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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.

Please email your correspondence to letters@cyclingnews.com.

Recent letters

With uncertainty in the air about the extent – or even existence – of an investigation into US Postal (see recent news – US Postal say they haven't been asked anything) François Siohan points out that le Canard enchainé might be surprised to hear itself described as respectable. And other letters about doping continue to fill our mailbag, including this impassioned explanation from Tim Woolford of why American cyclists feel so strongly about this subject. Meanwhile, Martin Pearce believes the doping problem is endemic, historical and everyone involved in cycling must take some of the blame.

Richard Virenque continues to stir controversy, with Scott Goldstein making the point that Virenque's denials may have been made on the advice of his lawyer.

Chris Boardman's retirement with a bone-wasting disease has sparked an interesting run of letters about cyclists' bones and body fat. Laura Weislo points out that pro cyclists lose bone mass at an alarming rate during big tours while Paul Swinand questions a previous writer's claim about the bodt fat percentages of pro cyclists.

Finally, David Voller asked a few days ago which 'Gobsmackingly brilliant' performances of last season had most impressed. Mike Burns, John Rudge and Damon Kirkley have weighed in with their opinions – what's yours?

The French Media
Doping
Richard Virenque
Bone Wasting
Gobsmackingly Brilliant

 

French Media

I had a good laugh reading Leonard Ke's letter of Nov 15 and I am sure journalists at "Le Canard enchainé" would also if they learned that their weekly was a "respected and legitimate" news source.

As Leonard Ke does not seem to realise, Le Canard is a satirical newspaper that disgruntled people throughout France leak information to in order to blow the whistle on their bosses, typically government officials. Le Canard has an outstanding record when it comes to scoops because they can get away with unsubstantiated accusations that would be too dangerous to print for established newspapers.

Obviously somebody was upset that the TV crew that had filmed the footage on garbage disposal techniques at US Postal was not doing more with it.

François Siohan
Switzerland
Friday, November 24

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Doping

Okay, that's enough already!! I've had it. No more.

It's time for us to move on. People, please realize here in America we have to defend the sport of cycling. With our shaven legs, our weird clothing, why we spend so many hours on the bike, why we don't have NASCAR heroes and so on.

When I ride here in the Eastern side of the US, I've had beer bottles thrown at me, obscenities shouted, been run off the road, and been hit three times. I've raced and trained for 15 years. No drugs. I've struggled to make it to races. Worked 8 hour days, trained until my heart's content, and made it as far as a Cat. 3 racer. I've struggled to go to my National races with slim pickens,eating PBnJs for energy). Worked my tail off to get where I am now. What for, I ask you? Well I happen to enjoy riding, sprinting, watching pros race the way you do and reading articles by Phil Liggett.

STOP DOPING! Train.! You guys are awesome!! All of you!

To the people who keep bringing this all to courts. If you would look towards the future of cycling and not spend all that wasted time going after the people of the past, you could have the cleanest sport around. Period. Years ago they didn't like Coca Cola in the sport either. Spend this time to clean the sport up, not drag it into the ground. The more I read of all this the more I want to quit, and if someone like me with the dedication that I have wants to quit someone younger than I (like my daughter and other youngsters that we need to be encouraging) may not even want to start.

Lance Armstrong has brought the word "CYCLING" to a whole new level here in America. He's also brought a whole other (cancer) community into this sport. This is a time we need someone who can bring people together. Lets not ruin the last hope we have for this sport.

Tim Woolford
USA
Friday, November 24

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Doping

This letter is in response to all the letters about doping printed here. It's all well and good for armchair warriors – or in this case keyboard warriors – to comment and slander pro riders who have been found using banned substances. I still hold respect for all of the pro riders who have made it. This sport is the toughest in the world both physically and mentally. These guys are living the dream that all us hubbards want to be part of.

The sad thing is that from day dot, riders have been using and taking things to lesson the pain and suffering. The sport, the organisers, the sponsors and the public have dictated that this be the case from the inception of racing. Win win win win. It's as rife now as it was then, just different substances. The fault lies with every single person that has been involved in the sports history.

See, if you have a bad year, you get the boot from your team. The fans drop you like a hot brick, the media mock you and you don't get paid. It's a simple equation.

