Eddy Merckx Tom Simpson Fausto Coppi Jacques Anquetil Francesco Moser Freddy Maertens Luis Ocana Pedro Delgado Joop Zoetemelk Bernard Thevenet Marco Pantani Johan Museeuw
There's more than one answer. Every name on this list belongs to a famous champion of professional cycling. Every name on this list also belongs to a cyclist who tested positive for illegal drug use or otherwise admitted to using banned substances to improve his performance on the road. There are some truly great legends on this list, and the list is far from complete.
Cycling has never and will never be a clean sport. Sad but true. It is safe to assume that every great winner since at least Greg Lemond in 1986 has used banned substances (especially EPO and Human Growth Hormone) to win races. And it is also safe to assume that every great winner before Greg Lemond used banned substances to win races. I'd argue it's safe to assume that even Greg Lemond used banned substances, despite his holier-than-thou criticisms of Armstrong and others in the pro peloton.
It sucks. There's nothing glamorous about a skinny guy in tights jamming his arm full of needles just to stay competitive. When Tyler Hamilton got caught shooting himself full of blood that wasn't his, it broke my heart. Tyler is the "nice guy" of American cycling, and his amazing battles with various injuries while still winning races will always be remembered, even after his ban is confirmed in the appeals process.
All that said, there's no way around it. The best cyclists in the pro peloton use drugs, or hormones or blood doping to win races. They always have. No strict anti-doping policy will ever eliminate it, as long as winning is still the point of racing. We can lament the lost innocence of cycling and blame the Festina Affair or the countless other drug scandals in the history of the sport, but that's silly. Drugs have always been a part of cycling. The best riders in history have used drugs. Such is life.
That said, I offer a disclaimer; I strictly adhere to a straight edge way of life---something I picked up during my years in the hardcore music scene. I avoid the use of alcohol, tobacco and all illegal drugs as a rule, as a lifestyle. I believe whole-heartedly that the best way to live is free of intoxication, and intend to live my entire life this way. If ever presented with the opportunity to use banned substances or other forms of doping to improve my cycling performance, I would turn it down, no doubt about it, just like I turn down alcohol, cigarretes and all other drugs.
I know, because of this, I will never be able to become a professional cyclist.
All those complaints about poor form, high heart rates and constricted lungs can be forgotten. Yesterday I had one of my very best rides EVER, by far.
My long, 72-mile day included the standard Tuesday Night Worlds group ride, which featured one serious early breakaway attempt by me and my riding pal Eric of the Barbasol team. I didn't have the gas he had, but we were in front for a short, fast little stretch. Doomed to failure but fun nonetheless.
I felt strong the entire ride and had a great finish, in or very near the top 5. I picked the right wheel to follow in the finale and was able to hold my good position across the imaginary finish line in front of Cycler's Cafe.
It's so good to feel strong again. Apparently the recent heat wave had been causing me all that grief. Today it was much cooler and less humid, and it made a huge difference.
By the numbers:
Total Distance: 72.5 miles Total Ride Time: 3:37:19 Average Speed: 20.02 miles per hour Maximum Speed: 39.79 miles per hour
Averaging 20 miles an hour over 72 miles and 3 and a half hours is no small feat, especially considering the numerous climbs and rollers along my standard training routes. I'm pretty proud of myself.
Due to the continuing and oppressive heat in the Ohio River Valley, I took last week easy and rode only three days out of seven, far below my normal weekly volume. I knew it was time to take it easy when my lungs felt tight and constricted on every single outing.
Yesterday I did the standard Sunday group ride that I always do, but even though the temperature and humidity were lower than in recent days, I'm still having trouble breathing and keeping my heart rate down. Yesterday my heart rate was around ten beats higher than normal during the entire ride. I had to take it easy on the Glenview hill, where I almost always turn up the speed and drop whoever is with me on normal days. This time, I had to slow to around 14 miles an hour the whole way up (instead of 18) just to keep my heart rate in check.
Mind you, I didn't feel horrible, and my high heart rate didn't translate into any other physical problems that I could notice. I just couldn't keep my speed up on the flats and had to take the one big hill at 60% normal effort.
My first assumption was that the heat was still bothering me. However, it was cooler yesterday than it has been in a long time, and I've ridden very well on hotter days. The humidity wasn't outlandish, either. My second assumption was that the bizarre allergic reaction I suffered over the weekend was to blame. On Friday night my right nostril and right eye began watering excessively, apparently the victims of a pollen dusting or something like that---whatever happened, I sneezed and cried out of the right side of my head for a day and a half. Maybe the short-lived infection also affected my immune system enough to elevate my heart rate during sustained efforts. Who knows?
