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Letters to Cyclingnews - July 25, 2003
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The most beautiful sport
After Stage 15 in the Tour, Ullrich said "I have never in my life attacked someone who had crashed. That's not the way I race." Jan Ullrich here teaches us all something important about honor and sacrifice. A perfect end to the best day of racing I have ever seen.
Once I had a desk job here in Colorado where I worked next to 1984 Olympic road race gold medalist Alexi Grewal. He has a terrific sense of humor and related to me how Grand Tour riders look like they are carrying around "a big football in their belly", because when "you are in a long stage race you are stuffing your face with food day and night". When I saw Graham Watson's photo of a puffed-out Ullrich blazing along for the time trial win I was reminded of Alexi's comment and had to giggle. Given the history of Jan's weight control issues I guess it makes sense he would be midway though the Tour resembling a bloated whale. He says he had a nice dinner the night before the time trial. I'll say, from the looks of him I'd guess a few quarts of eggnog, fourteen schnitzels and six pounds of macaroni. If you've got the talent, better to be heavier but recovering successfully if you want to win the Tour.
Also, look at how George Hincapie and Ullrich have bounced back into turbo-charged fitness after months of rest. With years of racing in their legs and mega-talent, these guys can bounce back and ride like Superman. This is instructive even for amateur cyclists because we all tend to overtrain. Dedicated cyclists will benefit from understanding that the subtle yet deep-body fatigue that accumulates over weeks of constant training and racing should be "washed out" of the body by occasional periods of serious resting lasting from 4 to 6 days completely off the bike. During this time you can work on flexibility in yoga class or go camping at altitude.
Apparently the speed of the Euro peloton has some wondering about doping again. But look at all the inconsistent performances of recent years. How can a rider win the Giro and then crap out at the Tour the way Simoni has? Such a turn of affairs would have been absolutely unheard of back in the 1990's. If the cause isn't illness, etc., it may well be the lack of doping products. Back in 1998 Paul and Phil derided Ullrich for racing little and concentrating everything on the Tour. Nowadays this strategy seems to be the only way to win the Tour, just ask Lance. In cycling, doping is the rocket fuel of the mediocre and for the ultra-talented champions it is an effective insurance policy guaranteeing a long season full of victories.
I think Roche's commentary has been misconstrued: go ask your doctor how much time off the bike he wants you to take when you break your collarbone. It will be longer than 6 hours; ask a neutral third party if they think having an athlete take a pain shot before each stage is conducive to positively addressing the sport's bad drug-use image. Cheer all you want for Tyler, but keep a level head on your shoulders. If this were Virenque, everybody would be complaining about the drug issue.
Raymond F. Martin
Comments on Hamilton #2
The French have a label they give to certain riders who meet certain criteria, and not always the winner: "A Man of the Tour". Tyler Hamilton is one that I'm sure will be given this accolade. Stephen Roche was no man of the Tour, but Sean Kelly was, even though he never won the race.
A Man of the Tour is one who sacrifices his body on the altar of France - even if the win is out of his grasp - because he must. He rides like a soldier through glory and pathos, knowing that pathos IS glory. He is not the Prince in the Fairy-tale, but the Jean Valjean of the long romantic novel that is the Tour. He is one who embodies the high ideals of the race in the minds of the equally idealist French public.
Roche seems to have become a crabby old man in his retirement. His public slights to Sean Kelly in recent years do nothing to erase this impression form my mind either! I have met Kelly in person (on a charity ride through British Columbia and Alberta for the Nation Council for the Blind In Ireland with about 1,000 other Irishmen!),and I have found him to be as modest and unassuming as he is famous. Tyler, no matter what the future holds for him, will, from this day forward, be a Man of the Tour on his courage, dignity, and determination alone. He has this in common with Kelly, along with his total professionalism and work-ethic. Monsieur Roche, you would do well to give credit where credit is due.
Comments on Hamilton #3
"As a cyclist, I am much more ashamed that Petacchi quit because of the hills, Gonzales quit because he couldn't hack it", writes Mr David Rous.
I don't remember if this was mentioned on Cyclingnews.com or not, but I've heard it stated several times on both Eurosport and Danish television that the two Fassa Bortolo-riders abandoned because of a virus. And the fact that six of Fassa Bortolo's nine riders were out of the Tour within a week certainly seems to point to illness as well.
