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Letters to Cyclingnews - March 3, 2006
Many seem to believe in an elaborate mythology which states that an athlete is "pressured" to dope in order to succeed. Until we put that mindset to bed for good, its many adherents will continue to prop up the careers of obnoxious cheaters like Richard Virenque, and the next wave of dopers will always know exactly how to mine the best spin.
Doping may be good, classic tragedy on some level, but at the end of the day these athletes are prisoners of their egos, not inmates in a penal colony, and we can no longer simply blame the system, or shine it on as human nature. It is, in fact, human nature to cheat, which is why so many people do it. And yet, because it is also within human nature to resist that temptation - and I believe many more athletes do - the fact that duly convicted cheaters are ever allowed to race again professionally is impossible for me to understand. Earning a living as a bike racer is an almost unimaginable privilege before it is anything else, so why do we continue to put up with doping? It is just wrong.
To be sure, cycling is a spectacle on many levels. But those who defend doping as a necessary evil completely ignore the primacy of fair play in sport and, by extension, are essentially willing to endorse something no more credible than circus wrestling. So while Ian Glen's analogy about the donkey and the race horse is spot on, it is also clear we have created an ethical parallel universe by allowing back into the fold any rider who has essentially taken a piss all over the very sport that has made his career. The criminalisation of drugs is stupid and counterproductive, and I'm all for forgiveness - believe me - but cheating really bothers me. I feel like once you've blown it as a doper, you ought to go and make your living in an office or a warehouse and ride your bike on the weekend like the rest of us.
New Mexico, USA
I was suprised by the UCI's reaction to the news that WADA held copies of all 15 doping control forms signed by Lance Armstrong during the 1999 Tour de France.
When Pat McQuaid, as UCI president, says "The guy (Ressiot) was supposedly writing a particular story about (Armstrong) riding clean, so we knew the grounds on which he came here" does this mean that the UCI will pass on private information so long as there's a promise to write something nice? It certainly shows the naivety of the UCI when dealing with a journalist whose main role with L'Equipe is to investigate doping scandals.
And why can't the UCI work with WADA? Pat McQuaid should be open with WADA so Dick Pound doesn't have to have "sources" when he needs information from the UCI. The UCI should not be surprised when WADA gets hold of these documents, they should be handing them over to WADA.
Our sport has such a terrible record with doping scandals that the first step to cleaning things up is to be open, especially with the bodies designed to stop doping. Instead, the UCI seems to be secretive and selective.
Alan Brandon should read Cyclingnews a little more carefully before making his comments. EPO is not tested indirectly by measuring hematocrit. Cyclingnews has done a great job of detailing the EPO test and its problems.
Tyler Hamilton and Roberto Heras #2
Alan Brandon should take the time to read up on the EPO test before firing off a letter to Cyclingnews.com on the subject. EPO testing does not rely on haematocrit. The EPO test currently used looks for EPO in urine, and determines whether EPO administration has happened by examining the charge variants of the protein. Because several variants are present, there is a cutoff above which an athlete is assumed to be guilty of EPO doping. By micro-dosing (as I think was described very well in a past cyclingnews.com article), an athlete can often evade detection. This is why a positive test can happen sporadically during a series of tests through a three-week event.
Milton Keynes, UK
Just take Tyler at face value. You can choose to find ulterior motives for his actions, but why? Maybe he cheated…maybe not. However, WADA and the UCI have done nothing to earn our faith. They have shown themselves to be unreliable and politically motivated. Therefore, I arbitrarily choose to believe Tyler. Why not? He seems like a decent guy and WADA and the UCI seem to be incompetent. Both appearances might be wrong, but until contrary information comes out why should I change my opinion? (Why did it take 18 months to declare Hamilton guilty? And how could they reimburse him and the sport if he were now found innocent?)
If you are cynical you could question the performances of almost anyone. Julich or Di Luca - where did their great seasons last year come from? Bettini and Zabel - how could they be so consistent? After a while it just gets crazy.
This insanity has to end. To be useful, blood tests must be more reliable, implemented by an impartial organisation, and enforced by people who want to help cycling succeed as a business and a sport. A false positive is devastating for both the individual and the sport. I don't care if they miss ten cheaters, a single false positive is unacceptable. Nobody should be suspended, and no test results should be made public, until the complete appeals process is exhausted. This is common sense. The cyclists need a collective agreement with the UCI as to what constitutes a positive test. No stealth tests. No witch hunts. That's just good business.
