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Tour de France Letters Special - July 9, 2004
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Welcome to a specail letters page dedicated to the last few stages of the Tour, which have been among the most controversial for years. We've also had a few letters on non-Tour subjects.
I don't believe that USPS team strategy is well served to give up 12 minutes just to lose the yellow jersey. But who knows, perhaps Lance stands to lose a lot less than his Spanish, and climbing friends, this next five days, and on that basis, maybe giving up a lot now will make it harder on his foes, later.
Lance need only hold his own from here on, in the climbs and ITTs and stay out of trouble to win. But I think he likes messing with their minds along the way, and that is the sign of a good competitor. And I notice that Jan is not buying any of it as he sits on Lance's wheel constantly, with Tyler.
Given the rotten conditions this first week, it seems like Bruyneel's brilliance is a bit dull, but who can tell, as all the DS's strategy has been blown out the window of their follow cars.
The Postal team is now free to protect their leader without pace setting and police responsibilities, so I guess we are in for a very exciting race from here on as "the rest" are left to sort out the crumbs.
Here's hoping someone makes things interesting in weeks two and three, because Mr. Le Blanc and company have obviously set up the course to change the status quo, and make things just a little bit French and a lot unpredictable.
Just saw the TTT today and wondered:
How can the USPS/Berry-Floor/Discovery team be over a minute faster than the other so-called top teams such as T-Mobile, CSC, Phonak etc? It just shows that great team management and leadership [in this case by Bruyneel and Armstrong respectively] can produce results that are far greater than the sum of the individuals. They had already demonstrated yesterday across the cobbles that they had the firepower and organisation to dictate the race - the other teams just followed the USPS lead. I just get the feeling that the USPS is just so much more professional than the rest and their attention to detail and training must have been simply meticulous. In the game of cycling, luck doesn't come in to it and Proper Professional Preparation Produces Perfect Performances. Just like in a cut-throat business/commercial world, the best prepared teams or companies will always get the best deals and wins. Management gurus write about this stuff all the time, and this is IT happening right in front of our eyes. Great stuff.
I'm just disappointed that the other teams have still not caught on yet and even though they have huge budgets and resources I just don't see that they have gone through the same pains-taking preparations that the USPS must have done. [I personally think that the other teams are still too "old-school"] The USPS have also shown that they have tip-top team spirit - just look at their facial expressions as they crossed the finish line at the TTT. Total commitment rewarded with Total Satisfaction/Delight. This is the sort of team that money cannot buy. [For those of you who are also into football/soccer, just look at Real Madrid, loads of money and stars, yet without the right management and motivations, they get loads of bad results!]
There's no doubt that Armstrong will make history now with six wins, or dare I say, seven. The only item on the team's agenda that's keeping Bruyneel up at night must be on who he needs to plan to succeed the leadership in '05/'06!
On a technical note, why did the T-Mobiles use non-disk rear wheels? They must know something that none of the others know about? I think Herr Ullrich is wasted there.
Stage 4 TTT #2
Lance and the Posties just made toasties out of everyone else in the stage 4 TTT. But let's take a closer look at three of the top teams:
1 US Postal 1.12.03 2 Phonak 1.07 ... 4 T-Mobile 1.19
Even though USPS gained 1.07 on Phonak, Tyler Hamilton only loses 20 seconds to Lance on the GC. In other words, Lance was shorted 47 seconds. Ullrich only loses 40 seconds to Lance, shorting Lance 39 seconds.
So what if Tyler ends up beating Lance by less than 47 seconds on the final GC? Or, perhaps a more likely scenario, what if Jan beats Lance by less than 39 seconds on the final GC? One solution would be for an elite team of US Marine commandos to invade France, take over the TdF organization offices, send the leaders of the organization to a military prison, force the organization to declare Armstrong the winner and then give Armstrong a no-bid contract to be the spokesperson for Halliburton Oil. More realistically, those of us supporting Lance will have to go home and wonder for the rest of our lives about the intelligence and wisdom of the TdF organization.
