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Letters to Cyclingnews - December 5, 2003
Once upon a time, I didn’t like Miguel Indurain. I didn’t think much about why I didn’t like him; I just wanted him to stop winning the Tour de France. I wanted somebody else--anybody else--to win. I was annoyed with his confidence, with the ease with which he climbed, with the casual arrogance implicit in the way in which he simply rode away from those who would stand between him and another victory.
Time passed, and Indurain stopped winning. I heaved a sigh of relief when Riis came along, and Ullrich, and Pantani. Yet for some reason, as I looked back, I began to find a new respect for the Spaniard. I also came to a clear understanding of why I hadn’t liked him. The reason was simple--he was the man who beat Greg LeMond, the man who limited LeMond's tour victories to three. I didn’t consider Indurain on the basis of his own merits, but rather in light of my own particular wishes concerning the outcome of the Tour de France. I’m afraid it was rather an immature attitude.
Now, for the second time in history, someone has won a fifth consecutive Tour de France. It was an achievement of stunning proportions, an event that a few years ago, when Armstrong captured his first yellow jersey, seemed improbable to the point of being preposterous. Moreover, he accomplished this amazing feat in spite of numerous setbacks. The polished, well oiled machine that was Lance Armstrong seemed suddenly composed of ill-fitted parts screeching for want of lubrication--still recovering from a crash on the descent of the Col de Galibier the previous month, sapped by a virus contracted from his son, tossed to the pavement in the chaotic finish of stage 1, subjected to unprecedented attacks on l’Alpe d’Huez (my God, what a stage that was!), dehydrated to a point where most of us would have been bed-ridden for administration of intravenous fluids, struggling to recover in the Pyrenees, and, finally, dumped ignominiously to the pavement moments after launching his very first attack of this year’s tour. With only one mountaintop finish remaining, there were two riders within 18 seconds of Armstrong. Where was the man who had so thoroughly dominated four previous Tours de France? Where was the man who had left Fernando Escartin and Ivan Gotti dumbfounded on the slopes of Sestrières? Where was the man who had towed Pantani up Mt. Ventoux, the man who had ridden away from Ullrich on l’Alpe d’Huez, then shared a spontaneous congratulatory handshake with him at Luz-Ardiden? This was a struggling Armstrong, a man contending with adversity such as the tour had never before presented to him.
But then, this was a man who had stared death in the face--if not fearlessly, then unabashedly.
Just as I once disliked Indurain, there are those who now dislike Armstrong. They despise the seeming ease with which he vanquishes his opponents. They want to see someone else, anyone else, win the Tour de France. The letters columns ring with mail, from the rabid fans and the angry detractors. The fans recognize Armstrong’s human weakness and rejoice in his ability to overcome the obstacles he faced. The detractors cry of arrogance and misrepresentation, contending that the notorious meticulousness of his preparation belies the claims of fluid loss. There is an amusing irony in the supporters’ acknowledgement of Armstrong’s weakness and his detractors’ reluctance to admit his susceptibility to human frailty. Yes, Armstrong can and does make mistakes--have so many forgotten the Col de Joux Plane?
When asked about his position relative to the acknowledged greats of cycling, Armstrong has consistently declined to comment, saying that this is a matter for posterity to decide. His self-effacement may be carefully calculated, but the fact remains that he speaks of victory in terms of the team rather than himself.
We are all free to admire whomsoever we please and to express our opinions as we will. I would simply suggest that it’s worth spending a few moments considering the feelings that lie at the root of our opinions.
Armstrong will never duplicate the achievements of Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil. Neither will anyone else. Still, there’s no denying Armstrong’s supremacy as winner of the last five Tours de France.
And he wants to win six.
Stan Green, Jr.
I read that US Postal aren’t at all happy about Heras wanting to move teams while under contract to them.
This reads just like the scenario when Heras was riding for Kelme and the Postal directors waved their cheque book at Heras with some big bucks and don’t seem to like the same happening to them?
Let’s hope Heras does move on, then Armstrong will lose another strong support rider and coupled with T mobile’s strength in depth and Beloki’s transfer to a French team we may see another 'classic' open tour next year.
While I am very glad to see that Beloki has finally found a home I am dismayed at his choice of team. I believe the first thought that sprung to my mind was, "What the $%^&!?"
While Ullrich's choice made sense to me because of Telekom's team depth, Beloki's choice seems a little less logical. Ullrich reuniting with his old team will no doubt result in a very drama filled Tour. Beloki joining Brioches La Boulangère seems like levity. I'm waiting to hear that the news was released as a media distraction while he was in negotiations with another team. I don't want to seem like I'm knocking Boulangère (truly, I usually support them as an underdog hoping for a surprise Tour performance) but they have never done anything that demonstrated they are worthy of a rider of Beloki's caliber.
Honestly, I wish them the best and I hope they measure up to the challenge. Deep down however, I think we'll be seeing Beloki as the caboose to either a blue or mauve express train.