A M Pucillo
The sad truth about this tale is the conjecture it leaves us with (and the polarisation of the pro versus anti-Tyler camps). The cloud will always remain without a full confession-- something that seems unlikely.
I would like to note one point not often raised here. WADA is an organisation with a current funding level of USD 25 million. There must be pressure to catch drug cheats and hence validate their existence. It would also be interesting to tally the cost per cheat found. What might be a reasonable break-even for maintaining a worldwide organisation to test athletes?
Here in Seattle, I have a neighbour who is a researcher at the University of Washington and who has consulted for the USADA. While he is not an expert in the area of blood doping (his area is hormonal enhancement), he is not sold on the explanations of the scientists supporting the blood doping test. And so the cloud continues...
As usual the supporters of the "victim", the guilty man who was caught, just want to move on as swiftly as possible. I would like to see all drug taking (and blood doping) in sport punished by a five year first offence, and then a lifetime ban from the sport for the next offence. Let's not mess around here, we have a fantastic sport, where heroes are made and the rewards for winning a classic or major tour pretty substantial. The problem is that the temptation for some to cheat is too great and the rewards outweigh the risk. A two year ban from the time of the offence means that a competitor will miss hardly any competition and so there is no real deterrent. It doesn't matter if it is David Millar, Tyler Hamilton or Richard Virenque who are found guilty of doping and it doesn't matter how heroic they were in the past, they have cheated, and in so doing have rubbished our sport in the eyes of the non-cycling public.
In response to Mr Beckford’s letter last week;
These athletes are paid to entertain us and Tyler has certainly entertained us with his TWINS STORY, bettering any broken collarbone ride in a three-week race. If your opinion is "I don’t care whether he blood dopes or not, he entertains me", that’s fine - it’s your opinion and you are entitled to it. But the real reason people have an issue with top athletes testing positive is that the sport is infested with cheats and it needs to be addressed seriously.
I mean, if a young guy of 19 turns pro and he "gets with the programme" and is addicted to banned substances, while behind the scenes is having respiratory problems, heart problems, his body is developing beyond belief, he quits the sport or gets booted out for cheating and then winds up broke, taking recreational drugs to keep his habit fuelled or dead one morning in his bed. Would that entertain you?
In response to Tyler Hamilton #5, let me just say that I'm American, a big fan of Tyler Hamilton (a fellow Massachusetts native), and I am not the "gullible" fan of which Mr. Peter Marlow speaks in his letter. Indeed, I had very few doubts that Mr. Hamilton was guilty of the charges of blood doping levelled against him. However, Mr. Marlow's comments that "Hamilton beat European heavy-hitters like Ullrich and Ekimov was unlikely to say the least" smacks of hypocrisy. Ekimov is a near 40-year old, and Ullrich is no spring chicken, either. For Hamilton to beat either of these riders is certainly no stretch, nor is it "unlikely". First, Mr. Marlow must realise that the likelihood of both Ekimov and Ullrich using performance-enhancing drugs or other doping methods is high. He said himself that "there is no doubt that drug taking and medical manipulation has always played a part in our great sport..." Second, Hamilton has proved himself as a worthy time-trialer for many years now.
While I understand Mr. Marlow's point about athletes in denial, it is no different for Hamilton than it has been for every other rider in the peloton who denied having doped, lied about it, then told the truth later. The list is very long. Mr. Marlow would do well to remember Roberto Heras (still in denial), Inigo Landaluze, Raimondas Rumsas, Danilo Hondo, Rory Sutherland, David Millar, and Richard Virenque, to name a few of the more well-known riders accused or convicted of doping in recent times, after first lying about it. I maintain, like other writers here, that most of the peloton dopes. But let's not pick on Tyler. Politically, he is doing what everyone else who has been caught appears to be doing; lying. As far as his website and foundation are concerned, these pre-date any doping allegations, and so have become part of the lie.
Gregory T. Wright
You cannot be serious! The reason fans get so mad at athletes who cheat is not because they feel they 'know them' or that they 'can beat them in the Tour', it is because cheaters win at the expense of someone else. Ekimov should have won the Olympic gold and all its glory. Even if he is awarded a gold medal, the moment is gone.
What about Hamilton's big stage win in the Tour? Well let me just say, I was watching the old Tour tapes and it was amazing how fast Rumsas was going in the final time trial. Were you the first person to cheer his return also? Most fans feel he would never have cracked the top twenty without doping, maybe the top one hundred.
