Monday, May 11, 2009

Excitement in Spain – by mimitig

So here we are again. Two weeks since Formula One graced our screens, one week since MotoGP failed to make any inroads in the mainstream sports media, and only a matter of days since Barcelona hogged the headlines.

Now, although only a part-time football fan, I did follow the Chelsea v Barca game and was astounded at the reactions of the losing side. Compared to other sports that I follow, Drogba’s behaviour really did appear to be beyond the pale. There seems to have been a generally negative reaction to his antics – provoking a debate about how to win or lose gracefully.

Well you need go no further than MotoGP. Valentino Rossi won his first race of the season last Sunday in Jerez. After qualifying off the front row (in fourth place), Rossi had it all to do, and did it with flair and skill. He beat local favourite, Pedrosa and Stoner and paid tribute to his rivals after the race.

Neither Stoner or Dani had a bad word to say about the man who had made them look ordinary. This is grace in victory and defeat. Admittedly Rossi was in a class of his own last weekend in the race. He diced a bit with the Aussie but caught and passed him in style. He had a tougher opponent in Dani Pedrosa, but a mixture of Dani’s fitness (the poor boy is still suffering from pre-season surgery and crashes) and Valle’s experience and determination ensured the result of the race was pretty secure with not more than a third of the distance to run. It didn’t make for a dull race though – with Rossi gunning for a win there’s always fun in wondering how he will celebrate his win. It was a visit to the Portaloo again this time. Maybe not as much fun as the first time he did this, but it shows he still has great joy in winning.

In the 125cc race last weekend there was great excitement for supporters of British Motorcycling, as young Bradley Smith took his first win in the top rank of his racing. He is just 18 years old and a very very bright hope for the future.

For fans of bike-racing, it is particularly rewarding to see Smith cutting the mustard because our only representative in the premier class, James Toseland, double world champ in Superbikes, is not delivering the sort of results that promise another championship. Our hopes for a British winner sometime in our lifetimes rest with the young pretender.

That was the bikes and the focus of motorsport moved to The Circuit de Catalunya. The F1 Teams arrived in Spain with a myriad of changes to their cars. All wondering how to do better than the top dogs – Brawn GP and Red Bull. Everyone arrived thinking they had a special part or idea to beat the Championship leaders, but it didn’t work.

In qualifying Button snatched a last-second pole, Vettel continued to show Red Bull’s class with second, and Barrichello took third. These drivers, along with their teams, have set up a great race.

While the motor-fired peddlers were doing their stuff in Spain, my favourite sportsman was doing the business in Italy.

Mark Cavendish – there are no superlatives good enough for this young man. Having won Milan-San Remo already this season, Mark is on fire and keen to improve on last year’s tally of 19 wins. With his team, Columbia, Mark took the first stage of the Giro d’Italia and he thereby becomes the first Briton ever to wear the Maglia Rose.

Here is a possible example of how not to lose gracefully: Mark’s key opponent is the Flemish rider Tom Boonen. A World Champion, but a man who has not taken opposition well. Facing Cav this season, sadly Tom has chosen a disappointing path in his career and for the second time in three years has tested positive for a class A drug.

It is such a shame that on the day when the headlines should have been all about Mark, they were all about Tom. Although this story is not about performance-enhancing drugs rather it is about the poor choices made by a man who is seemingly unhappy and disturbed, it adds to the shadow hanging over pro-cycling. It would appear that for every stride forward that transparently clean teams like Columbia and Garmin take, there is an individual in cycling determined to drag the sport down again.

On Sunday the Giro continued and although Cav was edged out of the sprint win by Alessandro Petacchi, Manxman Mark will wear the Pink Jersey tomorrow.

So to the motorsport event of the day.

Historically the Barcelona F1 race has been a snooze-fest with the previous eight pole-sitters going on to win the race and very little over-taking going on. Also in the 18 years of running the race, the Safety Car has only been deployed some four times at the Circuit de Catalunya, so it could have been a seamless lights to flag cruise for the boy Button.

