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Letters to Cyclingnews June 6, 2001
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A very varied postbag this week, with letters on various Giro-related subjects, including the Tour vs Giro debate, the disqualification of Belli, Ullrich and time trials. Without further ado, then.
In defence of Simoni
I hope I don't eat these words, but it is a sad day when fans, media and fellow riders alike cannot look at Maglia Rosa on the back of Gilberto Simoni and not suspect foul play of a medical nature. I guess it should be no surprise given the similar treatment Lance Armstrong has received at the Tour the past two years. In fact, after watching this past weekend's stages in which Simoni took and then successfully defended the jersey, I happen to think his success is for much of the same reason Armstrong has been so dominant.
There is much talk in training literature of terms like "efficiency" and "suppleness." In fact Armstrong and his coach, Chris Carmichael, say that such a fine tuning of the mechanics of pedalling (form and cadence) and position are what put him a level above others in the Tour, in particular on the climbs in and the time trials.
Watching Simoni spin fluidly up the steep grades of the Dolomites or in the time trial seemingly pushing a gear or two lighter than the others, his upper body motionless as his legs churn out a quick and steady rhythm lead me to believe that he is simply a better bike rider then Dario Frigo and the others. That is not to say that he is necessarily physically stronger than Frigo and the rest, only that his technical mastery of the bike allows Simoni to get from one place to the next with less effort. And I haven't even mentioned his descending skills, which are clearly superior to most in the bunch, save Savoldelli.
Thankfully, riding a bike isn't all about training, or VO2 Max, or drugs...there are also skills involved and Simoni has them. Let's also add the facts that Frigo and his team had been defending the jersey for nine days (and were possibly tired, as was predicted would happen by our fearless television analysts) and that Simoni has placed third in this event two years running.
He's an excellent rider and he has obviously worked long and hard to get into the Maglia Rosa. It's plain unsporting of others (particulary Pantani!) to suggest, without any evidence whatsoever, that he had illegal medical help. Although you won't catch me running alongside wearing an orange soccer jersey, I admire Simoni, give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he wears the pink all the way into Milan.
It seems to me as if the understanding of the title of Willy's book has been misinterpreted in the translation. To a French resident the term to work "à la chain" means to be on the production line as in a factory. Indeed one famous cycling club in Paris was known as "L'usine" or factory for that was how one saw its production of riders who moved up to the professional ranks.
Also one has to remember that socio-cultural differences render Willy's book more or less sensational depending upon where one lives. The thought of a "hero" either buying a race or using performance-enhancing medication is almost unbelievable to a British club cyclist yet to a European it is more part and parcel of the game or system. Indeed I would suggest that Bruno Roussel acted in a very responsible manner by ensuring his riders were not open to abuse or the misuse that lead to so many deaths in the early days of EPO use. Whether the changes in attitudes are uniform throughout the sporting world is a matter for debate but certainly from observation, doubts can be raised upon the "cleanliness" of a number of riders or teams, irrespective of their standing.
The sport is perhaps one of the hardest in the world, so as a coach my interest is in maintaining a rider's health and condition, but not at any cost, so perhaps someone would define where doping begins and "soins" (looking after oneself) ends? One doctor raised the question having been obliged to give an athlete a pain-killing injection, containing a substance which was potentially a doping agent. The athlete obtained a bronze medal whereas without the injection he would have failed to finish! Was the athlete "doped" and the injection "performance enhancing"? The pharmaceutical ability of most professional organisations to outstrip the capabilities of the controls or testing systems, is more than clearly apparent. Competitions are still "distorted" by medical assistance although as no cart-horse will ever win the Derby!
One also has to examine the psychology or personality of those who become racing cyclists. As a coach I came to the conclusion many years ago, that most riders had "personality defects" but these are more related to socio-cultural differences, rather than race or nationality. As for Virenque it is clear that his "me" has become rather contaminated but whose problem or fault is that? Certainly drug abuse alters the psychological appreciation of one's ability not to mention personality, for after all most psychiatric treatments are based upon a re-equilibration of chemicals in the brain.
Wm. David James,
Good points, and an irresistible chance to plug our extract from 'Massacre' and our partnerships with Amazon and Dymock's that provide a straightforward way for Cyclingnews readers to get hold of a copy of this must-read book and help support Cyclingnews in the process.
Shame that Belli has been treated this way, especially as the TV coverage
showed a motor bike commissar taking a swing at an over-excited fan
moments earlier. Belli's crime was that his swing actually connected.
