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Letters to Cyclingnews August 8, 2001
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Thanks for an interesting and informative web page. I visit it daily. I especially enjoy the letters, even (okay, especially!) those that are critical of me. Now that the Tour de France is over, I offer a few reflections.
I recommend going easy on Bob Varsha. He made a few mistakes, to be sure, but he's a quick study. Keep in mind that as compared to Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, anyone will look inept. Nor should we think less of Varsha because his job involved taking us to commercials. I did find myself hating the sound of his voice, but it's because I knew we were leaving the racing for a couple of minutes. That is not his fault.
My admiration and respect (those are different) for Jan Ullrich has grown. He is a magnificent bicyclist and, to the extent that I know him, a classy person. If I weren't rooting for Lance Armstrong, I would root for Ullrich. The two gave us a wonderful and inspirational show.
On the subject of how Armstrong can dominate the most difficult bicycle race in the world, do not underestimate the power of the will. Why should we think, a priori, that willpower is distributed equally among people?
Nothing else--intelligence, sensitivity, fortitude, or character--is distributed equally. I sincerely believe, having read about his life, that Armstrong is indomitable. How he got this way is a question for psychologists, but I suspect it has something to do with his father (or lack thereof). Another respect in which people differ is their capacity to withstand and use pain. As Michael Tanner writes with regard to Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy, "there is no greatness without a readiness and capacity to withstand, absorb, and use to best purpose an immense quantity of pain". Also (and crucially): "Suffering that is merely contingent, visited on us without explanation, is unendurable. But if we inflict it on ourselves we can understand it, and extend our understanding to the whole of life." (Michael Tanner, Nietzsche [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994], 27, 73) Armstrong has experienced both contingent and self-inflicted pain.
Could it be that, like Nietzsche, he understands and is able to use his suffering to better effect than any of his rivals? Is this the root of his greatness as a bicyclist?
Tour reflections #2
Well this year was easily one of the most exciting Tours ever! Can anyone dispute J.M. Leblanc's choices for teams? I was one of the people complaining of his choices, but after these past three weeks, I think I understood him a little better. The Tour is much more exciting when each stage is not a complete bunch sprint, the result of the Saeco chasing down the break to give Mario a chance. The little teams attacked often, keeping the pace very high, and hard. The format of Mountains all together. Wow that was very hard, just to watch! Cannot imagine riding it. Team Time Trial...Love it and keep it please. Complaints...How could I?
Did anyone else notice that the lantern rouge finished 8th on the last stage? How cool it would have been for the last place to win the last stage? Jimmy Casper.
The Look. Lance has said so often it was an evaluation of the group behind him, and not just of Jan. By the way what is wrong with taking two seconds to evaluate the competition? Also if it was so apparent to everyone watching that the "Look" was one of challenge, how come none of the riders in the group picked up on it, and readied themselves for the jump? Let it rest. Your dislike for the man is making something of nothing. If you don't like Lance, that is your choice, but don't try and cut him down, just cheer for someone else. I never cared for Indurain. But there was no disputing his success. But I cheered for Claudio C. every year, just hoping.
Commentary. Well yes Bob Varsha makes mistakes, Phil rambles, and mistakes riders often, Paul...just a likable guy. Bob and Jessica, nice change of scenery, and perspective. Yes they make mistakes...so what. Who doesn't! This is live and unpredictable. They have headsets on with technicians talking in the ears, while they are trying to announce the race. Quite difficult. And before we go on and burn them at the stake, lets remember what preceded this. ABC's Wide World of Sports. A one hour segment to cover an entire weeks worth of racing most of which was commercials and interviews anyway. (just for your memory banks: When Lance won his first Tour they showed an amazing 4 minutes and 38 seconds of actual racing during the Sunday finale. Yes I timed it, yes I can be particular.) So I suggest that everyone write to OLN's website(or whichever television station brought the coverage) and thank them for the coverage. Tell them you appreciated the amount of cycling and that you are looking forward to their continuing coverage of our favorite sport. Perhaps the commercials were a little redundant(okay a lot) but did you ever wonder why there was only three or four different advertisers? Nobody else wanted to spend the money. So lets be thankful they did, and the amounts that they spent. For if there were no advertisers, we may have to watch John Tesch report on the Tour while sitting at his piano.
Drugs. They are testing everyday. Some people were caught. Lets then assume all that weren't tested positive to be clean. Let the speculations end, and facts provide the news.
Jan Ullrich. What a way to fight! You inspired many, and won a ton of respect. Congratulations! You did not lose the Tour, but came second in the most difficult sporting event.
