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Letters to Cyclingnews - January 27, 2004
Regarding cyclists and heart fatalities.
Just a few months ago, I read about a study that had just been completed by the British Heart Foundation. They undertook an exhaustive study of SADS (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome), in which a 'previously healthy' and young person suddenly died, and with no apparent cause found during autopsy. The study found that many of these cases were young men, who died while inactive or asleep (like Fabrice Salanson).
In this study, they not only looked at the deaths, but sought family histories, by testing the first degree relatives (siblings and parents) and asking about any family history of such deaths. They found that in about a quarter of the cases they found inheritable heart disease and about 20% had a history of sudden death in the family. They also found certain types of arrhythmias and hypertrophy (enlarged heart muscles) in the relatives they tested. However, arrhythmias don't show on an autopsy. Many of these are treatable, but apparently, many of the people affected don't feel ill. In one case, a cyclist in his late 20s died while going up a hill - it turned out his mother had died in her 40s, suddenly with no apparent cause. Siblings can also be at risk. One young man who died was found to have a surviving brother with a condition that required a pacemaker.
Of course, when professional cyclists die this way, naturally we think EPO, and it's probably understandable. I remember reading about a 19 year old Belgian kid who died that way last year, and thought, drugs for sure. But what's really sad is the families who never find any answers as to why someone in their 20s dies of 'natural causes' or worse, having rumors swirling around. If I were Fabrice Salanson's family, I'd get tested and bring the whole family with me!
You can read about the study here: http://www.bhf.org.uk/news/index.asp?secondlevel=241&thirdlevel=919&artID=4376
Cycling and the heart #2
I disagree with the theory that we all have genetically preset number of heartbeats. Surely as fit cyclists our hearts muscles are relatively healthy compared to a overweight unfit person. Also, as cyclists, we may have elevated heart rates when racing or training but surely this is far outweighed by our lower resting, or general, heart rates. After all, unless we are professional cyclists, the vast majority of our time is spent not cycling.
Cycling and the heart #3
First, I think its important to separate pro bike racing from the activity of most of the cyclingnews.com readers.
I think cycling, at the level of the pro's, is probably NOT a healthy activity in the long-term. Anyone who's seen them in person at the end of one of the Grand Tours knows many of them look like prisoners that have just been rescued from a concentration camp.
The tiny reserves of body fat combined with the incredible stress on the body can't be too good for longevity though there are certainly lots of ex-pro's who live to a ripe old age.
But cycling itself, just like any regular exercise is beneficial. The key here, just as in most things, is moderation. I believe that even training for the lower level racing categories as done by people with 'normal' jobs carries little risk.
Sounding some sort of alarm here will likely not save any pro from an early death but can easily discourage the average cyclist from regular exercise and the improved quality of life it brings.
Cycling and the heart #4
A healthy cyclist without symptoms should get a good physical examination from an experienced physician, including careful auscultation of the heart. In addition, one should undergo cholesterol and blood pressure screening. An ECG, although not absolutely necessary, can screen for some very rare congenital defects of the heart's electrical system, especially if there if a family history of sudden death. If the physician hears a murmur during examination, then an ultrasound of the heart (an echocardiogram) can evaluate for some of the other causes of sudden death. Among young athletes (<35 years), congenital or inherited cardiac abnormalities account for less than 5% of the deaths during athletic participation. These defects include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, disease of the valves, and dysplasia of the right ventricle. In some places (such as in parts of Italy), all participants of youth sports undergo screening echocardiograms. Given the expense of the study (usual bill to insurance in the US is $400-600), and the rarity of heart defects that cannot be detected by regular examination, this strategy is not really feasible. The heart problem (if one is a betting man) most likely to kill is run-of-the-mill atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.
Prospero Gogo, Jr. MD
Cycling and the heart #5
The Polish rider that was forced to retire due to heart problems was Joachim Halupczok. He was a very gifted rider, winner of Olympic and amateur medals. Along with Zenon Jaskula he was destined to do well in Giro and other major races. What is even more upsetting is that he suffered a heart attack while playing football and died several years later.
Woyteck A. Morajko
I am a keen cyclist living in the Albury region. Being in the same club as 'Macca' or 'Party' as he's known means I have the opportunity to race alongside Dave and see just how fast he is. Among other events, we have a regular Tuesday night ride, where we ride from Wodonga to Barnawatha and then race back. It was a hellishly fast night and we were all suffering to the max. One guy wasn't suffering, Dave. He rode away -originally in a group of 4, and then later on his own - from all of us! There were a lot of top quality guys working on the front to bring him back and try as we could, he stayed away a fair distance up the road right to the finish. In recent weeks it has been a case of Dave vs the bunch, such is his strength.
