In last month’s issue of ‘Pro Cycling’ there was a little snippet about Lance Armstrong, particularly about a 6-minute clip on YouTube.
We all know about Lance on a bike. Back in the ‘90s we had 5 years of Miguel Indurain winning the Tour de France with a very clever and well-executed game plan. He was overwhelmingly the strongest time triallist.
Usually there are two time trials in each Tour de France, and Indurain would gain so much time over the climbers that they couldn’t win enough time back as they cycled through the Alps and the Pyrenees. But he was a great climber, and none of the other top time triallists could gain time on him in the mountains.
So for 5 years he had the same plan. Win 3, 4 or even 5 minutes in the time trials. And in the mountains, defend that lead against the other ‘overall classification’ contenders. He didn’t attack in the mountains – he didn’t have to, he was ahead. The others had to attack, and he’d follow their wheel and they weren’t strong enough to leave him behind.
I always liked Indurain, but lots of cycling fans thought he was boring because he rarely attacked, and we didn’t get exciting mountain stages where the yellow jersey was under threat. His plan worked until the Dane, Bjarne Riis, improved his time trialling so much that he was able to tear up the script.
Much as I liked Indurain, Armstrong was a more exciting rider. He did attack. He always tried to win in the first really hard mountain stage, which was usually the first time he took the yellow jersey. But he also believed that the leader, the winner of the Tour de France, had a duty to win the final time trial. The winner of the Yellow Jersey is the strongest rider in the Peloton, and Lance’s view was that the strongest rider should win the final time trial.
One of my favourite Lance moments, though, was in a mountain stage in 2004 with Andreas Kloden and Jan Ullrich from the Telekom team, and his own team mate Floyd Landis.
Floyd wasn’t especially high in the overall standings, but Lance, Kloden and Ullrich were 1st, 3rd and 4th. Kloden and Ullrich attacked in an attempt to take time out of Lance. Floyd Landis stayed with them and won rave reviews for the way he supported Lance throughout the stage.
Close to the finish line Lance encouraged Landis to make a break for the stage win on the basis that if he, Lance, wasn’t involved in the attack there was no reason for Kloden or Ullrich to deprive Landis of the stage win.
This is a regular thing in the Tour, riders allow team mates their day of glory. Lance didn’t need another stage win, and winning the stage did no good for Kloden or Ullrich, what they had to do was beat Lance by a long way. Well, that wasn’t possible anymore, so Lance thought he could engineer a career-boosting win for his team mate.
When Ullrich and Kloden attacked Landis, Armstrong went mad and sprinted wildly after them. He took the lead just as they all crossed the line in a quite magnificent uphill sprint. As a General Classification (GC) rider he doesn’t have to sprint. It’s a different set of bike skills, and it’s dangerous.
It was really amazing to watch this incredible cyclist overhaul his 2 leading contenders in that sprint for the line. It might seem like hyperbole, but it was a truly amazing performance. You can see it (with a Dutch commentary) on this clip: Watch Tour de France 2004 – Armstrong Super Sprint
But now he’s retired, and is devoting more time to raising awareness about cancer, and promoting prevention, early detection, and so on. If you watch this clip, then in the words of Pro Cycling, whatever your views about Lance Armstrong, just pretend for 6 minutes that you’ve never heard of him, then try and tell yourself you wouldn’t vote for him if he was standing for election.
I’m in awe of Lance, of course I am, all cycling fans are, just as we’re in awe of Eddy Merckx and so many others. But he is extremely impressive in this clip, you’ll enjoy it. Watch Lance Armstrong Interview
Of course, Lance has never been on a Chain Gang holiday (although you’re always welcome Lance), but if he did he might wear a shirt a bit like Laura’s, who has been on a Chain Gang holiday.