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Wednesday’s mailbag: Attacking fallen rivals, Levi, Noval, Tour history II, and OLN

The Mail Bag is a Monday-Wednesday-Friday feature on VeloNews.com, but will appear daily during the Tour. If you have a comment, an opinion or observation regarding anything you have seen in cycling, in VeloNews magazine or on VeloNews.com, write to WebLetters@InsideInc.com. Please include your full name and home town. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.What’s up with attacking after Mayo’s crash?Editor:I'd be interested in the views of the distinguished VeloNews editors (if you can find any), as well as the highly opinionated band of Mailbag contributors, on the sportsmanship of

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The Mail Bag is a Monday-Wednesday-Friday feature on VeloNews.com, but will appear daily during the Tour. If you have a comment, an opinion or observation regarding anything you have seen in cycling, in VeloNews magazine or on VeloNews.com, write to WebLetters@InsideInc.com. Please include your full name and home town. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.


What’s up with attacking after Mayo’s crash?
Editor:
I’d be interested in the views of the distinguished VeloNews editors (if you can find any), as well as the highly opinionated band of Mailbag contributors, on the sportsmanship of the decision by Postal, Phonak and T-Mobile’s decision to push the pace when Iban Mayo got caught up in a crash.

On the surface, it seems like Postal would have felt honor-bound not to attack a crashed rider after the elite climbers waited for Lance Armstrong last year when he crashed in the Pyrénées. And it seems odd that Phonak would be one of the teams pushing the pace, considering that Tyler Hamilton was the self-appointed sportsmanship enforcer during that stage last year. But I may be missing some nuance of the sportsmanship code that distinguishes between the two situations. Thoughts?

John Butler
Miami, Florida

We got a ton of mail on this very topic, so we took your questions to VeloNews editorial director John Wilcockson, who has covered 36 Tours. He suggests that what happened going into the cobbles this year was no different than what occurred at the Passage du Gois in 1999. “The pace had already been turned on by Postal, Phonak, and T-Mobile and split the pack into four parts before Mayo went down,” writes Wilcockson in an e-mail from France. “You don’t suddenly put the brakes on. That 60 guys lost four minutes is part of racing. The Tour has many emotions, and yesterday’s stage was one that set the pulses running.” And for all you Mayo fans out there, Wilcockson adds: “Fausto Coppi came back from losing a half-hour in the first week to win the Tour. Mayo can still finish top five.” — Editor

What about Levi?
Editor:
Has everybody forgotten that Levi Leipheimer has the potential to beat all these guys? The headlines seem to focus only on Lance, Jan Ullrich, Tyler, Mayo, Roberto Heras, and maybe a couple others, but nobody is mentioning Levi as a contender.

It’s true that in the past he has not lived up to his full potential, but let’s not forget he has had some flashes of brilliance – enough that he should be taken more seriously by his rivals and by the people covering the Tour.

He’s obviously come into this year’s Tour in great shape (take a look at where he sits in the GC), and with the added motivation of last year’s crash in the first stage Levi may just be the most dangerous dark horse out there to derail the “contenders.” Go Levi!

Dave Elliott
Whitefish, Montana

Well, for starters, he needs a hat
Editor:
I know the time-trial helmets looked ridiculous, but I think people are missing the boat here. It’s not the helmets that look like Gazoo from “The Flintstones,” it’s Levi Leipheimer at home with his wife on the “Road to the Tour” show, sporting his freshly shaven head.

Levi, please, keep the hat on, my brother. We’re huge fans, but until you retire and put some more burritos into the system, you have to keep a lid on.

Charlie Shikany
Wheaton, Illinois

Noval may not have been Postal’s brightest pick
Editor:
Do you think that Victor Hugo Peña is watching the Tour de France saying, “Heck, I at least can keep the bike upright and keep up with the TTT?”

I feel for Noval. He’s a newcomer. And hindsight is 20/20. But I’m beginning to question the wisdom of choosing him over Peña and Joachim, who both have had TdF experience.

Holly Whitney
Derry, New Hampshire

A Tour history lesson, Part II
Editor:
In response to the post concerning Henri Desgrange and his opposition to favoring strong teams; I believe it was Desgrange’s decision in 1927 to stagger the start times of each team so that there was no mass start for the stage, but rather each team started the stage together.

Even a casual fan of cycling could surmise that this would give the stronger teams a huge advantage, which it did. Every stage became essentially a team time trial. I feel it was this format that caused the domination of strong teams, not the fact that these teams were sponsored by commercial interests. This format was abandoned in 1930, coinciding with the switch to national teams.

It seems that the Tour de France has been willing to experiment throughout its history to maintain an element of spectacle to complement the pure sporting aspect of the event. That continues to this day with the inclusion of cobbles and the rule change in regard to the team time trial.

Neither one of these elements will really help determine the strongest rider in the race, they can serve to make the race more interesting and exciting for us fans to watch, and that is what I think Desgrange and his race is really all about.

Wendell Riley
Douglasville, Georgia

Meanwhile, back at the tube . . .
Editor:
There was some definite insight in the early words of Al Trautwig when he said he has covered 106 sports as a sportscaster. Obviously, he hasn’t found a sport he truly understands or is capable of providing any insight about.

Cycle racing will never appeal to everyone who rides a bicycle. Phil, Paul and Bob have firsthand knowledge and experience, and it shows and sounds good. It’s fun, entertaining and exciting. The rest of the stuff OLN has added has made it boring and foolish at times.

Michael Audette
Studio City, California

A Brit scribbler thinks the criticism a bit harsh
Editor:It may be unexpected to read a British cycling journalist come to the defense of Al Trautwig, but I think maybe some of the criticism is a bit harsh.

