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Letters to Cyclingnews - May 31, 2002
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Steve Moult of South Africa finds modern riders boring because they don't race every race on the calendar. I suppose it seems that way but you have to remember that there are many times more races now than in even Hinault's day. And even then Bernard didn't race all that many races. He picked and chose between them considering his condition and chances just as today's riders do. It should be mentioned that over his career Hinault on participated in only five grand tours other than the Tour (of course he won all five making him unique in history).
Armstrong has been in spring classics and done well. He has just won the Midi Libre. He will race the Tour and probably several later races as well. Armstrong races to be in the running and only enters a race to either win or test his condition. He doesn't use the races to "race into condition" as previous racers used to do. Merckx and Hinault racing as nothing more than pack fodder was hardly interesting to most people.
TdF mania #2
In response to Steve Moults comment, "Lance might shake a leg at one classic a year in addition to the TdF, in contrast to Merckx, Hinault, Anquetil, Gimondi, Indurain, and others, who were shaking legs in all the GT's and quite a few Classics," let me remind you that all of these riders were European, where most races are covered, and there is a great fan-base for them. However, in the U.S. professional cycling means one thing, really, to most Americans. Tour de France. Nike is paying a whole truckload of money for Armstrong to do one thing - win the TdF. You gotta do what you gotta do...
Mr. Corley writes a funny letter. But his claims are not that funny when you examine them.
Marco Pantani may be aging, but he could come back again. His performances on the Ventoux were only marginally below Armstrong, and his age is hardly a factor. It may have been due to his own mistakes that he has fallen so far, but never forget that he was the champion climber of his day and I haven't seen anyone else setting his records back lately. Was it the drugs? I don't know and that is why we cannot allow drugs in the peloton.
There is a disagreement between Cipolini and his fans vs. Jean Marie LeBlanc. To read Mr. Corley you would think that there is only one side to the story. The Tour de France is a French race and French fans want to see French riders. You and I might think that Cipolini is exciting and adds glamour to the racing, but LeBlanc's position that A-S is an incomplete team which will not finish the Tour any better off than most of the French teams is not without merit.
Jean Marie LeBlanc destroying the Tour? Now that is surely hyperbole at its most ridiculous levels. Let us not forget that riders like McEwen were willing to drop out of the Giro so as not to endanger his condition for the Tour. Obviously there are people who still respect the Tour for what it is -- the foremost bicycle race in the world today as it has been since its inception.
Tour, Drugs, the French #2
Henry, I appreciate many things you have said, but I must say that diplomacy
is not one of your strong points.
Tour, Drugs, the French #3
Hey Henry, In some parts you may be right, but in others I question your logic. Cipollini? He should have finished at least one Tour and then it may be worth while when he wins. Other riders try to space there power-out between stages, still try and win sprints and finish the race. My personal opinion is any rider leaving the race on his own free will should be disqualified, even from the stages he won.
About the drugs, testing is necessary to stop them from getting out of hand, itęs the publicity that makes the situation worse than it is.
As far as Pantani is concerned, I wonęt even waste my breath. On the other side, it sure would be nice if one reporter would say "Damn it, they're going through hell with or without dope". These guys work hard for their money and Ięll watch them even if they start looking like Lee Haney."
Tour, Drugs, the French #4
What's with people like Henry focussing on Pantani. These pages are full of people supposedly sick of hearing about him. Maybe the press want to provide people like you with the fuel to continue the hammering you give him. On another note this Giro has had absolutely everything, but with four stages it is still very much an open race. The same can't be said of the Tour which seems to have been resolved a week or two out for the last 10 years. This is not a comment on Lance's domination (which is very much earned), but I think back to further and struggle to recall a close Tour. When I mean close I mean a top ten with only a minute or two separating the players. I think the organisers of the Giro should be congratulated on providing an excellent and balanced parcourse. The current standings reflect that fact.
Tour, Drugs, the French #5
Henry- you've been taking in too much Rush Limbaugh (right-wing radio talk show host for those not acquainted) and perhaps those drugs you so eagerly support the use of.
