WHAT A MESS

Cycling is a really messed up world at times.

Tom Boonen has tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test administered by the Flemish Government. Cocaine is not banned by the World Anti-Doping agency if detected out of competition, however the Flemish authorities are pursuing the matter.

The UCI is waiting for more information but will not sanction Boonen because the offence is not a sporting matter. Had he tested positive in a race it would be a different story.

So, this appears to be a case of a young man with a lot of money and a very high public profile making a very bad decision and getting caught out. As a professional sportsman involved in a sport that has had a terrible problem with performance-enhancing drugs, taking coke was probably not a great decision.

But then as a member of the human race, driving at twice the speed limit was probably not a great decision, nor was driving while over the permitted alcohol limit.

Boonen has been caught doing all three, of late, and he will pay a high price.

It is wholly predictable that the organisers of a bike race will now be reluctant to invite Boonen to race in their events. I shouldn?t think this latest news has gone down too well with Monsieur Prudhomme.

And the race director of the Tour of Switzerland, Armin Meier, has already said that Boonen will not be welcome on the start line when his race begins on Saturday.

Armin Meier. That name?s familiar. Oh yes, it?s Armin Meier, the Swiss rider who was suspended for eight months and fined $2,000 dollars in 1998 for his part in the Festina scandal. So now he?s cycling?s moral compass? He did his time and he?s now free to play his part as the race director of an event owned by IMG.

This case, and the inconsistency in WADA?s code, highlights just how difficult it is to take a clear stance on doping in sport.

Boonen took cocaine but he has not broken the rules of the sport that provides him with a very comfortable living. Technically he is free to race. But can the Tour de France take a strong line on those who take performance-enhancing drugs while welcoming with open arms someone who has taken cocaine.

As a liberal I believe everyone should have the right to make their own decisions, as long as they do not harm anyone else and as long as they confront the consequences of their actions.

Unfortunately for Boonen, the poster boy for cycling, he?s made several poor decisions. Can the Tour de France stomach the thought of Boonen winning a stage this year or would they rather he took time out to get his personal life in order.

Drugs are bad. Armin should know. And the wider issue is the fear that Boonen is developing some problems. He drives fast, he takes risks, he tests positive for cocaine. Yes, he?s a young man but is there a danger he?ll crack under the microscope? Hopefully those close to him will help to put things in perspective so he can start making some better decisions.

ASO BUYS THE VUELTA

Hopefully ASO, the company which owns the Tour de France, checked the small print to see which 49 per cent of the Vuelta a Espana it was buying.

If it was the 49 per cent that includes the interminably dull flat stages and the time trials held on a coned-off lane of a dual carriageway, they were done.

The rumours that ASO was interested in buying into the Vuelta had been floating around for months, so it was no great surprise when the announcement came last week.

But as a land-grab, it was a strategically interesting move, and stoked up the battle for supremacy between the Parisian company and the sport?s governing body, the UCI.

Last week ASO announced the Tour de France, like Paris-Nice earlier in the season, would be held under French Cycling Federation rules, rather than under the UCI?s jurisdiction.

As ASO?s portfolio continues to grow, it also signed a lucrative new television contract with American broadcaster Versus, which will pay $27.5m to show the Tour for the next five years. In the space of a week they have managed to make the UCI look like a peripheral player and the governing body?s attempts to get tours in China and Russia off the ground look pedestrian.

Buying a stake in the Vuelta simply strengthens ASO?s hand but what changes could there be to the race calendar now?

As reported in the July issue of our sister magazine Cycle Sport, there are strong rumours the UCI wants to move the road World Championships to the traditional August date, which, as it stands, could mean a clash with the opening weekend of the Vuelta.

But ASO is thought to be considering moving the Vuelta back to its own traditional spring date, starting in late April. There is also a rumour that the race could be cut to a fortnight, a move I have long advocated.

Although much-maligned, the Vuelta?s problems are not really of its own making.

It?s never been anything more than a national tour of interest to the Spanish and a handful of foreigners but after the UCI-led decision in 1995 to move it to September there was a concerted effort to make it the third ?grand tour?.

But from its inception in 1935 until the date change in 1995, it was never really on a par with even the Giro d?Italia, let alone the Tour de France.

