Archive for March 2009
Okay, trick headline. He didn’t really say that–I just threw that out there because… it’s going to happen! Yes, I am the Nostradamus of bike racing predictions.
But first, congrats to the slient partner in the Lance and Aberto show for winning Castilla y Leon. I’ve always liked Levi because he’s a class guy and level headed. He just trains hard, does the team thing and when it’s his turn he delivers the goods. He never whines, makes excuses, calls other riders out, works the press for his own ends. He never flings pasta at the team dinner table. He’s a professional in every sense. Which is why he’s gonna win the Tour this year. Yes, you heard it here. Why? Because it’s just the way the universe works if he cashes in all his karma at once.
What happens, you ask incredulously? Lance crashes out of the Tour (see privious bad luck Lance post) or gets whopping cough or decides he really should be home changing diapers. Contador succumbs to Lance-induced stress after months of needling and psychological hazing by the Texan and fades terribly in the mountains. And so Levi becomes the man and Astana pushes him all the way to the podium. It could happen, it should happen. And then he will graciously ask me to write his auto-biography because I knew all along. When only one other person knew he would win, that person was me. And he and I will become best buddies and we’ll barbecue at his place in August in Santa Rosa. Why not? I’m just down the road. We’ll drink some French wine and grill some low-fat turkey burgers. We’ll laugh, trade stories and he’ll check my position on my road bike. A perfect day. I hope he has a pool for my kids.
That’s the scoop. It’s also just a simple case of obeying the cycling alphabet and following the clues. Lemond, Lance, Landis, Levi. No L, no American winner.
Fresh faced, 23 year old, Mark Cavendish, riding this first Milan San Remo, certainly fooled the big boys. They never thought he’d make it over the climbs and be there at the finish. Too young, too inexperienced, too un-Italian to win La Primavera. He carefully downplayed his own chances and sand-bagged the so-called favorites. “Ohh, I’m just riding for training, just getting my toes wet, maybe in 5 years I’ll have a shot.” While all the time he was training like mad and sucking up every word of invaluable advice from Erik Zabel. Mark went over the mountains and then it really was all over.
You can just imagine the growing shock and fear as guys like Pozzato and Rebellin and Boonen looked around after every climb. They reach the top of the Passo del Turchino. What? The kid’s still here? Then La Maine and they look back and there’s that white and yellow Columbia jersey and no, it’s not George Hincapie. Those riders were starting to get a bad, bad feeling about Cavendish. They were probably looking at each other, shugging shoulders, rolling their eyeballs in disbelief. Was he eating some new kind of energy bar? Where did he get those climber legs? You just don’t win MSR your first time. It goes against history and tradition; it’s just plain not done. Like dumping chipoltle salsa on your pasta, like painting a Ferrari pink or wearing an Armani jacket with rubber galoshes.
And damn if he isn’t still there on the Cipressa, like he’s on holiday, taking in the sights, enjoying the climb. By this time, the fear of Cavendish is setting in big time. Surely he’s going to crack on the final climb up the Poggio? Basso and Nibali set a blistering, sprinter-killing pace, then Pozzato and Rebellin kicked it into high gear, pedal to the metal, full gas, hoping to say goodbye Mark, we’ll wave to you from the podium. Just think what was going through their heads on the run into San Remo. Edit out all the Italian obscenities and it’s something like this: crap, I rode 298k just so some 23 year old punk from the isle of Man can blast by me and steal the trophy?
Yes, that would be Mark Cavendish, billy goat sprinter.
Lance Armstong was not only the greatest rider of our time but also, among his many talents, the luckiest. To see him cradling his arm on the side of the road in Spanish was to know that luck has finally deserted him. The cycling Gods have spoken: there will be no great comeback.
You have to remember that in winning seven tours Lance was the strongest, fastest, smartest, toughest and also luckiest rider in the peloton. He dodged almost every crash, never got sick and when he did hit the tarmac, he bounced back up. Lance was the human rabbits foot. Ullrich flew off the side of a hill, Beloki broke every bone in his body but Lance simply took a detour across a farmer’s field and rejoined the race. Luck has always been on Lance’s side.
All that changed with the Lance comeback: he’s crashed in every race he entered. The Cycling Gods are trying to tell Lance something but he’s not listening. They’re sending him a message: go home to Austin, do a few marathons, hang with Hollywood celebs, run for President, whatever. Just don’t race your bike anymore. There is a yin and yang to this, a buddhist balance. Lance reminds me of the old Tyler Hamilton: crashing constantly, unable to keep his bike upright.
Lance beat everyone there was to beat: Ullrich, Basso, Heras, Simoni, Cancer, the UCI drug testers and muck- raking journalists. He has triumphed over every possible adversity. But the Cycling Gods will not be over-ruled. They’re slapping him upside the Giro helmet. They’re reading him the road-rash riot act. The good fortune good old days are over. Meet the unlucky Lance.
Poor Contador. Lance looks at Alberto’s 4th place in Paris-Nice and calls his Spanish teammate “nervous.” Yes, the Contador who’s won the Tour and the Giro. Nothing like dumping on somebody playing for your side. Lance seems determined to get under Contador’s skin or should I say cranium. He’s messing with Alberto’s mind and you’d have to think, knowing Lance, that this is calculated. Lance wants another tour win and he figures he can’t beat Contador on talent so he’s going after what he percieves as the one weak point: mental strength. Which after seven tour wins kinda feels pathetic and mean-spirited and petty.
But lemme back up first and say Lance is the man, the greatest endurance athlete of our era. He’s also raised millions for cancer research and given hope to countless people. He deserves all the respect and acclaim he has world-wide. I’ve read both his books. He’s a true hero. But that said, undermining your team-mate like that is sad. Lance just can’t help himself. A scorpion only knows how to sting. He has always used every weapon to beat his opponents–even within Astana.
That “nervous” cheap shot was not something off the cuff after a few Lone Stars. He wasn’t dizzy from a 6 hour ride and having just given blood to the UCI vampires. No, he planned that remark and I’m sure he ran it by Bruyneel. It reminds me of what Bernard Hinault did to Greg Lemond–promising he’d help Greg win the Tour and then breaking his word and attacking every chance he had. I’m sure Lance will make the same claim Hinault did: I’m just making Contador stronger, pushing him, making him earn it. I’m helping the boy, can’t you see? It’s like the dad that dumps his kid in the forest 20 miles from home and makes him find his way home by himself. Come on, ya cry baby.
But what’s really going on is Lance is trying to break him down and take the number one spot. Eight Tour wins, the comeback of all comebacks. I can see the thing unfolding now. 10k to go on Tour mountain stage, an uphill finish. Having worn down Contador’s confidence, Lance finds himself up the road, a podium position waiting. Does anyone honestly think he’s going to listen when Johan Bruyneel comes on his radio ear piece and says wait for Alberto. Not going to happen — Johan doesn’t even ask. He knows Lance has already taken off.
Great champions aren’t always the nicest people. They don’t let anyone or anything get in their way, especially team-mates. Lance is famous for his competitiveness and will-power. He’s going to use every edge he can get. If I were Contador, I’d be dialing Greg Lemond for some perspective and strategy. I’m betting Greg would take that call, collect, and happily.