The Tour is Finished but the Attacks Continue

A little disappointing today to see AC and LA completely dismantling the last vestiges of team unity even before Cav's tires have had a chance to cool from that blistering finish yesterday. I don't know the circumstances but I wish Lance had attended the team celebration for Contador Saturday night. If the rest of the team was there he should have been too.

It's funny though how perception and allegiances change. A year ago, as I listened to Armstrong explain his reasons for returning at the now famous Interbike press conference (first question Greg Lemond), I immediately sympathized with Contador. I think I wrote that it was the kid's time in the sun and hoped that Lance would return to ride for and not against him. I dreamed of a Giro victory for Lance, maybe an appearance at Paris-Roubaix, but the Tour book was closed.

I underestimated the magnetic power of the man from Austin. He showed up to the Tour of California prepared to work for Levi. He raced without complaint in that rainy first week, launched a spectator and media frenzy around the team worthy of vintage Stones or U2. He got stronger and his authority and impact on the peloton was immediate and impressive. He was clearly having fun and I vividly remember him low fiving Hincapie before Stage 3 of the ToC. There's no way he didn't want George in yellow after Stage 14.

And like everyone else I followed him on Twitter. Plenty of fluff about dinner with friends and what he was listening to on the iPod but in between some great stuff about training and pictures from the road. The Livestrong message stayed front and center, and somehow Lance balanced the comeback with the greater mission. As the season progressed we got inside the team bus with Lance, Levi and Horner. Levi opened up a little and Horner, well Horner is Horner (great guy). Those videos were terrific.

Armstrong the racer, the leader, the communicator, the politician. You could feel the momentum building but it was the broken collarbone that made him the underdog. Rocky, cue the theme music.

I saw him win at Nevada City and he looked good (Rocky II shape) and he had me. When the Tour started, the excitement I'd felt watching Contador climb previously was replaced with apprehension. I wanted the champ to hang with the young guy in the mountains. Contador's twitchiness was irritating (how unfair is that) and I dreamed Lance would once again dominate the time trials. Stage 3's crosswinds had me believing LA's head could beat AC's legs.

It was not to be. The kid was strong, even if he's clueless about race strategy. Sorry Andreas.

By the time the Schlecks attacked at the base of Ventoux, the whole Tour had been reduced to Lance keeping his place on the podium. The poker face was back, except for a reassuring moment of irritation when he shook his head at Frank as if to say "You're kidding right, I'm not going anywhere today" He climbed like the Lance of old and late in the last few kilometers it was Contador grimacing. Sometimes you can't figure out why you feel what you feel. If you follow boxing you know what it's like to watch a fight where you don't know either of the combatants, but within a round or two, you've figured out who you want to win.

This time I knew both fighters, liked both of them going in but in the end Armstrong was my guy. Prudhomme is right, he animated the race, and next year can't come soon enough. For god's sake RadioShack hire a good designer and get the kit right, cause it's going to be front and center when the battle resumes in Holland.

If Lance can regain his TT form and climb like he did on Ventoux, we got ourselves a fight. Don't tell Don King or Bernard Hinault. Ding! Ding!

Postscript: Kudos to Frankie Andreu for several solid interviews... good questions at the right time.

32 Responses to The Tour is Finished but the Attacks Continue

  1. NickM says:

    Michael,
    I think your post speaks for many of us who are cycling fans but have been left with somewhat of a bitter taste in our mouths with the apparent lack of sportsmanship on and off the road due to Astana’s situation. None of us will know what was really said behind the closed doors of the team bus but it seems a shame that neither of these two great champions will be able to look back on their excellent performances at this year’s tour without a bit of regret.
    Thanks for another great post!
    Nick

  2. sam says:

    I too felt that Alberto kind of got the short end of all this. Lance did not play a good teammate as he said he would in the beginning. I think the “Lance” in him took over and wanted to win rather than support the truly strongest rider on the team.

  3. Terry says:

    Well now Alberto has pissed Lance off and you know what Lance does when he’s pissed….

  4. Bryan says:

    Great post. I think Pistolero has a long way to go to be a great champion. Sure, he’s a great rider but his attitude stinks.

    I second your comment regarding the Team Radio Shack kit designer. Those jerseys had better be good because a lot of folks are going to want them.

