By James Raia

The Greatest Cyclists In Tour de France History (Part One : Jacques Anquetil to Bernard Hinault)

Tour de France champions all have different styles. But through the race’s more than 100-year history, the best have also all been the same in some respects. They’ve  all had great individual skills and a focused desire to win.

Naming five of the best Tour de France riders is easy. Each dominated the event during their tenures.

Lance Armstrong won a record seven consecutive Tour titles. Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault (both Frenchmen), Eddy Merckx of Belgium, and Spaniard Miguel Indurain all captured the race five times.

Great champions like Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Greg LeMond, Jan Ullrich, and Joop Zoetemelk are listed for diverse reasons — longevity, perseverance and their ability to overcome personal tragedy.

Plenty of other great bicyclists have competed in the Tour, but here’s my list of the 10 finest in history

Jacques Anquetil

Greatest CyclistsContrary to the regimented training of many champions, Jacques Anquetil became the Tour’s first five-time winner with a unique, playboy lifestyle, a profound swagger and tremendous skill as a time trialist.

Raised in the country, Anquetil’s career curiously involved number 17. He won the Grand Prix des Nations, and then the unofficial time trial world championship, at age 17, and he raced for 17 years.

Anquetil claimed his first Tour title in 1957 with nearly a 15-minute victory over Marc Janssens of Belgium. Anquetil celebrated his notoriety with as much vigor as he rode. He led a party lifestyle and fit the part of a Southern California surfer: Anquetil had blond hair and blue eyes and often drove a sports car to races. Anquetil was infamous for smoking and drinking, and he uttered among the most often cited quotes in Tour history: “You can’t ride the Tour de France on mineral water.”

Four years elapsed before Anquetil claimed his second Tour in 1961, and he then won three more consecutive titles. Following his cycling retirement, Anquetil was in poor health for many years and died of stomach cancer in 1987.

Lance Armstrong

Brash and explosively talented, Lance Armstrong was age 21 in 1993 when became the youngest cyclist to win the World Championship road race. But youthful confidence doesn’t always mean much in the Tour de France.

Armstrong completed the event only once in his first four attempts, a 36th place overall finish in 1995. It was the same year his Italian friend and teammate Fabio Casartelli died during the race following a tragic hillside crash.

Armstrong’s two-year absence from the Tour following his 1996 race abandonment was largely spent in recovery from his well-documented battle against testicular cancer. Armstrong returned to the Tour in 1999 more than 20 pounds lighter. Much to the surprise of the French media, Armstrong won the prologue. He also captured three more stages en route to the first of his six Tour titles, with more than a 7 1/2-minute margin over Alex Zulle of Switzerland.

During his record-setting 2004 Tour victory, Armstrong won three mountains stages and both individual time trials en route to a nearly 6 1/2-minute win over Germany’s Andreas Kloden.

Armstrong, who retired after his 2005 win, was a dominating individual rider, a masterful tactician, and a consummate team rider. Many of Armstrong’s stage wins occurred in epic battles against the sport’s finest, including German Jan Ullrich, the 1997 race winner, and deceased 1998 race titlist Marco Pantani of Italy. Armstrong has withstood numerous crashes. He has also spoken out in response to numerous drug accusations.

Gino Bartali

Many Tour de France riders’ careers are fleeting. An ill-timed, split-second decision has stopped more than one cyclist’s career. But not even WWII stopped Gino Bartali of Italy.

After winning his first title in 1938 — the first year individual riders weren’t allowed to race but were required to compete for teams — Bartali returned a decade later and won again. While his doomsayers thought the 34-year-old was too old, Bartali’s fans remembered his dominating pre-war mountain performances.

Bartali logged huge chunks of training miles and was devoutly religious. He didn’t get along well with his equally famous countryman, Fausto Coppi. In fact, the two argued as the 1948 race approached and, in disgust, Coppi refused to participate.

Bartali remained unfazed. He attacked early and won the first stage in 1948, but faltered the next day. At the end of the first week, Bartali trailed Frenchman Louison Bobet by more than 20 minutes in the general classification. When the race entered the Pyrenees, Bartali responded, knowing the seventh stage ended in the faithful city of Lourdes. He claimed the stage, won two more stages in succession, then crushed the field in the Alps.

Bartali eventually won seven Tour stages in 1948. With descending skills as strong as his climbing abilities, he claimed more than a 16-minute win over Belgium’s Brik Schotte. Bartali’s second Tour win placed him in a one-member fraternity. He’s the only Tour rider to win overall titles a decade apart. Bartali also finished the Tour in second (1949), fourth (1951 and 1952), and 11th (1953), and he completed his Tour career with 12 stage wins.

Fausto Coppi

Gino Bartali entered the 1949 Tour as defending champion. He and Fausto Coppi reconciled, and the two Italians were ready for a much-anticipated battle. Coppi had already won the Tour of Italy three times, but at age 29 — six years younger than his compatriot — he was ready to claim his first Tour.

