Archive for the ‘Tour de France’ Category
Scary, bewildering, genius, medically possible?
First, there were was the startling news that Armstrong had ordered up some bizarre body scan work. Why, for what purpose? Was this another competitive edge he was trying to find, another high tech way to perfect his aerodynamic position on the bike?
Knowing Lance is relentlessly focused on the destruction of Alberto Contador, what was the scan really about? Then Nike released the new “human chain” video and the pieces began to fall into place. The conclusion was at once terrifying and brilliant.
Since the end of the 2009 Tour de France Armstrong repeatedly said he can’t beat Contador man-to-man. Even best friend and Radio Shack director Johan Bruyneel said it would be nearly impossible.
We thought we understood the new strategy when Radio Shack stripped Contador of all his best tour riders. If the Spaniard was dominant then make his team weak– a game of nine against one.
That appears just a smoke screen for the mind blowing tactic the Texan now has in prototype form. As the Nike video made startlingly clear, Armstrong has decided to clone himself and build a super team of Armstrongs to win the 2010 Tour de France.
Once the shock wears off the logic and bold thinking seems inevitable. Since his battle with cancer Lance has become an expert in bio-chemistry and physiology and a master at evaluating the best protocols and what cutting edge procedures give him the best odds.
Then consider his close and long standing relationship with pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. There should be no doubt whatsoever that Bristol is deep into gene splicing and chromosomal manipulation. Wen Lance asks Trek to build a faster time trial bike, they jump. Did he ask Bristol to clone him a dozen indentical tour winner copies — a fair question, we think.
There are even rumors that Armstrong plans to put his body into cryogenic hibernation for unfreezing in the year 2103. He wants to win the 200th anniversary edition of the Tour de France. Bold, brilliant and cool in more ways than one.
And finally, admit that the seven time tour winner is a master of psychological games designed to confuse, weaken and destabilize his opponents. The mere threat of cloning of an army of Armstrongs, multiple copies of Lance, hangs over the tour and Alberto Contador is a seriously worried man.
Setting aside the ethical questions and Tour regulations, imagine a Radio Shack squad with nine Lance Armstrongs. Who to follow, who to chase and half of them are always rested — a nightmare for Alberto’s weak Astana team.
Picture this scenario in the Alps: three to four Armstrongs pacing Armstrong up the mountain, relentless attacking the Pistelero who is out of bullets because there are too many Lances to shoot. Which one is the original Lance? Kill one and Lacne simply pulls another version out of the Shack bus. Things may get crowded on that top step of the podium, but rest assured Lance will fit them all on.
From what we saw in the Nike propaganda piece, Lance Armstrong now has a working prototype version of himself, in fact, according to our count, at least 20.
The implications boggle the mind: are they ready, can they talk, are they up to the rigors of a three weak tour? What generation are they and how close is Armstrong to unleashing them all? Radio Shack replicants, is what we’re dealing with here.
All we know for sure is that when Alberto Contador saw the Nike video of twenty Lance Armstrongs riding at warp speed in a tight pace-line, he nearly choked on his tapas.
News that the Passage du Gois will be on the route of the 2011 Tour de France reminded us that it’s not much of a passage. Various accounts describe it as wet and slippery and dangerous and even seaweed-covered. You could call it the Passage du Gall, as in who would dare pull this kind of stunt?
Imagine crashing out of the tour on the passage because your tire slid on a beached sardine or pelobate cultipede — the local species of toad. Sacre blue, mes amis. This place is for sailing and not cycling.
It’s also proof that the Gallic sense of humor does exist. The term passage would be generous and a part-time lie — twice a day the 4.5km cobblestone paved sandbank causeway, which connects the Noirtmoutier island to mainland France, is under water thanks to the Atlantic tides.
The tall post you see in the distance is called a “balise.” There are a good number and they serve as a self-rescue option — if you’re trapped by the fast rising tide, you climb up and wait a few hours for the waters to recede. The passage is better suited to snorkel gear than a titanium race bike.
Armstrong started as a triathlete so the man can handle a potential swim portion of the Tour de France — if he’s still unretired. But what about Schleck and Contador? How will they deal with swimming their way to Paris? There’s been much talk about practicing for the cobblestone sections that open the 2010 tour. The year after promises a new menace –beware the water park excursion.
