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December 21, 2005

"Chasing Lance: The Fan's Story" to Debut on Travel Channel on December 22 at 8pm Eastern

I just received an email from Paul Terry Walhus pointing out that "Chasing Lance: The Fan's Story" will debut on the Travel Channel on Thursday, December 22 at 8pm Eastern Time. This is a film that documented the trip that five Lance Armstrong fans took to the 2005 Tour de France. The Chasing Lance program description on the Travel Channel website says:

Join five Americans on an emotion packed thrill ride as they chase the Tour all around France supporting their hero in his seventh and final ride. These are true fanatics who do far more than vacation, they redefine what it means to be a true Fan.

I'm planning to TiVo it in case I'm not home.

"Chasing Lance" will be followed by a second Tour de France-related program: Lance's France: the Traveler's Guide. I haven't heard anything about this program, so it may contain content we've already seen in other forms, but it still may be worth checking out. Both programs repeat beginning at 11pm Eastern Time.

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August 25, 2005

Armstrong to Appear on Larry King Live to Address Doping Allegations

Frank Steele over at TDFblog.com pointed out that Lance Armstrong will appear on CNN's Larry King Live tonight (August 25, 2005). He'll be appearing to discuss the article that appeared in L'Equipe on Tuesday, which claimed that he used the performance enhancing drug EPO during the 1999 Tour de France.

Larry King Live airs from 9:00 to 10:00pm Eastern Time. Further information about the program can be found on the Larry King Live program page on CNN.com.

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August 23, 2005

No Good Will Come from Retroactive Drug Testing in Pro Cycling

Many of us who covered the Tour de France have just learned of L'Equipe's latest article charging Lance Armstrong with doping during the 1999 Tour de France. Using Google Translation Tools I learned that L'Equipe used investigative journalism techniques to assemble documents from multiple sources that they say indicate that Lance Armstrong had traces of EPO in his system during the 1999 Tour.

In 2004, the Laboratoire National de Depistage du Dopage (LNDD, the French National Doping Control Laboratory) in Chatenay-Malabry, France apparently began retroactively testing frozen urine samples from pro cycling events. L'Equipe says that the purpose of this testing was to fine-tune testing methods to more accurately detect erythropoietin (EPO), a drug that is considered performance-enhancing. Some of the samples tested were from the 1999 Tour de France. The test protocol being used was not available until 2001, and some articles say that it wasn't applied to riders in the Tour de France until 2004.

L'Equipe says that several of the urine samples taken at the 1999 Tour de France indicated that the cyclists who provided them may have used EPO. The articles conclude that six of the samples were taken from Lance Armstrong. They concluded this by combining information provided by the LNDD with documents L'Equipe obtained from other sources. The information that links Armstrong with the urine samples is allegedly a six-digit control number that appears in the EPO test results from 2004 and medical control documents from the 1999 Tour de France.

It's amazing that L'Equipe would publish a sensational story like this now. It shows how interested parts of the European cycling fan base are in finding some nefarious explanation for Lance Armstrong's dominance of pro cycling over the last seven seasons. Why else would a media company spend this much time investigating the results of an event that ended more than six years ago?

Instead of questioning Lance Armstrong's 1999 victory, I'd like to ask a couple of questions that L'Equipe didn't address:

  • If the LNDD really wanted to fine-tune their EPO testing methods, shouldn't they use samples that are taken from trained athletes who have intentionally taken EPO and also used any tactics designed to foil the test?
  • Did the LNDD have any frozen samples available from other years, particularly the years prior to 1999? If so, did they find any evidence of doping in 1998 when there was a bona fide doping scandal?

I suspect that this was a calculated attempt to implicate Lance Armstrong on the part of some dissidents within the LNDD. The results probably took this long to come out because of the fundimental unfairness of using anti-doping tests that were developed after a competition is over.

The way L'Equipe presented their findings is truly insidious. The LNDD can deny that its researchers had any bad intent because they didn't lookup the tracking numbers for the samples that they were testing. The laboratory had to know, however, that L'Equipe or some other media outlet could correlate the numbers with names based on documents from other sources.

Lance Armstrong has repeatedly said that he has never taken performance-enhancing drugs. The authorities had many opportunities to detect any doping that Armstrong might have undertaken. Since they couldn't confirm any doping allegations while Armstrong was competing, I believe the book should be closed on these issues.

Retroactive drug testing will do no good for professional cycling or any other sport. Anti-doping tests conducted in this manner will cause spectators to further question the officials' ability to determine the winner in future competitions.

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August 12, 2005

Official Tour de France Replica Yellow Jersey Offered by Discovery Channel Store

2005 Tour de France Yellow Jersey
Replica Maillot Jaune from
the 2005 Tour de France
:
Lots of Lance Armstrong
fans are buying a Yellow
Jersey to remember Lance's
seventh and final Tour
victory. [ Photo: Discovery
Channel Store ]

The Discovery Channel Store is commemorating Lance Armstrong's seventh-consecutive Tour de France victory by selling official replicas of the yellow jersey he wore on the Champs-Elysees.

The Yellow Jersey is made if Nike Dri-Fit polyester and has sublimated Discovery Channel, AMD, and Trek team-sponsor logos as well as Nike and Credit Lyonnais jersey-sponsor logos. These jerseys have an "invisible front zipper" which is really long. They also have deeper rear pockets than most of the jerseys the I own. I wish more of the jerseys sold for everyday training were constructed this well.

When we rode the Tour of Hope Fundraising Ride in Washington, DC last October, my friend Cecil Ledesma wore a replica Tour de France Yellow Jersey similar to the one on sale at the Discovery Channel Store. The biggest difference between the jersey he wore and the one being sold now is that the new one includes the team-sponsor logos just as Lance wore them.

If you buy this jersey or any other products from the Discovery Channel Store with a total cost of $75.00 or more, you get free shipping by entering the coupon code VICTORY. This offer is valid through August 31.

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August 1, 2005

Freshness Interviews Mark Smith on Lance Armstrong Iconography

I've been searching around the Internet for articles containing illustrations of the icons that were placed on Lance Armstrong's bikes during the Tour de France. I think that the icons are really interesting and I want to understand the inspiration behind the project better. The most informative article I've found in these respects is Mark Smith Q&A on the Lance Icons, an article from Freshness which is a on-line magazine about sneakers, toys, and urban culture.

According to the article, Mark Smith fully developed the icons for the project that were originally designed by a graphic artist who calls himself Futura. (For more information about Futura, see his website http://www.futuralaboratories.com.)

The Freshness article includes a page containing illustrations of all 40 icons that currently make up the series with captions indicating the meaning of most of them.

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July 27, 2005

1.7 Million Watch Lance on the Champs-Elysees

OLN recorded its highest ratings in history Sunday as the Tour de France finished up with Lance Armstrong's seventh consecutive victory on the Champs-Elysees. About 1.7 million viewers were tuned in at any given moment of the program.

Ratings were up 17 percent for the entire Tour versus 2004 (2.26 HH vs 1.93 HH) and gross total viewers increased 19 percent (1.76 million versus 1.48 million).

Congratulations to OLN. They deserve the success they've achieved. They consistantly made their staff and hosts available to the media before and during the Tour de France. You can see the amount of information that OLN gave Operation Gadget in the following articles:

I think everyone I talked with at OLN realized that this was their network's once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with its audience, and they did everything they could to deliver a great viewing experience.

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July 25, 2005

The Tour de France is Over, But the Race Goes On

Congratulations to Lance Armstrong, his teammates, sponsors, friends, and family on an unbelievable seventh consecutive victory in the Tour de France. I wonder if Lance knew how well this story could possibly have ended when he decided to make his retirement announcement back in April in Augusta, Georgia?

It's great that Lance has achieved so much in life that he can afford to leave the stage while still at the top of his game. Now he'll have the opportunity to spend a lot more time with his children.

Apart from the rain on the last day of the Tour, the only thing that upset me about the Tour was the way Lance's victory was reported. The mainstream media placed so much focus on Lance's dominance of the Tour, it was as if Lance won because he focused on winning at the exclusion of everything else. If you take Lance's comments about missing his kids and wanting to spend more time with them out of context, the mainstream media's portrayal makes even more sense.

The idea that Lance needed total focus on the Tour de France in order to win doesn't ring true for me anymore. That would mean that all of the success that the Lance Armstrong Foundation has achieved has just magically happened. The truth is that Lance has been deeply involved in the LAF. You can see the intensity of his focus on developing the charity in its constantly improving fundraising programs, its outreach to cancer victims, and its funding of programs that are making a difference in the lives of cancer victims and their families.

I guess it was a year ago when I stopped thinking of Lance Armstrong as a great athlete and began thinking of him as the world's greatest advocate for the cancer cause who also happens to be a great athlete. I think that the LiveStrong wristband program probably was the turning point for me.

I began wearing a LiveStrong wristband on June 9, 2004 and I haven't taken mine off since. I did this initially to honor my friend Peter Andreas Frank who died of brain cancer in 2003 and to honor people who survived testicular, prostate, breast cancer, and leukemia who are close to my wife and me.

I bought and gave away several dozen LiveStrong wristbands to people who sponsored my ride in the Tour of Hope Washington DC Fundraising Ride in October 2004. Every time I did this, people told me stories of friends or family whose lives had been touched by cancer. This caused me to become more and more passionate about the cancer cause and committed to supporting people who have the disease. More than anything else, this is what has caused me to identify with Lance Armstrong.

A couple of hours after we celebrated watching Lance's seventh victory on the Champs-Elysees, I received an email from a fellow ice hockey official telling me of the death of another official. He had a brain tumor since sometime in 2003 and literally died at about the same time that the final stage of this year's Tour de France began.

When I heard this sad news I realized that the Tour de France is over, but the race goes on. For Lance Armstrong and all of us who truly support him, the race will continue for years to come. It won't end until everyone struck by cancer can be cured and helped to regain their quality-of-life.

Lance Armstrong can't personally know every cancer victim; That's up to people like us who support the Lance Armstrong Foundation at a grassroots level. We're part of a peloton that stretches out to the horizon.

Lance retired to spend more time with his kids and the rest of his family, but he's planning to spend more time with all of us as well. Ride on, Lance. I'll meet you at The Ellipse in October.

