Letters to Cyclingnews

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

Here in Australia, the Tour de Snowy has just ended. It was covered well by SBS, according to Steve Webster, who's happy that the station has committed to more cycling this year.

From Finland, Juha-Matti Kallinen writes with some comments about Finnish cross-country skiing's recent doping scandal, and wonders if there's a sinister reason plasma expanders have yet to be detected in the tool kit of cycling's chemical mechanics.

Regis Chapman has some explanation of his high-speed car antics, and Conor Cairns manages to agree with regis and his critics at the same time.

Jed Kornbluh is another cat 4 rider facing the dilemma of moving up or staying put.

Controversy over Lance Armstrong's passing over in the Espy Awards continues to rumble, with Douglas Reynolds in the blue corner for the 'Tiger deserved it' team and 'Pelox' in the red corner for the 'golf is not a sport anyway' club.

Chris Highley wonders why a substance has to be proven dangerous to be banned by the IOC. Our understanding and I didn't express this very clearly last time is that the IOC's own rules say it must have evidence of either harmful or performance-enhancing effects for a substance to be banned. For Actovegin, the evidence for either of those criteria is flimsy at best. Jonathan van der Sluis asks if Actovegin's claimed effect of improving the ability of the tissues to take oxygen up from the blood isn't performance-enhancing. The answer is it might be, but nobody knows, and the original point was that if it doesn't improve the ability of the blood to transport oxygen, then it's not covered by the IOC or UCI's existing rules against blood doping. Anyway, there's a whiff of voodoo about the whole thing, if you ask me. It would be darkly amusing if it turned out that lots of people have been using this stuff and it has no more ergogenic effect than saline.

John Stevenson
Letters editor

TV Coverage
The HES Mess
Racing on the Highway
Moving Up
Espy Awards
Foreign substances
Actovegin and the IOC

TV Coverage

I've just finished watching the daily coverage of the women's Tour de Snowy and wish to thank SBS for that coverage. It was excellent - absolutely no comparison with the absence of nightly news from Channel 7 on the JCTDU. I am really delighted to hear Mike Tomalaris announce that SBS is going to give cycling much more coverage this year starting with Paris-Nice on April 1. Great work SBS!

Steve Webster
Brisbane, Australia
Thursday 8 March

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The HES Mess

A few comments on the XC-skiing doping scandal as it concerns endurance sports in general.

As you have heard, six skiers of the Finnish national team were caught using plasma expanders during the Nordic skiing world championships in Lahti, Finland. The men's head coach Kari-Pekka Kyr has come to the publicity, and admits that there was organized blood manipulation within the team, but he claims that this only concerns the athletes tested positive and no other drugs were ever used during his period as coach. Mr. Kyr says the Finns started experimenting (only three skiers' names were told) with the plasma expanders two years ago, after hearing from International Skiing Federation that some (not named) nations had used this. According to the coach's words, the Finnish team had stopped experiments when the substances were forbidden a year ago. Anyway they had started the use again a couple of weeks prior the championships, gaining a bit surprising success in the last world cup race before WC.

A very heavy reason for starting the use of HES again was the information within the Finns that the plasma expanders could NOT be seen in the doping test. And for a fact, Lahti was the first place ever where the substances concerned were tested, a surprise attack by the anti-doping officials. Maybe that's the reason no cyclists have been caught using plasma expanders as it has not been possible to test for them??

Along with lowering blood values temporarily, the main function of plasma expanders is to increase the efficiency of the cardiovascular system. There's been speculations that some skiing teams have been using another plasma fixer called Albumin which can't be seen on the test yet. In addition, the Albumin brings greater health risks.

Anyway, no one here really knows what things have not been told to public.

Juha-Matti Kallinen
Sunday, 4 March

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Racing on the highway # 1

Well, I am not sure how to respond to these letters. I am a bit surprised, a bit accused, but maybe I shouldn't be surprised. I just knew that someone I passed on that road would find me eventually...

I think I should point out that no one was killed or hurt at all during my drive, and I haven't enjoyed myself so much in a long time. Cyclists are not allowed on this (rather long and boring) freeway. Normal speed on this particular road, even before I started my little fun bit was about 90 mph.

I am not, however, encouraging everyone to be a raving maniac of the highway, especially since we already have too many of those here in California.