Twisted Spoke says, bring the speedo. And stay on top of this passage du gois deal — it even has a facebook page.
This just in from Radio Lance: he will not be the sole leader of the Radio Shack team in the upcoming Tour de France.
“The days of this team being built around me are done,” said Armstrong. “I’m 38 now, I’ll be 39 this season – it would be irresponsible to build it around me. Going into the Tour we have to look at Levi [Leipheimer], [Andreas] Klöden, the tactics, the ideas that we use…”
The statement frames the tactics and sets up the possibility for plenty of surprises for July’s battle in France. The Radio Shack team versus Alberto Contador and his leftovers. Manager Johan Bruyneel and Armstrong will have Leipheimer and Kloden attacking at every opportune moment, keeping the Spaniard guessing and wearing down his weaker team.
Contador admitted as much, telling the Spanish newspaper Barca, ”I am realistic and I know that I have a weaker team than in previous years.” For that reason we’ll have to work hard on motivation in training so that we know what we can achieve and how to do it.”
The scenario becomes even more dramatic if the race radio ban goes into effect, making it harder to make rapid decisions on controlling the multi-headed monster from Radio Shack.
The possibility of tactical mistakes will escalate and that clearly works to the advantage of Armstrong and Bruyneel. Contrast the Grand tour experience of Bruyneel (ten victories) with Astana manager Yvon Sanquer (one Vuelta back in 2001) and you have a mismatch.
In his first official press conference for the new Radio Shack squad, Armstrong sounded more confident than ever about his comeback and his team.
“We have the best team in the world. Of the 9 riders from last year’s Tour de France squad from Astana, 8 are now on Radio Shack. We took the vast majority of the riders from the team that we wanted, so it remains a strong team. We lack that super high level favorite like Alberto [Contador], but I like the chances with the strong guys we have.”
Meanwhile his Spanish rival is already apologizing for his back-up band and hedging his bets. “I know that it will be a difficult year; it’s possible I won’t be able to win the Tour even if I am in good shape. People will be focusing a lot on me, but my rivals know that the team I will have is not the same as before.” Uh, that’s because they’re all wearing Radio Shack jerseys.
The first Astana camp begins this week. With so many new riders coming in, the Spaniard will need name-tags — “Hi, I’m Alberto” scribbled in red ink. Twisted Spoke hopes Yvon Sanquer has some team building exercises in mind, like playing Twister, Kazak Karaoke and flamenco dance lessons.
Armstrong, for his part, thinks he’ll ride even stronger in 2010 than this year after having raced a full season. “All the training, the Tour and the Giro [d'Italia], that will benefit me going forward in 2010. This December already feels different than last December.”
We’re sure Alberto Contador would say things feel different, too.
Alberto Contador is not yellow.
In an interview yesterday with Australia’s Sport&Style Magazine, Lance Armstrong confirmed what we learned in the 2009 Tour de France: Alberto Contador is incredibly tough — mentally. He was never afraid of big, bad Lance.
While admitting to manufacturing conflicts in the past (read Jan Ullrich), Armstrong said his feud with the Spanish climber was real and paid him the ultimate compliment. ”He is strong physically, but he is possibly even stronger mentally. He ain’t easy to disintegrate,” said Armstrong.
You can be sure Plan D for Disintegration was in full effect during the tour. Armstrong is a master of the art of mental warfare. Many journalists predicted Armstrong would mentally wear down Contador. That if he couldn’t crack him in the mountains, he would break him down in the press, the team bus, at the team dinner table.
The constant stress of his forced cohabitation with the Texan would take its toll and somewhere on the mountain roads of France, Alberto would run out of gas, exhausted by Lance’s psychological games — the tweets, the innuendo, the pasta-flinging, short-sheeting his bed.
It never happened. That was the surprise of the 2010 Tour de France. Kid Contador was no kid — he had the legs and the head to beat Armstrong and Schleck. He was yellow alright, top step of the podium, kisses and stuffed lion for the second time. For Armstrong it must have been a shock to discover how many bullets El Pistelero had in the chamber.
Vuelta winner and former Armstrong teammate Roberto Heras once said Armstrong wasn’t physically stronger than any of the top tour riders, he simply believed 100% that he would win. He was on another level mentally. It appears that Alberto Contador, at just 26 years of age, is at that level, too.
