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Tour de France Letters Special - July 23, 2004
Ok, I will not point a finger at a certain national German TV station that broadcasts the Tour live (there are 2 by the way, usually alternating their coverage... in addition to cable channels). But I will use some comments that Jens Voigt made after the climb to Alpe d'Huez as evidence to build up my argument. Bear with me... What Jens basically said is that he was boo-ed by some so-called "cycling fans" on the climb up, being called names that Jens would not repeat on TV. Bad names, animal names...
The spark for this "fan"-rage against him was a comment made by some TV commentator during the stage 15 to Villard-de-"Lance" (pun intended). The comment was somewhere along the lines that Voigt "helping" reel Ullrich in during the latter's breakaway attempt was "not really nice". Notwithstanding that such a comment should not be made by a TV commentator (because is it clearly from a biased point of view that favors one German, Ullrich and goes against another German, Voigt), there was apparently no follow-up explanation what was happening at that moment during the race. Voigt even was cut off when he tried to point out the person who made the comment. In short, what they failed to add was the following: (This should be read very s l o w l y so that even the last person gets the meaning...) Voigt does not ride in the same team as Ullrich. Yes, both are German, yes they know each other pretty well... but they get paid money for what they do, by different people, different sponsors, different teams.
Voigt did his job... and by the way, he did it rather well since he helped catch Ullrich and helped set up Ivan Basso for the final showdown in the streets of Villard. There is a lot of prestige, glory and a lot of money at stake in the Tour de France. If the CSC skipper (Bjarne Riis) orders Voigt to attack, Voigt has to attack, if he orders him to slow down, he has to slow down... if he tells him to jump, Voigt should better get ready to take a leap up into the air. And Voigt did exactly that. CSC wants to become the best team in this year's tour, Voigt, Sastre, Basso and all are actually doing a pretty nice job at it. The team they have to beat is T-Mobile, Ullrich's team (for those who may not know).
The fact that made me (and Voigt) rather mad is that during the Sydney Olympic games, Voigt DID help Ullrich because both rode for Germany (no sponsor, no professional money involved). And he did that rather well too, because as we all know, Ulle DID win that race. No mention of THAT fact either!
So please TV commentators all around the world... Hold the bias, explain the race tactics, praise these guys for what extraordinary effort they are doing, keep the events in perspective and keep in mind that some fans are a little bit s l o w e r in understanding. Hey, that's just my opinion but I think I'm right.
Fan behaviour #2
As I watched yesterday's stage here in the U.S. on OLN, I thought how lucky all of those fans on the Alpe were to get to be there in person and watch all of the riders take their best shot at each other in the TT. I was ashamed not only for the German people, but for cycling fans in general. They are lucky enough to actually be there and this is how they act! According to the riders the German fans were the worst, not only booing and spitting at Lance and our other American riders but also riders from other countries as well as their own. I applaud Jens Voigt for his true professionalism and doing the job and role he is paid to do for CSC. If I was a rider or director for another team and I was looking for team riders Jens would be at the top of my list.
I have read that being at the Tour is like going to a giant celebration of cycling, but maybe I am just naive in thinking that European fans are so knowledgeable about cycling and that they had a deeper appreciation for all of the hard work and sacrifices that each rider puts in just to be competing at such a high level. I feel sorry for the German fans that hate Lance so much and cannot admire the hard work and dedication he and US Postal have brought to the sport. And I will tell them something else, get use to it because Lance has picked up where Greg LeMond left off and it feels like cycling in America is prepared to boom and that only means more kids getting into the sport and hopefully more Gregs and Lances to come.
Fan behaviour #3
As I sat up and watched with great anticipation to see the GC riders in the tour I spent most of my time watching the crowds in the footage and also indulging another hobby of mine - reading all the 'road art'.
Some of the road art this year ranged from the usual names of the stars both current and fallen - Pantani Forever for example. All the way through to some Phallic symbols for some odd reason.
However the crowd behaviour and some of the road art I noticed during the live coverage contained a real anti Lance flavour I had not noticed at all until he was obviously on the course.
As Lance powered of the line to the first time check I noticed a spectator up in front on the right showing Lance the classic bare arsed posed just before the cameras cut away (I videoed the stage and this can be seen easily in slow motion reply). Further up the climb one spectator was giving Lance the bird pretty much right in his face whilst screaming something - I dare say it was not encouragement.
At one point I saw some road art stating in big bold white letters all nicely boxed off as well: 'EPO LANCE'.
