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Letters to Cyclingnews - August 23, 2002
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.
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Doping in the USA
I think Stuart Press' letter about Doping in the USA is right on track.
I have had several discussions with very good cat 3 and above riders that are just disgusted with the fact that it is very difficult to get top results in mid level races because there are a number of racers at the 3-2-1 level that are happy being the regional freak and winning consistently (while taking opportunities from younger / clean riders to shine) while making every excuse in the book about why they don't go to the top level, where they will have to do it clean. I have even had a couple of Cat 4's ask me if I did anything and could I explain how it works... But I doubt it is just a problem here in the USA. The bottom line is that testing is expensive, and can't be done effectively at all or even a large portion of USCF races, nor can it be done at the low and Mid levels around the world. The problem is not just ours (although it certainly is ours) it is cycling's.
The garbage racers that spoil this sport at all levels (and I hope I am offending you, you losers!) right up to Cat 1 pro do nothing but hurt the sport by hiding the results of better athletes. But one positive is that all these racers (that never had the goods to make it in the big time, but are happy about pumping up there ego's and being the big fish in the small pond) do make for a good testing ground. Real talent needs to muddle through this sewage in order to shine on the big stage. And I imagine it is that way the world over.
Thank God we have a Junior program that is sending top young talent away and giving them opportunities else where, and is also monitoring their "health" to make sure that things are as on par as they can be. It's just a shame that the program isn't big enough to give all that deserve it a chance.
Doping in the USA #2
I have really grown quite tired of this doping debate. It is especially irritating when there is absolutely no basis for the claims other than hearsay from another rider. Our team put on a race earlier in the year that was a week before the Athens Twilight Criterium, an NRC event. We were able to attract many of the top U.S. pro riders to our event.
I have never followed U.S domestic racing and this was my first exposure to the top talent. We were talking with several of the riders and one rider told me that everyone dopes, even Lance Armstrong. I was informed that Lance has special permission to take EPO by the UCI because of his cancer and it is just kept on the hush. It was quite hard for me not to fall on the ground and curl up in the fetal position in a laughing fit.
We provided host housing for many of the riders and they were very appreciative of our hospitality, but these are not the kind of people that can afford performance enhancing drugs from what I have heard of the cost of many of the drugs. The money that most of these racers earn is not even close to worth the detriment to their health. There has always been a segment of every population that will use drugs from the local high school football hero to the Olympic athlete, but I say, who cares?
This is our sport. Without us, the people that buy the $5000 bikes and pay full price for the Carnac shoes and send our packages through the United States Postal Service, the great riders of today would be nothing more than potential hood ornaments. The rolling bill boards of the peloton would be no more. I love to race and play 'pretend bike team', but the arrogance of many cyclist is almost laughable. Cycling is a brutal sport and brings out something special in all of us. It shows us things about ourselves that no other sport could. I just wish we would let the commonality of cycling bring us together, instead of doping, nationalism and elitism that seems to fragment the sport.
If you want to do something about doping, go save a heroin addict or your local drunk. It should be a joy to watch any man or woman accomplish such a feat as to win a professional bike race no matter what flag they fly, even goofy Richard Virenque. To those U.S. Pros that can't stand riding with the Cat 2s and the Cat 2s that can't stand riding with the Cat 3s, just remember if 25% of the fat Americans got off their couches and on to bikes, most of us would not even be good pack fodder in a Cat 5 race.
Doping in the USA #3
Stuart's comments dovetail nicely with Dr. Andrew Garnham's closing paragraph. As shaky an operation as USA cycling is, can you imagine if a program of drug testing was conducted on a wholesale basis? One of two things would happen: the sheer expense would drive USA cycling into bankruptcy or USA cycling would be sued into bankruptcy if it suspended a rider based on a false positive result.
Maybe I'm cynical, but the thought has crossed my mind that the favorite rider(s) for the GC or competition jersey might just get a "pass" in order for the reputation of a prestigious event to be maintained. It would be no different than a CEO cooking the books so a stock price can stay high. Someone tell me it is beyond the realm of possibility that organizers and sponsors would conspire to protect a marketing "phenomenon" so they can continue to line their own pockets, and I will call that person naive.
Doping in the USA #4
Geez! Talk about jumping to some conclusions. Stuart Press, who says he's been a category II racer for only one year, concluded that the majority of elite and pro racers are "doping." While it may be true that a few top racers are using some products to enhance performance, by no means is doping a necessity to achieve fame and fortune. When I hear riders saying things like, "oh the reason he is so good is because he is all doped up," it makes the accuser look like an excuse maker. And when a category II rider says it, it means absolutely nothing because he hasn't been at the sport's upper tier long enough to have the skills, ability, and fitness to compete evenly against seasoned veterans. Bicycle racing in North America is at an all-time high, no pun intended, and we should be excited about the prospect of competing against all these guys who are very talented -- it raises everyone's level. So Stuart, keep up on the training and some day it will become more clear.
