cranpunking at the Genco Mongolia Bike Challenge ’14

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hot diggety. back in the most amazing place i’ve ever had the privilege to go to. Mongolia. this place gets inside you. it’s the world before we came along and f*&%ed it all up. no fences, no walls, just kilometer after kilometer of nothing and everything. 78 other folk and myself will be lining up in two days time to go ride 900km in 7 days alongside wild horses, past grazing camels and under the watchful eyes of eagles.

three Crank Punk Coaching clients are here too, Chris Hodgson, Erin Colshan and Michael Morrell, so CPCS will be well represented. another CPCS crankpunker here is Willy Mulonia, the man who put the race together (though he’s not riding unfortunately). as the official coach of the race i’m hoping these guys all come home safe and sound.

my journey so far did not feature getting my junk squeezed at the airport, not a mugging, nor influenza, and not even a bout of food poisoning – all of which i experienced last year.

an excerpt:

it started with a chinese man feeling my penis and ended with a search for drugs through my luggage. in between there was illness, near-hypothermia, food poisoning, a few punches to the face and a death threat, zero romance and a whole lotta pain. what did i take from all this? that i am a navy f*cking seal when it comes to dealing with the blows (my strange) life can land and, also, that i am not alone on this voyage, as i had for so long speculated – i belong to a tribe, and they are out there. i just had to go to one of the most inhospitable places on earth to find them…

the final magazine article version was a tad less personally revealing, and can be found here.

the Genco Mongolia Bike Challenge. this is what the word ‘epic’ was created for…

(check the website for daily updates and videos – i’ll be, blissfully, out of wifi range for the next week so check the site for updates )

HUGE thanks to my sponsors who make all this adventuring malarkey possible: Lapierre, Lezyne, BLKTEC, 720Armour, Gaerne, Extreme Endurance, CCN clothing and Iris Yeh Travel Services. you guys rock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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crankpunk racing – The Salzkammergut Trophy

The Salzkammergut Trophy MTB Race, Austria, July 2014

The Salzkammergut Trophy is Austria’s most famous MTB race, and its largest, this year attracting 4,256 participants. This is a huge race – I took part in the 119km race but there are several other events over three days, the longest being a 211km cross-country sufferfest that took some competitors over 15 hours to finish.

I checked out the images of the area on the internet before I left for Austria. It is a beautiful place, nestled in the majestic Austrian Alps, and the route traverses several huge Alpen mountains and takes the riders past pristine lakes that serve as mirrors to the awe-inspiring cliffs beside them, and through picture-postcard little villages that people travel from around the world to see.

we raced through here but it was a tad more grey at that time

this is EXACTLY how it didn't look...

this is EXACTLY how it didn’t look…

Beautiful! At least, on a sunny day. But unfortunately not on the day we were there. Instead of sunshine, we awoke to a concrete grey sky and drops of rain. We ate breakfast in silence, thinking about the possibility of having to ride 6 to 7 hours over these huge mountains in the rain.

We packed the car up, and then my friend turned to me and said, “Don’t worry, I have a feeling it will clear up – there’ll be sunshine today, I know it!”

Precisely three seconds later there was a crack of thunder so loud that it made my ribs shake. We jumped into the car in a second but were nonetheless still soaked to the bone.

We got to the start line and it was still raining. In fact, we got to the 100km point, hours later, and it was still raining! It wasn’t until the last 10km or so that it finally stopped…

And how was my race? Let’s just say that it was… a disaster! The first and biggest problem came after just 15km. I lost my 720Armour sunglasses! My beloved 720Armour Dart glasses – these have been with me to race in Europe, Oman and Qatar, the UK, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and on and on, and I’ve had these and loved them for 5 years!

cue shameless plug for sponsor here…

 

On the way up a very technical 15km climb at the very start of the race it was so dark with the rain and overhanging trees that I took the Darts off and put them in my pocket. 5km later I reached back for them and – oh no – they were gone.

I wear the RX version and have pretty bad eyesight, so I was in big trouble. I thought about going back to look for them but I knew it would be impossible to find them, and even if I did, about 1000 riders had ridden up already – if I did find them they’d be broken, most probably.