Mercifully for spectators the race turned some of those statistics on their heads. Barrichello made a demon start and led Button in to the first corner. Massa, Ferrari’s only chance in this race for any points after Raikkonen and his engineers had somewhat fumbled in qualifying and the Finn hadn’t even made it to Qually 2, was a rocket off the line and jumped Vettel in to third. Further behind Webber reminded us of what a fine driver he is by making the move of the day on Alonso, and behind them, mayhem.

Rosberg edged Trulli off the track, and as the Italian returned, he speared in to Force India’s Adrian Sutil (who had been on his own little off-track manoeuvre) and the subsequent chaos took out both Toro Rossos. A racing incident said former F1 Team Principal and current BBC pundit Eddie Jordan, but one which will have cost tens of thousands of pounds for the teams involved.

The “incident” brought out the safety car and when it pulled off, it was game on again for the leaders. The Brawns had to keep the KERS-enabled Ferrari of Massa behind them, which they did with coolness and team driving.

From then on, Brawn was in control. And that meant not just the drivers but head honcho Ross Brawn. He called the strategy shots which ensured his boys ended up with a race 1-2. It could have been Barrichello but for one poor stint which saw Rubens’s times tumble and Jenson’s accelerate. For the fourth time this year, Our Jense (as the meeja have taken to dubbing him) took the chequered flag and extend his lead at the head of the table. Brawn GP sit atop of the Constructors’ Championship.

It is ironic that this is a position familiar to Ross – for years at Ferrari he held the key to winning. Now he is doing it for himself and Ferrari are minnows struggling at the back and shooting themselves in the foot with poor reliability and increasingly poor decision-making.

Mark Webber consolidated his fine drive with a podium finish meaning that the British engineering excellence of Adrian Newey and Ross Brawn continues to rule the roost.

Far be it from me to indulge in schadenfreude – oh go on, Davies, you know you love it! – but the sight of Massa’s Ferrari running out of gas on the closing lap, with Schumacher in the garage, was a precious gem.

All in all, I would call this a satisfactory week and weekend of sport. Cav in pink – historic. England wiped the Windies in three days – dodgy win, but great. Valle stamped his mark all over MotoGP with Brad Smith playing the second hand and Button proving to the world that he has what it takes.

Next week we’ll be back with the bikes, in the interim the Giro goes on and another Test Match starts on Thursday. I think there’s a bit of football as well. What a treat for sports fans.

While we are waiting, there’s no better way to spend time than with the Pixies – I highly recommend this:

Levitate me – that’s what sport does.


Ebren said...

Go JeBu! A winner who seems actually happy to win.

Also Go Peter Perfect (the favoured Aussie moniker for Mark Webber) for using the "f" word on live TV.

I love the little shots of the drivers waiting to go to the podium. They're at ease, honest, and chatty to each other about the race - very different from the staged media conferences.

I'm sure that will change/be got rid of, but hearing Jebu just say "I feel for you man" to Rubens was great, and honest, and a good way to win.

mimi said...

It's been sad subsequently to hear that Rubens is ready to quit the sport if he thinks Brawn are favouring Button.

Allout said...

Good article in general but rather than spend time on the platitudes I will go straight to the cycling.

A few points.

1. Personally I thought that the "Cav in pink" chat has been overplayed. He was the sprinter in team that does a strong TTT so he happened to cross the line first after a sterling effort from his team. Fun for him to be in pink for sure but in the circumstances we cannot read too much into it.
2. How has Boonen been losing? He was in fact in fine form in April and, frankly, given that his use was recreational and he has previous I don't see how it can be linked in any way to Cav.
3. I don't necessarily agree that cycling has a problem because Boonen has taken cocaine (at least) twice. In every major Western city hundreds, maybe thousands of young people take cocaine every Friday night. Does this automatically mean that the field they are employed in has a problem?

All the best to everyone

mimi said...

Thank you for your comment Allout and I'm glad you took the time to read and detail your thoughts. I’m happy to respond to your points and defend my view.

1. Cav is the first British cyclist to take the pink which makes it an historic sporting moment and quite apart from his already sparkling start to the season, the reason he is riding for a team capable of winning the Time Trial is because he is good enough to be there. Andy Murray has just become the first British man to be rated no 3 in the world, and there have been far more articles written about him than about Cav.

