- Greg LeMond
July 26, 2010, 10:05 BST,
July 26, 2010, 11:23 BST
Good news on this year's Tour
Hating to be the bearer of bad news too often, I am really happy to be able to see some real positive statistics come out of this year's Tour de France. The race between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck was great to watch. Either one could have won this year’s Tour de France. What made the racing so exciting was how close the competition was. Most importantly their rides are believable and fall within the historic norms of athletic ability.
I have been very critical of the sport and, I believe, justifiably so. I am a cyclist who took up cycling by accident. This sport is so exciting, so romantic and so beautiful that I spent half of my life dedicated to it. My only hope is to see cycling right itself and gain back the credibility that any sport needs to thrive.
With that said, how do we eliminate the huge advantages of doping? The best way is to use the science and technology that already exists today to help eliminate the possibility of getting the huge benefit from taking doping products. This way a clean rider will have the chance to win in any event that he decides to compete in.
To get a better idea of what I mean, go to this website, http://www.sportsscientists.com, and read what two very knowledgeable scientists have to say regarding the performance of the riders in this year's Tour. I have read quite a few of their studies and they seem to know what they are talking about. They are very knowledgeable about the physiology and science of cycling, and have been doing this for years now.
When I read what their data indicates, I get hopeful that there has been a big effort to change the old habits of the past. This does not mean that the Tour is 100% clean but it does hint that things are possibly changing for the better.
I think that when you see levels of 5.8 or 5.9 watts per kilo for over 20 minutes, it is believable and falls into historical norms. It depends on the VO2 Max, of course, but I believe that a rider like Contador has a lot of talent and is therefore capable of that.
After reading their article, all I could think of was why doesn't the sport embrace scientists like these two to help figure out a better way to control the doping that has destroyed the integrity of cycling? I am a big believer in science and in the end it is the science that will stand the test of time.
The sportsscientists.com guys were saying that in the 90s and early 2000s, most of the climbs were done at 6.2, 6.3 and even up to 6.7 watts per kilo; this is a sign of blood doping.
As regards the future of drug testing, a better term might be drug controlling, controlling the drugs that really boost an athlete's performance. That would be done by using a combination of blood profiling, wattage output, using a system like the SRM Power meter, and profiling of O2 intake.
If you combine the above with criminal consequences for drug distribution and with the possibility for a positive rider to plea bargain his return back to racing (though only if the positive rider names his or her supplier, and with a life ban for those who refuse to cooperate), you might be able to slowly take out those people who have been a large part of the doping problem.
By controlling the hormones and blood boosting drugs plus the transfusions, all that might be left will be drugs that might give the rider a minimal benefit. The placebo effect can have more power to change a rider's ability than some of the drugs on the list. Hopefully talent, focus and motivation could make up the small difference.
Every athlete has a genetic max. Yes, there are things that even the best sports scientists might not be able to explain or understand at this point but eventually, science will discover the answer to the unanswered. One thing that I believe to be true is that huge gains in wattage cannot occur in a short period of time in a sport that is as competitive as cycling. This sport has been highly competitive for over 40 years and I believe that the performances of riders like Merckx would still stand up to the best in today's cycling.
There is some very good data out there that indicates little improvement in aerobic capacity when you look back at many of the Tour de France champions from the pre-EPO era. Hopefully steps will continue to be taken to ensure that the Tour de France is won by someone with natural talent who shows that his performance is backed up by his natural ability.
One thing is for sure - Alberto Contador is very talented and I am happy to see some data that indicates his victory could be the result of natural ability.
Overall, to me it looked much more like the racing I knew. There was a lot more fatigue and exhaustion - the attacks go, but then they fade. There is this hesitation in the riders, too - when you feel the suffering, you are going to start racing more tactically. That is what I have seen in this Tour. It's very different to the Tours you saw five years ago - then, the flat stages had the bunch in one long line. And when people got to the climbs, they were being dropped, but there was no sign of suffering. This year looked a lot better.
Finishing up, there's been a lot of talk about the chain problem that Schleck had the other day, and the fact that Contador and a few other riders didn't wait. I don't think his victory should be overshadowed by what ifs, as this is part of racing.
I think if it's 30 or 40 kilometers out, then absolutely - wait. But if it's three kilometers from the finish of an uphill, it is different. When you are racing like Contador was, you are not sitting there lucid and aware [of everyone]. You are completely focused on what you are doing.
