First Edition News for June 29, 2003
Edited by Chris Henry & Jeff Jones
Belgian championships preview
The Elite Men's Belgian Championships will be held this year in Vilvoorde, near Brussels, over 248.2 kilometres. Unlike many other European countries, the Belgian Championship is a one off event - there are no time trials during the week leading up to it, and no other road titles (women, U23 men, juniors) are decided at this time.
The parcours this year is a fairly standard flat lap of 14.2 km that has to be completed 17 times. The start/finish is on Indringingsweg, and the route crosses Brussels' ring road a couple of times and is technical enough to favour attacking riders. Attack will be the key for most, because if it finishes in a bunch sprint, then Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet) has a chance of breaking Rik Van Steenbergen's record of three Belgian Championships. Steels won the race in 1997, 1998 and 2002, and is motivated to do well again, despite knowing that it is always somewhat of a lottery.
"Let's first see how the race will involve," he told Het Laatste Nieuws. "Of course I would like to be Belgian Champion again. I can do it, I'm sure of that. But I'm not doing it for the record, only because it's nice to achieve it."
Steels is still the best Belgian sprinter, "But that doesn't mean I'll win," he says. "There is always competition in the sprint. The only difference is that you can correct a small error in the Belgian Championship, which you can't permit yourself against Zabel, McEwen or Cipollini. But who says it's going to be a mass sprint on Sunday?"
Steels won the last stage of the Tour of Austria after five tough days. "The victory in Vienna was a welcome release. The good feeling came back in Austria, my head was clear again. If I knew that I had to take the bend in fifth position, I took it as the fifth. That's the Tom Steels of old."
If he wasn't a teammate, Ludovic Capelle would be Steels' main rival for the sprint. The winner in 2001 and runner up behind Steels last year, Capelle says that his condition is the same as this time last year. "If Steels and I are together in the finale, we'll be an ideal couple," said Capelle. "If there's a breakaway, I can be the fastest. If it is a mass sprint, I won't mind leading out Steels."
Johan Museeuw (Quick.Step-Davitamon) has won two Belgian Championships (1992, 1996), and although he is satisfied with this, he says "every new title is welcome."
"After the rainbow jersey, this tricolore jersey is the nicest," Museeuw was quoted in Het Nieuwsblad. "I'm proud of my nationality. Also the tricolore is even more important for big teams like Lotto-Domo, Palmans-Collstrop, Vlaanderen or Landbouwkrediet. The pressure is greater in their camps."
Museeuw said that he feels good after the Route du Sud, where he helped his young teammate Michael Rogers win. "With the birth of a great rider like Michael Rogers I had a new goal. I was the road captain. Aimless riding is no longer for me. So I made the tempo on the Peyresourde in the 40 man group. That made me satisfied, but it's no guarantee for the Belgian Championships."
Museeuw isn't sure how he'll race on Sunday, as he doesn't like it when the race breaks apart after 20 kilometres. "I'll decide on Sunday morning how I'll approach this tactically," he added. "Maybe I'll help Jurgen Van Goolen to the win. He's our upcoming man and he is ready for much more than long breakaways."
Quick.Step teammate Frank Vandenbroucke realises that his condition isn't good enough to win: "I would like to be Belgian Champion once, but it won't be this year. The only thing I can do is help the team: Museeuw and Van Goolen, they are doing well."
As for Van Goolen, he gives himself the same chance as anyone else. "90 percent of the riders think they can win on this parcours. But except for Steels and Capelle, everybody needs to attack and have a bit of luck to manage. Me too. In the first lap or in the last one, it doesn't matter."
World Cup leader Peter Van Petegem (Lotto-Domo) hasn't had a good build up, due to stomach problems that have forced him out of races. However, he has still been training. "Some days I was on the bike for more than six hours and on Wednesday and Thursday I did 350 km," he said. "I didn't peak for the Belgian Championship. But I don't say I'm don't have a chance. I'll go for it!"
Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo) started the week with food poisoning in the Route du Sud, but has recovered now. "I don't know the parcours because I never trained there. I know there'll be a lot of bends and corners. A nervous race. That's why it is the most difficult race of the year. Everybody thinks he can win."
Merckx's teammate Rik Verbrugghe gives himself a small chance at the title. "The Belgian Championship is a big kermesse race and these are not my specialty. Concentration is needed from the start, because the race can already be decided after 20 km. If I want to keep Steels from a fourth title, I'll have to attack. If I'm feeling good, I'll be in an early breakaway. If not, I'll have to do it in the finale."
Nico Mattan (Cofidis) believes that a "top 10 is possible, but the victory is another story." Mattan has been suffering from sinusitis, making breathing hard, but he said that he'll do everything he can to be there.