Having said that, I am aware of the safety issues, and at that time I chose to ignore them. Of course, I do the same thing each and every time I think to get in my car to go to the local market, and I arrange my next-of-kin affairs before I go cycling these days. Every time I enter a bike race, I enter an arena where even though it is required to hold a license, no test is required to get one, only money.

On reading these replies four things come to mind:

1) The many people who prophesied my death when considering the purchase of a motorcycle.
2) The many who chided me for ever riding without a bicycle helmet again- even after my severe head injury.
3) Our society is obsessed with rules and protocols.
4) Have any of you folks ever driven in Italy?

One may ask, why one would take such risks? My answer is that I do not want to live ruled by fear. Safety is one aspect of life, but another is enjoyment of life. Nearly all enjoyable acts contain an element of risk. That enjoyment is purchased with the risk, as it should be. I feel that my skill as a bike racer should allow me to access more enjoyable acts, rather than less. I may never choose to do such a thing again, but I have no regrets.

Often, we attempt to beat enjoyment out of children from a young age. When I was young my Mom allowed me to sleep high in the trees in our yard, even given the obvious risk. I now appreciate that lesson. I encourage others to take risks, not only for some immediate adrenaline reward, but for its independence from fear and those who would be fearful.

I myself take risks less than a child, but when I do, I challenge anyone to rob me of my childlike enjoyment. Anyone who knows me will know this part of my personality.

Having said all that, I frankly don't think we have enough danger in the world. Danger is what keeps us alive, makes us change and keeps us honest. Some mistakes are lethal, most are not, but speaking for myself, I would rather have it that way.

Regis Chapman
California USA
Monday, 5 March

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Racing on the Highway # 2

Yoiks! I never figured that Regis Chapman was a closet "Hoon". His recent letter espousing the joys of speeding has copped a fair bit of flack and I must agree with others who have written to condemn the dangerous practices he has referred to.

I do agree with Regis when he says that the skills learned from riding a Bicycle can make a cyclist a better driver, but the skills I am thinking of do not involve improving an individuals capacity for "calculated" risk taking (is there really such a thing anyway?).

The most important skills from heavy traffic riding that can be applied to driving (I think) are the ability to anticipate other drivers mistakes, a finer appreciation for the "speed" of your vehicle in terms of your ability to be able to react to unforeseen dangerous situations (including not tailgating other drivers) and generally being a lot more aware of what is going on around you while in the vehicle.

Personally, I feel a lot less safe when driving a car as compared to cycling, mainly because in a car you have bugger all peripheral vision and unlike cycling in a bunch with riders that you know and trust, you are sharing the road with other drivers whose skills may not be on a par with your own and whose actions you simply can't predict.

I realize that Regis probably didn't mean to cause such a stir, given it was a one-off (just got a racy new car?) and that we are all capable of such risk-taking in the right circumstances and company. Hopefully Regis will exercise his new-found interest in car racing in a responsible and controlled manner in future and continue to write the intelligent and thoughtful letters he is normally associated with.

Conor Cairns
Perth, Australia.
Tuesday, 6 March

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Moving Up

In response the Peter Lindeman's letter on "Moving Up".

Peter, I agree. I am a cat four in the same situation, but I am going to race at this level for another year to build more experience. It seems that there is a stigma associated with the cat 4 status, and most riders want to get out of the cat 4 ranks to escape the embarrassment of admitting they indeed are a cat 4.

I look at it this way. If you aren't being told to move up by race promoters, mates, and other riders, then you should stay put and win a few more. However, I do have a problem with people who hang around in lower categories to clean up the purse, knowing that pressure to move up is great but the thrill will soon be gone when they are tossed into a 1/2/3 race with Team Snow Valley or Bicycle Therapy (mid-Atlantic big boys). If you are not ready for the jump the situation can be quite demoralizing! The best suggestion I've heard and will offer is for those who want the "status" to move up and get their butts kicked, because by the time I'm ready to cat-up, they'll be downgrading!

