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."
June 29, 2004
The Tour for Americans
It's a nice little intro, that hits all the storylines that Outdoor Life Network hopes to capitalize on.
Along with the story, they're running an interactive poll, "Do you believe Lance Armstrong has used illegal doping during his 5-year Tour de France win streak?"
Voting is currently running 82 percent NO, 18 percent YES, which I found a little surprising.
Equipment-porn tour tech PR makes the papers
Gosh, maybe it is all about the bike.
In amongst the ads for AMD, Trek, Nike, Giro, RIM's Crackberry, and US Postal, there are a couple of interesting tech nuggets in this story ...
Oh, never mind. No, there aren't. It's also got at least one embarrassing error:
``If you take a look at what the other companies have been testing, their helmets are incredibly clunky,'' said Andrew Juskaitis, technical editor of Velo News, a bicycle racing magazine. ``No one else in the Tour will have a helmet like Lance's.''
Hmmmm. I guess Giro repossessed the helmets Tyler Hamilton and Viatcheslav Ekimov wore at the Dauphiné.
Gazzetta reports Di Luca to start for Saeco
The Italian sports daily reports that Danilo Di Luca will start for Saeco, despite a link reported by LeMonde in mid-June between Di Luca and 4 other riders and an Italian doctor nicknamed 'Ali the Chemist.'
If it's true, it looks like his protestations may have worked.
You have to wonder if the ASO will relent on Cedric Vasseur if they actually let Di Luca take the start.
Cycling4all.com is reporting the Saeco squad (based on the Gazzetta story) as:
• Gilberto Simoni
• Stefano Casagranda
• Mirko Celestino
• Salvatore Commesso
• Danilo Di Luca - ??
• Gerrit Glomser
• Jörg Ludewig
• Evgueni Petrov
• Marius Sabaliauskas
And here's another team skimping on Australians by substituting an Austrian, Gerrit Glomser.
Cycling4All.com also reports that the Liberty Seguros squad is finalized, featuring Heras, Allan Davis as the Australian, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (henceforth "G de G") and Christian Vande Velde, as reported earlier.
Domina Vacanze are also complete, flouting the Australian rule with an entirely Italian squad supporting (and likely pushing, given his fitness level lately) Mario Cipollini. Not a tucker-bag in sight.
Jaksche out of Tour, Peron in for CSC
Daily Peloton reports that Jörg Jaksche broke his elbow on a training ride today, and will be replaced on CSC's Tour squad by Andrea Peron.
If they're right, the CSC lineup is:
• Kurt-Asle Arvesen
• Ivan Basso
• Michele Bartoli
• Bobby Julich
• Andrea Peron
• Jacob Piil
• Carlos Sastre
• Nicki Sørenson
• Jens Voigt
That's one of the strongest groups in the peloton, but the loss of Jaksche, who won Paris-Nice in March.
Vasseur to sue Tour, team
Cofidis rider Cedric Vasseur, charged in the ongoing investigation of his team, has plans to sue his team and the Amaury Sport Organisation, the organization that runs the Tour.
Vasseur's attorney told L'Equipe (in French | rough Google translation to English) the team violated French law presuming Vasseur's innocence because ASO pressured the team to leave Vasseur off their Tour squad.
Vasseur won an injunction to race in the French nationals over the weekend, but wasn't allowed to ride.
The case will be heard in Lille tomorrow morning.
More on doping blood tests
The UCI's head doctor, Mario Zorzoli, believes the Tour's blood tests will mark their first use in a sporting event.
Zarzoli said the tests should be able to detect synthetic hemoglobin and transfusions. He said tests for human growth hormone haven't been approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but that organizers might freeze competitors' blood and test it once an effective test is available.
Are riders everywhere panicking over what may happen come Saturday?
"In principle, the teams should be prepared for this," he said. "We warned them at the start of the season that we intended to start blood testing at races. Then, in the communiqué about anti-doping procedures that we send out before every major tour, we informed them of the likelihood of the blood tests at the Tour. That was about ten days ago.
Synthetic hemoglobin and transfusions were two procedures described by former Kelme rider Jesus Manzano in his series with the Spanish sports newspaper AS. He also claimed riders used Actovegin, steroids, and EPO.
Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc told L'Equipe he is prepared for police raids during the 2004 Tour. He said he hopes any intervention will be "done with the most possible respect for athlete in the midst of three weeks of difficult competition."
Who will wear the green?
