An article on VeloNews about EPO use featured the following photo of Lance Armstrong from Stage 8 of the 2003 Tour de France:

Lance Armstrong from 2003 Tour de France, Stage 8. Credit: Tim de Waele

I noticed that Lance does not have a front derailleur. His left shifter has been replaced with a simple brake lever and it appears the front derailleur cable is missing. Contrast this to his teammate's bike (4 cables, both shifters present).

On a flat or medium mountain stage, this setup could make sense as a way to potentially simplify the drivetrain. However, in 2003, Stage 8 finished at the summit of Alpe d'Huez.

It's true that Lance raced using a number of banned substances and pro cyclists are capable of high power outputs. However, given that most (if not all) of his competitors on that day looked to have front derailleurs and that his bike was presumably at the UCI weight limit (set at current levels in 2000) without dropping the front derailleur this seems like a brash decision.

Was this a "Lance thing" or did other pro cyclists do this in the mountains? Are there examples of other pro cyclists going without a front derailleur, post 2000?

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    Considering that it's highly likely that every other rider in the tour that year (and every other year) was also doping, I would go with "it was a Lance thing". Jul 8, 2016 at 20:07
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    You don't change front gearing anywhere near as much as rear gearing, so the less-used shifter may as well be lower and shorter and simpler. A friction shifter for the front allows manual trimming while riding too. I've been tempted to do this on my old road bike (not parroting that guy, because my left shift lever predates trim.)
    – Criggie
    Jul 9, 2016 at 9:52

1 Answer 1


Looking at related discussions on reddit it seems he was using a "old style" down tube shifter instead of one on the brake lever.

In the photo, you can see the shifter close to his left knee.

There are other photos showing the same set-ups.

  • Interesting - that makes sense since index shifting was still a little rough around the edges, but seems like it would limit your response time. Better that than 39 seconds, I suppose...
    – Ealhmund
    Jul 8, 2016 at 20:35
  • Back then, I still used to be interested in pro cycling, and I remember very clearly watching the Tour de France and the (German) commentator explaining that this was to shorten the cable and thus save weight. Whether or not that actually makes sense, I don't know. It's enough for him (or his competitors) to believe it, I guess, it doesn't actually have to be true. Jul 8, 2016 at 22:38
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    @JörgWMittag Probably the bigger weight saving is from a downtube shifter being a much simpler and lighter mechanism than the mechanism in a "brifter". Jul 9, 2019 at 13:12

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