Why? Oh Why?

(Completely randomly before I moan, I’m very pleased to hear that the writers of the new Trek film used ‘Spock’s World’ as inspiration :))

I’m not sure I can do it any more.

With the positive tests of Stefan Schmacher and Leonardo Piepoli, not to mention the drug lord Lance Armstrong coming back and Frank Schleck being suspended by his team for suspected doping I don’t think I can believe in the Tour de France any more. What’s more, I’m beginning to doubt the wonderful performance Mark Cavendish put in – his poor performance at the Olympics only makes me suspect more that he was using the same hard-to-detect thing as Schmacher & Piepoli. I hope he rode clean…

I want to believe that things are changing for the good with great young riders coming through who aren’t looking to the dinosaurs, but then I remembere that a lot of the team managers these days are ex-drugs cheats and these are the guys who are training and advising.

Oh please let next years Tour be good and clean.

Le Tour est Finis

Another TDF is over and unlike last year it wasn’t as scandal hit, sure we said goodbye to Riccardo Ricco, Manual Beltran and Duenas Nevado (plus the entire Saunier Duval team) but we saw some good racing from the likes of Mark Cavendish (pity he couldn’t stick it out), Stefan Schumacher, Kim Kirchen and the Schleck brothers. In the end it all came down to 58 seconds and Carlos Sastre made it another Spanish win for the Tour de France, and I think he deserved it although I was very disappointed with Valverde and Menchov… I would have put Pereiro high as well but that awful crash put the end to his tour, same with Damiano Cunego.

A great tour for CSC who came away with the team prize and Slyvian Chavanel got most aggressive rider.

Overall

Points

King of the Mountains

Young Rider

1. Carlos Sastre 87h 52′ 52″ 1. Oscar Freire 270pts 1. Bernhard Kohl 128pts 1. Andy Schleck 88h 04′ 24″
2. Cadel Evans +00′ 58″ 2. Thor Hushovd 220pts 2. Carlos Sastre 80pts 2. Roman Kreuizger +01′ 27″
3. Bernhard Kohl +01′ 13″ 3. Erik Zabel 217pts 3. Frank Schleck 80pts 3. Vincenzo Nibali +17′ 01″
4. Denis Menchov +02′ 10″ 4. Leonardo Duque 181pts 4. Thomas Voeckler 65pts 4. Maxime Monfort +24′ 09″
5. Christian Vandvelde +03′ 05″ 5. Kim Kirchen 155pts 5. Sebastian Lang 62pts 5. Eduardo Ramirez Gonzalo +1h 08′ 24″

I’m afraid none of my predictions came true, I had Valverde down for overall win with Soler KoM and Hushovd for Green. I did have Sastre on the podium in second with Evans in third.

Highs & Lows?

Highs: Mark Cavendish’s stage wins (I wish he’d decided to stick it out) and Carlos Sastre’s mountain destroying technique to get the yellow jersey off Cadel Evans.

Lows: Riccardo Ricco’s positive drugs test, Valverde breaking in the mountains, Soler & Pereiro crashing out.

Predictions for Next Year?

We have another 12months to go and anything could happen but I think that Astana will be back, Contador and Kloden will prove to be big threats to Carlos Sastre’s defensive of the yellow jersey and Cadel Evans will have to attack to get a look in. I think that Valverde will be back in form and will finish in the top 5, I don’t think he could win next year but if Astana continue to be barred then he stands a good chance. Frank and Andy Schleck will be difficult to beat and Mark Cavendish will win a few stages before going home for a nice rest. Geraint Thomas (might not be as fast as Cavendish but a very good young rider) and Bradley Wiggins will be back and give us Brits something to cheer when Cavendish goes home.

Finis?

Last year, despite all the doping scandals, I hung onto a tiny bit of hope that the tour would continue to be a great event and it was only a small portion of morons who chose to ruin it by doping. This year I was disappointed but understood the reasons behind excluding Astana, it would have been great to watch Alberto Contador defend his yellow jersey but he did make a strange career move… there was some bad news when the ASO (tour organisers) walked away from the UCI (governing body) and questions were raised about the French doping controls but overall it was good – the stages looked exciting, they’d done away with time bonuses which was supposed to shake things up (not sure if that’s worked) and there was a newer generation of cyclists racing.

First Manuel Beltran was kicked out for testing positive for EPO and that wasn’t too bad, he was one of the dinosaurs of the doping generation and it was good news that he’d gone (bad news in a way for Lance Armstrong since this was his fourth former team mate involved with doping). Then it was Duenas Nevado, a younger ride (27yrs) riding for a supposedly ‘clean’ team… I hoped he would be the last and that we’d get to Paris without any more incidents.

How wrong I was.

