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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News for April 11, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones & Chris Henry

Pre-Roubaix comments

With the 102nd Paris-Roubaix looming, the riders are all keyed up for the toughest classic of the season. At the team presentation on Saturday in Compiegne, various prognostics were given for tomorrow.

Peter Van Petegem (Lotto-Domo)

Defending champion Peter Van Petegem
Photo ©: AFP

The defending Paris-Roubaix champion Peter Van Petegem is hoping for a good race tomorrow to make up for last Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen, where he could only manage 16th. "It's not a very tactical race," he told a press conference on Saturday. "It's more a question of hoping you don't have bad luck with equipment and crashes, and it's just important to stay in front and have good legs."

Van Petegem trained over various cobbled sections on Friday, and was asked about the sector he most feared. "The Wallers-Arenberg forest," he replied, saying that it should be removed from the race altogether. "It's truly bad. It's as dangerous as the time when Johan Museeuw fell so heavily. There are always guys who lose the race there."

Van Petegem's directeur sportif Marc Sergeant warned people not to rule him out tomorrow. "Everybody criticised Peter last Sunday after the Ronde," he said. But it would be a big mistake to forget about him at Roubaix because I've rarely seen him in such good condition."

Dario Pieri (Saeco)

Second behind Van Petegem last year, Dario Pieri has not been in the best shape so far this season, and is a big question mark for Sunday. But Pieri said that he's "Not overweight. I weigh as much as last year and I'm certainly ready for it."

Michele Bartoli (CSC)

Riding Paris-Roubaix for the first time, CSC's Michele Bartoli summed up the difficulty of Paris-Roubaix. "It's not really the pavé, it's more the total distance of the pavé," Bartoli told Cyclingnews today.

Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile)

The winner of last week's Ronde van Vlaanderen and second in Paris-Roubaix 2002, Steffen Wesemann said that to do the 'double' would be difficult. "That is only for the great riders. I haven't celebrated too much after the Ronde."

George Hincapie (USPS-Berry Floor)

Hincapie has two fourth placings to his name in Paris-Roubaix, and is going into tomorrow's race with perhaps his best spring form. "Together with the Tour, this race is shown on TV in the USA," he said. "A legendary race. So far I've not succeeded, but my best years are coming. I'll keep trying."

Frank Vandenbroucke (Fassa Bortolo)

Frank Vandenbroucke did not do any course reconnaissance this week, preferring to attend the funeral of Briek Schotte on Friday. "I was honoured by the offer of Briek's son Johan," said VDB. "I immediately said yes, because Briek meant a lot to me."

Vandenbroucke just rode for two hours on the rollers on Friday, after having an easy week leading up to the Hell of the North. Despite his light weight, he believes in his chances for Sunday. "It's said that with my 64 kilograms I'm a bit too light for the cobbles of Northern France, but Roger De Vlaeminck was also not the Ballerini type. To win one time in the velodrome remains a dream for me...Like always, I'll try to win."

Museeuw faces final Roubaix

Three time winner Johan Museeuw will race his final Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, the penultimate race of his long and illustrious career. Museeuw won in 1996, 2000 and 2002, and says he would gladly take a fourth victory to equal record holder Roger De Vlaeminck. But, just as he did last week before the Ronde, the Lion of Flanders doesn't rate himself as one of the top favourites. "Because I'm 38, but above all that I have not won anything this season," he told a press conference on Friday. "Favourites are winners. Van Petegem? He also hasn't won anything, I know that."

"The race is always associated with older and more mature riders. I ask myself why? Why should Paris-Roubaix suddenly suit me better now than the Ronde van Vlaanderen? That's not the case. On the contrary. I would have preferred to win the Ronde than Paris-Roubaix, but both races fit me just as well. Hence the three-three," said Museeuw, referring to his Ronde/P-R palmares.

A fourth win would be more than welcomed by Museeuw, but he said that the Quick.Step-Davitamon team will come first. "We ride for each other, that is once again always the case."