Stuart Press states that "I've come to the conclusion...in all likelihood the majority of elite and pro cyclists in America are doping". Stuart, you are using conjecture and bad logic to come to this conclusion. I've raced for 17 years in the elite/pro US ranks and I've been clean the whole time. I've never seen systematic doping on any team I've been on (Saturn, Coors Light, US National, Shaklee, 7UP, more) never been offered any drugs in the USA, never had an opportunity to take drugs in the USA, and most importantly, haven't had a reason to seek out drugs. I feel that most (ie 99%) of the US peloton is clean. There simply isn't enough money in pro cycling over here to create incentive or finance a costly supervised drug regimen. However, some US pros have been caught. To ensure that the minority of pro cyclists that are cheating get their due, I agree that USA Cycling should really step up the drug testing at many more races.
Mr. Burkholder states that Rumsas performance "was entirely unexpected" and "Berzin-esque." His points also include Paul Sherwin stating "that I would never have predicted before the race, nor would scarcely anyone else, that Rumsas would finish atop the podium."
Mr. Burkholder must not be paying attention. Rumsas was mentioned quite frequently as a being a possible surprise for a good performance at the Tour. I believe he may have even been cited as a dark-horse candidate for the podium.
His palmares suggest he has at least some potential: 5th in the 2000 Vuelta, 2nd in the 2001 Paris-Nice, and victory in the Giro di Lombardia in 2000. And it was fairly well reported as well that the reason he wasn't doing the Giro and Tour while at Fassa Bortolo was because they thought Casagrande has a better chance.
So in that context, Sherwin's comments that it was a surprise that he was on the podium was exactly that. Rumsas surpassed even the high expectations that were already placed on him.
And to turn Mr. Burkholder's Lance Armstrong analogy in a slightly different direction, we only need look back to 1999. Look at Armstrong's palmares before that - a victory in Paris-Nice in the early 90's, a victory in a World Cup event (San Sebastian '95) with a similar course to Lombardy, and a 4th in the 98 Vuelta. And he truly was an unexpected victor in the '99 Tour. Nobody was even talking about Armstrong to be a dark-horse candidate for the podium, let alone the top step.
As a few other intelligent readers have pointed out, blindly casting judgement will get us nowhere. At this point we have an "alleged" list of performance enhancing drugs (I have yet to see an official statement of the contents), and a rider who has never failed a drug test. A trait he shares with Lance Armstrong, who's always quick to point this fact out when questioned about drugs.
Just one simple question - if police the find a kitchen knife (within the range of statistical length, most often used for stabbing) in my wife's car, does it automatically mean that I am a murderer. Compelling circumstantial evidence: someone was stabbed recently, I like reading detective stories and heavy metal music, I am often unshaved for few days and like watching boxing on TV.
If the answer is yes, then I am just wondering why you people in the countries of democracy are wasting billions for your judicial systems, lawyers, courts etc - it would be enough of one smart guy like some of the authors of letters in here, to explain all crimes for free, to put anyone with a kitchen knife to the crime scene, and to punish for it without bothering to go trough expensive investigations.
If the answer is no, then just forget Rumsas and all stories of your imagination until the official investigation is over.
Romas Stapulionis, PhD
I wanted to note general agreement with the letter. Haematocrit has even been shown to vary with posture, i.e., erect, seated or supine! Also one must consider that the use of the altitude simulation tents contributes to increased haematocrit and is not illegal, as is use of EPO type drugs. These tents are also more advantageous than living and training at altitude, because sleeping in the tent at night promotes increase in haematocrit, but one can still train at lower altitudes and thus have more oxygen available for training effectively. As for levels varying during the race, it would seem unusual that haematocrit would increase, except as a falsely high level due to dehydration.
Rick Bose, M.D.
Congratulations to all of the Aussie cycling medallists at the recent Commonwealth Games in Manchester. 10 Gold, 7 Silver and 6 Bronze. I know it was only the Commonwealth Games, and therefore I shouldn't get too excited, but there were some significant achievements from the Australian riders.
The track team was outstanding, and the influence of new national coaches Martin Barras and Ian McKenzie was there for all to see. It was like a breath of fresh air to read your interview with Barras in May, where he showed his passion and enthusiasm for cycling, but unlike other elite Aussie coaches he not only came out and publicly stated his goals, but set them at the highest possible level. To take over from France as the No. 1 track nation.
