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When Lance was a Domestique
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 12/28/2002
When Lance was a Domestique

Lance Armstrong continues to receive honors - no surprise that Austin, Texas, has honored its own as News 8 Austin names the Tour de France winner as Athlete of the Year; also this week, best sportsman of the year by Spanish newspaper El Pais and a similar honor by the Associated Press, not to mention Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

However, Armstrong's comments to News 8 Austin confirmed what many had suspected, but which had never been confirmed by Armstrong, that he is looking at the Tour de France record of six wins (and consecutive ones at that) and will probably retire if he achieves that goal.

Asked his opinions on the Tour de France generally, and the record in particular, he said, "I love what I do. But I think if I were, maybe I shouldn't say this, but if I were to break a record like that. I don't know how much longer I'd be around."

Armstrong, quite obviously never shy of a challenge, is also one of the most experienced pros in the peloton. He now lays the gauntlet down to his rivals over the next two Tour de France races. And even though he says he must have been at the front of the line when luck was being handed out, it is often forgotten that Armstrong served his time as a team player and worked hard to deliver wins for his team. Especially in this race...

"1996. An unusually hot August day in Leeds. Lance was a domestique back then, you know..."

Giant cereal box parade viewed from Holme Moss -
"Ah yes, we know how to put on a show!"


The Leeds International Classic in Yorkshire, England, was part of the World Cup in 1996. This was the 7th race in the series, and Johann Museeuw had held the lead through the previous four. A racing fan recalls the race...

"That Yorkshire countryside, not the least of which was tackling the notorious Holme Moss climb twice from the difficult side, had many of the teams in trouble. The Motorola team, including team captain Max Sciandri (the previous year’s winner and Olympic bronze medal winner for Britain two weeks earlier) and Lance Armstrong,  had missed the important break of the day but the two Motorola teammates bridged the gap to the leading break with forty kilometres remaining, after a tremendous job by the whole team narrowing the lead. As the race reached the finishing circuits around Leeds, Armstrong and Sciandri took turns covering the attacks.

"With 20 kilometres to go the peloton had been spread all over Yorkshire and seven strong men remained in contention. The select group, which included Johan Museeuw, Lance Armstrong, Michele Bartoli, Rebellin, Sciandri and Ferrigato, had a small lead of around 40 seconds on the chasing peloton, which was led by reigning Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis and his Telekom team. Armstrong attacked the small group of escapees to help his captain.

"Museeuw led the scramble for his back wheel. No sooner than Armstrong had been reeled in, Sciandri countered and picked up the lone Ferrigato for what surely would be a Sciandri victory.

"Not for the first time, when Ferrigato and Sciandri came head to head, Sciandri froze…and Ferrigato won the sprint easily. Lance Armstrong’s and Sean Yates’ disappointment hit new levels when Max failed to attend the podium prizegiving, costing the riders $12,000…and the crowd left disappointed. Sciandri was was so disappointed in losing that he did not take the podium."

Sciandri: "I wanted to win in front of a home crowd, they always give me a lot of support here in England," Sciandri said afterwards, "I thought I would have a chance in the two man sprint but Ferrigato can be very fast, and today he was. It really kills me that I lost."

Ferrigato: "All the pressure was on Max today. I had nothing to lose, so I was able to ride a relaxed race when we were out in front."

Sciandri was docked 10 World Cup points for his absence on the podium, dropping him to14th place from 10th, and he was also fined.

Was Sciandri the petulant sort to have skipped the podium?

"Well, he was that day. He blew it in the biggest style imaginable. His team had been perfect; he was exactly where he should have been. He blew it. It happens."

"But anyroad, Lance rode well as a domestique that day, learning the trade, which is the point. He has learnt the trade and not always been a winnner. In his early days he did ride his heart out for others." Armstrong said recently at the Dallas Living Legends series that in those days he was "a slacker" who put only 90 percent effort into bike racing.

"He was also much heavier in those days – a classics man. He was a nasty sod though, chip on his shoulder bigger than Merckx’s belly, but rode passionately, which I liked. He was very forthright in his views, smouldering on the edge of violence.

"And he had no idea how to talk to people - he was young and brash. But then, the accents here in Northern England - he probably couldn’t understand much of what was being said. He is from Texas - I remember once, coming back to Doncaster after two years abroad - I swear I didn't understand a word for about a week."

A chip on his shoulder?

"Texas, and Texans…he had won $1 million dollars in America at the [Thrift Drug Triple Crown] series, so was financially well off - indeed overpaid in reality - when he arrived in Europe."

