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NOTHING TO SEE HERE

Now that Luxembourg?s anti-doping authorities have decided that Frank Schleck?s payment to Dr Eufamiano Fuentes does not constitute a doping violation, the rider is free to continue with his career.

That?s cleared that one up to everyone?s satisfaction, then.

Actually, it doesn?t at all. There are still plenty of questions outstanding and, whether Schleck likes it or not, the issue will probably continue to dog him.

Because whichever way you look at it, paying a reported ?7,000 to someone you have never met for some training plans sounds like a very odd thing to do.

There are plenty of relevant questions still to be answered. Who recommended Fuentes to Schleck? What was Schleck told about who Fuentes was and what he did?

I mean, how did that conversation go?

Schleck: So, who is this guy who?s doing the training programmes?

Person who?s recommended Fuentes: He?s a gynaecologist from Madrid. He coaches all the top boys.

Schleck: A gynaecologist? What on earth do I need a gynaecologist for? What exactly are you suggesting?

Perhaps it is perfectly normal to send money by wire to someone you?ve never met who is offering a great deal in return, but I can?t help thinking it?s like ringing the phone number on a flyer stuck to a lamp post promising you can earn 100k from the comfort of your own sofa.

It just doesn?t ring true. Whether Schleck used the services of Dr Fuentes or not we?ll probably never find out, although it should be pointed out that the investigation failed to uncover any evidence that he did.

But there is something Schleck is guilty of. Stupidity. Okay, so early 2006 was a slightly different landscape to today, in that the lid hadn?t yet been blown of Dr Fuentes?s doping ring, but for a professional athlete to pay money to a mystery coach without finding out anything about him was negligent. And once Operacion Puerto blew up and it dawned on Schleck that the man at its heart had ?7,000 of his money, what did he do, if anything, to recover his money and extricate himself from the situation as quickly as possible?

BOONEN?S PROBLEMS WORSEN

Tom Boonen appears to be having a hard time in the Belgian press, as they report allegations that he used ecstacy and cocaine as recreational drugs.

It is very difficult to separate the use of recreational drugs from the use of performance-enhancing ones, even if you wish to be libertarian about the individual?s right to make their own choices.

Cocaine and ecstacy are illegal in most countries, but they are commonplace and the decision of whether to take them in your own free time is up to the individual, as long as you understand the consequences of your actions.

But if you earn your living as a professional sportsperson, I?d suggest it is extremely unwise to make those kind of lifestyle choices. It?s very tricky to be anti-doping on the one hand, but enjoy a line of Charlie on the other.

Nothing has been proven in Boonen?s case yet, and it is easy to sympathise with the fact if it were any other 27-year-old Flemish bloke, the story would not be all over the front pages of the Belgian papers.

Like it or not, those are the strings attached to the big contract that buys the nice house and the fast cars. Boonen is an advertiser?s and sponsor?s commodity, and he?s a role model.

These stories do no one any favours and the darker hint is that Boonen is on a slippery slope, struggling to deal with the pressures and expectations heaped upon him. You have to wonder who is supporting and advising, because whoever it is hasn?t been doing a great job.

A BOOST FOR THE TOUR OF IRELAND

During his press conference in Tenerife, Lance Armstrong hinted that he may ride the Tour of Ireland next year.

The comment was seized upon, particularly by the Irish journalists, and a fair few British ones too, and the story got a wide airing, earning the Tour of Ireland a significant boost in publicity.

At that point it suddenly struck me what a small sport cycling really is. The organiser of the Tour of Ireland is Darach McQuaid, brother of UCI president Pat.

I wonder what sort of start fee Armstrong will command for the race, or whether he’ll do it as a freebie?

PLAYING CATLIN AND MOUSE

Lance Armstrong and Don Catlin still haven’t managed to get together to determine the scale and scope of his anti-doping programme yet, despite all the fanfare.

Surely with Armstrong keeping the world up to date with his movements on an almost hourly basis via his Twitter feed, he should be able to let Mr Catlin know where he’s going to be when he can spare time for this appointment?

Because having lined Mr Catlin up to sit alongside him at his comeback press conference, he really ought to follow through with the arrangements immediately, not wait until January, because reliable profiling and testing depends on building a full and thorough picture.

Cycling Weekly understands that Catlin’s company, ADR, visited the Garmin-Chipotle team in November and tested a number of riders. Admittedly that was at a team get-together, but it remains a fact that it is a lot harder to keep tabs on 29 riders than it is to monitor a single rider.

A DESIGN CHALLENGE

Rapha’s design team have made a name for themselves in coming up with some extremely desirable kit, with an emphasis on the minimalist and an aversion to using bright colours.

The black team kit designed for the Rapha-Condor-Recycling team this season was an instant modern classic.

