Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Birthdays

The past couple days mark birthdays for two of my favorite riders from the last century. Stephen Roche 11-28-59 and Laurent Jalabert 11-30-68. In noting these cycling greats I can't help but reflect on how different pro racing was in the 80's and 90's. We will leave the PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) out of this for today. Jalabert was a multiple stage and jersey winner for sprints AND mountains. In 1995 he took both Jerseys and the overall in the Vuelta Espana a feat only shared with Eddy Merckx from the previous generation. He won two of the Monuments of Cycling as well as four major classics. Roche also was a man who could sprint and climb as well as dominate against the clock. His stand-out year must be 1987 when he accomplished another milestone, again only matched by Merkcx in '74. Cycling's Triple Crown, the Tour, the Giro and the World Road Championship. I'll never forget watching the Tour that year, on a mountain top finish at La Plagne, he attacked early and was away for several hours, only to be overtaken on the last climb, seconds added...a minute.... another half... Roche watched his Tour dream fade, but he clawed back up to within four seconds of Pedro Delgado, and collapsed into unconsciousness. He was administered Oxygen and recovered. The next day when interviewed before the stage start he looked calm and stated he was fine, he was after all a strong young lad or something to that effect. These days no tour winners even enter the Worlds, they are too late in the season. Granted lots has changed in the training and in the make-up of the races themselves. One element I look forward to being reversed is the use of race radios, two way communication between the manager and the riders. Riders are divided on the subject, but I tend to agree with those that think racing has gotten nearly scripted, the spontaneity has been removed. Riders no longer have to develop the instincts to weigh challenge and risk. The current crop of pros have never raced without the manager in their earpiece reminding them to eat, drink, - you name it. Again I recognize some of the arguments for radios. But they sure don't contribute to developing pros like Jalabert and Roche, and I think it shows in the racing today. Thanks for reading. I hope you are getting to ride. HH