Letters to cyclingnews

Here's your chance to get more involved with cyclingnews.com. Comments and criticism on current stories, races, coverage and anything cycling related are welcomed, even pictures if you wish. Letters should be brief (less than 300 words), with the sender clearly identified. They may be edited for space and clarity. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.

Please email your correspondence to letters@cyclingnews.com.

Recent letters

A wide range of letters in today's in-box, which, it has to be said, makes a nice change from a constant doping debate.

Frank Berlanda has a few facts on the Trofeo Baracchi, a two-up time trial that seems to have stopped happening some time in the early nineties.

Conor Cairns notes that many of our letters come from outside cyclingnews.com's Australian base (no surprise, as we're an 'international' site that just happens to be based here) and wonders what the profile of cycling is like elsewhere in the world. Your letters ed is a Brit who has travelled in Europe and the US and I have to say I find Sydney about the most bike-hostile place I've ever seen, and I agree completely with Conor that the abysmally-designed bike paths here are as much use as an aqualung on a fish. The proper place for bikes as transport is the roads, and Sydney's problem is too many morons in 4WDs and V8s who seem to have missed out on Sharing 101 when they were young. I blame the parents.

Richard McLamore agrees with Regis Chapman's comparison of the pressures on pro cyclists and regular folks and points out that the problem with doping is that it destroys the transcendence we expect of our heroes.

Richard Ruoff thinks there are other factors that explain today's performances, and that cynics who think it's all about doping are wide of the mark.

Mark Wood says his only lasting memory of Claude Criquelion was that unfortunate crash with Steve Bauer and the resulting lawsuit.

David Leonard weighs into the Armstrong vs Ullrich vs Pantani debate, defending US Postal's development and treatment of riders not called Lance.

In the inevitable letters on doping and Virenque, Susan Woolford wonders why cyclists are castigated so hard on this subject, while American football players get just a slap on the wrist. Barry White points out that Virenque's biggest problem is appearing to take himself too seriously.

Finally, letters on your favourite performances of 2000 are still coming in, and they're in our special section here.

John Stevenson
Letters editor

Trofeo Barrachi
The profile of cycling outside Europe
Performance Enhancements
Claude Criquelion
Armstrong vs Ullrich vs Pantani
Richard Virenque

Trofeo Barrachi

The Trofeo Barracchi event took place until the end of the eighties/beginning of the nineties. It was held in the north of Italy in the provincia di trento region and usually fnished in the region's capital city Trento. The length was about 80km and usually the course followed a valley called Val Sugana. In the eighties the famous Italian rider Francesco Moser was the headliner in this race, not only because of his popularity, but also because he lived in the surroundings of the city of Trento. What happened to the race nowadays, I don't know.

Frank Berlanda
Friday, December 1

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Profile of cycling outside Europe

I really like the new letters section of cyclingnews.com and one thing that strikes me, in particular, is how many of the letter contributors come from the US and countries outside of Ozzyland.

I am curious about the profile of cycling as a serious sport and pastime in the US and other non-European countries. I am Australian and anyone in Australia knows that the Australian public, in general, much prefers Australian rules football, cricket - and just about every other sport for that matter - to cycling. This marginalises the sport of cycling and the validity of the bicycle itself.

I will go out on a limb here, and suggest that cycling has only cult status in Australia, at best. Australia is a car society and the many thousands of people who travel and commute by bicycle (which I think would include many cyclingnews.com readers) are viewed as fools or at worst downright menaces by the majority of the non-cycling Australian public.

There has supposedly been a government push over here to get more people commuting by bicycle. I can tell you that the new and existing cycle paths are pretty average and are always shared with pedestrians (probably motorists on their weekly "health" walk) who hate cyclists and seem to make every effort to hinder their progress, just because they can. They can walk in packs of 10 or more and take up both sides of the bike lanes so they can chat leisurely with their friends.

So to cut to the chase, are cyclists in the US and other non-European countries (Holland leads the way: respect for the bicycle!!), as poorly catered for as we are in Australia? Has the success of Lance Armstrong done anything as far as raising the profile of US cyclesport, and can we all as bicycle lovers please band together and suggest that the world take us cyclists more seriously? Perhaps a trendier alternative to lycra and baggy shorts would go a long way...

