First Edition Cycling News for December 18, 2003
Edited by Chris Henry
Vuelta favourites expect a good race
With each route announcement for a grand tour comes a flood of reactions from the principal contenders for the next year's title. As the Vuelta a España becomes an increasingly popular race, more riders set the Spanish tour as an objective well before the season begins. Wednesday's unveiling of the 2004 Vuelta parcours prompted plenty of commentary in the Spanish press from the usual heads of state, several of whom will lead new teams next season, and each eager to tackle what is clearly a climber's Vuelta.
Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros in 2004)
"With this parcours, which includes seven mountaintop finishes and four time trials, nobody will be able to relax. The climbers will have an advantage with the time trial up the Sierra Nevada, but overall it will be a hard Vuelta and very demanding."
Alejandro Valverde (Kelme-Costa Blanca)
"This past year I assumed the role of leader next to Oscar Sevilla, but next year it won't be a new experience," he explained, "which is why I feel ready to aim for the top step of the podium."
Isidro Nozal (Liberty Seguros in 2004)
"I like it because there's something for everyone: time trials and mountains. It'll be hard from start to finish."
Oscar Sevilla (Phonak Hearing Systems in 2004)
"Nobody has told me anything about these climbs," Sevilla commented in the Spanish paper Marca, referring to the climbs of Bacares and Calar Alto. "But it's tough terrain." "If [stage 16] finishes with these two climbs, it'll be a good fight because the Bacares will shatter the peloton in a thousand pieces and there's no time to regroup before the Calar Alto. The change in rhythm will be tough because there's not a metre of flat... The combination of the two climbs is what makes the difference."
Joseba Beloki (Brioches La Boulangère in 2004)
"It will be a complicated race, with possible traps in the wind as well as the mountains in the final week. For me the key will be the days from Granada to Madrid; it'll be important to arrive in top form at that point."
Horner accepts leadership challenge
By Chris Henry and Kristy Scrymgeour
Following the announcement of his contract with Webcor for 2004, American Chris Horner expressed his confidence with the move and appeared ready to accept the leadership responsibility at the head of a team smaller than his Saturn team from 2003. Speaking by telephone Wednesday, Horner said it would be a new challenge for him to take Webcor to a new level.
"I'll definitely be in good form come next year, my goal is of course, is to dominate the domestic circuit like last year," he told Cyclingnews. "The team is certainly not as strong as the Saturn team was, but I kind of see it like the Prime alliance team a couple of years back when there was not a lot of depth, but everyone rose to the challenge.
"The team is looking to sign a couple more riders to give me a little help come the end of the races which will be perfect," Horner added.
Webcor's addition of Horner to the roster is a dramatic step forward for the relatively small domestic team, but with the withdrawal of both the Saturn and Schroeder Iron teams after 2003, a number of America's top riders, Horner included, were left looking for new teams for 2004.
"I talked to [Tom] Schuler and he really didn't have anything going," Horner explained. "I would have really liked to race with Nathan O'Neill again. We were putting a package together, but he ended up going with Colavita Bolla and I went with Webcor. Salary wise, for the market, the offer Webcor gave me was really good, and not really much different to what I'm used to, so I'm really happy with that. They have also given me a great program with my choice of schedule which is great."
Horner, who capped an incredible 2003 season with victory in the T-Mobile International in San Francisco, knows his own talents, having already spent time racing in Europe does not share many American professionals' automatic aspirations of racing on the continent.
"I'm happy to be staying in the US," he said. "Racing in Europe is like a love-hate relationship. I want to be there when I'm not, but when I'm there I hate it. I really miss the big pro races and that level of racing. We have a few big races here like Philly and San Francisco. But off the bike, I really like being in the US.
"The bigger races just give you so much more motivation," he admitted. "You know there's going to be a lot of spectators there and it really helps you up in training. For the smaller races, you're out training and you think 'well it's not really a big race', but of course when you get to them, you get psyched anyway."
Webcor CEO excited by Horner's prospects
By Chris Henry and Kristy Scrymgeour
"I really can still hardly believe that we have Horner riding for us. It's great."
Such is the reaction of Webcor's CEO Andy Ball after having scored a bit of a coup with a contract with top domestic pro Chris Horner. What began as a small sponsorship venture in support of regional cycling in California has for Ball turned into a Division III professional team poised to challenge in the top United States races, thanks in large part to the sudden and unexpected acquisition of Chris Horner.
Webcor, a leading general contractor in California, employs over 800 people and began its foray into cycling sponsorship thanks to Ball's own passion for the sport. "I do ride," Ball noted. "Not as much as I'd like to though, because of work and kids and all that, but I love to ride and I love cycling.