Thanks for reading Operation Gadget's coverage of the 2005 Tour de France. I hope you'll continue to stop by for our coverage of electronic gadgets, fitness gadgets, endurance athletic events, and the technology used in sports.

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July 24, 2005

Vinokourov Wins on the Champs-Elysees

Alexander Vinokourov powered away from the field in the last 500 meters to win Stage 21 of the 2005 Tour de France on the Champs-Elysees. Vinokourov brilliantly countered an attack by Francaise de Jeux's rider Bradley McGee and held off McGee, Fassa Bortolo rider Fabian Cancellara, and the rest of the field.

I think most people were expecting a mass field sprint. So was I. When the weather turned ugly in Paris in the middle of the afternoon, I expected the stage to be shortened. It turned out that the judges had decided to take the finishing times for the General Classification before the finishing circuits began.

On OLN, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen reported that there would be no time bonuses awarded at the end of the stage today, and that the only thing at stake at the finish would be points for the Sprint competition. We were told that this decision was taken because of the dangerous nature of the finish due to a combination of the weather conditions and the road surface on the Champs-Elysees.

It wasn't clear what happened after that announcement was made, but at some point the jury of race commissars decided to award time bonuses on the finish line after all. As a result Vinokourov was able to vault over Levi Leipheimer in the General Classification standings into fifth place.

I hope that Team Gerolsteiner was told that the time bonuses would be in effect at the stage finish today, so that they had an opportunity to defend Leipheimer's G.C. position. I suspect, however, that they either did not get the message from the race commissars, or the decision not to award the time bonuses was reversed after the race ended.

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July 23, 2005

Lance Wins Stage 20 Assuring a Seventh Yellow Jersey, Others Have Equipment Problems

Lance Armstrong clinched a seventh victory in the Tour de France today by decisively winning the Stage 20 Time Trial. I was not surprised that Lance won or that Jan Ullrich finished a close second. What did surprise me, however, was the relatively poor performance of Ivan Basso and the incredibly bad luck and nervousness of Mickael Rasmussen.

When I talked with Phil Liggett a few days ago, he confirmed that Stage 20 was very hilly and technical. This is how it appeared when I looked at the course using Google Earth. If this was clear to me, you'd think it would be clear to the Director Sportifs and other personnel of the leading teams.

One of the things I noticed was that the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team chose spoked wheels during Stage 20. Most of the other leading teams opted for rear disk wheels. Rear disk wheels are better suited to less technical courses. They tend to reduce the maneuverability of a time trial bike rather significantly.

The race was pretty significantly affected by these choices. Mickael Rasmussen fell while trying to get around a traffic circle near the beginning of the stage. He had equipment problems, was unsteady on his bike for the rest of the race, and lost 7 minutes 47 seconds overall. Ivan Basso rode strongly at the very beginning of his time trial, but looked very tentative in the middle. OLN analysts later suggested he had gone out too quickly at the beginning of his ride, but that doesn't explain the way he handled his bike in the middle third of the course.

Santiago Botero of Phonak, who also rode a rear disk missed a turn and rode into the crowd early on in the OLN broadcast. The worst handling problem that befell Discovery was Paolo Salvodelli at the first traffic circle, but he was not riding a rear disk. He was able to keep the bike under control and didn't crash.

In spite of these issues, I thought that this was one of the most exciting time trials I'd seen in a long time. The course was really challenging. The television crews from OLN and France Television did a fantastic job in terms of getting the right pictures on the screen at the right times. About the only thing to complain about from a TV-watching standpoint was the chyron graphics that OLN made itself. In some cases, they were poorly timed or not up to date. This is not the only time this has happened to OLN during the 2005 Tour, but Liggett and Sherwen did a good job of correcting information that was put on-screen that wasn't correct.

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Liggett on the Saint-Etienne Time Trial Course

Before the last rest day, I spent a long time researching potential questions for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. I was offered the opportunity to participate in a OLN-sponsored rest day conference call that day.

It wasn't clear back then if Lance Armstrong was going to be able to maintain the time advantage that he had over his rivals because the Pyrenees weren't over. So, I looked at the Saint-Etienne Time Trial Course and saw how difficult it was. This is why I asked:

Which is the more challenging aspect of the Stage 20 time trial, the elevation change or the number of turns?

Phil Liggett's response was:

Both are challenges. The area around St Etienne is very hilly and technical. It will a test of skill and the one with the best technical skills will win among the top riders.

Phil's response leaves me to choose the riders among the leaders who have the best technical skills.

I believe that Lance Armstrong will win today. Tomorrow's stage from Corbeil-Essonnes to the Champs-Elysees will be the greatest of all parade laps right up to the Eiffel Tower. I think he's got the best mix of time trial technique, climbing power, and bike-handling skill of the four riders I'm comparing here. This is the moment for him to leave it all on the road, if he wants to do so.

Jan Ullrich has a lot on the line today. If he puts in a great performance, he can replace Mickael Rasmussen on the podium. The question in my mind is: will the technical nature of the course work to his disadvantage? He's not the greatest bike handler on twisting courses and he doesn't have the explosive acceleration on climbs that would be most beneficial.

The media says that Ivan Basso is hoping to do a great ride in this stage in order to show that he's Lance's heir apparent. He's really improved his time trialing over last year, as he demonstrated in this year's Giro d'Italia. Nobody's really in a position to challenge him, because he's one minute ahead of Mickael Rasmussen overall. Rasmussen's likely to lose time to Basso today.

Mickael Rasmussen has overachieved in General Classification terms. He's expended a lot of effort defending his third-place position. Rasmussen finished 174th in the Stage 1 Time Trial, losing 2 minutes and 6 seconds to Ullrich over 19 kilometers. Can he put together a fantastic ride today and stay on the podium?

The big question in my mind is whether Basso, who is riding mainly for pride, will out ride Ullrich who needs a very good performance to finish on the podium? I'll be surprised if Lance does not win the stage today, unless he has some kind of problem on the road.

TDFblog is live blogging Stage 20.

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July 22, 2005

Discovery Channel Sponsorship Strategy Hinges on Growing International Interest in Cycling

The Science of Lance Armstrong DVD
The Science of
Lance Armstrong DVD

is available from the
Discovery Channel
On-line Store
.
[ Photo: Discovery Channel ]

Martin O'Donnell watches TV Cinq from France Television on Comcast in order to practice his French and keep up with what's going on there. The other day he asked:

Discovery Channel is getting massive publicity on French TV thanks to Lance Armstrong's team. How many Discovery networks are available to people in Europe? How important is Europe to Discovery Channel's cycling sponsorship strategy?

I looked into this and talked to a few friends in the pro cycling community and here's what I found:

One of the points I made in Leblanc Made the Tour de France a Top International Television Event was that Discovery Communications wouldn't have chosen to sponsor a professional cycling team if the massive growth in international interest in the Tour de France hadn't happened over the past seven to 10 years. I think that Discovery and its co-sponsor AMD have benefitted a lot more from the media exposure that the team has generated this year than the team's previous sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service did during its sponsorship.

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July 21, 2005

Leblanc Made the Tour de France a Top International Television Event

In the article called Liggett and Sherwen Think that Lance Will Not Have a Second Act as a Triathlete, I mentioned that I had passed on a number of follow up questions for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen to my contacts at OLN and hoped to get at least a few of them answered. Earlier today I got answers to some of my questions from Phil and Paul.

Phil's overarching response to my questions was, "I'm in the car. We canít answer all these questions as they would take us ages. We are giving short replies. We're getting tired...."

One question I asked was in regard to Jean-Marie Leblanc, the Director of the Tour de France. Leblanc is retiring this year after 16 years as Tour Director.

Do you have any comment on the legacy of Jean-Marie Leblanc as he retires?

Phil and Paul's response was:

JML {Jean-Marie Leblanc} has been largely responsible for opening the Tour worldwide. The string of AMERICAN wins (Armstrong and Lemond) was what he wanted to see. This way he was able to sell the race to bigger sponsors and get the race to grow in stature. The Tour is now one of the World's major sporting events with TV in over 150 countries. This is his legacy.

The magnitude of worldwide coverage is underscored by the amazing growth of the audience in the United States. In 1989 U.S. fans of professional cycling had to tune into one hour of television coverage on Sunday afternoon and viewership was far below that of other mid-Summer weekend sports events. Today, OLN has 1.6 million viewers who watch some of the 14 to 16 hours of daily coverage.

The Tour is one of the biggest events on French television each year, but it's audience is estimated to be only 4 million daily TV viewers. That's a 46-percent share of the French TV audience, but it's still a fairly small group of people from a broadcast perspective.

The only way to find millions of new fans for the Tour de France was to make the event more attractive to international audiences. It was a goal before Lance Armstrong made his comeback, but Lance's repeated victories and the engagement of the general public in America made it easy for the Tour to shatter its growth targets.

Lance Armstrong is a marketing phenomenon, but without the massive international television audience growth sponsors like the Discovery Channel and AMD would never have made the financial commitment that they've made to sponsor the leading professional cycling team in the world. Jean-Marie Leblanc played a key role in driving this growth, and we should say thanks to him for the part he played in creating a boom in cycling interest here in the United States.

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Comparing Tour de France Coverage on OLN to European Television

John Robson published a good article comparing OLN's coverage of the Tour de France to that of the major European television networks.

I thought about writing an article like this myself but I haven't done it because I would want to compare apples-to-apples: OLN's coverage in 2005 to France 2 and 3 in 2005. Most people that cover the Tour only see European TV or OLN during the Tour. For instance, when Kathleen and I went to Europe during our honeymoon in 2001, we saw the Tour on France 2 and Eurosport, but not OLN.

Regarding the differences in coverage, Robson says:

...though they share the same camera feeds, there are significant differences between the final coverage as seen in Europe versus OLN, and it's not just the "all Lance, all the time" viewpoint we see here in the states.

Depending on the stage, French television would sometimes carry the whole thing or wait until things got interesting before they went live. In the evenings, I caught some specialty tour programming, like a feature piece on one rider being allowed to get off on the bike in his hometown and be greeted by the locals before jumping back into the race....

