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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

Pulling the focus down from the heights of the pro circuit, Regis Chapman wonders if one of bike racing's biggest problem facing cycling is the neglected issue of riders sandbagging in lower classes than their talent would demand. It's a problem across many sports, and it needs a combination of attentive officials encouraging riders to move up the ranks, and a culture among racers that sandbagging is just the wrong thing to do.

Andrew de la Flor wants to know what Frank Vandenbroucke's problem is. As we reported last year, Vandenbroucke has been fighting depression, a condition that's far more widespread than generally realised (it's been called the 'common cold of mental illness'). You can read the relevant stories here and here.

Bob Schwartz believes the question of whether Sergey Sukhorutchenkov or Greg Lemond was the better rider was actually answered back in 1981, when the two met in the Coors Classic.

Following on from discussion of US Postal's secrecy over who in the squad needed Actovegin, Philip Higgs points out that racing cyclists are subject to regular drug testing as a condition of employment, and are therefore different from regular employees when it comes to their medical status. That's true for riders, but US Postal claims Actovegin was being carried to assist a member of the support crew who has diabetes, and not a racer. Support crew members are not subject to drug tests, though there's a famous and possibly apocryphal story of a mechanic who donated urine to help a rider cheat a urine test. The rider failed because the mechanic had been taking amphetamines to help him stay awake to maintain team bikes…

US Postal's foot-dragging over paying out Kelme for Roberto Heras continues not to impress writers like Mats Fagerkull, and Jay Cone offers a snippet that might help explain things.

On the inevitable subject of drugs, C Smith recalls being offered go-faster pills while racing in Holland and Jay Cone points out that it's become ludicrous to claim someone is clean just because they never failed a test.

John Prince returns with more thoughts on the topic of riders cherry picking the races they will take seriously. Here's our take on this. Back in the days of Eddy Merckx training techniques were less sophisticated than they are now. Training for a specific event was unknown; riders simply attempted to stay fit all year round, and this meant supremely gifted riders like Merckx stood out simply because they had the physiology to withstand a punishing training schedule and benefit from it.

Modern training methods allow a rider to peak for a particular race. Winning a Grand Tour carries enough status that it's well worth a rider building his season around it, as Lance Armstrong has with the Tour in the past and Jan Ullrich is doing this year. It's hard to imagine a system that would stop this and be reasonably fair, and it would only take one of the top riders to 'break ranks' and train specifically for the Tour for the system to fall over.

On the same subject Brian Leverenz points out that just winning a Grand Tour isn't actually enough to put a rider at the top of the UCI rankings.

John Stevenson
Letters Editor

Sandbaggers with attitude
VDB's Problem
Sukhorutchenkov interview
Actovegin again
US Postal and Kelme
Drugs
Cherry Picking

Sandbaggers with attitude

Now, to change the subject away from one way of dealing with a lack of results (drugs) I would like to suggest we discuss the time-honored tradition of sandbagging instead.

We have here in Northern California some rather notoriously sandbagging individuals, some of whom win race after race, in spite of the fact that they should have been forced to upgrade long ago.

The worst of it is that these folks usually throw the biggest attitude of all racers. It's really pretty amazing how big a little pond can seem sometimes, when you're a Category 3..... Granted, our rider pool is deeper than most other places in the U.S., and often this is more prevalent in smaller rider pools than ours.

For me, this sort of thing is really bad for our sport. I also see this in table tennis, where someone obviously superior competes against someone who is just learning or has far less experience. The bad thing about this is not the disparity, but the attitude of superiority and petty lording over the local crit scene.

With this, one does not have the excuse of temptation by "the system" as with drugs, other than the lack of enforcement of upgrade rules. What is odd is that these sharks feed off the remnants of the riders who lack a sense of community in the first place due to the recent split in many organizational directions.

Of course, getting your butt kicked weekend in and weekend out can motivate some driven individuals to become more than they were, but it doesn't grow the sport's community in the way it needs to. What is saddest about our lack of leadership in the cycling community here is this problem, above many others. What juniors would want to swim in these shark-infested waters?

What I would prefer is the sense that most riders could put aside their "must compete at all costs" mentality and work toward a healthy competition where other places count other than 1st-with-a-big-middle-finger-to-the-rest-of-the-field.

