Before I begin my assessment of the Lance Armstrong debacle some context is necessary as a preface. I am a fan of Cycling and have been for at least a decade. However this year’s Tour De France was the first year I genuinely felt it was clean. Slower average speeds, lots of the protagonists cracking and on a more regular basis illustrated the point. It wasn’t just because there was a British 1-2 and I now feel cycling is suddenly clean, but there is a scientific argument to suggest cycling is cleaner now than ever (in the last decade). Despite watching the tour every year and enjoying it, there was always suspicion and a feeling, that any one of the men could have been on drugs, yet still I enjoyed it. In hindsight this seems wrong and a bit weird, however the viewers and supporters want stories of brave Thomas Voeckler and the heroic assents of Pantani and Virenque, as well as duels between Schleck and Contandor and the resurrection of a man with Cancer, but at what price? This article examines the ‘acceptance’ of drug taking in Cycling and analyses if there is a case for it, ultimately the conclusion is unequivocal; Taking drugs is cheating and if you cheat, there is no place for you in professional sport.
Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace is not only the biggest decline of a sportsman professionally but also a catastrophic and sad deterioration of a reputation that duped millions of people worldwide. Yellow bands, books, Livestrong products, Discovery Channel and US Postal service bikes and equipment all built upon a reputation of an honest, cancer survivor who propelled himself to worldwide stardom with a rags to riches story of the highest order. It wasn’t the first time a Texan duped a nation but unlike George W Bush, he was likeable and inspirational. The admission of cheating not only takes away from all his achievements but raises important issues about the efficacy of Cycling as a professional sport. It is a phenomenally popular sport in the UK for example. The velodrome sold out before nearly all other Olympic events and 3 of the past 5 Sports personalities have been Cyclists! The market is there, but the sport has to be clean, really clean (that isn’t judged by a lack of positive tests) for it to be valued again. Put simply, Ben Johnson is widely remembered for cheating. He was lambasted and embarrassed for far smaller crimes than Armstrong. His reputation is in tatters and will never recover. The Armstrong scandal is Everest to Johnson’s Snowdon in comparison.
The difference between Wiggins and Armstrong
There are many differences, one has won a Tour De France for Example. People refer to Wiggins as someone who just tells it like it is…honest. That is a far cry from Armstrong who has lied and cheating as a norm for the past decade and for the first time I do genuinely believe a cyclist. Can you imagine the fall out if Wiggins was on drugs? The memories and enjoyment wasted on ‘just another cycling cheat’. He isn’t I am sure of it, but my judgement for what it is worth is based on the same media interviews and behind the scenes footage Lance Armstrong’s success was based on. There is for me however one big difference and that is the schedule, something for which for me was the biggest pointer towards Armstrong’s cheating. A normal sportsman trains for a season, tapering their training to ensure they are at their peak for the biggest event i.e the Olympics, the Tour De France, even horse racing at Cheltenham. Wiggins has his warm weather training in the Canaries, enters in and last year won all of the main stage based prep races; Paris-Nice, Cirterium Dauphine and Tour De Romandie. His training plan incorporated these big races and including the Olympics Wiggins showed his strength all year consistently being tested after each stage. In contrast these were not races that Armstrong took part in – he never won any of them despite these being the best pointers towards who is in the best shape and likely to be high up on GC in the tour. Why? His answer to Oprah was that it was easy to take drugs because out of competition he was never tested. And easy it was, train all year on drugs building up your fitness, never enter the prep races citing that you are gaining an advantage by practicing on the Tour route instead. People called him “clever”. Prep yourself on the main mountains on the tour route so you know what to expect when the race comes around, a step ahead of the game. But alarm bells would ring if Rory Mcllroy said I am not playing in any prep tournaments because I am just playing Augusta this year to ensure I win the Masters! It would appear ludicrous and a bit weird. They are different I accept but either way Armstrongs absence from the regular season of Cycling to then show up and scoop the main prize in France every year in my eyes is what sets Wiggins and Armstrong apart.
