Lads on [Vuelta]

This year has, and soon will, play host to some of the greatest sporting occasions in recent years. England beating the old enemy in the Ashes, Chris Froome taking out the GC at the Tour, the Rugby World Cup, as well as much more. Fitting, then, that this year’s Vuelta looks like it’s going to be, and I don’t roll this sort of slang out unless there’s at least 2 Grand Tour champions and 5 podium finishers in the lineup, a belter.

Fortunately for me, that’s exactly what we do have as this year seems to be Froome vs Quintana vs Nibali vs Valverde vs Purrito vs Aru vs Landa vs many more. Astana have brought the big guns and seem to be packing about as much punch as a Floyd Mayweather on a May night in Las Vegas (a contemporary reference there for all you polymaths). TJVG is here to sort out some unfinished business he has from the Tour, and I fancy people like Pozzovivo and Majka to uproot a few of the aforementioned big boys. Sagan, Degenkolb, and Bouhanni are all turning up to take out a few stage wins, and then we have the luxury of throwing in the imperious Cancellara to throw his weight around. More unfinished business there perhaps.

Last year, the Tour went through Yorkshire, with its hordes of topless, drunk Brits on the roadside to cheer the peloton through its narrow streets. La Vuelta, ever keen to emulate its big sister, this year starts in Marbella, where there will be hordes of topless, drunk Brits… What a sight that promises to be. Home advantage for Froome, Thomas, and Cummings on the first stage then.

The organisers have also decided that road cycling is apparently too boring on roads, and using this year’s trip to Marbella as the perfect trial, have sent the teams over a small section of, well, sand. Rally cross meets road racing. Team time trials often cause absolute carnage in the GC, so I’m eager to see how the boys get on on the sandy straights of stage 1. That notwithstanding, it’s only 7.4km, so shouldn’t be too devastating, but you gotta look at TJVG to start the race proper in red.

And when we get there, it also promises surprises and shocks aplenty. 9 uphill finishes, all before the second rest day will get the race started nice and early, and I like the fact that there’s 3 or 4 sprint stages right at the end of the race – it gives the big men an incentive to get through the hills, and their races aren’t over as soon as we reach anything with a gradient.

It’s going to be three weeks of enthralling racing, but as for who’ll come out wearing red, I just don’t know. There’s a 39km ITT in there which is going to hurt Quintana. I don’t know how badly, but he’ll lose some time there. He’s definitely explosive enough to escape on the punchy uphill finishes, but whether he can hold a lead I don’t know. Nibali looked a shadow of his former self at the Tour, but class is permanent yada yada cliche. I can’t see Froomey repeating his French Venerables, and Valverde will serve Quintana as best he can. The Colombian looks as safe a bet as any, but you only have to look at the whole Horner incident of 2013 to know that quite literally anything can happen. Isn’t that right Tejay?

Geraint Thomas is Rick Astley

Geraint Thomas is one of my favourite cyclists. There, I said it. I know it’s a bit primary-school to have favourite sportspeople, but gee, Gee has some remarkably admirable qualities that you can’t help but, well, admire. Much like other fan favourites: Jens Voigt and Tony Martin, not only is he good, but he has a ‘fight til the death’, ‘against all odds’, ‘last man standing’ sort of attitude (put some coins in the cliche jar for me, would you). Much like Rick Astley (think about it). I like that in a cyclist, and because he’s British there’s literally no reason not to love him – after being pushed off by Warren Barguil in the Alps and having a cozy encounter with a telegraph pole, he spent the post race interview bemoaning the loss of his sunglasses. Class.

Right, so before this gets all ‘In fair Verona we lay our scene’, let’s talk about bike racing. Recently, there have been calls for him to lead Team Sky at the Vuelta in a few weeks, or at least at some point in the future. Now, the argument in favour is pretty convincing.

