I’m sick of this “I train harder” thing

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I know that it is difficult to defend yourself against something that isn’t true, something that is made up and only you truly know the answer if it is correct or a lie. That is the problem with accusing riders of using drugs without positive tests. True, a lot of what has happened in the last week looks completely super charged. But, I’m not going to go on record to say that is the case. There are a few, very few, riders that have it in their ability to do these special things. I’ve only ever ridden against/with one in my lifetime.

That is Greg LeMond. He could have won the Tour de France when he was a junior. I saw him do so many unbelievable things on a bike, I couldn’t even begin to list them. I raced with Fignon, Hinault, Van der Poel, Pascal Richard, and a ton of other “champions”. Lance Armstrong also. Greg made these guys look like amateurs when he set his mind to it. Now I witness on a constant basis, riders doing these special things. Sorry, but there aren’t that many Greg LeMonds around.

That isn’t the point I was going for here though. The point is I don’t want to hear these guys that are winning defend themselves by trying to explain how much better they are by saying the train harder than everyone else. That is total bullshit. Way back, when I was traveling pretty extensively and racing a ton of stage races I was getting close to 120 or more race days a year. That was riding at least 3, two week stage races a season. Plus, doing a few cyclo-x races in the winter. I think a lot of European Pros were racing more. Just think if you did all three Grand Tours a year. That was over 70 days right there. Anyway, there is no better training than racing. And if you say you can train harder than you race, I have to call you out on that.

I’ve pretty much been a cyclist most of my life. And I’ve trained pretty fuckin’ hard quite a bit of it. And I know a ton of guys that train unbelievably hard too. So unbelievable hard that it is impossible to have any more energy or time to train any harder. So, let’s just drop the “I train harder than everyone else” thing. If you can train harder than the guys I know, then you must be taking drugs to recover. Because, most of us are training about as hard as being a human body allows.

And while were at it, I don’t ever want to hear again about never failing a drug test as evidence that you’re clean thing. I’ve read over and over about how stupid you have to be to get caught now, by doctors and by riders. Thomas Frei from BMC last year – “Should have drank my liter of water and I would have been fine.” It was stupid. Forgetfulness got Thomas Frei kicked out for two years, not any drug testing.

I’ve never considered answering a question about why I did so well at a race by saying, “I just trained so much harder than everyone else, I couldn’t lose.” I know I’ve thought that I trained properly for specific events, but I’d never consider saying it was better than my competitors.

But on the other hand, I’ve hardly ever been accused of using drugs or having to defend myself again things that are unprovable. I hate it where this whole thing has taken us. I hate dwelling on it, but it is always there. Especially when you witness these remarkable feats.

Greg LeMond, in front in the red Coor’s Classic leaders jersey, alone against the whole Russian National Team on the Morgul Bismark stage of the Coor’s Classic. They could not drop him and came unbelievable close to winning the stage.

45 thoughts on “I’m sick of this “I train harder” thing

  1. David LaRue

    Nice article. I agree some people just have the gift. They train hard but the average person could train his ass off and do drugs and still not have the ability some people have with no drugs. I remember you racing a mountain bike race in Kanas City and then coming down and racing 2-3 crits in Jefferson City . I remember always giving you money for winning. I like seeing you, still racing hard. I always remember commenting on how well you have raced over all these years.

  2. chris mitchell

    Most of the people in the tour de france do some great things. Are you saying Andy Schelck is a doper? Not sure what your getting at, other then a saying if your good your a doper.. Have some faith or is it you gotten bitter in your old age?

  3. tilford97 Post author

    I’m not saying Andy Schelck is a doper. But, I don’t have a brother that had to explain why he sent $$$ to Dr. Fuentes, Operation Puerto, either.

    And faith? Are you missing something in the lists of winners that I’m posting of these Classics? In the Liège–Bastogne–Liège list, 8 out of the last 10 winners have served a doping suspension. That is 80%.

    I witness it on nearly a weekend by weekend basis. Johan Museeuw said it best. “It is sad all these young riders think they need it to be good. ” Then he is caught with 8000 vials of EPO.

    Check this list out and tell me where my faith should be. Remember, I believe it is very difficult to get caught.


  4. Jay

    I’m totaly digging your analysis and commentary on the classics race history.
    hmm. maybe, just maybe being clean is why Andy couldn’t hang with P.G. in the F-W race?

  5. Mike

    Thanks for the link to Fleche Wallone yesterday, it was an awesome race. Spent a nice hour watching and getting psyched for my training ride.


