Greg LeMond says that without doping Lance Armstrong would have been top 30 at best in the Tour and certainly not top 5. LeMond knows more about the physiology required to win the Tour than most, but is he correct? Maybe. One could argue, though, that we just don’t have enough information to reach a solid conclusion. Aside from VO2 maxes and wattages and weights, what about dedicated team support, focused training, motivation and luck? There have been some transformations in recent history to win the Tour – Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins. Even Carlos Sastre seems an ‘unlikely’ winner. Why not Armstrong? There was never a level playing field to make comparisons; when Armstrong rode the Tour in the 90s, doping was rampant so his performances then are not much of guide. A clean rider has not been competitive until very recently. Armstrong swears he was not doping in 2009, while doping blood profile experts say he was, so whether he was third in a ‘clean’ Tour in 2009 is highly contentious. Overall, LeMond’s opinion should be highly respected, but he may not be right. Some claim Armstrong would have won seven Tours anyway, in a clean peloton, but that’s a counter-factual position as well. One suspects that Armstrong’s true abilities are overrated by some and underrated by others (LeMond included). But we will never know for sure. And does it matter? As philosopher Isiah Berlin said, “There is no… reason for believing that the truth, when it is discovered, will necessarily prove interesting.”
Your author’s copy of ‘Greg LeMond’s Complete Book of Bicycling’ is tattered and worn. It’s a secondhand copy, another copy having been given away to a friend who didn’t return it, or perhaps it was the author who moved away. Difficult to say. Some passages have been highlighted in this one: “Do the more intense workout before the less intense workout.”; “For every week you take off you should train three weeks.”; “Much more important than how many miles you’ve done is duration, how many hours you’ve done.” Whoever did the highlighting had some specific training in mind. Perhaps they, too, were considering how to approach their winter riding time? Elsewhere, the book – first published in 1988 – looks impossibly dated. LeMond warns against the 7-speed ‘freewheel’ as requiring a special chain and a re-dishing of the rear wheel. “The best compromise, and a common choice, is the six-speed unit.” Now a 10-speed cassette is standard, with perhaps 11-speed the exotic choice requiring special modification. On the front, LeMond advises that he usually uses a 53-42 combination. The final line of the book reads, “And I think the next chapter of cycling’s history should belong to America.” LeMond won the Tour two more times, just before Armstrong burst onto the scene. The next chapter did indeed belong to America, but not quite in the way LeMond would have expected.
LeMond overturns the myth of gear size, and that winter training should be limited to spinning. He discusses the importance of managing intensity in training. Elsewhere, the general advice is that winter is a good time for strength building, on and off the bike, which is particularly important for more ‘mature’ riders who naturally suffer from a decline in strength over time even though endurance can still be maintained. Your author has mentioned previously his new Contador-inspired approach to climbing (pas de boeuf). Winter seems the ideal time to keep focusing on the big ring, on strength development when rides must of necessity be short duration. Whether this will translate into appreciable gains for 2014 remains to be seen. And whether two rides a week maximum in the off season actually constitutes ‘training’ is another question indeed. “As a young rider,” LeMond writes, “it’s relatively easy to put off training and whip yourself into shape in a few weeks. But as an older rider that’s nearly impossible. You need to train consistently to stay in good condition, especially through the winter. You simply can’t put off training as you could as a youngster.” Bugger.
[Here’s an interesting interview that Bill McGann did with LeMond that you may not have seen with some discussion of VO2 maxes and wattages and climbing…]