He lasted in the hills with Froomey until Stage 19, and that was after his date with destiny with a large wooden pole. Equally, he spent the lion’s share of the road in the Pyrenees pulling Chris Froome. As leader, he would be repositioned from puller to pullee, something less energy sapping, and so, the thought goes, he would be able to stay with the big boys over the lumpy stuff. I would tend to agree. But here’s my issue.

Thomas doesn’t have a ‘Grand Tour’ speciality as such (other than being arguably the world’s best domestique). He can stay with the favourites in the mountains, but I can’t see him riding away from anyone a la Nairo Quintana or Chris Froome. He’s a solid time-trialler, but again, he’s not going to be mixing it with Cancellara and Martin, or Rowan Dennis even. He won’t lose any time, but he won’t gain much, or enough, either. I just find it difficult to see him winning a Grand Tour.

He’s someone in the Tejay Van Garderen mould if you will. He was most definitely worth his place on the podium before he retired, and I could see him defending it all the way to Paris, but no one honestly thought he was going to win the Tour. For me it’s the same with Geraint. He’ll finish highly in the big races, but I just can’t see him winning it.

Look at this way: if you were Nairo Quintana, who would you want to see leading Team Sky? I know who I’d prefer.

Dave Brailsford said Thomas would lead Team Sky if he were the best rider there. Richie Porte has had to leave to be given a leader’s role (apparently it’s BMC but that’s just conjecture), and so you fear the same might happen to Gee. I wouldn’t pick him in front of Chris Froome, at least at the moment. Would you?

If he is going to get a shot in a Grand Tour, I think the Vuelta would be his best bet with the shorter, punchier climbs to the finish, as opposed to the Alpine and Pyreneen drags of the Tour and the Giro. I hope he gets his shot, and I hope even more that he can find a podium finish, if not a win, within him. I really do. I just can’t see it…

I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Drugs Cheat

The dust has settled, the champagne has been drunk, and the supporters have returned to their lives; but the rumour-mill surrounding the Tour is still well and truly in motion.

The chief fuel for it (this metaphor is growing worryingly slim), are the accusations levelled at Chris Froome for his alleged doping. French TV seem to be saying that his performances don’t add up physiologically, and that nobody can be that good and clean. Of course Sky have countered with their own test results which supposedly disprove the allegations, but my point here is not to try and show Froome’s innocence. For what it’s worth, I believe him and his team to be clean, and I have no worries admitting that his excellent performance at the Tour was completely genuine.

What we are witnessing here, is the direct impact on the peloton, not only of Lance Armstrong’s admission, but also of the reams and reams of drugs cheats we’ve had in the last few decades. The viewing public have become increasingly wary – fearful that they should not be caught out again, and so refuse to believe anything that they are witnessing. Fine. I think the spitters and urine-thrower are disgusting in the way they are expressing their points of view, but they can think whatever they want.

The point of this then, is to show just how far down the rabbit-hole this sport has gotten itself. I have previously written, remarkably eloquently I may add (!), about dramatically increasing doping bans and cracking down “before it’s too late” (https://csquared95.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/peloton-wars-episode-iii-return-of-the-doping-culture/), but I fear that point may have already reached us.

As Sir Dave Brailsford has said time and time again, it is very difficult to prove a negative – ie to prove something is not the case. Add to that the fact that the UCI and WADA have lost much of their credibility over the whole Armstrong faff, and you can see how the argument criticising Froome might go:

“Person 1 – He’s not doping.

Person 2 – OK, prove it.

Person 1 – He hasn’t tested positive ever.

Person 2 – Yes, but neither did Lance Armstrong. Either his doping methods are more advanced than the policing methods, or he’s paying someone off.”

You see the issue here?

It all stems from the fact that we, as the general public, are not prepared to accept the conclusions drawn by the UCI and the powers that be. Once bitten, forevermore shy, I fear. The doping police will never be able to prove they have caught everyone using any substances (see previous argument), and so there will always be this fear around the sport of cycling.

