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Letters to Cyclingnews - April 10, 2003
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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Sea Otter Stage 1
I'm very proud of the men's Elite riders in their actions in the Sea Otter Classic Stage 1 Redwood City Circuit Race today. After my friend Garrett LeMire's death in the Tucson Bicycle Classic several weeks ago, the riders did not take their safety for granted, and after inspecting the course, decided that it was unsafe to race, rather than assuming that the promoter had made the appropriate considerations before designating the course. I was however somewhat disappointed that the women did not do the same. While I realize their field was substantially smaller, all it takes is a car pulling out of a hidden driveway while a cyclist is racing down a technical decent at 40 miles per hour to add to the statistics, no matter what size the field is.
I hope that racers at all levels will in the future more carefully consider the courses on which they are going to race, as I now do. After all, with so many races every weekend through the United States, as well as in most cycling-mad regions around the world, skipping a few questionable courses isn't going to make much of a difference over the course of a full season...even to top American pros.
What's happened to the motorbike riders who follow races? I've never seen so many falling over and getting in the way. The one that KO-ed in front of Cipo/van Bon/Kirsipuu during Gent-Wevelgem was an all-time classic! Have standards slipped or is this a new ploy by the authorities to make the races tougher?
One other point. Will Tom Boonen's crash into the photographers finally indicate to the UCI and race organisers that the place for the happy-snappers is not spread almost completely across the road, just a few feet past the finish line? There's been loud debate on the contribution to riders' safety by helmets; how about addressing some of the other safety threats?
As a former track cyclist now working to build a track in my community, I would like to add a comment about the USAC's selection procedures and support of track cycling in general. I'm not an elite track cyclist, and mostly competed locally wherever I happened to live. But I see Dr. David B. Bailey's point, why should an elite cyclist choose track racing when there are far more secure opportunities elsewhere? Not just with regard to the World's team selection, but racing and sponsorship opportunities, too. There's only one T-Town when there should be twenty. Another way USAC could fulfill USOC rule VII.1.A, "develop interest and participation throughout the United States and be responsible to the persons and amateur sports organization that it represents" would be to assist more local organizations in building velodromes in their communities.
I realize USAC's mission is not to build tracks, so I don't blame them for any lack of effort. But clearly there is no track racing without a velodrome. Currently, most velodromes in the US have development programs helped by USAC coaches and camps, but there are simply not enough of them, especially in areas with strong support for cycling, such as Denver/Boulder, Austin and Boston, to name a few. More velodromes would increase the pool of talent for elite track competition in the US by increasing the number of track cyclists from which to draw. USAC should work with organizations trying to build tracks. There is currently no Lance Armstrong Junior Olympic Series for track. Why not something like it? They should facilitate track cycling "little leagues" with schools and parks & recreation departments to include track racing alongside baseball and soccer leagues.
The major reason for the lack of velodromes is their cost: infrastructure, land, programs, and maintenance. Until I started working to build one in Boulder, I didn't realize that a 200m plywood track could be built for US$200,000 (Peter Junek/Board Track Racing, Inc.). Even in this economy and the war, there must be individuals or companies out there that can afford to fund a track, donate land, and fund an endowment for programs and maintenance. No doubt many more exist who would be willing to sponsor a fleet of loaner bikes. This kind of track will never play host to World Championships, but it could launch the career of the next Colby Pearce, Jame Carney, Marty Nothstein… or even Lance Armstrong.
There seems to be a problem this year at USA Cycling with the organization forgetting to give cyclists vital information in a timely manner. Going to the USA Cycling website, the National Championships schedule has been posted on the website since the third week in March. Elite Nationals are May 21, 22 at some TBD course in PA, "Schedule subject to change..." Today is April, 3rd and there is roughly 6 weeks until the nationals. Courses are not set; hotel and travel information is not posted on the USA Cycling website! I haven't received the USA Cycling Publication in months so I have only the webpage to go on. How can this be acceptable to anyone that has to take time off from work, make arrangements in that time? By the way, you have to try and be in peak form in 7 weeks (in Colorado, the racing season has barely started!).
I thought the story about the track cyclists and the USAC selection procedure problem is an interesting coincidence. Colby Pearce made the statement about the USA Cycling's World Cup track selection criteria that, "It is absolutely essential that these procedures are known to the athletes before the World Cup competitions begin. Specifically, months before. Not over half way through the World Cup calendar, as is the case now." Right on! This sounds too familiar! It seems that communication is a problem in Colorado Springs. Take Colby Pearce's quote and apply it to the National Championships, and you get the same problem!