2. How has Boonen been losing? I give you the Tour of Flanders. Having won twice before, he was on for a cycling hat trick but ended up not even making the top three despite being one of the strongest two riders. As was reported in the cycling press, neither he nor team-mate Pozzato “seemed fussed”. Stijn Devolder won painlessly. Boonen has won four races this year to Cav's eight (pre-Giro). He has publicly sniped at and derided Cav’s abilities. Definitely trying to develop that ‘Bill and Tony niggling-aggro thing’ but not in a comic way and it has shown how Cav’s speed and determination have got to him. The number of race wins does not take in how many entered, suitability, form etc, but at this stage of the season it IS an indication of form as is the fact that Boonen only comes in at no six in the "Best in the Cobbled Classics" list which includes some of his strongest races. Cav would be expected to take more wins in the latter part of the season but is already ahead of Boonen.

3. Cocaine: whether you agree or not, professional sportspeople are role models to many, and in a sport that garners most column inches about its performance-enhancing illegal doping, for a top star to get caught not once, but twice for taking recreational drugs is irresponsible to put it mildly. It adds to the perception that cycling is a sport for drug cheats. To suggest that Boonen taking cocaine compares with an anonymous worker taking cocaine on a Friday night is naïve.

Cycling is taking massive and transparent strides in cleaning up its act - far more than most other sports. There are more and more sponsors pulling out of cycling because of the connections with drugs. Every country is losing races because of lack of finance. It damages the sport when one of its most charismatic stars tests positive for cocaine use. For the second time. Quite simply it reinforces the impression that pro-cyclists are druggies and the headlines don’t differentiate or give details.

I don’t think Boonen is a bad person and actually I think the Pro-Cycling community should rally around him in the same way that the Rugby community has around Matt Stevens. His use of cocaine is symptomatic of some underlying problem and for me, I think that his fear of being displaced at the top of his profession by Mark Cavendish has contributed to his troubles.

Sorry for the length of this response, but, Allout, you made me think very hard about why I had written what I did. I have spent two hours on this reply, looking up race results and articles in the printed and web-press. I stand by everything I wrote in the original article, but thank you very much for making me think.

Hope you read this.

Margin said...


There is an interesting aspect to linking defeat, or the htreat of it, with drugs in sport.

While in cycling there is fairly robust testing that catches out those who take the wrong path, English football has as yet not put in place basic olympic standards of drug testing.

In all sports there is a tendancy for those most frustrated at defeat not only to suffer it in defeat, but to carry that suffering off the field of play and into their training regimes where they make very damaging choice. (As many a drug cheat has said, it is hard to stay clean and watch others simply leave you behind when you know there is a chance that chemical support might be behind it.)

Many team sports like to think they are immune to that - but the influence of managers on young men - and their evident will to win - might suggest that is complacent.

And of course, suggesting that cycling has a specific problem beyond other sports is simply unfair. It catches cheats more regularly. That doesn't mean it has more of them.

Wooley said...

Very interesting point about the comparitive levels of sportsmanship in FI to football.

Perhaps its because they all get to know each other well, travelling the world together and meet often when outside direct competition.

I notice the same thing in county cricket, where the players have much more personal interraction. Premier League footballers are probably quite rare in not spending much time with their opponents away from the pitch.

Maybe competing as individuals helps too - in football, exactly half the players win, and half lose. But in motor racing, though there are lots of points on other and personal targets to meet, everyone bar one is ultimately the loser.

The only example I can think of in motor racing to spoil this rosy picture is touring car, where Matt Neil and Jason Plato notoriously hate each other, with Neal once seemingly letting Plato's main rival through to win the championship...

offsideintahiti said...

She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie... Mimi!

Great roundup, Mimi, cheers. Tell me, since you know a bit about the va-va-voom, what do you think of our Frenchman Bourdais?

Allout said...

Hi Mimi. Good of you to take the time to reply and even better that you are sticking to your guns. Maintaining the numbering.

