Letters to Cyclingnews

Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. 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

Regis Chapman returns with more thoughts on the subject of sandbagging and the highly individualistic attitude of Americans to cycling. He also reflects that he feels discouraged on group rides because he's no longer as fit as he once was. Regis, a couple of us here feel your discouragement, and all we can say is: get out and ride! Your letters editor has been hitting the road and the dirt a lot more in the last couple of weeks and set a PB for the office run this morning, and feels a damn sight better for it. I'm looking forward to getting dropped a little less badly on the hills this weekend…

Leonard Ke and Matthew Hammond have some advice for Robert Way who wrote in our last edition asking whether he should stay in a lower grade and learn, and risk being accused of sandbagging, or move up.

On a tangent to the topic of sandbagging, Francois Siohan writes with the inspirational tale of Jan Nuttli, who made a remarkable comeback after being a non-racing blob.

The demise of the Linda McCartney team and the squabble between US Postal and Kelme over Roberto Heras brought some thoughts from Louis Garrett, who points out that sponsorship is supposed to enhance the sponsor's image…

Italo Magni writes in defence of Marco Pantani after June Willing hinted that Pantani's example shows it's not desirable to expect riders to win more than one Grand Tour per year. It's true, as Italo points out, that Pantani has never failed a drug test, but neither has Richard Virenque and the evidence against Pantani was strong enough for a court to convict him. Italo makes the excellent point that different sporting federations have different haematocrit limits. The Lancet in 1998 reported a study comparing haematocrit levels of athletes who were believed clean with non-athlete controls. Two of the 46 athletes and three of the 278 controls were found to have haematocrit readings above 50 per cent. The authors concluded that the UCI limit may exclude athletes with high natural haematocrit levels.

Continuing the medical theme, Keith Richards writes of his own experiences with clinical depression, in order to shed some light on what Frank Vandenbroucke has been going though. Torben Sangild writes that after a setback like VDB's riders often return humbler but no less ambitious. We hope so.

Jay Cone has some more thoughts on the situation with US Postal and Kelme, and points out that to an American body like USPS, sponsoring cycling has risks as well as benefits.

Lance Armstrong was nominated for an Espy award recently, and Michael Marine contrasts Armstrong's nominated performance with that of the winner.

Former British pro Nigel Dean wonders why cycling is so open to team's being run by people with no knowledge of the sport. Good question.

Finally, Brian Walburn dropped us a line to express his appreciation of our listings of US teams. It's always been Cyclingnews policy to be as inclusive as possible, which is why we list local club results when we can get them as well as the results of the Grand Tours. Similarly, we welcome news of new teams, and updates on their activities, whether their objectives are a Tdf berth or just to be first to the cookie jar.

John Stevenson
Letters Editor

Jan Nuttli
Sponsor behavior
VDB's problem
US Postal and Kelme
The ESPY awards
Team management
Team info

Sandbagging #1

It may also be an "English" problem. What I mean to say is countries where cycling is not as respected, that is former English colonies. I think a lot of it is cultural. In the US, there is less of a "team" system here, less of a social homogeneity (for lack of a non-made up word) than there are in other countries.

In the US, the "induhvidual" is prized above all others, and those who become arrogant, obnoxious loners who do horrid mileage and regularly kill other riders in the local group ride seem to be the norm rather than the exception. This then carries over to the local racing circuit.

When I raced in Italy, their society seemed to be much more team-oriented. My impression is based mainly on the experience I had seeing a group of 10-12 year olds on matching bikes, with their team car (and 2 people in the car) motor-pacing them! Now, somehow I doubt that these youngsters had the car all to themselves for the whole year, but still...

Also, I think maybe that there are just so many cyclists in these European countries, that there is room for everyone.

I notice that most of the cyclists I know are loners, who get on a team so they can have people help them win races. Problem is, all their teammates think the exact same thing, and we all know what this means....

On the point about women cyclists, when I was riding the group rides, I would generally try to be sure the women stayed in the pack for as long as possible. It sucks that men would treat women in this way, but they probably have never had any experience dealing with someone who is what they would consider "weak". This arrogant attitude leaves no room for respect for people who are not stronger than them.

Even now, I am thought of poorly on group rides I occasionally go on, since I am no longer cycling fit. You can just tell. It's discouraging.

Regis Chapman
California, USA
Monday, 12 February

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Sandbagging #2

To Robert Way: You need to understand your reasons for racing. If it's to be the best racing cyclist you can be, then you need to race in a challenging environment. You only improve by racing and training with people better than you.

Please notice I included "training". That's where you should be learning how to handle your bike, read a race, etc. Learn in training...apply in racing. Join a racing club. If your results in Category 4 are good, then by all means move up to Category 3. I know riders who worked 40 hour weeks and raced Category 1 races with some success. You see a lot of 40+ masters racing in Category 1 races, then have success in their Masters Category because they train and race with better riders, and become the best riders they can be.