Armstrong's rise through the amateur ranks had been as a rocket, including US National Amateur Champion. Armstrong, who said he was "born to race bikes," helped Motorola become the first US team to rank in the top five worldwide and was the youngest Worlds Road Race Champion at the age of 22.

Armstrong with Motorola DS Jim Ochowicz

By the time of this Leeds Classic, Cofidis was vying for him, and it was expected that he might take some Motorola riders with him, including Frankie Andreu, who did go to Cofidis for a year, and Laurent Madouas, who rode for Lotto and later Festina. Armstrong did sign a 2 million dollar, two-year contract with Cofidis that was not to be realized.

"He was an enigma in those days - wide fluctuations of form. In 1996 this was written: 'Great things were expected of Armstrong - but he failed to live up to expectations...' But then, he was dying on his feet anyway. No one knew." 

Less than two months later, in October, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular and lung cancer, with brain lesions. He underwent surgeries twice that month, returning to cycling in 1998. The rest is history.

How nice for you to have the Leeds Classic near for those years. (This English World Cup race had been moved around - Newcastle (1989), Brighton (1990-91), Leeds (1992-96) and the next year, 1997, south to Rochester.)

"Ah, those were the days."

I dare say.

Armstrong and Sean Yates

Facts and Figures

Lance Armstrong 1993 - 1996

1993: Motorola
Road race, World Championships
1 stage, Tour de France
CoreStates US Pro Championship
Trophee Laigueglia
Thrift Drug Classic
1 stage, 2nd Tour DuPont
Vuelta Ciclista a Galega
Kmart Classic
1 stage, Tour of Sweden
Tour of America
21st UCI World Rankings

1994: Motorola
Thrift Drug Classic
1 stage, 2nd Tour DuPont
2nd  Liège-Bastogne-Liège
2nd Clasica San Sebastian
4th Worlds Road Race
6th World Cup
7th  Tour of Switzerland
25th UCI World Rankings

1995: Motorola
1 stage, Tour de France (for teammate Fabio Casartelli)
Clasica San Sebastian
3 stages, Mountain Jersey and Overall Tour DuPont
1 stage and Overall Kmart Classic
Tour of America
2nd stage, Tour de France
2nd  Thrift Drug Classic
5th CoreStates US Pro Championship
6th Liège-Bastogne-Liège
10th World Cup standings
36th  Tour de France
Established Lance Armstrong Junior Olympic Race Series

1996: Motorola
Flèche Wallonne
5 stages, Overall Tour DuPont
2nd  three stages, Paris-Nice
2nd Overall, Paris-Nice
2nd  Liège-Bastogne-Liège
2nd GP Eddy Merckx
2nd Overall, Tour of Holland
4th  Leeds International Classic
4th  GP Suisse
6th Olympic Games Time Trial
7th World Cup standings
12th Olympic Games Road Race
9th UCI World Rankings

Leeds International Classic, 235 km:
August 18, 1996
1. Andrea Ferrigato (Ita) Roslotto-ZG 5.43.13 (41,100 km/h)
2. Maximilian Sciandri (Gbr) Motorola + 0.01
3. Johan Museeuw (Bel) Mapei-GB + 0.20
4. Lance Armstrong (Usa) s.t.
5. Michele Bartoli (Ita) s.t.
6. Davide Rebellin (Ita) s.t.
7. Marco Fincato (Ita) s.t.
8. Andrea Tafi (Ita) s.t.
9. Marco Milesi (Ita) + 1.01
10. Stefano Colage (Ita) + 1.09
11. Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) + 1.35
12. Alessandro Baronti (Ita) s.t.

Motorola Riders at Leeds:
Lance Armstrong
Frankie Andreu
Laurent Madouas
Kaspars Ozers
Andrea Peron
Maximillian Sciandri
Flavio Vanzella
Sean Yates

Overall standings after Leeds:
1st Johan Museeuw (Mapei) 137 pts
2nd Stefano Zanini (Gewiss) 88 pts
3rd Michele Bartoli (MG Maglificio) 73 pts
7th Lance Armstrong (Motorola) 61 pts
14th Max Sciandri (Motorola) 45 pts
27th Laurent Madouas (Motorola) 20 pts
31st Axel Merckx (Motorola) 14 pts

1996 World Cup Series
Milan-San Remo
Tour of Flanders
Amstel Gold
San Sebastian
Leeds International Classic
GP Suisse
Giro di Lombardia
Japan Cup

Photos courtesy of Cycling in North Cumbria and Daily Peloton.

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