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Letters to Cyclingnews - January 4, 2004

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; please stick to one topic per letter. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.

Each week's best letter gets our 'letter of the week' award. We look for for letters that contain strong, well-presented opinions; humour; useful information or unusual levels of sheer helpfulness.

Please email your correspondence to

Recent letters

Greatest of all time?
Reader Poll - Rider of the Year
Geniuses Feature
Flemish Flags
Adham Sbeih
Mountain Biking and Doping (smoking marijuana)
Tour 2004
Heras: Mission Impossible?
Put me back on my bike


Letter of the week

A signed copy of William Fotheringham's Tom Simpson bio is are on its way to Mark.
Click for larger image

Greatest of all time?

Pantani won his double in a year the Tour was decimated by the Festina scandal. While he beat the competition in front of him - and there's no way to judge this - there's a lot that followed from that year's Tour, not the least being reasonable questions about Pantani's own performance that were made more complex by incidents in the Giro the following year.

I think assessments and comparisons of this type are kind of worthless, because they always seem more about the values of those doing the comparison than anything else. Riders, for their part, are only great (or rather can only be shown to be so) within a context. Armstrong has won the Tour because of strict adherence to particular models of training that produces 'form' in a different rhythms and styles than before. A possible result of that model and its proliferation is that the broader scope of achievement, which happens over a whole racing season, may have disappeared for the riders who choose to develop the skills to excel in Grand Tours.

The stress of winning those events in the present day seems to make different demands on athletic physiology than what is required of those who win all year. The people who tend to do that - sprinters, usually - train for an entirely different result. That's not just about 'performing well', it's about specialization, and the requirements and costs of winning, and how they differ from those of riding well, or competing with consistency.

Specialists make choices about when they will win, or seek to, and contemporary training methods support those kinds of choices. That's an artefact of contemporary cycling, as are particular styles of riding and teamwork, styles that didn't exist in the past, or took different forms.

I'm with everyone who salutes Merckx's achievements and I wish I'd been part of cycling in that day. But an opinion like "Merckx is better than Indurain or Armstrong or Museeuw or …” seems more about a preference for the way cycling was done in those days, such that it could produce a Merckx as a kind of ultimate expression of its values. That's a different kind of possibility of greatness than what exists today, and maybe the best thing to do is to appreciate the way greatness is manifest in today's sport (or not) rather than trying to measure individuals from different eras against each other.

Comparing the differences in eras may not give fans a Grand Canon of Cycling with its Angelic Hierarchies All in Order, but it might help them understand more about the way their sport is evolving.

Mark Jenkins
Monday, December 29, 2003

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Greatest of all time? #2

Lance Armstrong? As much as I admire Armstrong, probably not. There are reasons that have been spelled out by different readers who know more about cycling and racing than I.

There is something that Armstrong has done that others haven't achieved, and that is to save the Tour de France. 1998 was a bad year for Le Tour, and I still wonder what would have happened if the raids, arrests and the like had occurred again in 1999. The Giro has survived such controversy, so I bet there would still be a bike race, but as has been said many times, the Tour is not the Giro. The big money, the prestige, the sponsors? Maybe gone. Look what happened with Mapei.

But what happens? Instead of drug raids and arrests, we get a marvellous story about a courageous athlete who overcame impossible odds. The Lance Armstrong story. Just winning the race is incredible. For anyone. To have a cancer survivor win the year after the sport and this race in particular takes such a black eye? If I'm Jean-Marie Leblanc, I'm naming my kids after this guy.

All kidding aside, it's the stories of cycling that impress, more than the cycling itself. The inspiration that such stories provide is what truly captivates. Lance has a story that is more compelling than most, and I think we now take it for granted. We didn't in 1999. Probably not the "Greatest Cyclist", but perhaps the "Greatest Cycling Story".

