Letters to Cyclingnews August 8, 2001, part 2
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Tour de France 2002
FAO all UK Tour watchers. The final week highlights of the Tour were on ITV very early this morning (31st July).
Gary Imlach wrapped up the show by saying that there will be live coverage of the Tour next year on ITV2, with highlights on ITV1. So everybody... you have 49 weeks left to get digital!
I'd like to share something which I think encapsulates what many French people think. Last night, I was out partying with mates, and to cut a long story short, met up with a diverse group of French people, mostly on holiday and some ex-pats living here. We chatted about cycling, the Tour, Jalabert (whom they love of course) and Armstrong. Almost unanimously, they all seemed to be very suspicious of him.
Sadly, they think it impossible for him to have won their national race after coming back from cancer, and being the one day specialist he was. I tried to point out the fact that he is clean, the chemo and cancer treatments did reduce his physique and so he has a strong engine with a lighter frame, etc. but they did not believe any of it. Rather, they did not wish to believe any of it. I suspect it's also indicative of their own disappointment in French cycling, and the fact that it takes a brave American to trash them in their national Tour. I just found their attitude to Armstrong sad and smacking of sour grapes.
I sincerely hope those I encountered are a minority and do not speak for the millions of French cycling fans around the world. Even if Lance goes on to 5 or 6 wins, he will always be dogged by allegations and suspicions from the nation where he made his greatest triumphs. And LeMond, who has a more popular following in France, does not help either by his recent comments on Lance and Michele Ferrari. This is all very sad indeed.
I, for one, surely missed the bravado of Super Mario at this year's tour. I am a novice at following professional cycling but was thrilled to watch Cipo win four stages of the Giro. What a pity he was not there to duel the sprinters at the Tour De France. That is the only thing I can think of that could have enhanced a truly memorable race.
Yes Keith Burgess-Jackson (July 22nd) does sound parochial with his comments about Americans taking over the Tour. Only two Americans have ever won the tour, albeit six times between them, which hardly constitutes a "take over". I am afraid that his attempts to draw some kind of national prestige from the success of Armstrong and LeMond is somewhat spurious.
Cycling is an individual sport, albeit played in trade teams. Neither Armstrong nor Lemond have won because of anything inherent in American cycling or its coaching methods, they have won because they are highly talented, single-minded, driven individuals. The nationality of a winner in a sport like cycling is neither here nor there. I am reminded of the British Tennis player who, when asked about winning Wimbledon "for Britain" commented that he was actually trying to win it for himself.
One must take ones hat off to Armstrong, this latest victory is a magnificent one. He has taken on an opponent of undoubted class riding at the top of his form, and beaten him emphatically. Any doubts about Armstrong have been dispelled, but the fact that he is an American is simply a matter of accident rather than anything else. Eddy Merckx was Belgian, Indurain Spanish, Fausto Coppi, Italian etc, etc. The fact that a whole heap of major tours (France , Italy, Spain) in the late sixties and early seventies, had Belgian winners simply reflects the accident which saw the greatest rider of that generation being born in Belgium, nothing more. Had ten out of, say, fifteen tours been won by ten different Belgians, then the issue of nationality might reasonably be looked at because it would indicate something about Belgian riders was markedly better.
Your correspondent cannot read any significance, statistical or otherwise into the fact that two American have won six of the last sixteen tours. His use of the statistics is quite meaningless, since he uses only two examples of American riders to draw some conclusions from. In his sample he makes no reference to the failed American riders, who are statistically quite significant (I use the term failed here to indicate riders who did not win at the very highest level, as Lemond and Armstrong did). Statistically in terms of the number of riders from a given country competing in professional cycling against the number of victories achieved, Evegeni Berzin's (Russia) victory in the Giro d'Italia, or Rominger's (Switzerland) Vuelta and Giro wins are far more exceptional than any of the wins achieved by Lemond or Armstrong. By all means celebrate one of your own winning the Tour de France, but do not draw unsupportable conclusions about American cycling from the statistics.
Americans in Paris #2
Another view is that it's merely the Americans (LeMond, Armstrong) who have adopted the policy of 0ne-Race Preparation in approaching the Tour. Perhaps also one of the reasons Armstrong might win 6 Tours, but never be favorably compared with the likes of Merckx or Indurain - their season started with the Primavera and ended with Lombardy. In-between came Vlaanderen, the "Hell", the Giro, the Tour and the World's. Hardly surprising then, that they never won 10 Tours apiece, though later on both had to cut back on early-season racing. One of my enduring memories will always be of Indurain at the World's, after his 5th Tour win - he punctured whilst with the lead group, got a wheel, bridged back with a ride easily as fierce as anything Lance did in the hills, then gave his wheel to Olano and led him out for the win. And he could have won, too, but for that bridge.
