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Letters to Cyclingnews - April 17, 2003
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Tough racing contributes to drug use
An open letter to Enrique Franco, the general director of Unipublic, organizers of the Vuelta a España.
Dear Senor Franco,
Race organisers seem to think that drug-taking by professional cyclists is nothing to do with them, so they stand back and hope that the world sees them as being clean, free from tarnish and in no way to blame.
This is a nonsense. The standard format of stage racing - long hours, day after day - encourages drug taking, particularly the use of recovery drugs.
Your willingness to consider a revolutionary new format of managing the Vuelta, by having teams competing throughout the first week for places in the second phase, suggests that you might be the ideal person to look seriously at the following proposal. I think you could help lead the way to a cleaner racing environment.
My proposal would transform the Vuelta into a team event, switching to a new format whereby a rider only rides on alternate days. If you want a name for all this, then how about six from twelve or Dougie World or anything else you feel to be appropriate.
It's all pretty simple and there's not a lot of detail needed. So here goes. Each team would start off with 12 names listed. On any one day, six members would ride while the other six were resting/recovering. So if the three-week event comprises a total of 22 stages, no rider would compete in more than 11. Your bonus, as an organiser, is that you could invite more teams to compete as each would never have more than six riders in action at once.
A second proposal to throw at you, would be to consider allowing teams to have a further four named reserves. This would avoid riders being pressured to continue when injured, or should I say to succumb to the use of drugs to enhance their recovery.
That's it in a nutshell.
The current position is farcical. You are all involved, not just the riders. The team managers and the sponsors and the race organisers. It is a communal problem.
When David Miller spoke out, saying that excessively-long back-to-back days of racing encourage the use of recovery drugs, event organiser Jean-Marie Leblanc slapped him down. How short-sighted. What blinkered thinking.
You have already shown a lead by trimming down the length of stages in the Vuelta. So how about going even further and adopting this innovation?
We've been used to having names such as Miguel Indurain, Jan Ullrich and Gianni Bugno as our heroes, but it would be just as exciting for fans to switch their affections across to teams. After all Kelme already has a cult following in its own right, no matter who is actually riding for Kelme in any particular event. Cycle racing is a team sport.
Supporters like me would admire you for taking action, for leading the way in providing a racing environment that minimises the need for drugs because if organisers won't give a lead, then the riders will always be under pressure.
Please provide a clean lead.
As an industry photographer at pro bike races here in the US, I take issue with Brian Hooper when he states:
"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?"
The first issue I would like to confront is the usage of the terms "happy-snapper" and "spread" in the same sentence. Such references appear to have Freudian connotations that go beyond the scope of the UCI's expertise, and thus would be best addressed by a licensed psychotherapist.
As to the second issue, the regressed echelon system of finish line photographers employed in UCI-sanctioned races worldwide has been successfully executed without incident for hundreds, if not thousands of professional races, many of which end in 70km wall-to-wall field sprints. (Incidentally, the spectacular crash in the 1994 Tour de France in Armentières that seriously injured Laurent Jalabert was caused when a French gendarme attempted to snap a photo of the finish while physically standing before the finish line).
Inherent within this model's design are the following fail-safe assumptions: (1) the riders recognize the necessity of our function that partially impedes their stop apron; (2) the riders have sufficient distance to safely execute collision-avoidance maneuvers with us either through braking and/or slight turning; (3) the riders are of such a level of experience and skill that the threat posed to both their safety and ours is for all intents and purposes negligible. Safety statistics for cyclist-photographer collisions during professional races would confirm this analysis to be fact rather than opinion.
John Eustice was the first US-based promoter - to the best of my knowledge - to apply this Euro-model line of regression for photographers at major North American races such as the First Union series (Wachovia) as well as his own Univest and Housatonic events. This angled 'line of glass' has repeatedly proven safe and effective, and is currently the best model in place that both adequately accommodates the large number of photogs who need to get "the money shot" for their editors as well as takes into consideration the protected safety envelope the riders must be allotted in order to avoid a collision.
In the case of Boonen's incident with the photographer at the 65th Gent-Wevelgem, although I did not see the video footage, witnesses have stated, which photos (http://www.cyclingnews.com/photos/2003/apr03/gentwevelgem/?id=sirotti/12) appear to support, that Boonen might have thought his line of inertia was in danger of being shut down by Henk Vogels to his near right. The ensuing reaction by Boonen, notwithstanding the accuracy of his perception of Vogel's actual line, appeared to exceed that safety envelope, resulting in a collision. Stuff happens, as they say.
