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Letters to Cyclingnews - March 5, 2004
I have just read the comments of Bradley McGee concerning doping in our beloved sport and all I can say is "good on you mate" it's about time one of the pros is heard in a positive vein other than the trash comments of someone who thinks "ah all riders dope, there's not a problem with it" type of attitude of some riders I could mention, these sort of comments bring cycling down into an even darker pit of despair.
It's about time other riders spoke out also to start eroding this 'conspiracy of silence' that exists in the peloton, before it's too late to save the sport we all know & love so much, more power to you Bradley you have my utmost support you're a star mate!
Brad McGee #2
Brad McGee recently issued a statement on his site explaining how his performances, as a cyclist, is the product of talent, hard work and self-sacrifice. In his statement, McGee conveys the point that not all cyclists are using drugs and that those who are using drugs, are tainting the sport in its totality. McGee's statement goes on to explain how hard he trains and he directs his responses to those who attack the sport in its entirety. He states, that he does not use any artificial substances to cycle.
On a human level, I can well understand his feelings of frustration and annoyance at how the sport of cycling is perceived and the level of distrust sports followers have with regard to cycling performances and cyclists. But, given the continuous level of drug abuse that has been exposed, can any cyclist be surprised at the level of skepticism within the general public about cycling ?
There was one sentence in his statement which I think Brad McGee and others need to reflect upon. He says, and I quote, "the inner world of cycling knows what goes on and knows who the cheats are and who are not." Why then does the peloton condone this cheating, with their collective silence ? It is easy for me to sit here and criticise the peloton for not speaking up. However, I think that the peloton needs to consider this argument. If the sport continues to be exposed to drug scandals, what potential sponsor would be willing to invest in professional cycling, for fear of having his product/service linked with cheating ? And if sponsorship dries up in our sport, how can a professional hope to make a living ? The cheats will not only have deprived their clean cycling colleagues of race victories - they (the cheats) could deprive them of their very livelihoods, if sponsorship in our sport, does continue to dry up.
I would sincerely hope that the peloton would consider these points when reflecting on the drug cheats who continue to participate in our sport. In maintaining its silence, the peloton chooses not to consider the ethical/moral consequences of drug taking. That is their decision. Perhaps instead, the potential threat to their earnings, through reduced sponsors funds, might just be the catalyst for the peloton to take more affirmative action against their cheating colleagues ?
In response to Mark Sweat and many others who have discussed doping in the cycling milieu a few thoughts of my own. First, Mark, welcome to cycling, I think you will find despite its problems it is the most beautiful sport.
I believe that cycling is cleaning up. I think it has suffered from more drug use over its history than some sports simply because no other sport is as demanding on its participants, and even from the very earliest years there have been stories and rumors of doping products used to help riders finish some of the hellish courses. The result of this has been a culture in cycling that turned a blind eye to doping, and pretty much accepted as an unspoken but inevitable part of the sport. Although I assume most Cyclingnews readers and contributors are cyclists, and not a few are racers I really don't believe that very many truly understand the enormous mental and physical demands riding at the top level of pro cycling requires. For years the riders who have made it into this very exclusive "band of brothers" (I don't use this term loosely as I do believe that the pro peloton in some important ways mirrors the physical and mental demands placed on soldiers in combat) have always protected each other from the "outsiders". Whether you agree with everything your "brother" does or not, you don't talk about it, or criticize it to others. Those who did were ostracized and their statements discredited. I'm not condoning doping but trying to point out it is a deep seated problem which will not easily be uprooted.
In recent years (the last two decades), as in all other fields, there has been an explosion in the numbers and availability of drugs which can aid in performance and recovery. These drugs have worked their way into every sport, not just cycling, but due to the extreme nature of cycling they came eventually to permeate the sport. The governing bodies of cycling, like all bureaucracies were slow to act. The team managers and sponsors at first turning a blind eye, because what they wanted were results, in some cases eventually began to regulate and control the doping, both for the safety of the riders and to get more consistent results. A lot of this developed from the perception that "everyone" was doping, and without doping you just couldn't compete. I don't believe this was 100% true, there have always been riders who refused to dope for reasons of both health and character, and riders who were capable of winning without doping. I think many riders came to it because it was so prevalent they saw it not as cheating but merely leveling the playing field.
