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Letters to Cyclingnews - July 7, 2006, part 2
For the last 10 years or so, my sister who is finishing her Ph.D. in kinesiology, and I have been of the opinion that all drug testing should stop in sports. The cheats are ahead of the enforcers, reference BALCO, and the costs are huge. Why not just assume, as everyone did pre-1968, that all top-level athletes are doing everything and anything they can to win. Doping was considered best practice before it became outlawed and the authorities have been playing catch up ever since.
Notice how Operation Puerto was carried out? Via cloak and dagger spying. Where were the drug tests catch these cheaters? How useless. Maybe all pro athletes should wear GPS anklets like felons so their whereabouts can be monitored 24 hours a day. Anytime one goes to a doctor the cops descend and observe the "treatment".
Maybe we as fans need to acknowledge our part in the scandal. We want spectacle. Does the average fan really care about the athlete's health? Not likely, we want to be entertained. Cycling, the new drama reality show. How tragic.
As a long time cycling fan and "weekend warrior", I am fascinated by the latest revelations like the way you can't stop looking at a car wreck. A few observations.
There has long appeared to be a code of silence in the peloton regarding doping. It now makes a whole lot of sense since most of them seem to be "juiced". I am making an assumption here that the doping enterprise in Spain is not the only one. I think that is a reasonable one. Also, riders coming out against doping have often been intimidated by the peloton, including by our own patron saint of cycling. Considering the recent revelations of wide spread doping that behavior really makes you wonder about the motivation of the intimidators.
I am tired of this constant news of doping and cycling authorities need to come down hard on dopers or do nothing. I am leaning towards the latter as cyclists are adults and we don't seem to be able to police it anyway. But this constant trickle of doping news with the occasional deluge (like today and Festina) will turn most people away from being interested in cycling.
Dick Pound should be given some credit. We, i.e. most cycling fans, have been pretty vehement in our criticism of him. Like it or not, he is the most prominent force fighting doping and he makes no excuses about it.
Tyler Hamilton. This is disappointing. As a bike rider in Massachusetts I am, not surprisingly, a fan of Tyler. I can even understand and accept why he would resort to doping since it appears that is the only way to contend in cycling, or at least easy to see why a professional rider would think so. What is disappointing is his very public denial that he has ever doped. I wish he would take responsibility for his actions and not mislead his supporters. It could still be that he is innocent, but I looked at the documents of his racing plan / doping regime and bill (fax) to his wife and it makes a very compelling argument, especially with all the other information over the past year, that he was a big time doper.
That leaves me with David Millar. He is the only one I would feel comfortable saying is racing 100% clean at this years tour so: go David! Kind of ironic.
We have to admit, up front, that we are Americans and not familiar with European laws. However, the presumption of guilt bothers us greatly as we believe in the presumption of innocence and proof of guilt in a legal setting. What we have here is suspicion fueled by innuendo ignited by a rabid press. Are all of the named parties guilty? Unlikely. Are some of them? Perhaps. At this point we only have the (questionable) word of Dr. Fuentes and the investigators who seem to be having a ball feeding their information to the press. Being tried in the press where there is no objective look at the evidence is unfair to all.
A word to the remainder of the peloton -- don't ride tomorrow. Instead hand your bikes to the members of the press and tell them to go out an entertain the masses.
In the mean time send all those medical investigators over to the World Cup and start testing those folks for the first time. Now, that could get really interesting.
Linda & George Wells
Chuck Elkins raises some points which need a response.
1. It's not that fans don't care about doping, but that if fans have a choice between following a suspect sport or stopping following their chosen sport, it's pretty easy to see which option they will choose. My own approach is to treat cyclists as clean until found guilty of breaking the rules. A degree of detachment is necessary: I admire their feats but do not profess to know anything of their personalities.
2. Reputable companies sponsor cycling teams for the exposure. There is an apocryphal story that Festina executives were delighted with the outcome of the 1998 "Festina doping scandal" because of the amount if exposure that it brought their brand. Perhaps there really is no such thing as bad publicity. You will notice that Festina is the official timekeeper of the Tour de France. Draw your own conclusions.
3. Sprints are not exciting because they are at 40mph+. They are exciting because they are close - hand to hand combat on two wheels. Would a 35mph sprint be dull? I do not think so, and I also do not think that doping lifts the sprint speed by 12.5%. Completely clean cycling would not be dull.
