News for July 19, 1998

Stuart O'Grady Interview

Laurie Cousins often helps me with transcripts from interviews that come from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) radio show "Grandstand". This interview conducted by Karen Tighe with Stuart was broadcast on July 11, 1998, prior to the change in his life.

Karen: The Tour de France gets underway this weekend starting in, of all places, Ireland. The Tour is starting outside the mainland of Europe for the first time so as not to clash with the final weekend of the World cup. Four Australians have been confirmed for this years race including South Australia's Stuart O'Grady who recently picked up his first major European event win in the Tour of Britain. O'Grady rides for the French GAN team and after a strong debut last year is a strong candidate to take out one of the flatter stages in the first week of this years classic I caught up with Stuart earlier this morning and asked him how his preparations for a second Tour de France were going.

Stuart: They've been going okay, I suppose. I had a bit of an injury coming out of my last race, so I had a few days off at the start of the week, and saw the physiotherapist, but everything should be pretty good for the prologue.

Karen: It seems things have really fallen into place at the right time for you. What's the confidence level like after taking out the Tour of Britain earlier this year ?

Stuart: It certainly has put things a bit better for me. It's given me a lot of confidence to race in England and hopefully I can make things even better in the Tour de France. But, it's a completely different race. It's much bigger and it's going to be obviously a lot harder. I'd really loved to come here and win like I did in the Tour of England but it's going to be a little bit different I think.

Karen: How do you feel about the race starting in Ireland this year - especially with a name like O'Grady ?

Stuart: Yeah, they've been trying to link me up with Irish background .... but I won't get into that .... my Irish background is obviously there but it was a long, long time ago. So, they'll take me on as an Aussie; and that's the way it will be!

Karen: I hear the weather conditions aren't looking too good for the start of the race this year, Stuart.

Stuart: Ireland is an extremely beautiful and green place, and everyone now knows exactly why. There's a lot of rain and it's been pretty windy. Tomorrow's forecast is for rain although today hasn't been too bad. It's rained pretty heavy this afternoon and I'm pretty sure it's going to be a wet prologue.

Karen: You had your first taste of riding in the Tour de France last year. How would you compare yourself as a rider this time to twelve months ago ? What have you learnt from having taken part in the Tour last year ?

Stuart: That it hurts a lot and it's going to be extremely hard. Last year I kind of didn't really know what to expect. And I don't know if it's an advantage or a disadvantage having done a Tour and lining up to do it again because you know how much it's going to hurt and all the torture you're going to go through. It really does take a lot out of you. But I'm kind of hopeful from the things I learnt last year and my experience - I've matured a little bit more this year from a lot of hard racing - so hopefully we'll get there to the Champs Elysees.

Karen: Does anything else match the experience of riding in a Tour de France ?

Stuart: No. I mean the Tour is something pretty special. It's so long and so hard. After you've been there, and seen it, there is nothing quite like it. You know it's going to put you through hell and high water but in another way you're actually looking forward to doing it again. It's a really big combination of emotions that you go through on the Tour. One day you can be on top of the world and the next day you can be barely surviving. So, it's pretty challenging.

Karen: How are you feeling about the mountains this time ?

Stuart: Well, I mean in the mountains we are just there to survive. Myself, I'm no great mountain climber, so those kind of days you've just got to try and get through and look forward to the days that we can be competitive again when it gets a bit flatter and that's what we can really get motivated for and try and do something.

Karen: Just with your form so far this year, Stuart, how close do you feel to perhaps to being able to claim a stage victory in the first week of the tour when we do have the flatter stages ?

Stuart: Well, I've seen here that I'm able to win races against the big guys, and so anything is possible. It's just a matter of a little bit of luck on your side and putting yourself in the right position and being offensive in the races but also not over-doing it. Because any attack that you do or any breakaway that you try and do, you could really pay for later on in the Tour. So, it's really touch and go how much energy you want to burn up early because you're really going to pay for it later on. A few times you might have the opportunity to go for it, but then you think,"Well, if I do this today - in three weeks time - am I going to make it ?" So, you've got to be very careful about the amount of energy that you spend.

Karen: Stuart, unfortunately, your Australian team-mate Henk Vogels can't be competing with you this year because of injury, although four Australians are taking part. Have you spoken to any of the other guys Neil Stephens, Patrick Jonker or Robbie McEwan?