Former Danish pro Leif Mortensen, Luis Ocaña's main helper in the early 70s and current Eurosport commentator, mentioned that Petacchi had high fever when he abandoned, and Gonzales as well, but apparently the (French) media prefer to talk about Petacchi's "scandalous" behaviour rather than report the actual circumstances.
Even Lance Armstrong had a go at Aitor Gonzales. I don't know how he was able to evaluate Gonzales' performance in five days or so, but apparently Armstrong felt that Aitor Gonzales, like Simoni, had underestimated the Tour and should have kept his mouth shut, and his early exit served as proof that he wasn't a competitor after all.
I see. So if Lance himself had been stricken ill, and forced to retire, it would have been proof that he doesn't have what it takes anymore? Come on!
Anders P. Jensen
Tyler Hamilton is amazing and inspiring. You read many articles about professional cyclists banging their knees on furniture at home and they can't ride their bikes for 6 weeks. These guys should feel embarrassed when they line up next to Tyler at the beginning of a race. He has already finished one Grand Tour with a serious shoulder injury and is about to do it again. He has even managed to win stages in the process. You never hear him complain or make excuses. He is a true hard-man of the peloton and deserves every accolade he receives. I will think of him the next time I have a little "bump" that I think hurts too much for me to ride.
Congratulations, Tyler! Lance of Jan may win the Tour, but you are the true hero.
I am not convinced by all this talk of sportsmanship and unwritten rules of the peloton.
Whenever Lance has waited in the past, eg for Jan, it has been when it was clear that he (LA) could not lose the Tour. The situation on Luz Ardiden was not the situation of before and is not capable of being compared.
You can't compare things that are not the same ... and this was not the same as other episodes of "sitting up".
If you should not continue when one of your close rivals is down (it is clear that the unwritten rule applies to more than the yellow jersey as the previous episodes show) thus shouldn't Lance have waited to see if Beloki was going to get up rather than taking a shortcut (in breach of the rules) and continuing on, or even waiting or Jorge Jaske to get on to the group? Sure Vinokourov was up the road, but he could have slowed down the next day in a display of sportsmanship!
I wonder if all this is just a part of the great adulation of LA ...sure if Ullrich had of continued and beaten him there would have been detractors. Now with the boot on the other foot it is just talk of great sportsmanship....
Maybe my cynicism is because whenever I have displayed sportsmanship, the arsehole has come back and done the dirty a stage or two later...but maybe that's the difference between a guy from Alice Springs and one in the Euro peloton.
The problem with watching the Tour in the states is the reporting is biased. I love OLN and the fact that we can now watch live coverage, however, I am so surprised we hear as much as we do from Mr. Sherwin since his tongue seems to be always be up Lance's butt.
Come on, this is finally a race! Tyler is the man, Mayo is the man in the mountains, Beloki attacked and attacked and attacked like a true bike racer, and Lance ain't doing so hot and his back is against the wall. And Vino, that guy, let's remember, has a whole lot more victories this year than Armstrong, yet look where he is in the GC and look at his stage placings. Go Vino! And don't even get me started on how Ullrich just spanked Lance in the TT.
Is Armstrong in the lead, yes. Will he win, probably. Will he dominate like he did in the past, probably not and he certainly hasn't yet. Armstrong has one reason why he's still in the lead, the Team TT. He has lost ground through the Alps and the whole time he was on the defensive, that guy is way, way too proud and egotistical to let anyone attack him as much as he was attacked. And Landis, dude, it's a race, deal with it. It doesn't matter where anyone is in the GC, if they attack then they attack, deal with it. Additionally, bro, it makes the race soooo much more interesting. And if we don't watch, well then USPS and Berry Floor ain't going to pay you. So keep the trap shut and go chase down the attack.
And can someone please smack some sense into Sherwin. "Lance is letting the attacks go." Yea, OK, he's letting Mayo get two minutes up the road and letting Vino continually put time on him in the mountains. Sure. Is this a Coach Carmichael tactic, because if it is, you might want to rethink it. Wait, what was up with Lance and all his talk about the team at Alpe d'Huez - he wanted them to attack and go fast, but they went too fast. Mayo clearly didn't think so and neither did Vino and Hamilton - broken collar bone and all - was still there and Beloki was throwing down the attacks, but Lance thought the initial tempo was too fast. OK, so was it this break rubbing thing or the pace set by your team, what gives? So it looks like Lance is like President Bush - excuses, excuses, excuses and pass the buck onto someone else.