What would happen if riders were not put under so much pressure all round? If there was proper support and understanding among teams of how a human operates both mentally and physically? What if the public didn't spit on riders who don't win that day like they were expected to? Just maybe there would be a bit more sanity if humans weren't so selfishly pathetic all round.

All you have to do is stand on the start line at a Belgian Kermesse and look into the rider's eyes next to you to understand what is going on. I've done it and it's a frightening and sad thing. These guys are racing to live. Just getting by from one race to the next. How many of these knockers have done that? Where you finish will dictate what you will be eating for dinner.

The problems are so deep in this sport that in reality, none of the riders today are totally guilty, every aspect of the sport is historically guilty.

Oh, and I hope all of those people who are slinging the mud are checking everything that they put into their mouths to ensure that they are taking nothing that is on the banned list... what's the saying, those that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones? That's if they actually race, of course.

Martin D Pearce
Queensland, Australia
Tuesday, November 21

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Richard Virenque

Virenque and his friend Herve are being ridiculed now because like 7 year old kids wouldn't say they were wrong they didn't own up to using the drugs found in their own team car like all the others in the team did at the time.

Zülle and co at least had the courage to say, yes, they took the drugs, and they got their punishments served on them. Virenque, by lying, under oath remember, to the investigating judge protested his innocence despite the facts against him.

He called his team mates, helpers and his manager liars, which added further to his predicament. They all knew he was taking drugs because he was also part of their system, and if you read the book by Willy Voet then you'll learn that Virenque and Herve were probably the biggest users of the whole team.

So when you call all your friends liars, tell a judge lies and continue to live in some fairy tale world of drug-innocent bliss for two years then you would be ridiculed too. Virenque deserves to be hounded because he's guilty and unlike the others couldn't quite be man enough to say he did it.

Carrie
UK
Tuesday, November 21

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Richard Virenque

Andrew Salmon says "Virenque cannot be allowed to return to cycling." Well that's a pretty bold statement. What makes Virenque's "crime" so much worse than any of the other EPO users of the '90s? Denial? I assume then, that you vehemently oppose the fact that Marco Pantani is currently racing? Isn't there a large body of evidence against Pantani (as well as a failed blood test)? Pantani is currently denying the use of any doping products as well. Somehow Pantani isn't the bad guy that Virenque is.

As for the absurd anti-Virenque bias in Cycle Sport, this is well documented. I love Phil Liggett and all, but he's way out of line on this issue. Cycle Sport made a "policy statement" that they weren't going to show photos or have articles about riders involved in doping scandals. This allowed them to boycott Virenque. But you have to ask "Why are we constantly seeing 'that little magic man' Marco Pantani all over the pages of CS in the months following his being tossed from the Giro?"

I think Virenque's misfortune (and Pantani's luck) stems from the fact that Richard's doctors and his Festina team were better organized and kept very detailed and meticulous records that, when seized, provided solid evidence of Virenque's use of banned substances. Had Richard, his doctors, and the Festina team been a little less organized, like the Italians (Pantani's bloodwork got "lost in a flooded basement") Richard would not have been pressured into a confession by the presentation of legal evidence in a criminal courtroom.

Finally, one last point about Richard: Everyone get off your high horses for a minute and put yourself in his position in 1998. You are a successful athlete making millions of francs per year. You are facing criminal charges (not just a suspension from competition) that could not only end your career but land you in prison. Remember that the other Festinas who confessed were not facing criminal charges. You hire an attorney to represent you and that attorney advises you to deny the accusations. Facing a possible prison sentence, I would listen to my attorney. I think you would too.

Scott Goldstein
USA
Wednesday, November 22

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Bone Wasting

In response to MJB Fletcher's letter about body fat and bone loss. I've never heard of a correlation between low body fat and bone loss, though that's not to say there isn't one. However, bone loss in cyclists has been well established. One study of riders in the Tour de France found that cyclists lost an average of 25% of their bone mass just in the course of the 3 week event! (Rapid Bone Loss in High-Performance Male Athletes. Sports Medicine Digest, 18:20, 1996.) New bone growth is stimulated by weight-bearing exercise and impact exercises like running, and either cycling is too low-impact to stimulate the growth, or the TdF is so stressful that the growth cannot overcome the loss. If a regular person were to lose this much bone mass, they would be put into the intensive care unit!

