the ceremonial charging of the champagne glasses en route to Madrid and
later at the podium ceremony, I couldn't help but notice the
disenchanted look on the face of Cadel Evans on the final stage of the Vuelta a EspaÃ±a.
Sure, there were a number of things that went wrong or at least not in Evans' favour throughout the three weeks of the Vuelta.
Though one could argue that such are the vicissitudes of riding a
three-week tour, and racing to win, which only accentuates those peaks
Encouragingly, his breathing and health problems encountered at the Tour de France appear to be under control; he has proven to himself, his team and his fans that Cadel Evans continues to be a grand tour contender; and come September 27 in Mendrisio, Switzerland, he has what it takes to be a player in the world championship road race.
But perhaps what lingers loudest for this most staunch advocate of clean cycling is that the overall winner of the Vuelta, Alejandro Valverde, still has a case to answer for, where both the Union Cycliste
Internationale and the World Anti-Doping Agency wish to impose a ban Ã¢â¬â
currently effective only in Italy Ã¢â¬â that extends to all corners of the
globe for the Spaniard's involvement in OperaciÃ³n Puerto.
Exactly what and how deeply Valverde was involved with Puerto may never be known.
To the outsider, one may have the impression that the peloton knows things they don't, but that's not always the case.
I remember reading the early chapters of Allan Peiper's
autobiography not so long ago, where he mused about his first trip to
Europe, aged seventeen.
Before too long, he was living at the home of
the Planckaerts and shared a room with Eddy Planckaert, the scion of a great Belgian cycling dynasty.
Peiper and Planckaert
may have been in their teens, but they already lived and breathed the
lives of top-flight professionals. "We trained every day, no matter
what the weather was like. Every night we were in bed by nine o'clock.
We were totally committed, totally dedicated, and that commitment and
dedication brought us results,"Peiper wrote.
"Unfortunately though," he added, "in cycling, good results can be put down to another reason Ã¢â¬â drugs."
One weekend, Peiper
recalls winning a junior road race by five minutes on the Saturday,
then the following day, he lapped the field to win again. "Someone was
convinced that I was doped and they were out to get me, but I passed
both tests," said Peiper.
"I could have got hold of drugs if I'd wanted to. I wasn't naÃ¯ve."
The rumours about Peiper
and others he rode with were incessant, and unfounded. Although he
doesn't say so, perhaps it's a reason why the blue-eyed, silver-haired
Aussie, now a sport director at Columbia-HTC, found himself oblivious to the whole scene.
was like being aware of music in the background but not listening to
it. I was the same when I turned pro: it was all around me, but not
only did I not get deeply involved in it, most of the most I didn't
even see it."
Maybe, Peiper speculates, the whole drugs thing
went over his head because of the attitude since his formative years,
which was to be interested only in his own affairs and what he was
doing Ã¢â¬â not what others were doing (or taking).
Maybe this is how Evans, despite the controversy and rumour that surrounded this year's Vuelta, not to mention the mishaps he suffered during the race, fought valiantly throughout the past three weeks.
A champion is one who triumphs in adversity. As many of you have already said, I believe Cadel has done just that.