With the Festina affair in '98 and the subsequent unrelenting media scrutiny the governing bodies began to try and deal with the problem. Despite a slow start and a lot of foot dragging all have come to see that in order to keep the sport from sinking into disrepute the problem of doping has to be dealt with. It will not be easy, there will be many times when it seems we are sliding back faster than we are progressing but it can be done. It is my belief that the best thing we can do to eliminate doping is for all those involved, riders, fans, managers, officials, sponsors, everyone, to make it known that doping is not acceptable, period.
When people know their peers will ostracize them and not respect them when they dope, then it becomes that much harder to convince yourself "it's okay". When the members of the peloton feel that they are not running on "two speeds" then the pressure to dope will decrease. When sponsors make it clear to everyone they employ that results must be secondary to fair play, then another pressure for doping will fade. When officials and organizers ensure that the demands placed on the riders do not so exceed the limits of human endurance that dope is perceived as the only way to survive, then another pressure to dope will be relieved. It will take all these and many others to get to the point when everyone is confident that almost all of the riders are clean (I don't believe it is possible to eliminate cheating 100% in any human endeavor, as we are all exposed to the vagaries of human frailty).
In the meantime as cyclists and fans we can only watch what the pros do in awe and hope that they have enough respect for us and the sport to play fair. When people are caught cheating they have to be made to understand they are losing far more than they could ever gain. I do, however, disagree with the current trend towards criminalizing riders who are caught (and by "caught" I mean actually proved to have taken something, there have been too many riders' careers ruined already by rumor and innuendo without concrete proof). They should be treated, counseled, and if allowed back into the sport, more carefully watched than other riders, a sort of probation. The older riders, the club managers, the coaches must make a great effort to counsel the upcoming generation of riders so that they do not see doping as an acceptable way to reach their goals. Rather than focusing on punishment we should work on rehabilitation for a generation of riders who have come up in a system where doping was considered normal and acceptable. The true focus of the criminal investigations should not be on the end users but rather on those who are creating, and supplying the products. It is these parasites who are really killing our sport, and they are the ones who should be the subject of the screaming tabloid headlines. When we become more interested in punishing and ostracizing those who produce, distribute, and supply drugs that they know can only be going for unethical and illegal purposes, then we will have taken the biggest step toward solving the problem. If you want to slay goliath you hit him in the head, not the toe.
I am very encouraged about the way some top riders have been coming forward recently to speak out against doping. I hope they see it not as being necessary to prove they are clean, but rather as an example to show that you can succeed without resorting to doping.
In response to Mr. Sweat's letter, I basically had the same idea: Hold the teams and their managers responsible if a rider is caught doping and issue steep fines. But I would take it further than that. For this idea to have a chance however there needs to be one prerequisite: Valid and homogenous tests for ALL banned substances. My idea is this:
If a rider is caught with an illegal substance in his body (either in training, in racing, on holiday, in the shower, in church, in the friendly neighborhood-bar-and-grill, on the loo... ANYtime), he is suspended for 1 year from ALL competition. The suspension cannot be reduced by anyone other than the body (and the same people) issuing it. At the same time the team gets a red flag. If a second rider from that team is caught (1 year suspension) the team gets another red flag. If the team accumulates 3 red flags they are banned from (the not-yet-operational) UCI Pro Tour. The riders caught a second time... get banned for life and cannot be rehired (even as consultants) by other cycling teams.
I know it's an utopian image since there would be many drawbacks. The first would be the malcontent rider in the midst of contract negotiations, blackmailing his team that "he will get tested positive" unless he gets more money. Second, there are no 100% clear rules on what substances are actually considered doping and if an elevated hematocrit level automatically means that somebody is taking illegal substances. And then of course teams will have a way out... "This year we were Big Bang Racing, next year the team will be disbanded !" and strangely the same racing personnel and riders turn up on the new team called "Big Bong Racing" with no red flags of course.
