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Letters to Cyclingnews - April 27, 2007
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The year of the clean Classics?
If we're to believe the teams' own press releases, then the good guys seem to be winning big this spring. And they seem to be doing so through their much-hyped teamwork, to boot.
The three self-appointed leaders in the fight against doping - T-Mobile, CSC, and Gerolsteiner - have all scored in the Classics, while Flanders champs, Lampre, were refreshingly absent from seemingly all of last year's doping scandals (even if they have admittedly chosen a much lower-profile position than the aforementioned big three in the process of cleaning up cycling).
First Lampre took Flanders with Bennatti marking Boonen while Ballan made the winning move, and then T-Mobile worked a brilliant one-two punch to take the top spots at Ghent-Wevelgem. A few days later it was CSC's turn to repeat at Roubaix while Stuart O'Grady soloed to victory after Lars Michaelsen stole the leaders' attentions with a gritty and magnificent swansong effort full of attacks and monster pulls.
Not to be outdone, T-Mobile quickly fired back with victory in the Scheldprijs courtesy of their newest sprinting star, Mark Cavendish. Perhaps feeling a bit left out, Gerolsteiner then took their turn to go one-two at Amstel Gold with yet another display of a formidable depth of talent and form mixed with perfect team tactics.
If T-Mobile, CSC, Gerolsteiner, and Lampre can be taken at their word, then 2007 is starting to look like a very welcome change from the scandals of '06.
Davide Rebellin has won another classic with his tried and true technique - following others until the last possible moment. Of all of the riders that I have seen take major wins in the past five years, I have never seen a rider who does so little attacking. He is never the guy to start an attack, never the guy to pull back an attack, and never someone who "makes" the race.
In 2004, when he won his Amstel-Fleche-Liege series, he followed the attacks of Michael Boogerd. Yes, Boogerd was stupid to have done all of the work, but he is a guy that makes a race interesting. This year the exciting riders have been Ballan, Cancellara, O'Grady, Schumacher, Valverde, and Di Luca. Some were winners, some were not, but all of these guys took the initiative to be aggressive.
Rebellin is the only classics winner so far to do nothing to define the race that he won. I had hoped that his 2004 was a lucky spell and that his passive riding style wouldn't be rewarded with more wins. After all, before 2004, he had won hardly anything. A string of podium placings seemed fair enough for a guy who does nothing but follow.
Wow, I watched a few hours of racing last Sunday, and when it was through, I felt I'd just wasted some otherwise valuable time. The race was supposed to be one of the Spring "Classics". What a poor title for the race, otherwise known as the Amstel Gold.
It was neither Classic, nor at the end, a race! I mean here we are in the final 2 kms and a rider breaks away (Schumacher) and then the remaining six riders just sat there, looking at each other.
At that moment they were all racing for second place (and there wasn't even that much enthusiasm for the second spot on the podium). The chase was so pathetic that even though Schumacher made a grievous mis-shift as he rose up the hill toward the finish, and he practically came to a stop, there was still no one anywhere in sight.
Did these riders think they didn't want to help anybody else to a victory by chasing the rider who had broken away? How clever do they think that strategy was, now? They weren't engaged in a stage race, this was a one day race, winner takes all! They either gave it their all. Or, as it happened, they gave it away. There was nothing spectacular about Schumacher's victory, he was simply the most effective opportunist, in a very poorly thought out end game.
I hope the rest of the "Classics" don't play out like this idiotic race played out. These boys ought to be out there playing to win, not just playing around. A race like that, leaves only a bad taste in spectators mouths.
Ralph Michael Emerson
It's delightful and surprising that so many of the up-and-coming riders in the 24-27 age bracket defy the familiar division between stage racers and classics riders. Valverde, Cunego, Schumacher, Schleck, Sanchez - they've all won a classic, and they've all proven that they can do well in the big stage races. Moreover, they're all attackers who can turn a race upside-down with a single turn of speed like Jalabert or Vinokourov.
So phooey to those drug problems and political standoffs: the next few years will be a great time to follow this sport!
