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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Latest Cycling News for April 13, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Cooke faces accusations

Following the widening Cofidis doping affair, which saw the team's sponsors withdraw from competition pending further reflection, another French team has found itself facing allegations printed in the national press. Transcripts of a 2001 phone conversation between former French track rider Philippe Boyer and a woman identified as a friend of Australian Baden Cooke's were printed in Tuesday's edition of Le Monde, detailing health scare resulting from an intravenous injection of amphetamines. Cooke and his FDJeux.com team have firmly denied the reports, indicating an intention to take legal action against the newspaper.

In the recorded conversation, the woman identified as Sandrine spoke to Boyer, who allegedly supplied Cooke with a sort of "pot Belge", about Cooke's state after taking an injection at home. The phone taps were carried out as part of an investigation by the Tribunal of Fontainebleau, which was investigating the death of a young amateur rider, Sébastien Grousselle, in 1998.

Boyer, who himself had been given a prison term of one year for trafficking in doping substances, was one of several people who were targeted by police for phone taps. He relayed to Le Monde memories of his conversation with Sandrine, who reportedly had told Cooke that Boyer could supply amphetamines.

"At the end of September 2001, the day he signed his contract with la Française des Jeux, Baden Cooke was introduced to me by a mutual acquaintance, Sandrine, who at the time was a friend of his," Boyer told Le Monde.

"He wanted amphetamines and Sandrine had told him that I could get them," he added. "I went to Belgium to get a pot. When I got back I got an urgent phone call from Sandrine saying Cooke was sick. He had injected intravenously with amphetamines that had not been kept well in a cupboard."

Cooke's reply to the report Tuesday was immediate and direct.

"With great dismay I have learned of accusations against me, in the columns of Le Monde (Monday 12th April), stating that I have consumed amphetamines and other substances in 2001, according to the transcripts of a recorded phone message between third parties, belonging to a judicial file of which I know nothing about.

"I absolutely contest the allegations labelling me a drug addict, I am in excellent health, I am dependent on no product. My past and present sporting results are achieved with hard work, dedicated character and the human and technical contributions of my supporting team."

Cooke's team offered complete solidarity with the rider, winner of the green jersey in the 2003 Tour de France.

"Since he's been with us, we've never had the slightest problem," team director Marc Madiot told l'Equipe. "I know that his medical files are spotless. He's tested, retested, and we don't have any concerns with him."

Cooke joined Madiot's team for the 2002 season after riding for the American Mercury team. The alleged phone conversations between Sandrine and Boyer took place at the time the Australian signed his contract with the French team.

"All of the tests done on Baden since he joined the team have been without ambiguity," said FDJeux.com team doctor Gérard Guillaume. "He's never had any problems and he's never had to resort to medical justifications. His health file is clean and free of any annotation. I've never had any suspicions."

Reached for comment by telephone Tuesday morning, Cooke told Cyclingnews he could only offer his released written statement.

This latest implication of drug use in the peloton, uncorroborated, echoes the recent publication of testimony in the Cofidis affair, released by the French media before even the concerned riders or teams themselves were granted access to the files from the investigations. The shock of recent revelations from Philippe Gaumont and his testimony in judge Richard Pallain's ongoing investigation was a catalyst for Cofidis' withdrawal from competition on the eve of Paris-Roubaix.

Leblanc presses on

Challenged but not discouraged by the latest round of doping scandals to hit the sport, Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc has managed to keep his enthusiasm for cycling and not back down in the face of a growing challenge for his race and cycling in general.

"If you want me to say that I've had enough of this sport, it won't happen," Leblanc told La Dernière Heure. "I know myself too well. This Sunday [at Paris-Roubaix], as soon as we hit kilometre 99 and the first sections of pavé, my heart started to beat faster and my enthusiasm came back."

Leblanc still sees a difference between the Cofidis affair and that of the Festina team which rocked the Tour de France in 1998. To him, Festina was a question of institutionalised doping, whereas Cofidis seems to remain a question of individuals.

"Like in 1998, it's a matter of doping, but this time we have to consider the attitudes toward drug addiction," he added.

As director of the Tour de France and other major events through the year, Leblanc is conscious of the effects of doping not just on the riders, but the sponsors who keep the sport rolling.

"At the team directors' meeting [before Paris-Roubaix], I asked the following question: which is more important? To lose a race or lose your reputation? To lose a sponsor or lose your dignity? It's the very existence of the sport which is in question here.

Verbruggen surprised by Pitallier

UCI President Hein Verbruggen expressed surprise and disappointment over statements made by French cycling federation president Jean Pitallier concerning the ongoing doping allegations from Spanish professional Jesus Manzano and former professional Philippe Gaumont in France. Pitallier indicated that he did not approve of legal action against Manzano following his extensive revelations and allegations about doping within the Kelme team.

"I was extremely, unhappily surprised by Mr. Pitallier's statements saying he found it scandalous to sanction Mr. Manzano," Verbruggen said. "Why not sanction a cheater for the simple reason that he decided to talk? We have to remember that it's the cheaters that are talking. If they're protected by the directors, we have to ask ourselves some questions."

According to a l'Equipe report, Pitallier and the French federation have opened a disciplinary procedure against Gaumont.

Quick.Step for Museeuw's last ride

Wednesday's Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen classic will see Johan Museeuw take part in his final race as a professional. Supporting the Lion of Flanders for the occasion will be Quick.Step-Davitamon teammates Frederic Amorison, Tom Boonen, Wilfried Cretskens, Kevin Hulsmans, Servais Knaven, Nick Nuyens, and Stefano Zanini. Museeuw's friend and former lieutenant Wilfried Peeters will act as directeur sportif.

Rousseau has fun

French track rider Florian Rousseau took a casual approach to the Manchester round of the Track World Cup last weekend, preferring to prepare quietly for his major objectives of the world championships and the Olympic Games later this year. With podium places in the team sprint, sprint, and the keirin, Rousseau found his approach successful as he looks ahead to Athens.

"I decided to come into this round completely relaxed," Rousseau told l'Equipe. "I didn't want any drama and I wanted to treat this race as a game. I had fun in all of the events and I was never stressed."

Rousseau knows there's still preparation to be done, but in his final year as a professional he is confident for results to come.

"I still need to work physically," he said, "even if I was able to handle the rhythm. I'm going to keep the same attitude: ride flat out and have fun."

Rousseau will ride some tests in Bordeaux at the end of April to determine France's selection for the world championship team sprint squad.

Perras joins Ofoto-Lombardi Sports

Canadian road champion Dominique Perras, 30, signed with American Ofoto-Lombardi Sports team for the remainder of the 2004 season. Perras will make his debut with the team at the Dodge Tour de Georgia, April 20-25.

"I already know a few of the riders and I will now have access to really good calendar of races," Perras said. "I am very happy of this deal that has come at a very good moment."

Dominique Perras will race this weekend at the Sea Otter classic in California with the Canadian national team.

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