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Letters to Cyclingnews - March 18, 2005
We have read the words again. "The first American to win [fill in prestigious race name here]". It has been many years since being out on a training ride with my cycling buddies in college and someone remarked "Did you hear that Greg Lemond won the World Championships?" What a sense of pride we had then at such remarkable news, and now we can tick off Paris-Nice and K-B-K. I would really love to see us put a check mark next "The Hell of The North" this year. Let's go George!
Eric "That Landshark Maniac" Hallander
Little Silver, New Jersey
Congratulations to Bobby Julich! I write this email as a while ago Bobby J was dropped from Telecom and several readers of you fine web site felt it was justified…I thought otherwise, and this result reinforces my original communications - I will close by saying perhaps Telecom are not as dynamic as they would like to believe.
With all due respect to the folks once again predicting the downfall of Lance, it's just the same old thing. Last year people were claiming he was doomed because of Cheryl Crow, twinkies, donuts, beer or staying out past his bed time.
I don't know if he will win the Tour again this year or not. But I believe it is his to lose. We ought to wait a little before we all go into the annual ‘Lance is finished’ dance. Yeah, it seems he is a bit less aggressive than in the past, but who knows? It is early in the season, and since all his critics claim that he is only a one race rider, the fact that he isn't all that enthusiastic so far should be no shock. The real shock will be not if he finishes first or second in the Tour, but if he went into it unprepared. I doubt he will.
David R. Hufford,
Lance Gone Hollywood?
Okay, it's easy for all of us to sit and critique Lance Armstrong concerning his Hollywood'ish qualities these days. I remember the days where you would hardly hear about him until June and he would come out in July with all guns firing. Well those days are gone and hardly a day goes by without a "Lance Flash." However, he remains the "ELITE" athlete of the world and until he is toppled all the predictions and lifestyle critiques are wasted breath. Personally, I'm not surprised by Lance's showing this past week. In previous years when he looked weak at critical points in the season, he would consistently arrive at the TDF ready for business.
He is still in his early / mid 30's and is easily considered to be within his peak years still. So why the poor showing? I think it's the flu thing, but more than that it is his level of discipline. In short, he refuses to push the redline when it is deemed unnecessary. He understands that there is only so much energy produced and available for consumption throughout the cycling season. He and other great cyclists spend months building this reservoir of energy, and spend the majority of the season avoiding tapping into its resources. If the reservoir is tapped too often in the early season, then mid-season flatness is certain.
Give this guy some credit, he understands the laws of energy production and consumption and he is the greatest at riding that fine line of getting the most out of his body while not taking the most out of his system. Don't forget how busy he was in the early parts of the '04 season and how convincingly he won last year's TDF. Look for him in April at Tour de Georgia as this probably will be his coming out party for the year.
Jon M. Holmes
I remember this same time last year when we were all upset with Lance eating his way into Doughnut heaven. He then put an end to all the talk in July. I think this year he is just wanting to put a spin on the early season, do something different in his training regime.
Maybe asking him to go out on his first race in freezing, damp, and shortened stages wasn't the right thing, but he said recently that Paris-Nice is not one he should have started with. Come on, Lance can't win them all, and he will eventually get the focus going again.
Lance has shown in the past that he can endure the bad weather with the best of them. He has won in the spring before too. If the reports of a sore throat and fever are true he is just getting sick – it happens to the best of them. In my book, if your getting sick its just stupid to continue just so the nay-sayers will think your tough.
Lance has lost it! I was down and out floored when I saw that he dropped out of such a girly race like Paris-Nice. What’s the world coming to? Take it from me, Frank "Captain Cubicle" Zapps, that Lance is definitely not going to win another one in July! We all know that if you can't win seven TDFs then you are definitely not a true champion! I am ashamed to be an ex-Lance fan, six years of fandom wasted!
Now, let me turn some Survivor back on, and do a few more big-gear intervals to get ready for this weekend’s MANLY club race!
Frank "Captain Cubicle" Zapps
It's the same thing at the start of every year. The doubters start telling us that Lance has lost his focus. That he doesn't have the same hunger. That he's on his way out. Well I don't believe it for a second. Armstrong is the kind of man who puts his game-face on when it counts - July, on the roads of France. I also believe that he's the kind of man who will walk away from the sport on his terms, and at a time of his choosing. Even if he doesn't win this Tour, and I think he will, he'll go down fighting tooth and nail all the way to the Champs Elysees...