At least some athletes are willing to admit their mistakes and ask for forgiveness rather than continue to keep up the lies. The 'get away with it if you can for as long as you can' attitude runs long and deep. Where you fail is not being open-minded, forgiving, or tolerant. You fail to realise that doping risks one's very life. Cyclists have died. Supporting and cheering for athletes who cheat is worse than being a cheater.
Jim Church said exactly what I've been thinking. I've been wondering why no one did a 'random' blood test on Tyler since he's been accused; if there were something naturally in his blood, then it would be there months out of competition. And, now, if Tyler returns to racing and there is something natural in his blood, he will again test positive (unless the test changes - but, the powers that be don't seem to see any problems with the test). If he doesn't test positive, then that points to altered blood in the previous tests.
May I express my amazement that you failed to award a prize of some sort to Peter Marlow, writing from the UK on the subject of Tyler Hamilton - mean-spirited letter of the week, perhaps?
Presumably Bobby Julich should lose his Olympic bronze medal for having the temerity to also beat some "European heavy-hitters" as (in another sport) should Colin Montgomery for finishing ahead of "American hard-hitters" at the British Open.
We could go further and disqualify any dog-owners from any top ten placings. Pigeon fanciers? Cast them to the outer darkness. Cyclists who establish charitable foundations and associated mass participation events? Expunge their names from all records, which should neatly remove another upstart American from recent Tour de France results.
So let me get this straight; Warren Beckford, from his reasoning in the letter he wrote regarding Tyler Hamilton's tribunal condemnation for doping it can be inferred that:
a) Since Tyler's not our personal friend (we don't send him Christmas cards after all), we should not be overly riled up about his doping
b) On the other hand, Richard Virenque's doping is utterly condemnable and so he should be hated, as you say, for it (presumably because he's French) and,
c) Hamilton's doping is in the final analysis secondary, since his athletic merit should be based exclusively upon the entertainment value of his sporting performances no matter how obtained and thus,
d) We should continue to love and embrace him anyway (presumably because he's American and, especially for you, that he's from the northeast).
Rob Huber (an American in Italy)
I agree with Warren Beckford's comments on 23 Feb in regards to his view that if Virenque was allowed a comeback (and France's adoration) then Hamilton should at the very least be allowed to race again. What disappoints is that Hamilton will never come clean about what exactly he was doing, be it doping or not. I have always had the sense that those who deny their infringement do so in the belief that everyone else is doing it, the only difference being they have yet to be caught. The beauty behind the myth of cycling greatness is that the race upon the road strips away all BS and reveals the truth of each competitor. As David Millar learnt the hard way, without truth our lives are nothing but a lie. Maybe Hamilton, Heras and all the others could take a leaf out of the reformed Scotsman's book?
In response to Peter Marlow practically declaring his undying hate for Tyler Hamilton, I was forced to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard!) Firstly he claims he was dissatisfied when Tyler won Athens gold over the likes of Ullrich and Ekimov. Tyler Hamilton is one of the greatest time trialists in the world today. He has proven his time trialling capabilities in numerous events. For you to say that you were surprised by his result shows your lack of understanding of cycling.
Similarly Ullrich, Ekimov and co, had just come out of a three-week race which involved climbing mountains! Hardly ideal preparation for an all-out effort against the clock! Tyler was able to prepare especially for the event as he had abandoned the tour and his main focus for the year changed. Also, I think your questions regarding his broken collar bone are extremely cynical. I don't want to sound like one of the 'fans' of Tyler that Peter was referring to, I agree with him that people cannot see the truth because the are too blinded by their love for him. On the other hand there were so many errors, anomalies etc with the tests that I am left not knowing what to believe. I have a very technical, analytical background so I can say hand on heart, that even though I have read the public release regarding the case, I am still in two minds whether the verdict was correct.
I think Mark Jenkins has got it absolutely right, and it reminds me of the concern I felt when I read your recent interview with David Millar; he was and clearly still is a driven personality and I can see how easily he could find himself pressured by his own standards and the expectations of those around him to try to perform above his level and to turn to the medicine cabinet for help again. He won't be the first, after all.
I hope I am wrong, because I was a great admirer of his riding and enjoyed his 'chippy' attitude to life. He was a definite asset to the peloton.
I'm really trying to stay out of this "discussion," but it's hard, really hard. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone feels the need to share. I don't have a law license or a medical degree, so I won't offer a diagnosis. But I highly recommend the following article to anyone who thinks they really understand how complex drug testing really is.
