How defending champion Alberto Contador shrugs off controversy and
appears to carry none of the burden that surrounds him is beyond Anthony Tan's comprehension. The Spaniard and his Saxo Bank-Sungard team must be made of Teflon, he figures.
It will make the sport a laughingstock.
When the world's most famous English-speaking cycling commentator says the
sport will be further reduced to something resembling the Cirque du
Soleil, should Alberto Contador win this year's race and later be
stripped of the title, you know the situation's rather serious.
The buzz within the Tour de France salle de presse
is still there, albeit not as fervent, but what is abundantly clear is
that I am not the only one who has come to the VendÃ©e with a heavy
As I made the day-long journey from Sydney to Paris, then
drove 400 kilometres to Nantes (due to afternoon traffic on the
capital's boulevard pÃ©riphÃ©rique, I moved an excruciating 12km in
the first two hours), I had plenty of time to ponder what I might want
to get out of this 98th edition of La Grande Boucle.
But like a constant migraine, one thought kept circling in my head, and continues to do so: What the hell am I doing here?
What the hell am I doing here, when the race winner is likely not to be known till after
me and the millions of fans leave and return home? When the integrity
of the sport has reached rock bottom (again)? When, before a pedal is
turned, Contador is vociferously booed as if he were a serial rapist,
while Andy Schleck, his likely greatest nemesis, is cheered with such
clamour you'd think he'd already won?
"The problem is some fans
are used to this controversy and it has actually become part of the
appeal," Bob Stapleton, the owner of the HTC-High Road team, told the New York Times.
"In Europe, there's almost an addiction to this supermarket drama, this
soap-opera drama. It wouldn't be the Tour de France without it."
fans desire Ã¢â¬â good versus evil is a theme as old as humanity itself Ã¢â¬â
but do they really want the sport perceived the way it currently is? As a
bit of a joke?
For the majority, I would argue non.
the tart response he received Thursday inside the colosseum of the
Grand Parc du Puy du Fou (a recent poll claimed two-thirds of French
cycling fans preferred the defending champion stay home in Pinto), I'm
certain Contador would also agree. Though just like Paul Kimmage's
question earlier that morning designed to rile him Ã¢â¬â "Why should we
believe you?" asked the pugnacious Sunday Times journalist Ã¢â¬â the negativity seems to slide off the Spaniard as if he were made of Teflon.
idea that I could lose the Tour seems ridiculous," Contador, from his
raised position and flanked by team owner Bjarne Riis, said, the
unlikely duo staring down Kimmage who placed himself middle-seat,
front-row (and from my position a few rows back, the Irishman looked to
be staring straight back). "I've undergone a lot of [anti-doping]
controls and during my career because I've won a lot. It's ridiculous
that I could lose the Tour. I'm confident in the outcome of my case."
the Saxo Bank press conference, before the questions came a rare moment
of humility from Riis, who begged Ã¢â¬â yes, I said begged Ã¢â¬â us, the media,
"to understand. If you don't agree that Alberto is riding, you should
question the system and not so much us or him.
love to have had a solution a while ago, before the Tour, but that
hasn't happened. Unfortunately that's the way it is. That's the rules we
have to respect, we can't do anything about it.
cleared by the system," declared Riis, "and has all the right to ride.
As long as he is cleared we will continue to support him and that's also
the reason why he is starting in this Tour. I don't see why he should
be punished or suspended when cleared. I don't think it's fair so that's
also why he is here."
Okay, Contador was cleared by the Spanish
"system" Ã¢â¬â though we still don't know why Ã¢â¬â which, in the absence of a
national doping agency, was his national cycling federation (RFEC) and
which clearly struggled not to show bias. But he is not yet cleared by
the system known as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and until then,
it's a bit of a fib to say "cleared by the system".
And as far as
the "system" is concerned, Riis has in the past been critical of the
protracted and muddled nature of the anti-doping process Ã¢â¬â one of the
hen's teeth-rare items he and I agree upon Ã¢â¬â but now seems to support
it. Don't forget, from the day Contador tested positive on 21 July at
last year's Tour to 15 February this year, the day he was cleared by the
RFEC, almost seven months had elapsed Ã¢â¬â and each stall within that
period was caused by none other than the sport's governing body, the
Given the lamentable situation cycling finds itself in, how
Riis managed to secure yet another year of funding from title sponsor
Saxo Bank (who was ready to pull the plug last year, before the Dane got
on his knees and sweet-talked them into staying one more season) is
It's about as comprehensible as the best-looking
podium girl running up to me in the Tour village and asking me to marry
her, and demanding we make sweet love each night for the rest of our
Though, just like Contador and the way he shrugs off
controversy that follows him round like chewing gum stuck to your shoe,
it seems not to bother this team or its members, while others like
HTC-High Road with their squeaky clean record struggle to exist.
going to carry the weight of whatever the final decision is of his case
[with CAS]," Liggett said. "That's got to affect him somewhere down the
I'm not so sure, Phil. I think he's quite ready to win maillot jaune number four.
Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan