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Letters to Cyclingnews - August 16, 2002
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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Jay Gehrig writes "Contrary to your report today, Rumsas' haematocrit of 44.6 actually is evidence that he has been on EPO in the past, since normal haematocrit for the majority of the population, particularly the totally healthy athlete, is around 39-41. Your statement that normal haematocrit is up to 54 is grossly inaccurate -- a very small percentage of the healthy population has a haematocrit even greater than 45. The nature and tone of your reports appear to be helping mask from the public even obvious evidence that these guys are doping."
Simply not correct. There is plenty of published literature to show that normals, including elite male endurance athletes of all types, can have haematocrits of 50 percent or more, when undoubtedly clean. Agreed the norm is 39-43 during a tour in hot conditions, when it is well established that haematocrit falls, but in a population of 200 cyclists there will be those with levels one, two or three standard deviations from the mean. If they are naturally >50 percent , they will have documentation and laboratory evidence to back this up - see http://www.uci.ch/english/health_sante/docs_2002/UCI_abresult_2002.pdf. Plenty of athletes have natural haematocrits above 45 percent , especially if they are tested during a break from training in winter, when a high plasma volume is not required, but red cell production remains high.
Many people, including a lot of medicos do not appreciate how much haematocrit fluctuates in relation to circumstances, and that athletes have well tuned adaptation mechanisms. This is why the UCI sets standard conditions under which haematocrit must be tested. Elite athletes, by their nature, can be expected to produce extraordinary physiological and haematological results, otherwise they would not be exceptional performers.
Should we have an ordinary man's Tour de France, where competitors are not permitted to train more than 2 hours per week, must consume at least 15 cigarettes / day, drink 4 beers / day, have 18 percent body fat etc, just to prove what the average citizen can do? We could then establish a set of means and standard deviations of performance. Anyone exceeding the new means by more than 2 standard deviations would be automatically accused of doping, and expected to prove their innocence. This appears to be what Jay is proposing when he states that "even obvious evidence that these guys are doping" is being masked.
There is a common misapprehension that the higher the haematocrit, the better the cyclist. Again not true - the very best tend to have lowish haematocrits, but a very large blood volume and super efficient pump and oxygen extraction mechanism (i.e. heart and lungs). As we do not have a good tool to measure total blood volume and total red cell mass, we are reliant upon crude comparisons such as haematocrit. Of course, if we give a great rider with a natural haematocrit of 40 percent , a 20 percent increase in red blood cells via a course of EPO, we do see an amazing performance improvement. This is well documented both in the scientific literature, and anecdotally in relation to certain race results.
However, the reported examples of both Pantani and Rumsas, whose haematocrits rose during alpine stages, remain extraordinary among an extraordinary group, and have been rightly viewed with suspicion. As others have observed, the circumstantial evidence against Rumsas is compelling, but it remains circumstantial. I am at a loss to know what illness the mother in law is suffering that could require the array of drugs reportedly being transported. I suspect there are many times that the UCI and others have evidence that certain riders are doping, but that evidence is insufficiently conclusive to ensure appropriate sanctions are observed. The biggest problem in prevention of doping is not testing, but ensuring that test results can be made to stick. Otherwise we see repeats of the Hamburger fiasco, where the UCI may then be exposed to legal action. There is no way better way of discouraging an organization from following a policy than repeatedly successfully suing it.
Andrew Garnham, Sports Physician
1. In response to Dr. Gehrig's Aug 9 letter: true, average haematocrit in a healthy population may be 39-41, and true Rumsas may have tested at 44.6. I'm 44, had a recent complete physical exam including blood tests, and my haematocrit was 49.5. I am healthy, but nowhere near a national level cyclist (I can do a 40k time trial on a flat course with no wind in an hour). His 44.6 level does not indicate that he was using. It does not indicate that he was not using. Averages in a population do not indicate that he was or wasn't using.
