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Letters to Cyclingnews - May 1, 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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Eddy Merckx is right about Lance Armstrong's performance on Sunday - but he should still shut his ale hole. There's got to be something better to do in Belgium than criticizing cyclists six degrees removed from your heyday. Monday morning quarterbacking (Lundi matin director sportifing) is perhaps the second most irritating thing in the world. That his comments were in Cyclingnews on a Tuesday moves them up a peg.
What's especially irksome is that the comments he attributes to Armstrong were in fact made by Merckx himself. Here he is a day or two before La Doyenne:
"I really don't see how anyone can beat Armstrong," said Merckx in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad. "Lance can do it and he is motivated. You don't need more than that."
Apparently you do. You need to fly around the world backwards to reverse time, save Lois Lane and then save Eddy Merckx from himself.
Then today, Tuesday, three days later, three days, THREE:
"He was supposed to sail to victory. To have listened to him, it was a formality and his rivals never even had a look in," said Merckx, in a story published in Tuesday's edition of L'Equipe. "In any case, he didn't impress me."
A lot of what (ugly) Americans are criticized for is egotistical rhetoric. But this mis-crediting a quote you yourself made and then criticizing it seems quite continental. I have a theory about Merckx's inordinate attention to Armstrong: it's the only name he can pronounce when he's had more than four lambics.
Eddy Merckx was/is the greatest cyclist of all time. No one will ever approach his palmares but we in America understand that ex-athletes make for lousy neighbors. That's why we have fences, locks and thick insulation -- to keep from listening to pontificating ex-athletes. If there's one thing even more horrible it's an ex-demigod. They cut down all their trees and urinate outside.
All I'm saying is, let's stop talking and start Rundfahrting. Tyler Hamilton won beautifully. Lets concentrate on that. That he is the antithesis of the ugly American is just a bonus. He already has the grace that puffy, pale, ex-demigods will never possess. Whenever Europeans see a Hawaiian shirt and a fanny pack I pray they remember Tyler. He's the American we wish we deserved.
LBL - Merckx protective of Merckx Jr?
Is Eddy Merckx being a protective daddy or a jealous has-been? Did Eddy want Lance to wait for Axel? Let's face it, Merckx was great in his day but would be nowhere near that level in this era of cycling. He wouldn't win any tours but he might win a few Classics. The cycling community gives too much credit to Eddy's thoughts on cycling and Eddy feeds off that. He criticizes every rider at one time or another (even those on his sponsored teams). I assume criticizing today's cyclists makes him feel more secure about himself and his long past cycling days.
LBL - Bruyneel's comments
Well, clearly Lance's form is good, but he is no Michele Bartoli. If he were, he would have simply ridden the other contenders off of his wheel. It is weak of Johan to say that Tyler et al were fresh because they weren't to be seen earlier in the day. Racing has tactical and strategic elements. He degrades Tyler's win by suggesting (even if it is ever so slightly) that he didn't deserve it because he didn't work hard enough. There's an old song that says, "The winners all grin, and the losers say, 'Deal the cards again.' " Johan just needs to face the fact that Lance got beat. Lance probably needs to come to grips with this also... didn't he complain similarly when he got beat at Amstel Gold by Michael Boogerd?
Although you definitely cannot compare riders of different eras, and comparing Cipo to Binda is no more valid than comparing Lance to Merckx, there is one thing you can say. Binda's record of stage wins in the Giro has stood for a long, long time, and no one out there now is even close to it, except for Mario Cipollini. It is like someone approaching Maerten's record for stage wins in a single Vuelta. When a record that stands for so long, breaking it is surely something we should think ourselves lucky to witness. For all his posturing and tantrums, for my money Cipo is marking him self as a true champion in a way that only Jalabert and perhaps Museeuw have in recent years.
Cipo's chosen goal is to win stages of the major tours, and he does this regularly, throughout the season, against all comers. Forza Mario! I for one will be very disappointed if Mario is once again not at the Tour. As much as I enjoy the climbers racing to destruction in the mountains, the spectacle of Mario, Zabel, Steels and McEwen going for it in the early stages would be wonderful. I fully expect to see the well drilled team leading Cipo through to a handful of victories while the others can do nothing but flail away in his wake. Except for McEwen, who can bludgeon away…
Binda and Cipollini - who races but to win?
In response to Tim Lee's letter I would like to say, that I just cannot understand his reasoning. Why else should Cipo, and indeed anybody else, race if not to win? To finish 129th in the Tour with a couple of third and second places? Would that make him a champion? Such complaints are simply pointless. Cipollini himself said he would never dream of comparing himself to Binda. Yes, there won't be another Binda, but does that imply that say Eddy Merckx was not in the same class since he never won 80 percent of stages in one Giro as Binda did in 1927 when he got 12 out of 15?
