|Cyclingnews TV News Tech Features Road MTB BMX Cyclo-cross Track Photos Fitness Letters Search Forum|
Letters to Cyclingnews - October 15, 2004
I just read Dede-Demet Barry's World Championship diary entry. It turns out that this was also Dede's farewell to cycling. As I read, I was struck by her love of cycling as a sport AND as an activity.
Another diary entry that I enjoyed very much recently was John Lieswyn's. For those who follow domestic racing, John is always there or thereabouts when the courses are tough and the racing is hard. Again, his diary entry reminds us that cycling is about the head, the heart, the lungs and the legs.
Clearly there is a doping problem in professional cycling. But for every win at all costs doper sticking a needle in their arm, there are 1000, 10,000 maybe even 100,000 riders throwing their leg over a bike for the pure pleasure of riding. To believe that dopers will bring down cycling is to miss the point. Cycling will outlast doping because cycling is fundamentally healthy and enjoyable, while doping is not.
With that said, it is time to go ride my bike.
With all of the responses to the Tyler Hamilton case, one thing that I have not seen much of are any ideas on how to reduce the incentives for doping in cycling. It seems that the current state of affairs is that whenever a cyclist tests positive, there is much debate on whether or not he is guilty. If he indeed is, then most people want the book thrown at him. In addition, the team sacks the rider, who "retires" or goes into isolation for a couple of years. The team then hires a new rider and it's business as usual. But none of this has reduced the problem of doping in the peloton.
A possible solution is that not only the riders should be held responsible and accountable for doping offenses but also the team and/or team doctors. In my eyes a team is just as guilty as the rider if he tests positive. Either the team is complicit in the doping or not monitoring their riders close enough to ensure that they are not cheating. I think that when a rider tests positive and is proven guilty the team should lose that rider's position in all UCI races as long as the rider is suspended. If Tyler Hamilton is suspended for 2 years, Phonak should ride with one less rider in UCI events. With Oscar Camenzind and Tyler (if guilty) suspended for doping, Phonak could only suit up 7 riders for the Tour de France.
So, if they are punished as well as the rider they are forced to either eliminate their illicit performance enhancing programs or monitor their riders to make sure they don't jeopardize their future. This may cause the loss of even more sponsors but maybe the cycling profession needs to suffer some huge losses to force some major changes instead of proceeding "business as usual".
Testing is necessary, period. Whatever it costs is money well spent. Research to identify dopers may even be a help to traditional medical research. Similar to the advances brought about by technology developed in the aerospace industry.
Here's the problem: if even one person dopes without detection, all but the very best clean riders are at a disadvantage. They can resign themselves to being also-rans, or they can dope too. I don't get the impression that David Millar is the type that doped from the get-go, but it appears that he overcame his scruples to get or remain competitive.
Without efforts to detect those who are eager to dope, those who are not superhuman and who are either clean or reluctant to dope could find themselves in, literally, a no win situation.
So, to oversimplify, not testing means that all but the most gifted riders have no choice but to dope or to ferry water bottles and rain capes to those who do. That statement implies that many successful riders dope. I hope that is not true, but given that Tyler is about the last person I'd have expected to be implicated, that could be the case.
Not testing means that even more riders will be having heart attacks in their 20s, will lose the ability to generate red blood cells, will have damaged livers, will punch out tifosi, and will have shortened life spans.
While we're watching on OLN, we'll know they're killing themselves, not in the healthy sense giving 130%, but because of what's in their blood.
Even if dope wasn't a health risk, it has never been uniformly available. So there's an additional element of unfair advantage to those with access to the latest stuff.
There will always be genetic advantages as well as riders who are better prepared to succeed. Those ought to be the only factors, besides luck, that make the selection.