2. My speculation: even if his mother-in-law in Italy, because of her cancer and treatments, may have needed extra medications which were easier to get out of Italy (I live 60 miles from Canada, and local bus tour companies arrange for senior citizen drug trips to Canada where they can get some of their pharmaceuticals at a much cheaper rate), still Rumsas may have been thinking the following. 'If I am close to a podium spot the last week of the tour, and could move on to the podium with a fantastic time trial, maybe (since my wife has just the right meds) I could get just the boost I need.' But since his podium spot was assured, he didn't need to succumb to the temptation. We should censure individuals for being tempted.
I have read the letters concerning Raimondas Rumsas. Some, like the one from his countryman, are willing to bend over backwards to accept his explanation. Other's seem to think that Europe is the USA and that the manner in which we would do things here in the USA are applicable there. Still another, embarrassingly, suggests that even though Rumsas tested well within the blood limit, he must have been doping because he wasn't deep enough into the average for this person's tastes. (BTW, my haematocrit has tested at 48 percent and I'm almost 58.)
But the ones that most bother me are those who assume that somehow Rumsas was taking drugs and that somehow his drug tests were falsified or that the tests were inaccurate.
Can someone suggest how Rumsas could have his blood and urine tested using mass spectroscopy, one of the most sensitive methods known, and not show precisely what is present in his blood? Can someone suggest how he may have taken EPO and testosterone and not showed up positive?
Editas was in possession of the type of drugs used for performance enhancing if indeed the reports are correct. Most of those drugs noted are quite easy to detect and it would be foolhardy to suggest that anyone taking them and finishing on the podium of the Tour de France wouldn't be tested and detected.
Whatever the reasons that those drugs were in Mrs. Rumsas possession are not obvious in the light of her husband's chemical analysis performance. Maybe the intelligent thing to do would be to stop throwing stones and wait for the explanation to work it's way through the legal system.
I must agree that it looks very bad for Edita Rumsas to have testosterone, growth hormones and EPO in her possession. The explanation for why she possessed these drugs doesn't ring true either. And, as Charles Burch stated in his letter, the most logical explanation is that they were for Raimondas. However, Mr. Burch also states that "In order to have a chance of catching an EPO user, you have to start testing 2 weeks before the event..." So why would Rumsas take EPO during the Tour, if he had already reaped its benefits in the two week preceding the Tour? He was also specifically tested for EPO when his haematocrit level went up during the Tour, which I'm led to believe is the opposite of what it should have done. The test came back negative. Is the test that easy to deceive? I'm on the fence about whether I believe the Rumsas' story or not. I just wanted to point out that not all of the "evidence" points toward them being guilty.
In other sports, primarily in athletics and swimming, a large number of positive
tests come from out of competition testing, such as on Michelle de Bruin (nee
Smith), and not from the tests performed during competition. If the test for
EPO only detects EPO during a six week window after taking the drug, but the
benefits last for 15 weeks, then surely the tests should be concentrated during
the weeks leading up to the major races.
I wouldn't jump to say that Rumsas' haematocrit of 44.6 is indicative of exogenous EPO usage. My haematocrit was 43.5 last spring only five days after donating blood. Lost a pint, and it was still higher than average. Am I on dope? No one who has seen me climb would say so.
Not to say that Rumsas is innocent. His figures just aren't that high though for a healthy male athlete. Before we condemn the man we should look at more then his haematocrit though. If that was all it takes than a lot of us could look bad.
Imagine for a moment that Kristin Armstrong were caught following the Tour's conclusion transporting a refrigerated suitcase full of EPO, corticoids, testosterone, human growth hormone, and anabolic steroids.
Do any of Rumsas' apologists think for a moment that a protestation that that they were for an ailing family member would not have been hooted down? Or that they themselves would not be among those doing so?
Add to this the fact this 30 year-old's performance in the Tour was entirely unexpected -- a Berzin-esque exception to his past record in races of this duration, difficulty, and calibre of competition.