And when it comes to track endurance coaches Ian McKenzie is one of the best, as the results of both men and women in Manchester showed. Besides beating the best in the Commonwealth they also rode world class times, and the young Team's Pursuit Team showed with their world record performance that they will be the team to beat in the years to come.
The Men's Road Team won six medals from six contested in the Time Trial and Road Race, and although the opposition was not of the normal European standard, we saw enough in the recently completed Tour de France to know that our Aussie Road riders are up there with the best. In fact they rode so well that I will stick my neck out and say that within five years we will have an Aussie wearing the Yellow Jersey in Paris as well as an Aussie wearing the Green. And I will go further and say that now that Erik Zabel's grip on the Green Jersey has been broken, Aussies will dominate the Green Jersey for the next 10 years.
I'm not saying they will win the Green every year for the next 10 years, but for the majority of years in that time. Robbie McEwen, Stuart O'Grady and Baden Cooke should dominate in the foreseeable future, and then waiting in the wings is Graeme Brown, with riders of the calibre of Alan Davis and Mark Renshaw (and who knows how many others) coming on line sometime down the track. For an Aussie supporter it's a very exciting prospect.
Cadel Evan's brilliant debut in the Giro showed he has got what it takes to win the Tour, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Brad McGee challenging for a podium place in the not too distant future. (Was there a more courageous ride in Manchester than McGee's 4.16 pursuit, after his terrible crash in the Tour?).
Among the medals of Manchester there were a couple of concerns. The non selection of Australian MTB champion Sid Taberley was a mystery, especially in the light of the ordinary performances of the Aussie male MTB riders in Manchester. Instead of providing 100% support and encouragement for our rising stars, our selectors over the years have often done just the opposite, with their subjective selection decisions. I would like to think that this is a thing of the past, but Taberley's non selection indicates that maybe it's still a case of "It's not what you know but who you know".
The Women's Road Team once again under performed, winning only one silver medal from six medals contested, despite the competition lacking a great deal of quality and depth. I dread to think what Genevieve Jeanson would have done to the field had she been racing. The Aussie team contains enormous talent and potential, but it is not getting the results to match that ability. Maybe Martin Barras should be given responsibility for the women's team, so that he can instill some of his enthusiasm and his attitude of excellence into them. Unless there are some major changes, the under achievement seems set to continue. There was also a dubious selection in the women's team, with results of many years ago seemingly more important than current results. Very strange indeed!
Now that the Games are over, Cycling Australia faces a major challenge. That is to capitalise on the great performances of the riders and translate the medals into increased participation at junior and grass roots levels, to increase the profile of the sport and its stars, to increase media interest in the sport and to bring new sponsors into cycling. Since 1984 there have been numerous opportunities to achieve these objectives as a result of great achievements at Olympic or Commonwealth Games, but sadly they have not been successful. In recent years the standard has been set in sports administration by Swimming Australia, which has taken its sport to amazing levels, and it is to be hoped that Cycling Australia will be setting itself some ambitious targets in the areas of participation, rider profiles, media interest and sponsorship.
Finally, a plea to Cycling Australia. Please don't lobby to remove junior events at world championship level. The reason so many Aussie junior world champions were lost to the sport was because they weren't offered options which satisfied their needs. The programs in place simply held no attraction for them. However if our junior champions are offered a compelling and exciting vision of the future, they will be beating the doors down to get into the programs. And they are the champions of the future who will be winning Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals in 2006, 2008 and beyond. The next generation of O'Gradys, McEwens and Millwards.
Let's encourage them, challenge them, stretch them and support them all the way to the top.
I would like to agree with Matt Sumner's contention that perhaps Armstrong vs Indurain, if they were both in their prime cycling careers competing against each other, would be a hard contest to judge who would win.
However, I would like to develop the point that Matt makes, when he points out that the calibre of opposition when Indurain was cycling was far higher than the calibre of Armstrong's opposition. Rominger, Bugno, Chiappucci, LeMond (albeit at the end of his career), Roche, Pantani, Virenque, Hampsten, Jalabert : all featured in the peloton when Indurain was cycling. Each of these cyclists were truly world class opponents to Indurain.
Lance, on the other hand, has not had the same level of opposition in this era. Granted that Ullrich and Pantani do compare favorably to the opposition in Indurain's era. But, without being disrespectful to the current peloton, I cannot think of anyone in this era who, as yet, can be included with the cyclists of Indurain's era.