  6. Hudson Luce

    “The acceptance of drug-taking in the Tour de France was so complete by 1930 that the rule book, distributed by Henri Desgrange, reminded riders that drugs would not be provided by the organisers.” – from the wiki article mentioned above

    Cool. Provide your own drugs, and may the best drugs win… Stop the hypocrisy, the posing, the drug tests.

  7. nancy

    It sounds more the opposite. You see the GC guy doing 2-3 races before the tour, then le tour and they stayed home after. It looks they found a way to train harder by not racing.

  8. Aki

    I like this post. Someone asked why I don’t train harder. I can’t get that much better, no matter how much I trained. Younger, more races, etc, I was always similar in my strengths and weaknesses. I can sprint, I can’t TT or climb. I was the worst 103 lbs climber ever (and probably one of the better 103 lbs sprinters).
    To be a great racer, you have to first pick the right parents (and the right RNA – right? – from the two of them).
    I get by on racing smart, but if someone drops the hammer and forces me to go 280 watts for 4 minutes just to sit on wheels, I’m off the back.

  9. kim west

    steve, i was thinking earlier this morning–before reading this post–about why i seem to have lost my training & racing mojo this year, and i was thinking about all the MASTERS racers who have [finally] started getting busted for doping. top of the list is dewey, but there are so many others who have not yet been caught. look at my age group [55+] at nationals. tell me they’re clean. it’s like lining up against the evil empire at a damned MASTERS race. they don’t train harder; they dope better, and know which races to avoid. VERY frustrating indeed.
    thanks for the vent.

  10. tilford97 Post author

    Nancy – I held myself back from going on the “I’m sick of the riders disappearing for a month or more at a time during the season” rant in the middle of the “I train harder” rant.

  11. dirty_juheesus!


    Don’t forget the Schlecklette’s father was a Pro cyclist. It helps getting the good DNA.

    Does that add fuel to the doping allegations? Can’t and won’t say either way.

  12. Fake Steve Tilford

    Steve, you’ve got a very good memory for all the race details from long ago, yet only the same assumptions most of us do about the doping problems long present in cycling.

    So did you, or did you not run into that directly at any point?

    And Kim: I agree. If Dewey was such a hero from training late at night in heavy clothes in Iowa, so all the crashes didn’t hurt it (WTF?), there must be billions of shreds of coat fiber all over the roads. That, or really good drugs available to aging racers with disposable income …

  13. Ted Lewandowski

    The Russians in the break – at altitude no less (in their big rings on a climb) – in the early 1980’s were not clean by any means – and Lemond pulling them what does that imply – natural ability???

  14. Tommasini53

    For what USAC charges for the annual, seems like $10 of that fee could go toward testing at masters and local races. Heck, I’d even donate a few dollars if I had any faith that USAC would use the $$ for tests and not sqander it in Colorado Springs.

  15. Floont Artny

    Yeah, and it looks like Greg didn’t even need a chain to keep up with them too! Now that is talent!;)

  16. tilford97 Post author

    Ted-No doubt that the Russians, most of the East Germans, Poles, etc. were are on some sort of program in the 80’s. I was schooled by enough of them to realize something was up.

    Velonews once put a photo of me next to Sukhoruchenkov saying this is what the difference is between Russian and US riders. Implying that I was a pip-squeak in comparison.

    But the drugs of those times were much different than the drugs now. I raced on and off in Europe on the road most of the 80’s up until the late 90’s. And competed somewhat. The speeds and abilities of field in general changed dramatically during that time.

    I grew up racing with Greg. He was so much better than all of us when he was 15, it was a joke. He could beat Wayne Stetina and George Mount the first year he raced. George was 6th in the Olympics. And, as you know, we had a pretty crazy good crop of juniors at the time. Davis, Jeff Bradley, Greg Demgen, Alexi, Ron Kiefel, Thurlow, etc. If we all ganged up against Greg, he would still destroy us. Greg LeMond was not taking drugs back then. No way.

    By far the best cyclist I’ve ever seen. Bar none.

  17. Ted Lewandowski

    I remember I was training with the National Team in Mesa Arizona – it was February 1985. Marion the masseuse from Poland told me I should watch how much water I drink during the course of the day – in the sense that it could add weight – not in the sense that I could become dehydrated.

    I was flying then beating Roy Nickman in field sprints in our training but a long 100 mile ride turned into a disaster for me because I was not drinking enough water – and at the end of the ride I was so thirsty that I drank two liters of Coca-Cola – which had dehydrated me even more.

