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Letters to Cyclingnews June 13, 2001
Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. 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.
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The raids on the Giro and the broader subject of drugs have consumed most of our letters space recently, but there are plenty of other topics engaging Cyclingnews correspondents, including radios in time trials, Jan Ullrich's fitness and the Giro vs Tour discussion. Here's a representative sample, with more to come later.
Let's face it, doping is everywhere in the sport. Read the books by Paul Kimmage and Willy Voet. The system is corrupt. There is no incentive for change. The riders, staff and management of the teams stand to benefit if they win. The UCI depends on the riders for their survival. Not everyone is a cheat. However, everyone is guilty if they know somebody else is on dope and remain silent. Riders who speak up, like Bassons and Kimmage, are black listed.
The system must change. If the UCI can not clean things up, then thank god that the Italian and French police are willing to do their jobs.
The EPO tests are a joke. The smart riders are now taking the next generation of drugs. You will note that the police confiscated a "plasma/protein solution." This is probably Hemopure. It works much better than EPO, is not on the banned list and is undetectable by the current tests used by the UCI.
If the UCI was serious about doping, they would ban Hemopure and test for it.
Giro & drugs: where is team management?
Regarding the Giro drug raids: Living in Australia, I haven't had the privilege of TV highlights that some UK correspondents mention. Your site has been my only window to this event which I've only really discovered this year. Thank you. Big time disappointment finding out why the Results link was dead.
Key things I love about cycling. The physical performances are amazing, the strategies are like chess at 50kph and although I watch whatever cycling I can, I'd still only rate my understanding of tactics at about 3 out of 10. The other thing that really touches my heart is the team cohesion, that the domestiques will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to position their leader so he can do what he's good at, right down to completely spending themselves physically, or giving up a wheel/bike and not finishing themselves. That sense of sacrifice which is requisite to team function shows that, despite its problems, cycling is a sport with a big heart and has the character to grow and correct from its mistakes. I share the pain and some of the opinions of others witnessing this situation.
I would agree that riders have the ultimate authority over what goes in their bodies and are at fault in a doping situation. I would personally factor in two vulnerabilities they have though. 1) They have very restricted professional opportunities to support their families and set their investments up for the anticipated long and healthy life. These opportunities revolve around performance and reputation. 2) They have an ego drive beyond being happy with Personal Bests, that wants the world to say they're the best, and that is exploitable by others.
The part that really galls me that I haven't seen discussed much is this. It is reported that unlabelled bottles have been taken off for testing. !&$#%!!! Are they saying that Team Doctors, qualified medical practitioners entrusted with the physical maintenance of several people with varying requirements, are permitting unlabelled bottles in their "practice". Hell, anyone with half a brain labels the bottles out in the back shed! I'm sure these doctors would say, "but I know what's in them." NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Unprofessional, take away his license to practice. In my belief, that team doctor is paid to know exactly what substances each athlete takes, how much, when and he keeps a record of it.
I work in the computer industry and I'm sure people can find parallels to this next comment in their familiar area. The more valuable your computer system is, the more you spend on monitoring it so if you do have a failure you can both recover faster and hopefully backtrack to why it occurred and stop it happening again. The principle is just good practice, what we might call "being professional".
If a rider is self-prescribing/administering and hiding it from the team doctor, then the team reputation is at risk and every individual will be stained by the fallout when exposed. How he could hide this from "clean" team-mates is beyond me and I imagine they must have significant fears about whistle-blowing. Reputation is so important for them. I may be desperate to believe my favourite rider is honest in saying he's clean when a team member is busted, but to be blunt, he's guilty by association. I can't believe people who live in each other's pockets like that couldn't know. If the team doctor knows about it he wears the responsibility. If a cabinetry apprentice botches a job, it's his fault, but it's the cabinetmaker's responsibility.
If the team doctor knows something that potentially impacts the whole team, the team manager should know about it, otherwise the team structure is not working properly. (Cabinetmaker tells boss that a mistake's been made and work out what to do.)
Doping practices are recognised to have life risks. If the TEAM MANAGEMENT doesn't address this, they are behaving the same as a company that allows a workshop to become a cluttered and dangerous workplace, or their truck drivers to drive unsafe hours. They should be taken to task.
