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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.

Please email your correspondence to letters@cyclingnews.com.

Recent letters — part 2

The second section of today's mailbag mostly concerns the Giro and drug use, with some particularly poignant laments for the fall from grace of Dario Frigo.

John Stevenson
Letters editor

Part one

Drugs & the Giro: for the sake of the future
Drugs & the Giro: responsibility
Drugs & the Giro: what about the previous tests?
Drugs & the Giro: it's not the police who do harm
Drugs & the Giro: applause for the police
Drugs & the Giro: Darwin's lesson
Drugs & the Giro: levelling the field
Drugs & the Giro: protect the athletes
Drugs & the Giro: statistics & truth
Drugs & the Giro: what if nothing's found?
Drugs & the Giro: Frigo
Drugs & the Giro: liberty?
Drugs & the Giro: Frigo
Drugs & the Giro: more than just riders are hurt
Drugs & the Giro: stop wimping, get tough
Drugs & the Giro: a great Giro gone bad
Giro vs Tour
Ullrich
Tour de France '01
Radios in time trials
ONCE on Klein?

Drugs & the Giro: for the sake of the future

In the light of what just has happened to the Giro, I would like to make a few comments as a race fan. First of all, how can parents send their children to a bicycle club, knowing they probably will get in contact with substances that not only are illegal, but also tamper with their health? No doubt that the sport has to be cleaned up. And in that aspect I do not care about the riders today, but the riders of the future. Those who get caught today should be punished. They are cheating, and they lack the responsibility for themselves and the environment they live and work in. Just as in all other workplaces, people must ensure and improve the quality of their environment for the better of the next generation.

Those who argue that other sports have even greater drug problems, should know it does not allow to be blind-eyed or not to take action. It is simply not a good argument! Others say why not legalize the banned substances and let the clean guys compete in a minor league? Because doping is cheating, and people will cheat in the minor league too in their eagerness to improve and succeed. And the fundamental problem of how can we send our children to a bicycle club with a clean conscience and without worrying for their health still exists and is very real.

Studies show that sportsmen are willing not only to risk their health for money and fame, but to risk their lives. Sadly, initiatives to straighten out the sport will never come from the riders. As a former lousy amateur, every race day week-end I noticed the thrown-away medicine-packages along the roadside of the course. Even the nobodies would do it. The sport depends on a strong leadership. They are the ones to lead the way. Banning substances, testing and punish is the right way. Along with information to the riders and educating leaders.

Of course, raiding a hotel hours before a main event is not the way to bring it in effect. Riders should not feel criminalized. But it is possible to integrate a doping policy in cycling with the riders' approval imposing a set of rules that considers the rider too. And also a very effective one. Here the sport needs dialogue. And yes, there will always be cheats. Make sure they live in fear to get caught!

Michael Střrzer,
Cap d'ail, France.
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: responsibility

Testing, controls, politics and legislation all contain special interests counter to equality in sports participation. Cheating in sports will stop only when individual athletes say no and report an offending influence to authorities. An organization of participants has the ability and desire to level a playing field. The special interests of fans, sponsors, support crew and suppliers are harmful to true competition. Quite simply, only competitors want an equality to compete.

Manasotamo
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: what about the previous tests?

I got to thinking: if Frigo was not busted for the his substance use until the raid, then what are we to make of all the testing he had undergone both during the Giro and in the other races leading up to it? Why was it not caught by those tests? Makes me wonder about how effective they are, and about the claims that riders are clean because they test clean. I almost wonder if we will not see an "Olympic village" style arrangement in future tours, with all riders being subject to search as a matter of routine and staying in very controlled environments. I'm not advocating it, just wondering what it will take. I think we may see the first real sponsorship backlash soon. I recall that one of CSC's execs was rather steamed about Hamburger's positive. Until the money doesn't follow the dope there will be dope, and until the raids stop turning up so many drugs there will be raids. Police are like the riders they search, they engage in the behaviour that gets them results.

