Letters to Cyclingnews
Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. 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.
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Recent lettersKicking off the letters this week on a sad but important note, Alexis Thornely writes about the Ochoa brothers. Alexis echoes all our thoughts here in hoping Javier makes a full recovery. We've also had letters asking where messages of support can be sent. The Kelme team's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Philip Higgs notes that the IOC is considering an about-face on Activegin and contrasts our comments on the drug with the IOC's. As it happens, the two aren't contradictory. The IOC says, correctly as far as we can ascertain, that Actovegin itself doesn't actually transport oxygen . In that respect it differs from old-fashioned blood doping, where you donate blood and get the red cells back a few weeks later, and from EPO use, which creates additional red cells. Both those forms of doping increase the capacity of the blood to carry oxygen, as does the little-discussed technique of using artificial oxygen-carrying products based on oxyglobin. What Actovegin does is improve the ability of the tissues to take blood up from the blood, somehow, which is not quite the same as transporting oxygen itself. There doesn't seem to be a good explanation of exactly how it works, but that's not unusual for new biochemical products. And of course, there's no research as yet to show that it actually has any effect on athletic performance.
All this puts the IOC in a hard place, as they need evidence of ergogenic effects or harmful effects and preferably both before they can ban something.
Incidentally I don't believe we have ever called the judicial investigation into USPS a 'witch-hunt', though we did use the term about the initial press report. As for USPS' alleged long-distance dumping, we decline even to speculate on an event apparently witnessed only by TV news media.
On a lighter note, Regis Chapman has a tale of skills from riding crossing over to another activity.
Lance Armstrong's being overlooked in the Espy awards, generated considerable mail, with most writers predictably believing that winning the Tour is harder than winning a golf tournament.
Bill Jensen has another tale of a bug guy racing to slim down and kicking butt. Seems like everyone has a story like this - we love 'em!
June Willing has a clarifying comment after her seeming dig at Marco Pantani a while back.
Emails on sandbagging have continued to flow in. Mark Combs writes to clarify his previous comments, while this thoughtful note from Jay Carrington suggests that officials are the people who should be dealing with this issue. Peer pressure isn't enough.
On a related subject, Robert Way asked when he should move up from cat 4 to Cat 3. A note signed only 'The Kytolas' has some interesting advice on the subject.
The demise of the Linda McCartney squad continues to reverberate. Scott Goldstein wonders whether Paul McCartney couldn't have stepped in and at least helped the riders while they found other gigs.
And on the broader subject of sponsor behaviour and motivation in general, Scott Washburn agrees that USPS didn't cover itself in glory with the Heras transfer, but points out that despite being a US government body the USPS is self-funded. Tom Kunich believes the demise of the Linda McCartney team was just one of those things, and Adam Nemmers points out that the only real authority a company has to answer to is its bottom line.
Finally, the plight of depression-sufferer Frank Vandenbroucke has brought sympathetic emails from Andre, Alan Levy and the prolific Regis Chapman. Depression is hard to comprehend until you have suffered yourself, or been close to sufferer. It's nice to see our readers are generally a sympathetic bunch!
And now the IOC appears to be falling all over itself (and the facts) to retract its earlier positions on Actovegin. While Cyclingnews itself report that "available medical literature on Actovegin indicates the drug's effects are in improving the transport of oxygen from the blood into the cells," the IOC medical director is now claiming that Actovegin seems to be "a product which cannot transport oxygen." Cyclingnews has called the USPS investigation a "witch-hunt". To me, a more appropriate term would be "cover-up."
Marco Pantani: "There does not exist a single test where I have tested positive."
Lance Armstrong: "We are completely innocent. We run a very clean and professional team ... I'm not going to give a politically vague response like We've never tested positive‚ because that's not fair either. I will say that the substance on people's minds, Activ-o-something [Actovegin] is new to me. Before this ordeal I had never heard of it, nor had my team-mates."
And don't forget Jan Gisbers, formerly of PDM: "Anyone who tests positive is basically stupid."
Often, I have often wondered why many former pro cyclists turn to auto racing. I can think of a few: Stephen Roche and Nicholas Vouilloz to rallying, Greg Lemond to road racing, and I am sure there are others. Intellectually, it seemed there would be a match there, but I had no experience to back this up. I did not realize just how many skills were applicable to car driving and racing until my experience this last weekend.
