Letters to cyclingnews
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The last few days have seen letters responding to Alan Rushton's defence of the organisation at the Track World's; and of course technology and doping continue to be hot topics. Alan Connor makes the excellent point that technomania may deter riders from taking part in cycling, though we suspect distractions like computer games, TV and simply not getting enough exercise in the first place have more to do with kids shunning biking.
On a related topic, C Stevens wonders if Longo's Hour record is legal, as she was using an aero helmet and carbon forks. It's obviously going to take a while for the new regs to settle and be interpreted, but in the meantime we think the UCI needs to mandate riders wishing to attempt the record should also change their names to 'Eddy' and only ride orange bikes.
Clayton Stevenson (who's not the former pro, but says he wishes he was!) wonders why Virenque was treated badly while he claimed to be innocent. Since Virenque has now confessed to doping, we think there's an answer there. Stevenson also asks if uncovering the facts hasn't done more damage than Virenque's actions, and Peter Sissini points out that condemning riders for doping isn't fair, given the pressures they're under. Speaking personally, I see the doping problem as far more about health than about cheating and if the Festina revelations lead to healthier sport that has to be good for everyone.
My complaint was with the security staff. They did not have the wherewithal to ask people in a polite manner to move away from the steps outside the stadium for Health and safety reasons and when a heavy squall with drenching rain approached they would not allow anybody back in under any circumstances. I would not have posed any danger to let people back in it was rather a case of the security staff being programmed to such an extent that any initiative they may have had was removed.
Track World's food policy
Although as Alan Rushton says, it was clearly necessary to clear the Velodrome between sessions because of the ticketing, this does not explain:
(a) Why the building was cleared so rapidly (and aggressively) after the end of each session, a time when the traders, bars and food stalls would have done good business; there seems to have been no appreciation of the social side of the event. Indeed, even people trying to have a chat on the terrace outside after the event were cleared off in a very officious manner.
(b) Why it was necessary to keep the building locked for several hours between the morning and evening sessions on the first days, leaving various people (including a number of overseas visitors) stranded for protracted periods in an urban wasteland, in a period of unpleasant and unpredictable weather, miles from anywhere that you can even sit down, let alone get a cup of tea.
(c) Why you couldn't drop off a disabled passenger outside the velodrome unless you were driving a taxi or had a British orange badge.
And why was there no material in anything other than English on the official web site? I thought it was an international event.
Track World's food policy
Your report which carefully nailed the Organisers as being responsible for the bring-no-food-into-the-track policy is wrong. The Velodrome retains the food franchise rights in the building and prints the request on the back of tickets as a standard condition of hire. It is not our policy to search customers bags.
Also, the split sessions were provided to enable young people and others to purchase cheaper tickets and perhaps see track racing for the first time. To do this, and comply with safety regulations on the number of people in the building, it was necessary to empty the building between sessions. In view of opinion it is very easy to provide an all day ticket for future events but it would cost more and younger children will miss out.
On top of your misinformation about our role in the food fracas, we have also had letters decrying the entertainment, childrens involvement and the disabled races.
These are, thankfully, greatly outnumbered by more generous spirits who enjoyed themselves greatly.
Nick Rosenthal replies:
I based my original report on information from a member of the velodrome staff, but they don't always know the full picture.
For my own part, I thought the entertainment was pretty good, it was great to see kids involved, and the disabled athletes went down pretty well with 90 per cent of the crowd. They certainly have my full respect, and I am delighted to see them involved in this event as they are each year in our own national track championships. I'm actually a big fan of the excellent events that Mr Rushton and his team put on.
On CyclingNews' part, we're happy to see blame allocated where it belongs, but event promotors need to remember that in the eyes of a spectator the distinction between 'the Organisation' and 'the Venue' is a very minor one.
I rode in the 60's and we were the same but we didn't have the medical assistance they have now. I know that riders were taking all sorts of things but it wasn’t illegal then. I also know of a lot of mates that are dead now and I believe it was because of misguided so-called performance enhancing.
I tried a number of things but couldn’t find anything that improved my performance. I was good enough to race for the U.K. in the L'Avenir and the Peace Race, but that wasn’t because I tried drugs, it was bloody hard training.
Many vets take drugs now. I can name two who have had their balls removed in the past year. But we will always have donkeys who want to be racehorses.
