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The five-ring circus: Busts and buses

As the Olympics head into their second day here in Athens, doping has been the big story with the focus on Greece’s top two sprinters and their infamous moped accident. But now comes news that cycling has been dragged into the law-breaking fray — albeit on a much smaller scale. The tawdry tale came to light late Saturday when Greek police announced that they’d arrested Anthony Cooke, father of top British cyclist Nicole Cooke. Apparently the senior Cooke ran afoul with the law when he and a friend were nabbed during a clandestine graffiti operation on one of the streets of the road course.

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor

As the Olympics head into their second day here in Athens, doping has been the big story with the focus on Greece’s top two sprinters and their infamous moped accident. But now comes news that cycling has been dragged into the law-breaking fray — albeit on a much smaller scale.

The tawdry tale came to light late Saturday when Greek police announced that they’d arrested Anthony Cooke, father of top British cyclist Nicole Cooke. Apparently the senior Cooke ran afoul with the law when he and a friend were nabbed during a clandestine graffiti operation on one of the streets of the road course. The two Brits were there to paint a message of support for the younger Cooke, but didn’t choose their location wisely.

The area happened to be near the capital’s diplomatic area (lots of embassies and the like), and with security already so ramped up, such desecration of property was not to be tolerated. The pair were eventually released after ID’s were checked and explanations furthered.

As for my own adventures of late, they have all revolved around transportation. A fleet of buses are the media’s primary mode for getting around the city, and though this is good idea in theory, it doesn’t always work that way. Being the ancient European city that it is, the streets are not exactly set up on a grid. Throw into the mix the fact that many of the bus drivers aren’t even from Athens and you can see the problem.

Two nights ago, on the trip back to my media village home at Agios Andreas following the Opening Ceremonies, the driver got so lost that we actually did a U-turn on what amounted to a small highway. That was followed by several stops to ask for directions, and one instance where the guy threw the thing into reverse and started backing up the wrong way on a busy street. How someone didn’t get rundown by the rogue bus I’ll never know. The usually 45-minute trip took twice that.

The adventure continued the next day when after waiting an hour past the scheduled bus arrival time, myself and a dozen of my cycling journalist peers were hustled into a fleet of minivans to take the trip into the Athens city center for the men’s road race. That trip didn’t go much smoother than the previous night’s ride, but after several U-turns and numerous calls by the driver back to the main bus depot, we arrived at the start/finish 10 minutes before the start of the race.

Sunday brought more transportation trauma during that same trip to the city center for the women’s road race. This time the bus showed up on time, but the driver and his two “assistants” (I think it was his mom and dad) weren’t from around here and didn’t know the city streets. Once again the trip deteriorated into a series of wrong turns and stops to ask for directions, and it wasn’t until some of the passengers staged a near-hostile takeover did we get turned back in the right direction.

I have to admit that though downtown Athens is a great venue for cycling, I’m not going to miss it when racing heads south to the coastal Vouliagmeni Olympic Center for the time trial on Wednesday. It’s hard to miss the ocean.

That’s it for today. But check back later for a full report from the women’s road race, which was set to roll out a 3 p.m. local time on Sunday.