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Letters to Cyclingnews - July 29, 2005
France and Lance's Legacy
On July 24th 2005 it was officially over...the Armstrong Era in cycling. Lance has left the stage of cycling (especially the Tour de France) by the big door...the VERY big door. He won his seventh consecutive Tour de France, once again crushing the competition. If you listened carefully through the last cords of the "Star Spangled Banner" you could hear a collective "ouf" from millions of French cycling fans, from dozens of professional riders and from a few other freaks and goobers that call themselves journalists.
In the eye of the Euro-centric press-room dweller the opinion will prevail that Lance was not well-liked by the public at large (save for some "nouveaux-fans" from the other side of the pond), "respected" was more of an appropriate description. Be that as it may, we (the average fans) loved Lance even though the French public probably IS relieved that Lance called it quits. He was not as well liked as Greg, whose last name sounded French and who even raced for French teams.
If France has waited 20 years for a Hinault-successor they certainly did not need Lance, a guy whose mechanised mind and body combined with structured training was as "un-French" as Coca-Cola and Hot Dogs. Adding insult to injury by breaking the fabled five-win barrier and then smashing it to pieces a year later, Lance showed them who's "patron" of the "Hexagone".
So now, for the time after Lance, what can French people, cycling journalists and other riders hope for? My guess is more of the same! Yes, Lance did retire but his modus operandi did not. Johan Bruyneel will make sure that the designated Discovery-leader for the Tour 2006 will have the dedication (if not the obsession) of a Lance Armstrong. The unified team preparation should not change and will remain focused on the golden fleece of the Maillot Jaune.
That will be Lance's legacy to the sport: A new, mathematical way of approaching the Tour de France equation. And even if cynics may not believe that hard work and meticulous dedication to the cause can pay off, this will be the way of the future. And maybe, just maybe, a young French disciple of the "petite reine" may use it in the coming year(s) to bring home the big prize for France.
In relation to Gareth in San Diego's letter;
I absolutely agree with your commentary with regard to Armstrong's status and how it should be readjusted with respect to his racing calendar. I think it's difficult for many Americans to understand how pro cycling works with regard to team construction, team ambition, politics (with regard to sponsors and nationalities), and of course, finances.
Bonus systems on various teams allow for the selection of particular riders who on their own could do very well. When a team as strong as Postal/Discovery is created, there is a very strong "incentive program" involved that both attracts and retains talent, just like any major corporation would have. A huge payroll reflects a certain return on investment that the sponsors have agreed to, and view as advertising dollars. This is no different from how television works.
When NBC agrees to pay all the cast members of Seinfeld "X" millions per season/per
episode, it's due to the advertising dollars that they warrant, which in turn
is a reflection of viewership/demographics.
1) His gifts and talents, and,
Armstrong himself does not make the majority of his reportable income from his Discovery salary, but rather from endorsements (just as most top athletes such as Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher do). His massive income, I speculate, would allow him to take quite a bit of control over a team like Discovery when it comes to "bonus time."
Yes, Armstrong is talented, but he doesn't win the Tour on talent alone. Remember, when he won 2003 by about 60 seconds over Ullrich? He won that one because of the team time trial. No other team with a GC contender could come close to their time that year. The margin of time gain he received from that effort (with his teammates virtually carrying him to victory) made the crucial difference. Ullrich's crash in the final individual time trial certainly helped, too. Armstrong has the fortune of being American at the right time, and having the backing of major sponsors (both title and other) to fund a super-Tour-team whose sole obligation is to Lance's victory. No other team has this, as they are European, and have other races in mind for which they must spread their talent spectrum (and therefore, dollars) more widely. Armstrong could never do (at this point in his career and with his past teams) what an Eddy Merckx did - win everything. Why do we never see someone winning the World Cup (former) 4, 5, 6 times in a row? Yet, we've seen five five-time Tour winners?
To Louise Yaxley,
Thinking of you during your time of recovery. I am glad that 'Padge'
Despite not riding for several years I had a rapport with your passion for cycling, and still do, so enjoyed reading and watching you and others race for the Australian Women's Cycling team. 'Padge'will be good company with his great story-telling. I am glad I was able to give him a quick hug before he left for overseas; this was for you especially. I am still your no.1 fan and Dale is your no.1 bike mechanic. All the best!
