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Letters to Cyclingnews — August 29, 2001

Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. Comments and criticism on current stories, races, coverage and anything cycling related are welcomed, even pictures if you wish. Letters should be brief (less than 300 words), with the sender clearly identified. They may be edited for space and clarity. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.

Please email your correspondence to letters@cyclingnews.com.

Recent letters

2001 Tour de France OLN TV coverage
Marco Pantani
An open letter to Jonathan Vaughters
Where is Cipo?
David McKenzie
Richard Virenque
Velodromes world-wide
Eurosport - an alternative?
Tour climbing times
Saturn classic story
Armstrong & the Vuelta
Armstrong on l'Alpe
Chemotherapy
Cycle bashing
Former Soviet dominance
Mercury
Tour 1989: LeMond
Merckx

2001 Tour de France OLN TV coverage

All those out there that complain of this year's 2001 Tour De France's OLN-TV coverage (daily and live) and remark about Bob Varsha and the ads and Bob Rolls' pronunciation of the Tour , forget that, think about what it would be like to have coverage for about 20mins (maybe) once a week on national televised channel. It wasn't that many years ago that the USA cycling fanatics that adore this race were forced to just enjoy 20mins/wk maximum. I was blessed to have a neighbor who has a satellite dish who can pickup OLN and taped the race (daily for 3 weeks) for me. I put him through a pickup/deliver of tape for 3 weeks. He too, is a true soldier. I look forward to Sept 8, 2001 when I too, will be FORTUNATE to be able to watch daily coverage of the Vuelta a España (tour of Spain) for 3 weeks , thank you OLN-TV. Let us be grateful in the USA for this coverage.

Lou Frankel
Sunday, August 26

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Marco Pantani

Throughout the year, I have kept tabs on (as much as I can in the States) Marco Pantani. Other than the fact that he is indeed having a terrible year for his standards, does he strike anyone as a crybaby? First, after Mercatone was not invited to the Tour de France, I remember him being quoted to the effect that, out of sympathy, Ullrich, Armstrong, and others would not ride in protest. That worked. Then, when he started talking to the media again recently, he said that HE (not the team director) would rebuild the team with people who fully believed in him. This makes him sound like nothing but a poor loser. I first thought this when he fell out of contention last year as the tour enters Switzerland. Does anyone else share this opinion? This attitude sounds more accustomed to the NBA or NFL. People like this give their sports a bad name.

Tim Root
Blacksburg, VA
Friday, August 24

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An open letter to Jonathan Vaughters

Dear Jonathan,

I have been a big fan of you and your racing for some years now. I followed your trials and tribulations on the Spanish Santa Clara team when you first went to Europe with Chann McCrae. I also watched with interest when you returned to the domestic scene winning such races as the Redlands, the Mt Wilson hill climb, and the National Time Trial Championships. Every year you have started a Tour de France I have waited in anticipation to see you have a "breakthrough" performance in the mountains. I have shared your frustration all the times you have had to DNF.

Jonathan, you have shown by your past performances that you are an international level climber and time trialist. I know you have had more than your share of bad luck. Here is a thought, forget about the tour and maybe go for the Giro or the Vuelta? How about the Classique des Alpes or the Dauphine? Remember how you concentrated on the National Time Trial? How about going for the world TT this year? ... Dude, I know you can do it! I would love to see you get one big win in Europe! It would make one fan very happy. I know you don't set your own schedule and life as a domestique is not easy. But I know you have the talent!

Regardless, I still have my Credit Agricole cap I purchased at the 2000 tour, its waiting for your autograph! Good luck with the remainder of your season and best wishes for the future. Sincerely,

Mark Taylor
Fort Irwin, CA
Thursday, August 23

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Where is Cipo?

Am I the only one wondering where Cipo is and what he's up to? I don't think I've seen him or heard about him since late June, he doesn't appear on any of Saeco's squads!
Can Someone clarify to me - what's up?

Per Leslie Jensen
Brøndby, Denmark
Saturday, August 25

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David McKenzie

What's happening with contract opportunities for David McKenzie? I saw him out training a fortnight ago around Melbourne and he looked extremely fit. I haven't heard of any contract offers being thrown his way. I cannot believe that the European cycling community has such a short memory that a half decent team will not contract him for next year. This guy has done the hard yards to get established in Europe and has even won a stage of the Giro d'Italia. It was one of those gutsy solo breakaways that rarely succeed. (I was fortunate enough to watch it live on Eurosport with David Duffield going nuts.)

