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Cycling News and Analysis

News for July 20, 1999

Jalabert turns up on his Harley

Laurent Jalabert visited his teammates in Albi after Stage 13 of the Tour de France on Saturday. He arrived on his Harley Davidson motor cycle which he purchased after his Tour win in 1993. He had planned to return home on Saturday night but when he tried to start the motor cycle it would not start. So he stayed in Albi overnight with his team and left on Sunday morning.

Ludo Dierckxsens thrown out of Tour

The team management of Lampre-Daikin has thrown out its Belgian rider Ludo Dierckxsens during the restday of the Tour de France. According to team manager Pietro Algeri they acted against the rider after he was using corticoid based drugs without telling them.

During the drug test in Saint-Etienne (after he had won that stage) Ludo had to fill in a form. He admitted that he had he used Synacten and he told the supervisor of the UCI present that he had used it in the Tour of Germany because of a knee injury. Cortisone is a popular AIF.

Team manager Pietro Algeri told the press: "Under team rules he is obliged to inform us about this."

No evidence of banned substance use was found in the test but the Belgian press are now speculating that the confession of using banned drugs during a drugs test (even though the use was some time before the test) is tantamount to a postive test - a la the Festina riders last year. If this is so then Dierckxsens will have his stage victory taken from him. The real question is why the rider did not tell his team doctor. Dierckxsens had a prescription to take the drug.

GC leader Lance Armstrong was asked about the incident. He said: "It is difficult to have a point of view as corticoids can be performance-enhancing or be used as cures, in case of knee problems for instance."

The UCI said in an official statement: "Even though the effects of this product - the presence of which in the body does not exceed a few days - have probably had no influence on the results of the rider in the Tour, he is liable to discplinary action."

But corticoids are not banned if they are being used under medical supervision and are declared. Lampre-Daikin doctor Fabio Zaretti told the Belgian press that the suspension was not because he had taken the drug but because he had breached team rules about disclosure. He said: "I still believe he is a honest guy,. I would not have given him this product had he asked me."

Konyshev plans to win worlds then retire

33-year old Russian Dimitry Konyshev who won Stage 14 of the Tour de France is now planning to win the World's in Italy in October before retiring from professional racing. He told the press that: "This is my last ambition - to win the world title in Verona. I live but 14 km from the world championship course in Garda and it will almost be a home race. You know pretty well what happend to me since I won my last Tour stage in 1991. I enjoyed myself while the other Russian guys were working hard. When I win, Russia wins a little too. Well, my son and my wife are Italians, so there are 99 percent chances I will live in Italy when my career ends. I have not been to Gorki for 10 years, I have no more friends there."

Lance Armstrong refutes allegations

Lance Armstrong held a press conference on Monday and totally rejected the claims that his performances are linked to banned substance use. He said: "The only thing I can say is that I never tested positive or was ever caught for anything. Doping was a big story last year and it sort of continues. What can I do?. I can only tell people that I have been on my death-bed once before, and I'm not stupid. France is the country which has been very strict on doping in recent months from a federation standpoint, from a police standpoint. I live in France, I did all my training for the Tour in France, I raced a lot in France this season. I'm always in France. If I had anything to hide, I would have stayed away from France,. I'm afraid it has to be a burden for the guy who wins this Tour.. .. [On Festina riders] .. For me, once they have served their time, I look at them all as clean riders."

New French Team

On Monday, during the restday, ex-rider Jean-René Bernaudeau will introduce a new cyclingteam. It will be the second new team in France for next season. Earlier Jean Delatour (watches and jewels) announced to start a cyclingtea

Australia, Victorian Metropolitan Championships

The circuit was extremely tough and had an extremely steep 2km climb each lap, with a gale force head wind up it. All fields were decimated by the weather, with half the senior men's field dropped on the climb in the first lap. With a tail wind down the other side of the climb, speeds of over 80kmh were reached by most bunches.