All our love,
Kathryn, Dale and Hannah Woolston
Many thanks to Cyclingnews and Levi Leipheimer for the wonderful, well-written, informative Tour diary. I marvel that after a long, hard, exhausting ride, plus transfers, he still took the time to give the readers a little insight into the team and the peloton on almost a daily basis. The tribute to Gearge Hincapie was beautiful and very classy. The last stage broke my heart in two. On the one hand, I have to admire Vinokourov's gutsy move. On the other hand, I felt Levi was robbed...that changing the ground rules twice in one stage, without being really clear about the changes wasn't fair.
In short, I was really rooting for Levi to keep his top five. Come home to California, Levi, and recharge your batteries. 2006 should be a very exciting year!
Listening to Roberto Heras philosophise on the heels of an also ran Tour de France, and Saiz signing Alexander Vinokourov, was almost a laugh out loud!
Listening to Heras explain that the Vuelta is different is an understatement, and a fact that even he does not understand, yet. Has he been under a rock? The Pro Tour has changed the complexion of the Giro, and it will change the complexion of the Vuelta too. He's not going to be able to hide in his native country's national tour anymore. The 20 top teams that make up the Pro Tour will all be there, just as they were at the Giro, and this year the Giro was of a quality it hadn't seen in many years. True, all the teams won't be sending their "A" Team, But I predict Heras will not take this years Vuelta, no matter what his form is. I think Saiz knows that Heras is just about spent. And so the investment in Vinokourov.
Vinokourov made Jan Ullrich push to prove his team captain status. Do you really think that Heras can stand that kind of competition from inside the team? Saiz won't hold Vino back; he wants to win, for his sponsors and for his pride. But Saiz has to get a little closer to the 21st century, and start planning a little more scientifically about Grand Tour preparations, if he wants to start winning them again. The idea of putting one before the other next year, because Heras is better in his second Tour, is kind of like throwing the paint against the wall, and then calling it "Art". Not quite the way Bruyneel (whose Teams have won nine of the past 20 Grand Tours, and could have had 10 if Heras was stronger in the time trial!) or Riis put their winning teams together. Anyway, Bueno Suerte! Saiz and Heras! This year's Vuelta promises to be very interesting.
Ralph Michael Emerson
After a couple of days recovering from major sleep deprivation (the Tour is shown in the small hours here in NZ), I have spent some time reflecting on this incredible and absorbing Tour that brings to a close the Lance Era.
Firstly, it's historical importance. Lance Armstrong's amazing story is unparalleled in sports history. I am unable to come up with a precedent in any sport, let alone cycling, where an athlete has so utterly dictated the terms of his retirement. He told us how he wanted to go out, and he did it to the letter.
Lance Armstrong has single-handedly brought cycling to the front pages of newspapers and lead stories of TV news all around the world. Even non-cyclists know the incredible story, even if they don't fully understand the Tour itself!
This final chapter in the Armstrong Tour fable was Lance's most sublime display of masterly control yet...Not perhaps since the Hinault years have we been blessed to see a rider dominate so totally so many riders attacking him so often. Lance never really looked like he was at more than 80%, except perhaps when Basso occasionally pushed him. How many separate attacks did he shut down on his own-not counting Ullrich's help shutting down Vinokourov?
Talking of Vino, what a great Tour he had. His victories were spectacular, especially his win on the Champs-Elysees. He may have been tactically futile, but what talent and guts he has!
Kudos too to Jan Ullrich. I've never been his greatest fan, but I enjoyed his race very much. In his declining years he's never fought so hard...despite being comprehensively beaten by LA in all areas, he never gave up and it was only right that he should ascend the podium with Lance. It's just a shame for him that he has had to be Armstrong's nemesis over the last seven years, rather than the winner himself. What could he have achieved with a more supple pedalling style and some better tactical advice?
Basso looks like the next Tour winner to me. He has become a true all-rounder, and should push on to victory next year with the help of Bjarne Riis.
There were the usual failures: Heras (again), Mayo (ditto), Botero (double ditto!), Mick Rogers and Kloeden, even before the broken wrist. There were also poor Brad McGee and Joseba Beloki, among others.
