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Letters to Cyclingnews - July 18, 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.

Please email your correspondence to

Recent letters

Asthma & Salbutamol
The Tour
Zabel Swats!
Bob Roll
Americans in Paris
Floyd Landis
Tour Trivia
Moto Madness at Le Tour
Drinking Games
VDB's new team?
The real reason Armstrong never rides the Giro
Dick Ploog

Asthma & Salbutamol #1

I've been reading a lot about cyclist and asthma medications. It keeps getting pointed out that cycling has an incidence of asthma which is above the normal rate for healthy people in any community in the world.

I'm a USCF Cat. II cyclist and an expert mountain biker with asthma. As such, and my experiences I will explain below, I have real life case I would like to share.

A few years back my performance started to suffer. After hard efforts I would develop a cough and a tight chest. Upon seeking medical advice, all I got was the medical merry go round. The family practitioner sent me to the allergist/asthma doctor, who sent me to an ear, nose, and throat doctor, who sent me to a pulmonary care, who sent me back again! Wow! Helter Skelter!

One doctor even told me that even though I don't smoke, I may have developed a smokers hack and would just have to live with it! Another told me I just shouldn't exercise that hard. Unbelievable! Suffice it to say, to this day I don't think much of the medical field. If it's not obvious, AND you're not in the middle of the bell curve, you're screwed.

I finally gave up on seeking treatment.

Along the way I made friends and started training with a sports medicine doctor. We would go out at lunch and do intervals together. He noticed something wrong right away and told me to go see a doctor. I told him everything I had been through. A few weeks later, he said, "look, you have asthma." I informed him how I "passed" all their tests with flying colors. He then called me in a prescription for flovent and serevent, both asthma medications, and told me to try it for a week or two. If it doesn't work, quit using it.

Behold! I was "cured." Under his advice I made an appointment with an asthma care doctor to get this on record. As usual, the tests didn't show much. Even one designed for exercise induced asthma. However, the doctor said if it's working, we'll stick with it. In fact, the nurses are always amazed at how well I do on the tests. I'm an outlier to the bell curve. Moreover, during an attack, I have little fall off even though the doctor can here me wheezing with the stethoscope.

The main point of this story is if I wasn't trying to push myself at a high level, I wouldn't have a perceivable problem. Moreover, look at the definition for "healthy people." Under this definition I would need to exercise less, gain weight, and eat worse. I'm more interested in how many of these "healthy people" would have asthma if they submitted themselves to the rigors of training top cyclists do?

Mike Lepp
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

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Asthma & Salbutamol #2

Its a bit hard to believe the number of pro cyclists with "asthma" these days. I'm not sure what the current policies are but cyclists should be compelled to present such a diagnosis from an impartial medical doctor, not form their personal or team doctor. My guess is the incidence of "asthma" among cyclists would drop rather quickly. It truly seems improbable that anyone with asthma severe enough to require significant medication could compete in a sport such as cycling. I wonder if the "asthma" rate among other elite endurance athletes, marathon runners, triathletes, swimmers, and the like is as high as it is among cyclists...

J. Parsons
Rockville, Maryland
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

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Asthma & Salbutamol #3

They say you can make statistics show anything you want, but...

I have read several times that cyclists have an incidence of asthma that is greater than the incidence in the normal population. Who cares? What is the incidence among other endurance athletes--that is the true number for comparison. The "normal" population here in America (and many other developed countries) is out of shape and overweight--hardly the population sample to compare to elite cyclists. I don't think most people do enough physical exercise to know whether or not they have asthma. And "exercise induced asthma" can hardly be induced by the 30 minutes a day of exercise recommended by our Surgeon General. If someone who rides 6 hours a day, for 20 days through the pollen-filled flowering fields of France or the hazy industrial heartlands of Germany says he is having trouble breathing--let him have a few puffs of salbutamol.

Even the air in the beautiful and pristine Blue Ridge Mountains here in the eastern US can cause breathing problems. The 'blue' in Blue Ridge Mountains comes from all the hydrocarbons (terpenes, as in turpentine among others) that are released by trees in these mountains--Not much better than the smog of a big city or the aerial-delivered pesticides and fertilizers of the country (I've been hit by that before--amazing stuff).