Lance, if you read this, congratulations. My wife was screaming from our couch all the way up the Alpe D'Huez, and I could feel my legs tighten with every pedal of the crank. You are a class act. Waiting for Jan after the fall, shaking his hand, answering the same questions for hours, staying focused(on family I mean) mentioning your teammates, even if they did not make it to Paris (Christian VdV). If you are quiet they call you a snob, if you are not, you are loud and obnoxious. You can't win the hearts of the press, but you certainly have won the hearts of everyone else.
Thank you, Cycling News, as always, second to none!
Michel van Musschenbroek
What a good and to the point article the tour wrap provided by Cyclingnews was. It summarized a good tour very well. It also made a good point about Armstrong and the drug suspicions. He has never tested positive so he is innocent until proven otherwise. It is unfortunate that other riders are not afforded this defence by the media. Like Armstrong, Pantani has never tested positive but because of 1999 and the Giro he has to suffer the implication that he is dirty. I think the recent EPO test has shown us that a High blood level does not mean EPO use. Those who have tested positive so far have had levels in the mid 40's.
It is about time that all riders were afforded the same treatment by the media.
Does anybody know the history of the infamous "lanterne rouge?" I am interested if it ever resulted in a concrete jersey, award.
Cyclingnews correspondent Roger Hughes replies:
Nothing has as far as we know ever been formally awarded for the Lanterne Rouge in the Tour, but the Giro d'Italia did award a jersey for a few years just after the war: the "maglia nera". This was, of course, also a snide reference to the blackshirts of the Fascist era. The jersey was dropped when people started competing too seriously for it, but the phrase is still used, by journalists at least.
What's up with Greg Lemond? As if Lance Armstrong doesn't have to deal with enough flak from the French press, Lemond chooses to throw fuel on the fire by inferring a connection between Dr. Ferrari's past troubles and Armstrong's recent success. I'm curious as to how many UCI sanctioned drug tests Armstrong must return negative before the critics lay off and accept Armstrong's explanation of hard work and good planning for his success.
LeMond's comments #2
It's disappointing that Greg LeMond casts shadows on Lance Armstrong's career by making indefensible references to Armstrong's Dr. Ferrari relationship.
Our post-Festina '98 awareness doesn't allow us to brush off insinuations and move forward in the sport. We suspend our beliefs and question the integrity of champions at mere doping hints.
In winter 1989, several physicians, including one on the record in a Bicycling Magazine editorial letter, firmly stated that under any medical definition, no doctor would ever administer "iron injections" for "anemia," in the way claimed by LeMond as pivotal in his '89 Giro recovery, prior to his Tour comeback. It could be easily insinuated that he didn't receive iron in that injection at all. No rider -- as testified by Laurent Brochard and Luc LeBlanc at the Festina trials -- came through Cyrille Guimard's teams without exposure to corticoids and worse.
Remember that Greg's pro career started in Guimard's Renault squad. Were it up to "circumstance of association," LeMond's achievements (and those of Hinault and Fignon) would have been revisited years ago. Trial by gossip tribunal? Absolutely. LeMond damages his credibility by forcing insinuations in the first place.
In the face of overwhelming videotape evidence, Bjarne Riis answers, "I never tested positive," to, "Have you ever used dope?" Ever a competitor even in retirement, LeMond seeks to cement his place as America's Campionissimo by stamping asterisks on Armstrong's triple. Perhaps he doesn't realize how close the asterisk falls to his name on the page.
Obviously, Mr. Lecourt has never had cancer or been close to someone who has. To suggest chemotherapy as an "extreme training measure" and recommend it to anyone shows incredible ignorance and insensitivity. To put it bluntly, when you face cancer you face death, period. Extreme measures, like surgery and chemotherapy are often needed to save your life. Living is your priority, not bike racing.
Chemotherapy is designed to kill fast growing cells, ALL fast growing cells. This includes white blood cells (WBC) that fight infections, as well as red blood cells that feed the body. It is not unusual for WBC count to reach zero (0), often resulting in autoinfection. This mean you get sick from things in your body that are normally suppressed. You are too weak to do anything. Even getting out of bed or off the couch takes planning. Take a good long look at some of the pictures in Lance's book and then tell me you would do that to yourself. Lance and Chris Carmichael worked long and hard to bring Lance back to form. Carmichael details some of this on his website. He talks about how weak Lance was and that by necessity they started with cardiovascular trainings. This is now at the core of his system. There is a link to it from Lance's.
