X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Blogs

Lance Armstrong and the Giro: Part 2

28 May 2009

11:31 PM

28 May 2009

11:31 PM

I’ll give Lance Armstrong’s fans this: they know how to count to seven. Beyond that, however, they’re rather like members of a cult who refuse to accept that there could even be such a thing as another way of looking at matters, let alone the idea that there might be some merit to that alternative view. For daring to suggest that there could be a different view, it turns out that I’m "an absolute loser" who should, since I apparently think it so easy, try winning the Tour de France myself. This, of course, is the school of opinion that must demand that if you can’t write music like Mozart you can’t comment on his music or, in a different arean, if you couldn’t win a Presidential election yourself you forfeit the right to comment on those who do. In other words, it is absurd. And infantile.

It is true that Armstrong does not claim to be the greatest cyclist of all time. That being so, it is curious that so many of his fans – and much of the media – continue to insist that he is. He has a claim, as Miguel Indurain has said, to be considered the finest Tour de France cyclist ever but that’s the limits of his achievement. To be sure, that’s a lofty limit but it is, nevertheless, a limit.

And that was the point of my previous post on Armstrong. The sad, even depressing, aspect of his career was his total concentration on the Tour at the expense of all other races. Sure, the Tour is the biggest and best race of them all but it’s not the only bauble that matters. Armstrong’s refusal to even race, let alone win, the other great prizes in the sport was a self-imposed limitation on his career that is, in my view, to be regretted.

Some commenters suggest that the overall level of competition is higher these days than it was when Coppi, Merckx and Hinault were in their pomp. Perhaps, but like so many of the other controversies swirling around Armstrong, this is a case best considered "not proven".

[Alt-Text]


Comparisons between eras are necessarily problematic and imperfect. But the question is not whether the 2002 version of Lance Armstrong could have beaten the 1949 version of Fausto Coppi, rather it is whether Coppi, given modern advances in training and preparation, could have lived with the modern peloton, let alone dominated it. Or, to put it the other way, could Armstrong, deprived of modern sports science and compelled to race as much as the great stars of yore, live with Coppi and Bartali? The answer is, probably, yes. On both counts.

As I say, these are necessarily imprecise matters. In the end all one can do is measure riders by the standards that pertained at the time. Armstrong dominated his peers but it is worth noting that only one of them – Jan Ullrich – had a shot at greatness themselves. Ullrich, in fact, is an interesting case: more naturally gifted than Armstrong, he lacked the Texan’s (admirable) toughness.

If Armstrong dominated Ullrich in a psychological sense, he was given an assist by Ullrich’s lack of discipline. It’s that self-indulgence that has prevented Ullrich from being accorded the same respect as, say, Raymond Poulidor. The modern "Eternal Second" squandered so much talent that, alas, he forfeited the right to be loved.

Which is another way of saying that, like Miguel Indurain, Armstrong was denied the the rivalry that would have magnified his (undoubted) greatness still further.

So, again: Armstrong is a great champion and there’s no doubting the inspirational quality of his story. But is that quite enough? I don’t think so, even if one can, nay must, admire the selfless fashion in which he has ridden the Giro this year. It’s just a shame he’s waited so long to make his debut in the race. He could have done the Giro-Tour double; after all, Marco Pantani did it in 1998 but, again, the failure to even try the double is an unnecessary, self-inflicted, limitation on Armstrong’s overall record.

Still, this has been an interesting, if not quite great, Giro. My hope is that Danilo di Luca will attack and crack Denis Menchov on the ascent to Vesuvius today. I don’t dislike the Russian but he lacks di Luca’s flair and thirst for attack and since I like to see flair and attacking riding rewarded I hope di Luca can give himself a chance of wearing the maglia rosa after Sunday’s short time-trial in Rome. 

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close