He is obviously a quality rider, but unfortunately for him he was part of the now defunct Linda McCartney team which was disbanded at the wrong time of the season. He even won a stage of the 2001 Tour Down Under in their new (pretend) team colours. Since then it seems that the cycling world has forgotten all about him. I think that if he were French or Italian this would not have been allowed to happen. What a waste of talent if nothing comes up for him!!! I hope this wakes a few people up. I hope at least one team director will have the balls to overlook the UCI points issue and contract him as his current lack of points is not due to his lack of ability, but rather a lack of opportunities through no fault of his own.

John Jeffrey
Melbourne, Australia
Thursday, August 23

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Richard Virenque

I just want to give a small reaction on the comment of Patrick Douglas about Virenque. Why does he hate the French cyclist so much? What has he done to you? And you say that you doubt he would ever be a good rider when he is clean. In the Vuelta a Burgos he is 26th and for a rider who has not got any competition, I think it's pretty good. Give the man a chance and let him next year in the Tour be king of the mountains again. That would be nice!

Peter Janssens
Belgium
Friday, August 24

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Velodromes world-wide

In our quest for a velodrome for the Greater Toronto Area our non-profit group approached a potential sponsor, a company dominant in the building materials field. We proposed that a track be built having a surface created entirely from a new composite material developed by that company. While having made no firm commitment, they are interested in the project and would like more information.

Specifically, they would like to estimate the potential market for velodrome surface panels. This is in order to justify the initial cost of creating forms to mold the individual panels. They would like to know how many velodromes there are world-wide, with a breakdown by region or country. Also, they would like to know the rate of new construction for velodromes on average, per year, world-wide.

Do you or your readers have any advice as to how to ''nail down‚ this information? Thanks in advance for your help.

Chuck Bonnaffon
Campbellville, Ontario, Canada
cbonnaff@arvotek.net
Sunday, August 26

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Eurosport - an alternative?

I and I am sure many viewers in Europe will have been flabbergasted by the shoddy treatment we have received from Eurosport this week.

After having shown us the finish of the first four stages of the Tour of Burgos, and some of it pretty exciting stuff, they decided quite arbitrarily not to screen the final day.

They are suggesting that this is due to 'picture quality'. Well! I don't know about you, but any dedicated cycling fan would be happy to watch the sport through the bottom of a broken bottle if it meant they actually got to see it, so this one just does not hold any more water than the bottle would.

I have Emailed them to tell them how poorly they are now held in my esteem, and I shall also be Emailing as many of their sponsors and advertisers and possible to let them know how I feel.

I would be interested if you could publish this letter to see how the other European fans feel about this, and to ask if there would be any support for a dedicated European Cycling Channel.

It would only take a spare transponder, and a couple of million Euros, but I wouldn't mind betting that it would be a runaway success.

Fred Flange
Saturday, August 25

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Tour climbing times

I read an article in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago written by David Walsh which I am surprised that no one has mentioned yet. His article was based on one written in Paris Match by Antoine Vayer, a former trainer with Festina. Basically it shows how quickly Armstrong and other present day riders are climbing the mountains compared to the riders of the EPO generation. For example, last year Armstrong climbed Courcheval 4mins and 20secs quicker than Richard Virenque did in 1997.And we all know what Virenque was powered by at the time. Armstrong's ride on Alpe d'Huez was 10 minutes faster (10!) than Hinault and LeMond fifteen years ago, 4min and 15 secs faster than Fignon in 1989 and 1min 45secs faster than Big Mig in 1991. Is Armstrong that much better than Indurain, Fignon, LeMond and Hinault? Can a "clean" rider, as Armstrong claims to be, ride up Courcheval that much quicker than a rider on EPO? What's the explanation? Technology?

According to Vayer, a bike that's 1kg lighter gains 21 metres during an hour long ride at 50kph. A rider can gain 864 metres through one ampoule of (undetectable) growth hormone. In the "race of truth", the time trial, technology is going backwards anyway thanks to UCI regulations. Still Armstrong rode the fastest one ever last year. The previous record holder was Alex Zülle who set his mark in the 1998 Giro. How can Armstrong go faster?

I'm not a begrudger. I would love Armstrong to be proven clean. But with statistics like this, how can I believe that he is?

