Archive for the ‘Cycling for Brits and dummies’ Category

The world needs to LiveStrong, more than it needs a guilty Lance Armstrong

The crusaders against seven time Tour de France winner and cycling legend Lance Armstrong claim they want to pursue justice in cycling as well as in worldwide professional sport. However, there is something more important at stake: the future of the LiveStrong foundation

In a simple straightforward world in which justice would be based on looking at facts, nobody would bother accusing Lance Armstrong of using doping. With over 500 drug tests in his career, all negative, it is hard to argue he ever used performance enhancing medication. Or in other words; it can not be proven in a scientific manner.

However, there is a bit of a problem. It is called professional cycling. From the hay days of Tom Simpson, who died attempting to beat the mighty Mont Ventoux on dope, and cycling legend  Eddie Merckx, till the era of Alberto Contador; the sport has always been surrounded by rumours, conspiracy theories and indeed evidence of dope users.

After the ‘Festina  scandal’  during the mid-nineties,  we thought the peloton learned its lesson. But the new millennium proofed otherwise. Cycling aces Jan Ullrich, Iban Mayo, Alexandre Vinokourov, Roberto Heras, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, were all caught with the finger in the cookie jar of biscuits that make you cycle a bit faster.

Although a few of Armstrong’s former team mates were proven dopers (Heras, Landis and Hamilton), they were not racing with the Texan in the same team at the time they were caught. However, this makes it undeniable that Lance was active in a peloton in which his main rivals used or were accused of using dope. So let’s make a bold statement: Armstrong lived in a culture in which ‘go-faster pills’ were normal.

As said before, ‘The Boss’ never failed a drug test, so despite the existence of dope around Armstrong, there is no scientific evidence for cheating. However, things were and are about to get a lot uglier after dope users and former teammates Hamilton and Landis accused Lance of using EPO and blood transfusions.

Why should we believe Floyd Landis? The short answer is we should not. For years he maintained he was innocent after winning the 2006 Tour full of dope. He asked people for millions of dollars to pay for his legal proceedings before finally ‘unburdening’ his mind by confessing he used forbidden drugs. But instead of taking the blame like a man, he cowardly drew all attention to Lance. Is it the act of a desperate man, a bitter rival, or a broke man looking for some media attention to cash in on?

If there is one thing we can learn from Landis, it is that we cannot trust cyclists for the their word until they are actually proven (not) guilty. Which brings us to Tyler Hamilton, who on CBS’s 60 Minutes ‘confessed’, he saw Armstrong use EPO when they were teammates, and even more controversial, he said the Word Cycling Federation (UCI) concealed a positive test belonging to Armstrong. This claim has been denied by the governing body.

So why does Hamilton bring out these statements regarding his former team captain? Also, why is he not he accusing other riders? Does it have something to do with Hamilton’s soon to be released book or because a federal investigation concerning Armstrong’s career is going on?

Again, like with Landis, it is Hamilton’s word against that of Armstrong and why would we believe two ex team mates who where caught after they left Armstrong’s team to ride for their own success? Both have lied for years and decided, after their careers derailed, to ‘confess’ their sins, or more so, Armstrong’s.

Another twist in the tale could be former teammate and friend George Hincapie, who remained Lance’s most loyal servant throughout all seven Tour de France victories. He allegedly confessed to federal officers of using EPO as well as helping seeing Lance take it. Unlike Hamilton, Hincapie was not interviewed by CBS. However, the show claimed he made the confession. He responded saying:  “I can confirm to you that I never spoke with 60 Minutes. I have no idea where they got their information.” At the moment it is unclear if and what Hincapie revealed. Thus Armstrong remains innocent, denying all claims made by his former team mates.

What if (a dangerous question to raise in a column) he is found to be guilty? What if they do find evidence? As I said earlier, it is not completely unthinkable that the best cyclist of the past decade who beat all his rivals, many of whom were accused or punished for the use of dope, used performance enhancing medication. So would proof of cheating make Lance any less of an athlete?

I do not think so. You cannot win seven consecutive Tours de France without being the best. You can argue that a single win, like Landis or Heras, could be the direct result of their drug abuse, since they were caught immediately during the height of their success.