Karl Etzel
AOL
Saturday, June 9

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Drugs & the Giro: it's not the police who do harm

As every cycling fan, I would have liked to see a mountains stage on TV instead of police. But, I'm sorry, it is not the police who destroys cycling's image. People like Hervé, Forconi (remember: he was already excluded from the Giro 1998 for a too high haematocrit level) are doing that work, and I have a particular thought for Marco Pantani. He is condemned by Italian justice, he didn't prove to be at his pre-1999 level, he suspects Simoni because of his time trial (and what about the last time trial of the Giro 1998?), and then he decides to retire. And, surprise, who do I see speaking up loudly in the rider's reunion on my TV? Pantani! Who entitled this guy to decide with the other riders over the continuation of a race of which he has already retired? I do not like Jean-Marie Leblanc very much, but he was right on one thing: Pantani does not deserve a place in the Tour.

Niels Lachmann
Luxembourg
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: applause for the police

Let's face it, cycling has gotten a bad drug reputation because it deserves it. Why choose that particular point to spring the raids? Because that was just before the hardest stage and it was the stage that most riders dreaded and the stage where most of the riders who do take dope were drugging themselves to the eyeballs.

We can all understand why riders would reach out for something to get them over the next hill, but we also need to slap that inclination down as harshly as possible now that so many years have gone by with everyone looking the other way. We must not pretend that the problem doesn't exist.

Surely it takes something as outrageous as destroying one year of Italy's greatest bicycle race to make a lasting impression on the sport. Apparently riders were beginning to think that they were safe again even after the shock of the Tour de France raids. Now it is time to take severe legal actions against riders guilty of drug violations. I doubt that any teams are involved any longer but should they too be involved severe legal actions in those cases would be more than indicated.

Does anyone suggest that a drugged rider isn't trying to steal a win from a clean rider? We cannot allow such perversity to continue and maintain a sport that is anything above Professional Wrestling.

I applaud the Italian authorities on their timely actions. I applaud the actions of the few who wish to make the sport better not only for the fans but mostly for the riders who might suffer far fewer health related problems without the extra loads on their bodies of powerful and harsh drugs.

It is time to support those authorities who finally deem it necessary to take actions. No matter how late it may be, it is still not too late.

Tom Kunich
CA USA
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: Darwin's lesson

When we actually permit a rider to endorse the products that his doctor gives him we will be looking at a global sport. Imagine the sponsorship from the pharmaceutical industry! We are missing a great opportunity. The riders should be taking more drugs, not less. I take loads of recreational drugs because they are better than alcohol. The riders are doing the same in their field. All you moralists, keep your sanctimonious piety out of the Grand Tours. Grand Tours are by their nature designed to be laboratories for abuse because they are way too brutal. Would you deny a person being tortured pointlessly pain relief?

If you cannot accept the fundamental impulse to win, then go and join some hippie commune. These athletes have doctors giving them drugs, while millions procure dodgy narcotics and unsupervised mayhem every day across the globe. Get real: I want some of what they take so I can ride my low category weekend race and not feel drained for work on Monday morning. Natural selection will always outwit, out-invest, out- incentivise, out-glamorise and out-manoeuvre the clumsy, dim-witted law. That's what we want, an open and level playing field. The more regulation, the more cheating is rewarded. So guys, tell me what I should take and where do I get it?

Mark Normal
Hove, East Sussex, UK
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: levelling the field

I have been reading through the list of letters regarding the events in Italy. One of the writers mentioned something about the schism between the "European" (the writer's term) and those from across the pond regarding the raid. The belief by many Americans (which I totally disagree with) is that we are free to do anything to ourselves based on some set of individual freedoms. This loses sight of what is sport and the fundamental tenet of competition. I think this view is very common for us. Americans have always espoused the principle of fairness while living a schizophrenic reality - for example the justifications necessarily made as we practiced genocide of the Indian and the evils of slavery.

A fundamental question has to be maintained as we go through this episode. What is appropriate to at least make an attempt at developing a level playing field? The UCI appears to be doing more than almost any other sport's governing body. The efficacy of their actions will be a matter now to be evaluated. I guess cycling must be forced to deal with this sooner than all other sports. One of the other letter writers questioned the reality of a 300lb (140kg) human running amazingly fast. The scrutiny in the States is much easier to focus on sports besides our big 3 (American tackle football, basketball, baseball). I think this stems with a naively held notion that such things as American football lineman are genetically possible. The reality is that we have always cracked down on a few examples that we could pin drug abuse on in order to say that we are keeping performance enhancing drugs out of sport. It seems to pacify the crowd while letting a myth be perpetuated.

