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Letters to Cyclingnews - June 1, 2007, part 2
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Is amnesty the best policy?
Following the recent spate of confessions from current and former riders, the Cyclingnews Inbox received its own flood of opinions on how best to deal with a problem that appears to have been endemic throughout professional cycling in the 90s, and possibly beyond.
Suggestions ranged from an all out amnesty, to locking up offenders and throwing away the key. And while we can't print each letter received, rest assured we do read every one.
- Ben Abrahams, letters editor
June 1, part 1: A
thought for cycling's true heroes..., A cunning plan, A great opportunity for
the UCI, Admissions of guilt, Let's have some real confessions, Amnesty is the
way forward, Suggestions for an amnesty, Amnesty, Amnesty or punishment?, ASO's
double standard, Tour Clowns, Bjarne Riis, Bjarne Riis confession, Riis must
go, Riis, Basso, Zabel, et al..., Repairing the Magenta Express, Tip of the
iceberg, Riis and winning the tour on EPO
Zabel, Riis and others confessing to their doping pasts are not heroes or courageous, or any way to be admired. They are sneaks and cheats, who have held up a deception for as long as possible. It's only now that they stand to loose more than they can gain from this deception that, upon lawyers' advice, they now fess up.
I'm a passionate clean competitive cyclist but now quite frankly I don't give a turd about who wins the Giro or the Tour. McQuaid and the UCI moreover are still firmly in denial, by the sound of their language, still talking Riis et. al. up. This shows that the "culture" of top level cycling still has light years to go. One wonders in this age of corporate social responsibility, just how many corporations can stay willing to have their brand names and reputations carried around by these drug couriers. If I were CEO of a big firm, I'd definitely be looking to put my money elsewhere.
In the meantime, I'll keeping rocking up to my local races, racing clean, and sleeping soundly at night, happy with my honest albeit humble achievements. More than can be said of a crooked Yellow Jersey holder.
The half-baked doping confessions that we are currently hearing from cycling's elite show that cycling has the collective will to address transgressors, but is also highlighting, once again, the painful lack of honour in today's (and yesterday's) athletes.
Why are all of T-Mobile's stable of former riders coming clean now? Because the team doctors confessed to endemic doping. The riders have to either come clean now on their own terms, or face being exposed eventually by the Freiburg "doctors". In this case, the riders' confessions have nothing to do with their desire to "do the right thing" and everything to do with preemptively striking in order to salvage some goodwill from the cycling fan where none should be granted.
Between Puerto and Freiburg, it is clear that the road to cleaning up cycling (and sport in general) is through exposing the medical and financial (ie gambling) machinations behind the team structures. Cycling is leading the way in doing precisely this and I applaud the organizing groups and teams who are pushing this leading edge.
Riis' confession today got me to thinking... As Cyclingnews pointed out, the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the 1996 Tour are in no way capable of accepting even an honorary victory. My question is, how far down do you have to go before you find a clean victor? What is ‘clean,' anyway? If somebody doped years ago, are their current victories null and void? If one dopes with a substance that is not yet illegal, and becomes illegal later, is that person a cheater?
If Lance came forth with a similar confession, and then Indurain and other big names, what do you do with the more recent results? If everybody cheats (or at least the vast majority), is it really cheating? If it truly is almost everybody, then it's the system that's being cheated, not a racer's fellow competitors. That's not as bad, is it?
Cheating is really the issue, not doping. If only the decision were as simple as determining whether or not a rider had hopped on a train to make a long stage easier, this wouldn't be as difficult as it is. I don't think Zabel's tears were crocodile tears. I have to believe that the majority of dopers feel badly about what they've done but also feel that they had no choice if they wanted to perform at the highest level. Spending the rest of your life knowing that the great success you attained in your youth was fraudulent is a curse that I wouldn't want to live under. There are many with no moral compunction to feel that guilt, but I'm betting that the majority do.
This week's spate of confessions is the only way out of this prison. My advice to the rest of the peloton, regardless of any deal-making or amnesty, would be: Now's your chance. ‘Fess up before you're stuck holding it inside forever.
So Bjarne Riis admits to doping and says, "If they want my yellow jersey, they can come and get it."
Well, who would they give it to?
Since Riis admits he doped during the 1996 Tour de France, doesn't that mean that the runner-up should be named the winner? And that was... Riis' Telekom teammate, Jan Ullrich. Of course, Amaury Sports can't exactly give the jersey to Ullrich, seeing as how Telekom appears to have had a team-wide doping effort and that Ullrich is implicated in the Puerto affair. There's too much of a risk they'd have to take it away from him, too.