The two Italians often rode near each other in the second week in the Pyrenees. When the race entered the Alps, Coppi showed his still-youthful strength. He left Bartali as the race arrived in Italy and claimed a mountain stage and time trial en rout to an 11-minute overall win over his aging countryman.

Swiss riders Ferdi Kubler and Hugo Koblet, respectively, won the 1950 and 1951 Tours. Coppi returned in 1952 after overcoming two sub-par racing years and the 1951 death of his brother during a road race. Coppi, 33, was in superior shape, and he won his second Tour by nearly 30 minutes over Belgian Constant Ockers. Coppi won five Tour stages in 1952, including the inaugural ascent of L’Alpe d’Huez, the event’s most famous climb.

Coppi participated in the Tour only three times. His career was interrupted by war, numerous injuries, family tragedy, and his feisty temper. He won nine Tour stages, but when he left the sport, his life crumbled. Coppi divorced his wife for a girlfriend, a scandal that shocked Italy at that time. Coppi’s untimely death at age 40 from Malaria only further added to his legend.

Bernard Hinault

Like Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, and Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault — the last French rider to win the Tour — made a stunning debut in the controversial 1978 race. Riders felt the route was too difficult, and they dismounted their bikes at the end of one morning stage to protest.

Michel Pollentier of Belgium won the stage to L’Alpe d’Huez and claimed the yellow jersey. But Pollentier was quickly disqualified from the race. During the post-stage drug test, he was caught using a contraption that held fake urine.

That’s when Hinault capitalized on Pollentier’s departure. He won three stages in his race debut, including two time trials. He claimed his first title by nearly four minutes over Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk. With a defending French titlist, the host country was overjoyed. Hinault won in dominating fashion in 1979, claiming seven stages and further displayed his determined, sometimes harsh nature. His demeanor and gritty facial expressions earned him the nickname “The Badger.”

Hinault’s only weakness was tendonitis. Suffering from severe knee pain, he abandoned the 1980 race as it entered the Pyrenees. Hinault won again in 1981 and 1982, but he missed the 1983 race when his tendonitis returned. Hinault was determined, and after finishing second to compatriot Laurent Fignon in 1984, he claimed his fifth title in 1985. American Greg LeMond was Hinault’s teammate and appeared in position to outshine the French star. Hinault was weakened by crashes, but Hinault hired LeMond as a support rider, not a race winner. LeMond was upset, but he relented. Hinault, who wore the yellow jersey for 78 days in his career, concluded his Tour efforts in 1986 when he finished second to LeMond.

Hinault had 28 stage wins in eight Tour appearances, and he is now part of the Tour organization and greets podium finishers after every stage.

Lance Armstrong Interview: Twitter, Time Trials and Transparency

Lance Armstrong has returned to competitive cycling after a 3 1/2 year retirement. The seven-time Tour de France titlist, cancer survivor, father of three (soon to be four) children, and global businessman will compete in about a half-dozen races in 2009 for two reasons: to expand his mission of global cancer awareness and to return to the top level of competition, which he said he’s missed since his retirement after the 2005 Tour de France. A few days prior to the Tour of California, I interviewed Armstrong for a cover story for the Sacramento News & Review in February as his team concluded its training camp in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Question: For the last couple of months, you’ve had a Twitter account and you’re very active on it and it’s very popular (more than 70,000 followers. Editor’s note: Lance Armstrong now has more than 154,000 followers). Are you an investor in the company, are you a hyper toe-tapper type or just what’s your interest?

Lance Armstrong: I don’t have a financial stake in Twitter, no. I didn’t even know about it three months ago. But sometimes I feel like I work for them. I get asked about it and it’s unbelievable what gets written in regards to me and Twitter (laughter). But, hell, I wish I had a little piece of the action. But I don’t. But in the end, it’s profitable or beneficial for me and it’s beneficial for the foundation and for the team.

Look, in the last 10 years, primarily 1999 to 2005 I wasn’t the most openly transparent person in the world. And it led people to say, ‘Well, hmm. We don’t know where he is. We don’t know what he’s doing. He won’t talk to us. So, he must be up to no good.’ And even if they didn’t write that you’re up to no good, they would think that you’re up to no good and it would lead to speculation and rumor.

Something like Twitter comes along or accessibility to video blogs, you say, F-it. I’m going to come back and you may not care, but I’m going to tell you what I had for breakfast and I’m going to take a picture of it. I’m going to tell you when I’m on a training ride. I’m going to tell you when I’m at my son’s flag football game. I’m going to tell you when I just cracked a bottle of bad-ass red wine.