If you look at the replay, Vinokourov was between Contador and Schleck and I think that obscured his view. I think that Contador did finally see that Schleck had stopped suddenly, but I don't think that he had any idea that he then got off his bike and had to put his chain back on, being further delayed.
It is certainly tragic for Schleck as it was clear that day that he was strong, and perhaps stronger than Contador, but I don't think Contador's victory should have an asterisk next to it. I don't think that Contador took an advantage.
When I look at my own career, I flatted on the last climb going into Pau in 1990. I think it was the Marie Blanc. Chiappucci saw me, got his teammates and just took off and attacked. I think that's different, when you consciously see someone flat and then you take off.
Anyway, I didn't like it, but the fact is that it was part of the race and I had to deal with it. I was more annoyed that my team car wasn't there. We were two minutes down and if it wasn't for Gilbert Duclos Lassalle and, I think, Kvalsvoll, who were up front yet sat and waited for me, I would have definitely lost the Tour.
- Greg LeMond
July 23, 2010, 19:46 BST,
July 23, 2010, 20:56 BST
Doctors, doping and allegations
In my first article for cycling news I made a prediction that Lance Armstrong would not make it to the Tour de France start and if he did he would abandon the race before entering France. My predictions had nothing to do with Lance Armstrong’s desire or ability to race the Tour de France. It was mostly a reflection of how I would feel if I were the target the of a Federal investigation. I could not have started a Tour de France with something like that hanging over my head. I was wrong in my predictions. His determination to continue in spite of crashes and the turmoil surrounding him is surprising.
This is where Lance Armstrong stands apart. He seems unfazed by accusations of doping. These sorts of accusations would have been so devastating to me, I would never have been able to race under these circumstances.
When I made my now often repeated statement about Lance Armstrong and his long term relationship with Dr. Ferrari in 2001, I tried to keep it as short and to the point as possible. I was very disappointed to learn that he was a patient of Dr. Ferrari. Long before this relationship was revealed by David Walsh in 2001 I had made comments about the entrance of specialists like Dr. Ferrari and others into the sport of cycling. I was hearing stories back as early as 1993 about Dr. Ferrari and his client list of pro cyclists.
It was said that Dr. Ferrari was getting around 15-20% of a riders salary for preparing their doping programs. Because of this information we often joked that Dr. Ferrari was the best paid rider in the peloton.
I am not sure if the numbers are correct, but the rumor was that he was training upwards of 50 riders, most of whom were top riders. Salaries and money in the sport started to rise dramatically by the end of the 1980’ s. By 1994 there were dozens of riders making more than $500,000 and some making well over $1,000,000. Imagine getting as much as 20% of the income that 50 cyclists were earning?
I remember reading the autobiography of French rider Erwann Mentheour, Secret Defonce, Ma Verite sur le Dopage. This book was published in France in 1999. He details his cycling career and his relationship with Dr. Ferrari. In one particularly stunning incident, Erwann descibes how “Dottore” provided him with a very special potion he called,”solcinella”. It was so new that even the “Dottore” had never injected it into anyone before but Erwann and his teammate didn’t let that stop them. They decided to share the contents of the vial and inject it intravenously. He and his teammate went on to have the time trial of their lives.
This vial contained what “Dottore” told them was a sea turtle blood extract. I thought to myself “Wow, how gullible can some people be?”
A placebo can act as a powerful aid. Years later, I was reading an article about how the Chinese were doing research on sea turtle and crocodile hemoglobin. Could this possibly be the same product that Erwann injected? He was supposedly the first human being to ever inject this product.
I have read about coaches and trainers contacting biotech companies seeking to buy drugs currently in testing phases to use on their athletes. Is any sport worth dying for?
It is stories like this that influenced my opinion of Lance Armstrong’s relationship with Dr. Ferrari. How could I support this relationship? I knew too much to comment otherwise by July 2001. I was aggressively outspoken against the influence of these doctors in 1998 and early 1999. These stories were not printed in the US.
I had closely followed the deaths of many professional cyclists and the information that was well known about these types of doctor/patient relationships throughout the peloton. I doubt that there is a professional rider from my era that does not know the reason that an athlete goes to see Dr. Ferrari and others like him. If I had responded differently I would have been one of the enablers that still permeate professional cycling.