Tom Danielson should leave Discovery. He was supposed to be the outright leader for the Tour of Georgia, but like he did during the Tour of Spain, Bruyneel has once again ditched Danielson mid-way into the race.
After stage 3 to Chattanooga, Bruyneel said that because Brajkovic was one of Discovery's three protected riders (in addition to Leipheimer and Danielson), he let the break go. But if Brajkovic was one of Discovery's protected leaders, what was he doing joining a break a mere 26 km into a long, hard, mountain stage?
Something like this would have never happened to Lance Armstrong during his Tour de France victories, nor did Bruyneel allow it to happen to Leipheimer during his Tour of California win.
While Brajkovic is an excellent rider, it is worth noting that when Bruyneel dropped Danielson as leader at last year's Vuelta, making him work for Brajkovic on stage 9, Danielson nevertheless ended the race 6th overall, and Brajkovic dropped to 30th some 50 minutes back. While stage 3 was a very unusual stage, one still has to question Discovery's decision to go with Brajkovic for the win, as well as its supposed commitment to Danielson.
Congratulations to Stuart O'Grady in winning Paris-Roubaix. I was watching as they came out of the Arenberg pave section and Stuart was around 6th place with 95 km to go. I am an Adelaide boy living in the Netherlands for six months so I made the train trip down to northern France to watch the race (18 hours of train travel for ten minutes of pro riders passing by!), but it was worth it.
Earlier I was discussing favourites for the win with some Brits and locals as we waited for the circus to arrive. No one was selecting O'Grady (except me). His form in the lead up had been excellent, and while Cancellara was the CSC leader, anything can (and did) happen.
The amazing thing about Stuart O'Grady is that he can achieve his goals. Olympic gold, sprinter, and now Spring Classics. I remember Stuart stating that was his main goal when he joined CSC, and now he can tick off another successful achievement.
Earlier in the day I rode the Arenberg cobbles on a borrowed mountain bike with suspension fork. They were incredibly rough, although a little speed helps a lot. I don't know how the pros do it on their road bikes.
Congratulations Stuart, your win is truly inspirational.
Is it me or is it fishy that L'Equipe always seems to get the story out before even the officials and the riders know about the results? How is that possible if those results are supposed to be confidential prior to an official release by the lab officials?
If anything, such "leaks" are detrimental to all parties showing a breakdown in security and protocol by the lab and being harmful to a rider who will have to fight these allegations without proper prior preparation to state his case and fight the results if he/she so chooses. It just so happens that this particular "he" won the TdF last year.
I find the timing of L'Equipe's breaking news a bit suspicious. How did they obtain the results if they haven't been made public yet? It seems that was the case last year as well. And wasn't it L'Equipe that broke Pereiro's "positive" results from his asthma medicine that stemmed from an oversight by the rider and his team?
It just seems that the "paper" is always ahead of everyone else when it comes to these results from the French lab. Why hasn't anyone questioned them and tried to dig deeper as to how they are always privy to these results even before the officials know or can publicly announce them?
I also have another question in the testing of Landis' B samples... From what I've read the USADA wants to test the procedures at the French lab and that any results, positive or not, are not admissible in the hearing. If they are only testing the lab's procedures why do they need to test Landis specifically? Why can't they go in and watch them test anyone's samples?
Obviously if the samples come back positive and the USADA finds out, even though they are not admissible, wouldn't that sway the USADA's decision (and public opinion) to possibly ban Landis? Also, isn't it against their policy and rules to test the B samples even though the A samples were negative?
Positive or negative, it seems that any athlete that has to subjected to seemingly such a violation of one's civil and criminal rights would be a grounds for dismissal!
I do not know if Landis cheated or not but being that his basic rights have been trampled upon by these so-called accredited labs and doping ruling bodies and then subjected to otherwise illegal rule breaking by these ruling bodies is just unfair, illegal and downright ridiculous.
I may not be a huge Landis fan but watching these guys being subjected to such inconsistencies by the ruling bodies and allowing a two-bit newspaper to publish not-yet public results has become atrocious. I think we all need to look a bit harder to find out who the real villain is.
