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Letters to Cyclingnews July 18, 2001
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Inevitably we start with comments on Lance Armstrong's win yesterday on Alpe d'Huez, undeniably a masterful piece of tactics, though technically not a 'bluff' according to a poker expert. Other subjects covered today include that 35 minute gap, the Cycling Manager computer game, Tour commentary, the 'world' nature of the World Cup and Richard Virenque.
Incidentally, this is probably the most international letters page we've had in a while. Many thanks to the writers from all over the world who being a wider perspective to Cyclingnews.
Even though I do not have OLN access in my home, this morning I had the immense pleasure of watching Stage 10 to l'Alpe d'Huez thanks to a friend of a friend. And what a day to watch! Thinking back on it, I'm sure I saw what will go down in the history books as a special day in cycling strategy.
However, as I rode tonight, I couldn't help but think that Armstrong's tactic, which so many have already referred to as a 'bluff,' wasn't actually a bluff at all. I've played quite a bit of poker and can tell you that a bluff is when you conceal an inferior hand, in order to win without being called; that is, you make your opponents believe you have something when you really don't. Obviously, this is not what Armstrong did today - he was concealing a winning hand! The more correct poker parlance for this tactic would be 'limping in,' which is when you allow your opponents to do the betting for you, all the while hiding the fact that you have a monster hand which will beat them in the end.
Of course, I don't expect people to start referring to Armstrong's tactics today as him having 'limped in,' but here is something else to consider: Perhaps a better analogy for what Armstrong did today would be Muhammad Ali's 'rope-a-dope' tactic, used successfully against George Foreman. In that instance, Ali pretended to be tired, while he let his opponent wear himself out landing blows. Once Foreman was fatigued, Ali responded with considerable offense of his own in order to win against an opponent who had already used up his best stuff. Now that's what Armstrong and company really did to Telekom today!
I would have to say that Lance's new team, Telekom, did an outstanding job of controlling the field and making sure none of the favorites got away. He really owes a lot to Kloden, Vinokourov and his old chum Kevin. Truthfully, I was thinking Jan could do it, and he still could. But, with that masterfully played game of poker by Lance, I hope he gets his 3rd win this year.
Well, well, well, we've seen the best Ullrich since '97, but someone was stronger. Very, very much stronger. By the way: the best equipier in the mountains? Not Heras, nor Livinstone, but Rubiera and Klöden.
Perhaps the "amateur" racing would not have started had the organisers allowed the spectacle that is Cipo and his team into the race?
While watching the Tour de France with my wife, she brought up an interesting question. Who prepares the meals for the riders? Do they simply eat hotel food? Is someone brought along to cook for them? How about the food? Who brings it along, or do men like Armstrong and Ullrich, trust the establishment. Is there a large rolling cafeteria for all the cyclists?etc I can't imagine a little toothless cook ringing the triangle screaming "come and get it" :-)
I imagine that with the technology surrounding caloric intake, as well as type of foods, that this is monitored closely.
I remember an article in the Mirroir du Cyclisme, many years ago, that had Poulidar in front of a table with a "typical" days intake for him. It was massive, the amount of foods they ate, but I don't remember who, or how it was prepared. I am sure things have changed.
Helen and Michel van Musschenbroek
One would hope that if, in another stage in the next few days, any of the first 11 that came in on stage 8 way ahead of the rest, comes in after the stipulated percentage for that particular stage, he will not be eliminated. It would not be fair to eliminate him if on stage 8 the others were not eliminated.
João Santa Clara
Once again the peloton of this Tour de rFance has shown that there are no more leaders in the peloton. Thirty five minutes behind a group of 14 riders and outside the time limit! It seems that they are giving away price money, jerseys and their dignity. If I was a Tour jury official, I would eliminate them all and go on with those 14 brave men. Damn the sponsors with their money. I want to see action and not slowmotion cycling.
Haico Van Schaijk
I have read recently that a computer game based on the Tour De France
is currently in the making.