Much of it is down to personal pride. “I was duped by Lance Armstrong 7 times at the Tour. I will not be duped again. I am going to be naturally suspicious, and it is up to the riders to prove they are not doping” (see previous argument).

Now I’m not going to get into an argument into where the burden of proof lies, but it is clear what has to happen for us to return to a state of normality (although I would question whether cycling has ever, in fact, been normal). We, the viewing public, have to take a massive leap of faith and begin to trust that the peloton is cleaning itself up. Of course there are dopers still around, but I have already shown the dangers of assuming guilt. We have to trust the UCI and WADA to catch the cheats, and we have to trust that those at the helm genuinely want to clean this sport up once and for all. It’s not going to be easy, but until that happens, poor, innocent competitors like Chris Froome and Team Sky are going to be victimised by the French and others, simply for being good.

I’ll jump first, but everyone else has to come with.

Le Tour 2015 – 21 stages later

I got one right everybody.

Fitting I think that the fastest man at the Tour took out the Champs-Elysees finale, and that gives the German ‘Gorilla’ 4 wins overall. Not bad for a 33 year old.

While the ‘Unofficial World Sprinters’ Championships’ was today, (if I had £1 for every time I heard that phrase…) I don’t think we learned a great deal from the 7 laps in Paris. It was the previous 84 hours of racing that provided the shocks (or not), so why don’t we have a look back at see what we did manage to learn from this year’s Tour.

1) Team Sky are the best team in the world. Period. Sure, Movistar won the big one, the yellow helmet, but you’d be hard pressed to find 8 guys better at protecting a leader in yellow for over 2 weeks of racing. Kennaugh, Konig, Poels, Porte, Roche, Rowe, Stannard and Thomas were invaluable for Chris Froome, and whilst it wasn’t always the same guy by his side in the mountains, you could always count on at least one of them to drag him through the mountainous passes. Special mention goes to Wouter Poels for his heroic effort on Stage 19 to guide Froomey, having been previously dropped; but each person executed their job immaculately.

2) The French are coming. Having given rise to some of the greatest names in cycling in the past (Hinault, Fignon etc…) they have been conspicuously inconspicuous in recent years. It was always going to be tough for them to follow 2nd and 3rd step on the podium as they had in 2014, but in Pinot, Bardet, Rolland and Barguil, they have guys who look like they might be able to regularly get up there and mix it with the Froomes and Quintanas of the peloton. Add in Bryan Coquard’s 2nd place today, and the generally outstanding Tour had by Alexis Vuillermoz and things begin to look up even more.

3) The roadside spectators can be really good… Just take a look at Alpe D’Huez on Saturday to see how much the world loves its cycling. Reportedly, around 1,000,000 were on the mountain for the final Alpine stage. 1,000,000. 6 noughts! I still believe Dutch Corner is one of the best atmospheres in the world of sport, but the guys and gals turned out all over France to welcome their heroes. It wouldn’t be the same without them, and it’s more proof that cycling is going from strength to strength as a global sport.

4) …the roadside spectators can be really, really bad. Froomey had urine thrown at him, was spat at, and apparently punched during the Tour. And you know what, I don’t reckon that’s half the story. Stuff was thrown at the Sky car on L’Alpe, and there was a worryingly large minority who were more than happy to show their discontent at what they believed to be a dirty champion. Regardless of your view on the matter, some of the behaviour we saw was disgusting.

5) Yates You Can. A couple more potential British stars for the cycling world to envy. Currently taking bets on how long it’ll be before they’re on Team Sky. 3 years say? Sooner.

So, tl;dr (brevity is for the weak):

Man of the Tour: G. He had a date with a lamppost at about 50kms/h, and was still defending his place on the podium until Stage 19.

Moment of the Tour: Stage 1 Prologue, where Rowan Dennis became the fastest man ever at the Tour. Not many saw that coming. Sensational victory. Fabian who?

Highly commended: Daniel Teklehaimanot pulling on the polka-dots for 4 days for Eritrea. The start of an era.