It is bothersome that the answer to Colby's letter was, "USAC in fact didn't change the selection criteria, we simply had not yet published them for this year." Is this the kind of answer I should expect from USAC about Nationals? In my job if I made up that kind of excuse for being 3 months late on an assignment, I'd be fired! How is that fair to the track cyclists? How is that fair to cyclists going to Elite Nationals this year?
With 7 weeks to go to Nationals, I'm inclined to try and find an airline ticket, but the TBD and lack of any information on the USA Cycling website makes me a little hesitant. Is USA Cycling going to reimburse my plane ticket if something goes wrong or there is a last minute change in venue or schedule?
In the end, one good thing to note is that I did email my concerns Gerard Biscegilia, the new CEO at USA Cycling and got a prompt reply. He said that this is a known problem and he is personally looking into it and assured me that this will not happen next year because they were already looking into venues and dates for the 2004 Nationals. Gerard also gave me the address of Mr. Murphy, the USA Cycling point of contact for the Nationals, (I have not received a response yet...). Gerard Biscegilia's response made me feel good for a moment, but right now with the clock ticking and no new information about Elite Nationals, I'm coming back to the comment I made to Gerard that my overall impression of USAC is that it is 2nd rate.
If you would allow me to get on my soapbox a minute, does it seem strange that in Colorado, the home state of USAC, that there is only a couple of USAC events? If fences were to be mended, and a peace offering made to a group like American Cycling Association, why not offer the management of the National Championships to ACA? My only point to drive home on this is that USAC is not getting it done and other organizations out there are doing things better. You can argue maybe not by much, but at least somewhat better! Ok, off my soapbox.
I'm not saying someone should be fired or that the people at USA Cycling don't have a hard job of managing competitive cycling in the United States. I actually think that maybe Gerard Biscegilia will bring some good changes to USAC. My point is that the task of providing vital information in a timely manner to athletes, members, officials, and sponsors should not be treated so lightly, nor should member concerns go ignored. These are not unreasonable requests for a member of USA Cycling.
By the way, as of 04/01/03 the USA Cycling website was re-done. However, I could not navigate the site to see if any new information has been posted for Nationals. On my browser, the USA Cycling webpage is unusable; several of the links (especially the link for National Championships Information) do not work! Has anyone else experienced this problem?
Whoever heard of bike racers refusing to ride up and down a hill because it's inherently dangerous? Participation in Paris Roubaix looks like it will be limited this year, and we may as well ban mountain bike racing as it's clearly insane!
I do agree however that professional cycling seems more risky than it used to be, given the increased number of fatalities in the past decade. However I believe a large number of crashes are caused by riders taking risks that past racers did not. It strikes that the peloton need use their brains a little more and ride at a safe speed for a given road, as well as using the best available safety equipment. A prime example of this is Formula One racing, where drivers all race at Monaco, and stay within their limits at low speeds so that the circuit is no more dangerous than any other. Organisers too could help by spending a little money on the type of inflatable crash barriers seen at motorcycle events to protect against obvious hazards.
Thanks for your response Stephan (I think!). As you say, everything is relative and you also need a sense of history. Not long ago I was criticised for concentrating a letter on David Millar, the correspondent pointing out, quite rightly, that there were other British roadmen around in Europe.
And that's the point I was trying, obviously badly, to make. I agree we aren't anywhere near the Australians or the Americans but IMHO we're doing better than we were. Not that many years ago we could boast Chris Boardman and nobody else. Now we have half a dozen riders in Division I and II teams riding in the big races and putting up a decent show. And don't knock 'just getting round' the Paris-Nice - a huge number of much more famous riders didn't manage it.
I haven't been following this thread very closely so I don't know whether Valley Fever has been mentioned, but if it hasn't, it may be a possibility. Valley Fever is a fungus which grows in the lungs and can be quite debilitating. It can only be, as far as I know, contracted in the desert southwest. As many know, the Postal team has a training camp in the Phoenix/Tucson area every year and it may be that Mr. Hincapie had the great misfortune to inhale a spore floating on the breeze while on a training ride. I know a few people that have contracted Valley Fever and they had much the same symptoms: difficulty breathing and a feeling of general malaise. Good luck in your recovery! Life can suck off the bike.
I agree with Paul Oram that mandating helmet use levels the playing field. During climbs we've all seen riders pass the helmets to the team car. Carrying extra weight on a climb will slow a rider down. No one will contest that. I have heard some riders comment that they feel hot inside a helmet under certain conditions. The "voice of the peloton" is that riding with a helmet is different and in some cases will lower their performance when compared to helmetless riding. This set of rider beliefs is why mandating helmet use is the only way to protect the riders from risks they will be tempted to take. The UCI set minimum bike weights to prevent riders from taking extreme risks with their equipment. It is time the UCI took a firm stand and mandated helmet use in the pro peloton.