By the way, I have just decided that the Fondriest compact road bikes (in tacky, but surprisingly aesthetic Lampre-Daikin team colours) are about the most beautiful things I have set eyes on in a long time! Yes, even better than the Colnago-Ferrari!

Conor Cairns, a bike fan who desperately wants to swing the content of C-News away from doping and who is really the Best.
Friday, December 1

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I applaud Regis Chapman's linkage of the pressures to dope in professional cycling to the pressures that most of us face - whether in amateur racing or in our professions (or jobs, if you prefer). We do live in a culture of doping based on trying to exceed mundane physical limitations. The wait-person who believes the Aleve tablets he or she takes will help them get through their shift is using logic similar to that of Virenque, et. al--as are the truckers who down No-doz or methamphetamine to make their distances. Interestingly, though, it's just this element of transcendence of physical limitations that sells people on sport in the first place, whether it's Michael Jordan soaring from the foul line to the rim or Bernard Hinault getting back on his bike to finish a stage with a broken nose. For the fan, doping destroys the illusion of transcendence, of superhuman-ness, that sporting figures have been invested with in the global culture of sport.

I think that is why proposals to legalize doping (which make a certain amount of sense, I think) will have a hard time--unless, as seems to have been the case in the U.S.A. with American football, fans can be brought to see doping as something that enhances that image.

Richard McLamore
Saturday, December

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Performance Enhancements

This letter is a general response to those who are overly suspicious about the rapid performance improvements we have seen in cycling in recent years. I have been involved in racing for 27 years and have followed the sport and its developments very closely during that time. Let me lay out a scenario that might explain the bulk of these athletic gains without the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

First, I'll start with simple improvements, then move on.

When I started riding in the 70s, jerseys and shorts were made of wool. You were either too hot and soaked with weighty water in the summer, or your froze in the winter. Socks were always hot and chafing. The thin Italian shoes offered no support.

Clipless Pedals. The Alfredo Binda Extra straps dug into the top of your feet when you accelerated or were climbing. If your cleats were not perfectly aligned you would suffer great knee pain. Riders can now push much larger gears for a longer time than in years past. Brake lever shifting. Riders are much more inclined to shift up and down the now much larger gear range rather than try and "muscle it" over the next rise.
Aero Wheelsets. A whole peloton on aero wheels has to go faster than one on box rims with 36 spokes per wheel.
Carbon Fiber. Most bikes are 3 to 4 pounds lighter than 20 years ago and they track more comfortably while maintaining rigidity.
In-ear communication means less missed moves and less wasted energy.

Huge improvements in training include use of the heart rate monitor, power meters that monitor wattage output, the computers that coaches use to track the information and of course our dietary knowledge base has expanded at a phenomenal rate. This includes energy bars and drinks.

Better Roads
Racers have better pavement all over the world and even in the Alps. Tour finishes have been straighter with less traffic islands in the towns.

UCI Points
With the advent of UCI points all riders have to be concerned with collecting points in order to improve their contract negotiations in the coming seasons. This means there is less lying around. Everyone has to take their opportunities when they can.

And finally the internationalization of the sport. It used to be just the best riders in Europe rode the grand tours, now it's the best riders in the world. Bigger exposure means bigger pressure to succeed. But success brings greater reward than ever, more money and more glory.

What amazes me is that the riders and racers times have improved only as much as they did. What it tells me is Eddy Merckx and company were some very tough hombres!

Rich Ruoff
Lancaster PA USA
Saturday, December 2, 2000

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Claude Criquelion

Criquelion may have been a great classics rider and worthy World Champion, but the only 'memory' I have of him now is in 1988 after the Steve Bauer fiasco at the World Championships. It is understandable for someone to be upset after (possibly) losing a world title in a crash (a crash that was clear Criquelion's fault), but to go as far as taking Bauer to court over the incident was very unprofessional and tarnished an otherwise great career.