I can assure you that none of the industry photographers I know have any desire to be frontloaded by a Gord Fraser or Mario Cipollini at the end of their 300 meter wind-up. Such an impact would spell almost certain injury for both parties, as well as destruction of an $8,000 telephoto lens and $3,000 camera body, not to mention a $4,000 ride.
One plane crash does not make for a grounded airline.
I agree that the Men's Pro race at Sea Otter was best canceled. I question why this race and the Stage 3 Crit were scheduled in the first place. In both cases the venue was not up to pro racing standards.
The Redwood City race was a nice course but people in the USA aren't Europeans. They haven't ridden bicycles much and they don't realize the speed of a bicycle or the danger that a car represents to someone on a bicycle. This is not to say that there aren't several other areas in Redwood City that might represent a safer and just as challenging course.
The Crit course was pitiful. On the front straight I was standing near the finish line looking down at the road and realized that there was an inch and a half wide crack that was about an inch deep with straight sides just in a dangerous spot on the finishing straight. One of the roads on the back of the course consisted of potholes and patches. It reminded me of sections of the Copperopolis Race course! No course is perfect but this one was rather less perfect than most.
The Sea Otter is a great race, in a great venue. The April time slot is probably better than the older March one. But there needs to be some serious management changes if the races are to be considered to be professional quality racing. This seem especially egregious when they could get the help of Velo Promo who put on so many sterling local races.
Race safety - Sea Otter men had easier decision
I agree the promoter didn't set up a race with rider safety in mind. In fact, my wife reported to me that she nearly ran head on into a van on that course and had it not been her quick thinking and some good bike handling skills I shudder to think what might have happened.
Although, I don't blame the women for racing because they had little warning about just how bad the course was until they were on it racing and at that point all they could have done was to stop and not finish the SR. It should be noted that the men had an easier decision because they had the advantage of knowing how the women's race went to base their decision and they were able to discuss it as a group prior to the start. The women had no way to know that the promoter didn't do his job.
Race safety - more responsibility needed
I want to say something very quickly on the safety of racing in America on open roads. Last weekend, just a couple weeks since Kivilev and LeMire were killed, a sketchy situation involving a racing peloton, a twisty descent, and an oncoming pick-up truck occurred in a road race in Northern California. The field I was racing in, led by a single moto official and no follow vehicle, was instructed at the start of the race to obey center line rules where the yellow line was present and "imagine a gost centerline where it is not present." On one particular blind left hander on a downhill an oncoming large pickup was moving at about 5-10 mph in the uphill "lane," as there was no center line on this bumpy backcountry road. Fortunately the small peloton was lined out and we all reacted quickly and safely and no racers went down, but we all definitely got a shot of adrenaline from that one!
This is a dangerous sport, I feel threatened every day I am training on the roads around where I live. Cars and trucks (increasingly larger SUV's and what not) do not expect to see cyclists AT ALL. We are a strange and odd thing out there on the roads impeding vehicles slowing them down and challenging their patience and courtesy. The race promoters need to be more responsible with regard to road and traffic safety, if you are charging anywhere from $20-50 for a single day race let's see some of that cash go towards whatever it takes to keep us alive and out of ambulances.
OK, Mario has not won a race in a couple weeks, so to get some attention, he announces he "might" be retiring at the end of the year to grab a headline. Talk about a needy child!
His goals are to win some more Giro stages to surpass the great Alfredo Binda. How about finishing as many Giros as Binda has won? I am not arguing whether Cipo is a good sprinter or that his talent is not spectacular. I was cheering for him during the World's last year, and glad he won; it was great.
But please do not compare in any way a man who raced to win the event with a man who races only the first week, okay maybe two weeks. Granted Cipo did finish a couple of Giros, but can you imagine what kind of stage win numbers Binda, Coppi, Bartali, Merckx, Anquetil, Van Looy, Hinault, Maertens, Kelly and so on could have won if they knew they did not have to save some reserves for the mountains?
Two different eras, not comparable. Is Cipo the greatest one week Tour, Giro, Vuelta sprinter? Absolutely. No argument here. But please don't mention him in the same breath as the true greats. How many points jerseys has he won of all the tours he has attempted? Three. Gee even that sprinting dynamo from Holland, Johan van DeVelde has won three of them.
I have a question. Who holds the record for voluntarily abandoning the major Tours. Any guesses? I guarantee, it is not Coppi, Bartali, Merckx, etc.
Michel van Musschenbroek
I had the same problem navigating the USA Cycling website. I read the splashy announcement that they had a new site up, and could only get the main page.
