The verbal sparring between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador is making big headlines. Since the conclusion of the race in Paris on Sunday the sparks have been flying as both riders have taken off the gloves and are airing their feelings on the past few weeks with stunning candor. It is clear from the remarks that one, they will not be riding together on the same team next year and two, there must really have been a lot more tension within the team at the Tour than was evident during the race.
My analysis of the situation is that Lance is upset that Contador has not given more credit to his team, Astana, for his win. Lance was always about the team, but Contador has been less than forthcoming on his appreciation for the efforts of his teammates. It may well be that Contador feels he won the race on his own or that there was so much disharmony on Team Astana that he just can't bring himself to pretend that everyone on the squad was supportive of his quest.
Contador's comments about Lance probably have root in the same soil especially if Alberto believes that Lance was trying to turn the team against him. I could see some manoeuvering inside the team for support early on in the race, but as the Tour progressed and it was clear that Contador was the stronger rider, the team should have been more committed to Alberto.
This situation is similar to the Greg Lemond/Bernard Hinault affair in the 1986 Tour when the two teammates were rivals. The difference is that in 1986, Lemond and Hinault were first and second place. If either faltered (and not both) then the team still rode into Paris in the yellow jersey. In 2009, the situation, while it appeared to be similar was significantly different.
I think one of the reasons Contador may have felt betrayed is that Andy Schleck was positioned in second place between Alberto and Lance. Andy was far enough ahead of Lance that if Contador had faltered and Schleck inherited the jersey, he could have kept it all the way to Paris. My guess is that even though Andy Schleck was looking very strong in the mountains, Lance always believed that he could take significant time out of Schleck in the Annecy time trial. That made the gap between the two not as big as it appeared.
The result was that Lance probably always felt that Contador was his main rival, even when Andy Schleck was ahead of him in the mountains. However, the climb of the Cote du Bluffy from the south was a much more difficult ascent than first thought. This meant that Andy Schleck's climbing prowess was able to offset some of his weakness on the flatter portions of the time trial. So, in the end, Schleck was a worthy rival and Lance was not just battling Contador for the yellow jersey in Paris.
It is unfortunate that Lance and Alberto have been carrying out their post-Tour war of words in public. Lance's third place was an incredible result for him especially considering that he was somewhat inconsistent in both the mountains and the time trials. As I said in an earlier posting, if Lance hadn't taken those 41 seconds in the crosswinds to Le Grande Motte way back on stage 3, he would have finished fifth place overall. Lance should be celebrating his podium finish. He probably is happy with his finishing position and his comments about Contador are just a response to Alberto not giving enough credit to the work by the team.
This might start sounding like a broken record, but come Saturday in Monaco, the great battle of wills between Astana teammates Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador will begin. Certainly, there will be other challengers, but these two are the main favorites for good reason and deserve all the hype. Lance and Alberto are very well matched physically so I think it will come down to the mental game to determine the winner of the 2009 Tour.
Right after the Giro, I wouldn't have given Lance much of a chance, but after being with him at the Nevada City Bicycle Classic, two weeks ago, and seeing how fit and motivated he was, Armstrong is a man on a mission. He is starting the race five pounds lighter than he ever did during his seven victories and his eyes show a keen focus and determination. Lance is not coming to France to ride in support of Alberto Contador.
Alberto Contador is probably feeling a bit lonely on Team Astana with only his old teammate from Liberty Seguros, Sergio Paulinho, as a trusted ally. Rumour has it that Contador might be getting some help from the riders on Caisse d'Epargne if he needs it. I am hoping that things remain civil on Astana. There is no need for a replay of the 1986 race where American Greg LeMond and Frenchman Bernard Hinault while they teammates, rode as rivals.
With all this talk of teammates and allies, it is probably fitting that the first stage of the Tour is a 9-mile(15km) individual time trial in the hills surrounding Monaco. That means a head-to-head battle between Lance and Alberto with the best man on the day assuming an edge in the fight for team leadership. With all the "Lance versus Alberto" hype in the past nine months, look for Contador to come out blazing, trying to prove that he is the true team leader of Astana.
However, Lance is a master tactician and will do everything in his power to try to match Contador. Unless we are talking Brett Favre, I am a fan of comebacks so I hope that Lance can match Alberto and if he does, the battle of wills will really be on.
