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IT?S ALL ABOUT LANCE

It?s all about Lance. Everything is about Lance. Who said what to him in the press conference, what he said in reply.

His one-in-a-million time trial bike got stolen, then a motorbike in the race convoy crashed into him. Then Levi crashed into him. Phew, it?s been dramatic.

You?d be forgiven for thinking I?ve cut-and-pasted the most recent updates from his Twitter feed, but no, this is how part two of his comeback is being reported, or perhaps that should be micro-reported.

I do wonder if the media and the public will have the stamina to continue for a whole season at this level of intensity or whether there is a backlash just around the corner.

It?s clear some people can?t stand Armstrong and avoid any mention of him.

But at what point will rival riders begin to really resent the level of coverage Armstrong is getting at their expense? We?re already at the stage where Armstrong?s finishing position often takes precedence in reports over the actual winner.

Is that good for cycling? I certainly don?t think so.

TWITTERING

Talking of Twitter, it may be only a five-minute fad, or it may eventually see all human communication be restricted to pithy phrases, but Cyclesportmag now has a feed, and so do I.

So, if inane ramblings of loosely-connected brains condensed into no more than 140 characters is your bag, follow us. It?ll be great, I promise.

To be fair, the cyclesportmag snippets from Simon Richardson at the Tour of California are very entertaining, even if he is insisting on posting a picture of his breakfast every day.

Twitter. It?s the future.

RELATED LINKS

www.twitter.com/cyclesportmag

www.twitter.com/lionelbirnie

KIMMAGE v ARMSTRONG

The Tour of California ? I refuse to call it by its sponsor?s name until the race organisers and sponsors at least acknowledge the absurdity of an EPO manufacturer sponsoring a sporting event that has had terrible problems with the mis-use of the substance ? started with a showdown in the press room.

You can watch the exchange on youtube for yourself, but the essence is that the Irish journalist Paul Kimmage, of The Sunday Times asked Lance Armstrong what it was he admired so much about the recently-returned dopers such as Ivan Basso and Tyler Hamilton.

Armstrong began by asking: ?What was your name again??

And this is where I feel his response loses credibility. It seems highly unlikely that Armstrong would not recognise by sight and sound the face and voice of Paul Kimmage, but in the grand theatre of the moment, it was important for Armstrong to begin the effort to undermine early.

Armstrong?s response is measured and seems almost rehearsed, as if he knew the question was coming. Recalling a transcript of a radio interview Kimmage gave last year soon after Armstrong announced his comeback, Armstrong said: ?When I decided to come back for what I think is a very noble reason, you said the cancer was back, meaning me.

?I am here to fight this disease, so I don?t have to deal with it, I don?t have to deal with it. It goes without saying, we?re not going to sit down and do an interview. I don?t think anyone in this room would sit down for that interview. You are not worth the chair you are sitting on with a statement like that.?

He then goes on to answer the question and explain that David Millar ?got caught with his hand in the cookie jar?, Floyd Landis doesn?t feel he did anything wrong and that he admired Ivan Basso.

The cookie jar comment, in particular, shows a complete lack of willingness to address doping in cycling as a serious issue, reducing it to the sort of thing a naughty schoolboy might do. That, surely, is not acceptable.

He added: ?As a society, are we supposed to forgive? Absolutely.?

But forgiveness should be preceded by contrition. Millar?s stance has been clear since joining Jonathan Vaughters?s Slipstream team. Even Basso has admitted he made mistakes.

Where, though, was the condemnation of doping? Given a perfect opportunity to say once and for all that doping was unequivocally wrong, Lance Armstrong chose not to.

Now, you can say that spoken words are only so much hot air and that it?s the easiest thing in the world to say one thing and do another. But to say nothing at all? That is surely bizarre.

It was classic Armstrong. Get the room on your side, narrow down the target and isolate them. ?I?m not sure anyone in this room would sit down for an interview with you.? ?I?m not sure anyone in the world would forgive you for that comment.?

Having met Paul Kimmage, I can say he is an intimidating character. He is the master of silence and he listens intently. In the end you become very aware of the sound of your own voice and begin to feel as if you are babbling. To be interviewed by him must be quite formidable because he has a knack of homing in on the salient point and not letting go, not letting you get away with poorly-explained half-statements.

I like him and I respect him for having the courage to sit in the front row and ask Armstrong a direct question about doping because I know that cannot have been easy.

I can see, though, that his comment made in a radio interview ? not, as many seem to think, in the Sunday Times ? would have offended people.

It was a typically forthright comment. ?The great cancer martyr? this is what he hides behind all the time. The great man who conquered cancer. Well, he is the cancer in this sport, and for two years this sport has been in remission. Now the cancer?s back.?

It is harsh, inflammatory stuff, but it is also anchored in truth.

The irony is that if Kimmage had not said it, he would not have offered Armstrong the opportunity to divert the attention away by talking about cancer. The illness is emotive and emotional and as soon as you hear the word you feel yourself shrink away.