Alex Drapac (an under 19 female) won the open women's event, 3 days before she heads off to the Junior Road Championships at Bowral. She led the sprint out and no one could come over her into the wind. Michael Knoff and Barry Griffith's both won their respective events, and are also representing Victoria at the Junior Road Championships

Elite Men, 153.9 kms:

 1. Matthew Tuck (Car) 		     3.56.40
 2. James Taylor (Car) 			5.38
 3. Matthew Jackson (Fty) 		5.38
 4. Robert Boag (Fty) 			5.38
 5. Bendan Gilholme (Car) 		5.42
 6. Adrian Baker (Bwk) 			5.42
 7. Graham Carlson (Fty) 		5.42

Entries: 44
Starters: 29
Finished: 7

Men Under 19, 102.6 kms:

 1. Michael Knoff (Bbn) 	     2.52.08
 2. Alex Wynd (Bwk) 			1.41
 3. Peter Trigar (Bwk) 			1.41
 4. Aden Armstrong (Bwk) 		1.51

Entries: 10
Starters: 10
Finishers: 4

Men Under-17, 51.3 kms:

 1. Barry Griffiths (Bwk)	     1.27.08
 2. Mitchell Vervaart (Bbn) 		1.12
 3. Alan Schnable (Car)			1.12
 4. Travers Nuttall (Car) 		1.22
 5. Paul Werner (Ftf) 			1.22
 6. Steven Josevski (Prs) 		1.22
 7. Jonny Clarke (Car) 			1.22
 8. Alex James (Bwk) 			1.22
 9. Dylon Newell (Bwk) 			1.22
10. Damien Zugaro (Sun) 		1.22
11. Simon Shepheard (Bwk) 		1.22
12. Michael Fernandez (Bwk) 		1.22

Women, 51.3 kms:

 1. Alex Drapac (Bwk) 		     1.36.12
 2. Katie Knight (Car)
 3. Sophie Freshwater (Bbn)
 4. Katie MacTier (Car)
 5. Debbie Chambers (Bbn) 		3.00
 6. Katrina Purcell (Prs)              10.06
 7. Jenny Kisler (Bwk)                 25.35

Veteran 2/3, 51.3 kms:

 1. Nick Oakley (Mpr) 		     1.24.55
 2. Bruce Davis (Mlt)
 3. Glen Hutchinson (Fty)		s.t.

Veteran 1, 51.3 kms:

 1. Gerald Healy (Mlt) 		     1.24.55
 2. Geoff Duke (Nor)
 3. Anthony Ladson (Bwk)		s.t.

The doubts about Lance Armstrong

This story was published in the The London Sunday Time, July 18 under the headline "Riding out the storm in yellow".

A year ago the police moved in and found drugs wherever they looked: Willy Voet's car, the riders' suitcases, the team's camper van. Had the Tour been a low-class casino, it would have been shut down. Scandals fell like boulders onto the route, but the race weaved its way round them and on to Paris. They said it was a sad Tour. It wasn't. This is the sad Tour. For back then the police exposed the deceit and offered the sport an opportunity to begin again. Jean Marie Leblanc, the Tour organiser, said that cycling needed "a new morality" and that the 1999 race would be "the Tour of Restoration". It is Tuesday afternoon and Philippe Bouvet sits in the Tour's tented press room at the Italian ski resort of Sestrière. The son of a professional rider, Bouvet is L'Equipe's cycling correspondent. For 14 years he has written about the sport and for most of that time he was driven by his passion.

As the American Lance Armstrong slashes on the pedals and surges clear of his rivals on the last 6km of the climb to Sestrière, Bouvet watches dispassionately. To others, Armstrong's victory may be an exploit; Bouvet is one of many journalists who are not sure.

"There is a new kind of cycling," he said. "You see things you don't understand. Doping is an old story in cycling, but over the past few years the manipulation of riders' blood has changed the nature of competition. What we are getting is a caricature of competition. It is killing the sport. I can still write about cycling, but not in the same way, not with the old passion. Cycling has to change."

Armstrong has never tested positive in his career. There is no evidence linking him to drug taking and yet the reticence to acclaim his success has been widespread in France. Bouvet wrote of the peloton travelling at "deux vitesses" [two speeds] - Armstrong's and everybody else's. There wasn't a hint of celebration in his report. Neither was there in any other French newspaper.