Sadly I do not believe we will ever have completely clean sports - not cycling nor any other sport. Doping is as old as competitive sport itself. There is a tale of an athlete in ancient Greece being excluded from the Olympic Games because he had eaten dried figs as part of his training regimen, and it was held "unnatural" to eat fruits out of their season.
I think, especially in light of the recent disaster, that vilifying Greg LeMond is a mistake. Greg LeMond is a giant in the sport of cycling and his accomplishments (such as Chambery and Versaille to Paris) still send chills down my spine. Those exploits are the genesis of my love for the sport, and I will not forget them. The public feud between Greg and Lance is unfortunate as both men are remarkable characters, yet so different. I will continue to respect Greg's viewpoint, even if there are times that hearing his opinions are frustrating. Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond are two sides of the American psyche, and like Republicans and Democrats the "twain shall not meet." Like political parties, so much common ground yet the differences rupture all possible understanding. As individuals, our experiences and upbringing create a world view that is unique, the hope is that the two can create a dialogue to repair this rupture between the two of them, as well as create a meaningful understanding of what has gone wrong in cycling. In short, if the two of them can not reconcile, then their accomplishment will fade alongside their sport. Winning the tour will be meaningless to future generations if the tour does not exist.
In light of today's expulsions it is sad that the cyclists are burdened with the most visible shame. The French style of justice prevails, where due process is ignored and the guilty are included with the innocent (if any). The real villains are these unethical doctors, the UCI and WADA for their incompetent governance of the sport.
Nathan Scot Montague
I'm profoundly discouraged by the shrill, thoughtless attacks of the Lance-ophiles on Greg LeMond. It is ironic in the extreme to hear the yellow-bracelet crowd attack LeMond as a green-eyed character assassin when LeMond has done nothing more than raise legitimate questions about Armstrong's conduct and about whether Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. Is LeMond really the jealous one? Who is the one who chased down his critics in the peloton, just to show who was the patron? Who is the serial litigator? Who uses every conceivable media outlet to chastise every doubter as a "pathetic loser without dreams?" Armstrong's public relations machine is so formidable that it has apparently hypnotized most cycling fans into believing that Lance is -- and must be -- above every reproach or question and that genuflecting is the only proper way to approach him.
Armstrong was a great champion and made a heroic recovery from cancer. He is quite deservedly an idol and inspiration to millions. But he is also a man, not a god. (That's what makes his feats admirable, by the way.) Recent events have shown that, in the cycling world, a doper can be found behind every puerto. It seems now that virtually every one of Lance's main challengers and two of his principal lieutenants were dopers. One need not be a heretic to wonder whether Lance really was the only clean rider -- or whether he just had better doctors than everyone else. And Armstrong's achievements still warrant respect even if he was not simon pure; especially if he was merely doing the same thing as all of his rivals.
Cycling and its fans would all be better off with the destruction of the idea that those who question Lance are all mean-spirited harpies who oppose a cure for cancer and the dreams of little children. Let's look at Armstrong, LeMond, and the other champions in a clear light, giving each the deference and respect they have won -- but not more than that. Even if Nike carves a graven image, we don't have to worship it.
I admire everyone's admiration for Armstrong, and their sticking by him. But what if LeMond is right? What if Lance did take dope? And what if Lance is the kind of bunghole that a lot of people have said he is, who turns on you if you don't fawn obsequiously over him, and who needs to control everything, including the women he works through?
The whole house of cards would come tumbling down - the moving story of the fight against cancer, the money (especially insurance money) he made from racing and the Lance industry that arose from it, yellow bracelets (all for a good cause, no doubt) etc. - if it were revealed that Lance had cheated his way into yellow. No amount of vociferous denial would stop the crash.
But no, one can't say anything against this God. If J-M Leblanc or L'Équipe (now Le Monde) do it, it's because they're Frenchmen indignant with Lance's victories in their national race. If LeMond does it, it's because he's jealous for not getting enough attention... so on so forth.
If we've learned anything from the past week's scandal, it's that the Tour is more powerful than its winners and favourites (Basso and Ullrich). I was extremely disappointed to hear that Ivan wouldn't be fighting against Jan in this year's tour. But then I realized that it's more than these riders, it's more than Lance, and the show will go on, as Cyclingnews has said, if not clean, at least "cleaner".
