By Rabun Kosar
The American speed demon is one of the impressive members of the peloton. His
list of palmares may not be as long as some others, however the quality of his
wins is breathtaking. He is surely one of the best against the clock, which he
proved again and again during the last 3 years. His most impressive win is the
stage 14 of Giro d'Italia in 2002, a time-trial stage in Numana. He had to race
with a broken shoulder (which he was not aware of at that time) that caused him
even more problems on that that time trialing position. He convincingly won that
stage (against riders no other than Goncthar, Evans, Verbrugghe, Gonzalez),
which elevated him higher in the rankings. He ended the race on the podium, with
the CSC jersey. The result being some of his teeth needed resurfacing, because he had to grit
the time to stand the pain.
Tyler Hamilton at the 2004 Tour de France presentation. Photo by
Anita van Crey.
He has always been a significant rider with
respectable climbing and time trialing abilities. But adding a little Riis
essence produced a winning result. His next "Le Tour," in which he was talked
about as a
possible winner, was spoiled by a crash on first stage that broke his
collarbone. Being a gutsy rider that he is, he decided on finishing the tour with a
show. During stage 16, he started an optimistic breakaway on the slopes of Col
du Soudet which turned out the be the greatest time trial he has ever produced.
He rode the last 50 kms all alone into the headwind.
Recently he defended his Tour of Romandy champion jersey with a strong ride,
especially winning the final (and really hard) time trial.
He is not new to the Olympics, he has been a Olympian before. He knows the
ambience of "the most important sporting event." This adds to his strength;
however his sub-optimal performance in this year’s Tour de France causes doubts
in minds. Can he find his form again for Athens? This is a question that must be
going on and on in his mind lately. He will surely show himself in the race that he
excels, but will he get the better of the likes of Ullrich, Rogers, Ekimov, De
Galdeano? Courage alone may not be enough this time against the best riders of
the field. Also, the parcours being a little too flat for his liking, may play into
the hands of his rivals. But he has the necessary ingredients; all he needs is
to mix them on 18th of August and not to over-cook. Then he will present us a
delicious meal, like the one he did in Numana, Italy.
This talented Aussie is a rider with the potential of being a grand tour
winner in the near future. At the age of 25 his bag is already full of impressive palmares. He is a winner of Tour Down Under (2002), Tour of Belgium (2003),
Tour of Germany (2003), Route du Sud (2003). Moreover, he is an alpha class time trialist.
He has always been up in the rankings when it comes to the race of truth. His
most impressive ride was during the last year’s world championships in Canada,
where he finished 2nd in the ... (yes, you guessed that right) time trial race.
And a more interesting fact is that he is maybe the winner, after David Millar's
admission that he's been using EPO). He has the talent, he is powerful, time is
on his side and he is a member of a strong team that can back him up whenever he
Mick "Dodger" Rogers at the Paris-Nice 2004 time trial. Photo by
However, the Olympics is like no other sporting event. It is the crown of the
sports given once in every 4 years. Unlike normal races, this one puts enormous
pressure on the favorites. The problem is whether can he handle it when the day
comes. The parcours will not be a problem for him; he has been successful on
similar roads before and he did impressive things. Also he lives in Italy, where
the weather is somewhat similar to Athens; hence he will not have problems with
But his strong finish in the Tour also means that he will need a good rest
before the events to recuperate and peak back again. Can he do that? Actually
his body is not the problem, but he is still young and has yet a lot to learn.
We will see it in really short time if has learned enough or not. But one thing
is for sure, he will not disappoint his fans when the hits the finish line in
Athens, whatever his rank is. It is important not to forget that his rivals will
be seasoned riders that have been to Olympics before (especially Ekimov, Ullrich,
Hamilton) - some who might desperately wish to redeem themselves. He will shine anyway
amongst them. The question is "how bright?" It would be pleasing to have a 25
year old gold medalist, standing on top of the podium of August 18, 2004.
Der Kaiser, the prodigy, the talent, the gifted, whatever you call him. He is
generally acknowledged as the most talented rider of his generation. He has an
array of talents, it is generally accepted that he can win any race he wants. He
is that capable, but his list of palmares does not reflect this status.
