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Reflections on the Lance Armstrong endgame

Late last night, Lance Armstrong announced he would not be fighting the drug charges raised by the US Anti-Doping Agency against him. While stopping a long way short of being an admission of guilt, it seems clear this was the least worst option for him. He has now been stripped of his seven Tour de France wins, not to mention opening the floodgates for a series of lawsuits which will cost him significantly financially as well as in terms of his reputation. Here are my summary thoughts on the subject – you can read more from both my fellow VeloVoices bloggers and the wider Twittersphere over at VeloVoices.com.

Armstrong’s statement is a masterpiece of obfuscation, but really this was just the full-stop at the end of a sentence which has been written over a period of years. The true believers will still believe. The armchair prosecutors will bemoan the lack of an admission of guilt. ’Twas ever thus.

In that respect, nothing has changed. In many others, though, everything has: history will record Lance Armstrong as a no-time Tour de France winner. The all-American hero has been unmasked as the devil.

So while this is closure with neither conclusion or conviction – and I doubt the story will truly end here – it’s still a pivotal day. Some fans are sad, some are still mad and others are grave-dancing. A few will always believe, no matter what. Like many, I’m somewhere in between.

To me, he is still the greatest cyclist of his generation. He is also a cheat. I’m conflicted. Sue me. (Please don’t.)

It’s time to move on. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Lance was just the public tip of a large pharmacological iceberg, but let’s learn the lessons and march forward without constantly looking back. I hope ASO will declare ‘no winner’ for the 1999-2005 Tours as a reminder to future generations. I suspect that won’t happen, and Messrs Zulle, Ullrich, Beloki, Kloden and Basso will inherit those titles without turning a pedal. That might just be the greatest crime of all.

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24 hours from the Tour de France

The title of the Gene Pitney song is actually 24 Hours from Tulsa, but what the hell? For both die-hard and occasional cycling fans, the biggest day in the sport’s cycling calendar is now just one day away. Tomorrow, in Liege in Belgium, the 2012 edition of the Tour de France begins. Three weeks of hell. Two wheels. One amazing race.

Will Sky’s Bradley Wiggins live up to his billing as the bookies’ favourite and become the first British rider to wear the coveted yellow jersey in Paris (let alone the first to finish on the Paris podium)? Or will Australia’s Cadel Evans be able to defend the title he won with such battling panache last July?

Will the combination of Mark Cavendish‘s preparations for the Olympic road race and Sky’s focus on Wiggins compromise his effectiveness as he seeks to add to his 20 Tour stage wins in defence of his green jersey? Or will we see a new sprint king crowned in Peter Sagan or perhaps Andre Greipel, Matt Goss or Mark Renshaw, all former teammates of Cavendish at HTC-Highroad?

Who will delight us with their daring attacks on the steep climbs and equally precipitous descents of the Alps and Pyrenees? And who will provide us with the drama and romance which featured protagonists such as French media darling Thomas Voeckler and Johnny ‘Barbed Wire’ Hoogerland?

In previous years I have provided stage-by-stage recaps and analysis here. However, all cycling coverage has now transferred over to our new dedicated site velovoices.com, where you will find full previews, daily recaps, stats and analysis throughout the next three weeks. Just click on the banner above and come and join us!

Introducing a new cycling blog: Velo Voices

Followers of this blog will know that cycling, along with football, is one of my two great sporting passions. However, unlike football, it is not always so easy to come into contact with fellow cycling fans and chew the fat over the issues of the day. Even though Mark Cavendish was recently voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year cycling remains far from mainstream, with ITV’s nightly highlights of the Tour de France in July attracting a meagre average of around 700,000 viewers. That’s where the capacity of the internet and social media to connect people has been invaluable, allowing me to both read and chat with others who are just as interested as I am about, say, who dominated the sprints at the Tour of Poland.

And that’s why I’m involved in the launch of a new blog focussing specifically on the world of pro cycling.

Through my love of the sport, I have come into contact with many people who are equally passionate and frequently far more knowledgeable than I. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but I always feel I come out of any such discussions with a better informed and more rounded view of a sport which engenders a lot of fervent debate, both positive and negative. Which is why I wanted something which fitted somewhere in between a serious news website and an online forum – something which is informative yet informal, the blogging equivalent of wanting to stop for a sandwich, a coffee and a quick chat rather than dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Therefore today we have the launch of the new Velo Voices blog at velovoices.com. Here’s what you’ll find there:

This is a blog for fans, written by a group of fans and from a fan’s perspective. Each of us has a different voice and different opinions, but we all share the same passion for the sport.

Our team of writers spend more hours than they would care to admit reading about and watching the sport, so that we can bring you original content, informed opinion and even the occasional exclusive, including:

  • In-depth interviews with both the stars and unsung heroes of the peloton.
  • Round-table discussions about the latest events and issues in the sport.
  • Profiles and updates on our favourite teams and riders.
  • ‘Live’ race reports.
  • Anything else that takes our fancy, really.

Each of us looks at cycling in a different way, and each of us has different preferences: from sprinters to climbers, from the Belgians to the British, and from the Grand Tour contenders to the one-day specialists. We take pride in those differences, and it is our pleasure to share our varying voices and views with you.

What we want to be is the blogging equivalent of your favourite coffee shop – a place where you pop in regularly for a friendly chat or just to catch up with the latest gossip. We will be here. Feel free to just listen in if you want. Or join us for a natter any time. (Mine’s a skinny latte, by the way.)

Above all, we fervently believe that cycling is the ultimate in terms of combining teamwork and individual ability, speed and stamina, perspiration and inspiration. We take the sport seriously, but with a soupçon of irreverence thrown in. After all, watching sport – any sport – should be fun, right?

Basically, we love cycling. We hope that Velo Voices entertains and informs you so that you love it a little bit more too.

If you are interested in cycling – whether as a casual fan or a dedicated die-hard – please take a moment to pop over to velovoices.com and join in the debate. We don’t bite (well, not often).

Mark Cavendish in his own words

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As a media outlet, gaining exclusive inside access to a cyclist suddenly becomes much easier when you are also the title sponsor of his new team – and therefore footing the bill for his not inconsiderable salary. So it was that Sky Sports aired a half-hour special on Monday night entitled Mark Cavendish: Sprint King, which promised unprecedented insight into the mind of the Great Britain and now Team Sky world champion.

The programme was broadcast without a great deal of advance fanfare – I only found out about it on the morning of the transmission – but it did indeed provide some interesting minutiae and insights about the world of the fastest man on two wheels and a look into the mind of a man who is simultaneously shy and yet supremely confident. I have reproduced the key highlights below – here is the Manx Missile in his own words.

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2012 Tour de France route favours all-rounders over climbers

Two days after the official presentation of next year’s Giro d’Italia route, the parcours for the 2012 Tour de France (its 99th edition) was unveiled this morning in Paris. Already leaked last week, the race starts in Liège in Belgium on June 30th before tracing a clockwise path through the Alps and Pyrenees leading to the traditional concluding gallop on the Champs-Élysées on July 22nd.

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