    Long story longer – couple of days later I had red spots all over my body and no energy. The team doctor thought I had chicken pox and to this day no one knew what it was – even Eddy B.

    I could barely stand-up never mind ride a bike so the coach from England (who was there working with Eddy B.) gave me this stuff called ‘the bomb’. I took it a couple of times and I thought I could snap the chain in half when I was racing.

    One telltale sign someone is taking something is looking at their body – if they have goose-pimples in hot weather that is a dead give away.

    I did that about six times and then thought to myself how crazy that was – I felt guilty I was ‘cheating’ even when I was sick.

    After that I was told to take a Dexatrim pill and drink a diet Coke before a race and that worked pretty well – but I only did that for fast crits – and again only about a half a dozen times until I felt better.

    If I was a betting man – and take no offense Steve – I would have to say that Greg Lemond had to be taking something – just my guess.

    In 1979 he chased down my teammate (Bobby Comeau) to win the Junior Nationals and then raced the Senior Nationals road race about 15 minutes later – that is totally impossible to do when you are 17 years old – sorry.

  18. tilford97 Post author

    Ted-He could have done the same thing when he was 15. Bobby was a good rider, but Greg could have chased Bobby down with one leg/sick.

    There weren’t drugs around that could explain what Greg was doing on a bike before he went to Europe full time. Like I stated before, I saw him do so many amazing things, racing and training, it was totally and completely unexplainable.

    He is the reason there is ever a small doubt in my mind that the guy ISN’T taking drugs. I witnessed it first hand that there are Greg LeMonds on the planet.

  19. John Nordstrand

    Thanks so much for this post; it is spot on, and coming from someone with your experience, it confirms so many of my opinions. I started racing as a Junior; I had a bad birthday, so while my training partners were doing well in Intermediate class, I had to start racing in Juniors, in Nor Cal. It was pointless. Lemond was scorching the field; a field that had some other great Juniors. He went straight to seniors and scorched them. It was unbelievable to watch, as you know. I have LeMond story after LeMond story, and I’m sure you have a ton more. The night before the 89 tour, I was at a party and EVERY person in that room bet against LeMond winning the tour in the final time trial. I was the only one to say he would do it because of all the stuff he did as a junior. I would kill to hear your LeMond stories. He is also a really good human; always cordial to me, and he even pretended he remembered me from juniors, which is impossible. I was terrible and only raced a few races as a junior. But it was a typical, class gesture by Greg. Thanks again. I hope you are feeling better, and out of your funk these days.

  20. Hayduke

    I propose removing all doping bans and developing super-humans with carbon fiber skeletons! 33mph climbs? 49mph TT averages? Aerodynamic quads and torso’s? Let’s see what science can do! 56-44 could be the next 11s.

    Ikeed, just for the record…

  21. Steve Wathke

    Make 2 leagues of racing. One with drugs and one without drugs. Everybody would be on the same level. (I’m just being a smartass here). What do you think would be watched more though? Take the NFL, they only ban guys for 4 games because of steroids. They know the fans really don’t care. The fans want bigger, stronger and faster.
    The difference between cycling and other professional sports is that cycling is trying to clean up their sport but instead it’s just created doubt about their sport and the other sports are only pretending to try to clean up their act. I would like to hear your opinion and appreciate your blog.
    Steve Wathke

  22. DavidR

    Steve, I enjoy your blog tremendously. It’s a must read every day. But I’ve never been more pleased than to read your acclaim and respect for Greg LeMond. Like many who watched his career in the 80’s, I grew to idolize LeMond and became a cyclist because of him. It has saddened me of late to hear people make disparaging comments about him, especially from domestic racers who literally owe him so much. I never saw him race in person, never met or spoke with him, but from everything I’ve seen and heard, Greg was pure class. I know in my heart that LeMond was a true and pure champion – the like we may never see again.

  23. Ted Lewandowski

    Steve – thanks for your comment – not too many people heard of Bobby Comeau – or dare I say – 30 + years remember his name. It was a pleasure for me to call him my teammate and to be in the same peloton as Greg when I was a Junior.

  24. Tom Gates

    Steve – I enjoy your blog, and your take on things. I agree 100% about LeMond – I was in a handfull of races with him 79-81, including 81 Nevada City, which was probably the greatest 1 day performance in US history. BTW speaking of “class” I was teammates with Don Sutton his first year of racing when he went from Cat 4 to 2
    and won the SoCal state RR as a Cat 4. My best memory of you is from the Talimena Stage race in what I thought was flat OK in 82. As a 55+ racer now, it’s a little disheartening to see “unnatural” performances in Masters’ races – I hate to think the worst of people – but I’ve been around long enough to know what’s natural and what’s abnormal. I almost pity someone so F’d up that they have to dope to win $100 in an old man’s race.

