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Letters to Cyclingnews - October 8, 2004
In the past few weeks there has been a stir about USA Cycling's World's selection process for the espoirs. Much of this stir is the result of people not having all the facts. As riders at the National team house we would like to explain how the World's team was selected. First and foremost the only way to automatically qualify for the road race is to get a top ten at a 1.7.1 or a 2.7.1 (a world cup espoir race) and to win nationals. Winning nationals alone does not automatically qualify a spot for World's. Thus all five spots were discretionary this year. To determine those spots Noel invited all of the top espoirs to Europe to compete against the similar type of competition and racing style as World's. In all, 13 riders came over to Belgium and even more were invited. The results from the weeks prior to World's were then used to determine the World's team. These races include Tour de L'Avenir, GP Tell, Tryptique Barrages, Tour de Moselle, GP Josef Bruyeres, and Tour de la Somme. The only other factors taken into consideration were the how healthy the riders were the couple weeks prior to World's and the type of course the World's race would be on. Of the World's team selected only one rider was full time on the National team. The remaining riders came from Health Net, Snow Valley, Credit Agricole, and TIAA-CREF/5280. We hope this clarifies the selection process.
Tyler Farrar, Matthew Crane, Michael Wolf, Kevin Bouchard-Hall and Dane Jankowiak
Is it just me, or does it seem so obvious why the Spanish have been dominating the World Championship road race? With out question, the Spanish have very talented riders. And yes they have some of the best directors and coaches in the sport! But there's no denying the talent, or results of the rest of the field! The difference, in my estimation, is that little 3 week race in Spain, just before the World's, called the Vuelta. Obviously, the Spanish are going to arrive, on form. I see this as a major problem in the sport. I do admit that it is nice having the World's at the end of the year, as a sort of closer to the season, but come on. I really admire a lot of the Spanish riders, but 4 wins in 5 years, can someone say domination. I think there should be a simple revolving schedule for the World Championships. Spring, Summer, and Fall every three years. Does that seem reasonable?
Okay, Armstrong was heavy handed in his behavior towards Simeoni during the TdF. But, could anyone please tell me why this is now a case of "sporting fraud, violence, and intimidation of a witness"?
Rivalries are part of sport, whether for sporting or personal reasons. I'd liken Armstrong's behavior to one on one coverage during a basketball game or some close shadowing by a defender during a soccer (or football for some of you) match. In either of these sports, you could curse, talk trash, make comments about your opponent's mother, or threaten to break them in half as long as you don't make any physical contact.
Armstrong chased down Simeoni--no doubt such a big man could have let a little man go. He hurt his reputation and put a stain on his sixth TdF win. But where do the drama queen prosecutors IN ITALY get off on charging someone for a crime IN FRANCE?
I have just read in Cyclingnews.com the following article:
"Belgian mountain biker Filip Meirhaeghe is down as a starter for this Sunday's Mountainbike Classic in Oostende, despite having announced his retirement a couple of months ago after he tested positive for EPO. Although he did not dispute the test and even admitted to using the banned drug, Meirhaeghe hasn't been suspended by the Belgian cycling federation, which means that he is still allowed to race."
If riders are tested positive and even admit to taking EPO, how in the world are they allowed to keep riding without any kind of suspension? Why bother testing at all if positive test results and admissions by riders of doping do not result in sanctions?
How can there be such differences in 2 similar cases, for example that of David Millar and this one? Millar didn't even test positive, he only admitted to using EPO, but if he gets a 2 year ban, how can they allow Meirhaeghe to carry on racing like nothing happened? I do not know the exact details of either case, but it seems to me that situations like this just make a complete mockery of the whole drug testing system.
Filip Meirhaeghe #2
What the hell is that about? He admitted to using a banned substance to boost performance, cheating his competitors, sponsors, and fans. He immediately retired, apparently sparing himself not only extensive scrutiny in the press but sanctions from his national cycling federation and the Belgian courts. And now he's lining up to race? Good lord. Will he still wear a Specialized jersey after having been expunged from all their advertising media, or is he now sponsored by Enron? Disgusting.
Dario Cioni, I believe in you.