Emile de Rosnay
Some folks in any sport, pursuit, job, or any competitive situation will look for an unfair edge. BUT, for every embellisher, for every cheat there are many, many people who do not cut corners, who do not cheat or lie to "get ahead". Those who have not felt their lungs and legs burning in a bike race may have a hard time understanding the test of mind and body that cycling demands of its competitors. Those who do know can understand that many would look for any edge to be able to push themselves beyond their normal, "un-enhanced" limits. Still, I have only more respect than before for those who do not cheat, those who are willing to test their natural limits and push themselves without "extra" assistance.
I understand the Tour and teams banning the implicated riders like Ullrich, Basso, and Mancebo. But it is a sad to see people one wants to respect as heroes or role models apparently brought down from the pantheon and perhaps revealed as cheats or cowards afraid to compete on a level field, maybe they feel so many are cheating that they cannot risk not cutting corners themselves. Cycling is likely a more closely monitored sport than most others when it comes to doping. I look forward to finding out the truth about those accused of cheating and to more stringent testing to remove cheaters. I do not despair that all competitors are cheats. I would rather lose and know that I am testing the "real" me than win and know I'd cheated. I hope many at the professional level feel the same way. I'm looking forward to a different than anticipated, but cleaner tour. May the best rider win!
to this letter
If only you could hear me. If only you could hear the anger in my voice and the uncertainty, the vulnerability, that absolute dejection that I feel. I need a medium better than this, a medium that can actually convey the inflections of my subconscious attempting to rip forth to the world. I need a way to accurately convey to you why I feel the way I feel. I need to speak, not only freely but also quickly; so that my words have no time to trip on my typing.
This morning I woke up knowing several things. One of which was what was going to happen tomorrow morning. I was going to wake up at 6:30 am and watch the TdF preview. I was going to make bacon and egg tacos. I was going to make coffee for myself and watch the prologue. I have been anticipating this day since Paris Roubaix. I knew that I was going to watch a race that would define the next decade of racing. How right I was, and yet how wrong it would be.
I will not stop watching. I will not stop believing. I will root, and rant and rave for the riders that I follow every year.
I was not a fan of cycling in 1998 when the Festina affair came up so I don’t know what its like to have your hopes, as a fan, wiped away. I watched because of Lance, as I assume many people have. I know what its like to have the man you root for be accused of something so heinous that people spit on him. But he has met every challenge head on, and won. He has beat the demons that shout so loud entire nations look down on him. I watch now as new demons shout from the mountains, shouting a new call of treason. I hope that the so-called new guard of cycling can take up the fight against these demons. I hope that they have the moral backing to do it. I hope that when they say, “ I did not do these things” that they can say so with an honest conscience. If you are wrong then you are wrong. Admit that you are and save your self, if only in my eyes. I will come back for you.
I will shout for the remaining riders. I will shout for Levi, Floyd, and George tomorrow. But I will shout louder for David Millar, a man who admits to answering the call of the demons. A man who has, it seems, come back from the brink to prove a point. He can now look upon those who are charged and know what they feel. He can look upon them and see that they too need to admit their faults or they may lose the battle to the demons. Say it out loud ye who would be king for a year so that when you return you can hold your head up high like Millar can. At least he can in my eyes. I will look on to the prologue tomorrow and hope, with all of my heart, that he can win and look at those demons and poke a proud finger in their chest and say “It's mine. The Yellow Jersey is mine and not yours now”.
In the mountains I will look to a resurgent Mayo and hopefully watch his wings spread. I well check down under for Evans to jump to the top. I will see if Hincapie can grab the race by the neck as only an American can. I will look to Voeckler to see if his legs can once again swell with the pride of the Yellow Jersey. I will pray that Alejandro can out sprint the charges that so many Spaniards could not.
I will watch this Tour de France with the hope of a fan who knows he has not seen the end of his sport. I will ride my bike and pretend to be those men, though my mountain is but a hill, and my sprint but a fool’s errand. I will ride on.
More Phonak riders have been implicated in a drug scandal. How can anyone let this team go on. I can't believe anyone doesn't say something about this. I can't believe the sponsor continues to go on condoning the behavior. Tyler Hamilton gets busted at Olympics and Tour of Spain for blood doping. Oscar Camenzind thrown off Swiss Olympic team for testing positive for EPO.