It seems that any mountain top in or near Italy is a place where the
riders have to control the fans as the race organizers seem indifferent
to the problem. I have seen many riders lash out at morons who are jeopardising
the race over the years. It is about time the organisers spoke out about
The tiny Simoni beating the powerful Olano at today's flat Giro TT illustrates the great and somewhat unfair advantage riders who start later have over earlier-starting riders in this day of radios and earphones, since the later-starting rider knows minute to minute exactly how fast he must go. This advantage allows a lesser time trialist to beat the better athlete frequently, and skews time trial placings. I think it would improve the sport significantly if earphones and radio communication to the rider were eliminated in time trials. Then we'd always know who was really the best at the TT that day. I really don't know who that was based on the Giro TT results today. I think it was Olano probably.
Cyclingnews editor Jeff Jones replies: Olano's biggest mistake was not to study the very technical course he was actually relying on Manolo to radio through information is it came up.
Frigo and Simoni had ridden it, and were a lot more familiar with its intricacies. In my opinion, Frigo's ride was the best because he pushed it to the limit on all the corners, without ever losing control. He was out to put time into Simoni, and that's all that counted. Winning the stage in front of Olano and Gontchar was a bonus, but Frigo is a pretty good TTist.
Simoni's performance looked to be strange, but not when you consider the course (I don't know if you saw much on TV). Eddy Merckx was commentating on Belgian TV with Michel Wuyts, discussing what effect the pink jersey has. He said it "definitely gives you wings", which might account for Simoni's time loss being limited to 29 seconds. It was technical, and Simoni is an excellent bike handler. It was also hilly (not mountainous), and this would have helped the 56kg Simoni a little. And a point not to be ignored is that they've just done two very hard days in the mountains, where Simoni and Frigo have always looked the strongest (Olano definitely not). Stick a TT after that, and it will bring the level down somewhat.
Before radios, other forms of communication existed, so riders could (if they chose) know what was going on amongst their competitors in a TT.
I do actually agree with not having this type of communication available in a race, as it removes some (not all) of the tactical nous required to determine when your opponent is in trouble, and when to attack. However, riders still used to talk to their team managers in the car for advice.
Jay Gehrig responds: I know Olano didn't know the course, but I still think he would have beaten both Frigo and Simoni (in particular) if they hadn't known exactly how fast they had to go minute to minute. Armstrong beating Ullrich by 9 seconds in the last TT of the le Tour last year is another example of the same phenomenon; I love Armstrong, but doubt he would have won that TT had he not had up to the minute earphone reports on exactly how fast he had to go to win.
It's really too bad that Anna Millward felt the need to keep her World Cup jersey but was unable to defend it without team tactics. The sport would have been a lot better off in Canada if Lyne had been allowed to battle with Jeanson on their home turf.
In her diary Millward makes it clear that she'd have liked Besssette to win, but that Jeanson was untouchable. It was therefore a sensible Plan B for Bessette to stay with the group, and for the Saturn riders to work together and protect Millward's lead. If you don't resort to team tactics now and then, why have teams?
I'm wondering how much of a threat Jan Ullrich will be to Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France. In stage 13 he finished in the Grupetto with Mario Cipollini half an hour behind the stage winner. If he can't improve his form in the mountains during the rest of the Giro his Tour chances look dim to me.
Hate to differ with my very favourite cycling information source, but Montreal's event is surpassed each year by the fabulous ARGUS Pick & Pay ride in Cape Town, South Africa. This past March, 35,000 cyclists took part in the 109 km ride which is led by a race group of about 100 that starts at 6 am. It is an extremely well organized event that draws participants from all over the world. 80 per cent are from South Africa but there are a lot of others from Africa, Europe, Asia and most recently the US. My son and I have ridden it for the last three years. Phil Liggett is notable for his participation.
Please keep up your great web site as it is the most complete source of cycling info around.
I've spotted the older model black Campagnolo levers on both Cipo and Ulrich's bikes during stages of the Giro this year? Don't they like the shape of the new carbon models? And who noticed the old C-Record Campagnolo cranks on the TT bike that David Millar used to take the opening prologue of last year's Tour? I like seeing the old stuff out there, but what's the story?
It is interesting that Fuji have launched a lawsuit in regards to the bikes ridden by the Mercury Viatel team. Last year when Mercury were riding Fuji bikes, the frames were built by Peter Teschner of Ti Sports Australia. It is interesting that then can launch a lawsuit on something that they don't even make!
Keith asked: Does anyone have any info about seeing the Tour this year at l'Alpe d'Huez?
