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Letters to Cyclingnews - October 5, 2007
Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. Comments and criticism on current stories, races, coverage and anything cycling related are welcomed, even pictures if you wish. Letters should be brief (less than 300 words), with the sender clearly identified. They may be edited for space and clarity; please stick to one topic per letter. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.
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Seriously, is it just me or is the public squabbling between sporting officials over cycling reaching the point of sheer madness? I have never seen this type of petty in-fighting. Here in Canada our national sport of hockey went through a similar crisis with both sides of a stalemated polemic bickering and bad-mouthing each other in the press, but it was never as bad as in cycling this past year.
Leadership is making some big errors. Too much of this negative publicity will kill cycling as a viable advertising medium. We can all agree that it is already becoming quite ill.
What would it take to start a professional cycling league, like hockey, football, basketball or baseball in America that possesses a proper 'players' union? Teams would negotiate with riders based on the guidelines of a collective agreement. Race organizers would have to provide minimum standards in accordance with the agreement. Races could invite whatever teams they would like (with a rule making the top ten ranked teams mandatory). Bargaining would involve all three parties (each with effectively 33% power over the sport) to promote clean sport, adequate sponsor opportunities and fair working conditions.
A real union could help riders with addiction problems and getting their lives sorted out. It could also defend the rights of riders to fair trials and privacy using the sharp teeth of the law. Until facts prove them guilty, what has been done to the reputations of Valverde and Bettini is criminal. It is not simply the riders that should be held accountable!
The current functions of the UCI would roll into a new body like FIFA or the International Ice Hockey Federation that would establish points, rankings, equipment rules etc. This body would be much lower profile and would serve to promote consistency in the sport of cycling across international federations and levels of participation amateur or professional.
I have to say that, for me, it isn't the issue of doping that is killing the sport. It's the constant bickering between the UCI, ASO, and all the different national federations. The new court injunction that is an attempt to prevent Bettini and di Luca from racing is a joke and totally unnecessary. It's a slap in the face for the riders and the UCI.
I'm tired of hearing about single people like Susanne Eisenmann who basically try to deal with the problem all on their own. They do nothing but make a mess of things and make it unpleasant for those of us watching and rooting on the riders. I don't like doping as much as the next person, but this business of playing favourites, leaving certain riders out, waging one-man campaigns on certain riders/teams and bickering makes me care less about what's going on.
Maybe it's just my American way of thinking, but if a certain rider hasn't been proven guilty of doping, then as far as I'm concerned they haven't doped. In other words, let them race!
In response to Eric Turner: If you eliminate wind resistance and rolling friction (and frictional drive train losses) you would be putting out zero power to maintain constant speed. In fact, if you eliminate those items, you would not need to pedal in order to maintain your speed. Power is the rate of doing work, or the rate of change of energy. If you do not increase your speed, you have not changed your kinetic energy. If you do not change your elevation, you have done no work overcoming gravity. And you've already eliminated friction, so no work is done overcoming that either.
On flat ground, overcoming wind resistance comprises the largest amount of energy output, as wind resistance is dependent upon the square of velocity. Riding a bike at 20kph gives four times the resistance of riding at 10kph. This is why pack riding and sprinter lead outs are so important on the flat stages. Riders in the middle have relatively little wind resistance to overcome. However, when climbing, the speeds are greatly reduced; therefore the wind resistance is far less. In this case, it is the change in elevation that you are overcoming which necessitates the largest energy output.
VAM is a benchmark because when climbing, energy overcoming wind resistance is assumed to be a small percentage of the total energy output while changing elevation makes up the vast majority. Of course, the steeper the hill, the slower the speed and the more accurate this number becomes. Because of this, you will always get higher VAM numbers for steeper hills.
