Strade-Bianche, a race you should not miss

It Is not cyclocross, it is Strade Bianche, the most extreme of the cycling races (Velocinati,com)

Sometimes cycling is accused of being boring. That is because people uses to pay attention to this sport only during the Tour de France, where before the real action begins, we must bear a full week of flat stages with only few kilometres of emotion where a sprint decides the winner, usually Mark Cavendish in the last years. Tour de France is a 21-stages race and no one makes all-in attacks until the end, so the race uses to go controlled.

Classics are different, with 200 riders fighting for just one goal in one racing day. There is no tomorrow. There are many kind of classics, some are cobbled, others have many hills and also in some races riders must ride on cobbled hills. But there is one special classic that in only 6 editions since it was hold first has become one of the favourite races of the cycling fanatics. I am talking about the Strade Bianche (formerly Montepaschi Eroica), a race that takes place in northern Italy, in Toscana. From Gaiola in Chianti to Piazza del Campo square in Siena, the race includes more than 50 kilometres of gravel roads, best known as sterrato, that makes this race unique in the world. This Saturday Siena will host the arrival of the seventh edition.

It is impressive to watch cyclists riding through unpaved roads, the typical rural paths of a region that bases its economy in de development of wine and the imagine of riders among vineyards is absolutely amazing. If we consider that in the last days it has rained and snowed heavily in all Europe, the Saturday’s race will be a show of dirty riders, completely covered by mud, who will struggle to keep their balance and avoid crashes. It is one of the most savages races of the cycling calendar and although some claim that it is a dangerous race, crashes are almost unavoidable, since it was hold first the interest of sport fans in this race has increased considerably. And now that cycling is unluckily losing fans due to doping scandals, races like Strade Bianche could help people becoming more keen on cycling.

There will be many outsiders for the victory but the result is unpredictable. Falls, punctures and so on can fritter away the strongest rider’s options for the victory, so the winner must hold good luck, strength and a right strategy (we must remember last year’s race, when Benatti’s attack allowed Cancellara not to collaborate in the chasing group and kept all his strength for his final blow to get the victory). However, Valverde, Pozzato, Moser, Cancellara, Sagan, Evans and Phinney are supossed to be the contenders of the 2013 edition.

It’s without a doubt a race that I strongly recommend not to miss. Even if you are not fond of cycling, this is the kind of race that makes people become more keen on cycling races and encourages following this sport in the coming spring classics.

Strade Bianche’s official website:

TV coverage and further information clicking here.

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Operación Puerto, a cover-up operation

It’s true that what is been judged in the famous trial OP is a crime against public health. But considering that about 200 athletes (and not only cyclists, as Eufemiano Fuentes admitted) have been involved, at least that’s the number of blood bags that where found when Fuentes where arrested, its seems that the trial should go far beyond whether Fuentes put at risk his patients health or not.

Doping was not a crime when the OP was released, but it’s clear that many athletes doped during that time and so few have been punished for it. Spanish politicians claim that there is no a doping problem in the country, but new revelations don’t let room for doubt: while other countries hunt their cheaters and don’t take into consideration whether they are big stars or not, Spain protects the athletes and avoids to reveal wide doping scandals.

Among the witnesses of the trial no Spanish rider (Beloki, Unai Osa, Nozal, Vicioso, Marcos Serrano …) has ever admitted taking drugs, except Jesús Manzano, whose testimony to the newspaper “AS” encourage the Police to start an investigation. But the foreign riders testimony was quite different. Jorg Jaschke and Tyler Hamilton claimed that Eufemiano Fuentes supply them with performance enhancing drugs and made them blood transfusions in his office. Both of them and Jesús Manzano stated that Eufemiano created a doping web comparable with the one that, as USADA has revealed, helped Armstrong in his sport success. On the contrary, Spanish rider Vicioso stated that Fuentes provided him only with painkillers and Serrano told the panel that he used the doctor as a translator, due to his language skills in Italian. All the Spanish witnesses repeated the same motto: “No, never”. They are lying.

Isidro Nozal (Libertaddigital.com

At this point, the question is: ¿why isn’t the Spanish justice able to uncover all the truth of the OP? ¿what’s wrong with a society that when a positive case is revealed prefers to cover his eyes and turn his back? Provided that USADA’s Reasoned Decision states that US Postal and many other teams used to come to Spain for his training camps because doping and prohibited substances control was looser than in other countries, ¿why doesn’t Spanish government investigate and try to reveal whether Spain is the paradise of dopers or not?

Spanish political and economical situation is catastrophic and sport is the only aspect in which Spain has been a world power recently. Revealing that apart from the main cycling riders, most of the big athletes, tennis players and football teams have been involved in Operación Puerto and other doping web cases would be an enormous punch in the face for the Spanish society. That’s why in Spain a cover-up strategy has been chosen to avoid bigger damages. The media has tried to focus the doping problems into cycling and making people think that only riders doped and that the teams involved in OP disappeared, pretend that the doping scandals where solved.

When Real Sociedad football team’s initials appeared in Eufemiano’s papers, readily media tried to cover-up the case blaming a rowing team that had a doping scandal in the past. Real Sociedad former president, Iñaki Badiola, stated that a due diligence revealed that the club paid medicines with dirty money that didn’t appear in the official documents of the club and El País corroborated that the quantity of the money spent by the team and the one that appeared in Eufemiano’s document matched. Of course, now one talks about doping scandals in football and almost no one knows that FC Barcelona tried to sign up Eufemiano about 10 years ago, that Athletic de Bilbao’s player Carlos Gurpegui tested positive due to the team’s doctor Sabino Padilla’s experiments with young players and that Dr. Del Moral, banned by USADA for his involvement in Armstrong’s doping system was the former doctor of Valencia CF and the tennis player David Ferrer.

Marta Donínguez, involved in Galgo and Puerto cases (El País)

And I could continue linking banned and dubious doctors with some of the most successful episodes of Spanish sport, but I think that there is a case that reveals more than any other at what rate Spanish authorities don’t want to hunt down dopers: Marta Dominguez, involved in both Operación Galgo and Operación Puerto, who worked with Fuentes since she was 22 years old and has developed a successful sport career probably thanks to doping, is now a senator for the governments party PP and earns her living with public money.

Politicians, justice and media are trying to cover-up any evidence of doping scandals in Spain. Many athletes where involved in Eufemiano’s doping system and only few of them have been punished. In fact, some riders as Alberto Contador, Luís León Sánchez or Joaquím Rodríguez rode for ONCE team, whose director Manolo Sainz is being also judged, but they didn’t ever appear neither in the press nor in the trial, although there is no evidence that they didn’t took part in the doping web when all they team mates did. High profile athletes seem an untouchable target for the sport authorities and the only Spanish rider who was suspended due to his connection with OP was Alejandro Valverde. Curiously, he was not banned by any Spanish authority: the Italian Olympic Committee did it.