Monday, 23 July 2012

Tour Shorts and the Olympics

As I write this, Bradley Wiggins is - barring accident - about to become the first British rider ever to win the Tour de France. For many, this is proof that cycling has changed fundamentally at the Elite level, but for others, skepticism remains - notably from sports journalist and former pro cyclist, Paul Kimmage. The insinuations from the 'Twitterati' over the last couple of weeks, initially provoked a terse response from Wiggins, who considering his career-risking outspoken comments against doping over the last few years, was probably finding it somewhat ironic that he was now facing the kind of accusations previously reserved for Lance Armstrong.

It would seem most had forgotten his press conference of July 2007 when his then squad, Cofidis, voluntarily left the race after a positive test from erstwhile teammate, Cristian Moreni. Wiggins crime it would appear, was failing to spare time in his racing and training schedule to constantly reassure journalists that his stance had not changed and perhaps to remind them of his past statements. It didn't seem to have occurred to them that even those outspoken on the subject, might get a little tired of the constant media focus on it and want to get back to the business of racing and justifying their salaries. Nevertheless, Wiggins reiterated his stance once more in the Guardian.

David Millar on the other hand, is willing to deal with the issue on a daily basis precisely because he is a reformed doper, and feels it is his duty to do so, as his interview following his classy stage win at the Tour this year confirmed. Shame that more riders with a chequered past are not so willing to follow his example ("I'm David Millar and I'm a former doper"). Instead we have Alejandro Valverde and others, still insisting they 'did nothing wrong', let back in the sport as though bags of their blood weren't found in the possession of notorious blood doping doctors.

Meanwhile, an investigation into Team Astana's French climber, Remy Di'Grigorio and a positive test for a diuretic by Radioshack-Nissan-Trek star, Frank Schleck, while thankfully failing to overshadow the racing as doping scandals normally do, are still causes for concern in that they present evidence that some guys in the peloton are still willing to risk their own and everyone else's livelihoods with such idiotic behaviour. We'll see how those stories develop no doubt.

Much column space was filled over the last couple of weeks with speculation over the supposed internecine battle over the leadership of Team Sky. Commentators focusing on Chris Froome's ostensible superiority in the mountains, but while they tended to ignore the bad moments Froome himself had, when his leader took over the chase on the front, they also forgot the most significant factor, which is that having the legs to theoretically win the Tour, is very different from handling the pressure of the Maillot Jaune for two weeks as Wiggins did. For a relatively young, shy and inexperienced rider like Froome, the pressure may have been enough for him to crumble. Perhaps we will see how he stands up to a taste of that pressure at the Vuelta later this year.

Thoughts are already turning to the Olympic Road Race and Box Hill. It's a difficult race to predict a winner, since each team will only have 5 riders and therefore will not be able to control the race. Trade team loyalties are likely to enter the mix, coming into conflict with national team orders. The peloton will climb Box Hill nine times, with the last summit being 50 kilometres from the finish. Will attacks blast the race apart and push Cavendish out of contention, without enough support to chase down a break? It's highly likely, although Cavendish has clearly been training with this particular obstacle in mind. One scenario is that a strong group of classics specialists such as Cancellara, Sagan, Boonen and Gilbert among others could force a split - perhaps on the penultimate time up the hill and stay away to the finish. My pick for the Gold is Peter Sagan, but if Cav was indeed to stay in the mix and win the sprint, it would put the cherry on a perfect year for British Cycling.

Once he has done his best to aid Mark Cavendish's bid for Gold, Bradley Wiggins will attempt to make it two in the time trial. With Cancellara present, the job may not be as easy, but as we saw at the Tour de France, Wiggins may have caught up with his top rivals in this discipline or even surpassed them. Even without the gold medal, it seems sure that Wiggins will become the sports personality of the year.

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