Surprise of the Tour: It has to be Tejay VG. He rode out of his skin for the first 2 weeks, and really deserved a chance to fight for his place on the podium on the last couple of stages. BMC have a real talent there.

Team of the Tour: MTN Qhubeka. The efforts of the world’s most famous Eritrean have been well documented, but they also managed a Stage win through Steve Cummings, and got Serge Pauwels into P.13 on GC. Boassen-Hagen came 4th today, and all that from a wildcard team from Africa. See you next year boys.

What a year it’s been. And less than a month until the start of the Vuelta…

TdF Stage 20 Preview – Col de la Criox de Froome

Oi oi. Suitably refreshed after a tough afternoon of watching cycling? Me too. Right, time to head off all of this ‘Chris Froome has broken and Quintana will win Le Tour’ rubbish that is to be inevitable after a stage like today’s. Our yellow jersey wearer lost 32 seconds to the lil Colombian this afternoon on La Toussuire, and as such has had his lead reduced to under 3 minutes for the first time in a long while. In fact, it’s the first time he’s had his lead reduced all Tour. But surprisingly enough, that doesn’t mean the end for the Brit. Today was remarkable for a number of reasons:

1) Team Sky were non-existant. Other than the monster effort of Wouter Poels, who deserves some sort of war cross for ‘Efforts in Support of Team Principal Whilst Under Direct Fire’, the rest of the boys were nowhere to be seen. Whilst that spells the end for Geraint’s podium bid (which probably works in their favour), I think it’s a blessing in disguise for the team. They’ll be raring for it tomorrow. I don’t think they were “saving themselves” as many have said, but you don’t become one of the best teams in the world by imploding mid-way through a Grand Tour never to be seen again. They will bounce back strongly, and I will put my entire student loan on the fact that we will see the usual Porte, Thomas and Konig combo up on the Alpe D’Huez tomorrow with Froomey.

2) Quintana only took 30 seconds. When Froome was all but isolated, the Colombian managed to steal back roughly 1/6th of the time deficit he had. Just the 5 more 6ths tomorrow, then, on a shorter stage where Chris will not be as isolated. Exactly.

3) Chris Froome extended his lead over everyone else in the peloton (except V.Nibs obvs). The race is one for third, and that’ll see the contenders attack each other as opposed to everyone attacking Yellow. See how NL Jumbo did most of the chasing of V.Nibs today? I imagine we’ll see Frank/Mollema/Gesink trying to protect their positions, rather than hitting the big time boys. That plays into Sky’s hands.

Listen, I’m not saying for one moment that the race is over. It’s most definitely not. After a disastrous Pyrenees, Quintana, Contador and Nibali have done exceptionally to bring it back, and it is entirely possible that Froome doesn’t win the Tour de France. But something incredible is going to have to happen for that to be the case. As I’ve said, I think the conditions in place will favour Sky, and add in the fact that Movistar are probably wanting to protect the all important Team Classification, I’m struggling to see how the Brits are going to let it slip from here.

Tomorrow, I expect Movistar, Astana and Tinkoff-Saxo to get men up the road and build some bridges for their big guns. Movistar also have the Valverde card to play. And for what it’s worth, I think Chris will lose some time to Quintana at least tomorrow. With all those teams attacking, it’s going to be extremely difficult for Sky to keep abreast of everything; but will he lose two and a half minutes? Improbable.

Either way, it’s great that we have a situation where the Tour is coming down to the final hills. Beautiful, isn’t it? 12pm, sharp. Be there.

Game, Set, Tour.

Hi it’s me! Remember, the one with the rubbish puns, the misplaced sarcasm, and the woeful satire? The one who’s about as reliable as a Greek bank loan (what did I say)? Fear not, read on, and try and make it to the end.

