Letters to Cyclingnews - March 30, 2001
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Criticism of Michele Bartoli's web site last time brought letters from John Phelan, who is surprised at the self-centeredness in cycling; Robert Thompson, who points out that great athletes are rarely humble and self-effacing, and Daniel McMahon, who thinks out that Bartoli's self-aggrandisement is actually pretty entertaining. Good points from all sides of the subject.
In our long-running discussion of the nature of sport, Winston Chow explains that chess produces physical stress as a result of the mental pressure on competitors. I'm beginning to suspect that the definition I jokingly proposed a few weeks ago ("Sport is anything its practitioners claim is a sport") would make life a lot easier. Douglas Reynolds points out that cycling is very easy to get started, golf requires specific skills, so the notion suggested last time that 'sport is hard' doesn't necessarily hold up.
The spread of Foot and Mouth Disease to Ireland concerns two of our correspondents today. Peter Ashely is puzzled that the organisers of the FDB Milk Ras have banned riders from affected countries, while Christopher Vogl wonders if anyone knows what general restrictions are being placed on cycling. We suspect the Milk Ras organisers (as well as the governments of affected countries and their farming industries) are simply being super-cautious. Foot and mouth may have reached Ireland but it's by no means widespread, as the map here (http://www.ireland.com/special/foot-and-mouth/) shows. If the race stays out of affected areas (and it will probably be legally obliged to) then the greater risk is that competitors and team cars from infected countries will spread the virus to new areas in Ireland.
The topic of the status of women's cycling and pay and prize money in the female half of our sport continues to be discussed to and fro. Brad Shuford is the husband of a pro racer and has some observations from very close at hand about the life of a female pro, while V Huffman has some suggestions as to how things might be improved.
We were asked a couple of weeks ago about the availability of Willy Voet's book 'Chain Massacre' about the Festina scandal. Bernard Slater sheds a little light on the situation, and according to a recent article in the Guardian, the translated version is imminent
Finally, from the 'Doh!' Department, Andrew Turnbull reminded us that crashed riders weren't allocated the same time as their group in Milan-San Remo because that rule only applies to stage races, and C Lefevbre sent us a very brief letter saying the same thing. Of course, yeah, we knew that, er, mumble…
Jeff Tabor has made a good point. Cycling can be a very self-centered sport but maybe that's part of its culture, "c'est comme ca". I came to cycling late (mid 30's) and now regularly race at club level and absolutely love it. When I started, I was surprised at the complete absence of any sense of "club spirit". Only individual performances were measured, there was no reckoning of the team's performance at open carnivals. This was strange to me, as the sports that I had been involved in before acknowledged individuals with respect to the contribution that they made to the team.
My view is that the prize money given out at local carnivals distorts young (and older) riders' view of why they are competing in this sport. A friend of mine recently made a return to racing after 15 years. I suppose that you would say he is a rider from the "old school" (he's 40). He borrowed my club jersey and proudly represented his club. He won a few races in the vets division at our local carnival and surprised a few people. Riders asked him, "How much did you win?" He replied "I don't know and I don't care. I didn't race for money, I raced to do my best." This is the sort of bloke who is a role model for our sport.
Bartoli's site #2
Pro cyclists, like most other pro athletes, are not the most down-to-earth, humble people you'll find. Sorry to burst the bubble, but even Lance is not the coolest guy in the world, but he shouldn't be. It takes a certain type of obsessed, ego-driven weirdo to achieve those incredible acts of competitive suffering. I expect nothing less of these incredible athletes, and I am thankful for their drive and self absorbedness; it makes cycling (and sport) exciting. I found Bartoli's site to be informative, very personal and open, he seems to be making quite a big gesture to keep his fans informed with his site.
As far as I know there are rules as to what a web site should and should not aim to do. Surely most if not all of us are aware of Bartoli's flamboyance and vainglorious persona as "Road Warrior"; but I hardly think that his attitude detracts from his exciting racing or his web site. In fact, his site is entertaining and offers a look at the life and career of a brilliant rider. I'd even speculate that Bartoli himself would admit to playing up his ego for media and fans alike. I'd say he gets a kick out of it too. In a way, he presents himself in the same tradition as Cipollini: gutsy, vain, successful. But is that not the way Lance presents himself too? All the macho posturing can be fun if you see it as a kind of comic relief to the very serious, demanding life such athletes lead. As to the comparison between Bartoli's and Armstrong's sites, it seems that Armstrong's site--like his whole career these days--has been Americanized: It's a money-maker, swarming with ads. Whereas Bartoli's comes off as personal, Armstrong's seems all too corporate. (A look at his "links" page says it all.)
Mr De Cort is absolutely spot on with his opinion that "cycling is so bloody hard that it must be a sport," but I have to disagree with his and the letters editor's opinion that "chess isn't a sport because the skills it requires are mental, not physical."
Well, I've been playing competitive tournament chess for the past 11 years (longer than I have been cycling!) and believe me when I say that at the highest level of chess, there is quite a bit of physical stress. Players have been known to lose considerable amounts of weight during tournaments of long duration mainly due to the effects of the mental workout - and world champions past and present have realized the importance of having a fit body to excel in this "game". The state of the mind is inextricably linked to the state of the body, is it not?