You are probably thinking that the mental toughness of a rider is always part of the equation, but given that the two riders in question here are on the same team makes the mental aspect way more critical. Alberto and Lance will be spending way more time in close proximity than just during the race. Any gamesmanship can be played out long after each day's podium ceremony has concluded.
So, while it is clear that you have to be physically strong to win the Tour de France, this year's victor will also need to be as tough if not tougher mentally to prevail, especially if your name is Lance or Alberto.
One of the iconic figures in the sport of professional bike racing, Frenchman Laurent Fignon, announced today that he is suffering from intestinal cancer. Those new to the sport might not know the name, but in the 1980's he was one of the best stage racers in the peloton winning the 1983 and 1984 Tours de France and the 1989 Giro d'Italia. The Professor, as he was known to his French fans, was best remembered for his eight second loss to Greg LeMond in the final stage TT of the 1989 Tour.
Once again, cancer has proven that it plays no favorites and while Fignon has acknowledged that the disease is at a very advance stage, he will fight with all his will to beat it. He has already undergone two rounds of chemotherapy, but admits that the road to recovery will be difficult.
Fignon was a virtual unknown when he won the 1983 Tour de France. When he faced four-time Tour champ, Bernard Hinault, and Tour first-timer, Greg LeMond, in the 1984 edition of the race, nobody believed that he could repeat his victory. But, that he did and in convincing fashion. His victory in the 1989 Giro d'Italia made him the overwhelming favorite for the Tour that year, but Greg LeMond hung tough with the Frenchman in the mountains and then uncorked that amazing final day TT in Paris to wrestle the jersey from Fignon.
In the 1990's Fignon bought the Paris-Nice bike race and ran that event until his divorce forced him to sell the race to ASO, who also owns the Tour. Recently, Fignon opened the Laurent Fignon Center outside Bagneres de Bigorre at the foot of the Col du Tourmalet. The center is a state-of-the-art facility offering coaching, training, and just about everything associated with riding a bike.
My buddy Chris Soden owns and manages Pro Peloton, one of the coolest bike shops in Boulder. Last week, we were talking about Greg Lemond's recent appearance at Lance Armstrong's Interbike press conference. Chris, who is also a pretty wise dude as well, wondered why Greg couldn't behave like Hammering Henry Aaron when Barry Bonds was closing in on Hank's home run record.
Unlike Lance Armstrong, who never tested positive for any performance enhancing drugs(PEDs), it is pretty clear that Barry Bonds used steroids for at least several years during his career. And, it is pretty clear that steroids were the drug of choice for the home run hitters in the major league. Given that information there was more than enough reason for Aaron to be upset at baseball's most important record being broken by Bonds.
We will never know how Aaron felt inside, but we do know how he responded publicly. When Barry hit #756 that summer evening in San Francisco, the scoreboard played a video message from Hammering Hank congratulating Barry on his accomplishment. Aaron was gracious in his praise, a true gentleman. There was no hint of negative feelings toward Barry.
It may be argued that Barry and Hank are from different generations and baseball has changed since Aaron set his record way back in the 70's. It also may be argued that Aaron was doing baseball a disservice by not publicly calling out the cheating in the sport and potentially helping baseball clean up its act.
Should Greg have followed Aaron's lead and been gracious about Lance breaking his cycling records? Riders such as 5-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain and arguably the world's greatest cyclist, Eddy Merckx, praised Armstrong when he broke their records. Is there a better way for Greg to accomplish his agenda rather than making direct attacks on Armstrong?
We all do what we feel we need to do and Greg feels the need to hound Armstrong and hammer his agenda whenever possible. I said this in my blog from the 2007 Tour that I would really like to know and understand Greg's motives for his behavoir toward Lance. I don't think he has ever really answered that question point blank which is too bad. Until then, we can only speculate and until we really know, our understanding of the situation is lacking.
I don't want to spend every single blog talking about Lance and his comeback, but the subject is a pretty target rich environment and it makes for very interesting commentary. The topic of this blog is to address some of the comments made by Greg Lemond at the Lance Armstrong press conference last Thursday at the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas.
