The Wednesday Comment


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I expect most people had a good laugh at the pictures and video clips of Lance Armstrong pushing over one of the berks running alongside the riders during the Tour of California, but it actually sets a worrying precedent.

Admittedly, it was quite comical to see the fella fall into the snow at the side of the road, but it is absolutely imperative the invisible line between the spectators and the riders is not breached. Not by the spectators and not by the riders.

There were a lot of idiots who chose to run alongside the riders on the Tour of California?s climbs. Some of the costumes may have been funny, but their desperation to get in the limelight placed the riders in danger at times. They were only a trip or stumble away from causing a crash.

Armstrong lashed out at a spectator who has called himself the Yellow Devil and wore a cape that read ?LiveClean?. He also carried a pitch fork with syringes on the end. His point was obvious.

Perhaps Armstrong took exception to the guy?s message. The LiveClean guy certainly wasn?t the only one who ran close to Armstrong and his Astana riders, but he was the only one who was shoved off his feet.

The question is why Armstrong was not disqualified, or at least censured, for lashing out?

The Italian rider Wladimir Belli was disqualified from the 2001 Giro d?Italia after hitting a spectator. That day Gilberto Simoni?s fans were well over the top and Belli must have been extremely frustrated, but he lost his cool, threw out a fist and hit a spectator on the nose. He went on to finish second on the stage, but was disqualified unanimously by the race jury.

Armstrong has made great capital in the past from talking up the perceived physical threat he faces every time he gets on a bike. Sometimes he?s been justified. The treatment he got on Alpe d?Huez during the Tour de France time trial a few years ago was out of order.

But one way to jeopardise your own personal safety is by lashing out. An invisible line exists between spectators and riders. One should not touch the other, although fans have pushed riders for decades. The trend of fans running alongside the riders on the climbs is a relatively recent one, and it is fraught with potential danger. Fortunately incidents are few and far between, but Armstrong?s decision to place his hands on an annoying spectator crosses the line.

Now every idiot who wants his minute in front of the cameras is going to dress up and run alongside the riders. The stupid and the malicious may even do so in order to provoke a reaction. That?s the last thing we want.

There would have been an outcry if a spectator had pushed Armstrong. Why is it right for him to push a spectator?

He should have been told in no uncertain terms that putting his hands on a fan, however irritating or idiotic, was simply not on. But, of course, Lance is Lance, so I doubt anything was said except: “Well done.”


It staggers me how slow the momentum has been when it comes to equalising the imbalance between the number of cycling medals on offer to men and women at the Olympic Games.

The inequality exists on the track, where there are seven events for the men, and just three for the women.

With only three-and-a-half years to go until the London Olympics, time is running out, so it was good to hear the Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell speak out last week.

The problem is, there will not be complete equality across the board, although perhaps people want to see men?s synchronised swimming and maybe women?s boxing should be included?

But in the velodrome, the inequality stinks.

Losing the men?s kilometre and women?s 500 metres before Beijing (to make way for BMX, although I still haven?t fathomed that one out) meant there was just one event for the women?s sprinters at Olympic level.

It?s ridiculous, and it is unfair, and I am not simply saying that because Britain would stand an excellent chance of gold in the women?s Keirin, women?s team sprint and women?s team pursuit. I say it because it?s just wrong.

The problem is, who is sorting it out? The IOC? The UCI? Perhaps we?d better not hold our breath.


It was interesting to read that the former swimmer Duncan Goodhew had called for the sport?s governing body to ban the high-tech suits that have dominated the pool in the past year.

Of the 108 world records broken in 2008, 79 were set by swimmers wearing the Speedo LZR Racer suit.

Goodhew, who won gold at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 wearing a pair of traditional trunks, said: ?The sport is changing and Fina [the world governing body] has every right to rein it in. The sooner the better in my view.?

The suit retails at around £300 and can only be worn a handful of times before it tears or loses it shape. But cost is only one of the aspects concerning Goodhew.

Much as I admire British Cycling?s work to push the boundaries of technology with new equipment and clothing, I wonder how closely the UCI is studying the developments in cycling.

Over the years the governing body has reined in bicycle design and weight, banning various pieces of cutting-edge equipment to ensure that the quest for the best equipment does not become an arms race only the wealthy can win.

Recently Dave Brailsford revealed that all the skinsuits worn at the Beijing Olympics were shredded to prevent other nations learning the secrets of the technology. Some other equipment has apparently been ?put back in the box? and will only be brought out again in London in 2012.

Brailsford had been quick to state that the technology was not rocket science and that it was available to anyone who sought it, but he didn?t shed any light on how much has been spent on development in the past four years.

I wonder how long it will be before other nations urge the UCI to tighten its regulations on bike and skinsuit design even further? And I wonder whether Goodhew hasn?t got a point ? that while the technological side of sport is often fascinating and hugely impressive, it shouldn’t divert away from the simple beauty of the point, which is to test the athlete, not the computer-aided design programme.