It has been reported that Christian Prudhomme the director of the TDF has stated those implicated in the Operacion Puerto affair will not be welcome at this year's TDF. This makes complete sense and would forestall any possible doping scandal linked with last year's pre-tour chaos, on the eve of the race.
Either those implicated should give saliva samples for DNA testing and be cleared from any connection with the scandal or they should withdraw and give the long-frustrated supporting public a break from the sheer tediousness of hearing "I have never cheated" and "I am shocked at the positive result".
It is time to draw the line, even for Discovery Channel (ex-US Postal) and its American dollars!
Fellow cyclists, readers and workers,
To start, I'm not in a position to question morals, as I've at times had to/chosen to do certain, unsavory things in order to make a better living (cash-wise and/or nature of work/lifestyle).
However, I do feel comfortable, and think it may be fun to throw out a little math/stats question/scenario for your consideration; though I haven't taken stats for about 12 years and may be totally off - so please, correct me where I go wrong. Here goes...
Say there are three individuals that consistently perform at levels that are significantly higher than the other top 200 professionals in a field. Assuming a normal distribution, performance variations between those three should be minuscule, right?
Now, how about if one of those individuals actually consistently performs at levels which are significantly higher than the other two? Wow, he/she must be pretty awesome - both truly gifted and a consummate professional.
Now, how about if it turns out that old numbers 2 and 3 were using performance enhancing products, and still, as offered earlier, getting whooped, consistently, over a number of years. Wow, that top guy/gal must be superhuman, an absolute freak of nature; or, lets do the math/stats, more than likely, number 1 is also using performance enhancing products - or is in fact, an 'alien'.
Or perhaps, he/she is only actually a superhuman, but was supported by a team of ‘aliens', or 10 or so of the other elite professionals in the field, at least a few of which, seem to have been using performance enhancing drugs.
Anyway, wow, never realized stats could be so intriguing - but I'm still glad I don't have to do it for a living.
However, I do think it'd be kinda cool to be able ride a bike for a living; but unfortunately I don't have the ability or drive - - but hey, as I said to begin, I've done dodgy things in the past to make my life better - and if old numbers 2 and 3 did, and #1 seems likely to have, why shouldn't I, or any of number 1, 2 and 3's colleagues, or anyone? What's living a lie if it brings in the bucks - oops, did I just make a moral judgement?
Maybe I should become a juiced-up super-courier!
So...once again we seem to have a series of moves by prosecutors and news papers to besmirch cycling before one of the great and most visible races in the cycling calendar: the Giro. On the other hand I am a strong supporter of the new T-Mobile team and of Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle that are trying to redefine what it means by "racing clean."
I just hope that the riders involved this time around, like Basso (whom I consider a classy rider) provide their DNA as quickly as possible so that we can get this behind us. I am just keeping my fingers crossed that he has nothing to hide and will be able to race the Giro. Call me a blind optimist.
Basso et. al.
While the guilty until proven innocent argument has been argued many times on this page I don't believe the way the race organisers can (and the UCI) abuse - and are abusing - their latest power has.
Now that it has been safely established that all that is required to suspend a rider is a suspicion of guilt, the current trend is for race organisers to wait until their race approaches and then raise their suspicions, ensuring that the rider will have no time to prepare an adequate defense, and ultimately eliminating the rider(s) from their races.
The riders innocence or guilt aside, this is no way to behave - the UCI shouldn't allow it. Once this becomes the accepted standard, what's next? Riders being suspended for something that was overheard in the shower?
Basso excluded from Tour
From the day it was announced that Basso had joined Discovery, I had this feeling that there was no way in hell that Prudhomme was going to let him race in the TdF. Obviously, Bruyneel felt otherwise.
With the recent DNA test of Ullrich confirming what we probably knew was the inevitable conclusion to this whole mess, the writing is on the wall - all implicated Puerto riders will need to submit DNA, which will be compared to their code-named blood bags, or they won't be allowed to race in France.
How to get the bags? An entity (ASO, the French Ministry of Sport, etc.) files a civil suit against all implicated Puerto riders, and Prudhomme now has reason to exclude those named in the case. It is doubtful any of this would be wrapped up before the start of the race, but it doesn't really matter, as just the fact that there is a pending case will be enough to ban riders.
