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Letters to Cyclingnews - January 4, 2004
Greatest of all time? #2
Lance Armstrong? As much as I admire Armstrong, probably not. There are reasons that have been spelled out by different readers who know more about cycling and racing than I.
There is something that Armstrong has done that others haven't achieved, and that is to save the Tour de France. 1998 was a bad year for Le Tour, and I still wonder what would have happened if the raids, arrests and the like had occurred again in 1999. The Giro has survived such controversy, so I bet there would still be a bike race, but as has been said many times, the Tour is not the Giro. The big money, the prestige, the sponsors? Maybe gone. Look what happened with Mapei.
But what happens? Instead of drug raids and arrests, we get a marvellous story about a courageous athlete who overcame impossible odds. The Lance Armstrong story. Just winning the race is incredible. For anyone. To have a cancer survivor win the year after the sport and this race in particular takes such a black eye? If I'm Jean-Marie Leblanc, I'm naming my kids after this guy.
All kidding aside, it's the stories of cycling that impress, more than the cycling itself. The inspiration that such stories provide is what truly captivates. Lance has a story that is more compelling than most, and I think we now take it for granted. We didn't in 1999. Probably not the "Greatest Cyclist", but perhaps the "Greatest Cycling Story".
I agree with Jason that comparing Merckx, Coppi, Indurain, Hinault (the notorious whining badger), and Anquetil's achievements next to those of Lance's five consecutive victories is like comparing apples to oranges. Each in his own right has won his place in the hearts and minds of cycling fanatics. Lance has earned his place in the pantheon of cycling gods, not as a phenomenal cyclist who raced and won year round, but as a cyclist who has survived cancer, dominated the Tour, and brought hope and inspiration to countless families and individuals.
Let's be honest. Making a comeback in any sport is difficult, if not damn near impossible. (Ask Pantani how illusive a comeback can be. Or ask Merckx or Hinault or Anquetil how difficult it was to capture their fifth Tour victory). But to suffer through the rounds of toxic, nausea-inducing chemotherapy, the surgeries, the insecurity you feel because you know that your cancer could come back and will always be a cancer patient in remission, and then make a dominating comeback…well, that is the essence of triumph, hope, endurance, and strength. This essence is what Merckx, Coppi, Hinault, Anquetil, and Lance have embodied.
All said we would do well to consider the historical and personal context of each rider before making myopic and trite statements about legendary champions. They all have given our sport and passion so much. They deserve our whole-hearted praise, not our impoverished and disdaining commentary.
Tyler's [Rider of the Year] 'win' was no surprise to me. The man is as tough as they come and a true gentleman to boot. However, I suspect that the breakdown of voter nationality and who they voted for may be somewhat revealing as I suspect that the majority of visitors to your excellent website (which I personally have as my 'Home' site) are Americans. I'd hazard a guess that if your site was Italian and most importantly in the Italian language, that Bettini or Petacchi would have won, as the average tifoso is not well versed in English. Go on and truly surprise me by 'publishing' the voter country stats on the website.
Thanks for doing an excellent job.
Reader Poll #2 - Who’s a Legend?
I was reading your Cycling Legends listing and it struck me. Maybe I'm getting older and have seen more than most of the readers in the US or maybe not. But I think that most of the people on that list as well as the Rider of the Year poll were more than deserving of mentions.
How can you compare the guts of Tyler coming back from being dropped near the end of the L-B-L and going on to win the race (first time for an American) with Lance winning his 5th Tour in a row? How can you compare that with Paolo Bettini’s performances winning the World Cup? And how does any of that compare with the Heras’ win in the Vuelta or Simoni's run away performance in the Giro?
What about Petacchi's marvellous sprint performances or Jan Ullrich's comeback that made the Tour the most exciting since LeMond fought Hinault.
In 2002 when Eki made his comeback and was at the San Francisco Grand Prix, the audience broke into spontaneous applause when he signed in. It was wonderful to see and I think that perhaps there was a tear in the eye of Viacheslav as he came off the stand. That doesn't happen to a lot of riders anywhere or at any time. It says something that everyone knew who Ekimov was.
Looking down the lists there were virtually no names that I didn't know. There was hardly anyone that didn't brighten my day sometime for some reason. Uh, but Steven and Ray - no voting for yourself.
Anyone that makes it into the ranks of the professionals and manages to even hold his own is a legend in my books.
The year end Cyclingnews poll is a personal highlight of the end of year cycling press. However, your best pro bike poll suffers from vote splitting among teams riding the same line of bikes. For example, Trek fans have only the USPS bike from which to choose, while Pinarello votes are split between Fassa Bortolo, Telekom, unspecified "Pinarello", iBanesto, and Prime Alliance. True, paint job is part of a bike aesthetic, and components may vary between teams. However, clearly the frames in the line are a large factor, and these are typically similar between teams using the same sponsor.
I recalculated totals using only the bike type, combining votes for individual teams. The result:
Rank Bike Votes
Trek still wins, but Pinarello and Colnago both improve substantially from their original placings of 3rd and 8th. I feel this ranking is much more representative of rider preference.
For next year, it would be interesting to see a separate vote for "frame", "components", "pedals", and "wheels". This would more precisely generate readers' idea of what constitutes an optimal road bike.
While Mr. Howat is correct that the Wright Bros got their ideas for controlling an airplane from cycling, it was not the leaning (banking) of the plane that was the real breakthrough. The real breakthrough was in how to accomplish the banking manoeuvre. This was inspired by an elongated cardboard box left over from a shipment of bicycle parts. When one of the brothers was tossing out the box he noticed how the box could be twisted. This is where they got the idea for wing warping, which is what gives the pilot control over the banking of the airplane.