Riccardo Ricco, the 2x stage winner and second in the Giro, age 24yrs tested positive for EPO after stage 4. He’s been kicked out and his team, Saunier-Duval has done the decent thing and withdrawn all it’s riders. This news actually hurt, and despite Mark Cavendish’s third stage win of the tour (he’s 23yrs old) I feel that I don’t believe it. It’s all a lie and Cavendish is as guilty as the rest of them. I love the Tour de France, it’s an amazing endurance event with a great history… but I don’t know if I can carry on defending it or watching it… it’s really all a big lie.

Rest Day Round Up

Today it’s a rest day on the tour, and most riders deserve it (c’mon Evans, stop being a wheel hugger and ATTACK!) so let’s do a fun recap!

This years tour was the most open tour in an incredibly long time, there was only one man here to defend his jersey (Juan Mauricio Soler, last years KoM from team Barloworld). Pre-race favourites for the GC win were Alejandro Valverde, Cadel Evans (riding with the #1 as he came second last year), Frank Schleck, Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov.

A dramatic crash involving Soler in the opening stage put him into question after he aggravated a wrist injury (and possibly broke it again), and Valverde gave us a spectacular win to take the yellow jersey on day one – he was looking good… it was Thor Hushovd’s turn the next day to take a stage and it seemed like we were back in familiar territory with the big man from Norway reminding us he’s still one of the best, Valverde kept his yellow jersey. Stage 3 was a long flat stage that would suit the sprinters – we were expecting to see Thor Hushovd or Robbie McEwan take the stage but a French rider by the name of Samuel Dumoulin had other ideas. One of the white jersey competitors Romain Feillu took the yellow jersey with Valverde 1min 45 seconds down on the overall race lead.

The next stage was another flat one and all eyes again turned to the sprinters, could Hushovd make it a double? Sadly not, and it was another young rider Stefan Schmacher who blasted the competition to take the stage and the yellow jersey off Feillu! On stage 5 the tour became even more open as we said goodbye to last years King of the Mountains winner, Juan Mauricio Soler who after sustaining nasty injuries on stage hadn’t really been a contender this year. It wasn’t all doom though as the young British rider Mark Cavendish proved he had legs and lived up to his reputation as the fastest rider in the world at the moment to take his maiden stage win, making him the youngest rider ever… Schmacher was able to retain his hold on the yellow jersey with another British rider, David Millar, sitting in third position.

We started hitting the mountains in Stage 6 which was unfortunate for Mark Cavendish as after his spectacular stage win was forced to slog it out for a day without a chance of winning. There was drama in the final climb to the finish when Schmacher touched the wheel of his closets rival Kim Kirchen and crashed 3km from the end, sadly as it was an uphill finish the 3km rule didn’t apply and he missed out on keeping his yellow which by a trick of irony went to Kim Kirchen – Riccardo Ricco impressed everyone by taking the stage and marking him out to be a rider to watch later in the mountains, Valverde came in second and looked to be in good form.

Staying in the mountains with stage 7 we said goodbye to Christophe Moreau without a reason really but there was drama at the end of the race when we had the first positive drugs test of the tour, some people have linked this to why Moreau abandoned as apparently there are nine other riders with suspicious blood levels. The events of after the race did rather overshadow the events of the day with Luis-Leon Sanchez taking the stage win and Kim Kirchen retaining his yellow. Sadly David Millar missed out on his chance of gaining yellow and slipped down the rankings… Cadel Evans was proving to be unexciting and needed to do something really specacular it he was going to take the lead.

Stage 8 was another tough day with a few category climbs but with a downhill finish – Mark Cavendish pulled something out of the bag and went on to take his second stage win, making him not only the youngest rider to win stages in the tour but the first British rider to take two stages in the same year. Predictably most of the big names sat back and took it easy, preparing themselves for the two gruelling mountain stages to come. Kim Kirchen retained his jersey with Cadel Evans in second place, Valverde slipped down the rankings and definitely needed to do something big.

There was a bit of a shock on stage 9 when Cadel Evans took a nasty tumble injuring his left shoulder. He struggled through though to see Ricccardo Ricco take his second stage victory, could he make it tomorrow with the massive climb up the Col de Tourmalet where he would face stiff competition from Ajeandro Valverde, Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov. Silence-Lotto were confident that Evans would be fine and after the race doctor confirmed that his shoulder wasn’t broken (but badly hurt) everything was go for stage 10.

Mark Cavendish suffered a slight set back as he crashed early in the stage but all was well and he climbed back onto the bike. Ever since his second stage win the question had been asked: would he’d stay and slog it out in the mountains to try to take some of the later sprinter-friendly stages or would he leave early to start his preparations with the Olympic team? After his fall he might change his decision but for now he’s staying with the tour. Cadel Evans kept his team at the front of the race working hard despite the pain and the obvious blood seeping through his jeresy, barring anything major he would be the likely overall leader by the end of the race as Kim Kirchen struggled to hang on to his six second lead over Evans. Evans closest rival for yellow, Valverde, broke and was dropped by the peloton, as was Carlos Sastre. Despite the strength of Evans and his team they couldn’t quite keep up with the man out in front, Leonardo Piepoli who went on to take the stage and as predicted Evans took the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.