So it will be interesting to see what they come up with for the reigning champions on the team.

Dean Downing is the current national criterium champion and will wear the white jersey with red and white bands. Meanwhile, the team’s new signing Dan Craven of Namibia is the current African road race champion, a title he won in Morrocco last month.

Anyone can come up with a classy design when there are no limiting factors. Let’s see how they cope when Rapha’s team have to incorporate a outline of the map of Africa on the front and back of the jersey. That really is a test for any designer.

TOP 50 BRITISH RIDERS OF 2008

Our countdown of best British riders of 2008 continues on a daily basis on this website.

Our advent calendar-style league table of the top 50 cyclists of the year has proved extremely popular so far.

This week we passed the halfway mark and by Christmas Eve we’ll have reached number 11. The top 10 will be revealed in the December 25 issue of Cycling Weekly.

RELATED LINK

CW?s top 50 riders of 2008

REACHING THE CENTURY

Last week I clocked up my 100th ride of the year, a milestone that may not impress many, but one I was pleased to reach for the first time in a long while.

The most satisfying ride, in retrospect at least, was finishing the 244-kilometre Paris-Roubaix cyclo-sportive in June.

The worst came in March when, already struggling with motivation, I punctured twice, using both spare tubes, then dropped the last remaining patch in my puncture repair kit in a puddle which meant it absolutely failed to stick properly. I had to call a taxi and, despite explaining on the phone I had a bike and so would need a people carrier or at least a vehicle with a large boot, they sent a saloon car.

That sparked an argument, me cold, damp, dressed in Lycra, the taxi driver, large, rotund, red faced from a day spent listening to TalkSport radio. He wasn?t in the mood for having a mucky bike shoved across his back seat.

But he insisted I pay him a call-out fee, and he genuinely seemed to think he deserved a couple of quid for driving out into the lanes to witness my humiliation. In the end I rode on the rim to the train station.

As the year winds down, thoughts turn to next season and the setting of some targets. So far, my calendar consists of the Tour of Wessex three-day cyclo-sportive and the Etape du Tour, which climbs Mont Ventoux. My other goal is to do at least one 100-mile ride each calendar month. That may sound a rather arbitrary target, but the one thing it will do is ensure I keep riding throughout the year, instead of allowing myself to fall into my usual boom and bust pattern.

What were your best and worst rides of 2008, and what are your goals for next year? Let me know and we’ll publish some of the responses on this site.

THE CYCLIST?S CHRISTMAS LIST

Christmas is coming, in case you hadn?t noticed the irritating adverts on telly, and many cyclists will be happy to receive the odd bit of kit from a loved one this year.

I have a ?no cycling-related gifts? rule at Christmas and birthdays, partly because anything cycling-related is an inevitable reminder of work, and partly because the gift in question is bound to be wrong and partly because asking for a set of Campagnolo Bora wheels would provoke the response ?900 quid and you only get the back wheel? You?ve not been that good this year.?

There?s nothing that takes the joy out of giving and receiving more than having to give extremely specific instructions about sizing, the manufacturer or the required colour of something.

You can never have enough water bottles, or Muc-Off (although I must point out other products are available). A fresh roll of handlebar tape, or a new pair of mitts, would be a nice idea too, but again my requirements are quite specific. The wrong make, or the wrong colour and the gift is pointless.

After-all, a pair of novelty socks can be hidden away, but if you roll out for your first post-Christmas ride with day-glo orange gloves and bright pink handlebar tape and say ?They were Christmas presents? the laughter?s not going to die down until the tea stop.

PREVIOUS WEDNESDAY COMMENTS

December 3 ? IT Factory ceases production

November 26 ? British pros branching out

November 19 ? Lance, the televised crits and the British boom

November 12 ? Revolution: The future for the Six-Days?

November 5 ? Why it?s ludicrous to blame British Cycling for domination

October 29 ? The BBC?s Sky dilemma and too much Lance?

Bonus comment: Assessing the 2009 Tour de France route

October 22 ? Is the Tour coming back to London in 2011?

October 15 ? How to pick a winner

October 8 ? UCI bends the rules for Lance

October 1 ? Armstrong again?

September 24 ? Why Contador must leave Astana for his own self-respect

September 17 ? Let?s leave the dirty generation in the past

September 10 ? The Armstrong Edition

September 10 ? The Armstrong-free Edition

Bonus comment ? Why Sevilla, Botero and Hamilton must not start Tour of Britain

September 3 ? Want to be national TT champ and ride the Tour of Britain? Tough, you can?t

August 27 ? Defending Great Britain

August 20 – Gold, gold, glorious gold

August 13 ? Gold rush starts

August 6 ? Team LPR in the Tour of Britain

July 30 ? Assessing the Tour

The Tuesday Comment – January to July 2008

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