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Letters to Cyclingnews - October 31, 2003
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An open letter to the press regarding the recent suspension of British racing cyclist Charly Wegelius - 'on health grounds'.
Last Saturday, Charly Wegelius was prevented from starting the Tour of Lombardy, and suspended for two weeks, when pre-race blood tests revealed a haematocrit (HCT) value of marginally more than 50%.
The regulations of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the international governing body of cycle sport, impose a limit of 50% 'on health grounds'.
These regulations were introduced in 1997/8 in response to the widespread illegal use of erythropoietin (EPO) to boost athletes' endurance capacity by stimulating the production of red blood cells. At the time no positive test for EPO existed and the regulation was a political reaction to pressures, mainly from sponsors of the sport, so that the UCI would appear to be taking some preventative action.
At that time I coached a number of cyclists, of varying ability. The most talented of the group was Charly Wegelius, whom I had known since 1994, when he was 16 years of age. All of the riders in my care were regularly blood tested and the results were appraised by myself and a local sports doctor.
When I read about the new UCI regulation I checked my files and discovered that, on 13th June 1996, Charly had a HCT value of 51.4%. Interestingly, the test form also showed a normal range for males of 40 to 54%. All his other tests produced results in the high 40's and one of 50.0, and the variation was also considered to be normal. In 1996 Charly was an 18 year old sixth form student in York, hardly in a position to afford EPO, let alone get hold of it. So these values were obviously normal for him and, presumably, the result of genetic providence.
I therefore concluded that the UCI regulations were flawed. Nevertheless, it posed a potential problem for Charly, should his career progress as he wanted but I decided that we could deal with it at a later date.
By 1998, Charly had made it to the Great Britain National Cycling Team and
I sent them copies of the blood tests, suggesting that they should ask the UCI
for a certificate of dispensation. I continued to coach Charly and remained
in close touch with him.
At the end of 1999, Charly was invited to visit the Sport Service of Italian company Mapei, then the largest and most successful professional cycling team, for an interview and tests. Charly and I went together and I produced a complete CV for him, including details of his blood tests. We had agreed that it was better to produce this up front rather have suspicions raised later. The doctor, Maximillian Testa, noticed the high HCT values, did his own tests and said that he was satisfied that Charly was 'correct' and he would arrange for him to get a certificate from the UCI. During the visit, I learned that the company owner, Giorgio Squinzi, had threatened to withdraw his company's considerable sponsorship if the sport of professional cycle racing did not clean up its act. I was told that Charly was being considered for a new young multi-national team who would use new training methods and not rely on 'the old ways'. Charly was later offered a contract and joined the team in 2000.
Now it seems that it was not possible to obtain a certificate from the UCI.
I have not coached Charly since 2000, and have only been in occasional contact with him. Neither am I any longer employed by the Great Britain National Cycling Team. However, I am firm in my belief that Charly has not used EPO or any similar substance. The facts and my personal dealings with Charly leave me absolutely convinced.
Charly is currently undertaking a series of tests to prove that he has not used EPO and that the results are normal for him. To support his case, his father recently undertook a blood test and produced a HCT of 55% - proof indeed that Charly's blood profile, like the rest of us, is genetically influenced.
I truly hope that Charly succeeds in his efforts to clear his name and that the UCI will listen to him. In the meantime, the suspension suggests that Charly is guilty of some misdemeanour and, for now, there is a stain on his character. Some of the press and public are already, mistakenly, referring to a 'positive drug test'.
For the reasons I have stated, I believe that Charly is a victim of sports politics. However mighty an organisation it may be, the UCI does not have the power to place limits on human physiology - that is for a higher deity. Neither does expert opinion support the idea that it is injurious to health to compete with a HCT of more than 50%. The International Olympic Committee have now adopted tests for EPO but the UCI have, so far, refused to follow them.
In its sham attempt to catch the real cheats, the UCI has penalised and vilified a young athlete who made a conscious decision to remain 'clean', just because he is, genetically, naturally gifted.
Welcome to the mad, mad world of Japanese bicycle collectors!
The Simplex JuyRecord, as this appears to be, is the ultimate development of the "pushrod" type derailleur. This particular variant is unknown to me, and has the earmarks of being some sort of experimental type. The metal pulley wheels would indicate that it is an early model, perhaps 1957 or so. It is not as early as the JUY543 (1954), but earlier than the JuyRecord60 (1959). That particular one-piece casting the seller refers to is indeed unusual, I've never seen that before. The quality of the finish seems a bit rough, another indication that it might be a prototype of some sort. The Simplex decal on the body is a late 50s detail as well. The sliding cable attachment widget on the side is a feature of the 543 (it enables one to limit the travel for use with 3, 4 and 5-speed freewheels, and disappeared on the later models), but the one-piece casting eliminates the variable-tension mechanism of the 543. A very strange and rare animal, indeed.
