cycling utah August 2000
By Greg Overton
We're going to deviate this month a little from the usual classic stuff and chat about something very modern. So modern in fact, that it just happened.
We're all excited about the Tour de France! An American repeat winner in the benchmark of racing is cool enough, and the whole story of Lance Armstrong's journey from the brink is deservedly well covered.
But there are two aspects of this year's race that we think ties Armstrong to some of the greatest champions of the past.
Panache is a great word. Webster says it describes someone who is proud or showy, or who does things with flair.
In bicycle racing this quirky French word has historically been used to describe a racer who controls a race, and basically dares any rivals to beat him.
Eddy Merckx had panache, Jaques Anquetil had it too, and Bernard Hinault had so much of it he could have sold leftovers to other racers. Even Claudio Chiappucci had it, although he usually decided to show it about a hundred miles too early in the race. But he had it.
Lance Armstrong has it. He always has, since being an upcoming hotshot junior.
Champions also have dignity and humility. Armstrong has acquired these traits over the years, and is no longer the cocky, volatile hotshot that he once was. Maturity and results have garnered him the class of a true champion.
But it's still the self confidence, or is it a refusal to lose, that Armstrong shares with some of the aforementioned champions that is refreshing after years of defensive Tour winners.
Taking away a tremendous and historic attack by Marco Pantani on Le Alpe du Huez in '98, you're hardpressed to find an aggressive, take the race by the throat mentality since Bernard Hinault. To see a rider in yellow carry the race, and even attack is very refreshing to those of us familiar with the pre-Indurain era.
Panache is the word used for a rider who, while in yellow, powers off the front and looks over his shoulder as if to say to his competitors with a smirk, "Okay, clowns, who's coming with me?" Or a rider who bridges an attack by the best climber in the world on Mont Ventoux, passes him and then confidently motions for the climber to get on his wheel, as Armstrong did to Pantani this year. Bernard Hinault may have run Pantani into the weeds instead. There are varying degrees of panache.
The other feature that we noted in Armstrong's win this year, different from last year's victory, is the fact that in the 2000 Tour, he defeated other champions. That Pantani and Jan Ullrich were there made the victory stand up against any criticism.
Going back, all great champions, except maybe Indurain, had to defeat other champions, in their prime, in the Tour. LeMond defeated Hinault, Fignon, Roche, Kelly, Indurain, and Delgado. Hinault fought LeMond, Fignon, Van Impe, Kelly. Even Merckx had to overcome champions like Anquetil, Van Impe, and Gimondi.
In the sport of boxing, one is not considered a true champion if he does not defeat a champion for the title.
Cycling, while a team sport in more ways than most observers know, becomes very much "one on one" at some point in a tour, a two-wheeled boxing match. To win the Tour is a tremendous victory, but to defeat others who have won is a step beyond.
Lance Armstrong took that step this year. We think he joins the list of great champions with this victory.
Merckx, Hinault, LeMond, and Indurain were winning the Tour into their thirties, with their most dominant years being the late twenties and early thirties. Lance Armstrong has his second Tour in the bag at twenty eight, and he's just beaten the two strongest contenders of his generation in their respective "strengths", Pantani in the hills and Ullrich in the time trial.
Should we begin to think about future wins for Lance?
He's gotta be the favorite next year. He's already spent more days in yellow than LeMond, and he seems to be the best all around rider by far of this era, and there's that panache thing. He's got that going for him.
Our hope is for a long life of great health, several Tour wins, and a big boost to the sport of cycling back home in the U.S.
And while we're planning your life, we think it's about time for another American win in the Giro d' Italia to go with Andy Hampsten's.
So, hey, Lance, see if that panache stuff works in Italy too! Congratulations!