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Letters to Cyclingnews - November 14, 2003
After reading Simoni's challenge to Armstrong the second time, I realized that it was likely the most preposterous thing I had ever read. The list of reasons why Armstrong wouldn't want to ride the Giro go on ad infinitum:
1) Fantastic opportunity to do what Simoni did last year, by which I mean, have a great Giro, talk a lot of talk about the Tour then drop the ball because he's totally blown from finishing a Grand Tour a month before starting the next one.
2) Riding the Giro and the Tour might be possible for Lance, but it's a sure way to destroy his top domestiques. (This is really a subset of reason 1.)
3) Lance has a collection of the strongest support riders in the world, because, 11 months out of the year, they get to race their respective races. Their loyalty, not so much to Lance but to the Postal program, is contingent on this arrangement. If Lance decided that he wanted May, June, July, and August his strongest riders would be off like a prom dress. (Let's not pretend that these guys can race the Giro and the Tour and be on any kind of form to be winning races in June or August, shall we?)
Let's talk about reasons why he might want to ride the Giro, but really not:
1) Doesn't want to look like a big chicken: One can make an entirely normative statement that Lance is among the greatest Grand Tour riders of all time. Lance doesn't need to blow his chance at a sixth consecutive Tour win to prove to Simoni or anyone else that he's not afraid of a challenge. If this fact isn't entirely self-evident, there's nothing I can do for you.
2) A chance to win two grand tours. Yeah, maybe he should enter every race on the calendar. Maybe he'd win all of them, but I doubt it.
3) Possibility for one of the greatest cycling showdowns of all time: What would actually happen is that Simoni would probably win one and Lance would win the other, at which point we'd have one of the greatest cycling stalemates of all time. Boring.
So given the ridiculousness of the challenge, why would Simoni propose it? He's planning. Next year, when he enters the Tour totally blown from the Giro and drops the ball, he'll have a prefabricated excuse to fall back on.
Simoni, if you want to challenge Lance, just do it. Lance's reputation isn't built on being a fantastic double Grand Tour rider any more than it's built on being a fantastic cook or seamster or pianist. It's based on winning the Tour de France. Lance isn't here to cater to your whims. If you want to challenge Lance, race the Tour like it matters and stop preparing your excuses in November.
Concerning the piece of news on Italians and doping: Italians spending €600 million/year on drugs?
I think that Mr. Donati is founding his claim on an ill-conceived assumption: X drugs were sold in Italy AND we have RX prescriptions only for Y THEN X - Y drugs were used for doping by cyclists.
He forgets that in Italy it is still possible to (legally) get drugs without a prescription. Unlike me (I live in the US so when I get sick I have to pay some MD around $80 to have him prescribe the drug that I already know ahead of time I need and in what doses) a lot of people in Italy keep a handy supply of the drug they routinely need (for medical purpose) bypassing often the dreaded MD waiting room and prescribing their own drugs.
It might sound like a middle age nightmare medical situation, but it is not: how many times do I have to catch a flue in November and go to the doctor to have him prescribe two pills of xyz a day for a week? Maybe next November when I get the same symptoms I'll just take 2 pills of xyz a day until I feel better (so I won't have to spend an hour or so in a waiting room sampling all the seasonally available bacteria and viruses).
I know a lot of people that keep a first-aid cabinet stuffed with all the drugs that they tend to need and most of the time they just get thrown away unused after the expiration date.
Also since professional cyclists and athletes in general are a small percentage of the population of Italy, I don't suppose there would be a slight chance that the remaining 54 million or so Italians might account for a point or two percent of those 600 million euros.
Conclusions pulled out of incomplete meaningless stats: sounds a lot like politics to me.
There are 4 Italians in the top 5 rider Classification for the UCI.
There are 7 Italians in the top 10 rider list for the World Cup.
On top of all is Bettini.
Others were as good, or even better than Bettini during various parts this year, but none came close to Bettini in showing strength, determination, class, effort and victories throughout the whole of the road racing year. Bettini is without doubt the Rider of the Year, 2003.
Cyclist of the year #2
Yes, there were many greats in 2004. The most amazing (more than Vinokourov and Nozal) was Zubeldia. After 2003's Rumsas, I guess everyone is skeptical of a one-time performance. He certainly deserves a 'most improved'. Do you have to beat the best to be cyclist of the year? Hamilton would certainly be the best injured cyclist of the year. Ulrich the best of rehab's. Millar's climbing has improved; a shame he was sick part of the Tour. Perhaps for him: best cyclist who can't climb. Give the award to Lance and half will go to the lawyers anyway.