Teammate Jo Planckaert reckons that "A Belgian title can make my season good. I trained very hard for it in the last few weeks. The ambition is there, winning is something else...it would be nice. I would be the first one in the family who is a professional Belgian Champion." [ed: surely something to include in 'The Planckaerts' TV show].
Rabobank's Marc Wauters will only have two of his trade teammates with him tomorrow, and that will make things more difficult. "I won't take responsibility, only wait and keep my eyes open. The experience will be important. If you are a pro for so long, you feel when something is going to happen."
Winner of stages in the Tour of Austria and the Circuito Montanes, Nico Sijmens (Vlaanderen) is considered an outside chance. "I'll have to watch to be in the right breakaway," he said, admitting he's only been on the bike for two days after Montanes after injuring his knee in the hotel.
Italian Championships preview Part III: The Aspirants
By Robert Piorno at the Italian National Championships, translated by Martin Hardie
The conquest of the maglia tricolore is the primary objective of all of the tigers of the Italian peloton. Contrary to other countries where the races are influenced by both their proximity to the Tour de France and the two long months that have passed since the spring classics, in Italy nobody reserves anything. It is not the same thing to win a stage of the Tour in a trade team jersey as it is in the maglia tricolore, nor to be the first, emulating Moser, to enter the Roubaix velodrome in green, red and white.
Click here to read the full preview.
Simoni misses Italian championships
Gilberto Simoni has decided not to ride the Italian national championships on Sunday in Saltara, the only race planned for the Giro winner before the start of the Tour de France. The Giro winner has been suffering from a thigh muscle problem for the last few days and treatment has not fully fixed it. Simoni felt the problem during a training ride on Thursday morning, and this persuaded him to forfeit the Italian championships.
"It wasn't worth risking it," Team manager Claudio Corti said. "The Italian championships is an important race and it wouldn't be fair to ride in such a precarious condition."
Saeco has most of its Italian team members competing in the championships, including defending champion Salvatore Commesso, plus Danilo Di Luca, Leonardo Bertagnolli, Giosuè Bonomi, Antonio Bucciero, Mirko Celestino, Damiano Cunego, Alessio Galletti, Nicola Gavazzi, Cristian Pepoli, Fabio Sacchi, Alessandro Spezialetti and Andrea Tonti.
Casagrande out too
In addition to Gilberto Simoni, Lampre's Francesco Casagrande has been forced to miss the Italian championships. The urinary tract problems that saw him to abandon the Tour de Suisse before the last stage have not improved, and he was diagnosed with prostatitis and urethritis. Doctors ordered him to take five days off the bike, and have given him a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
All favourites present for French nationals
The Bretagne region of France once again plays host to a big weekend of racing with this year's national championships in Plumelec. A parcours of 222.4 kilometres awaits the field of riders hoping to succeed Nicolas Vogondy (FDJeux.com) as national champion. The race will be run over 16 laps of a 13.km circuit, finishing atop the 2.6km, 5% climb of the Côte de Cadoual.
A field of 110 riders is expected, with no major players absent. The Brioches La Boulangère men in red will be 16 strong Sunday, including Damien Nazon, Emmanuel Magnien, Sylvain Chavanel, and Didier Rous. Jean Delatour will also have 16 riders on the line, with Patrice Halgand and Laurent Lefèvre leading the charge.
Veteran Laurent Brochard will captain the Ag2R-Prévoyance team, which also includes Route du Sud stage winner Ludovic Turpin and third place in Thursday's time trial championships, Nicolas Portal. FDJeux.com's defending champion Vogondy has arrived in top form to defend his tricouleur jersey, along with Tour de Suisse stage winner Sandy Casar. The Cofidis and Crédit Agricole teams will count on the leadership of David Moncoutié and Christophe Moreau, respectively, in their hunt for the title.
For some teams, notably FDJeux.com, the championships represent the last testing ground for riders to earn their place in the Tour de France roster. FDJeux director Marc Madiot has insisted in recent weeks that no rider is either in or out, even if certain among the team such as Australians Baden Cooke and Bradley McGee, both stage winners at the Tour de Suisse, can likely count on selection.
Richard Virenque will arrive at the championships without any Quick.Step-Davitamon teammates, just as Nicolas Jalabert will be the sole representative from Team CSC. These two will have to be opportunists in order to break the grip of the bigger domestic team line ups. Always a major objective, this year's championship race will no doubt carry extra cachet for the rider who can wear his national colours in the centenary Tour de France which begins the following weekend in Paris.
One Tour spot left in Saeco
There is still one place to be filled in the Saeco Tour de France team, with eight riders now being confirmed. The health problems of Stefano Zanini (knee and back problems) and Salvatore Commesso (lower back) have not prevented them from making the team, and they will take their places alongside team captain Gilberto Simoni, who will be the sole leader for the GC.