I agree that Pantani's ability is, and in retrospect was, questionable given his apparent use of performance enhancing drugs. What motivation would JM Leblanc have for "destroying" the Tour? None. Arguably, the teams with real GC contenders are all there. I'd love to see Cippo there duking it out with Zabel, McEwen and O'Grady, but those three guys and others are capable of producing some serious fireworks without him. The selection process is subjective and it is a French event, therefore, it makes sense that selection process would favour French teams.
The Tour has managed to be the premier cycling event before Armstrong ever stepped on stage and will continue to do so long after he has taken his final curtain call (for the record, I am an Armstrong fan). As a side note, you seem to be forgetting your history lessons. It was the French who helped bail us out during our Revolutionary War.
Your comments supporting the propagation of performance enhancing drugs epitomise irrationality. You don't seem to get the driving force behind the ban on these drugs. They are not banned because we don't want to see better performances as spectators. They are banned because they are not safe. If you allow them in professional sports then the athletes who elect not to do irreparable damage to their bodies are penalised by not being able to perform at the levels that those who do use.
Last week I was depressed about the doping news at the Giro, wondering how all the clean riders could get up and face another day. Even yesterday, with Casagrande's DQ for aggressive riding, might have made matters worse. But TODAY we have a wonderful stage, exciting right to the end with the climb of the Passo Pordoi, Passo di Compologno and the descent on which Savoldelli catches Caucchioli. And the GC at the end of stage 16: can it get more exciting! The top six less than a minute apart, the top eight within about two minutes. There may be some disappointment that Garzelli, Simoni, and Cassagrande are out. But the names at the top are impressive: Evans, Frigo, Hamilton, Gonzalez, Caucchioli, Savoldelli, Garate, Escartin. It is as if the sun is shining, the breeze is at my back, and world class cyclists are giving world class performances.
You may be interested in a theory recently reviewed in New Scientist, about three months ago. This was principally about the effect of certain foods which impose an acid load on the body; in order to buffer this acid load, protein and calcium from muscle and bone are used, resulting in osteoporosis. The foods involved are mainly high carbohydrate foods, such as rice and bread!
This is one possible explanation for osteoporosis, but the story doesn't end there. The major product of hard cycling is lactic acid, which also requires to be buffered in the same way, with loss of bone and muscle mass. The latter presumably from the muscles not used much, in the upper body.
Perhaps we should all take bicarbonate tablets ( which is incidentally said to improve performance by buffering lactic acid; take care though, too much and it is illegal)
The large number of broken collar bones in the pro peloton set off alarm bells in my mind several years ago. While broken collar bones have always been around with cyclists, it seemed to me that it was headed toward epidemic level. I have been a racer and a bike fan for a long time, and I can't be sure whether I remember fewer broken bones twenty years ago, or whether the reporting was less exact.
This last twelve months has relieved any doubt. It went from beyond wrists and collar bones to femurs and pelvic bones. These are hard to break! When a 70 year old breaks one, everyone says "Of course, osteoporosis." But guys in their twenties, in fabulous heath, under the constant care of doctors and nutrition experts? What's going on here? Is it some fantastic scheme to lose weight at any cost? Are some of the nutrition (or drug) schemes backfiring? Some expert in these fields must have an idea as to what is causing (an apparent) loss of bone strength in otherwise healthy young athletes. The approach of "Ride, eat, sleep, ride" was in place at least as early as the Merckx era and the attrition rate then was nothing like today.
As I approach senior citizenship, I would very much like to avoid anything like that happening to me as the healing and recovery process is long and arduous in middle age and above.
None of the old guys I remember from the 60s and 70s seemed to be anything if not more sound than the prime athletes of today. What's wrong here?
I'm encouraged by the doping scandals in this years Giro - I think cycling is making some progress in the fight against drugs!
I hated to see two great champions like Garzelli and Simoni leave, but I'd
much rather be talking about how the drug rules are too strict than to see the
leader get busted for EPO and believe that the whole peloton is taking drugs.
