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Letters to Cyclingnews - June 6, 2003
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Not as Lance-friendly as previous Tours
When Big Mig went for his sixth Tour, I didn't think he would be beaten, and as I remember the mood when that Tour began, that was the general consensus. In fact, as I remember it, a lot of people were voicing boredom with the Tour back then, because it had become "The 3 Weeks of Miguel" (not unlike the current situation with Lance Armstrong). So as an initial matter, I guess I would answer the question with the observation that past wins do not predict future wins, and that in any given race, anyone can lose. Hey, a gelding won the Kentucky Derby this year and is racing for the Triple Crown this weekend, so ANYTHING is possible!
Whether Lance would best Miguel in the Tour assuming each was at his peak performance/ability, who knows? But as a matter of historical fact, Lance did race against Miguel, and Miguel clearly was the better of the two (Lance couldn't even finish a Tour back then, let alone challenge Miguel. I can hear all the Lancies' indignation rising).
However, I think this year's Tour, itself, may prove the biggest opponent to Lance. One thing that has benefited Lance greatly (and Simoni in this year's Giro), were the numerous mountain top finishes of the last few Tours. Somehow Lance returned to cycling as almost a pure climber and any race structured with numerous mountain top finishes favors the superior climber (because the potential amount of time one can gain each stage is so great); and this is especially true of a climber who can also time trial. BUT this year's Tour has far fewer mountain top finishes, so Lance's chief advantage is absent from the get go.
I too adore Jan, but I too doubt he'll be able to win (and maybe even to place or show as well). I don't think his team will be strong enough in the team time trial, if nothing else. If Il Falco Savoldelli is healthy and fit, he may prove the biggest/stealthiest threat because he can descend like an avalanche, and Telekom is strong, but Aitor Gonzalez is who I put my money as the strongest challenger. I just pray the Tour is not a fait accompli by the end of week one.
I stand by my comments about this year's Giro (una Bella Giro!) and Stefano Garzelli. I am more impressed by riders who ride on heart, than on strength. Scott Sunderland's comment (thanks so much for the journal entries!) that Stefano has "crumbled," may be true, but at least he's not afraid to risk losing in order to win and he shows up every day to race. And he really has shown he is the best all around rider in this year's Giro -- he can sprint (decently enough), he can climb (decently enough), and with practice, I think he could time trial (decently enough - his form is lovely). Bravo Stefano! Congrazione!
The battles for GC should get back to rewarding the all-rounders (now they all seem to favor the climbers, which is the fault of the organizers).
Lastly, I am in total agreement with the power of baldness comments!
Okay, now the Giro is over and we can start looking forward to the Tour full time.
Simoni has won the Giro by being the best climber in the race. As I have written before, I really wish he hadn't raced the Giro so that he won't have a ready made excuse for July when Lance shows him how fast they go in the real race. Simoni, who is always good for great boasting quotes, today let loose with another great one, that Lance "has never faced real climbers" in the Tour. Wow! I absolutely cannot wait for the fun to begin! Let's hope that Jan will be in shape for the race (which I think he will be, by the way) and then we will see if Simoni can even get away (and stay away) from Jan Ullrich, much less Lance.
It's going to be so much fun to see Simoni's education into how things work at the Tour. The Tour mountain stages don't wait around for the last 5K of a tough stage for the favorites to launch a real attack, with a 40 strong peloton sitting on while domestiques ride "tempo".
I'm sure that those who watched the Giro closely will say:
1) What about Simoni's attack 40km out from Faenza to take the race lead?,
First off, there are always exceptions to the norm, and strange things happen in every race, i.e. every once in a while the Giro acts like the Tour for a stage or two. Don't expect to see the reverse, however, such as a group of 30 with 7K to go on Alp du Huez. More importantly, let's take a look at the two questions raised above and how they relate to Simoni's chances at the Tour. When (or if) Simoni attacks mid-stage at the Tour, he won't have the tattered remnants of the Vini Caldirola squad to try and chase him down. Instead, he'll have at least three riders (Heras, Beltran, and Rubiera) who are as good or almost as good as he is on the climbs. On to number two, where things were aggressive and shattered early on, Mr. Simoni didn't look too hot on the last climb. He was hanging off Frigo's wheel a fair ways and when Frigo jumped for the line, Simoni had had enough and let him go.