Prompted by this letter to see how the guys at Cyanide Studios were getting on, we find that Cycling Manager has been released. We've requested a review copy, and as soo as we have time to play computer games again, we'll bring you a report. Meanwhile, you can read all about it at the Cycling Manager site
The field sprint at the final from the 6th stage in the Tour was a typical example how it shouldn't be. First of all there was Ludovic Capelle who was pulling someone's shirt to get to the front of the group, and without him Kirsipuu would never have one the race.
Then there was Nazon who was going from the right side of the road to left in the last 200 meters, being a hindrance for several other riders.
None of them were disqualified. Maybe because one is French and both of them are riding for a French team?
I like Phil and Paul as well and am often amazed by their encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the sport and their cogent observations. I also realize that they are watching a French feed and have no control over the cameras and that it is very difficult to go hours without saying the wrong thing every once in a while.
But I still find it amusing when they are just flat out wrong about who is where. For instance, in today's stage Phil wondered a few kilos out what Mapei was setting up because he claimed Steels had been left behind during the climb. Then suddenly he said "there's Tom Steels, I don't know where he came from." In stage 3 he had Museeuw and Vainsteins in the lead group, they were 5 minutes back. And then there are the predictions. Will they catch the break or not? Phil will often go back and forth on this several times in a short period, always very confident. And then he was sure after stage 2 that O'Grady would be in yellow. Of course this turned out out be true eventually, but not that night.
All of that being said, however, I love Phil. He has tremendous enthusiasm and love for the sport and it is a joy to watch him live for the first time in the U.S.
I would gladly trade any amount of Liggett/ Sherwen bloopers if it meant less dialogue from commentator Bob Varsha. He may be better than Adrian Karsten ever was, but really, what is the point. The holy (unholy?) trinity of Liggett - Sherwen - Roll, during the Giro, was at least an order of magnitude better than the current Tour format. OLN, if it doesn't add anything to the coverage, it is a distraction.
I greatly appreciate the live coverage, I am sure that it very hard for the boys to cover it when they can't control the editing or feed. I know this sounds silly, but I would like to see a shot or two of the promo caravan once in a while. Sadly, I have more time onthe couch than my bike this year. Thanks to OLN I am still in touch with my passion for cycling.
On watching Saturday's stage, with Jalabert taking the win, I was amused to flip between the English-language and Russian-language commentary. Usually I listen entirely in Russian, as I live in Moscow and go to a cafe with satellite TV and a Eurosport feed. This past weekend I was invited to a friend's house and his receiver gets reception in both languages.
After about 10 minutes of listening to the worried voice of the Eurosport commentator read email greetings in English I begged my hosts to change it back to Russian. The commentator there, Sergey Kurdukov, is a knowledgeable and relaxed man with a sense of appropriateness, a willful endurance, a dazzling memory and a creative imagination. As a result his comments are much, much better.
Perhaps the difference is audience size. The English-language audience is in the potential millions, and this may cause the English host some nervousness. The number of cycling fans in Russia with access to satellite TV is, if attendance at the recent pro- championships in Moscow is any indication, less than 5,000.
Or perhaps the difference is skill. Kurdukov is a dedicated cycling reporter, one who writes prolifically on the subject and who is respected for his ability to observe and describe races. He knows the histories of the riders, he knows the histories of the races, and he knows the dynamics of racing. The English commentator seems only to be able to pronounce names well.
Whatever the case, it is a shame that Kurdukov is limited to commentary for such a small viewing audience. His commentary is much better than what I heard in English and he provides the appropriate style needed for a five hour stage.
Sergey Kurdukov writes for Cyclingnews from time to time. Here are a couple of his recent pieces:
I wished I could have responded earlier to questions regarding viewing the tour, but here goes anyway. Good luck to all those readers who get to see a stage this year.
I will briefly tackle a couple of issues: viewing tour races incl the Tour and pro encounters.