Why is VAM a benchmark #2
I'd like to respond to Erik Turner's reply to my discussion of VAM. First, he says
Well, sorry Erik but this IS the correct expression within the approximation stated. With no friction, non-zero power implies that you are accelerating non-stop. That's Newton's second law: Force=mass*acceleration. For frictionless/air-resistance-free travel on a flat road, no force means constant velocity (think hockey puck). On the other hand, a force is required to climb and you can derive my expression by saying U=mgh where h is the altitude of the cyclist and U is the potential energy. Power is Energy/time, so P=U/t=m*g*(h/t). VAM is defined as h/t. So, my original statement is obviously... true.
As supporting evidence, the cyclist in Ferrari's test is asymptotically approaching the numerical value predicted by this simple formula at steeper slopes. To restate, higher slopes leads to slower speeds, meaning he's closer to the no-friction/no-wind resistance regime.
Second, I did NOT say that VAM should be used as a doping detector. What I said was "measuring VAM on such very steep inclines might indeed give a good measure of power", and this is still true. I hope doping detection improves from its current shoddy state (c.f. the Landis decision), and I actually agree that using VAM for this purpose would be a big step backwards. My motivation was more along the lines of - can I measure my power output accurately using VAM since I can't justify the expense of a power meter, or can I estimate another rider's power with a stopwatch. The answer is (within the bounds stated): YES. In fact, my Polar HRM with altitude does a good job of providing VAM, and I have noticed that, for me (prototypical slow cyclist), VAM is rather constant for any hill with at least moderate slope.
I agree with Michael who had some well thought out suggestions for organizers, sponsors, the participating teams, and local citizens. It would be a good start to promote cycling as a great spectator event as well as promoting the physical benefits of this healthy lifestyle.
With obesity rates soaring out of control in North America, cycling could be a tool that could link all vested interests: bike retailers, tourism, the medical community, local cities and state governments. We can get back to enjoying life by taking a bike rider through neighbouring regions instead of jumping in to the car. Of course, urban planners would have to start pushing for safe and bike friendly routes and perhaps our dependence on the car will start to diminish. I loved the idea of getting Amtrak on board. Clearly, Michael has taken advantage of touring Europe by train just as Europeans do daily. Of course we will never end up as bike friendly as Holland and other northern European countries, but what a way to start!
Tour of America #2
Someone needs to put this guy on the advisory board of the Tour and make it happen. Going from coast-to-coast is insane, but regionalizing it into four quadrants every four years is genius and would still make it much bigger than the other Grand Tours. Given a few years and with the right organizers and sponsors, maybe the Tour de France wouldn't be such hot stuff anymore.
Tour of America #3
Just to compound the madness currently on show between the Grand Tour organisers and the UCI, we now have a bunch of mad corporate Americans planning to use their money to try and further undermine the greatest sport on earth. Lets be quite clear here: the Grand Tours, and in particular the Tour de France are not just bike races with prize purses, they are huge cultural and social manifestations of a sport which makes incredible sense within the context of the confines of its European home.
It is not just the riders and teams who need to think about this kind of suicidal proposal that would stretch cycling to breaking point and diminish participation in the 3 grand Tours, it is the millions of fans who make the yearly pilgrimage to the Alps and Pyrenees from all corners of the earth and the further millions who can now access a month of cycling bliss on television as a result of the Tours success who need to tell American corporate investors to put their money behind the sport as it is and not try to own it in America. The sheer parochialism & lack of vision for the sport encompassed in this mad mans proposal was sickening.
Tour of America #4
I appreciate I'm a little late but loved your story on the Tour of America ... an exceptionally well written piece. I admire your reporter's kind summation of the proposal. I mean, they are kidding aren't they? There has to be a scam hiding in there somewhere. I looked at the website and thought it so poorly written and presented that it sparked my curiosity to research both the good Doctor and Aqu Inc. which lead me to nothing, zip, zilch. The whole proposal is so fanciful that it could never happen and will, I suspect, only serve to create an extremely unfortunate and poorly timed corporate suspicion toward cycling should these bozos persist.