Binda and Cipollini - Cipo knows
If Cipo breaks the Giro stage wins record, he's still not Binda. He knows it. In baseball, a game infused with records and data collection of every sort, nobody thinks Barry Bonds or Big Mac is better than Babe Ruth. There's only one Babe, one Binda. And for that matter, only one Cipo. Will we ever see a better sprinter?
Raymond F. Martin
Binda and Cipollini - different but equal
Let's face it, whatever their differences, the first person to the line in a bike race is the toughest bastard out there. Riding my rollers during the winter, I have ample opportunity to watch videos, and almost without exception the first person across the line is the one who has suffered the most. This is what the pursuit of excellence is all about. The rest of the debate is about as mature as two kids arguing about who's dog would wind up on top in a fight.
In many ways Cipo is like a child. We may all laugh at his folly in-between races and regard his "tantrums" with amusement and some disappointment, like some youngster going through the lessons of life. Cycling needs colorful characters though, and Cipo certainly sets the bar where color is concerned. The attraction I have to an athlete like Cipo, and I'm sure others share my opinion, is that he is transparent, we get to see what goes on in side his head a lot of the time. How hilarious was it to see the success he had immediately after Saeco gave him the boot? Combined with Savoldelli's Giro win I was laughing till my sides ached every time he won at the irony.
Sure he gets mad, yes he punched a guy at the Vuelta, yes he threw bottles at a motor cycle, but these endear him to me more because they show us the other side of Cipo. The side that has difficulty accepting setbacks, a side I see as an inability to control the driving passion that makes champions. The man gets upset that some one insulted his parents while his father was very sick and hits him, for that he is not a Champion? I disagree. I think that regardless of what anybody says Cipo has shown an ability to go through adversity come back, and get his job done better than he ever had before.
There's no disputing that last season saw Cipo become a champion, that has been rehashed here time and again. No he's not Binda, Merckx, Indurain, or Armstrong. He's not Museeuw, Van Petegem or Tchmil, hell he's not even Erik Zabel, he is Mario Cipollini and that is a name that will stand out in its own right for years to come.
A final thought. It was mentioned that Cipo was not a champion because he only raced to win. Now it seems to me that it takes a lot more guts to say 'I will win that', and follow through, than it does to race everything looking for opportunity. I know this isn't quite the point that was being made, but the point has been made many times, why finish a grand tour in 115th place? What does that prove? Hell, what does finishing in 30th place prove? In Alpine skiing it is considered better to have an athlete DNF because that way they at least pushed the edge. Cipo could train towards GC and finish a few grand tours but why? At best he'd be a no-name support guy, so what does he gain from that?
It looks to me a great idea to run the women's events in conjunction with some of the men's stage races. This reminds me the Unipublic's proposal for the Vuelta that consisted in two pelotons riding the same day, the same route, but one earlier than the other. Considering that this year we have seen an aborted attempt to organize the feminine version of the Vuelta here, in Spain, and the problems for the Tour Feminine it might be a good moment to study this approach not only locally but (why not?) at an UCI level.
Women's stage races with men's - it's been done
Regarding having women race the big tours before the men, the Tour de France ran the women's race on the same day awhile back, probably '88 or '89.
It's a good idea in theory but in reality it was quite a dud. The tiny women's peloton and caravan looked pathetic compared to when the "beeg shew" arrived.
It was reduced to a pathetic sideshow and didn't do justice to the efforts of the athletes and organizers... though I can't say that was the reason it was dropped.
As an asthmatic who loves the look of amazement on people's faces when they realise that guys with supposed breathing problems can do 200km in a day while they gain weight on the couch, I was rapt to hear Harley's story of success. I also feel that people may gain something from hearing a bit about how I have learnt to control my asthma.
I have had asthma since childhood, when it was life-threatening. Thanks to modern drugs and medicine, I'm still alive. My asthma has abated as I've got older, but it can still get to the point of scariness when attacks hit, and, less seriously, has seen me pull out of the odd bike race and wheeze for the rest of the day.
Harley has had great success with his diet. For me, it doesn't work. If I don't eat red meat, I feel weak after 3-4 days, and I like to get my vitamin B and iron from the natural sources my body evolved to take. Wheat, mainly in the form of bread and pasta, is a large part of my diet. Carbos are needed by any endurance cyclist. And I enjoy the occasional coffee. And herein lies my first point - a good diet and good general fitness keeps you healthy, and the less often you get sick, the less likely you are to get breathing problems.
But you need to know yourself. If you find a certain food type makes you feel flat, or bogged down, don't eat it. But there's no need to follow any particular regime with religious zeal. I've seen one million and one diets, breathing techniques and other miracle cures for asthma. They work for some people, some of the time. Eat a balanced diet. Ask your doctor if you think you might have a food allergy - diet is the key to solving asthma for A FEW PEOPLE.
