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

Regis Chapman's letter late last week about sandbagging riders prompted swift response. Regular correspondent Mark Combs wrote in with a great tale of retaliating against arrogant riders, while John Larson wonders why Elite riders do o-called warm-up races in lower categories. Sarah MacKay points out that if riders are sandbagging handicappers need to get tough about moving them up, while Robert Way thinks he may have a good reason to stay in cat 4 in his first season, and wonders what other people think.

Frank Vandenbroucke's problems prompted Andrew Torrance to write with some insights into depression. Certainly VDB isn't the first cyclist to suffer from a mental illness, and he won't be the last. These things are treatable, though. British mountain bike racer Tim Gould had a brush with a manic condition in the early 90s and was hospitalised. He later gave a very frank and funny interview about it, saying that mental illness is something we need to learn to deal with.

Julian Clark's most recent statement prompted a sceptical response from Trevor Warwick.

Regis Chapman has some reflections on the way we attempt to compare past and present riders on the basis of measurements, and points out numbers don't always mean much.

The situation with US Postal, Kelme and Roberto Heras seems to be just about resolved, but Eric Jensen writes pointing out that even if the US Postal Service is having problems, it still has a huge marketing budget, Thom Ramsey thinks they should just pay up.

On the topic of top riders cherry picking which Grand Tour to target, June Willing points out that maybe it's not such a great idea to force riders to go after more than one. Winning the Tour and the Giro in the same year clearly had a severe adverse effect on the driving ability of the last rider to manage that double…

Finally, to the unavoidable subject of drugs. I'm seriously considering declaring this page a drug-free zone for a while, except for the Cyclingnews drug of choice, caffeine. Michael S. Marine thinks we should be educating riders rather than punishing them. The problem with that strategy is that there will always be a few who decide the health problems are worth risking. Tackling drugs probably needs a carrot and stick approach. Gary Fryett points out that drug use in the lower ranks of cycling is more than just a problem of perpetuating bad habits.

John Stevenson
Letters Editor

Sandbaggers
VDB's problem
Julian Clark's statement
Who was faster?
US Postal and Kelme
Cherry picking
Drugs

Sandbaggers #1

When I was bit by the cycling bug, I weighed just over 260lbs. I was a former weight lifting junkie and was built like a pear shaped beer barrel. Now at 220, I aim for 205 and watch every calorie I eat and train like a madman. Why?

When I started riding, I was insulted every other day as to my weight. The weight started coming off and I bought my first road bike. A $650 1999 Bianchi Brava. I road centuries, splits, intervals, sprints, popped spokes, everything. Then I had the greatest day of my overweight life on a bike.

On our trail there exists a group of cyclists who must own the latest and greatest in cycling technology. Their bike would easily exchange for nearly 8 of mine in monetary terms. I was doing a regular 40 mile ride and they latched on to my wheel and started making the usual insulting remarks I was used to hearing. Then they passed me. Then, I got pissed and stood up in my pedals and sprinted passed them. I sat down and hammered. "Don't worry, he'll get tired," is what I heard. For 30 miles (10 in the pissing rain) I made certain that no one sucked my wheel. I would slow down, let them catch me and then sprint away again and again.

We stopped at the end of my ride and I waited for them. I was told I was rude, arrogant and a fat bastard. I told them that they also forgot to say I was a better cyclist that day. Maybe if they were in better shape and not on better bikes, the conversation would have been different.

Odd, how I never heard that. People like this make me train harder.

Regis, go out there, train like a maniac and make those bastards suffer!

Mark Combs
Friday, 9 February

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Sandbaggers #2

I've seen the sandbaggers here in the Midwestern US. They exist in all sports I have been in contact with. Until rules are enforced, they'll remain. I have noticed that the incidence falls way off in the Masters races, at least the over 40 crowd. Us old guys really are racing for the love of it, so there isn't that much to gain from intimidating others. What does aggravate me is when a 31 year old Cat1/Pro from a big name team rides the 30+ race against all the local guys as a "warm up", just destroys the field, then goes on to place in the Pro/1/2 race. Get a life, man. Race against your peers. At least I have not noticed any of these guys rubbing it in to the locals who have just been beaten.

John Larson
Milwaukee WI, USA
Friday, 9 February

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Sandbaggers #3

I agree with Regis Chapman that sandbagging is a practice that hurts the sport. I am starting this season as a category 4 rider and had planned to stay at 4 until possibly the end of the season, assuming I will earn enough points to get there. I have had a couple of veteran racers I ride with suggest that I resist the temptation to upgrade too soon in an effort to learn how to race, improve my bike handling skills, and my ability to read the race and make sound judgements. Their suggestion isn't to stay at cat 4 so I can rack up a bunch of wins but more for the learning experience, they figure if I move up to cat 3 too soon I may spend my time just hanging on for dear life instead of racing.

