Blazin' Saddles

Bruyneel banned! Rogers reprieved! Schleck sorrow! Valverde victorious!

Blazin' Saddles

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Twenty-four hours is a long time in cycling and the post-Easter haze has seen a sugar rush of doping bombshells sandwiched between two slices of doughy spring classics as Messrs Philippe Gilbert and Alejandro Valverde topped the podium in Valkenberg and Huy.

First up, let's look at the man who until recently boasted on his Twitter bio of his 13 Grand Tour wins as a directeur sportif, seven of which achieved alongside his great comrade Lance Armstrong.

Bruyneel faces 'hypocritical' decade on the sidelines

Yes, this is news that Johan Bruyneel, the mastermind behind Armstrong's seven-year reign of error, has been slapped with a lengthy ban from the sport following his key role in the US Postal "conspiracy" of the late 90s and early naughty Noughties.

USADA's panel found that the Belgian was at the "apex" of the team's doping nefariousness and used fellow US Postal staff Dr Pedro Celaya and Jose 'Pepé' Marti as "instruments" in perfecting the team's "professionalised" doping programme.

In a release made on his personal website, Bruyneel admitted that he had made mistakes in his past, but contested a 10-year ban that he views makes him - as well as Armstrong, Celaya, Marti and doctors Michele Ferrari and Luis Garcia del Moral - "scapegoats for an entire generation".

"There is clearly something wrong with a system that allows only six individuals to be punished as retribution for the sins of an era," he harrumphed, with a clear nod to the less severe punishments dealt out to other protagonists - including a flurry of Armstrong's former team-mates who only served six-month bans.

Bruyneel certainly has a point: many riders from the old era got off practically scot-free, while the peloton is still teeming with former colleagues and riders who worked with the dimpled Belgian.

That said, Bruyneel's perception that he and five others are the only people to have copped a significant ban is clearly balderdash. The likes of Riccardo Ricco, Danilo Di Luca, Stefan Schumacher and Bernard Kohl have, in recent years, been career-endingly punished.

But Bruyneel is right in his assertion that he's been singled out and - like Armstrong - made a severe example of.

Perhaps if he and Lance were to co-operate with the relevant authorities then they'd have less reason to be bitter. In short: he should open up and tell us just who else deserves a similarly stringent penalty - and why.

For there can be no denying that while the US Postal Six were by no means the only sinners in a generation caught up in doping, they were certainly top of a food chain in which everyone - whether they liked it or not - became part of, be they hunters, scavengers or prey.

As wrist-slapped-but-welcomed-back former Postie doper Matt White said on Wednesday: "There are still other people hiding under their rocks."

Should Bruyneel and Armstrong finally end their omertà then maybe these rocks could be lifted up and used as foundation stones for a better future - and the woodlouse beneath can be crushed once and for all. Or just banned for six months, retrospectively.

Rogers back in the fold after Clenbuterol clearance

There was no scathing one-word reaction from Tyler Hamilton, but Australian veteran Mick Rogers was cleared of any wrong-doing on Wednesday following his positive test for Clenbuterol during last autumn's Japan Cup.

It makes you think. In football, sometimes a team profits from a harsh penalty decision and sometimes they get away with it despite skating on thin ice.

It does seem unfair that one rider, Alberto Contador, should be banned for two years for having far smaller traces of Clenbuterol in his blood stream while the other, his team-mate Rogers, gets off with a slap on the wrist (he has had to concede his Japan Cup title on a technicality). Perhaps Bertie's biggest mistake was ordering Basque beef and not a Chinese takeaway.

But in Contador's case, he couldn't demonstrate where the Clenbuterol came from, whereas Rogers could. It's as simple as that.

And like football refereeing, every decision should be made on its own merit and irrespective of previous incidents. Awarding a team a penalty because a previous shout was turned down is wrong - just as taking into context any hypothetical visit to the Freiberg clinic.

In short - despite Hamilton's swipe, karma goes out the window when such decisions are made. But such decisions don't half open a can of worms, eh?

Valverde victory sets up thrilling Ardennes finale

Karma is a word often bandied around in relation to Alejandro Valverde. The veteran Spaniard himself would say that it's karma that he's become such a prolific winner following the completion of an unjust doping ban two years ago.

His critics might say that karma's hardly the word you'd apply to a rider who seems to have returned from a doping ban even stronger than he was before - despite his advanced years.

And yet the Flèche Wallonne - which Valverde won at a canter on Wednesday - is certainly a race which favours the old guard. Now 33, Valverde was 25 when he first won the race in 2006 - and in doing so became the youngest rider to win since Lance Armstrong Motorola'd to victory in 1996 aged 24.

It's a veteran-favouring series than is still running - with the likes of Cadel Evans, Joaquim Rodriguez, Philippe Gilbert and, erm, Davide Rebellin all lifting the trophy in recent years.

The eight years between Valverde's two victories mark the biggest gap between first and second wins in the race's 78-year history - and his eighth win of the season shows that the Movistar man is the stand-out performer so far in 2014.

As usual, all the action of the 194km race happened on the third and final ascent of the Mur de Huy, described by the 2012 winner Rodriguez as "the longest kilometre of the year".

Just as he had done on Sunday's Amstel Gold race, Polish youngster Michal Kwiatkowski attacked too early and was rounded by Ireland's Dan Martin inside the final 200m.

But Valverde kept his powder dry until the final ramp, finding enough power in those ageing legs to zoom past an Irish whippersnapper hampered by allergies and an Amstel tumble.

A crash near the foot of the Mur ended the chances of Damiano Cunego and held up a raft of the favourites, including Martin, Rodriguez and Easter Sunday's winner Gilbert.

Following back-to-back wins in Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold, all eyes were on BMC's Gilbert to continue his hot streak and record the first double Ardennes quadruple in history.

But now it's Valverde who can enter the hall of fame: only one other rider, Switzerland's Ferdi Kubler in the 50s, has won both the Flèche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the same year twice.

Schleck pining for a turn in fortune

Spare a thought for Andy Schleck, though. While some riders come back from doping bans even stronger, others who have obviously never doped before go from Grand Tour-winning to just, well, grandly rubbish.

It's a sign of the times when a previous Tour and Monument winner on the right side of 30 can be viewed as being wildly myopic when joking that he would not be happy with a mere top twenty finish in the race he won in 2009. But that's poor Andy's predicament.

"I don't want to stay in the pack and be 20th without having done anything," Schleck told L'Equipe ahead of this weekend's Liège-Bastogne-Liège and after a nasty fall in the Amstel Gold.

"It's my favourite race and I'm already dreaming about it. Frank and I will attack in anticipation of the action from the favourites. Frank is very strong. I want to ride well. I am going to ride well. I just hope that my knee will hold up."

Someone should tell Andy that just because you keep on saying something, doesn't mean it is the truth or will happen.

"I want to succeed again," he continued with an understandable air of desperation. "I won the Tour de France on paper and I have won stages. I was Andy Schleck. I was someone. I want to become that person again."

Alarmingly, Schleck admitted that not only was he training harder, he was also much "leaner" this season. Perhaps the Luxembourgeois whippet should just eat a bit more - even Basque beef or Chinese takeaway would do.

On the issue of doping, Schleck was quite clear. "I've never hurt the bike. I've never done crap, unlike others. Guys like Ricco and Di Luca did stupid things and may encounter problems later because they only have cycling in their lives."

Devil's advocate could say that cycling was Andy's main problem right now. But even the worst sadomasochist would not want to witness Schleck's David Moyes-esque fall from grace continue at such a troubling pace.

Felix Lowe | Follow on Twitter

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