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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News for April 18, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones & Chris Henry

39th Amstel Gold Race

Boogerd top favourite again

Michael Boogerd
Photo: © Bert Geerts
Click for larger image

Dutchman Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) is for the seventh year in a row the great favourite for Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, the fourth round of the men's World Cup. Boogerd has finished on the podium four times including victory in 1999, and will probably be the most marked man tomorrow. But his team has enough depth to support Boogerd, with Erik Dekker and Oscar Freire also candidate winners.

"This is my race," Boogerd told Het Nieuwsblad. "Although the five time winner Jan Raas will always remain Mister Amstel Gold Race for the Dutch. In his time they spoke of the Amstel Gold Raas. But I'm tremendously proud that my compatriots associate me at this moment with this race.

"In my head, I have the necessary doubts again, but that is not a bad sign. In the meantime I have been holding back a bit in order to keep myself really sharp. Since the Ronde van Vlaanderen I started in Gent-Wevelgem, but after that I haven't race. I don't know what my form is like."

Boogerd added that the new finish on the Cauberg has given the Gold Race an extra degree of difficulty. "One thing I know for sure: since last year, with the new finale, the Amstel Gold Race has grown to the most difficult and toughest race of the spring season."

Erik Dekker: "I'm a major contender"

Erik Dekker
Photo: © Bert Geerts
Click for larger image

In 2001, Rabobank's Erik Dekker won the 36th edition of Amstel Gold race, only one year after having taken the final step towards becoming one of the best known cyclists in the peloton thanks to his three Tour de France stage victories. But in 2002 and 2003, things went off the rails with two serious injuries that prevented him from riding. The comeback road has been long, and Cyclingnews' Gabriella Ekström spoke to Erik about it at his home in Belgian Meerle, located close to the Dutch border, just a few days before the 2004 Amstel Gold Race.

Amstel Gold Race, with its multiple short climbs, suits a classy rouleur like Erik Dekker like a glove. "It's a beautiful race with a course that suits me perfectly. Of course, being a Dutch World Cup makes it an important race to me and to the team, but even if it was ridden in Sweden" he says with a hint towards my origin, "it would still be a very significant race! A World Cup race always means a great deal to the sponsors, and the team that wins it, and nonetheless the rider who ends up on the podium. Except for me, we also have Michael Boogerd and Oscar Freire, who will be serious contenders for the title. The fact that we have such a wonderful team built around the race makes it even more important and exciting. It makes it a bit fun, too!"

Click here for the complete interview

No leader for T-Mobile

Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile)
Photo ©: CN

T-Mobile is taking a slightly unconventional approach compared with the other teams at this year's Amstel Gold Race. Despite featuring the defending champion, Alexandre Vinokourov in its squad, T-Mobile will not be working for any rider in particular.

"Everyone is ready to give everything for each other," said team manager Walter Godefroot on the team's website. "We therefore have eight workers and no leader. Everyone is in a position to try and win the race, and that makes us so unpredictable."

The team would like to hold onto the World Cup lead with Steffen Wesemann, "However he's only a couple of points in front of Oscar Freire," added Godefroot. "A lot depends on how the race develops. We will always be active in any case."

T-Mobile (as Telekom) has won the Amstel Gold Race three times, with Vinokourov (2003), Zabel (2000), and Riis (1997).

Van Petegem doesn't rule himself out

Van Petegem
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton

Although his spring season hasn't been completely ordinary, with a 16th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and 6th in Paris-Roubaix, Peter Van Petegem (Lotto-Domo) believes he has a classic win in his legs, and hopes that will happen in tomorrow's Amstel Gold Race.

It's hard for him not to be disappointed when last year he won the RVV-Paris-Roubaix double, but Van Petegem realises that luck still plays a role in cycling. Last week, just like Johan Museeuw, Van Petegem punctured at a critical time in Paris-Roubaix and never had a chance to play a part in the finale. He and Museeuw closed to within 19 seconds of the leading four man break at one stage, but their long rivalry seemingly prevented them from cooperating any further.

Although disappointing in last year's Amstel, Peter Van Petegem remains focused on the Dutch World Cup, where he has finished in the top 10 three times in the last four years. "I don't want to rush myself," he was quoted in Gazet van Antwerpen. "Not even through frustration or anger. Anger is a bad guide. I've been a professional for 12 years and won only classics in two seasons. That's the reality. But I know that I was always good in the Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Winning is something else again. Luck is also necessary there. The most important thing as that I maintain myself with the elite. Then everything remains possible."

Vandenbroucke remains motivated

Despite two bad rides as a result of punctures in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, Frank Vandenbroucke (Fassa Bortolo) remains optimistic that he will be able to do something more in the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

"I'm ready for my week, Vandenbroucke told Gazet van Antwerpen. "I'm sitting perfectly according to plan, I feel completely like I want to feel now. I have power in the legs. The morale is 100 percent sunny. I've trained for the last few days for hours in the Ardennes. I've seldom felt so good on all the climbs. Really great. Super. Out of that, I take it that I will also feel like that on Sunday and next week in Wallonia."

Jörg Jaksche out of Amstel Gold

An unfortunate crash during a training session on Saturday morning means that Jörg Jaksche (Team CSC) will be out for the rest of the spring. The German rider crashed a few meters from the hotel in Lanaken, Belgium, where the team is staying. He was coming back from a final recon of the route for tomorrow's Amstel Gold Race. He was taken to hospital in Genk on Saturday afternoon, where Jaksche was told he has a minor fracture on his left elbow. This means he will not be able to ride a bike for at least 10 days.