Another episode of how strong he is going was the Nationals last week. It was his turn on the front that put Robbie McEwen, the winner two years ago, out the back of the front group. I feel privileged to have first hand experience of just how good these guys are and how much work they put in. Stage 2 of the TDU was great for us who know Dave to see him get his just reward. We all knew he was strong, but to see him in the lead of his very first race as a professional really showed that he is on his way to a long and successful career.
Isaac Almeida's Letter of January 14 makes two critical assumptions: (1) Ullrich was not riding at his full potential; (2) Armstrong was riding at his full potential. These points have been debated back and forth since July and, while the speculative analysis has been and continues to be entertaining, it is, in the end, just that. Those of us on the outside of Ullrich's and Armstrong's training circles, i.e. all of us, are not in a position to make a sound evaluation of what actually happened. Thus, any predictions based on these faulty assumptions are dubious at best.
When the 2004 Tour de France is over, some will have made the correct predictions and claim to be cycling prognosticators of the highest order. Others hide their heads in shame and sod off in the corner. But it all will be by pure dumb luck.
The true pleasure of the 2004 Tour de France will be the suspense as it actually unfolds. Who knows... Ullrich drops Lance? Lance gives Ullrich 'The Look II'? Mayo or Hamilton drop the lot of them? Phil Liggett drops his coffee in Paul Sherwin's lap ("Paul is suffering like he's never suffered before!")? Whatever happens, it is going to be a battle royal.
Have fun reading and contributing to the speculation (and don't forget to click the banner ads), but take it all with a grain of salt. We won't know until it happens. Therein lies the beauty of it all.
Tour de France 2004 #2
This is not to single out Mr. Almeida but to address a widespread delusion among the anti-Armstrong crowd over the dehydration issue. Yes, eight kilograms of weight-loss was probably an overstatement, but there is no denying that Armstrong was massively dehydrated during the stage. Check the video: the man wasn't sweating as he crossed the finish line, after an hour of all-out effort in 95 degree heat. He was sick; he fought all the way to the finish; and went on to match Ullrich's every attack over the next two days and smash him on the third. The two were in lock-step in the final TT, and that's all she wrote. Victory number five for Armstrong.
It's perfectly reasonable to suggest Armstrong will be vulnerable next year, and was last year; but results are what counts, and until someone else gets them, Lance deserves full credit -- and a reprieve from all the sour excuses and what-ifs.
Tour de France 2004 #3
In response to Isaac Almeida, You (like others) are tossing around statements like "Armstrong is breaking". "...he is clearly getting weaker". You base this on what? The fact that he struggled during a few stages of the '03 Tour? Well, apparently his opponents struggled more, because only Ullrich finished within 4 minutes of him! The references to illness and dehydration are not excuses, but facts. In case you missed it, this past summer in Europe was the hottest in recorded history. The heat affected everyone. Losers make excuses, and LA didn't lose, he won despite problems. By the end of the 03 Tour, LA had recovered (although not 100%), and dropped everyone at Luz Ardiden and was dead even with Ullrich in the last time trial (before Ullrich's crash). Again, this doesn't indicate a rider that is "getting weaker", but one that is resilient. As far as 2004 is concerned, LA is obsessed with improving on his performance in '03 and correcting mistakes that were made. If it's as hot during July 2004 as it was last year, he will have a plan in place to deal with the heat.
It is clear that there are many people who want to see Ullrich win the Tour, but many of them are jumping to conclusions in their fixation with proclaiming Ullrich the new "favorite". We will all find out the winner on July 25, 2004.
Tour de France 2004 #4
Some thoughts regarding Mr. Almeida’s comments on the Tour and Ulrich:
It’s an insult to say that Pantani won in ’98 because Jan wasn’t prepared. Pantani won because he was first in Paris – full stop, no excuses. That’s what it means to win. Armstrong had excuses to lose last year . . . Hmm, how’d that work out?
To say that the course suits Ullrich, or Armstrong for that matter, I think is incorrect. The course this year does not favor the traditional type of Tour winner. No long, flat time trial at the end of the first week, and a mountain time trial. This race should be difficult to control because the pretenders and climbers won’t be weeded out until the third week.
