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The Party Line

Iban Mayo in action

A kilo lighter after getting rid of some toys

Leonardo Bertagnolli on his way to San Sebastian win

One of the advantages of having moved recently to the middle of nowhere is that it provides a calm oasis to return to after 3 weeks of watching the Tour de France implode.

After the daily blaring of horns from the publicity caravan, here I am lucky to see one car a day. It also has the great advantage of having a garden big enough to sling up a marquee and throw a long overdue housewarming party. Except that, I missed most of it.

Even as we all sit down and catch our breath after Alberto Contador’s eventual win in Paris the racing goes on. At the weekend the Clasica San Sebastian was run for the 27th time and duty called above rural partying.

Last year Xavier Florencio nipped out of the fast-finishing pack to claim Bouygues Telecom’s second big win of the year taking everyone, including this commentator, by surprise.

Less of a surprise, post-tour 2007, is that this year one of the big favourites and sometime darling of the Basques, Iban Mayo did not start San Sebastian, having been suspended by his team for a positive EPO test during the Tour.

A man with a natural talent for climbing and a kick that could dispense with rivals on a steep gradient at a stroke of the pedals, Mayo has always excelled in home races but was never able to step up to the plate when it came to the Tour de France.

Look up Iban in any self respecting reference book on cycling and he will be sandwiched between 2 riders whose stories reflect a truly heroic era and certainly a lot more toughness than the aforementioned Mayo, who notoriously threw all his toys out of the pram in last year’s Tour de France when a moto cameraman filmed him suffering off the back.

Just after Mayo, you will find the name of Antoine “Twan” Mazairac who, having taken 4 Dutch amateur sprint titles, finally became world champion in 1938. He promptly crashed, the injuries leaving him in hospital for weeks and so fearful of another fall that he put a stop to his career. Ironically, he was tempted out on a bike again aged 65 to ride a ‘former champions’ exhibition race and died from injuries sustained in a crash during the race.

Just before Mayo comes Henry Mayer, who was so tough that not only did he race track and road but medalled 3 times in the world sprint championships between 1904 and 1907 and rode professional until the ripe old age of 50.

Interestingly, and rather topically, Mayer sparked a split between the German cycling union and the UCI after Mayer had been denied a rightful win in the 1910 world championships in Brussels. The Germans then organised their own world championships under separate rules in Berlin, won by the Dutchman Piet Dickentman.

So how should we judge careers of the past? Should we denounce all rides as tainted on the back of today’s changing attitudes to professional cycling? Should we stand tall and say Anquetil and Coppi were riders whose rides are now meaningless thanks to the acknowledged use of stimulants? Should we deny that Johan Museeuw’s painful and courageous comeback after smashing a leg in Paris-Roubaix was worthy of praise despite his later use of performance enhancing drugs?

No, of course not. What good would that possibly serve, other than to prove once and for all that cycling really is eating itself alive and populated by absolutists? Let us instead realise that from today the world has changed. No rider caught now deserves time or sympathy. However, destroying our past just gives even more ammunition to those who see cycling as a morally corrupt and utterly worthless sport.

It’s about time the spotlight was turned on a few other sports. It would be moral courage indeed if the media, organisers and governing bodies of sports far bigger, richer and more politically important were to delve as deeply into their darkest corners.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed a pleasant surprise with the victory of Leonardo Bertagnolli at San Sebastian and, having rushed home afterwards, still managed to have a good time at what was left of my party!

Ride safe


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