It is absolutely unfathomable that Dario has been declared unfit to race. He works so hard and everything I know about Dario Cioni leads me to believe that he is friendly, honest and trustworthy. He probably even owns a dog.
While I am certain that he will be vindicated when his test results prove to be unreliable, I will give up entirely on pro cycling if it turns out that he deceived me and all of his fans.
Mr & Mrs Merckx take the prize for the best bike-related baby name. Calling their son Axel was pure genius.
I have a son named Kadence (10 years old) and another son named Kannon, I wanted Dale as a middle name, but the wife would not go for it! We have joked about cog and chain ring, but I actually think that Velo would be a beautiful girl's name. Congrats to the Aitkens!
Transfusion has been illegal for some time. In 1984, was it illegal under UCI or IOC rules? That is the better question. However, there was no testing done for this. Therefore, it was voluntary compliance that was called for. The USSR was always accused by some US officials of doping. So, in 1984, USA saw its chances to medal big with the Soviet boycott. They did everything to win, including blood doping. The following years did not see the same level of results for US Olympics. However, as I stated, not all were guilty. But, those who admitted to being guilty cast a shadow over the victories of the innocent. I remember a cartoon in a cycling magazine showing a rider racing with a bag of blood on an IV support attached to his bike.
Here is where doping can kill our sport. The use of drugs will encourage young riders and beginning amateurs to try to get the edge in contests where there are no tests. Local races are hard enough to organize without drug controls on every level of sports. Race clean or don't race must be our message.
Am I the only one that believes that the amount of money being spent on the anti-doping effort is ludicrous? The rhetoric harkens back to the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" campaign. The fact that the Bush administration jumped so loudly on this bandwagon suggests it was one more place to hang an overly righteous conservative hat.
Are there any athletes who don't know the risks associated with the various illegal and/or unfair performance enhancing strategies available to them? Do we cultivate any sense of individual responsibility in this society of ours anymore?
I am all for a level playing field, sensible standards and reasonable enforcement. But, how do we justify devoting the resources, human and financial, to this issue? Dr. Ashenden's interest in the immune system's response to foreign proteins would be better vested in transplant medicine where thousands of lives are waiting to be saved rather than on a very small and elite group of athletes who know better.
Ann Marie Gibbs
Boy, did the WADA bungle this one. To prevent any or all potential dispute over Tyler Hamilton's blood test (or any future competitor for that matter), a simple unannounced follow up test 40-90 days after the original positive would definitively prove guilt or innocence. Had the blood group antigens returned to "normal" levels, then guilt would be confirmed. On the other hand, if these abnormalities persisted, particularly for several months outside competition, then the issue of a possible false positive could be quietly addressed.
Unfortunately, once the results have become public, a suspected doper has been notified, and he/she has the opportunity to continue blood doping, at least until the follow up tests have been done and the doper has "proven" that they are a false positive. This would allow the doper to continue homologous transfusions (at least from the same donor) for the rest of their career.
It sickens me to think that Tyler is guilty. However, I find it equally unpalatable that the WADA, USADA, IOC, and UCI are so intent on hurriedly and vociferously smearing the potential good name and reputation of one of the riders, using a technique whose false positive rate has never been studied. This is totally irresponsible, especially when a rider's career may be on the line.
Unfortunately for the anti-doping agencies, if this does turn out to be a false positive, this will be a massive blow to their credibility, which could set them back decades.
If Tyler is innocent, he should have a bone marrow aspirate studied to prove his innocence, and then go after these idiots with vigor.
Charles H. Cook MD, FACS
The new blood test #2
Cutting through the science we are left with two simple questions which Tyler could answer in 5 seconds:
Is he a twin?
If the answers to these questions are 'no' then there aren't a lot of other reasons for his test results around. Except false positives which is why we have A and B samples. So only one explanation left, I'm sorry to say.