Now to the question at hand: why $4000?
There is a group of fanatical Japanese collectors who make it their life's work, apparently, to find and collect the most obscure European (and specifically French) bicycle parts from the period when the modern road-racing bicycle took its final shape (1948-1962) Even though we in the US tend to think of this as an Italian affair (Campagnolo), in fact most of the really innovative and interesting (not to mention weird) designs were French. Campagnolo established itself with the parallelogram derailleur, but the design is originally French (Nivex). Simplex was the main proponent of the pushrod design, which was predominant until about 1960. Collecting the variants of Simplex gears seems to have become an obsession with this small group of Japanese collectors.
The winning bidder in this auction, "vectra4", is in fact Satoru Masuda, probably the most accomplished of these collectors. Two years ago he was the winning bidder on two items I put up for auction myself: a mint Simplex Juy543 complete with lever, instruction manual and original box, and a Simplex 53B front derailleur in equally mint condition, also in the original box. Without getting into specifics, let me just say that the proceeds helped me in buying a car...
Many of the Japanese collectors are interested in building exact replicas of legendary French bicycles, such as Rene Herse, Alex Singer and Routens. There is a Japanese frame-builder by the name of TOEI who will build you an exact replica of one of these frames, but obviously it is up to the individual buyer to supply the correct parts to finish the job. This gets into really fanatic attention to detail, and the bidding wars on obscure items such as fenders, lights, pedals, even toe-straps, can get really fierce. There is a magazine, "New Cycling", which features many of the best efforts at this sort of historical reconstruction.
Mr. Masuda is interested in this, but he also collects parts for their own sake. He features them on his website.
Hope this answered your question. It's not much different from people in this country doing perfect car restorations, and hunting down original parts to do it in the most authentic way. The Japanese are a little cramped for space, so they have to make do with bicycles...
I'm shocked. As long as the TdF organizers are limiting time losses in the TTT, why not limit rider time losses in the mountain stages as well? This way the sprinter's teams can still have the opportunity to succeed in Paris. In fact, why don't they just do away with time cuts altogether and while they're at it, how about doing away with the timed format and replace it with a points-based ranking, so if the riders are really, really tired, they can take it easy?
Obviously, I believe that TdF organizers have stepped onto the crest of a slippery slope with this latest rule change and would be wise to reconsider. I'd sooner lose the TTT completely, than artificially (that is, in a non-sporting manner) limit it's impact on the overall dynamics of the race. Last time I checked the TdF was still a team event that rewarded the best overall riders and teams across a variety of cycling disciplines.
Can't say I agree with Laurent: the '04 route looks tailor-made for Lance. Ullrich can't match Lance up a TT like Alpe d'Huez and freely admits it. I thought the Vuelta was tailor-made for Heras what with the mountain TT at the end. This is a longer, steeper, mountain TT with many more switchbacks and there's nobody in the GC class who can hope to match Lance there. All LA needs do is win the team TT and the mountains TT and that'll be it. Stay in the pack for 19 stages. It may be smart riding but it's also dull racing.
Raymond F. Martin
I really hope they will have barriers all the way up l'Alpe so as to give everyone a fair ride.
Two rule changes for next year's Tour are likely to cause some big changes in the race. While I deplore the Tour organizers decision to limit the team trial losses to 2:30, it probably will not have any impact on the race. Last year's TTT was 69 km and only 7 teams finished outside the 2:30 limit. Next year's is only 65 km, and I doubt if any of the GC favorites will be willing to concede 2:30 to the powerhouse teams like Postal or ONCE, or next year's likely top team of T-Mobile. It will be interesting to see however if any teams completely lay down during this event, and if the organizers take any action against them. And with mostly flat stages for a few days after the TTT, its unlikely that slower riders will garner any advantage by taking the day off. Team tactics of the stronger teams will likely prevent it.
The other change is far more significant, but garnering less attention. The decision to double the points on the last climb of the day will completely change the competition for the polka dot jersey. In past years, Virenque and Jalabert have won the jersey by racking up points with decisive breakaways on a single stage or two. Yet I doubt if anyone considers them among the top climbers of the tour, since they have rarely been among the leaders on the last climb, when the climbing is really tough and the true climbers come to the front. Neither Virenque or Jalabert was much of a GC contender in most tours either. Does anyone doubt that Armstrong has been the best climber of the last 5 tours? Does anyone really think that Virenque could climb with the likes of Armstrong, Mayo or Ullrich? By making the climbers jersey similar to the sprinter's jersey in that the last climb/sprint is the most important, we 're likely to see this jersey contested all the way to the last climb, just as the green jersey race sometimes goes all the way to Paris. It should make the tour even more exciting!
