Eddy Merckx has spoken out against the new 'no needle' policy put into place by the UCI at this year's Giro d'Italia. In a long interview published in L'Equipe this Monday, the man once called the 'Cannibal' criticised the new anti-doping rule, labelling it as "foolish and dangerous". He also slammed the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) for letting the doping case concerning Alberto Contador take such a long time, and the Spanish Grand Tour champion for giving away stage victories at the Giro d'Italia.
"The UCI is going too far by banning the use of syringes for recovery products," Merckx said, speaking of the regulation. "It's foolish and dangerous. The riders, as a consequence, are taking pills and risk unsettling their intestines. What they are doing in a Grand Tour is extraordinary, so why lay such strict rules on them? If a doctor says that they need recovery products, then they do. It's not by drinking sugar water that they will recover from their efforts produced in the rain of that terrible stage with the Gardecchia..."
Speaking of the Giro, the Belgian also condemned Alberto Contador's decision to let other riders take the stage victories while he extended his overall lead. This happened several times in the race, including stage 13 and stage 19. "I didn't like it when he gave away stages like he did. It's not very healthy, and it's disrespectful to the public. A great champion owes it to himself to race with more panache. Armstrong always regretted having left the victory on the Ventoux to Marco Pantani [at the 2000 Tour de France - ed.]. It wasn't useful. I also remember Pantani feeling greatly humiliated. I wouldn't have liked it it I had been given a stage win as charity."
Of course, Merckx can still understand why Contador acted in this way. "There's always a point when a rider feels he has to work on his popularity with the public, specially if he has been the subject of discussion and controversy. Moreover, he did it for his own tranquillity, and to loosen up the tensions inside the peloton. If he had acted as a dictator, he would have attracted a lot of hostility. When you dominate too much, you end up with everyone on your back."
The 66-year-old also gave his opinion of the ongoing doping case involving the Spaniard. "What annoys me about this story is his line of defence. This explanation of a Clenbutreol-contaminated steak never convinced me," Merckx admitted, and criticised the fact that the case was not resolved prior to the Tour de France.
"If he is condemned, he would lose the 2010 Tour title, the 2011 Giro and the Tour that he is getting ready for now. It's very annoying. Honestly, I don't understand what is going on, why the experts still have to study a dossier that they have been debating on for a year. In any other sport, the affair would already have been solved. Why is it taking so much time? WADA seems to be at war with cycling ever since it was at odds with [former UCI president] Hein Verbruggen. Perhaps there are political interests at stake, I don't know."
In any case, Contador will defend his Tour de France title, targeting a Giro and Tour double. The man who won 11 Grand Tours in his career, achieving the double twice (1970 and 1974), thought that the Spaniard would be able to do it, even if he feared an alliance against him.
"A lot of things can make life complicated for him: the weakness of his team, his different rivals - stronger and more numerous than at the Giro, more organised. What will he do if one of the Schlecks or Wiggins attacks him right at the start? At the Giro, everyone takes their position and then defends it. But the Tour is a different set of shoes.
"The first week in Brittany will be dangerous, especially if there is wind and echelons. The Spaniard remains fragile in that respect, as we saw two years ago at La Grande Motte [Contador lost 41 seconds to Lance Armstrong when an echelon formed in the wind - ed.]. Everything will depend on the weather conditions."
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