Hey, Lance, listen to Hamilton, you could learn a thing or two. Hincapie, where is your number one finger now, bud. I swear these idiots make Americans look so stupid.
Look, I'm American and we've seen cycling come a long way in a short time and for that I'm happy. However, the attitude by Armstrong and USPS as a whole is piss poor. As for me, I want to see a race and frankly, I hope someone knocks Lance off his ass and I hope it's Tyler. Still Ullrich or Vino would be fine by me, too.
Jay, you might want to rethink how much money you're going to put down on Lance, because it's far from a sure thing at this point.
I have to disagree with Mr. Laurelli. At the start of the 2003 Tour, Lance looked thinner than I have ever seen him, and as the Tour has progressed, he has begun to look anorexic. I believe that Lance's extreme weight reduction strategy in preparation for the Tour eliminated virtually all of his energy reserves, leaving absolutely no margin for error in diet or hydration during the course of the Tour. This is starting to look like an unwise gamble, because there are variables that you cannot control in the race. For example, all of the wonderfully entertaining attacks his competitors have put in, making this such a memorable Tour. In addition, the temperatures have continued to be very high - and on more than one occasion, Lance seems to have been adversely affected by dehydration. I think that's a pretty serious problem for a man who plans to win the GC.
Lance may still win this year, but how many people would have predicted that Jan Ullrich would beat Lance by over a minute and a half in a 47 km time trial, or that Jan would drop Lance in the first stage in the Pyrenees?
To all those begrudgers who don't want to see Lance Armstrong win the Tour, I say regardless of the outcome this Tour has been one of the most exciting since Roche and Delgado fought it out in 1987 to the top of La Plagne. For a man to come back from cancer, get back on his bike, train 20 miles a day for months and then get back into regular training is testament to his massive determination, huge heart and absolute focus.
It will be fought out this week between Lance and Jan, the time trial will make or break the German and the winner may have to fight it all the way to Paris, just like Fignon and LeMond in 1989. It won't be a nice roll into Paris this year, that's for sure.
And as a cyclist who trains 50 miles a day in Central Park, I can say to Mr. Finnegan from Ireland that determination is about 70% of it, 30% may be accounted for by diet. Having HEART is what it's all about.
The first crash and detour across the field amazed me but this one to Luz Ardiden just leaves me speechless. I have crashed a few times in races and was barely able to get back on. The thought about attacking after regrouping never crossed my mind because I was in semi-conscious state of fatigue and delirium. One time someone had to stop the bike for me at the finish line and hold me upright because I could not focus enough to clip out of the pedals.
I look back and realize that it was not energy that propelled me to rejoin the break but pure adrenaline and anger because the guys in the break made it very clear that they were trying their damnedest to drop me because they did not want to carry a sprinter to the line.
I am no Lance Armstrong believe me but, my god what power, focus and determination this man has. I am convinced that there is nobody on this planet that wants to win the race as much as he does.
I remember when I was sixteen and jumping out of my seat when LeMond beat Fignon by 8 seconds. I thought it was the best Tour ever for a while. Yesterday when I heard of the crash and then the attack I just sat there in silence and disbelief even after Lance crossed the finish line. The crash, the fact that Tyler, Jan and Co waited for Lance and then the attack, now makes this is the best Tour ever. I can't imagine it more dramatic than this.
As is widely known, there is great controversy within the Cofidis team because of their emphasis on each of their riders gaining points in races, possibly leading to the demise of race wins, in order to improve the team's overall UCI ranking and membership in the top ten. Membership in this club currently guarantees an automatic entry into the three Grand Tours.
I have a proposal that could possibly ameliorate this problem, while at the same time it could enhance the status of individual riders who are "team players", but may never get a chance for a high ranking. Traditionally, some of these riders have found it difficult to secure contracts because they do not have the points, and thus do not have the results. Moreover, this proposal rewards teams that have only one high placed rider in the race, usually at the sacrifice of his teammates in both work and UCI points opportunity.