Cynicism is an easy by-product of episodes such as this. It becomes easy to say that everyone is doing it thus taking drugs somehow becomes appropriate. This justification also follows right along with some overriding sense about the right of the individual that Americans use to justify a lot of actions. However, it still does not make it sport in the ideal sense.

Rance Shields
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States
Friday, June 8

Drugs & the Giro: protect the athletes

Mr. Keith Burgess-Jackson wrote: "Can I ask a simple question? Why are there any restrictions at all on what substances an athlete can ingest?"

If the athletes make use of any substances of their own accord, it is enough for them to take responsibility by themselves. The problem is that the pressure from sponsors and managers may 'force' the athletes to take any substances. So I think the restriction of drugs must be maintained and reinforced than now to protect athletes.

Atsushi Yago
Japan
Saturday, June 9

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Drugs & the Giro: statistics & truth

In all the Italian newspapers there are huge headlines about 'substances' being removed from hotels etc. blah, blah, etc. In one article in the Gazetta della Sport it did mention something forgotten by everyone else.

According to the chief of police in the raids, riders from only three teams had anything suspicious in their possession, another had something possibly suspicious (?), the rest were fine - 'clean' if you like.

But this is of no interest to the press, being the truth.

To some extent Cyclingnews is contributing to the misinformation by neglecting to mention these facts, which is a shame.

Cycling is being continually punished for past crimes, while other sports are happily continuing their crimes. Ice-skating's 54% limit for hematocrit for example. In setting a level this high they are guaranteeing that they wont get positive tests, so no bad press.

Adam Wild
UK
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: what if nothing's found?

Can you imagine the fury of the sponsors over the police raid if they FIND NO DRUGS? For the moment it would seem that their were some less than honest racing teams and anything they were trying to hide will be exposed. That's fine.

But what if they raid the Tour de France in six weeks, right before a major alpine stage, and find nothing? Racers will not have the rest they need in order to compete; the stage is cancelled much to the dismay of the adoring fans and paying sponsors. Then what? Will the police reimburse the racers their salary for the day? Will they reimburse the sponsors that paid all that money for the TV and print coverage of their racing team? Will they reimburse all of the spectators for their efforts to view the race? Until a third party is willing to do all of that, disruptions to the race should only come from officially sanctioned governing bodies.

This type of behaviour by authorities not associated with professional bicycling cannot be allowed to continue for the betterment of the sport.

Seth R. Hayse
RSM, California
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: Frigo

I'm absolutely shattered. Anybody still doubting if the razzia was justified, here's your answer. Now this Giro is totally marginalized. Frigo (Paris-Nice!), a high-profile rider and someone who had my utmost respect, starting the season very soon and doing great and still in top form in the Giro: finally someone who doesn't focus on either Giro/Tour and actually rides a season together. And it's him that's being exposed. It's a sad day for cycling, again. I'll have a couple of drinks tonight, that I can assure you.

Antoni Vanloffelt
Belgium
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: liberty?

"If you don't have the right to put in your body what you want to put in your body, what right do you have?" asks my compatriot Russell C. Dutnell in a letter regarding the Giro raids.

Keith Burgess-Jackson adds, "Those who don't want to watch... medically enhanced athletes compete should find (and support) another sport."

Dutnell's comment misses the point. This isn't about personal liberty. The first rule of any sport is that you comply with the rules. You don't get a fourth strike in baseball just because you frequently strike out. Cycling has clear rules that prohibit performance-enhancing drugs - athletes who choose to participate in the sport know that up front. If they'd prefer to use EPO than race, that's fine (though I don't see the point).

As for the argument that cycling ought to permit performance-enhancing drugs -- if that's what the governing bodies (i.e. UCI or national federations) decide to do, I will stop watching and participating in the sport, and I certainly wouldn't direct my children to pursue it. In the mean time, I'll fight like hell to keep my sport focused on athletes, not pharmacists.

