I came across this Dec. 10, 2014, Facebook post by Louie Amelburu: “I know that many of you are aware I was targeted by usada and tested—for the fourth time in one year—at the Mt. Charleston Hill Climb this year. I am sorry to report that unfortunately my test results were such that you will have to race the Hispanic that creates panic for yet another year. For all my supporters, teammates and family, thank you. I would never let you down. As I always say, there is no substitute for hard work. If you ever have a doubt as to what my results are attributable to, you have an open invitation to train with me. Just turn the cookie and make it crumble.”
I thought it was a strange post. First, there’s some pretty obvious anger at having been “targeted” four times this year. According to Louie, he was tested twice at nationals in 2013, once at the Pan-Am Games, and once at the Mt. Charleston hill climb where he beat former elite men’s champion Chris Walker. Why the indignation at being tested? At the 2013 masters nationals Louie got a bronze medal in the mixed-tandem road race, fourth in the time trial, 11th in the road race, and 12th in the crit. At the Pan-Am masters cycling road race in Guadalajara in 2013, Louie won the road race. The top three finishers at nationals and at major international events are always highly likely targets for testing. Instead of scorn at being targeted for a test, anyone who’s been around the block knows that being tested is how results are validated. It’s not that the organizers think you are a cheat, it’s that they know cheating occurs, and this is one way of trying to root it out.
Even stranger is the proud publication of his USADA letter. Dude, newsflash: A certain former professional now banned for life claimed to have been tested more than 500 times and never turned a positive result. He’s got a library of letters like that. The absence of a doping violation doesn’t prove you aren’t doping, it just means that your test was negative and you get to keep your plastic medal and box of Clif bars. Cycling is a sport where some people dope, and if you win there are people who will suspect that you cheat. Get used to it. I’ve heard so many whispers about so many people that if all the rumors were true everyone would be a doper, including the refs, spectators, and their dogs. Self-righteous publication of your non-positive letter will never convince those who think you’re a cheater, but it will make people who’ve never thought about it one way or another start to consider the matter. It’s like screaming from the rooftops, “I don’t beat my wife!”
Really? I didn’t know people said that you did. Hmmmmmm.
Strangest of all is the proud declaration that your results are attributable to your incredible work ethic. Do you really want to say that? Because if your results are solely attributable to how hard you train, it means that no one trains as hard as you, and we’ve heard that somewhere before. How do you know you train harder than all of your competitors? And since when does the hardest trainer in bike racing win the race? The real message about “how hard I train” is that you are simply better than everyone else, not just because you train harder, but because you’re smarter, quicker, more tactical, and genetically superior. The problem with that explanation is that in your SoCal category, the leaky prostate division of 50+ riders, you’re racing against former Olympians, Tour riders, classics campaigners, and elite national champions. You’re smarter and more genetically gifted than they are AND you train harder? Really?
In truth, your results are suspect for two simple reasons.
First, everyone who wins a big bike race, a whole bunch of races, or often even a small one, is suspect. That’s what the sport has become. Get secure in your skin, man, because if you want to stand on the top step people are going to accuse you of cheating, and it’s not because you’re Hispanic. It’s because doping is still a big part of the sport today, cf. Pro Team Astana.
Second, you have a resume that some find incredible. Ten top-five places, and an astounding twenty-one first places in 2014 including a national championship, according to the USA Cycling web site. 2013 wasn’t a bad year either, with 25 victories and a slew of podiums.
In 2012 you “only” had 19 victories, but you kind of made up for it with 15 top-five finishes. Then there were 14 wins in 2011, 10 wins in 2010, 17 wins in 2009, 9 wins in 2008, and 6 wins in 2007. Before that, things weren’t quite so stellar, at least by your standards, with 3 wins in 2006, 1 win in 2005, 1 win in 2004, 1 ‘cross win in 2003, one win in 2002, and no wins at all in 2001.
I’m no statistician or sports physiologist, but you have gone from being a pretty solid bike racer to the dude who, as you say, creates panic. I remember one year at Devil’s Punchbowl when you had a mechanical on the first climb. I’d already been shelled, and I passed you as you fumbled with your chain or tire or whatever it was. You caught me on the backstretch and I sat on your wheel for about three miles until you just rode me off it, and then chased down the pack which was in a different time zone, and then you attacked and caught the break. I think you won that year.
Some people might point to the fact that you almost doubled your wins between 2006 and 2007 in what is one of the most competitive racing categories among masters as evidence that you’d started putting something special in your Wheaties. However, although I’ve wondered about it in the past, after thinking about it and looking critically at your results I’d argue that your trajectory fits pretty well with a talented athlete who starts cycling as a masters racer, begins as pack fodder (2001), and over the course of thirteen years develops into a skilled and elite competitor. It’s not as if you went from fodder to unbeatable in a season, to the contrary — you’ve been working doggedly at this for years and years and years, racing against the best, learning, improving, and above all, racing. You’re a middle school health teacher and seem to have plenty of time to train.
Moreover, your wins tend to come in hilly road races or stage races. The champion masters doper profile of “wins TT’s, crits, stage races, hill climbs, road races, and everything else” doesn’t fit your resume. Also, your supposed dominance isn’t really all that dominating because much of your racing is in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona where fields aren’t as deep or as fast as they are in California. And although you put the wood to plenty of the best SoCal roadies, you’re by no means a shoo-in. In fact, the deeper the field the more normal (for an excellent bike racer) your results become. Tour of the Gila, 18th in the road race. In the SCNCA district championships this year you didn’t win the 50+ and you got 13th in the 40+. You got 3rd at the hilly Vlees Huis RR and could “only” manage 9th in the nationals road race and 10th in the crit. Your big wins were stage races, which makes sense because you excel at road racing and time trialing. Although the sheer number of wins is impressive, when you break them down they really do fit a narrative about ability, dedication, and focus on one or two disciplines.
But since it’s masters bike racing we’re talking about, there should always be a degree of skepticism. Check the USADA list of sanctioned athletes and you’ll find plenty of old cycling farts who thought they could dope their way to victory and never get caught. Welcome to 2014, where if you aren’t somewhat skeptical, you’re a fool.
With results and performances like yours, not to mention the personal humiliation of having you crush and destroy countless fragile egos, some people will always suspect that you cheat. This is where, instead of being offended, you need to shrug and say, “I understand where you’re coming from.”
People also suspect that LBJ killed JFK, that President Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, and that Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was done in a Hollywood movie studio. Get comfortable with your results if they’re legitimate, and don’t lash out at the testers who are not only doing their job but who are also validating everyone’s results, including yours. If possible, don’t hold it too much against the “haters” who’ve been around the block a few times and view your performances as suspect. It’s hard to have stars in your eyes when they’ve been previously poked with a stick.
I’ve seen you race plenty, and as near as I can tell you’re flat out better than the people you beat on that particular day. You don’t win every race, you don’t dominate every discipline, and people I know and respect vouch for the intensity of your training and the depth of your commitment. And if you ever do test positive, it won’t have ever affected me. I was fighting for 45th place.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and start your morning off with a groan. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!