The final Grand Tour of the year, the Tour of Spain, is just around the
corner, set to begin August 29 in the northern Dutch town of Assen. But is it a Vuelta a EspaÃ±a we want to watch?
arguably the overwhelming favourite, continues to have question marks
hanging over his head pertaining to the infamous affair known as OperaciÃ³n Puerto.
When Puerto was shelved by the very authorities that instigated the still largely unsolved mess, the Italian Olympic Committee, CONI, decided that wasn't good enough and hand-picked certain individuals to prosecute, one of which was Valverde, subsequently banning him from racing on Italian soil.
Tour de France organisers ASO didn't want him, either. The World Anti-Doping Agency and cycling's governing body, the UCI, want to make that CONI ban global.
Two blood-doping positives from the 2007 Tour de France, Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin, are set to return to the big-time soon Ã¢â¬â Vinokourov's
already back Ã¢â¬â possibly in colours of Astana, where Lance Armstrong and
a few of his friends are due to depart by the season's end.
In fact, Lance & co. pretty much have Ã¢â¬â I'd be surprised to see Armstrong or Levi Leipheimer on European soil again this year, draped in Astana blue. Right now, it's all about 'The Shack'. Team Radio Shack, that is.
As much as I'm sick to death of revisiting Puerto
and the riders believed to have been involved with the villainous
doctor Fuentes, or once blood-doped riders seeking absolution, one has
to ask why other race organisers aren't taking as firm a stance asASO?
According to CONI, the evidence against Valverde is clear and compelling; just as its getting back on its feet, cycling can't afford another disaster.
Legal aspects and technicalities aside, do Vuelta organisers really want to risk getting to the end of the three-week race and then have to oust Valverde, or discover Vinokourov or Kashechkin were charged to the eyeballs again?
This year's Tour de
France, while it may have been predictable, was a far better race than
2006, 2007 or 2008 because so far, just one positive Ã¢â¬â that of Euskatel-Euskadi rider Mikel Astarloza Ã¢â¬â has been borne out of it.
ASO is not an angel Ã¢â¬â one year after ex-Festina rider Richard Virenque cried like a baby in 1998 and confessed, the Tour invited him back to race Ã¢â¬â but at least they've learned, albeit the hard way.
Sure, Valverde for now, with his recent win at the Tour of Burgos in Spain is providing the right headlines, but how long will that last?
It seems the Vuelta,
often regarded as the poor cousin of the three Grand Tours, simply
wants to have as many big names on their start line as possible to drum
up their publicity machine, at considerable risk to what may ensue.
But what is wrong with having a relative unknown win the race, or come Madrid on September 20, an Anglophone in the maillot oro?
Look at what Bradley Wiggins'
fourth place at the Tour has done for cycling in Britain Ã¢â¬â he's a
bloody hero, and he's coming down to race the Herald Sun Tour this
I have far more reason to believe a courageous
29-year-old, brimming with talent and who knocked off 20 pounds to
transform himself into first a valued helper for Christian Vande Velde
and later a contender - than a man with serious circumstantial evidence
linking him to a nefarious blood doping doctor - or one found guilty of
doping but unwilling to acknowledge his crime, and having the gall to
return to competition and face his peers as if nothing untoward has