You can take my biggest detractor in the press room and if they read that, then after awhile they’ll realize, man, this is really him telling us what he’s doing. And then they realize, ‘You know what? This guy is not secluded in a dark room with a team of mysterious doctors up to no good. This guy is a regular f-ing guy.’ So, I’ve got no stake in Twitter, but Twitter has helped.

Q: Throughout your career, you’ve been a team leader. What do you think of Lance Armstrong as a domestique (team rider)?

L.A.: It’s definitely a possibility. I think it’s healthy for me to remind myself why I came back. And I came back because I wanted to take the Livestrong message around the world and I came back because I wanted to ride my bike again. It’s very simple; it’s not complicated.

It becomes complicated when somebody says, ‘Lance you won the Tour seven times. If you get fourth, you’re going to ruin your legacy. You’re going to ruin a perfect record.’ That’s their impression. That’s the pressure we put on ourselves. We want athletes to be perfect and we want them to hit the game-winning shot, walk away and never come back. Sometimes, they (the athletes) get in the locker room and say ‘F-it. I want to come back. And that happened to me.

Q: From the pictures and video I’ve seen, you look thicker or stronger in your upper body. Has your body changed?

L.A.  When I started training last summer before I decided to come back, I was spending a lot of time in the gym. In the last couple of years, I’ve put on some upper-body mass and put on weight. That’s for sure. And I continued to train in the gym all the way until October. So it’s going to take a few months to get that off. It’s already come down considerably. But the pictures and the cameras can be deceiving, too. But really what the scale says and it’s what it says in April that’s a good comparison, not in February. Still. I’m much lighter at this time of the year than I normally would be.

Q: You’re going to be a father again, and your fourth child will be about one month old or so when the Tour de France comes along. Will you bring him or her along to the finish like your other children or do you have a different plan at this point?

L.A.: He or she will be at the Tour, for sure. Quite honestly, my schedule this year pretty much revolves around my kids’ schedule. (Former wife) Kristin (Armstrong) has been the real hero and very helpful to me and understanding on this comeback. It’s not optimal that I fly from here back home for five days before the Tour of California. That’s the schedule Kristin and I have set out and the kids want to see their old man. I will always travel back and forth to have quality time with my kids. That’s what we’ll do this week and so all that will stay the same as it was the first time.

Q: With all the demands on your time, how do you determine how much time you give to cancer patients and how it occurs?

Lance Armstrong: It’s definitely changed. As the momentum of the foundation has grown, the requests have also grown at the same time. Sometimes the stuff is structured. I’m going to go to hospital ABC tomorrow. You have to call the hospital and the hospital knows you’re coming and you’re either going to give a talk or walk around.

Normally, those are very private and low-key visits. They’re designed for the patients and their families. But I get a lot out of them. The patients in their rooms get a lot out of it. But it’s motivating for me to go do that. And when I say motivating, it keeps me in perspective. It keeps reminding me why I do what I do on a daily basis.

Q: The Tour of California will have a few guys coming back to the sport and others with whom you’ve had long relationships like Ivan Basso, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. Any thoughts on being back in the peloton with some of the guys you came through the ranks with?

L.A. Cycling has evolved, but you still have some of the same characters and that list goes deep. Add George Hincapie to that list. There’s a lot of history with juniors to amateur racing to 11 years as a pro. I think for me, the thing to keep in mind at the Tour of California is that Levi (Leipheimer) is super motivated and super, super fit which he confirmed to us here at training camp. So we just have to ride for him and hope that he hammers the time trial as hard as he can like he did last year.”

Q: Speaking of the Tour of California, do you recall the last time you raced in California?

L.A.: Ojai Criterium, 2005. I’ve never raced Redlands or the Sea Otter Classic. But I did do the Race of Champions, which was up there on the same course at Laguna Seca. Back in those amateur Subaru-Montgomery days, we did Visalia, Fresno and we did crits at UCSB (Santa Barbara). There weren’t all in the same area as the Tour of California, like the Tour of the Unknown Coast, I think, in 1990. But some of it was the same. And I did the San Francisco Grand Prix in maybe 2002, 2003. So, there was a lot of California stuff like that, but never the bigger races from around here.

Q: Since you announced your comeback last September and when you began to win to win some of the regional races, has what’s happened on the bike been different than what you thought it might be?

L.A.: No. The improvement has been pretty consistent on what we’ve seen in the tests and in training. All of that feedback is improving and tracking nicely. The question mark is whether it gets to a point and then just stops improving. But I tell you . . . what’s the date day?      . . . Feb. 6. Take Feb. 6 versus any Feb. 6 from any of those other years (1999-2005) and there’s absolutely no comparison.

I had a chat today with Benjamin Noval. He was on my team for a bunch of Tours (de France) and he’s on this team. He said there’s absolutely no comparison to those years. He said I’m much more fitter, much leaner, much more race ready in February this year than in any of those years.

