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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Latest Cycling News for April 6, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Gent-Wevelgem: A race against the wind

By Jeff Jones

2003 podium
Photo: © Yuzuru Sunada
Click for larger image

With the strong 50 km/h NW winds predicted to continue through the week, this year's edition of Gent-Wevelgem will be another severe test for the northern classics specialists. Although there are far fewer climbs than in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the race will likely split to pieces once it hits Oostende and makes its way down the Flemish coastline to De Panne. Those who survive the crosswinds still have to negotiate two ascents of the notorious Kemmelberg, before starting the final tailwind run back to Wevelgem.

For the second time in a row, the race will start in Deinze's Grote Markt, a change from the old start in Gent's Citadelpark. Although not quite as scenic as Gent, the start in Deinze will no doubt attract throngs of people, eager for a photo or autograph from one of the stars.

Who will be there this year? Normally, riders who do the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix also include Gent-Wevelgem on their program, depending on their condition and ambitions. Last year's winner was Andreas Klier (T-Mobile), who beat Henk Vogels and Tom Boonen in a three up sprint. Boonen and Quick.Step would like to turn the tables this year, after Sunday's Ronde didn't go quite according to plan. But Klier, who finished 6th in the Ronde, will also have the company of Ronde winner Steffen Wesemann, along with Sergei Ivanov and Daniele Nardello in his team, and T-Mobile will be a squad to watch closely.

Quick.Step-Davitamon will start with Tom Boonen, Stefano Zanini, Servais Knaven and Johan Museeuw, with the latter riding his last G-W and hoping to make it count. Paolo Bettini is noticeably absent from the Quick.Step roster. The Italian crashed badly in this race last year and missed the rest of the spring season. No unnecessary risks are being taken this year.

A look at the past winners list shows that Gent-Wevelgem is suited to the sprinters, and the start list for this year's race reveals a few candidates. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) was in one of the mid-race breaks in Flanders, and has proven that he can sprint as well as ride in the wind. In the absence of three time winner Mario Cipollini, Domina Vacanze will be looking for Giovanni Lombardi and Andrus Aug to bring home the bacon.

Fassa Bortolo will arrive without classics man Frank Vandenbroucke, but could have a card to play with Filippo Pozzato, who if he arrives in the finale could contend for a winning sprint. He will be joined by Juan Antonio Flecha, Fabian Cancellara, and Kim Kirchen, among others.

Lampre's sprinter Luciano Pagliarini will start, although Romans Vainsteins is probably a better candidate in the wind. Alessio-Bianchi will be relying on Fabio Baldato, who hasn't had the best of luck in this classics season. Rabobank's Oscar Freire is definitely a strong candidate, after his 23rd place in Flanders with a bloodied nose. He is in good shape at the moment, and may be able to add his name to the Gent-Wevelgem winners list. Failing that, Rabobank still has Steven de Jongh for a sprint.

US Postal-Berry Floor's director Dirk Demol says that the team is focusing more on Paris-Roubaix than Gent-Wevelgem, hence will replace Stijn Devolder with Ryder Hesjedal in the squad. 2001 winner George Hincapie remains, although his eyes will be looking towards Roubaix as well.

If he's recovered from his crash in the Ronde, Baden Cooke ( wants to have a try at winning this mid-week classic. Cooke had to have four stitches in his elbow after a crash, but will in all probability line up in Deinze for the start.

Last but not least, Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r) showed in the Ronde that he is certainly good enough to make the selection in a 200 km classic, although he was not quite strong enough for the full 257 km of the Ronde. Kirsipuu can sprint and he is excellent in the wind. It could be his turn in Gent-Wevelgem this year.

Start list

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of the 66th Gent-Wevelgem starting from 14:00 CEST (Europe)/8:00 EDT (USA)/5:00 PDT (USA)/22:00 AEST (Australia).

Cofidis, Fassa Bortolo for Gent-Wevelgem

The French Cofidis team will line up with only six riders for Gent-Wevelgem, unable to bring Cédric Vasseur, currently suspended from competition due to his implication in the ongoing drug investigation in France. Alain Deloeuil will act as directeur sportif for the mid-week classic. Stuart O'Grady will lead the charge, along with compatriot Matt White and experienced Belgian Peter Farazijn.

Fassa Bortolo will likely count on Filippo Pozzato, a fast finisher in case of a bunch sprint, but in an open race could have other options. Frank Vandenbroucke will not take the start for Gent-Wevelgem, thinking ahead to the coming weeks and the Ardennes classics. Giancarlo Ferretti will direct the team.

Cofidis: Jimmy Casper, Arnaud Coyot, Peter Farazijn, Stuart O'Grady, Staf Scheirlinckx, Matthew White

Fassa Bortolo: Fabian Cancellara, Juan Antonio Flecha, Kim Kirchen, Alberto Ongarato, Roberto Petito, Filippo Pozzato, Fabio Sacchi, Francesco Chicchi

Ullrich back to La Sarthe

Jan Ullrich
Photo: © AFP
Click for larger image

Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) returns to race in France this week at the Circuit de la Sarthe stage race, where he will continue to build condition as part of his steady build-up to the Tour de France in July. With no individual time trial in this year's event, the overall classification will surely not be a concern for the German, who appears relaxed in his preparations this season, unconcerned with comparisons to Tour rival Lance Armstrong and the American's early season results.

