The Court of Arbitration for Sport decision to delay the appeal against
Alberto Contador has got Anthony Tan gun-shy about 'El Pistolero' and
his inclusion at the Tour.
Cycling is a complete mess at the moment and it's been building up for years. It's going to get worse before it gets better."
The 60 Minutes story on 22 May and the ongoing FDA investigation that has the capacity to expose what may be cycling's Ã¢â¬â no, make that sport's Ã¢â¬â greatest lie. The tragic death of Wouter Weylandt on 9 May, followed by the equally sad passing of Xavier Tondo a fortnight later. Last week's inexplicable delay by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) regarding the potential sanctioning of Alberto Contador, who may or may not have won the 2010 Tour de France and may or may not have won the 2011 Giro d'Italia, which wrapped up Sunday with an unremarkable time-trial that did nothing except showcase the less salubrious areas of Milano. And speaking of the Giro, on a course so extreme, if a rider was ever thinking about doping, he certainly wouldn't be discouraged not to do so after a 3265km, Grade-10 sufferfest.
There are more than a few reasons to feel a little down about cycling right now. Admittedly, I am.
After recording last Sunday's edition of 'Bike Shorts' with host Mike Tomalaris, producer Catherine Whelan told me that for the first time, she noticed my shoulders were slumped. When doing anything for SBS on camera (or off camera, for that matter), I'm normally as optimistic and perky as Dolly Parton's bosoms Ã¢â¬â or at least how I used to remember them...
To explain my disheartened posture, I listed a few of the reasons above, and Catherine simply nodded. She didn't need to say anything. It was obvious we felt the same way, saddened the sport finds itself in the pickle that it is now in. As Garmin-CervÃ©lo team owner Jonathan Vaughters told me last November, "We're saddled with an image that we've brought upon ourselves by trying to correct the problem."
When Vincenzo Nibali, who finished in third place for a second consecutive year at the Giro, half-jokingly said after the Stage 16 mountain time-trial that "it's just a pity there is a Martian on the race!" Ã¢â¬â referring to Contador, who that day pushed the Italian to second by 34 seconds in a 12.7km test of truth Ã¢â¬â it sent a shiver down my spine.
You see, the last time a rider was referred to as an extra-terrestrial being was five years ago. I was reporting on location at the 2006 Giro for Cyclingnews, and after the penultimate stage to Aprica, not dissimilar to last Saturday's slog to SestriÃ¨re, the second-placed Gilberto Simoni thought stage winner Ivan Basso had reneged on a deal: "Basso said to me, 'Don't drop me on the descent', so I thought I had a chance to win today," Simoni said. "If I had thought Basso was going to do that in the finale, I would have played my cards differently."
Instead, and after Jens Voigt's 'gifted' stage to Juan Manuel Garate the previous day, Basso took the "no gifts" option Ã¢â¬â straight out of Armstrong's 2004 Tour de France handbook Ã¢â¬â and on the final 11.5km climb, rode away from Simoni as if he were on a motorbike, eventually putting 1:17 into his compatriot and cementing overall victory. When the race concluded in Milano the next day, Basso had won by an astounding 9:18 margin over JosÃ© Enrique Gutierrez, and a whopping 11:59 over Simoni.
"I've never seen anyone dominate [like Basso], never seen anyone that strong! He seems like an extra-terrestrial," Simoni, with a laconic grin and face twisted in disgust, said after the stage to Aprica.
When Basso got wind of it, he retorted: "I don't like to be called an extra-terrestrial or a phenomenon. I've been on the podium in the Tour de France twice and was the only rider who could stay with Armstrong on the climbs. My ride today is another demonstration of how I've been riding during this Giro. And I don't think I stole anything from anyone. I've already shown my character at this year's Giro."
What Basso did not show, however, were his links to the nefarious Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, which he only admitted to Ã¢â¬â though never conceded actually having doped Ã¢â¬â on 7 May 2007. Via OperaciÃ³n Puerto, Gutierrez also was found to have been a client of Fuentes and later removed by his Phonak team, validating Simoni's fears of an uneven playing field.
On the subject of the wider cosmos, let's not forget L'Equipe's 14 July front-page headline from the 1999 Tour, describing Armstrong's crushing ride up SestriÃ¨re the day before: "Sur une autre planÃ¨te" (On another planet). The very same Tour FDA investigators are now immersed in, following claims by Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton Ã¢â¬â and augmented by grand jury testimony Ã¢â¬â that Armstrong used EPO, among other PEDs, as preparation for and during the race, and as preparation for the 2000 and 2001 Tours de France.
You can see why Nibali's 'Martian' moniker got me jittery and skittish as a scaredy cat.
With professional cycling close to rock bottom the past six years, I'm thinking about Contador's CAS hearing being postponed and wondering whether, in the event of a decision that might not be known till August, he should, on moral grounds and for the sake of the sport, be allowed to race the 2011 Tour de France. It was at the request of the Spaniard's defence team that the hearing, originally scheduled for 6-8 May, be postponed "to give to all parties concerned reasonable time to prepare" said CAS, "and to guarantee the participation in person of witnesses and experts".
Wait one moment, Bertie: the UCI and WADA appealed the Spanish cycling federation decision to acquit you on 24 March Ã¢â¬â your team has had two bloody months to get their shit together! And as far back as September last year, you knew that you had tested positive for Clenbuterol, and would soon have to explain yourself.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme has said the only thing he seeks is an answer. But now that answer may not come till the race is over. And what if Contador races the Tour and the UCI/WADA appeal is upheld in the midst of it? It would be Ã la Michael Rasmussen at the 2007 Tour, all over again.
As referenced by a recent blog on the Inner Ring, Article 2.2.010 of the UCI rules state:
"The organiser may refuse permission to participate in Ã¢â¬â or exclude from Ã¢â¬â an event, a team or one of its members whose presence might be prejudicial to the image or reputation of the organiser or of the event. If the UCI and/or the team and/or one of its members does not agree with the decision taken in this way by the organiser, the dispute shall be placed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport which must hand down a ruling within an appropriate period. However, in the case of the Tour de France, the dispute shall be placed before the Chambre Arbitrale du Sport."
The way I read it, Prudhomme can preclude Contador from racing the Tour de France, even though he is technically free to race, which is why RCS Sport (organisers of the Giro) reluctantly gave their imprimatur to the Spaniard.
The very reasons many of you ask journalists like me and authorities such as the FDA to leave these so-called 'heroes' and 'legends' (and geez, I hate that word) alone, ironically, provide the rationale for seeking an answer. We have become so blasÃ© about prohibited drug-taking and illicit performance enhancing methods, many would rather sweep it under the carpet than expose cheats for what they are: frauds who f**k up the beautiful sport we've grown to love.
How right Millar was in his prediction.
I accept that it's a sad and unfortunate zeitgeist Ã¢â¬â that pro cyclists, even before their B sample results are known or CAS makes the final call, are largely seen as guilty till proven innocent. It's anachronistic to the way the rest of society operates. But the way I see it, we either make prudent and hard decisions to preserve whatever integrity the sport has left, and assiduously attempt to improve on that, or accept that what we watch is as stained as a baby's diaper.
I therefore ask these questions of you: How do you feel about the state of the sport right now; where is your level of enthusiasm/passion; and in light of the situation as it stands, do you want to see Alberto Contador at the Tour?
Look forward to reading your answers. And with complete sincerity, I mean all your answers!
Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan