Letters to cyclingnews
Here's your chance to get more involved with cyclingnews.com. 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. 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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A nicely varied mailbag today. Regis Chapman offers sympathy to Marcel Wust, and we've also heard from a reader in Sydney who races despite being sightless in one eye, so perhaps all is not lost for Wust.
Andy de la Flor thinks cycling will never get great coverage in the US while it's still a fringe sport as far as participation goes. And in similar vein, Gordon Daniell offers a rather gloomy analysis of how cycling fails to fit into the USA's sports culture. Personally, I think we should all stop worrying about how many people want to watch cycling (does the world need any more excuses to couch-potato?) and see what we can do to get more people actually doing it. If we all took a beginner on a ride a couple of times a year, maybe that way we could make a difference.
Regis 'Two letters' Chapman wonders what are people's favourite books on cycling. I like his nomination of Maynard Hershon's "Tales From The Bike Shop" but my personal favourite is Paul Kimmage's "Rough Ride". Regis is also is looking for older videos and books on cycling.
Drugs in cycling is, as always, on the agenda. Crispin Pemberton-Pigott from Zwaziland has some thoughts on drug testing and suggests that anyone who wins should be tested because nobody cares if someone cheats and loses. While we take the point about limited testing resources, especially in African nations, the problem with that attitude is that the losing doper may decide to simply up the dose next time. With EPO that can result in you waking up rather dead, which is why the emphasis in anti-doping needs to change from 'prevent cheating' to 'stop dangerous, unhealthy practices'.
Also on the subject of drugs, Jeffrey Wagnaar loads on the sarcasm with a dump truck in reminding us that Pedro Delgado's opinions on Marco Pantani are tainted by his positive test for Probenicid, a masking agent for steroids which was, bizarrely, on the IOC banned list but not on the UCI's. Barry Whitworth recalls some riders claiming they'd ingested Nandrolone by eating an American food product and wonders if anyone knows what it was.
Finally Tim Cox wonders what happened to the team time trial. One guess is that it's vanished from country-based events like the Olympics and the World's because pro riders don't get to train with their national team-mates enough to be really good at the TTT. Also, if memory serves, the TTT was dropped from the Olympics because the IOC allows a limited number of cycling events and the UCI wanted to make mountain biking an Olympic event. Given the popularity of participation in the two disciplines that seems like a reasonable decision.
To Marcel Wust: I'm a veteran of no less than four head injuries. The only bone I ever broke was my skull, of all things. The last was ten years ago - Feb 6, 1990 - and I feel for your plight with your sight. The constant whistling in the ears is called tinitus, by the way. I also have this as a result of my last head injury. My inner ear has scar tissue across it, dividing it roughly in half.
I was lucky not to have your problem with sight, although I may have, had the injury come at a another place on my head. As it is, I lack any sense of smell now, which I rather like. Certainly, not smelling certain smells ever again is worth it!
Anyway, I will be cheering for you, and I hope you do get your sight back eventually.
I am writing to comment on the letter from Imran in Maputo about drugs and testing in cycling.
There is a precedent in motor racing which is that if you win anything, you get stripped down as a matter of course. In other words, if you gained anything, you get tested. It might be difficult or impossible to test everyone in our region's races as rapidly as Imran suggests, after all we have limited resources. But we could test what needs to be inspected if anyone got 'standing' or 'points'.
When people cheat, by whatever means, and lose, it is not very bothersome even though I don't like it. But if you start overtaking your fellows then it matters and action should be swift. I agree that lengthy delays are somehow distasteful, however there should perhaps be no statute of limitations. While the testers catch up on old events, would they please get on the ball with the present races. This is a wonderful sport featuring fine athletes with a growing spectator base and must not be allowed to descend into shouting matches. This is one sport where a big mouth should carry no weight at all.
I couldn't agree more with Mark Comb's comments about the poor quality of cycling coverage in the US. In the Lemond era ABC had Sam Posey, a former race car driver, as part of the coverage team. I guess having raced a vehicle with wheels on asphalt was close enough to make him an expert. The insult to the audience is the networks' belief that high drama and fast action must be present to reach US viewers with short attention spans (as if baseball is fast action) So ESPN gives us Adrian Carston. Unfortunately, in the US it is not just a question of an American being a success at the sport, as Lemond and Armstrong seem to prove. It still comes down demand and interest level. Who is going to write letters demanding good coverage? Face it, we are getting improved coverage of soccer because there is a groundswell of football participation starting at Junior level. If 30 per cent of the kids in sports were competing in cycling as they grew up, in a few years the demand to see better coverage would be present as these former participants became an audience, maybe even watching former team-mates and competitors who advanced in the sport. The sport has to enter the mainstream of our sporting tradition. Until then cycling will remain on the margin; a slightly misunderstood European sport. And, with the exception the yearly frustration over Tour coverage, we may be better off staying a small sport.
Andy de la Flor
I agree with Barry Johnson and his feelings on cycling in America. It doesn't fit with our culture.
For a sport to succeed in America it has to be something that we invented. This is America after all. Secondly, if a sport is going to be popular here, there have to be consistently good Americans participating. Thirdly, the sport must be easy to understand, have a clearly defined goal, and fit the needs of American broadcasting and promotion.
The most popular sports in America, in order of popularity are American football, basketball, baseball, and hockey (a distant fourth). All of these, with the exception of hockey, were invented here, they can be easily understood and the each have a clearly defined goal: get the ball into the endzone, the basket, out of the park, or the puck in the net. They all have so many good Americans, even in Hockey, that we feel as though the team is a part of our "Americanness": "Player X comes from my home town," and so on.
All of the big four, and other sports popular in this country like stock car racing (but not Formula One), tennis and so on, easily fit the needs of American broadcasting. Each one takes in more money that it costs to promote. Fans can be packed into high priced seats. The television rights net a huge profit for the promoter which in turn present a golden opportunity for the broadcaster to sell expensive advertising time. The event can be covered from a fixed position and does not require excessive feeds or transmissions to bring off the event.
Cycling is none of these. We didn't invent it. With the exception of Lance, Greg Lemond, Bobby Julich, and the USPS team, there aren't many Americans at the top of professional cycling. Mountain bike racing was more popular (we invented it after all), and continued to be popular when Overend, Tomac, Furtado, DeMattei, Tinker, and Missy were all at the top, but its popularity has decreased now that the stars of the early nineties have retired. Cycling doesn't give the average American anything to connect to.
Cycling is hard to understand. The goal is clear (win) but there are so many different situations that it is difficult for the average fan, or even the amateur racer to understand. What with concepts like blocking, echelons, attacking, time bonuses, primes, it's all the average American can do to watch the race. Even this doesn't help, as for the most part, coverage is mostly of the peloton riding down the road. Few watch because they don't understand what's going on.
Cycling doesn't fit well into the American promotion/broadcasting scheme. The promoter can't make much money by packing thousands into stands; it's hard to charge for a plot of grass by a public roadside. The network can't make money on advertising because comparatively few people are watching. Good coverage of the event requires helicopters, moto-cams, finish cams and so on. This is all too expensive for the limited return.
Add to this the idea of grown men with shaved legs in Lycra, the general lack of intentional bone-crunching contact between riders, the new spectre of doping, and you get an idea why the greatest sport in the world isn't popular in America.
Here is a topic that should spark some interesting discussion. I think that the best cycling book ever written was "Tales from the Bike Shop" by Maynard Hershon. What do you all think? I am sure there are books written in other languages I have never read, like Eddy Merckx's biography, and the like, that have never been translated into English. If it has, and I am simply ignorant of it, please let me know. I do have the pictorial history of his career, however.
Also, does anyone know of a place I could buy older cycling videos? I want everything - six days, Tours, classics, cycleball, 'cross, I don't care. We are starving for older videos here in America, as European licensing doesn't appear to allow Famous Cycling Videos or anyone to get the licenses for distribution of these older videos.
I specifically want the early '80s videos and the 1986 Tour video done by someone other than FCV. I have seen that video a million times, and I don't think I could watch it again.
Years ago, I was at Mike Walden's camp, and they had a 1983 and 1984 Tour video that was amazing to watch, and I cannot forget it.
Dear Mr. Delgado: While I can understand your willingness to come to the defence of Marco Pantani, please do not flatter yourself in thinking that anyone really cares. You have a permanent star (scar) by your name on the list of past TDF champions. How's that gouty arthritis doing? I hope that everyone remembers that the title "Pro-cyclist" should have read "Probenicid" in your case. But who should fault you? You had every right to use whatever means available to win. The courts in Italy have the same right to use whatever legal means they have available to rid their country of the likes of Marco and... well, you for instance.
To paraphrase Bernard Hinault: "I think that there are many donkeys that want to be race horses." I just wish that the donkeys would admit who they are and set up their own races.
Jeffrey L Wagnaar
As we await the start of the new season, I find myself reading over some of the drug indictments of the past year. One item in particular that I have never seen resolved is the claim that some riders I think it was Hruska and Gonzalez de Galdeano - tested for Nandrolone and the riders said they ingested the "drug" by using an American food product. Does anyone know which product supposedly caused this positive for Nandrolone?
After reading Simon van der Aa's letter on time trialling, I was thinking, what ever happened to the team time trial? Sure, we still see this event in some of the large stage races, but what about the Olympics and the World's? This is a disciplined event that shows hard work, finesse, and pure athletic performance. It would be nice to see these events reinstated. I understand they are not as spectator friendly as a criterium or track event, but they are part of our sport.
The last month's letters