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Those interestingly-timed claims about the US Postal team in the French press sparked a further round of letters about doping, including some we can't publish because naming names without hard evidence is called 'libel' and tends to get you sued into bankruptcy. Clayton Stevenson's letter defending Richard Virenque produced incredulous responses from Calvin Gauss and Harris Collingwood, while it sent George Wells all reflective with a welcome thought about why many of us actually ride and how different the pros are. Dave Millward, meanwhile, thinks the UCI should be expending its energies stamping out doping instead of worrying about bike designs.
Willy Flammang asks "Does this mean everything else is used?". The answer is probably "Yes." Professional athletes will use anything that might give them that elusive 'edge' -- if it's not actually banned, it's going to get used. This is why it's vital for sport's authorities to monitor potentially performance-enhancing products as they are developed.
The effect of technology on cycling continues to fuel discussion, with letters from readers who believe, as Freddy Mercury used to say, that "talent will out" and that technology actually attracts people to cycling. This one will run and run, we suspect.
Finally we'd like to make it totally clear we're in complete disagreement with this letter about the track world's. We think security guards are fine, warm, friendly folks who are markedly bigger than us weedy cyclists, and we'd very much prefer that any security guards who take umbrage with this opinion should discuss it with the writer and not with us.
Is professional cycling clean? Doubtful. In the professional ranks it is all about winning. Somewhere we left behind the joy that we felt when we first learned to stay upright on two wheels and had the exaltation of freedom that it brings. Are the top riders using chemicals to get to the top? I don't know, I certainly hope that they aren't. However, they too, are human -- like me. The life of a professional is more about contracts, endorsements, and fame than about the joy of riding.
I often stand on the sidelines, read the news of races, or watch my television to see what the thoroughbreds of our sport are doing. But it all comes down to me getting on my bike and riding. In the end it is about the fraternity of cycling and the joy of doing the one thing that, for me, is almost like flying under my own power on the most elegant of machines. No, I don't use performance enhancing drugs for cycling. I gain a feeling of great elation at going a bit faster or a bit farther - it's real, not vicarious. For me cycling itself is the drug that enhances the rest of my life.
George N. Wells
Is Clayton Stevenson seriously arguing that the best way for cycling to handle its doping problem is to ignore it? That's the Hein Verbruggen view. The real problem with doping, say Verbruggen and Stevenson, is not that it compromises athletes' health, not that it calls the basic fairness of the sport in question, not that it causes fans to wonder if they're cheering a competitor or a drug. The real problem, say Verbruggen and Stevenson, is that all these rude, impertinent journalists keep calling attention to fundamental corruption in the sport. What utter nonsense.
Stevenson appears to believe that the gravest damage to cycling is done not by doping, but by the truth. If that astonishing assertion accurately reflects his view, then his allegiance to Virenque is easy to understand. The Dickster, as we've learned since the hellish Tour of 1998, may be the peloton's most accomplished liar.
Clayton Stevenson, have you been following the same stories I have over the years? The entire story is disgusting, but most disgusting of all is Richard Virenque. It is simple why Richard has been "ostracized" by the other riders: while his Festina team-mates admitted their wrong-doings (to one extent or another), took their suspensions, and went back to racing, he has lied about it from day one. Even worse, he distanced himself from his team-mates when he has been just as guilty all along. Cheating is wrong on all levels, but I personally have more respect for the Festina riders who admitted what they were doing, accepted their punishment and moved on.
As for Zulle getting off scott-free I believe he publicly admitted his wrong doings, served his 6 month suspension and has moved on. Dicky Virenque on the other hand has lied about it for the last two years and now may get rewarded with no suspension. The message from France and the UCI is lie about it, then admit it and we will not suspend you.
Stevenson's final argument is a very slippery slope that we are hearing a lot lately. Just as was claimed in the trials in France, Lance was going so fast he "had to be on drugs", with no evidence offered. These are dangerous allegations and how do you determine them? We are now at a point in our sport that people point the finger at any rider who wins the Tour and say they must be on drugs. Do riders like Lance need to win the Tour, but slower to "prove" they are not on drugs? This all is very sad.
Just because other sports condone the use of drugs doesn't mean that our sport should. Drug use has a greater affect on the riders who refuse to take drugs, than on the riders who are on full drug programs. This is because it prevents those who do not use drugs from obtaining their best results for the world to see either at local, national, or international level. They are constantly struggling to compete against people who are artificially enhanced.
I believe the most important development in our sport should be to stamp out drug use. But I don't believe that the UCI are currently serious about this. They are using Festina as a means to try and convince the world that they are doing the right thing. Festina stuffed up and made it obvious to everyone that they were using the drugs and it was convenient for the UCI to focus on them. But in focussing on Festina they are ignoring the larger implications revealed by the whole 1998 Tour de France drug scandal. It was clear that Festina was only part of the whole system of drug use and it will not affect the sport as a whole to focus only on one team's drug use.
The UCI now have the means available to them to test for EPO and many other substances. If they were really serious about it they would use all of them to clean the sport up. Cycling to the UCI is a business and as in all businesses their primary concern is to maintain the popularity of the sport so it continues to make money.
Numerous tests, including the EPO test, were taken at the Olympic Games, using the French urine test and the blood test (the on model) and we haven't heard of any positives to date. I can't understand why the UCI didn't also employ the off model blood test which was available to them to detect if any of the athletes had used EPO in the weeks leading into the Games. Could it be that the UCI wanted to protect their sport and make themselves look good to the rest of the world yet again?
Recently the hour record has become a hot topic because the UCI believes it is doing the right thing and providing a level playing field by limiting the technology of the bikes. Instead, I believe their main drive should be to limit drug use. To my knowledge, the EPO test (neither on or off model) has not been used to test the athletes in any of these recent attempts at the Hour and if the UCI was serious about providing a level playing field, they would have used these tests.
It is our job as the cycling public to voice to the UCI that our main concern is to stamp out the use of all artificial performance enhancers. The limitation of technology in the sport is a minor concern.
Reflection to the US Postal respond (news from November 8)
US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team's General Manager, Mark Gorski: "We continue to adhere to a zero-tolerance policy concerning the use of substances banned by the UCI "
Does that mean that everything else is used? I am afraid for the future of professional cycling sports.
I must disagree with Peter Sissinni's sentiments. Look at Virenque -- he has gone from 'the king of the mountains', a man who dictated the race as soon as it went uphill, to being a man with none of the explosive attack or power that we have seen from him in the past. Yes he is a good rider now but if you had asked us that same question two years ago and we would have said he was a great rider.
Wed, 8 Nov
I tend to agree with what you are saying regarding today's youth and the aspiration to have all that is new and shiny. Surely it is up to us the older generation to pass on our knowledge and passion for the sport and remind these youngsters of the core principles of cycling: dedication and hard work.
I remember racing in the UK with a chap called Steven Cook from Calleva CC who regularly used to turn up to races with the dirtiest, shittiest old bike you could imagine, and this had a reverse psychological effect on the other riders who had the latest and greatest. He continued to beat them in every race and perhaps in his own way reminded his competitors of what cycling is all about. Dedication, hard training and above all else strong legs! Franco Ballarini once said "you can have the best bike in the world, but when you put it up against the wall it goes no where."
If we remind the up and coming of what this great pro said, maybe they will come to understand.
I don't think it's the cost of technology which is limiting children's interest in the sport of cycling, more the general attitude of road club members that BMX and mountain biking aren't proper cycling sports.
There are hundreds of children riding BMX and full suspension mountain bikes out there on the road, how many of them have been invited to a "racing club" and helped with maintaining their equipment?
I think road clubs should definitely open up a bit more. After all didn't I hear Dave Millar say he started off racing mountain bikes in Hong Kong? How long would he have lasted in a time-trial club?
Cool technology can actually attract people. How many folks started cycling again after seeing Boardman on the Lotus bike? Why shouldn't people buy the bike of their dreams if they can afford it? After all, it's the Ferrari that attracts people to driving, not the Skoda.
Mr Connor has struck a definite note of truth in his response. However, talent tends to speak for itself.
If the talented rider in question left the sport due to lack of confidence in equipment, it is arguable that this same rider lacks the drive necessary to succeed. If anything, training harder and beating others on better equipment is the greatest training reward of all.
The Olympic road race is a good case in point. Armstrong and co. did not know that Ullrich was up the road as their two way radios did not function, is this how our hero acts when he can not get an update from his team car? Can you imagine the old time racers relying on radios to tell them that a rival was away and going to win. Eddie Merckx said that he does not like radio communication between riders and their team cars, I agree, it takes away from the human aspect of road racing. Not all modern ideas add to the sport, the UCI is right on many of its rulings, Spinaci bars ARE dangerous, frame design was getting out of hand, too much emphasis was on gadgetry and not on the athlete.
Security guards are on the same level as Omega Courier drivers.
As they say: "Give a security guard a walkie-talkie and he thinks he's God."
Ali G (or possibly C Smith)
In answer to Roger Hughes' last point regarding the track world's English-only web site: arrogance.
Number 46 of Team Caravello Australia. As an unknown 19 year old this young man had been ignored by so-called talent spotters and elite coaches in Qld. Only through the guidance of his family and friends, including coach Brian Wharton has this immensely talented cyclist achieved so much in one season in France. The man who answers to GiGi or Spider holds both Australian and French passports and will be if nothing is done soon of the typical example of the "one that got away syndrome". Currently Eleventh in GC (stage 13), focus has been on young recognised institute or academy riders, as a Nineteen year old and the team leader on GC for CARAVELLO, if this young man has not raised eyebrows then what will ?