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Letters to Cyclingnews - January 21, 2005
I agree that last year's Tour was boring. No one had the courage to risk a podium spot by attacking Lance. I think the two weeks of flat fast riding hurt the pure climbers like Mayo & Heras. Ullrich may have been a disappointment last year, but Mayo & Heras were disasters! Ullrich claims to have come into the tour with a cold or flu, and the bad weather could not have helped.
As for the 2005 Tour, Armstrong is already doing his part to build suspense by teasing us as to his participation. However, he's said he's not doing the Giro because of his legal issues and feels the Vuelta is third in the pecking order of Grand Tours. I think he'll be on starting line for the 2005 TDF.
To spite of last year's performance, Ullrich is still the number one contender to knock Armstrong off his thrown. Ullrich is a former World Champion, he's won the Vuelta and the TDF. If Armstrong had not come back from cancer, Ullrich would be a multiple tour winner. However, Armstrong did come back and is now considered by some to be the best rider in the history of the cycling. No one has been able to challenge him except Ullrich; and if anyone is going to beat him it is still Jan Ullrich. If he can manage to do this then history will remember him much differently. Ullrich knows this and I think that's why the 2005 tour is going to be as exciting as 2003.
The best case scenario is for T-Mobile show up with an in-form Ullrich, Vino
and Kloeden. Here are three guys in one team that Armstrong has to really think
about. Ullrich doesn't want second place, and with such a strong team he can
afford to take risks. Vino and Kloeden can still get T-Mobile on the podium
if Ullrich blows up. However, I believe Ullrich is extremely motivated this
year and Armstrong is obviously not as focused (or wants us to believe) on the
TDF, as in past years.
I've never really understood the problem everyone has with Jan Ullrich. True, he finished second to Riis in '96 (as a 23 year old nonetheless!), won in '97, second to Pantani in '98 (he should have won this Tour), and then of course second to Lance three times, and fourth once. Essentially if it wasn't for Lance, Jan would be the master of the Tour. I don't find it to be a problem with his training, weight, tactics or aggressiveness...simply the problem is - Lance Armstrong. Who is better than Jan at the Tour de France - end of story. Leave Jan alone and realize that he's better than every other rider - except for one.
After reading Jim Sullivan's letter (Rider of the Year) I find myself in the surprising position of defending Lance Armstrong. Sullivan is correct when he says that the rider of the year should win more races than the Tour de France, but saying that Lance Armstrong was an "unknown" and "just a domestic pro" in 1993?
Before he won the world championships in August 1993, and after only one year as a professional cyclist, Armstrong already had an impressive palmares – a stage win in the Tour de France, second in the Championship of Zurich, fifth in the Leeds Classic (then a World Cup race, for all you Americans who discovered bike racing in 1999), Victory in the Tour of Galacia and the Trofeo Laigueglia, and ninth in Paris Nice. While these results did not put Armstrong in the same league as riders in the group that finished just behind him (Indurain, Museeuw, Ludwig, Fondriest etc) he was certainly known as an excellent one-day rider, and had some fairly good international results for someone who was "just a domestic rider." Lance Armstrong has plenty of professional and personal shortcomings that deserve criticism; maybe Jim Sullivan should have done a little pre-1999 research before slamming Lance on a rare area where he does not deserve such criticism.
Redwood City California
I read with interest about the proposed UCI rule change moving the crash distance from 1km to 3km before the finish of a stage race. Once again, the UCI has missed the boat on a critical issue. The reason the GC contenders must be at the front to contend the finish of stage races is because of the ridiculous time splits the officials make when small gaps open up in the peleton in the final few meters of a finish.
The overzealous actions of the UCI officials forces the GC contenders to be at the very front of all sprint finishes. So what if they crash and can get the same time as the bunch. That wouldn't have helped someone like Levi Leipheimer or Tyler Hamilton who were injured as a result of their tumbles.
What the UCI needs to do is assign the overall GC time with 1km to go. This would allow the GC contenders to sit up and not have to contend the crazy finishes. Time bonuses can still be awarded to the top finishers but, the GC riders would not have to put themselves in harms way and potentially ruin a whole season of training.
Mountain View, CA USA
Your letter doesn't mention whether or not you ride, or race. For me, professional cycling is something I'll never acheive; all the same, I follow it closely, craving new information as you described. I think the key is that I ride my bicycle every day. When I'm on my trainer, I'm trying to keep pace with Michael Rogers, and when I'm out climbing, I'm trying to hold Richard Virenque's wheel. Even when I'm just commuting, I have to come around Alessandro Petacchi before the finish line at the telephone pole.
In short, I think that a combination of imagination, competitive drive, cycling will ensure that professional cycling stays relevant to your life.