James Wilson
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of South Carolina
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

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Asthma & Salbutamol #4

There is a lot of accumulating evidence that asthma drugs are being prescribed inappropriately by European team doctors to riders in the hope of boosting their performance through the drugs' effect to dilate the bronchial tree, aiding oxygen uptake. I agree with the French looking into whether riders using asthma medication really have asthma.

Also, you ought to stop quoting one article saying that 45 percent of riders may have asthma -- there is no clear evidence, and it is extremely unlikely, that this is true. It is far more likely that there is a culture in world class cycling that promotes use of these drugs to aid performance. Along with this culture riders will be inappropriately certified as having asthma thereby allowing the drug use.

Jay Gehrig, MD
Thursday, July 18, 2002

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The Tour #1

Surely I'm not the first to notice that in the 11 races run so far (10 stages + prologue), that a rider a different team has won each race. This can't be normal, as usually in the flat stages one sprinter really shines and takes at least two stages, or one team is really hot and puts their mark on a few stages. This only underscores how level this tour is, at least so far.

11 races, 11 different team jerseys on the stage winner's podium.

Do you have any cycling statisticians on hand to find out what the greatest number of teams to win stages in a single tour? The fewest?

Rick Pepper
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

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The Tour #2

Where were all the French riders in the Tour Time Trial? If want to look it up, read the results from the bottom up to save time.

The first Frenchman was a dismal 30th, better than I could do, but can the organisers' decision to give so many places to the French be justified? Is the French tour really the year's top race, or is it just the media hype that makes us believe that its a bigger race than The Vuelta or the Giro? (For me the one day classics are the ones that count)

Dave Moss
Monday, July 15, 2002

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The Tour #3

Wow, the Tour is 5 stages old and already we are seeing some great racing. The race has pretty much picked up where last years left off:

Lance seems to be the strongest so far US Postal is riding very well Laurent Jalabert continues to amaze us with his longevity and versatility French riders (other than those named Laurent Jalabert) for the most part, are filling up space that could have better been filled by Italians or Swiss.

Lets take a look at the stages so far:

Prologue: In the Top 40, we have 5 French riders. Doesn't sound too bad. However recall that French riders make up 25% of the field, so you really should expect more like 10 in the top 40, true? Also the actual placings paint a clearer picture: 2nd (Jalabert), then 6th (Brochard), then 20th, 23rd, 33rd, and 40th. Pretty lame.

Stage One: Not too bad with 7 in the Top 40. Again Brochard in 7th, Simon in 10th, then 11th, 22nd, 23rd, 39th and 40th. Still, nobody even close to the win.

Stage Two: A staggeringly bad day for L'equipe France: ONE rider (Francois Simon @ 13th) in the Top 40 on the stage. I think you would have to make an intentional effort to keep 43 riders in the back of the field like this. Just by ACCIDENT, you'd think a few more would sneak in. Well, they are going pretty fast up there, I suppose.

Stage Three: Well, they did it. French riders managed to hit the magical 10 riders into the Top 40. Best again, was good ol' Francois Simon in 8th place. I think you have to be impressed by this guy, as he is certainly an overacheiver.

Stage Four: A TTT doesn't lend itself well to a "Top 40" analysis, but lets examine the results and see how thigs went. The top ten teams contained ONE French team: Cofidis in 5th place. Worth noting that Team Cofidis has precisely TWO French riders on the Tour squad. Also worth noting that of the other "foreign teams" in the top 10, only two have a French rider on their Tour squad: Jalabert for CSC and Richard Virenque for Domo.

Stage Five: Ah, the Tour's first Breakaway success. Very similar to last year, a French rider managed to infiltrate the day's break of five only to finish....5th. We probably should give Christophe Edalaine a break as he is a youngster in his first Tour (hope for the future, perhaps?).

As far as the GC goes, we have 4 French riders in the Top 40 (the two from Cofidis, plus Laurent and Richard) courtesy of strong rides by the "foreign" teams they ride for in the TTT. I count Cofidis a "foreign" team as 7 of its nine riders are non French.

Pretty lame performance by Leblanc's Forty Four Frenchmen so far. He commented regarding Cippolini's exclusion that it was better to have a team that would make it to Paris than one composed of "sprinters and lead out men". I disagree. Including a bunch of riders who's claim to fame will be making it to Paris over those who will actually DO SOMETHING in the race makes for a weak race.

