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Letters to cyclingnews
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Alex Stieda's recent comments about drugs inspired several letters. On reflection it's rather puzzling that Stieda spoke up, since he pointed the finger at nobody in particular and did little more than claim "I never took drugs, me." Fair enough, but really, why bother?
Our correspondents made a number of good points as a result of Stieda's comments and the ongoing drug debate. Jim Pavek says it's not "cheating" if everyone is using drugs. The problem is, it doesn't matter whether using EPO and steroids is cheating or not they can still have massive negative health effects, up to and including death. That's the real issue here.
Sebastian Lopez-Otero makes a related point at some length everyone "cheats" a little in their lives, why do we hold athletes to such an unrealistically high standard?
Spencer Dech is simply unimpressed with Stieda's pre-EPO qualifications, though it does have to be pointed out that steroid use was believed to be common during the '80s, and that's probably what Stieda was talking about.
Mike Burdo points out that drug use starts early, and that it's a slippery slope between sanctioned applications of anti-asthma drugs and full-on doping.
Galen Miller weighs in to the discussion on the coverage of cycling in the USA by pointing out that there's one sport not invented in the US that's hugely popular: golf. He can't really understand why.
Richard Virenque will probably be the most controversial drug user ever, if our mail box for the last few months is anything to go by. Here's Patrick Douglas' take on the French climber's sins of omission and commission.
It is not cheating when the ingestion of performance-enhancing drugs does not give one a hand up on the competition. If the sport has evolved to the point where the competitor must supplement himself in order to survive the competition then it must be addressed on different terms.
We are all hypocrites. How many lawyers, doctors, accountants and managers of all sorts cheat in order to get ahead in one way or another. How many of you take short cuts in everyday life! Two wrongs don't make a right but athletes are held to a different standard. We hold them to this standard because we expect perfection and purity of action out of them. We recognize how unethical and twisted our own working environments can be. We understand the pressures in our lives that cause divorces, drinking, drug use and even abuse.
Who are the cyclists hurting but themselves? How is this really injuring the sport, except to tarnish our image of what it should be? Great athletes make us feel good about ourselves. Their glory is ours. Their courage is ours. Their superhuman endeavours make us feel more than average. We have no right. You did not win the Tour. You did not struggle through 3 weeks of hell defending the yellow jersey of your leader till you could no longer pedal the bike! You don't have millions of people asking you to win for them to make them feel good about themselves. You did not have what it takes to train your entire life for that moment where you had to ride like a champion in order to win. Delgado did not wake up one day and win the Tour because he took drugs. Drugs increased his performance. But he and other who doped are still champions because of their mental toughness and their desire to win while carrying on their backs the hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions of people.
The judges, lawyers and officials don't really care to remove drug use from the sport! That is why they focus on a couple of famous cyclists. This is the hallmark of a witch-hunt. Appearance of action only. These men of the law are making their careers on the misfortune and bad judgment of cyclists. What real crime have they committed but to shatter our perceptions of virtue and purity? Look in the mirror, hypocrites!
Ask yourself what you ask of these cyclists? Do you even have a clue of the physical demands of a grand tour? Do you know how many races there are in a year? Physiologically, cycling is the most difficult sport on earth. What they do to compete is no different than what judges, politicians, lawyers and many others do to compete, to get on top! But when is the last time a judge or even a politician made you proud of being a Spaniard or a German? Before we lynch Virenque and destroy his career, let us ask ourselves what he did for the sport and us before we discovered that he was taking drugs. Drugs which made him climb faster and longer to our joy and amazement. How many of you were on the edge of your seats with tears welling up in your eyes when Virenque could not hold back his emotions upon learning that he had ridden into his first yellow jersey! And now he is a criminal!? I could go on but I think you get the point. We ask too much.