Drug Store Athlete: To beat the competition, first you have to beat the drug test, by Malcolm Gladwell [The New Yorker, September 10, 2001]. A bit dated but still a good read.
Peachtree City, Georgia
I've read that they use a new stimulation index to detect possible blood doping or EPO use - basically it is your haemoglobin/reticulocyte count. Reticulocyte being essentially baby red blood cells.
Now I've read a lot about this, particularly pertaining to the Tyler Hamilton case. They say that altitude training can raise the haemoglobin but won't show up as also a low reticulocyte count. Whereas rEPO or blood doping will have you essentially in a situation where you have lots of red blood cells (high haemoglobin) but you are not producing many red blood cells (low reticulocyte count). But how can this be - why wouldn't your reticulocyte count drop once you come down from altitude or after using IHT for a four-week session? It seems that unless your reticulocyte count was lower than normal, the extra red blood cells would stay around forever, but obviously the effect wears off completely after about six weeks. In any case, I believe the reticulocyte count is a function of how much EPO your kidneys produce, which is a function of your current red blood cell levels. If they are high, whether due to blood doping or hypoxia, then your natural level of EPO will drop, right?
Does anyone know anything about this? It seems like you could get a high stimulation index from altitude training but they (WADA) say that this doesn't happen based on the reticulocytes but don't elaborate.
Whenever I read the latest doping news I feel like I am stepping through the looking glass. The latest test (stimulation index) being used by WADA and the UCI is a real winner. Will it detect dopers? Yes. Will it detect riders using altitude training and accuse them of being dopers? Yes! The test basically works by calculating the ratio of mature red blood cells (RBC's) to young red blood cells (reticulocytes).
If the ratio is too high, Wada testers conclude the rider must have gotten mature red blood cells from somewhere else. The reasoning behind this is that you can't have a lot of mature cells without first producing immature cells. Sounds simple enough, but it is not quite right, and this physiological restriction is precisely why athletes train at high elevations (or use altitude tents).
At low elevation we only produce enough reticulocytes to maintain a relatively low hematocrit (hematocrit is the percent of mature red blood cells in blood). At high elevation, the body responds to thin air by demanding the production of more reticulocytes, which eventually mature into oxygen carrying RBC's. So, why go to high elevation to train if you go back down to low elevations to race and while you're down there your body stops producing all those extra reticulocytes?
Simple; mature(ing) red blood cells last a long time (60 to 100 days). So, at low elevations, even though your body goes back to producing normal numbers of reticulocytes, your hematocrit will remain high because the extra RBC's you made at high altitude have a long life span. Do the math: high number of red blood cells while at the same time a low reticulocyte count = high ratio. Riccardo Serrano may be guilty of doping, but anti-doping officials have come up with another fundamentally flawed test. This sport desperately needs outside, independent scientific review of its anti-doping measures.
John Winnie, Jr.
I disagree with Mr. Wilkie regarding his proposed changes in the drug testing protocol. First of all, the testing IS done by third parties. Certainly the labs are accredited by the WADA but this continued belief that anonymous lab technicians have a vested interest in manipulating results is silly. Mr. Wilkie further suggested that those performing the tests be subject to lawsuits if they make an error in either direction.
I would be surprised if Mr. Wilkie was NOT an American, because only a product of the ridiculous and shameful lawsuit culture in the USA would have made such a remark (i.e. suing the fast food restaurant because their coffee was hot and the customer spilled it on his crotch when he drove away). Besides morality, there is a further problem with suing the labs for making a mistake. If a fully accredited drug lab can make a mistake, any other lab could as well, so the "proof" would be as scientifically doubtful as the original "mistake". There is a third problem with lawsuits against drug labs: under threat, some labs might be hesitant to announce positives, and we would be saddled with "false negatives".
Mr. Wilkie also suggested that all athletes be tested equally, which is something I also disagree with. Drug testing takes a lot of time and money. What is the point in testing the rider who rolled in last place in a Tour stage? Drug testing is designed to prevent people from gaining an unfair advantage, and who has the most to gain? Right, those at the front of the peloton. It is far more important to make sure that a rider doesn't use drugs to finish first when he only deserved second place, then it is to make sure a rider doesn't finish in 178th place when he only deserved 179th place.
Sorry to hear about Levi getting his jersey stolen but I do understand how he feels.