Looking at the overall picture, it is understandable why the TdF gang made up these complex timing rules. They were afraid that the Tour would be over after stage 4. As it turns out, it wouldn't have been. Lance would just of had a bit more breathing room. Or perhaps they were afraid that a non Frenchman would be the first to win six tours. Whatever the true reason, if the winner of this edition of Le Tour wins on virtual time, the credibility, integrity and dignity of the greatest sporting event in the world will be tarnished. That would be a loss for all of us.
Stage 4 TTT #3
Am I the only one who found the new rules for today TTT to be a total joke? I never really heard a good reason for anyone why the changes were made and they clearly benefit weaker teams. I guess some could argue that the TTT favors the big budget teams, so these rules level the playing field (mind you T-Mobile has the largest budget and did not even make the top 3). I would respond to that the way the TTT is scored appeared to be okay from its first inclusion in the Tour up until last year, so what has changed? Nothing. If it is such an unfair event why not just eliminate it? Here is a much simpler idea: shorten the darn thing. Cut the distance by say 30 percent to 50 percent, but let the actual results stand. That would also benefit the weaker and smaller budgeted team, and provided for smaller time gaps. It would also allow us to lose this arbitrary handicapping system we saw today.
Does anyone think the way the TTT was scored today was good for the race? Was good for the sport? Good for the fan or TV? Or made any sense? The Tour is the greatest race in the world in spite of it's director and organizers. If this was a good way to run things today please explain the following.
* What if Lance were to lose the tour to Tyler Hamilton by 40 seconds after beating him by over 60 seconds today? How does that make the Tour better? We could get a situation where the rider with the lowest overall time does not win.
* Why reward teams like Lotto for riding at a club trading ride pace. This is the Tour de France.
* Somebody please explain the rationale as to the rule that totally hosed Simoni today? If you finish with your team you get the special pro-rated time, but if you finish even a second behind you get your actual time? So today if Saeco had gotten off their bikes before the line and walked across with Simoni he would have been credited with a better time? That is insane.
* Why not just put a maximum loss of 2:30 on all teams and get rid of the stupid 10 second gaps? The first 9 or so teams came in within that time or so and included the real GC riders (sorry I do not consider Moreau a contender). That would help the weaker teams, but not penalize the stronger ones as much?
* A side note: adding cobble stones to a Tour stage yesterday appeared pretty stupid to me, but putting them in a TTT? Was a dirt road not available to the Tour organizers? Come on. I bet none of the organizers have ridden a TT bike, let alone on cobbles. Then again who has a nice TT bikes and takes it out on the cobbles? Not me.
Finally, way to go Postal for getting it done in horrible weather conditions. No flats and no crashes. I personally think that is more than luck and comes down to skill, practice, course scouting, and equipment choices. You make your own luck and Postal did today. Also an amazing ride from Phonak to get second with all of their problems. I wonder what they could have done with better tires?
Stage 4 TTT #4
It just goes to prove that numpties are alive and well and working for ASO. What on earth possessed them to do such a daft thing as mess around with the TTT? I am a firm believer in the idea of the Tour being a team effort making the TTT an integral part of any TdF, so why penalise those who excel at the discipline? I wonder when they are going to let the winner of the grand Alpine stages only gain a maximum of 10 seconds on second place? Call me cynical, but it appears that someone was trying to prevent a GC Bluewash and an Armstrong maillot jaune... buggered that up, didn't you, mate? For goodness sake, go back to normal next year and let the specialists do their thing in all areas from sprints to time trials to climbs.
Stage 4 TTT #5
Many have written to debate the merits of the new rules for the TTT, concentrating mainly on the impact on the time gaps between the winning team and the rest. Now that the results are in, it is clear that the new rule has had the intended effect of limiting the damage for riders on less capable teams. Iban Mayo, for example, instead of losing 2:35 to Lance loses only 1:10 while Jan Ullrich loses only 40 seconds instead of the full 1:19. This will undoubtedly make things more interesting when it comes time for the mountain stages.