I was driving back from San Diego on my way home to Silicon Valley, when a gentleman in a Volvo wagon braked hard behind me to avoid crashing into me. Being I was already going quite fast (as you can on I-5), it surprised me. Well, annoyed, I accelerated, and he followed me, and soon a third joined us in another Volvo. So we set about for the next Cat 4 hours to chop well over an hour off of my southward drive. Let me just say it was more like a bike race than anything else I had ever done, since we were in traffic with the rest of the cars. We would let each other into spots where other drivers didn't want to let us, took turns driving on the front, etc. It was like a Cat 4 hour car paceline.
At the turnoff to head into town, we stopped and talked, and they suggested I race my new car, that I had all the skills, the car, and that I seemed very comfortable driving 100+ mph less than a car length behind. I told them that I had been a bike racer, and they nodded their heads knowingly. They gave me their cards, and I expect to be able to go out and race now, without much problem. It was SOOO much fun, too. So much fun.
Mainly, the fun came from the danger present, but I extended a bit of trust to the other drivers (sound familiar?) to make good decisions regarding passing, speed, traffic, and presence of police. All these sensations were familiar to me from bike racing and training.
Also, I notice that most bike racers don't get in a lot of car accidents (although your experience might be different). My point with all this is to say that a good number of skills learned when bike racing are important in other aspects of life (and yet another good reason to get your pre-teens racing a bike: driving safety).
Maybe this seems like old news to everyone on this forum, but where I am from, the car is King, and I am glad to know that in spite of my great lack of fitness, the skills I learned as a bike racer can be appreciated by 'car people'. Given that most of my appreciation of car drivers has been to call them "vehicular terrorists", this is significant enough to warrant a discussion.
What do you think? I want to hear from others who have demonstrated or realized their skill on or off the bike that they learned riding or racing.
I thoroughly agree with Michael Marine's evaluation of the ESPY Awards. In my opinion, Lance deserved this award much more than Tiger! The statistics that Michael stated are only obvious! I also have to say that I loved the clip that ESPN used for the show, since I am the person who was in the ESPY clip, running in front of Lance and the boys with a United States flag wrapped around my neck, and all decked out in USPS gear. What a rush to watch Lance over in France. He truly is an inspiration -- not only for me, but for many people not in the cycling community.
Let us not discount Tiger Woods' achievements just because of our bias toward the sport of cycling. We who have suffered on a bike understand Lance's achievements though our suffering in no way compares to his. Many more of us have attempted to do what Tiger does, and makes seem easy, thus elevating him to God like status. Just remember it has taken years of hard effort on Tigers part to achieve what he has.
It is unfortunate that Lance has worked just as hard, and in this country receives so much less accolades. I'm not sure this is a big problem for Lance. When you set out to be the best, and achieve that, in your sport is it more important that people who have no appreciation of your accomplishments to give you rewards or the self satisfaction that there was no one in the world better than you at what you do at that moment. It would truly be wonderful if a cyclist received a mainstream award like the ESPY in the US without the controversy of illness or injury but just on the basis of achievement. Let us not forget Marty Northstein was not even mentioned at the ceremony.
All or at least most of the judges golf. Formerly Scottish, Golf is one of the big 6 sports in USA. NFL, NBA, MBL, NASCAR, Pro(?)Wrestling, Golf. These guys won't recognize Cycling as an achievement until the media does for more than two weeks. Sad but true. Don't watch the ESPY's with hope for Lance as an award winner, he's already a winner in our hearts. That's what's important.
If golf was so easy, everybody would be Tiger Woods. If cycling was easy anyone could ride the Tour. Let's give both of these guys the respect they deserve and not compare apples to oranges. Both have paid their dues.
OK, I just gotta sound off about the 2001 ESPY awards. Granted that I am a totally biased, devoted Lance fan - but how could they completely exclude Lance from any award? Don't get me wrong, I like Tiger! Tiger is an accomplished athlete, skilled and gifted. Tiger is a great guy - he is a good person and great role model. Tiger has worked hard to get where he is at in the sport of golfing - he makes big bucks and is the ideal spokesperson for sponsors. Golf is an extremely popular sport. Tiger deserves acclaim for his accomplishments.
But, let's face it, golf is not a sport that is physically demanding, enduring-suffering-over-hours, coping with dangerous life-threatening conditions where one slight miscalculation can mean life or death. What do you think about when you think golf? Skill and practice? Luxurious, exclusive golf clubs? Quiet, well-behaved fans?
When I think about awards for top athletes I think of factoring in strength, courage and endurance. I think of overcoming all odds and obstacles, challenging the elements and the terrain under the most miserable conditions, and using one's own experience and inner resources to endure and survive way beyond the endurable.
