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Letters to Cyclingnews - January 28, 2005
Armstrong has come to the inevitable conclusion that as he begins the twilight of his career if he is to be remembered as one of the greats he has to expand his palmares - not JUST to be remembered as the greatest Tour de France rider. The classics might be on his agenda this year and quite possibly the Hour Record.
It’s now a question of where to go, what equipment to ride, which record to attack, the "absolute" or the "best” hour record?
As an American he might want to stay in the US, but facilities are lacking,
yet only a man of his wealth would have the moxie to say we'll build a velodrome
and then take it down. His advisers are already using comments like ‘in a fan
filled sea level arena’ and ‘carbon dioxide will reduce performance’; yet the
marketing man at AMD says "I think it would be an amazing spectacle. If you
look at the crowds Lance draws in the United States, and you think about what
would happen if you put some kind of marketing effort behind this event, it
would be immense."
However, if Armstrong wants to be on a level playing field then he should use the Manchester velodrome, the site of both the current "absolute" record of 49.441 km and the "best hour" record of 56.375 km. This is the site that Chris Boardman broke the previous records, so let Armstrong test his abilities mano a mano on an obviously very fast track.
The obvious risk to Armstrong doing an event like this is failure. Perhaps that is why the likes of the great Hinault or LeMond, the top time trialists of their day, did not (to my knowledge) attempt a legally sanctioned ride.
Once again it comes down to the legacy that Armstrong wants to leave behind in our sport - best Tour de France rider ever, or one of the greatest riders ever. Time is running out.
Roseburg OR USA
As always, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your news. I read the article about Lance's attempt on the hour record with great interest. However, I was immediately saddened to read that he is considering doing it at altitude. He should do it at sea level and encounter the same conditions as Chris Boardman. Anything else will just not have the same credibility.
However, Chris should take heart that Armstrong feels it necessary to employ all this technology and money to extent that they would consider building a new velodrome (good grief!) to beat a guy who was in the twilight of his career, suffering from osteoporosis.
In many ways I would like to see Armstrong try and beat Chris's 56.375km using whatever aerodynamics he requires, so long as he does it at comparable altitude.
I wish Lance the greatest success but please come and ride it in Manchester so you can show us what you can really do on a level playing field. Sure there will be 'carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, reducing performance' but Chris handled it and watching his last four laps on DVD with the incredible atmosphere in the Velodrome still makes the hairs on my neck stand on end!
Dr Jonathan Roberts
You know what guys - enough already! Enough with the witch hunt! Enough with the killing of our heroes! Enough with the arbitrary practice of the law! I'm TIRED of this already! If the publishing of a book of pure fiction (!?) can start LEGAL proceedings, which, in the very least, can impugn the character of one of cycling's greatest heroes, and at worst the prospects of one of our most promising cycling teams, then I'm done with all of it. Who was this judge anyway? You know what? I think I'm going to publish a few books full of speculation... maybe it'll get some people I don't like into legal trouble! Apparently the practice of law in Europe is completely arbitrary - from the investigation of the "Simeoni Incident" (isn't the purpose of a race to race?) to this investigation into a book's allegations.
I really hope competitive cycling picks up here in the States because European racing is becoming hazardous and just plain stupid, with the things you can get into legal trouble over. It's just plain old stupid! There was a time when impugning the character of someone would get you slapped with a white glove and challenged to a dual... I wish that was still the fashion today so we could be rid of this Walsh guy and the ridiculous judge that felt this was worth taxpayer’s money to investigate.
One thing is for sure - if these things had happened here in the States all of these parties would have had the pants sued off of them, and Armstrong would be an even richer man.
Bloomfield, CT, USA
I agree with William James of France, in his Sunday December 5 2004 piece - Armstrong's mechanical facade cracked momentarily, and something slightly more human - petty, vengeful and egotistical - slipped out.