"Every year people ask the same question," Ullrich said in a l'Equipe interview, referring to his delay relative to Armstrong in spring results. "If Lance wants to test himself at certain races, like the time trial at Murcia or a mountain stage, that's his choice. I'm not obligated to base my training on his. That would be a big mistake."

Ullrich makes no secret about the fact that his training, like Armstrong's, is geared entirely around the Tour de France. However he does downplay the preoccupation with the Tour in the opening months of the cycling season.

"Frankly, I'm not thinking about it that much," he said. "I'm already reassured that I've had no problems with my health, either during the winter or in the opening weeks of the season... I need to get my body used to competition and the more intense rhythm. That goes for the legs, but also the rest of my muscles which always suffer at the beginning of the year, even on the smallest hill. Little by little, everything comes together and I know from experience that there are several difficult steps to take before everything works. Racing stimulates me, and pushes me to remain focused on training."

Parcours for Circuit de la Sarthe

The 2004 edition of the Circuit de la Sarthe will see not just Jan Ullrich back in action, but also his teammate Erik Zabel, who will no doubt be hungry for sprint victories after the disappointment of losing Milan-San Remo after a premature victory salute. Zabel will face up against Robbie McEwen in the bunch finishes, while French riders including national champion Didier Rous, Sandy Casar and Laurent Brochard will be fighting for the overall classification. Defending champion Carlos Da Cruz will miss the race as he is recovering from injuries sustained in Milan-San Remo.


Stage 1 - April 6: Saint-Jean-de-Monts - Vallet, 181.6 km
Stage 2 - April 7: Vallet - Montreuil-Juigné, 198.9 km
Stage 3 - April 8: Montreuil-Juigné - Evron, 189 km
Stage 4 - April 9: Evron - Le Mans, 181 km


Acqua & Sapone
Brioches La Boulangère
Crédit Agricole
Domina Vacanze
Liberty Seguros
Mr. Bookmaker-Palmans
RAGT Semences-MG Rover
Vlaanderen-T Interim

Wesemann wants Roubaix

After knocking on the door for several season, T-Mobile's Steffen Wesemann claimed his biggest career win Sunday at the Tour of Flanders. Having already earned a second place in Paris-Roubaix (behind Johan Museeuw in 2002), Wesemann now wants to add the Hell of the North to his palmarès and match Peter Van Petegem's Flanders/Roubaix double of a year ago.

"Of course I'm very happy about what I've done," Wesemann said after his Flanders victory. "But the race of my dreams is still Paris-Roubaix, so I know how big a feat it would be to win it next Sunday, to do what Peter Van Petegem did in 2003!"

Wesemann repaid the confidence of team director Walter Godefroot with his win in Belgium, and hopes the confirmation of his talent will mark another turning point in his career.

"I prepared very carefully for this classics season," he said. "The challenge for me was to avoid the bad luck that has often plagued me in the past."

Having beaten pre-race two of Quick.Step-Davitamon's race favourites, Johan Museeuw and Paolo Bettini, Wesemann has not only earned his own director's respect, but that of Quick.Step boss Patrick Lefevere.

"Some would say that Wesemann is a second-tier rider, but that's not the case," Lefevere commented. "He's been riding the classics at a high level for years. Wesemann is a worthy winner of the Tour of Flanders."

Somarriba confident for Athens

Spain's Joane Somarriba is sufficiently confident for a medal performance at the summer Olympics in Athens that she has even left the door open to carrying on her successful career into 2005. Although she has talked about retiring at the end of this season, a gold medal could prompt Somarriba, 32, to continue.

"I don't know... Right now my thoughts are on retirement, but an Olympic title would make it hard to say no to another year," Somarriba said in a Marca interview.

"I think becoming the Olympic champion is possible," she added. "My morale is very high. I know it will be tough because there are a lot of favourites, but the possibility of the Olympic title motivates me."

The Olympics motivate Somarriba, but she prefers not to let the games become an obsession. "I know from experience that failure can cause a lot of pain for an athlete," she admitted. "I will do everything I can to win, and if I do that will be phenomenal. But not winning the Olympics won't erase all of the other great races I've won."

CSC Takes over Clarendon Cup 

Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) has assumed the title sponsorship of the professional cycling race formerly known as The Clarendon Cup in Arlington, Virginia. As part of a two-year sponsorship agreement, the race will be called the CSC Invitational. Denmark-based Team CSC will bring a team for the race, scheduled for Sunday, May 30.

"CSC's support of this race really allows us to take it to the next level," said race organiser Rob Laybourn. "Making the race an invitational featuring top U.S. and international teams promises that the event will be incredibly competitive and a highlight of the Memorial Day weekend in our area."

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