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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Latest Cycling News for July 27, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Inevitable comparisons

Lance Armstrong
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
Click for larger image

Now that Lance Armstrong has won his sixth consecutive Tour de France, his status as the greatest Tour rider in history is uncontestable. Whether he has become the greatest cyclist ever remains subject to debate. For five-time winner Miguel Indurain, Armstrong is indeed the man of the Tour, but Belgian Eddy Merckx remains at the summit of the sport.

"Armstrong is the best rider in the history of the Tour because he's the only one to have won six times," Indurain told AS. "But he's not the best rider in the history of cycling. Going on palmarès, Merckx is the best."

Cycling has changed, and specialisation for certain events is no longer the exception, but for riders of previous generations, Armstrong's unwavering focus on the Tour de France still hangs over any analysis of his whole career. This, despite the fact that he has won his share of major events, including the world championships, classics such as Flèche Wallonne and the Clasica San Sebastian, and other stage races including the Tour de Suisse and the Dauphiné Libéré.

"Unlike Merckx, who raced throughout the entire season, Armstrong focuses on one race," Indurain said. "What could we have done with that same strategy? Nobody knows. All I know is I tried to win a sixth Tour in 1996. At the start I felt very good, but later was not at the level I expected."

Merckx himself told l'Equipe "I'm happy for Lance, but I don't think you can compare champions from different generations. The Tour has become much more important than during my era, or that of Bernard Hinault. We had to race the classics, the criteriums, and the six day races in the winter. We had to be present from Milan-San Remo to the Giro di Lombardia to make a living."

Unconcerned that he no longer shares the record of most Tour wins, Bernard Hinault said simply, "Lance's sixth win is the last of my worries. I place much more importance on the pleasure of riding than establishing a record."

Armstrong after the Tour

With a sixth Tour de France victory now in the history books, Lance Armstrong will stay in Europe for a week before returning to his family in Texas. Armstrong is scheduled to make two appearances on the post-Tour criterium circuit, first in Stiphout in the Netherlands Wednesday, then in Prague on Friday. Sunday the American will be back in 'real' competition in Buhl, Germany for a two-man time trial alongside faithful teammate George Hincapie.

More Tour headlines

The Dutch press also weighed in on the accomplishment of Lance Armstrong's sixth Tour victory, carrying a common theme among newspapers throughout Europe. Respect for the American's unprecedented victory appears universal, but with a twinge of reserve or regret at the apparent simplicity of the task. In congratulating Armstrong, several papers bemoaned the absence of his expected rivals in the key moments of the race.

De Volkskrant wrote "Not a cannibal, but still six titles".

Trouw complained about the lack of pressure put on Armstrong by his rivals, saying "The role of instinct is reduced to a minimum".

Trouw also threw its own "Skepticism on Armstrong's victory" in the mix, echoing murmurs of speculation on the American's methods in preparing for and winning the Tour.

Nederlands Dagblad wrote "Yes, Lance Armstrong is a hero", offering full praise for an unprecedented sixth Tour victory.

RAGT Satisfied

The small French RAGT Semences-MG Rover team embodied the role of underdog in this year's Tour de France, and though lacking in top ten results, team director sportif Jean-Luc Jonrond remains pleased with the effort. RAGT finished at the bottom the prize money total, but took consolation in having eight riders finish the race, having lost only Eddy Seigneur to the dreaded time delay in the mountains.

"Letís be positive and not lose sight of the fact that eight riders made it to the finish in Paris," Jonrond said. "Eight riders who were not sick and who gritted their teeth and who managed on the most difficult days to make it within the time limits.

"As with all the staff, I am pleased with the performances of Ludovic Martin, Frédéric Finot and Sylvain Calzati," he added. "Looking back, I think we came out of it better than we had expected to at the start."

Martin himself was pleased, particularly with his time trial effort on Alpe d'Huez, where he finished 30th, four minutes behind stage winner Lance Armstrong.

"I got off to a bad start," Martin explained. "I thought Iíd be out of the running in the first week because of my knee. I found the Pyrénées tough. Of course, Iím pleased with the way things worked out for me on Alpe díHuez and my breakaway in the stage which finished in Le Grand-Bornand. Overall, Iím pleased with my Tour where I showed that I had a potential for the mountain stages."

Substantial TV audience in France

This year's Tour de France attracted on average more than 45% of the television viewing public in France, with a peak of nearly eight million viewers tuning in on stage 13 to the Plateau de Beille. French television provided 124 hours of coverage during the course of the Tour, including 78 hours of live race coverage.

Belgian Olympic selection

Belgium has finalised its Olympic selection for the road events in Athens, giving Wim Vansevenant the final nod ahead of Thierry Marichal on the men's team. Sharon Vandromme will contest the women's road race, while the men's race will feature Philippe Gilbert, Axel Merckx, Peter Van Petegem, Marc Wauters, and Vansevenant. Van Petegem and Wauters will also ride the individual time trial. Marichal and Bert Roesems will be held in reserve for the road events.

Vandenbroucke fires shots

A heated domestic dispute between Frank Vandenbroucke and his wife Sarah, which ended in a heavy police presence arriving at the Fassa Bortolo rider's door, is the latest in a series of episodes compromising the Belgian's career. Vandenbroucke is said to have fired a hunting rifle in the air after a heated exchange with his wife, provoking the armed response by police.

Vandenbroucke's father told the press only that the situation is such that divorce is a likely course. Vandenbroucke is also said to have threatened suicide during the exchange.

Millar hopes to set example

Sacked by his Cofidis team following confirmation of his confession to the use of EPO in 2001 and 2003, David Millar continues to express his regret over his doping and deems himself willing to serve as an example to young cyclists. Millar, 27, faces a two year ban from the sport and could lose his title of world time trial champion from the Hamilton, Canada world's last October.

"I made mistakes and am ready to learn," Millar said in a Guardian interview. "I'd like to explain the dangers to young riders. I am someone who can give reasons why cyclists should not take drugs."

Millar said the fact that he won the world title while doping has left him scarred. "I had got to a point where I had wanted to win so much that to guarantee my victory I did something I didn't need to do," he said.

"I didn't want to forget about it," Millar added, referring to the two syringes of EPO found by police in his Biarritz, France home. He says he kept the 'souvenirs' as a reminder of his tarnished results.

"I want to show how I got round the system and I'm willing to work with the UCI and the British Cycling Federation," he said. "I think it's the one thing I can do."

Cofidis to drop Lelli?

The Cofidis team has called Massimiliano Lelli to the company headquarters for a discussion concerning the Italian's implication in the confirmed doping cases of David Millar and Philippe Gaumont. Both Gaumont and Millar linked their use of EPO to Lelli in testimony before French judge Richard Pallain, pointing to Lelli as the apparent supplier of the banned substance.

Cofidis opted not to focus too closely on Lelli's implication while Gaumont, Cédric Vasseur, and eventually Millar were thrown into the centre of the storm surrounding the team. With Millar's own admission to doping and a second finger pointed at Lelli after Gaumont's, the team now appears set to terminate the 36 year old rider's contract. Lelli is also expected to be called before judge Pallain in the near future.

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