Cyclist of the year #3
If we're making cyclist of the year lists, you can't leave Bettini off of them. He competed in every race he entered -- he raced his bike all season, whether he was racing to win or supporting a teammate's aspirations. He can sprint, he can climb, he can ride the classics, he can finish a tour and plays an active role in races that he has no chance or reason to win. He's a leader who seems to treat the people who work with and for him decently -- and he's among the least dramatic and whiny of the Italian superstars. He's currently, without a doubt, the best single-day rider in men's cycling.
My dark-horse choice would be Nicole Cooke.
Cyclist of the year #4
I know we will all get the chance to vote online soon about the rider of the year, but I thought I'd say a few things about it first. In my opinion, Vinokourov has had the best season, with a lot of good quality wins. I suspect Lance and Jan must've been quite frustrated that a rider who had already won 2 hors category stage races and a world cup before the tour was able to attack them in the tour. I also think Tyler has been great. Again, hors category stage races and a world cup to his credit, he could've been a big shot at the tour if it wasn't for THAT bone.
I think Michael Rogers was by far the best new talent, although he is a second year pro, he has really shown the world what he can do this year.
Comeback of the year can only go to one guy, Jan Ullrich. He has looked so good all year, with podiums in world cups and a great tour, he is back and we all know it.
Sorry Mr O'Dell, but flop of the year was Mario. He talked up his chances of winning in the rainbow jersey but clearly the success went to his head and as usual, tried to compensate with his mouth. Everyone thinks Erik has slowed, but with a world cup and numerous wins, he still has the respect of everyone and was one of the few to beat Petacchi head to head this year.
The hard luck award must surely go to poor old Cadel. Anyone who has 3 broken collar bones in one season is just plain unlucky and I hope he comes out and shows the world what we Aussies (or MTBers) know he is capable of.
Cyclist of the year #5
I'd like to see Tyler Hamilton get cyclist of the year for 2003. I would say that Petacchi's and Bettini's years were both incredible, but the award should not be based on quantity of wins alone. Petacchi rode amazingly fast for the last 1000 meters of all his races, and Paolo certainly was a champion of the one-day classics, but Tyler is cyclist of the year for his many other qualities! What Tyler accomplished was truly the stuff of legends to be remembered 100 years from now! One great world cup win, the Tour of Switzerland, and his heroics at the Tour de France will inspire cyclists as well as non-riders around the world. Add to that his humility and class as a team player, and he is more than just a great cyclist, but an incredible person as well. He's the guy that every team wanted as their leader next year!
Cyclist of the year #6
Cyclist of the Year honors will go to someone else, and rightly so, but I'd like to add a word of praise for Viatcheslav Ekimov. At age 38, he animates Paris-Roubaix and takes third place; wins the Tour of Holland; puts in consistent top 20 if not top 10 finishes in time trials, including seventh place at the World's; takes third in San Francisco (for the second year running), not exactly a TTers course; and completes his 13th (by my count) consecutive Tour de France while solidly defending Lance's jersey. Great stuff.
Maybe Best Overlooked Cyclist of the Year?
Martin McEwen says that Heras has been better on the climbs than Armstrong. Really? How many mountain stages in the Tour has he won? How many has Lance won? I know Lance himself has said that Heras has put him into difficulty at times on the climbs, but Roberto's job is to go off like that so that Lance can use that extreme pace as a springboard for his own ends. If Heras rode like that for himself he would burn out long before the finish. Anyway, the comparisons are valueless, as they have yet to ride against each other at the peak of their form. I feel certain that Heras could easily win a stage or two, but Lance would still win the Tour. The strongest will always prevail.
Has Mr. Martin McEwen been watching the same TdF that I've been watching? Armstrong is by far the strongest and most consistent climber of the Tour de France. Heras (bless his mighty legs) however, had a great 2002 Tour but was awful this year. I rarely saw him at the front of the peloton at all this year. Armstrong on the other hand is at the front even when he's weakened (i.e. when he's dehydrated or sick or hurt or has crashed or has lost all of his teammates or is going though divorce or... you get the point).
There is no contest here! Armstrong is the strongest climber, period.
Tour 2004 - Climbers #3
Heras as the points champion? Will never happen, at least until Roberto changes teams.
