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Steriods, Head Butts and Playing Team Domestique

Thursday, July 15, 2010

News Wrap after Stage 11, Tour de France

This morning I was writing the Stage 11 LiveBlog with only the letour.fr internet feed. The “Versus Circus” can get a little discombobulating after twelve days – so this morning I had the TV off.

As such, I have been a little isolated from “off world” events like the head butt incident at end of stage 11. So here’s a catch up for you – and me – of the head butt story and some other news from around “Le Tour” after 12 races.

Steroids

Floyd Landis’s allegations of widespread drug use among Armstrong’s teams, has apparently lead to the announcement by the US Food and Drug Administration yesterday (NYT by Juliet Macur: “Armstrong Distances Himself From Doping Inquiry”), that subpoenas are being served on old business partners of Team Postal Service, Tailwind Sports LLC. (More about that is linked at the bottom.)

The Head Butt

I saw in the commentary below the LIVE widget about head butts at the finish, I couldn’t believe the post really meant “Head Butts” at the finish, so I ignored it – WRONG! Tour technical director Jean-Francois Pescheux announced immediately after the race that Mark Renshaw has been expelled from the 2010 Tour de France for head butting Julian Dean at the finish line of Stage 11 (Guardian UK article by Jeremy Campbell).

Pretty clearly cheating in this video.

In fact, on second viewing, I think they ought to have taken the yellow away from Cavendish. After the Head Butt Mark Renshaw does something much less sporting, and MUCH more dangerous, he almost puts Tyler Farrar into the wall! Notice he opens the way for Cavendish and then closes it behind – the Garmin-Transitions rider has to put his hand on Renshaw’s hip to stop him from closing the way entirely, thus preventing a crash. It is these final cheats that guarantee Cavendish the win! IMHO.

Here’s Tyler Farrar of Team Garmin-Transitions saying what I just said:

Versus Youtube Channel

The Domestique

Apart from the calculations of points gaps and classifications, a story that is thankfully closer to sporting than cheating, lying and FDA grandstanding, is the story of Lance Armstrong, the team RadioShack “Domestique”.

In the following snippet from an article in Bicycling Magazine by editor at large Bill Strickland is a nice excerpt from Strickland’s book, “Tour de Lance”.

As part of an in-race narrative Strickland describes the roles of a domestique and a “GC” or ‘team leader’ – the guy the team works together for, towards getting him on the podium in Paris.

Armstrong’s New Role

By Bill Strickland
Armstrong has taken on a different kind of leadership position.

Like a long fuse leading to a stick of dynamite, a relatively easy and calm 184.5-kilometer Stage 11 exploded at the end, with an aggressive sprint in the final meters that saw HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish win his third stage of the 2010 Tour de France and his 13th overall (the most of any active racer). It also resulted in the expulsion from the race of Cavendish’s teammate and leadout man Mark Renshaw, who during the leadout to the line headbutted Garmin rider Julian Dean and appeared to squeeze Garmin’s sprinter Tyler Farrar toward the barriers. Once again, Lance Armstrong rode in relative anonymity, losing more time to the leaders but suffering no major change to his place in the overall standings when he finished in a group of five 29 seconds behind the field.

Off the bike, of course, Armstrong has been getting all sorts of attention—for what he’s saying. Our Boulder Report blogger Joe Lindsey examines the latest turmoil related to Floyd Landis’s allegations of widespread drug use among Armstrong’s teams, and The New York Times’s Bob Mackey has a good, balanced roundup here.

All this talk about Armstrong talking reminded me how, even on a stage like today’s, the seven-time Tour champion is not just riding along as quietly as the results imply. Especially now that he’s no longer a contender for the podium, Armstrong will be acting like a captain-on-the-road, a rolling strategist and pedaling team director. I got to see this in action on Stage 16 last year, when I was in the Astana team car while working on the book that chronicled Armstrong’s comeback, Tour de Lance. Here’s an excerpt:

***

“The first climb of Stage 16, a two-mountain day, is the 24.4-kilometer col du Grand Saint-Bernard, rated Hors Categorie thanks to its length and steepness. It doesn’t officially start until 16 kilometers into the stage, but already the road is rising to its base. Johan Bruyneel, Astana’s team director, reaches for the radio mic, which is tethered to the roof of the car with an elastic cord. “Okay boys,” he says, “attacks immediately. We see Cervelo is in there. Stay caaaaalllllmm. We are getting numbers.”

We’re the first team car, courtesy of Alberto Contador’s yellow jersey, and through the windshield we can look over and past the pack and see two or three Cervelo jerseys going up the hill amid a break that could be as big as 20 riders.

“There goes Cancellara,” says Lance over the radio, as he sees Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara ride up the mountain.

“It’s okay,” says Bruyneel. “Let him go, let him go.”

The Schleck brothers have vowed to never stop attacking Contador. “We will try until we die,” Andy Schleck said up on top of Verbier. “In Paris-Nice he was as strong as he is now and he lost it all. That could happen again.”

Armstrong, for his part, has repeated that he will work for Contador all the way to Paris. Bruyneel never had any question it would be this way. “Lance is realistic,” Bruyneel tells me. “He respects what a team must do. And he respects the way of cycling. You’ve heard this for many years. Now you will see it.” Contador still seems to need proof of this. He rides up beside Armstrong and taps him on the butt, then signals for Armstrong to open a space in the line for his leader. Armstrong smiles, though it looks a little like the smiling grimace Chris Horner adopts during races. Armstrong makes room and Contador slips into the group.”

(read more from, “Tour de Lance”…)

Bill Strickland is the editor at large for Bicycling magazine and the author of Tour de Lance : The Extraordinary Story of Lance Armstrong’s Fight to Reclaim the Tour de France.

Bicycling Magazine The Boulder Report: “Off His Game – Lance Armstrong used to have a fluid spin on the road and off it. What happened?”

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Posted: July 15th, 2010
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