Having been away for the first 9 stages of racing, reducing my following of Le Tour to Twitter and the internet in general, I was looking forward to settling down to some proper uphill bike racing in the Pyrenees. Well, Chris Froome just excreted all over that idea. Instead of seeing a war of attrition, a battle to the death between the 5 contenders on the long, tough, Col de Soudet, what you and I witnessed was a procession by a man who has just announced to everyone on the planet that he is going to be wearing that yellow jersey all the way to Paris. Try to take it off him, I dare you.

Quintana, Van Garderen, Contador, Nibali and Uran all went backwards. Everyone went backwards. Froome was even halfway through his warm-down before last year’s winner got over the line. Have that one.

But instead of the warm, fuzzy feeling I usually get when a British athlete powers to success in any sport, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. To all intents and purposes, the race is now basically over. You can play the ‘anything can happen in the Alps’ card, or even the ‘he might fall off and break a leg’ joker, but seriously, come on. Quintana isn’t going to find over 3 minutes. Contador will keep attacking, but he must know his best chance will come from pushing Chris off his bike, and Vincenzo is about as close to yellow as I am, figuratively speaking at least. The battle for the podium will be intense, and I fancy Geraint Thomas to make some sort of challenge, but that’s it for yellow. Game, Set, Tour. (A nod to Wimbledon there, because, you know, the world is bigger than cycling).

A lot has happened in my absence, including the Lars Boom cortisol faff, Ivan Basso’s withdrawal following his diagnosis of testicular cancer, and the whole Sky-data-stealing-must-be-doping-no-other-explanation debacle. I know it’ll disappoint you, but I’m not going to comment on those events, other than to say a lot of the people involved are very silly.

I will say, though, that I thought Tony Martin raced epicly, and such is the luck of my fave guy, that he fell off and once more he is deprived of some more glory. Hey, on the plus side, his karma is going to be through the roof.

The other person deserving of some Geared Up love is Daniel Teklehaimanot. His achievements have been well documented, and I don’t want to flog that particular horse, other than to just say that his team, MTN Qhubeka, have done an outstanding job so far, getting 4 riders up there today, and I hope that his and their efforts open up top level cycling to a much wider audience. Good on ya Dan.

Right, eyes forward to tomorrow. There’s a couple of big lumps in there, which should let a break stay clear, and there has to be attacks from within the peloton. There has to be. Whether they gain any time remains to be seen, but someone, probably Alberto, is going to try to do something. I doubt the GC will be massively upturned, but hey, stranger things have happened (like today’s stage for example).

I’m positively foaming.

Peloton Wars Episode III – Return of the Doping Culture

I’m back! Like a reliable dog, I have returned with a customarily odd title which poorly informs you of the style and tone of the piece. It’s like I’ve never been away.

And what change we’ve seen in the 6 months since I could last be bothered to do something productive. New world champions, and some great racing happened at the end of last season, and this year too has started with a bang and we look to be in for some great racing heading into Classics territory.

So much has happened to be proud of in the sport, but I’d like to focus on the whole doping debacle which continues to drag on in the wake of 1) this new Circ report looking at the ‘Armstrong’ era, but also because of 2) the Astana Affair. What both of these cases have in common is the very worrying conclusion which we can draw: drugs are still a part of cycling.

How big a part they play depends on who you’re listening to, and what access they have to the peloton, but according to the Circ report, the number could be anywhere between 20% and 90%. Taking some sort of an average, then, and it looks like there’s potentially over half of the peloton still doping.

Just look at the Astana Affair in the last 6 months or so, and you’ll see that doping still plays a hugely significant role in the sport. It’s often the elephant in the room, and its effects are not just limited to unfair competition – doping breeds a whole culture where fans question every performance they see. Even the most optimistic of fans must, at some point deep down, wonder whether what they are seeing is a display of physical superiority by one athlete over another, or whether it is a display of medical superiority. It is a cancer on the sport, whose effects linger long after the tumour has been removed.

