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One of the great folkloric tragedies of Australian sport is the story of Raelene Boyle.  By far one of this country’s most talented sprinters, Boyle won the silver medal as a 17 year old over 200m at the 1968 Olympics to Polish legend Irena Szewinska, and then was famously beaten in both the 100m and 200m at the 1972 Munich Olympics by East Germany’s Renate Stecher.  Once the Germans’ secret files were released, it was revealed that Stecher had been part of their infamous systematic doping programme.  Boyle twice had to stand on the podium a step below her rightful place, listen to someone else’s anthem, and graciously congratulate the woman who she would later learn had cheated her out of a dual gold medal and a place in Olympic history.

Fast forward to Beijing in 2008, and young Ballarat boy Jared Tallent burst onto the international race walking scene with a bronze medal in the 20km walk, and a silver in the 50km.  These (alongside Steve Hooker’s pole vault gold) were the first individual male track and field medals since Tim Forsyth won the bronze in the high jump in 1992, and Jared effected the first multiple medal haul for an Australian man since Stan Rowley in 1900.

Tallent’s performances were superb, and on their own are enough to mark him as one of Australia’s best ever track and field athletes, but he was by no means done.  The following four years saw Jared confirm his status as one of the best athletes in the world with bronze medals at the 2010 & 2012 World Racewalking Cup 50km, and the 2011 World Championships.

The London Olympics in 2012 were a significantly different experience for Tallent.  This time around he was one of the favourites for the 50km race, but his form wasn’t as good – he “only” came 7th in the 20km the week earlier, and he hadn’t had the perfectly uninterrupted preparation he enjoyed prior to his breakout championship in Beijing 2008.  However great sportsmen have a knack of lifting, and in this case, Jared did so magnificently.  He again walked to the silver medal, this time in a personal best time – a great performance.  No Australian male has ever won track and field medals at consecutive Olympic games.  Ever.

This of course, has sealed Tallent’s place in Australian Olympic history.

Sadly, the story parallels that of Boyle from here.  The man who beat Tallent in the 2008 50km is Italian Alex Schwazer, who was exposed as a drug cheat in 2012.  He worked with Lance Armstrong’s notorious doctor, Michele Ferrari, but claims that he only did so for technical advice, and only cheated from 2011 (after he stopped winning races).  The man who won the 20km in 2008 was Valery Borchin from Russia.  Borchin’s coach Viktor Chegin announced that Borchin had tested positive to EPO some months prior to the games being run, but for unknown reasons, this was not investigated and he was allowed to compete.  He had already been sanctioned in 2005 for having Ephedrine in his system.  A case can be made for Jared truly being the gold medallist in the 50km, and the silver medallist for the 20km (behind the legendary Ecuadorian Jefferson Perez).

In 2012, Jared’s 50km world walking cup bronze was behind two Russians – Sergey Kirdyapkin and Igor Erokhin, both of whom have dubious records to say the least.  Erokhin had served a doping ban for using EPO in 2008, and both are – as of this week – rumoured to be not competing at the 2013 World Championships because they have been caught cheating in the last few months.

It gets worse.

Jared’s 2012 Olympics silver medal was also behind Kirdyapkin.

It gets worse.

Kirdyapkin’s coach is a man named Viktor Chegin.  You might recognise the name: he coached Valery Borchin who beat Jared in the 20km walk in Beijing.  Chegin and his training squad are based in Saransk, a small town a couple of hundred km to the east of Moscow.  Chegin’s training squad also includes such luminaries as Vladimir Kanaykin (world record holder over 20km walk, and banned for EPO use in 2008), Sergey Morozov (world junior champion, banned for EPO use in 2008 and then again in 2011), Tatyana Mineyeva (world youth champion, banned in 2008), Olga Kaniskina (Olympic champion 2008, World champion 2007, ‘09 & ‘11, withdrawn from World Champs 2013 under very suspicious circumstances)…  Are we seeing a pattern forming here?

It would seem that Jared Tallent has twice been beaten at the Olympic games over 50km by a drug cheat.  It could be argued that he is in the dubious position of being the Raelene Boyle of modern athletics.

One can only hope that he continues on to Rio and wins the damn thing on the day!

As I sit in the brothel that is Terminal 3, Heathrow, I can’t believe that my direct involvement with the London Olympics is done. When did that happen?? It felt like forever when I was first nominated to be physio, and still forever when I was confirmed. All of a sudden I was in London which was in the midst of cycling hysteria as Wiggo and Froomey had confirmed that they would be atop the podium at the Tour, and the Olympics were about to start.