The guy who works using the saw that the boss should really get the guards fixed on, the nurse who keeps on even though they injured their back, the driver who continues even though the brakes are pulling to one side - all just doing what they think they have to support themselves and get ahead.
The doping instances are a symptom. Please don't harden your feelings toward the riders. Let's go for the cause which is layers above in the structure of teams and racing.
Giro & drugs: drugs can't ride the bike
In all the debate about doping in cycling there seems to be some implicit suggestion that the drugs actually get on the bike and ride the race for the doped rider. I believe in many cases the positive effects of some It comes down to a definition of cheating. I was at a mountain stage of the Giro in '99 and gave a push for about 30 metres to a certain Italian rider in red who is known to be a bit better on the flat than up the mountains. He looked in incredible trouble and was begging the fans for a push. Is he a cheat or am I a cheat for pushing him? (Please suppress my name - I don't want the Carabinieri busting down the door and taking away my Saeco espresso machine in the middle of the night!) Would this rider have finished the stage without my "illegal" assistance ? Bottom line is, he did the other 173.70km on his own. I think the role of new technology as a performance enhancer is so often overstated, be it carbon gear levers or designer drugs. A mate of mine always says to young riders showing off their flashy new bikes "Ya still gotta push the bloody thing, now shut up and let's go training!"
As a total cynic I believe that the reason our sport is such a focus of police attention is that other sports, with which cycling competes for sponsorship dollars, are increasingly concerned about the impact of cycling's growing popularity. There are very powerful interests associated with European Football and Tennis etc who perhaps aren't so keen to see another sport muscle into an already crowded market. If the authorities were so concerned about so-called "sporting fraud" why aren't there similar instances of this vigilance being exercised in any sport other than cycling ?
As a footnote, it's interesting to see such strident support for the Giro raids and stricter testing coming from readers in the US. No one stateside seemed so vocal in further investigating US Postal's admitted possession of Actovegin. Didn't one of their riders seem to have a spectacular boost in form at around the same time ?
Giro & drugs: guilty till proven innocent?
Why was it done just before the most decisive and important stage? "Doping should be banned" is not equal to "the police raid can be done anytime and in any way." In stead of pinpointing the guilty riders, the police affected innocent ones as well by taking away their sleeping time. If they wish riders to ride rationally, the police should perform their own work rationally.
Naco (Nagako Furusawa)
First of all, the Giro is a fantastic race and I love every minute of it (2 hours each and very day I am glued to my TV at 6:30 AM thanks to Outdoor Life Network). The points that I made were:
1) the Giro lacks the really top riders each year (check your UCI rankings Robert, you will find this to be true) The 2001 Giro has more UCI top 20 riders than recent Giros but still less than the Tour will.
2) The Giro is simply not as aggressive as the Tour start to finish. Giro stages tend to start slow and build to incredible fast finishes. This makes for very exciting racing (especially if you only are watching the last 2 hours like we do). Ask those who have ridden both races, they will concur. It is not a slam on the Giro, it is just an observation of differences between the two events. Not convinced? Think back and recall how many multi climb stages in past Giros have had groups of 50+ come to the foot of the last climb. Now think about how many times a similar thing has happened in the Tour? Recall Courchevel 1997. After the FIRST climb of the day (Croix de Fer) with the Madeleine and Courchevel still to go, there were less than 35 in the front group. Recall the next year, how many arrived at the base of Les Deux Alps together. The next year, how many did Lance have in his little bunch at the foot of Montgenevre? Last year, how many at the foot of Hautecam, or Courchevel, or the Joux Plane? OK still not convinced? Here is the ultimate evidence that the Giro is not as hard and fast start to finish: Cipollini makes it to the finish: Giro...Yes (sometimes), Tour de France...Never
As for the argument that "Simoni is great therefore he could challenge Lance Armstrong and/or win the Tour de France", it is pretty weak at best. Just because you are the best one at the Giro doesn't mean that you are therefore the ultimate rider. Past evidence doesn't support this idea. Usually (barring super champions like Merckx, Indurain, etc) the winners of the Giro or the Vuelta are top 5 or podium finishers at the Tour de France.