Next comes the resignation of Urs Freuler, manager, and Alvaro Pino, sporting
director, quit because of the doping scandals. also quit.
Now you have Jose Enrique Gutierrez and Jose Ignacio Gutierrez implicated in the Operation Puerto. When do you stop a team. Team Wurth was thrown out of the tour this year, because of having eight riders implicated. Do we really need to wait for three more Phonak riders to get implicated before we throw this team out.
By the way, Landis sure is looking strong this year. GO PHONAK!
This is your chance, gentlemen. Come clean. Now is the time to stand up, like a real man, and admit what you have done. No longer is it appropriate to slink away in shame, blindly proclaiming your innocence, pretending it's ok just because other riders cheat too. Just because the coaches, the soigneurs, the doctors and the directeurs are in on it, does not make it ok to keep on lying. Like my new hero David Millar said, this is the most beautiful sport in the world, and all of us cycling lovers want to believe in you. We want to believe in our heros, not smirk in doubt. For your conscience, for your soul, and for the spirit of truth and fairness, admit it. Come clean. Be a man. You will be glad you did.
Chris P. Madden
Recent events have confirmed again that just because you haven't tested positive it doesn't mean that you are "clean". Before the 1998 Festina scandal riders engaged in organised doping within their own teams. After this they then kept their drugs at home i.e. Vandenbrouck & Millar. Since then it's clear that a system now operates where you can simply order a "take away" syringe, thus avoiding the chances of a raid on your own home.
So where will they keep the drugs now? The only system would be to microchip all professional riders so the authorities know where they are 24/7. If they make regular visits to a particular address it would become clear fairly quickly where they are going for their drugs. If everyone is clean, then nobody would have anything to hide by such a system as it would be in everyone's interests. Surely this is the only way of ensuring a 100% clean sport.
Well the "How To" for doping in cycling was told in detail by Jesus Manzano in early 2004. Then, it takes this long for anyone to follow up or start investigating. Maybe because he wasn't a Tour contender no one believed? He listed the doping scene and practices in such detail I'm surprised everyone is so shocked now, as everything he listed is coming true. The fact that he had death threats means he was writing something too close to people's wrong doings. Now he ex-team is completely out of the Tour and probably existence, the DS who called him a liar is probably going to be out of pro cycling altogether.
In following the sensational events of the Fuentes doping investigation during the lead up to the tour, I find it impossible to believe that the respective teams of Ullrich and Basso were not aware of, and did not condone, their riders' engagement with Fuentes. It appears apparent that there is a cartel in operation, implicating the majority of the top teams, and by way of their unwillingness to tackle the doping problem, race organisers.
Following the Festina scandal, Willy Woet wrote eloquently about how the entanglement of corporate interest (implicating both team and race sponsors), team policy, and deeply ingrained 'sporting practice' perpetuates a culture of systematic doping in professional cycling. Now drawing parallel with recent events, it appears clear that the only way to bring doping under control will be to be punish teams and race organisers with severity.
Why are we talking about the suspension of Jan Ullrich from the T-Mobile Team, when the root of the problem lies with team managers, and with the interests of team and race sponsors, who from a financial standpoint clearly continue to perceive the implication of their complicity in doping as an acceptable risk?
The long term solution will be in ratcheting up the responsibility associated with team sponsorship. Licenses must reflect the 'desire' of the UCI and of the Grand Tours to eradicate doping. In addition to suspension of riders, sponsors must undergo severe financial punishment, either in the form of fines, or immediate annulment of licenses following substantiated allegations of doping within the team. We must also ask whether ASO should be running TDF06, given the obvious complicity of the UCI and the Tours in such epidemic malpractice.
For me, more interesting than the names that are on the list of the Operacion Puerto are the ones that are not there.
For example Santiago Botero was suspended by his team few weeks ago along with Jose Enrique Guttierez in suspicion of a link to this huge affair. Yesterday, when they released the list with names there was no Botero on it.
So, how does one get to miss the Tour which is his ultimate goal because of a suspicion? Is anyone going to pay for that as well?
I think this issue is as important as the investigation of those that are on the list. I am not saying that Botero is an angel but he was suspended for a specific suspicion in a specific affair but so far there was nothing revealed he has to do something with this.
If you've suddenly found that your July schedule has now opened up, there's always RAGBRAI.
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