Eurosport offers a preview of this year's green jersey competition. One of the major races within this race will be Alessandro Petacchi's efforts to survive the mountains without being eliminated for going over the time limit. If he can survive the full Tour, he has to be the favorite for the sprinter's jersey, based on his record 9 stage wins in this year's Giro.
This has been an Australian stronghold the last few years, with Baden Cooke winning in 2003, Robbie McEwen taking 2002, and Stuart O'Grady factoring in the green jersey competition the last few years, holding the jersey until the last day of the 2001 Tour.
Other sprinters to watch: Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), and 6-time green jersey winner Erik Zabel.
Vande Velde makes seven
Christian Vande Velde will be riding in support of Roberto Heras. It's Vande Velde's 3rd Tour, after 1999, when he rode in support of Armstrong's first yellow jersey, and 2001, when he crashed and broke an arm.
Vande Velde had a late start in 2004 when Spanish officials discovered his papers weren't in order.
Bobby Julich's selection to CSC's Tour squad is official, as well.
The full list of Americans in the 2004 Tour:
• Lance Armstrong (US Postal)
• George Hincapie (US Postal)
• Floyd Landis (US Postal)
• Tyler Hamilton (Phonak)
• Bobby Julich (CSC)
• Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank)
• Christian Vande Velde (Liberty Seguros)
Bike.com offers stage-by-stage preview
Hugo Gladstone offers a stage-by-stage preview of the upcoming Tour, looking at how organizers put the Tour together.
Check out the last week: After the second rest day, a fairly hard mountain day, then the Alpe d'Huez time trial, then a stage with 3 first-category climbs, one relatively sedate stage, and the long time trial.
In advance of the Tour de France prologue on Saturday, I've made a few changes to the site. Some of them have filtered into production over the last few days, and I'll probably continue to tweak things over the next couple of days.
The most obvious change is probably the "Top Stories" heading. I got frustrated last year by the limitations of the weblog format, when a major story would break, but then get scrolled way down the front page by smaller, more recent stories, and disappear. The "Top Stories" section is my first crack at addressing that; I may make some more changes to it.
A couple of recent additions are the search engine link at right, which lets you search the site or the entire web through the magic of Google, and the "Tour posts at other weblogs" section down the right sidebar, which will highlight other webloggers and (again through the magic of Google) Usenet posters commenting on the Tour.
The 'Recent Posts' section no longer duplicates front-page stories. Once a story rolls off the front page, it will move to the 'Recent Posts' section, then move into the Archives. If you're on a daily, monthly, or category archive page, you'll also get a sidebar listing the current contents of the front page.
The 2003 Tour Wayback Machine has been retired to a quiet home on the Archives page, along with most of the rider category links. In their place is a dynamic list of the most recent posts about top riders, and I'll be adding riders to the list as the Tour progresses. The Wayback Machine will return, offering a simple way to jump back to any stage of the 2004 Tour. And, as always, the calendar at right is clickable, and will take you back to posts from that date.
I hope you'll enjoy the changes. If anything looks strange, or you have any comments on the changes, please post them as comments on this post.
Abt previews 2004 Tour
Samuel Abt offers his Tour de France preview. He quotes Lance Armstrong:
"I think Mayo will be good," he said then. "The course suits him. I think Ivan Basso is going to have a good Tour. Yeah. I'm quite sure about that. I think he's got new motivation, new morale.
"Tyler will have a good Tour," he continued. "I don't know about Roberto, but the Tour this year suits the climbers," and Heras is one of the best.
I'm looking forward to Abt's coverage; I know now to follow it on IHT.com, since the New York Times expires its coverage, and edits Abt down to what Americans are interested in.
June 28, 2004
Provisional Tour start list
Cycling4all.com has a provisional start list with every team on a single page, and notes when teams haven't yet officially named their Australian, as with Liberty Seguros.
More Tour squads announced: Cofidis, Gerolsteiner, RAGT, AG2R
www.cyclingnews.com | First Edition Cycling News for June 29, 2004 The highest profile announcement must be the Cofidis squad, now without time trial world champ (and admitted EPO user) David Millar. As the largest French team, Cofidis can afford not one, but two Australians, with Matthew White the emergency backup Aussie to Stuart O'Grady. The full team: • Stuart O'Grady • Jimmy Casper • Frédéric Bessy • Christopher Edaleine • Jimmy Engoulvent • Dmitriy Fofonov • David Moncoutié • Janek Tombak • Matthew White Follow the jump for Gerolsteiner, AG2R, RAGT, and the reason Irish eyes are smiling on this year's Tour de France....