In 1990 I was on the climb to Luz Ardiden (see stage 12 this year), I witnessed the riders on the final climb; never seen anything so fast so steep! Bus was available and scheduled from Lourdes (nearest large town) to deposit and collect spectators at the bottom of the climb.
As it was a hill top finish and team buses were not permitted to the top, a lot of the riders descended the climb after finishing. There were so many delighted spectators who had ridden the climb themselves and waited for their heroes to pass and then were surprised to see them, shoulder to shoulder on the descent!
Late 1998 Orange Spot Bakery in Adelaide, known to most cyclists in Adel. I was surprised to see Stuart O'Grady, Jay Sweet and another rider I did not recognise enjoying a break. I was too shy to acknowledge their feats or my appreciation of them, however an aged rather crumpled looking fellow was not so inhibited.
"What, are you guys gonna get to the Tour de France one day?" he murmured jokingly as he passed. "Yeah, one day!" was Stuart's smiling response - I can only imagine the memories Stuart had of his stage win and days in yellow that year, and Jay's admirable battles. I know that anyone watching SBS's coverage in Australia will have vivid, proud and admiring memories for a long time to come.
Finally, watching the Tour Down Under is an annual highlight in Adelaide. Stages seen in city and semi rural areas close to Adelaide. It is usually possible to see the convoy a couple of times in one day. The Tour village in the city centre is a great spot to glimpse the pros coming and going even have a chat on occasion!
We are very, very disappointed that there is no TV coverage of the tour on channel 4 as over the last few years we have enjoyed the knowledgeable programs each day of the tour. Now we only have the Internet to find the results.
Chris' comments about The Messiah are very sound. On a far less noteworthy aspect, I always liked John Tesh's music. It was dramatic and staged so very well to those highly edited broadcasts of the mid-80's. In some respects, I wish we had more of that same thing because those programs gave a personal aspect to the racers and other personnel, and this from someone who is not a fan at all of regular commercial television in the States.
SBS Tour music #2
I second Chris Powers' great idea for a soundtrack CD from SBS' Tour de France coverage, because, hopefully, the song used at the end of stage 14 from the 96 Tour, to Superbesse, won by Rolf Sorensen, will be included. I think sometimes the reason I'm so inspired by our great sport is from watching "the giants of the road" fighting with everything they've got to the sounds of great music, probably because cycling, in particular racing, is such an emotional experience. By the way, before I find myself going on and on here, does any1 know the name of the song I am talking about here?
A discussion starter for you. Why is the men's road World Cup called the World Cup? All the races are in Europe! It's as misnamed as the World Series baseball. The Woman's World Cup and the MTB series both feature races on at least two continents. Why not the Men's?
Yes, the history and tradition of all the races in the World Cup now is important. But is not promoting cycling as a sport around the world also important? With Lance single-handedly increasing cycling exposure across the US, and our Stewey wearing yellow opening Aussie eyes, a World Cup race each in the US and Australia would really promote road racing as a world class sport.
If the UCI is serious about cycling becoming as big in the rest of the world as it is in Europe, then they need to promote races across the world.
We have a little race in here in Victoria, Australia called the Melbourne to Warrnambool. This race has the distance and history to match any World Cup race. UCI, make this a World Cup race and just watch the media frenzy! Then lift the Sun Tour straight after to 2.2 to keep some of the best teams here, and cycling in Australia would become much bigger.
Let the debate begin!
I was very surprised when I read those letters about Rous' behaviour against his young team-mate. Rous never said that he didn't take EPO, he acknowledged it like every member of team Festina (Brochard, Dufaux, Zulle,) except the two silly guys: Virenque and Hervé.