I'd appreciate any feedback regarding this reason for staying in a lower category despite having earned enough points to upgrade,

Robert Way
Friday, 9 February

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Sandbaggers #4

Hear! Hear!

How frustrating it is to watch superior riders win club races week in, week out. Whether it be a desire to win all the time or a fear of moving up to the "serious" grades and possibly being humiliated by the riding of truly fit people (rather than following wheels and coming over the top in a sprint) I don't know what keeps them there. As a woman it is even worse. Some men love to tail you off the back - knowing that you'll never get back on. What on earth for? Maybe you don't provide enough of a windbreak? Macho posturing? I try encouragement in public places as a method of getting these foxes to try the next grade up. "Well done, great riding - you really should be riding A/B grade. You're a much better rider than C grade" and so on. Ultimately when it comes down to it club handicappers need to take a hard line . Here in Sydney Frank Concecaio does - and you don't see people avoiding his races because they get graded toughly. Instead in the Eastern Suburbs, Frank's races are the best patronised. Let's be tough but fair and get the lower grades cleaned up - so they can be enjoyed by the people who are meant to be there.

Sarah & Ross MacKay
Sydney, Australia
Monday 12 February

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VDB's problem

In reply to Andrew de la Flor asking what is VDB's problem? I would suggest that the first line of the linked Cyclingnews article, "After Frank Vandenbroucke's admission to hospital in Roselare recently for depression," kind of gives it away.

Depression is a common illness that many will suffer from, with sometimes devastating effects. The pity is that most people are ignorant of just how debilitating it can be. Read that line again: the man was admitted to hospital for depression, not a pill and come back next week, not a broken bone with a few weeks to heal. The illness put a physically strong man into hospital. VDB is suffering from an illness, one that is treatable.

Andrew Torrance
UK
Friday, 9 February

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Julian Clark's statement

I must say I have a hard time believing that Clark is the injured party in this case. Every player in the whole sorry tale has said that Clark was always very plausible, and managed to convince them that everything was OK, even when they went to him with major concerns that in the end have proved to be completely justified.

Cycling Weekly said a couple of weeks ago that Clark is to appear in court soon on charges related to some previous business venture that involved running a gym. Of course, he protests his innocence and is sure he will clear his name.

I'd say the evidence shows he has a higher opinion of his ability to deliver than seems to be borne out by practical reality.

Trevor Warwick
UK
Friday, 9 February

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Who was faster?

It is interesting to talk about who was faster- athletes from today or yesteryear? There are comparisons between Merckx and Boardman, and others all the time, and this debate rages on, both on this forum and elsewhere.

What strikes me is really the level of athleticism hasn't really gone up at the very top, but more in the middle. The riders are closer together now than they ever have been, and much of this is the systemic, production-line way of producing riders that is prevalent these days.

The thing that prompted me to say this is the report from stage four of the Langkawi here in Cyclingnews, where you mention Walter Godefroot's speed record. Also, I am reminded of a couple of things:

1) The Blue Riband once was set in Paris-Roubaix (!). I know that several riders in this 60's-70's era held it. I think Freddy Maertens, Jan Raas, or Peter Post. (Feel free to correct me on this, my trivia powers are depleted here recently!)
2) Stephen Roche's quip about younger riders not understanding that "people went 40mph before the advent of the heart meter"

Doping is, in my view, simply another evidence of the rider-as-machine tendency. If a rider's hormone level, red cell count, or other known-to-be-advantageous trait is sub-par, they supplement to achieve a 'normal' level. But as anyone can tell you, 'normal' is not normal for everyone.

To me, this systemic, division of labor approach to athleticism explains many things about modern cycling:

1) Backlash against it and restrictions on bicycle design
2) Doping
3) Heart Rate Meters
4) Wattage Meters
5) pseudo-scientific training
6) Vitamins
7) Minerals
8) "Electrolytes"
9) Energy Bars
10) Food on the market with amphetamines in natural form
11) Focus on weight
12) EXPENSIVE bikes
13) Even more expensive accessories (about $1000 a pound)
14) A need to devote an entire life, and choose parents wisely to be an even good bike racer at a professional level.