I had the experience of stark contrast to my normal bike race, where I had hoped to gauge my fitness after years of absence from racing. A couple of years ago, at a local criterium, within 5 laps, I had been: sworn at, run off the road, and once I dropped out- taunted every lap as I watched. I would file a unsportsmanlike conduct protest, yet the taunting continued even while watching the other races of the day, not only from this rider, but from his entire team as well.

This was the end of my attempted comeback, and I haven't raced since. It left a bad taste in my mouth, since my normal experience was one where I garner respect from riders due to my coaching several quite good riders, including National Junior Champions, and now a professional rider.

All of this was delivered with no cause whatsoever! I hear stories of this macho posturing within our local peloton, and every year it seems to get worse. It seems almost like a cannibalistic activity, where the organization eats itself. The pack is full of loudmouths and sandbaggers with attitude now, and I don't understand it.

None of my riders complain of this, but most of them are beyond the reach of a sandbagger anyway. But I hear it when I watch them race, and I hear it most in the middle categories.

Does anyone else have this experience?

Regis Chapman
California USA
Thursday, 8 February

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VDB's problem

I don't intend to make a wisecrack but, what is VDB's problem? What is the nature of his difficulty? There was a great deal of discussion about the "problem" and getting help. Does anyone know what they are referring to? Hey editors, are you too concerned about a libel suit to add to the article? If not, can't you give a bit of background information? Like saying, "rumors have circulated over the past couple of years that VDB has a ..... habit" See, now I'm afraid to say anything!

Andrew de la Flor
Thursday, 1 February

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Sukhorutchenkov interview

In his recent interview with Sergey Sukhorutchenkov, Sergey Kurdukov opens by asking his subject to speculate on the professional career he missed due to the political climate of the day. The phrase he used was "the burning question of 'Who'd have been the better? The Russian or, say, Greg LeMond,' remains unanswered."

This was a poor choice as that question was answered when Lemond and Sukhorutchenkov met in the 1981 Coors Classic, the premier American stage race at the time. Sukhorutchenkov was a member of a powerful Soviet team that made a laugher of the team competition while Lemond was riding with no team support.

The Soviets were unable to defeat Lemond despite isolating him in a critical stage close to the end of the race. A six man break formed comprised of race leader Lemond, four Soviets including Sukhorutchenkov, and an Italian who was just along for the ride. Despite this advantage they only succeeded in locking down second through fifth places as Lemond was able to counter everything they through at him to preserve his lead. This was one of the great moments in American racing and a prelude to the exceptional career he was to have in Europe.

It is unfortunate that Sukhorutchenkov was unable to compete as a professional until very late. One has to wonder if his career would have compared to that of his almost ten years younger Alfa Lum teammate, Dmitry Konyshev.

Bob Schwartz
USA
Thursday, 1 February

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Actovegin

Cyclingnews writes in its Letters introduction "Would you like your employer to reveal your medical details to the mass media? No, neither would we."

Nor would I. Nor, however, am I subjected to regular drug testing as a condition of my employment. I mean, I know how much lung capacity Lance Armstrong has. I also know that Casagrande, Pantani, and yes, even Indurain have all been busted for drug use of varying degrees. Look, professional cyclists are subject to UCI rules, and when Pantani gets tossed out of a race for a high hematocrit, no one squawks about his privacy. I'm saying that USPS has issued release after release claiming they have nothing to hide -- and then kept the relevant details obscured while complaining quite loudly about procedure and the French and how they've never tested positive. (Pantani never tested positive in 1995, yet he's still been brought to court over possible drug use for that period. He too repeats his mantra of "never" testing positive.)

Be a little rational, people. There are riders who have tested positive in USPS. Benoit Joachim is the most recent. Whether he's guilty is apparently up for debate.

Philip Higgs
New York, NY
Friday, 2 February

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US Postal and Kelme

I have to say I'm miffed in this matter. As Greg Schisla wrote I think Kelme should demand all the money they are right to do.