The World ITT Championship is the crowning achievement to the discipline of time trialing. Michael Rodgers is the world champion and he has proven that he is on form to be the best. If you recall he was the 2003 ITT World Champion as well. The pro cycling season is long and very tough, for the UCI to have the World's at the end of the season is the greatest test to a pro's training program. The other althletes that you have named have the opportunity to participate but the bottom line is they did not. I believe that your criticism is not accurate nor justified. I think it is a tough way to make a living and I admire their accomplishments. If you have every competed in a time trial I challenge you to hit 48km average speed, or just put your head around that speed on a hilly course. In my mind, Rodger's performance was world class and no other cyclist beat 57.30.12 (48.78 km/h) and that is the fact.
World Time Trial Champion #2
Interesting thesis postulated by Michael. However, the glaring reference to the "World" Title is of some greater significance for those riders who do turn up, for those spectators who do watch and those nationalistic supporters who do, in fact, want their countrymen competing to be "World" Champion, and full credit to those riders who make the sacrifice to ride in many events during the year to qualify and then accept their country's nomination to compete.
In fact, solid brickbats must go to those riders who were nominated and chose to not ride for their country. It clearly indicates for some, they place money and personal agendas much higher than the aspirations and hopes of their national supporters who would dearly love to have some "named" riders Michael lists competing in their country's colours.
This year of 2004 is a bit of a clear indication of that, and in fact if one looks at the selectors nominations for some riders, perhaps they should not have been selected in the first place.
Lance Armstrong was absent , as he has quite clearly adopted a specialty and that ( the TdeF) is his personal "World's", and with 6 successive victories, well and good for him. But really, if anyone should have been there, he should have. It shows a disrespect for his country to immediately reject his nomination. He should have indicated well before hand to selectors, ("I am not available because I feel I cannot give of my best in that event (for whatever reason he has, charity, business, family, prep for TdeF 06, etc.....") , rather than have them nominate and he withdraw, that is farcical.
Others, through injury, exhaustion and just plain stubbornness chose for their own reasons not to attend. And of course there were those who couldn't attend due to run-ins with the laws of cycling and substances and medical therapies that alleged and/or proven sideline them from the event.
The World's is the World's, whatever taint some may chose to put on it. It is prestigious, spectacular, controversial and exciting for all who partake, watch and support. Even if the UCI seems in dissaray at this time over its plans for 06 and the now seemingly ill-fated ProTour, it is the event that matters, not the agendas or ego of some riders , administrators or commercial interests who seek denigrate the World's.
No Michael, it is not the "World's" that is any less than its status suggests, it is the attitude of others who place personal interest over the sport that is their lifeblood. They owe it to the sport to participate at or at least fully support "The World's" to the best of their ability and show solidarity for the supreme event even if they choose not to compete. Any less and they do not deserve the rewards this sport has delivered to them and the opportunities it has for them in the future.
Congratulations to those who competed, and especially to Michael Rodgers, his was true grit , an emotional ride of concentration, application and preparation. He clearly was the best rider, his reputation coming into the event was awesome, he was prepared, he studied the course, rode it often and had his body and mind prepared. He also had something to prove, that a rider can do an event without substance support, relying on natural application of mind and body to purpose.
Yes he is truly deserving of the title of "World Champion", in 03 and 04. The others who may have stood a chance are not World Champion. They were not there, they did not win, they did not accept the challenge and they did not deserve to be mentioned as "defacto" winners due to absence. They either ride or they don't, they either win or they don't, they compete or they dont.
It will be wonderful during the next year to see all and sundry refer to Michael Rodgers, as the WORLD Champion, because that is what he is. Those others who chose not to be there for whatever reason, will all be insignificant in his presence, even if they win whatever ride they persue on any given day in that time. His achievement will endure and be a symbol to young riders, to follow their dreams and persue excellence and remember the roots and traditions of the sport that is their life's blood.
World Time Trial Champion #3
While I am not arguing that Michael Steinbrecher is completely out to lunch I must remind him that time trialing in the middle of a stage race is far different than a championship time trial. Anyone who has ever done a week long (or longer) stage race can attest to that. Although I will admit that if Ullrich, Armstrong or Hamilton was present the results may have been different...
World Time Trial Champion #4
Every rider should know the date the world's are held. It is up to the rider and their team to prioritise which races are important to them, so as to be fit and peak at the correct time.
If LA is not keen to ride, that is his business, if Tyler decides to make dubious decisions on how to become faster, that is his decision ( the UCI might not be to impressed though).