"I haven't written an enthusiastic line about Armstrong," said Jean Francois Quenet, of Ouest France. "They told us cycling would change, but it hasn't. After all the drugs last year, they said this would be slower because there would be no dope. This year's race will be the fastest in history."

The journalists play for high stakes. Without evidence, they cannot accuse Armstrong but, by refusing to applaud, they effectively do just that. Jean Michel Rouet is cycling editor at L'Equipe. "What we discovered on last year's Tour was that everybody in this sport can f*** us," he said. "This is a cleaner Tour than for many years, but there is a question about the yellow jersey. There is no evidence against him [Armstrong] so he is innocent, but he is a strange case.

"Two years ago he was close to death because of cancer, now he is the strongest athlete in the world. Other riders say privately they don't believe in him, that they are no longer doing the same sport as him. He is on another planet. You have to ask how this has happened."

During his recovery from the most aggressive form of testicular cancer two years ago, Armstrong spoke about the future. "I'm attempting one of the biggest comebacks, if not the biggest comeback, in the history of sport," he said. Given where he now stands, leader of the Tour de France by almost eight minutes, the claim was not far-fetched. Armstrong had always been a strange case. Linda Walling, his mother, was 17 when she gave birth to her son, and even though she married Lance's father the relationship was shortlived and he left. They live in Plano, Texas, and a couple of years after the break-up she remarried. Her new husband legally adopted Lance, but they never got on. Lance was 14 or 15 when his stepfather left.

"When I was very young, I got along with him all right," Armstrong said. "But the first day I learnt to dislike somebody, I disliked him. I took on his name because he adopted me. I don't care to carry it on, but it's now at a point where it would be kind of hard to change it."

Mother and son lived for each other. He was a swimmer, then a triathlete; she was his driver, his motivator, his seamstress, his nurse, his companion, his soul-mate. "Lance," she would tell him, "if you give up, you give in." Unable to find a sponsor for the US triathlon championships, he went to a local shop in Plano and had "I love my mum" printed on his tank top. From the triathlon, he moved to cycling and progressed rapidly. Four years after dedicating himself to the sport, he signed a professional contract with the Motorola team.

In his first full year riding in Europe he won a stage of the Tour and, later in the season, the world championships road race. Armstrong set out so fast that there was no telling where he would end up. He once tried to articulate his greatest strength: "Physically I'm not any more gifted than anybody else, but it's just this desire. I'm on the bike and I go into a rage. I just shriek for about five seconds. I shake like mad, my eyes kinda bulge and my heart rate goes to 200."

A street kid named desire. He thinks that the first real signs of trouble came in the autumn of 1996. Back in Texas at the end of the European season, he began to feel unwell. One evening, after a concert, his vision was blurred, his head ached and one of his testicles was sore. Then came the blood, every time he coughed. On October 2, he visited an Austin urologist and was told he had choriocarcinoma, the fastest-spreading form of testicular cancer. The story would worsen: a chest X-ray revealed 11 cysts on Armstrong's lungs, another X-ray showed two lesions on the brain and, informed of the extent of his illness, Armstrong mentally prepared himself for death.

"I went to visit him in the hospital at Indiana when he was very ill," Paul Sherwen, the former professional cyclist, said. "I spoke to one of the surgeons, who said they had told Lance he had a 20 to 50% chance of recovering and had quoted that figure to keep his morale high."

Armstrong had the testicle removed, the cysts and lesions cut away, then four rounds of chemotherapy, the most prescribed for such patients and given only in the severest cases. The treatment lasted almost three months and Dr Craig Nichols, oncologist at Indiana, told Armstrong he could get back "95% of his former condition".

In February 1998, 17 months after the first diagnosis of cancer, Armstrong returned to competition in the Ruta del Sol and performed encouragingly. He then went to the Paris to Nice race, but when he was dropped by the pack on the first stage he pulled out. He returned to America, left his bike in the garage for a month or so and then started again. Training with his friend, Bob Roll, and his coach, Chris Carmichael, Armstrong says he rediscovered his love for the bike. He did more than that. He returned to Europe in June that year, immediately won the Tour of Luxembourg and "the most remarkable comeback in the history of sport" was under way.