  5. Doug says:

    Great post, thanks for expressing what many of us thought. like him or not, Lance sure spices up the bike racing scene! I’m looking forward to the Vuelta, when Contador will continue being a bike racer while Lance continues being a media star.

  6. Stefan says:

    I am happy that the “we Americans are the greatest” Armstrong show is over…

    • As a Canadian that over-the-top “USA” stuff grates a little on my nerves too but I really didn’t get that vibe from this tour. This seemed much more about Armstrong himself. Cult of Personality 3 – Jingoism 1

  7. Stefan says:

    he should go for Texas governor, Bush could be a good example for him ;)

    well, and Contador… in spanish we would say ” tambien un creido”

    “also conceited”

    I still love the Indurain times, a humble man. Bugno, Rominger, Chiappucci, Escartin, Olano, Ullrich and many more…

  8. willy in pacifica says:

    I think Armstrong played a great team player. If he had not been on Astana he would have clawed his way back and brought Frank and Wiggins on a couple of the climbs. I think he played more the team role then Alberto.
    But if the roles were reversed I do not think we would have blamed Lance for taking 20 second out of Alberto by a late stage attack like we are blaming Alberto.
    We all wanted Lance to win but I think the strongest rider won. Could Lance have taken 2nd? We will never know because he was handcuffed with Frank and Wiggins a couple of times on the hills. It would have been fun to see some better fighting on the last hill and I almost wished Lance was in 5th to see if he could attack Frank & Wiggins.
    I guess we will have to wait until next year.

  9. Stefan says:

    “”We all wanted Lance to win but I think the strongest rider won.”"

    who is “we”? ;))

  10. BR says:

    I have mixed feelings about the race this year in no order of priority.

    Specialists now win the Tour and I miss the all-arounders, Lance is the most exciting cyclist but he crashed the party with a very selfish return and complicated Johan’s job and alienated AC, Cavendish is also very exciting but again he’s a specialist(yawn). I did enjoy the green jersey competition and applause to Thor – not a specialist :-), my favorite rider is Hincapie but he has no right to blame anyone but himself for those 5 seconds, Jens, Cancellara, Wiggins, made the race exciting for me. Any comments about loud mouthed and arrogant Americans can be silenced by riders with equal or better results from __insert country here________, Contador is probably more pissed off at Johan than Lance because he let him back in the bus. The podium chicks were awesome too – it’s all about the chicks ;-)

    • The two ladies in the black dresses, particularly the dark skinned girl were spectacular. I’m sure I caught Andy Schleck checking her out. We’ll have to check out Pez to see if they’re included.

  11. DancingTool says:

    Contador and Lance didn’t get my vote. Their rivalry definitely created interesting moments but I was really fascinated by the Schleck brothers. Can you imagine doing the Tour with your brother as your teammate? Those guys were willing to got the very edge for each other. Once Andy was out of the running for first, watching him battle for a podium spot for his brother was inspiring.

    Wait until Andy gets his TT down…then watch out.

  12. Henry says:

    Well Contador has won the cycling triple crown and the Giro and Vuelta in the same year. I hope he doesn’t settle into a one-trick pony TdF rider focused on breaking Armstrong’s record. Although that seems to be the trend. He seems to have the talent to be much more, like some of the greats of yesteryear. If you want to stand next to Merckx, Hinault, Coppi, et al in the cycling pantheon you have to compete in more then the Tour.

  13. don says:

    All in all, a predictable tour with a few moments. The last two years without Lance and his uber team allowed for not only a more wide open tour, but more wide open stages.
    Versus got their storyline, but true fans were left wanting more.

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    • BR says:

      I rode for a few years before I stumbled into racing and eventually discovered that I simply love riding – period. Racing was a bit of a disappointment in that the events are pretty short and very hard on the bike. Pulling a kiddie trailer, solo descents, telling stories, buried in a peloton, shaking a cowbell at a pack in the middle of nowhere – all good stuff.

      • kurt says:

        My Saturday morning group ride feels like a race to me.

        I raced when I was young and loved it, and everthything about it. At 47, I can’t seem to put the same time on the bike even with commuting. At race level training,the effort reduces the energy I have to put into my professional life and wife. I have opted to instead set more personal goals like climbing Ventoux on my 50th birthday.

        ok… now it’s out there.

  15. Wade says:

    I think that Lance’s 3rd place was the best thing that could have happened. If he had won, people would have just shrugged their shoulders and said they knew he would. The French media would have been all over doping allegations and the focus would have been on the negative aspects of the sport rather than what good he’s doing for it.