Lance is a different person now. He readily admits that. He also makes a point that Mr. Lecourt would do well to consider. Lance considers himself a cancer survivor first, a lucky man with a family, and a bike racer lastly. I am not a doctor, but I am a cancer patient. I know what it's like to work to get your life back. That Lance is alive at all is remarkable from a medical perspective, that he has reached the pinnacle of a demanding endurance sport is such an amazing feat that to diminish it in any way strikes me as sour grapes, to say the least. Lance Armstrong is an inspiration to me and thousands of other cancer patients around the world. His story is much bigger than the Tour de France. I encourage Mr. Lecourt to visit his local cancer ward and get a firsthand look at a reality he so inaccurately speculates on.
Mr. Lecourt can daydream about the wonderful effects of chemotherapy as a weight loss and miracle aerobic capacity drug, but those of us who have seen the effects of that poison have another view. This great champion that the whole world now knows started his athletic career as an elite triathlete in a little town in Texas. Since then he has aspired to the highest level of sport, to be a gentleman while ripping the legs off of all the competition.
You know a bit of his athletic history but it seems that you know nothing of the man. Chemotherapy reduces a man to a quivering and frail shell of what he once was. Everyone who survives comes back different than they were before, but they all have a similar trait. focus, drive, and a will to live.
All cancer patients desire to beat the disease, they all fight the urge to give up rather than endure the pain, nausea, and side effects of the drugs.
Lance Armstrong did this much the same as any other cancer patient did and he is the first to tell anyone that his proudest moment is the day he was proclaimed to be cancer free, and he is a champion of cancer patients and survivors everywhere because of this and of his ability to ride uphill.
Lance is an amazing athlete with a work ethic beyond anyone of this generation. To trivialize his achievements by relegating his success to some mindless, effortless, chemotherapy induced body alteration is idiotic. I think he has proven himself (three years in a row) that the only thing that he is on is his bike, bustin' his ass six hours a day.
As for the sass that was his character before 1996, he was an enthusiastic, inexperienced, highly talented rider who needed maturity. Now its different because everyone gains maturity when they go through a trial in life.
That which does not kill you makes you stronger. I'm disappointed that anyone would suggest that cancer in any way, shape, or form would be a desirable thing to endure. My suggestion to Mr. Lecourt would be to read "It's Not About the Bike", so he may have some insight not only to the horrors of cancer (and Chemo), but also into Lance's amazing resolve. Maybe Lance's incredible drive (which may be misconstrued as arrogance) is what helped him to conquer cancer. If Mr. Lecourt's intention is to suggest that the pain one goes through to finish (and win) a Tour de France is not comparable to going through months of chemotherapy, I would agree. But I don't believe Jan Ullrich would elect to face death in order to win a bike race. Would Lance go through it all again? He says "yes", but not because it helped him win bike races.
Sebastian Lecourt writes: "He's [Lance Armstrong] not a great champion in spite of cancer -- he's a great champion because of cancer. Chemotherapy might very well recommend itself as an extreme training measure. With Ullrich, I think it could do wonders!"
While we're discussing chemotherapy as a training aide, lets not forget the 'performance benefit' provided by a hunting accident! Studies have shown that a shotgun blast to the abdomen can improve your time by at least 8 seconds against your nearest competitor.
So, let's see here 6' 44" divided by 8" equals fifty and change. Therefore, 51 applications of a 12 gauge should put Jan on top next year. But make sure the buckshot is titanium; every ounce counts in the Alps!
Give B. Varsha a break already, so maybe he is not Joe Cycling, but I thought he did a decent job. Just be happy we had coverage at all, if Bob did the entire show BY HIMSELF it would have been better than ESPN's coverage in previous years. I will say that more Bob Roll would have been good... OLN- keep up the good work.
Couldn't agree more about Bob Varsha's inane commentary. My thumb was constantly hovering over the mute button in anticipation of his next little gem of cycling wisdom. Sometimes I think that American TV simply doesn't get it! Phil & Paul (even with some of his grammatical guffaws) are the only voices that can be taken seriously when listening and watching this great sport, and it almost sounds like an insult to have some broad American accent intrude on the peaceful state of mind Phil & Paul always manage to create, especially one so ignorant of what is actually going on. We were fortunate to have had all three recent European tours broadcast live here in Japan, and the Americans could really take a leaf out of the book of the Japanese coverage. The coverage was bi-lingual, and the Japanese announcers were all ex-pros (a couple from leading European teams such as POLTI) or the top cycling journalists in the country. For those who could understand Japanese, it was a first-class treat. Give us a break next year OLN !
I am OLN's audience, too. I also loathe the proliferation of overly repetitive ads. Yes, Bob Varsha is easier to watch with the sound off. The "ride of the day" could certainly use some tweaking. BUT I'M WATCHING THE TOUR LIVE!! In '99 we got 2 updates in 21 stages, this year we have 3 per day. The fact is, cycling is small potatoes in terms of its marketing value in the US and if they have to find sponsors, sell promos or knock on my door for tour viewing donations, SO BE IT! I'm sure they will continue to improve the coverage if the audience is still there to justify the expense. In the meantime, I'll mute the sound until Paul and Phil come on and enjoy the tour. Let's get a little perspective, OK?
