|BAD BLOOD: A REVIEW|
A copy of Jeremy Whittle?s much-anticipated book Bad Blood: The secret life of the Tour de France arrived in the office last week.
I like Whittle?s work and I had been looking forward to it so I got through it quickly. At its conclusion I must admit to being left with an overwhelming feeling of ?what was all that about??
A lot has been written about the problems of doping in cycling. Some have attempted to dissect the causes and effects, others have offered solutions, some workable, some not.
This, though, is neither fish nor fowl. For the most part it is very nicely written, because Whittle is a good writer, but it struggles to hit upon a defining point. In the end, it just seems to be a rather self-indulgent whine about Whittle?s journey from a man who enjoyed doing the best job in the world, to eventual disillusionment with dopers and doping.
Disappointingly, there is no attempt to explain the professional dilemmas Whittle has faced in trying to write about cycling without sacrificing his self-respect. When did he realise the core of the sport was rotten? How did he cope with writing about false gods? He doesn?t really say.
Instead there?s the peculiar badge of dishonour which came with finding himself on Lance Armstrong?s black list ? as if his approval ever meant anything.
The chapters about Armstrong, Frankie Andreu and Christophe Bassons have been done better by David Walsh, notably in From Lance to Landis. The many fans who will pick up Whittle?s book but would rather start a fire with Walsh?s will perhaps be surprised to see so much of this stuff here.
I very nearly didn?t get through the first chapter at all. In it, Whittle tells of how he accepted a pill in order to finish the Paris-Roubaix cyclo-sportive some years ago. Having recently finished this event ? without resorting to pills, I may point out ? this made me sit up.
It struck me as a very odd way to start a book, but, as it turns out, it?s a pre-cursor to a book that seems to be suffering an identity crisis.
Is it a memoir of Whittle?s decade or so as a cycling journalist, or is it an analytical look at the drug problem in cycling? In the end it?s neither. It?s too lightweight to find any answers to questions it asks and too self-important and po-faced to tell the tales of successive July?s spent travelling round France.
For any journalist, whether they admit it or not, there is a frisson of excitement when a big story breaks, even if the come-down and the realisation of its consequences are depressing and ultimately damaging. You get no sense of Whittle the story-getter here, which does him a disservice.
Anyway, Whittle took a pill during his Paris-Roubaix ride and felt great for a bit and he got to the velodrome in one piece. But what does this ?confession? hope to achieve?
Is it to show that even nice people like Jeremy Whittle can succumb to temptation when the suffering and misery gets too much, or is it proof that he simply hadn?t done enough training and wasn?t fit enough to complete the challenge he?d set himself?
Whichever is the case, the anecdote is utterly irrelevant to the argument about doping in sport because Whittle was not cheating anyone but himself. He was not compelled to complete the Paris-Roubaix sportive because his livelihood did depend doing so. He could have stopped and called for a taxi at any point.
The tale of David Millar?s meltdown is touching but presents another awkward conflict of interests ? should you attempt to be friends with the people you?re writing about? If Whittle really was so close to Millar during the early stages of his slide, what did he do to intervene? And if you do get close to the people you are writing about, isn?t it inevitable that one day you will say something they disagree with?
There is a brief look at the Linda McCartney team fiasco. The squad collapsed in January 2001 when Julian Clark?s fragile financial house of cards came tumbling down.
Whittle?s version of events does not square with my own. I was the journalist who unwittingly set that house of cards wobbling severely when I called Jaguar to ask about their sponsorship of the cycling team. A very posh, very stern company representative called back, aghast at the idea of the famous logo being plastered over Lycra jerseys. They knew nothing about it because Clark had struck a piecemeal deal with a Jaguar garage in France, which was not authorised to enter into corporate sponsorship.
There are some excellent points made, specifically by Matthew Stephens, the former McCartney rider, now a policeman, who points out that anyone joining the force has to submit to a DNA test. But Whittle seems to be leading the reader to the assumption that Julian Clark?s dream would have been a success if it hadn?t been for the dopers. Possibly. But then Julian Clark?s business plan would have needed to be a lot more solid. Instead it was written on rice paper and melted to nothing as soon as the first spot of rain fell.
Covering the Tour de France is exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating and at times humiliating. It is hot and tiring but never dull. There are laughs and near misses. But none of that comes across in Bad Blood. The lines about eating nice meals in fine restaurants with illustrious company are not given any context and so come across as empty boasts.
As a journalist, I?d have been interested to know how Jeremy felt as he learned of the Tour?s smoke and mirrors act. How did he cope with writing about people he knew, or suspected, of doping? Did he temper his language accordingly? Did he feel he was playing along with the theatrical lie, or did he simply block it out and get on with his job?
As a cycling fan, I?d have liked to hear Whittle?s solutions to the problem, however far out of left field they came.
In the end Whittle does some of his rivals and colleagues a disservice. He is not the only ? and he certainly wasn?t the first ? cycling journalist to realise that the sport had a major problem. He was a part of the 1990s generation of reporters who played along with the game and then had to address issues that had been exposed for the first time.
