One of the weird things about being a cycling geek is how you have to get used to your sport being used as a whipping boy by other sports. I know we sometimes bring it on ourselves, by actually discussing the needle and the damage done but even so, it does rather grate a bit when you’re hearing the criticism being used simply as a distraction from another sport’s problem.
Which, I guess, is why I wasn’t really all that surprised during the recent F1 race fixing brouhaha to see that cyclists were once again being co-opted to distract from motor racing’s problems. The bit that caught my attention was where Max Mosley tried to explain how the Renault case was worser than cheating – and to oil the wheels of his argument, Mosley turned to cycling.
“Fixing is one degree worse than cheating,” explained Mosley. “If you’re a cyclist and you take dope, that’s cheating,” he told us. “If you bribe the other cyclists,” he continued, “or you get somebody to have a crash in the peloton so the yellow jersey guy crashes, that's more serious.”
It was one of those lame-brained arguments that just made me go ‘WTF?!?’ Was Mosley really trying to suggest that, say, Steve Bauer’s contratemps with Claude Criquielion at the World’s in 1988 (it being World’s Week I’m trying to be topical with my reference but can’t think of something more recent – I’m sure someone will remind me of a less aged incident in the comments thingies below) is worser than oh, I don’t know, Davide Rebellin being busted for CERA?
Or, using a name Mosley might actually recognise, that Stefan Schumacher taking out George Hincapie in the 2006 Eneco Tour in order to secure his overall victory was somehow worser that Stefan Schumacher being busted for being a junkie? I. Don't. Think. So. Max.
Having thrown the book I was reading at the radio (Colum McCann’s Let The Great World Spin, as you asked) I decided to build a bridge and get over this silly little story. Until something happened that made me recall Mosley’s comments and approach them from a slightly different angle.
That something was Philip Deignan finally breaking the Irish hoodoo at Grand Tours and bagging a stage win in the Vuelta, our first since Roche Snr bagged a Giro stage in ’93. Interviewed on radio after the stage (Irish radio, having previously said that cycling was a drug-addled corrupt non-sport in explanation for their non-coverage of it, suddenly rediscovered a passion for Irish victories and cleared the schedule in order to bring news of our new hero to us), Deignan for some reason decided to tell the reporter how he turned down an offer of dosh from Roman Kreuziger in the closing klicks of the stage and decided he wanted to win the thing himself.
“He [Kreuziger] turned to me with three kilometres to go and said ‘How much?’. I just shook my head and said no there was no way I was going to consider giving away a stage no matter how much he was willing to pay me and there was no more talking about it. That was it.”
It’s not that I was heretofore ignorant of the way money changes hands in the pro peloton. Laurent Fignon's claim during the summer that he sold the '87 Vuelta to Luís Herrera hardly raised an eye-brow. Or there's the story, resurrected in Wilcockson's recent hagiography of the world's most controversial cyclist, about the '93 Thrift Drug Triple Crown. Go back to the '60s and you have the likes of Anquetil, Elliot and Simpson all discussing how money changed hands. It's one of those facts of cycling that we just get used to, isn't it? For us, no matter what Max Mosley thinks, fixing isn't even nearly as bad as the fix so many cyclists seem to need.
(Of course, maybe when spread-betting finally gets its claws into cycling, our attitude will have to change.)