Leonard Ke
San Francisco, CA, USA
Tuesday, 13 February

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Sandbagging #3

The advice Robert Way has gotten from the "veteran racers" he rides with is dead wrong. If you can ride a race, employ bad tactics, and still finish well due to superior fitness, you are not learning anything - you are just padding your ego. It is much more instructional to ride in races where you will be made to pay for your mistakes, not to mention the extra motivation to train for more challenging events. Confidence in your abilities is important, but once you have gotten a few excellent results and gained that confidence, move up.
Bike racing is all about pushing your abilities, finding the edge of your pain threshold, and testing your judgement and concentration. If you are regularly winning cat 4 races, you might as well be sitting on the couch drinking a beer and watching TV.

Matthew Hammond
Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Thursday, 15 February

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Jan Nuttli

In his letter Mark Combs says he went down from 260lb to 220lb. He would be interested in the story of Jan Nuttli who quit biking after good results as a junior, put on weight, reaching about 120 kg, then decided to change lifestyle because he was worried for his health. He resumed his career and now weighs about 65 kg (with lots of extra skin).

He represented his country (Switzerland) at the last world pro championship (TT), finished 10th. He went on to win the Chrono des Herbiers (see Cyclingnews archives for October 2000).

Good luck with your cycling Mark.

Franćois Siohan
Monday, 12 February

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Sponsor behavior

I thought that companies sponsored cycling teams to boost the good name of their brand and to promote good will among fans and the general public.

If that is the case then it is unbelievable that Linda McCartney Foods and US Postal Service have jeopardized these corporate benefits by mishandling the financial affairs of the teams that bear their brand names.

Regardless of my opinion of Julian Clark, I believe that LM Foods has hurt the sport of cycling and damaged the careers of innocent riders. This belief has caused me to loose faith in the LM brand even though I'm a practicing vegetarian who was looking forward to the introduction of LM products to the US.

My opinion of US Postal is a little more complicated but suffice to say that I am wholly unimpressed with their handling of the Heras transfer. There can be no excuse for not paying ones bills and the Heras transfer has lowered my respect for the team's management and sponsors.

I was never thrilled with the fact that a US government agency with a legally-protected monopoly was spending millions of marketing dollars on a pro sports team. But I was willing to accept the hypothesis that an increase in their overseas revenue would offset the expense. If their shabby conduct of said team's business affairs reduces the positive marketing effect of their involvement then the very idea of sponsorship seems to be misguided.

I like the sponsorship system that has produced the UCI's trade team structure. I think it is the best possible way to finance racing in a world of free trade and free markets. But sponsors must know that their realization of business benefits depends on the way that they conduct themselves as members of the cycling community.

I don't expect sponsors to stay in the sport forever. But while they are involved they should honor their obligations and be honest with their sporting allies as to their situations and intentions. For example, I'm disappointed that Motorola and 7-11 departed from the sport. But I'm grateful for their involvement and the graceful way in which they handled their exit.

Louis Garrett
Atlanta, USA
Monday, 12 February

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In response to June Willing and her insinuations about the last winner of two Grand Tours in one year. Yes, Marco Pantani was the last rider to win two tours in the same year and what a year it was. I didn't hear one rider belittle Pantani's double victory at the time. Even to this day. As for the greats such as Merckx winning all those races and tours. Let us not forget he tested positive once in the Giro and was disqualified. Does that discredit every victory he previously or subsequently had?

Pantani has never, never tested positive. There is no internationally, scientifically recognized test to detect the use of EPO. The accepted limit varies from one sports federation to another (cross-country skiing for instance is 54 per cent, other sports are higher and then again others lower). Marco Pantani won because in those specific races, at that specific time and in those specific conditions he was simply the best rider.

Italo Magni
Montreal, Quebec
Monday, 12 February

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VDB's problem

Andrew Torrance has hit the nail on the head.

As a long term, chronic sufferer of clinical depression, I can tell you that the physical effects of the illness are highly debilitating and are responsible for the ruination of many a career, in sport and out of it.

Cycling is a sport that requires a good deal of confidence, self-belief, will power and motivation. Without these things, I would think it impossible to race at the highest level, regardless of physical ability. It's unfortunate, but depression attacks just these essentials. My own amateur cycling career has graphically demonstrated this to me as I've struggled against the illness for years, all the time watching my performances fluctuate wildly between success (on my terms) and abject failure.

The raw fact that Frank VDB has tasted success at the highest level does not make him immune from this illness. I'm successful in my profession and I know many other sufferers in similar positions. Life is no bed of roses, not even if you are a sporting superstar, and the pressures of fulfilling that role have clearly become too much for Frank VDB. His apparently inflated ego is no defence, as it has given him too much to live up to and left him open to a torrent of media speculation, ridicule and abuse. Indeed these negative aspects could well be responsible for triggering the illness, alongside his off-the-bike problems.