In regards to Marc Bertucco's questioning John Lieswyn's comments in his diary: Cat 5's say the same thing about civilians. Cat 4's say the same thing about Cat 5's. Cat 3's say the same thing about Cat 4's. And so on.
After an afternoon of worry about getting knocked off of your bike and knocked out of the really important races, it seems appropriate that he might make comments about it in his diary.
>From outside of the race we can understand that Cat 2's (and 1's for that matter) are a source of the racing budgets. We ought to be equally understanding that pressures of racing makes people worry about things and react in ways that a well rested and less tensioned individual might not.
John has always showed himself to be a gentleman racer. Don't worry about a few comments that you can take askance.
John Lieswyn #2
Being one of the many Cat-2 racers in the States, I have to take issue with Lieswyn's diary. First off, having separate 2's races isn't a terrible idea. A separate 2's race would allow 2's to move up through the ranks and become 1's. As it stands, in order for a 2 to become a 1 he must first regularly beat the Pro's and 1's, which is a difficult task even for the Pro's and 1's. However to say the 2's need their own category because they have no skills riding in a pack is arrogant and stupid.
It becomes even more stupid when you go back up the page and see for some reason John has no problem going to a pro 1-2-3 race with relatively inexperienced (by his own evaluation) cat 3's in it. Well guess what John, I regularly beat Cat 3's. That's how I became a 2. Wouldn't you first get rid of all P-1-2-3 races, or are those OK provided "your" Cat 3's are there?
Finally, last year I was living in Santa Rosa. While I was living there, Levi Leipheimer would come home from time to time between major European races. While I would run across him here and there, I wouldn't see him regularly raiding the local P-1-2 races, and then complaining about the skill level of the competition. Many days he would ride 100 miles and then race behind a motor scooter for two hours to round off a good 6-7 hour day. Last year he had a great season. This year he's a team leader for a large European based team.
The point is John, you're a pro. You have the time and resources to be a pro. If you used your brain, you would see that you have many more alternatives than to slog it out in the local (ie. non-NRC) weekend crits. Somewhere along the line I would think you could get the clue and start acting like a pro.
John Leiswyn #3
Nice letter John. God forbid you have to race against all those cat 2s. Here is an analogy for you. When you go over to Europe and try to compete in a real euro race, all those Euro pros think of you as a yank cat 2 who can't corner. Get over yourself. If you can't stand racing with all the slow 2s, then don't. And, don't tell me that pros never crash. How about the Visalia crit this year? Yeah, you pros can really handle yourselves!
John Leiswyn #3
Wow John, the quad city races are about as much fun racing in the Midwest as you can have. Anyone that hasn't done these races owes it to yourself to try and catch them some year.
Iowa and a few other Midwest states have adopted a protocol of having you stage according to your entry number. This is an effort to make staging for the races fair. In a race like Snake Alley, where literally I have seen people have to run up the hill because it bottlenecks so bad, it makes it as fair as possible without having a fight on the start line for a front row position.
Having done the quad city races too many times to count, or remember, John brings up a good point. Maybe the Cat II's shouldn't race with the Pro's. Here's my point, for me getting to a ripe Masters age, it's kind of like throwing money in the street anyhow when I sign up to race in the Pro 1-2 races. I might as well just write a check payable to 7-up, Saturn, and any other Pro team on the line and watch them race.
It strikes me that Mr. Lieswyn could be onto something. I didn't go to Quads this year, because of family commitments I had...But maybe John has tapped into something in my subconscious about not wanting to risk life or death in a pack of sketchy riders. And to be honest, I'm tired of traveling to do masters races that are 1/4 the distance of the pro 1-2's. I would much rather be challenged to race at the cat 2 level, without all the crazy riders out there. And lets face it, all but a hand full of aged cyclists would want to attempt racing with the all or nothing 3's and 4's for fear of breaking bones losing skin and not being able to go to work on Monday morning. So what I propose, tongue in cheek, but with some sincerity, are new categories. The races should all be the same distance and run as separate categories as such:
Pro category = Full time cyclist. Getting a pay cheque to ride bike, travel, and race.