Mike Gates
Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Friday, December 26, 2003

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Greatest of all time? #3

I agree with Jason that comparing Merckx, Coppi, Indurain, Hinault (the notorious whining badger), and Anquetil's achievements next to those of Lance's five consecutive victories is like comparing apples to oranges. Each in his own right has won his place in the hearts and minds of cycling fanatics. Lance has earned his place in the pantheon of cycling gods, not as a phenomenal cyclist who raced and won year round, but as a cyclist who has survived cancer, dominated the Tour, and brought hope and inspiration to countless families and individuals.

Let's be honest. Making a comeback in any sport is difficult, if not damn near impossible. (Ask Pantani how illusive a comeback can be. Or ask Merckx or Hinault or Anquetil how difficult it was to capture their fifth Tour victory). But to suffer through the rounds of toxic, nausea-inducing chemotherapy, the surgeries, the insecurity you feel because you know that your cancer could come back and will always be a cancer patient in remission, and then make a dominating comeback…well, that is the essence of triumph, hope, endurance, and strength. This essence is what Merckx, Coppi, Hinault, Anquetil, and Lance have embodied.

All said we would do well to consider the historical and personal context of each rider before making myopic and trite statements about legendary champions. They all have given our sport and passion so much. They deserve our whole-hearted praise, not our impoverished and disdaining commentary.

Matthew Mecham
Aloha, Oregon, USA
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

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Reader Poll #1 - Rider of the Year

Tyler's [Rider of the Year] 'win' was no surprise to me. The man is as tough as they come and a true gentleman to boot. However, I suspect that the breakdown of voter nationality and who they voted for may be somewhat revealing as I suspect that the majority of visitors to your excellent website (which I personally have as my 'Home' site) are Americans. I'd hazard a guess that if your site was Italian and most importantly in the Italian language, that Bettini or Petacchi would have won, as the average tifoso is not well versed in English. Go on and truly surprise me by 'publishing' the voter country stats on the website.

Thanks for doing an excellent job.

Bob Lim
Saturday, January 3, 2003

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Reader Poll #2 - Who’s a Legend?

I was reading your Cycling Legends listing and it struck me. Maybe I'm getting older and have seen more than most of the readers in the US or maybe not. But I think that most of the people on that list as well as the Rider of the Year poll were more than deserving of mentions.

How can you compare the guts of Tyler coming back from being dropped near the end of the L-B-L and going on to win the race (first time for an American) with Lance winning his 5th Tour in a row? How can you compare that with Paolo Bettini’s performances winning the World Cup? And how does any of that compare with the Heras’ win in the Vuelta or Simoni's run away performance in the Giro?

What about Petacchi's marvellous sprint performances or Jan Ullrich's comeback that made the Tour the most exciting since LeMond fought Hinault.

In 2002 when Eki made his comeback and was at the San Francisco Grand Prix, the audience broke into spontaneous applause when he signed in. It was wonderful to see and I think that perhaps there was a tear in the eye of Viacheslav as he came off the stand. That doesn't happen to a lot of riders anywhere or at any time. It says something that everyone knew who Ekimov was.

Looking down the lists there were virtually no names that I didn't know. There was hardly anyone that didn't brighten my day sometime for some reason. Uh, but Steven and Ray - no voting for yourself.

Anyone that makes it into the ranks of the professionals and manages to even hold his own is a legend in my books.

Tom Kunich
Friday, January 2, 2003

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Reader Poll #3- Best Bike

The year end Cyclingnews poll is a personal highlight of the end of year cycling press. However, your best pro bike poll suffers from vote splitting among teams riding the same line of bikes. For example, Trek fans have only the USPS bike from which to choose, while Pinarello votes are split between Fassa Bortolo, Telekom, unspecified "Pinarello", iBanesto, and Prime Alliance. True, paint job is part of a bike aesthetic, and components may vary between teams. However, clearly the frames in the line are a large factor, and these are typically similar between teams using the same sponsor.