Sure they are great riders, but they are simply not the best. Examples:
1) Alex Zulle
The ultimate test of this theory will be when Casagrande shows up at the Tour this year. He will likely be top 10 with a podium finish being an outside possibility.
As for the Argument that "the good old days had Roche vs Delgado and close battles, etc", well keep this in mind: SOMEBODY has to win the race each year. If no rider is clearly better then any other, the race will be really close and one of them will win in the end.
Close races are fun to watch, but equally fun to watch is viewing a super champion demonstrate that he is head and shoulders above the rest and that he is, without a doubt, the best in the world. We will see this again in July.
Giro vs Tour #2
I agree with Spevacek and others that the Giro, thus far, has been better than recent Tour de France races. If Casagrande, Belli and Frigo could hit the mountains of the Tour de France in good form together, it might get interesting, however. They could take turns attacking Lance and surely he couldn't run them all down. But that would barely balance the many flat, boring mass sprint stages of the Tour. The Giro has provided several stages which encourage break-aways or daredevils in the closing kilometres. It has been much more interesting thus far.
The relation which Cyclingnews gave of the 2001 Montreal World Cup of June the 2nd was quite exact when you were talking about "Jeanson the Destroyer".
I just want to add my comments, since I was an eye witness of that race on Mont-Royal.
A few after race comments of some of the Saturn team members, whether in the local press or in electronic diary, would try to lead to the conclusion that if Genevieve Jeanson won the race with the incredible margin of seven minutes, it is mainly because the other riders were mostly concerned with the classification of the world cup rankings; the real thing is that no one in the field could match the power of miss Jeanson in the one kilometer climb and his determination on the flat portion of the course; when Jeanson attacked in the third climb (bridging the gap to her team mate Manon Jutras who herself did a great job after the junction for the rest of that lap), all the other riders, even the ones known for their climbing abilities, were literally asphyxiated when they reached the summit of the hill while the Rona rider was able to go on pushing hard (even though this decisive climb was done, I think, on the big gear by the skinny Quebecer!!!).
As a matter of fact I do not know of any riders with some pride deliberately choosing to be humiliated the way the participating athletes were in that race. When anyone is on a start line, it usually is with the win in mind or at least to do his best.
The demonstration Jeanson did cannot by no way be diminished by those fallacious arguments or any other mention of absent riders.
The naked truth is that Jeanson is the best feminine rider of the moment and that many strong male riders would fade out in her back wheel trying to keep the pace she is able to maintain in uphill sections of selective courses.
As every fan of competitive cycling, we really have to wish that the fruitful collaboration Jeanson/Aubut (her sometimes contested, but how much competent coach) will go on for many years, that Geneviève will be able to keep the passion and concentration on her goals... and of course, that the opposition will not give up too early ...and stop pretending that they did not race for first place for a reason or another.
I think Ullrich will be in form by the time the mountains come in the Tour. Many times in the last 15 years, the tour favourites have had their fitness questioned 6-8 weeks before the tour. In every case, the rider makes dramatic improvement and is in form or very close by the Tour. I wonder why the press seems to forget this each year. Ullrich will no doubt place at the top of an ITT a week or 10 days from the Tour and we'll be reading about how Ullrich finally seems to be on form for the Tour.
I remember following the Tour Dupont in 1990 and watching Greg Lemond finish two hours behind the pack on a couple of stages in mid May. He looked fatter than me and the press and I thought his tour hopes were over. I don't make that mistake anymore.
Having seen Ulrich's showing in the Giro so far, and given Pantani's absence is this years Tour de France shaping up to be a bit of a one-sided non event? How can Ulrich let himself get into this shape again with only 6 weeks to the Tour? Hopefully Casagrande will ride and have some sort of impact, and I would be surprised if Beloki did anything like last year, remember Zenon Jaskula in '93.
Ullrich doesn't appear to have a clue about how to prepare for le tour. Sleepwalking through the giro is probably the worst thing he could do mentally and physically to prepare. Riding monotonously daily in the giro eliminates the chance to do the intense long and short hill work and other sharpening work lance is no doubt doing as we speak. I think it's already too late for Ullrich, even if he dropped out of the giro today, to prepare adequately. Dropping out of the Vuelta last year and peaking for the one day criterium-like Olympic Road Race ain't going to work for the intensity he's going to encounter at the le Tour, particularly when L.A. drops the hammer on the first major climb.