This is not to diminish Lance's achievements either. I fully agree that Lance would be able to compete, and to compete very well, in any era, with any champion from the past. But, I think that if we're trying to assess the abilities and results of both Indurain and Armstrong, we need to take account of the opposition, in both of their respective eras.
I can't disagree with Dave Erikson that Lance hasn't made a passing comment here or there about cyclists' rights, although I didn't see the spot he was talking about. My point is not that Lance make a small and passing effort to help cycling but that he continue to help the sport and its participants by asking for support consistently and on a national level, with even half the effort that he promotes other things. No need to reply with several other individual instances of Lance saying "give us cyclists some room, and mentioning it in the book doesn't count, I am talking major effort, not off hand comment...
Armstrong's exposure is tremendous, and I don't think it right that he not be a strong, consistent, vocal and public advocate of the safety and rights of cyclists, not just tossing out a comment here or there at a seminar or dinner full of cyclists and supporters. Lance has the ability to chose and sign off on content of his commercials and has the opportunity to make it a big deal if he wants to.
Come on Lance, Lets have a national commercial (not aired only on a cycling show where it does no good) that shows a truck getting to close, or features a line to the effect that drivers shouldn't get to close to cyclists because it could be you or one of the Posties they hurt, ending your Tour streak!
Give it up (in a solid effort) for the sport and fans that put you in a position of wealth and popularity that, should you not have them, would have left your miraculous and superhuman story (there are more cancer survivors than Tour winners after all) nothing more than a big deal in a small part of Texas.
For most of us, and for you too, It is about the bike.
Armstrong's lost opportunities #2
Although the League of American Bicyclists do feature Lance as a voice over, it is an appeal for cyclists to join the organization. It is not a spot that advertises a plea from Lance to support equal rights on the road. It is a campaign designed around membership, not advocacy.
In response to Charles' letter, Simoni came up with excuse one, namely the dentist, when that was proved wrong the throat candy came to light. I have never been one to believe someone who comes up with excuse after excuse.
The simple fact is he consumed cocaine. I have competed at a level where drug testing is imposed, unfortunately not n cycling but Lacrosse, and quite simply you are responsible for what you put in your body. The Scottish skier Alan Baxter made the same simple mistake of taking what he honestly believed to be a clean and fine substance, namely a nasal spray decongestant, and had his medal withdrawn. Alan appealed and was told that he still didn't get his medal.
The only way that the UCI will prove to me and the rest of the world that they are taking the doping issue seriously is to impose the ban on Simoni, because he is responsible for what he consumes, and to impose a big ban and fine for people caught doping, to the level that the IOC do, banning people for years not months!
I have seen this ridiculous "helmet" used previously with Indurain and Olano, and it makes them look like something from War of The Worlds. The UCI didn't call it a fairing?
I believe I read somewhere in the same article that Ahmed's ride was at altitude, and that Jason's ride was not. For my part, that was sufficient information not to worry about comparing the two rides. Comparing Ahmed's ride to others done at altitude is sufficient to shows his quality and the impressiveness of result.
I think "world's toughest" gets thrown around quite a bit these days. Undoubtedly the course is formidable and only the best American riders will win but I doubt if the rest of the world has even heard of it. If you could attract the "world's best" riders and restrict the bikes to non suspension and get it UCI sanctioned you could legitimize it.
Since the winner is the "world's toughest" bike racer, how about sending him over to Paris-Roubaix and see how he fares.
Is there any prize money for the World Cup? Not the individual races, they of course have prize money, but the overall World Cup?
The jersey should be grey in colour, is to made of wool, as well as the shorts. They must ride with toe clips, and downtube shifters.
Just kidding. I think it sounds like an interesting idea, the age cutoff should be around 33-34 yrs.
While on the subject of changes for the Tour. Limit the teams to 6 riders, and shorten the stages by 15-20%. This would allow for more teams to ride, and make every break crucial. The reduction of distance is to compensate for the smaller teams, and to increase recovery time for the riders.
Michel van Musschenbroek
I'm mostly following Marc Bertucco's thoughts. However, I think we should not forget to treat people from "a human perspective". Even when doping problems are on the agenda. When a person has done something against the laws, he should be punished. But when he has done that it's important that he get a chance to have "a new beginning". You can not punish a person for lifetime when he has done his time. Of course, every cycling-fan want a clean sport, but there are real persons and families involved. We can not forget that!
I've noticed that many pros have their handlebars turned up high so that the brake levers are also very high. Is this a recent effort aimed at more comfort? The exception appears to be the sprinters who seem to have their handlebars in what I would call a 'conventional' position. I don't believe the high handlebar position looks very good, but then it may go along with long socks and shorts. Are some pros trying to look like 'Terry the Tourer'?
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