It makes you feel for guys like Vaughters who will have to fend off the inevitable questions and doubts while pushing wholly sincere objectives. If you took the total of everything that Tyler, Floyd, Vino and even Virenque have ever ingested it's still only a tiny fraction of what these guys are on.
Tour of America #5
Has anybody seen the proposed Tour of America unofficial route? Are these people insane? Several stages in excess of 300-400km including a 370k mountainous romp from Chattanooga, TN to Asheville, NC, yikes! Let alone the fact that such a race is in September and October, so the World's and Vuelta (and other big races) would be out for anyone crazy enough to tackle this one. Also, would you do the TdF or the Giro and this race in a single year?
Let me see, a huge purse, an incomprehensible amount of riding per day with only 3 rest days, a very fertile environment for doping if I ever heard one. Didn't they shorten GT stages to try to lower the perceived need to dope?
Gary von Maucher
So how does synthetic testosterone get into your system anyway? Right now cycling is far more at risk than "innocent" cyclists. Cycling is dying, sponsors are leaving; I as a fan am tiring of the games.
There is a small surge of teams and riders attempting to be clean (maybe), and a few are speaking out, but there is still a cloud over the sport and I fear the omerta still reigns. How is it possible that the word omerta is even associated with cycling?
Any given cyclist might not be doping, but it is obvious that organized doping is endemic within cycling. The names of the clean winners are hidden; there is not even pretence of figuring out who might have been clean; the needle is too far in the haystack. Here is a challenge:
Does anyone have any concept of who would be on a clean grand tour podium? I would like to hear your guesses.
How can we expect the truly innocent clean riders to fight through when the doping dopes and the dopers who dope them are consistently rewarded?
Floyd got caught playing with Vitamin T, on many counts he has been proven dishonourable. The dopers dishonour themselves, cycling, while the clean riders suffer in the pack. Or are all the clean riders suffering on their local hill?
The Landis decision #2
In response to David Butterworth & others
I whole heartedly agree - the initial test has been called in to question and therefore (in my view) Floyd should be acquitted.
Did he dope? I don't know - all I know is that further tests on other urine (B) samples (which I believe should not legally have been performed) showed something amiss. But can they be used as evidence? I believe not - the A samples of these had not failed any doping test; therefore they (the B samples) cannot be tested.
Then there is the statement from the arbitration panel "The panel does, however note that the forensic corrections of the lab reflect sloppy practice on its part ... if such practices continue it may well be that in the future an error like this could result in the dismissal of an AAF (Adverse Analytical Finding) finding by the lab."
So what does that say - in my view, they were unhappy with the procedures so much so that they can foresee problems in the future if it continues. So what's less wrong with the testing of Floyds samples compared with what they can see in the future??
I don't doubt that cyclists dope, even big names. But at the moment it feels like there is a witch hunt, guilty until proven innocent - find a big scalp and take it by whatever means. If this was ever taken to civil courts it would be thrown out.
Until WADA, etc. put their house in order I think the fans will be unhappy (not withstanding that we know cycling has in the past been a very dirty sport) with the testing process.
I think that they should double the testing - take the A sample and split it two, then independently and simultaneously test the samples in different labs, then and only then if it is a positive test, the B sample should be tested, again in two different labs - perhaps even different from the two previous ones. While there are doubts about the tests this would go a long way to satisfy the doubters.
The Landis decision #3
I feel sorry for Landis too, but the guy had synthetic hormone in his system, and I don't care how much he took, or what exactly he took, the fact is that he took something. It also explains his extra terrestrial ride.
Apparently, pro riders do not consider synthetic products e.g. growth hormones, EPO or steroids as illegal, but more like a necessity to compete. Take Der Jan for example. Despite the mount of evidence against him, he still says he never used anything. The same goes for Basso, Herras and Hamilton. Just look at how many riders have been caught the past years and how many riders have admitted to using doping.