What are USP thinking? Will Heras take part only in as much of the races as they've paid for, or what? Can't say that would help Lance very much as in the first week of TDF isn't any mountain higher than Marcel Wust (in a moment of tactical genius) can do "the longest sprint of my life". Next year he will have two or three days in the mountain and the year after that he can do a whole race. Or maybe he will race Jan-April, Jan-Aug, and finally Jan-Dec?

What would Mr Gorski do if it had been the other way? Let's say that another of the Big Boys (Mapei, Rabobank etc) signed with Armstrong, while still in contract with USP, and then said we will pay you "mančna" as they say in spanish. I bet he would sue their pants of, making them (and UCI) live for the rest of their lives on recycling bidons thrown away at TdF.

Mats Fagerkull
Sweden
Saturday, 3 February

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US Postal and Kelme #2

The news in the States is that the US Postal Service has been hurt by a decline in its business, so much so that it's having to ask for another postage rate increase, less than a month after the last such increase was implemented. If the sponsor's business is failing, maybe that explains why the $1.4M has not been paid to acquire the release of Heras. I'll bet the Linda McCartney folks know a little about these sort of cash flow problems.

Jay Cone
Charleston, WV USA
Wednesday, 7 February

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Drugs #1

Don't take this too personally, but you are very naive if you think that there is any team today that doesn't use certain products to look after their riders ( I am not talking a few caffeine tablets and a bronchial dilator here) . Just because a team maybe from outside of Europe doesn't mean their paper inst blotted aswell.

Just to highlight the point, about thirteen years ago I was racing a stage race in Holland. After one of the stages a Dutch guy I was racing against offered me a tablet which in his own words "would make me ride faster", I declined. It may not be much to be offered amphetamines, but when you consider I was only thirteen years old at the time you can see why when people start saying that cycling doesn't have a history of drug use at all levels its nonsense.

And why should a team be pronounced "clean" if they have failed nothing, in 1998 Festina failed nothing.

Its your point of view, but your only fooling yourself. And before you think it, I do love the sport and always have even when I used to put in three hours on the road in the cold and rain.

C Smith
Herts UK
Sunday, 4 February

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Drugs #2

I cannot help but comment on the oft-noted claim that this rider or that has never failed a drug test, ergo the rider is "clean." My recollection is that Richard Virenque never failed a drug test, either. It is the existence of "false negatives" that has thrown the entire sport into suspicion. The results of drug tests simply are not determinative.

Jay Cone
Charleston, West Virginia, USA
Monday, 5 February

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Cherry Picking #1

Brian Morrill tells us that Eddy Merckx 'skipped races from time to time' I'm sure he is correct in this assertion. Clearly no rider can take part in all races, as some are run concurrently.

My point was with regard to the three major classic races. (I think I called them the big three European races.) To peak for one race might make some one a 'winner', but it does not necessarily make them a better athlete, in fact probably the contrary.

I hoped that someone might come up with a way of 'encouraging' riders to take all three races seriously. This would surely be of great benefit to the sport and the spectators. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part.

John Prince
Tuesady, 6 February

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Cherry Picking #2

John Prince's letter bemoaning the dearth of riders who don't ride more than one big tour or try for results across an entire season shows a failure to understand how rankings are based. UCI ranking are based on a full season, with the Grand Tours scoring a tour-winning rider a fist-full of points, but not enough to be number one. Hasn't Laurent Jalabert been the world's number one ranked rider for a number of years without a big tour win? He's done it with consistent riding, but hasn't won a big tour, just had good results for an entire year. Lance Armstrong on the other hand has won the big race and a few others, but has only been a top five rider. In this day and age of specialization, its impossible to win a big tour without gearing your training and season toward it. Most, dare I say all, stage racers (as well as their sponsors) would rather win one big tour and nothing else than a lot of smaller races. In actuality, there are quite a few riders who ride more than one big tour, but in reality, only a few riders, i.e. the all-time greats like Indurain, Hinault, Merckx have ever won more than one tour in a year. That's not likely to change! I'd rather see a rider at his best for one big race than see him ride at less than his best for a whole year.

Brian Leverenz
Friday, 2 February

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The last month's letters

  • 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
  • January 1-6 – Drugs, USA coverage, favourite books & videos
  • December 23-31 – Injuries, Drugs, USA coverage, TTT
  • Letters Index - The complete index to every letters page on cyclingnews.com