"It's all about supporting cycling for us," he added, referring to Webcor's sponsorship. "I think most people out there don't understand how hard it is. It is a thankless, thankless sport. Getting up early in the cold weather and training hard every day. The riders work so hard for little return."
The big catch
Team manager and rider Ted Huang approached Ball recently to discuss the goals for 2004, looking to build upon a successful 2003 season which included victories in the Cal Cup, the state road race championships and hill climb, among others.
"The guys had far exceeded my expectations and I didn't think we really needed to change anything," Ball told Cyclingnews Wednesday, underlining his enthusiastic but seemingly laid back approach to the team.
"Then Ted came to me again a couple of weeks ago and said 'Do you realize, Horner hasn't signed yet?' I thought that was amazing," Ball explained. "Ted asked me if I'd sign him and I sat down with the other executives and told them all the positives and that Horner is the best. Horner is the only one I would really consider because I think he is the number one rider in the US and he seems like a really nice guy too."
Although not an instantly done deal, negotiations moved quickly, and Webcor ultimately had the approach and the resources necessary to satisfy Horner.
"Of course as soon as we made the offer, Colavita Bolla also made him an offer," Ball recalled. "Horner also wanted [Saturn teammate Nathan O'Neill] to join him, but Colavita Bolla had also offered him a contract. We really didn't want to get into any bidding games so we just made [Chris] a really solid offer and he came back to us and accepted it. He said he liked the guys in the team."
"We're not about just getting results," Ball insisted. "At Webcor, we really just believe in people and we like to give people the freedom to do well. The same goes with the team. It is a balanced team and Horner will get good support for the big races that he wants to do well in, and in the local races he will work for the other guys so that everyone can feel good about racing and all the hard training they put in.
"Results are secondary," he added. "It's great to win as long as you keep it in perspective and enjoy life. I love cycling and I think Horner represents the sport really well. He is a clean honest rider and a family man."
Look for the full interview with Webcor's Andy Ball soon on Cyclingnews.
A new neck, new team and new fiancée for O'Neill
By Karen Forman
The professionalism and welcome shown and security offered by US-based category III team Colavita Bolla were the carrots that successfully enticed former Saturn rider Nathan O'Neill to join his former team-mates Mark McCormack, Tim Johnson and Ivan Dominguez on the Colavita Bolla roster for 2004, though Johnson subsequently departed for Spanish team Saunier Duval.
Other members of the team, which goes into its second year in 2004, are three US riders Todd Herriot, Tyler Wren and Thad Dulan and three Argentineans Gustarvo Artacho, Juan Jose Haedo and Sebastion Alexandre. Negotiations are continuing for the final rider, who is likely to be an American, possibly from the now-defunct Saturn team. Operations director is Chad Davis and John Profaci is the manager.
Queenslander O'Neill, 29, told Cyclingnews he had chosen the US-owned team sponsored by Italian food and wine importers Colavita and Bolla over another pro team, which he declined to name, because he felt professionalism and stability were the key. As well, with the likelihood he will share team leadership with McCormack, he considers the signing a good career move. And, to top it off, it's based in America, where he now has a fiancée and plans to live indefinitely.
Click here for the full interview with Nathan O'Neill
Casero confirms with Kelme
Angel Casero has confirmed his intentions to join the Spanish Kelme-Costa Blanca team for 2004. The news came at Wednesday's presentation of the Vuelta a España in Madrid after indications this week that the two parties were close to an arrangement.
"It's a verbal agreement, but we're in agreement," Casero commented.
The news is good for Casero, who will leave behind the troubled Team Bianchi, but not everyone at Kelme is happy with the arrival of another leader. Alejandro Valverde, second in the World Championships road race and third overall at the 2003 Vuelta, did not hide his disappointment. With Oscar Sevilla gone to Phonak, Valverde saw himself in a leadership role for Kelme, but Casero's arrival could keep his ambitions in check.
"They told us they might sign another leader, but not that it would be Casero," commented Gorka Arrinda, Valverde's agent. "That could present a problem as far as Valverde's presence at the head of the team is concerned."
Bettini awards student scholarship
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
After finishing the first Quick.Step-Davitamon six-day ritiro (training camp) in Cecina, near his home in La California, Italy, the world's #1 ranked rider Paolo Bettini headed north from Tuscany to the Veneto region for a few days to visit some of his sponsors like Sidi and Selle San Marco.
On Wednesday December 17th, Bettini was at the saddle maker with his teammates Davide Bramati and Luca Paolini to present a SSM scholarship award to local students, Borsa Scolastica Selle San Marco / Cav. Luigi Girardi. Girardi's grandson, Luigi "Gigi" Girardi explained to Cyclingnews that "for twenty years, we have sponsored this scholarship award for local students in our town of Rossano Veneto. It's awarded to two students who graduate from middle school with the best grades."
