The King is dead…is there anyone else?

A mudcaked Sean Kelly in Paris Roubaix. Just one of the variety of races that Kelly was capable of winning.

Seán Kelly was known as the man for all seasons because he was as competitive at Paris-Nice in March as he was at the Tour of Lombardy in October. He seemed to be at peak or near-peak form right throughout the year. While this is a reputation that has stayed with Kelly, he was by no means unique in this regard. In the eighties the modern idea of preparing for a season and basing an entire training regime around one or two races was quite alien. Plenty of riders were highly competitive right throughout the season. What is actually more impressive about ‘King Kelly’ was his ability to challenge in such a wide variety of races.

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Here Riccó again

Riccardo Riccó shortly after being ejected from the 2008 Tour de France

In the 2008 Tour de France Riccardo Riccó was ejected from the race after Stage 11 having tested positive for CERA, the next generation of the blood-booster EPO. This week UCI, the world cycling governing body, have reduced his 2 year suspension to 20 months after a successful appeal by Riccó to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). This means that he will now be eligible to ride as and from the Milan San Remo next March.

I had written in a previous post that ex-dopers aren’t welcomed easily back to the peloton. They find it difficult to find a top team willing to sign them and even harder to instill enough confidence in their team mates to convince them to ride for their newly reformed leader. It was pointed out however, that there are exceptions. Ivan Basso for example, returned to Grand Tour racing at the Giro earlier this year without registering too much on the returning-doper-animosity scale. Perhaps the two riders that currently lie on opposite ends of this scale are British rider David Millar and Alexander Vinokorouv from Kazakhstan. They were both cheats and were both found guilty of taking drugs. But Millar is now more well-known for his anti-doping stance rather than his prior misdemeanors, whereas ‘Vino’ is probably more synonymous with the phrase ‘unapologetic wanker’.

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That is one crazy Tour route!

Lance Armstrong leading George Hincapie and Jan Ullrich over the pavé the last time they appeared on the Tour route in 2004.

The route for the 2010 Tour de France was unveiled last week by Tour director Christian Prudhomme. The major talking points are that there is no team time trial, the Col de Tourmalet will be climbed twice and there will be 13.2 kilometres of cobbles on Stage 3. Despite there being some interesting aspects to the route, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Too many of the mountain stages end in a long descent to the finish, which usually neutralises the specialist climbers and doesn’t really do enough to shake up the General Classement. The route needs more mountain top finishes. In last year’s Tour, of the road stages it was only those with finishes at a summit where the favourites gained and lost significant time.

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Who’s gonna test the testers?

Just some of the many, many authorities who attempt to control doping within cycling.

In 2003, Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand failed to appear for an out of competition drugs test and received a global ban of 8 months and a £50,000 fine. In 2001, Lazio player Jaap Stam tested positive for the steroid nandrolone and was banned for 4 months. Last month, basketball player Rashard Lewis of Orlando Magic in the NBA was found to have abnormal levels of testosterone in his blood and he was banned for a laughable 2 weeks. In cycling, any of these misdemeanors leads to a 2 year ban from the sport. In addition to the ban, the rider must then deal with trying to return the sport. When the suspension has been served, the rider is not welcomed back easily to the peloton. He is now a former doper, a disgrace. It is not easy to find a new team, and if the rider does succeed in finding a team, he faces into a career of trying to convince the fans and the media that he can be considered a credible rider again. So are the UCI and cycling as a sport in general doing enough to rid the sport of the cancer that is doping? The answer is yes and no. Yes, they are actively doing more than any other sport to eradicate the cheats. No, cycling is an embarrassing melee of organisations who have been doing more harm than good in the last few years.

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‘Tis a long aul’ winter.

In 1998 Pantani won both the Giro and the Tour, the last time that feat was achieved.

The cycling season is coming to a close now, there are only two major races left to be decided. Namely, Paris-Tours on October 11th and one of the five monument classic races, the Tour of Lombardy taking place the following weekend. For the cycling addict out there, there’s not much else between now and the dawn of Team Sky and The Shack at the Tour Down Under next January. Although, the ‘off-season’ has gotten steadily shorter over the last few years. There was a time when the first major race of the season was Het Volk, now known as Het Nieuwsblad at the end of February. Now, races in January and February like the Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar and the Tour of California are all televised and provide cycling fans with some very early tasters (although the California stage race has since been moved).

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