Mark Wood
Saturday, December 2

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Armstrong vs Ullrich vs Pantani

Well, where do I start? Why would Eddy M say anything else? Of course he thinks he would dominate. As far as Armstrong vs Pantani vs Ullrich. Pantani? Armstrong dropped him. And gave him the stage win. Just go back and watch the tape. I have a dozen times. Enough said.

Ullrich. Wow! What a machine! This guy really can keep Armstrong on his toes. And he seems like a real straight up dude. Yes, Ullrich could defeat Armstrong. He did in Sydney, but, I haven't seem him sprint much at all, and in races like the TdF, where Armstrong had a 6 minute lead, why would you even want to? A stage win?

To say that Team Postal is poorly managed is way off. Look what they've done for Hamilton, Hincapie, Andreu and Livingston (Telekom now, damn!) They seem to have goals that a lot of other teams don't, mainly, focusing on the TdF and making that the center of the season. And why not? It happens to be the most gruelling sporting event in the world, and to win that, truly takes serious ability and commitment from the riders as well as management.

I'm sure Armstrong's opponents are tired of the cancer comeback story but you can't brush this aside. Read his book. The guy is amazing AND gracious. He doesn't shoot his mouth off like a lot of the Euro racers we've seen and read about. All I'm saying is these guys can coexist AND they do a lot for the sport; a sport that lacks support and respect. Just keep the drugs out.

David Leonard
Friday, December 1

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I agree with Tim Woolford. The majority of the news I've heard lately in regards to cycling is about drug involvement. Why is it that professional football players get away with this time and time again? They get their slap on the wrist and then they're right back on the field making their millions. The majority of cyclists make considerably less than that, and yet they continue to receive the bad press. I saw my brother (Tim) after his one accident that involved him, his friend, and a pick-up truck. It is not a sight I ever want to see again. There are people out there everyday training like my brother. Let's give these heroes the good press they deserve!

Susan Woolford
Friday, December 1

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Richard Virenque

In Benedict Leonard's sculling example, consider this. If, after a certain event, three crews, save one man, admitted fixing the race and previous races. Imagine this one man as being a talented rower but also known as a preening, attention-craving egomaniac. As the scandal drags on, he continues to deny his involvement. He never says, "I did not fix the race." Rather, he makes oblique and circular statements. (Bill Clinton and his "define sex" approach come to mind.)

At some point, most human beings resent having their intelligence insulted. Journalists, while having to pass their columns through the legal department, are no different. And certainly, human nature finds us less kind to self promoting caricatures than to those who are perceived as "just getting on with the job". Hard to imagine someone like Udo Bolts not owning up to a mistake, but I would suggest the media might, right or wrong, be kinder to a humble man.

I have looked back over some of the stories you are referring to and I think the writers of those articles have gone to some pains to admit they do not possess a solution to the problem. Nearly every magazine with a Festina feature also has a message from the editor or a separate article on the doping problem itself. Cipo gets the Virenque treatment sometimes but defuses a lot of ongoing bad feelings because he does not take himself so seriously. He admits to being an ego maniac, a bon viveur and a man of very specific talents. In short, he paints the target on himself, then makes a joke about that same target. In the court of public behaviour, the sin most likely to find you skewered in print is the sin of taking yourself too seriously.

This discussion could go on endlessly. Many of Benedict Leonard's points are well taken. I, too, wince sometimes when writers refer to him as "Dickie" etc.

But, "live large" and expect the publicity that follows.

Barry White
Chicago, IL, USA
Saturday, December 2

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The last month's letters

  • November 28-30 – Trofeo Barrachi, Claude Criquelion, pressure, doping, and Virenque
  • November 22-27 – Even more on doping, Virenque, and bone wasting
  • November 20-22 – Doping, Virenque, bone wasting and the gobsmackingly brilliant
  • November 14-19 – Doping; Virenque, pro training and the French media
  • November 11-13 – More on doping, technology and Giles Baudet
  • November 8-11 – Doping, technology, US Postal, Giles Baudet
  • November 1-8 – Food policy at the the track world's, technology, doping and the Festina trial
  • Letters Index - The complete index to every letters page on cyclingnews.com