Stuart: I just saw Neil, as he was coming into the presentation, I hadn't spoken to him for about a month now. So it was good to catch up with him. He's always full of enthusiasm, and pretty motivated - and he's a great guy. I'm really rapped that he's taking part again. It gives me someone to learn a bit more from and the other guys I haven't caught up with but I'm sure I will, maybe tomorrow before the race, or tomorrow night afterwards. Unfortunately, Henk has missed out with his knee injury and that's really unfortunate. He's a very close friend of mine and we really motivated each other to get through last year, and it's going to be hard with out him. But, I'm sure that there will be many more Tour de Frances for us both to do.

Karen: Stuart O'Grady, one of the four Australians taking part in this years Tour de France which gets underway in Dublin tonight, Australian time.

Drugs in sport

The history of the sport is strewn with illicit drugs use to improve performances. Famous cases include:

Knud Enmark Jensen: in the 100 km Road ITT in the 1960 Rome Olympics. The Dane died "of an intoxication caused by the injection of a strong amount of stimulant ", according to the autoposy report.

Tom Simpson: dies after collapsing in Stage 13 of the Tour de France 1967. He collapsed 2 kms from the summit of Mont Ventoux and the autopsy revealed amphetamines.

Laurent Fignon: tested positive for amphetamines after his victory on May 28, 1987, in the GP Wallonia (Belgium), and again at the GP Eindhoven (Netherlands).

Sean Kelly: for the second time of his career, the Irish champion tests positive to codeine on April 8, 1988 during the Tour of the Basque Country.

Pedro Delgado: tests positive to the steroid masking drug - probénicide after Stage 13 of the 1988 Tour de France. Undefined doping rules enables him to keep his yellow jersey and win the Tour.

Laurent Jalabert Interview

Matthew Bramley, from Montreal translated this article for me from Velo. The interviewer is Eddy Pizzardini.

Pro for ten years, world number one for three, Laurent Jalabert has learnt to put his career and his environment in perspective. Since this perspective interests us, we asked him to speak freely about anything which comes to mind, in other words that which is most important.

Taking on the Tour de France is not a chore. It's a sporting and sentimental goal, an adventure in itself. But it's true now that I'm always afraid of having a bad Tour, as in the last two years when things didn't go well. Last year I arrived at the Tour physically overworked. I think I'd pushed the weight training too hard. Although there was a time when it was useful, like after my accident at Armentières in 1994, the mistake was perhaps to think that weight training would always be beneficial to my system. Obviously my failure at the 1997 Tour was the result of an excess of work and not of a deficiency. It was my biggest season in terms of kilometres (40,000 over the year) although not in days of racing.

Anyway, I didn't want to abandon the Tour last year. That would have been the easy way out. It would have been running away to hide the truth. I had as much right to continue the Tour as any ordinary rider. This attitude was appreciated by many people who told me so. The season isn't just the Tour, but you have to draw conclusions. Which is what we do at the beginning of every season with Manolo Saiz, my manager. This year, I have adopted more my approach than his, i.e. avoid staying too long without competition and frequently alternate periods of rest and racing. Anyway, I don't want to do "my" Tour de France in June - like in 1996 when I finished the Dauphiné exhausted. I wanted to make sure not to repeat that mistake. That's why I planned to quit the Dauphiné before the end so as to be able to continue in the mountains at the Tour de Suisse. The Tour is decided in the mountains and the time trials. In the mountains, we'll have to see. I finished seventh at Alpe-d'Huez in 1995, but it was because I had managed to slip into a breakaway a long way out. I had a certain amount of freedom with respect to the leaders on general classification. A few days earlier I had had a bad day at La Plagne. My fourth place on general in 1995 was won in the stage to Mende. But I've always been behind in the mountains. Despite my progress in the time trials, I don't have any valid reference points in the Tour, where I have often lost a lot of time.

I can't deny a breakthrough occurred last October at the World Championship in San Sebastian. To win a time trial over more than 43 kilometres against the best rouleurs, all motivated to the maximum by the rainbow jersey, that was a great first. Psychologically, I've overcome a certain apprehension, the fear of the encounter, everything that caused a certain blockage in the past. I've also learnt to better control the approach to this kind of event. Like the warm-up, for instance. Sometimes I used to race even before the start. My heart-rate monitor has become an indispensable tool for the warm-up. On the other hand, it's sometimes better not to look at it during an intense effort in case the pulse rate isn't rising, or the opposite. There's also the health dimension. My repeated energy lows remain a mystery. One day a doctor pointed out to me that my episodes of hypoglycemia could have a genetic origin because my grandfather and father were both diabetic. As a result I pay close attention to what I eat during races, and sometimes I even suspect I eat too much through fear of hitting the wall. The time it happened at Sierra Nevada, in the 1997 Tour of Spain, has left a strong impression. You need quite a bit of time to recover after reaching the finish line.