The Tour of Britain may be months away but presumably the organisers are excited at the prospect of inviting some of the world?s biggest teams to the event.

Although the race clashes with the Vuelta a Espana, the cancellation of the Tour of Germany and the Tour of Poland?s date change means there is not much stage racing in the first part of September.

The Tour of Britain runs from September 12 to 19 and is more or less unopposed. It means there could be a lot of interest from the big teams.

However, at the risk of sounding like I am beating the ?British jobs for British workers? drum for the sake of it, it is imperative that the Tour of Britain?s organisers invite all of the major British teams who are eligible.

By all means get excited at the prospect of Saxo Bank, Columbia, Quick Step and whoever else is interested in racing in Britain. But they mustn?t exclude the home-based squads in favour of two-bit outfits from Spain or Portugal or wheverer.


The Whereabouts programme has been defended by the World Anti-Doping Agency, after criticism from some top sports people, the British tennis player Andy Murray among them, that it is intrusive.

As I have written before, when discussing this issue, it is imperative to remember that sports people are not being stalked day and night.

All they are required to do, is write down a time and a place where they will be available for random testing for one hour each day.

That is one hour.

At a venue of their choosing.

And the infrastructure exists to update that venue with as little as one minute?s notice by text message or email or phone call.

That is not an imposition. If you are a professional athlete, it is part of your job?s terms and conditions.

It must be unpleasant to be visited by the dope testers if you are on holiday with your family, but it is a necessary evil.

As the debate rages, and as WADA seeks to make the rules stick from a legal point of view, look out for any exaggeration of the responsibility being placed on athletes. Remember, it?s just one hour a day and the actual tests may be few and far between.


It?s Het Volk ? sorry, Het Nieuwsblad ? on Saturday, and for me this is where the European season really starts.

While the name change may be confusing, the race will be the same as ever. It starts and finishes in Ghent and takes in several of the famous cobbled hills in the Flemish Ardennes.

The reason for the change is that the Het Volk newspaper is no longer published, having been taken over by the rival Het Nieuwsblad a few years ago, and finally closed last year.

But the race is always a great spectacle. makes Tom Boonen the favourite, although I think the Tour of California will have taken its toll, even if he did pull out with a day to go and flew back to Europe business class.

Last year?s winner Philippe Gilbert is a logical favourite, although he may have his sights set on the bigger objectives in April.

I?ve got a feeling Sylvain Chavanel will be Quick Step?s main man. However, I think the younger riders to watch are Garmin?s Martijn Maaskant and Columbia?s Edvald Boasson Hagen.


Whether you enjoyed the sight of Astana at the head of affairs at the Tour of California or not, you?d better get used to it.

Levi Leipheimer won on the West Coast, while Alberto Contador reminded us not to forget him by winning the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal.

I wonder what chance they have of winning all three grand tours this year?


Steve Cummings tried out his Fabian Cancellara impression in the final kilometre of the Trofeo Laigueglia on Saturday, only to be passed 200 metres from the line.

The Trofeo Laigueglia is a great little race. I had the pleasure of watching it five years ago, when Filippo Pozzato won, although the day was tinged with sadness as the Italian peloton and tifosi came to terms with Marco Pantani’s death.

The course is difficult, with several challenging hills, but it showed that Cummings is really serious about getting some results this year. I won’t be at all surprised if he gets a big result ?¬†perhaps a Giro d’Italia stage if Barloworld get a wild card invite.

In the meantime, Mark Cavendish is joint favourite with to win Milan-San Remo. Sometimes the pace and scale of the progress British riders have made in the past few years takes you by surprise. It seems like only five minutes ago that Cav was the virtually unknown underdog trying to get close to Tom Boonen in the Tour of Britain. Now he’s joint favourite with the Belgian for one of the biggest races in the world.


This may be a scurrilous rumour with absolute no grounding in fact, but we?ve heard from a usually reliable source, that the time gap between Francisco Mancebo and the chasing group was considerably greater than the one minute seven seconds recorded at the point the stage times were taken.

Because of the filthy conditions, it was decided to take the stage times the first time over the line, with three laps of the finishing circuit to go, so that the riders aiming for general classification did not need to get involved in the argy-bargy at the front of the bunch.

However, our man maintains the time gap was a lot bigger than a minute when the bunch came in. It couldn?t be that the organisers were not entirely enamoured with the thought of a rider implicated in Operacion Puerto taking an unassailable lead, could it?

Absolutely not.


February 18 ? It?s all happening in California

Bonus Comment: Lance Armstrong and Don Catlin drop anti-doping programme

February 11 ? Why BC must fight harder for road racing’s future

February 4 ? What’s hot during the big freeze?

January 28 ? The Snore Down Under

January 21 ? The Second Coming

January 14 ? So, Sir Alan rides a bike?