Roberto suffers from stage fright. Upon any steep hard climb, that requires physical prowess and superior ability, he is right at home. As soon as he gets near the finish line with other riders he starts worrying about doing the wrong thing and - guess what.
Manual Beltran is a rider without that weakness but who doesn't have the steep climbing ability of Heras. In fact, Beltran is more the man for the Tour than the Vuelta. Something that probably isn't lost on Johan Bruyneel.
Who to choose? You start with the team leader and unless he fails miserably you stay with that team leader. That means that all of the team misses their personal chance in order to support the one most likely to win.
Pssst - he won.
All this talk about Simoni's challenge seems to have lost its perspective a bit.
Simoni is Italian - which means that all other races to both his public and his team come secondary to the Giro. Past winners of the Giro tend to have a permanent position in life in the minds of everyone in Italy as a whole. This also is true of France for the Tour.
When I saw the Giro a few years ago in Venice, you could hear the mad cheers going all around the course as Francesco Moser rode around without a shirt on his bike - on a closed course, waving to everyone like a rock star - easily 10+ years after retirement. In Italy only the Italians matter, simply being Italian is considered its own reward. Even to this day, riders like Bettini and Bartoli are considered revolutionary - they want to race outside Italy...?
You could have the best rider in the history of bike riders - just like Lance, only Italian. Call him Lancio. He could have the same focused attitude about the Tour and win 10 Tours de France, and all you would ever hear from the Italians (probably including all his own relatives) is: "Why hasn't he won the Giro?" Everybody would shake their heads sadly and nod in agreement at the unfairness of it all, like not having a son first to carry on the family name.
It's a very, very insulated society and most Italians are very like each other in ambitions. He probably wouldn't even be able to ride for an Italian team to win the Tour so many times, it would just be impossible, as the pressure would be too great.
The Simoni story is easily explainable just by this, and I am sure that Lance is thinking the same thing - "He's Italian, what else is he going to say?" Simoni himself has no option but to make this challenge and hope it comes true.
For another example of this, look at Roberto Visentini. He won the Giro, then sat back like an armchair and expected his Italian team to support him fully without question. This happened of course, but then again Stephen Roche had something to say about this. Remember the photos of the arguments between Roche and his Italian team manager when Roche was on a breakaway? His whole team was chasing him down. It was ridiculous. Look at the reaction of the Italian public when this happened. It was like Arnie becoming President - "That can't happen here!" Roche had to have two other good climbers he was friends with ride on either side of him on the climbs to prevent people from injuring him on purpose.
In one of the years that Bernard Hinault was in the mix for the win, one of the helicopters from the Italian media came between Hinault and Moser in a time trial - Hinault behind in pink and Moser in front so that Hinault would have more air resistance against him and would push Moser faster. Tacks were spread on the road by the tifosi waiting for Hinault in the time trial also. The examples go on and on.
Simoni's challenge #2
Well said Paul. One other thing. Which race gives a sponsor maximum exposure for their substantial outlay? The Tour de France. Does Lance promote the sport as an attractive form of sponsorship? Yes he does. Does Lance compare himself to the legends of yesteryear? No, he doesn't.
Unlike Simoni (and a couple of other riders) Lance lets his ridin' do the talkin'. Simoni 'talks the talk' but I haven't witnessed him 'walk the walk'. Dream on Simoni!
Simoni's challenge #3
You are spot on with your views on Lance in my humble opinion.
I guess Lance will not care too much about other peoples view on his racing schedule if he wins a sixth Tour de France this year. That in itself, no matter what other races he declines to ride in, will be quite an achievement. I feel Simoni's challenge was a little bit of 'tongue in cheek' to stir a little interest up. I would like to think that he admires and respects Lance's overall success in his cycling career, which is still impressive in other races other than the TdF. No one can say he is a one trick pony if you look at his other wins. Sure, he hasn't won as many races as a great like Sean Kelly. But Sean never won a TdF and I bet he would swap a few of his wins for one tour win.
Simoni's challenge #4
To be honest, I'm a little tired of reading letters that complain about Rider X being selfish, arrogant, opinionated, cocky, etc, etc (subsitute X for this weeks whipping boy, whether it be Armstrong, Cipo, Simoni, McEwen, etc, etc).
I'll wager that 99 percent of the mud throwers have never even spoken a word to Rider X and are basing their opinion on at best second or third hand information. Furthermore, it has been my humble observation that most over achievers, whether they be sportsmen, artists, musicians, writers, politicians, businessmen, etc, are almost by definition, extreme personalities with at times extreme aspects of character. It's all part of what makes them so different from you and me.
Simoni's challenge #5
In response to Mr. Clapp's desire to see Lance ride the Vuelta for Heras, I would have liked to have seen Lance race the World's in Hamilton in support of his good friend and longtime domestique George Hincapie. That would have gone a long way toward reciprocating all the work George has done for Lance over the years. I was pretty disappointed that Armstrong chose to forego competing in the World's when they were taking place on his home continent for only the third time ever. And if Lance had been there to help George, a true podium contender, I'm sure the Team USA mechanics would have taken the time to have his bike set up correctly... Somehow I don't think we would have heard "Lance, buddy, can you take another lap? We'll have your new bike ready your next time around!"