Al’s a pretty good sport for taking on the job in the first place. He doesn’t know much about road racing, and then he volunteers to jump into the pool with Roll, Liggett and Sherwen. Take it from me, they’re three fine fellows, but pussycats they ain’t!

Sure, I don’t expect to learn much about cycling from Al, but he’s going to learn a lot about the sport from his Tour experience. Come August, we will have another mainstream reporter with a good understanding of road cycling out there in the media combine. And the more of those we have, the more exposure our dear sport is likely to receive in the mainstream media. Think of it as putting bricks in the wall.

As for the ribbing, I can’t see our Bob losing any sleep over that. I don’t know how many readers recall his VeloNews column of the mid-Nineties, but I happened to be present at Mount Snow some time around 1995 when (former Tour de France racer) Gerhard Zadrobilek publicly demanded that Bob stop writing him up as “Sir Dribbledick!”

Paul Skilbeck
San Francisco, California (formerly London)

The coverage isn’t as bad as Lance’s black socks
Editor:
Aaaah! My eyes! Lance is wearing black socks on today’s stage. This is an absolute fashion felony, and Lance should be suspended for life. Or worse, made to listen to Al Trautwig’s drivel for two and a half more weeks.

Christopher Lloyd
Novato, California

Talk about harsh. — Editor

Try test-driving commentators on the Giro
Editor:
Al Trautwig may not know a lot about cycling, but it seems that he respects the sport and is willing to learn. In my opinion, he’s a big improvement over predecessors Brett Haeber and Bill Patrick; the latter put a significant damper on my 2002 viewing experience.

Suggestion to OLN: Test drive these new announcers on the Giro d’Italia. Announcing one Grand Tour would greatly increase odds of the new guy offering some interesting or valuable insight.

Cyndi Borden
Louisville, Colorado

Yeah, but then you’d screw up the Giro, which is one of our favorite races, if only because Lance’s absence lets the coverage cast a wider loop. — Editor

Trautwig’s no fan – and what’s with Hans Rey?
Editor:
Al Trautwig has hosted many lesser races for OLN, and has never shaken the sort of aloof disdain he shows the sport. These are not the shortcomings of a “newbie.” He simply is not a fan. If OLN must have three different coverages of the Tour, why not let Trautwig barge around the “Roadside Tour” with the Cutters, and give Bob Roll the cheerier company of Kirsten Gumm? Certainly, Al’s sarcastic view of foreign flavor would jive well with the boorish shenanigans of those embarrassing emissaries. And while I’m at it, what’s with Hans Rey? X Games groupies will never be a significant part of the Tour viewership, and as a mountain biker from his neck of the woods, I find he’s viewed as more hooligan than hero. What’s next? Nose wheelies on the roadside memorials?

Chris Godfrey
Laguna Niguel, California

OLN should sack the whole crowd
Editor:
I reckon OLN should dump their entire commentary team, including Phil and Paul. For two guys who are supposed to know the sport inside and out, they make a hell of a lot of mistakes. Case in point was when Michael Rogers crashed in the prologue, and they showed the fall at least five times, but neither one of them picked up on the clearly visible fact that Rogers clipped his left pedal while pedaling through the turn – despite the fact that at one point the French TV even circled his left foot as it hit the ground.

I watched a lot of the Giro d’Italia with the Italian RAI commentary, and they put those guys to shame – totally professional, no mistakes, no repetition, no biased reporting. I have total respect for Armstrong’s strength as a cyclist, but I’m often left wondering what Phil and Paul would talk about for three hours if Lance crashed out of the race.

Simon Breese
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

OLN’s seeking a broader audience
Editor:
OLN is to be praised, not persecuted. I love cycling, I want to see the sport grow in the United States, therefore I put up with OLN coverage because I understand they are doing their best to appeal to a larger audience than core cyclists. Putting up with commentators describing what a “peloton” is or learning where the best place to drink a beer in Belgium are part of creating a broader market for our sport. I think OLN does a nice job with the coverage, and I’m surprised so many people have complained. Do you remember what coverage you got five or six years ago?

I’m sure many of you would prefer a rundown of chainring sizes for each stage over a description of what a “feed zone” is, but OLN is here to make money, and the broader the appeal, the better for our sport in the long run.

Bob Brantmeyer
Fort Lauderdale

Tape the live broadcast
Editor:
It’s simple, really; all you people whining about OLN’s prime-time coverage should take the time to learn how to program your VCR and tape the live broadcast.

There is a ridiculous amount of TV coverage of this year’s Tour with two different flavors; the purist version (e.g., live broadcast) and the populist “Americanized” version.

If you are still complaining, just wait for the three lines of newsprint coverage in your local paper the next morning.

Jason Kase
New Orleans, Louisiana

Make your voices heard
Editor:
A couple of thoughts on how the little guy can help give cycling a boost in this country:

First, Thank OLN for devoting so much more air time to cycling this year, and make it a point to tell them how many friends, co-workers and family members are now followers of the sport. (Thanks to web technology, VeloNews.com already knows every time someone visits – OLN won’t know unless you tell them!)

Second, bother everyone else: Let your local newspapers, TV, and radio stations know how large and devoted the cycling contingent is in your area, and ask them why they don’t give more coverage to the Tour and other cycling events throughout the year. Give props to those that are putting in an effort (and of course let them know how many friends, co-workers, …).

Mike Stone
Denver, Colorado


The Mail Bag is a Monday-Wednesday-Friday feature on VeloNews.com, but will appear daily during the Tour. If you have a comment, an opinion or observation regarding anything you have seen in cycling, in VeloNews magazine or on VeloNews.com, write to WebLetters@InsideInc.com. Please include your full name and home town. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.