I can fully understand Lance's comments at the end of the stage. Perhaps Lance had in the back of his mind the time Eddy Merckx was punched in the small of his back by a spectator. The commentary team (Phil Sherwin and Phil Liggett) seemed to miss any of these anti-Lance sentiments.
Fan behaviour #4
Several times during the last few kilometers of the Plateau de Beille stage, I witnessed on multiple occasions, orange shirted fans spitting in Lance Armstrong's face at point blank range. I rewound the videotape several times just to confirm what my eyes had seen. This shocking behavior is pure hooliganism, and is crude beyond all imagination. Behavior like this reiterates the need for improved crowd control, and the necessity for race organizers such as J.M. Leblanc to make a public appeal for decorum and respect for the cyclists. It remains to be seen what can be done concerning this problem of fanatical hooliganism, but if this issue remains unaddressed, it is only a matter of time until another cyclist befalls the same fate as Eddy Merckx in 1975 and Gino Bartali in 1950. Does anyone remember the stabbing of Monica Seles in 1993?
Charles Ariz, M.D.
Fan behaviour #5
I just finished watching and unfortunately hearing, the 16th stage time trial up l'Alpe D'Huez, and excluding what was probably one of the finest efforts ever (yes Greg it's true, he's better than you!), the actions of the so-called cycling fans along the route was hard to stomach. Apparently sportsmanship and a general love for all things cycling is not part of the make-up of some of those who made the trek up cycling's favorite shrine. Instead, these few who dare to call themselves fans, discredited the whole cycling community by screaming, booing, spitting and writing their unwanted opinions all over the road leading to the top. I understand and appreciate national and or team pride, but this went beyond that to the point of being overtly aggressive. Sports has been and should always be a sanctuary from the world of politics and religious opinion. The world of professional cycling offers to all who will partake, a chance to learn that a common goal can be reached by those who oppose one another without violence or discrediting opinion.
Fan behaviour #6
It was really fun to watch the Super Bowl with my eight-year-old son and explain to him why Janet Jackson was having her clothing removed on television. It was even more fun to watch today's ITT up l'Alpe d'Huez and explain to him why people wrote "F**K Lance" and "EPO Lance" on the road Lance was climbing. Fortunately, my son hasn't noticed -- but I have -- that Lance has been spat upon numerous times on the Tour's climbs.
It would probably do too great a damage to one of the fundamental aspects of the Tour to barricade the climbs entirely; I've always enjoyed the wall of people that seem to part for the riders as they come through. But I can think of no plausible reason why the organizers can't simply go over the road the morning of the race and dump white paint on any obscene messages denigrating any rider, much less the greatest Tour champion of all time. I don't know the laws of France, but no one should have a right to paint "F**K You Lance" on the road up l'Alpe d'Huez, thereby demeaning and degrading a climb that should be epic and beautiful.
And for those disgraceful idiots who would spit on a great champion, who's not only given so much to his sport but has also given so much of himself to the cause of cancer survivorship: I hope there is a hell, because if there is, I am certain there's a special section there just for utter losers like you.
Fan behaviour #7
I really hope all of France is ashamed of the "greetings" the French cycle "supporters" gave to Lance Armstrong, one of the greatest athletes of all time, today at time trial to L'Alpe d'Huez.
Shame on you! You bastards dishonour the greatest bike race in the world - your own. To shout "EPO" and "dopé" to Mr. Armstrong is to throw stones while sitting in a glasshouse. Do I have to mention Richard Virenque, your own hero?
This evening I ripped off my Michelin tyres from my racing bike. I will never ever again buy anything French.
Boooo on you!
Fan behaviour #8
I hope this gets some attention - perhaps in this Tour particular it is important for the press to remind the fans of moderation.
Cycling is a great sport - and there are great fans. But sometimes a few lose perspective on things and let their fanaticism for one rider or one team get the best of them. Several folks have noted that some idiots on the side of the road spat at Lance Armstrong. And idiots like these aren't limited to Europeans, Americans or any particular nationality or any particular rider's fans. Let the tour be a race of the riders, not something impeded by fanatic fans who wish to impose their will upon the race itself.
I think Jan messed up yesterday - should have let Landis go away for the win - after all he had paced everyone all day. Then he and Klo¨den should have worked over Lance and Basso.
What was all the arm waving as Lance caught up?
Fabulous sprint really.
As I have watched Jose "Ace" Azevedo climb into the top five, and watched Floyd drop all but the top four on GC, as opposed to the difficulties had by Heras and Leipheimer, I begin to see a pattern. I won't include poor Tyler in this thought, as he seems to be drawn to unpleasant crashes.