I am completely disgusted at the way Richard Virenque has been treated over the whole Festina Affair. Why, when Richard maintained his innocence, was he so ostracized by the other (guilty) riders and the UCI and TDF?. As if any of them didn't have a clue what has been going on for years!
Frankie Andrea has the gall to criticize Virenque and claim he has thrown the sport into disrepute. Don't you think more damage has been done by uncovering the facts? Why was Virenque so tarnished and facing suspension when the likes of Zulle got off virtually scott free?. Does anybody really believe that the supposedly clean riders who have dominated for the last couple of years are really so talented that they can not only beat but convincingly beat others who are so heavily 'doped'? I don't think so.
I don't think it really matters whether or not Aero gear or EPO are put into play. The top riders will still be the top riders. The EPO situation is unfortunately (apparently) part of the game. The riders have to take it to remain on a par with their peers. It is certainly a heck of a way to make a living, but really no different than what goes on every day in the NFL and is taken for granted in so many other situations. I think that the only people who have the right to be offended by the EPO situation are the riders themselves. They are the ones who have to run the risk of using it, or the consequences of not using it. The fans would watch either way. The sponsors will pay either way. The first man across the line seems to be the only variable. The riders themselves need to be more active in policing themselves, but there really is little incentive for them to do so. Locking them up or condemning them isn't fair. They are just trying to get along in a very tough profession that all of us would probably give our eye teeth to be doing ourselves. Thanks for the forum.
I have very mixed feelings overall on this issue. First, looking back on my racing days, if someone had been there with a needle of vitamins and a shot at the top, you can just bet I would have stuck out my arm. So would have most riders. The hunger for success often blinds ones judgment.
Second, I never got into the doping system. I was an OK rider at best. Does this now mean that I, as an OK rider, could have jumped up to a higher level with the drugs? Or, would I have been at a higher level if no one was doping? Probably not, since I was not at that level anyway. But, you have to wonder how many true champions have been passed over by the cheats.
Third, let's all be realistic about this. These men, the riders, coaches, and so forth, are making their living on the sport. It is a dangerous, nasty, hardcore sport that takes total commitment. Add a paycheck and human nature takes over. Bills to pay, kids to feed, house to rent, on and on. The riders are paying the price with their bodies and future health to promote the sponsors. The sponsors have the power of the pocketbook to influence this situation.
Finally, my opinion is that the UCI has acted like the foolish old men they are over the last couple years. Consider the Spinaci issue, the Compact Frame issue, and, the Hour Record. I think that changes at the top would be a good first step.
Doping doesn't seem to produce the kind of miraculous improvements necessary to turn an also-ran into a champion, but that's not really the point. The big problem is that if just one top rider is using drugs, that forces all the others to risk their health by doing the same.
I have just seen the pictures of J Longo breaking the hour record and was wondering whether she was obeying the equipment rules. I say this because it appears that she is wearing an aero helmet and also using carbon fibre forks, not steel. Am I correct?
I read with great interest the letter from Regis Chapman and the reply. Yes, it is true that the majority of cyclists I know are gadget bods. What I do not agree with, is that this gadget mentality attracts new life into the sport. Cycling, I would argue, is no longer a traditional working class sport. With the average cost of a half decent road bike and accessories being in excess of £1000, how can we attract the average kid from an average background?
I for one have witnessed the shiny-is-best mentality from our youth. Forget about the hard training and dedication. Maybe its enough for some to just pose. Trouble is, posing is very difficult as you get fired out of the back again. "Why can't these new brakes get me in the break?"
The truth is now that cycling is the bastion of the middle class child whose attitude to his peers is one of snobbery and one-upmanship through equipment not talent. Sadly I would argue, many of the really talented riders leave the sport because they feels they do not fit in unless they have the latest gadget or shiny bit.
What an excellent point raised by Glenn Hore. I read Lance Armstrong's fanatastic book as well but was somewhat disappointed to hear of the heart rate monitoring and other physiological monitoring going on during a race. In a few years we could just line up all the Tour riders on ergo trainers and hook them up to a computer program and see who responded best! Weren't some of the great riders of years past also the master tacticians who ignored their body signs and pushed themselves over the edge for the glory of victory? (Yes, yes, I know, this is also the culture that led to the doping problem.) What chance lunatic breakaways like early Pantani if everyone just plods along under team orders? The hotheads make the racing exciting and unpredictable.