I know that it is not always easy to hear this sort of information and I too want to stand back and cheer for the courageous men who cycle for a living. They are all amazing athletes and have dedicated their lives to cycling or they would never be in the peloton at all. I just want to ensure that the race I am watching is authentic and those that pass for heroes are who we think they are.
Bravo to the new generation that refuses to follow the path that was laid before them!
- Greg LeMond
July 14, 2010, 10:57 BST,
July 14, 2010, 12:10 BST
How the lessons of epic 1989 Tour apply to Schleck and Contador
What a great first week of racing. It is a Tour de France that I would have loved to have raced, so long as I was one of the lucky few that survived all the crashes!
Watching the Tour on TV can be interesting. To hear the commentators talk about Contador's form and how weak or strong he appears to be is great, but it is purely speculation. It is impossible to know how he will be riding next week based on just two mountain stages. Winning the Tour seems simple: ride faster than your competitor every day for three weeks. This is not always possible and does not necessarily translate into victory. Sometimes a rider can just be on an "off" day and seem to be struggling.
In the 1989 Tour De France, I traded the yellow jersey several times with Laurent Fignon. The day before the Alpe D'Huez stage, I was in yellow and made up another 13 seconds on Fignon with a small attack on the Izoard. I was trying to get any time I could on Fignon and took every opportunity to grasp a few more seconds. It seemed like my competitors were more concerned with the next day’s mountain stage than with monitoring the run-in to Briancon as closely as they should have done and I was able to capitalize on that.
The following day was the most critical stage in the Tour. July 19th, the biggest mountain stage of the 1989 Tour de France. I was feeling great over the Galibier, Glandon and Croix de Fer. At the bottom of the final climb of the day, Alpe d’Huez, I was still feeling really good, so good that I attacked the lead group. I was quickly reeled in but gave it another try. Again, they reeled me back only this time the pace continued to increase. All of a sudden, the sensation of power started to fade. I really started to suffer and then began to worry that Fignon would see it in my face. I was hoping I could bluff my way to the finish. Fortunately, Laurent never looked back at that point. If he had done I might well have lost the Tour.
Fignon’s directeur sportif at Systeme U, Cyrille Guimard, had managed me earlier in my career, so he knew me and my riding style better than anyone. He could see that my shoulders had started to drop with each stroke of the pedal. He knew that meant that I was tired. He tried to get up to the lead group to let Laurent know that I was in trouble.
Jose De Cauwer, my ADR coach, saw what was happening too. The ADR car was at the front of the line-up of team cars just ahead of Systeme U’s. Guimard needed to pass De Cauwer to tell Fignon what he was seeing, but De Cauwer did not make that task easy. He and Guimard battled it out, with Guimard eventually passing by. The best description of that day would have been, "Demolition Derby on L'Alpe D'Huez”, with thousands of dollars of damage done to the team cars.
When Guimard finally did get around De Cauwer, he pulled up to Fignon and ordered him to attack. The first time around Fignon could not respond to Guimard's request.
Several kilometres, later Guimard was back. This time he really let Fignon have it. Yelling at the top of his lungs, he again told Fignon to attack. This time Fignon responded and I attempted to follow. Within several metres I was in the red and shortly after I blew up. I am happy that radios were not legal in those days because it probably would have ended differently for me. By the top of Alpe D’Huez I had lost more than a minute and a half and, with it, the overall lead.
If my form had been judged solely on the basis of the climb of the Alpe that day, I would have been counted out for the final run in to Paris. Instead, I was able to recover from that effort and ended up winning two of the next four stages and the Tour itself. After Fignon congratulated me on my second place finish the day before the final time trial, I thought to myself, “holy s**t Laurent, you just lost the Tour”. He had forgotten Guimard’s most important advice: “the race is never over until you cross the finish line”.
Fignon had taken his success in the Alps as an indication of how the race would finish. My performance in the time trial was in keeping with the time trials we had already done against each other at the Giro and earlier in the Tour the same year.
I see similarities in the Schleck/Contador battle to come. Neither one can possibly know what will come their way in the next week but it looks to be an exciting battle ahead. Two tough competitors giving their all until the finish line is crossed in Paris.
