Blazin' Saddles

Alejandr-on and on

Blazin' Saddles

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Cycling's longest soap opera took another twist this week when Spain's Alejandro Valverde lost his appeal to race in Italy. Perhaps "soap opera" is not the best turn of phrase - for this one is about as dirty as the road to Roubaix.

Not content with keeping Valverde off Italian roads until May 2011, CONI are allegedly now approaching the European High Court to impose a ban on the Spaniard eating pizza, listening to Pavarotti or employing fashionable cosmopolitan phrases such as "ciao" and, tellingly, "a dopo".

UCI President Pat McQuaid, who pressed on Wednesday to have St Patrick's Day renamed St Piti's Day of Comeuppance, stressed that the governing body will now push on with its bid to impose a minimum worldwide ban of two years.

The restored thickness of his hair aside, Valverde's continued presence in the peloton divides opinion. Some claim the 29-year-old has done nothing wrong and should be allowed to race while others cry for him to be thrown out of the sport altogether.

Most, however, admire Valverde's punchy riding and enjoy watching him perform, but are glad to appease their conscience in doing so by making frequent woofing noises and silly jokes about his dog. (Poor Piti, he's probably not even alive anymore.)

One of the problems is that Operacion Puerto was so goddam long ago. It is, quite frankly, ridiculous that someone supposedly involved in the affair has yet to be brought to the sword. There can't be any blood cells left to examine given how many times the sacs have been tested and retested. (The officials will soon be on the phone to the Thai Prime Minister, begging for a fresh delivery of the red stuff. . .)

There's also the question of intent. One argument is that Valverde never registered any blood anomalies because he never went through with it. You could say he had a change of heart (although taken literally, a change of heart would be the most drastic form of blood doping ever - "Nah, new blood is not enough. . . I need a whole new machine to pump it round my body!").

That is, excuse Saddles' French, a load of merde. If Valverde intended to cheat then he should be thrown to the dogs. Look at Ivan Basso. If anyone's come out of the whole debacle with an ounce of credibility, it's Ivan - in his place, BS would have slung Valverde out to dry. But that's spitting in the soup - a habit reserved for Frenchmen and Paul Kimmage.

"Just like Basso and [Michele] Scarponi, who served two-year bans, the UCI has always felt that Valverde was implicated in Puerto too. Therefore we feel that he should serve the same [ban] as anybody else, he shouldn't be treated any differently," McQuaid told Cyclingnews. Hear hear.

Valverde was part of the infamous Kelme-Communidad squad. Even Saddles's grandmother knows that all doping roads eventually roam back to Kelme. Since Basso was collared, Valverde has won the Vuelta, three stages of the Tour, two ProTour titles, two Liege-Bastogne-Liege races and the Dauphine-Libere twice. But it's hard to know whether to say 'Chapeau' or 'Chappuis'.

His legal team have resorted to arguing against process and not against evidence, questioning Valverde's human rights and the impartiality of one of the CAS arbiters. Other riders to use such tactics include Stefan Schumacher and Floyd Landis. How many more races will The Green Bullet be allowed to win before he's derailed? Maybe they should wait until he's in his mid-30s and on the decline - after all, he's ever so exciting to watch, isn't he?

CAV CROCKED: Judging by the contrasting form of Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish, Team Sky must be relieved they didn't blow even more of their budget on the services of Cav, whose poor early season form continued last week at Tirreno-Adriatico.

While Edvald can't stop winning, Cav can barely keep up and has developed an alarming propensity to hit the deck in the most extreme fashion (the kind of thing he'd do before famous when turning down testosterone from Patrik Sinkewitz at T-Mobile).

Hampered by problems with his teeth, Cav admits he's now paying for a lack of training in January, claiming he missed 2,000K of riding a month (a sum he's probably no doubt made up doing promotional work and wearing white suits).

The 24-year-old has now has rubbished his chances of retaining his Milan-San Remo crown this weekend.

"It is a shame that I can't go in saying 'I want to win, I want to win.' That would have been the nicest thing," Cav told Cycling Weekly. "I love it, it is my favourite one day race. Just how the story unfolds, for me, for the others sprinters, for the climbers, for the spectators: it is the tension, the build up to the finish. 'They will or they won't' all the way to the finish, for the last 100K, that is the great thing about it."

Don't worry Cav: for the last 100K Saddles is sure you'll do anything.

HOLIDAY CAMP: Despite his run-in with Heinrich Haussler in stage one of Paris-Nice - billed as Barbie verses Ken(tador) by enthusiasts - Alberto Contador continued his fine early season form this week.

The Spaniard was imperious on his way to winning the eight-day race - although since when was hitching a lift in the Rabobank team car a legitimate way of recovering after a crash? - and has now won his second stage race of the season. Remarkably, it is Contador's ninth victory from his last 12 starts - a record that even Lance Armstrong doesn't come close to touching.

For while Contador continues his serious build-up to the Tour, LA seems to be picking and choosing his warm-up races as he would flicking through a travel brochure for a summer holiday: Australia one week, the Spanish coast the next; how about a bit of South Africa?

And now Lance has his eyes on a few days off in Corsica - but the only problem is that his rival and former Astana team-mate has also stated his intention to race the same Criterium International. It will be no surprise if one of them pulls out. Morocco is meant to be rather nice this time of the year. . .

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "He's got bruises. He's hurt, as you'd expect after crashing at 60km/h, but he's not made of chocolate. I'm sure he'll be fine." With Easter fast approaching, Columbia HTC director sportif Brian Holm's words are music to Mark Cavendish's ears.

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