I recalculated totals using only the bike type, combining votes for individual teams. The result:

Rank Bike        Votes
1 Trek 184 2 Pinarello 180 3 Colnago 129 4 Cervelo 89 5 Giant 76 6 Time 59 7 Bianchi 58 8 Cannondale 55 9 Orbea 46 10 Merckx 40 11 King 25 12 LeMond 19 13 BMC 17 14 Wilier 15 15 Look 10 16 Gios 8 16 Litespeed 8 18 Specialized 7 19 Empella 4 19 Lapierre 4 21 Carrera 2 22 Merlin 1 22 Flanders 1 22 Principia 1 22 Decathlon 1 22 Scott 1 22 Opera 1 22 Dessel 1 22 Giorgione 1 22 Gitane 1 22 Battaglin 1

Trek still wins, but Pinarello and Colnago both improve substantially from their original placings of 3rd and 8th. I feel this ranking is much more representative of rider preference.

For next year, it would be interesting to see a separate vote for "frame", "components", "pedals", and "wheels". This would more precisely generate readers' idea of what constitutes an optimal road bike.

Dan Connelly
Redwood City, CA, USA
Tuesday, December 30, 2003

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Dan, we did point this out in the poll results, but thanks for the further analysis - Letters Ed.

Geniuses Feature

While Mr. Howat is correct that the Wright Bros got their ideas for controlling an airplane from cycling, it was not the leaning (banking) of the plane that was the real breakthrough. The real breakthrough was in how to accomplish the banking manoeuvre. This was inspired by an elongated cardboard box left over from a shipment of bicycle parts. When one of the brothers was tossing out the box he noticed how the box could be twisted. This is where they got the idea for wing warping, which is what gives the pilot control over the banking of the airplane.

Sometimes I wonder how much more advanced the bicycle would be if my cousins hadn’t wasted all their time playing with flying machines.

John Wright,
San Ramon, CA, USA
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

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Flemish Flags

Most of the criticism of the wielders of Flemish flags relates to their at times disruptive and negative effect at cross events. As far as I understand it most of the bearers belong, or are affiliated to, or indeed have been recruited on the day by the political-cultural movement "Vlaanderen Vlagt".

The bearers of Flemish flags at ‘cross events in Belgium need not necessarily be cycling fans, but seek to display their flags to maximum effect and in so doing spoil the spectacle for many. They were also present at the recent European cross-country championships in Edinburgh.

I don’t think anyone in Belgium wants to see a ban but would like rather to reach an agreement on numbers, size and positioning of the flags at cycling events. The incident with the broken nose was caused by a youngster, not a member of "Vlaanderen Vlagt", who was appalled and distressed by what he had accidentally caused to happen.

Stephan Esleben
Edinburgh, UK
Friday, December 26, 2003

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Adham Sbeih

I really appreciated the balanced way in which has presented the news about Adham Sbeih's doping test results, including Adham's own remarks. He's a guy who has beautifully represented the positives in the cycling world in so many ways. In my book he deserves the benefit of the doubt, especially in this realm where the science of banned substance testing is still at best rather imperfect.

Kent G. Washburn
Santa Cruz, Ca., USA
Tuesday, December 30, 2003

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Mountain Biking and Doping (smoking marijuana)

My question why would 'smoking pot' be on the banned list? While I wouldn't fire one up before my run in a World Cup event, I surely might consider it a day or two before with friends in a coffee shop in Amsterdam or Lugano. Would this constitute a suspension? Is this what the rule says? Or does it say you can’t get high before your run? The legality of smoking pot cannot be argued, but how much of it can you have in your system? None, I suspect is what the rules say.

So you can no longer hang out with your friends who you have grown up and been riding with for the last 14 years because you might test positive because 'John and Doe' were smoking a bomber on the way to the resort and you were sitting in the back seat?
What I see as a very real and very serious issue is the introduction of the pseudoephedrine products and caffeine to the "OK to use and abuse" list.

I foresee a big problem with not only junior racers but the local group rides as well. There is nothing worse than some asshole all pumped up on caffeine who truly believes that every group ride is his platform to showcase his/her new found cycling skills. You know the dick that puts the hammer down after the last stop sign out of town.

Let’s face it, smoking pot will only make you late for the group ride and eat more after it, if you do in fact make it on time.