Today's ride will be long and steady, and the temperature has fallen further---now below 90 for the first time in weeks. The humidity is still a little high, but lower than recent days. If I'm still seeing an elevation in my heart rate and tight lungs/heavy breathing, I might just consider going to see a doctor. Hopefully it won't come to that.
I average about 30-35 unique hits a day. Not shabby considering the relative unpopularity of cycling in the US, my complete lack of fame or notoriety, and my distaste for advertising and link-whoring.
When Mr. Fat gets published on Cyclingnews, my 30-hit average doubles instantly. I wonder if all of those people following the link from his blog to mine are disappointed when they get here, or if they even bother to stay and read at all. I don't have a lot to say, but it's nice to know at least a few people here and there are stopping by.
Sometimes I wish some of my friends had gotten into riding and racing road bikes. I've made a lot of good friends since I started riding and training hard, but none of the friends I had before I discovered cycling came along for the ride, so to speak.
A former roommate of mine bought a road bike the same time that I did, nearly three years ago now, but he never got into like I did, and now hardly rides at all. A close friend of mine who lives in Alabama is a cyclist, but I was already getting into the sport when I first met him a couple of years ago. Whenever we're together we ride, but sadly that's a very rare occasion these days.
I have a few friends that would make excellent cyclists. They're built for it, they are in good shape, and they're relatively competitive. Unfortunately, most of them are either restricted by financial concerns or simply have no interest in riding a bike all the time. I think I can understand their point of view, but not really.Many of my friends are into bikes, but not cycling. They ride cruisers and hybrids for transportation and recreation, but don't take it very seriously---and that's cool. Above all else, bikes are just plain fun. At least they ride! I don't expect my buddies to sprint for the win on the Tuesday group ride with me every week, but it would be nice if I had a few old friends who got the same rush and satisfaction I get from bike racing.
Luckily, even though none of my old friends got into the sport with me, all of them offer support and encouragement whenever they see me. It's rare that someone doesn't ask how much I've been riding or if I'm excited about racing in the future. They ask me questions about the bike, the clothing, the leg-shaving, the racing, everything. I love talking about cycling, so their interest in it makes me excited---even if I still have to ride without them...
Levi Leipheimer, American member of the German team Gerolsteiner, scored his biggest victory to date, winning a stage of the Tour Of Germany that featured the highest climb of the entire cycling season. Leipheimer and teammate Georg Totschnig pulled away from Jan Ullrich on the final summit, and the American was just strong enough to claim the victory---and the lead in the overall standings.
Of particular interest are the strong positions of both American rider Saul Raisin and Belgian upstart Wim Van Huffel. Raisin is an up-and-coming rider who gets absolutely ZERO media coverage, but should be quite a competitor in a couple of years. Van Huffel is the next great Belgian hope for stage race wins, as he's proven to be an extremely talented climber despite being from a generally flat country. Where Tom Boonen rules in the sprints and one-day races, Van Huffel could rule in the general classification of stage races.
In the Post-Lance era, cycling is just as exciting as ever---too bad nobody in America will care anymore...
After three days off the bike, my training ride today was excellent. I hadn't realized before how much fatigue my legs had in them, but today they felt lighter and stronger than in the past couple of weeks. I alternated some steady hill climbs with a long tempo interval over the course of two hours. It's silly, but a little voice in the back of my head always whispers that my entire body will completely atrophy if I take a couple of days off a month. Once again that voice was wrong.
Now to finish the month strong and prepare for some serious interval training in the fall. Less overall miles, shorter rides, but much harder efforts. I can't wait.
I'm taking three days off the bike. This is pretty unusual for me, but after struggling to stay motivated last week despite the oppressive heat and humidity, I decided to let my mind and my body rest a bit. Tomorrow I'll be back on the bike and training hard as always.
Besides, it's been raining all day today. Steady rain is always a good excuse to take a rest day (or three)!
The ever-improving, always scrappy American racer Chris Horner has signed a new, two-year contract with compatriot Freddy Rodriguez's team, Davitamon-Lotto. Horner says later to his current team, Saunier Duval.
Horner had good results this year in the USPRO Championship, the Tour de Suisse, and a respectable 33rd in the Tour de France. Hopefully he continues to improve with his new team.
Hill repeats today. I hate hill repeats. Up and down, up and down, heart rate through the roof, sun beating down, sweat stinging the eyes, up and down, up and down.
But, let's be serious here. I only weigh 155 at most. If I don't become a decent climber, my prospects in bike racing are pretty slim indeed. So I do hill repeats. And I hate them.