Fri, 3 Nov 2000
Maybe what we really need are some low-tech races where the riders are completely on their own. We could even make them braze their own forks if they break and penalise them if they get a small boy to pump the forge's bellows.
In reading the letters posted in Cycling News many readers seem to question the actions and decisions of the UCI.
It raises the question as to who the UCI are and how are people elected to the positions which govern the sport in which we partake. Without doing the research, I'm guessing UCI representatives come from varying countries which put forward nominations from their local administrations such as the Australian Cycling Federation which again are made up from State representatives which are made up from club representatives. Ultimately, the responsibility for our sport rests with the individuals who take an interest in their sport and ensure the best people are representing them and understand their point of view and express it accordingly. The club I am in has a great history of running excellent racing but like most clubs, has very small group of dedicated people who are actively involved in running events.
We seem to have very few people, (me included due to family constraints) who are prepared to take part in the running of the federation and changing the old cronyism which stifles most sporting associations. How do you cure it? Maybe more professionalism in administration at the lower levels is required but this means a greater cost to the individual participant. Are there other sports which are administered better than ours from where we can learn?
The ultimate point of my ranting is that, rather than bagging a group that may not be doing the right thing, (whatever you consider the right thing to be) take a part in running your sport locally and ensuring your voice is heard on a more global level. Eventually they may hear.
Thu, 2 Nov 2000
Does anyone else find it a bit contrary of the UCI to speak of the World Hour Record in such stilted, dusty tones, while allowing the German Pursuit Team to break 4 minutes using the highest level of technology available? At the same time? One cannot help being confused by this.
While I understand the price objection, does anyone think that limiting certain technical aspects of a bike really does anything? Anyone who follows Formula One or any other kind of car race will see this. The designers simply design around the limitations. The problem is the timing of it. It is too late to bring up this subject now. If this subject had been broached back when Moser was going for the Hour Record, then that would have been appropriate. Lance Armstrong's bike still costs more than anyone else's bike -- even with the rule changes. Why? Because he's Lance, and they are willing to spend the money. You will notice that he didn't go a lot slower in the time trial at the Tour.
Also, they still allow shoes covers, and the helmets. The helmets are now becoming something out of a luge competition. Yet I would use them, were I allowed to do so.
With respect to the other aspect of technology -- doping products -- it's the same. I am a coach of young cyclists, yet I use Cytomax, Revenge, and Endurox because I feel it helps me, and everyone eats energy bars with any number of ingredients none of us fully understand. Does this make me a dope advocate? I would like to think not. Yet, there is a lingering doubt that I cannot fully explain away, or get rid of by rationalization. It appears to me that the UCI, being like many organizations, can hide its rationalizations better than I can. While I may find it difficult to speak while breathing in, in my opinion, organizations can apparently do so easily through the forgiveness of the social structure.
Certainly, in recent times, an avalanche of benefits have come our way -- heart rate monitors, wattage meters and all the above mentioned 'benefits'. All this may have improved our performances, they may not have. Without really being someone who dedicates their lives to understand the wheat vs. the chaff it will be difficult to tell. The problem is one of all modern society. As Albert Einstein said, "you cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." War, in this case, being a metaphor for any sort of social struggle, as surely as this one is. For the sportsman then, the question becomes one of risk. There is not much risk in my wearing a helmet specifically designed to cut the wind, yet there is considerable risk in using many doping products, as we don't know what the long term effects are.
I cannot escape the times, and the times appear to be motivated in large measure to the outward improvement. In so doing, it appears that the private victories are lost. And those who have lost their private victories use dope to avenge their apparent lack. This is the central difficulty of the athlete -- to preempt this fear of their loss of private victories, or to accept their losses. It takes a good deal of courage to "accept what you have lost and stand tall -- you might just get it back, and you can get it all" (thanks to the rock group, Blues Traveler, for the handy lyric here). The competitive world is a harsh one, as it should rightly be. It is the last vestige of a crueler time for men long past, and cycling, especially at an elite level is the hardest sport in the world.