The Saeco team will also take Paolo Fornaciari, Fabio Sacchi for the flats, and Gerrit Glomser and Leonardo Bertagnolli for the mountains. Danilo Di Luca, who is back after breaking his collarbone, and Salvatore Commesso will also help Simoni but they will also try to get in the breaks for stage wins.
The final rider will be decided on Monday, out of Andrea Tonti, Ivan Quaranta and Joerg Ludewig.
Santoni still fuming
Domina Vacanze-Elitron manager Vincenzo Santoni continues to voice his outrage at the exclusion of his team from the Tour de France. A UCI arbitration panel rejected the team's appeal of the Société du Tour de France's decision Friday, ruling that the Tour de France organisers had acted within the appropriate sporting criteria with their decision. Santoni, however, fervently disagrees.
"The arbitration by the UCI, which confirmed Cipollini's exclusion, is proof once again of the power and influence that governs cycling," he commented. "The reasons they gave us were ridiculous. We have won 14 stage victories in two years at the Giro and the Vuelta. It's imperative that we act and balance the relationships between riders, organisers, and teams."
For his part, Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc was satisfied with the decision. "We were sure of our decision, resting strictly on the regulations," Leblanc told l'Equipe. "There was one choice to make, and we've settled it."
Scars from the Festina affair
In an interview with French sports paper l'Equipe in May, published in Saturday's edition, Laurent Brochard (Ag2R-Prévoyance) revealed the lasting impact of the Festina affair of 1998, and the enduring ripples in the professional peloton. Brochard sat down with 23 year old Jérôme Pineau (Brioches La Boulangère) to discuss what he considers to be a lack of solidarity within the peloton, and just how the doping scandals that have rocked the sport have affected him.
"When I began cycling I was withdrawn, alone, that was my nature," Brochard explained. "With Festina I was finally starting to trust other people and I took everything in my head. Now, I've closed up again. I won't open my heart any more to people in cycling."
Brochard, who says the problem of doping was something he "did not see coming head on," described an underhanded system of doping which, while not absolving himself of responsibility, led to his involvement in the Festina affair. At the same time, the former world champion showed no interest in becoming the voice of the French peloton, even if open discussion has been a major part of the healing process since then. "It's not possible for me to become the spokesman for the others," he said. "That doesn't interest me."
Pineau, an emerging talent in French cycling, was an amateur at the time of the Festina affair, and explained how he was touched by the events, even as he became a teammate of Didier Rous, also a member of the Festina team in 1998.
"Frankly, I had a negative reaction when I learned Didier Rous was joining Bonjour," Pineau said. "For me, he cheated. But I discovered that the Festina affair went back a long way, and that those riders weren't doping any more than others. I talked a lot with Didier, he told me how it came to pass that he started doping, and it's terrible, but I realised that if I had been riding at that time I would likely have done the same thing. I'm glad now that I'm ten years younger."
At 35, Brochard has joined the ranks of the old guard in cycling, while Pineau is among the younger generation emerging after the turning point of the 1998 Festina scandal, but in a changed peloton, where suspicion may be a common denominator, but where the problem of doping has not been eradicated. The two riders each demonstrated their own reservations about the sport, and the comportment of those involved.
"Cycling is such a small world that everyone talks, and everyone thinks they know everything," Pineau concluded. "These scandals have just amplified the bad aspects. Everything is suspect, and from the outside everyone thinks that nothing has changed. But cycling is also responsible for the doubts that hang over it."
Di Falco suspended
Twenty two year old Italian Vincenzo Di Falco has been suspended for 12 months by the Italian Cycling Federation. The Mercatone Uno rider tested positive for NESP during the Settimana Lombarda stage race in May.
UCI Anti-Doping news
In its latest bulletin, the UCI Anti-Doping Commission has announced the sanctioning of the following riders for doping offences:
Laurenzo Lapage (USPS director/PR), sanctioned by Royale Ligue Vélocipédique Belge, disqualified from the Gent Six on November 22, 2002 after testing positive for ephedrine (contained in Ripped Fuel), and also fined of ¤1.00.
Antonio Alcaniz Patino, sanctioned by Real Federación Española de Ciclismo, disqualification from the Vuelta a Tarragona, June 7, 2002, suspension of 2 years from January 4, 2003 to January 31, 2005.
Javier Pascual Rodriguez (iBanesto), sanctioned by Real Federación Española de Ciclismo, warning and fine of CHF 2,000.
Tomaya Kano, sanctioned by Japanese Cycling Federation, suspension of one month from 22 February 2003 to 21 March 2003 and fine of CHF 586.
Finally, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has invited the UCI to take part in the 2nd Symposium on "Science and research for the fight against drugs" which will take place in Los Angeles from the August 21-23.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)