With the demise of Valverde and Sastre in the mountains it looks more than likely that Evans will be wearing that yellow jersey once they reach Paris in 11 stages time, however Frank Schleck is only one second behind him and Denis Menchov is only 57s behind. To keep that yellow jersey Evans needs to attack and attack often.

GC Standings

Green Jersey

King of the Mountains

Young Rider

1. Cadel Evans 42h 29′ 09″ 1. Oscar Freire 131pts 1. Riccardo Ricco 77pts 1. Riccardo Ricco 42h 31′ 38″
2. Frank Schleck + 00′ 01″ 2. Kim Kirchen 124pts 2. David de la Fuente 65pts 2. Vincenzo Nibali + 01′ 49″
3. Christian Vandevelde + 00′ 38″ 3. Thor Hushovd 105pts 3. Sebastian Lang 57pts 3. Maxime Monfort + 04′ 18″
4. Bernhard Kohl + 00′ 46″ 4. Alejandro Valverde 96pts 4. Bernhard Kohl 56pts 4. Roman Kreuziger + 04′ 31″
5. Denis Menchov + 00′ 57″ 5. Erik Zabel 92pts 5. Frank Schleck 46pts 5. Andy Schleck + 06′ 05″

Le Tour

Ever since I was about 13/14yrs old I’ve been watching possibly the worlds most famous cycling race – le Tour de France. Originally it was caught snippets of the highlights on ITV and occassionally watching it on Eurosport (mostly when we were only holiday and the hotel had Eurosport). I can’t say what fascinates me about this race, it’s just… amazing, the sheer strength and will of these cyclists is just unbelievable. Last year since the prologue of the tour was starting in London I had my first chance ever to go and watch it LIVE, it was fantastic. I didn’t have a great view as I arrived half-way through the time trials (been meeting with friends earlier) but the experience is something I’d love to revisit.

Last years tour was a bitter disappointment for me, my pick for the win Alexandre Vinokourov was found to be cheating with the help of a blood transfusion and so we said goodbye to the entire Astana team, including another of my favourites that year Andreas Klöden (placed 5th). Later it emerged that Michael Rasmussen, the big Dane who dominated the King of the Mountains competition and was currently the holder of the mallot jaune, had lied about his whereabouts duing out of season drug testing. He was promptly sacked by Rabobank… Cofids also went home in shame after one of their riders (Cristian Moreni) failed a drugs test and also the German broadcasters pulled their coverage after a T-Mobile rider failed (Patrik Sinkewitz) a drugs test one month before the tour. Iban Mayo, a rider who was a specialist climber and brilliant at it tested postive for EPO on the second rest day. Questions stared to be asked about the races future and whether or not the war on drugs could be won, as a former winner Bjarne Rijs admitted that he doped to win his tour in 1996. One French newspaper published a notice of death about the tour saying it had passed away after a long illness.

We should have seen it coming really, Ivan Basso another one of the big name favourites was suspended for 2yrs for admiting that he planned to use drugs to help him win the 2007 tour… we started the race without him. It was a horrible year for the tour, but one man did emerge as a contender for the future – Alberto Contador who went on to win the race. There is a small question mark over Contador as well as his name was linked with Operation Puerto, although this has been deined and he has not failed any drugs tests. I believe he’s a clean rider.

ASO (the organises of the tour) we confident that they could win the war, this year they excluded Team Astana from starting the race… this is after the man who won last year (Contador) signed for them (along with Levi Lephimer) after the demise of Discovery at the end of the previous tour. Astana appealed and lost, but were a last minute addition to the Giro d’Iltalia where Contador showed his stuff by winning the overall race. UCI split with ASO over concerns about doping controls for this years tour as well as their decision not to allow Contador to defend his title… the tour was already in some dispute and we hadn’t even started yet.

So far, we’re 9 stages in and we’ve had one positive drugs test and one rider banned for cocaine use (Tom Boonen). Manuel Beltran, a former team mate of Lance Armstrong, was found to have abnormal blood values after stage one – a blood test confirmed the prescent of EPO. It should be noted that he is the fourth former team mate of Lance Armstrong to be found to have cheated, which for me brings back into question whether or not Armstrong rode all his tours clean. Beltran was one of the remaining ‘dinosaurs’, a man of a different era… the younger cyclist coming into the tour don’t have time for drugs, particularly EPO.

This year the French papers are calling it the Cavendish era after 23yr old British rider Mark Cavendish was the youngest rider ever to win a stage and the first British rider to win two stages in the same year… not only do we have Cavendish giving us a spectacular performance we have Riccardo Ricco (24yrs old) who won his second stage today.

I have faith in the tour, I have faith that the battle against doping will be won. As Mark Rendell on the ITV commentary team put it, we’ve said goodbye to the dinosaurs of the Armstrong-era and said hello to the young riders of the Cavendish era. Viva la Tour!