There were some guys who were sort of there, but not quite. Landis and Leipheimer and Mancebo all showed well but not enough. Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde's performances bode well for the future, as does the unlucky David Zabriskie. I thoroughly loved watching Oscar Pereiro, and can't help but feel that he could challenge the for the podium if his talent was more focussed.
The brace of Rabobank wins, Boonens opening and McEwen's gutsy fightback, and the great ride by George Hincapie to win at Pla d'Adet were all well deserved and special moments, among many others!
The final time trial was amazing. Lance putting his absolutely last everything to win from a magnificent Jan Ullrich. It must have been incredible for LA to know that he didn't have to save anything for the future...I felt for poor Rasmussen. What a devastatingly heartbreaking way to lose his podium spot. Hopefully he'll be the tougher for it in future Tours.
The race itself was on an interesting and sometimes innovative parcours that offered something to most of the field, and only lacked for another couple of mountain-top finishes. The finale into Paris was exciting and emotional. It was great to see Armstrong moving through the field and caravan saying his farewells, and nice to see how many riders and team managers wanted to pay homage to him, too. I thought Lance showed great magnanimity and humility in the midst of never before seen triumph.
Thanks Lance Armstrong for thirteen incredible, inspiring and astounding years. You will be sorely missed when the Tour rolls out of Strasbourg next year - a fan forever.
Wellington, New Zealand
I have been proven correct (from my earlier letter). Yes, Jan didn't win again. Sir Lance-a-lot breezed through to his seventh (congrats to him by the way, he is a machine). And even though Ivan came in second, it was obvious that Jan is far from finished.
Had the Tour had the normal two long time trials in it and had Jan not crashed (quite heavily I might add) twice, I think he would have placed second to Lance again. Ivan is a great climber but Jan was able to keep with the best most of the time, limiting his losses in the mountains as he always has, and then putting time into the best (save Armstrong) in the time trials. If there had been a second time trial he would have made up most of the 1:40 to Basso that he lost (and Rassmussen wouldn't have been within smelling distance of him, so sorry about your luck in the final time trial; "I can hold onto third place," yeah right). Can't wait for next year!
Oh, and to those that said that Vino or Klody were the strongest in the T-Mobile line up take a look at the final standings. Vino had a great race but as usual he imploded on one of the difficult mountain stages (losing nine minutes in time; can't do that and win overall, sorry). Vino will always be competitive at the Tour but he will never win it! You can't win by attacking all the time in the Tour unless your name is either Merckx or Hinault.
Jan, even though you get little respect from the press or your own people, you will always have one fan who believes in you - and his name is...
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Give us a break. Lance is not the first yellow jersey to receive "special treatment." I remember watching Hinault, Fignon, Roche, LeMond all climb into a chopper at the end of stages to be whisked down the mountain. Race leaders deserve special treatment - they're leading the race for Goodness sake.
This is going to sound way anal, but here goes! We've seen the behind-the-scenes stories of Lance in the wind tunnel, and heard the various specialists try to smooth out every rough edge on the bike, the gear, the uniform, and the rider's position. And I've seen a couple of features on Nike, as they vary the texture along different sections, play with seams, and work every angle of the skin suit to tweak an extra smidgeon of aero-ness here and there. And then, after they get it perfect...someone safety-pins two paper numbers onto his butt. So my first question is why hasn't someone come up with a clear flap that the number would slide into, like an aero skin-suit trapper-keeper document protector? And secondly - come on, it's 2005 - haven't we come up with anything better than safety pins and Tyvek numbers? (My wife counted nine pins on one rider as he was sitting in the chute.)
Always love your column. Take care and may the wind always be at your back.
Peachtree City, GA
If we could have read Lance's mind...
Trek TTX OCLV Carbon Fibre Frame: $10,000
Lance, thanks for the memories!
I just counted up, eleven out of 20 stages were won by riders over 30
Winner (Armstrong) - 33 years old
The older guys seemed to have finished stronger too. Of the last ten stages eight of the winners were over 30, two of them 35.
This is in the toughest sporting event going. Might this not mean that 'old' for a cyclist needs some redefinition? Is the well fed, well trained body able to stay near its peak longer? Am I right in thinking that the older guys fell off less often? These figures might also give team managers cause to reflect in their recruitment policy.
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