It’s not about the bike, its about the drugs
I personally don’t care how sophisticated and extensive the drug scam was. It happened and he cheated. The 80’s was a bad time for drugs in cycling and Paul Kimmage author of the excellent ‘Rough Ride’ has always been one of Armstrong’s avid opponents. Again he was right, the sport he loved still wasn’t clean. But how about this argument ‘well everyone is on it so it is a level playing field’. Firstly it isn’t level unless every single cyclist is cheating, which they weren’t. ’ I did what I had to do to win the tour’. Not acceptable, if you cheat you take away someone else’s glory. Even if that is the person who finished in 20th place. I bet there are some Tour De France’s over the past 15 years where the real winner was placed around 40th – as they didn’t cheat. They are the real winner and subsequently deserve the accolade. Lifetime bans should be enforced, no remorseful sorry and I have changed, people deserve a second chance. Prevention is better than cure. Make the punishment harsh enough that people won’t contemplate cheating. However if it is a level playing field and they are all cheating then similarities can be drawn with formula 1. They all have a car, they have a team with mechanics and engineers. Yet some cars go faster than others. The ones with most money have the best engineers and technology and subsequently out perform the others. Drivers are important but not imperative. Cycling over the past 15 years and in particular in the Armstrong era allowed teams with a lot of money and resources dominate the sport, with Armstrong as a figurehead. Sure his ability was needed for ultimate success just like Vettel’s is in F1 but how different is the comparison? Saying Competitive cycle is uncompetive because of drugs opens up the F1 debate because 75% of the cars that start the race can’t physically win it! I personally don’t accept the idea that being the best cheat is still worthy of recognition and for me sport ceases to become sport when the outcome is so severely tainted by external factors. Football is edging that way with the financial gulf between major clubs and smaller ones however is not in the mire cycling faces. Cycling is a test of stamina, endurance and tactics. Once you take drugs you are a cheat and your professionalism is gone. Armstrong will never get that back.
Whilst there are counter arguments, mainly by cycling fans who aren’t too keen on erasing the fond memories Lance Armstrong brought to their lives sadly this situation is black and white. The UCI has a huge job on its hands to rebrand the sport as one which isn’t exclusive to doping cheats. I dare say had charismatic Bradley Wiggins not emerged the sport would be in even bigger turmoil, certainly in England. The next few years will probably be the making or breaking of one of the world’s most gruelling sports and the UCI need to ensure people aren’t talking about 3 letter words like EPO well unless it’s MOD.
I was thrilled when Ascot prized Champions day from the reluctant grasp of the more historic but less impressive Newmarket. In an attempt to rebrand the sport and attract more prize money (which is widely accepted as very poor in England) a Qipco sponsored champions series was conjured up as a way of finding definitive “champions over the range of distances. Last year the day was a success and for the second year in a row the “Freak” Frankel returns to a sell out crowd for his swansong in competitive action. Lets preview the catergories.
Sprint – So far there have been 6 races and all have gone to different raiders from around the globe. Bated Breath and Mayson from Britain, Little Bridge from Hong Kong and from Australia Black Caviar and Ortensia. With no real champion identified only one of the winners of a champions series race is back at Ascot and that’s Society Rock. He is in great form and as I identified last week was a great price at 5/1. That has been slashed since to 3/1 and I am happy with all his credentials to land this season finale. No matter how hard I looked through the field, apart from Wizz Kid there seems very few others you can make a case for to defeat Society Rock. The ground is likely to be heavy but Society Rock won the Diamond Jubilee over course and distance on soft so is unlikely to be troubled. There is 1 potential bana skin though who warrants each way support. Restiadargent was very disappointing last time out when a beaten favourite but his run over course and distance where he was beaten just half a length by an albeit easing Black Caviar in the Diamond Jubilee is enough to take note. On that day she had Society Rock the selection behind her – possibly due to the poor start he got, so at current odds of 14/1 looks overpriced. That bare form over course and distance alone would win this race and if the ground comes out really soft on Saturday she is one of the few who will definitely love it. The revers forecast with Society Rock isn’t a crazy idea either.