...they create much more interesting graphics on Eurosport instead of showing talking heads. While you rarely see even a title identifying the speaker, you often see elaborate summations of who gained or lost the most time in the previous dayís stage and how that affected their overall standings in the general classification....

Eurosport also stays almost 100% on the action and rarely does any kind of feature cutaway of the sort we have grown so used to here.... It seems like American TV producers just canít believe fans would actually want to watch athletes ride or run without learning their personal stories, where Euro producers fear for their lives if they were to cut away from the action for even one second.

Since Robson has been to see the Tour in Europe this year and returned to the U.S. before it ended, I think the insights he provided are pretty unique.

One thing I'd like to add after reading the comments attached to Robson's article: Eurosport has different feeds destined for different parts of Europe. When travelling in non-English speaking parts of Europe, I've noticed that hotels often carry the version of Eurosport that has no commentary at all. It's mostly the multi-destinational feed of the event they are covering, which includes sound from the playfield or the road but little or no other audio, except during commercials.

So when Chad Reid said, "A Eurosport commentary is seldom a necessary companion to the visuals," he's more than right. Eurosport commentary is not only unnecessary, it's not available in many places.

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July 20, 2005

Salvodelli Wins Another Stage for Discovery

I was pleased to see Paolo Salvodelli won Stage 17 for Discovery earlier today in Revel. I had been concerned that Salvodelli wasn't doing well in the Tour since many riders who push themselves to the limit in the Giro d'Italia really suffer if they also do the Tour.

I had no basis for thinking that Salvodelli wasn't doing well in the Tour, apart from the fact that the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team hasn't used him the way I expected. No one should consider me a race tactitian.

I keep reading articles that say things like "riders are afraid of Lance" and "the Discovery team has not performed as well as in recent years". I don't think either of these ideas is entirely correct. Riders have attacked Armstrong whenever they felt they could. This isn't a tactic I'd associate with fear.

Similarly, the withering pace set by T-Mobile far from the finish line on some of the mountain stages has blown apart the peloton. This more than anything else is what's caused analysts to question the strength of Team Discovery. I think Johan Bruyneel has a point, however, when he says that weak teams don't hold the Yellow and White Jerseys as well as win multiple stages. Today's result makes that argument even more emphatic.

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Behind the Scenes at the Tour de France Podium

Alex Trautwig continues to find and photograph things that Operation Gadget readers want to see at the Tour de France. This time he's documented the Tour de France Podium and the media area that is immediately behind it. This article is worth reading if you want to see where Craig Hummer from OLN and other TV journalists interview Lance Armstrong and the daily stage winners. It also shows where that area is in relation to the podium.

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July 19, 2005

Kashechkin Struck by Fan Waving Promotional Items from Publicity Caravan

A video clip showing a spectator striking rider Andrey Kashechkin on the nose was shown on OLN about 22 minutes into the live broadcast of Stage 16. I watched this video clip about 15 times, taking full advantage of my TiVo.

The group of spectators who were involved in the incident were three young women and a man who were standing on the left shoulder of the road. At least two of the young women were waving inflated noise makers that were distributed by the Caravane Publicitaire, a group of vehicles representing the sponsors of the Tour de France. The women appeared to be waving the noisemakers at the riders who were passing a foot or two in front of them at the time.

One of the young women clearly struck Kashechkin in the face. She may have made contact with him with the noisemaker, her hand, or both. In any case, she dropped the noisemaker immediately after making contact with Kashechkin's face.

It wasn't clear whether the young man who was with the women was waving his noisemakers at the riders or clapping them together, because he wasn't visible to the camera until after the incident. When he was seen on camera, he was clapping the noisemakers together.

I couldn't tell whether the spectators intended to strike Kashechkin or not, but it was clear to me that the situation was quite different from the moment in 2003 when Lance Armstrong fell off of his bike after his handle bars became tangled in the loops of a spectator's bag. In that case, the spectator holding the bag was a young child who was not paying attention to the passing race. In this case, the spectators were intensely focused on the passing riders.

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Armstrong Making Major Effort to Win Over French Fans

Jerome Pugmire of The Associated Press reports that Lance Armstrong is going out of his way to connect with French fans during his last Tour de France. This effort has included:

  • giving his cap to a couple with whom he spoke at a recent stage start,
  • chatting with motorcycle camera men in the middle of stages,
  • starting interviews with French media people in French,

Sammarye Lewis of Velogal confirms this in her blog article published today:

Lance spent an extraordinary amount of time signing autographs this morning. One adolescent girl was so thrilled that she was literally shaking. She was immediately on the phone telling someone about itÖ Just totally stoked. Everybody here wears their cell phones on lanyards around their necks. Me, tooÖ

I had wondered why Lance has been shown talking to the camera so frequently during the less intense parts of recent stages. I've been watching the Tour since 1989 or 1990 and I've never seen any rider, let alone the leader of the G.C., talk to the camera in this manner.

The times that I've seen him talking to the camera on OLN he's been speaking English. It's possible that he's speaking French to the camera at times as well, or he may know which moto cameras belong to OLN and which ones belong to France Television and the ASO.

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July 18, 2005

Liggett and Sherwen Think that Lance Will Not Have a Second Act as a Triathlete

It was apparent to me as Lance Armstrong fended off attack after attack in the Alps that he was the prohibitive favorite to wear the Yellow Jersey of the Tour de France all the way through to Paris. I began to think about the next move in Armstrong's athletic career, specifically about whether he could return to competing in triathlons at an elite level.

Lance refuted this notion in an interview he did Outside Magazine for their July 2005 issue:

Any idea of going back to triathlon?

No. Listen, I am going to do a triathlon, and it's called Luke, Grace, Isabelle. Those are the three; that's enough. My first priority is just to be there for my children as much as I can.

In spite of this seemingly definitive answer from Lance himself, I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I asked Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen what they thought of the idea. I had the good fortune of being invited to participate in a Rest Day conference call arranged by OLN and here was what I asked:

Dave Aiello / OperationGadget.com: First of all, thanks for for doing this. It's a terrific opportunity for all of us who didn't make it to the Tour.

Do either of you think that Lance Armstrong will ever compete in an endurance sporting event covered by the media again in the future? I think the potential interest in his participation in something like Ironman Hawaii, both from a sponsorship and a viewership perspective, would be significant.

Liggett: I can only repeat what Lance said to me in September and what he also said at the press conference {at the Tour de Georgia} in April.... One thing's for certain, come Monday he will never race a bike as a professional bike rider again.

He will never go back on that decision. He said that's it. He said that you may see him in a local bike race somewhere deep in Texas for the sheer fun of it.... He's the sort of athlete ... that cannot come to the event half ready, half fit, and with the thought of just riding for the heck of it.

Therefore although he would have great ability and of course he has proven ability in triathlons, even at the Ironman distance, because he would immediately think of the preparation involved, of the regime that has to be lived, and... he can't go through all that again. It would be stepping back into a professional sport. So, I don't think he will.

I think he will do his charity rides because he can do those on one leg just for the fun of it, but he will never go back to a professional status again.

Sherwen: I agree with Phil on that. The thing about Lance Armstrong over the last seven years that we've always thought that because of the way he approaches his preparation for an event like this, one day or another he'd get up and say, "I don't want to do this anymore."

Not because it's physically demanding because physically I think he could race for a couple of more years. But I think his training is a lot more mentally demanding than any of us could ever imagine. When he comes to the Tour de France, his physical performance is probably a lot easier than when he's actually training.

Compound that with the fact that I think he misses his kids an awful lot. I think that's one of the major parts of his decision to stop doing the sport.

Keep in mind that he's been a pro athlete since about age 14 on the triathlon circuit. He's been at the top of the professional cycling sport for a long time.

I think it's a magnificent decision that he's made to ride the Tour de France one more time and to retire on the final day. That is instead of going on to riding a couple of exhibition events in, for example, in Holland where he goes nearly every year or in the United States. I think if he can retire on the 24th of July at the Yellow Jersey at the Tour de France that would be the best retirement that I have ever seen in the sport of professional cycling.

I was one of many journalists who had the opportunity to participate in this press conference. I was really impressed with the consideration that Paul and Phil gave to each person's question, and their willingness to work through some technical difficulties that made the call a bit harder than it otherwise would have been.

It was a big thrill to be able to talk to them, and I sent several other questions to my contacts at OLN that I hope to get answered as well. If I hear anything further, I'll let you know.


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July 17, 2005

Hincapie Wins the Queen Stage of the 2005 Tour

I haven't focused on stage results in covering the The Tour de France this year, but I wanted to salute George Hincapie who won his first ever Tour de France stage today at the summit of Pla d'Adet. As many others have said, he's the only rider on the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team who has ridden with Lance Armstrong through all six (and two-thirds) of his General Classification victories.

No rider in the pro peloton is more deserving of victory in an major stage of the Tour de France than George Hincapie. I remember cheering in front of the television the day that Tyler Hamilton won Stage 16 of the 2003 Tour in Bayonne because that was such an inspirational ride. Kathleen and I were both just as excited to see the George put his hands in the air in triumph today as he crossed the finish line.

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July 15, 2005

Anger Can Focus or Distract Riders from Their Larger Goals

Martin Dugard has picked up on the antipathy that exists between Lance Armstrong and some of his American challengers. In a posting from today, Dugard said:

Iíve written quite a bit about the fractured relations between the American riders. But as the Tour marches on its merry way to Paris, the schism is widening.... Floyd Landis canít seem to mention the Discovery Team without dropping an f-bomb before the word "Discovery"; Levi Leipheimer is tight-lipped about the American presence, preferring to say nothing rather than speak his mind; and, Lance Armstrong has precise opinions on each of them. Some of these feelings can be chalked up to gamesmanship. Some of them have to do with being highly competitive individuals competing for the same vaunted crown. But a lot has to do with the intense and personal nature of elite cycling. These guys have spent a lot of time in the saddle together. Sometimes they just get on each otherís nerves.

Take a look at Lance Armstrong's War and I think you'll agree that Lance is a master at using anger as a personal motivator and using anger against those riders who have trouble with their tempers. If Dugard is correct in his observation of Floyd Landis, I'd suggest that anger distracts Landis to a point where he loses his focus.