So maybe the next guy in line will be named the winner. Let's see, third place. Richard Virenque, Festina. Oops, that won't work. After all, Virenque confessed to doping and was implicated in the Festina doping scandal two years later. If he doped in 98, he was probably on the stuff in 1996 and 1997.
Well, so let's give it to the fourth place finisher. And -- drum roll please -- Laurent Dufaux of Festina. Oops, that won't work, either.
Are we ready to call Peter Luttenberger the 1996 champ? Please...
What a week for confessions. The Inquisition itself couldn't have extracted more of them! The corker is Bjarne Riis's, ole Mr. 60% himself (which I read about years ago for his hematocrit level). You have to like someone saying "Yeah, I did it for years and if you want my Tour jersey, come get it." Brassy, if not classy. Riis's comment that just slays me is the one where he stated, seemingly with some derision, that all he got out of it was being faster. Well, gee, Bjarne, what else did you expect, a head full of hair?
But it's Erik Zabel's confession that strikes me as one most in need of clemency. It was preceded by a confession from his good friend Rolf Aldag, whose confession in turn was prompted by the whirlpool of information uncovered by Operation Puerto. Zabel and Aldag are in an excellent documentary, Hell on Wheels, which looks at the Tour de France over time and as it unfolded in 2003. It's called a superb look into the life of these two and their immense struggles to succeed at what they hope to accomplish. You come away from that film with such respect for them!
Let's applaud their courage to admit to something that had been bothering them and that needed to see the light of day. And, Bjarne, keep your jersey, but place beside it a big asterisk.
Your team captain wins the biggest race of cyclingdom, the Tour de France, and he took them. Your team and teammates are adored by all and revered for their hard work and dominance, and they took them. The results speak for themselves by what they took. You are touted as the next big thing and come in second in the biggest cycling race in the world. You bring national pride to your country, your sponsors love you, the media loves you, everyone loves you. You are a star in your home country and people recognize you. You want to take that next step to win it all. So how do you do it? You do what your team captain and teammates did to win it all... you take EPO. Why not? They got away with it and have for years. The doctor will make sure of that!
So if everyone around you does it and gets away with it, it probably seems like a safe bet that you can to. And you do and win the Tour a year later.
The pressure to perform and live up to expectations can be a stronger temptation than what is legally and morally right. But you are an elite athlete and the pressure to be like your peers can be awfully great.
When a team as a whole dopes and the results speak for themselves, do you do as they do? Or do you risk fading away into oblivion as a never-will-be?
I don't condone what they did, but I can certainly understand why.
I agree with Stan White. If Pereiro does not have anything to hide, why should he mind having a DNA test?
While the cycling fraternity is congratulating itself regarding admissions
to past doping offences I have to wonder why these people should be forgiven
and why should they be allowed to continue on as if the past does not matter.
The utter hypocrisy is vomit worthy. These are the people responsible for what
is still happening and team owners and sponsors are just supposed to forgive
It seems that the much maligned Dick Pound was right all along. He always asserted
that doping was endemic in professional cycling and now we know that it is.
I now wonder whether it is worth my time maintaining a keen interest in the
sport. To say that I am disillusioned does not even approach the disappointment
and anger that I feel towards these cheats. I cannot think of a better word
to describe them.
This has been a tough 12 months for me concerning cycling (as it has for many cycling fans). I live in the US where Cycling coverage is scarce, there is no one to talk about the races, the riders, or current events. It's just me and the cycling websites. I often send emails to my cable company asking them to air more ProTour races - live. I try to get people at work to "just watch one stage, I promise you'll fall in love with it, too!" I showed off my 2007 Discovery Channel official jersey signed by Gianni Meersman that I won - people were happy for me because I was so excited, but no one really cared.
In Feb, when Ullrich's DNA matched the Puerto bags, my spirits saddened - everyone else had a great day. In May, when Basso confessed, I was crestfallen - no one understood. Last week when Zabel confessed, I could be heard talking to myself at my desk - no one to share my increasing sadness for the sport that can bring me to tears (in a good way). Just yesterday, when half the 1996 Telekom team confessed to doping, discouragement starting to set in - everyone else excited about the 3 day holiday weekend. Just 5 minutes ago, when I learned Riis was doped for the 1996 le Tour - well that hasn't sunk in yet.