Which means that in his quest, at age 38, for an astonishing 8 Tour de France victories, Armstrong is running out of drawing boards. Can’t beat Alberto physically and can’t beat him mentally. An insurmountable problem for every rider except the greatest endurance athlete of our time.
Armstrong assembles his Tour de France think tank and they run the numbers. They look at the power outputs, wattage, time trial splits and the results of the mental stress tests Lance ran on Alberto. Conclusion: Contador cannot be beaten mano-a-mano. But the Texan has beaten a Big C before — there had to be another way.
The brilliance of Lance and why he could run the universe if he was in the mood, is that he accepts the numbers. He immediately moves to the next level: teamo-a-teamo. Armstrong simply turned the equation upside down. New number: nine against one. Yeah, that sounds way better.
In effect, Lance and Radio Shack director Johan Bruyneel decided on a new plan D. If they couldn’t destabilize the Spaniard, they’d destabilize his team. So they gutted Astana’s roster, performing an Astanadectomy that removed the top eleven support riders. This included podium finishers Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden — not to mention the shoe shine guy.
The Kazak bozos behind Astana were furious but the scenario was delicious: Armstrong and company driving the pace on the monster Col de Tourmalet climb and poor Alberto helpless and team-less. Even Contador’s compatriot, climber Haimar Zubeldia had jumped ship for Radio Shack.
It was a ruthless, calculated move from Lance and former Astana director sportif Bruyneel — who had more than a few grudges to settle with Astana over what he claimed was their constant meddling and ingratitude for making Astana the top team in the world.
Referring to Contador, Armstrong once famously tweeted that “there’s no I in team.” A few months later, there was in fact no team left to support the Spaniard in the 2010 Tour de France except doping pariah and wild card Alexander Vinokourov.
That is the tactical plan for Radio Shack for the Tour de France. Isolate Contador in the mountains and attack. The genius of Armstrong is that he’s already isolated him about eight months early. Plan Destabilization done.
Forgive me oh Lord, for I have succumbed to the use of a cheap pun headline.
Nevertheless, that’s the plan Andy Schleck has in mind to beat two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. He’s not going to beat him in the mountains or time trials, he’s going to whomp him on the cobblestones. Yes, Shleck’s going to stone Alberto to death.
The Saxo bank rider and bald brain trust Bjarne Riis have identified stage 3 as the tipping point, the Spanish rider’s soft underbelly. The 207-kilometre stage from Wanze to Arenberg has seven sectors of pavé, 13.2 kilometers of Roubaix-ish cobblestones.
“If there is a chance, we’ll go for it. We will train as much as necessary to be familiar with this stage,” said Schleck, who last month called Contador “da man.”
And while Contador will have the invaluable help and experience of nobody you can name, Shleck with have Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady, two Paris-Roubaix winners, at his side.
Schleck told Le Quotidien, “his problem will be the pavé. He could suffer, while [brother] Fränk and I will be able to rely on specialists.” And he’s not talking about the orthodontist, fellow cyclists.
Do not be surprised to discover later that Bjarne Riis has asked race officials to dig up a few sections of road and install more cobblestones. Prices on cobblestone have never been lower. Andy Schleck thinks he’s found a chink in Alberto’s armor.
“He does show some weaknesses, like this year at Paris-Nice. So he is not unbeatable. To succeed, we must do everything at 100 per cent, ” said Schleck.
The back-up plan is just to throw rocks at Contador when he crashes.
To the shock of absolutely no one, Alberto Contador officially dislikes Lance Armstrong.
Speaking with the Spanish media in Madrid, Contador announced that Armstrong is a great rider but on a personal level “I have never had great admiration for him and I never will.” That is the sound of gloves coming off.
Now that the Tour de France is over, the post-tour recriminations are in full swing. Contador went on to say that “the situation was tense and delicate because the relationship between myself and Lance extended to the rest of the staff. On this Tour, the days in the hotel were harder than the those on the road.” He’s not talking about lumpy beds, poor room service and no mints under the pillow, either.
Look for Mr. Armstrong to tweet some counter-punches and then unleash his PR machine on the Spanish rider. While Spain may provide a sympathetic audience for Contador, it’s difficult to win a popularity contest against a man who’s raised $250 million for caner research.
