Unhealthy connections

Tour de France 2015 – First Rest Day 

I had planned to write a short(ish) post ahead of the second full week of this year’s Tour on the speculation (confirmed by the rider himself yesterday) that Richie Porte would leave Team Sky at the end of the season. Ivan Basso opening the Tinkoff press conference with the news that he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer pushed possible Porte moves off the metaphorical VCSE ‘front page’.

Ivan Basso
Ivan Basso

Getting the Basso announcement more or less hot off the press on my timeline I was disconcerted by my own (initial) reluctance to ‘say’ something on my own feeds. My immediate reaction, born out of my closest family having suffered was empathetic. No one deserves to suffer with this disease. Then I started to wonder. Basso is a rider with a ‘past’, part of the generation of pro cyclists that ‘competed’ when the doping arms race was at it’s height. How long would it be before people started to join the dots between today’s news; Basso; cancer and Lance. Having seen the very dignified way that he handled the press conference I’m glad that I didn’t think for too long about putting out my own (very small) message of support for Ivan Basso.

The dots have been joined however. It’s perhaps only been 5% of the commentary, but it’s out there. If Lance’s cancer was caused by doping then could the same be true for Basso? The aptly named ‘Tin Foil Hat’ brigade thought that this was the story today. There has been a LOT written about Lance, his cancer and his doping. There has been a lot written about whether or not the former was brought about by the latter. I don’t think I have actually read anything conclusive in the many iterations of the Lance Armstrong morality tales that litter my bookshelf.

I am something of a contrarian about doping. As much as I support a ban for anyone caught using PED’s I would equally advocate that it’s possible for a rider to return to the sport following said ban. I am more exercised by the misuse of TUE’s (an ongoing issue in the peloton) that I am about a confessed (and one hopes ex) doper riding and racing. Ivan Basso might represent the worst of pro cycling as someone who doped but there is (for me at least) much to be said for his subsequent repentance. Some might argue that he shouldn’t have been given the chance of a couple more years ‘in the sun’ with Tinkoff. Today’s news may bring about retirement sooner than expected but I hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of Ivan Basso on his bike.

Forza Ivan! 

Meanwhile the circus went on. How many motorhomes can Sky bring to a race where they are supposedly ‘banned’? Inevitably people want a Sky ‘story’, something to enhance the narrative of Chris Froome back in the race lead. Froome negotiated the trickier aspects of the first week thanks to the attentive stewardship of Geraint Thomas who has benefited from his proximity to his leader with a top ten GC spot. Froome has gone further than mere survival though. For all that two of his rivals; Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali have lost time through misfortune Froome has looked the strongest of the ‘big four’ (as they should be known apparently).

Nibali seems less tranquilo than normal and must be trying to pull the biggest feint of the race as it looks as if he is down on power. The Astana team backing Nibali have so far managed to avoid any comparisons to the front of the race pacemakers that tore the Giro peloton to shreds. So far it’s looking like Nibali’s least convincing grand tour appearance since winning the Giro in 2013.

Quintana took time out of Alberto Contador on Sunday in the TTT. He’s still some distance behind but Movistar could use Alejandro Valverde in the same way that Quintana himself was deployed in the 2013 Tour to attack the race in the Pyrenees to Quintana’s advantage. Contador has quietly got on with things and is in close proximity to Froome as the race enters the mountains. If Contador is going to make a move I suspect it will be in the final week though when the peloton reaches the Alps.

Tejay Van Garderen is currently sitting in second spot and if he can remain there it will be objective completed for the BMC team leader. I think BMC lack the strength in depth to ride the other GC teams off their wheels in the mountains and Van Garderen won’t be able to match the attacks that the favourites can deploy. He’s more diesel like, perhaps in the Wiggins mould of 2012. Whether or not this is enough to hold onto a podium place remains to be seen.

BMC already have a talented Aussie TT rider who’s capable of winning week long stage races in Rohan Dennis so why would they want to sign Richie Porte? Porte to BMC has been the biggest of the transfer rumours in the first week. Porte has pretty much confirmed that he’s leaving Sky but the question is where to. BMC just don’t seem like a good fit for the rider and he could find himself equally frustrated at Etixx if he’s recruited as a replacement for Rigoberto Uran. For me the best option for Porte would be Orica. He could mentor the Yates twins and help the team become more of a force on GC in the grand tours. When you look at the talent within the team it’s the obvious area to develop. If the move is really about GC ambitions then Orica is the logical choice.

This year’s race is shaping up nicely and the first week hasn’t disappointed. I haven’t met anyone who dislikes a Tony Martin stage win (especially when it doesn’t involve his TT bike) and he was a popular if short lived yellow jersey. Andre Griepel has been a bit of a revelation in the sprints (no one expected two wins did they?)  and Mark Cavendish finally got a stage win.

Onwards to Paris via the mountains. See you on the other side!

 Feature image by Gilbert Sopakuwa via Flickr

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