The Giro 2011: It’s all about Alberto Contador, except when it isn’t

Alberto Contador wins the GiroContador has been the dominant force in the race for the Maglia Rosa in the Giro d’Italia 2011, no doubt about it. But comparing it to all the other Grand Tours he has won reveals a more interesting story.

Take the time gap between first (Contador) to tenth in each case:

For the Giro d’Italia 2011: Kanstantsin Sivtsov at 14’01”

This win pitches itself at the higher end of the spectrum, but it still suggest a lead group of contenders for whom a few seconds here, a minute there, become a significant margin over a three-week race.

Looking at individual riders on different courses isn’t perfect given the variables, but it throws up a couple of interesting examples:

  • Vincenzo Nibali is 40 seconds or so closer to Contador than he was in 2009 at the Tour de France, where he finished seventh, 7’35” down.
  • Joaquim Rodriguez came in at 11’05”, 32 seconds closer than at the Tour de France 2010.

This isn’t about Contador it’s about cycling

The apparent delay in his CAS hearing means he could still ride the Tour de France, an event which almost all the top Grand Tour riders have put at the top of their season’s goals, largely on the basis of his presumed absence.

How else can you explain Leopard-Trek’s decision to send neither Andy nor Frank Schleck to a climber-friendly route that either of them should have been a serious contender for? Or Ivan Basso’s decision to not defend the Maglia Rosa?

We all read the “it’s too tough if you’re aiming at the Tour” rhetoric from various riders. A race is as tough as you make it. Contador put four minutes into Andy Schleck at the TDF 2009 and that was a pretty benign route.

Simon Richardson of Cycling Weekly has come out strongly declaring the result a farce, to the predictable white noise of internet polarisation.

Strangely, there was not half as much fuss when Owen Slot of The Times said the same before the race even began:

“… for all that it is supposed to be about history, the true genre of this race is farce.” (£)

His view supported by Bradley Wiggins who points out that, under the rules of strict liability and the Wada code, “it is clear-cut, he shouldn’t be in the sport.”

This is a journalist whose beat covers both Fifa and the IOC. I’m pretty sure he knows what a farce looks like.

Perhaps Bonnie D Ford of ESPN – another journo who has stared sporting farce in the face and managed not to laugh – summed up best the parlous state that we find ourselves in when she said before the race

“In a world that spun as perfectly as a newly trued bike wheel, Contador wouldn’t be starting. But he can and will because the anti-doping sanctioning system broke down at one of its weakest points.”

Juliet Macur of the New York Times gave the following reaction to the news of delays to the CAS hearing, which appeared as Wee Bert was knocking seven bells out of the opposition and the credibility of the UCI:

“Could Alberto Contador, who tested positive for a banned drug at ’10 Tour, be riding in the Tour in July? Maybe so. What a mess for cycling.”

And that is what it is: a mess for cycling.

Contador has his part to play in it all, but – if he truly believes his innocence – what else is he to do but fight his corner with teeth bared and a resolution not to quit in the face of opposition?

Where were the UCI in resolving the matter in a timely fashion? They managed to tell the world before they told Floyd Landis he was to forfeit the Tour in 2006. Yet, they hadn’t uttered a peep about Contador’s positive until their hand was forced.

Where were the national federation RFEC, the body who had the right to sanction him, under a Wada code which they are effectively signatory to? They sold mitigation like a dummy to a blind man and sent it back the way of the UCI.

And that’s the problem: the fact Alberto Contador is still riding is not his fault. You cannot blame the defence for the prosecution’s abject failure to deliver a fair and just sentence.

So no, I won’t be damning Wee Bert for turning up and riding in a ridiculous fashion, a crushing display against an opposition a couple of contenders light of a proper contest. He will still have to face an appeal at some point and the possibility of actual sanction.

But it is hard not to damn the authorities whose refusal to act as they were obliged to and do so in the interest of the sport.

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