The buzz in town was amazing: about the Olympics in general and British cycling in particular, and it was impossible to not be super excited about the whole shebang. Obviously the punish of security checks, red tape and heavy traffic was there to be dealt with, but the Games are just so big, you have to expect that sort of deal and it’s a very small price to pay for the general awesomeness of it all. Yes, awesomeness is not my finest descriptor from a “style” point of view, but it is from an “accuracy” angle.

20120803-194041.jpg The crowds were awesome for both races

As for the racing, despite the Cav-inspired and media-fanned beat-up about “negative” tactics, our boys were spot on in the Road Race. Is it now considered negative if you try and defeat the opposition in sport? I was unaware of this new concept of a team being negative by being in the break and attacking the peloton. Ridiculous.

That Stuey could muster a high finish despite being up the road for over 200km is a testament to the ability of the man. It was very cool seeing him go through his preparations on the morning of the race: he was clearly “on”. Little bit of fire in the eyes as the legend rolled out for what must have surely been his last Olympics (although you wouldn’t rule him out of the next ones!)

In the Time Trial Mick Rogers did brilliantly – that he cramped literally on the finish line and then couldn’t stand up after he got off his bike for more hamstring cramps shows that he went very deep on the day. Sixth place in both races was a great result for Australia and an impressive performance from our road cycling men. They rode to the limit of their abilities, and delivered very good (although not great) results. I feel proud to have been a part of the team.

20120803-194228.jpg Warm-up mode (in full aero kit)

As for Wiggo taking the win? It was brilliant being there. Not as huge a sound as Cathy Freeman’s 400m gold in Sydney, but it was fantastic to experience, and good to see an athlete perform to their absolute best when the Big Show rolled around. Well done to Wiggo, and to his team for getting his prep so perfectly right.

20120803-193812.jpg Wiggo rolling to the start.

And now? Back to Brisbane to see the Lions roll out the season: hopefully with a couple more wins!!

20120803-193528.jpg The time trial started at the beautiful Hampton Court Palace, and had ludicrous “hot seats” designed by Ali G. Someone was paid to come up with that idea people.

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Today is the big day. The culmination of the road cycling programme for the London Olympics. I can’t believe we’re already here!

The standard procedure for most riders after the Tour is something like – go to the team party straight after the finish, then find where all of the peloton are heading out to, go out ’til all hours drinking and dancing, wake up at whenever o’clock, stagger down for some coffee, get to the airport to head home, and do pretty much nothing for a week or so.

All of the boys in the Olympics have had the highly unconventional recovery of heading to their various trade team parties, leaving after a polite glass or two of champagne/wine, heading to their various national pre-Olympic camps, and then having daily rides, rubs, physio, medical and chiro treatments. If Mick Rogers’ state of mind about how good his legs feel is anything to go by, these blokes have just had an enormous load put into them (the Tour) and now have beautifully recovered from it, allowing their bodies to fully adapt to the load. There will be some impressive work from post-Tour riders this season methinks!

And yes! Mick’s legs are good. We’re very hopeful of Mick being right up there today – we’ve prepared as well as is possible, Mick is ready, and we will be looking to have him standing on the podium later in the day. Hope springs eternal!!

GO Australia!

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We have arrived!

Well, to be honest, it’s been a few days now, but the dust has only really settled enough to write anything as of today. We’re staying a little out of town, allowing us the opportunity to train without the stress of dealing with the traffic of London, the slog of battling other athletes for everything in the Village, and the chance for the boys to decompress, relax and recover after the Tour.

I’m pretty sure the Ye Olde Englishe translation for this area is “Quaint”

;

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Yes, that is a thatch roof, and yes, they are little thatch geese sculptures on top of the thatch roof. Like I said – Quaint.

Another example? The pub down the way predates European settlement of Australia by over 200 years. Good grief! It’s a beautiful part of the world.

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Quaint-a-thon!!

In “me” news, I’ve made it to the Village once, saw the apartments, checked out the recreation area, looked at the gym and pretended to be interested in lots of stuff, waiting for when I thought it would be considered socially appropriate to go to the food hall and open my Chicken Nuggets account for the Games. Suffice to say, the account is open, there’s a lot of food options in there, but Philistine that I am, I chose 6 nuggets & BBQ sauce. Sigh.

Elsewise, I saw a random gorilla sculpture in front of some great lawn mowing; Aussie girls doing the famous “Hello Boys” move under the Olympic rings sculpture, and a couple of Olympic legends.