‘Great’, I thought, ‘I am riding blind. The Stevie Wonder of cycling…’

I was having great difficulty seeing the singletrack path ahead of me now I had lost my sunglasses, hitting tree roots and rocks again and again, and losing position as other guys came flying past me. But then things got worse.

I hit a large stone on a corner, and cracked the pedal. My foot came out so I tried to clip it back in, but it wouldn’t  click. I stopped and looked at it – the spring had broken, making it impossible for me to clip in.

So, for the next 95km, I rode blind and with just one leg! It was hard to pedal uphill as my unclipped foot kept slipping, and almost impossible to descend, because not only could I not see but I had almost no control.

On top of that, all the amazing views I had been looking forward to seeing never materialized, as they were hidden deep in the low clouds. Wet, blind, legless and hungry, I finished in 7and a half hours!

If I had been on a road bike I would have stopped after 30km and got on the bus, but, in XC MTB, there is no bus. You just ride – or, you walk. Either way, the only way is forward.

What did I learn from this experience? Easy – always take two pairs of 720Armour sunglasses with you!

 

a View on the Vuelta

this article originally appeared on The Roar

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It’s a common sight in pro cycling these days – seeing a team attempting to boss a stage by sending their men to the front of the peloton from a long way out.

They do so with the hope of winning with their protected rider, only to see them fail. There are, most often, just too many variables to be controlled.

However, Orica-GreenEDGE pulled it off in style yesterday at the Vuelta a Espana.

Fascinating too to see a rider coming into his own, as Michael Matthews did by taking the win off the plucky Dan Martin. Matthews was confident enough to let Martin try to come back at him and it’s a confidence well deserved as he is turning out to be a very versatile – and very good – rider.

It might sound a little condescending to herald the ‘arrival’ of a rider with an already impressive palmares, one that shows evidence of early promise and of course a total, before yesterday, of three stage wins in Grand Tours (two at the Vuelta in 2013 and one this year in the Giro), but it’s the respect with which he is now viewed by the peloton that marks the difference.

Many names were bandied about before yesterday’s stage but when Matthews gave a pre-stage interview in which he downplayed his chances of taking the leader’s jersey but spoke with no little belief in his ability to take the win in Arcos de la Frontera, there was a real air of self-belief about him.

In the end though he managed both the win and to take the race lead.

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The Vuelta peloton is one with some great riders that were, on paper, perfectly suited to the finish yesterday but Matthews looked unbeatable, coming from a boxed-in position with 500 metres to go to storm the line. He might not yet have the mountain legs needed to podium in a race this long but he is without question the top world-class Australian in the World Tour.

You have to feel a little sorry for the Irishman though. His Giro got off to the worst possible start – and end – with a broken collarbone in the first stage TTT sending him out of the race. Yesterday would have been a perfect comeback but it wasn’t to be.

In truth though, I doubt that even a race-fit Martin would have beaten the Orica-GreenEDGE man, as he looked to have power to spare.

The rider Mathews took Red off, Alejandro Valverde, was criticised after Stage 2 by some commentators for having his team chase hard to close down the lead of the breakaway rider Valerio Conti of Lampre-Merida.

It seemed odd to put a team to work so early in a 21-stage race, – some said naive – but this may well be Valverde’s last hurrah and perhaps he was a little too eager to ensure his day in Red.

There’s little doubt that teammate Nairo Quintana is the rising force in the team and the Colombian’s disappointment at missing the Tour because Valverde wanted the team to concentrate its resources on his vain attempt to win the race was understandable – though a win at the Giro must have salved those wounds.

Could there be some tension on the team bus? If there is, the Colombian is sure to make his point in the high hills.

One positive to come out of the Vuelta already was the withdrawal, voluntary, of Chris Horner by his team. The Lampre rider returned low cortisol levels as a result of taking oral cortisone (allowed) at the Tour de France. His cortisol level would not be enough for the UCI to suspend him but as Lampre are members of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), which does consider the level shown by the American to be unacceptable, he was pulled.

This is a real step in the right direction and Lampre should be applauded for this step, even if, in my opinion, they should not have signed Horner in the first place.