Being a Tour winner is nothing but a legend. However, given the fact that he
could dominate the Tour for all those years but he could not, people start
questioning this famous German. Instead of him a well-known American rose to the
Mount Olympus and currently sits there looking down to the rest of field. This
is a well known story, told especially in July every year.
The problem with this enigmatic rider is simple: Does he want it? Unlike
the Anquetil era, cycling has recently produced calculating champions who are
passionate about winning everything. This mentality can be found in the simple
words of Hinault, echoed to Armstrong during this year’s Tour de France:
"Perfect! No gifts". The words of such a grand champion contain more than you first
notice. Gift is not just giving a stage win, it is about the style and person
himself. A grand champion lives to win; there is not even one cell of
him that will choose the other option. Success is never enough; they are the
"perfect" perfectionists. It is not a killer instinct or the fortune. They are
always prepared and as it is known, "Fortune favors the prepared mind".
Jan Ullrich at the 2004 HEW Cyclassics. Courtesy T-Mobile.
his nation are known to suit this description really well. (Football fans will
remember English football player Gary Lineker's unforgettable words, "Football is
a game played by two teams of eleven men where at the end the Germans win").
When he took the cycling world by storm in 1997, Jan was a perfect display of
those descriptions and he was still at the tender age of 23. Remembering that
cyclists' prime ages are around 30, people thought he would dominate for all
those coming years. He could not, or more suitably, he did not. He did not set
his mind to the task, maybe that early success took a lot of passion from him,
the passion that he will surely need later. Next year a brilliant Pantani took
nearly 9 minutes from him on the mighty Galibier and rest is history. People
like to blame him for the way he prepared to the Tour, but the problem lies
somewhere else, not on those excess kilos.
Jan Ullrich, with those unbelievably strong and powerful legs, riding style and
posture, is the red hot favorite for the gold medal. The terrain being
relatively smooth will surely suit him. (Actually any kind of riding terrain
suits his time trial style.) His hunger for success will also fuel him, those who
watched him erase the time deficits in 2001 time trial world championships will
know that. Once his mind is set, he works like a well oiled German machine, he
just completes the task as needed. Will he? Let's wait and see.
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano
This silent Basque is a favorite of many fans; this is not only due to the fact
that he is a talented rider, but also he has a great attitude in general. He is
a strong all-around rider who has able to finish in top 5 in TdF and Vuelta
(5th in TdF 2002, 2nd in Vuelta 99 and 4th in last year's Vuelta). He was the
winner of the fastest stage ever to be held in a grand tour, when he hit the
finish line first in Zaragoza in 2001, averaging 55km per hour. He certainly has
the ability to time trial; he was the bronze medalist in world championship time
trial in Zolder. He is around thirty, meaning he is in the golden years of his cycling
career. He has all the qualities he can need.
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano at the 2004 Tour de France
Photo by Cyclingpictures.de.
But what does he lack? Why can't
he hit the top, demolishing the opposition? It seems he does not have the
ambition; his mild manners somehow show themselves while racing on that bike.
Combine this with an over-ambitious DS and you get a not-so-good results.
Somebody shouting "Venga" all the time inside your ear will break down the
concentration, increase the pressure unnecessarily and keep your adrenalin level
high all the time. Not a good way to race. Such a superior athlete needs help in
ways other than the ones he has had up to now (ask Bruyneel or Lefevre); this is
highly a personal opinion of mine. He has a lot to show the fans, given enough
The Spanish National Jersey will surely motivate him, like the Vuelta on the
horizon. If he can get his ambitious thoughts together, he may well show us how
to ride in speeds over 50 kms on the roads of Athens. One more thing is that the
stage he won in 2001 has some similarities with the TT course in the Olympics;
maybe he can roll back the years and display a power of stamina and speed like
he did back then. If he gets a medal, which is highly likely, he may well show
his (mostly hidden) qualities in Vuelta, a race he shined in first in 1999. And
maybe get his revenge from a certain German that denied him the top of podium in
the same Vuelta. Mentioning to him such facts may well work better than shouting in
his ears. What do you say? He has a nice personality, he has good sporting
qualities, and the only thing missing is a long list of wins. Given the fact
that Olympics is the crown of sports, maybe he wake up as the king on the
morning of August 19, 2004.