Some further information regarding Osteopenia vs. Osteoporosis that I found on the Internet:

"The underlying cause of both conditions is a disparity in the rate of bone formation and bone loss. Normally, both processes take place continually in such a balance that the amount of bone formed is equal to that lost. (While it appears that bone is a hard, unchanging material, it is really quite dynamic.) Bone is formed in response to physical stress imposed on it, so excessive loss may occur as a result of immobility. Other causes of excess loss include hormonal changes (after menopause or with excess parathyroid or corticosteroid hormones) or insufficient vitamin D or calcium intake."

One more reason it's not a good idea to dope. Just remember to drink your milk!

Laura Weislo
North Carolina, USA
Thursday, November 23

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Bone wasting

I take serious issue with the claim that "pro male cyclists average 11.6% body fat." Show me the names!

I find it hard to believe anyone that finishes any of the major tours has more than 6-8% body fat in the season.

On my local team we had our top cat 1 riders tested. Not surprisingly, the order of fat percentage was the order of the quality of our results for that year. The one guy who tested over 10% had been having a weight problem all year, and his results had suffered because of it. And Chicago is dead flat. But he wasn't even 11.6%.

If you show the study, the names in the sample and the methodology, I'll shut up and apologize, but 12% fat for pros? Think about it. Think about the heart rates riders ride at, the time on the bike, and the number of races, and then compare that to runners for example and it is hard to believe. There could be a selection bias (riders with higher percentage body fat make better pros whereas fatter runners are naturally selected against), but then realize that in cycling you have to go up mountains. Even the flat races in Belgium are hilly. Even the US cycling team used to young test riders for fat percentage at the OTC, then they stopped. When I asked why, one of the coaches said, "We found out everyone was thin, but were not given any data that we could use for training." While being thin does not make you a good cyclist per se, and everyone I know that tried to starve themselves up the hills has ruined a season or two, someone who is 12% fat is a chubby cyclist and needs to watch his diet.

Paul Swinand
Chicago, USA
Thursday, November 23

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Gobsmackingly Brilliant

Best Classic win of 2000?? Ronde van Vlanderen - Tchmil. The man was incredible, staying out in front where everybody could see him, for so long...... Self belief, tenacious, audacious, call it what you will. It has to be the best win of the year for me, much as I am a great admirer of Johan Meseeuw, as a rider, a supreme example to everybody, and Roubaix, a pure anachronism, but isn't that what makes a classic?

Mike Burns
Rugby, UK
Wednesday, November 22

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Gobsmackingly Brilliant

For me, the performance of 2000 had nothing to do with the stature of the race,(whilst Paris-Tours is a classic, I realise it is not of the importance of P-R, L-B-L,etc) but with the attitude of the winner. What really gave me a buzz was the message sent to the Italian national team selectors when Andrea Tafi rode the field off his wheel in an allegedly sprinterfest event, having been snubbed as not good enough for their Worlds team. This guy oozes class, but doesn't, perhaps to his disadvantage, go around shouting about it a la Bartoli or Pantani.

John Rudge
UK
Friday, November 24

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Gobsmackingly Brilliant

One word - Tyler.... Dauphine-libre victory went to a young American by the name of Tyler Hamilton. A native of Brookline Massachusetts. I have watched Tyler at local club races in New England and he is absolutely unbelievable. 13th in the tour in 99 and victory in the 2000 Dauphine with Armstrong working hard for him. Keep a close eye on Tyler he may be on the verge of a break through season. Aside from race accomplishments he is the most well mannered, sincere, modest and humble, inanely talented professional cyclist, you may ever have the pleasure of meeting and Talking with. Best of luck in 2001 Tyler.

Damon Eik Kirkley
Boston, MA, USA
Friday, November 24

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The last month's letters

  • November 20-22 – Doping, Virenque, bone wasting and the gobsmackingly brilliant
  • November 14-19 – Doping; Virenque, pro training and the French media
  • November 11-13 – More on doping; technology and Giles Baudet
  • November 8-11 – Doping; technology; US Postal; Giles Baudet
  • November 1-8 – Food policy at the the track world's; technology; doping and the Festina trial
  • October 26-31 – Vainsteins is worthy! The Festina trial; Technology and the Hour; Australia's Track World's no-show; Disappointing 4km Individual Pursuit; Armstrong vs Ullrich vs Pantani
  • Letters Index - The complete index to every letters page on cyclingnews.com