Teammate Tom Boonen agreed with Museeuw's summation, "It would not be smart to set everything on one person. Assuming that we have a four or five teammates in the finale and Johan feels that he can't get away, then yes, I'll certainly have a go. Roubaix is one of my races."

Tchmil remembers 1994

Andrei Tchmil (Lotto)
Photo ©: Sirotti

Sunday's 102nd edition of Paris-Roubaix marks the 10 year anniversary of the great duel between Johan Museeuw and Andrei Tchmil in the 1994 edition of the race. Tchmil, who rode for Lotto and was considered a danger man, found himself together with Museeuw and Franco Ballerini in the Arenberg Forest with 60 km to go. He opened up a gap through the treacherous section, and although Museeuw chased him as hard as he could, he could not catch the Lotto man. Tchmil eventually crossed the line in Roubaix 1'13 clear of Fabio Baldato and Ballerini, after nearly seven and a half hours of racing. Johan Museeuw finished 4'24 back in 13th, defeated.

"I had no strategy on the day," Tchmil recalled in a Het Nieuwsblad interview. "There were early attacks. Ballerini went, I accelerated, Museeuw came after me. We flew into the Arenberg-Wallers Forest. That's always a wholly different feeling. With maximum heartrate. As if you've dived into a tunnel, lined with trees and people. They fell left and right, I kept my line, unperturbed. In order to hurt Museeuw, I accelerated again. I was alone, thinking that there would be reinforcements coming, that didn't happen.

"Then you have to keep going, no matter how far it still is. I looked back at a particular moment and saw that Johan was coming. The gap was suddenly 10 seconds more. If he had have got me, then perhaps we wouldn't have both gone through with it.

"Cobblestone by cobblestone, centimetre by centimetre I pulled away from Johan Museeuw. It was then a matter of sixty kilometres. Wind and rain. The Grand Duel between Johan and I. Paris-Roubaix is always like a battle field, where you go of our own free will."

After an epic battle
Photo ©: Sirotti

Tchmil etched himself into the history books with that win, and went on to win three more World Cup races during the rest of his career: Paris-Tours, Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, as well as the World Cup overall in 1999. Somewhat unexpectedly, he retired in the middle of 2002, after winning a stage in the Tour of Belgium. He now works as a consultant for the Chocolade Jacques team, as well as working on cycling development projects in the former Eastern bloc countries such as Moldavia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia.

As someone who has left the high profile life of being a professional cyclist behind him, Andrei Tchmil commented that after your career has finished, "The search is tougher than riding Paris-Roubaix. In the Hell, you know why you suffer."

Weather: Dry for Sunday

If the current weather predictions hold, Sunday's Paris-Roubaix will be once again raced in dry conditions, although it's not likely to be quite as dusty as last year due to the light rain that has fallen this week. But Paris-Roubaix always involves a dirt factor, no matter what the weather conditions are.

The wind will be from the northeast tomorrow, which will blow against the riders as they head north from Compiegne to Roubaix. Temperatures are expected to be quite cold at the start (3 degrees), warming up to 10 degrees by the afternoon.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the 102nd edition of Paris-Roubaix live from start to finish. Coverage starts at 11:00 CEST (Europe)/5:00 EDT (USA East)/2:00 PDT (USA West)/19:00 AEST (Australia East).

In addition, we will be welcoming Rabobank rider Mathew Hayman as a guest commentator for the race. Hayman has ridden Paris-Roubaix four times but will not be taking the start this Sunday due to injuries sustained in a crash in Gent-Wevelgem.

More Paris-Roubaix coverage

Full preview
Start List
Scott Sunderland's bikes of Roubaix
Magnus Bäckstedt interview,
Michele Bartoli interview

Tales from the pavé

Cofidis decision supported

The decision by top French team Cofidis to suspend itself from competition until it digs its way out of its current doping scandal has been generally supported by various elements of the cycling community. The team announced its decision on Friday, just two days before it was due to compete in Paris-Roubaix, which would normally be an important race for the Northern France based team.