But, since 1998, French cycling has changed a lot and, in my opinion, stopped the kind of doping Festina used to do where the team doctors organized it. In France, the affair changed mentalities, everybody is suspected and our Minister in charge of Sports (a great woman) is doing a lot to eradicate doping. In other countries, the situation remains the same as in 1998 (I refer to the events on the Giro). When Rous won the French Championship after a very good season, he was suspected and asked if he was still doping. He answered that he changed the way he saw cycling, that his family is still suffering from the affair and that he has been riding "à l'eau claire" since 1999. Nevertheless, other riders haven't understood it: Spanish and Italian ones definitely and other like this Frenchman called Lelarge. It is the new role of Rous to denounce them.
In response to Alfonso's reply.
Yes, I know it is hard to believe, considering his small stature. But I remember very clearly during the 1988 Tour, when Phil Ligget was asked who he thought was the best climber in the world. He said it was Delgado, as he weighed in at 75 kilos. I couldn't really believe it then, so I checked it up, and there was an article in l'Equipe which stated that his weight was about there. So, honestly, I am just quoting these sources, but consider how well 'packed' Delgado is, although not very tall, and his time trialling prowess too. Too bad he was always dogged by bad luck and unfortunate incidents. Maybe that's why he was and is the most popular rider in Spain, more than Indurain. Everyone loves an underdog, rather than someone who makes winning the Tour look easy.
Charles Whitaker made some very good points, all true and I don't disagree with any of them. The "1%" difference that is being batted about is only an issue in acceleration (and deceleration - the clincher will coast longer - but let's not get into that!). Races are never free from acceleration however. The real question is how much energy/muscle strength is lost because of the slower accelerations. It's the riders energy supply/muscle strength that makes them win the race, so the more you use before you cross the finish line, the worse off you are.
I'm guessing that the discussion will end here since the answers to these questions are unknown. There are too many variable to even consider making a serious study of it: number of accelerations, time of each acceleration, initial/final speed, muscle efficiency, wind, temperature, ...
Sew-ups vs clinchers #2
I don't have scientific data on perceiving a 1% difference (between tubulars vs. clinchers or anything else), but I flew airplanes in the USAF for 19 years. I had 2800 hours in the A-10, which weighed about 35,000 pounds with fuel. On training missions, we would carry a "Maverick" missile on either a 100 pound single-rail launcher or a 500 pound triple-rail launcher, depending what was available and what the maintenance troops loaded. I couldn't tell the difference, but a lot of pilots (especially the less experienced ones with fewer than 500 hours) would tell you how the extra weight and drag of a triple-rail launcher made it impossible for them to fly formation, hit the target, rejoin on the tanker, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if some cyclists hear another rider tell them how tubulars are better than clinchers for acceleration or cornering and they convince themselves that they can tell the difference regardless of their experiences.
Sew-ups vs clinchers #3
I couldn't agree more with the last paragraph of the letter of Charles Whitaker on sew-ups versus clinchers. I'm a psychologist who some time ago studied the reactions of athletes to new technology. We compared swimmers' subjective estimates of their race times with exact measurements of their performance when they wore "new and improved" swimsuits versus traditional and found almost all believed they were swimming faster with the new suits when in actuality their was no difference. I suspect that one of the primary "effects" we are talking about here is psychological in nature. I don't debate that sew-ups are a bit lighter, feel better, and may be safer when one flats at 50km/hour. The performance improvements/differences (like the example provided by Whitaker, "I had to borrow some guy's clinchers for a race, and man were they heavy! I felt like I was dragging a trailer!") attributed to them, however, just don't appear possible given the relatively minor acceleration and weight advantages. This is likely to be especially true for those of us Cat. 3 and Masters riders.
