in a nutshell, yes.
clean? what do i look like, a McQuaid?
no not clean, but cleaner.
let’s look at the evidence.
that dude from Blanco wins the Tour Down Under. either he’s doped to his lids and snuck in to win when most of the others are shying away from the juice – as might have happened in the past, there have been some curious flashes in the pan the past couple of years – or (and this is more likely given the current climate – he’s just a very good and naturally talented rider.
what else? Gaudin’s win yesterday in the prologue in Paris-Nice. sure it was short but EPO doesn’t care if a race is 300km or 2.5, it still works. so does the rest of it. perhaps Gaudin, whom most of us wouldn’t know if we passed him in the street, is a very decent short course rider with superb bike handling skills. maybe he got lucky. but thing is, you don’t get lucky over any TT course, not at a race like Paris-Nice. you have to be good enough to win it.
Biel Kadri of Ag2r-La Mondiale (who? exakly! drink yer milk!) won the Roma Maxima on Sunday after a 127km solo effort. a huge miscalculation by the peloton? possibly. a stellar ride by a guy we barely noticed because hey, when riders are cleaner things get weird and don’t follow the traditional scheme of things? also – possibly.
going a bit further back, young riders like Peter Sagan (who may, a decade from now, be competing for a position in the top 5 of all time) have burst forth, and older, boring (or so we thought) riders like Cadel Evans suddenly became interesting and, dare i even whisper it, exciting. he suddenly found World Championships and Classic-winning form? no chance. it is far more likely that he rode clean whilst others juiced, then they had to limit their intake, and his class finally shone.
then you have the past couple of Tours, where guys have been crashing all over the place. why? cos their bikes are crap and they can’t handle them? well they’re not all on Pinarellos! [insert cabaret stand up comedy routine high hat noise here]. or cos the roads are bad? more likely that they can’t abuse the dope as they used to, the speeds have come down as a result and no single or two teams can control the peloton (remember Discovery?), so there’s more bunching, more guys chancing their arm near the front, and thus less space and hey bingo! you got it – more crashes.
i’ve been in love with this sport long enough to know that you’d have to be a fool to think that things have changed on any deep and fundamental level, or that riders are cleaner now because they realise doping is bad, but it does seem on the face of it as though less guys are taking less stuff just because they can’t, and that may be why we are seeing more unpredictable racing and, in turn, results.
i could be very wrong. i hope i’m not.