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Saturday, September 20, 2014

23 Days in July: Book Review

23 Days in July, John Wilcockson, Da Capo Press, 2004.

The 2004 Tour de France was advertised as a defining moment in the history of cycling.  Never before had a rider passed the mythical five Tour de France win threshold, not Eddy Merckx, not Jacques Anquetil, not Miguel Indurain, not Bernard Hinault.  There existed with the sport of cycling, a fatalistic superstition that some destiny would intervene to prevent the riders from reaching the magic number six.

Lance Armstrong entered the five time Tour de France champion club after barely surviving the epic 2003 Tour de France, which was in question until Jan Ullrich plunged out of control on a rain and oil soaked turn in the final individual time trial.  In the 2003 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong almost ended his chances when Joseba Beloki crashed on a Pyrenees descent; and Lance Armstrong had to detour across a plowed field expecting every moment to blow one of his tubeless Hutchinson tires.  Then there was the child with the souvenir musette bag who hooked Lance Armstrong's bullhorns and dumped him and Iban Mayo on the ground, breaking one of Lance Armstrong's chain stays in the process.  Then a few seconds later one of Lance Armstrong's toe clips slipped out of the pedals, nearly doing severe damage to his groin area.  Then, of course, there was the mediation by Tyler Hamilton who enforced the rule that when the maillot jaune has an accident you don't attack; a lesson Alberto Contador should have learned before he tested positive for clenbuterol.  Nevertheless, if Jan Ullrich had continued to ride he would have won the race, and the 2004 Tour de France would have been nothing but a footnote.

As it was the 2004 Tour de France turned out to be one the least suspenseful in history.  Lance Armstrong won four mountain stages in a row; including the L'AlpeD'Huez time trial; a feat that had never been accomplished in Tour de France history.  Several race favorites foundered; Tyler Hamilton after a crash that injured his back, bonked on a climb; his favorite dog Tugboat died during the race and Tyler Hamilton was despondent over the death of his best friend.  Later during the race iron man Tyler Hamilton; the man who rode through an entire 2002 Giro d' Italia and 2003 Tour de France with broken bones; a man who placed high in the classification in both grand tours; could not continue in 2004.  Why?  I suspect that he received a tainted blood sample that was intended for another rider.  Iban Mayo, a great Basque climber, who was caught behind a crash on the cobblestone course, who in spite of his heroic Euskai-Euskatel teammates, who tried to pace him back to the peloton lost time, while a smiling Lance Armstrong lead the pack hammering away.  Later in the race,  during a mountain stage in the Pyrenees, fifty thousand rabid Basque fanatics lined the course while waiting for their hero Iban Mayo, greeted Lance Armstrong with catcalls and upraised fingers for his cobblestone antics.  Iban Mayo hopelessly behind and exhausted quit the race shortly thereafter.  Roberto Heras, (Liberty Seguros) who had a string of successes in the Vuelta a Espana also quit saying that there was "no point in continuing."  Gilberto Simoni, (Saeco), a great climber and two time winner of the Giro d' Italia, did not abandon, but he did complain that Lance Armstrong was hogging all of the mountain stage wins; stages where Gilberto Simoni lead long breakaways.  Gilberto Simoni when asked if Lance Armstrong was the new "cannibal" responded Armstrong is not a "cannibal" he is a piranha!  Jan Ullrich, (Telekom) lost time in the Pyrenees, he was at a loss to understand his performance, promising to do better in the Alps.  Andreas Kloden, (Telekom) was better placed in the general classification that his team leader Jan Ullrich.  Ivan Basso, (CSC) in spite of the "gift" mountain stage win could not keep pace with Lance Armstrong losing time on every stage.  Floyd Landis surprised everyone by setting an inhuman pace, and he would have won the stage if not for the obstinacy of Jan Ullrich.  After Jan Ullrich chased down Floyd Landis he even tried to barter a deal for help to drop Ivan Basso; an offer which the Posties refused point blank.  Of course, in a superhuman sprint Lance Armstrong won the stage, nipping Andreas Kloden at the line because Lance Armstrong was angry because T-Mobile would not let Floyd Landis go. 