Concerning the Road and TT Nationals, I think USA Cycling should be ashamed of themselves. Every aspect of these events is a disrespect to their bread and butter membership. They announced the races eight weeks before the event is to take place, they put the road race and the time trial on consecutive days with no rest day, the races are on a Wednesday and Thursday, and no NRC events are in that area the following weekend. I think the last two items bug me the most. These are suppose to be non-Pro events(I know woman do not have a Pro category and Pro men can race the TT), but they have them in the middle of the week. Most racers try to hold down a job, and will have to take the week off, instead of one day.
I have come to expect this kind of service, but it still bugs me.
Wow! Laurence Leboucher in the top 50 (48th) on the first leg of Paris-Roubaix VTT, along with the men! Did I read right? Thanks for putting her (and the other girls) in the same standings. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but it is great to do so. Well, okay, they faded back in the overall standings, but still didn't look like they where from a different planet!
I've always liked to compare the performance of men and women. You can definitely see the difference getting thinner on certain events (check out Jeanson's climbing time, she's often in, or darn close to the top ten elite men). With the difference in numbers of participants, and the difference in infrastructure dedicated to women in sports (sponsors?) one can explain a lot. One day, they shall beat us fair and square! I can tell you that riding with my wife, I can see all the potential of a gifted athlete. She simply never had the chance to develop it. Women deserve equal space. Cyclingnews; keep on giving excellent coverage like that.
On a different topic, can you specify which bike Belgian Philip Meirhaeghe was using in the last Parix-Roubaix... You pointed out that Specialized had provided a new prototype "Roubaix" bike for testing; tricked-out with elastomer here and there. Philip broke his stem; that's never good publicity. Was it stock gear or some new test stuff? By the way, can you ask the guy to simplify the spelling of his name? I'm having a migraine already.
Where are the detractors that said for years that Hincapie should leave Postal in favor of another team who would better support him in the Classics?
It seems to me that Hincapie should be thanking Postal for staying with him! So far, Curious George has yet to manage a podium finish in P-R, the race that pundits have said he's is built to win. Yet Postal has placed riders on the podium in each of the last two years! When George crashed out last year, Tom Boonen was free to show his talents and this year Boonen finished a disappointing 24th with a "stronger team". With Big George out with a virus, the wily Slava Ekimov showed just how much he still has in those legs.
I like George Hincapie and think he is an asset to the Postal plans for TDF #5, but I'm tired of hearing people complain that he's not getting enough help.
Hammond's eighth place in Gent-Wevelgem and his 17th place in Paris-Roubaix were two decent rides by one Englishman taken seriously in Europe, if not by the British cycling media. Of course, Hammond is never going to be taken seriously by them because he lacks all the important things like a website, he also doesn't wear the right clothes, like the right bands, read the right magazines, he isn't the right height etc etc. In fact, he hasn't got a lot going for him, except that he is a good bike rider.
Hammond, to the best of my knowledge, has never been the subject of a serious full-length article in any British cycling magazine since he turned pro, some seven years ago. This says more about the British cycling media than it says about Hammond's ability.
While I have already had my say on the helmet issue, and must admit that my original position has been somewhat softened (but not completely), I have to take issue with Thomas Kunich's statement that "Helmets are not designed to work by breaking but by compressing."
This is simply incorrect - the function of a helmet is to reduce the impact forces transmitted from the road/car/tree to the head of the wearer, either by absorbing the energy (into a shell) or by increasing the time taken for the head to stop (Force = change of momentum / time, basic high school physics), by some softer lining crushing or compressing.
Most helmets (i.e. the styrofoam type) do this by absorbing and spreading the force, which more often than not results in the helmet breaking and/or the foam crushing in a sacrificial way, much like "crumple zones" in most modern cars. The old "hairnet" type of helmet, such as that worn by Jacky Durand (go DuDu!) works by compressing rather than breaking, and they have all but disappeared from the cycling world.
What effect this has on the overall argument I cannot say. But please, if we're going to have the argument let's at least make statements that are correct.
Simon van der Aa
Helmets - weight not a factor
I am honestly amazed at the lengths to which some folks will go to avoid accepting that their position is untenable and needs to be re-evaluated. Mr Kunich (Letters - April 10) now wishes to assert that it is in fact the extra *weight* of the helmet on one's head that will drag the head down in a crash, causing it to smack against the pavement and suffer *worse* injury than if there was no helmet at all. This argument reminds me of nothing so much as the protestations against seat belt use by those who were afraid that the seatbelt would jam and trap them in a burning/submerged car, and therefore that seatbelts in fact posed an objective hazard to drivers. Ludicrous, yes, but reiterated for years, just to muddy the waters around use of a vital safety precaution.