There are two inevitable short term outcomes for professional cycling. Firstly that doping will destroy the interest in cycling (as well as other human powered sports) with it's endless controversies and accusations. Secondly cheating will be accepted when it can no longer be policed. This possibility parallels Formula One where lifting the ban on traction control eliminated the uncertainty involved in the teams credibility. I for one think that the number of cheaters in cycling, although short of the majority, are so numerous that they threaten to kill the sport. If 35% of pro cyclists, cheat the other will have to consider this as an option for job security. It isn't as if there are harsh penalties administered to athletes. It is inevitable that cheating will consume the elite and pro ranks until only amateurs race bikes.
I'm a Floyd Landis fan and in a letter on December 12 last year I predicted a breakout year for Floyd. Now with the Phonak team switch and the crafty acquisitions by the team, plus the existing team with or without T.H. I'm again predicting, and this time I'm going so far as to say he will be on the podium in Paris. It may be the spot Basso occupied this year, but nevertheless a very good result. Another thing I'm predicting - and I hope I'm wrong on this one - is that Lance won't participate in the TdF this year. I hope he does so I can enjoy Georgia as much as last year but it's a gut feeling I have.
A two year ban for Johan Museeuw? This cannot be possible. Johan is too nice a person to cheat. I think his wife should write a letter telling us all how Johan would never ever cheat. That will set everyone straight. The other riders implicated? Oh, they're guilty, I'm sure of it. They haven't won a classic or Olympic... oops, I mean world championship gold medal. Johan is such a great rider; there is no way he could be guilty! He's too nice. I know; I've read a bunch of articles about him, and he was even quoted in a couple of them.
Sorry for the anonymous letter, but I'm out proving my innocence with some personal issues, you know, like O. J. Simpson.
Pound was right in his statement. Hamilton had been warned at the Tour de Romandie, had tested positive at the Olympics, and again at the Vuelta. With all those facts present you want to believe that Hamilton is innocent; come on! I believe that there are riders in the pro peloton who try to ride clean, but for a large number, cheating is a way of life. Look at the Festina affair. Zülle & Co. were not inclined to lie, and took the punishment. Virenque on the other hand lied for two years until the water got up to his neck. Confession, tears, asking for forgiveness etc., a great act, and back to racing.
Have a good look at all the big shots. One by one they will come tumbling down from their pedestals. (Museeuw, Meirhaeghe, De Clerc, Camenzind, Hamilton, Millar, and many more to follow). Mr. Pound, good hunting!
Pound must go #2
While I agree that Pound's responsibility is to enforce the rigorous and scientifically based testing methods available to ensure a level playing field, I suspect that Andrew Karre's frustration is misplaced. Criticizing Pound for offering an opinion on the validity of Hamilton's gold medal is a classic case of "shooting the messenger". Had Hamilton not tested positive at the Vuelta, Andrew may have a leg to stand on but given that Hamilton has tested positive twice from two separate tests for blood doping I would suggest that you direct your anger at the guilty party.
It is important to remember that Hamilton did in fact test positive for blood doping at the Olympics. The reason he was allowed to keep his medals wasn't because the test was inconclusive, but because the IOC's rules require two negative tests. The fact remains that he was caught cheating, and Pound is completely accurate in describing the medal as illegitimate. If Hamilton was a true "sportsman" he would return his medal voluntarily pending his attempts to verify the testing results.
Pound must go #3
Andrew Karre certainly deserves the prize for letter of the week. Mr. Pound should indeed be under scrutiny for his behavior as the leader of the WADA. Interestingly, I went to their site and could not resist the temptation of double clicking on the "contact us" button. Upon landing there I had to ask how they could possibly mishandle gold medal blood samples? Much to my surprise I got a reply from Mr. Pound himself. Let's just say the nature of his reply was rather defensive and, shall we say, arrogant. That prompted my own reply followed by another from him. I find it hard to believe that the Chairman of the WADA has time to carry on a somewhat combative email exchange with me.
Naturally I have enjoyed sharpening my pencil and my wit at his expense, and some additional research has only strengthened my conviction about the man. I will remind you all that he's a lawyer who likes to see his own name in print. He even wrote a book - what a waste of paper! In my most recent exchange with him I told him that if I saw his book anywhere I'd pick up a copy for the bathroom. Not for the light reading but rather in case I run out of toilet paper. Nice job Mr. Karre.