It's like being dehydrated and begging for a drop of water...then getting drowned
by too much.
Dave, I feel bad for you that something you love has been lowered to that level.
I haven't hit that stage yet, and hopefully I won't. I still love to read who's
doing what and where. Its part of what drives me to keep getting on the bike
- that and fear of losing my fitness and having to start all over again. I can
however sympathize with you.
Los Angeles, CA
No Dave, you're alone. As a former Pro, long time fan and now director of a
cycling tv show, (not yet aired) I still find the cycling race scene exciting!
I thank OLN for being the only ones to present it. I would have liked to see
the Vuelta on tv, though. There are plenty of really exciting stories out there,
you just have to be able to look past the "Scandals" that the media loves to
push in our faces.
Brian Smallwood - Director, Pro Road ACCESS
In response to Denis Manzo's letter on Lance vs Eddy - while not suggesting that Eddy Merckx had anything like as serious an illness as lance Armstrong, he did have a series of health problems. The ones I know about are: 1969 knee trouble, 1969 serious motor pace crash that left Merckx with back trouble for the rest of his career (his pacer was killed), winter of 1973-4 broken leg, 1975 perforated sinus and fractured jaw in Tour de France, 1976 abscesses on crutch during Giro that needed surgery (missed 1976 Tour because of this) and 1977-78 mononucleosis. In addition he had a number of milder illnesses possibly due to the very full, year-round racing calendar he was working to.
Lance, Eddy...Eddy, Lance...No mention of Fausto? Bartoli? Both of these men lost five years due to World War II. If Fausto Coppi won five Giro , maybe he could have won many more. Back then the Italians did not always race the Tour. I wonder...what if Bartoli or Coppi had won just three or four in those years. Maybe Lance would have tied Fausto for most wins with number six.
Come on guys, stop the arguing. Eddy has won more events than anyone else; he himself admitted that if he rode like Lance he may have won 20 Tours, and Lance says that Eddy was a more complete rider. Is Lance the best Tour de France specialist ever? Very possibly. Is he the best all-round rider?
Lance has the pleasure of riding for a sponsor whose sole goal is to win the Tour de France, because that is the focus for fans in the USA. Yet, back when Eddy/Bernard/Miguel/Jacques/Coppi et al. rode they had to comply with the demands of the sponsors - riding races locally - and remembering that they had to ride the crit circuit after the Tour to gain money for bread on the table. These guys competed in a considerably harder time than Lance's current era. They rode the six days because they needed the money. Lance himself admits that he cannot ride the World's because he is still recovering from the Tour, but the greats have all done it, and apart from Miguel Indurain (who sacrificed himself for Olano), rode a TdF wearing the Rainbow Jersey.
Lance has won more Tour de France races than any other rider - but there is more to cycling than one event. Lance has overcome cancer, which is an amazing feat in itself, and lost a couple years of riding (but he admits that he would never have won the Tour without the disease that transformed his body).
So ask yourself: would you still be arguing for Lance if he had been the best one day classic rider to never have won a Tour?
Michel van Musschenbroek
Mr Manzo, I will freely admit that I can't really point to anything that isn't going well in Lance Armstrong's life. I had not realized that my failure to contract cancer made my accomplishments less valuable. If you really want to hit these guys below the belt in 'life', you might also ask if Eddy has ever gotten divorced. You might even ask yourself what you really know about these men and their lives in the first place.
I must ask you to excuse Eddy, he probably didn't realize at the time that he had to get cancer to be the greatest cyclist. Eddie was probably even foolish enough to think that by winning more races and more prestigious races than anyone else he would be thought of as the greatest of all time. Certainly the way things have gone it doesn't look like the Grand Tour Triple is possible anymore. Sure Marco got the double, but really, is there much doubt it was drug assisted? This feat really separates Eddy from Lance, not to mention the fact he took all the jerseys in all three tours. One would argue Lance’s six tours give him an edge, since no one has been able to exceed five wins.
Personally, I think if Lance won a bunch of the big classics a couple of times and pulled off a Giro/Vuelta double then we could talk about him as POSSIBLY the greatest ever, given the era he is in. Granted Eddy was clearly not as dominant in the Tour as Lance, but come on - he won a greater number of races and won more of the sport’s prestigious races.
There is simply no direct comparison. Lance has put himself in a class all his own with his results at the Tour. Is he the greatest Tour rider ever? Of course! He probably has the ability to do this in other large races assuming he has the motivation and the time. Right now the difference is that Eddy's career is over, we know what he was capable of. Lance has a shot to be the greatest cyclist of all time given his era and I'm excited to see how it works out. Until it has, we just won't know.
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