Race To The Sun

Today is the start of the cycling season! It’s Paris-Nice time. With all due respect to the Tour Down Under and the Tour of Qatar and all those other early season races that are nothing more than days out for sponsors the season starts today.

Also starting today is my diet. When did I become so fat? I’ve done way too little cycling over the last six months or so. I have been so overwhelingly busy at work that I’ve become sedentary. I am also addicted to crisps and snacks. I think if I cut out snacks I’ll make a massive difference. So from today onwards there will be no snacking and more time on my bike.


Boring…boring Andy Schleck

Like I said in a previous post neither Schleck will ever win the Tour de France.  Witness Andy’s post stage whine and compare it with Voeckler or Evans.

No guts. No glory. No hope. Boring.

F***k off Giro!

David Millar has always been one of the more perceptive and eloquent members of the peloton.  He is a fine example of post-suspension rehabilitation and redemption.  He has always been a strong and consistent rider who has never had the same recognition as Wiggins and Cavendish in the last few years.  He has had a fantastic Giro.  Not only did he wear the Maglia Rosa but he also stormed the final ITT and tore it a new one.

Just before the Giro started Millar quoted in cyclingnews.com that he thought that this year’s edition of the Giro was “…so hard that it might neutralise the race”.

How right he was.  This year’s Giro was so hard it became a predictable and dull and completely under the control of Contador .   The death of Wouter Weylandt naturally took the shine off the first week but the neutralised Stage 4 was an incredible and moving spectacle.

When Millar finished the final mountain stage to Sestriere, he half jokingly said, “F**k you, Giro.”  After his win, he clarified himself.  “I think it is too much, I don’t think it makes for good racing. The organisers need to take a step back and a look at what they are doing,” Millar explained.

“It’s not the direction that modern cycling should be going. We as a peloton, it’s our responsibility to do something. It’s one thing to just complain to the press. We actually need to group together and actually try to get one collective voice to speak to the UCI and the race organisers.”

The Giro  was stupidly hard.  I’ll admit that I was quite excited when the route was announced, all those epic mountain top finishes were things to look forward to.  But the race fell flat on its face.  It was dull.  Less of a competition than a boring grind up mountains.

Changes have to be made to make the Grand Tours more competetive and more compelling spectacles.  Mountain top finishes are genuinely fantastic when you have a group of riders duelling all the way to the line.  They become less entertaining when you find yourself asking who will Contador gift today’s stage to?

How does organising a race this difficult help with he fight against doping?  In this current climate surely the UCI and race organisers should be looking at taking the edge off the Grand Tours?  I’m not saying that they should make them easy but they should be making the races more competitive.


Xavier Tondo

Xavier Tondo R.i.P

Top man.

“Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.”

There was a miserable and wholly predictable reaction to Tyler Hamilton’s revelations about Lance Armstrong and doping amongst the “Twateratti” last night.  It was the same dullards saying the same thing over and over again trying to outdo each other in the moral indignation stakes.  It was a baying mob and baying mobs are scary unbalanced things drunk on their own self-righteousness and as far as I could see just plain hatred.  Just so that we understand each other; Armstrong is just and ex-cyclist, right?  You’ll have to excuse my ignorance here if I misunderstood and that all your bilious outpourings were directed at a war criminal, or an international arms dealer or someone who beats cute puppies to death for a laugh.  But I didn’t get it wrong did I?  You were actually getting all upset and angry because you believe that a cyclist took drugs and won’t admit to it.  Is that really it?  Does it worry you that much? I always read Twitter because @procyclinglive keeps me updated on the racing I have miss when I’m at work.  I don’t Tweet because I’m not a sanctimonious, self-indulgent prick with a swollen, engorged sense of my self worth that I think that the whole world really wants to know what I think and feel over and over again in a 140 characters or less.

Armstrong and US Postal are under investigation and I’m happy to wait for the outcome.  I don’t pretend to know because I wasn’t there and I am not in possession of all the facts.  I’m not going to make guesses based on any personal prejudice and share it with the world because I’m not a prick.  The ongoing Federal investigation is being hijacked by a lynch mob eager to tear Armstrong limb from limb not because he may have broken the law but because they don’t like him.  Or are you actually upset because there may have been a fraudulent misuse of US taxes?  If you are, then I apologise unreservedly to you and take it all back and concede that you are truly an upstanding pillar of the community and not a desperate little grubber hiding behind a your twatter name tossing out spiteful comments for the amusement of your pointless little friends.

As a life long cycling obsessive I don’t see what I’m getting from this or how this benefits me. The only people who get anything out of this are the anti-Armstrong campaign whose dislike for the man is understandable but wholly disproportionate.  He is just an ex-cyclist after all.  He is a divisive figure and to all accounts an unpleasant bully but where is it written that he has to be likeable?

What is this irrational hatred based on?

Is it because he an unpleasant bully?  Hinault never won any popularity contests but somehow has never attracted the same level of vilification that Armstrong endures.