Wellington, New Zealand
I don't think Lance has lost the eye of the Tiger yet. It's too early to tell. I remember last year at about this time, I was pretty bummed because I signed up with a tour group to watch the 2004 Tour de France and read on cyclingnews.com that the "inside" word was that Lance had gotten soft...literally. The article talked about local riders who had seen Lance training in L.A. and they said he was carrying four kilos too much and had a pot belly, and so on...he didn't look great in the spring, in fact everyone was writing him off after he lost big time to Mayo on the Ventoux TT just weeks before the start of the Tour.
Everyone said Armstrong had lost his edge, and it was going to be Mayo, Ullrich, Vino, etc as the favorites. Well, guess what? I was at the tour, on Alpe d'Huez, right where Lance passed Basso (like he was chained to a tree) and knew one thing...this is a superman. In a league of his own. He can't just turn it on and off without training, but don't ever count Lance out. 90% Lance beats any rider on the Tour in July.
I was not surprised when a teammate of Hamilton's also turned up positive for homologous blood doping. Not because I believed there were dopers on the Phonak team, but rather because the testing protocols appear to be structured in a way that will tend to produce higher probabilities of false positives when samples are tested with increasing numbers of antibodies (which is what I am guessing happened to Perez).
The test basically works like this: blood cells have a combination of surface proteins that is unique to the person (analogous to a fingerprint). Several companies make antibodies that will attach themselves to these surface proteins, and these antibodies carry differing fluorescent markers that glow under special light sources. When blood and these antibodies are mixed, antibodies attach themselves to the blood cells via the surface proteins, and now each blood cell will glow in a particular pattern of wavelengths depending on which antibodies bonded to the cell. If the blood belongs to only one person, all the cells in a sample will glow the same way. If there is mixed blood in a sample, some cells will glow differently from the others. Typically blood is tested with 10 to 15 different antibodies.
So far this sounds like a solid test. But there is a problem: each antibody has some small percent of cross-reactivity, that is, every once in a while it bonds to the wrong protein (initial HIV tests use antibodies and this cross-reactivity is one reason for false positives). If blood testers only used one antibody, this would not be a big deal - the odds of a false positive would be extremely low. However, testers use many antibodies, and because each antibody has some cross reactivity, the more different antibodies that are applied to a blood sample, the more likely a false positive is to occur. If testers went back to Team Phonak samples after Hamilton's alleged positive tests (in order to test for team-wide doping) and re-examined blood samples with increased numbers of antibodies, the probability of false positives for every team member increased, and Perez may simply be a victim of chance.
Which brings up an important point - if one rider's blood is tested with 10 antibodies, and another rider's blood is tested with 50 antibodies, this would be tremendously unfair. The latter rider is more likely to yield a false positive.
John Winnie, Jr.
In response to Kai Larsen's letter, I would like to mention a couple of points that reached me through the grapevine. If anyone knows more, or knows better, or received the information from more reliable sources than I did, I would like to know, as I assume others would who visit this website.
It is my understanding that the test used is an old test, one that has stood the test of time. It is primarily used on pregnant women to detect problems that result in the unborn child's blood mixing with the mother's — it's an early warning test of sorts to make sure the child isn't losing blood into the mother's system. However, this test will not detect whether an athlete is blood doping with his or her own blood, which is a common, though by no means exclusive, method used for blood doping — the test only detects mixed blood from different people, because that is what it was designed to do. From newspaper articles I've read, the medical community believes the test, through its long-term use, is nearly infallible.
It is also my understanding that to be effective, the timing of the doping is very important. So, if for some reason a blood doping athlete's store of his or her own blood is unavailable, he or she can use different blood to stay on the regimen, and it is relatively easy to get blood if you have the money. If an athlete is tested after doping with his or her own blood, no positive will result. There could have been many athletes in the Olympics who were blood doping with their own blood, and they will get away with it.