It also highlights the folly of trying to ride in a UCI sanctioned when sick and unable to continue without banned medication, even despite the fact that the authorities allowed the medication in question.

Horner took the cortisone to see off a lingering bronchial infection but that choice has come back to hit him hard. As defending champion he must be gutted to be sat at home watching the race on TV, but he made a choice. It might seem harsh, the decision, but your chickens are going to come home to roost sometime.

Fascinating Vuelta this one, with Froome and Contador peaking after their mid season problems, and Quintana presumably rested too.

Let battle commence.

Horner, Chris Lewis and why Lampre should never have signed the Vuelta winner in the first place

this article originally appeared on The Roar in February, but in light of Horner being pulled from the Vuelta by Lampre (for reasons explained by Gregor Brown here), I think it’s timely to re-post.

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This isn’t a new story. It’s been kicking around now since the end of January.

Yet there’s been very little commentary written on the deal that will see last year’s surprise Vuelta a Espana winner of 2013, Chris Horner, twinkling his little magic toes all over the World Tour again this year.

I haven’t written more than a dozen words on Horner, ever, and I wasn’t going to write anything this time. You may be of the camp that thinks ‘Good on him’ – after all there aren’t many 41-year-olds who’ve won a Grand Tour for the first time in their life.

Well, there has never been another, in fact.

The magnitude of Horner’s feat did not go unnoticed, though the reaction to it was a little less in awe than I’m sure he would have wished.

The cycling forums went mad with all kinds of allegations and suspicions that were largely to be expected.

Horner’s win though came at a point in the history of this sport when older riders were suddenly finding themselves without contracts in greater numbers than ever before.

If you were older and had any kind of suspicion of doping infringements lingering around you, like Luis Leon Sanchez, then boom, you were cut loose and cast into the wilderness.

Horner was rumoured to be going to Christina Watches for some time until the news that he was being welcomed on to Lampre-Merida, a move that some in the UCI would have been less than thrilled by.

See, there is something about Horner that just doesn’t smell right. I’m not saying anything new there, but it’s still worth looking over the reasons why for a moment.

First of all, a little known rider (outside of the USA) named Matt DiCanio went on record as far back as 2005 to say that another rider, Phil Zajicek, was offered help to purchase EPO and HGH when both rode for the American professional team Saturn.

DiCanio has also gone on record to say that Horner once said many years ago “It isn’t cheating if everyone is doing it.”

Secondly, Horner’s blood values from the 2013 Vuelta “fit with the patterns that anti-doping authorities look for as a sign of cheating.” Not my words, those of Michael Puchowicz in Outside Magazine.

The article states that Hornet’s hemoglobin concentration is simply too high to be natural. The other marker is the lowered reticulocyte count which is another sign of the use of EPO.

Puchowicz’s observations were seen by Shane Stokes of VeloNation, who passed them on to anti-doping authority Robin Parisotto, who works with the Athlete Passport Management Unit in Lausanne, France.

“It is not 100 percent clear that there is anything untoward happening,” Parisotto told Velonation, “[but] there’s certainly unusual patterns.”

He compares Horner’s bio passport to other profiles he has seen working as an anti-doping authority and concludes that “…most of those that come across to us are suspicious. Most are there for a reason. What I have seen with this particular profile is similar to those other profiles.”

Why didn’t the UCI investigate this? No idea.

Is any of this enough reason to suspend Horner? My gut says no, but if an anti-doping authority is stating that Horner’s values are suspicious why isn’t the UCI investigating?

One person who is probably asking himself these very questions and who has far more of a divested interest in all this than just about anyone else is another American rider – or should I say ex-rider – Craig Lewis.

Some of you may remember the now 29-year-old rider, who has just announced his retirement.

At 19, riding in the Tour de Georgia, Lewis was hit by a car and suffered two punctured lungs, internal bleeding and several fractures all over his body, almost passing away as a result.

Months of recovery followed before he returned to the pro ranks with Slipstream before moving on to HTC, where he won the team time trial at the 2011 Giro d’Italia. Days before the end of that race he broke a femur, forcing him out and eventually on to the Pro Continental Champion Systems team, which folded just last year.