But in any case I'm not betting my life on the Tour.

In 1995, the year of all my victories, everything that happened to me was new; the masses of journalists, the popularity, I took it as it came. In 1996, success escaped me and the criticisms became harsher. I took it hard. It began right after my abandon from the 1996 Tour. Rumours were doing the rounds about a supposed positive drugs test during the Dauphiné a few weeks earlier. They were trying to bury me. It continued during the following Vuelta. The slightest modest performance turned into a drugs question. I got used to this environment, and especially the media. I changed my attitude and decided to take the necessary action. I longer see anyone at my home, under any circumstances; a reporter is not - or is no longer - a friend.

When I recently moved to Geneva, at the end of March, I wasn't running away at all. I live there because it's convenient. But that's a private matter... As for my neighbour, Richard Virenque, I repeat that I have no reason to be in conflict with him. We went face to face during the 1996 Tour, a confrontation in which I came off the worse. Richard has his personality. One misunderstanding originates from the 1995 Vuelta. He wanted to win his stage at Luz-Ardiden while I was defending my "amarillo" jersey. He should have gone about it in an appropriate way. I certainly had no objection. But when Richard, fifth on general, attacks from far out, at the foot of the Tourmalet, I obviously can't allow myself to let him go. It was too far from the finish. And in the final climb to Luz-Ardiden, he had burnt up all his gas and couldn't follow any more. I know he still thinks that the Once rode against him that day.

So here we are nearly at the beginning of another Tour and it seems like for the past few years the defending champion's weight has been a fashionable question. First it was LeMond, then Indurain, now Ullrich. It's true he is "chubby" at the start of the season. Today I'd say he's ready to defend his position. I could see at first hand his return to form at the Bicicleta Vasca at the end of May. Once again, for him like the others, he wasn't given a chance to express himself. They knocked him down too soon. He deserves more respect than that. And how can you criticise a rider who prepares himself uniquely for the Tour when the media are the first to acclaim the one who succeeds in the Tour?

Dedications to Heiko Salzwedel in Australian Press

This article was written by Sydney sport's journalist Jeff Wells who among all of the sport's writers in Australia shows a keen eye to bike racing and always has an interesting and incisive viewpoint. It appeared under the heading of "A sacrifice on the altar of petty politics" in the Daily Telegraph (Sydney) on July 18, 1998.

Another fine sporting career has been savaged by inane politics - and our chances in two of the world's great sporting events have been compromised. Our Tour de France cyclists Stuart O'Grady and Robbie McEwen have earned Australia enormous international prestige this week. We have just had a taste of the aura of the World Cup, now we are getting the same from the Tour. But Heiko Salzwededl, who should be masterminding our road cycling in the Olympics and future Tours, has quietly been dumped from his job as Australian Institute of Sport road coach. At the end of last year he was sacked by the Australian Cycling Federation after a brouhaha over a blow-out in his annual budget, which was caused, in part, by funding cuts. It was a matter for negotiation and could have been resolved for the good of the sport. The reality is that in world terms road cycling dwarfs the importance of track cycling. But personalities and politics got in the way and the bottom line is that an important sport is damaged. But that was no surprise given the long, insidious history of boofheaded cycling politics in this country. In fact it was long odds-on that when somebody like Heiko finally came along to show us the way on the road, egos would be put out of joint and he would reel away with more knives in him than Julius Caesar.

The root cause of Salzwedel's demise was that the Australian Cycling Federation wanted track coach Charlie Walsh as head coach for all of cycling. Walsh told me that he didn't particularly want the job - his main aim was to restore our track standards for 2000. And the Australian Sports Commission didn't like the idea - only one member saw any sense in it. For it was well known that Walsh and Salzwededl didn't get along.