Add to this the bickering between the UCI and the Tour Organizers and I am here to tell Pro cycling, "Sometimes you make it hard to love you".
I will still watch. I will still check the websites every hour for updates in news and riders. I will still see the human side of the riders (which for me makes their racing more special), and I will still be the cheerleader for these great, talented men. I am, in fact, counting down to le Tour de France because it is televised. I will watch the race live when I can, and catch the replay at night - staying up until past 11pm and going to work tired every morning for 3 weeks.
For the love of cycling,
The recent round of doping confessions by more mid-90s Telekom riders proves that passing a doping control is no proof that a rider rides clean, even on the very day he passes. In other words, it doesn't matter one small bit that Lance Armstrong passed his doping controls. The doping confessions of those who passed the same controls eliminate that defence, for better and for worse.
We now know that lots of guilty riders pass doping controls. Their confessions are proof. They doped; they passed. Indeed it seems obvious by now that guilty riders pass doping controls far more times than they fail them. We don't know how many times some confessed dopers passed the controls. But we do know how many times some dopers failed -- none. Given these and other confessions by riders who never actually tested positive but who later admitted to doping, beating the system is a rather mundane challenge. We now know it happens all the time.
Note to pro riders: Please do not insult our intelligence by trying to establish your innocence on the ground that you passed all the doping controls. Passing doping controls just puts you in company with all the self-confessed guilty riders who did precisely the same. But please do tell us how you managed to beat those who doped without doping yourself, especially if you have done so over and over, year upon year.
Having the physiological readings of a race horse just won't explain it. Basso has precisely that kind of physiological data. I know so for a fact. So does Ullrich. Yet someone I can think of beat them with amazing regularity, sometimes by shockingly large margins -- clean, they tell me, and then point to passing the doping controls as evidence. If you beat not only the best in the world, but the best in the world on dope, then I don't for a moment believe you are clean. Ironically and sadly, your success is your accuser. Winners must now answer for winning.
Is it really a matter then simply of better training, or of mental toughness? I doubt it. There are plenty of wonderfully well trained riders in the pro peloton, and some of them are tough as nails. And please don't tell me about Eddy Merckx in this regard. Remember, he was caught doping too.
At this moment, Bjarne Riis has not spoken, but is scheduled to do so soon. I can't wait to hear what old "Mr 60" (a common 11 year-old reference to his hematocrit level) has to say. But the possibilities now reduce roughly to two: Confession or meaningless allusions to passing doping controls. The first should mean lifetime expulsion from the sport; the second means precisely nothing.
Dr. Michael Bauman
My experience riding with Lance and George Hincapie on the US Cycling Team in the early 1990's is exactly what Todd Dunn has stated. I have memories of us doing early season training in the Texas hill country and almost daily, after all of us, including George, were tired from riding 100+ miles daily, Lance would continue on for another hour or two. Never have I seen more dedication, talent and toughness in one person and I seriously doubt I'll ever see anything like that again.
I dare say that anyone that challenges his accomplishments obviously has zero concept of what Lance's genius can and has accomplished.
In addition to everything else said about Armstrong, you have to admit the guy was also VERY lucky in the TDF. He could have been in the pileup that broke Levi's hip. He could have broken his collarbone when he and Mayo so famously crashed during the attack in win #5. His bike frame was cracked in half when he finished that stage. He could have been more caught up in the Beloki crash that effectively ended Joseba's career (Lance's not blowing a tire on his little cyclocross trip still amazes me).
Heck, the guy didn't even have a flat tire during one of his 7 TDF wins. It wasn't all pure luck... amazing bike skills (compare the number of time Lance hit the deck to... say... Tyler), fanatical technical preparations including some of the most amazing tire aging in the industry, and careful intake of food and fluids to keep from getting sick.
He was lucky... but luck comes to the people who are prepared to accept it.
Great rider he may be but Lance could not have won seven tours on his own - his team played a huge part in his victories. Given that some of his biggest allies in US Postal have since been shown to be cheating (Heras being the most notable), I ask the question, did Lance cheat - by proxy so to speak?
M G Matar
When LeMond started taking about L.A., I thought he should keep his mouth shut unless he had some real evidence. I vowed never to buy any of his cycling products and wrote him off. I agree that he tends to treat supposition as fact, and that bothers me, but I also think he is doing it because he knew the peloton was doping and he wanted it to stop.
