Letters to cyclingnews
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The media comes in for some stick in recent letters, copping the blame for either causing cycling's ills, being unable to cure them, reporting them too much, or not reporting them enough. We're not going to get into a lengthy defence of our colleagues round the world here, except to say they're journalists and also they also have their own set of commercial pressures to deal with. Our position does give us some special responsibilities, but we also like to let the constituency of the sport, i.e. fans, voice their opinions.
In today's letters, Imran from Mozambique resurrects an old discussion about three of cycling's current greats, Leonard Ke points out he was being sarcastic when he described "Le Canard enchainé" as respected; Regis Chapman reflects on the pressures pro cyclists live with every day and Benedict Leonard defends Richard Virenque.
On slightly lighter note, David Voller is looking for video of Claude Criquelion's world's win; Mark Combs has a suggestion on doping that we hope is tongue-in-cheek and Bill Tucker is after information on a classic two-up time trial of the sixties, the Trofeo Barrachi.
We've also had lots of letters on the subject of the best performances of 2000, and they're now all collected here
Armstrong is an incredible time trialist. Whether he was or was not in good form in Australia is no excuse and the same goes for both Ullrich and Pantani. These guys are pros and they should know how to show up for races, and not use form as an excuse. I have a lot of respect for them all. Their worst enemy is bad speculating media.
Who amongst them is the best? All say that Ullrich is the most talented cyclist in today's cycling scene. When the Great Eddy M. was asked how he would fare if he was in his top form as in his cycling days and raced against today's field, he answered with no hesitation that he would win. The reason he gave was that today's cyclists specialise to much.
Ullrich at his best is clearly an excellent time trialist, climber and sprinter (to lead Zabel takes a special kind of rider). Armstrong too is an excellent time trialist and climber. I don't think Armstrong has the guns for a sprint. Pantani (I like him) is an excellent climber and probably the best at it.
I agree that tactics play an important part in a champion. Being the best at all these three important points does not really guarantee the trophy. Armstrong clearly had the best team assembled to lead him to victory. It is clear that most races are decided in the mountains. Armstrong had two of his team mates helping him there in the TDF. Ullrich had none. Pantani had none. Yet Pantani put on a show, that I am sure even Armstrong would bow down to.
The media loves Armstrong, hates Pantani and does not say much about Ullrich. Maybe because Ullrich is the quiet guy who knows what his job is. And it does not include BSing anyone. Armstrong talks a lot. Because he has bagged two TDFs. That doesn't mean jack. A true champ should also bag the other big ones like the Giro or the Vuelta.
I don't think US Postal is a well managed team. Everything is centered around Armstrong. He takes credit for everything. While guys like Livingston, Hamilton, Ekimov etc. are undermined because they never win even a single sprint or stage. Ullrich wins tours with the help of his team-mates also but his mates are also allowed to win sprints, stages, climbs etc. Like Armstrong said in the TDF, he was alone, hungry, nervous, scared, if things were really bad he could have lost the TDF. Ullrich and Pantani are almost always alone in the mountain stages.
US Postal concentrates mainly on the TDF. They probably prepare the whole year for it. Pantani was out for about two years. Came back about three months before the TDF and put the best climbers in the world in great difficulty. Imagine a well-trained Pantani.
Because all these three riders have had legitimate excuses for not wining (Armstrong's crash, Ullrich's weight problem, Pantani's two year absence) I think that the coming season will really bring out the real champion. No more excuses. I would like to see all these teams go head to head in the three majors (the Giro, Vuelta and the Tour).
Is there anyone out there who knows where I can get hold of the Fantastic Belgian's World Championship Win "Video Of Course"? I have been a great admirer of this guy for many years, a truly wonderful Classics rider, and one of the best ever World Champions.
Here's to you Claudie, thanks for all the great memories.
It's a pity that Francois Siohan was unable to recognize the satirical tone in my use of the phrase "respected and legitimate" to describe Le Canard. As a result, he missed the point of my letter, which is to compare the American and French approaches to making criminal accusations. Is there evidence behind the accusations of drug use by US Postal? I don't know, but none has been offered so far. Yet accusations and innuendoes continue to fly in France. U.S. Postal is put on the defensive and is forced to defend itself against unsubstantiated charges. I ask you, my dear Francois, is that fair?
Those who have read my posts in the past will not be surprised by my viewpoint here. My usual response to problems I see is to ask myself if I would do the same thing in their position. Obviously, I am not a world-class cyclist right now, so I cannot really say. However, I have been in a position where I was pretty willing to do NEARLY anything to improve my performance, so I cannot claim any righteousness about my attitude. I did do everything I knew of to enhance my performance with energy bars, Gatorade, Cytomax, and so on, which turned out to be a mistake, as I became allergic to wheat and milk as a result of too much refined sugar.
Family Pressure: While racing in Italy for a short time, I read a marvelous book on Italy, written by an Englishman and his Italian wife who were raising kids in Italy. He has written several books, none of which I can remember the names of or find on Amazon.com. In any case, I DO remember his observation that the other parents seemed to ALL have what call in the US "little league parents". These are the parents to push their kids *super* hard in athletics and all things. Apparently, there is a large amount of social pressure from a young age to be good at things. I would posit that we simply don't have that same culture. I have noticed many of the letters coming from Australia and the US mainly, but not from these other countries, where they have not only a different culture, but also MANY more cyclists and competition for the top spots. I think I heard that in the Veneto alone there are 15,000 racing cyclists, and this doesn't count the MANY others who do other events like Grande Fondos. I also heard that there were over 700 custom framebuilders in that area alone. Talk about pressure.
