The Wednesday Comment


As our sister magazine Cycle Sport revealed two months ago, Fabian Cancellara has been considering an attempt on the World Hour Record.

The story has been picked up by an Italian magazine and sparked plenty of speculation among the fans.

Two years ago, Cancellara did some testing on the track with the Swiss track coach Markus Nagel with the goal of riding the individual pursuit at the Beijing Olympics, but he quickly ditched the bid.

The reason for shelving the idea was not that Cancellara felt he could not challenge the best in the world over four kilometres. It was simply that he would have needed to ride at least one track World Cup and the World Championships to secure qualification points of the Olympics. With Milan-San Remo and the Spring Classics his main goals on the road, that was simply not possible.

The Hour Record, though, is a different proposition, because he could schedule the attempt when it suited him.

If Cancellara, undoubtedly the best time trial rider in the world, were to make an attempt it may restore some prestige to a record that has suffered as a result of the UCI banning Graeme Obree’s ‘Superman’ position, which Chris Boardman used to set the last World Hour Record of 56.375km in 1996.

Four years later, Boardman rolled back the years and adopted the sort of technology that Eddy Merckx had used in 1972 in Mexico City – an attempt the Belgian said took him a month to recover from. Merckx covered 49.431km.

The Italian Francesco Moser made the first big advances in aerodynamics when he broke the record in 1984, becoming the first to ride more than 50 kilometres.

But the heyday of the discipline was between 1993 and 1996 when Obree and Boardman traded blows, generating publicity and excitement that contributed to a film, extensive coverage in L’Equipe and perhaps more importantly prompted the stars on the road to take the Hour seriously.

Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger stretched the record to more than 55 kilometres before Boardman’s hour of technical and athletic perfection in September 1996.

Eliminating the low-profile bikes, disc wheels and triathlon bars, Boardman rode 49.441 km at Manchester in 2000, a record that stood until the Czech rider Ondrej Sosenka did 49.700km in Moscow in July 2005, conforming to the same restrictions.

Sosenka was still talking about having another crack at breaking the 50-kilometre mark when he failed a dope test in 2008.

If he’s able to dedicate enough time to preparing for the event, Cancellara could be the first rider to break 50 kilometres for what has been dubbed ‘the Athlete’s Hour’.

However, Boardman’s world’s best time still stands there, as yet untouched. Wouldn’t it be great if over the next 18 months Cancellara could tackle both records – one using 1972-style equipment, the other reviving the ‘Superman’ position?

Cancellara could break Sosenka’s record comfortably, but it would be fascinating to find out how Boardman’s 1996 mark would stand up.

Stripping Davide Rebellin of his Olympic silver medal after he tested positive for the banned drug CERA, was clearly the right thing to do. However, the re-assignment of the silver and bronze medals leaves me feeling a little uneasy.

You could mount a cast-iron fair argument that Fabian Cancellara and Alexandr Kolobnev, the riders who finished third and fourth in the Olympic Games road race won by Spain’s Samuel Sanchez, were denied their rightful results by Rebellin and should be awarded their medals retrospectively.

Kolobnev was denied the moment of a lifetime – the chance to stand on the podium at the Olympic Games with a bronze medal around his neck. Instead of that unforgettable experience, the Russian would have gone back to his hotel with a sense of how close he’d come.

However, doesn’t rewriting the results retrospectively also erase Rebellin’s offence from history. Fifty years from now, a look back at the 2008 Olympic Games road race will show that Samuel Sanchez beat Cancellara and Kolobnev. Rebellin’s CERA-fuelled performance will be airbrushed out of existence. How convenient.

Five years ago Tyler Hamilton tested positive for a banned blood transfusion after winning the time trial at the Athens Olympics. A few weeks later he tested positive again at the Vuelta a Espana. However, Hamilton was able to keep his gold medal because the laboratory accidentally froze his ‘B’ sample, rendering any further tests impossible. The record books show that Hamilton was the Olympic time trial champion.

In 2007 Bjarne Riis admitted he took EPO to help him win the 1996 Tour de France. He offered to hand back his yellow jersey. In 2007 the Tour de France organisers removed his name from the official handbook given out to the world’s media. As far as they were concerned, there was no winner of the 1996 race. It was a courageous move and it was disappointing to see that Riis’s name was back the following year.

Floyd Landis was officially stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title and it the win was handed to Oscar Pereiro. But was Pereiro really a winner?

In both cases the sport of cycling and the Tour de France would have gained more long-term benefit from declaring there was no winner of either event. Leave the record books blank, explain what happened as a foot note and move on. That is the only way to deal with the issue. Trying to shuffle everyone one place up the results and pretend nothing happened merely discredits cycling further.

Because this habit of glossing over the positive tests is what enables the sport to keep harming itself in the same way time and time again. The long-term legacy of doping is whitewashed over and casual observers are left oblivious to the real events.

It is interesting to see on the UCI’s website that riders who have been convicted of doping offences have been removed from the 2009 World Calendar rankings, with their position left blank.

It’s time for cycling to face up to reality, erase the dopers from the results with an X marking the spot.

That way the true cost of doping will be realised and it may strengthen the resolve of riders who are done out of money, points and prestige time and time again to speak out, breaking the unpleasant and all-pervading Omerta that sits like a low fog across too much of the sport.

Meanwhile, the news that Floyd Landis has parted company with the American team OUCH by mutual consent has sparked speculation that his next move could be to Lance Armstrong’s Team Shack. Or Team The Shack or The Shack Team, whichever title they are officially going to decide on.

It sounds pretty far-fetched, but then again this is the column which completely dismissed the rumours of Armstrong’s comeback a little over a year ago.

Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory when he failed a dope test. The case degenerated into an unbelievable mess of legal wrangling that showed no one in a good light.

Momentum Sports Group, the company that owns the OUCH team, said in a press release that Landis hoped to join a team that would “ride longer, tougher stage races offered in Europe and internationally that better suit his strengths”.

That would seem to rule out Rock Racing and with the list of teams willing to hire a rider who brought the Tour de France into such disrepute so short, could it really be that Landis will be reunited with his old team-mate Armstrong?

It would be a staggeringly poor piece of PR for Team Shack. And it will make it even harder for ASO to stick by its declaration that it would not ban individuals from the Tour de France, only whole teams.

There can surely be no desire at ASO to ever see Landis in the Tour de France again. But with Liquigas quietly hoping they’ll be allowed to bring Ivan Basso back to the race in 2010, and Astana believing that all will be forgiven if they name Alexandre Vinokourov, it will become increasingly hard for them to bar Landis. If ASO is to have a rule it must be applied consistently. One out, all out. One in, all in.

And that really would be a smack in the face for ASO, being forced to welcome back a rider they stripped of the yellow jersey. A lot has happened at ASO in the past 14 months but surely that can’t happen. Can it?

It’s almost December. Incredibly, I know, but Christmas shall soon be upon us.

As the festive season approaches, we will be counting down the Best British Riders of 2009 with our advent calendar.

We debuted the list last year, with Sir Chris Hoy being crowned British Rider of 2008 ahead of Mark Cavendish and Nicole Cooke.

Even without the Olympics and Paralympics, it’s been another amazing season for British riders.

We’ll start our countdown of the top 30 on December 1, revealing one rider a day until Christmas eve. The top six will be unveiled in Cycling Weekly‘s final issue of the year, on sale on December 31.

So, let the debate begin. Who do you think are the best British riders of 2009?

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