Come on! Golf carts and caddies carrying every piece of your equipment, emerging from a nice warm clubhouse onto carefully manicured greens where rain, or stepping on an eager fan's foot are your biggest hazards? Can you even begin to compare suffering on the Tour de France for over 2000 miles in three weeks with challenges at St. Andrews or Pebble Beach? Let's not even talk about being so close to death with cancer and coming back to win the Tour. Twice. With a three-peat on the horizon.
I know, you can't even begin to compare golf and cycling - it's apples and oranges. But Lance surely deserved the recognition of an award this year. No two ways about it...
Yeah, Jan Nuttli and Mark Combs that brings back some memories.
We had a guy round here (central IL) nearly a decade ago when I started racing, who fit that scenario, at least to start. Kevin "Otis" Tober was about 315lbs when he decided that beer and pizza were going to kill him. I think he was early twenties because his older brother is 34, like me.
I had been racing citizens for a year and Cat 4 for a few months when I saw this behemoth out on a Tuesday night ride in April. It seems that he had already put in something like three thousand ROAD miles, in Illinois! He was still over 250 when I met him and I could still stay ahead of him.
He kept riding three hundred mile weeks for the season, catted up from five to four almost immediately and kept losing weight. I think he was down to 190 by the next summer and already a Cat 3!
I think he really showed us "little guys" that hard work and 30 inch (plus!) thighs can do for you. Alas, he went to school, got a "real" job, got married and last I heard was back up over 250. Oh well, maybe he checks out these letters and will get motivated, get riding and come back down from Wisconsin and kick all are butts again for old times sake.
I suppose it was inevitable that someone would read more into my remarks on Marco Pantani than was originally there. I do not know whether he is innocent or guilty of having cheated by taking EPO. If he is guilty, he has paid a terrible price. If he is innocent, he has suffered a terrible injustice. But I don't know for sure which it is. As a cycling fan, this is what tortures me the most, and I suspect I am not alone.
I feel compelled to reply again to Regis and his Sandbagger dilemma. Regis, I must apologize for my lack of clarity in my original reply.
I believe your letter begs the seminal question of why do we train so very hard? I do NOT concur that "induhviduals" as you call them go around and train merely to torture those on the local ride. Induhviduals train so hard because they want to be better cyclists. After a while the only reliable metric is comparing yourself to other riders.
Ask anybody here. Its an absurdity to think that hurting backs lungs and legs are all the result of some inward desire to suffer. Nonsense, we do this to make others suffer. Every great cyclist has done it.
Look at Eddy Merckx. You are going to tell me that an individual with 500 career victories was not fiercely competetive? Of course not. Merckx trained to be the better cyclist. Rather or not intended, his very presence was VERY intimidating. Every cyclist knew they were going to have the crap kicked out of them because Eddy came to win.
Regis, like it or not, I believe you can still race, but do you?
I have been racing in New England for 15 years now. As many of you know, We have what is regarded as one of the most competitive regions in the country. You would think that the level of riders we produce (tyler hamilton, tim johnson, mark and frank mccormack), that there would be a high level of the incidents that have been described in this thread.
While we do have our local sandbaggers, for the most part, racing here is a supportive activity that most riders treat with respect and admiration. Part of the problem with the sandbagging and intimidation that I am hearing expressed comes from the level of involvement, or lack thereof, by the officials and the administration. If they chose to turn a blind eye to these incidents, then little can be hoped for in the way of resolution, and unfortunately may result in retribution. This does the sport no good whatsoever.
The riders must also active participants in civility. While there have been a couple of regrettable incidents locally of late, they are by far the exception rather than the rule. Sandbaggers are chastised by not only their peers, but also the group that they should race with, not to mention the officials. It is possible for the officials to create pressure to upgrade. The more arrogant and rude riders often find themselves without a team, or riding for clubs that don't work as a team, leaving the rider isolated in a race.
As far as riders racing in masters and pro/1/2 events on the same day... hey, whatever. Unless you think you have a legitimate chance to win the race, what's the difference? We regularly have Cat 1 and 2 riders racing in our masters fields. The good thing about racing with the big boys is that they ride smooth, they ride fast, and they ride clean. You Cat 4s out there want a good racing experience? Try hopping in a masters' crit with a few pros. You'll learn more in one race than you will all season racing with the 4s
But don't let all this talk of sandbagging confuse the guy who wanted advice on upgrading. If you aren't constantly riding at the front and winning races, then you might want to consider waiting to upgrade. You can't be competitive as a Cat 3 if you weren't competitive as a Cat 4. Instead of upgrading before you've placed in a Cat 4 race, try training for a while with Cat 2s and 3s. If you can't keep up with the cat 3s on a regular training ride, don't expect to get much from racing with them.