Doping - why worry?
Last time I checked, these men were able to vote (if they live in such a country), drink, drive a motor vehicle, select their own food and beverage for each meal, etc. Why should they not be able to decide if they wish to put their lives in danger in order to further their aspirations in a given athletic endeavor. If a cyclist wants to race without drugs, more power to him/her. If not, then let that rider have a successful career and die an early death. It's simply a matter of choice and repercussion of that choice. If a rider is not willing to sacrifice to that extent, then find a different profession. Call the hazards of the job.
I realize this is an enormously unpopular stance, but let's face it, people lie, cheat, steal and sleep their way to success in business. How is it that we expect this business (and professional cycling IS a business) to be any different?
Just a simple reality check for the self-righteous...
Professional cycling has always suffered the "Cyclists' Code of Silence". Not one cyclist penalized for use of illicit substances has had the conscience to reveal either the source or the doctors involved. Why? Because they would be blacklisted to such an extent that they would never be able to receive a contract again.
Doctors can't lose their license to practice medicine, however can be banned as practicing within sports. Surely it's about time that a lifetime ban was imposed by the UCI.? It's the only way in my opinion that a start to the problem can be addressed. At the moment there's too much money involved, and too many willing lawyers to represent accused riders.
How many more have to die? #2
While I appreciate the message of Libor Krasny's letter, I would advise him to not be so trusting of amateur races as a completely clean alternative to professional racing. If anything, the complete lack of ANY drug testing at the amateur level leaves a wide open potential for some racers, either driven by ego or perhaps the small amounts of money that can be won at local level racing, to engage in performance enhancing drug use. When I raced in Europe for a year as an amateur, it was widely whispered that many riders remained in the amateur ranks rather than take on pro contracts because it was a) easier to live on of amateur race winnings than a low-grade pro domestique contract, and b) doping controls were fewer and easier to beat.
I agree that the death of so many pro cyclists in recent months suggest some major problems at the pro level, but the fact remains that professional cycling still has more doping controls than just about any sport. To be overly trusting of amateur level athletes is unwise. After all, if there are cheats at the pro level, I find it hard to believe that they only picked up their habits after winning pro contracts.
I was saddened to see that Kelme was left out of the Tour de France roster this year. How many years has Kelme showed itself to be a motivating factor in the racing around France?
It was nice that Domina Vacanze was invited and hopefully Cipollini will be in fine feddle this year. Perhaps he might even finish a Tour? Hardly likely, but nevertheless I think that we all want to see a top flight Cipo sprinting against the new star Petacchi.
But what could the climbs be like without Kelme jerseys?
I understand that the UCI's rule will force riders to wear hardshell helmets in time-trials this year, presumably marking the demise of the full-on head fairings that have been used in the past.
However, it seems that most riders this year are just using their regular road-racing helmets (occasionally with bits of tape over the vents!). Surely the helmet manufacturers can come up with a helmet design that meets the safety requirements but that offers better aerodynamics than the conventional helmet?
I too noticed that Lance looked a little overweight, at least in the arms and torso. It got me to thinking that, since he suffered so much more physically in the '03 Tour than in the past (owing probably to the stomach virus he contracted from his children and to the serious fall he took in the Dauphine), maybe the excess bulk he has taken on in the off-season is to be taken off gradually, with an eye, of course, on peaking physically for the '04 Tour. Though it sounds a bit naive to think that any extra weight is "part of the plan," the constant speculation of Lance's change in the formula he has used to reach cycling's heights has led us as big fans to wonder just how far those changes will have taken him by the first week in July.