Then he got a berth on the Lampre-Merida team. Well, he would have had a place there, had the management not decided to go and sign a 41-year-old American called Chris Horner.

The same guy who says he saw no doping on Bruyneel’s teams, the same guy who defended Armstrong until it became impossible even for his greatest apologists to do so, the same guy about whom all those rumours have been flying around.

“I thought we had already hit rock bottom, but it keeps going down,” Lewis said in an interview recently with Cyclingnews. “The sport just doesn’t market itself, and it needs some big changes – a lot has to happen for the sport to be appealing for companies to sponsor. It’s not sustainable the way it is.”

With riders like Horner still finding places to ply their trade, you’d have to agree with Lewis.

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke & The Art of Cynicism

“Being cynical is the only thing that is still fun about cycling,” wrote Willard Ford, and I love that line so much that I might put it on a t-shirt. But here’s an interesting thought – which came first, the doping, or the cynicism?

There are several different kinds of cycling fan, of course, but for the sake of argumentative journalism, please allow me to generalize. We’ll say there are three broad types.

Type One never believed a word of it from the get-go and knew these guys were popping something akin to rocket juice straight into their butt cheeks from the early 90s. Hardcore riders and/or racers themselves, they knew that what they were seeing was not physiologically possible. They understood the history of the sport and knew that from way back in the late 1800s all the way up to Mr. Merckx himself and beyond, cyclists had been cheating.

Why did they cheat? Because they were human, plain and simple.

They spent years in the shadows, these Type Ones, whispering under their breath and looking over their shoulder lest they accidentally let it slip that they believed that 99% of the peloton was more chemically enhanced than Timothy Leary on a three day bender.

Few spoke out because if they did they would be vilified, labeled as envious and bitter. Some were writers and broadcasters but they still kept schtum, lest they find themselves out of work. They were, however, vindicated in the end, even if it never made anyone really feel too good.

Type Two believed in The Lie for a long time then realized, finally (despite Festina, Puerto, the Italian with the big ears and all the rumors about needles, vials and exercise bikes being brought into Grand Tour hotel rooms to help riders keep their blood thin at night), that yes, their heroes doped. For this, we can thank Lance Armstrong.

It took the fall of the good ol’ boy from Texas to finally convince Type Two that even English speakers dope too. Heaven forbid. So, David Millar was not an isolated case. Turns out, in fact, that it had been these American guys that were at the head of the most sophisticated doping fraud in the history of the sport.

Was nothing sacred? Could we please just go back to blaming the Spanish and the Italians? Wouldn’t that be easier for everyone?

Then we have Type Three. Denied sufficient oxygen at birth, Type Three sees nothing wrong in doping and wishes everyone would just shut up and allow the dopers to get on with it. Who cares? Type Three certainly doesn’t. Happily unburdened by the weight of intellect they will tell you that they just don’t give a ****, which, as we all know, is one hell of a powerful argument.

Personally, I’m either an optimistic cynicist or a cynical optimist, so in my case I’d say I was definitely ready for the dawn of the EPO era, because I was already pissed off. When a bunch of Dutch kids died in the early 90s because they didn’t know how to use blood thinning agents to counteract the thickening of the blood that EPO causes, I got pissed off even more.

Later when these man-hulks were racing up mountains so fast that even the Colombians were shocked, I delved even further into my natural store of cynicism. It was a match made in heaven, professional cycling and me, because I have always loved having something to complain about. And here it was. A beautiful thing being destroyed by chancers and pimps, enablers and drug addicts. The cheats rose to the top and the good guys got zilch. Less than zilch, in fact, because they even got a kick in the teeth as they were being thrown out.

All of which brings me to Jonathan Tiernan-Locke.

When he rocked up in 2012 and started winning stuff and putting riders who had for a long time, on paper at least, been better than him to shame I thought ‘hmmmm’. You probably thought that too. My Gran even put a bet on him eventually getting busted, he looked that dodgy.

‘Give him the benefit of the doubt,’ some said.

‘Hey, innocent til proven guilty!’ clamoured others.

