A Look Back at the Tour de France & A Look Forward into the Future of Cycling
Sorry to be a few days late, but I’ve been enjoying the pleasures of eastern Tennessee for the last few days. I should have taken my road bike. There are lots of hills, and lots of good pavement, but I digress. The Tour is finally over and Lance Armstrong rode away with a seventh win. In truth, this one was a yawner; easily the most boring Tour of the last couple of decades. The last half of the tour was animated only by Michael Rasmussen’s spectacular collapse in the final time trial, and Vinokourov going all out any time he felt good and getting a well deserved stage win in Paris. The real story now is what has Armstrong done for the Tour and for cycling, and what does the future hold.
Armstrong and the Postal / Discovery team have probably changed the Tour forever, and that is both good and bad. The good is that the quality of the riders and bicycling equipment is better than ever. The bikes are unbelievably light, strong and stiff. The riders all have two way radios, and the training has become very scientific. The bad is that that hasn’t translated into a better race. Too often now, the race is completely predictable, with the riders knowing the status of every other rider in the race in real time. Gone is the day when the riders had to decide for themselves how hard to ride and when to chase and attack. Gone also is the element of surprise. What we have instead is a bunch of stages with one or two teams riding a real hard tempo to try and tire people out for their team leader, and then a brief acceleration at the very end of the stage to see who’s tired. This type of racing has been highly successful for Postal / Discovery, but it leaves little drama, and without drama, the TV coverage will eventually cease. Look for the Tour to make some changes in the next few years, like possibly eliminating the radios, shortening some stages, and maybe mixing up the race by having some mountain stages at the start and end of the Tour instead of grouping them all in the middle.
For American cycling, Armstrong has been a revelation. The mere fact of Armstrong winning the Tour is what got cycling on TV regularly, and started a resurgence in road cycling. Prior to Armstrong, the mountain bike had taken over in the late 80s and 90s and the road bike had become passé. Today, in addition to far more adults riding, I see kids riding small road bikes and that is something I never saw five years ago. While this is good, it remains to be seen if there will a drop now that Armstrong has retired. The next few years are likely to be lean ones for Americans in the big races, and especially in the Tour which constitutes about 99% of cycling coverage in the USA. In the long run, though, the future of American cycling is brighter because of Armstrong. Some of the kids that started riding because of Armstrong should develop into good riders, and with more kids riding, it is likely some of them will be better athletes that would otherwise have done something else. The real key will be grass roots racing to keep kids riding., and I wouldn’t be surprised if Armstrong becomes a promotional tool for domestic racing by just making appearances. It would be a huge boost for the next generation of racers.
That brings me to my last point. Notice that I said those kids are athletes. It has suddenly become all the rage to debate whether or not Lance Armstrong is even an athlete, or alternately, to refer to him as an “endurance” athlete. As opposed to what? Should we now refer to Michael Jordan as a “ball bouncing” athlete? Is Joe Montana is now a “ball throwing” athlete? Have hockey and baseball players become “stick wielding” athletes? Don’t even get me started on golf. All you have to do is remember all the whining that took place on the PGA Tour when the possibility of a disabled golfer getting to ride in a cart reared its’ head. Evidently a slow walk of a couple of miles, spread out over several hours constitutes a physical exertion that can break down a professional golfer, excuse me, “metal club wielding” athlete, leaving him at the mercy of his disabled competition. Obviously pro cyclists are athletes. If you want an endurance athlete, go for one of the guys in the Race Across America. Those guys pedal across the country in a little over nine days, sleeping for maybe an hour a day. That’s an endurance athlete.
So what’s left for cycling in 2005? There are still a couple of good one day events, the Classica San Sebastien and the World Championships are two, and then there is the Vuelta a Espana, the last of the three grand tours. he Vuelta will be the final chance at redemption for any riders or teams that have had bad years, but it looks like most of the Americans put all their eggs in the Tour de France basket, so don’t expect an American winner or to even hear of the results (I’ll put my money on Aitor Gonzalez. He won a couple of years ago and looks to be over the fat and slow phase he went through the last two years.) I’ll withhold my prediction for next year’s Tour for now, and I’ll be back again before next years spring classics (Paris – Roubaix is really the best race there is, and it’s only one day) for some more cycling talk.
Posted by BVBigBro at July 28, 2005 08:25 AM
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|Ugo Bike linked with Bike Victory|
|# July 28th, 2005 8:49 AM kris|
|I certainly hope you don't wait a year to post again. I mean football season is almost upon us and who else but you hates Mike Sherman as much as I do? |
|# July 29th, 2005 8:36 AM KVBigSis|
|Great job on the TdF posting, BV. Any guesses on who will be the new leader of the Discovery team? |
|# July 29th, 2005 8:52 AM BVBigBro|
|Popovych for the Tour, Savoldelli for the Giro, ? for the Vuelta. |