That's understandable; the man is under lots of pressure to dominate and remain alpha dog, super-American for as long as possible. However, a lot of us are under pressure, and not being paid many millions of dollars to be so. On a level, Armstrong can be seen as an overpaid entertainer, like many other athletes. And for anyone that understood what he was doing when he chased down Simeoni at the Tour, that act of intimidation and humiliation was anything but entertaining.
Simeoni testified under oath that Ferrari instructed him on how to use EPO. Unprovoked, Armstrong contradicted the veracity of Simeoni's statement in the European press, implying publicly that Simeoni had perjured himself. What is Simeoni supposed to do? Challenge Armstrong to a duel? No, he takes his dispute to the courts; defamation of character is an actionable civil offence throughout modern civilization. Rather than realizing that maybe he shouldn't have shot his mouth off in the first place, for a few reasons, Armstrong instead decides to make an example of Simeoni right in the middle of the Grand Ol' Boucle - to try to shut him up once and for all.
There are two big reasons that Armstrong should have refrained from injecting his corrosive opinion into the Simeoni-Ferrari proceedings.
1. It was a potentially defamatory remark.
2. It raises a difficult question about Armstrong's connection with Ferrari, and why he would be so eager to shut up anyone who might testify about Ferrari's connection with EPO.
Now that the negative results are in on Ferrari from the Italian courts, Armstrong's organization has decided to discontinue their affiliation with him. This in itself may raise some questions.
Too much cycling coverage on TV? Impossible.
In 1965 I returned from France after witnessing two years of the Anquetil-Poulidor rivalry. I was hooked, and tried for two months to learn the 1965 Tour de France results, calling every U S news source. Tour de Who? That was the response.
Two years of racing then meant a trip to different states for every race. Whenever we saw a "serious" cyclist anywhere we stopped and visited. I crossed the US in 2000 with an entire pro peloton (in my dreams) so I am thrilled to see coverage.
My only gripe - everyone and their dog are now dressed in ultrastylish team jerseys - so I pull out the old moth eaten wool jerseys and imagine Bahamontes beside me on the hills… But bring on the TV coverage!
Can someone from America please explain why American TV, when creating packages of sporting events, feel they have to inundate us with more of the personal triumph or tragedy behind the participants (especially true of documentaries and coverage of the Hawaiian Ironman) than the actual racing, and who came where in the race. I am really sick of seeing a highlights package of races produced in the US that spend more time on the those heart wrenching, tear jerking personal insights than the actual racing.
Living in Australia I am sadly deprived of seeing much live racing so I am restricted to these packages. I just want to see the racing and the result. Sure, mention in passing what they have been through, but don't make it the centrepiece of the show. PLEASE!
I think NBC did a pretty good job considering that a two hour show today has 40 minutes of commercials, meaning only 80 minutes of program - about 25 of which went to the team race - left just 55 minutes of solo coverage.
Compare that to the 1982 - 1986 ABC Wide World of Sports RAAM programs, which ran for 90 minutes on consecutive weekends - meaning three hours back when there were only 10 minutes of commercials every hour - meaning that the whole 150 minutes of program could be devoted to the solo race. Nearly three times as long - this allowed ABC to do in depth profiles of riders - not to mention that their huge budget had film crews going to riders homes for interviews and to show how they trained.
I really enjoyed the way they showed David Haase struggling, which let the viewer in on just how tough the race is. In 2003, I jumped into winner Alan Larsen's support crew to see just how rattled they were on what would be Alan's worst night - he crashed and caught himself clinging onto the guard rail. I thought about what gripping TV drama this would have made for. I also enjoyed how Haase's girlfriend (who joined up with his crew late) was shown to have changed from being this woman who was jealous of Dave's bike and all the hours he spent on it - to a woman who totally supported her man - not wanting him to quit, and even realizing that he most likely has unfinished business in future RAAM(s).
Randy Van Zee also got his 15 minutes of fame, which was well deserved since his finish was the most courageous! Perhaps too much time was spent on those riders who didn’t finish, but my former Chew Crew member James "Rocket" Rosar added much colour to the program - without even mentioning his bowel problem. James Mergler was shown serenading riders with his horn, playing in the wee hours of the night as they rode by, and even though Kish may not be the most talkative, exciting rider to interview, his name is still the most synonymous with the race. He deserved more airtime, considering his status as a three-time winner.