But perhaps Whittle?s ultimate frustration is that no one wants to listen to the problems or suggest the solutions, especially not when caught up in the excitement of a breakaway or a mountain descent.
Bad Blood is published by Yellow Jersey and is priced £12.99. It is available from June 26.
|WELCOME SAXO, GARMIN AND COLUMBIA|
After a year during which it has seemed sponsors were beating a rapid retreat, at last some good news.
First Riis Cycling announced that Saxo Bank, a financial institution, would be joining up as a co-sponsor, before taking over the title of the team next year.
Then Team High Road secured Columbia Sportswear?s backing and finally, Garmin, the GPS manufacturer, has increased its backing of the Slipstream team, so they become Garmin-Chipotle.
All of which appears to be excellent news.
Without having access to the financial details of these deals, it is impossible to say whether the arrival of these new sponsors confirms that cycling is in rude health. We do not know if these deals are as lucrative as they would have been three or four years ago, or whether the price tag on a top cycling team has been revised downwards.
The timing of these deals does suggest that all three companies had been monitoring things for a few months, watching to see if cycling managed to blow another hole in its foot with a doping scandal, before signing the cheques practically on the eve of the Tour de France.
It is interesting too, that two of the new sponsors are concerned with outdoor pursuits. Columbia Sportswear makes walking and hiking gear and the like, Garmin makes satellite navigation systems for runners, walkers and cyclists.
They are not the multi-national corporations sought by the UCI. And they have waited until the Tour de France arrives before getting involved, which could be perceived as another vote of confidence for ASO.
|IS CAVENDISH RIDING THE TOUR?|
It?s the question that?s peppering forums everywhere: Is Mark Cavendish riding the Tour?
Well, as cyclingweekly.co.uk said last Monday, barring disaster, he?s in. Cavendish set for the Tour ?barring accidents?
The original plan was to race him in the Giro but not the Tour, allowing him instead to prepare for the Olympics. Those close to Cavendish say that the best way for him to prepare is to race. He?s not a natural trainer, he gets fit, sharp and ready through racing.
And after two Giro stage wins, he?s shown he can win a Tour stage.
So, unless the management of Team Columbia ? for that is what they will be known as come July 5 ? have recently had a lobotomy removing all sense of acumen, Cavendish will be in Brest.
|ALL SET FOR THE NATIONALS|
It?s National Championships weekend and if you can make it to north Yorkshire, I?d really urge that you do, because the racing promises to be superb.
Okay, so it would be a tremendous shock if Nicole Cooke were to be beaten in the women?s road race, but the men?s race looks more open than it has for many years.
Russell Downing?s dominance of the domestic scene is going to be put to its severest test yet, as David Millar, Mark Cavendish, Roger Hammond, Jeremy Hunt, Dan Lloyd and the rest come back to try to show him who?s boss.
The best thing is the race will challenge everyone taking part to think a little differently. It will be unlike anything the foreign-based riders encounter on a week-to-week basis, but their presence will also upset the familiarity of the domestic racing style.
In short, it?ll be anarchy, impossible to control and, as the afternoon progresses, it?ll become simply an all-out contest to determine who?s got the best combination of strength and tactical adaptability on the given day.
|VINO?S TRAINING? OLD NEWS|
The news that Alexandre Vinokourov has been training hard has reared its head again this week.
Readers of www.cyclingweekly.com will know this already, because we broke the story back in late April. Vinokourov planning to return at the Olympics
A rider whose anonymity we will continue to respect, told one of my colleagues that Vino was planning to return when his disgracefully-short one-year ban for blood doping expires at the end of July.
That would make him eligible to ride for Kazakhstan in the Olympics ? and the Kazakhs seem to be under the impression this is on.
But a senior figure at the UCI assures me that the governing body has kept its counsel on this matter, and that its silence should not be mistaken for incompetence.
The UCI is ready to act should the Kazakhs attempt to field Vinokourov in Beijing. Everyone knows the mandatory ban for a doping offence of this nature is two years and the UCI knows it has a very strong case if the Kazakhs wish to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
|MR POPULAR SET FOR THE TOUR|
So, Riccardo Ricco, the biggest mouth in cycling, is riding the Tour de France.
That?s a turn-up for the books. The Italian, who was a sulky runner-up in the Giro d?Italia, despite the fact that no one outside his immediate family gave him a hope of overhauling Alberto Contador in the final time trial, had originally said he would not race at the Tour.
In fact, he hasn?t raced at all since the final stage of the Giro in Milan ? meaning he?s had a month to recover, train and rest his mouth. Perhaps he will lack a bit of sharpness, unless he?s spent the time lashing out at his friends and relatives over the slightest shortcomings.
With Jose Angel Gomez Marchante suffering a new attack of colitis ? the same digestive complaint that kept him out of last year?s Tour, Saunier Duval need a leader.
And, Ricco will no doubt liven up the Tour ? but will he have discovered the maturity to let his legs do the talking?
Anyway, looking on the bright side, at least his presence will annoy Filippo Pozzato?
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