It's time to celebrate the unholy hell that the French Revolution, with its cry of "liberty, equality, and fraternity" unleashed on France. Like most revolutions, it sounded great, had some convincing reasoning behind it, caused a senseless bloodbath, and moved the country from a horrible, out-of-touch dictatorship into a much more enlightened form of government, which was a really horrible, out-of-touch dictatorship. It was superior to the old absolute monarchy, however, because it had really good slogans. Like "liberty, equality, fraternity." Unfortunately, the revolution triggered roughly 150 years of electoral instability. Whooooops...
We're going to celebrate it by watching a bunch of second tier French riders duke it out with the Tour de France contenders, and we're going to eat some cheese. The cheese we're going to eat is Bethmale, among the most famous of the Pyrenees (sometimes goat) cheeses. It boggles the mind to think about "famous goat cheeses," but we're talking about France here, so maybe it isn't so mind boggling at all.
You should enjoy the cheese, and stroking your chin like a philosopher, ponder the damage that dopers cause to our sport. No, I'm not talking about the arrest and scandals, I'm talking about articles like this one by Neal Rogers, raising questions about Riccardo Ricco's excellent (but not exactly super human) effort to put 1:17 into the peloton by crushing the final climb of the day, and then descending as fast as everybody else. According to Rogers,
Riccò’s ride had fans and journalists buzzing over a display of strength that bordered on the implausible at a Tour that is desperately trying to re-establish credibility after two years of scandal.
Really? Ricardo Ricco, the diminutive climber, having a really good performance on a 15% grade mountain? Seriously, where the hell has Neal Rogers been the last two years? Ricardo Rico can't do a lot of things on a bike - yet. He's not much of a time trialer, and he's a lousy rouleur. He's one of the guys who is likely to have a lot of trouble if he gets off the back on a windy day, as happened to Christophe Moreau last year.
But Ricco can climb very, very well, and has been an off-the-front climber since he moved into roadracing from cyclocross.
But this comes as a surprise to Neal Rogers. According to rogers, the fact that Ricco "admires Pantani is troubling to some." Let's see, a diminutive Italian neo-pro who is a climbing specialist admires a dead, diminutive climbing pro who was perhaps the most beloved racer in Italy since Fausto Coppi? Oh yeah, totally suspicious. I'd give him 20 years for that. What other evidence does Rogers have of doping?
Well, "rumors of suspicion circulated throughout the Tour after French newspaper Libération reported Saturday that the Italian had been tested four times by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) since the race left Brest seven days earlier." Really? So I guess we should presume that Columbia and Garmin are doped to the frickin' gills, since they get tested *all* the time.
There's other damning evidence too. One of his support crew is a masseur who once was involved in doping. Okay, fine - everybody in pro cycling who hasn't been involved in doping, please raise your hands. Bueller? Bueller?
Okay, now that's all rumor. But Rogers goes past rumor mongerinng, and really turns the truth on its head, stating:
Riccò has a UCI certificate verifying that he has a naturally high hematocrit of 51 percent, one point higher than the UCI limit of 50 percent established at the 1997 Paris-Nice as indication, but not proof, of blood manipulation.
Okay, news flash. The UCI doesn't give certificates indicating that your blood has been manipulated. It gives certificates to riders who have unusual physical characteristics. It isn't unusual for pro-level riders to have a hematocrit over 50. 50 happens to be the magic number, above which riders are automatically suspended for two weeks for doping until an investigation may be completed. The problem is, there are people who have a natural hematocrit at or above 50. (Full disclosure: now that I actually pay attention when I get phsyicals and stuff, I've found that my natural hematocrit varies between 48 and 49 - if I trained a bit better, riding at altitude a bit - I'd be a doper in Rogers' book too.) Just because Ricco has this certificate does not mean he's a doper, or under suspicion of doping. It just means that he was able to substantiate the fact that he has naturally high hematocrit. Finding a pro rider with naturally high hematocrit is about as unusual as finding NBA players who are 6'10" - yeah, they're gifted, but there's no trickery involved.
As the final nail in the coffin, that last bit of 'proof' Ricco is doping, Rogers tells us that:
Riccò also finds himself repeatedly under the microscope due to his inclination towards unabashed trash talking. . .
What the hell? So a guy chews out the peloton for riding too much "piano," he should be under suspicion for doping?
If this is what passes for a story at Velo News today, they should change their name to something more apt, like the Velo Enquirerer, or perhaps the Weekly World Velo News. There's nothing wrong with anti-doping, you all know I'm strongly in favor of it, and there is nothing wrong with investigative reporting, but to report a collection of rumors that stop just short of alleging a leading young pro talent is doping, is pretty shameful. Doing it the way Rogers does, not with direct accusations but reporting rumors and attributing them to unidentified sources, is particularly gutless. That he tapdances just on this side of libel doesn't really make it any more noble.