I once knew a rider named John Stenner, who, prior to his death, would laugh about the newfound emphasis on these types of physical traits. Here is a rider who once won the National Time Trial Championships by such a large margin that his next two competitors filed a protest- convinced he must have cut the course, or something. Since the next two spots behind him were a former U.S. Hour Record Holder (John Frey), and a then nearly 40 year old rider who would later go the Olympics (Kent Bostick)- and had won this event many, many times between them- I guess they had reason to think that one could not go faster.

Of course, he had not, but my point is that his VO2 max was very low- in the 40's I think, yet he was able to produce lots of power in time trials. He couldn't recover past 4 days, so this doomed his chances in Europe, yet he still managed to go to the Olympics and win further National titles after being booted from the team. John was a charismatic person, a winner, and a leader. He was successful in spite of these objectified traits, although a little limited on a world stage. I don't know that those limits were only due to his physical abilities (or lack thereof) more than regular life in the U.S. as an athlete in a non-mainstream sport.

Regis Chapman
USA
Friday, 9 February

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US Postal and Kelme #1

Jay Cone says "The news in the States is that the US Postal Service has been hurt by a decline in its business." Surely you are looking at an organization that has an advertising budget of over $250 million?

Eric Jensen
Clearfield, UT USA
Friday, 9 February

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US Postal and Kelme #2

If the sponsor is experiencing declines in business, then why are they hiring a Spanish rider who is under contract to another team? In fact, in Lance's own words "now we're in a position , since the budget is stronger, that we can get those riders". They certainly shouldn't be presenting them at team presentations if they have not paid to break the contract. Seems sort of unprofessional to me, and surely there would be some screaming if the shoe were on the other foot.

USPS's budget is 7.5 million US dollars and their other sponsors are Thomas Weisel Partners, Visa , Yahoo!, Trek, Nike, and Interwoven Software. I don't think all those guys are having financial troubles. Kelme is a much smaller team financially, the least US Postal can do is make it right. Did they think everyone was just going to forget about it? Especially after Bruyneel said that they would not pursue riders under contract to other teams.

Thom Ramsey
USA
Friday, 9 February

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Cherry picking

I'm not sure it's a good idea to encourage riders to try to win more than one Grand Tour in a year. It's true that this feat is rare and usually only achieved by the greats such as Merckx and Indurain. However, the last time this was done was quite recently, in 1998, by Marco Pantani. Enough said?

By the way, Jalabert has won a Grand Tour. He won the Vuelta in 1995, beating a then little-known Abraham Olano.

June Willing
Glasgow, Scotland
Saturday, 10 February

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Drugs #1

As long as we continue to pursue drug use in the peloton, we will continue to place it's use on the world stage. Some riders admitted to drug use, served bans and continued their careers. Some have been served with bans that effectively end their careers (Richard Virenque). Instead of punishing the riders, perhaps we should educate them on the dangers of drug use. Sure, there will be those who's desire to win outweighs their common sense, but for the most part, the riders are classy and intelligent. Yes, I'm sure there are those thinking ,"How naive can you get?", and when the riders get tired of seeing their compatriots banned for life because the UCI has gotten out of hand in dealing with drug use, perhaps we will all understand that the playing field is as level without drugs as it is with.

Michael S. Marine
USA
Friday, 9 February

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Drugs #2

I agree with C Smith of Herts. The fact that he was offered something at 13 is worrying. What worries me more though are the drug users at the lower end of the scale. By this I mean the amateurs and Div 3 team riders and so on. I have seen at first hand the way that drugs are utilised by these riders. Firstly at these levels there is almost no medical supervision. Secondly the quality of these substances also leaves a lot to be desired, there are huge amounts of fake enhancers floating around. Thirdly there seems to be very little being done to cure the problem at source. This stuff doesn't just appear out of thin air; there are dealers making an absolute fortune.

Gary Fryett
Essex UK
Friday, 9 February

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The last month's letters

  • February 9 – Sandbagging, cherry picking, doping, US Postal and Kelme
  • January 30-February 2 – Cherry picking, drugs, US Postal and Kelme
  • January 24-29 – Linda McCartney, Armstrong's conduct, Actovegin, JCTDU
  • January 19-23 – TDU TV coverage, Armstrong, Texan law, Cannondale's new bike, Actovegin
  • January 14-18 – Drugs, TDU coverage, US Postal, Texan law
  • January 11-13 –Drugs, Virenque, TDU coverage, French media, wooden bike
  • January 6-10 – Drugs, Coverage of Tour Down Under, books & videos
  • Letters Index - The complete index to every letters page on cyclingnews.com