"Evans, if he's to repeat his feat of yesteryear, will likely need to go for at least one medium-to-long-range offensive that will either see him implode or become stuff of legend."- Anthony Tan
At a press conference in Paris last Friday, the UCI, cycling's world governing body, presented the results of the biological passport program, five months after collaborating with the Athlete Passport Management Unit at the anti-doping laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland; a collaboration recommended by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Mirabile dictu, UCI president Pat McQuaid said four-and-a-half years after the biological passport was introduced in 2008, it remains the most effective tool in the fight against doping.
"For me the evidence of the success of the passport seems on the road, in the race itself," the prez said.
"In the big mountain stages, you never see the (team) leader surrounded by three or four domestiques. He usually finishes the climb on his own. That wasn't the case during the big period of EPO."
Oh, the irony.
Still en France, the very next day at the Criterium du Dauphine, on the queen stage from Saint-Alban-Leysse to Morzine, the Sky coterie did just that.
Over a taxing 167.5km, uphill and down dale, including the sixth and final climb of the Col de Joux-Plane, maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins was ensconced by at least three or four other team-mates. Not for a metre did he have to do a turn up front.
On the 11.7km Joux-Plane, Kanstantsin Siutsou began proceedings, before Norwegian phenom Edvald Boasson Hagen rode almost half of the climb at the head of affairs, sending the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland out the back door courtesy of a searing tempo.
As the fearsome ascent that boasts an 8.7 per cent average gradient steepened, Richie Porte then took over, shelling Cadel Evans's remaining wingman, Tejay van Garderen, and even though Christopher Froome and Michael Rogers were also there for Wiggins, they weren't needed or called upon.
Such an imperious display has not been seen since Lance Armstrong's heyday, when the Texan's US Postal Service team was coined the 'Blue Train' for its en masse, controlled tempo riding that annulled even the thought of mounting an offensive and sequestered its adversaries post haste, leading to seven Tour de France victories on the trot (the last under the Discovery Channel moniker).
Let me be clear on this: not for a moment am I suggesting anything nefarious within Sky simply because its actions contradicted McQuaid's words.
Rather, it demonstrates that to judge the 'cleanliness' of the peloton based on arbitrary evaluation is fraught with danger, for there are simply too many variables.
Furthermore, when it comes from the orifice of the UCI president himself, the layman may well be inclined to believe there is something untoward going on.
McQuaid should know better. The Irishman would have been wiser eschewing the above and sticking with this line: "Not only has the biological passport greatly improved our ability to target athletes who may cheat, but, even more importantly, it has visibly transformed the behaviour of the riders: the teams are now adopting a sound scientific and physiological approach, which is a far cry from what we experienced in the EPO era."
The UCI's once-removed-later-reinstated medical adviser Dr Mario Zorzoli also noted that "the biological passport is still in its beginnings and is continually improving. In addition, its dissuasive effect has largely contributed to a noticeable modification of the physiological parameters that we have observed within the peloton".
Anyway, back to Wiggo and Sky.
The day the Briton won the fourth stage time trial in scintillating fashion, beating world champion Tony Martin by 34 seconds in a windswept 53.5km test, Wiggins attempted, rather vainly, to understate his performance.
"I don't think you can look into it too much. It's not a form guide for the Tour de France, it's just how you happened to go on one particular day but it's definitely a nice position to be in," he said.
After the Joux-Plane stage, he was at it again: "We're trying to do a job and we're doing it as efficiently and professionally as possible. It's never about sending messages."
Oh, come off it, Wiggo, you annihilated that TT.
Asked about Evans's ride that day, where the Australian conceded 1 minute 43 seconds to the stage winner, Wiggins said: "If he didn't have anything to drink, it must have been a real disadvantage on that course. But I knew anyway from the two time checks that I was ahead of him. Maybe this is a message for the Tour . . . but I'm also sure that Cadel will increase his level before the Tour."
Intended or not, a very clear message has been delivered: Wiggins is the stage-race rider of the 2012 season, he wants to win the Tour de France, he can win the Tour de France, and he has the best team to help him win the Tour de France.
In his blog entitled Assessing Wiggins vs Evans, commentator Matthew Keenan wrote, "a statistic working in favour of Evans is that in the past 30 years, only three riders have won the Dauphine and the Tour in the same year". That triptych is Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong.
With respect, I think Cadel will find that stat cold comfort at best.
Perhaps more relevant is that in the 98-year history of the Tour de France, Evans is the second-oldest champion and the oldest post-war Tour winner. If he wins this year he will remain the second oldest, preceded only by Firmin Labot, the Belgian 36 years young when he won in 1922.
Keenan's namesake, fellow cycling commentator, journalist and author Matt Rendell, commented under said blog: "No offence to Evans, but Wiggo is the better TT'er. He will only need to 'do a Ryder (Hesjedal)', and stay with the climbers in the mountains (should be easy for him). Barring injury, Wiggo will wear yellow in Paris."
Although as we saw on the stage to the Joux-Plane and the final stage of the eight-day Criterium du Dauphine, Evans won't go home through lack of trying. "Whether I win or lose, I like to give it my best," he said yesterday.
"You can never rule out Cadel," Wiggins said. "He wasn't so strong in the Dauphine (last year) and then he was really good at the Tour."
"The route has been made so more favourites can potentially be in it," Christian Prudhomme, race director of the Tour de France, said last October when the route for this year's Grande Boucle was officially unveiled.
"So a guy who is good in time trials can say, 'Ah, I might have a chance', and others will say, 'Since there are fewer summit finishes, I have to attack from farther out'. And there's precisely the layout to allow attacks from farther out."
In other words, Evans, if he's to repeat his feat of yesteryear, will likely need to go for at least one medium-to-long-range offensive that will either see him implode or become the stuff of legend.
Nevertheless, Sky's dispatch from the Dauphine is as clear as the message director Ridley Scott unambiguously sent to audiences when Alien was first released at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on 25 March, 1979.
As Pauline Kael, American film critic for The New Yorker noted, Scott didn't want to terrorise his audience; he wanted to "brutalise it".
After the explicit 'chest-burster' scene made its first appearance, one of the set designers remembers a woman ran shrieking from the cinema.
It'd be fair to say Wiggins and Sky's exploits last week provoked a similar reaction within the peloton. Embryonic aliens exiting stomachs aside, of course.