This year, 60 kids from the Istituto Comprehensivo Gianni Rodani in Rossano Veneto saw recent graduates Massimo Lando and Nicolo Berton receive the award from Italian cycling champ and two time World Cup champion Paolo Bettini.
The Italian school kids also had time to get up close and personal with their sports idols and ask some interesting questions. Paolo Bettini, when asked "How did you get started in cycling?", replied "It was a sport we did in my family and that's how I got started."
Another student impetuously asked Bettini "What about doping? Did anyone ever make you take steroids?" The Quick.Step-Davitamon rider handled it diplomatically, explaining that "the problem of doping is a serious one, but no, no one has ever asked me to dope. Our Italian cycling federation has become a lot more vigilant about this and it's a good thing. I think that nowadays, things have improved and there is less doping than there was 5 or 6 years ago. Cycling is in a good moment right now."
Another Rodani student wanted to know "Why do you ride?", to which Bettini eloquently responded "First of all, cycling is a hard sport. If you do it, you have to love it... Perhaps calcio (soccer) is easier to start doing, but the thing I love about cycling is that it gives you feelings that you don't find in any other sport. There is the freedom to go around and be out in nature. Cycling gives you a liberty to decide where to go. It's much different than being in a gym or on a sports field." Luca Paolini also got in the act, answering a question about his friend Bettini; "we enjoy riding together and have a lot in common... We both like to eat well!"
Paolini remembered a special moment this year between the two riders, explaining "we were on the Poggio in (Milano) San Remo with 6 or 7km to go. I looked over at Bettini who told me 'I'm cooked, I don't have anything left', but I told him, 'go on, get on my wheel, you can do it' and it turned out that we got away and Paolo won in San Remo. That was special for us."
Bettini recalled his own special memory of Paolini this season at Trofeo Beghelli on September 28th. "I knew my wife was expecting to deliver that day," said Bettini. "I had planned to abandon at the feed zone so I could go to the hospital to be with my wife. So I turned to Luca and said 'you have to win today" since he hadn't won all season. A few hours later, when I was at the hospital, I got a text message from Paolini saying 'I won'...that was great!"
After the scholarship presentation, Bettini, Paolini and Bramati went on a factory, then off to a well-earned Christmas lunch with Selle San Marco's Girardi family.
Coupe de France Féminine
The women's Coupe de France series has been confirmed for 2004, given the go ahead by the French Cycling Federation (FFC). Two new events will help bolster the season long competition, which remains roughly a quarter of the size of the men's Coupe de France. Organisers hope to create more events which will run in conjunction with the men's races, such as the current men's/women's Trophée des Grimpeurs which are held on the same day.
Additions for 2004 include a women's Cholet-Pays de Loire in March and the Châteauroux-Saint Amand Montrond Classic at the end of May. This year's Coupe de France series title was won by Juliette Vandekerckhove.
March 21: Cholet-Pays-de-Loire
Omloop in plaster
Belgian national champion Geert Omloop (MrBookmaker-Palmans) suffered a fall while training in Spain, breaking his right elbow. With his arm in a cast, he has been forced off the bike during the initial recovery period.
Duffy to head joint NCBI/CI leisure initiative
By Shane Stokes, Irishcycling.com
Eamon Duffy's changing role in Cycling Ireland will see him working as a Special Events Manager for the NCBI/CI in the future, with the two organisations announcing that they will jointly promote charity leisure events in Ireland and abroad.
The decision was made in light of the success of the Tour du Tour earlier this year, which saw a group of Blazing Saddles cyclists ride the parcours of six stages of the Tour de France. Duffy has also been heavily involved in other Blazing Saddles events in recent years, helping raise considerable funds for the charity.
He is to work full-time from the offices of the NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland), and will organise a series of events in 2004 including a Pyreneean version of the Tour du Tour. Both NCBI and CI have reported that they are very happy with the agreement and believe that it will prove to be of considerable benefit for both organisations.
Duffy was initially appointed by Cycling Ireland as a CEO and helped negotiate the current deal with Hibernian Insurance, which is worth several hundred thousand to the cycling federation. He will continue to work with Hibernian in matters relating to the deal, which has a year left to run. It is hoped that he will also continue to be involved in sourcing other sponsorship deals in the future.
100 years since Kitty Hawk
For anyone who's been hiding on a remote mountaintop or in a coma until today, this week sees the hundredth anniversary of a couple of cyclists and bike mechanics named Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully demonstrating powered, heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk.
Cyclingnews contributor Greg Taylor of Team Lardbutt takes a typically irreverent look at the Wright brothers and some other mentally-gifted cyclists in Freakin' Geniuses.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)