The other bit of information that came through the grapevine was that Tyler screwed up and had to use blood not his own to keep up the regimen, and he got caught. I assume, under this argument, the same happened with Perez. Further, seeing that it is likely that two athletes from the same team would have similar procedures managed or controlled by the same person, it looks circumstantially damning to both. If it isn't doping, then isn't it a case of lightning striking the same team twice?
So asking why Perez would have doped at a seemingly unimportant point in the season doesn't seem to me to be a relevant course of enquiry — he could've been doping all along with his own blood. It's not like Garzelli's positive for an outdated drug that was no longer used by athletes in general because it was ineffective, though it was still on the banned drugs list. The powers-that-be appear to be more concerned with the test result than why the drug was taken. If Tyler is guilty, and I suppose belief in the test is the only way to be sure, then he got caught through stupidity or hubris or both, which is how most thieves get caught.
I still hope that Tyler is innocent, but to be honest, I will be very surprised if he is. And given the PR to present him as a wholesome guy, an incredibly strong Dudley-Do-Right, his fall will be farther and harder than others; his deception will have been greater.
California, United States
While I am well aware of the convincing evidence against Tyler Hamilton and the seemingly few possibilities of error in the testing procedures, I am also a strong believer in the innocent until proven guilty philosophy especially in a sport such as cycling that already receives such a great deal of criticism and is tainted by cheating and drug abuse. That being said, I would just like to point out the inconsistencies with which you have delivered news about a man who (as of right this instant) is still ¨innocent¨ under the American Justice system. On numerous occasions you have referred to the ¨sacking¨ of Tyler from the Phonak Cycling team.
It is my understanding, however, that sacking is not the appropriate term and that Tyler stepped down in hopes of allowing his team to receive a UCI Pro Tour invite; ¨By stepping aside, I had hoped to see the Phonak Team accepted into the Pro Tour. I also hoped to see the team carry out the long-term plans we put in place last January. While I was saddened to have to part company with a group of people I care for so deeply, it seemed this was the only way to keep the team operating and able to compete at the highest level of the sport of cycling¨ (www.tylerhamilton.com). To me that sounds like a respectable thing to do, not a ¨sacking¨ as you so put it. It is with this in mind that I request that until the proceedings of the trial are complete and if (and only if) he is proven guilty that you continue to use such loaded words to describe a stand-up guy who has given a great deal to the sport of cycling.
Because until that point statements such as the aforementioned only further tarnishes the good nature of our wonderful sport. Thank you!
Yarmouth, ME (Alicante, ES)
Here we go again…
Every year, at least for the past six or so, Armstrong has a bad early season race, and everyone writes him off. People for certain said he was going to lose the Tour in 2004, but if I remember correctly, he and the Postal team dominated those three weeks in July almost like never before.
I ask this though - it's March. Where's Jan?
Yeah, Armstrong might have had jet lag, and there's a good possibility that he started to get sick, therefore having to pull out of Paris-Nice. What's the big deal? People, you seem to keep forgetting that Armstrong will show up in July ready to rip. And for the critics that say he's a "one trick pony". So what? For the last six years he's won the biggest and most prestigious bicycle race in the world, saying as much before every single win, and nobody has stopped him since 1999. I wouldn't count him out just yet.
Chapel Hill, NC, USA
If I remember correctly, the last time Lance abandoned Paris-Nice he was attempting his comeback from cancer. He took some time off the bike then had that epic training session in North Carolina with Bobke then returned later that year with a vengeance.
He took fourth in the Vuelta and fourth at the worlds right after that. The rest as they say is history. Don’t write Lance off so quickly. Will he win number seven? I don’t know. Is it too soon to be calling him soft and having lost the eye of the tiger? Probaby…
Let me preface by saying i'm not a Lance fanboy by any
However...get a grip folks. Lance has one bad race and his place in history and chances for a Tour win are questioned. Maybe people forgot to take note of the race conditions: near freezing temperatures, rain and snow. Is it beyond the realm of possibility that the guy had a little jetlag, jumped into a hard race in terrible conditions and got a little sick? Despite appearances, the man is human.
There are loads of Lance fanatics who all want Lance to win and there are loads of Lance haters who want to see anyone else win.
And there are those of us in the middle who know that the presence of Lance Armstrong in a race in July means that everyone has to be honest about their own abilities.