  25. tilford97 Post author

    Tom-It’s funny you mention Don and Talimena Race in Oklahoma. I was just staying out in La Jolla with Don after Redlands.

    And I was considering going down to Poteau and ride the Talimena Scenic Loop this weekend. That is some of the most amazing bike riding in the country. And some of the hardest.

    The first time I went there I had a 21 in the back. I was doing switchbacks, back and forth across the road for quite a while, just to get up.

    I won the race the 2nd time and from then on.

    That race needs to be resurrected.

  26. Wondering

    Your insights to racing and drugs are definitely unfiltered, and needed. One thought:

    What is the difference between Greg Lemond, a rider who dominated racing in his day and the other “A” list riders now who are on your ‘list?’ If your own theory plays true, then wouldn’t Greg be on that list too?

    Be careful of the same trap that gets played with the whole, “oh, I’ve known (…….) for years and he was the nicest guy. He can’t be taking drugs.” After all, your other post says kids take drugs too, and they have been for a long, long time.

  27. tilford97 Post author

    The difference between Greg and these other guys is that Greg did most of his feats were way before these oxygen carrying drugs became available.

    Say, for argument, that Greg did take drugs. He couldn’t have been using drugs as good as was available to the Russian National Team. They were systematically on a program. That wasn’t available to Greg in the US. He’s not that smart. And he was tons better than those guys, who obviously were on a program. He was tons better than everyone.

    When EPO and such came into the sport, late 80’s, early 90’s, it took awhile to become commonplace.

    One or two random guys on EPO could be handlied by a Greg LeMond. A whole peleton of riders on a EPO, he couldn’t.

  28. Doug Allen

    Steve -Thanks for the post today, I really enjoyed reading your comments on Greg’s abilities. Riding some of the steeps here in Colorado we call the “switchbacks” technique “delivering the mail!’
    Oh yeah, I will look for the goosebumps when lining up next time.

  29. rostafarian

    Retired Italian specialist Paolo Bettini, the former world and Olympic champion who won a string of big one-day races, added (about Gilbert): “He’s got that little something extra, and that’s what will one day make him a bigger rider than I ever was.

    little something extra hmmmmmm……

  30. yenrod

    I was quite obvious that when Lemond was quite close to finishing his career there was some stuff going round especially from the Italian riders…ie Chiapucci on Sestrierre etc… 92 tour.

    With the big bust of Festina in 97 i think…’they’ mustve thought it was ok to continue.

    I feel the blood test level thing that the UCI have going is not bad but not a reckoner to clean’ness.

    If their will ever be clean sport people in sport then i will literally eat my cycling helmet !

    I support Lemond for his fight! – when GL won against Laurent Fignon it was like a big finger to all the existing hierarchy that rely/ied on preperation.

  31. QTHIS

    I agree with you on some points. Some riders should be saying that they “Train Harder+Body Responds well to systematic doping). However, as much as I am a fan of Lemond…I also question his own ambiguity at times. Didn’t he at one point state having been given a shot for a low iron level and then several weeks later hit an amazing level in the Giro? Isn’t there a possibility that riders are given injections with the approach of: I am not asking/you don’t tell me what you are really putting in me approach?

  32. tilford97 Post author

    A iron injection isn’t close to EPO. Davis told me once that every year after the Tour de France he’d eventually end up at the doctor and take a blood test. He said his hematocrit was less than 35. A womens. His blood was done. That is what a long tour does to your blood. In Europe, injections are commonplace. Let’s not mix up vitamines with drugs.

  33. highmodulous

    I guy that I used to race against in the mountain bike expert category always said that he thought that he had the “stuff” to be a pro if only he had the time to really train. Well, he ended up getting a fairly sizable inheritance and then devoted himself to two full years of intensive training under the tutelage of a renowned trainer. Yeah, he managed to get his pro license. But even though he put in as many (or more) hours in the saddle than 99% of his competition, at major events he was usually battling it out for 73rd place. Which just goes to show, you really can’t polish a turd.

  34. Steven Fairchild

    Some great points. Lemond was amazing and he had the Vo2 Max to back up his performances. I think 2nd highest ever tested. I raced a few times against Lemond and he was so far above everyone else’s ability, he made all of us scratch our heads in wonder. He also speaks his mind, as does Steve. Go back and listen to what he’s said and most if not all has proven to be true. Lemond was one in 10 million in genetic ability.