Late last season he finished fourth in the Tour of Spain and fourth in the world championships road race. It was clear then that Armstrong had already exceeded Nichols's expectations. On this Tour, things have been less clear. Before his cancer, Armstrong saw himself as a one-day rider who did not climb and time-trial well enough to win the Tour. In four attempts he finished 36th once and dropped out of the other three. No matter how one viewed Armstrong's cycling career, it was hard to see him challenging for the race.

On the opening day of this year's Tour, Armstrong rode the same prologue course he had ridden in his first Tour six years before. Then he had tried his damndest but ridden badly, recording 8min 59sec for the 6.8km circuit. Two weeks ago, Armstrong blew away 179 of the world's best professionals in a time of 8:02, more than eight seconds per kilometre faster than in 1993. That performance catapulted Armstrong to a new level and, in a race in which nobody is sure what to believe, there was scepticism. But it was hard to imagine that a man who had been at death's door with cancer would take dangerous drugs to make him a better cyclist - he strenuously denies that he has. On the evening of his prologue, he was asked about cycling's doping troubles.

"It's been a long year for cycling and, as far as I'm concerned, it's history. Perhaps there was a problem, but problems exist in every facet of life," he said. Remembering that the past three winners of the Tour have been tainted with doping and that in this sport yesterday's scandals are overtaken by today's, Armstrong could not be accused of exaggerating the problem. He has been more forthright on the bike, exceptional in the time-trial at Metz last Sunday and then extraordinary on the stage to Sestrière. Alex Zülle, Ivan Gotti and Fernando Escartin were alongside him when he attacked, but such was the violence of the acceleration they never had a chance. His expression was determined but clinical, his eyes focused but alert, his breathing fast but controlled. He seemed like a rider from another planet and two French newspapers referred to him as "the Martian".

It was strange to sit among the rows of journalists in Sestrière. Many of those who watched dispassionately had cheered and cried when Claudio Chiappucci achieved another spectacular victory on the same mountain seven years before. Chiappucci would later be suspected of using EPO and most of the journalists remembered how they had celebrated his success. They also lauded Bjarne Riis in 1996, Jan Ullrich in 1997 and Marco Pantani last year, and all have since been implicated in drug controversies. So they look at this rider, whom they have always known to be a one-day rider, who is suddenly one of the great stage racers. They don't criticise, they don't accuse, they simply reserve their right not to applaud. Aware that Armstrong has lost 10 kilos in weight since his cancer and so is able to climb better, reminded that he has prepared thoroughly for this race, many remain unsure nonetheless.

Is this the death of professional sport or the birth of a more aggressive, less cheerleading sports journalism? One newspaper asked Vincenzo Santini, the Italian manager of the Cantina Tollo team, what he thought of Armstrong. "I don't know," he said. "One can certainly ask questions. Cycling has become big business. Should we applaud or not? Me, it is the sport that I love. "I hope that the governments and the cycling authorities can find a way out of the mess that cycling is in. Until that happens we can forget the joy of the victory. And in cycling, that is the most beautiful thing."

Witnesses to Armstrong's extraordinary performances over the past two weeks understand Santini's lament.

The London Times on Christophe Bassons

The following articles (partially reproduced) appeared in the London Times concerning Christophe Bassons.

July 17, by David Walsh under the headline "Racing clean, riding high".

As you walk into the Gobelen bar at Laval in the Vendée, the owner knows who you have come to see, and nods his head towards the small garden at the back. Charcoal smoke drifts through the air, a big man turns sausages on the barbecue, others sit loosely around a table, and everything centres on the balding figure who leans back and speaks of revolution. Antoine Vayer, a 36-year-old professor of sport, has organised this rendezvous, inviting a small number of journalists sympathetic to his point of view. Vayer was physical trainer for the Festina team which was disgraced at last year's Tour de France. Until a police-led investigation discovered systematic doping, Festina had been the world's highest-ranked cycling team.

