His history in doping aside, Frenchman Richard Virenque – the leader of the French Festina team that in 1998 was kicked out of the Tour for systematic doping – still clearly sees himself as a prankster.
In Monday’s edition of the French daily Aujourd’hui, he recounted a bizarre story from the 2004 Tour, when he was in his second year with the Belgian QuickStep team. At the time, team hotels were regularly raided by police in the aftermath of the Festina scandal.
One night Virenque invited a gendarme friend to come to the team hotel in Valence in civilian clothes, and with his uniform in a bag. ‘‘He changed in my room, then went and knocked on the door of [teammate] Juan Miguel Mercado.
As soon as he entered he pushed my teammate against the wall, handcuffed him and then took him out into the corridor,’’ Virenque recalled. ‘‘I passed them in the corridor and asked Mercado, ‘What’s happening, Juan Miguel?’. He replied, ‘I don’t know. I don’t understand.’ We quickly ended it there before the photographers surprised us. Imagine the photo the next day in the papers. We didn’t need that.’’
Mercado obviously took the joke well: two days later he won the 18th stage.
COUNTING THE COST
From the fallout of Tack-Gate that marred stage 14 on Sunday when more than 30 riders had tyres punctured on the day’s last climb – the Mur de Piguere – came these interesting statistics. There was a total of 61 flat tyres in 30 minutes. And estimates are that the total cost was €8000 ($9560) – €5000 in bike tyres and €3,000 to those of following cars that flatted of which six were team cars and 22 were accredited race vehicles.
IT AIN’T ALL EXPERIENCE
When the Tour began, in the peloton of 198 riders nine were grand tour winners. It was a brains trust of experience and success that defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) noted as significant. Alas ... it has failed to deliver. After 15 stages Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), the 2010 Vuelta a Espana winner, and Evans were still in the fray in third and fourth place overall. The exit of Canadian Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal was due his crash injuries. But the six others have disappointed. Russian Denis Menchov (Katusha) was still 16th overall at 17 minutes 21 seconds to British race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky), followed by Italian Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) in 21st at 20mins 32secs, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was 25th at 32mins 59secs, Italian Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) was 29th at 45mins 13 secs, Spaniard Juan Jose Cobo Acebo was 34th at 54mins 40secs, and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) of Kazakhstan was 36th at 57mins 28 secs.
HE SAID IT:
‘‘He is half Italian. He loves throwing the arms in the air. If I threw my arms in the air every [time someone] carved me up I wouldn’t have my hands on the handlebars half the race,’’ Australian Stuart O’Grady (Orica-GreenEDGE) on Slovak Peter Sagan’s gesture of protest to Matt Goss in their stage 12 sprint for sixth place which led to Goss being deducted 30 points in the green jersey competition and losing all chance of winning it.