I went in '97, staying overnight in Grenoble. The plan was to drive to Bourg d'Oisans, or as close as possible, then get the bike out of the back and cycle someway up the Alpe. But I only got as far as Vizille because, even at 10 in the morning, the police had closed the road!! But having my bike meant I could enjoy a pleasant ride on closed roads rather than a very long walk.
So my advice would be to drive down from Geneva the day before the stage and park where you want to be the next day (if you can find space amongst the mobile homes). The route is easy... head south on the autoroute to Grenoble, via Chambéry, then east on the N91 (direction Briançon). Bourg d'Oisans is a fairly large village so food won't be a problem. Getting a place to sleep may be more difficult, so good luck on that front.
If you want to take your chances on the day, don't expect to drive beyond the D526/N91 junction about 7km west of Bourg d'Oisans. One benefit, though, is that you could try to catch the stage start in Aix-les-Bains at 10:30am. See http://www.letour.fr/2001/us/infos/parcours_etape10.html for details of the stage route and itinerary.
That 19 riders arrived in group on the Montvergine is quite simple to explain. It was a long climb, but not though. Not tough at all for the real climbers like Pantani, Simoni and Garzelli. You won't be seeing them attacking on a similar climb in the Tour de France either. On a climb with an average grade of 4.5 per cent it is not possible to gain one or two minutes. It was also very early in the Giro. None of the favourites would risk getting in the pink after a couple days, knowing you'd have to let your team work hard for a week on the flat stages. On the other occasions mentioned the last climb was only a minor bump in the road and/or a bit to far from the finish. Only in the stage to Montebellune there was a climb steep (1 km at 10 per cent) and close enough (2 km, only a descent, narrow and curvy enough to dare an attack) to the finish. And yep, Gilberto Simoni did it and gained vital seconds. And starting today as I'm writing the riders just got headed towards the Passo Pordoi there will be some real action. Yeah, maybe you will see the final attack only at 5km from the finish, but the same happens in the Tour. Remember it's still more than a week to go. I expect the real decisive actions on the (toughest) mountain stage to Santa Ana di Vinadio.
Giro vs Tour #2
Scott Goldstein's remark regarding the racing in the Tour De France being of a higher calibre than that in the Giro is simply false, and misguided. One need only look towards Gilberto Simoni's performance over Stages 12, and 13 to see that the winner of the Giro will be of the same calibre, and will have to perform at the same level as the winner of the Tour.
Certainly, the names Simoni, Frigo, and Belli do not demand the same recognition as those of Armstrong, Ullrich, and Pantani. But where are those big stars right now? Pantani is trying (unsuccessfully) to come within a degree of his previous form, Armstrong is showing decent form yet not exactly shining, and Ullrich is finishing in the same group as Cippollini in a mountaintop finish. The fact that the press has not chosen to spotlight Dario Frigo is the main reason people are uninterested as he chases Simoni up Paso Pordoi to defend the GC.
What racing really needs is the return of a true champion a true patron. Remember names like Roche, Chiappucci, Rominger, Bugno, and LeMond? These guys rode all season, choosing to defend, rather than rest upon their laurels. I can't think of a single rider in today's peloton who is even shooting for the "triple crown." I'm sure I'll receive a number of strong responses for saying this, but how about Lance showing us that he's as good as everyone thinks he is by winning the Tour, and then another major contest or two in the same season.
Giro vs Tour #3
Am I alone in thinking that the Tour has become predictable, and therefore boring! If you catch the time trials and the two or so stages with mountaintop finishes, you can skip the rest of the race. When was the last time the lead went back and forth between two serious GC contenders? Roche and Delgado in 1987?
The Giro has been very unpredictable. Small, rain-slicked hills near the finish have made for exciting, unexpected attacks. The fact that so many contenders are still within a minute of so of the lead makes it exciting, not a sign of incompetence.
Oh, and if the riders are so lousy, but Ullrich can't keep up with them, is there any point in even holding the Tour this year?
Giro vs Tour #4
Regarding the Giro vs. Tour debate, I find the Giro to be much more interesting. Lots of drama and close racing with many favourites, any of whom could take it. As for the Tour, let's see, we have the "Lance Armstrong Show" it doesn't look like Ullrich is going to do much, but I'm still holding out hope. What a bore. No Pantani or Cipo, not to mention Zülle, Escartin, and so on. Snore.