Robert Way stay a Cat 4 for the whole season!
That is what I did my first year. Stayed a Cat 4 in spite of my own team-mates not talking to me at the end of the year because I was racing "oh, the Cat 4s again". Well I'll tell you what. Staying in that group does all the things you said "learn how to race, improve my bike handling skills, and my ability to read the race and make sound judgements" but the one thing I found out near the end of the year was one other important thing. It teaches to ride on the front of the group as a person that controls the group. When I gained this unexpected role it made the race mine. You may think I am arrogant but I swear I am not. Persevering through everyone's taunting paid off.
The last race of the year was my main goal of the year. A Cat 3 race omnium in the Cat 3s group. I won the first race, a road race. Very simply because of what I learned as a four, patience. I did well in the time trial also. Coming into the last race I was leading the weekend. I got beat for first place overall on the weekend by one place but the good news is my team-mates worked for me on Sunday. They chased breaks, they blocked, they brought me to the foot of the 10th and final climb rested. I went as hard as I could and got fourth (which I was ecstatic about, weighing 188 at the time) and they were all happy for me. Winning Cat 4 races taught me how to ride smart, when to sit, who to chase, who to watch with 1km to go. Don't upgrade because of pressure. Sit in and learn to be a winner. Otherwise you will be bringing your team mates who are Cat 3s to the line for the win. I am saving that for Cat 2.
Somewhere beneath all the intrigue and drama of the whole failed Linda McCartney team lurks the following:
Paul McCartney, whose net worth exceeds one billion US dollars, had (indirectly we must admit) 20 or so guys on payroll. How about a few months severance pay to help them out while they are making the transition to other teams or other employment? Sure, he has no legal obligation to do so (few companies that fold or downsize have legal obligations to their employees for severance pay or transisiton assistance) but isn't it just the right thing to do?
Professional cycling (and other sports as well, I presume) seems to be one of the few professions where, if the entity that you work for all of a sudden goes belly up, you have no recourse for wages owed, and so on and are just SOL. This seems like a job for the UCI, assuring that the resources are available to cover situations like this. Maybe they could pull some of the budget from the Equipment Nazi Group and channel the funds and efforts into better scrutiny of entities that wish to become professional cycling teams.
The situation doesn't look like it's about to change any time soon, but meanwhile, I for one, think that Mr McCartney should do what's right and pony up a few bucks. Easy for me to say? Well, I would give up one hundredth of one percent of my net worth to help out a bunch of young men who were wearing my name on their shirts and got dumped overnight through no fault of their own. I think most of us would.
I just wanted to make a point on Louis Garrett's letter regarding the US Postal Service. Although I don't know all the details, you're right they didn't come across looking so hot in the Heras dealings.
However, the USPS is not a legally-protected monopoly. If you want to send a package to someone you are more then welcome to use UPS, FedEx, DHL...whoever. Can USPS do it for far less, yes. But the fact that they can do it cheaper is not due to our tax dollars. The USPS is the only US Government agency that is self funded. I'm pretty sure that they do not take any tax dollars. They make money selling stamps. So in my opinion, if they sell enough stamps to sponsor a cycling team - great!
I think that Mr. Garrett has it all wrong about sponsorship responsibilities.
Linda McCartney Foods was sold an advertising package and they paid their fair share. They struck a certain deal with Julian Clark and they expected Clark and the team to stick to it. Now perhaps Mr. Clark could have negotiated a better deal but he did not. Perhaps had he desired something different LMF would have taken their sponsorship elsewhere. We cannot tell what might have been but only what was. To expect a sponsor to pony up for any loses in a sponsorship deal is about as fair as fixing a race.
Moreover, it is understandable that a company whose product line is founded on clean and healthy lifestyles would be concerned about the coverage given to the drug use in bicycling for the last couple of years. It doesn't matter that at the heart of the matter that most professional sports have drug problems and that bicycling is being unfairly represented because they are actually trying to do something about it. It still represents adverse publicity for a sponsor in a sensitive marketplace.
It is unfortunate that the Linda McCartney Team has fallen apart but that is what happens with these sorts of sports teams. No sponsor has the responsibility to support a team forever. Or to make up for cost deficiencies that were not in the original contract. It is unfortunate that many good riders are now standing around without a viable contract but those are the breaks of the big time.