But now that I have had a chance to look carefully at the top ten results below I find an additional problem -- the new system of awarding 10 second gaps by team placement has the potential to distort the competition for other spots on the podium as well. For example, Jan Ullrich and T-Mobile finished only 12 seconds behind Tyler Hamiltonís Phonak, yet Jan loses an additional 8 seconds due to the new system. Jens Voigt and Bobby Julich of CSC, on the other hand, lose only 10 seconds to Ullrich instead of 26. Whether these distortions will ultimately affect the final rankings remains to be seen, but the potential is clearly there.
I believe this system of grading on a flat curve, as it were, introduces an additional element of unfairness beyond that of denying the top teams the full benefit of their efforts. If the Tour wishes to continue to limit the impact of the TTT on the overall outcome, it should do so in a way that preserves the relative results of all teams. One way would be to reduce the time gaps of each team from the winner by say fifty percent. This would preserve each teamís incentive to ride as hard as possible, and limit some of the TTTís impact without introducing unfair distortion.
Iím sure others could think of a more ingenious approach, and I sincerely hope that this experiment will either not be repeated next year or will at least be modified.
Stage 4 TTT #6
Regarding stage 4 and the limited losses, if one looks at the race other than from Armstrong's perspective, the injustice of these current rules effects other GC favourites too. If Armstrong is not in yellow in Paris (he might not be in contention, anything could happen over the next two weeks) Ullrich might have cause to regret the inflated time difference between him and Tyler Hamilton (he lost an additional 8 seconds to Hamilton as a result of this rule, and it could easily have been more if CSC hadn't fallen over). At least Euskaltel-Euskadi showed that one of the predicted outcomes, that they would roll around the course and accept a 2'30" deficit, did not eventuate. Yes, Lotto probably didn't dig too deep but they are not there for the GC.
Stage 4 TTT #6
Man, who did Simoni 'flick'? To get left behind by your team that close to the end of the TTT, effectively ending your Tour hopes - brutal. I mean, the rules are confusing and all, but the DS must have understood what was happening.
He'll probably bolt ahead to win a stage, then spend the rest of the race in the caravan talking to directeurs about a contract for next year...
Bad move by Saeco.
Can please someone explain to me the ethics of this race! I am a Lance Armstrong fan, and of course I would like him to win his sixth Tour. But I felt pretty bitter about what happened to Iban Mayo and how the rest of the peloton, and most notably US Postal, reacted when they learned that Mayo was stuck behind. I could hear Bruyneel yelling in their earpiece, "Mayo's behind the split! Go! Go! Go!" It was the same thing with Zulle in 1999. Even then I wondered if it was cool to just ride and not wait.
You could argue both ways, and here's how. In a race like Paris-Roubaix, if you get caught in a crash or have a flat, well, too bad. Everybody rides flat-out to be in front before the first section of the cobblestones. It's just the nature of the race and nobody gets his feelings hurt for not being waited for. (And by the way, I am comparing Stage 3 to Paris-Roubaix only in terms of race dynamics, not difficulty).
The Tour, apparently, is a different matter. Lance and Jan - let's be generous for the sake of the argument - waited for each other in 2001 and 2003. So, now, here's a guy with a potential to win the Tour, he crashes and they ride hard. Clearly, Lance, Jan, Tyler and the rest, intended to benefit from the misfortune of their rival. Does Stage 3 of the 2004 Tour de France adopt ethics of the hard mountain stages or the one-day classics? I don't know. Does anyone out there have that answer? How can one successfully argue one point or another?
Of course, you have to draw the line somewhere. This is a bike race and not a ride around the block with your daughter. The peloton, it appears, has chosen to wait at some times, but not the others. I wonder if they were correct today.
