Vélo Files: Double Trouble

Anthony Tan

cycling, road, grand tour, contador, froome, merckx
Seeing double... Alberto Contador (Getty Images)
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If the sport has indeed cleaned up its act and is no longer “cycling at two speeds”, as Française des Jeux team manager Marc Madiot tellingly put it in 2005, Anthony Tan wonders, does that mean winning two Grand Tours in one season is no longer doable without doping? 

It’s very difficult to do both the Giro and the Tour. Maybe in two years’ time.

On September 30, the final day of this month, the presentation of the 2013 Giro d’Italia will take place at the Spazio Pelota in central Milan.

But with next year being the centenary edition of the Tour de France, the full parcours to be unveiled in Paris on October 24, will anyone care?

Being the season’s first Grand Tour, I think many of you will.

But I am also talking about the riders. And whether, in this so-called new age of clean cycling (I prefer to label it ‘cleaner cycling’, as it’s both unrealistic and idealistic to believe we’ll ever see a one-hundred per cent, squeaky-clean peloton) the Giro-Tour double will be possible in this newfound milieu.

In fact, after what I’ve seen this season, I’m not even sure if any Grand Tour double is possible.

Chris Froome, the man who finished second at the Tour de France and who went in as equal favourite to win the Vuelta a España, only to finish “shattered” and “on my knees” by the end (though perhaps that’s the most natural position for a ‘Froome-dog’, as his girlfriend cutely calls him), said this after finishing a creditable fourth overall to comeback kid, Alberto Contador:

“It’s slightly disappointing not to come away with more – obviously we had high ambitions coming here. But having said that I’m not disappointed with how we rode and how I rode.

“It’s been a huge learning process. I think there’s so much we can take away from this race. Personally I now know where my limits are in terms of doing two Grand Tours back to back. I know a lot more about the competition that wasn’t at the Tour de France this year and will be at future editions and races next year. For me it’s been the first time leading the team and being in a position where I need to tell the guys around me what I need to get me though the race as best as possible.”

Then there’s Joaquim Rodríguez, the Katusha rider second overall at the Giro and looking the likely winner of the Vuelta till Bertie pulled a rabbit out of the hat four days from Madrid. Yes, he and his team got caught out but ‘Purito’ was smoked by the finish of that seventeenth stage and barbequed by Bola del Mundo, even if he finished ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Contador on the concreted wall of a climb.

Nowadays, even riding a three-week tour as preparation for the Grand Tour you’re targeting seems so, like, yesterday. If you’re on Team Sky’s shortlist for La Grande Boucle, they prefer you to ride weeklong tours like Algarve, Romandie and Dauphiné and, in between, flog yourself stupid in Tenerife. Sounds a right blast, doesn’t it?

When Eddy Merckx, the man who has done more Grand Tour doubles than any in history (okay, he’s done just about more of everything than anyone), having accomplished the Giro-Tour double in 1970, ’72 and ’74 and the Giro-Vuelta in ‘73, responded thus when Mike Tomalaris posed the possibility of a modern day Giro-Tour double to ‘the Cannibal’ at this year’s Tour Down Under:

“If you’re healthy,” Merckx began, “and if you come good out of the Tour of Italy… For me, I always came out better for the Tour de France having done the Tour of Italy than not doing the Tour of Italy.”

Since Merckx there have been six others who have successfully realised a Grand Tour double: Bernard Hinault (1978, ’82, ’85), Giovanni Battaglin ('81), Stephen Roche (’87), Miguel Indurain (’92, ’93), Marco Pantani (’98) and Contador (2008).

Pantani, we now know, was doped to the gills. Contador in 2008, well, I’ll let you make your own mind what, if anything, he was on. (For what it’s worth, it was also the year the biological passport program was introduced to the peloton.)

The rest, if they were to undergo the same drug testing that exists today, may also bear asterisks. “Several times, I thought of asking my riders to start a stage five minutes behind the peloton. History will show cycling at two speeds,” Marc Madiot, team manager of La Française des Jeux, said in 2005, a few days after L’Equipe aired Lance Armstrong’s dirty laundry out for all to see.

“Armstrong crushed the Tour de France for seven years without the smallest failure, even momentarily. His method, immutable, was infallible: to strike his adversaries at the prologue and to close the race on the first mountain stage.

“If one believes the revelations of L’Equipe,” Madiot said at the time, “it corresponds with the timing of catching (those who used) EPO. Armstrong transformed cycling into a mathematical equation.”

One thing we can safely say, however, is that Contador is the best Grand Tour rider of his generation, and Wiggo must already be wondering should he (or any other GC contender) even bother showing up in Corsica next June.

Yet, if ‘El Pistolero’ cannot complete the feat, as he tried to do in vain in 2011, what hope have the rest got?

Especially with the Giro becoming increasingly sadistic to quench our thirst for schadenfreude (granted, this year’s percorso was more tamed though still brutal courtesy of a new, less megalomaniacal, race director) and one out of every two Vuelta stages this year finishing atop a hill or major mountain pass; certain stage profiles resembled the electrocardiogram of a heart attack victim receiving shock therapy.

Cadel Evans also tried and failed to do the Giro-Tour double in 2010, and from that point on vowed to never play with fire again. “If you do the Giro in May, you have to plan the preparation for that, but then you can’t do reconnaissance (for the Tour) in May and you cannot go altitude training,” said BMC Racing team manager, John Lelangue, soon after Evans became the first Australian winner of the Tour last July.

Still, Contador has not completely ruled out another attempt. “For me, the Giro is the best race in the world. It has a particular fascination for me. And if it was only up to my heart I would race it,” he said last October, at the unveiling of the 2012 route of ‘la corsa rosa’.

“It’s very difficult to do both the Giro and the Tour,” Contador acknowledged, who appears predisposed to stating the bleeding obvious. “Maybe in two years’ time.”

That would be 2014, then. Incredibly, after all he’s done, he’ll only be 31 years old.

And quite possibly, the only one who can still do it. I reckon the iconoclastic Spaniard will give it another nudge. The rest should be afraid. Very afraid.



 

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