Robert Holmes
Dublin, Ireland
Saturday, August 25

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Not to specifically defend Lance Armstrong -- he's more than capable of doing that himself -- but it's extremely hard to prove someone clean, which is why the burden of proof in these situations is on the accusers.

Armstrong addressed some of these points in the rest day press conference at the Tour, when David Walsh asked him about his association with Michel Ferrari. As far as we know, Cyclingnews was the only media body to provide a full transcript of that conference.

Saturn classic story

A classic story of a classic route by Peter Vordenberg. The question has to be asked though - if indeed it was a bike race and not a supported tour - why didn't he have the gear to fix at least one flat on him?

Sounds like a great route for a road race, like the "good old days" of the pre WWII era. I can think of a couple of places here in Australia that would provide similar conditions for an epic cycling event.

Stephanie Maxwell
Canberra, Australia
Friday, August 24

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Armstrong & the Vuelta #1

What is with this whining about Lance not riding the Vuelta in support of Heras? Roberto is certainly a very talented rider and was a huge help to Lance in the TdF. However, he is riding on an American team and, as such, the Postal Service team has to have a high profile in the USA. The race in San Francisco is important to this goal and Armstrong, being the most famous American rider, has to be there.

Roberto knew, before signing with Postal Service, that Armstrong was the main man on the team.

It is my understanding that Heras has said he has already learned much from Lance on training and how to compete in big races. Lance has helped him! Of course, he is also being well-compensated.

The Vuelta is Heras' race. Having Lance there would be a major distraction to Roberto's goal of winning it.

The complaints from European writers simply reflect their bias in general against all things American and little, if anything, to do with Lance's decision. Stop whining!

Matt Leahy
Concord, NH
Thursday, August 23

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Armstrong & the Vuelta #2

Upon first hearing the news, I agree with people's disappointment. However, we must not forget that there may other issues at play here. It is possible that Heras doesn't want Lance to aid him. As shocking as that may sound, I am sure that there are matters that we as the general public are not fully aware. Keep an open mind.

Brian Betner
Wednesday, August 22

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Armstrong & the Vuelta #3

Well everyone seems to have an opinion, and justification, for why Lance is being so selfish, typically American, or disrespectful of Heras and other teammates, or how the riders around him are paid well and won't perform as well on new teams (Livingston and Hamilton are both exceptionally capable and determined athletes, don't underestimate them). Two points: has anyone asked Heras what he thinks or wants? Has anyone asked Lance? Assumptions and presumptions are sometimes the starting points of opinion. Opinion is often conjecture lacking clarity. Personally, I'm psyched to go watch the SF race and revel in the beauty of the day. That Lance will be there certainly adds to the allure, but I'd go anyway because bike racing is cool! I'm guessing (uh oh!) that Heras and Armstrong think it's cool too... Maybe the Euros can appreciate that "American" perspective on the sport.

Robert Madrigal
Thursday, August 23

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Armstrong & the Vuelta #4

In response to Lance being a liar I have to say no! Heras is coming into form and with his two Spanish teammates by his side will probably win the Vuelta España which is what I personally think means more to him and to the team and Spanish cycling fans than having a dominant personality like Lance stealing the show.

Lets face it, Roberto Heras, Chechu and Pena rode their hearts out in the tour, but it was calculated, expected and yes paid for handsomely. Johan Bruneel is a genius at picking riders supporting them and guiding them to new heights. Roberto Heras is not thinking about Lance Armstrong right now; I hope he is proud of himself for his tour performance and excited knowing he is the outright team leader of the best grand tour cycling team in the world. Lance Armstrong is not a selfish liar. If he were he would be the team leader and Heras would be riding second fiddle in his home tour. That, to me, would be much worse. These are world class athletes, but pride plays a major part of their motivation. The rest of the world doesn't get to spend your money they get to cheer you on. The Spanish are very proud people -- good luck Roberto Heras, Chechu Rubiero, Pena and the Posties I'll be watching on OLN.

Kenneth Jurgensen
USA
Thursday, August 23

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Armstrong & the Vuelta #5

In response to Mark's statement that '98 and '99 had ill effects on Armstrong's performance in his first two tours, he forgets that Armstrong raced in Vuelta in 99 and the Worlds in October of 99. In both races, he finished fourth. Therefore, his rationalization of late season training helping the coming Tour does have some holes. I think more of what you are seeing, is Lance spending more and more time in the off-season in specialized training. And then spending more and more time on the recon trips. Thus making him more and more dominant.

