ARMSTRONG APPEAL

Lance Armstrong has appealed to the UCI to show common sense over the rule that could prevent him from making his comeback at the Tour Down Under.

The governing body’s rules state that a rider wishing to come out of retirement must register the intent six months in advance, so they can be available for out-of-competition dope tests. It’s a plain enough rule, necessary to prevent a loophole that could be exploited by a rider wishing to use performance-enhancing drugs in the run-up to a competitive return.

Thing is, Armstrong only registered on August 1, meaning he cannot race in a UCI event until February. The Tour Down Under starts on January 21, 2009.

Some will point to Mario Cipollini’s comeback at the Tour of California earlier this year as an example where leniency was shown. But two wrongs don’t make a right.

Armstrong is returning to cycling with anti-doping guru Don Catlin in his entourage. Part of his return ticket is to show he is clean. So, absolute adherence to the rules from the very start.

It may only be ‘a few days’ but a very important principal is at stake.

Common sense dictates that the rules should be observed. If that prompts the Tour Down Under’s organisers to delay the race, then that is their prerogative, but the rule should not be bent to suit one individual.

Armstrong is not bigger than the sport. It may be ‘good for business’ for Armstrong to make his comeback at the Tour Down Under, but it is not good for the sport if a rule has to be broken in the process.

Anti-doping legislation relies on being applied equally to every athlete. Forget the Cipollini precedent, apply the rule as written now and in the future.

If Armstrong wants transparency and if he wants to dispel the rumours and the doubt, a good starting point would be not to contest the rules.

GB UNDER-23S AND WOMEN LEAD THE WAY

The men’s under-23 road race at the World Championships was one of the most absorbing races I have seen this season.

It was up there with Het Volk, the final hour of Milan-San Remo and the Alpe d’Huez stage of the Tour, for drama and excitement.

I certainly didn’t expect the women’s race the following day to be even more gripping, but it was.

Admittedly, much of the excitement centred on the excellent performances of Great Britain’s Ben Swift and Nicole Cooke, but even ignoring any sense of partisanship, they were still gripping races.

The under-23 race was an advert for racing without ear-piece radios if ever there was one. The favourites had to be alert right from the start and the race-winning move went clear on the second of ten laps.

Dan Martin’s brave solo chase added to the tension on the final lap, as did the rather haphazard work of the host broadcaster’s director, who cut away from the Irishman just when it seemed he was in sight of joining the lead group. The next shot showed a Dutch and a Portuguese rider making contact, with Martin nowhere to be seen.

The final stages of the under-23 race were exciting, the women’s event was nerve-shredding.

Nicole Cooke has matured this season, tempering her natural, aggressive instinct and evolving a tactical edge that has netted her an astonishing Olympic and World Championship double.

How many times in the past have we seen Cooke do too much in the belief that she had to chase every move and make every break.

If she was ice cool in Beijing, she took it heart-stoppingly to the brink in Varese. Although she made the five-rider break then watched as the two Germans Arndt and Worrack took turns to attack. Then came the anticipated move from Marianne Vos, which looked good for a while, then faded.

Still Cooke waited. She did a few turns to bring the gap down but by no means over-extended herself.

On the run-in, Cooke attacked but was chased down and looked to have fallen for the oldest trick in the book, a counter move by Sweden’s Emma Johansson.

Instead of reacting immediately, Cooke elected to wait, watch and recover slightly. For a moment it looked as if the gold medal was slipping away, but still she refused to panic. It was the perfect ploy. Vos reacted and opened the sprint, playing into Cooke’s hands.

“We did it, we did it,” she shouted as her Great Britain team-mates crossed the line.

And after the work of her team – particularly Lizzie Armitstead and Emma Pooley – it certainly was a team effort.

But it wasn’t so long ago, that Cooke would have shouted “I did it. I did it.”

And perhaps that subtle but crucial change in attitude is the biggest key to her success this season.

WOMENS WORLDS BUREAUCRACY

There was one moment that soured the women’s road race a little. A moment where obstinate bureaucracy triumphed over common sense.

The Mexican rider Laura Lorenzo Morfin Macouzet was in the break as they started the second lap.

Earlier in the race, a mechanical problem had forced her to swap bikes, meaning she was riding without a timing transponder. It meant that her name was missed off the computer’s list every time she crossed the finish line.

So, the Shimano neutral service car pulled alongside her and insisted she stop and swap to her original bike, which had been sorted out and was being carried by another neutral service car.

Not surprisingly, she was extremely reluctant to do this, but with the jobsworth official waving his stupid hands out of the car window, she eventually complied.

She dropped off the back of the break, stopped, swapped bikes and got going again, without much more than a feeble push off from the mechanic.