    With a 3rd place finish, it shows that he’s actually human, it still carries a great amount of respect, and now he has something to aim for next year. Can’t wait!

    Great Post

  16. Henry says:

    Love him or hate him Armstrong is great for cycling. Especially in the USA. He really draws the crowds and raises awareness of the sport. The Astana soap opera didn’t hurt either. Now with all the trash talk we have got ourselves a good old fashioned sporting blood feud. Big Tex versus El Pistolero, cue the Sergio Leone soundtrack. Should draw millions to the Texas death match at next years tour. Can’t wait.

    • Lance might make a great guest host on WWE’s Monday Night Raw. Shaq did a find job this week. Contador could wrestle Santina Morella (Santino’s sister) and Lance, Cena and Triple H could square off against Legacy and Bernard Hinault in a six-man KOM/Ladder match.

  17. kurt says:

    Returning to Tour level racing after a three years absence from Pro racing takes serious intestinal fortitude and a winner’s mindset. The fact that he took third in the Tour de France warrants respect at any age. Lance showed a bit of humility even so it was forced upon him by Alberto and Andy and of course the French now love him for it.

    Even more important is that he has been inspiring people. I have read articles with letters from inspired people who struggle every day with affliction and loss. These people love him and need him to be Lance. These letters are moving to read. This is his legacy.

    It was an exciting tour and I am looking forward to next year’s chess game.

  18. Sophrosune says:

    Sigh…I guess because of the likes of Bob Roll questioning Contador’s tactics, we will forever have to hear about Contador’s poor race tactics. (BTW: Winning the mountain stages and ITTs is a pretty good tactic.)

    But this is not why I am posting. There seems to be a question here, or at least a statement, that we will never know what went on behind closed doors. Well, here’s a little insight for you. I have been posting this story on various cycling blogs ever since I first saw it on the “What’s New” blog over at Competitive Cyclist. I think it explains pretty clearly why AC finally felt compelled to speak out against LA.

    When Contador talked about how difficult it was at the hotel and how the problems between the two had spread to the staff the following article from the Spanish publication Diario Sur entitled “A Tale of solitude” http://www.diariosur.es/20090727/deportes/ciclismo/fiesta-privada-contador-20090727.html explains these comments as well as his mother saying on Spanish TV that AC didn’t have a team for the TdF only his family.

    Here’s a translation: “It happened on Thursday, a few hours before the Annecy ITT. Contador came downstairs to the entrance of the Palace of Menthon, the luxurious Astana hotel. The Tour was on. He looked right, then left. Nobody, nothing. No Astana cars or helpers. Cold sweat. Quick time check. Where are they? The hotel is several kilometers from the start. There he was, the leader of the Tour, in flip-flops, bag in hand and alone. He went to the hall looking for an answer: Armstrong had ordered the helpers to go pick up his wife, kids and friends to the airport. Contador left his room last because he was the last one starting the ITT. Armstrong had managed to take away his means of transportation. The straw that broke the camel’s back. Hot flashes, he was rabid. He called his brother Fran. He came to pick him up by car and took him to Annecy in a private vehicle. He left last and finished first. His best victory. In the ITT. In solitude. The same way he has won his second tour.

    Contador’s toughest climb was not recorded in images. It was narrated by others. It was fought in the hotel and the bus: during one stage, Armstrong sat his guests at the very back of the bus, right in Contador’s usual seat. One more provocation. Armstrong to the luxury suite. Contador to sleep with Paulinho, the only ally. Same deal during the entire tour. Mouth shut, listening to Armstrong’s jabs: it doesn’t take a Nobel prize to figure out what happens with side wind. Contador didn’t reply in the hotel. He did on the road. He attacked in the first mountain finish in Arcalis. Without permission from Bruyneel, Armstrong’s DS. That night the Astana hotel was a funeral. Red eyes from the Texan (anger? crying? not sure). The first cyclist that stood up to him. And he did it in silence.”

    When you add in the following podium antics of LA as told by racejunkie: “notably reaching over to shake 2nd place finisher Andy Schleck’s hand heartily while virtually ignoring Contador, rudely not even glancing at his own 3d place trophy proudly given to him by the race organizers and pissily ogling Alberto’s instead, and, icing on the cake, blasting by the neatly single-filing riders on his squad at the best-team presentation so he wouldn’t have to stand next to the guy who’d beaten him and he could nestle in among his own happy servants instead.” And neither LA or Bruyneel for that matter even offering congratulations.