Q: One of the theories going around is that Astana will ride for you in the Giro and then you and the rest of the ream will ride for Alberto (Contador) in the Tour. Any thoughts?

L.A.: I haven’t done the Tour of Italy before, so it’s a box I wanted to check. I don’t know if I’ll be at my top condition at the Giro. But my aim is to be at the top of my game on July 4 (the start of the Tour de France). The Giro leads into that. But if my condition this July is the same as it has been in other Julys and I can get to 90 percent of that in May, that’s good enough to win the Giro. There’s a big IF in there.

We don’t know if it will be the same base on age, based on times, based on an old, creaky body. But all the indications are good. I think realistically, if I were top 10 (in the Giro), I’d be happy. If I were in the top 5, I’d be very happy. And if that takes me into a good month of June, rest and recovery, plus some training, and then the good thing of not having the stress to crash diet or really worrying about race weight going into July then I think it’ll go well.

Q: I’ve read some about your art collection. When did you first get interested in it, and do you remember the first piece you bought?

L.A.: I was started buying art when I build my first home in late, ’94. I always thought that will you can have help designing a home and building a home and picking out furniture, lights, etc. But the owner of the home should pick the art on the walls.

You should pick what your canvas is for the interior of the home. Some people just have the designer go pick out the art. But from the very beginning I wanted to have an active role in what actually went on the walls, especially if you have a home that’s a great art space. It started very recreationally back then, but then through the years, I picked up some good pieces, even when I was racing and traveling. Some of it is fairly important pieces of work, some of it is just stuff you see on the streets and you like and you say, ‘That appeals to me. That appeals  to me. I’ll take it.’

But in the past three years when I was off the bike or just riding a little, probably the thing I was the most passionate about on a consistent basis was the art world. I traveled to different art fairs around the country in Miami or the Armory in New York, just spending time there, not as a hardcore, education art aficionado. But just as somebody who has an appreciation for it. So you pick a Damien Hirst or Andres Serrano.

Q: During the training camp and at other times, you’re wearing the Livestrong kit but your teammates are in the Astana kit. Could you tell me about that arrangement?

L.A: Those guys are paid to race. I’m not paid to race. I’m racing as a volunteer for Livestrong. Legally, I can’t wear Livestrong in the race or I would, but anytime outside of a race I am going to fulfill my commitment to my organization.

Again, it would different if it were Discover Channel (his former team) and you were getting a big, fat salary. You have to train in that kit. But the fact that I’m not taking a salary from Astana means that I can wear what ever I want to wear, I think?

Q: I read one of your Twitter comments about having a glass of wine but no dessert at a restaurant. Can you tell me more about your fascination with Twitter?

L.A. (Laughing) The record will show three things: A. You’re a normal guy; B. You’re open and accessible and you’re giving regular media interviews; C. You’re the most drug tested athlete in the world. Those three things for me have nothing by upside.

Q: Is there any update on your ranch outside of Austin that you put up for sale awhile back?

L.A. No. Selling the ranch . . . we just weren’t getting out there enough and quite frankly the home we ending up building in Austin is big and it has a big yard and the kids love it and now the weekends are occupied there with sports and activities and birthday parties. We weren’t getting to the ranch.

So in exchange, we built a home in Aspen. It’s great for training. It’s great to escape the Austin hot summers and it’s a great community. And that home, although it doesn’t have big walls per se like my home in Austin does, it’s a good art and art will be integrated in that home, too.



So much is happening as the Tour de France approaches, Tour de France Times is publishing a special issue. We’ll be back next week with another special issue and then daily issues beginning July 3 in Liege, Belgium.

As a TFT subscriber, could you please do me a favor? Tell friends and colleagues about the free electronic newsletter or forward them this issue for their consideration. To subscribe, visit:


Jan Ullrich, the cyclist Lance Armstrong continues to predict as his toughest opponent, won the 68th Tour de Suisse by one-second Sunday after a final-day time trial win in Lugano, Switzerland. Ullrich (T-Mobile), the 1997 Tour de France winner and second to Armstrong las year, won the 26.5km final stage by eight seconds to claim his single-second triumph over Fabian Jeker . . . After losing time in the mountain stages, Bobby Julich, the CSC rider from Reno, Nev., finished fifth in the final time trial and placed 13th overall, trailing winner Ullrich by 6:30 . . . Two-time world road titlist Oscar Freire (Rabobank) will not compete in the Tour de France after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst . . . Several teams have released their Tour de France lineups, including the most recent announcement of the Quick-Step Davitamon contingent. It will include a strong lineup group of Tour veterans and a full complement capable of claiming stages: The team’s nine riders will include: Paolo Bettini, Tom Boonen, Davide Bramati, Laurent Dufaux, Servais Knaven, Juan Miguel Mercado, Michael Rogers, Richard Virenque, and Stefano Zanini . . . One of the most clever marketing campaigns TFT has seen will debut July 3, the prologue day of the Tour de France, when Tyler Hamilton, via Watch City Brewery in Waltham, Mass., unveils his nedw beer label, Tyler Clavicale. The 4.8 percent alcohol hefeweizen will be available only during the Tour de France . . . And finally, after watching the final day of the U.S. Open, we’re convinced the marketing team for Tiger Woods should take a look at Tyler Hamilton’s web site to check out the rider’s logo. Woods’ logo looks like a high school art class assignment compared to Hamilton’s classy design.