Mile - Funnily enough the best miler is running at Ascot on Saturday however isn’t running in this race on Saturday. In fact I would love – in a hypothetical world obviously, to see how many races on Ascots card Frankel could win of put forward. Not back to back of course but my guess would be 4 with the long distance cup probably out of his reach and the Fillies and Mares not viable for obvious reasons. The 6 furlongs might be a bit stiff for him so that is the one doubt but his sectionals are rapido so I wouldn’t rule it out. The mile race is probably going to head to Frnakel’s favourite bridesmaid and the happiest horse to hear of Franke’s graduation to 10 furlongs Excellebration though on difficult ground there could be each way value in Most Improved. He is a little bit shit or Champagne as he often travels poorly and runs a bit green but he was all class when scooping the St James Palace at Royal Ascot and if I told you that day he would 20/1 for the QEII over course and distance you would have thought I was bonkers. But 20/1 he is so fill your boots.
Middle Distance – Frankel stands head and shoulders over the racing world at the moment and whilst I think he will win, though that tip is no great shakes I wouldn’t be lumping £5,000 to win £1,000. So far he has looked bombproof and if he runs his race he will win, even though Cirrus Des Aigles is probably the best horse in training to give him a run over this trip in my opinion. I think Nathaniel will also love the ground but won’t be posting an alternative to ruin the Frankel party, I just wish he had ran in the Arc, he would have hacked up.
Filies and Mares – Another range of winners in this catergory with very few back for the showpiece event. Dancing Rain interstingly returns to a British racetrack 12 months after her last race and victory in this race at Champions dat. She likes to front run and on the heavy ground could be difficult to peg back and with Great Heavens having a hold over all these horses and loving the soft ground it is difficult to make a case against her and she still looks a decent price at 5/2 providing the Arc has taken too much out of her.
Stayers - The Stayers race is literally wide open and is a very interesting contest. Opinion Poll, Fame and Glory, Colour Vision, and Saddlers Rock have all got the better of each other at different times and it is difficult to work out which way this will go. One thing is for sure none of those four have any sort of form on Soft or indeed heavy ground. Their days have been in the sun of Royal Ascot and I just wonder if the course which is currently soft but heavy in areas like Swinley Bottom could turn the race into a slog. This will suit the National Hunt chaps like Kasbah Bliss and more notably Rite of Passage. Off the track for over a year this horse has won a gold cup at Ascot and loves soft ground. His trainer is either a genius or mad to put him in this after such a break and if that hasn’t put you off a measly 10/1 might do. So lets plump for a horse who I grant you is not the classiest horse in the field but has a course and distance win, absolutely loves heavy ground and 4 of his last 5 races have been won on soft or heavy going. Step forward Il de Re at 16/1 and take a bow son because he may be no superstar but on a cold wet October Saturday he might just spring a surprise.
In the other racer on the card I really like the chances of William Haggas’ Well Painted. Improving sort with form in the bank and acts on soft ground to boot. Has Adam Beschizza one of the better apprentices on board, there is no market show but that is wehre my money will be going
It’s Arc day in Paris and that means Europe’s flagship flat race, There are many reasons why the Arc is considered the biggest race. Firstly because raiders from all over Europe come to try and win it. Last year a German horse, Danedream won it and overt the past decade trainers from Ireland, England and France have won this prestigious race. Secondly because middle distance races – 1m 4f is considered ideal for breeding therefore a champion with an Arc win under their belt will increase their stud value immeasurably. Thirdly and most importantly it pits the best against the best. throughout the year trainers plot their horses route from race to race and if all goes well it will always culminate with a crack at the Arc. It sees the Classic 3 year old generation who obviously target the French, German, Italian, Irish and English Oaks and Derby (these races are for 3 year olds only) finally try their might against the best of the older generation in Europe.
