June 30, 2004
Armstrong: L.A. Confidential 'just another spur'
Lance Armstrong says his most recent performance tests "are very, very good" going into his attempt at a sixth consecutive Tour de France victory.
"You have to recognise that the crucial days of the race are still three weeks away, so it’s important to be ready, but not at the limit," the 32-year-old affirmed. "It’s better to be at 90 per cent on the eve of the race, as opposed to 101 per cent. Nevertheless, the results from last few performance tests are very, very good."
In an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport (in Italian | rough English translation (and I mean rough, he's "Armstrong Nozzles" throughout)), Armstrong rates his opponents: Ullrich 1st, Hamilton 2nd, Mayo 3rd. Armstrong has always maintained that Ullrich is the biggest threat, but he places Hamilton over Mayo because of his stronger time-trialing.
Armstrong throws a few bones to the tifosi, the rabid Italian cycling fans, giving props to Italian phenom Damiano Cunego, and suggesting he thinks Gilberto Simoni will be more involved in this year's Tour.
Armstrong also said more about L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong than I think he had before:
"For me it’s just another spur," Armstrong said. "Walsh and Ballester are journalists that the press room knows well, and for whom I don’t think it has much respect."
Armstrong then alleged: "Ballester had to leave L’Equipe due to unethical behaviour. He seems a desperate kind of guy… He and Walsh worked on this book for three to five years, perhaps even longer. They spoke to hundreds, maybe thousands of people and in the end found two people who told a few nice little stories – all of which were false – and declined to print what the other 99 per cent of the people told them. Is that right or just?"
Armstrong then vowed to pursue his legal action against the pair "until the bitter end, until justice is done".
"I hope they are ready to defend themselves," Armstrong signed off.
Coming soon: A history of the Tour in English
New Criterion offers a review of the forthcoming Le Tour: A History of the Tour de France, by Geoffrey Wheatcroft.
The Tour is the sort of grand tableau that would seem to lend itself to a good history, but all of the Tour histories I can think of in English are simple retellings of each year's race, with no overarching materials on the Tour's universal themes. Wheatcroft's book looks likely to fill this void, as the author of a number of other histories takes on the world's greatest sporting event.
Messenger's review serves as a brief but good intro to Tour lore and history, right up through last year's Tour:
The centennial race in 2003 was itself thrilling to follow. Armstrong joined Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, and Indurain in the five-time-winner’s club, but only after as competitive a Tour as we have seen since the late 1980s. Armstrong was decisively challenged by three riders. Luck also seemed to have returned to the Tour: Armstrong narrowly avoided serious injury after a fall took one of his chief rivals from the Tour, and later survived two odd crashes to win the key stage on Luz-Ardiden. The great German Jan Ullrich finished second again after crashing during the final time-trial, his last chance to overcome Armstrong. It was a marvelous three weeks.
Not to pick nits, but it's a little ironic that Messenger, in a review that chides the author for "an unacceptable number of gaffes," himself misses the year of l'Affaire Festina, which he mistakenly tags as 1999, rather than 1998, when Marco Pantani took the scandal-plagued Tour. He also references "David Miller," where he clearly means recent Tour ejectee David Millar.
Seen at shaken & stirred.
How about big-boned?
Eurosport's got an exclusive Tour preview with Jan Ullrich. It's interesting that Ullrich, who has a reputation for being a comparatively poor bike handler would say, "Of course, I have had a real close look at all those dangerous and sharp curves and steep descents and climbs."
Eurosport: We saw you last year at the Tour of Switzerland when you said: 'Someone has to beat Lance Armstrong, and this person has to be me because I don't have much time left'. What is your message this year?
J.U.: "The person that knocks Lance off his throne will eventually be the greatest, that's for sure. Personally, I'm very ambitious and I want to perform well and I want to win the Tour de France again after 1997."
Armstrong fan club now free
The Paceline.com started a couple of months ago, with paid membership bringing a membership package of t-shirt, media guide and rider cards. Just in time for the Tour, they've dropped the items, and are offering free membership, which gets you access to special areas not available to the general public.
For the Tour, The Paceline is promising a DAILY members-only column by Graham Watson, so head on over...
If you're already a dues-paid member, you can choose what the site does with your membership fee.
Seen at LanceArmstrong.com.
Oh, the humanity: The trials of the Tour reporter
Bonnie DeSimone of the Chicago Tribune offers a feature story on what it's like to work the Tour: the drunken Basques, the gridlocked mountains, and the "goat roads."
On a typical day, we drive to the start, grab a strong coffee, do interviews at the team vans (competing with mobs of camera-wielding fans), drive to the finish, find the press room, watch the stage, drink more strong coffee, scramble to the team vans (competing with mobs of autograph-seeking fans) to do more interviews, write a story, drive to a hotel, eat, crash.
Sounds fairly straightforward, right? But I haven't mentioned the gridlock created when half of France is vacationing and the other half is at the race, or the roadblocks that aren't on the map, or searching, exhausted, for a tiny auberge late at night knowing you'll have to wake the proprietor.
All those pampered cyclists have to do is ride 2,000-plus miles.
I'm doing my best to work up a little sympathy.....
Seen at Romenesko's MediaNews.
Vasseur court challenge fails
A French court upheld Cedric Vasseur's Tour de France ban, which makes it very unlikely the Cofidis rider will be on the start line in Liege Saturday.
Vasseur said he would appeal the ruling.
Eurosport also reports that Lance Armstrong's appeal (of the decision preventing him from inserting a response in every copy of L.A. Confidentiel) will be heard on Friday.
What Lance means to Trek
Here's a good Tour tech story, a look at Trek's business, and what a difference Lance Armstrong and his 5 Tours de France have made for the Wisconsin company.
Even if Armstrong fails to capture his sixth successive yellow jersey at the end of the Champs Elysee in Paris this month, the payoff for Trek is incontrovertible.
Ten years ago, a typical high-end Trek road bike sold for $2,200, according to Andrews. This year, a typical price tag is $4,800.
Rolling out of its frame factory in Waterloo this year are versions of the bike Armstrong rides that will sell in stores across the country for up to $7,000, and possibly more.
Trek is the only US manufacturer to win a Tour.
Behind the scenes at OLN
PezCycling has a look behind the scenes of the OLN Tour de France coverage, a 24-hour-a-day rolling circus of 105 that will be delivering 340 hours of Tour coverage over the next 3 weeks.
If you're a recent fan, I have to take a second here and explain how much I love OLN. In the dark days before they picked up the Tour, ESPN did 30 minutes a day, and CBS did their miserable 30 minutes to an hour on Sundays.
Here's how the ESPN show would go: First 10 minutes, standings and discussion; second ten minutes, a recap of the previous stage(s); five minutes of actual coverage of that day's stage, and a five-minute wrapup with the talking heads in the studio. The formula was inviolate: even if there was an epic breakaway, it got the requisite 5 minutes.
The OLN coverage is a dream, by comparison.
We pretty much subsist on caffeine and vitamin C.
I guess that's the 21st century version of, "In short, we ride on dynamite."