It is quite absurd. Had Lance shoved Simeoni off a cliff in the Tour, then I would say, he is liable in court. However, this could force Armstrong to come and defend himself in court. (Doubtful, I am sure. It would be similar to any old soul suing a major movie star, just so one can sit in court with them.) The other, more reasonable option is to do nothing. In which case, Armstrong could be banned from racing in Italy, specifically the Giro.
Armstrong and Simeoni #2
Let me get this right. Because one cyclist chased down another in - wait for it - a bike race the Justice Dept. in Italy is investigating Armstrong for trying to intimidate a witness?
Good thing this scenario wasn't being played out in a Hockey league in Canada cause if it was and they came across each other during a game Simeoni might be on the receiving end of a cross check across the bridge of his nose. It is Simeoni's lawsuit that is out of line here and what Armstrong did was equivalent to dropping the gloves with an opponent in a hockey game for which he would be cheered for trying to settle the dispute "in the arena of sport". Hey Lance... the Calgary Flames could use some of that toughness.
Armstrong and Simeoni #3
Sorry, Armstrong did NOT hurt his reputation, nor did he leave a stain on his sixth TdF win. He didn't punch the man, for heaven's sake. Even Hinault said he'd have done exactly the same.
I have always liked the haematocrit rule before there were specific tests for exogenous EPO. This test was simple and the rule had the added benefit of leveling the genetic endogenous EPO playing field.
What will sport do when we are capable of changing our genetics?
One must realize that a tester's job requires that he find some positives -- otherwise what function does he serve? Have you ever built a home where the building inspector found nothing needed to be corrected? They are rare indeed. While the likelihood of performance enhancement today is probably high and testers don't have to work too hard to find at least a few positives, at some point someone is likely to lose their career because of an overzealous testing environment.
Another twist. If tomorrow someone found a drug children could take (with no side effects) and raised a child's IQ score to genius level how many people would say "I'm not going to give my child that drug because this would give them an unfair advantage"? Would we call those who took the drug "intelligence dopers"? Would everyone be upset that some actually took a safe drug supervised by a doctor that gave them an "unnatural" advantage? I think not. Now, I don't believe performance enhancing drugs should be taken especially because we don't know their effects on athletes who train and race 4-8 hours at a time and sometimes race for multiple consecutive days. However, this example shows how zealous we have become in the pursuit of, and our feelings about, "dopers".
Again, what are we going to do when we can enhance performance genetically? This will be much harder to test for and the change could be permanent.
This is not so far off. Around the 2000 Olympics an experiment was done with a monkey (I'm not sure what type) where the genetics for red blood cell (RBC) production was enhanced. They had to bleed the monkey every few days to keep it from accumulating a haematocrit so high the blood would clot and kill the monkey. Estimates were that if the monkey was not bled regularly it might accumulate a hematocrit as high as 70%. This led one of my friends to guess the president of the IOC might say, "No bleed'in monkey is going to win a medal on my watch". I thought this was a comical response to a rather serious subject.
I don't know what the answer is but suspending cyclists from a major race because a top racer ate candy a relative from South America sent them which had traces of a banned substance is not the way for cycling to accumulate more fans.
I believe Tyler Hamilton's statement that he is innocent, not because he said so but because he got dropped off the back in the mountains after winning the time trial in Spain. If he had a blood transfusion for performance enhancement one would have thought that in the mountains his performance would have been enhanced--it was obviously not.
This reminds me of the Ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times". We certainly do.
I think I'll go out and ride - for FUN - where the only "dopers" I'll see drive "beaters" with a brown bag in the front seat and have trouble staying on the road. I like to steer clear of "dopers".
Peers and Planckaert are claiming that their suspensions were without merit in a recent cyclingnews.com news bulletin. Fine, have the material used for the decision made public then so that fans can judge for themselves. I'd like to know why they were using a veterinarian for nutritional advice.