We see Floyd and the Ace cruising up the mountains, dropping all sorts of folks. What happened? As far as I can tell, it's the power of the USPS team.
I see it manifested in several ways. First off, when you have a team leader out training in all circumstances, you are motivated to train as hard as you can. In addition, you know that none of the team spots are a given, and you must earn them. As a result, you have some pretty tough guys.
Then begins the race. Mr. Bruyneel, whom I've always had a ton of respect for, seems to know how to focus the team. He sees that using men where they are most useful is a good thing. He saves the best climbers for the end, so that they can serve Lance and the team's desires the best. This boils down to Floyd or the Ace basically having an amazing seven-man team taking them to the base of the final climb, where they are told to ride really hard and drop anyone who can't hang. Lo and behold, Floyd and the Ace end up quite fresh on the last hill. Considering they were towed there by a fantastic team, and had Lance as a training partner, it does not surprise me how well Lance's teammates do in the TdF.
Until another team approaches the season with the single-mindedness of the USPS, conquering the juggernaut will remain a very difficult conquest. Lance has said himself that he owes the team all his victories. Teamwork is a beautiful thing.
We have seen what happens when a team is spread out in terms of focus. Take your pick.
Thank you Cycling News for bringing us Scott Sunderland's daily diary during the TdF and thanks to Scott for his interesting accounts of the race. I read his entry first thing after I turn to Cycling News each morning. He is consistent with his filings on an almost daily basis and I find it most interesting to obtain the insight of a rider. Besides that, he is a good and entertaining writer. I hope he continues to file as long as he races. (Although I need an Aussie glossary to understand such terms as bikkies and chuffed.)
For two days in a row, we've watched Lance and U.S. Postal ride the entire TDF peloton off their wheels--and in some cases, right into the broom wagon. Hmmm. I've raced enough Category 4 crits and "B" class cyclocross races to know what's going on here: Lance is clearly sandbagging. It's just not fair to the other riders. He needs to upgrade!
By the way, so does the Bass-Master...
Only a dog lover truly understands the grief and pain the loss of a dog can cause it takes the fight out of you. I had to have my dog put to sleep at the grand old age of 17 when she couldn't stand up. So I can understand that with Tyler's early stage crashes then the loss of Tugboat Tyler's morale would have been very low and as the saying goes where the mind goes the body soon follows.
This has been one boring TdF. Seemingly one of the most promising tours of years, they hit the first mountain and it was basically over. So it was great to see Ullrich go out on the attack. Finally some suspense and racing, I thought. Along comes CSC and starts pulling him back. “Riding for the podium”, “being realistic” per Bjarne Riis. What boring crap. So much for exciting racing, well at least I don’t have to spend anymore time watching TdF. I have no desire watching US Postal / CSC ride tempo for a week. I hope CSC gets criticized for their negative race tactics.
While commentary has praised the team tactics of USPS, CSC, and T-Mobile, I'm surprised no-one has looked closely at a team that has missed its chances: Rabobank.
Rasmussen has been aggressive in making long breaks, but he has run out of steam before the end of the stage. In contract Levi Leipheimer has been getting stronger and staying close to the front in the Alps. If Rasmussen had saved just a bit of energy and let Levi come up to him late in the stages the pair could have made a real push in the final kms.
After three mountain stages (10, 12 and 13) in the Tour de France, the result is rather surprising with some of the favorites losing big. Here is a variation of the GC with only those three races counting (not including bonus seconds). A big compliment for yellow jersey Voeckler: The list clearly shows that his current position has been got not by simply hanging on to his early lead, but by beating some respected climbers and GC riders on their own terrain.