Stage win? Not Likely. The only way Simoni wins a stage is if he snags one in the Pyrenees after he's WAY down on GC.
Podium? Forget it. Simoni at his best last year was only able to put a few seconds into a broken-shouldered Tyler Hamilton here and there. Sixth place Giro time trialists (Simoni at his best) will be closer to 26th at the Tour TTs. That won't cut it. See ya!
Oh wait... Simoni will be tired from the Giro.
Almost every year we hear the same refrain from a Giro winner of how he is going to make Armstrong's life hell in the Tour, normally in the mountains. It's now Simoni's turn - we've had Pantani, Garzelli and Savoldelli in the past. Of course it's partly being Italian and partly self-promotion, but it's all utter tripe, as is all this talk of a combination of teams or the combined efforts of the Telekom team, for example. We hear the same drivel about Heras being a threat to Armstrong were he to ride his own race (in another team I suppose), but Heras would lose about half an hour to Armstrong in Tour ITTs.
Armstrong might lose 10 seconds to Simoni on one mountain stage but Simoni will finish the Tour, if he finishes at all, in about 14th overall, 25 minutes down on Armstrong.
There is only one rider who can beat Armstrong, that is a superb Ullrich, and we won't see one in 2003, maybe we'll see one in 2004, he's certainly a changed man. All the rest, Galdeano, Simoni, Beloki, Moreau, Rumsas, Botero etc etc have next to no chance of ever beating Armstrong in the Tour.
Nobody can deny that Gilberto Simoni was the strongest rider in this year's Giro. And though he has every right to be proud of his success, his comments over the past week hint at an arrogance that borders on disgusting and, at the very least, show an amazing level of poor taste and tact. Dismissing the efforts of one's team and then disparaging one's competitors is not the mark of a true champion or even a "thoughtful" professional.
Equally as unsettling are Simoni's critical comments of the press and - more importantly - the fans. To complain that he was only of "secondary importance" to Cipollini and Pantani is akin to a child whining that his sibling gets all the good toys. Maybe this is the reason that nobody defended him following his removal from last year's Giro for suspicion of cocaine use. I for one don't want to cheer a braggart, a whiner or a prima donna; far more worthy of my respect and support are those professionals who modestly go about their work.
Zabel, Leipheimer, Hamilton - we should have more men of such character in the pro peloton and fewer of the likes of Simoni, Pantani and McEwen.
Well I think Ullrich has been bluffing a little. He is stronger now than what he was at this time in previous years. I think you're right, he can't beat Armstrong, but I think he will do better than last time he tried.
It is a hard thing to say that Armstrong could have beaten Indurain. Other than in 96, who can say that they ever saw Indurain ride to his true potential in every climbing stage. He only ever did what he had to. He was conservative and never took for granted that he wouldn't have a bad day when he might need that energy. Every stage he would use his team till exhaustion, then take over mid way up the last climb to limit his losses. Most of his competitors basically knew that Indurain would let them go if they attacked and just ride a high tempo until the last climb. But what if he was aggressive like Armstrong, or did his surge at the bottom of the last climb? Both Indurain and Armstrong had the ability to ride people off their wheels, but they have two totally different styles.
I don't know who would win when both are at their peaks, but all I do know is that it would have been an exciting Tour with Ullrich, Indurain and Armstrong all at their peak.
Armstrong certainly appears to be the strong favorite for this year's Tour, but I think this will be his hardest yet. As I see it, there are going to be a number of obstacles in Armstrong's way:
1) Gilberto Simoni. Simoni destroyed the field at this year's Giro, finishing first or second in every mountain stage, only being outsprinted to the line on the Terminillo by Garzelli and on the Valle Variata by Frigo. He also finished surprisingly well in the time trials, showing that he has improved in this area. Simoni is anxious to challenge Armstrong and show that he is stronger in the mountains. The last time they really went head to head was the Tour of Switzerland in 2001, when Armstrong beat him by one minute overall. I think Simoni is a stronger rider now than he was when he won the Giro in 2001 and isn't scared of Armstrong. He'll lose some time in the time trials, but could gain that back when they hit the Alps and the Pyrenees. Simoni also isn't going to wait around for the Armstrong blue train to slowly ramp up the pace on the last climb of the day-he'll probably attack on the 2nd last climb of the mountain stages just to shake things up (unlike Beloki and co.)