This letter is in response to Kevin Watson's comments on Bobby Julich's bad luck at the World Championships. I was watching the race at the point where Julich had his mechanical issues, and it was heartbreaking to see the mechanics attempting to fix his front derailleur with only a screwdriver. However, the apparent problem with just switching bikes (either with the Shimano neutral support bikes or with other US bikes) was that Julich used a different pedal system (Campagnolo I believe?). I find it very hard to believe that the "neutral" support Shimano bikes would have Campy pedals.
In response to the letter of Ralph Michael Emerson and in defense of Mario Cipollini.
Cipollini has always been a professional who, like a certain reigning Tour de France champion, builds his entire program based upon specific goals and events in any given season. Prior to the start of this year, Cipo's ambitions were plainly stated and crystal clear:
1. Break the all-time stage win record in the Giro d'Italia.
An over-trained Cipollini took the start at the Giro and struggled to accomplish Goal #1. Seeing the champion dig so deeply to accomplish this feat, with his agony so obvious, was some of the most compelling racing in recent years. And, true to his rank of "Lion King", he pulled it off with both panache and grace.
A horrific crash caused by an errant rider on a wet and poorly designed course, combined with the blatant snub by the exclusion of Domina Vacanze Elitron from the Tour, sent the remainder of Cipollini's 2003 season into disarray. With his first goal already in hand and denied the opportunity to strive for his second, it's no surprise that Cipo hadn't much drive or focus for the balance of the season.
For all his flamboyance and off-the-bike drama, Mario Cipollini has a remarkable record of successfully achieving his stated objectives. Word has it that training for 2004 has already begun. You can safely bet that, in classic Cipo style, he will boldly announce his goals for the coming season. And you would be a fool to bet against him.
Sean J. McLaughlin
Just a brief comment with respect to the tragic accident in Louisville involving the visiting German born cyclist and Heather French Henry. I live only a mile from the site of the accident and frequently cycle through and near the intersection where the accident took place. I have also driven frequently through the intersection on my commute to downtown Louisville. The intersection is extremely dangerous for a good cyclist under optimum conditions. Two major four lane thoroughfares intersect here, just off an interstate ramp. The sequencing of the traffic lights is complicated and does not contemplate pedestrians or cyclists, despite the fact that there is a bike lane through this intersection.
While I share Mr. Cole's concern in his email that blame should not be placed on a cyclist riding legally on the road, it is obvious to me that Mr. Cole has not ridden his bike in this area. The photo he references is a poor guide to the location of the accident or the complexity of the intersection. Regardless of what Ms. Henry was driving she was very upset and quite distraught at the scene. She was driving home from signing Christmas ornaments she had designed to raise money for a charity. There was no sign of road rage and to my knowledge there will be no charges pressed. I believe this was simply a tragic accident, complicated by bright sunshine and perhaps by the unfamiliarity of the cyclist with the intersection.
It is also an additional sad example of how our traffic patterns and systems do not contemplate safe and harmonious bicycle and vehicle travel. Accidents like this should prompt all cyclists to do something about our ability to coexist with vehicles on the road. Join the League of American Bicyclists. Join a local cycling club and serve on their advocacy committee. Speak to your local legislators about equal rights for cyclists. Support funding for bicycle lanes and alternate transportation. Teach your teen age drivers to share the road. And obey the vehicle laws if you wish to be treated like a vehicle.
Don't just write letters to this forum - or read other people's letters - get off your butt and out of your saddle and do something constructive to help the cycling community. I'm proud to say that I've done all these things and intend to keep on doing so. I invite you to do the same.
Heather French Henry #2
In response to John Cole:
Unfortunately an SUV moving along with the driver having none or little visibility is pretty much the norm. They should come standard with SONAR or RADAR.
I am not saying that all SUV drivers are in a permanent state of blind flight, but several conditions make it a pretty common and scary phenomenon.
Most SUVs are not built ideally to give the driver good visibility (particularly to the back and to the sides: just hang out in a mall parking lot for 5 minutes and watch them get out of their parking spots, they have absolutely no idea if the aisle behind them is free or not, most just settle for backing up really slow and hoping that it all goes OK), and the feeling of being protected by that giant pile of steel and plastic, makes them only worse.
People driving 5000 pounds of junk without seeing around them, and all with the blessing of the National Highway Safety Association, Law Enforcement, politicians, and more.