I think that the original letter referred to the instances of abuse in the BALCO scandal. As regards cycling, we had Adam Bergman's positive earlier this year, along with another admission by a rider whose name I cannot recall. Still the claim that the USA's athletes cheat more than other nations is still not justified, even taking these positives into account. Is there some system of doping in America? Of course not. It is ad hoc, like other countries, and we dope no more, no less.
Mark R. Kerlin
Dr Charles Cook is forgetting two things in his admonishment of WADA. Firstly, as soon as a transfusion recipient is tested, he would know that his blood is likely to test positive and he would therefore keep up transfusions to maintain the appearance of 'naturally-occurring mixed blood' for any subsequent tests designed to clear his name. He wouldn't wait for the results to be announced. And secondly, on the issue of false positives, Hamilton has had 3 positives out of 3 tests (with the fourth null and void).
That's a false positive rate of 100%: why hasn't every other Olympic and Vuelta test (or at least an awful lot of them!) returned positive? Or was Hamilton's the only one being tested for transfusions?
I have already proposed on these pages that if Hamilton is indeed intent on "spending his last cent" to clear his name, he should enter a 'Big Brother'-type environment. There, he could be monitored 24 hours a day for the next 90 days so there can be no doubt about any 'top-up' transfusions.
If he returns the same test results after that period I will proclaim his innocence from the rooftops. And hey, it's the off-season - he won't even miss any races.
Pete, old chum, even the most rudimentary of investigations into Hamilton's recent results would reveal that he is in fact one of the best time trialists in the World. Just off the top of my head I can think of some pretty significant results. If I'm not mistaken, didn't he win a TT stage at the Tour of Italy in 2003? Also, I think he won the final time trial at this year's Tour of Romandie thereby winning the overall title. (A "dismal" performance indeed.) Plus, I think he finished second to David Millar at the final time trial in last year's Tour. I'm sure if I did some more digging, I could find a few more significant TT results without much effort. My point being, to dismiss Hamilton's result out of hand is simply unfair.
With all that being said, until Hamilton produces concrete evidence to his innocence, he is guilty in my eyes. When the story first broke, Hamilton said that he had undergone a "procedure." If that is the case, and if was I being accused of doping, the first thing I would have done is held a news conference with the doctor that preformed the "procedure."
Stating your innocent just doesn't cut it anymore.
Hamilton aside, I take exception to your allegation that "in fact the evidence suggests that cheating is probably more widespread amongst American competitors than those from any other country." What evidence? Enlighten us. How many American athletes are on Cofidis? Zero. How many were on Festina in'98? Zero. How many American team doctors have supplied a certain British time trialist with EPO? Zero. How many Americans buy doping products for their dogs?
Now am I naďve enough to believe that Americans are 100% pure? No. But to single out one country with a simplistic comment without any true empirical evidence is not only wrong but distracts from the real issue at hand.
I'm not like you. I don't look at what flag flies after a rider's name. I guess those European chat boards are fed up with Armstrong's (Read American) domination of the Tour DAY France.
One can only imagine the anger and bitter feelings Americans will receive when the US wins the World Cup in 2006.
Jason Kilmer cries foul due to the end of season scheduling of the Worlds and how that allows the Spaniards to be in better form than others. Should riders other than the Spaniards choose to ride the _entire_ Vuelta, they, too, might find themselves in great form for the Worlds. It's like complaining about the wonderful early season form of the Aussies, due to their Southern Hemisphere summer racing schedule!
World Championships #2
I agree 100% with Jason Kilmer that the World Championship should be moved from its positioning in early October to a different time in the season. However, I would choose a different rationale than the fact (?) that it favours Spanish riders (although I believe Jason really meant that it favours those who rode in the Vuelta a Espana). Rather the World Championships should be moved because a) it is held too late in the season and long after some of the big guns have stopped firing for the year, which, therefore, makes it unrepresentative as a showcase of the world of cycling, b) it is the "World" Championship and should be given a highly prestigious spot rather than shoehorned in as a bit of an after thought. I mean no disrespect to those taking part as, ultimately, the individual can only beat those they are competing against and any World Championship victory is a huge, huge achievement.
