Flashback: RIDE #39 (January 2008)

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Ending an era…

The moment before unleashing a World Cup winning pursuit at the end of the 2007 season, Bradley Wiggins was captured by Yuzuru Sunada. The image got Rob Arnold thinking…

There is so much symbolism in this photo (above) that it takes a while to appreciate. It represents the start of the final success of one of the most prolific teams in cycling. The sponsorship by the German telco spanned almost 20 years and yielded virtually all the major prizes in the sport. Bradley Wiggins was meant to ride in the famous magenta colours of T-Mobile in his first move to a team registered outside of France. It was a contract drafted for a season mapped out to suit his Olympic objectives in 2008 yet before the year had even officially begun, the team was gone.

This was in December 2007. He was the world champion in the pursuit and thus donned the rainbow jersey. The skinsuit also carried the logo of T-Mobile. He was due to join the team in January but days before this race the name changed.

Team High Road was born out of success and adversity. Its basis was once one of the best squads in the world but it was haunted by its past. T-Mobile ended its association after enduring one too many bouts of negative headlines after a season of scandals relating to both past and present riders. One day the company website that boasted impressive coverage of the sport it sponsored changed its message.

“Deutsche Telekom AG has elected to end sponsorship of professional cycling with immediate effect.” Part of cycling history was relegated to an archive deep in an internet ether.

Wiggins ends his Tour de France in 2007 because of Cristian Moreni... PHOTO: Yuzuru Sunada.

Wiggins ends his Tour de France in 2007 because of Cristian Moreni... PHOTO: Yuzuru Sunada.

As a member of the Cofidis team, Wiggins had ambitions in 2007 and set about achieving them. The tick-list was being completed: first the pursuit title in Mallorca, and then onward to preparing perfectly for the prologue of Le Tour in London.

He didn’t make it to Paris. It all came to an end because of a team-mate’s error. Christian Moreni was the reason the Brit didn’t reach the end of his second Tour de France. His Italian colleague failed a doping control for the same substance that claimed the scalps of some other prominent men: testosterone.

The hormone was responsible for Floyd Landis becoming the first man to lose a Tour title. It was also the spark that, stoked by Patrick Sinkewitz – who crashed, initially into a spectator after the stage to Tignes and, ultimately, out of the peloton because of his failed drug control – eventually sent the T-Mobile team to a flaming finale.

Team-mates in another era: Wiggins and Cavendish in the Madison at the track World Cup in Beijing 2007... "Good luck". PHOTO: Yuzuru Sunada.

Team-mates in another era: Wiggins and Cavendish in the Madison at the track World Cup in Beijing 2007... "Good luck". PHOTO: Yuzuru Sunada.

The German confessed his sins. Like Moreni, but unlike Landis (originally), Sinkewitz didn’t deny using a testosterone patch to aid recovery. It wasn’t all he did to enhance his performance. “I didn’t invent doping,” was how he defended his actions.
“As a professional you grow into it over the years.”

The charade is over. In a watershed season for the sport, a cast of former T-Mobile/Deutsche Telekom riders and staff admitted that the team’s halcyon years were little more than artificially enhanced fraud. Among the guilty were significant scalps. Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag – two stars of Hell On Wheels, a stunning motion picture documenting the daily grind of riders during the Tour de France’s centenary edition – confessed that EPO had been part of their racing preparation during the 1990s. Bjarne Riis, the man once considered the winner of the 83rd Tour, now has a heavy asterisk beside his name in the record books. *Le Danois ne peut plus être considére comme le vainqueur du Tour de France 1996.

On your mark. Get set. Go! We’ll take the high road & the cheats of history can take the low road. Cycling’s future hangs in the balance in 2008. The next time Bradley Wiggins lines up on Beijing’s Laoshan velodrome, the rainbow skinsuit and sponsor logos will be replaced by national colours. He is one man who hopes that the focus of interest can be returned to the racing rather than the dire practices of doping.

Let’s all set our sights high and get off to a fresh start where the symbolism lies in natural achievement and the inspiration it offers, not a quagmire of tawdry confessions and guilt.

By Rob Arnold

(RIDE Cycling Review #39 – Published: January 2008)

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RIDE Media publishes both the Official Tour de France Guide (Australian Edition) as well as RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling.
RIDE Cycling Review is now available in a digital format via Zinio.

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Author: rob@ride

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