Is it because he may have doped?  Merckx actually tested positive three times in his career yet somehow we don’t care and we get all misty eyed and nostalgic and talk about Stage 17 of the 1969 Tour de France and that 140km lone break.  Doping has been an integral part of the sport since the end of the nineteenth century.  The sad fact is that everyone has doped.  Anquetil doped and he never hid that he took drugs and in a debate with a government minister on French television said only a fool would imagine it was possible to ride Bordeaux–Paris on just water.  He and other cyclists had to ride through “the cold, through heatwaves, in the rain and in the mountains”, and they had the right to treat themselves as they wished, he said in a television interview, before adding:  “Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.”

Coppi admitted to drug taking on national TV in Italy and regularly took “la bomba”.  If you don’t know “la bomba” is amphetamines.  If we hate Armstrong because he’s a cheat then why don’t we hate Coppi, Anquetil and Merckx as well?  Because they also took performance enhancing drugs to cheat.  What about Henri Pélissier? In 1924, Henri Pélissier and his brother Charles told the journalist Albert Londres they used strychnine, cocaine, chloroform, aspirin, “horse ointment” and other drugs.  The story was published in Le Petit Parisien under the title Les Forçats de la Route (‘The Convicts of the Road’). Pélissier died in 1935 – shall we dig up his mouldering corpse, prop him up in a chair and try it in court like the Cadaver Synod in Rome in 897?

If we are going to hate Armstrong for these reasons then we should hate all the others as well because he is no different.

Underneath that this veneer of glory and heroism professional cycling has always had a squalid, shabby and corrupt side but we have to accept that and deal with it and understand that it didn’t just start in 1999, all our heroes were dopers.  We also need some perspective and realize that we are dealing with cyclists here and not Nazi war criminals.  Let’s not forget the past but let them all rest in peace.

We need to move on.  We should be looking to the future.  We should be looking for ways to make sure that doping isn’t an option for tomorrow’s heroes.   The sport is in a mess and the fight to reform it will not be without controversy and casualties.  The demands on cyclists are too high and the rewards too low.  I think that we have to thin out the racing calendar.  We will have to look very closely at the Grand Tours – do we need three?  The current arms race among organisers to make each successive race the most stupid race yet, sorry I mean epic and spectacular, is extremely damaging.  Look at the Giro this weekend – spectacular and epic, yes.  Realistic and achievable without doping? I’m not so sure.  And be honest when was the last grand tour that kept you interested every day for three weeks?  Look at this year’s Giro, Tour and Vuelta and make a list of un-missable days – how many? 7 or 10 maybe?  So why not just have 7 to 10 un-missable days?  I think that more 7 to 10 day tours outside Europe may be more interesting and would certainly up the sport’s global appeal and reach.  The world has moved on.  We are no longer living in the days of Desgrange.  We have changed our culture has changed.  Maybe we are no longer so happy to watch men smash themselves to pieces on the roads of Europe for three weeks just to see who can suffer the most.


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When Robbie met the Warrior King of Chechnya

I have always thought highly of ex-Liverpool great Robbie Fowler.  In his pomp he was a fantastic player and one of the greatest strikers in Europe but perhaps unfortunately never got the Continental recognition his talents deserved.  He was always a man of principle and was never “removed” from the fans like a lot of players – he knew them and understood them because he was one of them.  In 1997 after scoring his second goal in Liverpool’s 3-0 Cup Winners’ Cup win over Brann Bergen of Norway Fowler lifted up his red Liverpool shirt to display a T-shirt which read: “Support The 500 Sacked Dockers”.  The t-shirt was a parody of the Calvin Klein logo that all the witless were wearing that year.  The UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Committee fined him for this but we loved him even more.

I was surprised when Fowler had turned up at the behest of Ramzan Kadyrov to play an exhibition match in Grozny, “Maradona and Liverpool greats play exhibition match for Chechen leader”.   Ramzan Kadyrov the leader of Chechnya and has been accused of human rights abuses.  An article in The Independent newspaper, “Ramzan Kadyrov: The warrior king of Chechnya” makes interesting but disturbing reading.  An article on Amnesty International’s website entitled , “Justice urged for Russian Human Rights defender’s murder” again makes for sad but predictable reading.  The Guardian article notes that, “… Kadyrov is known to enjoy a good time, dancing up a storm and showering guests with money, he has imposed a steadily strict Islamism on the republic, discouraging alcohol and nightclubs. Women who walk around town without headscarves have been shot at by security services with paintguns.”

I’m not surprised that Maradona would attend beause he never seems to have been that fussy about the company he keeps.  But what about Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Louis Figo, Franco Baresi and Fabien Barthez?

I’m happy to believe that they would not want to associate themselves too closely with someone of Kadyrov’s reputation without there being a very good reason.  Maybe they though that the presence of men of their stature would somehow would refocus international attention on this unhappy and unfortunate country?  After all what better way to draw attention to the problems that still exist in Chechnya by sending a team of retired footballers who were important a decade ago?

I wouldn’t for a minute think that this trip to Chechnya was motivated by greed; motivated by the need of multi-millionaires to make even more money.  Was it money that made these men travel to Chechnya to “perform” for the “Warrior King”?  Who knows what they’d be prepared to do if they were paid enough money?

I hope that they genuinely, but misguidedly, believed that what they were doing was right.  I really do.  I’d hate for my my gut feeling about footballers being cynical, pampered, vacuous, grasping parasites to be correct.

Sadly most of the time it seems to be bang on the money.

Thanks Robbie!