One needn't be an idealist to take inspiration from an honest effort, the attempt to surpass what had once been a physical limit through one's own determination and hard work. On the other hand, only a cynic could appreciate a "sport" that comes down to a contest of whose drugs are more effective on a given day (Frigo in the TT?).

Cop-outs that don't merit a rebuttal: [1] other sports are even worse; and [2] if some cyclists dope, then they all need to dope.

The day that such raids turn up no banned substances is the day I expect the NAS and the gendarmes to back off. Until then, cycling is no better than professional wrestling: duping the public into believing it's a sport and not just entertainment.

J. E. Beaudoin
Portland, Maine, USA
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: Frigo

Can someone please shed some light on Frigo, being ejected from the Giro. Please answer me this. How can a rider such as Frigo, who has won big races, and generally kicked a lot of tail all this season, compete on illegal substances and never show up positive in his drug test. Surely, he was drug tested at Paris-Nice where he won, and other contest were he won or finished near the front, which was many races.

Is he using illegal substances, or just carrying them around with him, and leave them laying about his hotel room for the Police to find. Now I am certainly not naive, and know some rider beat haematocrit testing, by saline IV flushes, which is now useless with the new EPO test. Can someone please clear up my misgivings. Are these guys using drugs that do not register on drug test or what? This situation is certainly baffling, and an answer to my questions would be appreciated.
,
Vert Hallahan
LaGrange, Ky USA
Friday, June 8

The evidence is indeed that they were using new and therefore undetectable agents -- Ed

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Drugs & the Giro: more than just riders are hurt

This is in response to Keith Burgess-Jackson saying that athletes should be able to take any drugs they want is just plain stupid. And they will hurt more than just themselves. If a rider is winning races on drugs and another rider is clean and not winning, guess who is going to get the big contract and more money. That hurts the possible future in the sport for the clean rider. Say the drugged rider has a wife and kids and overdoses and dies. He has now devastated their lives, again effecting more than just himself. Or what if the rider gets busted and the sponsor pulls out of the sport and the team has to fold, now he has effected the lives of all the people associated with this team (riders, mechanics, soigneurs, etc.). Plus, people do not have a moral right to take drugs. Because in my opinion, people who think taking drugs, performance enhancing or recreational, are lacking morals all together. Dario Frigo may have been a winner on the bike, but now, in my eyes, he is a loser. I know it is a reality that some people are always going to find a way to cheat, but it is to bad that they have such low self-esteem and believe that they can't do it clean.

Paul Rhodes
USA
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: stop wimping, get tough

I am stunned and amazed at people who think drug taking in sports should be allowed. It makes my blood boil.

Taking a performance enhancing drug is a close approximation to cheating - do these people think that cheating is acceptable? In my mind those who are 'pro' taking drugs are implying that cheating is acceptable. I feel lucky to have brought up with better values than that.

What about the long term effects on the persons health? How about the effect on amateurs, juniors? People who's role models are the ones taking drugs.

Cycling is up for a hard knock ­ AGAIN. It's obviously not moved on from Tour '98.

Its seems to me that sports need to work harder than ever to fix this:

1. More money must be spent of drug detection - in the area of erroneous diagnosis and gene therapy.

2. Commitment from the Olympic Committee and governments from around the world must be greater.

3. More Information is required on the effects of racing/training on the human body. What are acceptable changes in the physical make up of a human through training?

4. Longitudinal blood/urine/hair tests to show differences over time periods of competing Athletes.

5. Corrupt Bureaucrats removed from positions of power. eg. Doctors supplying banned substances AND performing Drug Tests?

6. If an athlete is found guilty through an A & B sample - ( put simple 'be tough'. )

6.1 Banned from Sport for Life - ANY sport!

6.2 Olympic Committee to keep a database of athletes who are banned to be used in cross referencing.

6.3 Help given from governing body to help with future life.

7. Laws passed in every country to back step 6.

By saying 'Let them take drugs' is like giving in - I think these people must be the sort who get off and push their bikes on a tough climb...pah.. Put the respect back into the word 'Sport'.....