2) Aitor Gonzalez. He proved at last year's Vuelta that he has what it takes to win a Grand Tour. Gonzalez is a phenomenal time trialist, perhaps even better than Armstrong. He showed on the Angliru last year and the Zoncolon at this year's Giro that he can stay with the pure climbers. If he is in top form, he may be the man to beat Armstrong and is probably going to be the next man to win the Tour.
3) Tyler Hamilton. Also a great climber and a fabulous time trialist, he is concentrating 100% on the Tour this year. He's probably not quite as strong as Armstrong, but judging from what he did at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Romandie this year, he could be dangerous.
4) Team Telekom. This is going to be Postal's biggest problem. Telekom have three potential GC contenders in Botero, Evans and Savoldelli. Postal will have to chase down attacks by all three, since they will all pose a threat to the overall. In contrast, no one on Telekom will have to counter attacks by Heras, Rubiera or anyone other than Armstrong. Even Postal won't let Heras go 10 minutes up the road since their focus is just on Armstrong. The boys from Telekom can time trial too, and Botero (and Gonzalez from Fassa Bortolo) will make it very hard for Armstrong to end up victorious in the race against the clock this year.
Armstrong will probably win his fifth Tour this year, but I seriously doubt that he will get number six in 2004.
As a former winner of the Tour, Marco Pantani should be allowed to ride in the Tour de France. His form is steadily improving and would be even better in July. Marco as well as Gilberto Simoni (winner of the Giro) would succeed in causing Lance a world of hurt in the mountains. Pantani deserves a chance to ride. A precedent was set by the Tour back in 1989 when Greg LeMond was allowed to ride the Tour without any results in the two years prior. He also rode for the weak, lower-tier Belgian squad ADR. Meaning he did not get in on his team's merits. We all know what happened next. If being a champion was enough back - then why not now?
By the way, am a Lance diehard - I just want to see him smoke the best riders available.
The Tour - Pantani is playing by the rules
This year I think Marco Pantani is playing by the rules. Although he did not make the podium this year at the Giro he has (in my opinion) put in a stellar performance. I think he has finally put his priorities in the right places. He has accepted his non selection to the tour this year with dignity, and not with the run of the mill Italian whining. He knows that just because he one a tour a couple years ago doesn't get an invite, he will be working hard for next year!
Forza il Pirate
The Tour - Pantani is all talk
Pantani is all talk. On the assumption that we're now in a drugs-free episode of his career, we're still waiting for evidence of whether or not he can lift himself into the premier league of possible contenders. His performance in the Giro suggested "not this year".
But Pantani's mouth and bluster has led to the thought that Mario could similarly be "loaned" out to a team already in the Tour. Preferably Euskaltel... just to see the tiger-blend of colours again on that skinsuit.
Maybe all the riders can wear zebra striped armbands in a move of solidarity. No Cipo for the flats and his first ride into Paris with the rainbow jersey really is disappointing.
While I do believe that LeBlanc has made a mistake by not allowing Cipo to ride this year's Tour, Mr. Jmsticher needs to read his Tour history. Unlike Cipo, Mr. Leblanc has finished two Tours (1968 and 1970). Therefore, he is a man of the Tour which Cipo is not and may never be. Presumably, Mr. Jmsticher knows what a "man of the Tour" is.
Its clear from Cipollini's current exclusion from TdF2003 that the criteria for automatic qualification, although improved, remain flawed. 10-12 teams should be automatically invited, to include the reigning world champion, the reining Grand Tour champions from the previous year, and the current leader of the World Cup competition. Places remaining after this initial selection should be awarded to the top-ranked teams.
This should not take in to account a rider's 'track record' of either abandoning or finishing the race. There is no rule that states you must finish the TDF because you have been offered an invitation. Cipollini is persecuted in this respect because of his profile, and because of his nationality; Robbie McEwen regularly starts the Giro with no intention of finishing the race, and Erik Zabel has contested the Vuelta in a similar fashion as preparation for the World Championships. Both Green Jersey winners at the Tour.