Paul Sherwen's admiring comment as Rumsas mounted the podium in Paris -- "I would never have predicted before the race, nor would scarcely anyone else, that Rumsas would finish atop the podium'' -- is worth additional consideration in light of subsequent events.
I think CN has been informed and fair-minded in its coverage of RR and ER, but the letters you have published on the matter have been, for the most part ,ignorant assertions, often made by people whose only source of information has been CN.
This affair has been difficult for anyone to follow because of confusion over names ,nationalities and places etc, plus the fact that we still only have one version of events, ie that of the French customs and French Justice Department.
Until we know more we should make no judgement, tout court.
Ahmed Lopez's 1000m time of 1.01.376 in the final round of the track world cup series is indeed impressive, especially for a junior, but the local density altitude during the time of the ride negates any comparison with Olympic Champion Jason Quelly's 2000 Olympic Game's ride of 1.01.609.
Using the actual atmospheric histories recorded during the time of the respective performances, I determined first the local pressure altitude (actual mean-sea-level altitude corrected for non-standard pressure), then corrected for non-standard temperature to ascertain the density altitudes. Water vapor content during the rides was also determined, but this probably had a smaller effect on the performances than the density altitudes.
The average mean-sea-level altitude of Kunming, China is 6200 ft. and the weather at the time of the ride (15:00 local on 11/8/02) was a temperature/dewpoint of 19C/15C (78 percent humidity) with the barometer reading 30.09"Hg. The pressure altitude (standard pressure is 29.92"Hg or 1013.25 hPa at sea level -- a one inch difference in Hg equals about 1000 ft.) was 6043 ft. and corrected for the 19C temperature, the density altitude turns out to be 7872 ft. during the ride. This is the actual "weight or resistance reference" of the air that Lopez is racing through during his ride.
For Quelly's Olympic ride, Sydney sits at an average of 20 ft. and the weather at the time of the ride (21:00 on 16/9/00) had a temperature/dewpoint spread of 25C/9C (36 percent humidity) and a barometer of 29.98"Hg. This gave Sydney a pressure altitude of -35 ft. and a density altitude of 1118 ft. The fact that it was much warmer than standard temperature (15C/59F) is what gives the rather large density altitude increase for Sydney.
Looking at the actual water vapor content measured in grams per cubic meter (g/m^3), Quelly had approx. 8.46 g/m^3, while Lopez was racing through approx. 12.48 g/m^3. The relevance of the water vapor to the volume of air that the respective riders were racing through is that the more water vapor per unit volume, the less actual resistance encountered. This is due to the lighter molecular weight of water vapor as compared to dry air. Dry air has a molecular weight of 29, while water vapor weighs in at 16. So, the more actual water vapor present (determined by dewpoint) and the higher the humidity, the less the air weighs, and in turn, this creates even less "resistance" to the rider. To determine actual water vapor content, multiply the air's water vapor capacity in g/m^3 and the relative humidity. This will give you the actual water vapor content in g/m^3. An example would be the air at Sydney at 25C, can hold 23.5 g/m^3. With a humidity of 36 percent , this would equate to: 23.5 x .36 = 8.46 g/m^3.
In closing, Lopez rode an amazing ride, one for the ages, but in reality he was dealing with an atmospheric resistance substantially lower than what Quelly encountered and we cannot realistically compare these two times. This is a real issue in track cycling and the performances at high density altitude locations give a false perception of the quality of the ride compared to sea level and mid-altitude performances. There are a number of other variables that can be taken into consideration, i.e., surface area of the riders, effects of less oxygen availability on a rider in high density altitude situations, and big event stress, but I specifically wanted to isolate density altitude and it's effect on performance times. This should be an important tool for future track and time-trial training and racing data analysis.