Firstly, Ullrich was never to well BEFORE the Tour. Secondly, two third places on hilly stages aren´t that bad. What the thirteenth stage involves, Ullrich had bronchitis and the "grupetto" was not only made of Ullrich and the sprinters; it was the main-field. Thirdly: Can anybody remember how Lemond drove the Giro in the year of his second Tour-victory? What about this: Armstrong´s form grows too early, Ullrich´s too late and Casagrande wins the tour? Or else? Well, it's never finished till it's over. The Tour isn't even started yet. With five weeks to go, we have to wait ...
Excuse me? Your letter suggests that Olano had more to give and would have gone faster had he somehow known that Simoni and Frigo would have such fast rides. Olano knew that the TT was his only real chance to earn a spot on the podium. If he misses the podium, it's not because he didn't have splits of riders that started after him, but simply because he didn't go fast enough in the TT. If he could have gone faster and didn't, he's even less of a time trialer than if he gave it his all and still got "only" third. It's hard to think that he would be holding something back with essentially two rest days before the next stage of consequence.
Radios in time trials #2
I have to disagree to a large (but not complete) extent with Jay Gehrig. When I do a time trial, I pay attention to my heart rate monitor. From training, past experience in time trials, and a few years experience of "listening to my body," I know how hard I can go, how hard I need to go. I expect that for a world class cyclist, they are monumentally more aware of how hard they have to be going throughout the time trial to put in their best time. If your coach is telling you on your radio that rider X's split was 10 seconds faster than your split, that might motivate you to try to push a bit harder. So there is some advantage to starting later, if you are a really good time trialist. But it is not going to give one an "unfair advantage," nor an advantage that "allows a lesser time trialist to beat the better athlete frequently." Also, if one is going off earlier, one knows one has to push one's absolute limit because one does not know in advance what the later riders will do. So why wouldn't starting earlier give one an advantage? Can anyone say "Rik Verbruggen"?
Radios in time trials #3
I thought that time trials were the "race of truth". All of the major contenders should have been putting in a full effort regardless of the times posted by the other riders. The earpieces and radios aren't going to get anything more out of them. Would you try to go way beyond your limit in a TT just because your coach is giving you the time splits of other riders? No, you'd blow up and lose lots more time than if you'd kept things steady and right at the limit. If it were a case of a clearly stronger time trialist using the radio updates to minimize his efforts to win the stage/jersey I'd say you might have an argument (only doing what was necessary and no more). In this case, Frigo and Simoni simply rode a better race than Olano. They did their homework by studying and riding the course beforehand. Olano, as has been noted, didn't ride the course and wasn't familiar with it like Frigo and Simoni were. He screwed up and lost out because of it. Simple as that.
Radios in time trials #4
I don't think it matters if "radios" and "earphones" are used in TTs. Either the rider is getting the info in his "ear" or is having it shouted to him from his team manager. Also I would think that ALL of the top riders would know their standing minute to minute if they wanted, not just the leader. I agree that an "advantage" exists for the riders that start later, however this "advantage" of going off last in a TT was surely earned by the rider.
Finally in the Giro 2001 case. Given the placement of the TT - Stage 15, is it really that surprising that the top riders throughout the race finished in the top spots? Reminds me of the final TT in the '98 Tour with Ullrich, Julich and Pantani 1-2-3; the same riders who occupied the final podium. Clearly Simoni and Frigo confirmed their strength and look good for the final podium while Olano will have a serious fight to hold 3rd.
Also, I do agree that the "radios" are a hindrance to spontaneity in a road racing stage. Look no further than the Olympic Road Race in Sydney - Do you think Lance Armstrong and his U.S.A. team-mates would have paid more attention to Jan Ullrich if they knew that had to do it themselves instead of relying on a radio system that went bad?