We all made fun of him and called him a heretic, but now we are all finding out he was right. It appears he was willing to do anything, or say anything he could to bring the doping out into the light and put a stop to it. I have personally decided to cut him a break, and forgive him for using supposition as fact, because when you really look at it, he only targeted people he really thought were doping and didn't strike out indiscriminately.
LeMond trying to tear down US riders #2
Oh dear, I see that the apologists are at it again. According to Dr. Prell, "LeMond was never tested positive in "those" years, when, by the way, blood doping was still unknown." Unknown? Really? I wonder when "those" years were, as apparently Dr. Prell has never heard of the East Germans. Or the Russians. Or the U.S. Olympic cycling team's hilariously amateurish first stabs at blood doping in those Los Angeles hotel rooms way back in 1984...
As for Aldag still being employed in the aftermath of Bill Stapleton's previous evangelistic pronouncements that by God, things would be different under his reign, we'll just let that sit there on the table like the intellectual turd that it is. He's keeping Rolf and says he'll hire Zabel no questions asked. Nice work Bill.
As for Floyd and his drunk assistant threatening to expose (pardon the pun) the secret history of Greg LeMond's weenie, all I can say is who needs pro wrestling or NASCAR for cheap entertainment when you have pro cycling? You have to love Floyd's intellect, what with changing from a yellow tie to a black one whenever LeMond showed up. Gosh, I haven't seen that sort of childish egotism since grade school. At least he didn't wear his baseball hat backwards.
As for Zabel being commended for his sudden bout of honesty. Sorry, no sale. He's a doper and a liar, and he copped to it only to try and get in front of it. And only then because all of his former teammates have already let the Telekom cat out of the bag. He should be gone, as should they all. I am sickened by all of this crap about how admirable these guys are for their honesty. They're scumbags.
LeMond trying to tear down US riders #3
Lance Armstrong showed the cycling world that he was willing to ruin another rider's career to protect "doctor" Ferrari. That is what you witnessed on stage 18 of the 2004 TdF when Lance chased down Filippo Simeoni.
Indeed, the feud between LeMond and Armstrong started when LeMond called on Armstrong to end his relationship with Ferrari back in 2001.
In 2001, I did some research on Ferrari. I found references to Ferrari right here in the pages of CyclingNews.com. In excerpts from the book "Breaking the Chain" written by the Festina affair's main character, soigneur, Willy Voet. True cycling fans need to read these two excerpts.
Here is a quote from the book (written before anyone knew about Lance and Ferrari) - "What's more, teaming up with Ferrari was like putting a saucepan up your backside: it was immediately obvious what you were doing. And Virenque wanted at all costs to keep his family out of what he had to do."
I can understand the general public not being aware of the meaning of Armstrong chasing down Simeoni on that Stage. However, a fan that reads CyclingNews.com or VeloNews.com should see that was the TdF's darkest hour. Publicly tampering with a witness shows that Lance believes he is above the law.
LNDD, the lab, does such a knock up job, that results are routinely leaked to L'Equipe (which at the very least could be said to have an unfriendly view of American cyclists). They report 1 test result for elevated testoterone, and then all negatives. Then they go back and test B-samples (which in and of itself is insane, why not have a 3rd party doing the test to verify the results) and big surprise they come back positive. Then the Technical Manager for the company that manufactures the testing machine testifies that they have no idea how to work the testing machine, that they actually needed his help with some of the samples. Ridiculous.
And these are all facts, in addition to the fact that LNDD has 300% more positive results then any other WADA lab.
USADA has such an air tight case that they are relegated to talking about Floyd Landis character, and what he wore to court. Sad, just sad. And what of the supposed offer to inform on Lance Armstrong and some sort of leniency being granted? I won't even get into Dick Pound and his Captain Ahab routine in regards to Armstrong, or Greg LeMond's continual supposed insider information regarding American TdF winners, though I do wonder how he didn't have any information regarding Tyler Hamilton (hmm didn't win the tour), but does any of this really matter? No.
Why, did Floyd cheat? I think in this case he didn't. Mistakes were made, he should be cleared and recognized at the winner of the 2006 TdF.
If you want to really stop or try to control cheating in cycling, talk to John Vaughters, he seems to have a good hand on it, because no matter what people will always cheat. Unfortunately.
