What's Cool In Road Cycling

The Schumi And Bernie Jigsaw Puzzle

The four riders are working hard, very hard, maybe even too hard; they are on the drops most of the time, except when they are attacking one of the sharp little rises which rear through the trees every kilometre or so in this, the 19th stage of le Tour de France 2008.

Future world champion Ballan (Lampre & Italy), Martinez (Euskaltel & The Basque Country) , Fedrigo (Bouyges & France) and – Schumacher (Gerolsteiner & Germany) are trying to break the invisible cord that binds them to the peloton.

I had the good fortune to be on a motorbike, following the stage that day, “the quietest day of the race” said the papers, but not for me – I had one of the best days of my life. I could have reached out and touched Schumacher, we were that close to him.

I was surprised by his presence in the move because the next day was the final time trial; he’d won the first chrono and was a favourite for the last one, so what the hell was he doing in a breakaway? Accepted wisdom if you are targeting a stage victory against the watch in a three week Grand Tour is that you ‘hide’ during the days leading up to it – saving the legs and getting your mind right.

But here was Schumacher throwing precious coals on a fire which never ignited – despite all those watts they expended, the four succumbed just before the feed and it was Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis & France) who took the honours that day, from breakaway companion, Jeremy Roy (Francaise des Jeux & France).

At least everything didn’t go Schumacher’s way at Le Tour.

But maybe the first piece of the puzzle was laid on the board back in the spring, when I asked Belgian Silence-Lotto pro and man of wisdom, Bert Roesems; “will 2008 see an end to the doping problem in the sport?”

Bert’s reply stuck in my mind; “it will be better, but not completely sorted out because there will be ‘old school’ riders who think that they can beat the tests. I think 2008 will be an improvement, but there will still be scandals; it will be a year of transition, the real change will not come until 2009.”

My next piece of the puzzle came from Tour of Ireland winner, Marco Pinotti when I spoke to him about his success on the Emerald Isle. He explained to me realities of post EPO three week stage racing; “the day after a tough stage everybody is tired now, you can’t have day after day of hard racing like before, everyone is too drained, the petrol has all gone!”

When I heard those words, I immediately thought about Schumi in that stage 19 breakaway.

Adam Hansen readies for the final chrono.

Maybe the biggest piece of the puzzle was fitted the day after my ‘moto’ adventure – the Tour’s final chrono. Martin and I had followed Adam Hansen over the tough 53 kilometre route and had repaired to the salle de presse to file our words and pictures. When the winner was announced, heads were shaken, mine included. I remember saying; “how can Schumacher have become one of the best time trial riders in the world – virtually overnight?”

When the rumours started to fly about post Tour CERA test ‘positives’ and; “two from Gerolsteiner” were cited, I just knew that Schumacher was one of them.

His lawyer has started ‘denial strategy’ already, but the comments of his Gerolsteiner team mate Sebastian Lang say it all and almost complete the puzzle; “it was announced that there was a new test for CERA, we were all happy – except Stefan . . .

And the final piece?

The one that’s lost under the sofa; yes it was the ‘Bernie’ piece, old Schumi’s roommate at Gerolsteiner – what a surprise!

Another anecdote, if I may; at the top of l’Alpe d’Huez, Martin and I were hovering around the finish line to get pictures of riders whose faces would tell the story of a mountain stage better than any words of mine. Maxime Montfort’s blank, wasted visage was the shot we wanted, and as we shouldered through the throng back towards the salle de presse, there was Kohl. I remember saying to Martin; ‘how can a fat little fellow with hamster cheeks like that, be pulling on the polka dot jersey, again?

Now, we know.

Jigsaws – I never had the patience for them; but that one was easy.

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what's cool in road cycling?

Comments are closed.