Thomas Sulentic
Iowa City, IA, USA
Wednesday, December 31, 2003

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Tour 2004

In response to Niels Thissen and to Jeff Oliver's response to my letter:

Mr. Thissen, I don't remember anyone saying Lance came to the 2003 Tour in poor form(?). On the contrary, he had just won the Dauphine despite a painful crash. Nobody can come to the Tour in poor form and win, even LA.

You say "Lance is cracking" as if some inevitable, inexorable decline has suddenly begun. LA had a bad period in the 2003 Tour due to illness. He limited the damage, recovered, and by the end had put in an attack at Luz Ardiden that nobody could match. That doesn't sound like a rider in decline to me.

You admitted that Ullrich was also sick during the Tour - well, that means they both were - one of them won and the other got second. Let's not jump to conclusions based on a few mediocre stages. Ullrich also needs to improve his tactics, and he'd better learn fast, because the '04 Tour is only 6 months away!

Mr. Oliver - all I said is that dehydration was a major factor in LA's struggles, which it obviously was - I never said I believed all the numbers being quoted. LA's rivals can certainly all try to attack in succession, although I don't foresee any kind of coordinated effort between teams - too many egos and rivalries. Anyone who attacks repeatedly will also risk using up all their reserves. Vinokourov did this and eventually paid dearly at Luz Ardiden, the most crucial stage. Also, who's to say LA won't launch his own pre-emptive attack? The great thing is: nobody knows what's going to happen!

Steve Greene
Colorado, USA
Monday, December 29, 2003

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Tour 2004 #2

Armstrong is and can only be the favourite to win an unprecedented sixth Tour in succession. Primarily, as other letters have recognised, there are others of equal capacity, and although Ullrich and a few other notable contenders are (perhaps unfairly) ‘also-rans’ by comparison, they are undoubtedly of impeccable calibre. But Armstrong retains a seemingly greater psychological edge.

From one vantage point, Armstrong's quite clinical and bereft of some of the flamboyance of individuals past and present. However, the whole notion of 'professional' is to win races/support the team and bring home the results. Many remark how he reveals little of himself in "Every Second Counts", the second of his autobiographies. Again, this should come as little surprise - he's unlikely to expose any weaknesses whilst he remains a top flight professional.

Finally, as much as he is a cyclist, Armstrong is a calculating and shrewd businessman, were he anything less than confident of his ability to consume another Tour, he would have bowed out in 2003 to pursue business ventures elsewhere. I hardly envisage Armstrong having to return to the saddle after retirement in the manner befalling Freddy Maertens due to collapsing investments.

Michael Stenning
London, UK
Tuesday, December 30, 2003

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Heras: Mission Impossible?

I have to agree that Heras does have a chance even though Postal has picked up some strong riders to replace Heras. It will be a lot of work for Roberto but if he has the heart, I believe in him no matter who he rides for. Heras went to Postal to improve his TT abilities and he showed he has done that in the Vuelta.

I saw someone say that he couldn't even get away from Beloki for a stage win in 2002. If anyone saw the interviews after, they would know that he sacrificed the stage win for LA so he could get more time on Beloki.

I think that whoever wins the Tour this year is going to have to be one heck of a cyclist and have an exceptional team. I think everyone forgets that even though the Tour only has one winner, that guy can not win by himself and there are several exceptional teams out there for 2004

N. Joe
Friday, January 2, 2003

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Put me back on my bike

I enjoyed William Fotheringham's book on Tom Simpson. (My favourite phrases are those where he talks of washing dirty "two wheeled linen in public", and where he says that "dehydration was part of the [lethal] cocktail".) Still, the book leaves me with a question concerning the Simpson monument on Mont Ventoux.

Fotheringham says that Simpson's family filled three bin liners with cyclists' devotionalia from the monument at the end of one year. However, with hundreds of cyclists climbing up there each day during the season, this amount seems very small. Also, when I went up to the monument on two successive days this July, it appeared as if most of the previous day's souvenirs had been cleared away, and only around 2-20 token objects had been left. Do any of your readers know whether anybody services the monument during the high season on a regular basis?