1. I don't think Murray's rise to three and Cav being in pink are comparable. Murray, although having a good support team, wind his match on court on his own. Cav essentially piggy-backed on some excellent time triallers. Fair play to Cav - he's in great form at the moment but I don't see that we should be bogging up this particular achievement.
2. Boonen may not have been in the form if his life but he was riding well enough. He won the Paris Roubaix which, as you well know, is one of the early season highlights. Re the rivalry I may have missed something but all I read was Boonen saying that Cav wouldn't have been so dominant in the Tour if the sprinter field had not been so depleted. Given that Boonen and Benatti were comfortably the best sprinters in the previous year, that was simply stating the obvious.
3. I draw aclear distinction between taking performance enhancing drugs which is cheating and taking recreation drugs which is stupid (particularly as you know you may be tested) but hardly morally reprehensible. Whether other people make this distinction or just categorise all takers as "drug cheats" I don't know.


mimi said...

A lot to reply to here! First Wooley: you are dead right. The feud between Plato and Neil have is fantastically intense and has led both of them to do ridiculous things on track. I'm not specifically aware of the race you reference, but I'm sure your tale is true

Of course, not the first in motorsport. Senna famously (or infamously) took Prost out and Schumacher did for our Damon in Adelaide.

Offie: Bourdais. I just don't know what to think. He is a double champ in the US and not a bad peddler at all. I think his problem is that he doesn't perform well in qualifying and is therefore always in the dangerous part of the field at start time. I've been willing him to come good (as they say in sports commentary) but he is failing to convince.

I'll reply to Allout in a minute. Got to get the washing in!

mimi said...

Took me longer than I thought to get the washing in.

1. Cav has won Milan-San Remo this year. If that wasn't enough to deem his achievements historic, he took the Maglia Rose. IT'S NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE! Totally comparable to Team Murray and their achievements.
2. Cav blew off one of the world's absolute utter best sprinters last year. Robbie McEwen. Robbie has taken defeat with grace. Tom has chosen to slag off his rival.
3. Taking recreational drugs when you are a top level sportsperson is, I agree, stupid. My argument is that having done it once is foolish. Do it twice and you bring your sport in to disrepute.

I have never said that Boonen's behaviour is morally reprehensible. What I say and believe is that his behaviour disrespects the sport that has made him an icon in his country and earned him a lot of dosh.

I do think that people reading the headlines equate recreational drugs with performance-enhancing drugs and thereby believe the sport is rife with drug-cheats.

Again I would call for the sport to rally round Tom and help him sort out his demons. There are examples in other sports - not only rugby union. Tony Adams in football is a good example of how to transform problems in to solutions.

Zeph said...

Good article Mimi, as far as I can tell from the depths of my ignorance of the sports in question. You were certainly right about the cricket:)

offsideintahiti said...

One hour and thirty four minutes to get the washing in? Mimi, if that were a sport, you'd be such a loooooooser!

mimi said...

Offie: in a small village, the simplest and quickest of messages to run can take hours! I encountered my neighbours, got invited in for a drink and a chat and voila - that's more than hour gone!

Wouldn't change it for the world after years of living in London, but it does sometimes disrupt the timetable.

offsideintahiti said...

Still, I don't think you'll qualify to represent Scotland in the Getting-the-washing-in World Championship in Bulgaria this summer. Shame.

Anonymous said...

Washin machines are banned from our competition-In our small villages where the contest sponsored by geen peace take place, they wash their clothes at the Lavoir near the river, singing "tant qu'il y aura du linge a laver on boira de la Vodka".
At the pause women may also exchange dirty laundry stories and still drink Bulgarian lavander vodka.Mimi 1.34 min could beat the world record.
Comm. Soapof Marseilli.

guitou said...

Sorry about my cousin Soapof Marseilli intrusion.He is always mixing his yoghurts with some pakalolo powder and get confused.

mimi said...

I shall write to Sport Scotland and my MP forthwith lobbying for support in my bid to attend the championship.

Without the distraction of neighbours, I know I could post a competitive time. Though the Bulgarian lavendar vodka might affect my performance.

Allout said...

Hi Mimi. Bit of a delay in the response but unfortunately I haven't been able to spend too much time on blogs in the last few days. Maintaining the previous numbering.