Its often ignored that Cipollini has won the points competition at the Giro on three separate occasions; should he be expected abdicate the obligations of his own national tour in reverence to French national pride? I'm a Cipo fan as I'm sure are the majority of interested followers for the excitement he brings to 10 days of otherwise colorless sprint finishing in July. Such power in grace should befit the roads of France - I hope to see him arrested on the start-line clad head to toe in 'Jean Delatour'
This just might be the opportunity for some younger "stars" to shine. Don't discount what the sprints will be like because Cipo and other "oldies" aren't there. They were all young once too and probably had the same thing said about them. Give the younger guys a chance to get some confidence and show what they can do.
For many of the already much-discussed reason, I think it is a shame Domina Vacanze and Mario Cipollini won't be at the Tour. Here are just three other things to consider:
1. Jean Marie LeBlanc is not alone in this, and we should not direct our collective incredulity at him alone. Ostensibly, within the ASO group, he works by committee. At this point, for better or worse, it does nothing but feed his unchecked ego to be the single target, even if realistically he is the public face and brains of the current Tour. I have heard talk by others of boycotting the individual sponsors of the Tour (as opposed to the entire race); perhaps Cyclingnews can publish the names and related businesses of the other members of the ASO "Tour Selection Committee" so we can do the same to them.
2. Do not forget that, strictly in sporting terms, the real crime is not that Domina Vacanze/Cipollini will not be there, as much as it is that Jean Delatour will. They are far and away the weakest of any of the teams that could have possibly even been considered.
3. In what parallel universe does Domina Vacanze, a solid team with a nice mix of both young and experienced talent -- and the Cipollini bonus package -- not rate as least as high as Jan Ullrich's currently shaky squad? Nothing against the recent suffering the Coast/Bianchi boys have gone through, but they have had very little racing this year, they have yet to really prove themselves as a new unit (with the Tour a month away), they are now reconstituted without some of their biggest names, and they were in a highly unusual UCI limbo when the Tour announcement was made. It seems to me that their automatic invitation should have been looked at at that time. I have nothing against Jan Ullrich, and hope he soon reclaims his past glory, but he himself has claimed very modest ambitions for this year's Tour (which -- who knows? -- could be a bluff). If Bianchi, then, is simply looking for a stage win or two and maybe a decent GC ride, how is this different than Domina Vacanze?
For my money, I'm looking for Hamilton and Simoni to challenge in this year's Tour.
I am reading and listening to a lot of comments about the Fassa Bortolo team for the next Tour of France, about including or not Dario Frigo and Aitor González in the Tour's team. It looks they will be included at last. Even the own director of the team, Giancarlo Ferreti, hopes that "González and Frigo will be able to cause difficulties to Lance Armstrong" (CN, first ed. news for June 3,2003). I continue reading more and more news and I can't believe they don't say anything about Ivan Basso, who was the winner of the Maillot Blanc of best young rider in 2002. He demonstrated his talent and I think he could well be a candidate for this year's podium. Has more chance than he team-mates - they had their chance at the Giro, they lost it by far, and they didn't plan to be in France in July. Of course Frigo and González have won more important races than Basso but I would bet for Ivan in July.
This year's situation with Cipollini's team not being invited to the TDF, has to be addressed by the UCI.
I think that the UCI should make it mandatory for all major tours to have an open spot for a "mixed team". This mixed team would be composed of top riders, who for one reason or another, their team was not invited to the event. The riders of such team would at least have a chance to ride in the big events, although they would be racing for individual glory as opposed to racing for the team or a sponsor.
I know of a few riders who could make up a very high quality "mix team" and be entered in this year's TdF. They are:
Mario Cipollini * Domina Vacanze
I could name a bunch more but I the team is only supposed to have 9 riders. If this team was given a chance at the 2003 TDF, I think they could win at least two stages and maybe even a top seven in GC. That would be a lot better that some of the French teams performances and they certainly wouldn't be content with just finishing the tour. I would certainly give Cipollini a special grant to leave the tour after his 3rd stage win!