Consider the behavior of Lance Armstrong toward Floyd Landis at the finish of Stage 5 of the Dodge Tour de Georgia. I was there and I said at the time that, "Lance Armstrong finished strongly in third place, pointing defiantly down the hill, presumably at Floyd Landis who had been the overall race leader until today."

Team Discovery isolated Landis that day and made him respond personally to their attacks. Eventually Tom Danielson made a move that Floyd couldn't respond to. Lance marked Floyd without giving him any help to reintegrate with the leaders. At the last moment before the finish line, Lance rode away from Floyd, then pointed back at him before pointing at the clock above the finish line.

The animosity between Armstrong and Landis hadn't begun there. Landis had reportedly said "Discover this" within earshot of some DCPCT personnel after Landis won the Stage 3 Time Trial at Rome. I conclude that Lance Armstrong didn't get mad-- he got even, and Landis hasn't been able to up the ante.

If Floyd Landis is still in a state where he is letting Discovery's head games affect him to the extent that he is using the F-word as an intensifier, he's probably not as focused as he could be on leading Team Phonak in the Tour de France.

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July 14, 2005

Stage 14 in HD at Theaters on Saturday to Benefit the Tyler Hamilton and Davis Phinney Foundations

Earlier today I received an email from National Cinemedia announcing that Live. Loud. Large: Tour de France Stage 14 on the Big Screen will take place on Saturday, July 16, beginning at 8:30am Eastern Time. Tickets are $20 and will be available at the door or on-line at www.bigscreenraces.com.

This is the second annual airing of a Tour de France stage in high definition at a network of 52 movie theaters around the U.S. The high definition version of OLN's coverage of the stage will be shown. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Tyler Hamilton Foundation which benefits Multiple Sclerosis and youth cycling programs, and the Davis Phinney Foundation which focuses on Parkinson's Disease.

This event took place last year during Stage 13 and turn out was excellent. Many locations sold out. If you visit www.bigscreenraces.com you can search for a theater near where you live.

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Crashes Taking Their Toll on the Tour de France

I woke up this morning to learn that Tom Boonen did not start Stage 12 earlier today. BBC Sports reported that Boonen was suffering from an effusion of the knee, resulting in 80 centiliters of blood being drained. A can of soda is 35.5 centiliters.

Boonen crashed a total of three times in this years Tour, with the last crash occurring on a dangerous stretch of the descent out of Courchevel early in Stage 11.

I wasn't really surprised to hear that Boonen didn't start. The really surprising news was that Manuel Beltran had to abandon today after crashing early in Stage 12.

Several reports indicated that Beltran had injured his knee in the crash, but his left knee had been wrapped for previous stages due to tendonitis. Johan Bruyneel said on OLN that Beltran had crashed due to a touch of wheels and he hit his head on the pavement. Bruyneel said that Beltran was forced to abandon by the team and race doctors because he had become disoriented.

Bruyneel went on to say that Beltran was evacuated to a hospital in Gap and that he will be kept overnight for observation.

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July 13, 2005

Did Armstrong Want to Punish Riis with His Stage 10 Performance?

Martin Durgand's posting after Stage 10 suggested that Lance Armstrong may have been motivated to smash the peloton on the way to Courchevel yesterday to send a message to Biarne Riis, Team CSC's Directeur Sportif. Durgand pointed out, "Last Tuesday Bjarne Riis of the CSC team went on record as saying Armstrong was lucky to be wearing the yellow jersey. Lucky? Armstrong is driven by quotes like that. They donít cow him, they make him stronger."

Durgand probably has a point because after the finish yesterday, Armstrong said:

When someone says that a person whoís won the Tour de France six times is lucky to win the yellow jersey... thatís not respect. Thatís not honest. Thatís not true. Thatís not reality. The riders on {Team CSC} are some of the classiest in cycling. We race the team, not the team directors. I saved that comment on the hard drive when I read it.

The question I had when I read this was, exactly what did Riis say that provoked this reaction? For an answer, I turned to an article written after the Stage 4 Team Time Trial by Suzanne Haliburton. Suzanne is a journalist from the Austin American-Statesman whom I met at the Dodge Tour de Georgia. Here's how Haliburton presented what Riis said:

"I think we should have won today, but once again, Armstrong was the lucky guy," said CSC team director Bjarne Riis. "Obviously, the crash was what made the difference today. I was confident that we could win today based on the previous time splits.

"Right now, it's hard to find anything positive at the moment, since this stage was one that we had really worked hard on. Everything went as it was supposed to until the very end."

I think Riis was trying to say that CSC would have won the Team Time Trial if Dave Zabriskie hadn't crashed, but he made the mistake of calling Armstrong "lucky" in the process. Should Riis have expected that Armstrong would have reacted the way he did? Playing off of the words and perceived slights from others is one of the ways that Lance has motivated himself in the past. [ Registration required to read articles from the Austin American-Statesman ]

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SRM and Polar Using Auxiliary Transmitters to Boost Signals from Bike Computers

One of the questions I asked in the recent article Heart Rate Monitor Data Integrated into OLN Broadcasts was how is heart rate monitor data transmitted beyond the receiver on rider's bikes? The standard transmitters for most heart rate monitors have a range of about 2 meters (6 feet).

The other day Lennard Zinn of VeloNews answered this question for both SRM Training Systems and Polar Electro. Zinn was asked what Jens Voigt carried in his seat bag during Stage 9, and he responded:

That is the transmitter that sends telemetric data live from Voigt's SRM. And yes, some of the other Tour riders are doing the same thing. Voigt, Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile), Gerrit Glomser (Lampre) and Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) all have been wired for live SRM data on various stages.

Zinn says that data from SRM power meters is being shown on the ARD television network in Germany and the T-Mobile Team website.

He goes on to say that the Polar auxiliary transmitter is smaller than those being used by SRM. Polar's transmitters relay their data for use on OLN.

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July 12, 2005

Inside the OLN Production Truck at the Tour de France

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Peter Sumpf, Vice President of Network Operations for the Outdoor Life Network, on how OLN brings the Tour de France to Viewers in North America. When the interview was over I thought to myself that it would be great if someone took some photos of OLN's broadcast facilities at the Tour de France, so that readers in search of behind the scenes info about OLN would be able to put all of the pieces together.

Earlier today I found a couple of articles by Alex Trautwig (son of OLN anchorman Al Trautwig) that provide a glimpse of OLN's facilities at the Tour de France Arrival Village. These articles are:

"The OLN Truck" article is more enlightening than the article about the media compound. The photos in it that give those of us who are back in the U.S. some idea of how large the mobile studio is and how it's typically setup. Readers have asked Alex to post more photos, but he's the blogger that's done the best job of getting inside the OLN facilities so far.

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Alex Trautwig's Doing a Great Job Blogging at the Tour de France

Of all the people blogging for Active.com, I'm most interested in Alex Trautwig's perspective. This is OLN anchorman Al Trautwig's son. Operation Gadget readers may remember that I pointed out Alex Trautwig's photography during last year's Tour. Alex is 14 years old and he's covering his second Tour de France. Whoever signed him up at Active.com was smart.

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Getting a Better Picture of What's Happening at the Tour by Reading On-site and Off-site Weblogs

After blogging two of the major races in the United States in person this season, the Wachovia Cycling Series and the Dodge Tour de Georgia, I've come to the conclusion that blogging a pro cycling race in person is really hard.

To see what I mean, read Sammarye Lewis' account on Velogal of getting from the start to the finish of Stage 8. Even her experience on the first rest day was pretty arduous. I've been to France before, but I didn't see many autoroutes with two different exits labeled with the same exit number.

Her trip is made more difficult because she's doing it alone. Most media people seem to travel with at least one other person-- two sets of eyes are better than one when you're in unfamiliar territory.

It's got to be even more difficult to cover a race like The Tour de France in person because the media center is so well appointed:

  • At the USPRO Championship we could watch the race go by our tent across the street from the finish line, but we had nothing more than dialup access to the Internet.
  • At the Tour de Georgia we had race radio in the media center and WiFi.
  • At the Tour de France journalists have flat panel monitors and live TV. No doubt they have WiFi and high speed Internet access. They also have a buffet at the media center that's probably difficult to ignore.

In other words, there are many more distractions at the Tour de France than there are at other big races. All of them compete for your attention once you make it to the media center.

You may be asking, what difference does all of this make? When I'm watching the Tour de France in my living room in Pennsylvania, I have the ability to stop the action and replay what I just saw, thanks to my TiVo. If I need to be really productive, I go into my office and I sit in front of a Blogging Workstation with dual flat panel displays. This lets me look at what all of the other Tour de France-related weblogs are saying at the moment.

When you're on the scene, you don't have time to look at an aggregator like Bloglines. This is why you'll find links to other commentary about the Tour on Frank Steele's Tour de France 2005 Weblog or here on Operation Gadget, while you'll find fewer or none at all on blogs being written on site.

A great example of the kind of analysis that I look for from bloggers who are watching on television is what Frank Steele said in his Stage 10 Wrapup:

One thing I'm keeping an eye on is Armstrong's back. He's been stretching on the bike more than I ever remember seeing, and as soon as today's stage was over, he went over to a trailer and doubled over both from the effort, and it looked like, to stretch his back.

When you are in the finishing town with a media credential, you're probably out there at the finish line looking for a story yourself. It's hard to sit there and watch what's happening on TV when you're only a short distance away from the action. If you had no choice but to watch TV, however, you see things like Armstrong's posture after the race. Maybe this will be significant later in the Tour, maybe not.

I think it's fun to read commentary from the roadside or the media center, but it's hard to get a complete picture of the race from those reports alone. That's why it's important to read some of the blogs that are being written from afar as well. Distance sometimes helps bloggers put things into perspective.

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Randall Butler Was Right About Stage 10 Blowing the Race Apart

I read the article Randall Rides Courchevel last night on PezCyclingNews.com and really looked forward to what we were going to see this morning on OLN. Randall Butler rode the climb to the Courchevel helicopter station on Saturday and said, "This thing is gonna blow the tour apart!"

Some people thought that Lance Armstrong wouldn't attack today, because tomorrow's stage into Briancon has even more difficult climbs. I wasn't sure. Although the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team controlled the pace into Mulhouse rather than try to win the stage, the profile of today's stage is quite different. What makes this stage so different from the last?

