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Photo ©: Swift

Latest Cycling News for April 7, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry & Jeff Jones

Cobbles and broken ribs don't mix

By Gerard Knapp

Stuart O'Grady
Photo ©: Cyclingnews

Despite the inconvenience of a broken rib, Cofidis rider Stuart O'Grady is hoping the parcours of today's Gent-Wevelgem semi-classic may not pose the same problems as last weekend's Tour of Flanders, where he felt the twinges on every one of its 18 climbs.

"We're going to have a real crack at that," he said of today's mid-week semi-classic. "There's only two super-hard climbs so it may not be so bad. After that, we're going to make a decision on (entering) Paris-Roubaix."

But last weekend, O'Grady felt just how incompatible the cobbles of Flanders are to carrying an injury, like a broken rib, courtesy of Paolo Bettini's front wheel crashing into his chest during a pile-up in the finale of the E3 Prijs, a key lead-up race prior to Flanders.

Although he was expecting some discomfort, nothing had really prepared him for the task of powering up the harsh, cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders. Even with the best form in the world, there's only so much pain a rider can withstand.

Nonetheless, O'Grady still finished Flanders, but this time he was in the exact opposite of his third place in 2003; in 2004, he finished third-last, some 17 minutes behind race winner Steffen Wesemann.

"I'm disappointed, obviously, and I was hoping the rib wouldn't cause too much drama, but I found that pave and broken bones just don't go together. I had crossed my fingers before the start and hoped it would be better. I suffered and got through it, but it was just on the pave it was really giving it drama.

"It was OK on the flat and when it was smooth, but as soon as we hit the cobbles on the climbs, I just couldn't get any real power down," O'Grady said. The Flanders course poses obstacles that are not taken in a sustained, seated climbing effort, rather, it's out-of-the-saddle hammering, drawing on every ounce of power the rider can muster, the type of climbs where upper-body strength does have a role to play.

"I thought I'd suffered that much that day I may as well ride it in. The legs are there at the moment," he said of his current form.

The broken rib could not have come at a worse time for O'Grady, who'd been training specifically for the Spring Classics, including motor-pacing sessions with trainer Leigh Bryan at 50-60kmh. Such is the fate of the fast finishers, that a crazy move in a lesser race can spoil the more important races. As O'Grady realised last Sunday, racing for the first time with a broken bone, "I've found that there's no miracles in this game."

He hoped he could stay with the leaders in Flanders while carrying what is a painful and debilitating injury. "After Gent-Wevelgem, we'll see how it goes and we may have to forfeit Paris-Roubaix and go for the Amstel Gold."

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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).

Ekimov out

US Postal Service's Viatcheslav Ekimov, third place in last year's Paris-Roubaix, has been forced to forfeit his place in this year's team. Ekimov injured his wrist in the Dwars door Vlaanderen on March 24. He returned to race last week in De Panne, but abandoned early. Once again back on the road at the Tour of Flanders, the tough Russian found the going too tough and decided to take a pass for the coming classics.

Vanlandschoot lacking

Typically it's the other way around, but James Vanlandschoot of Bodysol-Brustor was prevented from taking the start at Wednesday's Gent-Wevelgem for a hematocrit level that was too... low. He was replaced in the team roster by Bart Dockx.

Mattan sings team's praises

Nico Mattan (Bodysol-Brustor) will make his singing debut Wednesday after the conclusion of Gent-Wevelgem. After competing in the mid-week classic, Mattan will take to the podium to sing the new club song of his Bodysol-Brustor team. The local rider from Sint-Eloois-Winkel has been suffering from a bit of sinusitis, but it's not clear which of his performances will be effected more.

Beloki blues brothers

The Vuelta al Pais Vasco stage race didn't turn out the way the brothers Beloki would have hoped. Joseba Beloki, back in racing after only a few days in competition, notably a quick exit after a crash in the first stage of the Critérium International, quickly found himself lacking condition and suffering in the main field. His brother Gorka, also a teammate on the French Brioches La Boulangère team, crashed in the second stage and was forced to abandon with after injuring his knee.

"Joseba wanted to do too much in the race, which is in his home region," La Boulangère directeur sportif Jean-René Bernaudeau told l'Equipe. "It's a a very hard race, and he's lacking one kilometre per hour in his legs. He just wanted to show himself as a champion for his fans.