Through his four years with the team, Vayer opposed doping. "Of course I was marginalised," he said. "I had no credibility, I was not allowed to go to team meetings and when I was around, the riders would not speak openly. But I came to the team with my integrity and I left with it."

Christophe Bassons was one of the Festina riders who refused to be doped. He became friends with Vayer, who remains his trainer. Bassons, 25, is one of the few riders in this year's Tour known to be clean. It is important for the sport that he gets through the race and disproves the late Jacques Anquetil's belief that you cannot ride the Tour on mineral water. Bassons' name will not figure among the leaders and, engaged by the exploits of the genuine contenders, we may forget what he is about.

Listen to Vayer's portrayal of modern cycling and judge then the relevance of Bassons' crusade. "Before 1998, pro cycling was a junkie sport - not because of what people took, but because of the mind of the rider. Things have improved a little since last year but, really, the culture is still the same. For example, the corticoids: riders take them when they are stressed, they take them when they are down, they take them if they mess up. For them, life must be without stress. It is a junkie mentality.

"Many of the best riders have become psychotic. They want to win money, to screw others because, compared to them, everybody else is small. They want to have a nice house, a nice wife, a nice car and they will do whatever to get these things. They have no more emotion, no more thinking, no more feeling, no internal life. Everything they are is down to their success as cyclists and they would kill to hold on to that."

Vayer agrees that erythropoietin (EPO) has been the catalyst for seismic change in sport: "EPO allows the athlete to do things that are not humanly possible and it turns sport into a mechanical business. You run 10km at your maximum, the next guy comes along and runs at his maximum, and because he is taller and has a longer stride, he will go faster than you. It is no longer a result of psychology, of technique, of training, of thinking, of courage; you can have all these qualities, but against the guy doing EPO, you have no chance. There is a classic test in cycling - you put a rider on a home trainer and get him to his limit for 12 minutes riding at 325 watts [the power generated by the rider]. Then you go to 375 for four minutes, then 425 for another four, and so on. I did this with the Festina riders two days before the 1996 Tour and I discovered that the level of lactates produced at 325 watts was three, but when they went up to 375 watts the lactate level dropped to two. Can you believe that? EPO is fantastic, but it is not sport any more, it is a business and it is dangerous. As well as thickening the blood, EPO accelerates the development of cancerous cells."

Results from an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) study will be released this week and will show just how effective the drug is. Experimenting with high-performance endurance athletes, the AIS found that those on EPO improved by at least 10%, a figure that will send tremors through sports officials everywhere. Although EPO remains undetectable, a high haematocrit percentage of red cells in the blood may be indicative of misuse. This is why the Union Cyliste International (UCI) disqualifies any rider whose haematocrit exceeds 50%. When the UCI agreed on the 50% threshold, they did so on the basis of a 1988 study which showed 43% as the average haematocrit for professional cyclists. That average is now 45% and it is accepted that the increase has been caused by EPO use.

Many riders sail much closer to the 50% limit. Without a test to prove the existence of EPO, the cycling authorities have simply controlled the misuse of the drug. "At least now," Dr Leon Schattenberg, of the UCI's medical committee, said, "riders who are clean do not have to compete against riders whose haematocrit levels are excessively high. This is better than nothing." But not enough. "I met Hein Verbruggen [the UCI president] the other day," Vayer said. "We spoke for over an hour. He said he was head of 171 federations and I said: 'Stop your s**t, your only duty is to stop doping, that's all you have to do'."

In the back garden of Le Gobelen, that radicalism went down well with Vayer's associates. "You know, after his first two years with the pros, every team wanted Bassons," he said. "He had great results as an amateur, he had done well with the pros and he was clean. One top rider came to me and said: 'His haematocrit is only 39, he can win Paris-Roubaix with his haematocrit at 46.' That was the culture. What's his haematocrit? How much EPO can he take?" Vayer says the dictionary gives two definitions for revolution: "One is to change things a little; that revolution has happened over the last year in cycling," he said. "The other meaning is to overturn the system, get rid of many people and put new people in their place. That is what needs to happen in cycling."