However, winning de toughest cycling event in the world seven times in a row means you have a lot of talent, physical and mental strength. Undeniable, dope can enhance performance but not the amount that makes you beat the 200 hundred best cyclists in the world, year in, year out. So for me, Lance’s status as one of finest cyclists and indeed athletes of all time, will not be affected if he is convicted for dope use.

Am I worried about cycling, if its biggest star  of the past decade turned out to be a cheat? Again, no. As said before, cycling was, is and will be a sport of people searching for their physical limit, and thus crossing the line.

Eddie Merckx, seen by many as the best cyclist that ever, was accused and proven guilty of using dope. Yet, his reputation as a legend remains. Also, there seems to be an awareness, over time, that the best athlete will always win, despite the use of dope. And judging by the thousands of spectators along the Tour’s stages (after the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup the best watched sporting event in the world), the legendary bike race should not need to worry about its popularity.

Would I be worried about The Boss himself? Of course not, he is a wealthy man who has the means to retreat behind safe walls to protect himself as well as his family.

Although, he probably needs to flee the country since Americans, more than any other country men, hate people cheating in sport. However, I do not really care what happens to Lance. As longs as he stays out of jail (unlike Marion Jones) he will have to bear the consequences of his actions, like any other human being.

Nevertheless, I do worry about Lance’s legacy. I am not talking about his professional cycling career, but his role as founder and role model of the LiveStrong foundation, which has raised $80.000.000 worldwide, to battle cancer.

Armstrong, like no other, took his social responsibility. Wherever he went, with or without the peloton, he visited hospitals, talked with cancer patients, parents and survivors. He tried to help, listen pray and inspire them. It is easy to lend your name to a foundation but the way Armstrong became the face of the battle against cancer, makes him a role model for other athletes and powerful people in society who have the means to change things.


Armstrong is the first to admit that the success of LiveStrong is not down to him alone, despite beating cancer and/or cycling fast through France. Livestrong was build on the many members of staff and volunteers dedicating their time for the good of the foundation. However, all of this would not have been possible if it was not for the Lance, who by beating cancer and becoming a successful athlete, became a symbol of inspiration triggering a response from society which enabled the rise and success of LiveStrong.

If Armstrong’s reputation is to be damaged, the symbolic foundation on which LiveStrong is build will be destroyed. So let us hope, not so much for cycling or Lance himself, but for the sake of  his wonderful foundation, and the millions of people it helped and inspired world wide, that the Texan remains not guilty. Because it is vital that people are aware of the message LiveStrong spreads.

Stef Meens

The Hell of the North; heaven for cycling legends

“Thousands line the road in this annual rite of spring cheering their larger than life heroes. Urging, at times, even helping them victory. They ride in the tracks of bygone legends dreaming of distant fame and glory. But glory is not without a price.

These bloodied and battered warriors struggle through the rain, the cold, the mud, on roads better suited to oxen cart than bicycles. But for the victor there is glory, immortality and a place in history amongst the giants of the road.

Since 1896, the greatest bike racers on earth have come to test their very souls in this brutal and beautiful spectacle”.

CBS Sports – 1987

Paris–Roubaix is more than a one-day cycling event. Together with the Tour of Flanders, the race is considered to be one of the ‘Monuments’ or Classics of cycling.

It has been called the Hell of the Northa Sunday in Hellthe Queen of the Classics or la Pascale: the Easter race.

Famous for rough terrain and challenging weather conditions, The Hell is, like the Tour of Flanders and Gent–Wevelgem, one of the cobbled classics. Hence, since 1977, the winner of Paris–Roubaix has received a sett (cobble stone) as part of his prize after crossing the finish line at Roubaix’ legendary Velodrome

This year, on the second Sunday of April, Belgian rider Johan Vansummeren won. Despite sunshine and the absence of rain and snow, the victory was heart fought and it ran at a destructive pace.

It’s hard to describe in words the beauty of this sport and indeed Paris-Roubaix. However, Dutchman Theo de Rooij tried.