Everyone talks about the USPS template, but it amazes me how few teams actually follow it. It's wicked simple, but very disciplined. In a nutshell, no one is allowed any attempts at personal glory. In '99, when Lance was considered an outside shot, the team actually let Hincapie contest a few finishes, but not until his real work was done. But every year after that, no one goes down the road for any reason without Johan Bruyneel's okay. And the climber's jersey, even moreso than the green jersey, can only be won by grabbing not just a few finishes but also the intermediate points.
So, Heras might have the respect of the peloton in the hills, but that will have to do in the place of the actual title of TdF KOM.
Tour 2004 - Climbers #4
It is very hard to compare such a thing as climbing superiority in a three week race. The best climber may not have to ride at the front or attack on every climb or may have an off day which can see him tumble in the overall standings. In some situations, the best climber might be working for someone else and so may not get to ride at their own pace or rhythm up the climb. Knowing all of this, it can only be said that Lance Armstrong has been the best climber in all the Tours he has won. Every year he has either won or decimated his main rivals on at least one climb and then was right on their wheels for any other mountain top finish. Who else has done this since 1999?
Marco dropped him in 2000, but only after being left for dead on Hautacam. Then he didn't finish the race.
Ullrich finally put time into him on a climb this year: 8 seconds.
Heras pulls him along and probably wastes himself but is Lance's most inconsistent mountain domestique. I'm sure he needs incredibly steep climbs to show his superiority.
Polka dot jersey wearers? No.
I actually might say that in 2002, Beloki was the second best climber. He stuck with Heras early on, and I believe he beat him on Ventoux.
Please, if someone has a good argument as to why Armstrong wasn't the best climber from 1999 on (yes, I'm even including 2003), let me know.
Tour 2004 - Epic battles on the horizon
The Tour is 'boring' relative to the Giro and the Vuelta insofar as its finish is predictable for the best part of the last week. The other two giants have the added dash of excitement thanks to the fact that the lead can change hands right until the end. And that's down to the terrain.
In other words, the Tour's 'boring' problem stems from the fact that it has to cross acres of gently rolling plain in order to finish in Paris.
So cut out the Paris bit, or use if for a team time trial in the fist week if you really must.
And make the new finish at the top of Alpe d'Huez.
Look back at this year's TTT and you will see its importance. Postal put Lance ahead of ONCE's boys, a good edge over Ullrich's somewhat weak team, and left the slower teams (like Simoni, Mayo) painfully behind. The rule change will only benefit a good GC rider on a very slow team. Faster teams will probably go a little easier. Climbers are to benefit here since most are not fast time trialists. The 2004 Tour is fit for a climber: a limited loss TTT, a steep hill TT, and many consecutive days in the mountains. This Tour may be slow if many riders try to conserve energy for the ITTs and the mountaintop finishes. It will probably crack some of the best riders who have poor recovery from 'big effort' days. Perhaps we will see a similar dual like LeMond/ Fignon. As for the TTT, why didn't the Tour just shorten the race to 20km?
I've been thinking a lot about 4-wheel motorists offing the odd cyclist. Guilty or not? But of what? Frankly, I don't get much satisfaction from the driver "at least" getting a ticket. It gives them a chance to show off in driver's class. "What did you do wrong?" "I was doing 65 in a 50." "And you?" "I killed someone."
If I fumbled around with a gun and it discharged and killed someone, I think involuntary manslaughter charges would be filed. According to a legal dictionary (for typical U.S. state law):
"MANSLAUGHTER, INVOLUNTARY - In order for a person to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter the government must prove that someone was killed as a result of an act by the person;
"Second, in the circumstances existing at the time, the person's act either was by its nature dangerous to human life or was done with reckless disregard for human life; and
"Third, the person either knew that such conduct was a threat to the lives of others or knew of circumstances that would reasonably cause the person to foresee that such conduct might be a threat to the lives of others."
So, it looks like it's a cultural thing. If society agrees that driving distracted (or into the sun) is inherently dangerous and therefore reasonably likely to cause injury or death, then motorists would be at risk of involuntary manslaughter charges. Until then, we're just bugs on the windshield.
What do you all think?
As reported today in the New York Times, between 5 percent and 7 percent of random, anonymous drug tests conducted on professional baseball players this year came back positive for steroids. As a result, baseball will begin mandatory drug testing next season. Among other quotes in the article, Robert Manfred, EVP of labor relations, said "A positive rate of 5 percent is hardly the sign that you have rampant use of anything."
Say what? As an avid fan of both cycling and baseball, I am appalled at both the results and the attitude. I guess that cycling should stop flagellating itself for Moninger's (barely) positive and Jeanson's elevated hematocrit? Jeez.