If one team in cycling can be said to be clean, I believe that team to be Sky, who have founded themselves on the very notion of anti-doping. Over the last couple of years they have proven, I believe, that it is possible to stay clean and win races, but now we see the work that they, and other teams have done, is being completely undermined. Reports of the re-emergence of Dr Ferrari into the sport once again surely sends shivers down the spine of any fan who lived through the Age of Armstrong, and that is but one symptom in a very worrying chain.

The trend rate at this point seems to be heading very much in a downward direction, and so it is time for measures to be taken. I have said it before, and I shall say again until I am blue in the face, but why can’t the UCI inflict heavier punishments on those caught cheating? In the last couple of days, Wayne Odesnik off of tennis has been banned for 15 years following his second doping violation. You want to cut doping out of the sport? Try ending people’s careers and see how quickly the numbers of those who are doped in the peloton falls.

Yes, I know that doping and tennis are not as synonymous as they are in cycling, and yes, I know that it would completely ruin the sport for maybe 5 or 10 years, but something has to be done. If this whole charade continues, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t, we’re going to be back in a situation like we were at the end of the noughties where nobody can move without brushing the topic of doping.

Nobody wants that, so please UCI, do something.

Wigan’s Wiggo Wins Worlds’ With Wonderful, erm, Performance…?

Ahem. This is a little, well, embarrassing really. I mean, I don’t really have anywhere to go on this one…

And it’s not even like it was tweeted off the record. That was placed firmly on the record, and thus will remain there for the rest of time – any journalist will tell you that.

Oh well, I saved it

My gaffe notwithstanding, today shocked me. And not just in the, “Anything can happen on the road” cliched way. This was a proper, “Are you kidding?” sort of thing. Now, sure, it’s not like nobody knew who Bradley Wiggins was before today and, like the classic sporting underdog, he rose from nowhere to grab the title before returning to the relative obscurity of the Continental Tour within a year. He was always going to finish on the podium, but such are a) Martin’s dominating performances this year, and b) Wiggins’ less than dominating performances this year, I thought the German was the safe bet. In the end, 26 seconds is quite comfortable, and Brad even said he had some gas left in the tank. What a champion. Didn’t look like that when he basically collapsed over the finish line, but that’s the beauty of now having won virtually everything there is to win – nobody cares because you’ve won virtually everything there is to win.

Coming in second means very little in a tete a tete like this one, but just a quick word for Tony, who’s had a pretty phenomenal year on the TT circuit, taking victories in TdF and La Vuelta stages, as well as the German Champs, the GC of the Tour of Belgium, and a plethora of other individual stages. I still maintain that he is the greatest ITT-er in the world at the moment (despite today’s race!), and I have no doubt he will rebound strongly next year to once again be on top of the world. Unfortunately the course was a little too hilly for him today, when in the context of his personal race with Bradley, but I still remain a big fan of his continue-at-all-costs attitude and a big admirer of his raw talent.

Today also marked the last time that the World ITT Champs will see Bradley Wiggins, and he will be a big loss. He’s moving on to try and beat Jens Voigt’s new one hour record, and I only hope that we aren’t sitting here in 12 months bemoaning how predictable the TTs have become. On a side note, you do feel for Mr Voigt, who has dedicated his whole life pretty much to cycling, and for his last hurrah on the bike, decides to break the one hour record, which you assume Bradley Wiggins will break only a few months later. He deserves to go down in history in some form at least, but I can’t see Wiggo not going even better when he sets the hour record firmly in his sights. But that is a post for another day.

Just a short addendum to BMC, who also did remarkably well to win the TTT a few days ago. Unlike Tony Martin, they did “annihilate the field”, winning by 30 seconds. Considering that the next 30 seconds covered places 2-7, it was quite a performance. Kudos.

The not insignificant attention now switches to Sunday where the road racers take to the stage. It looks like the enigmatic “puncheurs” will be favourites – that means you, Sagan – but as we repeatedly see in these big races, quite literally anything can happen. If it comes to a group sprint, Bouhanni would be my choice, but all it takes is a well placed attack at the right time and anybody could be pulling on the rainbow jersey for the 2015 season.