So why make Salzwedel's life untenable when his men's and women's road squads, and his mountain bikers, were going so well ? But the ACF had its mind set. It used the budget problem as an excuse to ditch Heiko as its national road coach and appoint a Walsh assistant Shayne Bannon. Giant Bicycles, which had come into the road and mountain bike programs largely on the strength of Salzwedel's world reputation - and were overjoyed with the former east German's results - then scrapped its $150,000 a year sponsorship. Another casualty was our best-qualified women's road coach Andrew Logan, a Salzwedel supporter, who was not reappointed. So two fine coaches had been sacrificed on the altar of petty politics.

Salzwedel hung around at the AIS trying to figure out what he could do - and whether his wife and son, who have come to love Australia in their seven years here, will have to pull up stakes. Now that the ASC has made him redundant, claiming that there is really nothing for him to do at the AIS. Cycling runs off the road and slams its thick head into a rock again. Salzwedel had a dream of an Australian professional team in Europe that would eventually compete in the Tour. By 2000, before the Games, we should have the strength to put a competitive nine-man team in the Tour made up from the likes of McEwen, O'Grady, Neil Stephens, Henk Vogels, Patrick Jonker, Jay Sweet, Matt White, Marcel Gono, Brad McGee and Jonathan Hall. But without Heiko forget it. AIS director John Boultbee says he has a high regard for Salzwedel. But, he said, the federation's move made it impossible to keep him on. The Australian Olympic Committee is hoping that Aussie riders will be prominent in the 2000 road race - one of of the great Olympic 'freebies' on a course that Salzwedel helped to design. And he would have been the best coach. Until his sacking cycling as a whole was looking good. Walsh produces endurance track riders like O'Grady and McGee who can graduate to the road. Salzwedel has moulded world-class road riders from a tiny base and was the brains behind a career path for all of our burgeoning road talent. but now that has been compromised and we are entitled to ask why. Global TV keeps shrinking the world. We know that from the unprecedented interest here in the World Cup. The four major world sporting events are the Olympics, the soccer and rugby World Cups, and the Tour. One day sports fans will ask why we bombard the first with money but spend limited resources on the last three. Why are we obsessed with the Olympic medal count, and mostly in lower-rated sports at that. Why we must persist with this cringe. Part of the problem, of course, is the power and funding to be had as long as medal madness can be spun out. Any day for an Aussie in the yellow jersey of the Tour, any appearance centre stage at the soccer world Cup, or a huge performance in the rugby World Cup, will be remembered by the world - will be used as a true indicator of Australian sporting prowess - long after the tang of medals in small Olympic and Commonwealth sports has dissolved like fairy floss. The loss of Heiko Salzwedel means one thing to Australian sport. It still has a lot of growing up to do.

This article appeared in the Melbourne Age on Saturday July 19, 1998 under the heading of "Coaching upheaval a tour de farce" and was written by another cycling-oriented Australian journalist Jacquelin Magnay.

The sunflowers are blooming on the roadside as Stuart O'Grady ensures Australia is well represented in the greatest, and most enduring, road cycling event in the world, the Tour de France. Other Australians, such as speedster Robbie McEwen, are showing their class as well, furiously immersed in the bunch sprints at the end of each stage. McEwen is 19th overall, veteran Festina rider Neil Stephens 56th and Rabobank climber Patrick Jonker 37th. But back in Australia, a political mire has enveloped cycling. Several weeks ago, the Australian Institute of Sport road cycling coach, Heiko Salzwedel, was given one month's notice and a small severence payout to cover seven years of accumulated annual leave and pro rata long service leave. The timing by the AIS, which is part of the Australian Sports Commission, could not have been poorer, or more ironic. Salzwedel was hit with the offer only three days shy of leaving for Europe for a family holiday. He reluctantly accepted it on Wednesday, having been pushed into a corner from which he could not escape. It had long been Salzwedel's dream that Australia should field its own trade team in the Tour de France. He refused to believe critics who claimed that such lofty ambitions were unrealistic. Since being sought for the top national coaching job in 1991, the former East German set about reaching such an ambitious target.

While O'Grady has had little to do with Salzwedel's Canberra-based program, it has been the impetus for the success and elevated respect Australian road riders have enjoyed on the international scene over the past two years. Henk Vogels, 10th in last year's Tour de France, is missing this year's event because of injury, but is a strong supporter of the coach. So, too, are McEwen and Jonker. Indeed, of the 10 Australian trade team cyclists, seven emerged through Salzwedel's guidance. So why is such a talented coach being shown the door, cutting short his contract by three years? Unfortunately, Salzwedel invested far too much time in the cyclists, developing their programs and enhancing their skills, and too little time massaging the enormous egos of powerbrokers in the sport. Salzwedel was a big hurdle in the ambitious aim of track cycling coach Charlie Walsh to control all facets of the sport. Walsh wanted to be the national coach - of track, road and mountain bike - just after the Atlanta Olympics, but was stymied by the commission's board, which was reluctant to extend Walsh's already autocratic rule.