Helmets and marketability - other sports not affected
The 'de-humanising' aspect of helmets has had little effect on sports such as motorcycle GPs, Formula 1, or even downhill mountain biking. If a rider has a distinctive personality it will find its way onto their helmet - much as Cipo's personality finds itself on to every piece of his kit, or Lance's Texas star appears on his helmet when he chooses to wear it.
As a marketing professional I'd say that helmets offer a new marketing opportunity, should anyone seriously place this higher up the agenda than rider safety (I'm not for a minute suggesting that you do personally ).
As for making riders easily identifiable to the less knowledgeable or spectators new to the sport, might I suggest that the rule be 'no rider shall wear a helmet design the same as another'. This might also encourage kids to wear helmets in emulation of their heroes.
Helmets - lose them for mountaintop finishes
The debate for/against helmets will continue for a long time. As for marketability or 'recognizability', helmets have not stopped American Football players from being adored, nor has it prevented the hockey profession from flourishing.
I think we can all agree that a helmet will help in preventing injuries. Yes some accidents are so traumatic, that the helmet would not have saved the life, but the "average" crash, typically yes.
As for "wind" or "breathability", Specialized has released data showing that the efficiency of their newest helmet is greater than 99% when compared to nothing at all, meaning a loss of less than 1%. Not too bad. But after 6 hours on the bike finishing on Ventoux... it might be the little edge you would like to have.
My proposal: any race that finishes with a mountain top finish, racers would be required to wear them until the base of the final climb, and then discard them. For that matter it could be done at the base of any mountain climb. Of course the designation of the mountain would have to influence whether or not, but this is just a work in progress. The riders could then pick up their helmet at the top of the mountain, just like grabbing a piece of newspaper. Since most of us can agree that suffering and not head injuries result from the ascent of the mountains, maybe we have a compromise. ITT could also be left to the choice of the rider, although most now wear aero, it could be left as a option.
Michel van Musschenbroek (Not UCI President)
Helmets - stats say they don't save lives
Mr. Snook suggests that I'm speculating about the statistics when in fact I'm merely reporting the findings from studies by, for instance, Dorothy Robinson, a medical statistician, who was a lot more involved in them than I. I implied nothing.
My position is pretty plain - an inspection of the forces involved and the practical construction of helmets makes it virtually impossible for a helmet to have any significant efficacy on the sort of accident which causes fatalities. Statistics derived from actual road accidents backs this claim up entirely.
And the insistence that helmets are designed to save lives compromises the design of the helmet and reduces their ability to protect in more minor accidents in which a helmet could be fairly considered to be of some value.
When was the last time you heard someone say that they fell off and hit their head but the helmet compressed without breaking? No, all you hear these days was that the helmet obviously worked because it was broken into pieces. Helmets are not designed to work by breaking but by compressing. While there is some benefit to a helmet regardless of the breakage you cannot absorb energy properly unless the helmet is in the shape it was designed.
Helmets would seem to have some value in reducing minor injuries to even more minor injuries. Racing, in particular, is an area which can benefit from this advantage of helmets. However, these sorts of studies aren't pursued. For all we truly know the weight of a helmet and position of a helmet and risk homeostasis might cause more head blows in falling cyclists than the helmet mediates.
However, I must state again, professional racing is a competition of ultimate performance measured in speed. Helmets reduce performance according to those who perform the best.
The helmet myth is one of the most enduring in cycling. It is the only one in which complete novices feel superior to the experts in the field. If you think that a helmet is going to help you then by all means wear one. But please give others the benefit of their own opinions in these matters as well.
Anyone who has OLN should consider themselves lucky. I used to live in the USA and I loved watching the races on OLN. Now I've moved to Spain and one would think that I would get to see all the races on TV here. Wrong! Especially the Italian races. The Italian TV, RAI, is charging the TV companies from other countries so much money to broadcast the races, that they just aren't putting them on. I've missed Milan-San Remo and if things don't get sorted out soon, I'll miss the Giro too. What a shame, living in Europe but I won't be able to watch a race like the Giro on TV. I never realized how good I had it back in the US when it came to watching races.
TV coverage - worse in Australia
In response David Rous's letter relating to people complaining about the quality of cycling coverage you receive in the US, spare a thought for us Aussies. For a nation that was ranked sixth in the world last year the best we can get is 1 hour delayed coverage per night of the Tour de France, several weeks delayed highlights coverage of one or two of the classics and delayed highlights packages of some of our domestic summer criteriums. I would quite happily sell my own mother to get consistent up to date coverage of World cup races and Grand Tours. I consistently have cable TV companies trying to sell me subscriptions and so I ask what cycling they show and most of the sales reps just blink vacantly at me as though I had asked for a burger with fries. All I can say is thank goodness for Cyclingnews and our own domestic free to air TV station Sex Between Soccer (SBS).