There are several strategies on how to book hotels for the Tour de France. The official race agency is VSO, but its personnel can get you a great room one night and the next night they can make you a reservation 50 miles from the race site. Some journalists never book rooms. For them, it’s the “spirit of adventure” that’s half the fun. They end their day’s work, drive to a city en route to the next day’s race and take their chances. To read the complete article, visit:


Lance Armstrong arrived in Paris on Sunday after a ceremonial 94-mile ride, his place among cycling’s icons secure with slightly more than a minute to spare. The leader of the race’s centenary for the final 13 days, Armstrong claimed his record-tying fifth consecutive Tour de France inafter enduring nearly three weeks of crashes, mechanical mishaps, poor-fitting shoes, dehydration and diarrhea. To read the complete article, visit:


The Tyler Hamilton Foundation (THF) has announced it will host a live viewing of stage 13 of the Tour de France on movie screens across the United States. Scheduled for Saturday, July 17, 2004, the nationwide fundraiser’s two lead sponsors are Outdoor Life Network (OLN) and Regal CineMedia(SM). The event will be presented in 19 Regal Entertainment Group (REG) movie theaters, and the occasion will mark the first time that U.S. cycling fans will be able to view a live European cycling race on a high-definition screen. To read the complete article, visit:

Lance Armstrong has negotiated a sweet deal that will continue his cycling career through at least the 2005 season. Discovery Communications has announced a new global partnership to become the title sponsor of five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, the only American team to have won the Tour de France. To read the complete article,visit:

The Tour de France is the world’s largest free sporting event. Spectators can watch every stage in person along the entire route, this year beginning in Liege, Belgium on July 3 and continuing to Paris, France on July 25. To read the complete article, visit:

With all the riding I do, you’d think I would understand and appreciate what the pros do in the Tour de France. Not so, until I rode the route of a mountain stage this summer. I suspected it was hard, but I didn’t know how hard until I tried it. I suspected they were fast, but I didn’t know how fast until I tried it. To read the complete article, visit:

The Tour de France celebrated its 100th anniversary last July with what many believe was the best of the race’s 90 editions. Lance Armstrong overcame several well-documented obstacles on and off the bike to claim his fifth straight title. In all, 53 different cyclists have now won the race. But was the 2003 Tour de France the best in history? To read the complete article, visit:


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Prologue – July 3: Prologue Liege ITT, 6 km
Stage 1 – July 4: Liège-Charleroi, 195 km
Stage 2 – July 5: Charleroi-Namur, 195 km
Stage 3 – July 6: Waterloo – Wasquehal, 195 km
Stage 4 – July 7: Cambrai – Arras TTT, 65 km
Stage 5 – July 8: Amiens – Chartres, 195 km
Stage 6 – July 9: Bonneval – Angers, 190 km
Stage 7 – July 10: Chateaubriant – Saint Brieuc, 208 km
Stage 8 – July 11: Lamballe – Quimper, 172 km
July 12: Rest Day: Transfer to Limoges
Stage 9 – July 13: St Leonard de Noblat – Guéret, 160 km
Stage 10 – July 14: Limoges – St. Flour, 237 km
Stage 11 – July 15: St Flour – Figeac, 164 km
Stage 12 – July 16: Castelsarrasin – La Mongie, 199 km
Stage 13 – July 17: Lannemezan – Plateau de Beille, 217 km
Stage 14 – July 18: Carcassonne – Nimes, 200 km
July 19 – Rest Day: Transfer to Nimes
Stage 15 – July 20: Valreas – Villard-de-Lans, 179 km
Stage 16 – July 21: Bourg d’Oisans – Alpe d’Huez ITT, 15 km
Stage 17 – July 22: Bourg d’Oisans – Le Grand Bornand, 212 km
Stage 18 – July 23: Annemasse – Lons le Saulnier, 166 km
Stage 19 – July 24: Besancon – Besancon ITT, 60 km
Stage 20 – July 25: Montreau – Paris-Champs-Elysees, 165 km


Tour de France Times (TFT), an electronic newsletter about cycling’s pinnacle event and the cyclists who compete in it, is written, edited and published by James Raia, a journalist in Sacramento, California. Tour de France Times is published monthly, except daily during the three-week Tour de France.