But if Kimmage?s comments offended some, are the same people not offended that Armstrong is also using cancer?

Kimmage ended by saying: ?You don?t have a patent on cancer. I am interested in the cancer of doping in cycling. I exposed it. You come along and it disappears.?

He?s right, Armstrong doesn?t have a patent on cancer.

And if you watch the clip to the end, Armstrong does something else he does best. Having singled out his target, he gets the rest of the room on side. ?Switching back to the Tour of California?? he said, to guffaws and applause.

That?s it. Laugh it up. Let?s not address the real issues.



Deja-vu. It?s like 2005 all over again. Hamilton, Basso, Landis, Armstrong?

BACK TO SQUARE ONE

Last year the Tour of California took the brave and correct decision of barring three Rock Racing riders from the race because of their alleged involvement in Operacion Puerto.

Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero were prevented from racing, and were subjected to the indignity of riding by themselves behind the race to give Rock Racing some exposure. As PR initiatives went, it was a lousy idea.

It was a shame the Tour of California?s organisers did not take the same action this year, and so it was with a sense of inevitability that Francisco Mancebo won the first road stage on Sunday and took the leader?s jersey.

Mancebo was named in Operacion Puerto in July 2006 and left his AG2R team, announcing his retirement. By the start of 2007, he had un-retired and he rode for Relax-Gam. Last year he rode for a tiny Spanish squad called Fercase-Paredes Rota dos Moveis, which was not much more than a club team.

Michael Ball has a keen eye for a controversial figure, so Mancebo obviously fitted the bill.

The Tour of California didn?t gain anything from Mancebo?s victory and, according to Cycling Weekly?s Simon Richardson, there were a few embarrassed glances.

When will organisers and sponsors realise that dopers damage the sport. Not all publicity is good publicity.

FROM INSIDE THE ECHELON

Daniel Lloyd gave up his Saturday afternoon to present the prizes at the final round of the Imperial Racing Team?s winter series at Hillingdon.

After the formalities, I had a quick word and he gave a fascinating insight into how the echelons formed during the recent Tour of Qatar.

It was, in short, a masterclass from one of the finest exponents of the art, Andreas Klier, a German rider who has always done well when the wind has blown during the spring Classics.

On the first road stage, Lloyd and Klier?s Cervélo team were heavily represented in the lead group, which also contained some dangerous sprinters, not least Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen.

At one point the echelon was spread across the full width of the road and Klier wanted to thin down the group a little and tip the odds even more in the favour of Cervélo.

So, he shouted: ?Half road?, giving the instruction for the echelon to spread itself across only half the width of the road. The effect is to force the riders at the back into the gutter, unable to get that little bit of shelter inside the rider in front because there was no more road available to ride on.

As a result they are riding in the wind and eventually the gap will open. Klier wanted to lose one of the sprinters and Cavendish was one of those who missed the cut.

BRITS GOING WELL

With all the hullabaloo surrounding the Tour of California, Chris Froome?s third place on the Mont Faron stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean went under the radar a little.

The Kenyan-born rider is an excellent climber, as he showed on the narrow little climb that rises above the town of Toulon.

Daniel Martin, who was British junior road race champion before switching allegiances to Ireland, was third overall, indicating that he could be due a very fine season in the stage races.

What was impressive, though, was that Britain?s Steve Cummings and Dave Millar were 14th and 15th overall, just behind Froome, who was 13th.

Cummings has apparently lost a lot of weight this winter in a bid to improve his climbing, and Millar kept the pressure on right the way to the top of Mont Faron, whereas in previous years he?d have been tempted to sit up at the foot of the climb. Perhaps this is the year Millar?s tilt at Paris-Nice pays off.

WHEELS OF JUSTICE OBSTRUCTED AGAIN

The Spanish legal system looks set to leap to Alejandro Valverde?s defence yet again.

The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) wants to compare the DNA from a bag of blood seized during the Operacion Puerto raids in 2006, with a sample of Valverde?s blood taken during last year?s Tour.

So, what should CONI do? Simple. Just bar Valverde from riding in Italy until the issue is resolved once and for all.

That would put paid to the Caisse d?Epargne rider?s Tour de France hopes because this year?s race will spend a few hours in Italy during stage 16 as they ride between the Grand and Petit Saint-Bernard cols.

The wider issue, though, is that even in European Union countries there is no consistency when it comes to pursuing riders suspected of involvement in doping. How much longer can WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) let this farce go on?

THE WEDNESDAY COMMENT IN 2009

Bonus Comment: Lance Armstrong and Don Catlin drop anti-doping programme

February 11 ? Why BC must fight harder for road racing’s future

February 4 ? What’s hot during the big freeze?

January 28 ? The Snore Down Under

January 21 ? The Second Coming

January 14 ? So, Sir Alan rides a bike?