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This morning back at our little cycling base we were visited by Official welcoming-type people and had a little ceremony. At one point we linked arms with John Eales and Lawrie Lawrence whilst singing songs. That is not a sentence I ever thought I would type.

As for the boys, they have gone from looking positively skeletal, coughing up their lungs every couple of minutes and groaning when they had to do any large movements (such as sit in a chair) to slowly dragging themselves back to humanity. It’s been best monitored with the cough frequency measure, which has shown a steady slowing of the rate of coughery all week. Very scientific. Trust me.

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We now have five blokes in unbelievably good shape, having ridden the Tour, who have recovered to the point that they are now going to be able to delve into their bodies and produce something pretty special. We’re all massively looking forward to it now!!

The overall top 3 for the Tour is virtually locked in after the Pyrenees, with the likely result of the final time trial being to simply confirm the dominance of the two Sky boys, and shuffle a few of the lower places.  Prior to that, we have a 221km stage that nominally should be a sprint stage, but likely sprint teams will need to be motivated to control things  as it is a very tough day in the saddle.  Exhaustion for those who are already exhausted.

Firstly, such a long stage at such a late point is tough, and secondly, the profile (and knowing the area from races I’ve been to in previous years) is almost NEVER flat.  This is a total headwreck of a day – it is mentally exhausting to be constantly up and down little rollers, and in and out of corners.  Riders need to concentrate all day to avoid crashes and be in the right place at the right time

Translation: it wouldn’t be a surprise if the break stays away!  The responsibility will largely rest on the Orica GreenEdge boys as they haven’t been working on the front of the bunch for the past few days (unlike the Lotto, Liquigas and Sky lads, who have all been working hard for their various GC men).

I’m hoping they do the job, and Gossy delivers on the line.  He’s in good form, but hasn’t quite bopped a win yet.  Tonight is his night!  Followed by Cav then Greipel.

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Froomey leading Wiggo uphill 1

Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome have shown that they are by far the best two riders in the Tour de France, being untouchable on both the mountains as well as on the time trials.  Liquigas and Vincenzo Nibali set the race up, giving it everything they could to make the race tough in the hope that the Sky boys would crack, but in the end, that just meant they had less work to do and could do more damage in the finale.

Alejandro Valverde streaked off the front with a well timed & orchestrated break early in the stage, but he wasn’t secure until the final km as Froomey and Wiggo were absolutely on the charge.

It was telling that at the 5km to go banner, Wiggo and Froomey were still comfortable enough to have a little chat and plan their final assault.  Basically, Wiggo completely head-wrecked every bloke still in the group.  He is the master of that sort of psychological warfare.

Who knows if Froomey could have bridged across to (and then outsprinted) Valverde, but he is now guaranteed to have achieved folkloric status in not making the attempt.  If there is one thing that both bike fans, and the British public love, it is the heroically selfless working man.  Froome is Sam Gamgee to Wiggo’s Frodo, which is mildly amusing, considering Wiggo was begged by the Garmin media person in 2009 to not call the tiny humans who are traditionally the best climbers hobbits.

Froome leading Wiggo uphill 2

Got to love it!  The two hobbits from Team Sky now have a couple of sprinter stages and a TT to survive, and they will stand on the top two steps of the podium on the Champs Elysees.  Brilliant stuff, and well done gents.

Mountain passes & hills 2

5% average WITH a descent halfway up?? Eeeek!

Tonight is the stage that I have been looking forward to the most since I had a proper look at the various stage profiles back in early June.  It is a genuine belter!    The back end of the race includes an Hors Categorie climb immediately followed by a First Categorie climb.  The profile from today is reminiscent of the stage where Wiggo lost his place on the podium to Lance back in 2009, without the descent to the finish (so it’s even harder).

To be honest, Wiggo and Froomey have looked in control at all times, and I can’t see how they could fail to control everything again today.  Sky have been dominant, and all kudos to them.  However, this is sport, and there’s always a chance!

If there were a universal karmic balance-type of being out there, then it would be fair for Vincenzo Nibali to finally crack the two Sky lads at least once and at least gain a little bit of time on them.  He won’t get the overall win out of anything he does tonight, but he has been a great addition to the headlines of the race.  Tonight is his final shot at pulling this off, and I can’t imagine him doing anything other than going down all guns blazing.

For the win tonight, I’m on Scarponi – he finished with the grupetto yesterday, meaning he’s either sick as a dog, or was saving himself for tonight.  My money’s on the latter.  For second, I’m thinking Nibali, and third Froomey.

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