Tom Boonen's image is "incompatible with the image of the Tour de France", according to organisers of the greatest cycling race in the world, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO).
is the decision a correct one, and what are we to make of the
once-hotly contested green jersey competition, where Columbia-High
Road's sprinting prodigy Mark Cavendish now has a virtual stranglehold
on the maillot vert without even having turned a pedal stroke?
has committed an offence, that is clear, but in my mind and probably
his own, he has cheated himself more than the sport. He willingly
ingested an illegal and dangerous substance, but if anything, its
effects are more performance degrading than enhancing, in this
discipline that demands the athlete be at the peak of their aerobic
powers whenever they pin a number on their back.
former world road champion have a substance abuse problem? Possibly,
and that should be the first issue being addressed. So far, there's
been little talk of that.
Still Boonen, like those pea-brained
rugby league players who perennially taint their football code due to
drugs, alcohol-fuelled violence or sex scandals, needs to properly
understand the responsibilities he carries as a role model Ã¢â¬â
particularly in Belgium where he is a demigod among his legion of fans
Ã¢â¬â and education must come from the top-down.
Herein lies part
of the problem: a number of managers/owners are themselves former
cyclists during an era where drug-testing was non-existent and it was a
case of anything goes; then when testing was introduced, the issue
within a number of teams became one of avoidance rather than
zero-tolerance, as it almost is today. Only in the past few years have
we seen theomerta broken and old managers replaced, and it will take at least another few before we can safely say the majority of the peloton are riding clean.
Regardless, without Boonen, without McEwen and without Petacchi, Cavendish has only defending points champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Thor Hushovd (CrÃ©dit Agricole) and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) to really worry about. So far this season, none of the aforementioned trio has bothered the Milan-San Remo champ and triple Giro stage winner much, and barring incident, it will probably stay that way for those three weeks in France.
Apart from a superb, low-profile sprinting position coupled with an
incredible pair of fast-twitch pins, that the 24-year-old from the Isle
of Man is his own harshest critic no doubt helps him a great deal.
I still remember Cavendish's words clear as the day he said it in Trieste after he lost to Petacchi
on the second stage of the Giro: "My team was perfect; everything was
perfect, except for me at the finish. I should have jumped earlier. I
was lazy. Normally I deliver; today I didn't. With an ego like mine,
for sure losing is going to hurt my pride," he said.
Asked by a journalist from French sports newspaper L'Equipe if he perhaps lost due to some sort of superiority complex, Cavendish then said, "Probably, yeah. Serves me right."
Till that day, I'm not sure if I've ever heard such unabated honesty from a sprinter Ã¢â¬â or any other rider, for that matter.
A week and a half later when 'Cav'
took his third stage win in Florence before exiting the Giro stage
left, he was still, quite incredibly, lambasting himself: "I was lazy
in that past sprint. I've been consistently winning all year, and I let
those guys [in my team] down. I had to take this sprint on, and not be
Remarked Cavendish, "The reason why I'm so
professional about the sport is because I love it. But sometimes pride
can take over logic."
Super-talent and super-ego he may have
like Boonen, though it appears Cavendish can rationalize both. And he
may be four years younger, but Boonen could learn a few things from
this would-be winner of the maillot vert.