If this were a TV show, I would now finish with a short montage of Bradley Wiggins receiving all his medals and trophies over the years with probably a Green Day song playing in the background. Unfortunately it’s not, so in its stead, I will finish with a quote from our champion who summed up his career pretty immaculately.

“Job Done”

Engerland, Engerland

Namaste to you all on this fine day. It’s just days now until the start of the Giro d’Ireland and whilst we’re counting down to the ‘Big Start’, which sounds a lot like a government scheme to end obesity or something don’t you think, I thought we should have a look back at the Spring classics and the races of the last month or so to see just how much Great Britain has won over that time. Being in Australia, there’s not a lot of bragging rights re- sports, so I’m taking anything I can get my hands on. And obviously because Simon Gerrans won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, some imaginative thinking is required in order for us to get the ‘one-up’. So to that end, I have devised a foolproof plan which I have called the ‘Politician’s Gambit’, whereby any evidence which undermines my cause will be summarily ignored, and we will work under the assumption that the race in question never happened. It goes as follows:

“Hey, did you see what happened in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege at the weekend? I was away…”

“Yeah, the race was cancelled. They all just sat and watched some daytime TV instead. In fact, I think it was a replay of last year’s TDF, you know the one where Chris Froome absolutely dominated everybody and won the GC.”

“Oh yeah, I know it, you mean the race where Simon Gerrans won the yellow jersey for a bit.”

“Nah, I mean the race where Chris Froome representing Great Britain ended up beating Simon Gerrans representing Australia very comfortably in the end. I don’t recall anybody representing Australia finishing in the top ten.”

Absolute deniability. And it’s this process we’ll be using after the tradition that is the World Cup quarter final exit next month. You know the line, so tow the line.

With very little success to speak of in the Spring Classics, although Ben Swift did incredibly well finishing third at the Milan-San Remo, let’s head to Turkey, where the Brit Adam Yates took out the GC, finishing five seconds ahead of the not so insignificant Estonian Rein Taaramae. It’s not like he ‘lucked out’ on a one day race like Gerrans in Italy, this was a whole week of racing, and he beat Taaramae who has often competed at the Tour. His twin brother Simon unfortunately broke his collarbone in the same race, but it looks like we have a couple of guys who will be able to compete and that is a good thing. Your move Australia.

And staying in Turkey, Cav also had a monster Tour, winning half of the 8 stages available, and helping to cement his place as Britain’s best ever sprinter. Just a word of caution to all those who say that this means he’ll win 9 stages at the Tour, let’s bear in mind his closest competitor was Elia Viviani, who is no doubt a great cyclist, but isn’t up there with Kittel, Greipel and Kristoff, who also now looks a good bet after winning the Milan-San Remo.

And just briefly on Marcel Kittel, who instead of following the British option of the “Politician’s Gambit” and denying all knowledge of the event retrospectively, has instead gone for the European excuse option. This is more traditional, and is called the “Sportsman’s Dilemma”. It’s very simple, and all you need to do is to take preemptive action, and complain about the conditions of the race beforehand, so you have a nice excuse to fall back on at a later date. Chris Froome employed it perfectly when discussing the cobbles in this year’s Tour, and the Schlecks have been known to give it a run out every now and then, particularly concerning “perilous descents”. Textbook preparation from the German, who has said the Yorkshire roads are too “dangerous” for the riders, being too narrow. Just be thankful you don’t have tractors coming the other way, as us mortals have to cope with, and get on with it.

So there you have it. And I didn’t even have time to mention Chris Froome’s success at the Tour de Romandie, and how that will almost inevitably mean he will win the Tour de France this year. I mean he did the elusive Romandie-France double last year… And with that, you’ll be pleased to learn, I’m done. I’m gonna do my best to try and cover the Giro from the other side of planet, but I wouldn’t hold out any hope. Adios peeps.