What we may in fact be talking about here is the attempt each of us typically makes to avoid cognitive dissonance. Festinger's Theory of Cognitive Dissonance postulates that individuals typically search for and focus on evidence which supports their worldview (e.g., sew-ups are faster than clinchers) while ignoring evidence that is contradictory. The reason why we all engage in such behavior is that dissonance between what we believe and what we do (purchasing sew-ups) is thought to create an "unpleasant state of tension." As humans, we all naturally attempt to avoid such states. If one invests significant amounts of money, time, and effort to use sew-ups (and as far as I know a high quality sew-up still costs more than a high quality clincher, and takes longer to install and repair) it would create cognitive dissonance if one did not convince oneself that these tires made a significant contribution to one's performance. Aided by the advertising agencies employed by tire manufacturers, a belief is created that sew-ups provide a significant advantage (isn't this the reason why most pros ride on the tires they do? i.e., they or their team is paid to engage in this behavior as a form of advertising/marketing of a product someone wants us to buy). We purchase the tires (or that new scandium frame or 10 speed gruppo etc.) and then have to find some way to justify our behavior to ourselves (and in many instances to our spouses). In such situations it would be quite unusual for a person to NOT develop a belief system that exaggerated the advantages of such a purchase.
Now if I could only get my wife to believe as I do that purchasing a Pinarello Prince next year would catapult my performance to new levels and lead to my winning the state road race in my cat.
Sew-ups vs clinchers #4
An interesting one this. What happens when you add the other variable of rolling resistance. Some tests are showing that the best clinchers actually roll better than sew-ups. And top clincher and wheel combos today aren't that much heavier than sprints.
Having said that I still like riding on sew ups.
I read today that Schmoo has died. It's a name I had not heard in many years, but one I can never forget. I first met Schmoo in 1990, while I was spending a year at the University in Swansea, on exchange from my university in the States. He sold me the first bike I'd had since I was a child. A 1989 GT Mountain Bike. With his encouragement, I rode that black beast all around South Wales that year - primarily through the rain! His love of the spot was unmistakable, and it rubbed off so that you could not help but get excited to ride your bike. Years later I began racing triathlons, then racing on the road, which is my real love now. But I remember my first few triathlons were raced on that GT, and I would fondly look down on the Schmoo's Cyclery sticker that I kept on the top tube, and remember that man and his funny little shop. I gave that bike away last year, and I suddenly miss it, but I think what I really miss is the man. We'd all be better off to have inspirations like Schmoo. Best regards to his family and former lads.
I was saddened today to read on your site about the death of Arie van Vliet. One of the most thrilling and famous photos of cycle racing has to be the one of Van Vliet and Reg Harris, shoulder to shoulder in a match sprint with Harris winning by less than a tyre. What a contrast in styles they had, Van Vliet so far back in the saddle it looked like he would fall off the back, and Harris perfectly balanced on his bike.
As a youngster in England in the 50's, Harris was my hero, and Van Vliet was someone I also respected tremendously. Match sprinting was at its peak in the 50's with Harris, Van Vliet, Derksen, Plattner, Patto, Maspes - what a line up!
Harris has been gone for almost 10 years, and now so too has Van Vliet, cycling has suffered a great loss.
Are you saying that Jeannie Longo is not clean? She's an organic food fanatic, I can't see her dabbling with the stuff, and she's too consistent in her results year in year out.
I see one good reason why Dufaux, Moreau, Zuelle, Brochard are better then Virenque. They confessed almost immediately they had doped, which could have been very helpful to cycling by helping everyone else confessing they were all (or most of them, at least) doping and systematic doping wasn't specific to Festina. In some sense, they are even better than most other cyclists who dope for a long time (with or without appropriate medical certificate, which seems as easy to obtain as a bus ticket), without having confessed it at any time.
Unfortunately, because of the "omerta" (law of silence in the mafia lingo) reigning in the sport, it didn't happen. Instead, the cyclists reacted childishly as victims. Remember the fake mountain stage where they rode altogether as a protest? On the other hand, Virenque lied for more than two years, before admitting EPO use, as did Herve, who apparently still uses EPO, as his recent positive test shows. Pantani is even worse in this respect, because he still pretends to be clean, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Those certainly deserve harsher penalties in my opinion. I can understand pro riders doping, since it almost belongs to the job, I can accept (although with more difficulty) that they deny it as long as they are not convicted of doping but I really have no sympathy for those who are convicted, but still deny it.