Jed Kornbluh
RC Cola-Cheerleaders Cycling Team
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Tuesday, 6 March

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Espy Awards # 1

I wholeheartedly agree with Glenn Simolunas. With all due respect to Lance Armstrong (whom I wholeheartedly pull for whenever he is on a bike), he may not have even been the best cyclist of the year, let alone the best athlete. I think Erik Zabel's success in the classics and Tour and Ullrich's comeback in Sydney may have superseded Lance's single accomplishment in the past year. While Lance's courage and ability are unquestionable, despite what many American fans wish to believe, he did not dominate his sport last year. Tiger Woods did, and is already being spoken of with the likes of his sport's greats, Nicklaus, Palmer and Hogan. As great as he is, I have yet to hear anyone speak of Lance being among the ranks of Merckx, Hinault, or Coppi. Don't let your cycling arrogance prevent you from taking an objective look at the accomplishments of another inspiring athlete.

Douglas Reynolds
Durham, North Carolina, USA
Wednesday, 7 March

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Espy Awards # 2

While it is true that Tiger wood's accomplishments were huge. What would be more of a sporting accomplishment? Surviving cancer and putting a few rounds while riding around in an electric buggy, or maybe throwing a perfect game of darts, or surviving cancer and for two years in a row, riding 2,500 miles in three weeks faster than the best racers in the world, including setting the second fastest time ever for a time trial of 50km or more? Remember, the ESPY's are sporting awards and I think the SPORT part should be remembered.

Wednesday, 7 March

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Foreign substances

I do not understand the stance that a particular doping material should be proven to be harmful before being banned. Athletes should be the ones racing, not their doctors or their unique drugs/hormones/etc. All forms of performance-enhancing materials should be restricted, within reason. Athletes should be able to take their vitamins and eat their protein diets or whatever, but when it becomes obvious that an athlete is using a completely foreign substance (such as an extract from calf's blood) to gain an advantage over competitors, that athlete is doping. Some may think this is part of the game. But it's not, or at least it shouldn't be. It's cheating. So the IOC banned Actovegin. What's the problem? Why is that not sensible? They are forbidding the use of a substance that is shown to enhance performance beyond the natural capabilities of a sport's participant. In many areas this would be considered cheating or at least an unnecessary aid. It shouldn't be causing the athlete any hardship by not allowing them to use it.

If one wishes purely to argue the point that doping should be allowed and a drug should be innocent until proven guilty, I would still have to argue otherwise. It should not be all right to allow a substance to be used until someone is hospitalized or killed. At that point, there will be many others out there at risk. Similar risks have been taken before in other realms with disastrous results.

There is nothing sensible about letting athletes use unproven substances with no safety record one way or the other for the sole purpose of elevating their performance to levels they would not reach on their own. At best, it's cheating. At worse, it's a lot like letting a tire company produce tires that could fail on the road but only telling them they aren't allowed to produce them after people have died.

The entire cycling community must reject all forms of doping, Actovegin included. We don't have to make villains out of those who have doped in the past. Just stop it once and for all. Unless what we really want is to be watching a parade of possibly dangerous and 100 per cent unnatural doping substances and performance-enhancing drugs every time we see a race, instead of a true contest of man and machine.

Chris Highley
Boston, MA, USA
Wednesday March 7

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Actovegin and the IOC

Cyclingnews wrote: 'What Actovegin does is improve the ability of the tissues to take oxygen up from the blood, somehow, which is not quite the same as transporting oxygen itself.' Does that not enhance performance? Any team that suspiciously tries to dispose of such a substance has to be investigated thoroughly. It is that simple. Or would we rather choose to apply a different criterion for different riders? Can USPS count on support no matter what they've done?

Jonathan van der Sluis
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Monday, 5 March

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The last month's letters

  • March 3 – UCI anti-EPO tactics, Actovegin, moving up, Shorn!
  • February 26 – Ochoa accident, Actovegin, Cycling as a Skill Sport, Espy Awards, Moving Up, VDB's problem
  • February 16 – Sandbagging, VDB, sponsors, teams, Pantani, the Espy Awards
  • February 12 – Sandbagging, VDB, Julian Clark, cherry picking, drugs
  • February 9 – Sandbagging, cherry picking, doping, US Postal and Kelme
  • January 30-February 2 – Cherry picking, drugs, US Postal and Kelme
  • January 24-29 – Linda McCartney, Armstrong's conduct, Actovegin, JCTDU
  • January 19-23 – TDU TV coverage, Armstrong, Texan law, Cannondale's new bike, Actovegin
  • January 14-18 – Drugs, TDU coverage, US Postal, Texan law
  • January 11-13 –Drugs, Virenque, TDU coverage, French media, wooden bike
  • Letters Index - The complete index to every letters page on cyclingnews.com