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|THE SNORE DOWN UNDER|
As an exercise in generating publicity for Adelaide and its environs (and Lance Armstrong) the Tour Down Under was a triumph.
As a credible international stage race supposedly on a par with Paris-Nice or the Dauphiné Libéré, it was a dead loss.
Six stages, six sprint finishes. It out Eneco-ed the Eneco Tour. Actually, that?s a bit unfair on the Eneco Tour ? at least that has a time trial and one or two of the stages make a meaningful incursion into the hilly Ardennes.
I am not criticising the existence of the Adelaide race. Australia deserves a decent stage race, and a hot weather introduction to the racing season is not necessarily a bad thing.
But the actual race does not warrant the status with which it has been bestowed. The organisers made a big deal of saying that stage five would split it up. Two climbs of Willunga Hill would deny the sprinters, apparently. Well it didn?t. The front group may only have had 38 riders in it, but Allan Davis headed a top ten packed with sprinters.
I watched much of the coverage on Sky Sports and it was fairly entertaining viewing, even if You Know Who?s every sneeze and swallow was obsessed over.
But for most of the riders it was an old-fashioned training race. It?s the Tour of Qatar with more varied scenery, but no one is trying to say the Middle Eastern race should be included in the UCI?s World Calendar competition are they.
That brings me nicely to the World Calendar, the new season-long competition which is the ProTour plus ASO and RCS events.
It?s a compromise solution to the bitter war between the UCI and the grand tour organisers, but still I fail to see the point of having a ranking system based on a specific set of events like this. It?s neither fish nor fowl, falling down the gap between two perfectly acceptable systems from the past, the all-encompassing UCI World Ranking and the World Cup.
We calculated how the World Calendar rankings would have turned out in 2008 had the competition been won. You can read the full analysis here.
No one will be particularly surprised to see that Alejandro Valverde would have won overall, despite the fact that Alberto Contador won two of the three grand tours, because these kind of competitions reward consistency.
It seems odd to me that you can have a competition where victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège ? admittedly one of the most prestigious Classics, but only a one-day race ? is worth 100 points, while winning a three-week slog round Italy or Spain is worth just 170.
If riders? salaries were calculated on the same basis, the one-day Classics are fat pay days while the grand tour champions are working for below minimum wage.
What chance a medal for Helen Wyman in the World Cyclo-Cross Championships this weekend?
She?s got a good outside chance, I?d say, and certainly she must rate as the most improved cross rider of the season.
Louise Robinson was the last British rider to win a medal when she took silve nine years ago, and it would take a superb ride from Wyman to match that, particularly when you look at the strength of the competition offered by five-time champion Hanka Kupfernagel, America?s Katie Compton and the Dutch duo Daphny Van Den Brand and Marianne Vos.
But Wyman is in that elevated company as one of the favourites after finishing in the top ten of the five rounds of the World Cup this season.
Her best result was fourth in Koksijde, Belgium, in November. There?d be no better time to go one or two places better than in Hoogerheide this weekend.
|OUT IN THE COLD|
When ASO comes to name the teams for the 2009 Tour de France, I?d be absolutely astonished if Barloworld were on the list.
After Moises Duenas?s positive test for EPO during last year?s race, Barloworld are a long way from the good books.
However, it was quite a shock to see that Barloworld had not been named in the 20 teams pre-selected for the Giro d?Italia, particularly as they are Italian-based with a strong Italian flavour. There are just two places remaining to be filled for the centenary Giro, and Barloworld?s three British riders, Steve Cummings, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, must fear for their season if the team does not get one of them.
For British fans it would be a real shame if they had to miss out. Cummings rode extremely well last year, Thomas is targeting a strong season on the road and Froome showed enough at his debut Tour de France to suggest he could become a fine stage racer. All three need a grand tour in their schedule this season, and the Giro still looks their best chance of getting one.
But having long suggested that teams are made to pay the price for the consequences of their riders? actions, it?s difficult to insist on Barloworld?s inclusion.
One thing is for sure, though, the sooner the British pro team becomes a reality the better.
Barloworld must wait for Giro wild card invite
|THE GREATEST EXCUSE EVER|
Excuses for being beaten in your local race don?t get much better than being able to say: ?Well, the guy who won it rode the Giro d?Italia you know.?
Flavio Zappi, a 48-year-old Italian, was a pro in the early 1980s and was second in the Giro d?Italia king of the mountains and 12th in the 1984 Milan-San Remo.
He quit pro cycling in the mid-1980s, then worked in the catering industry and barely touched a bicycle for more than 20 years.
In the late 1990s he moved to Oxford and then, in November 2007, he rescued a bike from a skip and started riding round town. Soon riding became training and he hooked up with the Oxford University CC, riding his first club run in a football shirt, jeans and trainers, but not getting dropped.
Within months he was racing, now he?s a first category rider and he recently won at Hog Hill. We caught up with him last week, and you can read his story here.
|WHY ?WHEREABOUTS? MATTERS|
Out of competition testing is a vital tool in the battle to narrow the window of opportunity for those professional sports people tempted to take banned substances or manipulate their blood.