Some of David Millar's recent comments about how Lance looked pale and sick during much of last year's Tour were startling in their conclusion: that the '03 Tour might have taken "years off his life." It could be that the perceived "pudginess" (after all, it could have been the camera angle) is meant to be a hedge against the extra weight he lost last year. It's hard to imagine that the Lance brain trust will not try to alleviate some of the horrible suffering he had to go through in order to win his fifth Tour. Even so naive a theory as this may be, we can expect that Lance will be in the best overall physical condition possible to vie for such a prize as a sixth consecutive win in the World's Greatest Bicycle Race. And other than his inner circle, who's to say what that all might entail?
Chubby Lance? #2
I have noticed the same thing. If this were say oh, Jan Ullrich we would be reading countless articles of his over indulgence in the off season. Rock and roll and cycling does not mix. As we all know, every extra pound you carry in the winter is one more pound you have to shed come summer. As we get older, regardless of our level of fitness, this becomes harder and is subsequently reflected in our performance. I do not wish to be a harbringer of doom, but the end could be near. Has Lance become "fat and happy?" Certainly food for thought.
This debate will never end. Why? I think it's because any cyclist can appreciate how difficult the climber's job is, simply by riding up a steep climb, whether it's the Passo Stelvio or their local "Groundhog Hill".
Of course this doesn't tell you how difficult this is during a pro bike race but even someone who's never pinned on a number can get some idea.
Not so with sprinting. Even riding with your pals and sprinting for the next road sign is nothing like being the Lion King or Erik Zabel. These guys are as fit and train as hard as anyone in the pro peloton, it's just in a different manner.
Then, they have to ride with the pack until the final kilometers of the stage, just like the climbers. But if there are no hills at the finish they must move to the front and play the high-speed chess game with the help of their team while the teams of the other sprinters try to best position their man.
As they rush to the finish, the sprinter has to time his move perfectly, knowing exactly when to come off the wheel of the man in front of him and lunge for the line, while making sure nobody else can come around.
If he fails, he lets the entire team down, he can't just attack again on the next climb.
How this is somehow easier or worthy of less admiration than what climbers do is beyond me.
The best way to understand and appreciate how hard professional bike racing is, no matter whether you're a sprinter, climber or all-rounder is to pin a number on and get out there in your local races.
I rarely (if ever) hear or read these types of comments from folks who've actually raced. It looks pretty easy on TV, get out there and find out what it's really like.
Climbers and sprinters #2
There are nothing but beasts of burden in the professional peloton. They all, as Tyler H. put it, train like madmen and eat like squirrels. Tell Cipo he doesn't train as hard as a climber when he's in his 5th hour of motorpacing, doing come-around sprints at 40mph. If anything, the all-arounder or GC rider is the profile that suffers the most. However, all of them make sacrifices that we amateurs can hardly imagine.
Climbers and sprinters #3
I like most people are often in awe of the climbers and their seeming unending ability to endure pain. I have driven some of the highest passes in Italy and France and my car didn't even want to go the whole way up.
But let us not forget that sprinters climb these passes too, often without any acknowledgment. Zabel, McEwen and Cooke did not get to win the green jersey in Paris without having conquered the same mountains that Armstrong, Ulrich & co climbed before them (albeit a little faster).
Though Armstrong and those before him are well remembered for the feats (and rightly so), lets not forget that just getting to the end of the Giro, the Vuelta or the Tour are in essence an amazing achievement by any (and all) cyclist(s).
Do you think Cipo will finally finish a Tour de France for the first time this year? I still fear a DNF in week two!
Climbers and sprinters #4
Anyone with the capacity to ride a bike at the highest level of the profession is better than most people can even conceive. Whether they are climbers or sprinters, they are all super-human.
Do you really think sprinters are taking it easy? They have to fight headwinds and a nervous peloton for hours on end, then physically fight to be at the front in the closing kilometers, only to risk life and limb. That is not easy.
Pro-cycling has become so specialized in recent years that no one can do it all. Climbers are physiologically fit for that job, just as sprinters are for theirs. A sprinter doesn't have the body to climb, nor a climber the body to sprint. It's not a question of choosing not to suffer, they do what they are good at. Don't think sprinters make less sacrifice or work any less than climbers.