As for the women's peloton being clean, I hardly believe it. Plenty of women have tested positive and more seem to come with the Giro donne raid. The effect of male hormones is much stronger on women than on men, I seriously doubt that they aren't used... Maybe the percentage is lower, maybe, who knows.
Richard Virenque #2
Scott Goldstein is right in saying that Richard Virenque is being treated more harshly than others eg Zulle, Pantani et al. In British cycling mags all they write about him are personal insults and snipes - this seem like a clash of personalities more than anything else. On the other hand they still treat Pantani like a god even though he has failed many dope tests in the past - some in the very recent past (pre-Olympic dope test) and clearly cannot match his pre-Giro 99 performances. You rarely see Virenque's pics in magazines and in a TV station's review of the stage to Morzine in last years Tour his name was neglected altogether -- they didn't mention the winner's name, just harped about how well Jan Ullrich was climbing even though he got dropped by Virenque!
Clearly Virenque was wrong to deny his involvement in the Festina dope ring, but must he be punished for this for the rest of his cycling days? He is being singled out , being made the scapegoat for drug use which is entirely wrong. He isn't the only one who has done drugs. At least he is now staying off drugs unlike many of the peloton's big name stars. Claiming that you have tested negative, therefore you must be clean of drugs is utter nonsense. This is exactly what Virenque told us before admitting to systematically doping for 5 years. It's just that some teams are a little bit more careful.
No name supplied
Richard Virenque #3
Why is Richard Virenque different than, for example, Christophe Moreau and Didier Rous? Because Moreau and Rous admitted their mistake immediately, did their suspension, and continued their careers by becoming real champions in their own rights. They assumed their role in the systematic doping at the time, and to my knowledge did not present themselves as victims. I for one am impressed with their honesty and openness on the subject. Only last week I saw Rous answer more questions on his Festina days. Yes he took EPO and other products. Yes he regrets it, but given the circumstances at the time it didn't seem so wrong. Those times have changed. I can only hope that they have managed to remain clean since.
Virenque, on the other hand, lied for over two years (and counting), turned his back on his friends and team mates, let Willy Voet and Bruno Roussel fry in court and managed to pocket a big salary with Polti on the side. Victim, I don't think so. Although it is clear that a majority of the peloton was doping at the time, it was Festina that got caught - too bad for Virenque. If he had of taken his medicine like a man, he would be in the tour today. As it is, he is an outcast with little credibility among those even remotely connected with cycling. The only thing that can be said in his defense is that he got a lot of bad advice.
Eddy Merckx won:
5 Tours de France
and many other races
I think Armstrong is still very far away from Merckx's palmares.
Armstrong vs Merckx #2
Lance is as well-rounded a rider as Eddy Merckx? No disrespect to Lance, who is a fantastic rider and has a fierce desire to win just like Eddy, but to put Lance anywhere near Merckx is pure hysteria. Let's take a look at the facts:
Lance won the Tour twice thus far, Eddy five in both the Tour and the Giro. He also won the Vuelta. In fact, Eddy won the Yellow, Green and KoM in ONE Tour.
Lance won a "classic", San Sebastian, and the semi-classic Fleche Wallone. Two wins in the Tour du Pont. Eddy won Milano-San Remo 7 times, Paris Roubaix three, Flanders, Liege, Paris-Tours, World Hour Record and just about every major race in existence.
In fact, should Ullrich win this year's Tour, a valid argument could be made for Ullrich having the better palmares. Lance has yet to compare favorably with Indurain, then he's got Hinault to contend with. Merckx... he might match him, if he rides till he's 100 years old.
Armstrong vs Merckx #3
I think Lance Armstrong is a great rider, and would like to see him win the Tour again, but he cannot be compared to Merckx, at least not for several more years.
3 differences come quickly to mind: Merckx had dozens of classic victories, rode 6 day races in the winter, and had a blazing sprint.
The last month's letters