Should Lance race the Vuelta? I don't think it's his decision to make; from several different viewpoints. His sponsors want him to race in the US, thus he is obliged to do that. Also, his wife is pregnant with twins. I'm not sure if this has been discussed before, but typically women who are in a high-risk pregnancy (and twins is in that category) have special demands on them during the late months of the pregnancy. I believe she is expecting around December, so that would put the seventh month beginning sometime in September. Her doctors probably have put restrictions on her travel, abilities, etc, entering the third trimester. More than likely, you couldn't pull Lance out of the US after Kristin enters her last tri for any significant amount of time. One day races in early September, ok; 3-week races ending in late September, out of his personal timeframe.

L. Allen
Greensboro, NC USA
Thursday, August 23

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Armstrong & the Vuelta #6

I wished Lance would ride the Vuelta but I think we don't understand the effort it takes to ride a major tour. Remember Robert Millar's statement that went something like: "a good Tour takes you 3 months recovery a bad Tour 6". Or Rabobank's Giro team last year, that kept their young riders from performing the rest of the year.

I'm a Ullrich fan but don't blame Lance for taking his rest.

Martin Visser
Saturday, August 25

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Armstrong & the Vuelta #7

Yes, I've absolutely love to see Armstrong race the Vuelta in support of Heras, as he indicated months ago that he might! However, the BMC Grand Prix San Francisco and the Vuelta coincide, and we all ought forcefully remind ourselves of the principals of money, corporate sponsorship, marketing and target audiences and sponsors and athletes' obligations to them.

To that, however, let me add this:

The incredible value of having of having a three-peat winner of the Tour de France racing in America, in a huge cycling market such as San Francisco, just after this particular win and all it meant versus the others, cannot be underestimated!

As much as I'd love, for the pure sport of it all, for Lance to race in the Vuelta, I would so much more love and value greatly the kind of boost professional - and amateur at all levels - cycling could get in this country from such a perfectly timed appearance by him in a major race here. I have got to believe that Lance and team USPS are well aware of what kind of boost his participation in the San Francisco race could give to American cycling and that that is a major reason for his decision. Yeah, we have lots of great racing in America, but do you really think we have so much that we don't need any more and don't really need to follow all the racing in Europe any more? Huh? Do you? Do we all secretly wonder when more American riders will get good enough that they can travel to and kick some butt in Europe? Think it's possible that cycling will ever get big enough here in America that success here will be as valuable as it is in Europe?

Think of the numbers of fans who will line SF's streets. Think of the major adrenaline rush going through the other American pros on the start line. Think of the possibilities many of them will have running through their heads: "Wow! Can I ride at Lance's level, perhaps even succeed as he has in Europe?" Think of the many young people who will witness Lance, the whole show, and the immense beauty of professional cycling for the first time... and show up years later as part of the new and rapidly swelling ranks of American pros!

Yeah, we'd all love to see Lance ride the Vuelta, but I hope we can see the potential value - far greater - of his participation in San Francisco and the exposure and boost it will give to cycling in America. We need that even more.

Cliff McArthur
San Francisco
Friday, August 24

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Armstrong & the Vuelta #8

I think that if US Postal can field a team to support a lead rider in one tour, they can do it in another. If Lance doesn't want to ride, fine. He has earned the right to pick and choose. Heras can still win the Vuelta, given the same quality of support that Lance had in the Tour.

Jay Dwight
Cummington MA
Friday, August 24

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Armstrong & the Vuelta and the Whiners

Should I ever find myself wondering troubling thoughts that have no place in reality or the lives of those who are close to me in this big, bad, beautiful world, I will console myself -- I will salve my conscience in the deep balms of solicitous harmony -- by reflecting on the world-class atomic mutton-heads who feel comfortable and justified in criticizing Lance Armstrong's race program.

Maybe, just maybe, this guy and his team know what they are doing.

Maybe he's tired, folks. Maybe it really wouldn't make too much sense for him to go kill himself in another three-week stage race, fellow enthusiasts.

Maybe Roberto Heras understands this. Maybe he's excited about being leader of a Postal Squad allocated to his victory.

Maybe, someday, Lance will have the moral courage of some of our letter writers. I guess beating testicular cancer doesn't count for much, or holding off rivals in three consecutive tours of France. I guess Lance Armstrong doesn't have what it takes to sit down and complain about someone else's personal and professional choices.

Poor Lance. Poor everyone.