UPDATE: I decided not to ride after all. I did a three-and-a-half hour endurance ride yesterday that must have been a little too much in hindsight---my legs are dead and I have no motivation to ride at all today. It's still very hot outside, even in the evening, and there's no real need for me to push myself to the breaking point at this stage of the season. I'll take today off and focus on my climbing drills tomorrow. Two hours should do it. In situations like this I always fear that I'm getting lazy, but in reality I'm just being cautious when my body just doesn't feel right. It could be the difference between good form and total burnout.
I want to take this moment to thank the illustrious Fat Cyclist for not only being one of the very best cycling bloggers online, but also for the very generous link to my own blog prominently displayed on his home page. Without Mr. Fat, I wouldn't see half the traffic that I do, no doubt.
Hopefully Mr. Fat continues his contributions to the excellent and never-rivaled CyclingNews.com, which seem to have benefitted me greatly (oh, and him too).
His latest clever and ironic feature can be found here.
To say that racing in Europe is a dream of mine would of course be an understatement, as it would be for most lowly, savage American cyclists. The logistics being what they are, for all but a very scant number of us, a dream it will remain.
Diebert mentions in the piece that there are no criteriums in Spain, just longish road races with at least one serious climb included. That's interesting considering that most US domestic racing is criterium-based. Perhaps because they are easier to organize and officiate (and watch), criteriums are all the rage here. Too bad they're dangerous, discourteous and generally unfair to anyone weighing less than 170 pounds. Come to think of it, maybe the heavy influence of criterium racing---high speeds, sharp turns, extreme competitiveness---is the cause for American racing's cut-throat reputation.
Maybe if all we did were 130 "kilometer" (what's a kilometer, bro?) road races consisting of slow speeds and friendly chit-chat for the first three quarters, American racers would be friendlier and less animalistic. As of right now, a lot of guys, even here in Louisville, are downright assholes.
Yesterday I rode another very successful Sunday group ride, getting a huge breakaway with a Cat 3 racer from Team Louisville. After the turnaround on River Road, we took turns setting a high pace and suddenly realized we'd dropped the two guys that were with us earlier. The two of us stayed together the rest of the ride, just up until the last two turns, where I took off at the fastest clip I could and sprinted to the parking lot several seconds ahead of my break partner.
As we waited for the next couple of guys to reach us---some ten minutes later, it turned out---Mr. Cat 3 and I talked about the differences between racing in Cat 5 and Cat 3, and what I should expect in the next couple of seasons. He told me not to worry about winning, since I'd probably be doing a lot of it in Cat 5. I don't know about all that, but I definitely hope he's right.
All I know for sure, though, is that I'm constantly improving and my training is really paying off.
"The level of international cycling is increasing, whereas ours is getting lower and lower. The gap between our cycling and the other's will continue to grow. If this trend continues, there won't be French teams on the Tour de France any more. That's mind-blowing for one of the founding countries of the sport."
Fignon is right. French cycling sucks. With the exception of Christophe Moreau and whichever rider wins the draw to finish first on Bastille Day every year during the Tour, great French cyclists are few and far between. Only Laurent Jalabert in recent years has even approached the level of Fignon and Hinault. Richard Virenque is a walking joke, having been caught in the 1998 Festina doping affair, then lying about it, then admitting to it. The French may love him, but the rest of the cycling world has zero respect for his antics and his arrogance. Other than those guys, the only French rider of note is Laurent Brochard, and that's only because he has the worst hair EVER.
So, the French have to do two things: restructure their cycling establishment to promote team cooperation and individual winning, and find cyclists with some other name than Laurent.
I'm not sure if the sudden drop in temperature (due to a fast-moving cold front) was to blame, but my heart rate yesterday was suspiciously lower than it has been in more than a week. I assume the heat wave caused an elevation of my normal rates.
They say the first sign of over-training is a depressed heart rate, a heart rate unresponsive to hard work. I would worry, except I felt super strong yesterday and knocked out my hill repeats with enough energy left over to practice my sprinting form (in an easy gear to perfect my technique).
Today I have another long endurance ride to do. You can be sure that I'll keep a close eye on my heart rate and my breathing to catch any possible signs that I've been riding too hard. I wouldn't mind a couple days off if that's necessary, but I'd like to avoid it and take advantage of this apparent good form I'm enjoying.
I was supposed to ride three hours today. For some strange reason, I had to cut the training session short by a half hour or so. Maybe this had something to do with it:
About two hours into the ride, my chest started to feel constricted. My legs were fine and my heart rate was normal, but it just felt like I couldn't get enough air into my lungs. At that point I decided it was probably a good idea to head home.
A cold front is supposed to sweep through tonight, and the temperature should be back in the mid-80s for the next week or so. The change is certainly welcome.
It may be the slow-down part of the season now, and I may have only raced twice this year, but I feel strong and very confident that my training has paid off. Next season I should see some really impressive results when I start racing on a regular basis.