Well, there are only three real mountain top finishes this year: today, Stage 14 into Ax-3 Domaines, and Stage 15 to Pla d'Adet. Anyone who's followed the Tour during Armstrong's reign should know that mountain top finishes have been minimized the Tour in recent years because Lance has had such an advantage in them.

So far the Tour de France is shaping up as Lance Armstrong's Greatest Hits in the sense that he's reusing many of the tactics that made him a six-time Tour champion in the first place. In his early Tour victories, Lance attacked in the first big mountain stage. Today Discovery attacked with a vengeance pretty early on, launching Lance into a four man breakaway that stayed away.

Alejandro Valverde of Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne outsprinted Armstrong to take the stage victory, winning in similar fashion to the way that Ivan Basso did in the first big mountain stage last year. Valverde and Armstrong finished with the same time, gapping Mickael Rassmussen and Francisco Mancebo. The real damage was done to the pre-race contenders:

  • Ivan Basso lost 1 minute and 2 seconds,
  • Levi Leipheimer lost 1 minute 15 seconds,
  • Andreas Kloden, Floyd Landis, and Jan Ullrich lost 2 minutes 14 seconds,
  • Santiago Botero lost 2 minutes 50,
  • Roberto Heras lost more than 10 minutes,
  • Jens Voigt, the yellow jersey in today's race, lost 31 minutes

Mickael Rassmussen has emerged as a threat to the yellow jersey, at least as long as the race stays in the mountains. He's currently 38 seconds behind Armstrong in the General Classification. I don't think he's a long term threat because he doesn't appear to be able to time trial. Basso's third in the G.C., 2 minutes and 40 seconds down on Armstrong. Wow.

Aren't the tactics of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team amazing?

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July 11, 2005

T-Mobile Offering Live Tour de France Coverage

Ullrich Winning?
Live Tour Coverage via T-Mobile in
Europe
: T-Mobile is offering free streaming
video coverage of the Tour de France via
UMTS. [ Photo: T-Mobile International AG ]

Jonathan Maus pointed out that T-Mobile is offering live Tour de France TV reports to its customers via UMTS video streaming. This streaming video service is free to T-Mobile customers and available wherever T-Mobile offers UMTS.

Video streaming reportedly began on Stage 5 and will be available for all remaining stages of the Tour.

UMTS is a 2-Megabit-per-second 3G data service that is not yet available in the United States.

I'm not surprised that T-Mobile is offering state-of-the-art Tour de France coverage to its subscribers. What surprises me is that UMTS is rolled out widely enough in Germany to justify a large-scale promotion.

Meanwhile back in the United States, T-Mobile USA is holding off on upgrading its data network beyond GPRS. In What T-Mobile is Missing by Not Quickly Upgrading to EDGE, I pointed out that GPRS on T-Mobile USA reportedly tops out at 39.09 kilobits per second. If UMTS has an average dowload data rate of 220 to 320 kbps, GPRS has only 12 percent of UMTS' speed.

I thought T-Mobile customers were all supposed to "Get More". In this case, I guess you only get it if you live in Europe.

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July 10, 2005

CS Monitor Writer Took on Two of Stage 9's Cols

Peter Ford of The Christian Science Monitor answered the proverbial question, How Hard is the Tour de France?, by renting a bike and tackling the Col de Grosse Pierre and Col des Feignes. These are the first two Category 3 climbs outside of Gerardmer at the beginning of today's Stage 9.

Ford admitted "I'm on the wrong side of 50, fully enjoy the gastronomic pleasures of France, and have not seriously exercised for several years", but his editor asked him to do something to illustrate the physical challenge of riding the Tour. I hope this guy saw his Internist before he did it, because just heading out and riding a 950 foot climb (from the start at 666 meters or 2,185 feet above sea level to the peak at 955 meters or 3,133 feet) followed by a second climb of similar height but more gentle gradient isn't a great idea if you haven't seriously exercised in a period of years.

Ford covered the 16 mile route in about two hours. He fell once, mainly because he picked the wrong gear on a steeper stretch of the Col des Feignes.

This was an interesting but brief article. Of course we now know that these two climbs strung out the Tour peloton more than expected because a breakaway began almost at the flag drop this morning.

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TiVo Cuts Price of 40-Hour Series 2 DVR in Time for Most of the 2005 Tour de France

If you're cursing the fact that you had to get up this morning to watch the extended coverage of Stage 9 of the Tour de France on OLN because you'd miss it otherwise, maybe it's time for you to invest in a TiVo. You're in luck if you've waited until now.

TiVo has just reduced the price on the 40-hour TiVo Series 2 Digital Video Recorder to $99. This is a pretty nice deal, particularly because you can get two free months of TiVo service if you buy from Amazon.com (normally about $26 when you choose the monthly payment plan).

This is a great time to order a TiVo because tomorrow will be a rest day in the Tour de France. This means that you can get your TiVo through one-day delivery in time for the next day of racing. (Of course you could go down to a local electronics store and pick one up today or tomorrow as well.)

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July 9, 2005

Velogal on What It's Like to Have to Follow a Certain Vehicle in the Caravane

Don't miss the end of Sammarye Lewis' Stage 8 Post on Velogal. It talks about what happens when the vehicle in the Caravane Publicitare that she is required to follow stops for a "nature break". It's quite funny.

Heart Rate Monitor Data Integrated into OLN Broadcasts

Polar Electro has gotten a lot of airtime in the first week of the Tour de France by providing live data from their heart rate monitors in use by many riders. Data from their heart rate monitors appears in rider identification graphics, with the rider's current heart rate, maximum heart rate, and current speed and elevation above sea level.

I've used three different Polar HRMs myself over the past year:

  • Polar S710 bike computer: my old reliable bike computer that I've used for most of my training since 2001. I use it to track my heart rate, bike speed, and pedaling cadence. The S710 is still pretty close to the state-of-the-art; it produces all of the data that Polar is providing to OLN.
  • Polar S625x speed and distance computer: this is my favorite HRM at the moment. It's a computer that's most appropriate for running, although it can also use the speed and cadence sensor that I already use with my S710. I used the Polar S625x at The Chicago Showcase hockey tournament to measure my performance while officiating nine games.
  • Polar AXN 500 outdoor computer: This is an interesting new exercise computer that's aimed at adventure racing participants. Of the three Polar HRMs I've used recently, it's the most stylish. I wore the AXN 500 daily for several weeks and still think it's as nice looking as my Tag Heuer diving watch that I bought back in the early 1990s.

    The feature set of the Polar AXN series is a bit different from the S series. The AXN series emphasizes the altimeter and thermometer instead of bike speed, running speed, cadence, or power. The AXN series also displays its data in trend graphs on the face of the watch.

    Austin Murphy from Sports Illustrated, an amateur adventure racer himself, told me he's got an AXN 300. This is the least expensive version of this watch, which also comes in an AXN 700 version. I think any of the three AXN series will be quite a lot of fun to wear and use over the long term.

All of these watches but the AXN 300 are compatible with Polar Precision Performance Software, a powerful training diary that I've used for a long time. I discuss the value of Polar Precision Performance Software in the article Why Training Log Software is One of The Most Important Features of a Fitness Gadget.

One thing I'm wondering when I watch the Tour de France on OLN is how the heart rate monitor data is transmitted beyond the receiver on the rider's bike. My Polar heart rate transmitter straps only transmit about 2 meters (6 feet)-- far enough for the data to be picked up by the wrist unit which is normally mounted on my bike's handlebars. I'll see if I can find out how the heart rate monitors used during the Tour are configured by talking to my contacts at Polar USA.

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July 3, 2005

Al Trautwig Using LiveStrong Special Edition Notebook During Tour de France Pre-race Show on OLN

Josh Hallett of hyku.com asked:

Did you notice that {Al Trautwig} had a LiveSTRONG laptop on the desk during the OLN pre-show?

I missed that the first time I watched the Pre-race Show, but I was able to go back and look carefully at the lid of Trautwig's laptop, at the extreme left of camera shots of him. That definitely is an H-P Special Edition LiveStrong Notebook PC he's using.

I'm glad to see they thought enough of the AMD-HP effort to support the LiveStrong initiative to put one of these laptops on the set. What surprised me about seeing the notebook on the screen is how small the words "LiveStrong" appeared on screen if the camera wasn't focused on them. Although the letters are yellow on a black background, I didn't see them unless I looked very carefully.

If I were AMD, I'd have a special notebook made for OLN's on-air use that had larger, bolder letters on the lid. This way it would be clear to even a casual viewer that the notebook said "LiveStrong" on it.

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July 2, 2005

Ullrich was Helmetless When He Crashed into His Team Car

In reading about Jan Ullrich's crash into the T-Mobile team car, I hadn't heard that Jan wasn't wearing a helmet when he crashed. Analysts on OLN reported that fact early in this morning's Stage 1 Pre-race Show. How he went through the rear liftgate glass without being seriously injured is a mystery to me.

We hope that Jan Ullrich is still able to compete successfully in this year's Tour de France. However, I have to point out that anyone riding their bike without a helmet is taking a severe risk. Lance Armstrong was wearing his helmet when he crashed a few days ago and it probably saved him from a serious head injury.

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Using Google Earth to Follow Stages of the Tour de France

Harry Lowe of the University of Washington published an article called 2005 Tour de France with Google Earth where he has recorded the routes of the first five stages of the Tour de France for playback using Google Earth.

For those of you who haven't been following its evolution, Google Earth is the name for the latest version of the PC application program formerly known as Keyhole. It allows you to zoom in on an address pretty much anywhere in the world using satellite imaging and a sophisticated geographic information system. Yes, you can see a satellite image of an address using Google Maps, but Google Earth is much more interactive since it is a full blown PC application.

Harry says that enjoyment of this experience requires "Lotsa RAM, lotsa Gigahertz, lotsa video card" and "Lotsa connection to the Internet", so keep that in mind if you follow his instructions.

I can't participate yet because my brother and I are running Category 5e cable into the Home Office today so we can connect my Blogging Workstation to the Internet for the first time since we moved to Newtown. When we get that done, I'll be downloading Google Earth and playing back some of these early Tour stages.