While violence is not the solution in any case I also feel that Belli should not have been DQ'ed. A time penalty and/or a monetary fine I think would have been a solution. Bugno was never DQ'ed when he slammed his front wheel into that photographer's face when he got in his way during the Tour a few years ago, Zanoli was not kicked out of the Tour Du Pont when he punched the camera guy on the motor bike (he was though when he punched Davis Phinney in the face, which I do agree with being DQ'ed for that). The stress that the racers are going through climbing these mountains alone is enough to make you irrational. Throw in crazy fans that, in my opinion, made Belli lose contact with Simoni, that is going to make some people crack. Simoni was even swinging when some spectator tried to help push him up the hill, but I guess the actual contact is what made the difference in Belli's case.
Well, how about Freddy Maertens as a prolific race winner? This guy was incredible and Cipollini has in my view yet to achieve a comparable palmares. something other than stage victories would be a start - a few classics, a world championship or two would be a start...
Bjarne Riis once said that he did not like the shape of the new Campagnolo levers when they came in '98, and continued to use the old pointed shape. Cipo and Ullrich must think the same. All moving parts are as you suggest the latest and greatest though. As for the lanky young Millar's TT MBK, Campagnolo only this year introduced their current crank design in 177.5 and 180mm lengths. If you look at older pictures of Ullrich you'll see the old style cranks on his TT bike too.
Old equipment #2
The "sharp" levers on Cipo and Ullrich`s Ergopower shifters are just the same as all the other guys are riding, but two of the biggest stars just liked the shape of the old Ergopower and Campy made them the carbon shifters with the old shape.
Morten D. Norway
Old equipment #3
It seems that Cipo and Ullrich prefer the old-style lever bodies to the new ones, as they suit larger hands a bit better. Personally, I wish they would produce them both ways.
Also, Millar is very tall and prefers longer crank lengths. Campagnolo began producing 177.5 and 180mm lengths again this year after 5 or 6 years of only producing lengths to 175mm. Therefore, riders who were sponsored by them and wanted longer cranks had to use the old model. You will also see these cranks on Julich's (when he rode for Cofidis) and Olano's bikes.
If you go to Alpe D'Huez, and you want to ride up the hill before the race, be aware that the Gendarmerie will close the road completely a good two hours before the convoy is expected.
I was there in 1991, the year that LeMond cracked (Yes!) and I left my wife on bend No. 9 as I rode up to the top. On my way back down I was prevented from descending any further by a local cop. After 30 minutes of increasing concern about the missus, seeing as I had all the food and all the drink, I decided to walk; dodging the cops as I went.
I had only gone 75 yards when I came across my wife, dozing in the shade provided by one of the few trees at this altitude, blissfully unaware of my worries for her health. 21/2 hours later, in 35 degree+ heat, she had a better understanding of the situation....
You will be on the mountain a very long time so the moral is, be prepared; both for extreme conditions and for one of the greatest sporting spectacles on earth. I still remember Bugno leading a world class break up that hill at impossible speed.
There are two other things to look out for: the mad dash back to Bourg D'oisans the moment the broom wagon has passed by - thousands of cyclists, walkers etc rush down the mountain in scenes reminiscent of the middle eastern market scenes in Indiana Jones. They all have one aim in mind: to reach a cafe bar in time to see the stage finish on TV.
And don't miss out on the fantastic multi-national chaingang back down the road towards Grenoble - all on a slightly downhill gradient (except when you ride up it, when it begins to feel tough), and therefore run off at 28mph +.
Its a very entertaining day out - enjoy!
I found a couple reasons to shave 'em for the off-road. When tics ambush from the trailside I think they use leg hair like Errol Flynn. Dive from the bush, grab the hair and swing onto tasty flesh. There does seem to be an inverse relationship with poison ivy though. Much less poison ivy with leg hair (parasites or blistered flesh...take your pick). I learned another good reason to shave the legs when I raced a course with a couple creek crossings per lap. The distance between the creeks was just enough for the mud on my legs to dry and constrict so I had an entirely new type of pain to deal with during the race...leg hair being yanked out one at a time as I pedalled. Now I live in a dry area with no mud and no tics so the hair stays where it is.
John -- Don't stop writing. I am so pumped every time I read your articles. I am JAG living in Europe and even got a racing license (just in case) because of this glorious insanity about biking and racing as reported by you. Keep up the good work. And to the staff of Cyclingnews, thanks for finding this gem of a guy. Give the man a promotion and a steady job after he retires.
Mareneo G. Santos, Capt, USAF
The last month's letters