Story links, race information, suggestions and letters to the editor are encouraged via e-mail.

Send correspondence to: Please include your name and city and state of residence. Names held upon request.

Use of this newsletter in electronic formats is encouraged with the publisher’s permission. Cheers, James Raia

Phil Liggett: The Voice of Cycling

(Phil Liggett, a co-author with Sammarye Lewis and me of Tour de France For Dummies, will be broadcasting his 34th Tour de France, beginning July 1 in Strasbourg, France.)


Phil Liggett had just arrived from an overseas journey, and he appeared to be in trouble. With a notebook in hand and his eyes focused on a finish-line clock, the British broadcaster and journalist was trying to take notes on a windy, rainy day in Wilmington, Del.

Liggett has withstood worse days. This occasion, however, the opening day of the now-defunct Tour DuPont 10 years ago, was pertinent for two reasons.

The nasty day represented a perfect day in Belgium, a cycling hub. And it showcased Liggett at his best.

From the Tour de France to the Tour of Tasmania, the Tour of Texas to the Tour of Italy, Liggett has been there.

For nearly 40 years, and sometimes for no apparent reason, he’s taken meticulous notes in wet notebooks on horrid days and while using uncooperative pens.

“I don’t have great faith in computers for everything,” said Liggett, who rarely uses his notations. “I don’t necessarily keep these notes after a year or so, I just let them drift away or they go into a corner of the room.

“But by writing these things down, it lodges in my mind. I have a photographic memory and I’m very proud of it. I can look at the camera and give you a complete report on the race.”

Liggett, 61, is the voice of cycling. He logs more than 200,000 air miles and spends more than 250 days per year on the road following the circuit.

Last summer, while working for four broadcasting networks, one newspaper and one web site, Liggett completed his 33nd Tour de France.

“People say, ‘You must be crazy looking at the same race every year,’ ” said Liggett. “But it’s not the same race. This was one of the best Tours I’ve worked on. It’s been great to write about and report on. There was a story everyday. I never got tired. I mean there are other things I’d like to do, but I have no thoughts of retirement.”

Following an amateur cycling career, Liggett began his print journalism career in 1967 with Britain’s Cycling Magazine (now Cycling Weekly). He opted for freelance reporting in 1971. One day when a broadcasting friend became ill, Liggett was asked to be a last-minute replacement.

Much has occurred since. Liggett’s NBC coverage of ski jumping at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway, for example, earned him “best announcer” honors from The New York Times. He’s broadcast the Hawaiian Ironman to various other endurance events. But he’s largely known for his cycling broadcasts.

Liggett also remains loyal to print journalism. He writes Tour de France and other cycling articles for the Daily Telegraph in London, and he’s written five cycling books.

For the past 20 years, Paul Sherwen has been Liggett’s traveling and broadcast partner. A seven-time Tour de France participant, Sherwen, 48, provides co-broadcasting and analysis for Liggett to U.S. audiences on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN).

In recent years, as Lance Armstrong has added to his now six-year victory streak at the Tour de France, OLN’s and the broadcasting duo’s popularity has rapidly increased.

While attending the USPRO Championship in Philadelphia in 2003, Liggett noticed several fans’ signs that read: “Don’t Retire, Phil.”

Liggett has no such plans. Because of his lengthy tenure, however, rumors have begun.

The Sherwen-Liggett tandem works in a folksy style. They can be critical of races, cyclists and organizers, but they also don’t hide their fondness for the cycling and favorite competitors. They’re also prone to picking up on nuances in races before they occur.

During the Tour de France in recent years, Liggett worked for OLN as well as networks in Britain, South Africa and Australia. He voiced over the Tour’s internal international broadcast.

“For the average person, they turn on the television and see the bunch going along hour after hour,” Liggett explained. “They say, ‘Hey, that’s great. But what the hell is going on?’ But if you take them into the pack and pick up on a couple of riders and explain how the teams are trying to position themselves for a finish . . . well, then you really get them hooked on the sport.”

Best friends away from work, Liggett and Sherwen and their respective wives vacation together. The broadcasting duo and several current and former cyclists are partners in a gold mine in Uganda. Both also share an interest in wildlife; Liggett is an expert ornithologist.

“We’re always driving down the motorway and I will say, ‘that’s a black-tailed kite,’ ” said Liggett. “We’re always looking for them. I recognize most of the birds in Europe and in South Africa because I go there a lot. I’m rusty in America. I take a bird book, Audubon, with me there.”

Liggett is also humble. Sherwen once took his broadcast partner on a Kenyan safari. Liggett identified 146 bird species during the journey. He logged each variety in a notebook and then onto a laptop computer program.