Lee C. Shelly
Dear Bob Roll, Thank you for your coverage of the tour. Your insights were good and I certainly find you much better than many of the commentators we could be/are stuck with. But, if I may, can I make a few suggestions?
Please learn how to pronounce "Tour de France." You're a guy who's done a fair bit of racing himself on the continent and in the race itself and I find it difficult to believe that you haven't picked it up yet. It almost sounds as though it's intentional, and if so, I'm sure there's a good reason and we'll just have to live with it. If you need any pointers, just listen to the three other guys commentating with you that seem to get it right (even Varsha).
When you interview Lance, or anyone for that matter, pretend your at a bar with no one else around, just talking as friends (which you are). That way, you won't sound like a monotone robot that's detached from the emotion of the situation.
OK, I admit that I probably being picky and no, I've never commentated myself. With that said, I do like you Bob and I'd like you to stay, but I'd also like the American public to get a truest feel of the race delivered as cleanly as possible so that more people will be drawn to the sport we love.
We know how fickle and demanding we Americans are about our entertainment, and I'd like cycling to fit the bill. It is for these reasons that I offer some constructive criticism.
Referring to the coverage of the tour on OLN. It was absolutely wonderful compared to the last ten years of coverage by the mainstream television stations and I would applaud their efforts. As with anything in life, you have to take the good with the bad. And there was some bad.
Commercials. How about going to a format similar to the European football coverage? No commercials, except for a minimizing of the action screen and showing the sponsors name in the lower portion of the screen.
That, in my opinion, is far less aggravating then watching the same six commercials over and over ( runawayshoes.com...runawayshoes.com ). That would eliminate the need for Bob Varsha.
Scheduling. Those of us on the East Coast of the United States are at a disadvantage. The people on the west coast were able to wake up at 6:00am PST and get some live action before they went to work.
I understand that live coverage can not be rescheduled. However, the late night coverage should be moved to start at either 8pm or even 7pm EST. I believe the late night coverage begins at 9pm EST to allow those people on the West Coast to get home from work so they can watch the tour at 6pm PST. This sucks!!! I became semi-zombie like working 7am-4:30pm, riding 5:00pm-7pm, then watching the tour 9-11, bed at 11:30 or 12 to get up at 6am for three weeks straight. If you are so concerned about the West Coast viewers then re-air the Tour at 11pm EST.
Get rid of Ride of Day. Every one who finished had a ride of the day.
Yes, I know we can all do better than the Bob Varshas of this world, or whoever else who does not seem to know one rider from another, or anything about the fine details of bikes, or bike racing. But that's to be expected when we are the true believers and fanatics.
However, the complainers are all missing the point. If you want TV coverage to be back next year, you need to praise OLN to the sky, and tell them how wonderful it all was. We are own worst enemies when it comes to promoting our own beloved sport. Please channel your energies into something more useful. In Canada this was the first time we have had such magnificent live coverage.
Complaints will have the opposite effect from what we desire. Who cares what Bob says anyway? Get your race numbers sorted out, get the complete route from letour.fr, open your Michelin Atlas, and you only need the pictures. Then, use the mute button. Bob will still appeal to the general public and we actually need them as well. Without the general public we are only a handful of viewers. Let's not be too elitist, we need them all.
So, I implore all US and Canadian viewers to contact OLN and tell them that it was wonderful, fantastic, perfect, and tell them that you definitely want it again next year, Bob Varsha, adverts and all.
Complaints will only get you... more golf and fishing...need I say more?
Get writing, phoning, whatever. Please.
Keith G Knightson
I write this after a hard day in the saddle. I am totally exhausted, and this lowly condition is absolutely due to OLN's excellent coverage of the TdF. I watched every available moment that they so professionally presented. My problem is that I am hell bent to find the guy in the "FastShoes.Com" commercial. After watching that commercial for the umpteen millionth time on OLN tour coverage, I admit I cracked. I jumped up from the TV and on to my Bianchi, and have been looking for the SOB ever since. I ride night and day, day and night hopefully to just get my hands around his neck. FastShoes.Com, aahhhhhhhhhhhhgggggg, I hate you. Show your face you filthy coward, I am coming to get you!
We can thank God for the opportunity to watch those commercials over and over, 'cause if OLN couldn't sell that air time, we couldn't watch the tour. More support from corporate America means more cycling action for us.
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