To say that "the title 'World Time Trial Champion' is virtually meaningless." sounds like sour grapes to me.
All of the folks who rabidly declare Tyler Hamilton's innocence because he's such a nice guy are simply replacing facts with emotion. Tyler has always been my favorite pro rider and some of his efforts have been truly inspirational, but the man failed three separate blood doping tests over a period of a month and that same test doesn't appear to have generated any other false positives out of thousands at either the Olympics or the Vuelta. One test could be flawed, but three would be statistically so remote as to be almost impossible (please spare me the ridiculous rants of a conspiracy). The only way Tyler could be innocent is if he has some sort of natural blood condition that fails the test, and if so that would be a trivial matter to prove medically. It seems to me that there has been enough time since the test results were released for Tyler to have done exactly that, and every week that goes by without him providing refuting evidence reinforces his guilt. And what about the "surgical procedure" that supposedly could have skewed the results? Anyone hear any more on that? Nope.
The claims of "I've never used performance enhancing substances" or "I've never tested positive" are conveniently vague, evasive, and meaningless when it comes to blood doping, and even Tyler's declarations that he'd never endanger his life or Haven's by injecting someone else's blood camouflage the possibility that he could be using centrifuged blood from Haven.
I prefer to believe he is innocent, but not so badly that I ignore reality.
Tyler Hamilton #2
I more or less agree with the writer about Hamilton's probable guilt. However, for the sake of producing the big dramatic moment at the end of his letter, the writer has both trivialized and magnified the impact of drugs and blood doping. "The Hard Man from Marblehead Isn't Dead, He Never Was". Oooh, that's big time language, but it caricatures Hamilton and falsifies the issue of doping.
But the affect of ideas like these that are circulating is to make drugs and doping seem magical and transformative. But I don't recall that a transfusion changes pain tolerance for broken and damaged body parts, or reduces the amount of training an athlete does or means that they don't go hard. If those things were true you'd have even a bigger problem.
It isn't as if riders are doping themselves into superhuman form. It's very human and very much about a gamble to increase probabilities when you've already done all the other stuff to succeed. It's about gaining the tiniest edge in a field of near-equals who all have access to the same methods and equipment and saying " if I have this much more, plus all the training, plus the pain tolerance, plus all the sacrifice, then I can make sure of what is not sure and maximize my real potentials". What is interesting about it is the mixture of confidence, greed and insecurity that suggests. It is not, however, evidence of viciousness or evil.
That describes something than being a fake or a charlatan. Maybe not more defensible in sporting terms, but different and more to the point if you want to understand why cheating happens.
Tyler Hamilton #3
I hate to say it Bob, but I had the same reaction as you did when reading the letters last week - although my reaction was not near as strong as yours. Americans love our nice guy heros. Give us a little more time to come to terms with what has happened. If Tyler is proven guilty, we will be sad, but most of us will learn to accept it.
Tyler Hamilton #4
What bothers me is not so much the realisation that Tyler - a seemingly honest athlete - cheated, but that he has then proceeded (if he is indeed guilty) to lie through his teeth that he is innocent. Moreover, he has dragged his wife into the process of claiming innocence, stating that to receive a transfusion unless in a life threatening situation not only threatens his own health but also that of his wife. Now Tyler seems like a fairly bright chap - not that bright chaps don't say stupid things - but come on. You'd have to be pretty stupid to make some of the "I'm innocent" comments Tyler has made if you were indeed guilty. Its not as if the guy talks a hell of a lot anyway, so you would kind of think he thinks his words through carefully. I can see why David Millar doped. It ultimately didn't surprise me that much. But Tyler? That's a shock. Many athletes have professed their innocence when found guilty. Virenque made a career out of it. He even wrote a book about his innocence in the 98' Festina affair.
The fact is, there is a possibility that the tests are fallible and that Tyler is innocent. However, the reality is that there is more chance that he did dope.
That doesn't stop him being a nice guy, or riding with determination and bravery. But it does make him a cheat. A cheat in the sense that he took a banned method or enhancing his ability. But then if the majority of the peloton is doping that hardly makes him much of a cheat now does it?
