|NO ROOM AT THE INN|
For the past two years, one half of CW?s intrepid reporting team has covered the Tour de France from the comfort of a spacious camper van.*
It was fun at the time and allowed us to see the race from an entirely different perspective, away from the hermetically-sealed, anodyne atmosphere of the press room.
We?ve been there, done that and washed the T-shirt. We?ll be leaving the campervan experience to the dozens of copycats who will no doubt be venturing out with a fresh faced enthusiasm that only a camper van virgin can muster.
Instead it?ll be back to the tried and trusted hire car and hotel experience. It?s more convenient, much quicker and makes us more versatile.
And everything would be fine if we?d actually got round to booking all of our accommodation. Just over a fortnight to go and there are still some worrying gaps in our schedule. It?s got so bad we may even have to stay in Lourdes for a couple of nights.
We?ve scoured the internet and called on all our faithful old hotel guides that have never let us down before to no avail.
Suddenly the camper van doesn?t seem so bad. It certainly beats the prospect of sleeping in the back of a Renault estate for a week.
(*Camper van was neither comfortable, nor spacious.)
The people who plot the route of the Tour de France certainly have a sense of humour.
The final stage from Etampes to Paris goes through Châtenay-Malabry, home of the infamous French national anti-doping laboratory.
How they must have chuckled when they came up with that one.
Are they going to divert the peloton through the doors of the lab and ask them to give a quick sample, or is it just another way to play with the minds of the dopers?
|LONG LIVE THE TOUR DE SUISSE|
My colleague Edward Pickering has just returned from a trip to see a couple of days the Dauphiné Libéré followed by a couple of days of the Tour of Switzerland and was struck by the contrast between the two races.
He reports that the Dauphiné was a boring race with small crowds at the starts, finishes and on the road side, whereas people were out in huge numbers for the first couple of days of the Tour of Switzerland.
Admittedly the racing in Switzerland has yet to really get going and, of the two, the Dauphiné Libéré is traditionally the more prestigious event.
As preparation races for the main event, the Tour de France, both have their merits but the Swiss tour is often overlooked, partly because it?s not on telly in the UK and partly because it?s so close to the start of the Tour that you get the feeling the main protagonists are holding a bit back.
RELATED LINK Analysis: What the Dauphiné told us about the Tour
|TIME FOR A REST, TOM|
Ah, the old ?someone-must-have-spiked-my-drink? excuse. Tom Boonen has had a whole week to think up something that sounded plausible, and that was it?
Last week at a press conference, he read out a written statement that said: ?Lately, my name has appeared several times in the news in a negative manner. I realise that with this I have hurt my family, my friends, my team and my fans. I wish to apologise for that. But I am not perfect. I will accept the consequences. You will understand that in spite of everything that has been written, rightfully or wrongly, I am not here to defend my conduct.?
While this did not amount to an explicit confession that he had taken cocaine, it was not the emphatic denial you?d expect from someone who had not taken cocaine and yet there it was, showing up in his urine.
A few days later his story had changed. Now he says he visited a bar in his home town in Belgium, Mol, with his girlfriend where he had a drink. A little later he felt ill and went home. He claims something may have been slipped into his drink.
A week ago, it was easy to afford Boonen the benefit of the doubt. Here is a young man who is a superstar in his home country, trapped in a goldfish bowl of a life where he cannot speak to one newspaper or television station without speaking to them all because they criticize him for showing favoritism.
He has moved to Monaco to escape the press, and to pay a bit less tax. He owns some fast cars and has occasionally been caught driving them too quickly on the open road.
Boonen is young, good-looking, wealthy. He also carries the weight of a team and a nation on his shoulders. He is supremely gifted, yet limited at the same time. He can win Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders and Tour de France stages until he chooses to retire, but he is expected to do exactly that.
The paradox is that a Flanders-Roubaix double for Boonen is nothing special. It?s expected. This spring?s victory on the Roubaix velodrome was not greeted as a triumph, there was a palpable sense of relief. Phew, that?s saved his spring.
So, here we have Boonen, a wealthy young man, groaning under the weight of other people?s expectations. In those circumstances, it would not be a tremendous surprise if cocaine found its way under his nose, so to speak.
As a professional sportsman who knows he?s liable to be tested at any time, it would have been a very, very foolish decision to take coke with your home stage race, the Tour of Belgium, just a few days away. And even though cocaine is not banned if taken out of competition, any positive would bound to be made public.
If Boonen took cocaine it could have been interpreted a cry for help, an attempt to put on the brakes. When my colleague Gemma Sharkey travelled to Spain early in the year to interview Boonen, she painted a picture in the subsequent feature in Cycle Sport of a man tiring of being pulled in every direction.
Taking cocaine would have been stupid, but it would have been understandable. A break from racing, a chance to recover and regroup and gain perspective and then return with a clean slate.
Inevitably the Tour de France organisers have taken a very dim view of Boonen?s cocaine positive.
Quick Step is applying pressure to get Boonen a place in the Tour because he is so commercially important to them. The team has fielded him today in the Ster Elektrotoer in Holland. Quick Step?s PR department sent out a missive yesterday informing all and sundry that its riders would not be speaking to the press this week for fear of being misrepresented.
If Quick Step digs in its heels, this issue is going to get very ugly between now and the start of the Tour. An appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport could even be on the cards.
But let?s look at the wider picture. It?s time to stop thinking about how many planks of laminate flooring Boonen?s presence in the Tour will sell.
It?s time to think about the mother or father whose young son watches Boonen in the Tour and asks what all this business about cocaine is all about.
Is Boonen the right face for the Tour de France? At the moment the answer has to be ?no?.
He must either issue a flat denial that he?s taken cocaine and undertake a respectful rest from competition, or he must make this ?spiked drink? suggestion stand up.
PREVIOUS TUESDAY COMMENTS
June 10 ? Boonen?s cocaine positive
June 3 ? Watch out ? the Brits are coming
May 27 ? What should we make of this Giro? Credible or incredible?
May 20 ? Conte reveals a cheat?s charter
May 13 ? Why Cavendish is a superstar
May 6 ? Astana for the Giro! Yawn
April 29 ? Yeah, well done, Liquigas
April 22 ? I?ve had a brilliant idea!
April 15 – Thanks a bunch, Eurosport
April 8 ? The Tuesday Comment live from Belgium
April 1 ? Why I believe Rob Hayles
March 25 ? Just how good can Emma Pooley be?
March 18 ? Forget sitting in a bath of beans, cycling is the new charity fundraiser
March 11 ? Can Sportive riders defy UCI ban?
March 4 ? Why Het Volk is the real deal
February 26 ? Pendleton Poses Nude and the Demise of the Archer
February 19 ? Let Levi Ride? Leave it out