Richard Hill
Friday, June 8

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Drugs & the Giro: a great Giro gone bad

For the past 2 1/2 weeks, the Giro D'Italia was bringing as good a race as I have seen. Despite Francesco Casagrande being forced to retire from the race, Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani's problems early, and defending champion Stefano Garzelli falling out of contention in the first mountain stage - there was still plenty to be excited about in the Giro. The makings of a great duel was in the works between Gilberto Simoni and Dario Frigo. Frigo had done an excellent job at defending the maglia rosa and when Simoni took the jersey from Frigo, Frigo never quit - he showed everything he had. Only a superb performance by Simoni in the time trial kept Frigo from taking the jersey back.

I felt Frigo was the story of those first 2 1/2 weeks. He was an amazing leader and several times he was called to action to protect that lead. In these 2 weeks, I became a Frigo fan. His style excited me. However when I heard the news of Frigo being removed from the race because of the drugs, it sent a chill in me. The air completely went out of my tires. Frigo was once again the story of the race - but now the story of the race's undoing. I felt cheated. This great duel was gone - but it never existed, because it was a mirage. Frigo cheated the fans of as good a Giro as we have seen. Now the only question is not whether Gilberto Simoni can hold off Abraham Olano, but whether or not this race can finish cleanly.

Frigo most likely faces suspension, but it won't matter, his career is probably over. I find it amazing that these cyclists who are suspended for drug use/possesion never come back to the high level of performance we were used to before the suspension. Take a look at Gert-Jan Theunisse, Richard Virenque, and Marco Pantani. What has Marco Pantani done since the suspension and layoff?

Cycling was just beginning to rebound from the dark events of the '98 Tour and the '99 Giro. The sport I love took not just a step backwards, but a leap backwards. It will be interesting to see how the Tour de France deals with. Even more so, Lance Armstrong, in addition to burdening the responsibility of being the defending champion will shoulder the load of the cycling world to save the sport.

William Cooper
Lawrenceville, NJ, USA
Friday, June 8

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Giro vs Tour

The days of Eddy Merckx winning 45 per cent of all races he enters are over. He could have been, not "the Babe Ruth of cycling", but "the Tiger Woods of cycling". Miguel Indurain won five Tours, a couple of Giros, the odd Vuelta, a couple of Paris-Nice, but precious little else. Does this lessen his importance because the Spring Classics were not a focus? No. The season is too long and cyclists are designing their training schedules to peak for specific events. The cynosure of this generation was Greg LeMond, whose recovery from the hunting accident led to this specific season-long focus of the Tour as the one goal. Another possible factor for this specific goal is the realities of the US media. Remember that when he won the worlds in 1983 there was not a single account of this groundbreaking event in any mainstream American magazine or nationwide TV news coverage. To attract attention in the U.S. the Tour is all that matters. Andy Hampsten's epic victory in the Giro in 1988 was virtually ignored.

There are historical reasons the Tour de France is more important than the Giro d'Italia. The organizers of the Giro have preferred sprint finishes over mountain top duels, Italian winners vs strong foreign champions and occasionally cancelling a stage to let the local favourite beat a deserving champion (Moser vs Fignon) The parcours of the Giro has been uneven in many years, not rigorous enough to determine the absolute strongest. Most champions choose the Tour over the Giro to focus on simply because the race allows the most well rounded and the fittest to persevere, being hard enough to expose all weaknesses, even those of the eventual victor.

Scot Montague
Dallas, TX
Saturday, June 9

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Ullrich

Jan is only using the Giro as a training exercise to prepare himself for the Tour. Last year his main focus was the Olympics and we saw what he did there so you'll have to take your words back when he puts on the yellow jersey. He will get up for it.

Bruce Carter
New Zealand
Sunday, June 10

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Tour de France '01

In 1999, I camped out on the grass around the Alpe d' Huez ski station. There was a small store, showers, bathrooms, restaurants and plenty of other people camping out there too. In the morning I took a short walk to my spot on the Alpe. All day we saw many recreational bicyclists taking on the mountain. Towards the end of the day, one older gentle man who looked to be in his 70s rode the Alpe on a fixed gear vintage 1940.