Why? Because so often when a rider has come along and shown form that he had never previously exhibited they don’t later on get busted for doping, or ‘admit’ it when the gun’s to their head? Like, Bjarne Riis. Or Levi Leipheimer. Or David Millar?

I wished JTL was clean. I am that stupid that I wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe because I love those stories, I’m sure many of us do, of the underdog who rises to the challenge, who comes to the stadium to watch then gets asked to play and hits the skin off the ball to bring home the win.

I wanted to believe because I’m human. But something said ‘hmmm’ in my head because I had reached the point where I just could not take it anymore. The data shows that a vast majority of cyclists throughout history have doped. Recent years show that for every step forward we take 5 back. It all shows, indeed, that if you think anyone is really, really clean, then you’re conning yourself.

This doesn’t mean no one is clean. It just means that you really, seriously should not believe any of them.

Yes, a brilliantly ridiculous conclusion, but you go check the numbers. Let’s hear your summation.

JTL’s rather Boonesque excuse for his results was that he had necked 17 pints just before the test, but that he couldn’t be bothered to challenge the results cos he has no cash and he figured he’d been stitched up enough.

it's Happy Hour every hour for JTL apparently...

it’s Happy Hour every hour for JTL apparently…

You know what that ’17 pints’ excuse really is? It’s like when you’ve done something really quite wrong at work or at a party or indeed anywhere where there are people you have to face later, and you’re not brave enough to admit the truth. So you spin a yarn that is outlandish and frankly pathetic, but because everyone is nice they go along with it. For those who weren’t there at the time of the misdeed or who aren’t so close, your little lie does just enough to sow a miniscule grain of doubt in the mind.

‘Oh of course he did it,’ they think… ‘But he did say that he…’

And that is what JTL’s excuse essentially is. He will go back to his pals and his family and they’ll be able to pretend to believe that he is innocent. The veneer will survive, just. It’s the coward’s way out though, make no mistake, but, amazingly, it works.

A study in the USA found that sports fans prefer their idols to lie about doping, despite the evidence of a positive test. Denying works. Your ratings might take a dent but hey, he said the reason was this, or she said that. Admit it though, and your popularity will really fall.

So yes, people would rather be lied to than hear the truth, in a great many circumstances.

For me though? Sheesh, gimme a break, the kid is as guilty as OJ. But then, he did have 17 pints.

Come on cynicism, don’t desert me now…

imitation, they say…

is nothing short of laziness.

or, wait some folk say… is the sincerest form of flattery. or something like that. well, check this out – CRANKPUMP!

it’ll be a huge success. cos everyone has shimano hollowtech cranks. and no one has pockets. brilliant!

click here to see the CRANKPUMP! video and to hear the voiceover from a woman who was kept in a darkened room for the past 11 years.

and what a smooth-line looking bike…

really?

really?

 

yes, for 50 quid you can become a TEST-PILOT! and not an idiot who sent in 50 quid to test something that costs 89p to make!

yes, for 50 quid you can become a TEST-PILOT! and not an idiot who sent in 50 quid to test something that costs 89p to make!

 

lovely line drawings abound!

lovely line drawings abound!

Crank Punk Coaching Systems: Donald MacDonald hits the podium!

great ride last weekend by CPCS rider Donald MacDonald from Singapore (by way of Scotland) and his Direct Asia teammate Pierre-Alain Scherwey. the pair were riding in the Singapore Cycling Federation Celebration Series TTT and managed 3rd place, behind the Infinite team rider and the winners, from the Kenyan national team, no less!

great work, Donald.

you can read Donald’s testimonial on CPCS here.

Donald leads the way

Donald leads the way

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The Vuelta 2014 promises fireworks

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Some folk in the cycling world feel that 2014 has been a less-than-stellar vintage in regards to Grand Tours.

The Giro d’Italia saw the first Grand Tour win for Colombian Nairo Quintana, though the way the Movistar rider prised the famous Maglia Rosa from the shoulders of his compatriot Rigoberto Uran had fans disputing the validity of Quintana’s rise to the top of the general classification.

With the weather turning foul and several riders having crashed, race organisers sent out a message calling for the neutralisation of the descent of the Stelvio.

