Blazin' Saddles: Nice guy Eddy

Fri, 20 Apr 04:07:00 2012

When it was revealed earlier this week that Denis Galimzyanov – Russia's biggest cycling talent since, er, Vladimir Karpets – had tested positive for EPO, it made Saddles think back at something Eddy Merckx said in January.

2010 CYCLING Former Belgian cycling champion Eddy Merckx waves to fans at the start of the second stage of the Tour de France - 0

When it was revealed earlier this week that Denis Galimzyanov — Russia's biggest cycling talent since, er, Vladimir Karpets — had tested positive for EPO, it made Saddles think back at something Eddy Merckx said in January.

During the Tour Down Under in South Australia, Merckx — the race's official human mascot — told reporters that he believed the sport to be 95 per cent clean.

"I cannot say 100 per cent clean because no sport is clean," said Merckx, levelling some potentially hazardous (albeit heinously indirect) accusations towards the World Lawn Bowls Association.

Merckx's view on doping was brought back into the public eye following an interview with the London Evening Standard, in which the Belgian great vouched never to have taken performance enhancing drugs during his illustrious career, and stressed his conviction that Lance Armstrong also never doped on his way to a record-breaking seven Tour de France wins.

Sixty-six-year-old Merckx — himself facing corruption charges concerning the sale of bikes to the Belgian police force (this really is true) — used the tried-and-tested line that Armstrong would be "crazy" to have done "something so silly" during his career.

Regarding the doping allegations surrounding his own career, Merckx took the same stance that Armstrong has used so often: "I was clean, I know that. Every day there were controls at races."

Don't worry, this week's blog isn't going to open Pandora's Box and probe Messrs Merckx and Armstrong about their "training" habits; Saddles is just going throw in his two cents about Merckx's credibility as a cycling source.

From the little time Saddles has spent in the company of Merckx, he can say that the man they call 'The Cannibal' comes from a head-in-sand school of thought that allowed him to predict that Stuart O'Grady would win the Tour Down Under when Saddles quizzed him pre-race.

When quizzed to give his reasons, Merckx simply replied: "Because it would make a good story, no?"

By the same token, the entire pro peloton being 95 per cent clean and just five per cent Galimzyanov is also a good story.

But if cycling was all about good stories, then Johnny Hoogerland would have won multiple stages by now and Tommy Voeckler would have triumphed in last year's Tour.

With this in mind, Merckx is cycling's equivalent of Pele: like the footballer, Merckx was undeniably great during his time on the bike — as can be seen in two current biographies of Merckx by British journalists Daniel Freibe and William Fotheringham. But both Merckx and Pele are chronically out of touch with the realities of their sports today.

Merckx, it seems, is a rent-a-quote moveable feast of two-wheeled buffoonery available to adorn the podium of any race for the right price (but not the Tour podium, for that position has been already taken by Bernard Hinault, making Merckx, if you will, the poor man's Badger for the 21st century).

Gone are his cannibalistic instincts; he's now plain old Nice Guy Eddy. And while he may be as cuddly as one of those Credit Lyonnais lions they dish out to the yellow jersey in the Tour, Merckx probably has less sense than a stuffed toy — especially when it comes to talking about the doping habits of today's peloton.

Mini-rant over — and for those wondering why Saddles is not talking about the Fleche Wallonne or this Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, then here's the belated caveat: Saddles is currently on a holiday/working assignment in Tasmania.

According to mainland Australians, the locals in Tasmania are all born with two heads; indeed, Richie Porte has never broken his collarbone — that scar is the remnants of the operation he needed when moving across the Tasman Sea to civilisation (ha, the irony!).

Anyway, you'd think that an island where most residents have two brains would have embraced the internet by now, but clearly not.

So, as Saddles has not yet learnt about the Joaquin Rodriguez-led Katusha one-two-three in Wallonne (way to go diverting attention, boys!), he has been forced to write this week's offering a little in advance.

Saddles is 95 per cent certain that next week, things will be back to normal. Not only because it would make a good story, but because BS is finally moving back to Europe in time for the Grand Tour season.

Hopefully the blog will return to its daily format once the Giro gets underway. Ciao for now...

Blazin Saddles / Eurosport

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