3 year olds have a very good record in this race however my ante post selections were both older horses, Nathaniel (25-1) and Snow Fairy (20-1). Both looked primed for a huge run and their prices were significantly shorter before both had to pull out with injury. Add to that the withdrawal of Danedream , last years winner and the contest suddenly looks a much weaker event. I was totally against Camelot a week ago but with those 3 big withdrawals he looks all the more appealing back at 12 furlongs and with a good draw. Ofevre the favourite has a stinker of a draw and it is well known that double figure draws are a huge hinderance in this race – which is a shame. With Ofevre being drawn out in the car park Great Heavens Nathaniels’ sister gets to take her chance from stall 7. I like her draw and the fact she is a winner and if she is anything like her brother she will love the soft ground. However at 7/1 she is a little too short given she hasn’t raced horses anywhere near the quality of Camelot and St Nicholas Abbey so far. St Nicholas Abbey is an interesting one and has been steadily backed but I’m not sure the ground will be ideal. His highly impressive Coronation win was on lightening fast ground and he likes to swoop late which may not be the tactic on sticky , heavy ground. We are going to need a battler to win this (which is why I’m gutted Nathaniel isn’t running, the race looks perfect for him to win) .
Saonois at 10-1 is my selection. He was very impressive in his Prix Niel win and was duly supplemented. He has a good turn of foot which may leave a couple of these with a few lengths to find and he has a plum draw in stall 2. Stalk the ballydoyle pace makers and ht for home with about 3 to go and hope they don’t catch him. Sea Moon will love the ground but also looks to have a poor draw so at a price have little each way on Mikhail Glinka at 100-1. He has won group races in Germany and his form is modest at best, however of the ground is bottomless then there may be a big surprise lurking.
The supporting card is excellent and I suspect Mayson’s form in the July cup is just what is required to win the Abbaye. It is noted that he is not as effective over 5 furlongs but I have seen him win on heavy over 5 and would be surprised if he doesn’t make the frame. At 5-1 is an excellent price. At larger odds Roger Varian’s Beyond Desire at 33-1 deserves some each way support. He is one who won’t mind the ground and should relish a tough test over 5.
Of the others I was very taken by the way Purr Along rallied against Certify in her last start and a repeat of that form should see her take the Boussac the group 1 fillies race for 2 year olds. I also am a big fan of Olympic Glory in the other 2 year old group 1. They are 7/2 and 2/1 respectively and putting them in a cheeky double wouldn’t be the stupidest thing you have ever done.
Izzi Top is another great favourite of mine, she is such a battler and will take some beating today however I think Ridasiyna at 14/1 could spring a surprise and produce a return to the impressive for shown earlier in the year. A reverse forecast and a little each way on Ridasiyna is the play in this race.
At Ayr this weekend there is a plethora of huge field handicaps to get our teeth stuck into with the Bronze, Silver and Gold Cup (the showpiece event). There are lots of things to consider when trying to negotiate the minefield of horses and for me the most important factor is the going. Ayr was cancelled on Thursday and had an inspection on Friday fue to the very heavy ground so going is going to be tough. A far cry from the good to firm ground at Doncaster last weekend. For that reason I am siding with Mirza and Alben Star in the Gold Cup. Mirza’s form is a bit inconsistent and inevitably for a 25/1 shot there are some frailties however the bulk of his good form has come on soft ground. Recently tried in group company after two wins at this level in a row he is notably down in class and I think his price is too big. Alben Star is pretty unexposed and is also a value each way option at 20/1. He won on soft ground at Haydock over this trip and is also worth keeping on side with a saver
In the Bronze cup it seems ludicrous not to back the stalwart Cheveton. Read More…
What a summer; what a spectacle the Olympics were, what an inspiration by the Paralympians, what an achievement in the Tour De France by Wiggins and at Flushing meadows by Murray…but what a difference a year makes.
