The Wednesday Comment

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So, we still don’t know for sure if Alejandro Valverde or Tom Boonen will be on the Tour de France start line in Monaco next month.

Valverde is banned from competing in Italy by the Italian Olympic Committee, and the Tour would face serious embarrassment if the peloton headed towards the border during stage 16 with the Spaniard in it.

Caisse d’Epargne suggested to ASO that they could pull Valverde out of the race before reaching Italy, to avoid any showdown with the Italian authorities.

Quite rightly, Christian Prudhomme said that was unacceptable.

The UCI is waiting to see CONI’s paperwork before deciding whether to extend Valverde’s two-year ban worldwide. Meanwhile, Valverde is set to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to overturn the Italian ruling.

Tom Boonen has been given the green light by the UCI to ride the Tour. Although he is to be investigated by the disciplinary committee over charges of bringing the sport into disrepute, there is no rule allowing the UCI to suspend him from competition.

The French Minister for Sport, Bernard Laporte, weighed in by saying that neither rider would be welcome at the 2009 Tour de France.

So, why are both Valverde and Boonen racing on French soil right now, at the Dauphiné Libéré?

This lack of consistency is utterly infuriating, as is the thought that some key decisions won’t be made until the days – or hours – before the start of the Tour.

This may give you a sense of deja-vu, because 12 months ago I made exactly the same point, but Tom Boonen should not start the Tour de France.

That’s not to punish him, but to give him a chance to sort out what it is he wants to do with his life, because, put simply, there are some choices that are incompatible.

Taking cocaine and being a professional sportsperson do not go together. If Boonen wants to do one, he should ditch the other.

In every day matters, I am a libertarian. I believe people should be free to make their own choices in life, but I also believe that with that freedom to make decisions comes a responsibility to take into account the consequences, in the case of cocaine use they are the health implications and legality.

Boonen is not accused of an anti-doping offence, but his presence in the race makes cycling’s stance against drugs look ambiguous. The Tour de France can do without being associated with recreational as well as performance-enhancing drugs.

Lance Armstrong perhaps should have thought a little more before calling Bernard Hinault a ‘wanker’ less than a month before the start of the Tour de France.

Hinault’s popularity may not be imbued with warmth in his home country. He wasn’t nicknamed ‘the badger’ for nothing. His was an intimidating, bullying presence in the peloton and he ruled by fear on the bike and said exactly what he thought off it.

It wouldn’t be June without an Hinault interview in which he criticises the French riders, writes off the lazy ne’er-do-wells and generally talks about how much better things were in his day, when men were men, who raced seven hours on the bike, then spent all night working in the fields.

He also criticised Armstrong, saying he’d prefer it if the Texan did not show up at the Tour de France before adding: “I hope Contador gives him a beating.”

Armstrong responded on his Twitter feed (where else?) by saying: “What a wanker. Five TdF wins doesn’t buy you any common sense.”

Well, it seems that seven Tour de France wins doesn’t buy you any class either.

I don’t expect Armstrong to like Hinault’s comments, but he is perfectly entitled to express his opinion.

Unfortunately, we seem to live in a world now where there has to be one, and only one, clear opinion on every topic. So-and-so is right, which by default means that so-and-so is wrong. It’s the way Armstrong, and people like him, want it.

Anyway, Armstrong doesn’t answer questions anymore. He’s ‘cut out the media’ now by telling you all exactly what it is he wants to tell you, while being in the fortunate position that what he says will go completely unchallenged.

Many who have taken issue with Armstrong on Twitter have found themselves blocked.

How’s that for transparency?

I have got a lot of time for Greg LeMond, his anti-doping stance and his willingness to ask some difficult questions.

But LeMond ought to be a little careful about how he presents the era he competed in.

Speaking at the Play The Game conference on anti-doping at Coventry University last week, he addressed some of the issues currently facing cycling.

He also said he felt fortunate not to have been confronted with any dilemma. “Had I got into the sport a little later, say 1993 or 1994, I don’t know what I’d have done.”

This suggests that doping was not a problem before the 1990s, which is far from the case.

While it is true that the gains from blood doping far outstrip the ‘old school’ substances, and so increased the pressure on riders to dope, it’s worth remembering that the good old-fashioned blood transfusion technique was used in the 1970s and 1980s.

EPO may have become more readily available in the early 1990s, but that was simply an evolutionary step. The culture didn’t change, it’s just that the substances available did.

For all the arguments about EPO being a bazooka compared to the peashooters available before it, the bottom line is, doping did not suddenly start in 1990.

To suggest so, even in a round-about sort of way, dangerously undermines the valid points in LeMond’s message.

After all, when LeMond lined up for the 1989 Tour, he did so alongside the defending champion Pedro Delgado – who won the 1988 Tour despite testing positive for Probenicid. Delgado’s win stood because of a technicality – at the time the UCI’s list of banned substances was not aligned with the IOC’s and was not due to be adjusted until later in 1988.

I may be wrong but I don’t recall LeMond objecting too much then.

Did Jonathan Vaughters spend the winter accidentally smashing mirrors and running over black cats?

His Garmin-Slipstream team have had 17 second places so far this season. Of the ProTour teams, only Columbia have had more (19).

The thing is, while Columbia have won 35 races, Garmin’s tally stands at five.

The team has suffered a string of injuries, notably to Christian Vande Velde, David Millar and Tyler Farrar. Add to that a couple of near misses – Bradley Wiggins could very well have won the Giro d’Italia time trial in Rome but for a rain shower, and David Millar was caught in the sight of the line in the Dauphiné earlier this week – and it must leave Vaughters with the feeling that his luck must change soon.

Returning to London in the middle of the Tube drivers’ strike on Wednesday evening, I thought I was in 1970s Beijing judging by the number of bikes on the roads.

During the short walk from St Pancras to Euston station I saw hundreds of them, many of which looked as if they’d been hauled out of the shed or back yard and dusted down for the day.

I saw every sort of bike, ridden by every kind of rider. I saw some very dangerous manoeuvres and feared some may not get home without an incident.

It was clearly bemusing for all the car drivers and pedestrians to see cyclists taking over the roads.

But it was great to see so many people on their bikes in the capital. Hopefully a good number of them will see that cycling is a great way to get around (despite the barmy bike lanes and the general disdain and disregard of the Great British motorist) and continue to use two wheels for their commute.