I worked as a travelling course marshal during the Tour of California, and while cleaning/sweeping an intersection, I had my backpack stolen which contained all my important stuff including driver’s license, credit and debit cards, and money. Now that I have everything cancelled and waiting for replacement, the biggest regret is that my camera with great pics of the riders, fellow marshals and spectators was also stolen.
Now all I have are my memories. But they are wonderful memories of a great race, of smiling and tired racers, and spectators lining the road, enthusiastically cheering for everyone, asking questions and interested in learning about this amazing sport, and not least, my fellow marshals and friends who provided assistance and cheer.
So let's do it again next year, without the 'incident' though.
San Francisco, CA
Laurie Schmidtke's updated diary of the 1971 Tour of California was absolutely fantastic. Funny, witty and above all, real. The reality of the mid-packer is rarely noticed by the average cycling fan and Laurie's take on an otherwise unknown classic was refreshingly cycling-news-worthy. Here's hoping we can hear from some of today's generation and their thoughts from the forgotten end of the peloton.
Forget about the doping scandals, Tyler Hamilton, WADA and the UCI and Tour organizers bickering. Spring is upon us again and another cycling season has begun. I for one relish it every year. The smell of San Remo, Flanders and Roubaix in the air. Tornado Tom, the Kaiser, Ivan the Horrible, the little Prince and all of the rest.
I follow the greatest sport around. We all do. I still get giddy thinking about the great climbs in the Alps and the fast and furious sprint finishes. I just watched the movie "A Sunday in Hell" again the other day for about the thousandth time. The vision of that Italian mechanic prepping bikes at the beginning and seeing the "Gypsy" out on a training ride just gets my blood flowing.
I, like many others can't wait to see the Giro, the Tour, the Classics and the World Championships each year. Don't knock and degrade the sport we all love so much, embrace it and love it! Sure some of the scandals get us pissed off, but at the end of the day we all wish we were the ones crossing the finish lines with our arms raised. Only age, ability and talent in general prevents me from joining them.
But when I am out on my road bike, with the wind in my face and the sweat running down my back and the tires humming on the road, I am in the finale at Roubaix stadium, if only in my mind and in my dreams. I for one will always love cycling just as I do my family and friends. They all may let you down from time to time, but the passion and love never fades. Not for me anyway.
P.S. - I never really miss the sport; I just love cyclocross, so it allows me to be excited about it all year long! Long live Nys!
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Hello Cycling Folk
You know, after reading the countless articles and letters about Jan and the 2006 TDF, I found my limit after reading about Jan’s lack of attacking ability.
My question is who were you watching? It wasn’t Jan for certain. Are you telling me that when Jan follows or attempts to begin an attack and NOBODY follows, he therefore can’t attack? In my opinion, that’s brutal.
However, those who say, well, why not start more attacks...why? IF you know you are at the edge, IF you know your opponent will counter an attack at that instance with ease, why attack? I know - the fans want to see it. That’s not a reason.
It’s time to climb off Jan’s back and take look at really a set of palmares that would make any cyclist in the peloton envious. Could Jan have trained better or harder; sure, why not? However, are you trying to say he should attack more or "try" harder? Personally, when you have team mates who essentially bring other riders to you so they can get a stage while you are the GC man, odds are you’re really exhausted from getting stabbed in the back, not riding with a team.
It seems to me that Joe Ajellos letter was on the mark about Ullrich. Seriously, Jan Ullrich must be some kind of monster to be able to consistently place so high on the GC and be so out of shape.
So either Lance is not as good as I seem to think and everyone else in the
peloton is really bad to have lost to such an out of shape schlep.
On a final note, kudos to the 'Cyclingnews' virtual rag for keeping us informed on the cycling planet not just the national level and a few major races like other sites. Thanks.
In the midst of dozens of predictions for the victor in this summer's Tour I have only seen people discount Vinokourov. I think Vino will be most likely to step on top of the podium this summer for several reasons. Firstly there are less mountain top finishes and more time trials. When on form Vinokourov can time trial with the best and probably better than Ivan Basso, especially in the prologue and shorter time trials. Seeing as the mountains are less harsh Vino will be less likely to be punished for his aggressive riding and early attacks.
Also, both because he has his own team this year and there will not be a team who can afford to be solely responsible for controlling the race, Vino's aggressive attacks will be that much more devastating. Couple that with Vino's die hard resolve to fight it out to the end (See final stage 2005 TdF) and it should be clear that Vino could be the winner this summer.
Chapel Hill, NC, USA
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