Peter Niesen
Frankfurt, Germany
Friday, January 02, 2003

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Recent letters pages

  • December 24 letters - Inverell Track Open, Tour 2004, Roberto Heras, Greatest of all time?, Mountain Biking and Doping, Positive Tests, Geniuses Feature
  • December 19 letters - Heras: Mission Impossible?, Eating Disorders and Cycling, Tour 2004, Garzelli, Greatest of all time?, Geniuses
  • December 12 letters special: Vale Jiménez - Cyclingnews readers bid farewell to Spanish rider José María Jiménez (more letters added December 24)
  • December 5 letters - Learning respect, Heras transfer, Beloki's choice of team, Roberto Heras, Simoni's challenge, Greatest of all time?, Giro d'Italia stage for the public, Put me back on my bike
  • November 28 letters - Anonymous sources, Simoni's challenge, Bobby Julich, Beloki's choice of team, Floyd Landis, Punishing fatal driving, Roberto Heras, Greatest of all time?, Italians spending €600 million/year on drugs, Put me back on my bike, Tour climbers analysed, Giro d'Italia stage for the public
  • November 21 letters - Tour climbers analysed, Beloki's choice of team, Simoni's Challenge, Floyd Landis, Roberto Heras, UCI plans, Cyclist of the year, Tour 2004 - TTT rule change, Punishing fatal driving, Hamilton world's, Italians spending €600 million/year on drugs, Amateur racing in France, 2003 World's video wanted, Put me back on my bike
  • November 14 letters - Simoni's Challenge, Italians spending €600 million/year on drugs, Cyclist of the year, Tour 2004, Heather French Henry, Drugs in Cycling and in Baseball, VDB, Uphill Battle, Armstrong's inspiration?, Bobby Julich at world's, IteamNova, The Hour, Whither Vinokourov?, Three Wheels?, Hamilton world's, Amateur racing in France, 2003 World's video wanted
  • November 6 letters - Cyclist of the year?, Tour 2004, Bobby Julich at world's, Heather French Henry, Whither Vinokourov?, Amateur racing in France?, Six Day Bike Rider
  • October 31 letters - Charly Wegelius, $4000+ derailleur, Tour 2004 - TTT rule change, Bobby Julich at world's, Closure on the Mario Cipollini reign, Heather French Henry, Raimondas Rumsas debacle, Whither Vinokourov?, Six Day Bike Rider
  • October 24 letters - Tour 2004, New Pro Tour, What goes on the road stays on the road, Bobby Julich at world's, The Brits, Closure on the Mario Cipollini reign, World's absentees, Mario Cipollini, US media coverage, Heather French Henry, Jan Ullrich to T-Mobile - Whither Vinokourov?, Kelme's real problem, Every Second Counts--incorrect account?, Raimondas Rumsas debacle, Six Day Racer, UCI outlaws CX disc brakes, US$4000+ rear derailleur, Amateur racing in Spain
  • October 17 letters - What goes on the road stays on the road, THG, David Millar & the Brits, Every second counts -- incorrect account?, Hamilton course, Heather French Henry news piece, Viva Hein Verbruggen, Jan Ullrich to T-Mobile - Whither Vinokourov?, Bobby Julich at world's, Kelme's real problem, Lance Armstrong, Mario Cipollini, UCI rankings, What's that on Igor's bike?, Two Grand Tours with two different riders, Cycling etiquette, Amateur racing in Spain, Six-Day Bike Rider, Medal chewing
  • October 10 letters - Jan Ullrich to T-Mobile - Whither Vinokourov?, Hamilton race course, Caffeine and sport, WADA rule changes, UCI rankings, Hein Verbruggen, Roberto Heras, Mario Cipollini, Clear Channel, Two Grand Tours with two riders, Vets distances, Oscar Egg bike, Six-Day Bike Rider, Cycling etiquette