Rewind to the summer of 2011 and Britain was in anarchy, chaos and social disorder. A far cry from the unity, respect and excellence illustrated throughout every facet of British life in 2012. One thing this blog isn’t is political, I wouldn’t give those numpties a columnn inch but this year’s summer Olympics as been a phenomenal political tool for David Cameron and the tories. Though lest we forget it was the foresight and gutsy call of the Labour government who won the Olympic bid in the first place. Therefore we cannot read anything poilitical into the Olympic success. Moreover it is because of the absence of politicians in the planning, organising and running of the greatest show on earth that it was just that. The Olympics got things very right and London and Britain got it very right. However this is the the same government, the same society, the same city, the same country that was responsible for the most anti social week of behaviour in my lifetime.
Looting, arson, assault and murder were just some of the charges against some 3,000 people who were arrested. London witnessed over 20,000 emergency calls, five people were killed and over £200 million pounds worth of damage was done. The statistics show on average every person arrested had 15 previous offences. 75% of them had a previous conviction and most worryingly 1 in 20 people had over 50 previous convctions!! – This was “BROKEN BRITAIN”
Fast forward a year and our society and culture is being universally celebrated as a triumph. I suppose the logical conclusion is that we are doing one thing very well – Producing amazing athletes for the worlds biggest sports event. Whilst on the flip of the coin we are doing one thing very wrong – Dealing with the scumbags tha are a durge on our society over several generations. They are unambitious and often unconscious to the damage they inflict on themselves and their families let alone on our taxes (shit I got a bit policital)
Ultimately though we are getting something right and boy are we getting sport right. Except from football who are like the spoilt kid at school. All the popularity but unwilling to listen and learn on anyone elses terms but their own. Football emerged from the Olympics as the spoilt brat of British sport and if it were managed in the precise way that for example cycling is run then maybe we would get somewhere. Admitedly we are comparing apples and oranges but the ruthless dedication and focus required in certain Olympic disciplines is contradicted by a toothless and spineless FA too afraid of upsetting people.
Getting the games in London so right relied on lots of things but mostly the quality of the competitors. UK sport and other bodies such as the Youth Sport Trust have been a quintessential example of how to do things properly and I chuckled to myself when it was suggested politicians could learn from these types of organisations. It wouldn’t be possible because these bodies aren’t lazy and self centreed like politicans (I speak broadly) they are winners. Look for example at the level of improvement they have eeked out of the sportsmen and women from this country. NB. Regretably the following section does not contain statistics about the Paralympics. This is not a snub but really a tip of the cap. The Paralympic statistics historically are tainted by a lack of competition and confusion over comparing classes. This years paralympics was more competitive than ever and subsequently the reason why they so definitely gripped the nation
Year Host Pos. Gold Silver Bronze Total GB GB Pos. MT
1988 4th 5 10 8 23 12th
1992 6th 5 3 12 20 13th
1996 1st 1 8 6 15 36th
2000 4th 11 10 7 28 10th
2004 15th 9 9 13 31 10th
2008 1st 19 13 15 47 4th
2012 3rd 29 17 19 65 3rd
The above table illustrates several things; The Position of the host nation at the Olympics in the Medal Table. Britain’s tally of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals (as well as their total) and where they finished in the medal table.
To me it draws the following conclusions:
1) Countries overperform when hosting the Olympics. This is neither a ground breaking concept or a revolutionary notion but it is still true. Only Greece slipped outside the top 6 in the medal table over the past 7 Olympic hosts. Countries like Britain, South Korea, Australia and China achieved their best ever Olympics as hosts. As I’m sure is the case with many other countries.
2)In 1996 we only achieved 1 gold medal (Thats why we love Steve Redgrave!) In fact if you add up the golds of 88, 92, 96 , 2000 and 2004 you come to just 3 more golds than we won this year!! This is frightening. Suffice to say sport wasn’t as well organised, run and more importantly funded for example in 1996 as it is today.
