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As he almost certainly intended, John Prince's letter on riders 'cherry picking' the year's races was controversial, with both Brad Best and Brian Morrill casting doubts on the idea that anyone should be expected to be competitive year-round.
The subject of drugs inevitably rears its ugly head with Kezza's reminiscence of racing in the UK and the early deaths of many of his contemporaries. Salutary stuff.
Gavin Atkins thinks the French investigation into US Postal is ridiculous. We sure hope so.
David Cowie has another data point on Actovegin, while Philip Higgs wonders why US Postal hasn't explained exactly who in the team's support crew was using Actovegin and why. That question is probably a big ask. Would you like your employer to reveal your medical details to the mass media? No, neither would we.
Finally, Paul Lampman wants to see more people on bikes. Amen to that.
The science of training and periodization has taught us that an athlete can only reach their best for a short period of time (maybe a month or so) only two or three times a year. Building up to a fitness peak takes months and months of preparation work. Any attempt to maintain that level of fitness throughout the season results in fatigue, burnout, and poor performance, great rider or not.
That leaves athletes with the choice of being mediocre year-round, or really shining just a few times. I would gladly trade a season full of 20th place finishes for a few wins that people would actually remember (who came 7th in the Tour de France this year?), and I think that this is the tradeoff these riders are making. Marathoners often target just one or two races a year, so I have a hard time faulting cyclists who may choose to target a particular three-week race as a major objective.
Given that teams often have multiple riders capable of going for the GC in a stage race, and that some teams don't even participate in all of the Grands Tours, it makes sense that different riders go for different races. That reality combined with the constraints of training for fitness peaks means riders have to choose the races for which they wish to peak at the start of the season. It seems to me that these are just the realities of planning a season with any hope of winning anything.
John Prince suggests that riders should be able to stay competitive throughout the year and the season should be "...taken as a whole." He also suggests that a rider who chose to skip the Giro in favor of the Tour should be penalized and carry a time deficit into the Tour.
I'm not sure if Mr. Prince truly believes this or if he was just trying to spark a debate, but I think the idea is completely ridiculous. It seems that he is suggesting that a rider should be required to compete in every race throughout the entire season. If you choose to skip certain races, then you pay the price by starting at a deficit in other races. This would render individual race results meaningless. Instead, riders would be more interested in how many races they finish, not how they actually do in the races. A rider that enters 200 races and finishes in the pack each time would be considered better than a rider who enters 100 and actually wins or places well in a few.
I suppose this logic could be applied to all sports. In baseball for example we could ignore who actually wins individual games, and just base the final standings on which team scored the most runs over the course of a season. A team could actually lose a majority of their games, but as long as they score a lot of runs in the games they win, then they could come out on top.
Even the really great riders, like Eddy Merckx, who were competitive throughout the year, chose to skip races from time to time.
I spent a season racing in Europe in 1969 and at that time the use of amphetamines was rife. I came back to Australia and spent many contented years having fun as a recreational racing cyclist here. When I was in my early 40's nearly every week in the English Cycling Weekly there was an obituary for one of the former stars I raced against not so many years before. They had all died of heart attacks at what I think now was an extremely early age. Even now looking back I would not want to risk dying at 40 because I had won a few races at 25-30. I can't help wondering if we will be reading obits of our current stars in just 10 years' time. Taking some drugs is tampering with nature and nature has a funny way of fighting back.
Incidentally 1969 was Eddy's first Tour win as well as three or four Classics and just about everything else. If he was riding now he would have retired after a year like that. Considering the contracts some of the "potential stars" are asking, Merckx's salary would have to be more than Bill Gates' total worth.
With the announcement that the Tour is on thin ice with some of its high-profile sponsors, you can't help but think that they've brought it on themselves with the ridiculous - that's what the rest of the world thinks of the French in this case - assertion of testing the US Postal samples for a non-banned product, from a clean team who have failed nothing!
While I am sure that dealings among teams in European cycling are down-right nasty it is disappointing to see the US Postal team participating. While we may never know the whole story behind the Kelme/Postals negotiations the Gorski response was very disappointing. Gorski's comments smack of a deal re-trade and the typical American response of appealing to a higher authority to resolve our problems. Gorski seemed offended that Kelme would go public, but never disputed the fact that the payment was missed or that the money was owed. I don't blame Kelme for asking for the whole $1.4M. I think Kelme is telling the Posties that the early payment discount period was missed.
Is it possible that the "doping" issue is just one of the symptoms of an ineffective UCI. Other symptoms such as failed teams and missing payments to teams and riders seem to be surfacing on a regular basis these days. The Posties' image has been that of a "clean" team beyond reproach. I think we may be seeing a little rust on the Postie bottom bracket. I truly hope this is not the case. It would be a shame.
I have to admit I am extremely disappointed in the recent news that US Postal has failed to make the agreed upon payment to Kelme to void Roberto Heras existing contract with their team.
According to reports, Kelme agreed to reduce their payment from $1.4 million to $1 million which is quite a reduction and one you would think the US Postal management would appreciate. Instead, they fail to make the reduced payment and go crying to the UCI for help when they try and stick it to Kelme again by paying over 3 years instead of in a lump sum by the agreed date.
Now Kelme demands complete payment of the original sum of $1.4 million. I say good for them. Seems to me that Mark Gorski and the rest of the US Postal management team don't have a leg to stand on. They need to own up to their end of the bargain and pay up.
The satisfaction I have received from watching the success of Lance and the US Postal team these past few years has been severely tarnished by this episode. Personally, the biggest thing I look for this year is for Mercury to make their mark in the professional ranks.
On a side note, if Ullrich and Lance both get to the Tour de France on top form, my money's on Ullrich.
Actovegin is produced by Nycomed. It's a protein-free metabolically active hemoderivative improving oxygen and glucose utilization.
The gel (jelly) is used to promote wound granulation (that is, to treat 'road rash'). Current price 660 rubles.
Let's agree that using Actovegin to treat diabetes is a bit of overkill for what Duncan Blake calls "a very commonly withstood disease." Now, isn't it possible to unearth the US Postal member (crew or team) who is supposed to have it? And why is no one, press or otherwise, commenting on the method of disposal US Postal opting for -- namely, driving the ampules off to dump in distant trash bins? USPS also said they were using the stuff for skin abrasions. Which team member did they use it on? Why hasn't team management opted to release any of this info, especially after posturing that they "have nothing to hide" and are so very "ready" to clear the whole thing up? And please, sports fans, I'm not saying anybody's doping on USPS. But things do look fishy.
I find it hard to believe that Lee Rognlie would wish that the sport of cycling would not gain popularity in the US. There is power in numbers and if there were more cyclists out there, it might influence legislators to give us better, safer roads, more access to public lands, and more bike paths. We might also enjoy lower prices on equipment, if the supply and demand theory reigns true. And our healthcare coverage costs might lower, as more people would be living a healthy, active lifestyle.
He should also note that most golf courses are privately owned businesses that carry huge overhead costs. That is why there is not a golf course on every suburban block, and thus overcrowding. You don't need a specific place to ride your bike, which is part of the beauty of the sport. So I say we should try to get everybody into cycling. Who knows, maybe someday, golf courses, due to a lack of interest, will be converted into mountain bike trails!
The last month's letters