Single category = Not married, probably student, or divorced because of cycling, has job not full time. Races every weekend, sometimes twice.
Significant category = Married, or has very blossoming relationship, and full time job. Thinking about a home mortgage, and races at least twice a month.
Family category = Married, Full time job, Mortgage, and Children. Children probably have football practice twice a week, and in different locations. Home probably needs to be re-roofed...will get to that at the end of the cycling season this year for sure.
What's everyone think? Wouldn't this be more equitable? And keep us sketchy out of shape cat II's out of the pro's way so they can get down to serious racing.
John Lieswyn #4
I'm a cat 3 racer and I look forward to each new diary entry you post. Basically
what I have to say is this: yours is the most refreshing and frank point of
view I have ever had the privilege to enjoy regarding the domestic racing scene.
I simply love your perspective. For the entire 10 years I've been involved in
bike racing I have been bewildered at the attitude many cat 2 racers have regarding
their abilities and place in society. Their total lack of humility and decency
has always made me wonder to myself, "who in the hell do these guys think they
are? They're just cat 2 for Christ-sake, they're just people."
John Lieswyn #5
I am a category three cyclist from New Jersey. I read John's diary every week. I think he does a great job of giving an inside scoop of the life as a pro in the US. Take into consideration that he doesn't need to write this diary, I think everyone should be giving him a round of applause instead of getting angry because of one thing he wrote in his diary.
People sometimes get a little carried away with what they say. I know in Pro 1/2/3 races, I have seen the 3's yelled at by the pros, 1's, and 2's because they took a corner a little incorrectly or because they are simply not riding fast enough. I know I've given people a hard time during a race and maybe a little after the race.
John is right though. Sometimes, riders are over their head. There shouldn't be 4's in a 3's race and sometimes, the 2's should have their own race. As far as character goes, John is the man. I remember reading of a horrific crash in the Athens crit when he fractured or even broke a vertebra or two. He still has the tenacity to race a crit. However, he does have a life besides bike racing and when other people are doing stupid things in the crits unnecessarily, that not only jeopardizes that rider's well being, but also those around him. Crashes are a part of racing, like John said, but there's no reason to put someone else's well-being at stake.
I admire John. A few years ago, I went to California when I was 18 for two weeks. I wanted to go watch Redlands, participate in Sea Otter, and get some good training rides in. Not knowing anyone out there, I turned to my fellow rec.bicycles.racing group to help me out. You know who replied...John. He answered my plea for help and found me host housing for the time I was at Redlands and for the duration of my trip to California. I even had a chance to ride with him a few times. John is one of the most professional cyclists in the peloton and even a chance to ride with him should be a honour for everyone. That's my two cents.
John Lieswyn #6
First let me say that I am extremely grateful for Mr. Lieswyn's column and for that matter all the other pro riders who take time to tell a story of the pro peloton that we rarely hear (yea Scott Sunderland!). I just wish there were more timely entries.....but I digress.
I have to admit that when I first read John's race reports thoughts of pomposity and arrogance crossed my mind.
Then I took a look around and did a little self analysis.
I'm a average Cat. 4 rider (read: bottom of the food chain), part of a team and race about every other weekend. I line up at the local weekly training race and I hear the Cat 1's and 2's grumbling about riding with the "3's and 4's". Conversely, I've lined up in a combined 4/5 citizens races and thought to myself, "Uh oh, cat 5's. Better steer clear of those guys...they crash all the time". Guilty as charged judge..."
For some unfortunate reason, in our sport there is a tendency to look down on riders that are in a lower category then you. After reading John's column, expressing an *opinion* (that he is entitled to BTW), I an going to make an effort to encourage other racers. Both those that can put the hurt on me (gasp...go...cat 1...dude)and those that I was one of no too long ago.