My point here is to state that the UCI's problem is our also our own. And, I believe it's a social problem -- unfixable until the weight of opinion change around this subject. Yet, as long as there is the competitive urge, we will have similar situations. As long as we have a culture of using enhancements -- of any kind, really -- we will have this. There is a duality to our problem -- we want every competitive advantage without breaking society's rules. Problem is society changes its mind regularly. And...which society are we talking about here -- the insulated society of the athlete? No, the laws are different there than in regular society. Also, the outrage everyone feels about doping is largely due to the fact that they don't want to let go of their idealism that they themselves never possessed.
To end with another quote from Albert Einstein, a master of living with this specific technological paradox: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
Wed, 1 Nov 2000
The problem everyone in cycling administration faces is that bike riders love buying stuff, and if we limit that -- by forcing everyone to race inexpensive bikes within a narrow specification range -- we risk deterring tech-weenies and cutting off the financial lifeblood of the bike shops that are the heart of the sport in many areas. The UCI has a narrow path to walk between stifling the commercial side of cycling and maintaining fair competition.
The UCI has been getting bashed recently for limiting technology. I would like to add my two cents to the fray.
Anna Wilson's Hour record was awesome. Chris Boardman's Hour record was awesome. Some of the best moments in cycling in the last ten years. Great rides by a great riders, and because of the technological limitations they can legitimately be declared as better rides than the previous records set in 1978 and 1972. No questions, no arguments, just better rides on that day.
The UCI decided to limit technology a long time ago. A recumbent was used to set the Hour record in 1933, and was promptly banned. The current Hour record for a fully-faired recumbent is 79.136 km (49.17 miles). The designers name is listed on the table before the riders name. Is that where we want to go with cycling -- to the point where the designer of the bike gets more credit than the rider?
I think that the limitations are excellent. The explosion of speed in the last 17 years has largely been due to the technology used. Each attempt utilized ever more radical riding positions and bikes. The Hour record was becoming more about the bikes being ridden, and less about the rider actually being stronger.
The problem is that the UCI should have made the decision about 17 years ago, and it doesn't go far enough. I can only wish that similar restrictions could be made for all time trials conducted on the road as well, at least at the amateur level. It won't happen though, the manufacturers would never allow it.
There is no doubt that aero equipment gives an advantage to those who have. In my opinion, those who have not eventually give in and quit trying to compete, thus eroding the grass roots of our sport. Limiting technology would possibly bring back some of those who have become discouraged. Look at your club, or at least the fringes of your club, and see if there are some of these people out there.
On a club ride recently, one rider remarked that it would be great if the club could come up with several aero bikes so we could have a TT and see how everyone would do if they had equal equipment. I could only reply that we could simply require that everyone ride a standard road bike with standard wheels and accomplish the same thing. Unfortunately, many riders seem to think that the best way to improve their results is to buy more stuff. And even more unfortunately, because of aero technology, they are right.
A race at any level should be between the athletes, not the equipment. Limited technology will help to level the playing field and the racing will be better for it.
A cynic might say EPO has been a major factor in the explosion of speed in the last few years, and it'll be interesting to see how that changes if an effective test is developed and widely adopted.
Taking nothing away from Chris Boardman's fantastic and courageous effort at the weekend, the futility and inconsistency of the UCI's new Hour record was, for me, put into perspective watching the Kilo, pursuit and team pursuit events. The bikes and helmets used in these events would have given Chris at least a 5km advantage over the hour. Despite this they were perfectly legal, and had any world records been set in the championships they would surely have been ratified by the UCI without comment!
How can this crazy situation be justified? Either we accept advantages in technology or we do not. To make the principle event-specific is just daft. One of the delights of our sport is the way different equipment has been developed for different applications from track sprinting to Downhill mountainbiking. The cost argument which the UCI says puts smaller nations at a disadvantage simply does not hold water. Graham O'Bree's Old Faithful was not an expensive machine. The thinking and innovation behind it were priceless, but the bike itself could probably have been made in a back-street workshop in a third word country.
I believe the next attempt to beat the new Hour record will be made at altitude. If the UCI really wanted to create a level playing field, they would have tackled the altitude issue years ago, but they have studiously avoided it. I believe the real reason for the new rule is quite simple -- the old record was simply too good, and none of today's star riders were willing to prepare for a serious attempt and risk coming up short.