An Oldest Rider jersey is an excellent idea and the marketing opportunities are endless. The obvious connections for jersey sponsorship being Geritol, Rogaine, Viagra or their European equivalents. The pride of older riders is fierce and I can imagine that a true second tier battle for GC placement would arise if riders over 35 were rewarded with a jersey and prizes. Does anybody know the age breakdown of Tour riders? Are there many over 35? Maybe 33 year would be the cut-off.
It's good to see the coming of my favorite rider's son, Nicholas - demonstrating the same sort of panache his father had. I am looking forward to possibly Ireland's second Tour De France winner.
Stephen Roche has always been my favorite rider, partially for his on again off again knee problems, but also for the way he showed his class and tenacity in winning the races he did. It's obvious that he was a fighter and a scrapper, as well as being a great cyclist. Seems like his son has inherited these traits.
Ken Dolman is correct, 'singlespeed' does refer to a hardtail MTB with a single gear. There are several ways to set a singlespeed up depending on whether your frame is set up to have gears or designed to be a dedicated single speed. If the frame was designed for gears (vertical dropouts and a der hanger) then you need to use some type of chain tensioning device to keep the drivetrain running smoothly. A bike that is designed to be a dedicated singlespeed will have horizontal or track dropouts, this enables you to slide the rear wheel to achieve proper chain tension.
The benefit of singlespeeds is simplicity. Less maintenance, less hassle, less to conceivably go wrong. The downside is that you need to make your gearing choices in anticipation of the terrain that you will be riding. A typical gear is a 2:1 ratio, or a 32/16, 34/17...you get the idea. Singles give you no place to hide on the climbs, meaning you either ride hard to keep the gear rolling or you get off and push. The ancillary benefit of riding a bike with one gear is that you become more acutely aware of your momentum, you don't want to lose it. You will find yourself braking less cornering harder, looking for better lines, basically improving your off-road skills. I've found that on 90 percent of the terrain that we have here in the midwest, a singlespeed is faster than a geared bike, provided that you choose the correct ratio for the given terrain and your riding style. Long flat straight aways is where a geared rider will pull away from the singles, but those sections are rare. Downhills you are coasting most of the time anyway, so it doesn't matter how many gears you have.
You can build a single speed out of scrap parts that are in the garage, an old frame set, a set of old wheels, 58/94 crankset, everything will probably be there. Try it and you will be hooked.
Unicogging in Minnesota
What do we, as cycling enthusiasts, aficionados and spectators, get out of following this sport? When we complain about doping what is it that we object to? There is evidence that in the (recent and not so recent)past most of them were at it. So, given that it was available to anyone, was it really cheating? It is not exactly a 'level playing field' out there. Cyclist, even the pros, do not have equal access to other methods of performance enhancement - money, new technology, wind tunnel testing, strong teams, a background in European racing etc. Do we allow that to diminish our enthusiasm for the sport and the cyclists' achievements? I wonder how much LA would have won by (as he surely would have) if he were riding for Lampre? Surely we should be more concerned about the pressures these guys must be under to put their health at risk - maybe more knowledge is needed about the negative side effects of these substances. If there are no negative side effects why are they banned?
As for generational comparisons, I cannot believe the general standard is not better now than 10-15 years ago, so there is bound to be more specialization and tighter focussing on 'objectives'. This doesn't make today's cyclists less interesting.
Why don't we just enjoy this sport for its intensity and enthralling competition on the road, and not get too hung up about our heroes. If you put them up on a pedestal, you are bound to discover they have clay feet.
As I have ridden through the amateur ranks in the USCF (I've been a cat II for over a season now), I have gradually become more jaded to the fact that doping is probably as rampant if not worse in the U.S. then Europe. I've done several national level pro races this season (Solano, Superweek, etc), and despite the fact that these are big races, with most of the top North American talent present, there was absolutely no drug testing whatsoever. In fact, at Superweek, fellow racers I conversed with (as we watched a pro race after dropping out) even pointed out specific riders to me who he knew were all drugged up.