3) Now I am no devout socialist but to me the watershed period where sports seems to be taken more seriously in the political domain was post 1997 – Tony Blair and his Labour government spring on the scene. Blair was a keen sportsman and a canny guy, he knew sport was a great way to “bring the country together” illustrate success internationally and “inspire a generation” (heard that somewhere?) Whatever spin or buzz word you use Labour pumped money into sport and it is evident that in their first Olympics in power we achieved 10 more golds, an impressive rise. This further illustrates that a lot of sport is about funding and we are very lucky in this country to be able to put so much money into sport.
The irony of it all is that the Lottery (something which the aforementioned looters and offenders pin their future plans on) enables these athletes to remain in training. Despite the tongue in cheek nature of a societies peak of sporting success being catalysed by the same people who drain our taxes on benefits, police and prison costs it does bring me back to a serious point. When the euphoria dies down and the social barocca is drunk to cure the hangover of the most amazing summer of sport I can remember, the problem of anti social behaviour remains…An Olympic wallpaper over the cracks of British society isn’t enough to cure “Broken Britain”. The sooner we learn from the sporting model of success and try to foster a winning mentality (which incidentally is different to a public school mentality) the better because the longer we continue to allow scandals in areas as important as Education like the one this summer the worse off this country will be. I am an optimist and am not looking to tip sour water onto our brightly burning bonfire but the fact remains if I was building an idiot I would be asking Michael Gove if I could borrow his brain; and if Cameron surrounds himself with dunces like Gove then he’s more foolish than I give him credit for.
Lets remember why Britain is great…One thing is for sure it isn’t because of our politicians.
Footnote – That might not include Boris Johnson, his comment at the parade about “not just inspiring a generation but creating a new generation on the sofas of our nation” was gold-dust. Huzzah.
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Fast ground is the key to today’s horse racing action and I have a trio of bets advised from 3 different tracks
1) Bated Breath goes in search of his first group 1 at hay dock in the sprint cup. All the 4/1 has gone and with Manson pulling out yesterday 7/2 looks inviting enough if he reproduces last years effort
2) Snow fairy is given the vote to topple nathaniel at leopardstown in the Irish champion today. She is only about 2/1 but I would also advise an ante post punt on her for the arc as she is amazingly still about 20′s
3) primeval represents a trainer in james fanshawe who is an expert in big runner handicaps. Back on firm ground and 7 furlongs 9/1 is too big
1pt patent bated breath, snow fairy and primeval
Bradley Wiggins has had to make lots of difficult decisions in his career. Not least the decision to sacrifice more medals at London 2012 for a successful tilt at the 2012 Tour De France. Does this mean he considers Cyclings premier Road race the pinnacle of his profession or is it simply a case of attempting to reach greatness by illustrating success in a variety of facets. In Horse Racing it is argued with Frankel, the wonder horse of a generation, that he will not reach super status until he races out of his comfort zone further than a mile. The motives for sportspeople are all different; pride, money, fame, enjoyment and history I suspect all play a part however is the Olympics everyone’s sporting pinnacle?
Cycling is a tricky sport to gauge. Riders like Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas have targeted the TDF in previous years but clearly this year have prioritised the 2012 London Olympic Games. So much so that Thomas isn’t even in the tour and is preparing for medals at the Olympics. It is an obvious comment to state that the Olympics isn’t the pinnacle for all sportspeople however if that is the case then are we devalueing the games by their inclusion or in contrast is the IOC showing foreshight and flexibility by allowing the Olympic games to keep in touch with modern culture?
If it isn’t conclusive for Cycling it is like saying the grass is green to describe the Olympics as an Athletes Zenith. As probably the flagship event at a modern Olympic games it is again obvious to conclude that all athletes aspire to win that event more than any other. So why include sports where this isn’t the case? Of the 26 sports at this years Summer Olympics or actually the 28 sports at the 2016 Olympics, which sports aren’t really made for the Olympics?
