The wheelie is a big dealie.
Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel know what it takes to put together an invincible team for the grand tours.
First, there are the rouleurs, the guys for the flats who can hammer all day, setting a murderous tempo and shoving everyone away from Lance like a New York club bouncer.
Then, there are the super climbers, the guys that deliver Lance up into the high mountains, setting him up for the final, decisive attack. They’re emaciated, ruthless and into torture.
But the forgotten role, one overlooked by most teams but always optimized when Lance is in charge is “the wheelie man.” This is a misunderstood role. Most of the old school euro squads dismiss the wheelie man as non-essential, a circus extra.
Instead they’ll select an extra climber or lead-out man. This is foolish and the results bear out the thesis. In point of fact, the wheelie man has proven one of the many decisive weapons in Armstrong’s tour arsenal.
The role was pioneered by Floyd Landis in the days of the powerful US Postal team. From 2002 to 2004, Landis drove the pace in the Alps and Pyrenees, delivering Armstrong to three yellow jerseys and then celebrating with monstrous wheelies. Soon, the other teams feared Armstrong’s Blue Train and the deadly wheelie.
Now, at almost 38 years of age and hunting for one last maillot jaune in the 2010 Tour de France, Armstrong is taking no chances. Monday, Radio Shack officials confirmed that wheelie man Fumiyuki Beppu was on the squad. It’s the final piece of the tour puzzle.
Does the Saxo Bank team of Andy Schleck have a wheelie man? Nope. Has Astana taken steps to sign a top wheelie man? Doubtful. Thus we see once again the meticulous preparation of Lance Armstrong. Nothing is left to chance — not even the wheelie man. Welcome Beppu.