I've come to the conclusion that due to the fact that there is almost no testing in American races (save for UCI and 2-3 of the biggest USCF races) that in all likelihood the majority of elite and pro cyclists in America are doping. USA Cycling needs to get its butt in gear and figure something out. If nothing else, at least institute regular testing at NRC races. I realize testing is expensive, but how will we promote the future stars of American cycling if they feel they have to start taking amphetamines and injecting who knows what into their bodies by the time they're 21 to have any chance at going pro?
Mr. Carter is indeed correct to point out that the natural climbers will twiddle a lower gear, while the more robust and massive pretenders like Botero and Jalabert stomp like oxen to the tops of mountains. The faerie-like essence of a Pantani or a Millar makes such twiddling possible. Armstrong has spent years attempting to develop a climber's twiddle, but has to settle for rapid stomping in a medium gear, which is nearly as effective as twiddling but lacking a great deal of the panache that is innate to true grimpeurs. (In fact, twiddling has long been the standard in the peloton where panache is at issue. And a pedal twiddled in anger by the likes of a Richard Virenque or Gerard Rue is sure to elicit the panache latent in many of the lesser riders.) So, while the KoM competition has not fully eliminated the dross from the ranks of professional twiddlers, it has emphasised a new style that, perhaps lamentably, has supplanted twiddling and relegated it to the keepsake status of Tony Rominger, toe-clips and woollen knee britches. Time will tell.
Love to see Armstrong v. Indurain in their primes. I believe that, despite Armstrong's brilliance, Indurain would probably take the time trials, but not by much. It would then become a battle to see how much time Armstrong could take in the mountains.
Armstrong's main advantage in the mountains is that he is more explosive then Indurain's historical rivals, and he might be able to keep Indurain from sucking his wheel up the hills. Until the end, except for Pantani (who was never much of a threat in the GC), Indurain was never placed in a position where he had to limit his losses, and Armstrong could put Indurain is such a position.
Who would win? That's what they have races for.
Armstrong vs Indurain #2
Lance Armstrong is a great champion and will deservedly go down in history as one of the greatest cyclists ever. However I find it hard to agree with our American friends that he would beat Miguel Indurain at his best by 3 to 4 minutes.
Indurain, despite most of his critics claims of the opposite, was a magnificent climber which he proved on numerous occasions. He won mountain stages in the 1989 and 1990 editions of the tour as well as a mountain time trial in the Tour of Italy and mountain stages in various other tours.
Who could forget his climb to La Plagne in the 96 Tour, leaving the best climbers in the world in his wake.
I'm not claiming that Armstrong couldn't win but I certainly do not think he could ride away from Indurain. It would probably come down to time trials and whoever had a better day. Remember Indurain had to ride against Bugno, Rominger, Chiapucci and Pantani at their best and always triumphed.
Armstrong vs Indurain #3
It is interesting what Jack W writes about Armstrong V Indurain, but I would ask that you watch footage of Indurain climbing in the Tour. He didn't push a big gear, he pedalled at a high cadence in a small gear. At one point on La Plagne in 1995 I can clearly remember Paul Sherwen's words "he hauls his big carcass up the mountains by riding a small gear efficiently". Saying that the climbing styles of Indurain and Ullrich are similar is simply inaccurate - Indurain was a pedaller.
Apparently, Richard Virenque, the "darling of France" went on a national talk show before the TdF, and proved to the world that he still doesn't get it. The question was posed to him, "If you could boost your performance with drugs to win the Tour de France, and you were guaranteed to not get caught, would you still do it?" Without much thought put into it, Richard replied "Yes" in front of a live audience, as well as the cameras. Yes he would cheat if he knew he wouldn't get caught. After the show, he realized he should have lied again by responding negatively, but it was too late. He asked the producers to edit out his response, but they chose to air it anyway. So even after lying about his well documented drug use years after the Festina scandal brought doping to light, he still admits that he would cheat if given the chance, and is ready to continue lying about it as well.