Despite a good diet and general good fitness and health, asthma can still afflict people, and I still get some exercise-induced bronchospasm. I went to see a doctor, who prescribed a kind of long acting Ventolin called Serevent. I had a bad experience with this. It might work for some people. For me, I felt over-hyped, and then lightheaded, throughout the day.
Next time, I made sure I saw a sports medicine expert. He told me to continue taking Ventolin, which I've used since childhood, but also prescribed QVAR 100, a (UCI legal) oral steroid. Since then, my asthma has become far less frequent, and when it does come, it is far more easily controlled with Ventolin. I've been able to complete all my training and racing with minimal breathing problems, and when they have come they've been solved quickly with Ventolin. I don't think doctors try to "only sell us more drugs", although some get it wrong sometimes, and others are a little shortsighted when it comes to addressing diet as a cause of illness. Get second and third opinions. Try different things. For me modern medicine was and is the miracle cure that so many other things will never be.
Asserting that "modern medicine just treats symptoms, you have to look at the cause" is seriously flawed. When the symptom is not breathing, I'll take the treatment any day of the week. Deriding modern medicine is not the answer to anyone's problems. Be sensible about your illness. If possible, see experts in all the relevant fields. Good management of health problems like asthma is an individual thing. Diets might work for you, modern medicine for me. Let's respect each other's solutions, and remain tolerant and rational.
And, should you want to know, I'm no expert in medicine or nutrition. But I know that reading a single book won't give me a triple PhD in anything. Expertise in the human body is a life's work. I am deeply thankful to the doctors who have committed their lives to that work and in doing so saved mine.
Asthma and diet - veggies need to watch iron
I would just like to add to Harley's comments on being a vegetarian cyclist. I have been a competitive road cyclist and a vegetarian since 1997. I have to agree with Harley that you can benefit greatly from a meat free diet if you compensate properly. In the beginning I did not have any problems and actually saw an improvement in my performance, but over time I depleted my bodies stores of iron. This was due to poor choice of diet and I eventually became anemic. Without the b vitamins and iron from meat you need to eat the right vegetables to compensate for these vital nutrients. As a last resort I also recommend, as Harley said, a multi b but also an iron supplement. Ideally you would include ample amounts of things like spinach and broccoli to provide your body with the needed iron. I also recommend taking vitamin c to help in the absorption of iron due to vegetable iron being harder to absorb than iron from meat.
Asthma and diet - try whole foods
I just want to second Harley's advice to Andy. I'm not nearly the rider that Harley is, but I've consistently noticed a profound decrease in my (fast recreational) performance when I've consumed a significant amount of bread, pizza, etc. in the preceding day or two. I initially thought it was asthma, but tested negative when challenged with methacholine. I'd recommend to Andy that he try whole foods and soy-based products for a week or so and see if there's any improvement.
Asthma and diet - but what do you eat
Thanks for the info on your asthma. I have it too and have been on meds that keep it under control. But I have to ask what can you eat. You cut out almost everything.
Riders and commentators have been making similar comments for some time now with regard to the increasing criminalization of cyclists, who are often treated far more harshly than mere "civilians" would be for similar offences. Jo Planckaert and Chris Peers drew attention to the treatment of Frank VDB before Het Volk 2002, where VDB was led away in Handcuffs, more closely guarded than the Belgian paedophile murderer Marc Dutroux (he escaped from a Belgian courtroom, before being recaptured).
The respected commentator Bernard Callens of Wielerjaarboek asked, in the context of the exposure of teenagers to drugs, what anyone who had a 12 year old child (or grandchild) should be most worried about: that teenager starting racing, or starting secondary school, and then going to discos afterwards. He wanted to know where drug-taking was most rife, playground or peloton, adding that he had never heard of a drugs raid in a secondary school, but implied that it might be an idea to start.
Cyclists are all too human, this is not an apologia for drug-taking on the part of cyclists, it is just simplistic to expect them to be any different from the rest of society.
Here is an idea: How about the TV-stations pay a couple of riders to put a small camera on their helmets? I would love to see the cornering, the battles for position, the lead-out and finally the bunch sprint at 70 km/h from within the pack. I bet the top sprinters would not do it (except for Cipollini for the publicity) but how about their lead-outs? Even though riders are obsessing about weight and wind drag, cameras today can weigh less than 200 grams - that is less than the weight of a half-empty water bottle. The camera itself does not have to be very big (finger-size) and the transmitter could be in the back pocket or bottle cage. That would be a way to spice up those flat stages that can be a little bit of a drag and at the same time give the trade of the sprinters a little more respect. Maybe Boonen would wear one?