Gerolsteiner announced that they will send reserve Fabian Wegmann to the start line in place of Markus Zberg. Gerolsteiner was apparently confused about the Australian requirement, instead staffing the team with Austrians. I hope those blood tests can't tell the difference. The full Gerolsteiner squad: • René Haselbacher • Danilo Hondo • Peter Wrolich • Georg Totschnig • Sebastian Lang • Uwe Peschel • Ronny Scholz • Fabian Wegmann • Sven Montgomery RAGT Semences-MG Rover will be waving the French flag during time trial stages, as Eddy Seigneur held on to the French TT championship. This will be Seigneur's last Tour de France. The full squad: • Eddy Seigneur • Guillaume Auger • Pierre Bourquenoud • Gilles Bouvard • Sylvain Calzati • Frédéric Finot • Christophe Laurent • Ludovic Martin • Christophe Rinero I wouldn't be surprised if that's the last time you hear those names before the end of July, unless they put a rider in a suicide break. Finally, AG2R officially named Ireland's Mark Scanlon to their Tour squad, as noted at IrishCycling.com. Scanlon, the 1998 junior world champion, becomes the 1st Irish rider since 1987 Tour winner Stephen Roche rode his last Tour in 1993. He's the eighth Irish starter ever. Also on the squad: • Laurent Brochard (former world champ) • Jaan Kirsipuu • Jean Patrick Nazon • Stéphane Goubert • Nicolas Portal • Yuri Krivtsov • Mikel Astarloza • Samuel Dumoulin • Mark Scanlon This is a squad that could make some noise, with several chances at stage wins.
Tyler Hamilton diary updated
Tyler Hamilton has his last pre-Tour diary update posted. He gives his opinion of how the race is likely to shape up:
"As a fan, I can't remember ever looking forward to a Tour de France as much as I am this year. As [a] rider, well, lets just say, I'm glad most of my teeth are already capped. I think everyone entering the race this year knows they are going to be enduring a significant amount of pain. But I'm not going to dwell on that until I have to."
Hamilton alludes to the Tour squad selection for the Phonak team, which left off Cyril Dessel, who finished 2nd at yesterday's French national championships.
Cyril battled back from injury this spring to ride strong in the Alps camp, Classique des Alps, and the Dauphine. He even finished second in the French National Championships yesterday. He is a really talented guy, and I'm confident he'll have many, many Tour de France rides in his future.
He also mentions Loud Large & Live on the Big Screen, the charity showing of Stage 13 on July 17th at 21 Regal cinemas around the US.
Illes Balears, Alessio-Bianchi Tour squads named
Cyclingnews reports that final Tour squads have been named for Illes Balears-Banesto and Alessio-Bianchi.
Illes Balears-Banesto is coming off a very successful weekend, during which Francisco Mancebo won the Spanish championship on the road and José Ivan Gutierrez won the TT championship.
Their full squad:
• Francisco Mancebo
• Jose Ivan Gutierrez
• Denis Menchov
• Vladimir Karpets
• Daniel Becke
• Aitor Osa
• Chente Garcia
• Mikel Pradera
• Xabier Zandio
Alessio-Bianchi brings the peloton's biggest rider, Magnus Backstedt, who won this year's Paris-Roubaix. Their required Australian is Scott Sunderland, who Cyclingnews.com notes will be keeping a Tour diary on the site.
The full squad:
• Pietro Caucchioli
• Magnus Backstedt
• Fabio Baldato
• Andrea Noe
• Scott Sunderland
• Alessandro Bertolini
• Martin Hvastija
• Marcus Ljungqvist
• Claus Møller
Certainly, the squad most likely to have their names misspelled.
Armstrong favorite, but odds lengthen
Readabet.com notes that Lance Armstrong gets no love from the European bookies this year. He's been a heavy favorite the last two years, at 1-to-4 last year and 1-to-2 in 2002.
This year, Armstrong is 11-to-10 at one bookie, and 1.26-to-1 at another. His best odds are 90-to-100 at SportingOdds.
Perhaps the best-known European bookmaker, William Hill, has Armstrong at 1-to-1, Ullrich 2-to-1, Hamilton and Mayo 6-to-1, Heras 20-1, Ivan Basso 25-to-1, Haimar Zubeldia 28-to-1, Francisco Mancebo and Carlos Sastre at 40-to-1, and USPS rider Jose Azevedo and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano at 50-to-1.
There's a wide disparity among certain riders: Hamilton, for instance, is anywhere between 4-to-1 and 8.4-to-1, and Mancebo anywhere from 40-to-1 to 309-to-1.
