Let?s all give the Liquigas team a slow handclap as they leave the room, shall we?

No doubt plenty of people who just loved watching Ivan Basso climbing mountains four minutes faster than everyone else will say: ?He?s done his time, he?s entitled to come back.?

No doubt Basso will chirrup the old guff about loving the sport.

And his bank manager will protest that he ?has the same right as anyone else to earn a living?.

At first glance, these are all plausible arguments ? certainly more plausible than Basso?s ?I thought about doping, I paid a doctor tens of thousands of euros, I withdrew my blood but I didn’t use it’ line.

Under closer examination they fall apart too. Basso can earn a living doing anything he likes, just i’d prefer it if it wasn’t professional cycling. And if he loves the sport so much, let him ride as an amateur.

Take the money away and let?s see if the doctors hang around without their cut of the sponsor?s cheque.

Basso denies actually doping and, without absolute proof that he injected blood or banned substances, we have to accept that. But we don?t have to believe it, because his credibility is on the floor.

As is that of the Liquigas team.

They have ripped up the ethical agreement made by all the top teams that no rider returning from a doping suspension would be signed for a further two years.

This clause always looked difficult to enforce, legally, but the teams deserved credit for throwing another seed of doubt into the mind of the potential doper. It said: ?If I get caught, I?ll get a two-year ban but I?ll be in the wilderness for four years.?

Liquigas have ripped up that ethical charter. Of course the red herring surrounding this point of view is that the charter meant nothing because it was part of the ProTour?s infrastructure.

We all know the ProTour is about as much use as a chocolote bidon on a hot stage of the Tour de France, but the alliance between the teams had stood firm until Liquigas decided to trample all over it. The fact the agreement came out of the ProTour’s structure should mean nothing.

The problem for all the teams, as CSC found, is that if one of their top riders is caught doping they have to sack him (or put out a lame press release saying they’ve come to a mutual agreement to terminate his contract).

They lose a prized asset, then watch as a rival team picks up the same rider on the cheap two years later.

That stinks too because it proves self-interest rules.

Hopefully Liquigas will feel the full force of the consequences of their decision. Already the Rund um den Henninger Turm has withdrawn the team?s invitation to the race in Germany. Perhaps the Liquigas riders should start making alternative plans for the 2009 Tour de France because I can?t see this playing out too well with Christian P.

The wider issue is this highlights the utterly skewed moral code in cycling. Jorg Jaksche eventually admitted doping but Jaksche has found no takers since becoming eligible to race, possibly because he sang like a canary but probably because he’s not grand tour-winning material. Basso is.

And Basso is an example to all dopers ? or people who thought about doping but didn?t (we have to put that in for legal reasons) ? that if you sit tight, keep your mouth shut and ?serve your time with dignity? (c?mon give me a break), you can roll right back into the bunch and everyone will shake your hand.

And a final point to Ivan himself. Okay, so you stored your blood and paid Dr Fuentes. Do you really, seriously, expect people to believe you didn?t dope?

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Don?t even get me started on Alexandre Vinokourov.

Last week broke the story that the disgraced Kazakh is training hard in the south of France, preparing to ride the road race at the Olympics.

The UCI dropped such a huge clanger on this one that you can still here the metallic din reverberating through the corridors of their Aigle HQ.

The Kazakh Cycling Federation banned Vinokourov for just one year (self-interest strikes again) ? despite the UCI?s rules that state a rider caught doping should face a two-year ban.

That ban that expires in July, just before the Beijing Olympics. Handy.

But because Vino was blathering loudly to the press about turning his back on the sport and retiring, the UCI decided not to procede with a costly appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to get the ban increased to the rightful two years.

Meanwhile the Kazakh minister for sport said there should be nothing to prevent Vino racing in the Olympics.

Except the UCI?s officials may have a trick up their sleeves yet. Vino has not yet made himself available for out-of-competition testing and time is running out if he is to be eligible for a return.

What?s the betting Vino?s racing licence gets ?lost in the post??


Enough of the doom and gloom, let?s celebrate a couple or three fantastic things that have happened this week.

Firstly, there were three ? count them, three ? British women in the front group as the Flèche Wallonne race reached the foot of the Mur de Huy last Wednesday.

Emma Pooley finished sixth, Nicole Cooke eighth and World Cup debutante Sharon Laws finished just a minute after the winner Marianne Vos.

Yes, Vos is going to be a very dangerous rider in Beijing but with only three riders in each team, Great Britain?s trio will be up there with the very strongest, especially on a course that is built for climbers. Great Britain now has three who can cope with the climbing.

Then there was the East Midlands Cicle Classic on Sunday, an event that has captured the imagination in a few short years thanks to a challenging and imaginative course, a dash of verve, a nod to the traditions of European racing, and the passion of organiser Colin Clews and his team.

And then there was Mark Cavendish?s win in the Tour of Romandie prologue and his comments that he?s working hard on his climbing so he?s not shelled out on the hills before the sprints.

Those who have written Cav off for the Giro, saying he can’t get over the lumps with the front group and won’t beat Petacchi anyway, ought to think again.

Petacchi is having an awful time, suffering with bronchitis and awaiting the outcome of the appeal to CAS.

Cav’s climbing is becoming stronger every time he races ? he spent a week training in the Tuscan hills before the Tour of Romandie.

Britain has only ever celebrated two stage wins in the Giro d’Italia. Vin Denson’s in 1966 and Robert Millar’s at Pila in 1987, when on his way to second overall and the king of the mountains title.

Cav is one of six Brits on the Giro startlist. Don’t rule out a British win this time.


This column is settling into a pattern? Offend someone or something one week, apologise the next.

This week I must apologise to the citizens of Huy for describing their town as the second worst in Western Europe.

It is not, but I fear the grim press facilities, housed in a grotty, peeling pre-fabricated structure that houses some shabby indoor tennis courts, had given my mind?s eye an unnecessarily bleak view of the place since my last visit.

A stroll down the Mur in the sunshine showed Huy to be quite a pleasant little place.

Charleroi, on the other hand, is still a toilet.

While feasting on humble pie and ice cream, sorry also to British Eurosport for suggesting a couple of weeks ago that instead of Liège-Bastogne-Liège they?d be showing the same dreary snooker you?d be able to find on BBC.

Actually they showed three hours of La Doyenne, so I take it back.


Who says this column?s influence doesn?t stretch far and wide? Well, pretty much everyone, actually.

Last week I suggested the brilliant idea of hosting a track-style meeting on the road circuit at Hog Hill. Read the full stream of consciousness here.

Well, unless the organisers of the Ronde Van Made in Holland are the fastest-reacting race organisers in world cycling, it seems a variation on this idea already exists.

Mark Cavendish beat Juan Antonio Flecha in the road omnium-style race, which consisted of a time trial, a criterium and an elimination race held in the small Dutch town of Made, north of Breda.

It sounds brilliant. Now who wants to talk about organising something similar at Hog Hill?


We?re really not one to gloat, but our Spring Classic punditry really has been pretty good.

It?s easy to pick four dozen names and then root through the list after the race and declare proudly: ?I picked the winner?.

It?s a different matter to limit yourself to ten names as we did here on

How did we do? Well, we picked all the winners. At the Tour of Flanders we named five of the eventual top 10. At Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne we picked six of the top ten and at Sunday?s Liège-Bastogne-Liège we picked eight of them.

So let?s not hear any more nonsense about Cycling Weekly not knowing what it?s on about. Sometimes, we do.


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