Yet, there are still people out there believing that you can win the Tour or a big one day classic without doping. Don't get me wrong, I am a fanatic cycling fan and will continue to be one. The fact of the matter is that top sport, whether it is cycling, soccer, football, baseball, tennis, athletics, is equivalent to synthetic hormones. Sorry, it just is.
Landis decision #4
As a professional scientist who has been working in a strict Quality Assurance (QA) environment for the past 27 years, I am continually discouraged by the general public's overall lack of understanding of science and the scientific process. Lest anyone be confused, the Landis decision was not about proving that Floyd had taken exogenous testosterone. What the majority of the panel was concerned with was whether or not the lab had followed the procedures they had established to detect exogenous testosterone. They apparently considered the scientific validity of those procedures to be outside the scope of their investigation, and it was certainly outside their area of expertise.
The unrefuted testimony of Dr. Amory, the only real scientific expert on testosterone to testify, was that those procedures were not adequate to establish the presence of exogenous testosterone. You will note that the majority opinion does not refer to Dr. Amory's testimony - there is no way to reconcile it with the verdict they wanted to reach. So Floyd was found guilty on the basis of one WADA-accredited lab's flawed procedures, procedures that wouldn't even be accepted by other WADA-accredited labs. (For those who have been asleep through this farce, the French lab accepts the presence of elevated levels of a single exogenous testosterone metabolite as evidence of doping, while the US lab at UCLA requires the presence of three.) As Dr. Amory pointed out, exogenous testosterone metabolizes in a defined way, with the levels of metabolites rising and falling through time in a certain pattern. The analyses performed by the French lab of the entire set of Floyd's samples did not show the pattern that would be present if Floyd had, in fact, doped. Dr. Amory's opinion was that they made no sense at all.
Floyd was found guilty through a political process with no basis in science. WADA and the UCI are on a witch hunt, and Floyd was unfortunate enough to fall into their cross-hairs. I'm all for catching dopers and throwing them out of the peloton, but the tests must be scientifically valid and be performed by neutral, qualified analysts, not by a lab eager to break (or is that "make"?) the news for l'Equipe. Some form of equal protection under the law would be nice too, such as all WADA-accredited labs having the same criteria for what constitutes an adverse analytical finding. And since Floyd apparently passed all the same tests Oscar Pereiro and Andreas Klöden were subjected to, how about subjecting them to the same test Floyd supposedly failed before moving them up on the podium? Or doesn't fairness go that far?
All cyclists being coerced into signing that document promising to give up a year's salary if found guilty of doping should be afraid--the deck is stacked completely against them. Bravo to Bettini for refusing to sign.
I think the pendulum has moved too far in the direction of trying to prevent any doping regardless how serious it actually affects fair competition. Although, I am not an expert at the techniques that are currently used to detect several types of doping, I have done experiments using similar techniques and I think they are difficult procedures and could result in convicting innocent riders.
I'm not against testing, but I think there should be a standard set of procedures that a simple and considered reliable by a large number of experts in the field. Just following the blood profile of cyclists and not attempting to determine whether this or that form of erythropoietin's are in the urine would be sufficient to exclude most athletes who are doing some form of blood doping.
There are also things that an athlete could do to increase erythropoietin or his/her hemocrit that are currently considered "natural" (hypobaric chambers, living in Tibet), that not all athletes may be able to do because of the expense. Should these ways be considered fundamentally different than directly consuming the hormone? One could argue that the competition is just as unfair between athletes living a sea level and those who live at high altitude most of the time. Certainly forbidding races at high altitude in Ecuador might be seen as unfair by some riders but has been proposed by cycling organizations.
Steroid use during a race of the type that Landis is accused of doing probably doesn't help the athlete's recovery rate. At least I have never read a convincing scientific paper that it does. If someone can refer me to such literature, I would be interested in reading it.
