Creating a scandal because there isn’t a scandal
This whole Denis Menchov issue that has reared its ugly head over the last few days, right in the thick of a tour that is creating more than enough good cycling stories in itself, sounds more like an attempt to try and make an Alp d’Huez out of a Box Hill. There has been no drugs story at this tour and so some people who seem to thrive on, and even enjoy, that particular subject of the sport are getting antsy and desperate to invent a scandal because the sport isn’t good for them without one.
The story stems from news that former rider and 2009 Giro d’Italia winner, Denis Menchov has been banned from the sport following adverse findings in his biological passport and had his Tour de France results from 2009, 2010 and 2012 stripped. (Interestingly Menchov finished 3rd in the 2010 Tour before being bumped to 2nd when Contador was disqualified but his own disqualification now means that Samuel Sanchez has gone from 4th to 3rd to 2nd with Jurgen Van Den Broeck from 5th to 4th to a podium placing).
Menchov has since retired from the sport, but it didn’t stop, rightfully, the suspension from being handed down. What has got some people upset however is that the UCI simply released the details of his suspension on their website rather than via a press-release. Some journalists are disappointed that they may have missed the opportunity for scandal as a result and the tin-foil hat brigade who thrive on this kind of thing have jumped on board.
But hold on a moment. We’re in the middle of the sports biggest event right now — for sporting and publicity reasons — and the last thing we want surely is to drag up some scandal for the world to see involving a rider who ISN’T in the tour and who IS already retired when there ISN’T a scandal to be had. It’s not as though this is a rider who has been riding in this event or even in competitive events leading up to the Tour; that would be one thing, but this is different. And it’s not as though the UCI turned a blind eye to the findings on his bio-passport, ignoring it, and we found out about a positive test via a third party, as has been the fear in the past — a huge difference to this particular case — so I don’t see why it’s such an issue that they released it this way. Especially now, as UCI President, Brian Cookson has pointed out, that it IS in keeping with standard UCI policy in a case that wasn’t caught by the media before Menchov was handed his punishment.
Which is as it should be. The media shouldn’t be finding out about doping cases before the rider has had the chance for due process. The onus is on the team to suspend the rider pending his hearing, and while that will always lead to suspicion in itself, technically speaking only once the punishment is handed down do the UCI have an obligation to announce it. Of course that becomes difficult when a rider tests positive in the middle of a race, but not in a case like this. In Menchov’s case he retired rather than face team suspension and it’s perhaps why this one hasn’t had the media attention it might otherwise have gotten. But it doesn’t change the way in which the UCI would approach it.
That Menchov’s suspension is released via some list is fine with me. He cheated, he got caught, he got punished. That element of the system is clearly working as we would like. That the UCI doesn’t make a whole song and dance about a case not involving the current race seems only professional. The UCI isn’t here to sing a song of scandal and dance along to its tune as much as the conspiracy theorist might wish.
Beware stage 15 Vincenzo!!
Chris Froome may have done the damage during his crash on stage 4 but it was in stage 5 that he actually abandoned the tour. Following two falls as a result of an already fractured left wrist and right hand that resulted in an inability to control his bike, before they had even reached the dreaded Pave, he was gone.
The finger pointing about Froome’s bike handling skills, or lack thereof, or perhaps his lack of heart — this of a reigning Tour de France champion — from the experts firmly encamped upon their armchairs, was sad bordering on pathetic. It was obvious from the crash the day before that something wasn’t right when he fell twice so early on that 5th stage. Froome may not be the best bike handler in the world, but he’s not that bad. Sky didn’t reveal the extent of his wounds for obvious reasons…Froome could expect no mercy from his rivals had they known he was carrying an injury. I’m not sure how, but they were probably hoping he could nurse his way through, limit his loses and somehow recover a bit come the mountains. As time would tell, that proved impossible.
“I grabbed a (nutritional) bar, I had only one hand on the handlebars and I hit a pothole,” said Contador, and before they had even reached the first rest day, he too was gone. “I’m sad and disappointed, a lot of effort and sacrifice has been ruined. I had prepared better for the Tour than ever before, I wanted to win the stage.”
Win the stage and take back lost time on Vincenzo Nibali. It looked perfect for him…lots of climbs and a brutal run up to the finish line. This was to be the first big showdown between himself and Nibali. We’d hoped Froome would be present but that wasn’t to be, yet it still looked so good. Froome tweeted Contador to wish him well and mentioned a meeting at the Vuelta but whether Contador is fit in time remains to be seen.
