Friday, June 15, 2007

Letters - Greg Lemond and ITT's

I like writing letters to cyclingnews.com. Here's the latest one (commenting on a letter written the previous week on how Lemond's 1989 TT could still be near the top of list).

Greg LeMond and record ITTs

I read the above letter with a bit of dismay. Not because of the various accusations (what else is new) but because the writer didn't seem to do much research into his suggestive letter. It is true that LeMond has had the fastest non-prologue TT in the Tour. It is true that this record is coming up on 20 years old. And it is true that There have been some spectacular advances in time trial technology.

So why is Lemond's TT record still around?

Here are some interesting statistics. To summarize - it was a short TT, almost the shortest flat TT since then. It was a tailwind, downhill TT. It was a slower Tour - by 4 or 5kph compared to the Tour Where his TT record was broken. When comparable distances are raced by current racers, they go faster. Also circumstances put his particular TT in the spotlight (as opposed to something like Boardman's prologues or Zabrinske's record holding TT).

There have been no TT's that short in a long time - 25km. I believe it was meant to be a parade TT for the Yellow Jersey - hence its short length. Normally it would be simply too short to do any major damage to GC.

Back in the 1980's most TTs were a spectacular 1.5 hour affairs - like the 73km TT earlier in that 1989 Tour and the monster 87+ km TT in 1987. It was also the third ITT for the 1989 Tour (and there was a TTT that year). I don't see any other Tours since then where there is a third ITT.

Note that almost all the TT's I could find are virtually twice as long or longer as that famous 1989 TT. Sustaining that record ITT speed for 50km is out of reach of even the best vintage Lemond.

Here is a list (I couldn't readily find 1988, 1992) of the ITTs and their distances in past Tours. I don't include TTT's. Note any TT around 30km is an uphill one (distances in km).

1987 87.5km, 36.5km (uphill)
1989 73 km, 39km (uphill), 25km (3 ITT's plus TTT that year)
1990 33.5km (uphill), 45km
1991 32km (uphill), 61km
1992 ?
1993 65km, 55km
1994 64km, 46km
1995 64km, 54km
1996 30 km (uphill), 60 km
1997 55 km, 62 km
1998 58 km, 53 km
1999 56 km, 54 km
2000 58 km (prologue was 16.5 km)
2001 32 km (uphill), 61 km
2002 52 km, 50 km
2003 47 km, 49 km
2004 15 km (uphill), 55 km
2005 19 km (prologue - the first sub 25 km TT since 1989 - a few beat Lemond's speed), 55 km
2006 52 km, 56 km

2. When else do you get a downhill, tailwind TT? Sean Yates was blessed with some kind wind in one Tour TT and ended up climbing on the podium that day. He modestly attributed it to luck (i.e. weather which changed unfavorably for the later starters). The 1989 TT enjoyed a tailwind with a somewhat substantial drop in altitude at the start of the TT. This is a big advantage when making an intense effort over a short distance.

3. Keep in mind that the 1989 Tour was a pretty negatively raced one - it averaged about 37.5 kph. Compare this to the blazing 41.6 kph for 2005 and 40.8 kph for 2006. Tours back then were ridden differently. The peloton seemed to take it easier on the "easy" days (although I'm sure any racer in that Tour would protest). The easier pace on the flats meant that the favorites could hoard their energy for the crunch moments like time trials and climbs.

4. Delgado lost 2:40 because of a late start and then another 5 minutes in the TTT (not sure why he got dropped but he did). He finished the Tour 3:34 down. If Delgado had been more organized, he could have won the Tour by many minutes and Lemond's spectacular time trial would have been just a great TT win to earn, say, second place.

Lemond showed promise early on - as young as 16. Lemond won three medals at the Junior Worlds - RR gold (broke away on a flat course, got knocked off the course twice in the sprint by his break companion who was promptly disqualified), TTT silver (one US rider crashed and another didn't pull - apparently Lemond was doing 2+ minute pulls, and they lost to a specialist Russian TTT team), Pursuit bronze (basically his first time on the track, lost to specialists). When he turned pro, his coach/director Guimard promptly raise his saddle about 5 cm and told him that if he'd had the proper position, he'd have done better at the Jr Worlds, especially in the pursuit. In other words, Lemond was a special rider. His 1989 TT demonstrated that.

As far as why he comments on American riders? I can't answer for him as I don't know him at all. I do know that there are guys around here who say similar things as Lemond - but they're not public figures. Their emails or conversations don't get aired by Reuters. Lemond's do get aired. To me it seems that Lemond is simply a normal guy who acts normally. That includes saying things that probably shouldn't be said on record. The problem is that he isn't a normal guy - he's a retired cycling superstar who is quoted as soon as something interesting happens. So when he says something unusual, it ends up in print.

Friday, June 8, 2007

3 comments:

Colin R said...

Solid freaking letter.

claired said...

Very complete analysis of the background of the 1989 TDF final TT. Thanks for that!

It also can't be overstated that LeMond was incredibly motivated! It wasn't a simple TT to gain a few seconds, win the stage or assure a 2nd overall place. He believed (though he was probably the only one) that if he did really well, he could win the TDF!

I really feel like rolling my eyes each time this record is brought forward as a "proof" that LeMond may have doped... In 1989, only a few people pointed out that it was the record at the time, and always understating it by recalling the very special conditions of this TT.

I bet a lot of people didn't even know LeMond held that record, but jumped on it as soon as someone mentioned it as THE proof. Because even with looking really hard, you can't find any better proof...probably because there's nothing
to find.

It's the same with all the LeMond bashing going on out there. Someone finds an "idea" (sour grapes, fastest ITT... ) and this idea is echoed over and over again by people short of any other argumentation.

I sincerely hope this letter will help at least a few people see the truth.

Anonymous said...

Greg Lemond holds himself out a clean ambassador of the sport. Seriously, Lemond was hunting with no license when he was shot, way to follow state laws Greg. It stands to reason that if he can not follow state laws why would he be any different in other aspects of his life. The time trial he rode to beat Laurent Fignon is still the fastest time trial ever ridden. He rode this with vintage aero technology and probably very little wind tunnel testing, yet it is still the fastest. Yes it was flat, short, and slightly down hill. However, would not be surprised at all if he received a pack of red blood cells or testosterone in the 24 hours proceeding the ride. But guess what, I watched that time trial live on at about 1 PM on Saturday afternoon at age 16. I watched as Lemond went faster and faster and splits were relayed back to Fignon. Fignon's ponytail whipped back and forth probably slowing him as he strained to save his tour. In the end Lemond won. Only Lemond and a few others will know if if his performance was aided by anything other than pure adrenaline from his own body. But guess what, even if there was something else involved, I truly loved watching it with my father and brother. That is what truly matters. I say this a life-long cycling fan, not one that just started paying attention during the last 6 years.