1. In terms of the original discussion about the pink jersey I would maintain that there is a massive difference between Cav being in pink as a direct result of his team's time trialling abilities and Murray being number three which is due to results he has achieved on court on his own. If we are extending the discussion to achievements in the last year in general, though, then I agree that Cav is due more recognition.
2. I think you're being a little sensitive to Boonen's remarks, particularly as Cav is hardly shy about stirring things up through the press - some of his blogs on GU last year weren't exactly talking himself down, even allowing for some hyperbole from his ghost writer, and only last week he was accusing Garmin of disrespect towards a race. McEwan was a great sprinter but he is nearer 40 than 30. Leading up to last year's Tour, Boonen had been the best sprinter over the last couple if years whilst Benatti had won eight stages In the last three Grand Tours. So, whilst it's all a matter of conjecture, I think it's perfectly reasonable to point out that Cav would, in all probability, not been as dominant if they had started the race.
3. just to be clear I didn't mean that you believe taking recreational drugs is reprehensible, but merely trying to make clear the moral distinction between one type and the other in my eyes. What the public's reaction will be I am not sure - I suspect that cycling fans will draw a quite clear distinction whereas lay sports fans may not. What is clear is that he is neither the first nor the last young person to turn to drink and/or drugs following a heady cocktail of media hype, fans attention and plenty money.

mimi said...

Thank you Allout, for taking time yet again to read my ramblings. I think we're not on totally different pages.

I am coming round to your view about the Pink Jersey, though I hold to mine that it is historic because it's not been done before. I have also thought that of course Murray's achievement is due to his advisers (well his mum really) taking him out of the British tennis establishment and going it alone in Spain. Cav grew up in cycling very much part of the Brailsford system. So I agree that this makes Murray more historic, but it confirms the brilliance of Brailsford and the failure of the LTA!

Boonen - yes, maybe I am sensitive about his criticisms and plain nastiness about Cav, and you are right to say that Cav is outspoken. This is mostly because I am a huge Cav fan, but also because I don't read the Flemish press (well can't - would if I could) so I am reading writers who are fond of Tom but overwhelmingly in favour of Cav.
Re McEwen - he may be older, but his guile is second to none and as Cav says, he's learned how to beat Robbie by learning from him.

Finally, I completely agree that there is a moral distinction between recreational and performance-enhancing drug taking. Cycling fans for sure see the difference, but when the mainstream sports writers headline drug-taking in the press, it all gets wrapped up for many readers as reinforcing cycling as a sport of drug cheats.

Football and rugby union have both had recent cocaine problems, but it's treated by the press very differently from cycling, as neither of these sports are associated with performance-enhancing drugs.

I completely agree with your final sentence. Bradley Wiggins describes in detail how he went off the rails with alcohol after early career success. He got through the crisis with the support of family and the national team set-up. I find it very sad that Tom has not had the sort of support to help him. Given that he is a national hero, one has to question why after his first indiscretion was made public, he was not counselled and supported to ensure he wouldn't do it again.

Perhaps blame, if any is to be laid, should be laid at the door of the Belgian cycling authorities.

MotM said...

Pot Belge pour M. Boonen peut-etre?

Interesting debate. Boonen a bit stupid, but not Chris Lewis stupid.

mimi said...

Cav wins again today.

3-2 against Pettachi.

Go Cav and I rest my case. He is the best sprinter in the world.

Allout said...

Hi Mimi

You will no doubt not be surprised to hear that I don't view the fact that Cav has pipped a 35 year old whose career peaked 5 years ago as clear evidence that he is the best in the world.

Hopefully Boonen will be back racing before too long as (amongst other things) his competition with Cav could be one of the great sporting rivalries of modern times.

mimi said...

Allout - it's a sporting truism but you can only race the opposition that is there on the day.

Cav is beating everyone.

As Ebren crys him, JeBu is beating everyone.

Currently England are beating everyone.

That the opposition are a bag of disinterested, unenthusiastic, too old, whatever makes no difference.

A win is a win. That's sport.

Catch me tomorrow if Barca win and I'll sing a different song!

Ebren said...

Hey Mimi - sadly t'was not my christening. My flatmate's been calling him JeBu for ages.

mimi said...

Barca won. I'm not sure what song to sing.

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