Another point of interest from the article, the penalties for future positive tests:
1st offense: "treatment" (what a laugh, like steroid use is some sort of addiction?)
What does this do for the home run records of the last few years? What are other readers' thoughts?
Hey, wait a minute, aren't we back on the VDB merry-go-round, again? Let's see, how does the story go? Frank is picked up by YET another team whose directeur sportif will only take him IF... It appears that directeurs sportif need to shore up on their Greek mythology, in particular the story from the Odyssey in which Odysseus has his men tie him to the pole of the boat and stuff up his ears with wax so that he can't crash the boat on the rocks when the sirens sing to him.
And no apologies to the VDB apologists, thank you very much.
So with the days getting shorter, the winter temperatures settling in (at least here in Canada), and the opportunities for quality outside rides getting so rare as Cipollini-sightings at the 2003 Vuelta, many of us find themselves getting reacquainted with the trainer at home and watching TV (or in my case the DVDs from the 2003 Tour de France) while spinning away. I've recently experienced a fun alternative to the TV: Books! (Yes, in an age of electronic high-tech gizmos and gadgets the good 'ole books still work.)
Some of my fellow Cyclingnews readers have already pointed out some "mistakes" in Lance's second book, 'Every second counts' and I do not really want to dwell upon them... Well okay, here's one that I found: Benoît Joachim is actually from Luxembourg, not from Belgium. I think there are two disappointments with the overall book: It's shorter and (for lack of a better word) it's 'erratic'. The book is written probably in the same way Lance's life has been since 1999. A whirlwind of activities packed into a tight schedule between Tour de France races. And sadly there are no pictures.
But besides reading 'Every Second Counts' I read 'Uphill Battle' by Owen Mulholland [details from Dymock's Australia, Amazon US & Amazon UK/Europe] and this is a masterpiece. It retraces the history of professional cycling from a climber's perspective, depicting a whole array of great riders and selecting their feats in the mountains that have marked the sport. Mulholland does a marvelous job at describing the moments of glory in which the riders were elevated to the realms of supernatural stars (even though a lot of these riders never experienced the fringe benefits of stardom). I am especially fond of 2 chapters on Charly Gaul (who is also from Luxembourg) and who was called "angel of the mountains" by his peers for his extraterrestrial climbing abilities. Mulholland oftentimes connects the dots of cycling (climbing) history and gives the reader an understanding on how, for example, Gaul's cycling style was pretty much similar to Armstrong's, half a century later.
Of course the book features the big names (e.g most multi-Tour de France / Giro winners) as you need to be good in the mountains to be a big name. But there are unlikely additions as well (as for example Wim van Est who did not really experience glory in the mountains other than being rescued from a fall down a ravine in the Tour de France 1951 and immediately inquiring about the state of his bike).
'Uphill Battle' is a gem of cycling literature and Mulholland is an excellent cycling historian. I can only recommend this one for the long, dark winter evenings in front of the fireplace (or on the trainer).
I've heard Lance Armstrong saying that a competitor's arrogant remark gave him the "ultimate inspiration" near the end of the last Tour de France, shortly before the crucial Luz Ardiden stage. He said this competitor had been asking for more than a year for one of Armstrong's race jerseys. Finally, the competitor told someone on the US Postal team to never mind the jersey, because he'd be winning his own yellow jersey by defeating Armstrong for the Tour win.
I've been unable to determine who he is talking about. Jan Ullrich is obviously the one who could most plausibly have claimed he was going to defeat Armstrong, but I've never seen any indication he's the type to say that sort of thing. Does anyone know if the anecdote is true and who it's about?
I was there when Bobby Julich had his mechanical. In fact I had to help the mechanic figure out what was wrong. He really did have a serious problem. His front derailleur was broken and it was hanging down and rubbing against his little chain ring. I couldn't see any way to fix that except with a bike change. As for that I don't know what happened. I also raced on the course, and you could lose a lot of time if you could only use your little chain ring.
I was sad to hear that the team will stop. But I think it is best for them to say so now instead of trying for another year and having to stop a couple of months in (Coast I'm looking at you). It allows the riders a chance to sign contracts with teams they want to instead of hoping to find an opening somewhere. I wish nothing but the best for Susan Stewart, David McKenzie and all the riders.
The year 2004 may have a great Tour de France and the Olympics, but will any of the great time trialists have the guts to try the Hour (the real hour or the UCI's old-bicycle non-aero hour)? To me it is not whether someone beats Boardman or not, but how they stack up to everyone else. Could Lance beat Rominger's distance? Would Ullrich fall short of Indurain? Could he do better with the non-aero record? How close is Millar to Boardman, or Armstrong for that matter? Of any year, these men will peak for July, then gear up for the Olympic time trial in August. I dare all three to attempt the hour.