Patrick Hartigan
Thursday, August 23

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Armstrong on l'Alpe #1

Regarding past tour winners not waiting for a rival who crashed: LeMond nearly blew a head gasket in '85 when he was asked to wait for a teammate who crashed.

John Spevace
USA
Thursday, August 23

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Armstrong on l'Alpe #2

Some people don't remember what happened at the tour in 99, when the infamous crash at the passage du gois happened. Who was at the front of the "attack" while 30-40 riders were getting their heads sorted? As I remember it was ONCE and US Postal.

Of course Lance waited for Jan. Why would he attack when he was winning the race, just think how the headlines would read in the French papers the next day, "Lance attacks Ullrich when he's down!" Either it was a team tactic or a PR tactic; it was still a smart move.

Dave
USA
Saturday, August 25

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Armstrong on l'Alpe #3

With all the talk in the past month about Armstrong's "look" on l'Alpe d'Huez, what about Ullrich's "look" a few moments later? The audacity of Ullrich to look at his opponents like that. See the photo on Cyclingnews.

Tom Scanlon
Boston, MA
Tuesday, August 28

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Chemotherapy

Steve Doo - Good luck with your treatment and recovery. I'm sure you will also be a "better sufferer" in years to come. Especially breathing all those garlic fumes in your home town (as if that wasn't suffering enough)!

Mark Rishniw
Ithaca
Friday, August 24

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Cycle bashing #1

My wife and I moved to Boulder County, Colorado in 1997. Having lived in Switzerland for nine years, Colorado seemed like a good idea, what a mistake. Since moving here, I have been buzzed and cut-off so many times, I have lost count, I have been spat at, things have been thrown at me and had the occasional confrontation with a red neck. I'm not the only one that has received this abuse from these people, whose intelligence is inversely proportional to the size of their vehicle, many of my cycling friends have had similar things happen to them. In the paper a few weeks ago some motorist assaulted a cyclist. I have heard that some people are even carrying firearms while they cycle, but I don't know how true this is. Do they make titanium pistols?

Michael Baraga
USA
Thursday, August 23

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Cycle bashing #2

Tony, Sorry to hear about your friend's plight. Although I can't say I've ever had such a graphic run-in, the US isn't a very friendly place for cyclists either, Lance's popularity notwithstanding (that's just hero worship, not appreciation for our sport). One thought: cross training is very important for any serious athlete, how about some Tae Kwan Do?

Raymond F. Martin
Thursday, August 23

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Cycle bashing #3

In response to a recent letter regarding legal strategies that may assist in dealing with bogans in cars who harass cyclists, I can't suggest a legal solution, but then again I am not a lawyer.

The best story I heard some years ago was in Bondi in Sydney when a car load of feral Woodchucks hurled various inanities at a cyclist returning home from a ride. The enterprising cyclist reached into the driver's window and pulled the keys out of the ignition at a traffic light that had halted their mindless journey. Anyone familiar with the geography of Sydney can only imagine what happened next. He continued towards the Pacific Ocean and hurled the keys in the drink. He then went home and watched the car being towed away from the convenience of his apartment.

Could be apocryphal, but a good story nonetheless.

Tony Weller
Lake George, NY, USA
Monday, August 27

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Former Soviet dominance #1

What is even more fascinating is the ladies top 20. See there the three women from the same small country Lithuania.

Ruben Koeckhoven
Friday, August 24

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Former Soviet dominance #2

Thanks for the correction, Kristian (that the UCI's national rankings are based on each country's top ten riders only). And you are absolutely correct to point out that many of the "former USSR's" points in that chart are attributable to riders from the three Baltic states -- nations scarcely sentimental (to say the least!) about their past incorporation into the USSR.

A more fundamental point remains unsaid, of course -- that the bulk of these points would not (and could not) have been earned without the political changes of the past dozen years, as these riders would never have had the opportunity to race in professional races in the West.

Even so, a yield of 47 racers eligible to line up on the start line at this year's Worlds is certainly a showing worth noting.

Richard Burkholder
Princeton, NJ, USA
Friday, August 24

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Mercury

I have always been a big fan of the Mercury team, and was very excited at the prospect of seeing them in the tour. How ever, Mr Leblanc's decision to exclude them over 2nd division French teams has inevitably effected them. Sponsors pay good money for exposure. The fact that Leblanc choose ill fated teams such as FdJ in hopes of promoting French cycling has only discouraged sponsorship in the rest of the world. This exclusion has obviously effected the Mercury teams ability to attract a new secondary sponsor. After all, who wants to sponsor a team which will not be at any of the big races.