1 Lance Armstrong 2 Ivan Basso 3 Andreas Klöden 1.47 4 Francisco Mancebo 1.51 5 Georg Totschnig 2.08 6 Pietro Caucchioli 4.50 7 Christophe Moreau 4.57 8 Jan Ullrich 5.12 9 Gilberto Simoni 5.15 10 Oscar Pereiro 5.26 11 Jose Azevedo 5.27 12 Carlos Sastre 7.07 13 Vladimir Karpets 8.12 14 Thomas Voeckler 8.41 15 Stephane Goubert 8.44 16 Levi Leipheimer 8.45 17 Oscar Sevilla 9.09 18 Richard Virenque 9.36 19 Michael Rasmussen 10.35 20 Michael Rogers 10.51 21 Sylvain Chavanel 10.56 22 Laurent Brochard 11.05 23 Jerome Pineau 11.15 24 Michele Scarponi 11.41 25 Giuseppe Guerini 11.42 26 Jose Luis Rubiera 12.11 27 Sandy Casar 13.04 28 Juan Miguel Mercado 13.14 29 Iker Camano 13.41 30 Axel Merckx 15.42 31 Patrice Halgand 16.33 32 David Moncoutie 19.08 33 Jose Enrique Gutierrez 20.56 34 Egoi Martinez 23.21 35 Alexandre Botcharov 23.49 36 Roberto Heras 24.39 37 Santos Gonzalez 25.26 38 Santiago Perez 27.28 39 Evgueni Petrov 27.55 40 George Hincapie 29.35 41 Floyd Landis 29.35
Virenque had an impressive ride in gaining, and in the end likely winning, the polka dot jersey on stage 10. Still most would agree that the jersey rewards the most aggressive rider in mountain stages rather than the best climber. No one would consider Virenque the best climber in the Tour, while most would agree that McEwen has been the best sprinter so far. With the introduction of transponders, a change is possible. The transponders would allow the recording of the actual climbing time of the riders. As such a number of climbs of the tour could be selected as “official timed mountains”. By adding the combined time it took riders to climb these mountains, it would do a better job in identifying the best climber in the Tour. This would not allow a rider to go “all out” over the early typically non-contested climbs of a race and then finish 10 minutes down on the leaders on the last climb. I would also find it interesting to compare times for specific climbs with previous tours. Just a thought.
I’m damn sick of watching the growing flock of wounded riders in the Tour this year. Or, I should say, I’m sick that the number is growing so rapidly. I wanted to see the spectacular battles between all of the best sprinters in the world on the same stage, but Cipollini and Petacchi have gone home to heal. I wanted to see if Tyler could really hang with Lance if he didn’t have to drag a useless arm up the hill with him. Even Magnus Backstedt - the biggest and strongest guy in the peloton - is out. I blame the organizers of the Tour and the UCI – more specifically Jean Marie Leblanc and Hein Verbruggen. For people who loudly and frequently profess to be primarily concerned about the health of the riders when it comes doping issues, they certainly don’t seem to give a damn that cramming 200 riders through an alley with islands, pylons, and other assorted “street furniture” to dodge around at 35+ mph might be a health risk. I guess they figure it’s okay since all the riders are wearing helmets and their bikes can’t be any lighter than 15 lbs.
Changing the rules of the TTT to limit the possible loss by a GC contender and keep the race competitive is lame, but I understand the concept behind it. Although, it gets me wondering if they’ll impose a loss-limit for mountain top finishes next year. A better way to keep the race competitive is to put some effort into making the routes safer so the riders can actually compete against each other instead of just trying to stay out of an ambulance. Sure, accidents will happen. A twitchy rookie and bit of brain-fade after 200k is bound to bring out a human error on occasion, but making the conditions safer will certainly reduce even those accidents. If I want to watch a crash-fest, I’ll watch NASCAR.
Speaking of NASCAR – and auto racing in general – millions of dollars have been invested into making their cars and courses safer, and the racing is as good as ever. I never fail to be amazed when a WRC rally car gets smashed to the size of a soda can and the driver climbs out, dusts off, and walks away. The fact that this is the case more often than not in auto racing completely justifies the money invested in safety technology. The Tour is getting to the point where it’s not the fastest rider who wins, but the least injured. It’s time that the Tour de France organizers and the UCI follow the lead of the motorized set and set down some guidelines for course safety. Until things change, we can only expect more of the same and watch the Tour with fingers crossed that our favorite rider makes it through each day. Maybe next year, the Tour can hit up Band-Aid and Neosporin for sponsorship.
What were T-Mobile thinking? Klo¨den has not helped Jan once in the entire race. on the first mountain stage it was more important to out-sprint Zabel, his team mate. Then he lets Guerini do all the work on la Mongie, and again doesn't spend a second to help on Beille. If they were really intent on getting Jan the yellow jersey, they would be working like Hincape and Azevedo are for Lance. I think Jan should find himself a team committed to helping their leader. This would mean no green-jersey hopefuls who can't help on the climbs (Zabel) or GC-hopefuls who won't work for the leader. Remember Jan sticking with Riis in 1996 and 97? Too bad CSC has Basso, or I'd be shouting at Jan to switch to them. Jan needs a support team intent on getting him to Paris in yellow!
Ullrich and T-Mobile
What is holding back Jan, a very talented bike rider? Even the man who beats him regards Jan as the most talented bike rider. But how much talented is he if can't produce the goods when it really matters?
Where is it all going wrong? Should the blame be on Jan's shoulders?
