Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Return of Lance Armstrong - mimi

Whatever you think, this is the BIG story of cycling for at least the next seven months. And headlines in the cycling press about Lance will ensure that successes earned by others on the road - eg Mark Cavendish - will be forgotten.

Last week in a feverish state of aaargh! I wrote with all emotions spilling freely about Lance. Thanks to our wonderful editor, Lord Ebren, none of you were subjected to my wroth.

I am now re-thinking my words, but you know what? I still feel the same.

So that there is no doubt here, I’ll lay my beliefs right on the line. I hate Armstrong. I don’t think he is a cheat, but he rode the Tour as a bully and there were team members who have been proved cheats.

I don’t think he would have won seven times if everyone cycled clean. That’s my viewpoint but now we have to face the fact that Mr Armstrong is coming back to the peloton.

He has already had the rules changed so that he can ride in The Tour Down Under – not a race we usually look at for any sort of form guide for the main season, but whoops a daisy – rules bent for Lance next year.

Now here’s the thing – since Monsieur Armstrong rode as a professional cyclist, a lot of rules have changed. Doping is no longer “de rigeur” and some teams, such as Columbia and Garmin, are leading the charge in “clean cycling”. Team CSC is not far behind.

But who has Lance signed with? None of these. No – he’s going to ride for Astana. What a wonderful legacy they have! Say Vinokourov. Vino, Vino, where do you get your speed from?

Apparently Lance is worried about how the fans who line the roads in France will feel about his return. He has said that he has received death threats. Well there are a few steps to travel before he even gets to the Tour.

Is he fit enough for a Grand Tour? Three weeks of hell is a tough challenge and after a few years of chumming with pop stars and politicians isn’t a great way of warming up for a Tour that is so very much not tailor-made for Armstrong.

Why don’t we see how the warm-ups go? I’d like to see Lance barred from the Tour Down Under – why should they change the rules for him? Let him do a couple of Classics to prove his form.

Go head to head with Contador to see who is strongest in Astana. Make it true that Periero, Contador and Sastre have issued a statement: “We are pathetic and weak compared to him [Armstrong]. Our victories [in Le Tour] feel hollow.”

I think these and many others in today’s peloton have the legs on Lance.

There is no doubt that Lance’s putative participation in Le Tour is garnering column inches (in newspapers that don’t even cover cycling!), but it’s wrong. All wrong.

I would never go as far as accusing Armstrong of being dubious, but the last few years of Le Tour have been so much more interesting without him. He ruled the peloton in a way that we have never seen before. Not in the days of Big Mig, or even The Badger.

I really didn’t like how Armstrong did it. Whether he cheated or not, I don’t care about that. I care that he spoilt the race. For years.

Now he’s coming back, and that is already making me like the race less. There’s a piece in the press about Lance using the Large Hadron Collider as a way to win the Tour. A joke, obviously, but I laugh, hollowly, because this man will be there on the start line.

The Tour next year will be all about Lance, and it shouldn’t be. It should be about which sprinter will take over from Robbie (that’ll be Mark then), and who will climb – maybe Robbie Hunter, or a Spaniard or Italian.

There was a wee bitty in the press today about LA. Apparently he is still a wee bitty worried about the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” – ie the French. Armstrong claimed in the Guardian (an interview with Donald McRae) that the French physically threatened him. Frankly, insisting on having eff off great body guards when he rode to glory in his hay-day is likely to piss anyone off.

So there we go – I admire Lance, and enjoyed the book – It’s Not About the Bike. But never liked how he rode the Tour, never liked that he cared nothing for the Classics, and, you know, if he does ride in 2009, it’ll be the same.

I’d rather follow the Tour for the sprints next year. To see the mantle passed from Robbie to Mark. I am pretty damn sure that the top sprinters are clean, so that’ll be fun.

Overall – for GC – if they allow Lance back, well, crap, and bollocks again. I cannot see for one tiny moment how Armstrong coming back is a good thing for the sport.


Ebren said...

May I briefly point out that Mimi got cooling off time as I forgot to check my email - rather than anything inspired. Praise is wholly unjustified.

Mouth of the Mersey said...

An interesting piece with which I have some sympathy, but mostly disagree.

LA is always a story - one of the biggest in sports ever. Like Tiger in golf, everyone else benefits. Cav will too if he delivers again.

Yes LA had people on his team who were dirty (Heras etc) but who didn't? I think he would have won seven times as the last four or so were won in the mind before Le Grand Depart.

The Tour Down Under is always a great season opener as much about Aus tourism and wine - I'd be amazed if they hadn't offered LA a motorbike, so keen are they for publicity.

Astana? If he were to shun Bruyneel that would be out of character. LA is intensely loyal to his friends - a product of the way he was treated post-cancer when he was shunned.

LA is rright to be worried about the French fans. France has a history of direct action on its roads, Eddy Merckx was punched in the Giro and who can police those thousands of kms? It only takes one nutter and LA is the easiest possible target. LA is right to have bodyguards and who knows what threats he has had levelled at him - it won't be none, that's for sure.