I liked the way they showed mountain climber Andy Lapkass' toe-less feet, and his belief that RAAM was tougher than climbing Mt. Everest, and I appreciated how Brett Malin's death and memorial was shown as the reason why Team Vail returned.
I thought I looked silly in those thick glasses, but liked Perry Stone's commentary - especially when he said riders needed passion to finish a race as difficult as RAAM. I am glad the Robic/Trevino cheating accusation was brought out into the open, so that the race organization, officials and journalists can learn from it, and create new rules to discourage false accusations, which can't be proven in the future.
Want a level playing field? Put all riders under medically supervised "doping" to keep hematocrit levels at 52%. I suggest this percentage as certain riders have been certified to be at this level - naturally. Of course, testing for other drugs would still be done, with a lifetime ban (no appeals!) if caught. Perhaps then we'll see desire and tactics decide races instead of doctors. I know this sounds cynical; but with allegations flying left and right, and rider confessions, maybe it's the only way out.
I read the crash distance letter with interest. Bruce's suggestion is a good
one - all bikes are chipped - this would be possible indeed. I think the rule
change is bizarre and won’t help anything unless there is a crash. GC riders
will still need to take unnecessary risks on flat stages as I am sure splits
will open up in the last three kilometres. I've heard it said at nearly every
flat stage where there was a crash that it was down to the finish more than
The Scorpion, Scotland
Eddy Merckx’s palmares prove that he is the greatest rider in history. He literally won everything – five TDF, five Giros, one Vuelta, three World Championships, Hour Record, almost every major classic (many multiple times). Just like in Eddy's day, the only competition for the best of all time is second place? Based on his six yellow jerseys many people would pick Lance Armstrong as runner up to Merckx. However, history has several riders capable of knocking Armstrong off the podium.
Bernard Hinault won nine grand tours, the TDF five times, Giro three times and the Vuelta twice. He did the TDF/Vuelta double once and the Giro/Tour double twice. He also proved himself in the classics, winning Paris Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege twice, Fleche Wallone twice, Amstel Gold, Ghent Wevelgem - not to mention the World Road Race Championship.
Alfredo Binda's five pink jerseys and 41 stage wins are an incredible record. Even more amazing is that he won 12 of them in one year (1927)! That same year he won his first of three rainbow jerseys. He was also no slouch at the classics, winning Milan - San Remo twice.
Two other Italian riders who would give Armstrong a run for his money are Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. These two managed to accumulate impressive palmares despite competing against each other and having their careers interrupted by WWII. Gino Bartali won the TDF twice, first in 1938 and then ten year later in 1948! Bartali won the Giro three times, the Giro King of the Mountains jersey seven times, Milan - San Remo four times and The Championships of Zurich twice.
Fausto Coppi's record is no less impressive. He won the Giro five times, TDF twice, did the Giro/Tour double twice and won the Giro KoM three times. He proved his overall mastery by winning Paris Roubaix, Fleche Wallone, Milan - San Remo three times, setting the Hour Record and taking the rainbow jersey in 1953.
Jacques Anquetil would also be sprinting for second place. He achieved Five TDF victories, two Giros, The Vuelta and Tour double, and the Giro/Tour double twice. He also won the Super Prestige Pernod Trophy four times, set the hour record and won Liege-Bastogne-Liege. This was from a guy who claimed he didn't really enjoy riding - he did it for the money.
All of these riders proved their class by winning several Grand Tours and classic one-day races. The Tour de France is the most important race in the world, but not the only measure of greatness. Great riders of the past dominated their competition for the entire season. Racing has changed, but to make #2 Armstrong needs to do more. Win a bunch of classics; set the hour record, do the Tour/Vuelta double (there is little chance of him riding the Giro). The history books will show race results and they are what really matter.
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