For years it struggled. In 1977 there were only seven teams of 10 riders, meaning a tiny field of just 70 rode. There were only 80 starters in 1981 and the field didn?t reach ?grand tour? proportions until the mid-1980s. The decision, in 1979, to finish the race in Madrid, the capital, added a bit of gravitas, but still the race was the relatively poor relation.

And then came the switch to September. The race would be a vital warm-up for the World Championships, they said. The problem was, the drop-out rate was very high ? of the 180 riders in 1995, 62 pulled out, some to taper down for the Worlds, others simply because the long season was taking its toll.

The race has had a torrid time of late. Commercially it?s been under pressure for years and successive races have been made to look void by subsequent doping events. Simple fact is, the cycling calendar does not need a three-week tour in late summer.

ASO could breathe new life into the Vuelta, make it shorter, more relevant and move it to a happier place on the calendar. But the worry is ASO?s goal stretches beyond rescuing a Spanish race, its about getting its tentacles even deeper into the fabric of the race calendar.

But while ASO?s acquisitions department scouts for more races to snap up, we would not be in the least bit surprised if the Dauphiné Libéré were next on the shopping list. Once that happens, ASO and its partners could have enough events to establish its own calendar completely outside the jurisdiction of the UCI and enough clout to tempt smaller race organisers to align themselves with them.

This would be a worrying development for many reasons, not least because, however clueless the UCI has been on some issues, it is the only body that can unite all the disparate factions in cycling.

But the UCI will not achieve unity by trying to organise races to rival ASO?s events and then instigating a tug of war for the support of the teams and riders. That way madness lies, but, cycling seems keen on madness and the publication of the various 2009 race calendars could spark a petty war, with each body attempting to get one over on the other.

THEY DON?T CALL IT HELL FOR NOTHING

I will never, ever again hope for rain on the eve of Paris-Roubaix. I promise.

It?s Tuesday afternoon as I write this and my arms and hands still ache from the battering meted out by the pavé in Sunday?s Paris-Roubaix cyclo-sportive.

Almost ten hours in the saddle, 244 kilometres (or 151 miles) and 28 sections of cobblestones. It was harder than I?d expected, but the silent sense of camaraderie between the participants was something I?ll never forget.

Each rider was locked in his or her own personal battle, whether they picked the full-length route or one of the shorter options. Seeing riders who had suffered a serious mishap ? such as the poor man being nursed by his friends with an obviously broken collarbone, or the guy riding very slowly minus a saddle ? provoked a horrible mental dilemma that I was in no shape mentally, or physically, to deal with.

Should I stop to help? Is there actually anything I can do if I were to stop? Or do I just thank my lucky stars it?s not me and hope I do not suffer a similar fate? It was like nothing else I?ve experienced on a bike.

All I can say is that I achieved what I set out to achieve, which was to ride on the cobblestones in the Arenberg forest instead of take the cinder track option. Having done so, I have total respect for everyone else who did so ? calling out ?chapeau? to the riders who passed me on Arenberg ? while also understanding exactly why others took the less painful option. It was brutal.

Reaching the famous velodrome in Roubaix made it all worthwhile, as did the mini cobblestone trophy.

What do you mean ‘You could make one of those with stuff bought at a garden centre’?

CW?s sub-editor James Shrubsall, reporter Ian Cleverly and myself all rode and you can read our accounts on this site a little later this week. We?d also like to hear from any readers who rode because after such an epic day, everyone must have their own tale to tell.

We saw loads of Brits on the road, some who looked like they?d been in the wars, others who bombed past me (particularly in the last 30 miles or so), so if you have a story to tell, get in touch. Email Lionel

WHO?S THE MUG?

A few weeks ago, when the weather was lousy and we were at a loose end, my better half suggested we go to a little place where you can paint your own ceramics in a relaxing environment.

It would, she said, take my mind off work for an afternoon. So, while, on account of her natural artistic flair, she expertly painted an elaborate design on a teapot, why did I come up with this?

A mug for a mug.

Well, I?ve got no hope of ever riding like a world champion, but at least I can drink tea like one. Don?t mock, I was going for a rough-and-ready freehand look, I know I?ve coloured over the lines.

PREVIOUS TUESDAY COMMENTS

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

February 12

February 5

January 29

January 22

January 15