Is he fit enough? He will be - he always has been. He is hardly Jan Ullrich is he?

Classics? He has never done them and I'm disappointed in that. But we don't like it when our sports are forced into American ways, so why should an American be forced into ours? Hinault only rode Paris-Roubaix once.

LA did rule the peloton, but it was'nt always boring (2003 was sensational). Big Mig was duller. And it was incumbent on the others (especially Ullrich) to match LA's professionalism - they couldn't.

The race won't be all about LA. The race is bigger even than him.

I think Contador is too strong for LA - but how that plays out will be fascinating. Everyone knew Lemond was stronger than Hinault in '85, but Lemond respected the rules and did as M. Tapie instructed. I have a lot of time for Greg for doing that. If Contador has to do the same thing, well that's the droit du Patron - it's not like LA hasn't earned it. But I hope they ride it out - no gifts, as the sad, weak, tragic little man said.

andrewm said...

Good to see such a passionate argument on Pseuds, mimi. I don't know enough to agree or disagree with you, but I do agree with Mouth that Indurain was duller. I grew up watching his Tour victories, desperately hoping for a serious challenge to him and knowing it wouldn't happen. He ruined the sport for me, with a little help from Tony Rominger.

guitou said...

Lance should benefits of the presumption of innocence. You are Innocent until proven guilty.Above all he is the all time best on the tour de France after winning his battle against cancer-That's enough to justify our admiration whatever controversy was fueled
by l'Equipe the french sports paper-He may be an Extra-Terrestial or just a doped but he inspires a lot of cancer survivors.

MotM said...

Guy - Given the number of dopers who abused the presumption of innocence, I can understand why people are loathe to extend it to him. But, and Mimi agrees, we must do it, for the alternative is to condemn a man on the basis of innuendo and gossip. I can't do that, cancer or not.

I saw Michael Johnson on Monday - I believe 100% that he was clean and he was no less extra-terrestriel than LA. MJ looked a million dollars and why not!

offsideintahiti said...

And Lance is such a pleasant character...

David Barry said...

I don’t think he is a cheat
I don’t think he would have won seven times if everyone cycled clean.

That seems to suggest that you DO think he is a cheat. Which would be correct. US Postal was doped to the gills. Of course so were his main rivals, but Lance was by far the most litigious and bullying of them.

Go and (re)familiarise yourself with the Simeoni incident in 2004 if you don't already know about it, and then compare what Armstrong said at the time with his bald-faced lying historical revisionism when he was asked about it recently.

Association with Fuentes is enough to cast doubt on and even ban riders today. The reason for this is obvious - Fuentes has been doping athletes for decades. (Story about him from 1985 - 1985! Link via CFA - if you don't already read CFA and you are a cycling fan, then you should read it.)

Armstrong worked closely with Michele Ferrari, who has also been in the doping game since working with Conconi back in the 1980's to help Moser break the hour record.

As they say, you don't give up 20% of your salary for better interval training.

Having said all that, Lance is correct to be worried about safety. I'm not sure if Mouth is thinking of the same incident, but Merckx was punched by a spectator in that Tour de France that he finished second in - I think it was 1973.

David Barry said...

Also, adding to the list of evidence against Armstrong and US Postal is something said by Paul Kimmage in an interview with Irish radio (can't be bothered tracking it down, I'm going from memory). Kimmage was allowed into the Garmin camp during the Tour and actually became positive for the first time in forever, writing glowing reports in The Times. He said to that radio station after the announcement of Armstrong's comeback that, while being in the Garmin camp, he had learned a lot about what went on at US Postal, and it was horrifying.

bluedaddy said...

Dave, I got the impression that mimi meant that LA's dirty team helped him win Tours.

But were there any clean teams? Did USP just have the best drugs?

My feeling is that if LA wins Le Tour the world at large will probably shrug, and that would diminish the standing of one of the great events of world sport. I think it has already suffered enough. This feels like a step back when Le Tour has been edging tentatively forwards.

David Barry said...

The IM conversation between Frankie Andreu and Jonathan Vaughters talked about Credit Agricole not having any doping programme, and Christophe Moreau having a hematocrit of a very normal 39. But certainly most of the high finishers during Lance's time (and Indurain's, and the little in-between period) were using some sort of blood doping and/or EPO.

Ferrari is arguably the best doping doctor going around, and he was the one working with Armstrong. So it's unlikely that any other team would have better doping than Armstrong, though it's certainly possible that some were equal to him.

There was an article that I wish I could track down that talked about the number of legal medical products declared by the various teams. The experts reckoned that you wouldn't need more than about 30, and some teams were near there. US Postal had something like 120, including a treatment for Alzheimer's or something like that.

guitou said...