Baseball + Drugs = Cycling?

Welcome back to Geared Up, and I must apologise if you were looking for some commentary on the Tour Down Under, but today I am not writing about cycling, but rather about baseball. No, I agree, it is pretty blasphemous, but I am justifying it’s inclusion on this page because it relates to drugs, a topic which is fairly synonymous with cycling, and a topic which has once again risen to the surface again following the Contador scandal, and the Armstrong debacle. Saxo-Tinkoff’s Michael Rogers is the latest star to be banned, following the appearance of clenbuterol in his drugs test. The former Sky man insisted it was because of contaminated meat in China, (sound familiar Alberto?) but untill he can prove his innocence, has been suspended. This just days after the revelations about fellow Sky rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (JTL). To those who thought that drugs were no longer a part of the sport, the end of the 2013 has apparently proved otherwise.

Parallels can definitely be drawn between cycling and other sports where drugs play a role, and one of those sports is baseball. If you’re American, or if you show even a passing interest in the MLB from elsewhere in the world, then I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the whole Alex Rodriguez affair. Third baseman Rodriguez was one of the best players in baseball, and is the quickest player ever to reach 600 home runs, beating Babe Ruth into second place by over a year. He has also hit the most home runs by any Hispanic player ever. In short, he was a powerhouse, who dominated the game and commanded some of the biggest contracts in baseball history. He has hit the headlines again recently though because of the drugs scandal which has seen him banned for the 2014 season. The whole thing has blown up and a total of 13 players have been banned for between 50 games and the entire season for their alleged involvement with PEDs. Some of those players include 2013 all-stars, Nelson Cruz, Everth Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta (50 games each), as well as other notables Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon who have already served their bans.

And the point I wish to make is there appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the sport, much as there was with cycling in the late ’90s and early noughties. It seems drugs has well and truly infiltrated the make up of the game, to the point where players consider it worth the risk to take drugs. Like everything, it comes back to economics, a science of incentives, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the disincentive for using drugs is nowhere near strong enough. One particular case I am particularly well clued up on is that of Melky Cabrera, former San Francisco Giant (my team), who was absolutely unbelievable for most of the 2012 season. He was hitting well above .320 and was winning games almost single-handedly. He was found guilty of substance abuse and suspended just before the playoffs, but as a result of his huge success, scored himself a healthy contract with the Toronto Blue Jays – the Giants to their credit wanted nothing to do with him afterwards.

As a result of his huge season in 2012, he made himself a lot of money, not only through his contract with the Blue Jays, but also through sponsorship and all that is involved with sports nowadays. Now if you divorce yourselves from the morals entirely, it would seem like taking drugs would be worth it. National and international recognition, followed by a big money deal, for the small price of missing 50 games (which is about two months in baseball), and that’s only if you get caught. If you’re a mediocre player on the fringe of the big leagues, that would definitely appear to be a wise investment – hell, I’d probably do it!

So my question is why are the punishments so light relative the crime committed? Chances are, if you’re reading this you know a thing or two about cycling, and are well aware of how serious an issue this is for baseball. Much like with match fixing in cricket and snooker, you don’t want it to get to the point where you are questioning the validity of success right off the bat. So surely the MLB have to impose harsher sanctions. A 50 game suspension is not long enough; a season ban is not long enough. It’s about making a point, setting an example, and removing drugs from the sport once and for all. 6, 7, and 8 year bans are what are needed, and even life bans if that’s what it takes. Look to snooker, where Stephen Lee has been handed a 12 year ban (virtually career ending) for match fixing.

If everybody agrees how reprehensible doping is, then why does it take so much to get a heavy sentence? Sort out the problem before it becomes endemic, or you’ll end up like cycling, where people stop watching because they don’t believe (rightly or wrongly) that what they are watching is legitimate.That’s the choice that has to be made. Doesn’t seem too difficult to me…

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