However, several riders and team managers later claimed either not to have heard the call or to have not understood what exactly was transpiring.

Either way, Quintana got down the hill quite quickly and then launched an attack up the final climb of the day, taking minutes off Uran. Unfair, cried many, though to me it all looked fair enough.

Apart from that of the Colombian winner there were very few stand out performances, though Marcel Kittel had set the race alight by winning two stages on the trot early on before abandoning.

I thought the Tour was one of the best in years, a real watershed edition in many ways. It was great to see a humble winner who has so far garnered no suspicion with regards to doping, to see the re-emergence of the French riders and teams, and that brilliant start provided by Yorkshire.

However, there are plenty of old Scrooges about who cited the lack of ‘excitement’ (I read ‘lack of heavy doping’) and moaned about the predictability of the race.

You can’t please everyone, thank goodness. Imagine how exhausting it would be doing that.

Fair enough, Mark Cavendish crashed out of the Tour early on (his own fault entirely), Chris Froome followed (I still maintain the cause was the cobbles, even though he never rode over them), and then Alberto Contador headed to the exit too (not a huge fan but a very brave ride).

So yes, there are grounds to say the result might have been different had they been there, but we will never know.

Which brings us to the Vuelta a Espana. The Vuelta isn’t the ugly sister to the Giro and the Tour, it’s more the little brother who never gets invited along on adventures or picked for the footy team until he’s last man standing, and even then there’s a fight over who will be lucky enough not to get him.

A bit harsh I know, but you get my drift. I’ve never been a fan of the Vuelta as I have the Giro (my traditional favourite) and the Tour (how can you deny that circus?).

However, this year, the Vuelta possibly has the best line-up of all three Grand Tours and may actually be worth watching.

Froome is desperate to save his season, while Quintana is ready to show his employers he should have been picked for the Tour, and to show his Giro critics that he is doesn’t need to pounce on others’ misfortune to win.

Also in the GC mix are defending champion Chris Horner, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Cadel Evans, Rigoberto Uran, Dan Martin, Andrew Talansky and Robert Gesink. That’s not far off Tour calibre, missing only Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and the suspended Roman Kreuziger.

Few of these guys will be looking to make much of an impact at the upcoming World’s and so should be in the race for the long haul.

One rider who is looking to the World’s is Philippe Gilbert, who will be at the Vuelta. He is likely to bail mid-race but should be in form to challenge for a couple of stage wins.

Also in action will be Tom Boonen, another fan favourite, as well as Tour de France abandonneur Fabian Cancellara.

All three of the aforementioned one-day princes will be using the Vuelta to get honed for the World’s in Ponferrada, Spain, and all should be in their best shape of the year since the Classics.

On the sprint side it looks like Kittel will not be in attendance, but Giro points classification winner Nacer Bouhanni will, as indeed will Mark Cavendish, who will be eager to avenge the massive disappointment he experienced in the Tour.

Peter Sagan also makes the list and will be looking for a stage win – something that eluded him on his way the Tour’s green jersey.

The organisers must be besides themselves with glee. It might have happened by default, and several guys may still bail before the big mountains, but this could be the best Vuelta in many a moon.

UCI & ASO need to ban Riis and Vino (& the rest) from Le Tour

this article originally appeared on The Roar

 

Eurosport’s coverage of the 2014 Tour de France had a section at the end of each stage that was entitled ‘LeMond on Tour’.

This featured the combustible-looking, three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond chatting to a host of the Tour’s personalities.

One day his French co-host ushered onto the makeshift set none other than Alexandre Vinokourov. Vinokourov is the one-time crowd favourite Kazakh army colonel who is now Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana team boss.

El Vino is also infamous for being kicked out of the 2007 Tour de France after he was caught for blood doping, which triggered the removal of all his Astana teammates and their entourage.

His reaction to getting nabbed – to basically skirt around the issue for years and to never fully own up to his breaking of the rules – lost him many friends, leaving the majority of cycling fans decidedly nonplussed when he won the 2012 Olympic road race in his final year of racing.

