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Letters to Cyclingnews June 13, 2001
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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.
Drugs & the Giro: for the sake of the future
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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:  other sports are even worse; and  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
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.
The evidence is indeed that they were using new and therefore undetectable agents -- Ed
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'.....
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.
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.
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
Radios in time trials #2Your 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.
Radios in time trials #3I 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.
Radios in time trials #4I 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.
Martin Riis Rasmussen
The last month's letters