Andrew Szafranski
Brampton, ON, Canada
Friday, August 24

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Tour 1989: LeMond #1

Mr. Watson makes the statement that LeMond didn't win the '89 Tour in a manner befitting a grand champion, but fails to take a couple of things into consideration when he compares the overall riding strategies of Fignon and LeMond:

1.) Fignon was full of confidence after winning the Giro. He knew his form was good enough to win the Tour. LeMond, on the other hand, had a dreadful Giro and had no idea how his body would hold up in a race as difficult as the Tour. If you see yourself as an having an outside chance at overall victory, you wouldn't be too smart to throw away your energy with silly attacks like Fignon's teaming up with Mottet for a breakaway on a dead-flat stage. Phil Ligget had a fitting comment during the coverage of the '89 Tour when he said that you have to race with your brains as well as your legs.

2.) Fignon had a much stronger team behind him than LeMond. LeMond's team was probably the equivalent of today's Bonjour team. No offence to the members of that ADR squad (one of which was a young Johan Museeuw), but they were at nowhere near the same level as Fignon's Systeme U team. Without a strong team, LeMond had to make allegiances with other top riders also looking to put time into Fignon or to help limit Fignon's gains. Again as Ligget said, you have to use your brains and your legs.

There's no denying that Fignon rode a spectacular Tour, but LeMond played the game that he had to, to win it. He couldn't climb quite like Fignon and was forced to try to limit the damage that Fignon inflicted in the mountains. He had to then take advantage of his superiority in the time trials with the hope that he could do what no one at the time thought was even remotely possible (take back more than 50 seconds in a very short, flat TT). I credit LeMond for riding an intelligent race and never giving up. When Fignon attacked, LeMond gave all he could to limit the damage, then used his last opportunity to win the race to deliver a blind-siding knockout punch. To say that LeMond's victory in '89 lacked panache and flair is one thing, but don't ever say that he lacked the toughness, grit and brains necessary of a great champion. This is a man who is still carrying shotgun pellets in the lining of his heart after all.

Also Mr. Cravens writes that: "LeMond was second by 35 seconds (50 seconds was what he gained on Fignon in the time trial to win the tour)"

The truth of the matter is that LeMond was down by 50 seconds going into the final stage TT. In the TT he put 58 seconds into Fignon, thus the 8 second win for LeMond.

Jay Schrotzberger
USA
Wednesday, August 22

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Tour 1989: LeMond #2

In response to David Watson's letter (which was in response to mine) I do appreciate the varied opinions people exhibit regarding this sport, and this impassioned argument that Mr. Watson puts forward is interesting to me. While American culture can be oppressive, Greg LeMond should not have his tour victory denigrated because of cultural biases. Mr. Watson's arguments did little to sway my opinion. Again the elusive concept of panache is rendered as proof that Fignon was a more worthy victor. The results are what justify the means. This is sport, not a study in aesthetics. Fignon is to be respected, admired, honored; not as a moral victor but as a former champion who finished second in an exciting event. He also exhibited the traits I referred to earlier. Hubris. Willful. Arrogant. You see panache, elan. Those word must describe characteristics in an flawed individual.

LeMond had two rather than one great time trials (Rennes to Dinard, Versailles-Paris) as well as a mountain time trial that he equaled or bettered all of his immediate rivals. The stage victory at Aix-Les-Bains was another well played hand. Recent Tour history shows that a strong team in the mountains is requisite for overall success due to the relentless attacks by those after stage victories. LeMond's overall victory was remarkable because he triumphed over a remarkable and intriguing foe in Fignon, as well as overcoming a poor performances in the mountains by team ADR. Fignon's gallant efforts rewarded him with an eventual 2nd place finish. LeMond also exhibited the willingness to push himself to succeed despite his poor recent performances, such poor results that would have emotionally debilitated lesser men. Fignon had tasted recent success but only after years of drought. His confidence was high.

To say Fignon was the moral victor, that concept trivializes the struggle these two exhibited to capture the final Yellow Jersey. In a memorable and contentious event such as the 1989 Tour de France, Fignon and LeMond's names are forever entwined amongst the story of the event. LeMond triumphed, Fignon was vanquished.