“Every year I say I’m going to do less,” Liggett said. “But it hasn’t worked; this has been my busiest year. It’s ridiculous. I dread to think about this year. I haven’t been home. Well, I’ve been home. But it will be about the same time on the road this year, about 270-275 days.”

Floyd Landis: The Rise And Crash Of A Tour de France Champion


. . . (The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland has ruled against dethroned 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis’ to bid overturn his two-year US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) ban and clear his name.

Landis will have to serve the full two-year suspension retroactive to Jan. 30, 2007, the date when he declared voluntary non-competition status. Landis was ordered to pay $100,000 in costs to the USADA.) . . .

And so nearly two years after one of cycling’s darkest moments, Floyd Landis has lost his arbitration appeal to keep his 2006 Tour de France title.

In the best of worlds, reporters are supposed to remain objective, but that’s not a reality. And when a decision like this goes against a nice guy, it’s more difficult to understand.

France ChampionIf you interview an athlete for several years, like I’ve done with cyclists and golfers (and years ago with NBA players), you develop opinions. Some guys (and women) you like, others you don’t.

Not too many reporters, as far as I know, like Barry Bonds. I’ve never interviewed him, but if half of what others have said is true, and after observing him for years, if Bonds is ever found guilty I’d revel in it. The guy’s no good, and whatever he’d get, he’d deserve.

But when nice guys cheat or they’re accused of cheating, it’s not the same. You meet Floyd Landis, you meet Tyler Hamilton and they both look you in the eyes. They’re humble. You respect how they train, how they conduct themselves, how they treat others. They epitomize sportsmanship, and you like them.

And like Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, Hamilton and Landis had good stories to tell and great skills to show. Like no others, the American foursome all helped endurance sports transition into the media mainstream.

It’s a world full of sports editors and reporters who used to play football, basketball or baseball and who perhaps thought maybe they’d make it into “The Show” if it weren’t for a bad break. Still, some get endurance sports, others don’t. And so the easiest thing for those who don’t get it, is to dismiss sports like cycling and provide only obligatory coverage.

Remember, for example, when loudmouth columnist Skip Bayless said cycling isn’t a sport? The guy’s never been to the Tour de France, but he sure had something to say about it.

It’s part of the same reason boxing and horse racing, both ripe with corruption, still get covered as if nothing’s wrong.

But forget walk-off home runs, clutch putts and game-winning jump shots. They’re all OK. But watch a guy leave the peloton and ride up a mountain in rarefied air high into the Alps or Pyrenees and then you’ve seen something.

France ChampionI can’t help but like it. I’ve seen hundred of race finishes, and when a rider crosses the line first and displays his own unique style of emotion — sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly — it’s great stuff. I look for it in every race I attend.

Several years ago now, when Tyler Hamilton (remember him?) tested positive, his legion of fans made buttons that read: “I Believe Tyler.”

It didn’t take long for slightly less innocent cycling observers to amend the phrase to “I Want To Believe Tyler.”

I wanted to believe Tyler, too. And I want to believe Floyd. Why would they cheat? How could they lie to their respective friends and families and to themselves?

It’s nothing new in sport or in life. People cheat for fame and money and who knows for what other reasons? Reporters cheat, cyclists cheat, and I suspect it’s well within the realm of possibility experts in French drug-testing labs cheat.

But if it’s Barry Bonds cheating, it’s one thing. If it’s a nice guy cheating, it’s not as easy to understand — at least not for me. But nice guys do bad things.

It’s been coming to this for a while. And now it’s a certainly. I still cover cycling and I like the athletes and the Tour de France. But I’ll never be able to view cycling the same way again.

The State Of The Wine Industry

(This article was originally published in the March, 2008 issue of American Vineyard Magazine.)

The United States still pales in per capita comparisons to European and other global wine markets. But the U.S. population continues to steadily shift its consumption preferences from beer to wine.

Michelle in Washington, the opening session of the second day of the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium began Jan. 30 with a varied and largely optimistic State of the Industry presentation.

With an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 in attendance in the grand ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in Sacramento, California, Baseler and four other speakers offered a varied compilation of the wine’s industry current status — statewide, nationwide and globally.

Moderated by Karen Ross, President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, the 2 1/2-hour session included presentations from Baseler as well as Nat DiBuduo, Allied Grape Growers (California), Jon Fredrikson, The Gomberg Fredrikson Report (California), Joshua Greene, Wine & Spirits Magazine (New York) and Glenn Proctor, The Ciatta Company (California).

Prior to her individual introduction of each speaker, Ross offered a surprise.

As part of the State of California’s new multimillion campaign to promote the state’s varied food and wine, a commercial featuring Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Schriever, was shown on two large projection screens flanking the elevated podium.

The State Of The Wine Industry


The 30-second spot, scheduled for national release in February, features various enthusiast chefs and restaurateurs as well as myriad scenery footage touting California as a land of wine and food.
The commercial concludes with the governor, seated with his wife at courtyard restaurant, looking directly in to the camera and saying: “You’ll be back.”