But John Wilcockson does his best to keep us entertained, even if the 2004 Tour de France put us to sleep.  John Wilcockson does mix up some old historical tales of roadside fanatics who were around when Le Tour went by eons ago.  My favorite story was of Charly Gaul who slid to a stop at the city fountain to cool down by plunging his head into the water and filling up his water bottles.  The proprietor of the local sports bar claims that he pushed Charly Gaul back onto the course, to the admiration of his patrons.  This proprietor produced photographs to prove, not that he pushed Charly Gaul back onto the course, but that Charly Gaul had actually stopped at the fountain.  John Wilcockson says that after this unscheduled pit stop Charly Gaul rode with Louison Bobet, conceding twenty minutes and a probable Tour de France win to legendary Spanish climber Federico Bahamontes.  Charly Gaul was known as the "Angel of the Mountains" and in cold weather he was unbeatable.  In the 1956 Giro d' Italia, there was a snowstorm on the Monte Bondone stage that was so severe that the Italian Army was mobilized, armed with snow shovels to clear a path for the riders.  Charly Gaul arrived almost an hour ahead of the pack, and begged the Italian soldiers in French to push him up the pass.  The soldiers refused to help Charly Gaul, but they did help push the Italian riders up the pass; nevertheless: Charly Gaul won the stage by eight minutes over his Italian rival Alessandro Fantini, and the entire 1956 Giro d' Italia in the process.  Charly Gaul's Achilles heel seemed to be the heat, where his performance declined to average among the great climbers of his day, thus would probably explain the unexpected visit to the fountain.

There is some mention of dope, too, in 23 Days in July.  David Walsh, L.A. Confidential, Michele Ferrari, EPO, the horse that has been beaten into submission.  There is one gem gleaned out of the muck, however, a statement made by Shelley Verses.  John Wilcockson asked Shelley Verses, former soigneur of La Vie Claire to respond to statements made by Emma O' Reilly in L. A. Confidential that she purchased drugs for Lance Armstrong and the United States Postal Service Professional Cycling Team, disposed of syringes, applied cosmetics to hide bruises, etc.  Shelley Verses stated:

 "It's a part of a soigneur's job to dispose of syringes.  And I used to drive all over the Continent getting drugs, legal drugs.  And I often lent guys makeup to hide bruises.  Riders are so vascular because they have no body fat, and they bruise easily." P. 143.

This is the first statement I have ever heard of that could possibly implicate Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond, and La Vie Claire of using supplements, or possibly performance enhancing drugs, during the 1985 and 1986 Tours de France.  First, Shelley Verses is not a doctor so her assurance that the drugs she did purchase were legal is mere conjecture.  Second, drugs that were legal in 1986, may have been added to the prohibited list, so we may assert that legal does not preclude the fact that the legal drugs that she purchased in 1986, did not have performance enhancing qualities.  Nevertheless, this admission by Shelley Verses directly contradicts the Greg LeMond myth that professional cycling was not in search of a magic pill that would aid in their performance in 1985 or 1986.  Shelley Verses could be considered the first La Vie Claire "whistle blower" if she would come forward and offer testimony of malfeasance; perhaps she should contact USADA!

There was one other piece of rubbish.  Lance Armstrong mentioned his debacle during the 2003 Time Trial where he was beaten soundly by Jan Ullirch as being caused by "chronic dehydration."  Lance Armstrong tries to tell us that he had been suffering from "chronic dehydration" since he received platinum therapy in fighting cancer in 1996.  Lance Armstrong then assures us that drinking water filled his bladder without saturating his cells.  This is complete and utter nonsense and I can't believe that John Wilcockson published such nonsense.  Even stranger is the explanation by Chris Carmichael who claims that the dehydration originated in the 2003 Dauphine Libere, where Lance Armstrong pushed himself to the limit trying to outpace Iban Mayo.  I remember Lance Armstrong hanging on to the medical car, having his elbow patched up by the race doctor during the Dauphine Libere, not because of dehydration, but because he hit a sewer lid, because he had some break malfunction in his new Trek Madone bicycle!  Never was there a word about the "chronically dehydrated" Lance Armstrong during the Dauphine Libere or even the 2003 Tour de France until the mysterious partial bonk during the time trial where Lance Armstrong assures us that he was "riding in squares."  I mean, like, whatever dude!

Anyway, if you are a hardcore Lance Armstrong fanatic this book certainly would not be amiss in your library as a curiosity, since the impact of the mythical six never existed in reality; and has yet to be attained by anyone.  We have the old five timer club, and Lance Armstrong is not among them.  John Wilcockson has written a very good account of a very boring Tour de France, that occurred during a very drug saturated era where the best drugs win, not the best athletes.  23 Days in July would have been regarded as a first class work of reporting in 2004, when the Lance Armstrong mania was still in full force.  It still could be considered a first class reference book; not the parts that examine the personality of the riders; except in a study of abnormal personality traits; or in a study of dissimulation; but the technical discussions of the race tactics still have pertinence.  The book would also be a good companion to the old 2004 Tour de France films.  23 Days in July is a good book even if the contents are dated and without much relevance, or of much interest anymore.  A museum piece fit for mothballs.  But these facts do not detract from John Wilcockson's writing ability or his competence in cycling reporting which is first rate.