  35. Andrew @ CXM

    Nice article Steve. Neat perspective on LeMond too. Not sure if you saw our article on him and cyclocross in Issue 11 of Cyclocross Magazine, but I think you’d like it.

    See you in Madison?

  36. tilford97 Post author

    I went to the Cyclingnews.com forum that linked this article and everyone seems to think it is about Greg LeMond being so much better than everyone else. That is true. But, that isn’t what I was trying to convey.

    But, in my defense, let’s not compare Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon.

    Greg beat Fignon after he had been shot and nearly died. He was not anywhere near as good a rider after the accident as before. But, he was still better than most everyone else.

    And to the guy saying that LeMond only be Fignon by 8 seconds and that isn’t a smear.

    That is true also. It was probably the Scott bars really.

    But, Laurent Fignon admitted that he took drugs to race. Enough on that.

  37. Ultimobici

    @ 30yenrod Lemond simply won the Tour, that’s all he was aiming at. To say it was anything symbolic of the nature you imply is ridiculous.

  38. bbay

    Excellent blog! Watched Lemond solo off the front of the 1980 Olympic Trials RR in Lima Ohio – by several minutes over the Stetinas and all other US talent. I’d dropped out about halfway through. And about those aero bars – Fignon had a disk front wheel. Pics show lemond with something that looks about like a 32 spoke box rim. The engineers who read your blog may give us details, but the disk front claws back quite a bit of any advantage the early aero bars provided.

  39. bob

    Steve totally agree with you on Lemond. I am of the same age, i was a nationally ranked runner took up cycling in SoCal and got to do the Simi ride alot with Thurlow, Knickman, Tomac and all the visiting pros. I couldnt beat these guys but with all my running training i was able to hang around some.My hemocrit was usually 48 or so and under intense training would drop to 45, all without drugs.Anyway everyone of those guys told stories on the rides about what Greg could do like he was an alien. My team used to put on the Acton RR and Greg destroyed fields there as a junior. Either he won the race as young junior or caught the 1/2 race from another start. Anyway he was just a step better as a kid.
    No young teenager has access to drugs that people attribute his success to .Like u say no EPO in those days. A Belgian cocktail? that was what was going around then. Even if a kid could get his hands on it, the effects were pretty intense but short.
    Paul Kimmage also wrote about Lemond in the TDF and how he wasnt a doper. I remember he said Lemond was sick early in the tour and the shit was running down his legs. He said the stench was terrible and he couldnt understand how a human being could suffer so much. Later in that Tour that Greg won, Paul wrote that is why Greg didnt dope, he simply had the ability, the will to press on and suffer when everyone else would have stopped.That is what he felt made Greg a champion, he had a need(and sadly we know the motivation behind that need)to prove he was the best. He could still keep his wits about him while he was suffering knowing he could endure more than his competition.
    In track & field they used to say that the quarter mile was like sticking your finger in a light socket. It was always gonna hurt. The half mile was know as sticking your finger in the light socket and holding it there. It is very difficult to start sprinting harder when you can;t breathe and your legs are empty. But some runners learn to do it.You can only learn to do it by reaching that pain level over & over and teaching yourself to go beyond the pain.
    That is the same level that Greg reached, he knew every race was going to hurt, ALOT, so he just accepted it and basically won by attacking when everyone else was just trying to survive.
    There was no drug available at that time that would account for Greg’s success.
    It was simple determination from a young age, pushing himself to a high level at a young age and never backing off.

  40. THawk996

    Instead of increasing his iron levels naturally by eating more red meat (preferably not a steak from Spain) or some spinach, Lemond choose to modifying his blood chemistry by artificial means, in this case an iron shot. Sounds like blood doping to me. That is no different from other artificial means to alter one’s blood chemistry. Granted an iron shot might not have as dramatic an effect on one’s performance as EPO, but they are both artificial means to alter ones blood chemistry and improve one’s performance.

  41. Anton Berlin

    Steve – can you really with a straight face tell another person that LeMond didn’t dope? There is certainly some evidence (mitochondrial myopathy) that he used corticosteroids and his proximity to Eddie B (even very earlier in his career) gave him direct access to blood boosting techniques for years before the 84 games as an example. Couple that in with his DSs in Europe – there’s no fucking way Greg’s the pure-blooded angel you portray.

    I’d like to believe so too but it just isn’t true.

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