I'd just like to respond to the comment about Marco Pantani. Pantani may not have won a race yet in his comeback, but his situation is completely different from Ullrich. The last race that Pantani won was a mountain stage of the 2000 Tour de France and the last race that Jan Ullrich won was the 2001 TT World Championships over a year later. Those two events were also the last time that either rider has raced seriously. Now both riders are trying to make it back to the top and Ullrich was able to score a win in a small race against mostly lesser-known riders, but if you just look at Pantani's results since his first race this season, you'll see that he's finished in the top 15 in almost every race and the top 10 in a large chunk of them. Pantani may not have won a race yet but has been very consistent (even more so than Ullrich or Armstrong) and IF he can reach his top form by the start of the Giro, he should be considered one of the major challengers.
It's great to see Jan back; cycling needs him. It's almost as if after falling so low with all his problems he can now race and enjoy it, rather than having to be the next Indurain. I don't think people understood the profile and pressure he had in Germany, and as we can see, with no Jan no-one else stepped up to challenge Lance last year. I was worried about the stability of Coast, but it doesn't seem to be distracting Ullrich which is good. As for Armstrong's' asides about 'racing for free' this is surprising considering he charges US$50,000 for an appearance.
Welcome back Jan -- see you at le Tour and the world champs.
Does anybody know why Jan Ullrich doesn't appear to have the rainbow stripes printed on his sleeves, following his stint as World Time Trial Champion? My impression is that the career-long sleeve stripes are for anyone who's ever won a world title as a pro. Thus Ekimov still bears the marks of his pursuit title from way back during the reign of Bush I. Even had he not won the time trial title, Ullrich's sleeves should at least memorialize his two national road titles, as do (say) Erik Dekker's. Is this just a matter of discretion? Is Jan just a humble guy?
Maybe I'm just missing his name but does anyone know what Cadel Evans is up to. His name doesn't seem to be appearing in any of the race write ups and I - and I'm sure a lot of others - are keen to follow his progress with his lead-up to the Tour this year. His diary and personal website seem to have not had any updates for some time, any news would be great.
Well, I recall seeing a Graham Watson picture of a woman riding bare-chested alongside the peloton, with some bemused, amused, and downright lascivious looks coming therefrom!
Does anyone know what ever happened to former U.S. National team member Rene Saenz?
I really feel a need to respond to letters that continue to bash the efforts (and successes) of British cyclists in Europe. Now I would be the first to admit that British cyclists are not topping the UCI tables for number of wins in a season and there may not be a Division I team registered in Britain, but having said this, and having forever listened to criticisms of British cyclists maybe we should actually look at the facts. There is a developing infrastructure within Britain that is by no means ideal as it is stifled by an old guard who maybe do not see that Europe is the most important goal for many cyclists.
In spite of this, we have David Millar, a man, who if we forget the petty criticisms of his detractors, has lead and won stages in the Tour de France and Vuelta a España. He has won week long stage races, finished second in the World Championships and performed with such amazing talent that Lance Armstrong even recognizes his talent.
Bradley Wiggins, a man who shows exceptional talent and has the ability to shine not just on the road but on the track. Roger Hammond, who mixed it with the big-boys in Paris-Roubaix, Gent-Wevelgem and Fleche-Wallonne. Then Max Sciandri who is recognized as a classics heavy weight after having won World Cup races and stages of major stage races in his career. What about British National Champion Julian Winn? The Welshman had landed himself a contract with fakta and has ridden competitively in many races this year. Jeremy Hunt won the UCI 1.1 Grand Prix Ouest France last year and has won stages in week long races against Mario Cipollini. Charly Wegelius and Jamie Burrow who have ridden for Mapei and US Postal respectively. Then look at the trackies. Multiple World Champion and Olympic Champions.
Then there's Nicole Cooke! She has won a World Cup race and other races. She is a multiple world champion, and as a pro has pushed herself into 14th place in the world already. Who will bet against her being world champion this year - not me! Nothing else needs to be said, she is pure class.
So looking back in history there has been Chris Boardman, a multiple world and Olympic champion and wearer of the Tour de France yellow jersey on more than one occasion. Sean Yates, a record holder for the fastest Tour de France stage, and wearer of the yellow jersey while being one of the most respected men in the peloton. Robert Millar, a KOM in the Tour, and Malcom Elliot a points jersey winner in the Vuelta. How about further back? What about Tom Simpson, the World Champion and Barry Hoban.
Fair enough, Britain might not be the number one ranked nation in the world but give it credit for the countless classy victories that it has had.
Thanks for the great interview with Slava Ekimov. I have followed his career from his appearance on the Soviet amateur team in the 1988 Tour de Trump. He made his mark that year and let the pros know he'd be force to contend with in the future. He has lived up to that early promise and had some great rides over the years. His quiet and humble service to US Postal has been outstanding. Who could ask for a better teammate? I hope he continues to ride because he brings "class" to any event he enters. Does he have fan club or a web site?
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