Monday, August 11, 2014

2014 Tour of Utah: Stage 6 Depart

Well it was a boisterous atmosphere at the Tour of Utah Stage Six Depart at Rice Eccles Stadium, there were cycling starved fanatics of all stripes, including families with children. I arrived late, planning to ride up to Big Mountain, but when I checked my bike the front wheel had an overnight flat, Murphy's law! But I didn't really miss anything, most of the riders were sequestered in their team buses; and the depart was thirty minutes late. I did wander over to the BMC team bus and saw Cadel Evans. Cadel Evans is the most gracious man I have ever seen. He immediately walked over to the youngest fan in the crowd and signed an autograph; the young man was smiling in genuine happiness; then he posed for photographs holding some of the fanatics young children. I tried to get a photograph, but my camera batteries failed at the most inopportune moment, so nothing exists in long term memory except thoughts of a very charismatic man who is also an outstanding ambassador of our sport. Of course, I did take some photographs, but alas, most were so horrible that it would be pointless to print them.

Tour of Utah Tenth Year Edition.

Photos from top:
Enrique, a chess pal.
Two DRAPAC Professional Cycling Team (Australia) riders who were gracious enough to allow me to photograph them.  Thanks guys!!  I have determined that one of the riders is Adam Phelan from his bib number.  The other rider is still a mystery!
Rob Britton (Team Smartstop)
Chris Horner
A BMC rider
Cadel Evans
The National Anthem.

Stage 6 Winner: Cadel Evans 4:34:31 Tour of Utah Winner: Tom Danielson

Saturday, August 2, 2014

2014 Tour of Utah: Preview

The 2014 Tour of Utah will be a scenic spectacle; it is impossible to describe the breathtaking beauty of Utah's southern climes; you have to see it for yourself or see photographs; descriptions are inadequate and meaningless.  Nevertheless: the climbs this year far exceed anything in the past; the race reminds me of six days of racing in the Alps or Pyrenees during the Tour de France!  Tough hard hors categorie climbs; long difficult climbs, and dizzying descents.  Stage 6 of the Tour of Utah features a leg breaking climb over Guardsman Pass, followed by a 14 mile descent down Big Cottonwood Canyon then a six mile climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Oh!  A friend of mine and me rode up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Guardsman Pass one fine day; but we were turned back at the gate; the road was closed buried by four feet of snow!  In May!  Whew!  We were forced to turn around and descend the fourteen miles; quickly you run out of pedals; you could spin at full speed frictionless and never gain an ounce of speed.  Damn!  The peloton screaming down that pass, especially near the base of the hill where some nasty hairpin turns are located fills me with dread and expectation.  Of course, there is a short interval before you enter Little Cottonwood Canyon, a little flat section, to get you warmed up a bit, before the torture starts again.  Little Cottonwood Canyon is about the same length as L'AlpeD'Huez, about seven point five percent grade, no joke, even for the professional riders.

There is no circuit stage in Salt Lake this year.  There is a feminine addition this year. the women will field 12 teams, the women will ride a 2.2 mile circuit at Miller Motorsports Park on Wednesday, August 6, 2014, in Tooele, Utah.  Admission is free to the public.  I love the fact that the women will be included this year.  A circuit race is a start, but I hope that the girls will have a chance to compete on the road in the future; let's see how well the ladies climb!

The men.  Who are the favorites?

Cadel Evans
Brent Bookwalter

Cadel Evans won the Tour de France!  Brent Bookwalter has competed in several Tour of Utah races and will prove a dangerous lieutenant.

Ivan Basso

Ivan Basso is a world class climber and a tough competitor.  Good enough to be in the top ten in the general classification, if not win the entire race outright. 

Garmin Sharp

Thomas Danielson

Defending champion.  I am sure Mr. Danielson is a champion motivated to repeat his 2013 feat.  And let's face it, Garmin Sharp looks to have the best team.

Christopher Horner

Tough journeyman pro-tour rider.  Christopher Horner has been known in the past to breakaway from the peloton, and succeed in not being reeled in by the peloton.  Christopher Horner could provide a unpredictability factor and shake things up.

Trek Factory Racing

Jens Voight.

Another old time journeyman pro-tour rider.  Tough as nails and ready to win.

Jelly Belly

Freddy Rodriquez

"Fast" Freddy Rodriquez, more of a sprinter than a climber.  Everybody loves "Fast" Freddy, including me.  But he does seem a little out of place in this race.

Then there are the unpredictable.  Some of these team rosters show an amazingly large number of Colombian riders, and Colombian riders can climb like "angels of the mountains."  I imagine that some of these Colombian riders will take stage wins, and don't be surprised if they finish high in the general classification.

Past Winners Missing in Action

Levi Leipheimer
Francisco Mancebo Perez
Jeff Louder (who by the way was introduced to the crowd at the stage 6 depart.  I did not see his name on the rider list, however.  Sorry about that.)

Anyway, come on out, you can see great scenery and great racing all at the same time!