Obviously, there are many French riders who deserve to be in the race and who will distinguish themselves (most notably, Mr. Maillot Pois, Richard Virenque). The race will be great, just like it always is, but its just a shame that we have to endure another year of the Tour with an overabundance of pack filler.

Scott Goldstein
Thursday, July 11, 2002

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The Tour #4

Ho, ho, ho! Finally, a new race. Armstrong only taking Galdeano by a few seconds really puts a wrench into the whole "Lance will win 6 or 7 Tours" debate. Of course, the race hasn't really started yet but it just goes to show it won't be boring. Armstrong may just well dominate anyway but I don't think so. If fact, I don't think he'll win just because of this fact; three 4 in-a-row winners; Merckx, Anquetil, Indurain. I don't see Armstrong in that same category. He's a great man and his legacy was already assured after 1999 but cripes, even my hero Hinault didn't do 4 in-a-row.

Bryon Granmo
Monday, July 15, 2002

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Zabel Swats!

I have been enjoying the TV coverage of this year's tour. However I am curious about something.

After Erik Zabel came across the finish line victorious in the sprint at the end of stage 6, the video clearly showed him coming across the line, rolling to the curb and them being escorted away from the finish through crowds of people. Along the way he was able to slow down, pause, and swat at a video cameraman three different times. Each time, he clearly forced the lens of the camera towards the ground, messing up the camera shot as well as putting some rather expensive camera gear at risk.

The commentators made no mention of this most curious of gestures.

Why was he doing this?? Is this a tradition?? Is Erik Zabel mad at cameras?

Later on the same broadcast, he was rather polite as he was interviewed by Frankie Andreu for the OLN broadcast.

Francesco Araya
Seattle, USA
Sunday, July 14, 2002

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Bob Roll

Please bring back Bob!! His insight and creativity is highly entertaining as well as informative. We miss him and want him back.

L Byvik
Culpeper, USA
Friday, July 12, 2002

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Americans in Paris

It's nice to see someone that has "nothing against" the US still feels the need to try and stem the tide of National Pride should a miracle take place and Yanks get the top three spots.

Not only are your comments about America needing to take a look at itself a little out of place on a cycling site, It also seems to take your personal "Biscuit" that we can manage more than a narrow minded focus on Armstrong, and give due recognition to a rider that has at least been on the podium at the tour (but is not a true contender). And I think it is in poor taste to ask that a Nation not be happy about it.

I would love an American 1, 2, 3. I would love an Aussie in Green. Heck I would even like a Frenchman in Polkadots... And should any country sweep the GC podium, I would guess that it wouldn't be too evil should they celebrate it. Heck, even make it a National Holiday! (kind of like the 4th of July...)

I am sorry that you feel the need to try and squash the celebration before it starts. Hopefully you can get a few more top notch riders like David Millar together and have a similar problem in the future. And should the UK get the entire podium (or any place on it for that matter) I would like to say that I would cheer for your champion(s), would welcome the Union Jack flying in Paris, and would hope that nobody is stupid enough to ask the UK not to cheer for Rider and country at the great accomplishment it would be.

Charles M,
Phoenix, USA.
Saturday, July 13, 2002

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Floyd Landis

I just read Floyd's latest post. I remember clearly my first major stage race; nothing tasted good and the ability to fall asleep on the asphalt before the final stage start! Tired is tired.

I was disappointed, however at his response to the French journalists. I'm not sure if Floyd understood the significance of what was being asked of him in regards to Normandy. I am hoping that a). he actually took history, b). knows the horrible sacrifices allied forces men, probably the age of Floyd's grandfather, paid in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and c). has a glimpse that no matter how tough bicycle racing is, there's always a life away from the bike. Perhaps he should read Lance's book before too long. I think the significance of Normandy is that there is STILL a Tour de France to ride!

Floyd, keep up the great work and remember, you are a represent the pinnacle of the sport. Sometimes its OK to just respond with a cliché like Michael Jordan...."it was a tough day and I just wanted to help the team." Its really tough for a journalist to hammer you on that.