Each UCI race has a certain number of points given to individual riders for high placings. My proposal is to award an additional certain fraction of the winner's points (and possibly the top three or five) to the members of the team on which the points winner is a member. The points could be awarded either to all the members of the team who started (to not penalize those who sacrifice themselves and then drop out of a one day race) or to only those who finish (to possibly emphasize the importance of finishing the race). The rule would take an equal number of points won by the top placings, and divide these points evenly with the teammates of the placer, rounded to the whole point.
For example, rider X wins a one day classic, and receives 425 UCI points. His team started with 6 riders total, and finished with 4, including the winner. If the additional points to be divided are awarded to all of the teams starters, then each teammate also receives 85 UCI points. If they are divided among the finishers, then each gets 142 UCI points.
This system still greatly rewards the top placers of UCI races. However, it also rewards the super domestiques on very successful teams, who may be able to market their points when contract time comes around. There is less incentive to just have a few guys in each race finish in the top ten for just the points, but not go for the win, as there is a significant bonus for those teams that go for the win. Finally, teams with winning success are assured that they will get much more points to make the top ten club, as the importance of winning is reinforced, as the winning team in the above example would reap 950+ points (including the regular UCI points for minor places).
I am sure there's lots to criticize! I think its workable though.
On the Cyclingnews.com web site, cycling "expert" Dr. Michele Ferrari wrote the following after Jan Ullrich's superb performance in the first ITT:
"The German rider set an outstanding performance with an average speed of 48.2 km/h, while Armstrong rode at 46.9 km/h: a difference in power output of about 5%. A more that [sic] considerable difference indeed."
I was surprised to discover that someone as, shall we say, "quantitatively inclined" as Ferrari understated the difference in power outputs, based on these velocity figures alone, by about 70%. As power varies with the cube of velocity, a quick calculation reveals that the difference is 8.5%. This, of course, neglects the additional power required by Ullrich to overcome the incremental gravitational force acting on his larger mass over the hilly ITT course, and assumes that each rider's product of drag coefficient and frontal area is comparable.
Ferrari's comparison of power output might prompt some to conclude that the rider who produces the most power in the ITT wins. However, there's more to it than just power. Average velocity (and hence elapsed time) is a function of power, frontal area, and drag coefficient (a numeric indicator of the aerodynamic efficiency of the shape that the bike and rider present to the wind). In essence, this is why a smaller rider, or a rider who maintains a more aerodynamic position can turn in better results than riders who are larger or less aerodynamic, while producing less power.
But just for fun, let's take a stab at how much additional power Ullrich has to produce to deny Lance his fifth consecutive Tour de France victory. In the absence of any empirical data to the contrary, we'll again assume that the product of frontal area and drag coefficient for each rider is comparable. We'll also ignore gravitational effects on this relatively flat course, as well as rolling resistance.
Let's further assume that Lance matches his average speed from the final ITT in 2001, when he beat Jan by 1'36". In that event, Lance covered the 61 km in 1h14'16", giving him an average speed of 49.3 km/hr. At that average speed, Lance's time in Saturday's 49 km event would be 59'39". To wrest Le Maillot Jaune from Lance, Jan would have to ride better than a 58'32'', translating to an average speed of 50.2 km/hr. Based on these assumptions and understanding that power varies with the cube of velocity, Jan will be required to produce about 5.8% more power than Lance if he wants the top step on the podium.
Can he do it? The world counts the hours until we find out.
While Steve F. makes some sense about the fight for UCI points, it does not address the point which was made in my previous letter. That is, that in order to insure they don't lose time due to crashes in the finale, the GC contenders and their "minders" are forced into the mix in the sprint finishes where they really shouldn't be. I wasn't blaming the organizers for this, it is up to the UCI to lengthen the zone before the finish where crashes or mechanicals do not cost you time. (By the way this rule only applies to flat finishes, not mountain finishes.) By doing this they could easily take 40-50 or more riders out of the dangerous scramble for position in the last Ks of a sprint finish without detracting from the spectacle.
How would you like it if you sank millions of dollars into a Tour contender only to have him taken out on stage 1 by a silly crash? Perhaps when it came time to renew your sponsorship you might feel the money would be better spent somewhere else? Tyler, Lance, and Levi as well as many of the other contenders who were all caught up in the Stage 1 crash certainly had the "luxury" of concentrating all year on the Tour and were not up front searching for a few UCI points. The same goes for most of their teammates. Secondly, check your facts, there are no division 2 teams at the Tour.