Giro vs Tour #5
Scott Goldstein's letter criticizing the quality of racing at the Giro is misinformed. The Tour has not had this competitive of a race since 1989. We started the 84th Giro with no less than a dozen serious contenders, and one by one they have been eliminated by fierce racing and cruel fate until just two remain. Scott is correct that this Giro lacks the dominator of the last 12 Tours de France, but the racing has been phenomenal and cannot be criticized. Likewise the courses: the organizers have put in numerous stages with tricky technical finishes which have led to aggressive riding and lost time for sleeping contenders. Scott's main gripe is that Montevergine did not produce a selection, but you have to consider that the mountain is relatively easy by today's standards and cannot be compared to a Mont Ventoux. Kudos to the Giro organizers for giving us a foretaste of the racing to come instead of yet another day for the sprinters.
I was at the summit of Passo Pordoi on Friday and on Santa Barbara's 23 per cent slopes on Saturday, and saw Simoni wear down all the others before attacking five times on the final ascent, risking everything to take the maglia rosa. As Simoni wrote the next day in his home-town newspaper: "I'm not racing again for the podium. It's all or nothing." Exciting racing, exciting courses, worthy contenders. Vive il Giro!
I've gotten lots of support and I appreciate it very much. I would like to keep this Letters thing going like an up date thing till I hit the circuit again. Kinda like a diary if you will, cuz I'm comin' back baby, I know it! I may be only a cat2 but everyone in south east knew i was strong at first till it started eating away at me ,the pain.
Anyway, keep the letters coming. Thanks for your support. It adds so much encouragement, I cant express it
Back surgery #2
Michael Stechow is my new hero!
Ours too, along with everyone else who has battled back from serious injury and illness to return to riding and racing.
Back surgery #3
I too have had a spinal fusion of T12 to L2. A car hit me from behind while I was riding to work in the dark in 1995. He was doing about 55mph (90kph) and hit me directly from behind. I ended up in the grass on the side of the road with severe abrasions and a badly shattered L1 vertebra. I was taken to the local hospital and then transferred to the spinal specialist hospital later that day. I had that many X rays, cat scans and MRI scans done I believed that I would start to glow in the dark. The scans showed that L1 had so badly shattered that it was almost non-existent and that there were cracks in T8 and L4 (I think).
I was operated on several days later when they did the fusion and took a bone graft from my left hip to give the bones something to grow over. They also installed a metal fixture to keep the area stable. The physiotherapists at the hospital were very keen to get me up and about, they had me walking the day after the surgery was done and by the end of the week I was able to walk (gingerly) down to the canteen two floors down and sit in the sun.
It took a couple of months to have the bone rebuild itself enough to start training but once it did it was just a matter of being careful not to overdo it and build up steadily. I have since then returned to racing and am now back to where I was before the accident. I think that you might find hydro therapy a good form of rehabilitation as there is very little weight bearing but you can work hard enough to increase the blood flow to the area to increase healing. Be patient with things as there is no way to rush things. Good luck with your recovery Eric and I hope that it all goes the way you hope it will,
You lucky people! Here in Australia we get nothing . How about it, Australian Foxtel, lets have some cycling events!
SBS has improved its coverage lately and we believe a Giro highlights show is planned. It could be worse, we could be in the UK:
TV coverage #2
Hey it is great that everyone in the USA is getting such good coverage of the Tour. You should try living in the UK where we are currently getting about an hour of highlights. And only then if they decide to cut into the tennis from France and it is never at the scheduled time! Oh for decent TV coverage of cycling in the UK!!
TV coverage #3
Bob Roll is a perfect addition to the Phil and Paul show. Did you hear the "sheep poop" comment when Pantani did the horizontal flop on stage 4? Bob Roll is hilarious.
I say shave up to your boxer short line if you get massages weekly or more if you're lucky. You will get a better massage.
Shaving your legs #2
Don't mean to bang on about this, but I use what is essentially an electric plucker. The product name is Emjoi. Does a good job with the benefits of wax (no five o'clock shadow) minus the mess if you wax home or the expense if someone else does it.
Doesn't take too long nor is it an instrument of torture.
Brian Hooper wrote to tell of live Giro news being provided by the Gazzetta dello Sport. I thought it might be of interest to Mr. Hooper, as well as some of your other readers, that the translation program at http://babel.altavista.com is able to translate Italian (as well as French and German) into fairly comprehensible English.
Be warned that the translator is far from fool-proof, especially with names: The Italian-to-English program translates "Pantani" into "Marshes," and the French-to-English program translates "Casagrande" into "Standard" and "Frigo" into "Refrigerator."
The last month's letters