Whoever decided that it would not be decidedly uncomfortable for LeMond, an avowed anti-doper and long-time Lance Armstrong foe, to exchange pleasantries with a man whose arrogance and nefariousness are the polar opposite of everything the only American winner of Le Tour stands for, must soon have realised their mistake as soon as the Kazakh hero stepped into view.

LeMond’s body stiffened visibly and he had trouble even forcing a smile. Vino was and remains a poster boy for the good old (recent) days, when riders thought nothing of doping up to get ahead.

That he is managing a top-level team is bad enough in my opinion, and the fact that his rider won the Tour is the only blemish on Nibali’s otherwise sterling and hugely impressive win.

Such is Vinokourov’s esteem (and political contacts) in his homeland that some reports say that news of his positive test were never fully reported in Kazakhstan.

That Kairat Kelimbetov, the president of Kazakh Cycling, is now pushing for a Grand Depart in the eastern European nation reflects the growing popularity of the sport there. However it must be noted that the awarding of such a prestigious gift by ASO will be seen as a victory for Vinokourov, something which I hope Christopher Prudhomme, head of Le Tour, will take into account.

Christian Prudhomme reacted recently to the report that several former Tour winners believe that Armstrong’s seven Tour ‘victories’ should be reinstated in the record books with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders and a definitive shake of the head.

“And the same goes for the public,” he said. “You ask the people along the route. It’s clear, his name will not be on the list again. Period.”

All very well and good, but where does he stand on Vinokourov heading a ProTour team at a race he once disgraced?

In the argument for the special and singular treatment of Armstrong, his sociopathic nature is often trotted out, but it is not up to the rules to define who was the worst cheat.

A cheat is a cheat is a cheat, and, if anyone is asking me, they should all be removed from the books and all be banned from further involvement in professional racing, or, at the very least, in the races they were caught cheating at or during.

Bjarne Riis is another case in point. The career domestique won the Tour in 1996 then in retirement admitted that he had doped during that victory. ASO removed his name then reinstated him, placing an asterisk next to his name to indicate doping offences.

He skulked off for a spell after a successful career as a team boss. He then sold his share to the Russian Oleg Tinkoff, admitted depression as a result of all his troubles, disappeared for a spell then turned up again driving the Tinkoff-Saxo team car in races this year, most noticeably at the Tour.

I’m not the only one who has noticed all this, and indeed the UCI president Brian Cookson touched on the subject in an interview a few days ago in The Guardian, reacting to, I can only guess, the public mood regarding the sight of Vino and Riis at the Tour.

“I would like both of them to come to the [Cycling Independent Reform] commission,” Cookson said. “The commission doesn’t have powers of subpoena, but there is a court of public opinion here which is really important; those two people and others as well need to bear that in mind if they want to continue to operate in our world, opinion in the world of cycling would be much more favourable towards them if they came forward.”

That’s all well and good, but is it enough? The commission was designed to look into cycling’s doping past, but there is a groundswell of opinion that believes that there is no place in cycling management and in the bureaucracy for former dopers.

“We’ve got a rule that says if you’ve got a major anti-doping violation you can’t be involved with a team,” continued Cookson, “but our advice is that it’s difficult to employ that retroactively.”

How so? How about we get rid of the lot of them? To name only Riis and Vino is another example of that old attitude that the apple cart is generally healthy and that there’s just a couple of bad apples in there, but in truth, in the era of Vino and Riis, it was very much the other way around.

This is one reason that any truth and reconciliation hearing would turn up very little truth and absolutely no reconciliation, because so few former pros would have anything to gain from admitting to using drugs. In fact, they would have everything to lose.

Cookson started off well enough and made all the right noises. There is no doubt that the support of women’s cycling has improved noticeably. However, until the UCI decides once and for all to ban all the cheats from management we will continue as a sport to make one step forward and three back.

All the while, Armstrong’s repeated cry that he is being singled out unfairly will gather more support.

We just had a very good Tour with a winner that has no doping suspicion hanging over him and saw several new and young faces emerge, so why are we still seeing the smug Vino center stage?

A shambles. Nothing less.

 

Bjarne Riis reads from the usual doper script and tells us how ‘difficult’ the decision to first dope was.