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The Effect of Periodization on Tour de France Results

Rich Young of Experience Plus wrote a very good article called Periodization and Predictions for the '05 Tour de France where he briefly explained the concept of periodization ("you can't be superhuman all twelve months of the year") and went on to discuss the prospects of each of the major Tour contenders with their previous performances in the 2005 pro cycling season in mind.

Young thinks Lance Armstrong and Jan Ulrich will return to the top of the podium in this year's Tour de France, while Alexander Vinokourov may hit his peak before the key points in this year's race.

Dr. Stephen Cheung's Periodization and Peaking is a terrific article about what periodization of training is and how it came to be a factor at all levels of cycling. This article is more helpful to people who are trying to get deeper into the subject or athletes who are looking for an introduction before delving into a longer text like The Cyclist's Training Bible to improve their own performance.

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June 30, 2005

Sirius to Offer a Free "Lance in France" Podcast Daily During the Tour de France

Frank Steele emailed me yesterday, pointing out that SIRIUS Satellite Radio will be offering a free daily podcast from the Tour de France. The podcast, "Lance in France: Off the Bike and on the Mic", will be an extension of Lance Armstrong's weekly SIRIUS program Armstrong Radio that's aired Sundays at 9:00pm Eastern Time on FACTION, SIRIUS Channel 28. It will be hosted by Mark Higgins, Lance's co-host on Armstrong Radio. According to TDFblog, "Armstrong himself, who hosts a weekly Sunday night show on the network, will be checking in with Higgins regularly."

The podcasts are free and can be listened to using the new Apple iTunes 4.9 with built-in podcast support. Other podcast clients can also be used to download Lance in France podcasts as well, but iTunes will be among the easiest for people who are unfamiliar with podcasting to work with initially.

If you want to get SIRIUS so you can listen to programs like Armstrong Radio, I recommend the following:

A lot of people also recommend the Terk SIR6 Outdoor Home Antenna, which is a permanent antenna that you can mount on the outside of a building. Apparently, this dramatically boosts the satellite radio signal versus the indoor/outdoor antenna that comes with the Home Kit and the Boombox.

I also want to point out that SIRIUS has signed on as a sponsor of TDFblog.com for the month of July to promote their podcast and Armstrong Radio program on FACTION. This is not only a smart ad buy, but it demonstrates an understanding of the importance of the blogging community to the continued growth of pro cycling's fan base in the United States.

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Lance Should be Glad that Time Trial Helmets Must Protect Riders' Heads

I haven't been doing as much reading as I normally do during the run up to the Tour de France. Most of you who read Operation Gadget regularly know that we moved last week and we're still unpacking.

In spite of my preoccupation, I saw the news about Lance Armstrong's training crash on his time trial bike. Velonews reported that Armstrong, "lost control on his time-trial bike and sailed over the handlebars, his helmet splitting in two on impact." Most people who wrote about the crash focused on the black eye and road rash that Lance supposedly got as a result of the accident.

The thing I want to focus on is the UCI's improved time trial helmet standards which went into effect at last year's Tour de France. Lennard Zinn of Velonews discussed the new standard in an article during last year's Tour, calling the time trial helmets used prior to 2004 "little more than thin plastic fairings with straps."

Armstrong probably would have been much more seriously injured in this crash if he had been wearing an old style time trial helmet. An injury that caused him problems at the beginning of the Tour would have disappointed his American fans and undermined the plans of his major sponsors. I can't even imagine what would have taken place if this "silly crash" had resulted in a head injury serious enough to cause Lance to abandon his last Tour title defense.

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June 21, 2005

How the Outdoor Life Network Brings the Tour de France to Viewers in North America

Last Friday I had the unique opportunity to speak with Peter Sumpf, Vice President of Network Operations for the Outdoor Life Network. He's in charge of the infrastructure that will transmit 2005 Tour de France programming to satellite and cable systems throughout the United States and Canada. I interviewed Peter over the phone while he was in his office at OLN in Stamford, Connecticut.

Prior to working at OLN, Peter worked for 16 years at ESPN at their headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. This included a time when he was Director of ESPN International. He left ESPN and joined the company that owned OLN and SpeedVision in 1996. (Since then, OLN and SpeedVision have been acquired by Comcast and SpeedVision has been sold to Fox Broadcasting Company.)

Sumpf's job at OLN is to manage all of the technical facilities with the exception of Information Technology. This includes the production facility in South Norwalk, Connecticut. He also manages the relationship with providers such as Intelsat, OLN's satellite provider, and Crawford Communications, an Atlanta-based production contractor that provides OLN's post-production uplink to North American satellite and cable TV systems.

June and July are different for Peter and his co-workers because they really focus on what will be required to put the Tour de France on the air. The preparation includes a review of the successes and difficulties that occurred last year, and what they know will be coming up between now and the beginning of the Tour on July 2.

Continue reading "How the Outdoor Life Network Brings the Tour de France to Viewers in North America" »

Start Reading "Lance Armstrong's War"

My wife Kathleen was laughing at me this morning when I told her that I was about to finish the new book Lance Armstrong's War by Daniel Coyle, a contributing editor for Outside Magazine.

Kathleen said, "Wow, you finished a long book! This is going to open new horizons for you," as if I'd never read a book that didn't come out of the junior reader section of the public library before. Since she reads as regularly as I eat, she has earned a certain right to chide me.

Lance Armstrong's War provides a lot of details about the successful attempt to win the 2004 Tour de France that even the most interested outsider couldn't have known. If you watched The Lance Chronicles on the Outdoor Life Network last year, you probably came away from that show with a few unanswered questions-- I know I did. This book fills in a lot of those details.

It also tells some of the inside story of the 2004 Tour de France, including the public relations threat posed by the book L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong and the death threat against Armstrong that was made before the Alpe d'Huez Time Trial. I agreed with Lance's comments after that time trial that the time trial to Alpe d'Huez was too dangerous, but he didn't say and we didn't know that a threat had been made against his life at the time.

The book also discusses the degree to which Dr. Michele Ferrari was involved in Lance's 2004 Tour preparation. This will probably be a revelation for many American fans who have been given the impression that Ferrari played a small role relative to that of Chris Carmichael. Coyle explained that Ferrari was present for some of key parts of Lance's training in Europe and in other parts of the world last year. There's no doubt that both Carmichael and Ferrari played important roles in Lance's training.

There are a ton of small insights in this book that I haven't seen in any other place. For instance, many of the leading riders in the pro peleton were advised in the 2004 season by either Dr. Ferrari or Luigi Cecchini. It seems that riders align themselves with these advisors based partly on their abilities to help them reach training goals and partly because of their relationship or lack of relationship with a teammate or rival.

I also had not realized the degree to which Watts per kilogram of body weight was considered a benchmark of success in professional cycling. We often read about the statistics VO2max and lactate threshold as being important indicators of fitness and they certainly are, but they are apparently not the supreme indicators of pro cycling race potential.

Operation Gadget has talked about fitness gadgets like Polar Heart Rate Monitors and the Lactate Pro electronic lactate threshold meter, but we haven't discussed devices like the CycleOps PowerTap power meter as much. I saw Floyd Landis using a PowerTap at the Dodge Tour de Georgia, but many fewer riders use tools like PowerTaps due to the expense associated: $1,200 to 1,300 for the electronics alone.

Lance Armstrong's War provides more insight into how Armstrong thinks about threats to his goals and weapons in his arsenal. The attitude that he has developed over the years pervades his relationships and defines the organizations that he has put together. There are reasons that everyone in Armstrong's inner circle uses a Blackberry, and you'll learn some of them by reading this book. One of the key insights into how the team motivates itself is that Armstrong's perception of the advantage gained by his use of technology is more important than the actual advantage. This helps explain some of the enthusiasm that the Discovery Channel team had for their AMD-powered personal media players which were demonstrated to me at the Tour de Georgia.

There's also more focus on Lance Armstrong's Tour de France rivals than I would have expected from reading about this book. It's primarily about Lance Armstrong, his advisors, and his teammates, but there are very detailed discussions of Tyler Hamilton's 2004 season and his perceptions of what took place, as well as Iban Mayo's many problems during the race and Floyd Landis' decision to leave the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team after the 2004 Tour.

I think I could go on about Lance Armstrong's War and reveal all of the interesting information that it contains. Instead I'll say that I thoroughly enjoyed and wholeheartedly recommend the book. I think it's very balanced and doesn't shy away from discussing issues that are of continuing concern within Lance's inner circle.

Whether you are a big fan of Armstrong or not, you will find information in the book that you will appreciate. It's written in a style that makes it a brisk read. Everytime I picked it up, I read at least one chapter. I've been recommending it to friends who follow cycling before I even started reading it, and my recommendation is even stronger now that I've finished it.

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June 20, 2005

"Race to the Tour" Offers Contestants an Opportunity to Ride and Blog Along the Route of the Tour de France

Subaru is sponsoring a website called RaceToTheTour.com where they are offering a contest with two chances for the winners to travel to France during this year's Tour de France, ride along with a Trek Travel bike tour, meet the members of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, and contribute to their Race to the Tour blog.

This is not just a contest site, it's also a multi-author weblog about the Tour de France. It's getting a lot of feedback from readers already. Here's the comment I made:

I think this contest is one of the most interesting things I've seen any Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team sponsor do to generate some buzz.

There are only a few people out there who know how hard it would be to do justice to the task that the contest organizers are placing before the winners. I blogged from both the Tour de Georgia and the Wachovia Cycling Series this Spring. It would be hard to write interesting stuff for a blog and ride for several hours a day at the same time.

At the Tour de Georgia, I spent 16 or more hours a day interviewing people, traveling between the start and finish of each stage and the hotels, and writing about the race. I didn't even have time to ride my bike during that period.

I wish the winners a lot of luck in the effort to blog the Tour de France. There will be so many stories to cover, whether you choose to focus on the race itself, what goes on behind the scenes, what the spectators do to get to the roadside and entertain themselves during the long wait for the riders, or what you experience as a result of winning the contest.

Ride at your own pace and don't try to be a hero. You can't go from being a spectator to being Thomas Voeckler overnight because they hand you a bike and say "go".