How about holding the World Road Race Championship on the first weekend of August as the first high profile road event after the Tour de France. In this way most of the stars of the Tour, who, most would admit, are the main stars of the cycling world, would likely ride, and those who missed out on the Tour will be able to exact their revenge (if this was their desire) by beating the Tour roadmen. This may also stimulate interest in events other than the Tour de France in July and in turn give the opportunity for those teams not selected (for whatever reason) to get some racing in and to divert attention away from having been passed for selection for yet another year. In addition it is likely that this would also prolong the media coverage and generate further interest in both traditional cycling and non-cycling regions. What could be worse than seeing TV coverage of a World Championship with just a smattering of fans and not the biggest stars in the world (aside from no coverage at all)?. With the World's at the beginning of August the TDF TV coverage could be extended to show one of the biggest one day races, which would highlight how the racers adapt to different races and still excel.
Failing this, I will come back to Jason's point and suggest that the Tour de France is also moved on a rotational basis: spring, summer, autumn - and perhaps even moved away from France completely. After all, this seems to be dominated by riders having entered a little week long race in France, called the Dauphine. I really admire a certain Texan, but six wins in six years?
I feel making brash statements like saying the world TT championships are "virtually meaningless" are in themselves, pretty useless. Obviously the field was not quite as strong as what it may have been for various reasons - Tyler tested positive, Jan got sick, Lance was tired and Millar confessed. However we must not forget that you can only beat who turns up on the day! Michael Rogers can only beat the other guys he races against and he has, twice and so is very deserving of the title. He has proven his worth against the clock many times, as his victories in the Tours of Belgium and Germany and the Route du Sud last year were due to his class in this discipline. We only need to look at Jan's performance in the Olympic TT this year to see that the big names don't always live up to their reputations. I am not sure what Mick has to do to gain the respect he deserves. I can understand why some riders don't compete in the worlds, but it is still a quality field and when you see proven strong TT riders like Honchar, Botero and Galdeano not even make the podium hopefully this puts Michael Rogers' performance into perspective- It was a great ride!
World Time Trial Champion #2
In response to Scott Defina's, October 2, 2004 comment on my letter:
Thanks for your letter Scott - no sour grapes intended. Michael Rogers showed up, he was prepared and he won. I don't begrudge him any of that. My point was simply that "world time trial champion" does not equate to "world's best time trialist." The World's ITT field was so diluted that it makes a mockery of what used to be a prestigious title. Does anyone really believe Michael Rogers is the world's best time trialist? The one event this year that featured the greatest number of the world's top time trialists was the Tour de France (like it or not). Rogers' results?
Prologue - 121st
Probably the second best ITT field and one more analogous to the World's was the Olympic ITT. Rogers' result? 4th, to Hamilton, Ekimov and Julich, none of whom were on the line in Verona.
Now, you can argue that Rogers did not target the Tour or the Olympics, or that an ITT in a stage race is totally different from a one-off event such as the World's, or that if all the riders I mentioned who skipped the Worlds had been on the line in Verona they would have been trounced by an in-form Rogers, etc. And all of that might be true. But when the man wearing the rainbow stripes and the chrono symbol lines up for an ITT next year, let's not get too carried away. "World Champion?" Sure. "World's Best?" I think not.
I had the good fortune to meet Erik a few years ago when he was competing at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. Though being besieged by foreign press whilst trying to enjoy a coffee before the start in North Adelaide, he graciously took the time for a autograph, photo and some small talk before I left him in peace. He seemed more interested in asking about British Columbia, what it was like ,etc than anything else.It was a very nice experience meeting one of the classiest blokes in the peloton.
By the way, I reckon Erik has it right with his thoughts about race radios, get rim of them!
Recent letters pages