To start with a serious matter: all of the doping tests from Hamilton came back negative -- not that anyone noticed. The stories of high haemocrits and questionable test results made major headlines, but the story clearing all the riders of drug charges were buried and drew little notice. Hardly a fair situation for the riders involved.. Will they be unfairly remembered as, "Oh, wasn't there something about them doping at the Worlds one time? And they didn't get caught or something?"
The Tour de France route for 2004 has been announced and two aspects have caught my attention. The first -- and to my mind most interesting -- is the mountain time trial up the Alpe d'Huez. I fell in love with the ride up this mountain when I watched Telekom's Giuseppe Guerini win it in 1999. Frankly, I can't think of a better or more dramatic place to hold such a time trial. For me it will definitely be the highlight of the Tour!
The other aspect that caught my eye is the change in the team time trial, so that no team can lose too much time, and thus no favored rider will lose the Tour simply because of this stage. Certainly a noble cause, but I find it contradictory to put on a race and then remove the concept of competition from it. They may as well just transform it into an exhibition stage -- something that doesn't count toward the results but looks good. Too bad if the riders get exhausted, or even crash and hurt themselves......One alternative that has been mentioned over the years is to limit the effect of the results to the team rankings, not the individual rankings. Another option would be just to eliminate it entirely, which would be a shame, because it is fascinating to watch.
The team time trial is controversial in other respects, and this new change should perhaps help settle some of those problems. Look at it this way: You have a rider capable of winning the yellow jersey. You also have a rider on your team capable of winning sprint stages, but who is not a good time trialist. Do you leave him off your TdF team, because his presence might cost the team too much time in the team time trial, thereby harming the chances of your yellow jersey candidate? Do you sacrifice good all-arounders in favor of time trial speciailists, who may not even make it over the mountains? Is it right to compose a Tour de France team based strictly on one stage?
Marco Pantani has returned to attention and he has done it -- typically -- with a surprise announcement. Now he wants to put his expertise and experience to work to help others, as a team manager. I think that Pantani is undoubtedly one of the most talented riders around -- remember, he is the last person to have won the Giro and the Tour in the same year -- but injuries, bad luck, drug rumors and legal and personal problems have stopped him from accomplishing what he might have been capable of. But is he a leader of men? Is he a tactician, a field general, a motivator, who can lead others to victory? These are aspects that he has never before shown to the public, and they seem to be contrary to what the public at least thinks it knows of his character.
Excerpts of Lance Armstrong's newest book have started appearing in the German press. Ullrich fans are, of course, still up in arms over the "Did Ullrich wait or not?" question, which is addressed in the book. A recent book review in the Speigel magazine looks at Armstrong's total concentration on -- or obsession with -- winning the Tour de France. Having beaten cancer, he apparently took on the Tour as his nex competitor -- or rather, he uses it as the proving ground that he is still fighting, still winning, still alive. Such single-mindedness is frightening to behold, but he has chosen to make these professional goals the total aim of his life, regardless of the sacrifices it entails in his personal life. This attitude probably explains the difference between one who wins the Tour so often and one who finishes second so often, but it is a choice that everyone must make for him- or herself: what prioriy has the profession, and what priority has the personal life?
And of course I have to mention the hot gossip that is sweeping the cycling scene: Lance in Love! Or Sandra in Love with Lance! Or Lance and Sandra Seen in Public Together! The silly season just keeps on getting sillier...........