As it happens, I actually quite liked Laurent Fignon when he rode. He was an interesting person, and despite this loss, a great champion.

Scot Montague
Dallas TX
Thursday, August 23

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Tour 1989: LeMond #3

I have always admired Fignon's performances as a rider but feel compelled to respond to Mr. Watson's comments regarding Greg LeMond's performances in the 1989+1990 TdF. No doubt Fignon rode a great race in '89 but it's pretty harsh to label LeMond's performance as "disgraceful and shameless", "cowardly and mean spirited" and "a wheelsucker".

Prior to the "89 TdF LeMond's form at best was average. When he won the first TdF TT (sorry David but that was a remarkable ride too) he was understandably surprised, and he did state that he was worried about the mountains. I agree that he relied on others on the stage to Villard de Lans but in light of his pre TdF performances his hesitation seems reasonable. Was he being a "wheelsucker" or just riding smart? Interesting too is that Mr. Watson uses this one stage to show LeMond is not a "true champion". Yet, in his next statement he refers to the 1990 Luz Ardiden stage where LeMond aggressively rode everyone but Indurain off his wheel. Seems contradictory to me. In '89 he is penalized for being a "wheelsucker" but when aggressive in '90 he is just a whiner.

Interesting too is that he mentions Indurain. I have nothing but admiration for Indurain's TdF wins but throughout his wins he pretty much followed wheels in the mountains and then won in the TT to cement his victories. In fact I don't believe he won any road stages during his Tour wins (although he did prior to) and other than one stage into Belgium was not very aggressive. Was he being a "wheelsucker" or just capitalizing on his strengths?

Regarding the final TT in "89. Whether or not there was any evidence that Tri bars and aero helmets were beneficial, Fignon had access to, but chose not to use them. During interviews prior to this race Fignon confidently stated LeMond could not make up the time and apparently felt his regular TT equipment was good enough (maybe, maybe not). Apparently forgotten in all of this is regardless of equipment the bike needs to be ridden and on that day LeMond was better than Fignon, significantly better.

While every person is entitled to their opinion and favorite riders, increasingly we seem to be seeing often bitter comments regarding the merits of a riders accomplishments, both past and present, especially when a performance exceeds that of what appears to be a favorite of the writer. Is it hard to accept that maybe the winner was just better when it counted in that particular race? ( including Indurain over LeMond in '91) Also, I doubt that there is any rider, amateur or professional, who at one time or another has not ridden as aggressively as they could. That to me doesn't make them less of a champion when they do win. Final thought: on rare occasions a rider considered of less than championship caliber has won the Tour, but no multi -Tour winner has ever been less than a champion.

Rex Gilmore
Vienna, Virginia, USA
Thursday, August 23

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Tour 1989: LeMond #4

I think Mr. Watson left out some significant information. He claims LeMond was a wheel sucker. The man was shot 2 years earlier and almost lost his life! He wasn't a wheel sucker in 1986 when he dropped Bernard Hinault in the alps by over 5 minutes. Also, Greg had very little help in the mountains in 89. He had to rely on other riders and teams. That was his only option at that time.

Greg was someone who used his head and great tactical ability to win. I think people should respect that. After all, he did win the most exciting Tour de France we have yet to see....

George Allen,
N.Y.
Thursday, August 23

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Tour 1989: LeMond #5

In response to David Watson's letter about LeMond's "disgraceful and shameless" performance in the 1989 Tour and that he relied on Delgado and others to do his work for him, I simply want to say this letter seems pure farce and tongue-in-cheek because his charges are so palpably absurd. If not, perhaps Mr. Watson should remember that for much of the race LeMond was virtually alone without the support of his ADR team, which lost rider after rider as the days went on. Thus, his "team" had to be composed of those on other teams. Rather that being as he described, it was this very lack of support, as well as his willingness to embrace technological advances when they proffered advantages, that make his success in the '89 edition of the Tour so remarkable.

Andy Farrand
Saturday, August 25

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Tour 1989: LeMond #6

I appreciated the comments from David Watson about LeMond's negative style in '89 -- all valid, but overlooking the fact that LeMond's team was unable to give him any real support in the mountains, unlike, say Fignon's.

Re R. Hood's comments about the contrasting riding styles in that final time trial, I remember them well, and also remember that Fignon was suffering from a massive saddle-sore/boil that didn't allow him to get a comfortable position at all. That he was able to ride as well as he did is testament to how much of a fighter he was that day.