"I know he was very upset, and he was very sorry for the team," Bernaudeau added. "He still has all of our confidence, and really it's only his morale that's an issue. He's got a case of the blues but he'll get over that."

Beloki will meet with the team management to redefine his training and racing program for the coming weeks, possibly taking part in more races in France.

Bonomi OK

Giosuè Bonomi (Saeco), who fell heavily in the Tour of Flanders Sunday, has been given the OK to return to competition. Despite initial fears, Bonomi did not break his elbow and will be on the start line for Paris-Roubaix this weekend.

Kelme tries to return to normal

In an interview with Spanish daily Marca, Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme director Vicente Belda affirmed that he and the team are slowly returning to normal after the blow dealt by Jesus Manzano's allegations of systematic doping within the team. Belda insists that his team will "demonstrate our innocence", though the sting of rejection from the Tour de France and the weight of the accusations remain.

"I've had a very hard time, but as we've begun to see the contradictions in what Manzano said, like the condition of his knee or what happened in the [2003] Tour de France, people in cycling have begun to believe in us," Belda explained.

While noting that the team's morale was at rock bottom at the Setmana Catalana, Alejandro Valverde's opening stage win at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco was a turn in the right direction.

"When you've been hurt psychologically, a win goes a long way to boost morale, including with our sponsors," he added.

Belda doesn't expect much reconsideration from the Tour de France organisation concerning the team's exclusion, and he still calls the decision an injustice. "They decided we were guilty before judging us," he said.

Meanwhile, Esteban González Pons, representative of the Valencian government, has a meeting planned with Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc for April 15. Pons is hoping for compassion from Leblanc, or at least a detailed explanation of the grounds for the decision to exclude Kelme. Pons has bemoaned his government's defenselessness against Manzano's allegations, and fears that sponsors of cycling will lose confidence if they are not able to defend themselves.

Belda said he was not yet sure of the team's approach to legal action against Manzano, but rejects the accuracy of his former rider's claims, revealed in a series of articles in the newspaper As.

Manzano only expressed his anger at being released by Kelme at the end of 2003, claiming he was unfairly let go and that the team owed him wages. Kelme has reportedly paid Manzano's back salary, said to total roughly €20,000.

"When you notice that he was motivated by revenge and money, he loses all credibility," Belda said of Manzano, who was paid by As for his interview. "If there were something to denounce, he should have done it while he was still riding, taking it to the courts or to the federation. He's written the script, put himself as the protagonist, and he'll sell the story to the best producer..."

Meares out of Olympics

Queenslander Kerrie Meares, 21, confirmed Tuesday that a back injury has ended her bid for selection to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Meares, who claimed two gold medals at the Manchester Commonwealth Games and several medals in world championship and World Cup competition, has been advised by doctors to take a break from training and racing or risk further damage to her back.

"I've been suffering from a lower back injury for the past year and it's been getting worse," Meares explained. "I have three bulging discs and if I keep training at high intensity it could result in permanent damage."

Meares, who has won the sprint at the National Championships for the past three years, believes the injury is the result of two crashes she suffered in 2002. She went over the handlebars and landed on her tailbone at the Moscow World Cup and later that year suffered a similar crash in Devonport during the Tasmanian Christmas Carnival.

"Last year I was having problems but didn't realise what was wrong," she added. "I kept thinking 'what's going on here?' because I was getting progressively slower. I thought I was doing something wrong or not training hard enough because I was missing a lot of core strength I should have had. I knew I had some pain in my back but I trained through it and I didn't really focus on the problem until I experienced some serious pain."

Meares will be out of competition, but her younger sister Anna, 20, remains in contention for Olympic selection.

"I am obviously disappointed and frustrated but I am still in high spirits and am now putting my focus on next year's world championships, the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and the Beijing Olympic Games," she said. "I'm still young and this setback has just made me more hungry to achieve my goals."

Madejak released

Bogdan Madejak, Cofidis' soigneur arrested as part of the ongoing drug trafficking investigation in France, has been released from custody. Madejak is the only person involved in the affair to be held in custody for an extended period, detained since January 14. Madejak was fired by Cofidis following his arrest.

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