Naughtiness on the Agnello

Daniel Friebe blogs from the Tour

The frustrated rebel in me doesn't want to admit it, but I never was much of a trouble maker at school. The odd left-foot piledriver through a window here, the odd facetious answer on my physics exam there, but generally my pretensions of edginess were about as convincing as Joss Stone's punk phase. It says it all that my inauguration of the controversial "Latin League" is my most lasting contribution to Bablake School's annals of disrepute.

Imagine my surprise, then, when my traveling companion Richard Moore and I got a proper telling off today. A good, Gallic slap on the wrist for not filling up with petrol before today's monster Alpine stage and having to grovel for a go with the dépanneur's jerrycan on the Colle dell'Agnello. "Messieurs," our grudging samaritan admonished, "You are not serious! It's unacceptable. You don't fill up before every stage in morning?! Sacre Bleu! C'est IN-AD-MISS-IBLE!"

At this point, as you can imagine, we were both feeling about as small as Samuel Dumoulin's more vertically-challenged younger brother. The jerrycan was duly handed over, disaster averted, but those words will ring our ears for the rest of the Tour. "Not serious". "Unacceptable". "Inadmissible". Riccardo Riccò had less load on his conscience when he walked away from Pamiers police station on Friday.

Belgium's Johan Museeuw (L) takes world championship gold over Switzerland's Mauro Gianetti in the 1996 road race

Talking of Riccò, there were some fascinating comments in L'Equipe today from former Tour yellow jersey wearer Stéphane Heulot. Heulot rode alongside Saunier Duval chief Mauro Gianetti at La Francaise des Jeux in 1998, the year of Gianetti's infamous and apparently doping-induced brush with death in the Tour of Romandy. In recent years, Heulot has been carrying out PR duties for Saunier Duval and their cycling team in France.

It's fair to say he won't be doing that job for too much longer.

"Doping is so ingrained in certain managers, like GIanetti, that they can't conceive of cycling any other way," Heulot said on Friday. "The chief executive [of Saunier Duval] wanted to believe that Riccò and Piepoli were winning because the others had stopped doping. I told him that wasn't the case...With people like GIanetti, we're heading straight for an impasse. I just told the truth and I won't retract any of it. When people ask me if there's a risk of organized doping at Saunier Duval, I say 'yes' because I believe it, I feel it. I obviously don't have any formal proof, but there are certain signals which don't lie. I might be proved right in the future."

Sticking with not-so-Slick-Riccò and chums, the mystery surrounding The Cobra's failed dope test is slowly unraveling. On Thursday, shortly after L'Equipe linked Riccò's positive test to the EPO-derivative CERA, blood doping expert Michel Audran told me that no detection method for CERA had yet been validated by WADA. Audran was therefore amazed that the substance had been named in connection with the Italian.

Twenty-four hours later, Audran was less surprised. The reason was that, on re-reading press coverage of the scandal, Audran noticed that, while it was apparently an open secret that CERA had been Riccò's undoing, the French Anti-Doping Agency had only ever referred to an "EPO  positive".

On Friday, Professor Audran cleared up the confusion.

"CERA and normal, EPO-beta are molecularly very similar, which means that they both show up in a similar way in the same test," he told me. "The difference is the molecular mass and the fact that a sample has to contain a lot of CERA to meet the criteria for a positive test. A specific test for CERA is being developed, but it'll be a blood test. In the meantime, several labs across the world have been looking at how CERA appears in the normal EPO urine test. Providing it's there in large enough quantities, those labs can now see it and generically declare it an 'EPO positive'."

Interesting stuff, eh? It seems that Riccò won't be able to slither out of this one in the courts after all. Which reminds me: Mark Cavendish told me on Friday that the Italian is no longer known as The Cobra by his peers. His new nickname is...."The Worm".

Oh, and two words (or is it one?) after watching the Stage 15 finish at Prato Nevoso: Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay-ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!!!!!

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