A non-sufferer is highly unlikely to understand all this. VDB is an awesome young bike rider, a talent that is too precious to waste. Please understand that he is ill, wish him well and give him the space to recover. Who knows, he may yet live up to his early promise and most bike fans would welcome that.

Keith Richards
Leeds, UK
Tuesday, 13 February

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VDB's problem

Although not knowing VDB personally, it seems very likely that VDB's enormous ambition and self-centered (arrogant) personality has suffered a blow when not being able to live up to these ambitions. Ask his colleagues, and they will testify to this.

When a thing like this happens to such a personality, when they discover that they are not superman, they often come back more generous, more aware of what counts in life. This does not mean, however, that their sporting ambition vanishes.

Let's see if I am right.

Torben Sangild
Monday, 12 February

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US Postal and Kelme

Here in the United States, bicycle racing hardly appeals to the masses. The US Postal Service is definitely coming under scrutiny over its recent rate increases. From a public relations standpoint, it would be a disaster for the mainstream US media to report that in times of rising rates, the Post Office is paying $1.4M for a Spanish bicycle racer to break his contract with a European sponsor. Such news would doubtless result in a hue and cry about "What is the Postal Service doing spending that kind of money on a bunch of guys in tight pants who shave their legs?" I am sure we can all appreciate the reaction of the American public to such news. It might lead to the Postal Service finding a way to promote its products that doesn't involve bicycle racing.

So, should the Postal team pay for Heras as agreed? Absolutely. Should it act like it has a bottomless pit of funding from the Postal Service that won't ever quit? Absolutely not. Are the other sponsors throwing so much money into the team that $1.4M is insignificant? I seriously doubt it.

Bottom line: The team does not have an unlimited budget, and if its main sponsor starts feeling a cash flow crunch, I can understand a little delay in cutting that size check (I said "understand," not excuse.)

Jay Cone
Charleston, WV
Tuesday, 13 February

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The ESPY awards

The ESPY awards took place last night, February 12. Lance Armstrong was nominated for Championship Performance of the Year. So was Tiger Woods, among others. Tiger Woods won.

My view:

Tiger Woods: 78 holes of golf, 1 weekend. He won by a large margin, 15 strokes if I'm not mistaken.

Lance Armstrong: 2000 Tour de France winner. 3662.5 kilometers. Thousands of meters of mountain climbing. Searing heat. Freezing cold. Torrential Rain.

Championship performance of the year? You decide.

Michael Marine
New York, USA
Tuesday, 13 February

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Team management

It amazes me (and always has) that sports like ours are so susceptible to plausible but unqualified team managers. I was a pro in the UK for 16 years before coming to live in Zimbabwe some 10 years ago. When I first turned pro in 1971, there was a team called Clive Stuart which featured some well-known, top riders. I remember riding round the track at the Herne Hill Easter meeting and the Clive Stuart lads were counting out about GBP350 each for their monthly salaries. I was on GBP15 per month, plus bonuses. The Clive Stuart thing was good in one way in that it drove up salaries for riders, but it put many sponsors out of the sport.

Then there was the instance of ANC, managed by Tony Capper. This team, including a young Malcolm Elliott, got into the Tour de France and were trying to do their best when they hadn't been paid for two months. Capper also disappeared.

Why do we entertain these characters? We need to look hard and long at the antecedents of "saviours". They also spoil the image of the sport with potential sponsors.

Nigel Dean
Thursday, 15 February

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Team info

I wanted to tell you that I've really been enjoying and appreciate the profiles of the US pro/am teams that you've been including as of late in your daily news reports. I find the information interesting and you dedicating that small space to such information can do nothing but help those teams and U.S. cycling in general due to the additional exposure that pro/am teams often find it tough to get.

I have wished, after reading a few of those profiles, that web addresses had been included to the teams' sites. Perhaps the new teams don't have websites, yet, but if so I think it would be helpful if those addresses were included.

Brian Walburn
Bryan, TX, USA
Thursday, 15 February

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The last month's letters

  • February 12 – Sandbagging, VDB, Julian Clark, cherry picking, drugs
  • February 9 – Sandbagging, cherry picking, doping, US Postal and Kelme
  • January 30-February 2 – Cherry picking, drugs, US Postal and Kelme
  • January 24-29 – Linda McCartney, Armstrong's conduct, Actovegin, JCTDU
  • January 19-23 – TDU TV coverage, Armstrong, Texan law, Cannondale's new bike, Actovegin
  • January 14-18 – Drugs, TDU coverage, US Postal, Texan law
  • January 11-13 –Drugs, Virenque, TDU coverage, French media, wooden bike
  • Letters Index - The complete index to every letters page on cyclingnews.com