What a ridiculous state of affairs.

GB JERSEYS FOR SALE

Every time the Great Britain cycling team have some success the forums buzz with chatter about the rights and wrongs of ‘ordinary’ cyclists wearing the hallowed red, white and blue.

One argument goes: “GB jerseys should be available to buy, so we can pay tribute to our heroes.”

The counter view is: “This is sacrilege. The national jersey is an honour to be earned by the best, not something that any fat slow-coach can buy.”

Bernard Hinault once said that he could not understand the Tour de France merchandise shop selling the yellow jersey to members of the public, and he has a point.

But the national jersey argument is a different debate. Why shouldn’t British fans wear the national team strip when out cycling, if that’s what they want to do.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if BC, in conjunction with the kit manufacturer, Adidas, made the jersey and shorts available. Presumably, Sky, whose logo is now emblazoned on the jersey, wouldn’t object either.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the jersey is becoming more recognised with every passing success. What better way to earn a bit of respect on the roads than to wear the national colours?

CAVENDISH’S CONTRACT

Last week cyclingweekly.co.uk was first with the news that Mark Cavendish has extended his contract with Team Columbia, meaning he will stay with the squad until at least the end of the 2011 season.

Bob Stapleton was understandably happy when he told CW reporter Steve Farrand, because he knew that putting the information in the public domain was effectively a ‘hands off our man’ message to every other team that may be interested in the sprinter.

One of those who will be interested, in due course would be Dave Brailsford and the British pro team he is planning for 2010.

However important Cavendish is, the pro team project will not stand or fall on whether Brailsford can sign him.

As Brailsford and his coach Shane Sutton have reiterated, the pro team plan is a long game, not a quick hit.

Perhaps we should brace ourselves for a few foreign guns-for-hire in the opening year or two of the project, while the team establishes itself.

Brailsford has said: “We want to create a team that people want to be a part of. It won’t happen over night, but eventually we hope to have a team to rival the best in the world. If we do that, the riders will want to be involved, if we don’t, we will have failed. It’s as simple as that.”

A few weeks ago, Brailsford revealed to CW that a very experienced manager was considering an offer to work on a consultancy basis for British Cycling as the team’s infrastructure is assembled. The name Brailsford mentioned was Roger Legeay, the Frenchman who ran Credit Agricole, the man Chris Boardman called ‘The Boss’.

If anything were to show Brailsford is serious, the recruitment of people of Legeay’s calibre would.

SCHLECK AND FUENTES

The past is another country, they say.

Unfortunately, the boundaries keep getting redrawn.

Just when we seem poised to draw a line and move on, a shadow from the past looms up like some ghoulish apparition.

This week, the allegation that Frank Schleck, who led this summer’s Tour de France, had visited Dr Eufamiano Fuentes – the blood-doping doctor at the centre of the Operacion Puerto scandal – and had paid him 7,000 euros.

If it is true, this is extremely troubling, because Schleck has ridden on, unsanctioned, while his former team-mate, Ivan Basso, has been on the sidelines serving a two-year suspension.

It beggars belief that a rider who escaped implication by the skin of his teeth could ride on. Perhaps he was simply tranquillo about things.

The problem is, if the allegations are true that Schleck and Bjarne Riis visited Fuentes, it implicates Riis even more heavily.

Yes, the Rasmus Damsgaard programme is to be commended. Yes, perhaps we could draw a line at the start of 2007 when the system was implemented and say that whatever happened before that should be forgotten.

If the UCI had declared an amnesty when the biological passport system was introduced, perhaps a line could have been drawn and we could have moved on. But they didn’t, and Schleck must be sanctioned if he associated with Fuentes. After all, Basso only admitted to ‘preparing to dope’ and he was banned.

The bigger question is: if Schleck is proven to be Amigo de Birillo, what does that mean for the riders nicknamed Valv.Piti and AC?

TOUR TESTING REWIND

I wonder how many riders are sleeping restlessly this week, as the French anti-doping authorities re-visited the Tour de France samples and test them for CERA, the so-called third generation EPO that Riccardo Ricco tested positive for.

The internet jungle drums are beating with names of teams and riders being bandied about with very little substance to back them up at this stage.

Perhaps we should reserve judgement until such time that samples are declared positive and names are released.

Although it would be very gloomy news if a string of riders were revealed to have used CERA, it would be a necessary pain because it would demonstrate that there will be no such thing as a ‘miracle, undetectable substance’ any more.

Find something you think they can’t detect?

Don’t relax, because longitudinal testing will throw up anomalies, urine and blood samples will be saved and the substance will be found, even if it takes a few months.

The message is reinforced: It just isn’t worth doping any more.

PREVIOUS WEDNESDAY COMMENTS

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