Daily Peloton posts GC preview
Daily Peloton's Jambon Report is consistently the most entertaining review of daily action at the Tour. DP's Locutus kicks off the 2004 edition with a GC preview.
Predicting not the predictable Armstrong cruises storyline, Locutus instead predicts the unpredictable predicate, with Tyler Freaking Hamilton ascending the top step:
Tyler "Nails" Hamilton (Phonak). Yes, Tyler. The "Master of Disaster" got 2nd in the 2002 Giro d'Italia and 4th in the 2003 Tour de France with fractured bones. This year, I've got a feeling that Tyler will keep the rubber side down, stay injury free, and show us what he is truly capable of on the roads of France. Everyone talks about Jan Ullrich and Roberto Heras and Iban Mayo, but Tyler is the one who is really Lance's worst nightmare: he's a pure climber who can time trial with the best of them. Also, he rode next to Lance during his first three Tour victories, and so he knows his old boss well. Did you see the ass-whupping he laid down this year in the Tour of Romandie? How about that ride in the Dauphiné Libéré last month, where he was the closest man to Mayo in the time trials despite still not being at his peak? His team also looked extremely strong in the Dauphiné, and they will be united for one purpose in France: get Tyler to the podium. He won't win in a walk-over, but he'll squeek out enough time to make this one of the closest and most memorable Tour victories of all time.
Read it all: It's a good rundown of all the top riders, and a few of the dark horses, taking the start line on Saturday.
Talk about leverage
Speaks for itself:
DOPING checks during the Tour de France looked under threat after three unions representing staff at France's national drug screening laboratory warned they would go on strike when the event starts on Saturday.
Beloki talking to Saunier-Duval
The Spanish daily Marca reported Sunday that Joseba Beloki is close to signing with Saunier-Duval (rough Google translation to English) for the rest of the season.
His primary goal would be the Vuelta a España.
One sticking point is that Beloki wants to ride in the UCI ProTour next year, and Saunier-Duval isn't sure it's ready to compete on that level, which might keep Beloki out of the Tour de France, still his primary goal.
Heras interviewed on Tour
Roberto Heras looks to me like the dark horse Tour contender. His Liberty Seguros team has concentrated on events around Spain, skipping the Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse in favor of the Euskal Bizikleta and Volta Catalunya.
Heras won the Euskal this year, and just before that race, sat down for an interview with Cyclingnews.com. He discusses perennial runner-up Manolo Saiz, his new team director; a few changes Saiz has made to improve Heras' riding; and Heras predicts that Armstrong, Ullrich, Mayo, and Gilberto Simoni are men to watch, and "I am also amongst those that weigh into the mix, within the group that comes after Lance. After Lance, well, there comes the rest of us."
Heras echoed the prevailing sentiment, that we'll see a very competitive Tour:
CN: The Tour route this year is a little different isn't it? There are less mountains in one way, but there are also less flat stages, and then there is the time trial up L'Alpe d'Huez and the changes in rules to the team time trial whereby a team can only lose up to two minutes and thirty seconds. What effect do you think this will have?
RH: I think that the differences between the contenders will be much less than it has been in recent years: We should see a Tour that is much more open.
Hamilton speaks on doping, Tour prep
The Guardian does a good feature story/interview with Tyler Freaking Hamilton, who they call "America's other cyclist." Ouch.
The story goes into all the colorful exploits of the toughest man in go-business: The 11 caps he needed after gritting his teeth through the Giro, riding 3 weeks of last year's Tour with a broken collarbone and refusing painkillers since they make him woozy.
Hamilton says he thinks he can win it all if everything goes perfectly.
"Taking out a flat time-trial and adding a mountain time-trial is a big advantage to guys like Mayo, [Ivan] Basso, [Roberto] Heras," Hamilton forecasts, "because the strong time-triallists are not going to put two, three minutes into those guys. This year's Tour suits more of a pure climber than in the past. It'll be a more open Tour than for some time."
I get the impression the interview predates David Millar's exclusion, but Hamilton told the Guardian he thinks doping is an exception in the peloton:
"I think it's in a good phase," he says. "I can't speak for the other teams but I can speak for my team and myself. I feel like it's cleaned up a lot. I got tested three times in the off-season; that's just out-of-competition testing. And with all three teams I've been on I've signed my contract knowing if I use illegal substances I'm fired straight away.