I've never been a huge fan of the team time trial. In years past, though, I've been able to swallow my distaste because the strongest squads in the TTT (Panasonic, Ariostea) never had overall contenders, while the teams of Lemond, Delgado, Bugno and others were pretty evenly matched to one another. In general, the event provided a fine spectacle and gave minor riders a shot for a day in yellow while not doing much to tip the overall results.
This year, however, the TTT happens to be on the side of the favorites, and thus has mostly served to exclude the dark horses who could have made the race more interesting. Mayo, Mancebo, Hamilton and others would be placed much higher on the GC had it not been for that stage, and (personally) the spectacle of all the favorites and potential favorites arriving at the foot of the Alps within 30 seconds of each other would have been thrilling.
But this is sort of a provisional argument I'm making -- "the TTT wasn't bad in 1988 but it's bad today" -- and thus might not make a strong case for eliminating the TTT-qua-TTT. It seems to me that the main case against the stage is that it's frankly unnecessary, and doesn't weed out the contenders in some special way that the rest of the race won't. My dad defends the TTT on the grounds that "it reinforces the fact that it's a team sport" -- as if the other 19 stages didn't do that well enough! It's very, very hard to do well in the Tour without a strong team, and adding a two-minute penalty to that seems patently cruel. It's more interesting (and admirable) when a rider, like LeMond in '89, can overcome the burden of a weak team.
Team time trial #2
The Tour is a team sport, and the team time trial is one of the most popular stages. Lance has always said that there is no way he could win the Tour without his team. I find the team time trial not only great to watch, but it adds another factor in who the favorites are.
Team time trial #3
The same old argument, Rominger would have won the Tour in '93 if it wasn't for that pesky TTT. Did you consider that the low placing of Euskadi in the TTT may have won Mayo the Alpe d"Huez? Had he been closer on GC maybe Armstrong wouldn't have let him go. We don't know what "might have been" so why waste time wondering? The point is the TTT "is" part of the race, every rider and team knew that before they came. It is one of the most beautiful and exciting stages in the race, the recent period where it was left out raised protests from fans throughout the world, and rightly so.
If Mayo wants to win the race then he will either have to overcome the limitations of his team, or find a team with a better chance in the TTT. As for all this speculation it is pointless. The Tour is barely half over, Armstrong has gained and held the Maillot Jaune without even attacking, and as we now hear, while suffering from a stomach ailment. I believe he will get better and better, and this speculation will prove meaningless as Mayo will be much further than 2 minutes in arrears when they arrive at the Elysian Fields. I could be wrong, and I think Mayo is a great rider, but I feel we have yet to see the best of Lance at this Tour. By the time this letter is published we should all know.
From a Lance fan who admires you also. You're a hell of a pro and I was saddened by your crash.
The 2003 Tour will not be the same without you there fighting it out with the rest of the big guns.
I hope you completely recover and return next year for the 2004 Tour.
Joseba Beloki #2
Joseba Beloki, I'm a fan of Armstrong but a fan of cycling first. I look forward to your return to the sport as soon as possible. You're attacking on Alpe d'Huez displayed the passion of the sport at its best, as did your commitment to chasing down Vino on the road to Gap. The photos of your crash made me think much about the fragility of our sport. I hope you recover soon. Going for the win will always gain you the respect that you deserve. Best wishes.
Joseba Beloki #3
Thanks to Cyclingnews for the service of forwarding our messages on to Joseba Beloki. He is a fighter, and looked really ready to challenge for the win at this year's Tour. It will be a less exciting race without him, and I look forward to his speedy recovery and presence at next year's Tour where he may finally have the chance for the win he has sacrificed so much to achieve. Bike racing is a hard sport filled with hard men, and Beloki is one of them. Good Health Joseba, my thoughts are with you in your hour of trial and I look forward to seeing you fly in the mountains once again.
Joseba Beloki #4
I, too, am greatly saddened by Joseba Beloki's crash. He came to the Tour in the shape of his life and was making huge strides towards knocking Lance out of his comfort zone. His attacks in the Alps have helped make this race of the most exciting Tours in the last decade.
I would like to wish Sr Beloki the best of health, that he recovers soon, and can return to achieve his ambition.
Joseba Beloki #5
Just want to wish Beloki all the best - it was so good to see him in the wheel chair and now news that he is headed for recuperation exercises.
What at battle it is but what a battle it would have been.
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