Stage 3 #2
So when does a crash involving the maillot jaune (or indeed a contender for the overall) warrant the upholding of the 'unwritten rule' that you do not attack? Surely stage 3 demonstrated that this 'rule' is selectively honoured. What possible apologias can be offered to justify the lack of respect shown in this case? Yes Hushovd wasn't a contender for the GC, but surely the race respects the maillot jaune rather than its bearer. Mayo certainly was a contender and other contenders have been shown the same respect before. It seems we should expect that the unwritten rule doesn't apply in this Tour.
Stage 3 #3
After seeing TdF stage 3, we can end the discussion on should Ullrich have waited on Luz-Ardiden last year. After seeing the poor sportmanship of the USP team, the answer is definitely NO.
Stage 3 #4
Am I the only one who is furious over Lance's Postal squad cranking up the pace on Iban Mayo? The Tour should be decided in the mountains and in the time trials. I understand in the cobbles it's acceptable to speed away from a unfortunate rival, but I thought Lance would have more class than that. Being a huge fan of Pantani and seeing Damiano Cunego dominate the Giro I really was looking forward to a climber like Mayo doing something in this Tour. Thanks Robo Lance!
Stage 3 #5
Just a quick note in response to the commentary of not attacking favorites. Let us not forget that when Lance won his first Tour de France, his chief rival was Alex Zulle. During one of the stages in the opening week they crossed a patch of road that an hour earlier was under water. There was a very serious crash, Boogerd, Zulle etc... were caught, but Postal and Once, attacked. The time gained (from memory now) was around 6 minutes, and Lance won the Tour by just under 7 minutes. Had it not been for the cushion he had going into the mountains, when he had his bad day at Joux Plain, it may have been a very different outcome.
So, it is not uncommon for Postal to attack, as they did today with "Georgie" pushing on the cobbles.
Michel van Musschenbroek
Stage 3 #6
After the misfortune of Iban Mayo's crash on the pavť it was a bit perplexing to read that Lance's US Postal team spearheaded the acceleration at the front of the peloton. Wasn't it just a year ago Lance benefited from the deceleration of Tyler Hamilton and Jan Ullrich on the way to Luz-Ardiden? Even more perplexing is Director Sportif Bruyneel's comment, "nobody waited for the maillot jaune either, and he was also behind." I was under the impression the "Patron" of the peloton didn't follow the leads of others. This would have been a perfect time for Armstrong to show his true leadership qualities and repay the favor he received a year ago. Or is he still convinced Ullrich didn't actually wait for him on Luz-Ardiden? If so, it's much easier to understand his actions today.
Alfonso Hernandez Marquez
Stage 3 #7
Let me get this straight: Armstrong waits for Ullrich after he runs off the road in 2001. Ullrich waits for Armstrong after Lance crashes on Stage 15 in 2003, then we have this big debate about whether or not Ullrich really waited when Armstrong expresses his doubts.
But this year, we see the top teams (led by Armstrong, Ullrich, and Hamilton, among others) working together and accelerating after Iban Mayo's unfortunate crash in Stage 3, and yet nobody says a peep about sportsmanship and taking advantage of a G.C. contender's crash. I'm a huge Armstrong fan, but I just don't understand why nobody has brought up this apparent inconsistency. Am I missing something? Any thoughts?
Stage 3 #8
It must have seemed to many that the climbers would have an unfair advantage going into the team time trial. (In the 2000 Tour only 4 teams would be within the 2:30 time loss limit) However, with Mayo going down the day before, I was saddened. I want to see an all out war in the mountains. I fear this may have washed away not only Mayo's tour chances, but his very zeal for the race itself. It is most difficult for a climber to go all out in the mountains and try to put in a heroic effort in the time trials as well.
Hopefully, Mayo will be fighting for the podium and not just thinking about the mountain points jersey. We need his element in the Tour. Heras too.