Then if he is a cheat, he is also big time liar and the yellow jersey for the Tour de force of hypocrisy as he always talks like a professor for moral standars-Scary thought -But how long can you fool the jurors, the doctors, the labs analysts etc., this guy was cycling for 10 it possible to get away with it for so long? and if so, isn'it suicidal to decide a comeback in a sport under so much suspicion and scrutinity?

gg said...

thought I'd say drop in and say hello just to bump up your posts cunt...

gg said...

I meant "count"!!!

bluedaddy said...

There's typos and there's Typos! I'd say that one was the latter GG.

Mouth of the Mersey said...

Dave - I completely respect your opinion and sources, but why, hated as he is by many and in the most litigious country in the world, has nobody made it stick?

Nobody would be less surprised than me if he Oprahed his aay to a confession, but until I have the evidence, I'm uneasy about nailing him as a cheat.

He might not have done it clean, but such was his talent at 21 and such was his dedication to the TdF and the dietary and training regimes required to win it and such is his mental strength, that he could have.

mimi said...

Thanks to all of you for reading my piece - especially andrewm: how's the kitten?

Anyway, David Barry knows far more about the intricacies than I do and I appreciate his detail and outspoken comments. David: you are braver than I.

I share the suspicions about any rider associated with such as Ferrari and Fuentes, and I wouldn't argue about USP being doped to the gills.

Thing is though, I don't see how Lance, litigious as he is, could have got away with it if there really had been any positive tests against him.

So I don't believe that he is a cheat, but signing for a team now that is a by-word for cheating does not inspire confidence.

As things stand, Astana may not even get an invite to the Tour. Early season form will influence Prudhomme for sure, but so will the lure of loads of column inches.

If Lance and Astana are in the Tour, then I really will only be watching for the sprints. The GC will be meaningless.

offsideintahiti said...

And the Freudian Typo Award for 2008 goes to...

Come on, gg, give us a Limerick!

mimi said...

hello offie - glad to see you resolutely bringing the tone down!

We need a new Taproom so innuendoes can roam free and uninterrupted by political correctness or even decency.

I miss Ingrid!

ingrid said...

Hiya mimi,

don't worry, girl, I'm never very far. I see gg has been naughty again. I suppose I'll have to do something about it.

mimi said...

I think the time is now

gg said...

A bloke known to be bluff and blunt,
And fond of the odd cellar stunt,
Turned up on the blog
Rambling on, not of Dog,
But of how best to bump up the count.

offsideintahiti said...

I've heard worse acceptance speeches.

David Barry said...

Remember that no positive tests mean nothing - Marion Jones never failed a test (and passed 163 of them), Jan Ullrich never failed a test, nor did Ivan Basso, Francisco Mancebo, nor all those unknown Spanish footballers doped by Fuentes, etc.

The norm, for a very long time (and to a lesser extent today) is that dopers generally don't fail tests. (CERA was great in that the pharmaceutical companies worked with the anti-doping authorities from the start of their production of it, but this is rare.)

So you need either policing or confessions to catch them. True tell-all confessions are very hard to come by - even Vaughters won't state clearly that he doped occasionally while at US Postal, despite allowing us to understand clearly that he did. I don't know why this is - we can speculate on the power Armstrong has over most of his former teammates, perhaps JV just wants people to ignore that part of his past, or perhaps JV can't shake himself of the old omerta.

It would have been very nice if other people had followed Riis's lead after he confessed to doping his way to his Tour win in 1996, but that didn't happen. Most of the cycling world remains solid in their silence about doping in that era.

I will be happy if Astana sign Vinokourov and he is allowed to ride. Then they won't get invited to the Tour, and I won't have to put up with Phil and Paul's daily Armstrong worship in July.

GG, that was hilarious!

MotM said...

Dave - Your post is making my point. With so many ways to get caught without being done by the dope controls, how come LA has dodged it?

I remember reading Vaughters years ago defending an Spanish ex-team mate caught by the dopers. JV is an intelligent and interesting man, but I knew then that he was the same as the others.

David Barry said...

There aren't that many ways to get caught!

You've got:

- tell-all confessions, which are rare
- policing, which has worked in one or two big raids and gets the odd athlete here or there.

Still leaves most of the doping riders untouched.

Allout said...

Don't believe that I missed out on this debate! Not sure if anyone will read this but just to put in my tuppenceworth.

Mouth - "and in the most litigious country in the world, has nobody made it stick".

It's exactly because he is based in the most litigious country in the world - people know that unless they have cast-iron evidence to back up their claim they will end up in a massive law suit and could risk losing.

And there wasn't so many ways of getting caught when Lance was doing it. It is only in the last couple of years that they have seriously tightened up on the fight against doping both in and out of racing.

I agree with David that it is bizarre that people speak in code when Lance it involved. In his chronicles from Garmin in the summer Kimmage wrote a piece about Vaughters where he got stung by a bee in the eye and couldn't get a cortisone injection because CA wouldn't allow him to risk testing positive. A competitor he spoke to about it laughed in his face and said that a proper team would have sorted him out. It's pretty clear from the way Kimmage writes that it was Lance but nodody will mention him by name.

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