Baseler, whose Washington winery was later in the program selected as Winery of the Year, offered an enthusiastic but cautious outlook.

“There’s a continued tremendous transformation in the United States from beer to wine consumption and the reason is very simple,” he said. “Consumers are clearly trading up.”

“No longer are metrics that simply measure volume appropriate. Dollar volume is a much more important metric than unit volume. Looking at the 750 ml category, it now represents 66 percent of the revenue. And within that category, domestics are about 71 percent, important sales about 29. And that’s about the same throughout the full table wine category.”

Like the other speakers, Baseler’s comments were complemented numerous charts, graphs and statistical analysis.

One important area, Baseler noted, was consumers’ shift to higher-priced wine. In 2007, super premium and ultra premium wines experienced a combined 12 percent growth rate. The double-digit improvement, said Baseler, “Is about as robust as category in the supermarket today.”

Luxury priced wines had a 22 percent increase in sales last year, and Baseler said increases are expected to continue for years.
Despite his optimism, Baseler also offered a cautionary tone.

“Profitability means one thing,” he said. “People are going to come after you. And so while times are better, what’s going to happen is that as a category gets more competitive, it breeds innovation and that means more entries, a more fragmented category and lower category entry barriers.”

Greene, citing statistics from his publication’s annual restaurant wine consumers survey, said the industry now presents a large challenge for American wine producers.

Now in its 19th year, Wine & Spirits magazine asks 2,300 restaurant owners countrywide their establishments’ top-10 wines.

“What we discovered in 2001 after doing the poll for about 10 years, is that U.S. wines represented 66-67 percent of the top-selling wines,” said Greene. “In 2002, it went down to 58 percent and it’s hovered between 56-58 percent since.”

“Especially considering the dollar situation and the incentive that would give to American diners to buy American wine, that shows a real broadening of the market and that creates a challenge for American producers.”

Greene’s contention is that his magazine’s survey, while representing a niche percentage of the market, has historically provided an accurate prediction of industry wide trends in five-to-10 years.

“The time has come when our market is supposed to be the largest market in the world this coming year,” said Greene. “So we have the economic crisis, if you will, and this potential economic boom for our industry. How it will all come together is a little bit of a mystery.”

DiBuduo stressed that, like the increased amount of available wines, wine growers are independent and continue to become more independent. He presented a multipoint proposal for California to improve what he described as a “flattening share of the market.”
From increased research dollars to wine labeling industry improvement and increased promotion to continued buyer consolidation, DiBuduo said California winemakers are getting closer to what the market wants, but that a shortage is looming.

DiBuduo received the largest individual mid-presentation applause of the morning while emphasizing the need for economic stability.

“With the flattening supply, I think growers have to be ‘incentivized’ to plant more grapes and be successful,” he said. “I think they’re willing to do that. I think they’re willing to do whatever it takes. I also think growers are entitled to a reasonable return on their investment.
“You talk about the word ‘sustainability,’ the economic sustainability is what is going to drive to source of profit for the wine industry. I believe growers should be allowed to have return on their investment, as is anyone else in the industry.

“We just don’t want to cover the cost of growing the grapes. If there’s not profit, let’s pull the grapes out and plant almonds and pistachios.  Plant something that’s going to gets us a return on that investment. I think the wineries are entitled to a return on their investment and I believe growers are likewise. That’s called economic stability.”

Like his fellow panelists, Proctor expressed concern about the fluctuating value of the dollar. He presented a checklist of musts for the continued health of the industry.

“It’s important to continue to grow grapes even when the dollar is at historic lows,” said Proctor. “We have to continue to expand California opportunities.”

As the final panelist, Fredrikson was the only speaker to leave the podium. He paced across the front row of spectators and statistically compared the U.S. market with the global wine world.

“In world consumption, these numbers are kind of vague, but it appears based on volume, the U.S, market has surpassed Italy and moved into the No. 2 position by volume internationally, which is a big step forward,” said Fredrikson. “But, of course, when you measure us by capita, we barely show up on the map.”

Fredrikson explained that in 2007 the yearly U.S. per capita consumption per capita was about 2.5 gallons — a particularly small amount and about one-third the amount per capita consumption of the United Kingdom and Australian.

“It’s good news in the sense that we have a long way to grow,” Fredrikson said. “But if you measure our market, however, in terms of estimated retail value, we already are the biggest wine market in the world. It’s an estimated $30 billion in retail sales. It’s very exciting, but it also means we are a magnet. We are attracting wines from more than two-dozen countries around the world.”

Fredrikson concluded the State of the Industry session by naming more than two-dozen brands as “Stars of 2007.” He then announced his organization’s selection of Chateau Ste. Michelle as Winery of the Year.