Sometimes I wonder how much more advanced the bicycle would be if my cousins hadn’t wasted all their time playing with flying machines.
Most of the criticism of the wielders of Flemish flags relates to their at times disruptive and negative effect at cross events. As far as I understand it most of the bearers belong, or are affiliated to, or indeed have been recruited on the day by the political-cultural movement "Vlaanderen Vlagt".
The bearers of Flemish flags at ‘cross events in Belgium need not necessarily be cycling fans, but seek to display their flags to maximum effect and in so doing spoil the spectacle for many. They were also present at the recent European cross-country championships in Edinburgh.
I don’t think anyone in Belgium wants to see a ban but would like rather to reach an agreement on numbers, size and positioning of the flags at cycling events. The incident with the broken nose was caused by a youngster, not a member of "Vlaanderen Vlagt", who was appalled and distressed by what he had accidentally caused to happen.
I really appreciated the balanced way in which cyclingnews.com has presented the news about Adham Sbeih's doping test results, including Adham's own remarks. He's a guy who has beautifully represented the positives in the cycling world in so many ways. In my book he deserves the benefit of the doubt, especially in this realm where the science of banned substance testing is still at best rather imperfect.
Kent G. Washburn
My question why would 'smoking pot' be on the banned list? While I wouldn't fire one up before my run in a World Cup event, I surely might consider it a day or two before with friends in a coffee shop in Amsterdam or Lugano. Would this constitute a suspension? Is this what the rule says? Or does it say you can’t get high before your run? The legality of smoking pot cannot be argued, but how much of it can you have in your system? None, I suspect is what the rules say.
So you can no longer hang out with your friends who you have grown up and been
riding with for the last 14 years because you might test positive because 'John
and Doe' were smoking a bomber on the way to the resort and you were sitting
in the back seat?
I foresee a big problem with not only junior racers but the local group rides as well. There is nothing worse than some asshole all pumped up on caffeine who truly believes that every group ride is his platform to showcase his/her new found cycling skills. You know the dick that puts the hammer down after the last stop sign out of town.
Let’s face it, smoking pot will only make you late for the group ride and eat more after it, if you do in fact make it on time.
Mr. Thissen, I don't remember anyone saying Lance came to the 2003 Tour in poor form(?). On the contrary, he had just won the Dauphine despite a painful crash. Nobody can come to the Tour in poor form and win, even LA.
You say "Lance is cracking" as if some inevitable, inexorable decline has suddenly begun. LA had a bad period in the 2003 Tour due to illness. He limited the damage, recovered, and by the end had put in an attack at Luz Ardiden that nobody could match. That doesn't sound like a rider in decline to me.
You admitted that Ullrich was also sick during the Tour - well, that means they both were - one of them won and the other got second. Let's not jump to conclusions based on a few mediocre stages. Ullrich also needs to improve his tactics, and he'd better learn fast, because the '04 Tour is only 6 months away!
Mr. Oliver - all I said is that dehydration was a major factor in LA's struggles, which it obviously was - I never said I believed all the numbers being quoted. LA's rivals can certainly all try to attack in succession, although I don't foresee any kind of coordinated effort between teams - too many egos and rivalries. Anyone who attacks repeatedly will also risk using up all their reserves. Vinokourov did this and eventually paid dearly at Luz Ardiden, the most crucial stage. Also, who's to say LA won't launch his own pre-emptive attack? The great thing is: nobody knows what's going to happen!
Tour 2004 #2
Armstrong is and can only be the favourite to win an unprecedented sixth Tour in succession. Primarily, as other letters have recognised, there are others of equal capacity, and although Ullrich and a few other notable contenders are (perhaps unfairly) ‘also-rans’ by comparison, they are undoubtedly of impeccable calibre. But Armstrong retains a seemingly greater psychological edge.
From one vantage point, Armstrong's quite clinical and bereft of some of the flamboyance of individuals past and present. However, the whole notion of 'professional' is to win races/support the team and bring home the results. Many remark how he reveals little of himself in "Every Second Counts", the second of his autobiographies. Again, this should come as little surprise - he's unlikely to expose any weaknesses whilst he remains a top flight professional.
Finally, as much as he is a cyclist, Armstrong is a calculating and shrewd businessman, were he anything less than confident of his ability to consume another Tour, he would have bowed out in 2003 to pursue business ventures elsewhere. I hardly envisage Armstrong having to return to the saddle after retirement in the manner befalling Freddy Maertens due to collapsing investments.
I have to agree that Heras does have a chance even though Postal has picked up some strong riders to replace Heras. It will be a lot of work for Roberto but if he has the heart, I believe in him no matter who he rides for. Heras went to Postal to improve his TT abilities and he showed he has done that in the Vuelta.
I saw someone say that he couldn't even get away from Beloki for a stage win in 2002. If anyone saw the interviews after, they would know that he sacrificed the stage win for LA so he could get more time on Beloki.
I think that whoever wins the Tour this year is going to have to be one heck of a cyclist and have an exceptional team. I think everyone forgets that even though the Tour only has one winner, that guy can not win by himself and there are several exceptional teams out there for 2004
I enjoyed William Fotheringham's book on Tom Simpson. (My favourite phrases are those where he talks of washing dirty "two wheeled linen in public", and where he says that "dehydration was part of the [lethal] cocktail".) Still, the book leaves me with a question concerning the Simpson monument on Mont Ventoux.
Fotheringham says that Simpson's family filled three bin liners with cyclists' devotionalia from the monument at the end of one year. However, with hundreds of cyclists climbing up there each day during the season, this amount seems very small. Also, when I went up to the monument on two successive days this July, it appeared as if most of the previous day's souvenirs had been cleared away, and only around 2-20 token objects had been left. Do any of your readers know whether anybody services the monument during the high season on a regular basis?
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