The highest profile Cofidis rider that has been implicated by the latest allegations of Philippe Gaumont is David Millar, who was set to make his international track debut in the team pursuit in the Manchester World Cup, a bid to ride the time trial and individual pursuit at this year's Olympics. But the Scot stood by Cofidis' decision to pull their riders out of all competition while they clarify their position in a doping investigation by French authorities.

"Despite being incredibly disappointed, I have a great deal of respect for my sponsor and I am 100 percent behind the necessity of this decision," Millar told Cyclingnews. "In the meantime, my objectives and motivation for this year remain the same."

In today's edition of L'Equipe, UCI president Hein Verbruggen commented that he "...respects their decision. I think Cofidis is taking this very seriously, so the situation can be resolved. Mr. Gaumont is a cheater, he said it himself, just like Mr. Manzano. They cheated for several years and now seem interested in accusing other people. That's no reason for me to automatically lose confidence in those being accused."

Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc echoed Verbruggen's comments, saying, "It seems a wise decision to me, at least concerning Paris-Roubaix, since it's hard to imagine that the team could maintain any concentration and enthusiasm. It's also interesting to note that the decision is made 'until further notice'... I gather that Cofidis wants to call a moratorium in order to reflect on what they're doing, on their methods, preparation, to look to establish their responsibilities, and certainly to make sanctions.

"As tough as this decision was, I think Cofidis had to do it. It's the only way they can start again with any confidence or transparency.

"As far as the team's participation in the Tour de France is concerned, it's too early to respond. How can you expect an organiser, who has before it a team automatically qualified [according to UCI rules], to rely solely on journalistic accusations to exclude the team?"

Leblanc added that the UCI's Alain Rumpf told him they would be requesting a lot of information from Cofidis, as they have supposedly done with Kelme. "We're not stressed about the Tour. It's not as if we're ten days from the start," concluded Leblanc.

Credit Agricole's directeur sportif Roger Legeay commented, "Cycling can't gloss over the problems revealed in Spain, the death of Pantani in Italy, and in France, and very quickly the directors need to keep their heads out of the sand and stand strong, showing that there is hope."

Vincent Lavenu (Ag2r director) also thought it was a good idea. "Coming up to Paris I was asking myself if Cofidis would ride Paris-Roubaix," he said. "It seems logical to me, given everything that's going on and the publicity from it. Cofidis needs to reflect a bit on a new philosophy, maybe starting again with young riders. Either way, everybody suffers. Every morning we ask ourselves what's going to fall on our heads."

The president of Italian team Amore e Vita, Ivan Fanini, has always taken a strong stand against doping, often not without controversy. But Fanini said that, "I admire the position taken by the Cofidis management. It's a big step forward in the fight against doping. It's an example that we all should follow if we are serious in turning this around."

He added that, "The UCI should equally disqualify athletes, directors and doctors for two years. And on the second infraction, disqualify them for life."

Clouds over Compiègne

Editorial comment by Chris Henry

The day before Paris-Roubaix dawned bright and the sun provided a nice break from the chilly April drizzle, but a cloud hung over Compiègne as the sport began to come to terms once more with a new weight placed on its shoulders. With Cofidis out of Paris-Roubaix, arguably the second biggest race outside of the Tour de France for a French sponsor, many wondered aloud if the situation has gone too far, too quickly.

Despite a new wave of revelations from ex-Cofidis professional Philippe Gaumont, who has gone on to name names and directly implicate additional members of the team in the widening drug scandal, the primary concern before the start of Paris-Roubaix focused on the sport itself. Which riders may have taken which drugs seemed almost irrelevant as those involved in the sport bemoaned an aggressive journalistic tack focused on France's biggest team (and by extension one of the biggest investors in the sport). Revelations and accusations stemming from a judicial investigation, to which Cofidis itself has had little or no access, struck a sour note, and the timing before Roubaix only served to add insult to injury.

Paris-Roubaix, and cycling, will carry on. While unfortunate to lose a team on the eve of the race, a worthy winner will still be crowned by day's end after a long and arduous race, and the fans will still revel in seeing their heroes battle one another over some of the worst roads in France. Nonetheless, there is great concern about lies ahead for the sport, which seems to overshadow any specifics of this latest doping affair.

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