"I think it's getting better, though there is a lot of silence. But maybe the teams aren't so open because of the journalists. If they don't always write the truth, and then someone like [the retired Kelme rider Jesus] Manzano speaks, they take it word for word as though it's the truth. Between him and [former Cofidis professional Philippe] Gaumont, they've done so much damage to the sport, and how do we know it's all true?"
Hamilton advocates a riders' union to help look after the riders' interests, including testing and long-term health.
Lotto announce Tour squad
Lotto has announced its Tour squad. Leading the attack is 2002 green jersey Robbie McEwen, one of two sprinters to take a field sprint away from Alessandro Petacchi in this year's Giro d'Italia.
The full squad:
• Robbie McEwen
• Axel Merckx (Eddy's son)
• Christophe Brandt
• Rik Verbrugghe
• Thierry Marichal
• Wim Vansevenant
• Nick Gates
• Aart Vierhouten
• Koos Moerenhout
Leblanc: New doping controls
Jean-Marie Leblanc discussed the spate of doping scandals with the AP Monday, and said the UCI will add blood tests to the previous testing mix.
Last year, organizers used urine tests for banned substances, drawing blood only for hematocrit levels, which are treated as evidence but not proof of doping. This year, riders' blood will be tested for banned substances, as well.
"What do sporting authorities, research labs, sports ministers do? Every year, they are able to do a little more in the anti-doping fight," Leblanc said.
Leblanc said he doesn't know whether Lance Armstrong is clean, but that he knows why authors write critical stories and books:
"I have my doubts about human nature," Leblanc said. "Jealousy toward others is everywhere."
If put into force, the new tests could effectively sound the death knell for products such as synthetic haemoglobin and human growth hormone, and also catch out riders practising blood transfusions. In all three cases the move would mark the fruition of years of research. The development of a test for human growth hormone alone has taken almost a decade and has cost several millions of dollars. As recently as two weeks ago, WADA-sponsored research scientists at the University of Southampton told procycling that they were "pessimistic" about a test for the banned hormone being approved in time for the Athens Olympics in August.
Procycling quotes Leblanc that "taking the blood sample is a very long process. Well, on the morning of the stage or the evening after it, and taking into account the capacity of the laboratories, we are trying to find a way to work in harmony with the various authorities."
French 'L.A. Confidentiel' appeal set for Wednesday
AFP reports that Lance Armstrong's appeal in the court case denying him an insert in the French edition of L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong will be heard Wednesday.
Ullrich: Armstrong bluffed on Ventoux
Jan Ullrich says he's prepared for the Tour, starting Saturday, and expects Lance Armstrong to be in even better form than he showed in the Dauphiné Libéré.
"I'm convinced that Lance bluffed on the Mont Ventoux," Ullrich said at a press conference announcing the T-Mobile Tour roster. "Believe me, he's a lot better prepared than he lets on. And [Johan] Bruyneel's comments about his form not being as good don't convince me either. That's Lance's style, to try to fool his rivals."
Ullrich said the T-Mobile team had initially had a very aggressive plan for the Tour, but had changed course with the injury to Alexandre Vinokourov.
"[T]hat doesn't mean I'll now adopt a more defensive plan. On the contrary, I'll try to take time from Lance every time I have the chance."
The same cyclingnews.com roundup suggests that Cadel Evans will be on a new squad next year, after being passed over for the T-Mobile Tour squad. Director Walter Godefroot claims he made the decision because Evans broke his collarbone three times last year:
"He would of course be very important to us had we selected him, but we are protecting Cadel by not including him in our line up for the Tour ... The first week of the Tour is going to be very hectic, therefore, the risk is too great that Cadel might crash and be forced out of the Tour through injury," Godefroot explained.
The former mountain biker won the Tour of Austria, and felt he was ready to make a splash in the Tour. His contract is up at the end of the season.
Hinault gives Armstrong 50-50 shot
Bernard Hinault is 1 of 5 people ever to win 5 Tours de France. Today, he's a commentator for French television on cycling, and he gave Eurosport a preview of the Tour (unfortunately, it was way back during Paris-Nice), with some predictions.
Eurosport: On July 25, when the Tour has closed its 20 stages and buckled its 3,391 kilometres, will Armstrong be the winner?
Bernard Hinault: At the start of the Tour [Saturday, July 3], I give him a one-in-two chance. Once the race starts, anything is possible. It depends on him and everything that surrounds him: his adversaries, crashes, broken collarbones, his health… But logically, if he does everything exactly like he did for the past five years, there shouldn't be a problem. And if he wins, bravo! He'll deserve it.