Next year's two main goals are to win the regional Kentuckiana Spring Classics Series in Cat 5 and upgrade to Category 4 as quickly as possible. Hopefully I'll win a couple of races here and there, but winning is not totally necessary to meet my goals.
I've got an intense August of training, and then the wind-down begins as I focus on maintenance and base conditioning. Then a build-up again in January and February toward a busy March of hard racing---and a bunch of top 5 finishes, I hope.
I did the Tuesday group ride as planned, and honestly couldn't have asked for a better ride. The pace was outlandish as always, the turnout solid and the weather tolerable. I finished firmly in the lead group, somewhere in the top 12 or so.
At one point a gap formed on the section of River Road that resembles an airport runway, and I made a valiant effort to bridge it---dragging the group of slackers behind me at something like 32 miles per hour into a headwind. The bridge was successful, but I nearly blew up in the process. Luckily the pace slowed a bit and I was able to recover. Once I got my heart rate down and feeling back into my legs, the rest of the ride was cake. I felt strong, fast and capable.
The ride, by the numbers:
Total Distance: 25 miles Average Speed: 24 miles per hour Top Speed: 41.31 miles per hour Average Heart Rate: 170 beats per minute Maximum Heart Rate: 198 beats per minute Full Water Bottles Consumed: 2 Gaps bridged: 1
Now back to solo training until Sunday, when I lay waste to everyone else on the group ride---hopefully.
Today I make my triumphant return to the weekly "Tuesday World Cup" group ride as it is called. I have skipped it for two months now while concentrating on base training and more specific climbing and tempo drills, knowing that the abnormally hard effort would be too much for my body when combined with the long endurance miles I was already riding.
Well, I'm moving toward a harder period now, one that requires both long hours AND hard efforts. The Tuesday ride requires hard efforts, that's for sure. While only 25 miles long, the ride always features some of the best amateur racers in town, and speeds often reach 30-35 miles per hour on the long straightaway of River Road. My top speed on a Tuesday ride is 42.
I've done the ride four times, and have finished in the front group all but once, when an ill-timed stop light (and some illegal light-running) split the leaders into two smaller packs. Though I was caught by the light, I did end up winning the sprint for ninth place ahead of the others with me.
My strong past finishes came after near-redline efforts to keep up. Especially on the long flat section of River Road, I struggled to stay among the leaders---my light weight and relative lack of muscle strength (compared to the longtime racers) holding me back. Luckily, I've never been dropped. This time, after two months of long training hours and specific drills to improve my power and endurance, I hope to actually cruise with the big boys---and maybe even attack here and there.
Sure, the exciting post-Tour de France criteriums are still being held across Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands, but remember that they're very much rigged. The most popular riders always win. Not that it makes the spectacle any less impressive for the fans at the races, but it's worth knowing the true nature of the beast.
Change is the theme of the 2005 pro cycling season, apparently. Mario Cipollini retired. Lance Armstrong retired. Fassa Bortolo announced the end of its cycling sponsorship, which forced Petacchi and his lead-out men to find a new home. Alexandre Vinokourov has signed with Liberty Seguros. And now, one of the greatest sprinters and one-day racers in history, Erik Zabel, has announced he will leave T-Mobile/Telekom, the only team he's known in a career of 13 years and 191 victories (including Milan-San Remo 4 times and the Tour's green jersey 6 times).
Zabel is generally regarded as the most professional rider in the peloton. Everything he does, according to those who know him and have interviewed him, is with the benefit of cycling in mind. Despite being 35 years old, he still has the fire to race inside him. Though his wins come fewer and farther between these days, he still competes with the drive and determination of guys much younger than him.
Rumors now suggest that Zabel could be moving to Domina Vacanze, the same team that recently signed Alessandro Petacchi and several of his lead-out men.
With the combination of Zabel and Petacchi (not to mention Matteo Tosatto and Marco Velo), Domina Vacanze could quite easily become the new colossus of sprinting in the pro peloton. If Domina Vacanze could somehow sign Liberty sprinter Allan Davis, the team could secure the past, present and future of bunch sprinting...and make Zabel's desire to mentor Davis a reality.
At any rate, it's good to know that Zabel will still be around for a few more years. Cycling can only benefit from that arrangement.
"Road racing requires stamina, strength, mental focus and fortitude. But the rewards are huge and grow the more effort you put into it.
More and more men are discovering that riding a road bike can be the perfect counterpoint to our cosseted and quick-fix modern lives. We’ve become so used to instant gratification and sanitised pleasure that we have forgotten that the greatest highs come from the deepest lows, that there is a unique satisfaction from applying yourself totally, then seeing the results. From pain comes pleasure."