But, undeterred, Walsh enlisted the support of the Australian Cycling Federation, which had approved the new one-man structure. The federation controversially sacked Salzwedel as national coach, and appointed one of Walsh's proteges, Shayne Bannon, to take over. The federation and the AIS assisted in the process by then shifting the institute's funds that underpinned Salzwedel's program to that of Bannon, who ran an under-23 (now under-26) endurance development program in Italy. AIS executive director John Boultbee explained Salzwedel's redundancy yesterday, saying he had no cyclists after the federation had removed him from the national coaching job. Salzwedel is pained and perplexed that for all his superb efforts, he has been cast aside. He is not the only one left to ponder if the current high-profile exploits of the Australians overseas may now be the peak, not the start of a glorious road bonanza.

Belgium, Tour of Liège, Cat 2.6

Stage 1:

 1. Jurgen Van Roosbroeck (Bel)
 2. Danny In 't Ven (Bel)
 3. John Van den Akker (Ned)
 4. Matthé Pronk (Ned)
 5. Manu Lhoir (Bel)
 6. Wesley Huvaere (Bel)
 7. Davy Daniels (Bel)
 8. David Debremaecker (Bel)
 9. Christophe Brandt (Bel)
10. Thierry De Groote (Bel)
Results from Kris Verreth, Belgium

USA, Cascade Cycling Classic, July 15-19

Friday morning' stage 3 was a mostly flat 16 km time trial on an old and weathered road near the city. Lance Armstrong (United States Postal Service) came in with a time of 21:12, but was not quick enough to beat Dylan Casey (U.S. National), who posted a time of 20:54.

"I think Adham Sbeih will win today," predicted Jamul Hahn (Wedgewood-Big Time), the top Oregon rider in the race.

Hahn's prediction was right, as Sbeih (Nutra-Fig) shaved six seconds off Casey's time.

"Dylan Casey is the time trial national champion. I'm excited that I beat his time," Sbeih said.

Friday night's criterium will be one hour plus five laps on a 0.6-mile figure- eight in downtown Bend. Oregonian Todd Littlehales (Navigators) may possibly see a victory in this stage as he is excited to be in a home race and has been riding within the pack during the first two stages.

Overall, Thurlow Rogers (Mercury) is still 29 seconds behind Burke Swindlehurst (Nutra-Fig) and Armstrong is 43 seconds back. With a 77-mile circuit race on Saturday, there is still a chance for those times to change.

"At least he (Swindlehurst) attacked (on Thursday) and tried to make the race, I think he deserves to win," said Armstrong.

Swindlehurst finished with a time of 22:00.

Stage 3, ITT, 16 kms:

1. Adham Sbeih (Nutra Fig), Sacramento, Calif., 20 mins, 48 secs; 2. Dylan
Casey (U.S. National), Mountain View, Calif., 20:54; 3. Thurlow Rogers
(Mercury), Van Nuys, Calif., 21:04; 4. Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal), Austin,
Texas, 21:12; 5. Zach Conrad (U.S. National), Grand Junction, Colo., 21:15; 6.
Chann McRae (Saturn), 21:25; 7. Scott Moninger (Navigators), Boulder, Colo.,
21:26; 8. Bart Bowen (Saturn), Albuquerque, N.M., 21:26; 9. John Yarington,
n.a., 21:34; 10. Trent Klasna (Navigators), Pine Valley, Calif., 21:43.
1. Burke Swindlehurst (Nutra Fig), Hurricane, Utah, eight hrs, 39 mins, 50
secs; 2. Rogers, @:29; 3. Armstrong, @:43; 4. Bowen, @:52; 5. Sbeih, @1:06; 6.
Mike Engleman (Navigators), Hesperus, Colo., @1:13; 7. Moninger, @1:14: 8.
Casey, @1:42; 9. David Clinger (Mercury), Woodland Hills, Calif., s.t.; 10.
John Peters (Mercury), Santa Rosa, Calif., @1:55.