what has happened, Alberto Contador was tested in the sleepy town of Pau on the second Rest Day of the 2010 Tour de France. Here's my views on Alberto's Clenbuterol.
'Senna,' is a powerful film; the man was fast, brave, committed, and ruthless behind the wheel, but religious, handsome, humble, funny, and devoted to his family, very fond of the ladies and an inspiration to a whole nation. And all of Brazil grieved for him when he died in that horrific crash at Imola in 1994. As well as a portrait of an amazing sportsman the film gives us a rare look at the machinations of the men-or rather man-who run the sport at the highest levels.
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