Randy Shafer
Monday, July 15, 2002

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Tour Trivia

I have a bet with friend about a particular happening in a certain year of the tour that we can not get to the bottom of. I hope someone can help us find this particular moment. We think it was the 99 tour, but we're not sure. There was a flat stage where a jeep was cruising alongside the peloton and was waving a flag. The bet was; what was the flag, the US flag or the Texas flag? If anyone can help us determine which year it was, and what the flag was, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Dave Ochs
Tuesday, July 16, 2002

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Moto Madness at Le Tour

Thanks for another great article. Keep up the good work!

Andy Bury
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

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Drinking Games

After stage nine of the TdF, we can add one more requirement to drink:

  • When Phil says "Poor Laurent Jalabert", sip a beer.
  • When Phil says "Poor (rider's name)" for the third time, do a whole beer.
  • If Paul concurs by saying "Poor (same rider named as Phil )", the whole group watching does a shot.

Chris Taeger
New York City
July 14, 2002

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Drugs #1

With regard to Mr. Tognini's letter, the difference between Ullrich and Simoni is a matter of timing, and of accountability.

Simoni tested non-negative during a Grand Tour. Given the circumstances, there can be no doubt that he should have been removed from the Giro. And given that he was removed from the Giro, the organisers of Le Tour are within their rights (cries for consistency not withstanding) to strike him and his team from their race roster. More significantly, Simoni claimed that it was his dentist, then some sweets that were responsible for his test results - all the while failing to take responsibility for his actions.

Kind of Virenque-esque, wouldn't you agree? Nobody felt sorry for him either?

Ullrich tested non-negative while off the bike. He was mature enough to admit that, yes, he had taken the speed. He opted to forego the B test, thus saving the UCI time, and allowing to devote column space to Le Tour.

Given these situations, I am far more inclined to feel sorry for Ullrich. I think that some sort of suspension is in order for both riders, as they have both broken the rules. But thus far, only Ullrich has been man enough to own up to it.

Stacey Y. Jenkins
Las Vegas, USA
Friday, July 12, 2002

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Drugs #2

Jan Ullrich parties a little during his knee rehab with a drug that has no performance benefits and has not proven to be addictive (it has some mild depressive actions afterward and raises body temperatures -- complications arise when people do not drink fluids and are exercising, dancing, etc---i.e. kids at Raves) Simoni takes a stimulant that can be a dangerous cardiac stew (abnormal heart rhythms, cardiac arrest), which can be addictive (addiction depends somewhat on manner in which it's taken (crack snorting), and can lead to nasal problems.

It seems like we are talking about a moral issue and professional behaviour, not an issue of sport or ethics. I think the UCI has an obviously difficult road ahead as it begins to adjudicate what a rider does in his personal time. It could go the way of the NBA, etc, where we hear of a dozen a year who violate substance abuse policies. As far as I'm concerned, who cares what they do in their free time as long as it doesn't enhance athletic performance or negatively affect their job. I'm sure we all know white collar professionals who have used recreational drugs. The issue should not be use, it should be abuse.

It will be interesting to see how the Europeans deal with high-profile athletes and drugs.

M Beer, Medical Student
Washington DC, USA
Friday, July 12, 2002

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Drugs #3

I suggest you read Willy Voet's book "Breaking the Chain" he was the Festina Soigneur who was caught on the French border (with enough drugs to kill a heard of elephants) by customs before the 1998 Tour. This started a chain reaction, which eventually saw the whole Festina team thrown off the Tour. It is only after reading this book will you fully understand the extent of the drug taking in the sport of cycling. They are all doing it. Cycling News even has a couple of extracts here and here.

New Zealand
17th July 2002

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VDB's new team?

Where do these yahoos get off playing judge, jury and executioner for high profile drug cases like that of VDB? I am getting sick and tired of all my caffeine and alcohol swilling, nicotine puffing halfassed compatriots whining about how famous athletes should be held to a different standard. Most Americans CANNOT wake up in the morning and work at their mundane jobs without a big dose of black CAFFEINE.

So from a self righteous point of view, it is easy to dismiss a VDB acquittal as a "technicality". Isn't it great that our whole damn country is built on such technicalities, as being innocent until proven guilty, being afforded a trial by ones' peers, etc, etc.?!