"It was such bad luck," said Jaksche. "We'd actually finished training, when I crashed into a rider from the Quick Step team just outside our hotel. I wasn't going fast at all, but was totally unprepared and I landed directly on my arm. At first we didn't think it was serious, but went to the hospital just in case. Even though it's a minor fracture, it means, I have to take a very badly timed involuntary break.

"It's incredibly unlucky, because I was looking forward to riding in The Classics very much and Tour de Romandie is a race, which would have been perfectly suited for me. I have trained hard with these particular races in mind, and I'm very disappointed to have to withdraw from them. This is, however, the sort of thing, which happens sometimes, and instead I now get the break I should have had after Tour of Romandy. After that I have to start training again as soon as possible," added Jaksche.

Saeco ready for final spring classics

The Saeco team, still on the hunt for an elusive spring classic victory, is looking to Danilo Di Luca and Mirko Celestino to produce the goods in the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Di Luca is in good form at the moment, just missing out on a stage win in the Tour of the Basque country last week, normally a good predictor for the Ardennes classics. Mirko Celestino will be there to support Di Luca or go for his own chances, if the opportunity arises.

For Amstel, the remainder of the squad is composed of Gabriele Balducci, Stefano Casagranda, Eddy Mazzoleni, Evgueni Petrov, Marius Sabaliauskas and Alessandro Spezialetti.

For Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Saeco will field Mirko Celestino, Danilo Di Luca, Gerrit Glomser, Eddy Mazzoleni, Evgueni Petrov, Marius Sabaliauskas, Alessandro Spezialetti and Gorazd Stangelj.

Four Saeco riders are also competing as part of a Saeco-Saunier Duval mixed team in next week's Tour de Georgia in the USA (April 20-25): Salvatore Commesso, Joerg Ludewig, Nicola Gavazzi and Antonio Bucciero.

Merckx excited for Ardennes

Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo)
Photo ©: CN

Quietly getting ready for his beloved Ardennes classics, Lotto-Domo's Axel Merckx counts himself among those prepared to take charge of the racing in the next week. Beginning with this Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, admittedly not Merckx's favourite, the crunch time begins with Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège just around the corner. After teammate Peter Van Petegem's disappointment at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Lotto is anxious for a big result in the Ardennes.

"Amstel is a selective race. At the end the strongest riders are always in front," Merckx told La Dernière Heure on the eve of the fourth World Cup classic of the season. "With its current position on the calendar, it's an excellent step up in effort, and at the same time a perfect rehearsal for Liège-Bastogne-Liège."

Last year Merckx was quiet at Amstel, but went on to animate the finale in Liège, attacking solo from a small leading group with 25km to go. His efforts didn't end in victory, but the memory gives him more motivation for 2004, with the tough training in his legs he hopes will pay off.

"Last Tuesday I did a seven and a half hour ride!" he said. "My computer said 216 kilometres. I definitely have ants in my legs before the Ardennaises and I think I'm in good form. The last three days have been all about recovery."

For Merckx, a strong showing in the spring classics could prove critical in securing a contract for 2005, which he does not currently have in hand. Either way, he is counting on Lotto-Domo to give home favourites Rabobank a run for their money in the Netherlands this weekend. "The whole team is going really well right now," he added, noting in particular the excellent spring form of Leon Van Bon, Leif Hoste, and team leader Van Petegem.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the 39th Amstel Gold Race live from start to finish. Coverage starts at 10:15 CEST (Europe)/4:15 EDT (USA East)/1:15 PDT (USA West)/18:15 AEST (Australia East).

Main page
Map and time schedule
Start list

Robin hopes for progress

Jean-Cyril Robin, one of the elder statesmen of the French peloton, emerged from the French federation's meeting held Friday with what seems to be a common impression: that cycling is getting closer to putting itself back on the right track in the wake of repeated doping scandals, but much work remains. Robin echoed sentiments expressed by others recently that despite the shock of the Festina affair in 1998, the sport has not been focusing enough on the problems of doping. Robin and other riders present at the meeting called by FFC president Jean Pitallier expressed their desire for greater transparency in all levels of the sport, including additional out of competition drug testing.

"Yesterday I learned a lot of things..." Robin told l'Equipe Saturday. "I realized that after the shock of 1998, a number of meetings like this were held. However, certain reforms never made their way to us, the riders! We thought we were on the road to change, but we've realized that's not the case."

Robin also spoke of the need for solidarity among riders, teams, etc., urging his fellow riders to feel comfortable speaking out about problems and concerns in the sport, something he feels wasn't possible in the wake of the Festina scandal.

"For several years, riders haven't been talking, as if they've been afraid of expressing themselves, afraid of the reaction from the sport," Robin explained. "Things were said in little groups, but there was nothing open.

Calling the current cloud of doping allegations a great injustice, Robin made no effort to cover up the problem. "It's tough to deal with because there are teams, and there are riders - including at Cofidis - who work in a proper manner," he said. "But it's also true that where there's smoke, there's fire.

"At the meeting, I was shocked that certain people still said they were just learning about these problems," Robin added. "You just can't say that! Today, if people can't see it, it's because they won't open their eyes."

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