In short, I was in awe of LeMond's performance that year: he was an underdog on an underpowered team. But he never really had the absolute need to win that makes for an indisputable champion. This probably makes him a better neighbor and possibly person than the great champions, but it remains true that the first American to win a classic (even though LeMond won the Super Prestige trophy -- remember? ) was Armstrong, who was and is a vicious competitor.

Richard McLamore
Abilene, TX
Sunday, August 26

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Tour 1989: LeMond #7

Wheelsuckers are annoying in much the same way as a gnat. If you are superior then swat the gnat and destroy him.

In a prestigious race such as TdF the cyclists are all of world class level. Perhaps it should be changed to a huge 20 day time trial event so that all competition is head to head. I think the real problem here is that Fignon did not keep a close watch on the threatening LeMond therefore not racing smart enough to keep him at bay. Or perhaps he was simply not strong enough to beat him. In any event it was a most exhilarating tour as most are.

I admire any athlete who is capable of participating in TdF. They are all deserving of the win if they can survive the full Tour.

Calvin Johnson
USA
Monday, August 27

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Tour 1989: LeMond #8

Fignon was a cry baby and had no character. He lost time on stages and followed wheels just like LeMond. Fignon's tactics throughout his career were always suspect and it was easy to see the chink in the armour. By far Fignon's greatest weakness was arrogance especially when winning. LeMond was by far the better tactician who could win with or without team support.

Richard Clayton
Atlanta, GA, U.S. Freakin' A., buddy
Tuesday, August 28

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Tour 1989: LeMond #9

Tri bars may have been popular in the States in 1989, but they were not common in Europe at the time. My recollections are of general amazement that the UCI and indeed the Tour organisation were allowing LeMond to use them in a Time Trial. The Tour de France ain't no Triathlon - it's a bike race!

I never was a LeMond fan, I always considered that he was prepared to do anything, yes I mean anything, to be successful. His performances in the 1989 Tour amply demonstrated this in my view. However, setting aside the Greg bashing, the point I make is this - Tri-bars do offer a huge advantage and we all know that now. OK, LeMond did his research and argued successfully that the bars were not illegal, but for anyone to claim that there were so many other factors that slowed Fignon down is ludicrous. Fignon was a great time trialist and he rode a very, very good time trial that day, make no mistake - look at his performance against that of Thierry Marie, the Chris Boardman of the day. LeMond's performance, on the other hand, was a complete one off - did he ever dominate a time trial so completely either before or after that day? Probably not.

Why would anyone want to risk an innovation like tri-bars in a race such as the Tour if they didn't expect to gain advantage over their closest rivals? Every man and his dog now knows that tri bars confer a huge advantage and I believe that the UCI have learned from episodes like the 1989 Tour; leading to a belated clamped down on innovations in the major races. I for one hope that a skewed result like that of the 1989 Tour will never be seen again.

And I'm not French - although I often wish I was!

Keith Richards
Leeds UK
Tuesday, August 28

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Merckx

Steady on! Merckx and drugs? You can't be serious.

My recollection is that Merckx tested positive once in a career of 1500 races 500 wins and the lord only knows how many podium positions. He always categorically denied any doping, and all the indications were that his food or his bottle had been spiked. Of course this could never be allowed to happen these days - that level of naiveté disappeared in LeMond's day, I guess.

Yeah, sports have moved on in so many ways, but Eddy Merckx remains the ultimate superhero of cycling the way Muhammad Ali is the ultimate boxer and Pele is the greatest footballer. All these guys were as good as finished before I reached mid-teens, but I can recognise that they are up there on a pedestal, beyond the reach of ordinary guys, or even the great athletes such as Tyson, Armstrong, Maradona and the rest.

Keith Richards
Leeds, UK
Tuesday, August 28

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The last month's letters

  • August 23 - Vuelta, Mercury, Ullrich, Soviets, 1989 again
  • August 17 - Doping, Armstrong, LeMond and The Devil
  • August 14 - Tour, Armstrong, Chemo, Vuelta, Doping, Rooting, & more
  • August 8, part 2 - More about the Tour, and more
  • August 8, part 1 - Tour reflections, chemotherapy, commentary, commercials
  • July 31 - Armstrong, Ullrich, Rous, Hamilton, Drugs, Canada
  • July 18 - Armstrong on l'Alpe, Cycling Manager, food, 35 minutes, commentary, Men's World Cup, Schmoo, van Vliet