What do you think would happen if Lance misses the Tour de France this year and Jan Ullrich were to win? He would always carry an asterisk after his win and the footnote would say, "Because Armstrong wasn't there".
The only way that anyone can be a real Tour champion is to beat Armstrong.
Thomas H Kunich
San Leandro, CA
How is it possible to be disappointed at Lance's seventh attempt at Tour de France glory? Well, gimme' a chance...
With his sixth concurrent victory at the Tour last year he has already garnered a "never been done before" achievement. But, in my opinion, to be considered a great cyclist along with the likes of Merckx, Hinault, Zoetemelk, Ocana, etc, there must be an attempt to win the "other" events of the year.
Lance's mastery of the July spectacle has been awe-inspiring at the very least, but to dismiss the Spring Classics, The Giro and the Vuelta flies in the face of the master cyclists of the past. Victory in those races has led to this great majesty that is pro cycling today. Lance has proven that he is without question the dominant force of the Tour during the past decade, but to barely use the early spring races as a warm up or training for the Tour is curious to say the least.
I was hopeful that Lance would have refrained from the Tour as he had said earlier in the year, raced the Spring classics AND the Giro to win them. He would have taken a July break and then continue with the Fall season, possibly the Vuelta and attempt the Hour record. All these events seem to be an achievement he could attain, considering his "mastery" of the Tour - the "hardest" bike race in the world.
This could have conceivably given him the year to freshen his legs for an attempt at the seventh Tour victory with a chest full of solid palmares. Not to mention the fact that he would take on the challenge of the 2005 Tour winner and podium finishers, Ullrich, Vino, Cunego, Valverde; who knows, but it would have set up an incredible match up for the 2006 Tour. And now..?
Has Lance dominated so well that it may be a case for a been-there-done-that attitude for the non-cycling or even cycling audience in the USA? Go Lance.
To all you Lance doubters out there... ENOUGH already! Every year we have this same conversation. "Lance looks a little fat this year." or "I heard Lance was eating ice cream" and my personal favorite "Lance can only win the Tour." Listen up people Lance has won other races! Off the top of my head, he's won the Dauphine Libre twice! I race that is right before the Tour... You would think the exertion to win a race that close to the Tour would cause him to lose the Tour (it almost did in 2005) but it didn't. For all of you people who repeat the quotes I listed above like a mantra... Just look at Lance's palmares and they will answer all of your questions. Looking at that list of wins you would almost forget that he is also a cancer survivor.
So again, please drop the yearly Lance bashing please - its getting old. I will say this, however, if Lance has "lost the eye of the tiger" it’s fine by me, he's done enough, he's a legend. Leave him alone. Hey Lance! Even if you don't win one race this year, here's one fan that will remember what you've done over your career!...unlike all your fair weather fans!
Bloomfield, CT - USA
I don’t really think anyone can call Lance, or any cyclist or athlete of any nature, soft, because of a performance in an early season race. I guess it’s very easy to call someone “soft” based on what coverage you see on television or read in the newspaper, but these human beings do have other lives outside of cycling and the five minute segment does not show what that athlete has done every day all day for the last six months.
I also ask anyone that reads these letters who can point out any one of the other favorites for the Tour de France title that races the classics and other spring races to win. I can’t think of any. Also, Lance has raced the classics in spring preparation in the years past up to the tour. Just because he did not last year does not mean that he never has. Go through results of previous years before criticising someone when you have no idea of their schedule.
Apex, NC, USA
While everyone is taking shots at Lance for going home after a couple of days of snow and freezing temps in France, it seems that they are missing the point. So what if LA only wins the tour? How many classics victories would you trade for one Tour de France? If you want to have the entire pro peloton at your mercy in July, maybe you don't want to burn all your candles trying to keep pace with the boys during a 42km road race in near freezing conditions in early March.
And what's with all the jokers piling on about LA being a one dimensional rider - not being an all around rider. I guess a World Championship, a Dauphine, a Tour de Suisse, a San Sebastian World Cup event and a Fleche Wallonne, along with two Tours DuPont (raising millions of dollars for cancer research) being a father of three and winning six Tours de France makes you pretty one dimensional. Oh, if only the rest of us could be that unbalanced!
Speculate al you want - LA will be there for the Grand Depart in July and I will be happy to see him bring home lucky number seven.
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