Merckx: Tour de France climbing speeds no reflection of clean cycling

Cycling legend Eddy Merckx has suggested that the much-hyped performances on the mountain stages of the 2011 Tour de France being due to a cleaner peloton is in fact false.

Post race, many were of the belief that the less explosive performances on the decisive mountain stages for last year's Tour de France was evidence of the Grand Boucle being one of the cleanest the sport had witnessed. Fatigue appeared to be more obvious and any attacks were less destructive.

"The speed is nothing to do with the controls," Merckx, fresh off the plane in Adelaide for the Santos Tour Down Under, said. "It depends on also the weather – headwinds or backwinds. If you look at the Galibier stage and what kind of wind it was, it was a headwind, it was strong, and Andy Schleck won the stage. I don't think they go slower now than before."

Schleck (Leopard-Trek) won the 18th stage of the Tour after attacking on the slopes of the Col d'Izoard and soloing his way to take the stage win atop the Galibier and moving up into second place overall. His brother and teammate Fränk sprinted to second place with Cadel Evans (BMC) third. Schleck (25 minutes) made it up the steep 8.3 kilometre climb nearly two minutes slower than those in pursuit who put the hammer down in the final 10 kilometres of the 200.5 kilometre stage.

Merckx steered away from airing his thoughts on the Alberto Contador case apart from that he hopes "he will be free," with a Court of Arbitration for Sport decision due to be handed down in coming days.

"I'm not a doctor, I don't know what happened," the 66-year-old said. "Mentally it would be very hard for him because it's [the decision] been a long time. I know he was training in Israel and he said he was feeling good.

"To give an answer [regarding guilt or innocence] you have to know everything about the case of Contador and I cannot answer. It takes a long time for the experts to give an answer and I am not an expert."

Merckx maintained that cycling will never be completely free of doping but it was no different to other facets of life.

"No sport is 100 per cent clean," he stated. "I think 95 per cent of the cyclists are clean. In the normal world, not everybody is clean."

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