Tyler Hamilton #5
I am sure you are going to receive a flood of letters responding to the letter written by Peter Marlow, but I thought I would chime in too.
Your statements about fans fooling themselves when their heroes fall are true and accurate. I am a huge Tyler fan, and my first reactions were "Please, let there be an error." I read all the articles on the methods of testing used and even played amateur scientist in speculating where a fault might be. I do however, like most of use, accept the fact that we may have to get used to the idea that Tyler cheated.
My problem is with your statements that Tyler has had no results to show that he could have won the TT legitimately, and with you final statements that "the evidence suggests that cheating is probably more widespread amongst American competitors than those from any other country."
First, Tyler is a TT specialist from way back. From his 5th in the prologue of the1999 Dauphine to 2nd in the final TT of the 2003 Tour de France..... the man is a time trial specialist. He came into the season shooting for the tour, and had to abandon due to injury. To think that there was no way he could redo his priorities and keep his form going into the Olympics is ludicrous.
Secondly, you say that "the evidence" suggests American competitors cheat. What evidence? A quick review of the UCI "2004 Blood Tests" page shows 5 riders from Spain declared unfit, 4 from Italy and a smattering of other single incident countries, including a US track rider. You may argue that this is because the percentage of US riders is lower than in other countries, but you have to remember that the UCI tests sanctioned US races as well. One could also argue that the reason there are fewer US riders is because they DON'T dope.
I think doping is just as likely in the US as it is anywhere else. No one is better. Lets not make this about country, lets make this about getting cycling clean.
Tyler Hamilton #6
Congratulations to Viatcheslav Ekimov of Russia for his win in the Olympic Time Trial.
Tyler said he didn't dope, he tested positive (not once, but twice) and therefore should lose his medal, his carreer for two years, and the respect of the cycling community.
I do agree there should be thorough processes put in place to ensure that the doping tests are accurate and efficient. It is the responsibility of Dick Pound and WADA to ensure that takes place. Hopefully they are administering tests that ensure accuracy and not false positives.
But until either it is proven that Tyler is innocent, unfortunately, he is a doper. So Tyler should personally go to Viatcheslav Ekimov and hand over his medal to him. If Tyler is a man of respect for the peloton, its the most respectful thing he can do. And I would respect him for that.
Tyler Hamilton #7
I would like to see the test results published. Hamilton says he did have a transfusion a long time ago. When was it? How long can antibodies stay in the system? What is the percentage of false positives for the test?
I would love to believe Hamilton is innocent. It's just hard, without more information, to believe him.
I take great offence to Peter Marlow's letter that claims that "you have to be realistic and face the truth that American athletes are not the angels you would like to believe, in fact the evidence suggests that cheating is probably more widespread amongst American competitors than those from any other country."
I beg your pardon, sir. Precisely what evidence do you have in your dossier that suggests Americans cheat more than any other nationality?
In claiming to notice parallels between Tyler Hamilton's performance at the Olympics and Millar's 2003 World's performance, does Mr. Marlow assume that now Michael Roger's performance at the 2004 World's is suspect, too?! He did, after all, beat the next competitor by over a minute (a la Millar 2003) while the next 5 places were separated by only 30 seconds. I would never dare call this man a cheat based solely on his magnificent performance.
How can you make a distinction between the natural class of Bettini, Petacchi, Zabel, Ullrich and humble domestiques? Don't forget, Bettini was once Bartoli's domestique and Petacchi didn't get around to winning until 2003. Again, I would never dare call these men cheats because all of a sudden they now occupy the spotlight. You just can't sit at home picking out cheats based on results.
Stick to the facts. Yes, Tyler Hamilton tested positive. But that doesn't throw the results of every domestique (or an entire nation) into question.
Thanks for the great interview with Erik Zabel. He is one of the classiest riders in the peloton and a true champion. He rides every race in a professional manner and I hope he will stay in the action for a few more years. I agree with Erik's opinion about radios. Radios can take the spontaneity out of the race by providing information to riders that they should be obtaining on their own through direct observation of the race. Radio racing puts more emphasis on physical strength and takes away some of the benefit that a wily and tactical rider can gain from using his wits.
Mark W. Hopkins
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