When riding down the Massif Central do you send your team to the front to chase a break that contains Basso or Zubeldia? Obviously Vinokourov will have a hard time getting away in a break this year, but maybe Leipheimer? Would Jan be willing to allow Vinokourov, Evans, or Botero go up the road in a break if they represent T-Mobile’s best chance to win? The pre-race favorites will need a lot of horsepower from their rouleurs (who’s going to play this part for Jan?). The overall winner may not have to defend the yellow jersey until the end of the third week of racing, but they’ll have to make sure that the second tier riders don’t get away with too much time. It will be a very tactical race.
Armstrong is weaker (bad luck always seems to be a sign that a guy is on the other side of the edge). Winning the Tour at over 32 years old is a rare exception. I agree that Armstrong probably isn’t the most likely winner – but I wouldn’t bet against him. His capacity to do what it takes to win is frightening.
Ulrich is a big favorite – he would be even if he shows up five kilos overweight.
It would be too much to ask for the 2004 Tour to be as good as the 2003, but the course is similar in concept and may foster a lot of action at the front of the race.
Jan was the strongest man last year and lost – that’s a hard pill to swallow. Beloki was completely focused and appeared better than Armstrong, but he didn’t finish (a prerequisite to winning). Vinokourov had all the stars in alignment last year – can that happen again? Hamilton crashed, which may have kept him off the podium, but he always crashes (reminds me of Alex Zulle).
In 2004 I’d look for a new face to step up and take it to the old guard.
Tour de France 2004 #5
Many people seem to be under the illusion that the 2004 Tour will be a two person race, because of the individual and team strength of Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong. I think this is a mistake.
Two strong teams battling for control creates opportunities for the 'chancers', of which there are many. In 2003, we saw glimpses of the cat and mouse game where both Ullrich and Armstrong waited for each other to chase Vino, neither willing to expend energy to ride the other across the break. I think 2004 will create these dilemma's in almost every major stage.
The pattern up to 03 for Armstrong has been simple and effective. Have your team set a tempo that controls the race and then wind it up on the final climb of the key mountain stages. Time trial well and you win the Tour and appear dominant. This however requires that your team is demonstrably strongest and that your key opponents minimise the risks they take, this has all begun to change after 2003.
Expect to see attacks early in some stages from top 10 contenders. Expect to see cat and mouse tactics as Armstrong and Ullrich try to wait each other out and force the other to initiate the chase. Expect to see the teams of Beloki, Hamilton and Mayo ride exceptionally hard for their leaders as they have a belief that they can win. Expect to see surprising performances on the Alpe d'Huez TT, from unexpected riders. Most of all don't be surprised if it is someone other than Ullrich or Armstrong on the top step of the podium, because this just might be a Tour for someone prepared to make the most of their chances.
Tour de France 2004 #6
In response to Mr. Almeida's valued opinion, I have a simple suggestion to all those who doubt that Armstrong's dehydration had any effect to his weakness. Pick your favorite 14km climb or a 47km flat route, or both. Get ready and do the time trial on them. Then put your trainer in a sauna and ride (hell, sit around if you want) until you lose 9.5 percent of your weight (15 divided by 158, or I don't know, maybe Armstrong lied). Finally, ride the route(s) again. No, really, if you're going to make those kind of comments, do this, or shut up. I mean, how else would you know?
As to the 2004 Tour, I don't think we should need the riders do this year's edition. Why bother? Many of you know that Ullrich is going to win it. Just like Zulle won in 1999, Ullrich in 2000, 2001 and 2003, and Botero in 2002.
I'm tired of speculations. As Armstrong said before the 2000 Tour, "Just pick a race, we'll all show up, we'll do the race."
The police seem to close off the roads to cars about 12-18 hours before the peloton goes through, but they are pretty relaxed about cyclists using the route until a couple of hours before the race arrives. I was on Alpe d'Huez last year and there were still members of the public going up the hill around lunchtime. The main problem is that if you cycle a route like AdH you end up with a bike in a crowd of mainly pedestrians when the Tour arrives so it makes getting around a bit difficult. It would be a good idea to take a chain and padlock and leave your bike away from the finish area. You also need to consider footwear as waddling around the place on Look shoe plates isn't much fun. Having said the above, it is great to cycle up a mountain stage with the road lined with people who are fanatical about cycling. The encouragement they offer is very different from the usual sneering cynicism we encounter in the UK if we dare to go out cycling in anything other than jeans and a teeshirt!