I think not. The blame should rest on Walter Godefroot. He is in charge of getting the right guys in the right shape for the right race.
Ullrich does not seem to have much say in the riders he takes with him to the tour unlike L.A. For Jan to win the Tour he has to take with him 8 members that work solely for him 100%. No personal vendettas, period. No wasting energy on sprint kings.
Look at L.A. He picks his men. All of them are specialists in their own rights and many excell in the classics and smaller tours, but this changes completely at the tour. All of them shift gear and have one goal in mind. "To work for L.A." 8 men for 1.
Jan on the other hand does not have this. Yet he is expected to win the tour. Zabel is there for his own wins, so you can cut one out right away, and cut out the ones that are there to help Zabel. What is Jan left with? Yet they expect him to win.
L.A. has 8 men for him at 100%. Jan does not have 8 men for him at 100%. Two or three of them will lose energy helping Zabel. Most sprinters can't even help themselves on the climbs, therefore there is not much they can do for a team leader attempting to win a tour on the climbs. I believe that Cadel Evans would have been an asset to T-Mobile.
Jan was better off at Bianchi. He came close to it and that was as close as it had ever got and there was no Walter Godefroot there. A team manager that casts doubts on his own team leader is definitely not a good team manager.
Walter may be an excellent manager in his own right. But results have shown that he is not the right manager for a huge talent like Ullrich. More than in soccer and any other sports, managers in cycling call most of the shots because they are in the position to do so with the presence of constant radio communications during competition. These men are given all the info. of what is really happening around them while competing and they instruct the members around like a game of chess. So like in other sports team managers must take the blame for producing bad results.
Just give a few examples: Look at the relationship and support of Johan Bruyneel to L.A. Bjarne Riis to his past leader Tyler Hamilton and now Ivan Basso. Manolo Saiz to a very long list of champions. Felice Gimondi to Marco Pantani there for him even when he was down and out. José-Miguel Echávarri and Miguel Indurain - need I say more.
Walter on the other hand, I am sorry to say, but based on results and the fact that he has the most talented man in the sport has not been able to capitalise on it.
In my opinion, when there is talent in a team, (not only then) the team manager must build a bond almost as strong as a family bond within the team giving support in all areas to build trust so that the riders can worry on only one thing - riding to win and knowing that the team selected is 100% supportive to the duty at hand. A 50-50 support cannot win under normal circumstances against a 100% supportive team.
This applies to all sports and I can name many, but just a few to prove my point that 100% support produces winners not only for one season but many more. Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan: 100% team support, 6 times champions. Phil Jackson & Kobe Bryant: 100% team support, 3 times champions. Johan Bruyneel &Lance Armstrong: 100% team support, 5 times TdF Champ.
I could go on into ice hockey, tennis, golf, athletics etc. But I think my point has been proven.
Jan, you are my cycling hero above all others, but, I am sorry, you don't have that support you need and must battle with a less than a 100% team.
Bruyneel and L.A. have set a standard in today's cycling in grand tours which all other team managers and team leaders should look at closely if they want to win a grand tour.
Wishful thinking: Jan, I hope you take that yellow jersey home this year.
Thanks for voicing up about the LAF bracelets.
I have cancer, currently undergoing treatment, and wear the bracelet. It is a very special thing to me, and I am a bicycle rider so I can identify with Lance Armstrong's goal and humanitarian beliefs.
It is a bond.. when I think about Mr. Armstrong with his cancer, and the Solidarity shown by the Tour de France racers, it makes me feel good...like things will be okay if we just believe and have heroes.
I've never been a Richard Virenque fan - but I must say this week went a long way toward changing my opinion.
His wonderful solo break on Bastille Day followed by his selfless nurturing of Yellow Jersey Voeckler up to La Mongie reminds me that although the peloton has its share of cheating and lying, it has an equal share of courage and honour.
Sometimes in the same rider.
Robbie McEwen may have had some opinions about the riding of Haselbacher but to stand over an injured, bleeding rider lying in the road writhing in agony and scream abuse at him is beyond the pail. That Eurosport commentator Christ Valentine-Anderson, who is normally a supporter of all the Australian riders was still angry (make that hopping mad) at McEwen's boorish behavior twenty-four hours later seems to indicate that McEwen went way over the top, even by his standards.
Haselbacher had his handlebar stem break not his handle bar, and since when did "trying to win" become an excuse for the sort of tactics and statements we've seen from McEwen over the last few years?
If they had a poll in the peloton as to who was the least liked rider is there anybody who'd get more votes than McEwen? A spoilt whinging brat that deserves to get spanked.
Barry R Taylor
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