Hopefully we ride/train/race because we love cycling and competition, not to look down our noses at other cyclists.
I want to deal with option 3, that he didn't knowingly ingest a banned substance. There have been numerous occasions over the past few years where this has been the defence, e.g. "it was not listed in the ingredients of the supplement I was taking." The problem that I have is that the supplements are never named. Why would an athlete not out the supplement manufacturer who juices their juice, and ruins their career? Let the rest of us know if the electrolyte solution we are using to get through our daily training has nandralone in it, please. I assume the Endurox and Cytomax I use doesn't have anything in it that would get me thrown out of any sporting event for cheating, much less that it might compromise my long-term health.
We have had enough. If the powers that be (read UCI, sponsors, race organisers, and riders) wanted to put an end to the cheating and the scandals in pro cycling they could do so in a heartbeat. Make it clear. Use illegal performance-enhancing products and you are gone. Not for a few months, not for a season; forever. Banned from the sport like Pete Rose from Baseball. No coaching, no team jobs, gone for good. In addition, your team loses all UCI points for that year regardless of the impact on team standings and eligibility at major events.
This is a simple idea. Ban the rider forever and change the culture in the pro peloton. Replace the self-fulfilling and often echoed excuse of, "one can't compete without using performance enhancing substances" with tremendous peer pressure from within the peloton. If you get caught, we all get penalised and we will never race together again. Do not let your team mates and sponsors down.
Pro cycling is more than 100 years old. It will survive the loss of cheaters who are "superstars." It can't survive many more doper Giros. It is time for the riders to understand that the difference between the average roadie and a pro racer comes down to two things; talent and money. Without the money the races would be just another bike ride that nobody would care about. No contracts, no fame, no fans to push them up a hill when they are off the back. Just another (although faster) bike ride.
The best Tour in years? Man, that's a weird one. We've got a champion rider at his height with no discernible competitors even close. This won't be a race, but a coronation. Lance is fine, but I want to see some real competition. And please be careful with all of this "greatest ambassador of the sport" stuff - some of us Yanks have to go race overseas yet this year and would like a neutral response for starters. No need to lather it on quite so thick. We see you really like Lance.
Raymond F Martin
You go push 1800 watts against the likes of Cipo, Hondo etc. Yeah I don't think
so. Anyway - what is different from pulling out from tiredness than say planning?
If you pull the plug you pull it - there is no in between (bar serious injury)
McEwen won on his merits - no one could beat him on the day. he deserves the
Of course Robbie can finish a Grand Tour - didn't he prove he can do it in good form just a few years ago? Why is everyone so keen to call him a wimp for leaving the Giro? For a start he's a professional cyclist and his team must have a big say in where and when he races. But this year he flew to the Giro Prologue straight from being by his wife's side for the birth of their first child. In his interview after stage 10, he said he was going home to see them. By itself this is a good enough reason for me - you can never wind back the clock on the first month of a child's life.
When I arrived in Spain to see the 99 Vuelta, I was kind of disappointed to hear that Cippolini had withdrawn from the race just before the prologue. His reason? His wife had just had a difficult operation. Nobody tried to claim that he was scared of the Vuelta then - though I would have loved to see him make it to the top of the Angliru looking his usual stylish self.
Don't forget "absolutely", "totally" and the all-time favourite at our house..."Literally Blown Away".
Paula Laurent and Tom Evans,
Liggett/Sherwen drinking games #2
Drink when an error is made converting meters to feet. Drink when elevation gains are confused with sea level heights.
Liggett/Sherwen drinking games #3
Couldn't resist getting in on the fun:
Drink every time Paul or Phil turns a non-English speaking rider into an Irishman, as in "Vladimir O'Belli." Not sure you could make it through a stage with that one.
Seriously, hats off to Paul and Phil, they are a huge part of my enjoyment of cycling on TV over the years. Thanks for the great work guys!
Liggett/Sherwen drinking games #4
Drink up when Phil says:
"this is a very select group indeed"
These are our favourite sayings on our training rides!
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