I told Kathleen about this contest on Saturday or Sunday and she said that I should enter it. I entered this morning. If you are interested in getting your shot at blogging the Tour, you should try to enter the contest by 11:59 Eastern Time tonight. They will choose their first of two winners at Midnight.

June 16, 2005

It's Definitely Worth Reading "Tour de France for Dummies"

Earlier this week Sammarye Lewis sent me a copy of her new book Tour de France for Dummies. Phil Liggett and James Raia are Sammarye's co-authors.

I hope to be able to do a more comprehensive review of this book in the next few days, but I want to say that Tour de France for Dummies is worth reading for those spectators who want to make the most out of their last opportunity to see Lance Armstrong in a pro cycling race. Television viewers and in-person spectators alike will find useful information here, but a veteran pro cycling fan may know a lot of this material already.

At first glance, it seems similar to The Tour de France Companion published in time for last year's Tour. Where I think TdF for Dummies is stronger is in its explanation of what's going on at the site of the race from a spectator's perspective. I would have really liked to have this book when I went to see a Tour stage for the first time.

One of the other important things to note about this book is that it is not so Lance Armstrong-centric that it will be totally useless after the end of this season. It's a bit American-in-the-Tour centric, but no more so than several books that have been published by U.S. publishing houses.

TdF for Dummies also lists weblogs that are reliable sources of Tour information. This is a nice touch, and probably is due to the fact that Sammarye maintains several blogs herself, including Velogal. The biggest issue I have so far with the content of this book is that they didn't list Operation Gadget with all the other quality on-line resources. This site was jam-packed with Tour info last year, and you know it will be the case again in a couple of weeks.

That's OK. I'm sure we'll make the Second Edition.

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June 8, 2005

Daubert's Column on Trek Website Provides Details of TTx, Goes Weekly

A couple of days ago, Trek published a column by Scott Daubert that provides a lot of background on the new TTx time trial bike frame as well as the new aero bar that evolved out of the prototype that Lance Armstrong has been using in time trials. The column also discusses the road wheel that Trek is designing in conjunction with Hed Cycling Products.

One of the things that's alluded to but not said in this article is that the company behind the computing power that Trek needs to get its Computational Fluid Dynamics work done is AMD-- another major sponsor of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team. If you look at the Partnership & the Competitive Edge page on AMDproCycling.com, you'll see that AMD provides computers driven by Opteron Processors to Trek. AMD says the Opteron is the "world's first x86 dual-core processor".

It's hard to believe that there are many desktop applications that soak up all of the power of a 64-bit dual-core processor other than computational fluid dynamic modeling. If you can think of any, let me know.

I like Scott's story of how he and Bill Miller travelled around Central Europe with thousands of dollars of prototype bike equipment in the back of the car. Daubert says he worried constantly about being stopped at border crossings for that reason. If you've never been in that situation you might wonder, is such a concern legitimate?

My wife and I got stopped at one of those border crossings between Switzerland and Germany on one of our trips to Europe. It was small border crossing that we arrived at late at night on our way to Friedrichshafen.

We got searched because we were Americans driving a rented Volkswagen station wagon with big duffel bags in the back. The border police went through our dirty clothes, our undeveloped 35mm film, and gifts for our family carefully before letting us pass.

If you ask me, he was right to be a little concerned.

Finally, the article points out that Daubert's going to be writing a weekly column from now to the end of the Tour de France. I'm sure he won't lack for material. I don't expect to be able to scoop Trek's own guy on the scene, so his column will be a primary source of info for me.

June 7, 2005

How Can I Use My Pocket PC with a GPS to Get Driving Directions?

As I mentioned in an earlier article, Sammarye Lewis, co-author of the new book Tour de France for Dummies asked me how to make her H-P iPAQ h6315 work smoothly with a Garmin GPS 10 Deluxe or another handheld GPS, so that she can get directions to places along the Tour de France stage routes.

I did some research on this, and here is a summary of my findings so far. I'm breaking the results down into two categories: what may work and what probably won't work:

  • What May Work
    • Garmin GPS 10 Deluxe with Bluetooth and Garmin Que Pocket PC Software: This maybe the easiest solution to get working straight out of the box if it meets your needs. The bundle includes the GPS unit, Que software for Pocket PC, corresponding software for a Windows PC, and a CitySelect North America CD containing map data. The entire package is reviewed in considerable depth on PocketNow.com.

      The concern I have with this solution is that it doesn't provide maps of France out of the box. Maybe there is a bundle available that contains a Europe rather than North America CD?

    • CoPilot Live Pocket PC 5 from ALK Technologies: There are three separate North American offerings priced between $299 and $349. I know that there is also a European version with the same options, but the European site directs potential customers to authorized dealers.

      According to ALK's European site, the European map CD is available for £100. I don't know what the price is if you buy it in the USA.

      PocketGPSWorld.co.uk has a great review of CoPilot Live PPC 5 (which is continued in Part 2) that makes it look like a very good candidate for this job.


  • What Probably Won't Work

    • Microsoft Pocket Streets 2005 plus a handheld GPS: This looked like a good solution at first, but if you read the feature set carefully, Pocket Streets does not support route planning.

I'm going to add information to this story if I find other solutions or further information about the solutions already mentioned.

If you have any suggestions that I haven't mentioned, feel free to post a comment and I will take a look at it.

June 6, 2005

New Time Trial Bike Technology from Trek Appears at Dauphine Libere

Will Swetnam of ThePaceline.com reports that Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie were using some brand new Trek gear in the prologue of the Dauphine Libere on Sunday. Lance reportedly rode a new time trial bike called the TTX, while both he and Hincapie had new handle bars on their bikes.

As far as I can tell, these components are being tried out for the first time, so there was no guarantee that the riders of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team would like the changes enough to use them in the Tour de France. However, George Hincapie won the prologue and Lance Armstrong finished fifth, so that can't hurt.

The Paceline article includes some good photos of the new equipment. You can try to compare it to the photos of the Discovery Channel TT bikes that I took at the Tour de Georgia:

You may want to click through those Operation Gadget photos to see the high resolution images.

May 20, 2005

AMD-Powered H-P L2000 Special Edition Notebook PC to Benefit LiveStrong Program

H-P L2000 Special Edition Notebook Powered by AMD
H-P L2000 Special Edition Notebook PC
will let PC users LiveStrong. See the
high-resolution image for a better
idea of what the notebook will
look like. [ Photo: Business Wire ].

Advanced Micro Devices and Hewlett-Packard today announced a joint initiative to support the Lance Amrstrong Foundation through a series of special LiveStrong Notebook PCs.

The H-P Special Edition L2000 Notebook PC will include the LiveStrong message and a reproduction of Lance Armstrong's autograph. They will be powered by an AMD Turion 64 mobile processor. A $50 donation to the LAF will be made for each one of these notebook PCs sold. Sales are expected to begin on-line in June, with in-store sales beginning in July. Each notebook purchaser will receive a LiveStrong Yellow Wristband and yellow stereo earbuds. Sources within AMD say that the notebooks are expected to be priced between $999 and $1,399, depending on configuration.

AMD is backing this effort by making a two-year commitment to help generate a minimum of $4 million for the LAF from this initiative.

"In my battle with cancer, I learned that knowledge is power and attitude is everything," said Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, champion cyclist and founder of the LAF. "Empowerment plays an important role in dealing with a cancer diagnosis, and technology provides a way for patients and their loved ones to take control by arming themselves with information."

I've seen a couple of articles about this announcement already suggesting that this is some sort of Lance Armstrong brand extension. I don't think so. This is really about AMD and H-P supporting the LiveStrong program in a major way. These notebooks are hitting the stores in time for the Tour de France, and I can't think of a better way for a LiveStrong supporter to demonstrate his or her commitment than to use one. This would mean more than putting a "Join Lance!" sticker from the Lance Armstrong Foundation on the notebook case, as I've done in the past.

May 17, 2005

Scott Daubert Speaks to The Paceline About Recent Trek Innovations

A fellow fitness gadget fan pointed me to an interview that Scott Daubert of Trek did with Will Swetnam of ThePaceline.com. They discussed the new frameset modifications that were used by the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team for the first time at Paris-Roubaix, new aero bars that will debut at the Dauphine Libere, and recent design process improvements that have been made possible through Trek's collaboration with AMD.

This is a very good interview and it helps me understand how long the Discovery Channel Team can wait before deciding whether to incorporate newly-developed bike technology at the Tour de France. It surprises me that they are still trying out gear at races like the Dauphine, but it's better to do that than to ride an untested configuration in the Tour, as David Millar did in the 2003 Tour de France Prologue. [ Registration required to view articles on ThePaceline.com. ]

April 18, 2005

Lance Armstrong Announces His Retirement

Saying that he's "100 percent committed to retiring" after 14 years of pro cycling, Lance Armstrong announced that he will retire on July 24, at the conclusion of the 2005 Tour de France. He said that his children are the motivating factor and he has gotten a lot of advice on this from his mother. He also thanked Sheryl Crow and Johan Bruyneel for their roles in his success.

Armstrong made the announcement at the opening press conference for the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia. He decided to make the announcement at this time to deal straight up with the fans and the media. Hundreds of media representatives attended the press conference.

Lance was joined on the podium by Johan Bruyneel, director sportif of Team Discovery Channel, and Dan Osipow, director of corporate communications.

Stan Holm, director of the Dodge Tour de Georgia said:

While we certainly wish {Lance Armstrong would} never stop racing... we're thrilled and honored that he has chosen the Dodge Tour de Georgia as what could be his last professional race here on American soil. We are pleased that the 2005 Dodge Tour de Georgia will be the platform to celebrate Lance's career and we look forward to finding ways to work together in the future on our shared goal of defeating cancer in our lifetimes.

The Tour de Georgia officially begins with Stage 1 tomorrow morning at 11:30am.

Update: A transcript of the Lance Armstrong press conference is available at ThePaceline.com. Note that the URL may be a temporary one (lance.aspx), so the page may be relocated at some point in the future.

March 10, 2005

Armstrong Abandons Paris-Nice Due to Sore Throat and Fever

VeloNews reported last night that Lance Armstrong abandoned Paris-Nice after Wednesday's Stage 3 that ended in Craponne sur Arzon. The stage was originally slated to finish in Chambon sur Lignon but had to be shortened due to heavy snow as the course reached higher elevations. Armstrong completed 499 of 1,095 kilometers of the race.