Social Pressure: There is a deeper societal problem, and that is the amount of so-called performance-enhancing drugs available in everyday medication. It's true that our modern culture actually dopes us to a large measure to keep us performing (I call it going to work). In turn, they dope us to provide stress-relief (I call it drinking), and so on ad infinitum. I would say the real purpose of the medical profession is to keep us *productive* for as long as possible, even to the point of removing symptoms rather than fighting the actual problem, so that we can go back to work.
Those athletes who are raised in that culture, unless they are freaks of nature like Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain, and others, think differently about doping and other performance enhancements. For myself, the new scientific regimen required to reach the highest levels of sport these days is enough of an impediment to my motivation, and those who go through that must feel often like lab rats. I have seen the photos of people getting measured and analyzed to death in these places. Doesn't that strike you as weird enough? So what is doping at that point? Yet another biotech debasement of us as humans, and along with that, our sport.
Institutional Pressure: I think those of us who may have never gone through the highest levels of sport may not have a full appreciation what the process does to you. Much of what you do or do not do is predetermined by people you have to decide you have trust in, and from there, you are simply expected to perform. In my estimation, it becomes dubious to trust a group of people who have any stake in your performance financially, as they are not always sure to make choices on your behalf that are informed.
So to not talk about these facts, to not talk about our own dirty little secrets is to simply turn off reality and become righteous. I have never doped, nor do I ever wish to. I hope that no one I coach is ever in a position to decide this for themselves, yet I know that if I do my job right, they may very well have to. Still, we cannot escape the lingering paradox. For me people who take a righteous position regarding this are part of the problem. They create fear, and in so doing lack any empathy toward those whose careers may depend on the answer they give to this question.
Economic Pressure: I once heard from an Olympic Gold Medallist in cycling that the choice is not to dope or not dope. The question is do you want to have a good career, with a steady job and more consistent placings and wins, or do you just want the occasional win or placing, and have your family always wondering where the next paycheck is coming from? If my boss told me I would not be welcome back at work if I was ever sick, and my family needs food - what would you choose? I take a little pill, and suck it up and go back to work. It's not that far a conceptual leap from my cubicle to my bike, now is it?
On a different note, just as people are wildly different in their ability to perform since birth, there is also a large amount of difference in the way our bodies produce various substances that enhance our performance. I would like to see someone whose lineage is from the sherpas in Nepal and very high climates. You can imagine that their natural tendencies are to withstand amazing amounts of stress with very little oxygen. What would the UCI think of these people?
I am glad to see that I am not alone in my distaste for various English magazines' attitude towards Richard Virenque.
I was truly disappointed on the day he admitted his guilt. Disappointed that he should have cheated and slandered his team mates, but disappointed even more not to be seeing vast amounts of egg on journalists' faces. The holier-than-thou contempt displayed by so many was nauseating, and I would have been delighted had Virenque proved his innocence, and the court had come to the conclusion that it had been the other witnesses who had been lying to save their own skins.
As I see it, two main questions relating to journalists arise from this whole sorry business:
1. If you were all so sure that Virenque was guilty, why did you never have the nerve to print your evidence? The admissions and allegations of those who had everything to gain by spreading the blame are hardly proof in themselves; your contempt and sneering were rather embarrassing given the lack of tangible justification.
2. Rather than merely damning the UCI for its undisputed inability to deal with the drugs problem, why don't you suggest a solution, or at least name a sport which makes a greater effort, or has more success in the matter? Sadly, I suspect that the answers are firstly, that you were not brave enough to print allegations which you knew you could not prove, but that you did not want to miss a chance to be morally outraged (ironic given the charge of cowardice made against the man), and secondly, that you have no more idea of how to solve the problem than anyone else has.
Lastly, a word of warning for those who believe that professional cycling is simply too big a sport financially to die as a result of drugs scandals. At the end of the 19th century, some of the biggest sporting events in Britain were professional sculling races carried out on the Thames in London. Thousands of pounds were bet on the races, the crowds were huge and the oarsmen were household names, like boxers today. Then there was a series of rigged races. The betting public, and then the public generally, became disenchanted by what had become no more than a staged fiction. The sponsorship was lost, and rowing became a purely amateur sport for nearly a hundred years. Whilst this may not be a bad thing, it may not be what everyone wants.
I am not sure if I have the spelling correct but this Time Trial Classic of the fifties and sixties was a "two-up" affair I recall and distinctly remember Rudi Altig pushing a "cracked" Jacques Anquetil half way around the course in a Sixties race. What happened to this race? Does it still take place under a different name?
I think there is a very easy solution to the doping problem. As we are aware, cycling provides a robust series of classes and categories for all types of cyclists and cycling. As examples we have junior cycling, women's cycling and so on. We need to create a dopers' league for cycling. That way we will no longer have that nasty issue of rather or not a cyclist dopes, they would have their own teams and standards and records.
There would be a glaring performance difference, but think of the advancement we would see in the medical industry.
See, that was easy!
The last month's letters