Zone of Proximal Development

I was chatting to Mike Strada and Jez Strada the other day. Somehow we ended up discussing our encounters with famous cyclists. None of us could top Jez’s encounter with the big beast himself:

Legendary cycling champion and figure of notoriety – and some chump in a replica jersey

I once had a brief encounter with Axel, son of Eddy…

Me and Axel, son of Eddy.

A furtive back-turning from the son of a legend, played out in a rain and wind swept car park in Bradford is not quite a story to tell the grandchildren about. And i have been comprehensively outdone in the “Cycling Legends Top Trumps” by Mike.

Eddy recognises raw power when he sees it; the handshake speaks of the fellowship of the road, of two brothers joined in adversity and separated only by 11 grand tour wins.


If you’re interested, you can find the full USADA report into the “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” here. It’s worth reading from cover to cover.

26 testimonies, 11 former team-mates, 6 currently ‘active’ riders, and George Hincapie. One of the most well-liked and respected riders in the professional peloton over the past 19 years.  And yet Armstrong’s response is the same…

“…a one-sided hatchet job — a taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories”.

The report is utterly excoriating and confirms what everyone with half an ounce of reasoned thought knew for many many years: it was inconceivable that Armstrong wasn’t doping. The extent is mind-blowing. Travis Tygart’s words sum it up…

“I have personally talked with and heard these athletes’ stories and firmly believe that, collectively, these athletes, if forgiven and embraced, have a chance to leave a legacy far greater for the good of the sport than anything they ever did on a bike. Lance Armstrong was given the same opportunity to come forward and be part of the solution. He rejected it.”

Lance Armstrong

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the Lance saga appears to have entered the endgame. Even now, it’s hard to find anyone who polarises opinion quite so much. Gary Imlach said something like ‘an argument about Lance Armstrong is almost a faith-based matter’. There’s a spiritual zeal to those who continually defend him, and an abject refusal to look at anything circumstantial, no matter how weighty that circumstantial evidence might be.

I can’t help but feel that Lance’s rustication goes someway towards discrediting that particular era of cycling in its entirety, and everyone in it. I think this is a good thing. It’s the final nail in the coffin. The best article i’ve read of late, and well worth a read, is by Jonathan Vaughters. I found it erudite, engaging and honest. I felt sorry for Christophe Bassons, in fact anyone who crossed swords with Lance Armstrong, the man with the biggest chip on his shoulder since the invention of the sliced potato and hot oil combo. I find it inconceivable that any individual would be able to ride clean and win 7 tours against riders who were engaged in systematic and scientific doping, including his team-mates. This is when denials of doping become a case of denial – if you don’t admit to it then there’s not a lot you can do about it. In light of this, asking whether Lance doped is not unlike asking whether Michael Jackson had plastic surgery. Both deny it, vociferously, but with a caveat or occasional exemption for medical reasons. The wider circumstantial and visual evidence appears to suggest otherwise.

Lastly, if he is stripped of his seven titles, then the redistribution of honours becomes faintly surreal. Take a top ten, any top ten, from within those 7 years. Remove Lance. Reallocate based on whether rider was clean/proven drugs cheat. Let’s use 2004 for an example: Armstrong/Basso/Ullrich/Kloden top four. Hmmm. That leaves Jose Azevedo as the winner. I think.

Here’s a sort of realigned top two from the Armstrong years, removing those who have been involved in doping scandals. it’s worth considering that Azevedo was a US Postal rider. and in case you’re wondering who Totschnig is… he rode for Gerolsteiner. We’ll ignore the Schumacher/Kohl connection for now.

99 Escartin, Casero

00 Escartin, Nardello

01 Kivilev, Simon

02 Azevedo, Sastre

03 Zubeldia, Sastre

04 Azevedo, Totschnig

05 Evans, Pereiro

06 Pereiro, Sastre

Or as a friend sardonically put it – ‘Boardman gets ’96 – he was 39th overall’.

Col de la Faucille

The Col de la Faucille is a steady climb that starts in the small town of Gex and lifts you up to the top of the Jura mountains. It’s 8 miles long and never particularly steep, making it a ‘rhythm’ climb. You can stay seated, find the right cog and power your way up to the top. I was using the 22 or 23 for most of it. It has featured in the Tour 41 times and was the location for Lance’s unseemly chase after Simeoni in 2004.

thousand yard stare from the big texan 
Col de la Faucille

The Jura Mountains are less impressive than the Alps in terms of sheer size and scale, but they are beautiful nonetheless. There is an initial escarpment that runs along the horizon and overlooks Geneva and the lake. Once over the crest there is a hidden Alpine valley, followed by a second parallel crest, making the range seem like two huge rolling waves, rippling across the landscape.

hidden alpine valley between the two ranges

I dropped down from the top towards La Cure, before rolling along the bottom of the valley and into Mijoux. At this point i took a smaller road and climbed back up to the Faucille. The descent into Gex is a corker; the relatively benign curves and friendly gradient make it one you can attack.

I had a great day, doing 50 miles with 9,000 feet of climbing, taking the two day tally to nearly 18,000 feet, when added to yesterday’s hors categorie Joux Plane. My legs felt stronger as the ride progressed and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The views across the Lake and Geneva, towards the Saleve and the Alps, were lovely. Even the smaller climbs here are considerably longer than anything in the UK. The Col is higher than Ben Nevis.


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