The ?whereabouts? system, which has been rolled out during the past five years, requires athletes to fill in a form every three months to give details of where they will be for one hour of every single day.
That information is then passed to accredited and sanctioned anti-doping agencies so that the athlete can be visited for random out-of-competition testing.
It stands to reason that the ability to do good quality out-of-competition testing is important. The UCI has also used the Whereabouts scheme to gather data for its biological passport. More of that a little later.
Anyway, ADAMS, the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System, developed for WADA, has been used by the UCI since the start of 2008 and is a big improvement on the old practice.
In our sister magazine Cycle Sport in late 2007, we printed copies of the old paper forms and explained how they had to be filled in. They were pretty confusing to the uninitiated.
Now, using the computerised ADAMS system, riders can provide their information and update it easily. And if their ?whereabouts? changes, they can send a text message to a special number up to a minute before their allotted hour to inform the testers of the change of plan. So, if a rider said they?d be at the gym from 2pm to 3pm on a given day, but then got roped in to the school run, they?d be able to send a text with updated details and not run the risk of having a ?missed test?. Because three missed tests, and the rider is in hot water.
It may not be a system to warm the heart or reaffirm a belief in the general good of human nature, but it is a necessary evil in the bid to dissuade people from doping. The chance of a random tester turning up any day must surely be a strong deterrent to those tempted to engage in a blood-doping regime or to take drugs while training.
However, the entire system is in jeopardy because a group of Belgian sports people, including some cyclists it is reported, are mounting a legal challenge to the ?Whereabouts? system. One of the objections is that it is an infringement of their basic civil liberties.
Unfortunately, those lobbying for the abolition of a whereabouts scheme tend to paint a rather inaccurate picture of the burden placed upon the athletes.
One of the claims that often goes unchecked is that the whereabouts schemes requires an athlete to account for every movement, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This is utterly false, but it sways public opinion and people start to think: ?Yes, that does seem unfair.?
The other claim is that the system requires you declare your whereabouts when you are at home, meaning that dope testers knock at the door in front of your children. Again, there is nothing to say this has to be the case. It is up to the athlete to decide which hour of the day he or she decides to nominate, as well as the venue.
Of course for convenience, that may often be at home but that is the rider?s choice.
People often say: ?How would you like to fill out one of these forms??
The answer is I probably wouldn?t, but then it isn?t part of my job description. It is, and must be, part of a professional athlete?s job description. I?d have thought telling the authorities where you are for an hour of each day is nothing like as unpleasant as having to provide a urine sample or stick your arm out to have blood taken and athletes have come to accept and understand that.
I?m not sure what those bringing this action hope to achieve, but if the public were furnished with the facts rather than emotive images of ghoulish anti-doping meddlers arriving on the doorstep at midnight with a photocopied ID and a glistening syringe, I suspect people would wonder what the fuss is about.
Besides, when most of the population have to declare their whereabouts between the hours of nine and five, five days a week (it?s called going to work) a bunch of sportspeople having to be accountable for a single hour are hardly likely to get much sympathy.
Declaring where you?ll be for one hour of each day so that you will be available for anti-doping testing is not too much to ask if it restores the basic credibility of a sport that has suffered so much as a result of letting too many get away with too much for too long.
There?s nothing for an athlete to fear with Whereabouts, unless they put ?1pm to 2pm ? Dr Fuentes?s Clinic, Madrid?. That probably wouldn?t be wise.
|HOW MUCH LONGER MUST WE BE PATIENT|
As a panacea for cycling?s ills, the biological passport system has a lot to live up to.
For a year now, the UCI has been collecting samples ? more than 8,300 ? to compile blood profiles of more than 800 riders.
At the weekend, one of the UCI?s experts who was part of the team analysing the data to identify suspicious cases, an Australian called Robin Parisotto, suggested sanctions could be taken against as many as 30 riders.
The UCI issued a press release on Monday evening to say that was not an accurate conclusion, but the governing body did not shed any further light on how the process is progressing.
I can understand the need for patience and caution. Legally, and scientifically, it is going to be very difficult to enforce sanctions on a rider by so-called ?indirect detection? ? that is by building up a profile and then spotting suspicious anomalies. Any shaky case would most likely face a legal challenge, which could stop the entire biological passport scheme in its tracks.
And it stands to reason that the picture becomes clearer as more data is collected. A crude analysis of the figures would suggest that even the most tested riders in 2008 have only got 15 or 20 entries on their passport. The experts must decide when there is sufficient evidence to accuse someone of blood manipulation.
Whenever I have spoken to Anne Gripper, the UCI?s head of anti-doping services, I have always been struck by her determination to build an accurate picture and ensure that any case is watertight. More than once she has urged patience, and for good reason.
But the problem is that the UCI?s press release failed to allay fears that they are sitting on a time bomb. It?s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the UCI knows there are some suspect cases out there but they don?t yet have everything in place to make it stick.
As far as we know, no riders have been prevented from competing because they have registered suspect blood values.
It?s too simplistic to say to the UCI ?Hurry up? but at some point push is going to have to come to shove. And if there is a list of riders currently being investigated further, the next question is when the UCI will choose to make an announcement. Presumably not on the eve of the Tour de France.