Football, Rugby, Golf, Basketball and Tennis would probably be my top 5. There is a a strong correlation between all these sports
1) All these sports are very high profile
2) The prizemoney in these sports is higher than other Olympic sports (obviously away from the Olympics)
3) More media exposure
4) More well known players and subsequently more role models.
Furthermore a study by Google announced the top searched sports in their search engine were: Football, Golf, Tennis, Basketball. This further emphasises their popluarity worldwide.
So if these sports are the most popular worldwide in terms of the the consumer, media exposure and spectators are these 5 sports considered valued Olympic sports?
The most popular Olympic sports based on Web Traffic comes defiantly in favour of Aquatics, Athletics and Gymnastics which took up to 30% of all web traffic. Furthermore the amount of online articles at the Greece Olympics saw Athletics and Aquatics receive up to 300% more coverage than Football.
It is clear to me that there is a divide between what we consider “Olympic Sports” and what sports are part of popular sporting culture. If I had a choice between football or Archery it would be football every time. However I love it when the Olympics rolls around every 4 years and quite frankly I won’t watch a single football match – I would be more likely to tune into Chelsea’s pre season than watch team GB. In fact I would be more likely to watch Archery. And that is my point; sure, by their very nature of their place in sports society and the by the virtue of their size and scale, sports like Tennis, Football and Golf merit their inclusion at the Olympics but are they really neccessary? Baron De Coubertin would argue the games was originated to celebrate Corinthian spirit and brotherhood, and whilst at times this “Olympian spirit” still exists…it pains me to watch participants who realistically are doing it for an added “bonus” rather than driving themselves towards a sporting utopia at the pinnacle of their sport.
Unfortunately we can’t have it both ways and to be honest I don’t see why the giant sports have to gatecrash the party of others who’s limelight it is every 4 years. The debate on professionals and thier participation has long sailed and it seems the IOC is pampering to the needs of the sporting fraternity to include more popular sports like rugby and golf. Cricket will be next!
The point is when will it stop? We have had baseball and softball and their is even lobbying for beach soccer! Is the Olympics about the bastians of amateurism , performers slugging though 4 years of gruelling training to reach a sporting apogee or is it an open door policy where the who’s who of world sport can rub shoulders and “enjoy the atmosphere” away from the rigours, demands and pressures of life on the tour or during a season. There is room for progress and change in all traditions however it seems there isn’t much room for traditions in the progress and change of sport, which is sad.
“You show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser” – Britain’s love for losers hits new heights at Wimbledon
This quote is what made me begin to really like Andy Murray. Someone passionate about winning, epitomised by his hard work off the court and illustrated by his water works on it. However is this desire from the likes of Andy Murray enough to deliver success? or is it engrained in the British psyche that success isn’t always about winning?
As Andy Murray stood crying after another ‘gallant’ British effort, the Wimbledon crowd stood and applauded for over two minutes before he could console himself enough to speak. Some of the crowd themselves were in tears with pride for the young Scotsman, others continually chanted his name. Amongst all the British patriotism stood the lone figure of 7 times Wimbledon winner Roger Federer, who had not won a grand slam for 2 and a half years but broke his own record of 17 trophies simply as he would not accept failure as good enough. He comprehensively won the final in 4 sets after a brief wobble at the start. After becoming World Number 1 again (breaking yet another record) the first question he was promptly asked by the British reporter was about the bravery of our sporting star. Murray may have welcomed the support, but certainly would argue with the nations contention that making the final was “acceptable”. He illustrated as such through his refusal to do a lap of honour by the Wimbledon organisers…for losing! As least he has the right idea. Success is not reaching the final its winning it and its about time us Brits cottoned on.