One of the points Greg appeared to be making was that he felt it was insufficient to just test Lance's biological parameters. Lemond wanted Lance to also be tested for such things as Max V02 and power output. Lemond's comments bring up two interesting points. First, if the UCI, and WADA for that matter, are going to use biological passports as their primary weapon against doping, WADA needs to come up with an official list of the parameters which will be tested. Basically, there needs to be some agreed-to official list that makes everyone feel good about the comprehensiveness of the monitoring.
Secondly, I think it is unfair to Lance to require that his Max V02 and power output be made public. Remember, Lance has stated that the results of all his drug testing will be put on a website for all the world to see. I commend Lance for doing this, but he is taking a bit of a risk in that his public values might give his competitors an inside look into his conditioning. That is why things such as power output can't really be made public. Lance 2.0 has stated that he didn't feel ready for the Tour unless he was generating 6.7 watts/kg. If his power output is made public and it is below that level, his competitors may sense weakness and attack.
Of course, Lance could use the website to provide some disinformation to his competitors, but that would be against the purpose of the site so that is out of the question. If Greg Lemond really feels that the parameters specified by WADA for the biological passport are inadequate, he should take his case directly to WADA.
Lance Armstrong held two press conferences this week, the first in New York on Wednesday and the second on Thursday at Interbike in Las Vegas to announce the plans for his return to cycling. After the dust had settled we now know enough to create an interesting picture. Lance will be riding for Team Astana, re-united with his former Team Director Johan Bruyneel. He will receive no salary for his services, but will be asking the team to pay for certain things, one such item is the cost of his drug testing. His major reason for returning to competitive cycling is to improve the global awareness of cancer.
Lance has asked Don Catlin who ran the WADA-accredited drug testing lab at UCLA to spearhead the testing effort which will be longitudinal meaning that Catlin will monitor a number of physiological parameters over time, looking for abnormal fluctuations which might indicate use of performance enhancing drugs(PED's). This is very similar to the WADA proposal for biological passports. The results of the tests will be posted on a website for all to see.
When it comes to a racing schedule, Armstrong has committed to the Australian Tour Down Under in January 2009 and the Amgen Tour of California in February 2009, but his plans for the Tour de France are not clear at this time.
Armstrong is also creating a U23 development team built around 2008 Beijing Olympian and teen phenom Taylor Phinney. About nine riders are expected to join Phinney with Axel Merckx to be the team director.
There was a bit of drama at the Las Vegas press conference when Greg Lemond asked several questions about the type of longitudinal tests to which Lance will be subjected. While Greg may have had a valid point to make, his rambling style made his questions seem more like a whitch hunt than a direct request for information/clarification. If Greg is sincere in his concerns about Lance's return to cycling, he needs to be more coherent and concise in his questioning. To his credit, Lance handled the whole affair very diplomatically . Hopefully, Greg can effectively communicate his concerns so incidents such as this do not become commonplace.
Obviously, there are many more details forthcoming and we should learn more about them in the coming months. Suffice it to say that Armstrong is back and he has set up a scenario in which there should be no doubts as to whether he is racing clean. Welcome back Lance.
In a stunning move today, John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles announced that the company has severed ties with Greg Lemond. Trek has sold bicycles under the Lemond brand since 1995; the current contract between Trek and the three-time Tour de France winner was set to expire in 2010. Trek has similar contracts with bicycling icons Gary Fisher and Keith Bontrager which are not affected by this announcement.
The action by Trek appears to be precipitated by a recent lawsuit filed by Lemond against Trek on March 20. In the suit Lemond contends that Trek has not been fulfilling its obligations to grow the Lemond brand. Of particular concern to Lemond was the lack of any penetration for Lemond bicycles in the international market something which he contends was specifically called out in the existing contract.
Trek contends that Lemond's actions, Greg has given many public statements to the press in recent years about the drug problem in pro cycling, have seriously impaired Trek's ability to successfully market the Lemond brand. Burke also confirmed that Trek had met with Lemond this past fall and at that time indicated that Trek would not be renewing their contract when it ended in 2010.
We can spend a lot of bits and bytes prying into what is really happening behind closed doors. I am sad to see the relationship end because the partnership between Trek and Lemond produced some really cool bicycles. In fact, it could be argued that the Tete de Course, the flagship ride of the Lemond line was just as good or better than Trek's vaunted Madone.
Obviously, Lemond and Trek, within legal boundaries, are free to do whatever they choose. Hopefully, after the dust has settled from their split, both will flourish and we as consumers will be even better off.
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