Once you become a fan of professional bike racing, your year develops a pattern based around the race calendar. It shapes your moods and expectations, how focused you are at work, who you dream of being on the bike.
It starts with the early season warm-up races, maybe takes in Tour Down Under or Tour of California as you stare at yourself looking like Bibendum in the mirror and swear you should have done more miles over the winter. Then come the Spring Classics and the pretence that Britain’s numerous wheel-snapping potholes are the cobbles of Flanders and Nord-Pas-de-Calais.
Draw breath and then you dive into the Giro D’Italia, with all it’s fabulous scenery, routes that grab the attention and the tifosi running after riders like dogs chasing cars. You get the picture? Actually, my highlight this year has been the appearances of the Abominable Snowman roadside. I’m assuming it’s something to do with guerilla marketing for an ice cream brand. If not, shine on you crazy diamond.
Now somewhere between the end of the Giro in late May and Tour de France in July there’s usually an event which sets the tone for July’s three-week trek around “L’Hexagone”. It starts with the mention of investigations and top riders which read something like this tweet from Juliet Macur:
“An Austrian news agency, APA, is reporting that police have made contact with Menchov’s team as part of an ongoing doping investigation.”
Give it a couple of weeks and I’ll be contemplating the odds on Betfair and wondering who is most likely to be a non-starter and so worth laying off in the market.
Some riders will be tranquillo, as the saying goes, more in hope than expectation that this scandal doesn’t visit on their career while others will be the collateral damage and find themselves struggling to extricate themselves from damnation by association.
It’s a sad indictment of the UCI that this keeps happening and that we haven’t heard anything concrete about the Athlete Passport scheme other than “expect something soon”. The way things are looking it’s going to make The Stone Roses second album, The Second Coming, seem like a fast turnaround.
Lionel Birnie was on the money in his Wednesday Comment for Cycling Weekly when he said:
“Professional cycling is like a minefield, but for some reason the UCI seems reluctant to play the role of bomb disposal experts, preferring instead to tip-toe forwards hoping that nothing blows up in their faces. “
It’s difficult to see what pleasure a cycling fan can draw from the situation other than that of knowing the timeless quality of scandal.