With the Giro d’Italia now concluded, it’s important to take a quick look back at how the final stages after the third rest day played out. Maybe you jumped out of your seat shouting as Vincenzo Nibali rose from the ashes and in the span of two days overcame what appeared to be an insurmountable lead to win the 3-week Grand Tour. Nearly 5 minutes behind then leader Steven Kruijswijk, Nibali carved time into his rivals like a samurai sword through butter, ultimately taking the victory by 52 seconds over Esteban Chavez of Orica-GreenEdge and 1:17 over Alejandro Valverde in third.
Or, maybe your take on Nibali’s incredible resurgence was like mine – “This is complete bullshit.”
I’ve been at this long enough that the telltale signs of something being amiss come into focus fairly quickly. And, in this day and age of incredible, inhuman performances in any endurance sport, we as viewers have every right to call foul when a performance no longer appears plausible. Indeed, we have few choices – we can believe; we can doubt; or we can ignore. But, choose we must.
Nibali credits a come to Jesus motivational pep talk with teammate Michele Scarponi as the talisman of his overnight resurgence to Grand Tour hero.
What was the secret behind Vincenzo Nibali’s amazing comeback at the 2016 Giro, a fightback that saw him claw his way from 4:43 down on the leader of the race with devastating attacks on his rivals over the final two mountain stages? A pep talk from Michele Scarponi, apparently. While there is no denying Nibali’s talent, panache for attacking in any race at any time, nor his versatility as a rider in order to win each of the three distinctly different Grand Tours, to not question his resurrection – over the course of a matter of hours – is, quite frankly, insane.
Don’t forget that only four days before standing atop the final podium, the Astana doctors drew blood in an attempt to see if Nibali was even healthy enough to continue on. This was a man beaten both physically and mentally. This was not a case of a single bad day, which any Grand Tour champion can have. Nibali was out of sorts and clearly not on par with the other favorites. Despite his bad luck in the uphill time trial, he was losing time one challenging stage to the next. Stick a fork in Nibali; he was d-o-n-e.
Don’t forget Floyd Landis and his Tour de France victory in 2006. After losing a truckload of time, he, too, rose like the Phoenix and stomped his way to victory in that year’s Queen stage and subsequent closing time trial. Back then, commentators would spouting colorful adjectives like “incredible”, “unbelieveable”, “monstrous”, and the like. Today, these words seem struck from their vocabulary. Why is that? Because 10 years ago, our heads were in the sand thanks to Lance Armstrong and his never failing a drug test (but was anyone more doped to the gills?). We wanted 2006 to be the Tour of Renewal, Part II. But, now, a decade later, our heads are no longer in the sand. Rather than touting Nibali’s performance as “incredible”, anyone with a lick of common sense just shakes his or her head.
And the riders themselves are no help. I will say that my gut tells me there is a higher percentage of clean riders in the peloton today than even a handful of years ago. But, do not extrapolate that out to my thinking the majority of riders are clean. No chance in Hell. The riders fail the cycling public – and themselves – by not raising their pitchforks and torches against cheating. Are we to believe that old dopers now in charge of teams or in positions of influence are suddenly clean? Have suddenly forgotten their black market networks for sourcing PEDs? C’mon … Yet, we are to believe that these ex-dopers are now running clean teams. Right.
Even Jonathan Vaughters, admitted doper and sycophant of running a clean team did an about face when he stated he would fold what is now the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team if anyone on the team ever tested positive. Well, guess what happened? And guess what his response was? He recalled his statement and backpedaled from it faster than an arachnophobe jumps away from a spider, stating it would be worse to pack it in that continue the great work he’s done. Wrong. Honor your word. Fold the team. Start a new one and purge any vestige of past and current cheaters from the ranks. THAT’S what you do. That’s how you embrace your morals. That’s how you make a game-changing statement that strikes the very foundation of the corruption.
And, let’s make no mistake. Doping is endemic to EVERY endurance sport. Do you really believe that running or triathlon or soccer or tennis or … or … or … is any cleaner? If you do, then my condolences. I hear they’re making “Walter Mitty II”; you should try out for the lead.