In 1985, he crashed during Paris-Roubaix whilst fighting for victory. He told CBS’ John Tresh after the race:

“It’s a bollocks, this race! You’re working like an animal, you don’t have time to piss, you wet your pants. You’re riding in mud like this, you’re slipping … it’s a pile of shit.”

When then asked if he would start the race again, De Rooij replied:

“Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!”

Stef Meens

Cycling for Brits and dummies: an introduction

Events like the World Cup or the Olympics unite billions of folk and their passion for sport. Some sports unite only a few nations. Cricket is more or less only enjoyed by the Commonwealth Nations and Rugby, in the Northern hemisphere, is most popular in the Six Nations Countries.

Another one of these curious sports that seems to attract the interest of a handful of European nations is cycling. Its mainland is Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands and most of all Belgium, the latter being a country most of the world forgot about.

However more and more people around the world are becoming cycle enthusiasts and the recent success of the Americans (Lance Armstrong)  and Australians (Cadel Evans and Robbie McEwen) have given a huge boost to cycling’s popularity in the ‘New World’.

Events like the Tour of California and the Tour Down Under will never reach the legendary status of the Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix (The Hell of the North) but all the sport’s stars are competing in these new races.

The Holy Grail – Tour de France

So why have the British Isles and Ireland stayed immune for the cycling virus? The chairman of the International cycling federation (UCI) is Irishman Pat McQuaid and in recent years the Brits have joined the peloton in the likes of time trial specialist David Millar, Tour de France contender Bradley Wiggens and last but not least, Mark Cavendish, who was the best sprinter of 2010 and has become one of the most popular riders in the peloton.

So in attempt to familiarize you with the Grandeur of cycling, Champions Chat will provide you with ‘Cycling for dummies and Brits’. The highlights of the race calendar and all the stars of the sport will be discussed in the months to come.

Here’s a quick peak for what to expect:

Iconic events like the Hell of the North, Le Grand Boucle, La Primavera and the Race of the Falling Leaves are the stages where athletes become legends and hero’s fall from grace. In the following months I will address the highlights of the cycling calendar and acquaint you with the leading actors in this sporting spectacle.

The year starts with The Spring Classics divided by the cobbled classics and the Ardennes classics. A combination of cold spring winds, rain, mud, broken tarmac and fierce climbs await the riders in one-day races which have an average distance of 260 kilometres.

The Hell of the North

After a tough spring the teams prepare themselves for one-week events such as the Dauphiné Libéré (nick-named the mini Tour de France) and the Tour of Switzerland to test their form for the highlight of the season: the Tour de France

Le Grand Boucle as it is also called is the Holy Grail of the sport. Also, the Giro d’Italia with its epic tales and the Spanish Vuelta with its impressive stages are truly great sporting events worth noticing. Preview, reviews and features on all the three ‘Grand Tours’ will be available on Champions Chat.

But the cycling calendar does not end in July after the Tour. There’s the Vuelta in September, a few weeks later  the World Championships in Copenhagen  after which the autumn classics with the legendary Tour of Lombardy in October will prove another climax in an exciting year of competition.

But sport isn’t just about the location or the events; it’s about the athletes, the hero’s that cycle more than 200 kilometres a day in all-weather conditions and all parts of the world.

It’s about the sprinters who after a whole day of cycling explode into human bullets and race to finish with speeds up to 80 km/h and make Chris Hoy look like a pensioner in a wheelchair. It’s about the nimble climbers who conquer the Alps and the Pyrenees like Sherpa’s (only without oxygen masks and entangled in a fierce battle for victory).

‘Cav’ and the art of sprinting

And it is about the all-rounders who triumph in the Tour, the Vuelta and the Giro after three weeks of gruelling challenges. They become part of the cycling legend that produced icons like Fausto Coppi (Il Campionissimo), Eddy Merckx (The Cannibal), Miguel Indurain (Big Mig) and of course Lance Armstrong (The Boss).

In short, cycling’s growing popularity outside its mainland is not without its reasons and if you keep an eye on Champions Chat, you’ll soon find out why!

Stef Meens

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