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Lee’s Lowdown: Strade Bianche Thoughts!
This week Lee Rodgers runs his eye over the week-end happenings on and off the road. First the action on the 'White Roads' that lead Lee onto the black road of the CIRC report and the dark cloud hanging over the heads of two of Saturday's podium in Siena.



Saturday’s Strade Bianche made history in the Rodgers’ household in that it was the first race that my girlfriend ever watched from start to finish. She wasn’t interested in the race itself, not at all, but she was transfixed by the beauty of the Tuscan countryside, and indeed the setting of the Strade has become one of the stars of the event in its own right.

I was over in the region last year for two weeks and based in Florence, and rode many of the white roads that have made this young race such a welcome addition to the classics circuit, something no other event has really managed to do since the last of the old traditionals were established in the 1940s.

The old roads are far more treacherous than they look on the TV and even with an MTB there’s a lot of slipping and a sliding. In the wet the roads become lethal but in the dry, as it was on Saturday, the problem becomes the dust, getting in the eyes, coating the lips and getting in the throat – you may have noticed several riders drinking more often than usual as a result of this in the race.

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The race was, in large, generally unremarkable this year as far as the action was concerned, unlike the previous edition which saw a battle royale between Sagan and Kwiatkowski towards the end.

The 2015 version will go down as the race Zdenek Stybar finally won. The Czech rider has been getting painfully close to winning a big race several times but bad luck and some poor decision-making have cost him. Finally though he came good on the road.

I don’t know about anyone else out there but as Stybar, Greg Van Avermaet and Alejandro Valverde made their way up that beautiful little climb in the town of Siena, there was only one man I was cheering for.

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Alejandro Valverde? No. Why? The Spaniard originally dodged a doping suspension in 2007 when he was linked to Operacion Puerto by documentary and DNA evidence, as a result of which he was banned by the UCI but then cleared to race by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

He finally got busted and served a two year suspension from May 2010, for the matched DNA samples from Puerto when he ventured, foolishly I am sure he now feels, into Italy during the 2008 Tour de France, where the Italian Olympic Committee nabbed him.

In between 2008 and 2010, Valverde used his lawyers to squirm and dodge a suspension and rode on, winning a bunch of stuff in 2009 (the results of which still stand) and until May 2010 (the results of which, from Jan 1st, had to be annulled).

Was Valverde ever repentant? No. After his suspension he was listed as a rider still on the Movistar website with a caption next to him claiming he had been unfairly suspended.

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So perhaps I was cheering Greg Van Avermaet?

Also a no. Why? The BMC rider has been requested to appear before a Belgian disciplinary hearing to explain his like to Dr. Mertens, a controversial figure under investigation for alleged blood doping of several Belgian riders, including Tom Meeusen, the cyclocross rider suspected of taking injections of Vaminolact.

BMC allowed Van Avermaet to race on Saturday and also confirmed that he will race Tirreno Adriatico, missing the March 13 hearing in Belgian that he was set to appear at to explain himself.

The arrogance of that decision is enough to leave even the hardened cycling fan flabbergasted.

BMC released this statement about the matter: “The Team is aware that Van Avermaet was treated by Dr. Mertens, but is unaware of any treatments that would be in violation of any rules. Based on the information available to the team at the present time, no decision has been made to remove Van Avermaet from active status.”

Which is interesting, because the same team said the same thing about Alessandro Ballan, who was finally suspended for doping after riding on and figuring prominently in several races despite the very serious allegations hanging over his head.

‘So what?’ some of you may be thinking. ‘Valverde served his time, Van Avermaet, nothing has been proven.”

Strade Bianche  men elite 2015

Valverde should be out of the sport as he doped and denied it, he is as unrepentant as you can possibly get and dragged us along on a ride with his lawyers that made a mockery of the sport. There was no change in him, no acceptance of the damage he did, nothing.

Van Avermaet? His is a little different and yet very much the same. Yes, he has not been found guilty, but he is guilty, as is his team, of dragging this already murky sport further through the depths by allowing a rider tainted by doping allegation to ride.

This is evidence of a massive disrespect and an alarming lack of concern for both the fans and cycling itself. Like Alberto Contador and Valverde, he is riding on despite these allegations, meaning that if, like the two Spaniards, he is found guilty in the end, not only will his results be void but he will have been culpable of affecting the outcome of some races, despite being aided by the use of banned substances or practices.

And if he is clean? I truly hope he is but this is the point – if you love cycling and if you have any grasp whatsoever of the current situation the sport is in (CIRC, anyone?), then you should do the right thing and bench yourself till the case is resolved, if your team is too selfish to do it and if the UCI too toothless.

Show us the love. Don’t leave us with blanks in the history books, nor leave race organisers (who should also have the cojones to turn down riders under investigation) chasing prize money they will never fully recover.

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And so, on Saturday, as cycling’s reputation itself heaved and wheezed up that little hill at the end of the race I was cheering on Stybar. As soon as he crossed the line, however, I went flat.

Because, well, who really knows these days?

Some ‘top pros’ in the CIRC report say 25% to 90% are doping. A huge disparity yes, but if it is even just 25% - that means 50 riders at the Tour and about 35 at Strade Bianche were juiced.

Who were the 50? Any ideas?

And so, the moral of this story?

Simple: The king is dead, long live the king.




Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.

 

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