The precedent has been set with Ullrich, and I really don't see any other outcome to this situation. Prudhomme's recent statements would appear to support this conclusion.
With the recent notice that Basso is being pulled from the Giro by Discovery due to recent events with the Puerto investigation, his refusal to submit to a DNA work-up substantiates his guilt. His lawyers can argue all the reasons they want to not submit his DNA, but if he is telling the truth, then let the science back him up.
Ivan, pluck a hair, turn it over, and if you're telling the truth then we'll be glad to cheer you on as you defend your Giro title; however, if you're lying then please stop disgracing the sport, own your stuff and move along.
Jon M. Holmes
Well, it looks like justice must finally run its full course. The Ivan Basso case shelved last year, because the evidence was too circumstantial, didn't sit well with - I think - most cycling fans.
As a fan of Basso, I've grown very tired of the "Birillo" and "Number 2" allegations. I'm not too happy of the fact that a sportsman must prove his/her innocence with DNA testing, but if that's what it takes to make things clear, then let's have it.
Hopefully the test will be carried out in a serious manner, and will leave no doubt over whether the sized blood bags are Basso's or not.
Of course, in case a positive result turns up, I don't expect him to admit guilt, and in fact I'm dreading a reaction like one of Jan Ullrich's attorneys: "Even if all of this is true, it doesn't mean he doped. This doesn't mean that the blood was manipulated, that it was used for doping purposes. Fraud is still far away."
Despite hoping very much that the DNA test will yield a negative result, I look forward to finally find out whether Basso has deserved to have me as a fan or not.
Ivan Basso the time bomb
Frankly, I'm kind of pissed about the whole Basso situation. He's absolutely right about it being time bomb justice. Is it really fair to wait until the last minute and ruin his whole season? If he says he will give a DNA sample, then let's get on with it! For crying out loud why do we need to wait?
It worked for Ullrich, and Ivan still has life left in his career. If guilty he can serve his two year suspension then come back and still beat the chamois off of everybody else. Or is that what the organizers are afraid of; Basso exploding and giving Discovery yet another win at the tour?
Is "Puerto" Spanish for "Grand Tour Zombie," since it only seems to come to life when rider selection is imminent? To say that it's been an on-going investigation effort is a joke, given how little the beast has done to create any confidence in a "positive" impact it's having on the sport, and how much it's lay dormant.
If there are hard facts, why isn't this already settled? (Don't tell me it's the lawyers.) 2006 seems to have been a hack's year for "revelations," how about we just toss the year's accusations out the window, agree that they've forced people out of the shadows, (and some further into them) and allow the year to show what it will?
Let the thing die, and let's watch some bike racing. Maybe Puerto will die if we don't pay attention to it.
Nearly eleven months ago Gilberto Simoni launched a comment directed at Ivan Basso's stellar performance in the Giro '06 and especially the mountainous stage 20, where Basso rode away from Simoni as if Simoni was riding a tricycle towing a heard of cattle.
Those were the pre-Puerto days when Simoni's comment like, "I've never seen anyone dominate [like Basso], never seen any one that strong! He seems like an extra-terrestrial," caught no traction. Simoni was painted as a sore loser and Ivan became the crowned prince of the Giro d' Italia. The media came down hard on Simoni and he ended up backing away from his comments.
Now we realize that Gilberto is skilled at either identifying aliens dressed up as professional cyclists or outing an alleged doper (Basso) that may have cheated his way to the Giro podium. If Basso's DNA matches the blood bags from Puerto, I hope to hear Ivan give a public apology to Gilberto!
G'day lads, I wasn't planning on saying anything about the Landis positive test results, but ah hell, when Armstrong decided to give his two cents worth, I thought I'd better get mine in...
As many other reader's comments no doubt will repeat, Landis has been tested positive a second time and been found to be a probable cheat, by a lab that, although accredited by WADA and the IOC, has seen to be targeted by both Landis and Armstrong as being shonky and for lack of a better term, lying about their test results.