If memory serves, I believe that Vishy Anand, the current FIDE World Champion, used to cycle for about an hour a day during his physical workouts for his preparations for the month-long World Championship. He was fit (and smart) enough to last the distance and win.
So is chess, like cycling, a sport? Yes it bloody is!
It's nice to see that Francis De Cort has it all so simply wrapped up. And I thought this kind of obviousness only belonged in the Southern US. However, I would add one argument to his definition of sport: any dolt can get on a bike and pedal around the block or city without a lesson, but can any dolt finish 18 holes of golf on a championship course without any instruction?
I've just read the report about the organisers of the FBD Milk Ras not allowing competitors from affected countries to race. Isn't this a bit of an illogical step considering that the Irish Republic is already infected? Wouldn't it make more sense to stop competitors from uninfected countries from racing, to remove the risk of them carrying the disease back to their own country rather than stopping those people from infected countries as these riders can't bring the disease with them (as it's already in Ireland) or take it back to their own country (as it's already in England, Scotland, The Netherlands etc). Wouldn't it be more sensible to remove the risk of the disease spreading to uninfected countries than worrying about riders from countries where the disease has already spread?
Peter D Ashley
A friend of mine will be co-leading a trip to Ireland in July for approximately 25 cyclists. Does anyone out there know how the foot-and-mouth disease restrictions may affect such cycling trips?
Christopher J. Vogl
I think it is funny that the letters on women's cycling are from men, not women. Being the husband of a "professional" woman cyclist I would love to see more money in the sport for women. The realistic way to look at it is that there are fewer women that get into the sport and even fewer men to support and nurture any women with potential to maintain their training and dedication to be competitive at a professional level. If they do make that decision they usually find out that a salary is almost unheard of, healthcare is provided by the ambulance at the race site and if you don't have insurance, USCF's insurance will have to do.
I was almost dumbfounded when I found out that the husband of one of my wife's team-mates had just taken a position with a very good road team but had to have a physical before he could race! My wife had been racing for months on good ole youth, never any info about how to take care of yourself or what kind of healthcare coverage to have. If she was to pay for insurance from her salary as well as coaching, she might as well have been an indentured servant.
Many women come from other sports from all levels and programs. Women from a great program know how athletes are treated, many others don't. The story is the same there, men do the sports on a larger scale and a number of coaches trickle down and coach the women like men, but women are getting all the "perks" with no salary to make the "perks" worthwhile.
Big deal you get to keep a bike that has been ridden harder than 85 per cent of the bikes out there and thanks for the smelly helmet that has been crashed a few times with 15 stickers on it, I am sure it will hold up. That is all nice but when you can't even afford to call home and tell your mom happy birthday because you are dead broke that is sad.
I think every woman racer would love some real cash or some real care for their health and welfare. I know I would like to know my wife will be safe on her own out there on the road for weeks at a time. The demands on the women are the same as men, even if the races are shorter or less hard, the women are still at all the same races week after week. I personally think sponsors should be more willing to sponsor women because they get great value for money for the same type of marketing.
There is no question women are equal to men. I have been racing road and track bikes for the past eight years. I have also seen women come and go in the sport over these years. Why? Maybe if there was more promotion of women in the sport, along with development we would see more women stay around.
There is a women' s only event here in NYC. The race is heavily attended by women of all categories. I would venture to say this is due in part to very good promotion of the race along with a very encouraging price list for all categories. Most of the races on the road locally have one women's field, which is often mixed in with a men's race. While a male racer may have up to three different races to choose from, a woman often has just one race, mixed with some of the strongest male racers, the master's race.
One possible solution may be to make the entry run parallel to the prize money. One third of the entry fee when prize money is one third of the prize money available to women.
Secondly, separate category races for women. I have seen very successful series here in the Northeast. Some of the cat. 4 series races have upwards of 40 women.
Some of the burden is then left up to the promoters. If promoters would not schedule races in the same area on the same day the attendance would than be much greater than it is. Many promoters in NYC no longer advertise a women's event at all because of prior turnouts. This I find extremely discouraging for the sport. Solution: advertise and promote women races at these events. The flyer could always read in small print "Minimum field limit of N or race will be canceled or combined with another field."
I 'm sure on some level this is sex-based discrimination and after all this is the new millennium. Equal pay would be great , although any battle worth fighting may take many small steps before the battle is won.
I have had Willy Voet's book (translated by Will Fotheringham) on order for seven months with Amazon. Latest I have is publication in April 2001. But I doubt it, as Les Woodland in Procycling says the book won't be published in English for libel reasons. If anyone has any further info, please let me know.
Joris Verstappen wrote: "What happened to the rule that any rider involved in a crash in the last kilometre is classified in the same time as the first rider of the group he was in before the crash happened?"
Surely this rule only applies in stage races where time counts for something?
In a one-day classic, placings are all that count - therefore giving someone who crashed inside the final kilometer the same time would be meaningless.
Cheers, Andrew Turnbull
The last month's letters