In the early hours tomorrow morning, the final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins with the 76th Vuelta a España and the battle for the maillot rojo (red jersey).
The already shabby reputations of female drivers*, Holden Astras, small towns, ambulance services and Tour de France winners took another battering last week when one of the first, driving one of the second, pulled out of a provincial service station and cleaned up Bradley Wiggins.
It took the ambulance an eternity to arrive, by which time Wiggins – in severe pain due to a fractured rib, damaged wrist and dislocated finger – had “turned blue”.
With the cycling world still in shock from hearing the truth about Lance Armstrong, it was reported by police officers and several Wrightington townsfolk present at the accident scene that when Wiggins’ wife tried to hug her beloved, he told her: “Don’t, my ribs”.
A day later, Wiggins was seen leaving the hospital in a hoodie raising the middle finger of his good hand to photographers.
And this is just two months after the first mod with a Roman helmet haircut to win the Tour de France became the first cyclist to accept an award (GQ magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award) sponsored by a manufacturer of cigarettes and luxury mens handbags (Dunhill).
This is not to mention, of course, the history of doping that now hangs over the sport like a storm cloud getting darker and lower as the number of investigations get higher.
On Monday, WADA president John Fahey said: “I think what the Armstrong case tells me is, bubbling away below the surface there are still problems that could surface at any time”. That’s right John, like bribery and money laundering.
A doping investigation in northern Italy has allegedly discovered that the reigning Olympic road champion Alexandre Vinokourov bribed his way to victory in the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The Kazakh was suspended for blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France and on his return two years later said: “I love cycling. I want to come back because I didn’t want to end my career in this way”.
So it appears he preferred to end it as a briber as well as a doper.
The bank official who oversaw the 150,000 euro payment to Vinokourov’s partner in crime is apparently connected to a money laundering scheme involving Lance Armstrong’s disgraced former adviser Dr Michele Ferrari.
Our Federal Sports Minister Kate Lundy expects the former NSW Supreme Court Chief Judge given the task of investigating Cycling Australia to find more evidence of doping. After reading Robbie McEwen’s biography One Way Road I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t discover other illicit activities.
The irrepressibly nonchalant and honest McEwen makes the quite serious claim that he offered fellow Aussie sprinter Baden Cooke 50,000 euros “not to sprint any more” during the 2003 Tour.
He then states he had no intention of paying and that it was a mind game intended to distract Cooke. The “professional agreement”, as McEwen refers to it, obviously didn’t eventuate as Cooke won the green jersey in the memorable final sprint down the Champs-Elysees.
I’m sure McEwen was only playing games with the bribery offer but he says other things that will forever sully Australia’s cycling reputation, such as : “I taught myself to urinate off the bike – there’s a surprising number of riders who can’t do it”.
“I was feeling really crook, my stomach was killing me…[oh no, don’t Robbie!] … Stopping wasn’t an option (I would never have caught back on) so I took the initiative, went to the back, pulled down my shorts, hung off my bike, relaxed and… [Robbie, don’t go there!]… left the contents of my bowels on the road”.
Why Robbie, why?
“It was the hugest relief I’ve ever felt in my life”
And just as you’re digesting that information and Fahey’s “problems bubbling under the surface”, while also redefining ‘slipstream’ and ‘riding clean’ McEwen concludes with: “I had no paper so I used my cap and threw it away”.
To be picked up later by a poor unsuspecting fan avidly hunting for souvenirs along the stage route.
Apparently another of our Tour legends Brad McGee used his gloves for the same purpose. He at least had the good manners, the common decency, to stop by a bush. Still, some of these cycling fanatics will search anywhere for evidence of Tour de France participants:
Alsatian farmer’s son: “Mum, I found these gloves but can’t pull them apart. They’re really stuck together!”
Mother (hand kneading the steak tartare): “Georges, let me have a go… my, they are stubborn! Give them to your father. He’s out hand picking the grapes” (returns to her kneading).
Recently, Brad McGee has become a vocal anti-doping campaigner : “The more I think about it, the more it makes me mad as hell”.
Yes Brad, but not as mad as poor Georges when he found out La Française des Jeux gloves are red, white and blue, not chocolate brown.
He also said he can be “useful in the fight against the disease that is doping” which is ironic considering he and McEwen were so useful spreading disease (i.e. typhoid and cholera) around the French countryside.
*To all the ladies driving out there (barring the one who forced me into a gutter at 60 km/h a few years back), I’m only kidding.