This brings up a major point, was it right to attack with Mayo, Menchov, and Moreau trying to catch back on? If Lance had fallen would he have expected the others to wait? (He had stated last year, that they did not have to wait for me, but it was nice that they did.) Clearly, it is a race to Paris. To expect everyone to stop racing every time there is a crash, is nonsense. Could the peloton have eased up after the cobbles, allowing the peloton to regroup? Or did it seem to many that Armstrong and Ullrich saw only an opportunity to go a little easier in the mountains, by storming to the finish?
Perhaps the best thing about the Mayo fall is that he will want revenge on the teams who fired away. Who will come to his aid? Wouldn't Moreau or Rogers just love to gain back time with Mayo? (In all fairness, the loss of 4 minutes is about equal to the additional time he may have lost had there not been the 2:30 TTT rule. But, I have chosen to write this letter prior to the TTT)
Stage 3 #9
Am I the only person that is a little uneasy with the tactics of USPS, (and Phonak and T-Mobile for that matter) after Mayo crashed today and Hushovd was held up? What happened to not taking an advantage when your opponent (and also the Maillot Jaune) was down. Why did Bruyneel send Eki and Hincapie to the front to hammer it out right after Mayo fell? I remember when Verbrugghe crashed wearing the Maglia Rosa in the 2001 Giro. When Mercatone Uno started to crank up the pace, Cipollini went to the front and ordered them to wait for Verbrugghe. Cipo showed his class on that day. Too bad Cipo was in the back with Mayo and Hushovd today. I can think of a couple of riders up front who could have calmed things down if they wanted to. Unfortunately, theirs were the teams doing the most damage. The one consolation was that Liberty Seguros didn't take any turns at the front even though they had most of their riders there and Heras had the most to gain from Mayo's misfortune.
Upside of the stage - Robbie McEwan in Yellow!
Stage 3 #10
I can remember last year when Armstrong crashed in the Luz Ardiden and the controversy created about whether Ullrich waited for him or not. I can remember Armstrong himself that he thought Ullrich did not stop and that was very ugly. Today we saw it very clear. Mayo crashed with 70km to go and US Postal did not stop, neither did the Phonak. Where was Hamilton, the same one last year was screaming at everyone to wait for Armstrong. Today I didnít like at all. Is he a true champion? I donít think so, legends donít act that way. And Iím not saying it because it was Mayo (and Zubeldia) who crashed, I would same the same if it was Ulrich who felt off. Armstrong, what do you have to say now?
People such as Chet Ritchie who would argue that Jan Ullrich was the strongest rider in 1996, should indeed take out their tapes of 1996 and watch the race again. If they did, they should pay some attention to the 260 km stage 17 where from the third mountain, Bjarne Riis put the hammer down on the third of seven mountains to blast apart the pack and propel his young protťgť to the second place spot. Notably, on this most grueling stage of the Tour '96, it was Riis - NOT Ullrich, who did the hard work and took the long leads. I believe the winning margin was some 8 minutes. The credit for that largely belonged to Riis who, together with Dufaux and Virenque, inflicted the damage, drove the break forward and still had the energy to break away on the last mountain (although he couldn't out-sprint Dufaux).
To quote Walter Godefroot himself on this very issue: "It is unfair to say that Jan could have won. The truth is that, if Riis had not been there, Jan would not even have been second." No one can doubt Ullrich's meteorical brilliance but in 1996, as in most other years, the strongest rider won the tour, and that year the strongest rider was undoubtedly Bjarne Riis.
Der Jan is a wonderful rider, but he has always had trouble with riders capable of time-trialing well and putting in a devastating acceleration on the final five kilometres; such as Bjarne Riis in '96, Pantani in '98, and Armstrong. If Armstrong should falter this year, my bet is on a similar rider taking the honours this year - Heras, Mayo, and Basso (if Riis has succeeded in instilling into him some aggressiveness) all seem likely candidates.
Here's hoping for another great Tour de France, with victory going to the strongest rider.
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