I hope this letter can reach some of the personalities involved in decisions in the Pro peloton. It would be a great thing for cycling fans all over the world!
Geez, some people write so glowingly about Cipollini that their letters begin to sound like personal ads. They might as well put "Single White Bicyclist seeks Dashing Italian Sprinter" in the subject line. Well, he's not in the Tour and guess what? The Tour will still be captivating and wildly entertaining without him. Now stop whining about boycotts and the evil French and get on with your lives!
By the way, I find it interesting that "Super" Mario thought the best way to convince the Tour organizers that he wouldn't quit yet another Tour, was to quit the Giro. And don't try to tell me about his crash forcing him out. Petacchi and Pantani had terrible crashes in the Giro, and they went on to ride like champions.
The bottom line is despite his brilliance as a sprinter, Cipollini's legacy of quitting when the going gets tough has come back to haunt him. He made his bed, and no matter how many of his fans want to join him there, he now has to sleep in it.
The grand tours need to revise the mountain points system; far more points should be awarded for stage finishing climbs than for other climbs. The only reason Freddy Gonzalez is wearing the green jersey is that Simoni, Garzelli, Popovych, Noe, Belli, Pantani, and several others are not interested. Few fans care who the most consistent climber is, most have an interest in or opinion of who the best climber is.
When was the last time a rider in any category won two world cup races in a row and then came second in a subsequent race? Nicole Cooke has pulled off a remarkable achievement but your coverage hardly recognises the magnitude of her success. I suspect if Mario Cipollini, Lance Armstrong or Robbie McEwen had done as much there would be rather more fuss. Whether it's women's or men's racing excellent results deserve to be celebrated - the attention Cooke has received on this site is cursory and hardly generous. Let us hear more about this remarkable young woman whose aggression, power and determination make her a cycling star by anybody's standards.
Who the hell thought that Eddy Mazollini could climb? I remember watching Amstel Gold one year when it was the Armstrong/Dekker finale. I remember Eddy getting dropped on one of the bergs outside of Valkenberg by Lance and Erik, and now he is pacing Garzelli up the massive climbs in this years Giro, and just missing out to Lombardi in the sprint on stage 20. Maybe the editorial staff could get an interview of Eddy in the near future, and find out what makes this "super domestique" click..
I have to disagree with the riders and readers who have complained over the season about how organizers have set up their courses. Of course organizers that create courses that include dangerous pavement (or none at all in a road race) or poorly marshaled traffic crossings do not get a pass from me.
However, with respect to this year's Giro (and last year's Vuelta where many riders didn't come to play with the proper gears), courses and corners, in and of themselves are not dangerous. It is the riders who do not evaluate the specifics of a course that are the problem. One of the elements that make bicycle racing such a beautiful sport, is that courses change and each race requires and demands different skills of the riders to succeed. The idea that road races should all end with a 300-500 airplane landing-strip of a finish would bore me, and I daresay, the riders to tears.
On a separate note, did Robbie McEwen name his newborn child Ewan? As in Ewan McEwen?
I read this article in the Tuesday's news. Maybe interesting for you guys to know is that such a regulation already exist in Belgium. Here employers are legally obliged to pay employees who come by bike a tax-free 'tip' of 15 euro-cents for each kilometer. They can of course then count this in their taxes as an investment, so it's a win-win-situation. By this I'm able to earn (since I live 7km from work) an extra 2€ a day or 45€ a month just for being sportive a half hour a day and I don't have to pay for gasoline.
OK, it's not that I'm paid like Lance, but it's nice.
I wonder if some readers could give me some information about cycling on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees? I'm planning to attend a language school and take my bicycle. I've considered schools in San Sebastian and Bilbao. Are there other locations I should consider?
My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Just letting you know how much I have been enjoying Scott Sunderland's daily diary on the Giro. Scott's friendly, down to earth, no bullcrap approach to writing is very refreshing. At the same time his detailed description of each stage of the race gives readers a real insight to what it must be like to be riding in race like this, you can nearly smell the riders sweat when you read it!
Scott also deserves a big round of applause for being able to submit a diary entry each night, after all the racing he has done. I am sure the last thing he feels like at night is putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
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