Perhaps your parochial-ness stems from the fact that Americans might have a skewed opinion of the Tour. It is the biggest race, not the oldest, and many riders of Italian descent might prefer a Giro victory in their palmares, but it also isn't the only race. The Euro race season is full of great, treasured races and many might decry what they see as Armstrong neglecting his sport in favor of the Tour. (See LeBlanc's comments).
But don't for one second think that German boy isn't going to learn a lot from how Lance prepared, nor those Spaniards and Italians (personally I think the French somehow find it degrading or anti-chic to have to grovel and suffer in training, so I don't see them learning much) and the gap Lance has on the field will shrink. Good thing is it just makes the racing better.
PS After L.A - who is the likely US rider to step into his shoes? Methinks that Oscar Sevilla is some awesome talent but he's Spanish. Oh, hell, if it gets serious, just invade Spain and nationalise, I say.
Americans in Paris #3
I will agree with Keith Burgess-Jackson, Americans have done well in recent Tours de France. There have been two fantastic athletes in Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong. But when looking at how these two men would have fared in the Tour had they both not been affected so profoundly by illness.
It is most likely true that had Lemond not been involved in the shooting accident, he may well have won more than three tours. But, it is also likely that if Armstrong had not developed cancer, he never would have won the Tour. He has said himself that he was a different person, both mentally and physically after cancer. Before he was diagnosed he was a powerful and talented rider, but not a tour winning rider. This is to take nothing from either of these riders, as their results speak for themselves.
So using your rationale, if Lemond hadn't been shot and Armstrong not got cancer. Lets say Lemond won 5 Tours, and Lance won none. This brings Americas total to 5 from the last sixteen years. My real point is not to say that American cyclists aren't as good as you believe them to be, but that you should look a circumstances as they are, not as they could have been.
I must echo Leonard Ke's statement. I thoroughly enjoyed this year's tour.
Bravo also to Cycling news!!! I got in trouble at work because I was glued to your up to the minute coverage of the race.
In this internet day and age it is a marvel to have multiple sources of information about a bike race in another country.
Thanks for all your hard work, beautiful pictures, and wonderful commentary.
Armstrong's sitting up after Ullrich's crash was wonderful sportsmanship etc. However, it is not inconsistent with the brash, arrogant Armstrong of old. I can imagine the following flashing through Lance's head after the crash:
1) It would be unsporting to continue.
Imagine how sub-consciously demoralizing it must have been to Ullrich to see that Armstrong's confidence was so great that he knew he could afford to relinquish the opportunity to pad his lead by a minute or two.
I too noticed Stuey's apparent endowment. I pointed this out to my wife, and since then she paid a lot more attention to the TdF, and especially the awards presentation of the Maillot Vert. Doesn't she realize the Yellow Jersey is the highest prize?
But I don't think his condition is due to the type of short. He was clearly a man amongst boys on the podium after the time trial. Sorry, I got to go, my wife wants to watch the film clips again of the presentation of awards. Wonder why she doesn't care for the bike racing itself
Having seen several videos form various (France, Italy, Spain, etc), it occurs to me, and a few others, that another reason Lance climbs so well is that he's a spinner! Does anyone know what choice of gearing he used this year? 39/24? Lower? Further more, why is he one of the few pros that uses suitable gearing? Why is it most of the other pros, especially ones at the back of the pack (Autobus) seem to be content with struggling along at 50-60 RPM in a 39/21? Perhaps all of us, (racers, recreational riders, tourists), would benefit from more appropriate gearing. I know Campagnolo and Shimano offer cassettes up to 25/27 teeth. Instead of struggling thru the hills and risking injury, perhaps we should install reasonable gearing and become spinners like Lance! If 39/25 isn't low enough, try XT/XTR cassettes, or perhaps... gasp! TRIPLE chainrings? Perhaps this is a better alternative to knee surgery.
Woyteck A Morajko
A friend of mine from Australia (proper credit to John Graham, Adelaide S.A.) is right on target regarding the look shared between Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich:
"Jan Ullrich did not have a chance as Lance put the pedal down when they climbed l'Alpe d'Huez...he has not stared death in the face. That day 'life' stared him in the face and I hope it inspires him too to achieve greater things."
Lance's brush with death offered up the opportunity for incomparable experience: it allowed him to vanquish fears on a daily basis. When you're dealing with the likes of cancer, the fight for "cure" becomes the equivalent of the ITT of your life. You give it your best--with everything you've got--and you HAVE to look back. You have to look back if only to remind yourself that you don't want to be in THAT place ever again.
Lance knows the challenge of epic mountains and "face-offs" with formidable opponents. And he knows what it takes to conquer anything or anyone. Cede nullis, Lancey!