Most of the effects of steroid hormones take place over longer time periods than a single night. I am also not very convinced that the use of steroid hormones to increase muscle mass would help cyclists in grand Tours. If it did, it would probably only be for sprinters. So I'm not sure the effort to prevent any use of steroid hormones is worth the effort and expense, especially since there is probably a finite probability of excluding innocent riders who unknowingly ate or drank something with steroid hormones. Certainly with the large list of forbidden compounds that now exists, innocent mistakes could and have been made. At times it seems almost anything an athlete consumes which he/she thinks might help, is now being forbidden regardless of any science indicating it really does. So I think there needs to be a more measured consideration of how much control is really necessary to produce a relatively fair competition.
This situation is ridiculous!
There seems to be a conspiracy by the UCI against certain national teams. Just see the news the past week:
The UCI didn't want Valverde at Worlds - even though he has raced since he's been cleared from Operation Puerto and the same goes for the case against Alan Davis.
The UCI then decided that they didn't want Di Luca there either pending investigation into the "oil for drugs" scandal, since last year right? But didn't he race since?? WHOOPS!!!
The Bettini affair was the most ridiculous of them all and I won't even pronounce on that matter.
This whole situation is ridiculous they should be fighting doping, not the sport or the riders.
I read your story of Rock & Republic's CEO Michael Ball, and he doesn't sound like the nicest guy in the world. Of course, he is free to operate his business anyway he wishes, but his black & white views on bike racing is unrealistic, and is what perpetuates even the best athletes to resort to doping and cheating.
As Ball was quoted in your article; Ball's management style is quite evident just by speaking to him. "I told these guys you have to win," he said. "I said to Rahsaan half way through the season, 'I'm not paying you for second or third place. You either win or you're fired.' Same for the rest of them."
Each rider on the team must win or be fired? That is absolutely absurd.
Mr. Ball, your business isn't anywhere near the Ferrari legacy, and never will be if you pursue your overly simplistic views about people and bike racing. I for one, will not go out and buy any merchandise at your shops.
Dennis, it's simple. Everyone has an opinion, and loves an opportunity to present those opinions. That is why folks like you write letters to cyclingnews, and folks like me reply to them.
I have to second these sentiments regarding Turbo Beppe - he will be missed.
While living in Italy I meet Guerini at a small restaurant outside of Bergamo, in Gazzaniga. I was introduced by the restaurant's owner, and was simply told Giuseppe also likes to ride bikes. It took just a moment to realize that he was more than just a cycling enthusiast. But until the owner walk me over to a framed news paper clipping of Guerini raising his arms in victory at the top of L'Alpe d'Huez, I had no idea he was one of the world's greatest racers (top three in the Giro, and two stage wins in the Tour).
For the remainder of my year in Italy I saw him five or six more times at the restaurant. He always took the time to say hello and chat about racing. He was very curious to hear about America's perspective on pro cycling. We even exchanged emails during the 2005 Tour when he took a stage win. Under all that pressure, amidst the exhaustion of such a race, he took the time to thank me (and I'm sure many other fans) for congratulating him. Once he even invited me to ride with him! Unbelievable.
Pro cycling is better off because of people like Turbo Beppe.
Is it now time that the sport of cycling be governed by two federations as it had been in the past. Previously, professional cycling had been governed by the FICP (Federation Internationale des Cyclistes Professionels), whilst amateur cycling had been governed by the UCI. The differences and levels between the two branches of the sport have now become so great that they are, in essence, two completely different and distinct sports. The requirements of amateur and professional competitors are so different as to require separate organisations governing their sports.
This is probably the best time to re-introduce the two tier governance structures of the sport given the schism between the major professional race organisers and the UCI. ASO et al should seriously consider disaffiliating from the UCI and setting up a new FICP to oversee their races, whilst the UCI could revert to its former status as the governing body for amateur cycling.
Whilst this would mean that professionals would be excluded from competing in the Olympics, this would merely be a return to the situation pre-1996.
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