Is there anyone who follows cycling that feels Richard Virenque should still have a license to race? He may not test positive for drugs at any race, but he has clearly shown through his actions and words that he will only follow the letter of the law, and not the intent. Virenque is the most controversial rider in the peloton, but maybe I'm still jaded and am not being fair, so I'd like to get a response from some real Virenque fans. Please limit your comments to this television appearance only. Thanks.
Scott Goldstein's explication of Virenque's impressive "post-doping" performances, while accurate are totally and utterly besides the point. Yes, it's true that Virenque has put in some strong rides in the years since the infamous Festina affair, but...
What Goldstein and other's do not seem to account for are the residual effects of doping. And I'm not talking about any drugs that are currently coursing through the rider's veins. For the following parable, think of basic human physiology and exercise philosophy. What makes are rider stronger?
Once upon a time a good amateur rider decides they want to ride professionally in the upper echelons of the European peloton. That rider starts a program of performance-enhancing injections and maybe he wins a smallish local bicycle race and is noticed by a bigger club director sportif. Maybe that director sportif invites this rider to join his team. Now instead of going out on solo training rides with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and tap water for riding fuel, maybe that team has Clif Bars and Extran to keep him going. And maybe instead of doing the local evening ride with riders from ages 14-64, our doped rider now goes on balls-to-the-wall training rides with his new teammates (not to mention the regions top competitions). The team even gives him a little money so he can give up his factory job and train full time. More importantly, he can RECOVER full-time.
And it is this new atmosphere of top-notch support and training that eventually propels him to his ultimate goals. But wait, it's 2002 and the dope-tests are more accurate and revealing than ever. He just signed with a new Division II pro team, but they've got clauses in his contract that prevent him from taking any more illegal drugs. So he stops taking drugs and guess what? He's still pretty darn good. And that has everything to do with the terrific support and training he's received over the years. And that all started years ago by placing well in small events with the help of an injection or two.
So, this "Virenque (insert the name of your favorite doper here) is clean now, so we should just let it go" attitude is naive at best. The short-term EFFECTS of using performance-enhance dope has long-term AFFECTS on a rider's career--whether or not that rider currently is on the juice.
Charles M wrote: "The second opportunity here in the US would be to run a few commercials that would call attention to riders struggles for equal rights on the road."
Didn't I see Lance in League of American Bicyclists spot doing just that?
While at the HEW-Cyclassics in Hamburg recently, I met a representative of a US manufacturer of titanium frames (not Litespeed) and after he told me about the riding qualities of titanium I asked him why so few pro teams were riding it. He said that the frames are quite expensive and that outfitting an entire pro team is very expensive. Most of the manufacturers are quite small and could not afford it; the exception is Litespeed, which is a sponsor.
He said that aluminum and carbon frames are cheap to build in comparison to titanium so the cost to sponsors is lower and there is a mass market that can be served. It seemed to me that this main argument in favour of titanium was that it had the ride qualities of steel with less weight and no corrosion problems. Cycle Sport did a recent comparison and seemed to think that carbon was the way to go. I dunno. Nothing looks as good as lugged steel, in my opinion.
Leslie T. Reissner
I couldn't agree more with Brian Hooper. The race became a joke and boring with 44 laps or whatever to go. This race could have been won by a straight-out sprinter. Get in the right break sit on and waddle around for a while and have a 4 up sprint. Riders should have been hauled out when they were caught and then the race might have got exciting with the 4 remaining having ago at each other, at least the public might have got their moneys worth
The N.Z. tactics were to attack the field until it was split. Little did we think it would become a farce so far out.
Scratch race rules #2
Well rather than just complain about how it was done. How would you like it. The alternative in the rules is that the last rider to get lapped would have been 5th with about 15 km to go. then we could have watched the remaining 4 race 4 up for 15 km. That is even more like watching paint dry.
At least the way the race ran we had a chance of seeing a couple more gain the lap.
