Now it feels like the Tour de France, a big rider has been caught doping. Funnily enough, we were talking this morning about how the positives that had been revealed to date (Beltran and Duenas) had been handled objectively by the press and hadn’t been over dramatized. We also noted to each other that wouldn’t be the case if a big rider went down. So it was somewhat odd timing that following this conversation, Marya (our lovely PR lady) came to the bus before the start of today’s stage and gave us a heads up that there was a rumour Ricco had gone positive. Obviously Saunier Duval were parked right next to us, as Liquigas had been the morning the Beltran news was released. So we didn’t have to wait long to see the police arriving at their bus to kill the rumour with fact.
How did we feel about this? It’s hard to go over individual feelings but the general buzz in the bus was one of good news shrouded in contempt. It was a little surreal and disheartening watching the police and dozens of media surrounding the Saunier Duval bus. But at the same time it was gratifying to see him get caught and taken away by the police. Well, I had a feeling the snake’s move on the Aspin was too good to be true. And unfortunately of late, when I have that feeling, doping is involved.
Now he’ll disappear from the world of cycling and hopefully from the dreams of any young cycling fans. Only it’s not that simple is it? Marco Pantani was Ricco’s idol. He wanted to be like him and climb like him, much of his riding style was based on him. When he would attack on the climbs, he would attack in the drops because that is what Pantani did. He wanted to win on L’Alpe d’Huez because that’s where Pantani won. He wanted to win the Giro by attacking the most, because that’s what Pantani did. He had forgotten that Pantani doped and cheated. In fact most of Italy has forgotten that I think, which is sad because his memory can serve a much more powerful purpose than that of a winning cyclist.
Maybe this will remind people that there is still a lot of work to be done in our sport. The start of this Tour seemed too good to be true, and now we know the truth. It wasn’t all true. There are still dopers out there.
But there are also heroes. Christian Vande Velde is one, Mark Cavendish is another. And there are many others, some whose names you will know and others whose names you will never hear or see but who will be on their own heroic journey through the hardest race in the world. These men, and boys, are the biggest victims of the dopers because their names are sullied simply because they are sharing the same profession and taking part in the same event. That is not fair.
And something else that is not fair: I’ve just returned to my room after doing an interview that was broadcast live across Belgium. I sat at a table next to Mark Cavendish who has just won his third Tour de France stage and fifth Grand Tour stage of the year. He is 23 years old. He is a phenomenon who is destined to reign for the next decade. This is the dawn of his career and he has never doped and never seen doping. How do I know this? Because I know Mark and I believe in him and I know where he has come from and where he is now. I trust him and I trust his team. And yet this young man who is doing everything right and is as far from the world of doping as is imaginable has to deal with all the shit kicked up by guys like Ricco. I don’t think that is fair.
And as for Christian, well in the bus this morning when we saw and heard everything going on about Ricco, he was the one person with the least to say about it. He was angry. Christian has had a long career and seen many things. He’s been one of the most relied upon team riders in the world and counted upon by some of the biggest names in cycling of this last generation. When he started his road career he was a great hope of American cycling. Injuries slowed down his progress and people forgot about Christian. He found his niche and worked harder than anybody to make sure he did what was expected of him in every race. He figured that was where his career was. Jonathan saw more, and I have seen more than anybody this last week. He is a leader and his natural habitat is at the front amongst the best in the world, racing them, not helping them. Christian is clean. I was pissed off when Christian wasn’t on the cover of an American cycling publication after wearing the maglia rosa. I thought it was disrespectful. They didn’t believe in him. Christian deserves everybody’s trust and support and belief. He has spent many years being doubted and forgotten. And who gets feted, Riccos, that’s who. So I can understand why Christian was angry. I didn’t say anything to him. I couldn’t say anything to him.
If you’re close to giving up on cycling, I can understand that. I almost did after all; but please don’t give up on us. And when I say us, I mean them. Because I am an ex-doper, I have to earn my right to be believed and trusted. But there are many who don’t. They need to be believed in. Christian is going to need every ounce of his being to pass the Alps. I believe he will do it. I hope you believe he can and will and that he is doing it with our dreams in his hands. Vive Le Tour.