I am so sick of hearing people complain about Leblanc's selection for the Tour de France! The three big teams that everyone says should have been included had not had outstanding results during the first part of the season. I for one was happy to see CSC World Online included-it was great to see Jalabert take the KOM jersey, after almost retiring. Pantani has not been riding well for over a year, and in my opinion, it would have been a waste to have him there. His team is experiencing all sorts of problems, and he did nothing in the Giro. Sure it would have been great to see Cipo win some more stages, no doubt he is exciting to watch, but the guy never finishes, and it was, again in my opinion, great to watch other riders for a change. As for Mercury, they weren't exactly setting the cycling world on fire during the months leading up to the Tour. Their troubles may have been exacerbated by not being invited to the Tour, but that's not where they started! Additionally, I am so tired of hearing Americans complain about Mercury, the American team, not being included. Come on, support the Americans in the Tour, not simply the team with an American sponsor, as if Mercury would have been laden with American riders. Wordin bought Euros to try and get in the Tour, without paying any of the proverbial dues. Get over it, and stop bad mouthing Leblanc for his selections.
It was a great opportunity for the smaller teams to get exposure and riders that would not have had the chance to be in the Tour participate, and for the most part these teams performed well. The only exception is Big Mat. The other wild cards and Division II teams were in the break aways, trying and adding excitement to the Tour. The reality is that most of these teams are international in their make up, so what's the big deal? If the US had a race on the level of the Tour, then I'd say invite some small American teams-give them a chance to earn their way into Division I ranks.
I don't understand why people take it so personally, someone is going to get left out-everybody can't be invited to the party. Did I agree with all of Leblanc's choices, maybe not, but it isn't my race. You can always second guess-look at Domo-nobody said they shouldn't have been invited, and they had a relatively poor Tour. That's just the way the ball bounces sometimes.
Heather K Davis
Here's a bit of trivia for those with longer memories than I: when was the last time a Tour winner also won four stages (not counting the prologue)? I can think of some recent cases where the winner has carried three stages: Armstrong in '99 (plus the prologue), Ullrich in '97, Lemond in '89. As I am young, however, my memory does not extend back beyond 1986.
I know that Fignon won a whopping five stages in 1984.
What about Hinault?
Does anyone know the formula for figuring overall team placings in the grand tours such as the Tour de France? Is it an average or cumulative time? How many riders does it include? Also, how are the time cut-offs for the individual stages computed? I've heard it's a percentage of the winner's time, but how much, and does it vary between stages?
One thing that must be considered in any comparison of more recent modern cyclists vs. Eddy Merckx is that cycling is very different today. Merckx may well be the greatest of all time, but it is difficult to compare the dominance he had then to the dominance of a Lance Armstrong --or a Miguel Indurain-- in the Tour de France. Merckx had to be a huge talent to dominate throughout the entire cycling season. But then no one was "specializing" then. If he stayed good enough through the whole spring to contest the classics with the modern classics "specialists", could he have still been able to "peak" appropriately for the major three week tour in July?
Don't forget that Indurain also followed a similar strategy to Armstrong, peaking for the TdF. And Lemond was the first to really make this into a science, literally. The Europeans were said to have the idea that what to do was whatever Fausto Coppi had done. If he had eaten a 1/2-gallon of ice cream (that is a couple of liters for the euros) before a race, then they would have all been advocating that. Lemond was the first to really, really look at the scientific aspect of training, not just aerodynamics. He was always an innovator and he also made a science of training and peaking for "three weeks in July". I remember him in the Tour du Pont (I believe it was in 1990, wearing the rainbow jersey) looking as big as Jan Ullrich for that time of year and riding with Team Z just ahead of the broom wagon, using it for a training race. He said that what really counted was the TdF. So that specialization started at least as far back as Lemond.
I have always been a big fan of Lemond --and still am! But I am also a fan of Lance, as well as an admirer of Merckx. Lance may think that the biggest change was in his physiology, as a result of his battle with cancer. Whether that really was a physical benefit is a matter for speculation, but I clearly think that the biggest change was in the man himself, his psyche and his spirit. He has in interviews stated that it is not the place of the athlete to decree his place in the pantheon of heroes and he said it is not even the proper time for others to decide. He said lets wait and see what else unfolds and wait another 10 years, until he is retired and overweight and coaching his son Luke in T-ball. He said then the pundits can decide where he belongs in the history of things. Again, since his cancer he displays a great maturity, not always represented in the press accounts. Not to say he's perfect, by any means, but give the man his due. I think his perspective on the question is one of the most reasonable I've heard.