There's more to life than sprinting
There are days when I'd have sold my soul to be a sprinter.
Here in the American midwest, criteriums have dominated the local scene for decades. Road races are hard to come by since local law enforcement is reluctant to close long stretches of roads for hours for skinny guys racing bicycles while wearing spandex. When we're given a road to race on, it is usually a circuit of not more than a mile in length. Since the locals have short attention spans, we need to go by several times to keep them interested. Oh yeah, the crashes pull in the rubber-neckers, too. To keep things interesting, primes are given out. What does this repeated formula favor? A SPRINTER!
Yes, I'm a skinny 130 lb. rider that doesn't have a fast-twitch muscle (maybe not even a chromosome!) to his name.
I've won only a handful of primes, and only one criterium. At the end of races, I've flailed my cranks with all the fury I could muster. Every watt was intent on pulling that finish line closer. But all that happened was the pack storming past me. In seconds, my top-10 placing becomes a bottom-half result. Frustration is, once again, the order of the day.
But I can climb.
I drop 'em by the dozen at the mountain bike races when the going gets vertical. I've ratcheted up the pace during an ascent that caused guttural sounds to be blurted out by my competition. Then they drop back. I've got a medal hanging on my wall that I won because the toughest climb came at the end of a mountain bike race. I've dropped riders at the local cyclo-cross events on a grassy climb. They tell me they can hear the lawn ripping under my Michelins all the way up.
I've learned that for me, satisfaction comes in the challenge of both competitors AND course. When the course reduces the field, the fast-twitch specialists aren't there to cloud the issue. When I cross the finish line, winner or not, I know I've given every ounce. The course selected the winner just as much tactics.
No trash talk.
No 200-meter heroes.
Does that make me a masochist? If I am, I'm in good company. Sprinters win stages. Climbers win national tours.
Do I sneer at the sprinter that wins his fifth crit of the season? No. Criteriums are necessary for the sport. They draw attention to cycling, and can even bring new riders into bike shops that say "I wanna do that!" They allow different classes of riders to compete with one another, and do so on a local stage. Being the US criterium champion is a VERY big deal.
But there is more to life than criteriums. Much more. When the world turns its TV cameras to the national tours, the climbers come to the fore. Maybe not right away, but it is inevitable. Road races that have actual hills produce those racers. Hills that take more than 20 seconds to crest. Hills that require a rider to put it in the small ring.
If we were a nation of criterium specialists, would we have a world criterium championship event to compete in? Think about it.
Why the lack of road races? No local support from law enforcement. No coverage from the local press. No sponsor willing to pony up the dough if there's no press coverage. And (sometimes) no roads that you'd want to race on due to terrible pavement.
If you have a road race in your area, make sure you keep it. The next Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Greg Lemond or Andy Hampsten will need it on his way to the top.
Thanks for listening. Now go ride up the steepest hill you can find. When you're done, go do it again.
I just read an interview by Belgian weekly Humo with Frank Vandenbroucke.
He says: "Ik kan weer ontploffen, stel ik vast. Dat had ik vorig jaar niet: j'étais très diesel. Afgelopen winter heb ik vaak met een vaste pion getraind, ik heb ook veel gepowerd en op weerstand gewerkt. Het resultaat zie je: zelfs op een vlak parcours kan ik weer demarreren."
My translation: I can explode again, I notice. Last year that was different: I was very 'diesel'. This past winter I often trained with a fixed gear, and I did lots of power and resistance work. You see the results: even on a flat course I can accelerate away again.
Fixed gear #2
A good question, the reasons to use a fixed gear bike to train is that unless you have the cash to truly use all the advanced techniques in training... The " fixy " will force you to pedal in circles, if you want to go faster one must pedal faster and smoothly at that, it's all about leg speed and gearing. So for the mere mortals who want to go faster it is a cheap way to improve your form while logging your spring base miles. Also your bike handling skills will improve greatly. After the first town line sprint to beat your riding partners on your normal road machine you will appreciate the fixy all the more.