July 17, Jeremy Whittle wrote in under the headline "Bassons incurs wrath of peers".

The demons that haunted the 1998 Tour de France returned to the race with a vengeance yesterday, despite the spectacular stage victory of David Etxebarria of the ONCE team, his Spanish sponsor's first Tour success in four years, in the Cantal town of St Flour. As two of the figures that the Tour organisation attempted to ban from the race - Manolo Saiz, the ONCE team manager, and Richard Virenque, now happily reintegrated back into the fold as the leader of the King of the Mountains classification - celebrated their successes, a young French professional who had dared to voice his fears over doping was effectively forced out of the Tour.

Christophe Bassons, a rider with the French lottery-sponsored La Française des Jeux team, quit the Tour after a furious response from his fellow professionals to a newspaper column, in which he broke the peloton's renewed laws of silence and expressed his concern over the evidence of doping among his peers. Feelings came to a head at his team's hotel on Thursday evening, when Marc Madiot, Bassons' directeur sportif, was enraged to find the 25-year-old still in conversation with journalists as his team-mates left the dinner table and headed to their rooms.

"It was his own problem," Madiot said in the start village in St Galmier yesterday morning. He denied reports that he had had a physical confrontation with his rider, saying: "He wouldn't continue the race. At 9.30 last night, I found him still talking to journalists, even though he hadn't had his dinner.

I told him to go to the restaurant and that he had to obey the rules, just like everybody in the team. But he might tell you something different."

Bassons' view, expressed repeatedly in his column, that many competitors in the race were still engaged in dubious practices has not been wellreceived by his professional peers, including Lance Armstrong, the overall race leader.

"If it's the rider that I think it is," Armstrong said yesterday morning, in reference to the departure of Bassons, "the one who's always speaking about problems in cycling and doping, then I told him during the stage to Sestrières that I respected what he was saying but that I thought there was a professional and a correct way to do it. What he's said is not good for him or his team, his sponsor and cycling. I understand his position, but if that's what he thinks, maybe he's better to go home. I don't think declarations in newspapers are in his best interests. If he wants to ride professionally, he can't speak like that, because sponsors will walk away from the sport."

After a sleepless night, Bassons left the race early yesterday and has gone to the Pyrenees for a holiday with his girlfriend, while several of his team-mates branded him "an obsessive" and a "traitor".

July 18, "Pack turns on rider who broke ranks".

"... Bassons has become a pariah for his honesty on cycling's cancer. Writing a daily newspaper column, the 25-year-old spoke candidly about the doping problem. Too candidly, according to his fellow professionals. It was hard for a clean rider to win in the Tour de France, he claimed; the drug EPO was still being used; several riders were disgusted by Armstrong's performances. For breaking the silence of the peloton, this kid would pay. On Wednesday's stage to Alpe D'Huez, Armstrong challenged the Frenchman about his thoughts on the doping problem. Next day this little rider had the audacity to write about his contretemps with the holder of the yellow jersey.

Bassons did not understand his place in the peloton, and on Thursday evening his La Francaise des Jeux team manager, Marc Madiot, told him he must not speak any more about doping. But in front of his team-mates, Bassons argued with Madiot. His teammates were on the manager's side. Everybody understands you do not talk about doping. Bassons went to his room and rang his trainer and his partner. He cried. He had cracked. He could not go on. He was beaten. The pack had won. No more would they have to listen to the man they derisively called "Monsieur Propre".

And so on Friday evening, the Tour communique listed Bassons as a "non partant". It did not add "good riddance", but you sensed that. In yesterday's newspapers nobody in the peloton had a good word to say about him. They called him unprofessional, criticised him for not respecting the Tour. He was not sick; why did he abandon? "His accusations are not good for the sport, for his team, for me," Armstrong said. "If he thinks cycling is like that, he is wrong and he is better off at home." From the Tour organiser Jean-Marie Leblanc came the unkindest cut: "He should not become a martyr. Furthermore, I am inclined to believe that there is a marketing plan behind all of this." Leblanc will not easily reconcile his putdown of Bassons with his expressed desire to have a clean Tour. For the moment, the latest informer has been silenced."


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