If you ever get a chance, go to the Alpe d' Huez climb. Not only is it a great chance to see some excellent bicycle racing, it is also a chance to cheer on the cyclists with people from around the world who come to the mountain for this one special day. I was especially lucky, as I was waving my American flag the Postal team car behind the 'autobus' drove right up to me and handed me a Postal hat. I will remember my day on the Alpe as one of the best days of my life

Douglas A Duguay
USA
Friday, June 8

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Radios in time trials #1

I must respectfully differ with Jay's assertion that knowing one's competitors' split times makes all the difference in winning or losing an ITT. In both cases cited (Simoni vs Frigo and Armstrong vs Ullrich) the contest occurred at a time when the riders had little reason to hold anything back (day before a rest day in the Giro; last significant stage in the '00 Tour) or meter out their effort, and every reason to ride the fastest time they possibly could. Each rider has the most critical piece of electronics not in his ear but strapped to his handlebar: the heart rate monitor. Each of these guys (especially Armstrong) knows to within one or two beats/minute how hard he can go for how long. IMHO, Simoni knew what was at stake, was on form, and rode the ITT of his career. Even without a radio, he would have clearly understood that Frigo was the faster time trialist, that the race lead was in jeopardy, and that he (Simoni) had to ride the best ITT of his life if he was to keep the Maglia Rosa.

Alex Parker
Natick, MA
Friday, June 8

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Radios in time trials #2

Your memory has failed you since Lance Armstrong's margin of victory in 2000 was more like 29 vs. 9 seconds, which is substantial. While the tour organizers provided only 2 time checks, US Postal used Tyler Hamilton as a rabbit, providing time checks every three kilometers. Did Telekom have a team mate for Ullrich as talented as Hamilton to provide such valuable information? No, and that is why that day was a success for US Postal.

Scot Montague
Dallas, TX, USA
Saturday, June 9

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Radios in time trials #3

I thought I heard on the TV that Olano admitted after the Time Trial that he really did not know the course very well. Simoni on the other hand had apparently studied the course in detail, had the route relayed to him as he progressed, and as the TV pictures showed, rode the difficult course very well. This was a tough course, with lots of turns and short hills, and not necessarily one that Olano would be the best suited for. I also noticed that Olano started the time trial with an aero helmet on, but finished without it. Nothing was made of this, but it kind of suggests that he threw in the towel at some point.

Bill Armstrong
NYC, USA
Friday, June 8

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Radios in time trials #4

I agree, toss the earphones, but do you propose they change the start order for a TT too? As Jeff said, the leaders will still get some information about splits, and so on. If Olano wants the advantage, I guess he should maybe just have ridden faster so he is leading the race. Maybe knowing the times of the previous riders is a perk the leader gets for working his butt off to be in the lead in the first place?

Jerry Plagge, Jr.
USA
Friday, June 8

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ONCE on Klein?

Some years ago Melchor Mauri also used KLEIN in the vuelta. A white one. But it was many years ago when Jalabert won it. It is a perfect bike, and our team "Team Glud & Marstrand" (UCI TT3 team) are using them, but why have they changed the back so it is like a track-bike. It is slow in the races when you have a defect.

Martin Riis Rasmussen
Denmark
Saturday, June 9

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The last month's letters

  • June 13 - Part one: Drugs & the Giro, Belli, Ullrich, radio TT, Giro vs Tour
  • June 7 – Special Giro raid edition
  • June 6 – Simoni, Belli, Ullrich, 'Massacre à la chain', radio TT, Giro vs Tour, back surgery
  • May 31 – Back surgery, Cipo, Tour vs Giro, TV coverage
  • May 29 – Telekom tactics, Back surgery, Cipo, the Tour, Shaving, Giro, Mroz kit
  • May 22 – Genevieve Jeanson, Scott Sunderland, Shaving, Tour selections, Euskaltel kit wanted
  • May 15 – Genevieve Jeanson, Shaving, The ultimate fixie, Tour wildcard reactions
  • May 9 – Tour wildcard reactions, part one; part two
  • May 3 – Tour wildcard reactions
  • May 1 – Tour de France: CSC & Pantani wildcards, Domo's P–R victory, Hincapie, Postal's ambitions, Australian TV, ONCE on Klein?
  • Letters Index - The complete index to every letters page on cyclingnews.com