Armstrong vs Merckx#2
It serves no purpose to compare riders, teams or individuals of different generations. What must be said is that Eddy raced in all the races. He did not prepare for just one. He was not a specialist. He was an "Animal". In his day a cyclist did not specialize. I would prefer to see an all around cyclist, but I don't see this as right or wrong. I believe that money, prestige, and sponsor exposure has led to the need for the cyclist of today to specialize. The team focus is on the TdF. What other victories may come over the season are nice but the focus is the Tour. Who is the better cyclist or are they equal? No one will know. Everyone will have their opinion and that is great.
Mon, 30 Jul
I would be very disappointed if Lance did not ride the Vuelta. Surely one of the conditions when they signed Heras was that Lance would ride for him in this race?
From what we saw at the Tour, Heras rode himself into the ground for Lance even to the point, on the descent of the Tourmalet, of going back and forth providing the "Boss" with food, drink and wind breakers 'cos Lance lost all his food when trying to eat whilst descending and misjudged his braking timing. Yet Heras was still there on the final climb. A Vuelta winner is not your normal domestique to be treated so off hand.
Perhaps Lance needs to slow down from the Tour adrenaline rush and then make a sensible decision.
Does anyone know if Andy Wilkinson's 12 hr TT is a World Record? I'm not familiar with the British RTTC rules. What are the standards? Is Andy a pro rider? If so, what team?
The reason I ask is I plan to set a record for 12 hours. The USA National Record for 12 hours is 276 miles. That I can beat and I 'm planning on 283 plus miles.
Cyclingnews correspondent Roger Hughes replies:
Andy Wilkinson's ride was a Road Time Trials Council Competition record, i.e. the best performance in a normally-organised open race under their rules. This basically comes down to a time trial on open roads, with some restrictions on the number of times that a stretch of road can be repeated and with the start and finish within a certain distance to avoid wind assistance (for a 12 hour, the finishing circuit must be within 25 miles of the start). There is scope for some benefit from suck-and-blow from overtaking traffic, but also the normal down-side of riding on the open road - hills, junctions, variable road surfaces and traffic congestion; riders cannot have following cars so support is restricted.
There is a second British 12-hour record under the rules of the Road Records Association which ratifies specific record attempts (mainly place-to-place) with no restriction on start and finish locations (so a wind-assisted record is possible); I'm not sure what it stands at, though.
Notably, the women's RTTC 12 hour record set by Beryl Burton was for many years faster than the men's record set in the same event by Mike McNamara (she caught him and, unable to think what to say, offered him a Jelly Baby as she went past).
I was there. In my race, we had to pass a 10 wheels truck that was on the course!!! For sure, it changed the TT women's results. I'm very sorry for G. Jeanson. She had to slow down twice 'cause of cars on the course and so on.
Didier Le Gall
Back in the mid-to-late 1980's, I believe Vittoria made a great poster featuring Gorski on the track. A bike shop owner of mine has it up in his store. I'd inquire with Vittoria about their posters,
Michael P. Wong
Gorski's bike #2
There is a picture of Mark here: http://www.usbhof.com/markline.htm. B/W only, but something.
Michel van Musschenbroek
As you say Jason , Eugenie Berzin burst upon the professional peloton in dramatic style. In 1994 as a second year pro he finished the season with 10 victories and ranked 4th in the world. His next two seasons with Gewiss were not to bad but his 1997 season with Batik recorded his last two victories. Stints at FdJ and Amica Chips could not stop the nose dive and by 1999 he was ranked at 749. He signed for Mobilvetta in 2000 and after a disappointing spell there left the team just prior to this years Giro.
Berzin is still living in Italy. Now he's an happy husband (2nd marriage), father of a few-month-old baby, and ... car dealer. After failing a blood test just before the beginning of last year's Giro D'Italia, he was fired by his team (Mobilvetta), but soon later reinstated. But he was definitively sacked this year (sorry I don't know the reasons), just a week or two before the start of the 2001 Giro. Curiously, a few days later Mobilvetta hired Colombian "Chepe" Gonzalez, at his turn sacked by the Selle Italia team because of doping reasons.
Last time I saw him riding, at about the middle of June, during a criterium in the Italian town where he lives (a criterium organized by Berzin himself), he didn't look exactly in top form. In the first part of the Criterium (an uphill ITT), he finished well behind the best ones, although in the following circuit race (won by Gilberto Simoni) he ranked among the first ones. Maybe a little tribute paid to the organizer by the other riders ???
In any case, he seemed to be quite happy with his work and family. It doesn't mean that he won't be able to get back to racing in the future. I do hope so. (as I do hope my English was not that bad).
My wife and I are thinking of venturing to Europe in October (from Canada) and catching Paris-Tours (World Cup) and the World championships in Lisbon. Is this achievable in two weeks?, suggestions..accommodation?, train?..., etc. Thank you for your help
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