As someone who has actually spent enough time on a bike over the last 25 years to have crashed hard on a couple of occasions, let me assure Mr Kunich and your other readers that when one goes over at speed, the weight of the helmet is not a factor in how hard you fall. At 40 kph, you could have a giant helium balloon tied to your head and it would still go straight down until something solid stopped it. Under those kinds of accelerations, your neck simply is not strong enough to keep your head up, helmet or not (any more than an arm on the dash will stop you from going through the windshield in a car crash).
Helmets - breakages force replacement
Mr. Kunich wrote in his letter that "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." It is true that most people are more impressed by helmet breakage than merely compressing of the foam, and so are more likely to draw attention to broken helmets. In fact, many people I have raced with continue to race in unbroken helmets no matter how squashed they may be. The breakage actually serves as another form of safety, that of persuading the rider to get another helmet. I personally have had several serious wrecks, in one t-boning a prone rider at 36 mph. The helmet I was wearing at that time did not break. Outwardly there was only a slight scuffing of the hard shell. However, the entire left side of the helmet was approximately half an inch thinner than the other, hence it clearly compressed and retained its shape. The "minor injury" this protected me from was landing on my head from about six feet in the air. I can only assume from seeing others who did this without a helmet that the minor injury I was protected from was MAJOR brain trauma. The helmet probably did not save my life, but had I not been wearing it I probably would have trouble writing this letter.
Helmets - intended to fail
While Mr. Kunich makes a valid argument in regards to the statistics behind helmet use and abuse, he misses one very vital point: helmets are designed to fail.
Just like the crumple zone in a big American car, the outer casing (hardshell and polystyrene foam) are designed to cushion the blow from coming into contact with your skull. Look at the hard hats that construction workers use. They sit off of the head so that the space between the head and hat is utilized for dispersion of the forces involved in a falling object. In a helmet, the hardshell and foam are there to protect your head from a blow. That is physics. I am sure that if Mr. Newton was wearing a 2003 helmet, we might never have understood his laws of physics. And that apple might have been put to better uses.
Most helmet manufactures point out that the helmets are designed for ONE impact. They make no promises to the fact that you may have to buy a new helmet after crashing. It is their form of 'planned obsolescence' and it works. The cost of a new helmet is much cheaper than the alternative.
However helmets by themselves do not save lives. That is done through safe riding, paying attention and if you race -- learning how to crash. The use of a helmet is similar to the use of a seatbelt. If you are involved in a crash and hit your head, the chances that you will not sustain a serious head injury are greater if you wear a helmet. Conversely if you choose to ride sans helmet and hit your head, your chances of sustaining a serious head injury go up. Those are the facts. No matter what the statistics say in this matter -- and there are probably many -- the facts don't lie. Riders who hit their heads hard enough will sustain an injury. Why make it worse by not using an effective means of protection?
In response to Steve Farris' 'What if?': I have been seriously hit by a car three times during my 16 years in the sport. The last occurrence was while warming up for a time trial half-way through a stage race. Incapacitated but not dead (although I thought I was for a brief moment) many teammates expressed their concern and offered assistance that would have disqualified them for missing their start times. Had I been outta here and on to the next adventure, I would have thought it quite selfish for me to expect the race not to go on. Just because you are clocking out doesn't mean the factory stops.
In response to Nathan Deibert's letter, I would like to point out that most European TV stations cover mainly local races.
However, if he is not satisfied with TVE and its Teledeporte channel, I strongly recommend that he install a satellite dish for Astra and Eutelsat, thus he will get Eurosport, RAISportsat with every (!) Italian pro race and if that's not enough, German local TV broadcasting the entire GP Henninger Turm Frankfurt on May 1 and Rund um Köln (Cologne) next weekend.
All programmes mentioned are free of charge.
I'm planning to visit Europe soon and would like to see some of the spring classics such as Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Are you aware of any good websites that can provide course maps and info on the best spots to watch the races?
First I would like to congratulate everyone involved in producing what is head over heels the most superior English cycling news website on the internet. I hope I'm not singular in observing that it even surpasses (by far in my opinion) the sports websites churned out by the largest national sports networks on the planet covering mainstream sports that by comparison have much more commercial (economic) weight in the world today. The formula reports and bland recaps provided by major sports websites like ESPN and TSN (two major North American examples in my region) cannot hold a candle to your often colorful insights of the pro peloton. Just out of curiosity, what does the Cyclingnews "team" consist of? Who is involved, and how many people (significantly) contribute? Second, continue the good work.
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