Scratch race rules #3
The Commonwealth Games scratch race didn't follow the UCI rules. A 'special' CG rule was agreed with the team managers prior to competition starting, based on the same successful formula used 4 years previously.
Incidentally if the UCI rule had been used the bunch would have been pulled out when lapped leaving 4 riders to ride around and look at each other for 50 laps instead of the last 5.
Does anyone know if Jose Perez Cuapio, the Mexican rider who won two stages and the King of the Mountain classification at this years Giro is going to continue to race for the small Italian team he has been racing for the past few years. On a division one team he would have more of a chance to show off his climbing skills in races like the Tour and the Vuelta.
Given Jalabert's repetitive performances (in the good sense of that phrase) at the last two TdFs and the Clasica San Sebastian, is anyone else getting the same impression of 'de ja ja vu' that I am?
I'm partial to the photo of Floyd Landis one wheeling it down the Champs Elysees. In a year of mountain bikers making their presence felt at the grand tours, nothing says 'we're here' like Floyd's wheelie.
D.J. Clark's photo is definitely a classic, but for my money almost any picture with George Hincapie qualifies as a classic cycling photo. Whether he's tumbling into a ditch in northern France, pace-lining up a climb in the Pyrenees or finishing 4th in a breakaway sprint finish, his face and body language somehow always embody the emotion and race-end fatigue of a hard European road race.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then those of Armstrong at the Clasica San Sebastian make for some captivating summer page-turning. Looks a sight more human here than anytime during the Tour.
Just look at how boring Formula One can be (Schumy winning the championship when it is only half over), to see how the idea of winning the most stages won't work to make the TdF more exciting. In principle, on the present system one can always have a new leader right until (one kilometre from) the finish line on the Champs Elysees (the yellow jersey could always crash out). With your proposal, the race could be over by the Pyrenees!
Tour revamp #2
I too agree something has to be done to pep up the Tour. The amount of control that U.S. Postal were able to exercise throughout the race made it little more than a procession. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame Postal for riding the way they did, they have the biggest race in the world to win. But the level of technology, preparation, road conditions and level of team tactics is allowing a team like U.S. Postal to totally dominate and slowly robbing the Tour of its interest.
The problem of an almost totally controlled Tour has been developing for a long time, but the evidence is there. Four five time winners in the past fifty years, the last one (Indurain), the first 5 years straight winner, and Lance Armstrong an odds on favourite to follow this, and quite possibly the first six time winner.
Uncertainty and the unexpected needs to be reintroduced, that makes any race more exciting.
So here are a few suggestions:
1. Reduce the size of teams to six members. This will stop the all day control teams can exercise. Allowing more attacking racing and giving the gamblers a greater chance. (Who knows we may even see some decisive attacks on the flatlands).
2. The number of eligible teams would rise to 33 (with a 200 rider limit), this would stop the annual fall out over who rides. The sheer number of teams would also encourage attacking racing.
3. A ban on radio communication between team cars and the riders.
I still think that probably Lance would still win the Tour even with the above changes, but I'd far rather see him having to attack and chase with a mountain pass or two to go, rather than see him ride away off Heras' wheel in the final kilometre of a so called 'epic' mountain stage, where over 95 percent of the stage has been run as a high speed procession.
Two wrongs don't make a right.
Banning Simoni for an honest mistake is as unjust as other riders getting booted for (very small trace elements) of Nandrolone taken inadvertently with protein supplements when the ingredient was not listed on the label.
This reminds me of the Jonathan "why me" Vaughters wasp sting where he had to drop from the Tour because getting a shot to reduce the swelling was against the rules. It just plain misses the point.
The rules are not meant to harm the riders. Rules are in place to keep the riders safe, healthy and mostly to keep the results honest.
Banning them for taking a medication or supplement from a manufacturer that chose to hide an ingredient (in this case a silly throat candy) is totally off the mark.
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