Doping is still a problem in professional cycling (and many other sports), but Alex Stieda didn't even compete in the EPO era, so the value of his input is minimal. Also, there are many examples where Americans never have and never will blindly adhere to the archaic traditions of the European peloton, including doping. Greg Lemond dramatically changed the sport on at least two fronts - technology and salaries. I've also lost count of the number of times a foreign rider during the silly season said "I want to ride for USPS (or Motorola and so on) because American teams are better organized and managed." That level of organization and attention to detail not only applies to the business aspect, but also to the design and application of training programs for the riders. This reason is exactly why not all teams and riders need dope to win! Another note - did many euros train with weights in the off-season before Lemond and Armstrong? I doubt it.
Although it was admirable and dignified for Jerome Chiotti to come forward and admit his past transgressions, Alex Stieda's comments are not even in the same league because he and the large majority of the rest of the mudslingers possess no credible evidence. He is just a minor part of the larger cynical European attitude that says "Well, Pantani won the Tour de France in 98, got caught the following year, and Lance has since kicked Pantani's butt, so he must be guilty, too." That line of thinking is just very poor logic.
US cycling is not immune to the lure of Euro-style influences. It is, like in Europe, not confined to the pro ranks. Having ridden among many of the Americans, Canadians and European transplants who've raced in our region; it is clear that they "improve their genetic potential" when they hit the Continent. I must add that, not having had the opportunity to race on the biggest stage; we should not judge those that assume the level of pain and dedication it takes to race at that level. Every rider makes choices daily that begin to shade their own view of necessity for performance. When you have an extra caffeinated beverage, take questionable vitamin supplements, etc., you as a rider are crossing that line in small increments. Who knows what choice you'd make if you were a big fish in your region and found yourself constantly off the back in the bigger venues. What would you do if your family's financial stability relied on your continued employment?
Having said all of that, the influence of drugs starts at the junior ranks with coaches that recommend steroid inhalers to the younger riders on the basis of "exercise induced asthma". The actual scene witnessed at a major junior race: 6 riders on wind trainers, warming up and sucking on their inhalers prior to the race; their coach proudly looking on at the 14 to 16 year old drug cheats. The influence extends to national level coaches who advise their team members they can "regrettably" only offer some caffeine to them while their Euro counterparts travel with a full time physician. The final scene: pros with a laundry list of allergies and injuries requiring supplementation. Remember: the UCI monitors "levels" of drugs in the systems. It is within the rules to top off your levels and not be considered in violation of the rules. Therein lies the defence of the USPS team. What we really could use is honest disclosure. What are the actual haematocrit levels of the competitors? How does a rider with a early season blood level of 44 attain a level of 48 to 49.9 after two weeks of racing the Tour?
I don't care about the paid professionals making these choices. It also used to be the unspoken regimen that younger pros would not be doped until they reached their potential and amateurs relying on drugs to ride at a top level probably would not get a contract as they'd already reached their performance peak. The danger is now that young riders with no real pro opportunities are destroying their health for the rest of their life. That is what will kill our sport.
Let me be simple about this. I agree wholeheartedly with the other readers on this subject. However, I wonder why Gordon Daniell left out golf in considering sports that weren't invented in the USA Now here's an activity that is so heavily promoted it makes this cyclist cramp up just seeing it on the television.
Wasn't it those Scottish types who invented this game? What? Why is it so popular in America? Is there some sort of "elegance" associated with the game that I don't understand? Do those who play the game do so out of pure joy, or are they led down that primrose fairway of thinking people will think them all the better if they pay those huge fees to play on such a well manicured playing surface? Don't get me wrong. To each there own. I took two semesters of golf in college. Actually that was easier than putting on a gym suit. Meanwhile, I was cycling a lot in my extra-curricular hours. Started me to thinking. Why all of that land going to golf courses? None of it seemed to be going into what us cyclists might like to see it become. That is, open space to mountain bike, and/or velodromes.