Francis Lecourt doesn't seem to see the obvious potential of the Ullrich/Vino team-up. Especially when up against the powerful Armstrong/Heras team. He believes Vino should leave Telecom for some other team with nowhere near the budget or strength of roster. I have to say that it is that type of short sightedness that has kept teams from building a roster that can contest the U.S. Postal Team.
1) Vinokourov is exactly the type of rider that should be respected. In the 2003 Tour, even though he was 3rd in the GC standings, he still pulled for the Zabel train at the end of stages. Zabel was the team leader, Vino never forgot that and that is what makes him a great and honorable team rider. There is no shame in being a domestique when your efforts get your team a win. Heras has shown us that. In his selfless actions and powerful performances, he has made the job of domestique a coveted job (and a well paid job too) Vino has the same kind of team spirit... we've all seen it.
2) Mr Lecourt claims that the Telecom team has too many top 10 contenders to achieve the kind of team effort that Postal has. Alas, he is correct... it is a symptom of what I have said before. There is a distinct lack of loyalty to the team in cycling of late. You only have to look at the Kelme team to see that. If a few of riders who've abandoned Kelme over the past few years had stuck around this team would have one of the strongest rosters in the peloton? It's sad really. I understand everyone wants to make more money but come on... win a few for the team before deserting them. I am simply saying this: If Telecom (or T-Mobile I guess) could pull it together as a team (like the Italians did for the 2002 World Championships) with so many top contenders in their team they would be a powerful force to contend with.
3) And the most important! A lot of these riders leave really good teams to become leaders elsewhere and guess what? They end up sucking! Why do they end up sucking? Because they left a perfectly strong team to become leader of a weak team. Its stupid. I have to admit however, this Phonak line-up for 2004 is fascinating me. Maybe we'll have a Armstrong/Heras, Ullrich/Vino and Hamilton/Sevilla contest next year.
Just an FYI, but in your Tour du Faso coverage photos, you ask whether "three wheels are better than two" in this picture.
Just so you know, that is a 'polio bike'. It is for people who have been hit with polio and have lost the use of their legs. It is pedaled through the front wheel with the hands. I've actually seen a guy pedal over 50km in the hot sun on one of those things! What's not so impressive is that there are still people suffering from a disease that has been mostly eradicated in the western world.
G. Garner Woodall
I hope that a few promoters from the U.S. were at the worlds. There was one thing next to a great course and race that made them fantastic.
No blaring music.
If you want to know why bike racing has not become more popular in the states come to a race and listen to 6 hours of 20 year old Erasure and Wham playing on the loudspeakers and you'll understand.
The issue with racing and sport-touring in Europe is not the the lack of events, but the vast number available from which to choose. Joining a local bike club will give you access to more racing than one can imagine. In Germany, the BDR, the national sport cycling association, issues a big, fat Breitensportkalendar each February listing all the organized rides, equivalent to cyclo-tourist, taking place in the country. With respect to racing in Germany, the BDR has a very good website at http://www.rad-net.de/index.php. It includes on-line calendars for various events, including track and road racing (as well as indoor trick riding!) It also has links to regional organizations so if you will be spending time in a particular area, such as Berlin, you can look up events the local club is putting on.
Be forewarned: the hardships of riding in Western Europe not only include the difficulty of choosing which superb landscape to ride through, but also dealing with the risks posed by the existence of superb bakeries every 5km or so, let alone the copious amounts of Hefeweizen that one must consume in Germany after each ride.
Leslie Thomas Reissner
Amateur racing in France #2
Dave, if you think you are old at age 39, maybe you should reconsider racing: success in cycling is 50 percent mental attitude. At 39 you maybe a bit old for stage races, but definitely not for one day events. The info, but first, welcome on this side of the Atlantic (or Pacific if you travel the other way)
www.ffc.fr will give you useful general info In there you will find under "annuaires comités" the list of the various regional (and departemental) ffc offices. Some comités are richer than others and can even maintain a website, as for example Brittany:
To race in FFC you will need a licence from your country of residence.
Does anybody have a video of the 2003 Worlds held in Hamilton Canada last October? I think it was shown on local TV. I'd be willing to pay for it or could trade one of the race videos I have; been collecting race videos for 20 years. Let me know if you've got it.
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