They seek him here…

Two anecdotes from the first weekend of the Tour de France offer a rare insight into how cycling's p

Two anecdotes from the first weekend of the Tour de France offer a rare insight into how cycling’s p

The Tour de France start village is a wonderful place, loved by all for its convivial atmosphere, copious platters of local delicacies, and general bonhomie. Members of the Tour caravan are invited to congregate there to greet, meet, eat, and – should their opinions be sought – speak to journalists. Nothing unusual, then, about a Danish colleague approaching the UCI medical chief Leon Schattenberg in Lige before stage one of the 2004 Tour on Sunday morning. The journalist was somewhat taken aback when Schattenberg seemed to recoil at his overtures before finally agreeing to answer “one question”. “OK, if you insist,” the colleague agreed. “Mr Schattenberg, in a recent book, Daniel Baal, Jean-Marie Leblanc’s former deputy at the head of the Socite du Tour de France, suggested that the conflicting interests and opinions of powers in the sport were jeopardising the war on doping. Do you agree?” “I haven’t read the book and if he said that it’s a lie,” came the curt reply. “But Mr Schattenberg.” the colleague persisted, only to be scythed down again: “You said ONE question!” Schattenberg huffed before turning away. So much for the spirit of the start village. Spare a thought, too, for one of Schattenberg’s colleagues at the UCI, head doctor Mario Zorzoli. An interesting and engaging communicator, Zorzoli was the man the UCI chose to hold forth at a journalist’s briefing on doping on Saturday. Alongside him was another leading authority on doping, French Anti-Doping Laboratory tsar Roland Jouvent, and some of the most important men in the sport: Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc, Tour vice-director Christian Prudhomme and the president of Tour organisers ASO, Patrice Clerc. The only man missing, it seemed, was Zorzoli’s boss and the president of the cycling’s sovereign power, Hein Verbruggen. Verbruggen, it was obvious, wasn’t at the Tour. Otherwise he would have been there to represent and answer for his organisation. Surely only the most pressing engagement would keep him away, especially at a time when successive doping scandals have left cycling in desperate need of a firm, guiding hand. Imagine our surprise then, when as Lance Armstrong made his way to the start ramp on Lige’s Avenue Rogier later on Saturday evening, who should we see? Sheryl Crow? Yes, granted, but we knew that she was here. It was another face in the crowd, that of Mr Verbruggen, which required a double-take. That firm guiding hand, alas, served only to send Lance on his way. And then it was gone, like a mirage.