Hinault talks about Armstrong's transformation from strong classics rider in the early 1990s to 5-timer:
Eurosport: At the start of Armstrong's career – before his cancer – did you think he would one day win the Tour de France?
Bernard Hinault: No. At the start of his career he wasn't exactly thin. When he won the world championships in Oslo  he had a lot of… shape. Knowing that weight is enemy number-one in the mountains, I never would have said this is a guy who can win the Tour.
But after his illness, Armstrong lost 12 kilos in comparison to his weight at Oslo. He came back and he was as thin as a thread. Twelve kilos in the mountains is huge! It makes all the difference.
And what about the doping?
Eurosport: Amidst the doping innuendo that is continually swirling around cycling, some have made the connection between Armstrong and the medications he was allowed to take – and may currently still be taking – because of his cancer…
Bernard Hinault: Yeah, I've heard that and here's what I have to say to that bunch of assholes: I wish you just one thing: That you have the same sickness. That you have one foot in the grave. Then you'll see how much you'll want to live. How much you'll want to do what you love and do it to it's maximum.
June 27, 2004
Alas, poor Liggett: no Brits in 2004 Tour
With David Millar's exclusion, and the nonselection of Bradley Wiggins at Credit Agricole, the Tour de France will be without a British rider for the first time since 1976.
English speakers will be well represented: There will be at least 5 Americans and as many as 10 Australians in the Tour.
June 26, 2004
McGee: I'm targeting the 2005 Tour
Australia's Brad McGee of fdjeux.com has had a very strong year, taking the Route du Sud last week and finishing 8th in the Giro, and believes he's developed into a rider who can compete for the GC in the Tour de France.
"Going for overall victory next year is the goal, and a very realistic one at that," he told BBC Sport.
"I don't know about winning five in a row though. That takes a very special rider."
For 2004, he's looking to take the prologue, as he did last year, and is targeting the time trial up Alpe d'Huez.
McGee has made some progress battling the blood sugar problems that plagued him during the 2003 Tour.
After eating while riding, his body has often produced too much sugar, which in turn causes his blood-glucose level to dramatically drop later on.
But he has since hired a dietician and the problem has not once occurred this year.
"It's hard enough going up those mountains without that sort of thing happening," said McGee. "When it happens it causes me to lose up to 15 minutes on a stage. I'm just grateful it's not happening anymore."
Longo wins 48th national championship
The greatest female cyclist of all time will compete in her 6th Olympics this summer in Athens, as Jeannie Longo won the French road championship today. Longo is 45, but took the title by more than a minute over Elisabeth Chevanne-Brunel and Sandrine Marcuz.
It's Longo's 48th (!!) French title in road, time trial or track cycling.
I watched her win her Olympic gold in Atlanta; she so clearly outclassed the field it was amazing, then she turned around and took silver in the time trial.
Di Luca: Why ban me but not Armstrong?
Saeco's Danilo Di Luca, who is apparently barred from the Tour because he's been implicated but not charged in an ongoing police investigation into drugs provided by an Italian doctor, told AFP that there's as much reason to ban 5-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong as to keep Di Luca from starting the Tour on Saturday.
"I've never tested positive and the phone taps which claim to involve myself reveal nothing.
"What's more, the (sport's governing body) UCI has already said that the position of Leblanc is unfounded," added Di Luca, who said he had been a victim of over-zealous Italian police.
"I just happen to be the subject of an investigation by the Italian law because that's the way it is here."
He added: "I also wonder if (Lance) Armstrong will be at the start line, after the revelations in this book, which alleges that he has used illicit substances, and which was allowed to be published in France by French judges."
Di Luca is still racing, and will participate in Italy's national championships tomorrow.
June 25, 2004
OLN can't wait
According to this story by John Lindsay at Scripps Howard News Service, Outdoor Life Network got nearly the same ratings with last year's Tour as this year's NHL Stanley Cup broadcasts on ESPN.
This year, spurred by a multimillion dollar ad campaign ("Cyclysm") and weekly shows following Lance Armstrong and his Tour preparation, OLN wants to draw numbers 50 percent higher, or around 2 million viewers.
OLN's president, Gavin Harvey, says the network will take a new approach to this year's broadcast:
"We think with our new approach, which is an Olympic-style delivery, that we can show the live event (stages or races) to the hardcore fans while also delivering the personal stories to the rest of America," Harvey said. ". . . We want to communicate the things that folks don't understand about cycling - the strategy, teamwork and more - that makes this such an epic event."