- Greg LeMond
July 09, 2010, 15:41 BST,
July 09, 2010, 16:45 BST
Contador impresses with pavé performance
It has been amazing to watch the carnage that has taken place over the last five days of racing. Having raced for 14 years in the pro peloton, very few things surprise or shock me. This week’s Tour was an exception. After having had my share of crashes during my career I can attest to the pain that results from such accidents.
Crashing on your bike is not like falling down on a snowboard or off a surfboard - it is not onto soft snow or in ocean water. There's usually some contact with the pavement or an obstacle, and that’s not fun. It can rip your skin off, break a couple of bones, or even kill you!
My most unusual crash was in the 1982 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, as a second-year pro. Didi Thurau was the big German star at the time, and I was just the young punk, 20 years old. I started at the back, knowing then that you should be either in the front or back of the peloton. If you were in the middle, you'd be in what I called the dead zone - it was that dangerous.
It was raining and the brakes were not that responsive. Out of my right ear, I could hear someone calling, ‘Greg..Greg...Greg!’ I finally looked over and there was a photographer. I looked back in front of me, then he called me once again and I looked over to give him a smile for the shot.
When I turned back I saw to my horror that the bunch had come to a near stop. I slammed on the brakes, they didn't respond and I went flying into Didi. He went down heavily, breaking his arm, I went down and broke my collarbone. His career was over while mine was just beginning.
We got to the hospital and they needed to get my jersey off. I didn't have much maneuverability and so the easiest way was for the nurses to just slice it off. However they just kept trying to pull off the jersey, dragging my arm up to do so and putting my shoulder in real agony. I had to finally roar at them to cut it...they wanted to keep it as a souvenir, being big cycling fans. When my wife walked into the ER, she found out where I was by following the sound of my screaming profanities.
Anyway, the inclusion of cobbles was a controversial move in this year’s race, and led to a lot of complaints. What people forget is that up until the mid '80s, the Tour regularly featured a Paris-Roubaix-like stage. By the time I raced in the Tour I had already competed in three Paris-Roubaix races.
One difference between then and now is the fact that many of the current Tour riders have no experience on the cobbles. But when I started racing, the fascination with cycling wasn't just the Tour de France. It was the photos of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix which hit my imagination. That was a big part of the romance of the sport. And that’s why, just after the first Junior Worlds I rode, I jumped at the chance to go race in Europe with Kent Gordis. We were competitors in my first year of racing, but by this time we were friends.
I won two races in Switzerland, then two in France, and then I went to Belgium to do about eight races. There, I competed on cobbles for the first time, having deliberately targeted those events due to the romantic image surrounding them.
I did two or three races with cobblestones and won two of them. A stretch of cobbles was like climbing a steep, short hill; the faster you ride over them, the smoother it was, and so when we reached the pavé section, we hammered it going into them and until we got out the other side. They were also very technical as you had to look ahead and pick your line, reading what the cobblestones were like. You'd have to avoid the sharp stones, jump over the missing ones, and avoid the head of the rider who just fell in front of you.
Anyway, I found that it was one of the more exciting parts of bike racing. I went on to place fourth twice in Paris-Roubaix, even though I was shattered for days afterwards. I remember not being able to pick up my baby until the Wednesday after one edition of the race.
The dynamics of competition have however now changed and with increased specialisation, you don't see many of the big Tour champions riding Paris-Roubaix. Other riders also give the race a miss, and that’s the reason why so many had no experience of the pavé. This may have contributed to the general apprehension the riders felt before this year’s Tour.
Great riders, regardless of their experience, can however rise above it. A little homework like Contador did in April can also help. The beauty of the sport, cobbles and all, is that when you least expect a big performance from someone, they can pull it out of the bag and that is what happened.
Beforehand everyone was expecting Armstrong and his team to take a minute out of him. But on the day, to everyone’s surprise, Contador did far better than expected and ended up gaining time on Armstrong and many of his other rivals. Only Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans did better, while most of the other favourites actually slipped further back in the general classification relative to him.
With the mountains fast approaching, I think that psychologically that performance left a lot of favourites wondering where they stand. I'm certain a few riders thought that day was a great opportunity to take time out of a guy like Contador, but little did they know that the roles would be reversed. Some of them will be even be asking themselves if they are as good as they think they were going into the race.