Tour de France - Visiting #2
To ride the TdF course the same day, show up early. I think the roads are closed down about an hour before the peloton arrives. On Alpe d'Huez people were still riding up about half an hour before the race arrived. I would suggest finishing your ride before the publicity caravan arrives.
Timothy I. Applegate
Tour de France - Visiting #3
I visited the Tour last year in the region of the alps and it was really amazing. We where driving several of the well known Tour-passes as well as parts of the Tour itself.
To your question: The roads are usually free up to one or two hours before the advertisement-caravan comes. But don't forget that they sometimes are driving much faster than you can ride your bike. I would suggest you buy an official Tour program that includes the timetables of the Tour and the caravan. In Germany you can buy such a program at every good newsstand, for example. Only on passages where the streets are very narrow (Alpe d'Huez) and in the finishing cities the roads are closed earlier to avoid traffic-jams and build up all the Tour-things but usually even there it's no problem to roll around with the bike.
I don't know if you are an experienced mountain rider so I can give you some other important tips if you intend to drive some Tours on your own:
Don't forget that in this region are the highest passes of Europe and there are hardly any flat roads - even if you are a strong mountain rider you should have a ratio of 39/27. Last year it was very hot (Alpe d'Huez nearly 40 degrees) but you should always carry thermo leg- and armwarmers, a wind vest and a cap with you. On the high passes when the sun goes down behind the mountains it gets cold within a few minutes.
Furthermore I always carried an aluminum coated rescue foil like you find in every first-aid-kit, a credit card, a small front light (there are dark tunnels) and at least three energy-bars (it's not always easy to get something to eat in the mountains) with me. Water is relatively easy to find but don't forget to fill up your bottles in time. The tarmac even on the high passes is in good to very good condition. As a cyclist you are usually very welcome in France. We have been camping - the weather is warm and you find affordable camping-places near every town. The cooking in the region is very delicious and at a price level similar to Austria or Germany. To me it seemed to be not very dangerous that your bike is getting stolen or your car is broken up.
If you are planning tours, road maps at a 1:200,000 scale are not really suitable for this region. You should try to get a topographic map, that gives you an idea of the altitude changes. When we drove to Alpe d'Huez crossing the Col de la Croix de Fer and back our 1:200 000 road-map rode us that this would be about 150km and 2000 meters of climbing - but it was 180 km and 4007 meters! You easily can imagine that this is a little difference.
The last thing I can suggest is to ride the Col de Telegraph and Galibier (most well known Tour-pass), the Col de Izoard from the south (most impressive landscape), the Col de la Bonette (highest of Europe) and watch the time-trial up l'Alpe d'Huez.
have fun and perhaps we'll see you there.
Tour de France - Visiting #4
In general this would not be a problem. For example, it is possible to ride the whole of a mountain top finish before the race comes through and then freewheel down a bit to find the best spot. On a bike it is also a lot quicker getting down afterwards although it can be a little unsafe with cars if you aren't careful. I've ridden a number of finishes, including Alpe D'Huez, Luz-Ardiden, Hautacam and La Plagne on the same day as the race. It's not normally possible to ride time trial courses before the race gets underway because the road closures are quite strict and the race goes on all day. I'm not sure how things work on flat stages either.
On Hautacam, the police tried to stop us riding up but sheer weight of numbers meant they had no choice but to let everyone through. ("vive le velo" everyone cried). We also experienced problems on Val-Thorens, where for some reason cyclists were not encouraged.
I think its the best way to see the Tour. Not only do you get the unique atmosphere of a mountain top finish (about 2km away from the top of the Alpe is an amazing place to be), you get to see the best in the world at the physical limit. Seeing a Pantani or Indurain in full cry in the mountains is humbling stuff.
Why do US 24-hour events generally have the winners time in the 23rd hour , for example 23.22.45, whereas Australian races are always more than 24 hours for example 24.03.45 (or in my case 25.30.10).
I thought the point of 24 hour racing was to ride for at least 24 hours?
It would be best for Dermot to remember that a bicycle is not a motorcycle. Production racing motorcyclists originally leaned off to the inside because their hardware would drag in the corner if they tried to lean far enough to counter the speeds they were traveling and the traction that their tires would produce. That isn't necessary on real racing motors and I was always most impressed by those riders who cornered "under the paint".