Fixed gear #3
I recently happened upon Tyler Hamilton riding a fixed gear bike. He just bought a home in the hills here at 2300 meters and was heavily spotted on select local roads in November. He was riding at a very comfortable pace with a friend. Before I had recognized Tyler I asked to sit-on. Pacing Tyler was like my fantasy of drafting Ullrich, talk about a rush. All I can say for his fixed-gear riding style was that it was awfully steady and powerful and he never got out of the saddle. Maybe a few motorists recognized him, but I knew I was right behind a true champion. It struck me, though, he WAS human, and not a large chap.
Conditions were unusually cloudy with customary blustering winds and maybe 39 degreesF with the wind chill. I was proud of myself for being as layered, bundled up and triple bibbed as Tyler, snug as a bug in a rug. After a particularly heavy gust and a few aberrant swerves from the local bad drivers, Tyler seemed to initiate a swerving motion and I decided to give the champ a break (after all, he is the King of Pain) and leave. I pulled around Tyler and he gave me a steadying touch. It seemed some of his glitter sparkled through me, and I hammered along joyfully for another ninety brutal Colorado kilometers!
I can't give you any stats on Mt Wallace, but I do know that when it gets used in one of the local club races, competitors, pre race, drive down the mountain to drop of running shoes, with full knowledge they'll be walking, not riding, up the mountain.
I love this sport, but it is moments like the third stage that expose the darker side of competitive cycling. That the peloton "languished" so far behind is totally unprofessional. If I were a sponsor I'd be fit to be tied down, I'd be so furious. If the boys were so uninterested, why didn't they just stay home? Stage 4 will, in fact, see all but 18 of them stay home. Times are precarious for the peloton, with regards to sponsorship. What with all the doping suspicions still very much alive, the mysterious deaths of the past year knocking everyone off balance, and the most indiscreet (and stupid) accusation being made at the World Championships of money for...? Maybe these teams ought to think a little more carefully about the way they represent their sponsors, and the way they portray themselves to their fans. Otherwise, it will be no wonder if other sponsors don't follow Mapei, Once & iBanesto into lessening or totally withdrawing sponsorship from the sport. I went to France to the centenary Tour de France last year, and there is no denying it: Pro Cycling is one of the most incredible Sports around. But, I think it has quite a bit of maturing to do yet.
Perhaps, it's the cultural divides, but to hear these grown men, earning millions of euros for riding bikes in the most beautiful places on earth, whining, or in the stage 3 case: "slacking". Sometimes it really is a bit too much. It was a disappointing event to read about.
Stage 3 of di Lucca
The race organizers had a big problem on their hands—they had to close the roads for almost a full hour to allow the entire group to pass through. This isn’t a problem for the Tour de France, but for these smaller races, the traffic nightmares that would have been created would be disastrous. Dropping all but eighteen riders was the right thing to do. Anyway, these are professional bike racers. I’ve been dropped on training rides and not fallen a half hour back while riding solo. It’s a matter of discipline and will power. The gruppetto didn’t have either.
David C. Brayton
With the massive collective experience of the cyclingnews community, I wondered if anyone has developed a travel plan for stages 15-18 (20-23 July) of le Tour this year? Particular info about lodging (student hostels or similarly cheap), pre-riding stages, and getting around would be great. Maybe such a website exists?
Tom Atherholt, in assessing Ullrich's chances in the 2004 Tour, argues that "T-Mobile's team time trialing skills will be far superior to Bianchi's."
Given The Big Pink T's line-up, that might seem correct, but in 2003 it was Bianchi that gave the former Telekom boys a licking. Bianchi finished just 43 seconds off USPS in the team time trial, while Telekom finished sixth, 90 seconds off the pace.
Admittedly this came without Cadel Evans and the 'real" Santiago Botero. But there's more to a TTT than a lot of horsepower. Teamwork is crucial.
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