Thank you for making my favourite sport all that much more respectable. Your periodic appearances in the media, as strategically placed as they are, really enhance the 3 ring circus that this sport has become. I truly believe that if you had chosen a straw hat to go with that yellow tie, it would have made a big difference. Oh well, maybe next time...
When the manufacturer of the equipment (Mass Spec Solutions) used to test the samples sends a representative (Mr Simon Davis, technical director) to the proceedings and he says that the people who bought his company's product are using it incorrectly...it makes me sit up and think.
My understanding is that these machines require extremely precise and consistent handling to achieve accurate results time and again. If the manufacturer's procedures are flouted and not consistently followed, then errors will result. Every chemistry student knows that to repeat the results of any experiment, the steps, procedures and timings must be followed to a T.
It is interesting that Mr. Young spent so much time during his arguments on something other than the scientific evidence in the case. It doesn't matter about Floyd Landis' character, Floyd Landis' associates, or Floyd Landis PR mistakes or missteps, or what Greg LeMond says about a conversation that occurred last year.
If the IRMS evidence was completely solid, then the data would be un-impeachable. However, a GLP lab should never have the kind of mistakes that were on display from LNDD. The chain of custody and documentation were compromised from the start. The analysts knew of the identity of the subjects being tested, and the desired outcome. Therefore, tampering with the chromatography baseline will always be questionable because the analysts are subjective people, like all of us. The GLP process is supposed to prevent investigator bias by having a defensible and transparent process.
The litany of errors and the unwillingness of Mr. Young to stand on the only thing that matters, the data produced at LNDD, are inexcusable. The athletes deserve better, the cycling fans deserve better, the sport deserves better, and the scientific community deserves better.
I am shocked and saddened to hear of Dario Pegoretti's lymphoma diagnosis. While it is terrible news whenever anyone is stricken with a serious illness, it seems always to strike home more profoundly when it is someone with whom we identify or feel a strong personal connection.
I like to think of myself as a fairly non-materialistic person, one who does not become overly attached to or obsessed with physical objects. The one clear exception to this ideal is my 2005 Pegoretti Marcelo; I adore this bike! I can't even begin to find the right superlatives to describe the butter-smooth ride that is somehow fused with massive drivetrain stiffness, or good-natured, predictable stability that happily co-exists with razor-sharp, instantaneous cornering response. Every time I get on the bike, I reflect on 1) how I am not worthy of it and 2) how it was made, one weld at a time, by the hands of one of the greatest framebuilders who has ever lived.
The top tube is inscribed with a simple Italian slogan that neatly encapsulates the Pegoretti artisan vision: "Fatti con le mani".
Get well soon, Dario. The world can never have enough beautiful bikes in it, and yours are the best in the business - we need you building them for years to come.
Your question has been on my mind for some time. I can see parallels to other events and offer perhaps a conspiracy theory or two that polite and rational people will not talk about.
After Mayo's fantastic run up Ventoux, he simply disintegrated. We never even saw him as a possible contender for a top 10 in the Tour. After Cunego's phenomenal Giro, he fell apart and still has not truly resurfaced at the same level. We have seen Kloden outrun his team captain Der Kaiser, take a podium spot then establish himself as a domestique for another rider as opposed to posturing himself for his own Tour win. There are many events like this and no one seems to even notice the similarities. Each rider has shown up unexpectedly, had brilliant performances then faded away. I see two possibilities:
1) They doped, showed off and the team made them back off because they knew what was going on and did not want to raise suspicion.
2) They all dope in order to maintain the demands on them physically. Teams and race organizers are fully aware of it. Small groups of riders are chosen by the racing community as a whole to be allowed to win a given race. If one crosses the line, he is either warned (Cunego) or slammed (Landis). It smacks of a pseudo-choreographed event to me.
In any event, the level to which doping occurs is too big to fly under the radar anymore. Without a big, splashy anti-doping campaign to distract the public (wait, we have one of those) people would start to think things are fixed. In any event, I am forever skeptical.
On the TV coverage of the Giro the other day, there was a British elite woman cyclist telling how she was tested each year for controlled use of asthma medicine.
It involved exercising in a dense, moisture-laden atmosphere until an attack starts, then repeating it over again to trigger an episode, just to prove she is not cheating!
I'm not saying that some athletes may be using asthma medicines inappropriately, but if all local governing bodies applied the same rules as vigorously, then the urge to obtain these medicines might decline.
I must say that my own steroid asthma medicine precludes me from this year's Tour de France - but I can climb the slope to the local pub!
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