Anna Maria Calamari
I totally agree with the point of view expressed by Raymond Martin whereby he states that Eddy Merckx is without any shadow of a doubt the greatest cyclist of all time. Eddy's record is astonishing and I think that most fans will agree that we have been very lucky to live in an age where we could witness his great cycling ability.
Indeed, it is something that I think our sport should try to honour because I think that in recent times both the cycling media and fans have taken for granted the records achieved by Eddy. If you compare his statistical dominance of our sport, I think that perhaps only Sir Donald Bradman (Cricket) dominates his respective sport to the same extent as Eddy. I don't wish to take away from the Hinaults and Indurains or indeed the Coppis of our sport. Their achievements in their respective eras were great. But their achievements pale in the shadow of Eddy's palmares.
I think that it is time that our sport should pay commensurate tribute to Eddy and what he has done for our sport. If you look at other sports, the great champions of the past are venerated - and this is only correct. I do not believe that our sport has done enough to commemorate the career of it's greatest exponent.
Greatest of all time? #2
Strange that only the US public would consider LA as the 'greatest'. If you read the letters elsewhere regarding Simoni's challenge to LA - and the jingoistic responses to the challenge, you might get a better understanding of what LA/USPS is doing to our sport. The Tour achieves its stature in part because of the existence of all those other races - the ones that take place all year long and play no part in USPS advertising and marketing thinking.
So what happens when LA gets beat? And believe me, if you think 2003 was tough - wait till next year, or better yet, go ask Messrs Indurain, Hinault and Merckx about number six! The answer is simple - USPS packs up and goes, and with it the 'Great American Cycling Dream'. You remember - the one where only one race counts.
But for other cyclists like myself, we will still have all those great races to treasure - if our sport survives the skewed money being thrown at the Tour de France, and the attendant problems that come with one-eyed preoccupation. I treasure the Vuelta for the exciting riders it throws out every year, and the Giro for its passion. And no, I don't think LA can shoot his mouth off about which race is harder - he hasn't ridden the Giro, after all. And the TdF is not the be-all and end-all of cycling.
Call me a cynic, but wasn't it another of those famous Americans - Jack Nicklaus - who coined the term 'Major' in relation to certain golf events, and LA's predecessor, LeMond, who started this fashion of only concentrating on the Tour? Because they could afford to? Was racing all-year long, like Merckx did, simply too hard?
So who can truly question Eddy as 'the Greatest'? Certainly not LA.
Greatest of all time? #3
While I agree with Mr. Martin's assessment of Merckx vs. Armstrong in most respects I would like to point out that "Mythic" breakaways of such proportion have been made much more difficult in modern cycling due to changes in the sport, such as better communications, more scientific training, and technical advancements to the bicycle. Also Mr. Martin sells Eddy a little short, it was 11 grand tours, not 9. 5 Tour's, 5 Giro's, and 1 Vuelta.
Greatest of all time? #4
Please do not forget that when Eddy would get bored during the off season he would team up with Patrick Sercu and go win a few 6-day races.
The Giro does not organize an event like l'Etape de Tour. They do organize the Pedalata Rosa, but it is only a short, flat, mass participation ride that is fun to do, but not of interest to serious cyclists looking for a challenge. There are fantastic granfondo rides such as the Maratona dles Dolomites, which do the famous passes, but they are not run during the same time period.
April Pedersen Santinon
Giro d'Italia stage for the public #2
While rides based upon stage routes during the Giro are not advertised outside of the Italian community... there are Fondos (Group race-rides) labeled for 'cicloturismo' all through Italy and sometimes these follow Giro routes before and after the actual stages.
Look for either Cicloturismo magazine produced by Bicisport or il Giornale delle GrandFondo, published by Bicicletta publishers in Italy. These magazines give you lists of major rides and sometimes route maps. I found a site: http://www.cycling.it/ that has a rundown of a pile of famous Giro Stage Routes all through Italy.
Please Note: You will need an international racing Licence with your photo attached to ride these Fondos legally...pre-Registration is also necessary. Sometimes you can get a Licence quickly from the Italian bike shop that is a sponser of the ride...but you still will need to visit a Sport Doctor for a medical test (It takes 45 minutes for a full cartio-vascular workup) and it is inexpensive ($30).
These Fondos have between 150 to 5,000 riders and range from the very easy to the semi-impossible. If you are doing this alone, you will have to do a lot of research and figure out Italiano... but it can be done.
Following on from the two books mentioned no-one can truly understand Tom Simpson without reading his own book written before his death. After reading his book you will understand that Tom was obsessed with beating the Europeans at their own sport. This he did by becoming world champion in 1965. I recommend any cycling fan to visit Harworth and Tom's grave in particular for a truly amazing feeling of someone special.
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