Jeremy McHugh
Swampscott, USA
Friday, July 12, 2002

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The real reason Armstrong never rides the Giro

Lance may be the strongest rider in the bunch. Lance may have a great coach, team and even bodyguard(s) - however the boy ain't got no style ("Dubya" Bush would be proud). Wearing shorts that almost touch his knees, socks half way up is calves, and writing things like "Daddy-Yo-Yo" on his frame may be acceptable on a golf course in Austin but certainly rules him out of ever wearing the pink jersey into Milano.

At this stage of his career, Lance must be starting to think of how he'll be remembered. Old photos of Merckx portray an exceedingly powerful rider, stringing out bunches whilst still looking cool with sideburns and his Heuer Monaco watch (1st edition). Anquetil was a master of style with those ice blue eyes, tailored suits and brilled cream hair - everybody in the bunch new he was the ruler . Lets not even start to discuss Fondriest, Indurain, or Saronni.....

Lance - I urge you before it's too late - speak to Dolce, Gabana, Brioni, or even Armani if you have to (but certainly not Hillfiger, Lauren, or Gap) and rectify the situation before history is written and you're forever remembered with those knee length shorts. As the "tifosi" have turned around Schu - they can do it for you!

Greg Saunders
Melbourne, Australia
Sunday, July 14, 2002

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Dick Ploog

I was saddened to hear of Dick Ploog's passing. I remember Dick from the 1956 Olympics because he beat our Jack Disney in the sprint 1/4 finals. I met Dick in 1958 at the worlds in Paris. He and Brian Coster were always cordial to me and my USA team mates. A very friendly person.
Dave Staub
Orange, USA
Monday, July 15, 2002

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Recent letters pages

  • July 11 - Verbruggen & Mapei, Verbruggen must go, Jan Ullrich, Drugs, Australian Commonwealth Games selection, USPS Tour selections, Americans in Paris, Watching the Tour at Ventoux, Where's Bobke?, Missing riders, DynEPO, Ghent, VDB's new team?
  • July 3 - Mapei & Verbruggen, Verbruggen must go, US Postal Tour selection, Cycling in Dublin, TdF selection, Dynepo, Reporting, What will Cipo's world's kit look like?, VDB's new team?, Best years for US cyclists?, Sticking out your tongue, Ghent, Time trial rigs, US Postal investigation, Vuelta , Drinking Games
  • June 26 - US Postal investigation, Postal Tour selection, TDF Selection, Vuelta proposal, Vegetarian cyclists, Drinking games, Knee Supports, Cycling in Dublin, Measuring gradient, Sticking out your tongue, Louisiana
  • June 22 - Cycling in Louisiana is dangerous, Crankset and bottom-bracket, Hamstring injury, It's all about the right gear Measuring the gradient, Tour de France Selection, US Postal investigation, Colnago factory, Vegetarian professionals, Duffield, Another round of drinking games, Desperately seeking Clara
  • June 12 - Osteoporosis, A pain in the..., Vegetables anyone?, TdF selection, Tchmil, Drugs, Where the shorts have no name, More drinking games, Duffield, Jose Maria Jimenez, TdF starting times?, Our man in Colombia, Get your skates on, It's all about the right gear
  • June 5 - Saeco rejection, Doping, Giro coverage, Bob Roll, Shorts, What to about DOMS, Cadel, Drinking Games, Osteoporosis, Landmines, House swap, Get your skates on, Andrei Tchmil
  • May 31 - More on Le Tour, Lieswyn, Giro, doping, drinking games
  • May 29 part 2 - Tour de France, Drinking games, Lieswyn, Osteoporosis
  • May 29 - more on the Giro & doping
  • May 24 - Pantani, Probenecid, LeBlanc, Bob Roll, Garzelli, Simoni, Giro, McEwen
  • May 17 - Eurosport, Worst Tour in 20 years, Who now for second place, Radios, Coming to NY, Saddle tags
  • May 13 - Eurosport, Worst Tour in 20 years, Who now for second place, Radios, Coming to NY
  • May 6- Eurosport, Live coverage, RAI for free, Amstel Gold, Bike Tech a waste of time?, Radios, Hincapie
  • Letters Index – The complete index to every letters page on