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Only efficient part of USPS is Lance

Alan Braunholtz

First a good showing in the World Cup and now the U.S. Postal Service cycling team’s Lance Armstrong looks to win the Tour de France again.

The tour is amazing: three weeks and 3,300 kilometers long and it’s probably the world’s toughest sporting event. Sometimes less than half the starters manage to finish.

As modern sports increasingly focus solely on the winner, the tour still emphasizes the importance of taking part. At the start there are probably less than four out of 180 riders even thinking about winning. The others are there to support their teammates and for personal goals – all important and now often neglected parts of sports.



The last place finisher, known as the “lanterne rouge,” gets a hero’s reception and rewarding sponsorship offers.

The USPS team is good. They have a balance of flat land diesels and nimble climbers to support Lance, who is incredible. If you wanted to put U.S. in front of a team, this is as good as any.



Still I can’t help wondering why the Postal Service sponsors a cycling team in Europe. “Sacre bleu loook at zem zo smooth zo precise, I must out rush and use the U.S. mail.”

No matter how impressive the USPS team is, Europeans can’t use the U.S. mail. I guess Lance et al are worth the exposure generated here in car country USA, and I feel proud to pick up my mail.

Actually I love getting letters (as opposed to junk mail), and the walk to the neighborhood box is a pleasant part of my day. Out in the sun, a sense of expectation and the excuse to be nosey checking out the street.



I know the Postal Service is handicapped by having to provide the same service to spread-out rural areas, as well as efficiently dense cities, but I feel if the Postal Service focused on home delivery and pickup instead of forcing customers into long lines at inconvenient post offices during busy work days, they could compare favorably to UPS and Fed Ex.

The USPS cycling team is so dominant that the whispered drug use innuendoes are beginning to fly again. These people obviously know nothing about the proud history of the U.S. Postal Service. The Postal Service and speed have never gone together. Anything connected to the USPS should be exempt from stimulant testing.

Thinking about it, counteracting this sort of stereotypical criticism is probably precisely the reason that the USPS sponsors a great cycling team. Oops! I apologize and look forward to seeing Lance on the mail route.

This is another trend in sports. If someone is better, than you tarnish them with implied drug use. The U.S. swim coaches and media did it to a Dutch woman who kicked butt in the Sydney Olympics and now a few Euros are doing it to Lance.

True, cycling does have a history of stimulant abuse. A Brit, Tom Simpson, died from amphetamine induced heart failure while leading the tour in 1967.

This era of pioneering chemistry, combined with the strain of professional cycling, gives retired cyclists a life expectancy 15 years shorter than average. Recent scandals (involving French teams) have created a crackdown in cycling and it’s now as clean as any other sport.

Lance Armstrong has always tested clean and the USPS team passed a recent investigation.

Cheating by any means is a part of sports and has a long history in cycling. Maurice Garin won the first tour in 1903. In 1904 Maurice won again before being disqualified for the effective technique of taking a train on the longer stages. Scattered nails, nocturnal frame adjustments to rivals’ bikes with a hacksaw and altered road signs all made the early tours a bit of a Wacky Races free-for-all.

Lance’s coach, Chris Carmichael, thinks Lance wins because he pedals faster in an easier gear. Much of Lance’s training focuses on increasing his aerobic capacity and pedaling technique. Manly macho cyclists stomp on their pedals with a lot of strength and power. Stamping puts large forces on the leg muscles, too much too long and they switch from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism (a less efficient user of the fuel glycogen) and lose power.

Lance’s dancing style means the force is spread out over a greater number of pedal strokes, allowing the aerobic system to do more of the work. The aerobic system doesn’t get tired in the same way as leg muscles. He uses less energy than his stomping rivals and has more reserves in his muscles to up the torque and accelerate away.

Few can match his accelerations. He is literally and (considering his battle with cancer) figuratively winning with his heart.

The only thing Lance is missing as a cyclist is a nickname. All the past multi-tour winners have acquired tough-sounding names. There’s Eddy Merckx “the Cannibal,” Miguel Indurain “the Terminator,” and Bernaud Hinault “the Badger.” What’s tough about a badger? Well go and look at the stuffed one in the nature center at Eagles Nest and imagine that in a primal rage and you have a good approximation of Hinault’s demeanor on a bike.

Lance shows class. He compliments other riders, respects tradition, waits for rivals after they’ve fallen off, etc. A tough and mean nickname may be out of place. Perhaps “Lance” is all he needs. Some Web site came up with a bunch of vote-in suggestions: “the postman,” he always delivers; “fer de lance,” cool smooth and deadly.

But you don’t choose a nickname, it just appears. A fellow rider, Laurent Jalabert, calls him “the Blue Rocket” after the blue USPS jersey. It’d be kind of cool if the Postal Service lived up to that nickname, too.

Alan Braunholtz, raft guide and ski instructor, writes a week column for the Daily.


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