I've grown to hate Olympics coverage, but I'm cautiously optimistic here. The main problem with network Olympics coverage is the constant switching between sports, and the way the networks fill up every little down second with bios, cutaways, and promotions. Since OLN is covering a single event, and stages cover a fairly long time, I think this approach could work, and draw new viewers into the sport.
Oh, and CBS will continue to provide their crappy weekly coverage every Sunday, pre-empting live coverage on OLN.
"Our mandates are different," said Rob Correa, CBS senior vice president of programming, comparing his network to OLN. "We're just not set up technically to do what they do. We're very pleased with our partnership (with OLN) and believe we complement each other well."
Correa said the CBS coverage will be similar to "a weekly movie" about the tour, mostly focusing on Armstrong's quest.
Millar dropped from TourVeloNews | Tour bans Millar after doping confession It's official — Jean-Marie Leblanc said Friday that David Millar, the Scottish Cofidis rider who is the current world time-trial champion, will not be allowed to race in this year's Tour. L'Equipe reported this morning that Millar told French police he had used EPO, and police found empty vials of EPO in Millar's home.
"We want a peloton that is as transparent as possible," the Tour director said. "We don't want to pollute the Tour. We want the race to run serenely and that it is not contested from the start."L'Equipe also reported that Millar will be charged by the judge investigating the Cofidis team, Richard Pallain. So far, the team has taken no action against Millar, who has excelled in Tour time trials. Also: FoxSports.com | Tour de France bars British world champion The FoxSports story includes a quote from Leblanc that appears to address L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong:
"Since 1998, we've grown used to books coming out and (television) programs being made on the theme of doping each year in June. And we've become accustomed to justice and police operations being launched," he said. "It's unpleasant." But he said "the great majority of riders" at the start next week in Liege, Belgium, "will be worthy of participating in the Tour."
T-Mobile announces Tour squad
T-Mobile announced the squad that will try to deliver a 2nd Tour de France win to Jan Ullrich. As Cadel Evans had previously announced, he's not on the squad, with Sergei Ivanov taking the spot some had set aside for Evans.
The whole squad (* denotes former Tour stage winner, ! denotes former Tour winner):
• Jan Ullrich (! *)
• Santiago Botero (*)
• Giuseppe Guerini (*)
• Rolf Aldag
• Sergei Ivanov (*)
• Matthias Kessler
• Andreas Klöden
• Daniele Nardello (*)
• Erik Zabel (*)
Given the news lately, it's worth noting that Ivanov was dropped from the 2000 Tour for a too-high hematocrit.
ASO: We'll ban riders investigated or implicated
The Associated Press said Tour organizers will ban any riders investigated or implicated in doping probes from the 2004 Tour.
According to the story linked above:
Organizers said they "could not accept the participation of any rider involved in a judicial procedure or implicated in a police inquiry."
They said the decision was taken in response to doping probes both in France and overseas.
The statement came after a report in the French sports newspaper L'Equipe that world champion cyclist David Millar admitted to doping under police questioning, which could keep him out of the Tour de France and the Olympic Games,
The British rider's team, Cofidis, said it would "apply its principle of zero tolerance" and immediately sanction Millar if he did admit to doping.
UCI rules treat an admission as equivalent to a positive drug test. The reference to "doping probes both in France and overseas" appears to be aimed at the current probe involving Italian riders. There's also an ongoing investigation into Australian Olympic riders, but so far, I don't believe any roadies are implicated.
L'Equipe: Millar confessed to EPO
L'Equipe quotes sources that EPO vials were found at Millar's home in Biarritz.
The 27-year old Scot has never failed a drugs test in his eight-year professional career. Officially placed under investigation, he could rapidly be charged for "infraction against the law on banned substances."
In the ongoing Cofidis drug case, axed team-mate Philippe Gaumont had accused Millar of providing him with EPO before the final stage of last year's Tour de France.
Apparently they mean the last stage but one, the time trial out of Pornic that Millar won.
Notable, too, is that Millar has never failed a drug test.
This will likely turn up the heat on this story significantly, since a) it's a French team, b) it's one of their top riders, and c) the Tour starts in just over a week.
Millar would face a lifetime ban from the Olympics if found guilty of a doping offence under the British Olympic Association's guidelines.
Why no six-timers?
Proof that interest in cycling is high: China's People's Daily has a story on the first 4 five-timers and how their try (or tries) to get a sixth yellow jersey failed.
Merckx, "The Cannibal", was world champion. He had won three major classics -- Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege -- and was apparently invincible in the Tour.
The Belgian, aged 30, dominated the race until the 14th stage up the Puy de Dome, when he was hit in the chest by a spectator.