I sympathize with Steve Farris's concerns. During the course of an unbelievably sad seven-year span, six cyclist friends of mine were killed as the result of being hit by motorists. Yet just one person was incarcerated, and only because the incident which resulted in my friend and teammate's death was also this driver's third third-offense drunk driving conviction. They sent him to prison for being an habitual offender--NOT for killing my friend.
As an aside, it was May, 2001, when--while on a group training ride in the countryside north of my home with about 40 or 50 other cyclists--a motorist buzzed three of our groups (we had broken into smaller groups as we approached a stop-ahead sprint) driving down the middle of the road.
Yet it was I--one of the cyclists--who was charged with assault for calling her a "lucky witch" (or something close to that...) for nearly killing us.
I was placed on probation. But I'm off now!
Ride to work - hostile workplaces
There might be a less personally damaging way to respond to this than leaving your job. Instead of being bullied by the facility manager, go and see the organisational and HR managers. Talk to them about the benefits of cycling, for health and public infrastructure. Show them the information that now abounds about the role of employers and government in facilitating ride-to-work. Ask them to support you and other employees to do this, by providing effective end-of-journey facilities.
The information you need is readily found on state government and city council websites, and includes cycling strategies (e.g. draft Queensland Cycle Strategy http://www.transport.qld.gov.au/qt/driver.nsf/index/qcs), bike parking design information (there is an Australian standard and most state governments have brochures on their websites), etc. Your city council probably has a cycling access coordinator, who would be able to point you towards companies that facilitate ride-to-work. Your state cycling institute will also be a big help.
Good luck, and don't give up.
I'm not going to comment on whether Lance should race more or focus on other races (that is entirely up to him and his managers), but the unfortunate reality, whether we like it or not, is that the only race that is important in the US is the Tour.
Last year, US riders had a very good season including Tyler Hamilton's second in the Giro, Lance's wins at the Tour, Midi Libre and Dauphine, his second at Criterium International, Fred Rodriguez's second at Milan San Remo and Gent Wevelgem, and the list goes on. The only race that was even mentioned in the US was the tour. Even the local Boston news and newspapers didn't run much about Tyler's Giro success.
Lance, or any other US cyclist, could win races all year long, and the only race that would get any real mention by the US media (except maybe a three or four line report buried in the middle of the sports page) would be the Tour. Knowing that, it makes it a little easier to understand why Lance and the USPS team focus on the tour. That's what the sponsors want and that's what the sponsors get.
An astute Brit to think of these changes, however he is too late. Jason Queally had similar in 1999. He won the Olympic Kilo due to the superior design of his nose, although he did not have it moved to the back of his head. A more aerodynamic appendage has not been thought of yet. A better mod for Pantani might have been to have his ears rotated through 90 degrees so that they could provide aerodynamic lift which could only help in his quest to go uphill faster than anyone else.
I like the '02' national champion's jersey as worn by Robbie last year. I too think the yellow sleeves detract from the clean green and gold stripes. It also seems strange that Credit Agricole have not provided Stuey with matching knicks, arm warmers, helmet or glasses, like Lotto did for Robbie last year. I think that would look a real treat. Again, no disrespect to Stuey what so ever, he is all class and a very deserved champion, but I simply feel that his national champions outfit doesn't look as good as last year's.
Aussie Champion's Jersey - differentiate the disciplines
I agree with John Jeffrey's letter regarding the Australian National Champions Jersey. I would also like to point out the fact that the Jerseys do not differentiate the difference between being the Road Race, Time Trial or Criterium Champion of Australia. They simply stated Cycling Australia National Champion 2003.
From my point of view, the Jersey could at least state the Championship/event for which the athlete has gained the status of being National Champion. I understand that Cycling Australia has a budget to keep to, but from an athlete's point of view I think it is important that it is signified in which event the Athlete is in fact, the National Champion. The honour of being National Champion is something that not many athletes can achieve, although multitudes try, so perhaps with a little bit more effort on behalf of Cycling Australia it will see the Jersey become something that is truly held with the respect it deserves.
I think it showed last year, the "lift" that the honour of being National Champion bestows upon an athlete and the performances it can bring, ie Robbie's Tour de France, Margaret Helmsley's determination at the Commonwealth Games.
Or perhaps this saying is more appropriate "It doesn't matter how you race, its all about how you look on the start line!"
Aussie Champion's Jersey - only a jersey
John, it's only a jersey. It's hardly that different from Robbie's, a bit of extra yellow on the sleeve? What's the big deal. How is that "obvious" that he is attacking? If it's OK with Stuey, it's OK by me. We can't have the same jersey every year anyway.
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