The VeloNews article quotes Johan Bruyneel, Director Sportif of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team. He reportedly said, "Lance woke up this morning with a sore throat and with the cold weather, he began to feel worse throughout the day."

At the time he withdrew, Armstrong was in 62nd place, more than 1 minute 35 seconds seconds behind general classification leader Tom Boonen.

March 7, 2005

PowerBar Renews with Lance Armstrong, Adds Team Discovery Channel

I forgot to point out the announcement that Lance Armstrong and PowerBar have renewed their endorsement deal for another three years. PowerBar (which is "indirectly owned" by Nestle) is covering the waterfront in this deal. They are sponsoring:

They're also sponsoring "hundreds of up-and-coming cyclists" in the PowerBar Team Elite grassroots athlete sponsorship program and the Tour de France itself.

It's great to see a multi-national food company step up and make such a major advertising buy. This says a lot about confidence in the sport of cycling. I find it hard to imagine that PowerBar and Nestle would make a deal like this if they thought that pro cycling was significantly tarnished by the use of drugs or other illegal performance enhancements.

February 16, 2005

Armstrong to Race for Seventh Consecutive Tour de France Victory

Lance Armstrong announced his 2005 racing schedule which will includes the Tour de France. By participating in the Tour de France again this year, Lance Armstrong will be attempting to win an unprecedented seventh consecutive General Classification victory.

The announcement was carried on The Paceline, the Lance Armstrong and Team Discovery Fan Club Site, and on TeamDiscoveryChannel.com. The announcement includes the following statement from Lance:

I am grateful for the opportunity that Discovery Communications has given the team and look forward to achieving my goal of a seventh Tour de France (victory).

Other events in which he plans to participate are:

Although he has not committed to participate in any events between the Tour de Georgia in April and the Tour de France in July, he may participate in other events if his fitness permits it.

All of these races are expected to be broadcast on the Outdoor Life Network in the United States.

January 13, 2005

Team Discovery Unveils New Website

Lance Armstrong's professional cycling team, the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team or "Team Discovery", made its 2005 debut on Monday. TDFblog raved about the team's new website:

They've got a really nice website, with a number of high quality 5-minute streamed videos, and much of Lance Armstrong's appearance on "Overhaulin'".

FYI, The Learning Channel (TLC), where Overhaulin' appears is also a Discovery Communications channel.

It's great that Discovery Communications has put so much effort into the Team Discovery website. Streaming video will probably be one of the biggest benefits of the team's new sponsorship deal.

Now that the dust is beginning to settle, doesn't the best professional cycling team in the world deserve to be sponsored by a commercial enterprise and no a quasi-governmental entity?

December 27, 2004

AP Names Armstrong Male Athlete of the Year for Third Consecutive Time

What can we add to the story reporting that The Associated Press Named Lance Armstrong its 2004 Male Athlete of the Year? Here's the highlight:

Already recognized as one of the truly inspiring athletes of his generation, Armstrong took his cycling legacy a step further when he won a record-breaking sixth consecutive Tour de France in July.

And for his accomplishment, he was honored Monday as The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for the third straight year.

Armstrong joined Michael Jordan (1991-93) as the only athletes selected by sports writers and broadcasters three straight times since the honor was first awarded in 1931.

December 17, 2004

Tour de France Will Feature New Millau Viaduct in 2006

Millau Viaduct in southern France
Millau Viaduct: To be part of the
2006 Tour de France. [ Photo: Stuart
Isett
, The New York Times ]

The New York Times reports that the Millau Viaduct opened in southern France on Thursday. Billed as the highest road bridge in the world, it's 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and 343 meters (1125 feet) tall at its tallest point. That makes the Millau Viaduct taller than the Eiffel Tower by about 43m (139 ft).

The location of the bridge, part of the A75 highway between Paris and Barcelona, is in good location to be part of the Tour de France. In fact, the New York Times article says, "The {Societe du} Tour de France announced recently that its annual bicycle race will be routed under the bridge next year."

My question is, why not have one of the stages ride across it? In 1999, the Tour included the Passage du Gois during Stage 2. The Passage du Gois is an 18th century cobblestone causeway that is subject to tidal flooding. As a result of the slippery conditions, there was a 10-rider crash that split the peloton.

I think that crossing the Millau Viaduct wouldn't be any more dangerous than the Passage du Gois, and given the features of the viaduct intended to deflect the wind, would probably be safer. [ Registration required to read The New York Times article ]

December 10, 2004

Armstrong Will Decide Whether to Participate in the Tour de France in May 2005

A report that Lance Armstrong intends to decide in May whether to participate in the 2005 Tour de France appeared in today's First Edition Cycling News on CyclingNews.com. The report is drawn from an article that appeared in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.

Armstrong and Discovery Channel Cycling Team management intend to review his performance at a two week training camp in Solvang, California in January before deciding which "Spring Classic" races in Europe Armstrong will enter. Apparently, he hopes to ride himself into shape to be competitive in the Tour de France while competing in these races.

He has decided to enter competitive one-day races in March and April, then return to the United States to determine his race calendar for the rest of the year. Armstrong has also said that he plans to ride professionally at least through the 2006 season.

November 30, 2004

Tyler Hamilton Fired by Phonak Cycling Team

CyclingNews.com reported that Tyler Hamilton's contract has been terminated by the Phonak Cycling Team under pressure from the International Cycling Union (UCI). The firing actually took place on November 25, but was not made public until today. Team Phonak had hoped that taking this action would result in the UCI favorably reconsidering its application for a UCI ProTour license, but this was not the case.

Earlier this year, Tyler Hamilton was accused of twice violating UCI rules on homologous blood transfusions. I think he appeared to be in a stronger position when he was attached to a major professional cycling team, so the UCI exerted tremendous pressure on the team to distance itself from their team leader.

Now that these events have taken place, it will be interesting to see how Hamilton's handles the appeal of the anti-doping test results.

November 6, 2004

Armstrong Tells L'Equipe He May Not Ride the Tour de France in 2005

Scott Aiello pointed out that mainstream media outlets in the United States have picked up on the interview that Lance Armstrong gave the French newspaper L'Equipe where he said that he was uncertain whether he would be riding in the 2005 Tour de France because he wants to participate in other major cycling events. In the interview, he cited Spring Classics such as Paris-Roubaix, the Vuelta a Espana, and the so-called hour record as events he would like to try before he retires.

These statements should not surprise Operation Gadget readers and others who are following early news about the Tour de France. Late last week, we pointed out that Discovery Communications Cycling Team Directeur Sportif Johan Bruyneel put 50-50 odds on Armstrong's participation in the Tour de France. Lance's statements to L'Equipe square with Bruyneel's pretty well.

October 29, 2004

2005 L'Etape du Tour Offers Opportunities to North Americans

The 13th annual L'Etape du Tour was announced in Paris on Thursday at the same ceremony as the 2005 Tour de France Route Announcement. L'Etape du Tour is a pro-am cycling event that takes place each year and gives recreational riders an opportunity to ride one of the stages of that year's Tour de France a few days before or after the pro peleton does.

This year the ride will take place on July 11, 2005, and cover Stage 16, a 177 kilometer (110 miles) ride from Mourenx to Pau, crossing the Col d'Ichere, Col de Marie-Blanque, Col d'Aubisque, and the Col du Soulor. The ride begins and ends effectively at sea level, but will involve climbing for over 32 km (20 miles) at an average gradient of 7 percent. The Col d'Aubisque is a hellish climb: a 16.5 km (10.25 mile) ascent at a 7 percent gradient to an altitude of 1,677 meters (5,500 feet). In other words, the peak of the Col d'Aubisque is higher than the elevation of Denver International Airport.

Even if you felt up to the challenge and could make the financial and logistical commitment to travel to France to participate, it was virtually impossible for people from North America to successfully register for L'Etape du Tour in previous years. This year, the Amaury Sports Organization has partnered with travel agencies that provide sports experience-related travel to open the ride to residents of the U.S., Canada, and other parts of Europe. The travel agents who are authorized to arrange L'Etape du Tour participation for North Americans include:

If you are interested in trying to paricipate, make sure you visit these companies' websites and get further details as soon as possible. Further information about L'Etape du Tour is on the official website, but that site is mostly written in French, not easy to work with using Google Language Tools.

2005 Tour de France Route Announced in Paris

2005 Tour de France Route Map
2005 Tour de France Route: From
Fromentine to the Champs-Elysees
in 23 days.
[ Image: Societe du Tour de France ]

The Amaury Sports Organization announced the route of the 2005 Tour de France on Thursday in Paris. In 2005, the Tour will proceed clockwise around France, beginning with a 19-kilometer individual time trial on July 2 from Fromentine to Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile in the Vendee region of Western France. This stage is not considered a prologue because it is longer than eight kilometers.

Breckenridge Cartwright, an American correspondent in Paris for PezCycling, provides an excellent first-hand account of the route announcement including photos. Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich were conspicuous in their absense from the event. Cyclingnews reports that Johan Bruyneel gave odds of 50-50 to Armstrong's participation in this year's Tour.

Some analysts say that this race suits Lance Armstrong, if he chooses to participate. John Wilcockson of Velonews cites the inclusion of a longer opening time trial and a 66-kilometer Team Time Trial three days later as places Armstrong could establish an early lead. Although there are fewer mountain top finishes this year, Stage 10 to Courchevel, Stage 14 to Ax-3 Domaines and Stage 15 to Pla d'Adet, the race gets into the mountains earlier this year than last, beginning on the ninth day of the race.

One aspect of the race that I think might motivate Armstrong to participate is the inclusion of the Col du Portet d'Aspet, 85 kilometers into Stage 15. Jean-Marie Leblanc pointed out that this will be the 10th anniversary of the death of Fabio Casartelli, Lance's close friend, on the decent of that mountain.

Finally, I should point out that Alpe d'Huez is not featured in the Tour this year. I suggested that leaving Alpe d'Huez out of the Tour in 2005 might be in the long term interest of the race and a number of readers who follow the race as closely as I do agreed with me. I'm pleased to see that the race organizers are going in this direction.

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