I was wondering why people will pay to drag their asses around a golf course to watch the "pros", but can't relate to the fun that the Europeans have before, during, and after the peloton flies by. Must be some money talking here, like Mr. Daniell said. Seems like Americans don't even have an inkling about something unless it's rammed down their throats. And you know there isn't going to be any ramming unless there's big bucks to be made. So, cycling coverage is given the double whammy here. Not known, no coverage. No coverage, not known. Finally, I've determined that even though we cyclists may dress, and sometimes act, as clowns, we will never get the attention that the cartoon characters that big money has created in "professional"...wrestling, American football, and especially the NBA. So, fellow cyclists, just keep shaving those legs, put on that Lycra, grab your bike, and head out and truly enjoy your sport. That's worth more than all the media coverage could ever be.
I feel that I must say something about Richard Virenque and the recent doping case. He should have accepted responsibility and admitted to doping 2 years ago. Zuelle and others admitted it so why didn't Virenque?
By crying his innocence for the last two years he has lied to and deceived the public. I can't stand cheats and Virenque has cheated.
In his no doubt doped up heyday, I always thought his style of sprinting for every single mountain prime, even though he had an unassailable lead in the KOM competition, was unwarranted. When riding up to the finish in a following group he'll follow the wheels (nothing wrong with that), but then sprint out at the last moment to get 10th place, or whatever, pissing off the guys who have done all the hard work. Very unprofessional. No wonder he has few friends in the peloton.
What goes around comes around. Virenque's behaviour is entirely his own doing, he was lucky he wasn't caught years ago. It's no good blaming others, or saying that it was a conspiracy. Of course he knew what he was taking and what its effects were. So now his supporters have set up a "Virenque is innocent" (or some such) website.
Let me put the matter straight. Virenque is guilty, he has admitted it, he is lucky he is not in prison. If his federation have suspended him for 9 months, then he has to serve that suspension. It's no good bleating about it, he's been caught in a lie and now he can't face up to it. Typical Virenque.
If he was doping in previous Tours, and other competitions, then his stage wins should be eradicated and the KOM jerseys should be given to the next guy.
In reference to Regis Chapman's inquiry about cycling literature, I have a couple of suggestions. Dubliner Paul Kimmage's "Rough Ride" is in my humble opinion the best thing ever written about pro cycling. Get a hold of the 1998 reprint if you haven't already read it.
And another, very different one: my countryman Sven Novrup's "A Moustache, Poison and Blue Glasses" (I think that is the English title). Novrup has collected and retold a handful of really interesting and colourful anecdotes from the history of the Tour de France, from 1903 to the present, and although I can't vouch for the English translation, the Danish original is charming, funny and a pleasure to read. (No doping stories, though!)
I'm not sure if the Eddy Merckx biography that Regis Chapman mentions is Merckx's 1974 autobiography, but if so, then I have read it, and I didn't put it down until I was done. But that's probably because it is quite short, and I had nothing else to do. Merckx doesn't give away much personal information, and certainly none of the "secrets of the peloton", but it's all right...not exactly fine art, though. Paul Kimmage may never have won a race as a professional, but he certainly writes better than Merckx!
Oh, and by the way, don't be so hard on Pedro Delgado. It was foolish of him to speak in the defence of Pantani, but he is a nice guy. And Delgado hasn't got any more of a star - or a scar - on his name than does Riis or Ullrich or... well, let's not get into that. "Perico" was just unfortunate enough (or careless enough) to actually be caught. I mean, surely no one believes that all the other guys were clean, right? Remember what Willy Voet once told reporters: The last guy to win a three-week tour without using "something" was Eric Caritoux in the '84 Vuelta a Espaņa. How sad it is.
Anders P. Jensen
Regarding Regis Chapman's letter on books and videos. I have an extensive collection of cycling books and videos (including non FCV Giro and Tour) from the 70s on. Anyone in the US who is interested can contact me at MEDICIOSSO@aol.com.
The last month's letters