Bicycle tires don't have the stick to be able to dance around on a bicycle in a corner as a motorcyclists may. Some people are advocates of leaning the bicycle over and sitting more upright but the physics of the situation suggest that this isn't a particularly good idea. I've always found that keeping your body centered over the bicycle is the best position.
You'll remember that Joseba Beloki was cornering in that manner and doing a real expert job of scaring hell out of Lance with his cornering speed when he was unfortunate enough to hit that patch of melting tar. Even then it appears that he would have recovered if he hadn't rolled his tire. Were he hanging off of the bike there wouldn't even have been a chance.
How to lean in corners? #2
If you lean your bike more than your body, you can make quicker adjustments to your line by leaning your bike more or less. The bike has much less inertia than your body so it's easy to flick around. It's especially effective in tightening up your line. You can initiate a turn much faster using this technique (you must countersteer also, which is steering in the opposite direction to initiate a turn). Works well when you have good traction.
If you lean your body more, your tires are more upright. This is more stable in slippery conditions (rain, snow, dirt, etc). You should not exaggerate the position unnecessarily. It takes longer to lean your body (and therefore turn) since it has a lot more inertia than your bike. This is unusual to see in normal conditions.
Motorcycle aces hang their body off the side of their steed because they are going a lot faster and the motorcycle weighs proportionately much more than a bicycle (approx 30x more proportionately than a bicycle - 150 lbs rider with 450 lbs motorcycle or 15 lbs bicycle).
In general, I lean my bike the same amount as my body, leaning the bike a little more to tighten up my line, unleaning the bike/body to loosen it.
Today's Cyclingnews news photo of the Phonak Team presentation shows Tyler Hamilton sporting what appears to be a mullet. With ibanesto.com's Vladimir Karpets, and of course Laurent Brochard's fine coiffure setting trends over recent years, could Tyler be bringing this much maligned hairstyle to this year's podium?
I wish more clubs and teams would place more emphasis on etiquette. There is enough out there on training and diet but little out there on the finer points of riding. Being strong is NOT equal to having good etiquette, and oftentimes the strong riders are the ones who don't know proper manners. Of course, if someone doesn't know or understand etiquette, I can't hardly blame them initially - after all, there is no 'official' information on what is okay and not okay. There are those who just don't understand, but again, it may not be their fault. For example, young riders who don't drive just can't understand some of the difficulties a cyclist presents a driver. Even driving cyclists may not realize it. Likewise, a pack of racers may think they're giving plenty of room when passing a recreational cyclist when in fact they scared the daylights out of the poor rider. Etiquette is also a regional or ride specific thing - I've been reprimanded for simply slowing for a red light or stop sign (!) whereas on other rides people yell at riders that don't stop for a count of three.
Yes - the Ventoux sure is a desolate spot! A friend from Montreal and I drove up in late March a couple of years ago and the Tommy Simpson memorial could only just be seen sticking out of the snow. Not far beyond the memorial, the road was closed altogether by snow and we had to turn around and head back down to the valley. Anyone wanting to see the memorial should go no earlier than late spring when the snow has (hopefully) disappeared. Whatever that hideous edifice is at the top of the mountain, it isn't important enough for the authorities to keep the access road to it open during winter - or maybe there's another way up I haven't seen yet.
My understanding is that World Champions can only wear their jerseys in the event they won them in.
So should all of these riders have worn them in Hong Kong?
I have just read your interview with Marcel Wust. Marcel was a talented rider, with a career cut short too soon. Also, he's always been a perceptive columnist, and his opinion of Lance Armstrong counts. I am continually amazed by the people who say last years fantastic TdF was so close because of LA's fading powers. Surely they must remember how dominant he was in '02, and the years preceding - How could that awesome ability simply decline in one year? In my opinion, and Wust's too, the fact that he still won this Tour despite being weakened by various factors, and attacked from all quarters by strong riders sensing that weakness, is a sure sign of his true strength. For my money, Lance will win Le Tour '04 and he'll win it well.
Thanks to Martin Hardie for his wonderful piece on the retirement of Mikel Zarrabeitia. Zarra has been a rider I have followed and much admired throughout his career. It was really great to read Martin's story and get a glimpse into to life in the Basque country. I always look for Mr. Hardie's pieces as he has proven himself over the years a writer who can not only describe an event but evoke the emotion so often lacking in reporting which is the heart of cycle sport, and for that matter life. Thank you Martin and thanks to Cyclingnews for giving us his articles.
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