  • October 1 letters - Caffeine and sport, Vuelta? What Vuelta?, WADA rule changes, A sleepy thank you to WADA, Clear Channel, Roberto Heras, George Hincapie and Roberto Heras, Goodbye Saturn, Gran Fondo del Monte Grappa, Greg LeMond, Lance Armstrong's divorce, Suggestion for the big Tours, Supplements, UCI rankings, Ullrich's comments on Luz-Ardiden, Cycling etiquette
  • September 26 letters - A sleepy thank you to WADA, WADA rule changes, Goodbye Saturn, Supplemental responsibility, Cycling etiquette, Amber Neben, et al, Clear Channel, World's timing, World champion prognostication, Suggestion for the big Tours, Floyd Landis, Lance Armstrong's divorce, Jan Ullrich in 2004, George Hincapie and Roberto Heras, Greg LeMond, Gran Fondo del Monte Grappa
  • September 19 letters - Supplemental responsibility, Blame Canada, A strong US team, Suggestion for the big Tours, Amber Neben, Greg LeMond, Jan Ullrich in 2004, Kimberly Bruckner, Lance Armstrong's divorce, Greg LeMond's 82 World Championship, Tyler Hamilton's Tour win, Track
  • September 12 letters - Amber Neben, Mario Cipollini and the Vuelta, Lance Armstrong's divorce, Greg LeMond, Dehydration, Bobby Julich and Telekom, Did Jan Ullrich wait?, Tyler Hamilton's Tour win, Jan Ullrich in 2004
  • September 5 letters - No World's for Hamilton, Bobby Julich and Telekom, Ullrich in 2004, Did Ullrich wait?, Lance Armstrong, Major Tour Stage Wins, Contracts, transfers and negotiations, Dehydration, LeMond, Photo Finishes, USA Cycling Website
  • August 29 letters - Lefevere's Loss, USA Cycling Website, Bobby Julich and Telekom, Death in Spain, $125,000 Criterium in Charlotte, Australian/US grade equivalence, Bianchi and the TT, Did Lelli Wait?, Did Ullrich wait?, Lance Armstrong, LeMond, Major Tour Stage Wins, Photo finishes, Ullrich in 2004, US television ratings for le Tour, Dehydration, Contracts, transfers & negotiations
  • August 22 letters - Contracts, transfers & negotiations, $125,000 Criterium in Charlotte, Did Ullrich wait?, Dehydration, Team time trial, Australian/US grade equivalence, Bianchi and the TT, Lance Armstrong, Major tour stage wins, ONCE and Banesto's departure, The 99 crash, LeMond & Hinault, US television ratings for le Tour, Lance Armstrong's nickname
  • August 15 letters - Contracts, transfers & negotiations, The Telekom situation, Did Ullrich wait?, The 99 crash, Team time trial, French campaign against Spanish cycling, US television ratings for le Tour, Dehydration, US Postal and the Giro, Is the Tour clean?, Floyd Landis' Tour diary, Great cyclists, An anti-cramp product?, Hincapie and other Tour domestiques, Italian slur, Lance Armstrong's nickname, Regarding CNN's Jack Cafferty, Sportsmanship, Sprint at Luz Ardiden, Trying for number six
  • August 8 letters - Sportsmanship, Trying for number six, Sprint at Luz Ardiden, Regarding CNN's Jack Cafferty, Comments on Hamilton, Tour '03 fashion trends, Dr. Ferrari's comments on Ullrich's power output, Crashes, Dehydration, Great cyclists, Is the Tour clean?, Italian slur, Lance Armstrong's nickname, US television ratings for le Tour, Why not merge?
  • August 1 letters - Sportsmanship, Deja vu, Crashes, Dehydration, Lance Armstrong, US television ratings for le Tour, Dr. Ferrari's comments on Ullrich's power output, Is the Tour clean?, Armstrong's chances, Comments on Hamilton, Cycling is like opera, Tour bellies, Sprint at Luz Ardiden, Ullrich waiting, Why not merge?
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