Cycling hasn't been "injured" because of Linda McCartney, it has been advanced. Who is likely to remember the financial problems with the team and forget the stunning performances of the Linda McCartney Team members in the 2000 Giro de Italia? Who is likely to find fault with the management of the team in Sean Yates' hands?
Perhaps these riders will have problems finding other work. If so I feel sorry for those who have built their lives around bicycle racing. Maybe some of them will find this the ideal chance to move on to a more rewarding career. And certainly many of those presently involved in the team will find employment in bicycle racing next year. That is the way of this sport.
As for Julian Clark, he didn't fail because he was incompetent, but because he wasn't quite good enough. Bicycle racers should certainly be able to identify with that. Bluster and BS are part of building and maintaining a team and Julian wasn't up to the part this time. Better luck next time Mr. Clark.
Louis, in the opening paragraph of your statement you say you think sponsors become involved in professional cycling "to boost the good name of their brand and to promote good will among fans and the general public". I'm sorry to say, you're wrong. The reason sponsors become involved with professional cycling is because they see it as a way to make more money. That is and should be the only goal of a sponsor. It is nice to have sponsors who also understand and appreciate the sport in which they are involved, but there should be no misunderstanding, it is all about whether the company makes more money by sponsoring a team. It works for some and not for others. To carry through with a bad decision for the company, when you know it is a bad decision, only compounds the problem.
I have been on both sides of this equation and whether as a sponsor or a cyclist, all parties know (or should know) that regardless of agreements between a sponsor and its team, the real authority a company has to answer to is its bottom line.
Torben, you couldn't be more wrong. VDB could in fact be considered a superman in his field (note the way he rode La Vuelta). You think he is arrogant when in reality his arrogance is a defence mechanism for his depression. Dig deeper into a man's personality if you want to analyze him. Stop criticizing a person who is sick and let him heal in peace. VDB is still a great cyclist.
As a psychotherapist and university faculty member, I was pleased to read Andrew Torrance's words of compassion and insight about VDB's difficulties. Depression is frequently debilitating and even life threatening. People do best when they are treated on a variety of levels. That said, I would like to point out that one can have other psychiatric difficulties which co-occur with depression, and a number of these can certainly account for the more troubling of VDB's behavior.
Regardless of the exact nature of VDB's condition, these are all human difficulties, and it is especially tragic when someone who has so much promise becomes overwhelmed by them. Because we are human, none of us are immune from them, and I think that we should all give him the dignity and humanity to tend to them in peace.
Until I fell in love and began living with a woman with clinical depression since age 8, I would not have believed the story Keith Richards related. I am only now coming to understand the implications of this sort of issue. Even now, I find I am not as understanding of this hard-to-fathom problem as I could be.
Also, I now know that my own mother had this problem, undiagnosed, for years. Once you know the pattern, it is easy to see how this behavior can manifest itself. But it's not only this problem that accompanies depression, sometimes it can be a manic-depression where the wild mood swings go up, then down. It can hide a obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other things.
The problem with VDB, I think is that people around him lack understanding of these conditions or how to understand him to produce better results. Also, much of sport is ruled by people who like to knock others down- and I don't just mean the French press. Many directors and support staff even can do this knowingly or unknowingly. Finding trustworthy people for people with clinical problems can be even more of a problem, as their grip on their emotional stability can be tenuous or knocked out by the actions of a trusted person. While this is true of many people, I think even more effect can be felt by the depressed person.
Many people deal with errant behavior by overreacting with discipline, as well. When this does not work they will often give up. I can see this pattern between the lines of the press on VDB.
The public is also guilty to some extent by turning all sports people into heroes through oversimplification. The press can often see that it's duty is to toe the line of that least common denominator without flexibility. In the case of clinical depression, even loved ones oversimplify the problem, or lack a way of knowing when the depression is speaking vs. how a person really is. I cannot imagine a press dealing with such an issue in a balanced way without a great deal of effort. Also, I don't know that VDB himself is prepared to be a spokesperson for his all-too-common (at least in the U.S.) problem.
Plus, he is pretty well off, and is married to a model, so the public and press are less likely to feel sorry for such a person. All of this can be a pressure cooker when the other side of depression calls. Plus, people with clinical depression can often avoid for years learning certain social skills that would make them more pleasing to the public eye- namely, being humble and self-effacing. Since it probably has taken a number of years for VDB to overcome his long-undiagnosed depression with sheer force of will, I cannot say I blame him for appearing this way. Years ago, cycling gave me this invincible feeling, and I quickly found that this was not socially acceptable.
The last month's letters