The pressure this laboratory has been put under by them, the media and their superiors must be immense, but I believe they are professional and have no reason to falsify or skew their results. For Armstrong, if Landis does get stripped of his Tour win and banned from competition, it may put more pressure to review Armstrong's previous test results and the possibility they will be re-examined. I think he may be forced to explain a little more than the "I've never tested positive" statement he has often repeated.
Just when I thought that the Floyd Landis joke machine couldn't get any worse, we have this little nugget that he's asked fans to pay $25 to have a picture taken with him. Is he kidding us over here?
First, he asks to send in money to his legal defense fund. Now, he makes an appearance at a local bike shop and asks for $25 bucks a pop to have a picture with him. This is simply put, ridiculous. I think he ought to maybe pay US $25 to be seen with him in a picture. Now this would make more sense since his still unresolved case of doping along with Operation Puerto last year threw our sport into turmoil and chaos (I'm not saying he's guilty or innocent, and hence the 'unresolved' qualifier here).
And to me, cycling has always been a sport of close contact with the fans, and little barriers between the fans and the stars of the sport itself. This just closes that a little further, and makes him look like a prima donna for the most part, and starts putting him into bad company as far as sports stars asking their fans to pay for their autograph and or picture (think just about any baseball player with large salaries). It's a sad, sad day when any professional cyclist asks for money for his picture.
In response to Mr. Schemmer's letter (Taking Blood, April 15):
I have no doubt that Lance Armstrong and US Postal/Discovery did everything right up to the legal line to prepare and win the Tour. Whether any of this included "illegal" practices is an unknown I am willing to let be until someone (hopefully a non-American) can explain why Miguel Indurain managed to convincingly win five TDF in a row pre-1998. In light of the Festina Affair, one would have to assume that doping was even more rampant when Big Mig was destroying the competition.
In my recollection Indurain was never accused of doping, even when he did the Giro/TDF double and beat guys like Rominger, Zulle, Jalabert, Gotti, LeMond, Chiapucci, Bugno, Riis, Delgado, Roche, Hampsten, and Fignon.
Sure, some of these guys were in the later stages of their careers, but I think they compare quite favorably with the list of riders Armstrong beat under more rigorous testing conditions. Remember, when Indurain was winning there was no 50% HCT check either.
I am more than willing to believe that Big Mig's unmatched physiology, hard training, and fully dedicated team and tactics put him in a position to win five Tours. Why can't others say the same for Lance?
The chances of poor Matty Wilson getting the Kemmelberg cobbles ripped up for tarmac have little chance of happening - the site itself is of major World War I significance.
A little known fact is that the Kemmelberg cobbles on the steeper side (the scene of the major crash) have been specifically laid to assist horse drawn carts climb the hill during World War I. The cobbles have not been laid 'flat' but have been tilted upwards, making the lethal 25% descent even more bone jarring, and the most dangerous 300 metres of real estate in world cycling.
Cage manufactures should have to pass a vibration-oscillation test in order to qualify to have their cages used. Euro engineers can come up with some silly looking machine for this, maybe a modified paint-can-shaker. After passing the test they have a pre-race press conference to announce the results.
If during the race the bidons come loose and depart from their secure nest, that manufacture is banned from next years race and heavy fines are given (fines can be applied to the cost of the vibration test).
Gent-Wevelgem and water bottles #2
Although that sounds like a good idea the logistics are impossible. In a decisive moment such as the Kemmel it really wouldn't be in the lead groups interest to snatch a bottle; slowing down their efforts of escaping on the climb. And it wouldn't be in the chasing groups best interest to slow down their chase for a bottle either.
Car feeds at that stage are not even in the cards. As the gaps at that point generally aren't great enough to allow them in. In fact I believe the Kemmel is served by neutral moto support anyway. With all car traffic taking a different route. Correct me if I am wrong.
Gent-Wevelgem and water bottles #3
Bill Kipper asked why riders don't simply throw away water bottles before the ascent of the Kemmelberg. I lived around Kemmel and believe me if you followed behind a race (and there are more than Gent-Wevelgem that use Kemmel) you need never buy another water bottle in your life if you collect all the discarded ones. Mind you I am under the impression it was to do with weight more than safety concerns!
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