If you’re into patterns in sport — like the fact that in 1990 on the day of the World Cup final, a German won a stage of the Tour (Olaf Ludwig) and the German team won the World Cup (see Tony Martin’s win on Sunday) — then you’re probably marking this stage as one to watch from through your fingers. If Vincenzo Nibali is one of these people he had better tread with care.
Stage 15 is a 222km, mostly downhill, little in the way of climbing, sprinters stage from Tallard to Nîmes and comes the day after a brutal Alpine stage over two climbs and to a summit finish in Risoul. It also comes the day before the second rest day. Tired legs could allow a break to stay clear, but the sprinters will also fancy their chances. A tired Nibali should stay near the front!
Of course, this is some lighthearted thoughts. I personally don’t buy into the pattern that because stages 5 and 10 turned out to be a disaster for two contenders therefore stage 15 could be trouble for Nibali. The truth is every stage could be trouble for Nibali or any ther rider, but they could also be glorious. One mans nightmare stage is still another mans dream when he wins it.
So far all has gone well for Nibali and long may he stay upright. He’s my tip to win this Tour now but if he was to lose it, let’s hope it’s only due to cycling related reasons and not some unfortunate accident. Likewise anyone else.
It’s not about the bike
Rumours flying around yesterday that Alberto Contador crashed because of a failure in the frame of his Specialized bike have proven to be false. The suggestion was that Contador’s frame broke, throwing the Spaniard to the ground and eventually out of the tour with a broken tibia.
In reality it appears that simple error cost Contador and it appears he crashed twice. The first time seen him take a bike off of Nicolas Roche in order to continue, and then, while pushing on a wet descent to get back towards the head of the peloton, and while reaching into his pocket for some food, he hit a pothole and it sent him hard to the ground breaking the bone.
Amazingly Contador got back up and after several minutes with the race doctor (and a change of shoes) he was back chasing with his team. The gap to the peloton — unable to wait due to Michal Kwiatkowski being in the break — only grew however and after about 25km of agonising pursuit, Contador climbed off and called it a Tour.
So a couple of rare errors on a descent by a man known to be fast on the downhills, but also one who is known to take risks. Was he in a panic that another fast man, his chief rival, Nibali, might use his misfortune in the first crash as a chance to get away? Nibali had no such designs — it was a long way from the finish — but the idea alone perhaps contributed to Contador’s big push.
I must admit though, reaching into the back pocket on a wet and fast decent on poor road surface does seem like a risk too far, even for Contador. It’s a shame his race ended in this way though the praise for his guts in trying to continue with such an injury is worthy indeed. A hard man in a sport full of them.
(And on a related side note: Interesting to compare the praise for Contador’s toughness to the flack Chris Froome took from some quarters about his bike handling skills when the reality was he too was trying to ride hurt and that in his case it was his injuries that caused his crashes on that 5th stage last week.)
The Lanterne Rouge
Cheng Ji is making history at this race as the first man from China to ride in a Tour de France, a fine achievement and a trail blazer for future cyclists from that nation. Not a well known name in the race by any means, a domestique to Marcel Kittel on the Giant-Shimano team, Ji might well become more known than he may have thought should he hang onto his current position as the last place man in this Tour…or better know as the Lanterne Rouge.
Currently Ji holds a commanding lead over Elia Viviani by 13 minutes and 52 seconds. It’s a lead the man at the opposite end of the standings, Vincenzo Nibali — just 2 hours, 21 minutes ahead of Ji — can only dream about, though it’s also a lead that can change far quicker at Ji’s end of the standings than Nibali’s. One day in a break in the mountains could net him more than half an hour on his rivals, or likewise should one of those behind him (or ahead) be looking to take the infamous title as Lanterne Rouge of the Tour de France, a couple of days just off the back of the gruppeto could seal it.
Anyway, below is the top, or bottom, six on this first rest day. I’ll come back to it again in a week or so and see how Ji is getting along.
180. Cheng Ji (GIA) 44h 54’39”
179. Elia Viviani (CAN) -13’52”
178. Arnaud Demare (FDJ) -21’58”
177. Davide Cimolai (LAM) -23’06”
176. Adrien Petit (COF) -24’16”
175. William Bonnet (FDJ) -24’26”