So why is it that we all seem to love a loser in this country? It is not just Murray whose name is spread over the front and back pages in complete support after failing to win. If Lee Westwood were American or Australian, I would fear for him with his lack of a golfing major. They don’t get or understand failure in their culture – or not the kind of toe-curling, humiliating failure that our Olympians have enjoyed almost every 4 years. They certainly would not cheer a personal best or mention an athlete for simply making the final of a track event in their sport pages. Paula Radcliffe, failing to even complete the marathon at the 2004 Olympics, having been odds on for gold, gained widespread sympathy. The Barmy Army was famous in the past for travelling after the English cricket team all over the world as they lost easily in different continents. Again in rugby we have had to hear just how brave Ireland and Wales were as they again just lost by the odd point to our superior Southern Hemisphere counterparts. And let’s not mention football semifinals and penalty shoot outs.
Ever since Devon Loch collapsed just before the winning post in the 1956 Grand National, the perplexing failure has seemed to elate the British imagination, often more than the win. It has become second nature to support the ‘underdog’. We love a trier in our country, often more than the skill. I’m not saying we enjoy losing, we celebrate wining too. Of course we do. But we don’t hold back in our support for our athletes simply because they have disappointed our anticipations.
In sport as in life, failure is only relative: it is how you handle failure that matters. Just a promise to learn from the experience and try to do better next time is acceptable but accepting the failure itself should not be. We all must accept that our hero’s may, and more often than not, will fail; but if they do their best and still don’t win, at least we can be contented that they have tried. They don’t deserve to be remembered with anger or hailed as sporting villains, but at the same time if we continue to praise, almost reward coming second it will be another 78 years before we have another Wimbledon finalist.
A fascinating opening chapter to this TDF leaves a race that is set up for attacking riding in all the jersey competitions. Sagan seems set to dominate the green jersey but he must make it to Paris and this is not a given. Goss, Greipel and Cavendish remain in contention.
The polka-dot jersey is wide open although Schleck remains a decent punt especially as his GC claims now appear to be totally snuffed out. The white jersey is perhaps the most closely contested with Van Garderen, Taramae and Gallopin all turning in great performances. Taramae looks a little less consistent than the other two but is capable of very good days in the mountains.
The GC has become clearer. Sky is holding all the aces (well two of them), Wiggins and Froome are clearly the strongest and this will now illicit attacks from Evans and Nibali. The only slight chink in the Sky armour may lie in descending, an area that Evans and especially Nibali will not be shy in exploiting. So, expect some downhill fireworks and maybe even some big-name spills as the riders take chances. A little further down GC but still in contention I remain impressed by Van Den Broeck whom I expect to show well as the tour progresses – a podium is still possible. Menchov will do what he always does and be there but not right at the front. Roche finds himself trapped yet again between settling for a top ten or hunting stage wins. Frustrating as he looks in great form.
However, unlike Roche we can look a few minutes further down GC and find some quality riders who may just be given the latitude to ride for stage wins in this week’s mountains. The perennial attackers such as Casar and Kiryenka are worth a look, but I would favour the Rabobank pairing of Mollema and Gesink. These are top quality riders with thwarted GC ambitions due to crashes in the first week and slightly below par form. Either is capable of escaping and winning. Another outsider who catches my eye is Peter Weening of Orica Green-Edge. He is a talented rider on a team seeking to make an impact; they have not hit the target yet with Goss or Albasini and will want a result.
Two final names for consideration… Schleck and Chavanel. Schleck must be looking to salvage something from this tour and at the least that must be a stage win. Most people will expect him to wait until the Pyrenees but he may well fancy a surprise to silence the critics. He is now no threat to the GC so could be allowed some slack. Chavanel is slightly different, he remains in touch on GC due to his amazing TT form, so will be marked more attentively. But like Roche he could gamble and be aggressive, and let’s face it he usually is!
Men to Watch….
Wednesday Stage 10 – Nibali @ 5/1
Thursday Stage 11 – Gesink @ 50/1 (projected)