Of course lateral and posterior visibility plays no role in the Heather French case. But maybe is she had been driving a Geo Metro or a Moped she would have felt a little more vulnerable and scared in the act of going forward with no visibility.
Anyway the cyclist was at fault: what the heck was she thinking riding a bicycle, she should have been riding an SUV too.
Rush Limbaugh is very clear on this: the problem is not 5000 pound vehicles, but the fact that some obstinate idiots keep driving unsafe and unfit crappy little cars (forget motorbikes and bicycles which are outright foolish devices).
Stop fighting good reasoning, donate your bike to the local carwash attendants, and get yourselves some good hobbies: buy an SUV (make sure it is a very big one, so you can throw a jetski and an ATV in the back). I have just picked my new car, a yellow CATerpillar with a front blade, maybe a little slow, but very, very safe.
Our sport a "laughing stock" due to drug scandal? Come on, every sport has drug scandals. Drug abuse has been and will continue to be a major portion of pro sports. And yes, Rumsas was not the perpetrator the first time - it was his Grandma! She caught a 10 year ban, didn't she?
Raymond F. Martin
Raimondas Rumsas debacle
I don't know if Neil Mchugh has been asleep for the last 5 or 6 years, but in that period there have been numerous occasions where he could have vented his anger at drug offenders in cycling, I'm not convinced that the Rumsas case is the worst.
As Jeff Jones pointed out, the ban was a compromise, the Lithuanian Cycling Federation sought only a 6-month ban, explained partly perhaps by the fact that they, along with the Lithuanian media, took Rumsas' assertion that he had been "set up" by Lampre seriously.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Rumsas is now serving a 1-year ban, which seems to me to be about right for the offence.
Rumsas turned pro for Mroz in 1996, and has maintained good relations with the Mroz family ever since, why should they not give him a second chance in 2004?
Cycling is not soft on "drug cheats", it takes drug abuse very seriously, and is at the forefront in developing new tests, procedures and practices, all of which make drug abuse less likely. Some popular sports do almost no drug testing, while others are only beginning to test widely and frequently, these sports can learn a lot from cycling in combating drug abuse.
As far as cycling becoming a laughing stock is concerned, I've got only one thing to say: British footballers.
Warren Beckford praises the potential strengths of an Ullrich/Vino partnership, comparing it to US Postal's fruitful doubling of Armstrong and Heras. I guess I have two things to say about this:
1. I'm not sure I want Vinokourov suffering the same fate as poor old Roberto. US Postal is a tightly disciplined unit, where every rider is expected to give his all for Armstrong at the expense of any personal ambitions: Heras would probably have achieved at least one podium finish by now were it not for his labors as a domestique, and although we always hear that he's "next in line," he's certainly no spring chicken anymore and will probably be past his prime when Armstrong is. Vinokourov owes it to his under-represented nation not to stifle his ambitions.
2. Telekom has far too many top-ten contenders -- Ullrich, Salvodelli, Evans, Vinokourov, Botero -- to achieve the same tight team effort that Postal does. I want Vino and Evans to have their fair shots at the overall; but I also Ullrich to beat Armstrong. If I had my way, Vino and Evans would switch teams, thereby allowing Telekom to snatch up unemployed Spanish climbers from Once/ibanesto and to put them to work like Beltran and Pena.
Turner Classic movies shows this movie on a VERY infrequent basis. I taped it ten or fifteen years ago, VHS, but I am not sure where my copy is at the moment. Joe E. Brown, incidentally, does a marvelously credible job as a rider in it, goofy though he may be! They show him on rollers, and he is smooth as a metronome, no wobbling at all, delightfully smooth spin!
There is a way to request a movie on Turner Classic Movies at turnerclassicmovies.com by clicking on Help. It is a bit convoluted to get there, but I did it in three steps. I doubt it would take too many requests to get them to show it, frankly. Cyclingnews could coordinate such a campaign with ease, I would think. I think TCM likes it when people request specific movies. Then it makes it much easier to please their audience.
In any case, I think one would have to tape a showing. I cannot imagine any kind of produced VHS version would ever be made.
Six Day Bike Rider #2
I was talking to one of my clients, a filmmaker who does a lot of work with the (United States) National Archives, and I asked him about "Six-Day Bike Racer". He said that he had used footage from the film not too long ago, and had ordered excerpts of it from the National Archives (www.archives.gov).
There is a copy of just about every movie made in the US in the Archives, and most of the older ones are pretty inexpensive to get video copies of. Filmmakers usually use a stock footage agency to order what they want, but you can do it yourself, too.
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