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Blazin' Saddles: News round-up – Thomas, Tour wildcards, Landis and Dr Freeman

Blazin' Saddles: News round-up – Thomas, Tour wildcards, Landis and Dr Freeman

08/02/2019 at 08:19Updated 08/02/2019 at 09:19

Our cycling blogger Felix Lowe takes a sideways glance at the news this week – including Geraint Thomas back in the saddle and ruling out the Giro, a sneak-peak at the new kit of the Floyd Landis-sponsored US continental team and Dr Richard Freeman's latest no-show.

Freeman fails to show... again

The medical tribunal assessing the former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman's fitness to practice was adjourned for 48 hours on Wednesday after he failed to turn up to the hearing in Manchester owing to unspecified reasons "which cannot be made public at this time".

It is not the first time the former Sky and British Cycling doctor has put in a no-show at an important meeting or inquiry – leading to some people to question his very existence.

Freeman, who denies any wrongdoing, and whose struggles with mental health problems are well documented, failed to give evidence in person to the DCMS select committee inquiry into doping in sport in 2017, and recently pulled out of appearing at the employment tribunal for British track rider Jess Varnish.

The doping allegations that the General Medical Council hopes to explore include the alleged ordering of 30 sachets of testosterone gel to the British Cycling base at the Manchester Velodrome in May 2011, as well as his intention to dope an unnamed rider and the inappropriate medical treatment of several staff members, including Sky manager Sir Dave Brailsford.

Freeman has been charged following a General Medical Council investigation

Freeman has been charged following a General Medical Council investigationGetty Images

Freeman claims the delivery of banned gels had been an administrative error. And in his book, The Line, Freeman stresses his philosophy of helping athletes and patients "reach their own inherent best performance without ever crossing the medical or sporting ethical line".

It is thought that the tribunal will now not get going until early next week. If, as Doctor Freeman claims in his book, "it's never about winning at all costs," then he's going the right way about it.

But can you blame the man for not turning up? His attendance in person is not legally required, after all.

Picture of the year - July 2018 - Cycling - Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome .jpg

Picture of the year - July 2018 - Cycling - Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome .jpgEurosport

Thomas says no to the Giro

Despite team-mate Chris Froome telling reporters that the Giro was "perfect" for Thomas, the Welshman is not going to roll over that easily – setting up the mouthwatering prospect of Sky in-fighting on the roads of France in July.

With Froome eyeing a record-equalling fifth yellow jersey in Paris, and Thomas hoping to become the twenty-first rider to win a second Tour, the wall of the Sky team bus will be an interesting place to be a fly this summer.

Back in action at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana this week, 32-year-old Thomas admitted that he had "unfinished business" at the Giro after crashing out when leading Sky in 2017, but reiterated his desire to focus on the Tour: "Maybe I'll race it next year but this year has always been about the Tour."

Nice try, Froomey!

Boasson on song in Spain

Meanwhile, Thomas could only muster a thirteenth place on his return to cycling this year – finishing 20 seconds behind former team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen in the 10.3km opening time trial at Orihuela in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.

Video - Boasson Hagen takes opening stage in Valencia

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On a demanding course that had clearly been designed by Carlsberg, Norway's Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) got the better of Spaniard Ion Izagirre (Astana) and Germany's Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma) by five and seven seconds respectively.

Thomas's effort was not even the best for a British rider, with youngster Harry Tanfield, making his debut WorldTour appearance for Katusha-Alpecin, pipping the Welshman for twelfth place while securing the white jersey as best young rider.

Video - Boasson Hagen reflects on opening victory after holding off Thomas

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Landis' team reveals new kit

For many, there should be a Tuskian special place in hell reserved for ex-dopers wishing to stay in the sport – but the jury's out on Floyd Landis.

Roughly 52% no doubt think that the stripped winner of the 2006 Tour should never be involved in cycling again, leaving the remaining, more compassionate and understanding 48% to accept that, well, perhaps the man whose whistleblowing helped bring down Lance Armstrong could still salvage something – even if his pharmaceutical cannabis company could be seen as sending out mixed messages to aspiring sportsmen.

But there is another way at looking at it: the man has used all the money he received in the settlement from the Armstrong case to help the struggling US pro scene – clearly putting something back into the sport he helped scupper in the heady days of the early Noughties. Surely that's to be admired?

As for the jersey – well, it's not bad, with a touch of Vital Concept-B&B Hotels in the black, spearmint green and white colour scheme.

Rolland keeps fingers crossed for Tour

Speaking of Vital Concept, the new Pro-Conti team of Frenchman Pierre Rolland will have to prove their worth in Paris-Nice in March if they want to see their marquee signing make an eleventh consecutive appearance in the Tour de France.

With Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Cofidis already awarded entry, Rolland's Vital-Concept will battle it out with the Arkea-Samsic squad of Warren Barguil and Andre Greipel and the Direct Energie team of Niki Terpstra for the two remaining wildcard spots.

It's hardly a done deal – with all three teams offering an attractive package for ASO head Christian Prudhomme. But a Tour without Rolland hasn't been seen since the days of Carlos Sastre in yellow and Bernie Kohl in polka dots.

Pierre Rolland - Europcar

Pierre Rolland - EuropcarEurosport

"It's a new situation for me not knowing if I'll race the Tour de France this year," Rolland said in an interview with L'Equipe this week. "I've raced there for the past ten years and have always finished it. It's very important to me."

If Greipel's arrival along with Barguil's stellar race in 2017 should act in favour of Arkea, things look less promising for Rolland's former team, Direct Energie.

With home favourites Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel now both retired, hopes lie on the shoulders of new arrival Terpstra and 2017 stage winner Lilian Calmejane. Their stock may have fallen, but then again, Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's team is on a run of 19 consecutive Tour appearances.

It remains to be seen if Rolland can end that run in order to continue his own. Vital Concept will hope that he – along with sprinter Bryan Coquard, and French baroudeurs Cyril Gautier and Arthur Vichot – represents a large enough pull to shake things up in July.

The safe money, it seems, is for Arkea to give way to Vital Concept. But lots can still happen before the decision has to be made. One thing's certain: one French second-tier team is going to be very peeved off when the announcement is made in May.

Adieu, Paul

And finally, the great and the good of the cycling community convened at Manchester cathedral on Wednesday to commemorate the life of former pro rider and commentator Paul Sherwen, who died on December 2 at the age of 62.

Paul Sherwen attends the team presentation for the 13th annual Amgen Tour of California 2018 on May 11, 2018 in Long Beach, California.

Paul Sherwen attends the team presentation for the 13th annual Amgen Tour of California 2018 on May 11, 2018 in Long Beach, California.Getty Images

Sherwen, who rode seven Tours de France in the 70s and 80s, was arguably best known for his cycling commentary alongside fellow "Voice of Cycling" Phil Liggett. More than 250 people – including Sean Kelly, former UCI President Brian Cookson and Tour director Christian Prudhomme – attended the memorial service.

Eurosport offers all its condolences to Sherwen's family, friends, fans and colleagues: he was part of the Tour de France furniture and his presence on the world's biggest bike race will be sorely missed.

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