The tension between the two giants of cycling was both understandable and predictable. Johan Bruyneel did a masterful job, for the most part, of keeping the squabbles in house. Astana rode a strong tour, placing Contador in yellow and Armstrong in third. But with both men going to different teams, there’s no reason to make nice.
The winner of the 2009 Tour summed it up this way: “My relationship with Lance Armstrong is zero.” It’s over 11 months to the next Tour de France but the war has already begun.
Andy Schleck should be carded.
Carlos Sastre woke up on the wrong side of the tour.
In a rambling interview with the Spanish media, Sastre said he felt disrespected as the reigning tour champion. Normally one of the classiest and quietest riders in the peloton, Sastre had plenty to get off his chest.
He was fed up with being asked to add fuel to the supposed tension between Armstrong and Contador. He was frustrated with this years’ route and unhappy with the strategy employed by the teams. He also said the breakfast croissants have been consistently stale.
Sorting through the tangle of statements, the root of his discontent seemed to be that the tour was boring. Few places to attack and tactics that put the emphasis on control over aggression. “It’s a boring race, from outside and inside,” he said. “Maybe this is the Tour de France they [the organisers] want, and this is what you have now.” Setting aside the personal annoyances, he did have a point.
Subtract the hoopla of Lance Armstrong’s return after 3 1/2 years and the media-magnified tension between Armstrong and his teammate Alberto Contador and you have an under-whelming first two weeks. Not for the hardcore cycling fans but the general public tuning in to follow Lance. The casual fan isn’t up on tour history, rivalries or the many strategic subtleties. They want action and attacks, daring-do, bigger heroes, more obvious villians.
One criticism of the Lance tour wins was their methodical quality. The best rider with the best team controlling everything. Outcomes pre-ordained, a clinical approach that seemed to lack a certain joie de vivre. Johan Bruyneel didn’t invent that approach but he certainly perfected it. The French hated it. No one doubted Armstrong was the strongest; it was the method that annoyed them.
That is why the Tour De France wanted to explore stages without radios. They hoped to reward boldness and free the race from the computer calculations that pulled back every breakaway. For better or worse, the riders disagreed. Ask Carlos how he feels about radios.
The Spanish and Italian climbers want passion, spontaneity, bold attacks, the glory of risking everything and the fame of heroic failure. They would prefer to lose beautifully than win without style. But that’s not the way the modern tour is raced. Carlos Sastre isn’t happy about it.
(Special thanks to Elena Toboni for the photo. Here is her Flikr gallery.)
The only thing all parties agree on is what a darn shame it was that poor old George Hincapie didn’t get a yellow jersey.
What nobody is willing to admit or accept is their part in keeping him from it. By the time the microphones were turned on, Astana, Garmin and Columbia all had their sworn statements, alibis and fingers pointed at somebody else. You’ll find the court transcripts here at Velonews.
Fans around the world also debated just exactly who did what to who and why. For example, why didn’t Astana give their old buddy more of a cushion in case Columbia whipped up the chase? Why didn’t Columbia slow down a bit more for their loyal team-mate? Just what reason was there for Garmin to put three riders up front to drive the chase? The safety and GC position of Wiggins and Vande Velde was not a real issue. Were they just sticking it to Columbia and trying to mess them up? Why didn’t Lance Armstrong, the boss of the peloton and George’s close friend, simply say to all the riders, “George gets this one.”
In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter what anybody said. The only opinion that counts is the one from George Hincapie. And after a night to cool off and ample time to reflect and soften his statements, he wasn’t changing his story. He blamed Astana, felt betrayed and saw no reason to alter that opinion.
Sports are win or lose but professional cycling has a code of honor, its unwritten rules, and all the riders know them. George Hincapie thought the code would work in his favor, a well-liked, 16 year veteran with good friends in all three teams. He expected them to grant him the favor of a yellow jersey.
Unfortunately, on stage 14 nobody else was reading the code. You could say, well, that’s bike racing or that poor, hard-luck George got shafted. As five time tour winner and noted sourpuss Bernard Hinault once said, “no gifts, no gifts.”
This is an up-date to the google-frenzy that occurred after Versus interviewed Laura Antoine, the American podium girl. It now appears that she was a dancer for several years at the Lido Cabaret club in Paris. This is a video link from her sporza interview that’s half in French, half in English. Perhaps Alberto Contador can ask her for a dance when he rolls down the Champs Elysees in Paris.