Cycling Letters

[This is a letter from Nathan Dahlberg, former professional road racer with 7-11, Motorola, and Spago, among others, and veteran of two Tours de France. Nathan still races bicycles, but is also a keen adventure cyclist. We’ve traveled together in Pakistan, China, and in his native New Zealand. Posted with permission.]

Dear All,

Yes, had a great time in Belgium and Holland over a period of 3 1/2 weeks, the highlights being, of course, meeting my old friends and also a certain amount of nostalgia over being back in familiar places (even watching a Pro Kermess in Sinaii bought back some good memories). Training from Mens house in Munster Geleen deep into the Ardennes alone and with Chris Macic reminded me of what a great (and very underrated) area that is to ride a bike, particularly around Stavelot, always hard even to return for home after training down there. I also got the great chance to race 11 more times in just under 3 weeks, and though cycling has slipped into being a relatively minor sport in the last 28 years since I first went to Europe (although the TDF thrives as always) there are still enough races and enough good riders to make it a 3 week period well worth the effort.

Racing hasn’t changed, it’s still very individualist and pure as sport goes although the roads are far different. Long gone are the cobbled lanes and even rough roads, now it’s all fast asphalt and racing is more a high speed dash like track racing than some of the grinds of years gone. The basics are the same (including the prize money or lack)…

I found last year — and some 32 other years on a bike as well — cycling is a very simple sport to train for: train long and hard and you will get fit. The real technical side of cycling is not the training but the recovery aspect so you can train long and hard and certainly after that big week then a bit more training in the Ardennes and a few races the form comes surprisingly fast despite having a real distaste of jumping out of corners and lack of risk taking . But yeah all didn’t go according to plan, after flatting halfway thru a race I rode home only to be informed the next day that a doping control arrived after the race and I was a random, a very infrequent but always possible eventuality. So if the control officers do anything about it, my missing a control is the same as having a positive test! Such are the pitfalls of cycle sport, brought about by the endless dramas of doping in the peloton , of course to an old guy like me pretty much just having a fun day on the bike it’s no really big worry, but it could just as easily happen to a young aspiring rider.

Cycling in Europe as a sport (which is about 80 per cent of the sport world-wide) is dying and now cycling is no longer a top European sport and even in Belgium it has been relegated to a minor role. The UCI and other powers that be aren’t necessarily at fault for the decline, but they certainly haven’t helped and it’s time they relegated their business approach to managing the sport as a failure and returned back to being a non-profit governing body they once were. Forget about Pro tours, World tours and all this other nonsense of self promotion. Cycling has The Tour de France, Pro Tour teams, etc., which are the business of cycling and are its publicity already. What is needed is some honest and reasonable governance and guidance and that is not going to come from a business, so don’t look to them. The UCI needs to take its mission in hand.

Racers and racing teams themselves have to get on top of this doping problem, first, by admitting it exists and, second, by doing something about it. Some positive strides have been made but it’s still the rider — often very young inexperienced and not so wise ones — getting the blame and taking the punishment while those who have recommended or just turned a blind eye to doping practices just continue on their merry path. Unless cycling manages to start containing these problems it will continue declining.

I was riding with another old veteran of 43 years from Australia and we were talking about how few races are left in Belgium and I said to him not only is this from the view point of just getting too long in the tooth my last chance to do a few races but if the way things keeping going in Belgium in 5 -7 years time when I go back again there won’t even be any races left to do!! Hopefully there is time to change this general regression.

From mid-winter in NZ (after a long flight back),