    As I have added on other blogs this story does not have two sides where both sides share some culpability. There is just one side in which a LA unable to win the TdF with his legs tried to do it through any other means necessary, and finally the victim of these attacks spoke out.

    • Thanks for all this detail Dexter. Brendan at CC is including too many links in the What’s New these days (they’re usually all good). If this is how it went down, it certainly puts AC’s tactics in a different light. Most of what I wrote was not about the facts one way or another, it was about who I found myself rooting for. A while back I made a personal apology to Joe Frazier (not that he was waiting for one). Back in the day I was all for Ali, but the recent HBO documentary about the Ali/Frazier fights changed my mind and had me wishing I’d given Smokin’ Joe more respect.

  19. Sophrosune says:

    Well, I’m sorry to say it gets worse. The NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/31/sports/cycling/31aspen.html?_r=1&ref=sports is now reporting on stories published in El Pais (the sister publication of the NY Times in Spain) that the water-bottle pass from Armstrong to Contador was not the selfless act of a super domestique working for his leader:

    “El País, a Spanish newspaper, reported that on the Mont Ventoux stage of the Tour, Ivan Gutierrez, another Spanish rider, said that he offered Contador his water bottle but that Armstrong picked it off and drank it himself, then turned back to say something to Contador. El País also reported that Armstrong took the last Astana team car after one Tour stage and left Contador stranded, forcing him to get a ride with his brother.”

    I think at some level it’s really hard for people to get their heads around the idea that their idol, the guy that got them into the sport or motivated them in some way, is this petty, unmitigated jackass. As Contador said, he’s a great champion but he doesn’t ADMIRE (not hate) Armstrong on a personal level. Can you really blame him?

  20. velomonkey says:

    Good post and glad to see you note some of failings of LA. I’m not so sure I see it the same. Let’s see: zero stage wins, 15th in the TT, soundly beaten by Schleck and some guy without a team, and the only time an attack came was to close a gap not make a gap. Considering he’s 37 it’s good, but overall it’s far from great. He got 3rd by riding defensively and he needs to be thankful that the TT and TTT were early. Aside from performance I am not sure how anyone fails to see this guy is a just a jerk. This completely and utterly supports the Landis claim that once you think for yourself both LA and Johan work against you. We’re talking trite things like saying stuff about you to logistical items like not giving you a TT bike. It’s all in Landis’ book. As for the LA saying it’s all about the team – well, that is really rich considering the source.

    I think Conti is a bore and I think the real racing ends in April. I watch the tour cause it’s the biggest thing, but it’s far from the best. Even the giro with 20%, unpaved TT uphill stages holds more interest. This years tour was a horrible layout.

    As for LA, the guy is the Don of pro cycling. This is too bad. It’s not about the sport, it’s always about LA and what’s good for LA and damn anything else. This has been true for over a decade. Conti is a baby and LA is a bully – they should just both go away. Cav and Wiggo were the real story and if America doesn’t get it’s act together team Sky is going to new english speaking team.

  21. BR says:

    Lance made it possible to have a random chat with just about anyone in the US about cycling. That is a good thing for cycling – period. We live and breathe this stuff and micro analyze the crap out the drama. It’s just a bike race. I recall serious group rides with 2-3 clubs and there was always a star, a natural in the group. These riders have few peers. I take that memory and multiply it by 1000 when I filter the tour stuff. Personalities? Bernard Hinault was know to break out into fist fights, Anquetil was in the bars doing shots til 2AM before stages he won 8 hours with three podium chicks later, etc. These guys are the 1% of the 1%. 15 guys with 150 employees fighting for what they view as their net worth in a 3 week drama-fest. I sure as hell hope that Conti is an emotional, poker faced, SOB, vengeful, heart and soul rider that he seems to be. Lance is a star that happens to ride a bike. He got bigger than cycling and most Americans love that he is all over the news. He is Tiger Woods, Michael Shumacher, Michael Jordan, a star. He is a pain in the ass but very exciting on and off the bike.

    • Doug says:

      The subterfuge and propaganda from Lance and company in the 2009 Tour, unreported by the US media, reminds me why I and many others despise Lance,and believe he is and always has been a cheater!