That makes for some very interesting racing in the days ahead. The scene is set for a very explosive Tour.
- Greg LeMond
July 02, 2010, 21:55 BST,
November 15, 2010, 12:04 GMT
LeMond remembers disastrous 1992 build-up
A close friend of mine recently asked me what was going through my mind during the month leading up to the Tour de France. My thoughts varied from year to year. In my best years (1984, 1985 and 1986), I was in such good shape that my only concerns were to maintain my health, stay out of crashes and get plenty of rest and sleep.
By the start of the Tour, I would typically have had 70 to 80 days of racing in that year. My training during the final month before the Tour was planned almost a year in advance. The goal was to do most of the hard training well before the last month. More often than not this ended with the Giro. The goal was almost to over-train and then taper off during the final month. The hardest training is destructive and the body needs time to recover.
Most people think that there is more and more progression can be gained by training intensely for racing right up to the start of the race, but that is not true. Peaking is an art. It is part intuition, part experience and part trial and error.
Luck also plays a very important part. One ill- timed crash could prove disastrous. My worst experience, and one that was truly a nightmare, occurred prior to the 1992 Tour de France that began in San Sebastian, Spain.
Typically, a team gets together three days prior to the start of the Tour, wherever that start will be. In 1992, I lived in Belgium, which was usually just a short flight away from the start. That year, however, the French airlines were on strike. I was also at the end of a three-year contract with Team Z, which was the team that I had won my last Tour with in 1990. It was a team that had paid me handsomely and expected me to perform.
By 1991, however, my performance had begun to wane. I finished seventh and was devastated because I did not believe that I could lose the Tour de France if I arrived at the start in good condition, as I did that year.
But something had changed in cycling. The speeds were faster and riders that I had easily out performed were now dropping me. At the time, the team I was on, Team Z, became more and more demanding, more and more concerned about my training, my diet and my dedication to the sport.
From all outside appearances, one might believe there was some reason for concern. The reality was that my ability and desire had not changed.
Our sponsor was disappointed and the pressure to perform in 1992 was intense. We were at the end of a three year sponsorship run and our Team was looking for a new sponsor. The worse I raced, the more they wanted me to do. The more I did, the more over-trained I became and by June of 1992, I was fried and the team had little confidence in my ability to race well in that year’s Tour.
Five days before the Tour started, a week that is so carefully planned for rest, where no distraction is welcome, someone at Team Z decided that they were not getting their money’s worth. At the last minute, I was told to go to Paris for a television appearance two days before the start of the Tour at San Sebastian.
Because of the airlines strike, my wife and I were forced to take a train to Paris from Belgium, with the hope that the strike would end. When it did not, we had to take a train to Bordeaux. The team did not get us tickets on the TGV, but rather a train that stopped in nearly every village on the route.
I missed a full night’s sleep and when we arrived in Bordeaux, I was picked up by the team car. Then, on the two-hour car ride to San Sebastian we had a flat tyre and discovered there was no spare. There I was, marooned on the side of the autoroute halfway between Bordeaux and San Sebastian. Fortunately, another team’s car stopped and offered to tow us to a gas station where our tyre was fixed.
Imagine suffering from the worst jet lag the day before the Tour began. That's basically how I felt. I started the 1992 Tour de France more tired than I felt at any the end of any of the other Tours that I completed. I am not sure what was worse, the loss of a night’s sleep or the worry over the lost sleep. Not the way to begin a Tour.
My favourite for this year’s Tour is Alberto Contador. Last year, he not only had to beat all of his competitors, but he also had to race against his own team, for which he deserves another yellow jersey.
My Lance Armstrong prediction? Either he will not start or he will pull out just before the race enters France. I have a feeling that the world of cycling is about to change for the better.
- Greg LeMond
Greg LeMond is one of the most important figures in cycling's rich history. A three-time Tour de France winner and double World Champion, LeMond not only reached the pinnacle of his sport, but changed it forever. The first American Tour winner, he brought cycling to new frontiers. A fearless champion of innovation, he ushered in a new era of technological advancement. A stylish and determined rider, he captured the hearts of fans the world over.
Articulate and informed in his opinions, LeMond has always been a forthright advocate of cycling's true values and we are delighted to welcome Greg to the Cyclingnews team for the duration of the Tour de France