It's notable all the different places that fan punched Merckx, depending on the storyteller: I've seen back, kidneys, ribs, chest, and gut.
O'Grady on his Tour
Stuart O'Grady talks about the Cofidis affair, and his good form so far this year, including dual stage wins at the Dauphiné Libéré. He suggests he would like to compete for the green jersey, but it sounds like he's not sure if he's still that kind of a rider:
"This year it's different again. I'm going to the Tour to hopefully win some stages, and get in the breaks when they go. If there's a chance of going for the jersey then I believe the team will help me with that.
"Petacchi will be hard to beat, if he makes it to Paris, and so will the rest like Robbie (McEwen) and Baden (Cooke). But I'm going in with a pretty open mind."
June 24, 2004
Phonak Tour squad announced
Tyler Hamilton's squad for the Tour de France has been named. The Swiss team will have just one Swiss rider, Martin Elmiger, as they've brought in a talented group, mostly Spanish, to support Hamilton's run at a Tour title.
The full squad:
• Tyler Hamilton (stage win and 4th overall, 2003)
• Oscar Sevilla (white jersey, 2001)
• Santi Perez
• José Gutierrez
• Oscar Pereiro
• Santos Gonzalez
• Bert Grabsch
• Nicolas Jalabert
• Martin Elmiger
Their reserve rider is Cyril Dessel.
Grabsch and Elmiger will be riding in their first Tour.
Out with an injury is Oscar Camenzind, and not on the team will be their old master, Alex Zülle, or Niki Aebersold, who took the 6th stage of the Tour de Suisse and the mountains jersey.
Seen at cyclingnews.com.
Millar detained in doping probe
David Millar was taken into custody Tuesday evening in Biarritz, where police picked him up while he ate in a restaurant.
"Millar is being held for questioning in Biarritz, in the south-west of France, since Tuesday evening at the request of investigative magistrate Richard Pallain who is in charge of the Cofidis case," a police spokesman said.
He was still being held earlier today, which is likely to put a little damper on his Tour preparations.
Cofidis has been under investigation since the beginning of the year, when 7 riders and staff were charged after riders were caught with banned substances in their luggage flying into France.
BBC is careful to note that Millar is being treated as a witness and not a suspect, but also that Philippe Gaumont, his Cofidis teammate, claimed that Millar was among those who used banned substances.
Update (6/24 12:45 EDT): AFP reports that Millar has been released without any charges being filed.
June 23, 2004
Armstrong ESPY nominee
After edging out Barry Bond's for ESPN's “best male athlete” ESPY last year, Lance Armstrong is again nominated in the category.
Four-time ESPY winner (1998 and 2000-2002) Tiger Woods isn't so much as nominated this year.
Armstrong's competition: Bonds, Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, NBA MVP Kevin Garnett, and NFL co-MVP Peyton Manning. Follow the link above to vote.
Procycling talks to QS director on Tour squad, Armstrong
Germany's ablaze today over the non-selection of Tour of Germany winner Patrik Sinkewitz for Quick Step's Tour squad. Sinkewitz, 23, followed up his victory with a 7th overall in the Tour de Suisse last week. For his part, Sinkewitz reports he had been "hopeful of riding my first Tour."
Why no Sinkewitz? Lefevere suggested it was to provide sprint specialist Tom Boonen the lead-out services of Davide Bramati:
""Patrik deserved his place, but Tom Boonen has been going marvellously all season. It was only right that we gave him some support. A rider like Bramati may not be the most talented in the peloton, but his help and experience could be very valuable to Boonen."
To the question of whether the addition of Bramati at the expense of Sinkewitz is a statement of Boonen’s intent in the green jersey competition, Lefevere refused to commit.
Lefevere also maintained that it's in Sinkewitz's best interests to wait a year, and do the Tour fresh, instead of going in somewhat weaker after 2 national tours.
On the GC, Lefevere offered up his opinion on the Armstrong-Ullrich matchup, free of the obligation to tout his team's GC contender (they don't have one):
"A lot has been made of his new girlfriend and the fact that he’s seemed more relaxed off the bike, but I think that will be offset by another factor: the book. I think that Lance is very angry, and it will be his rivals at the Tour who feel the full brunt of that anger."
June 22, 2004
McGee takes Route du Sud
Brad McGee finished in the pack today to take the Route du Sud. McGee took the lead based on a strong time trial, where he beat world TT champion David Millar by 23 seconds.
Keep an eye on both McGee and Millar in the Tour de France prologue July 3rd.