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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for April 23, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

UCI Formalises Pro Tour

By Chris Henry

UCI's Hein Verbruggen
Photo ©: AFP

At a meeting in Liège, Belgium on Thursday, the UCI offered a formal unveiling of the general sporting criteria for the new Pro Tour reforms, scheduled to take effect in 2005. The Pro Tour will provide more of a 'league' setup for cycling, featuring 18 teams of 25-28 riders contesting the three grand tours, the current World Cup events, all hors catégorie events, and selected additional races. Teams will be required to participate in all Pro Tour events, expected to encompass some 140+ days of racing per season.

A primary goal of the Pro Tour is to require the top teams and riders to participate in events throughout the calendar. Not only is participation in each Pro Tour race mandatory, but teams must field at least two of their top five ranked riders, thus ensuring a certain star power in every event.

"In France they don't have this problem, but in Italy we'll be very happy to have T-Mobile or Liberty Seguros at the start of the Giro," Professional Cycling Council (PCC) member Felice Gimondi noted.

One critical component of the Pro Tour awaiting completion is the code of ethics and a charter concerning the fight against doping. The UCI continues to struggle with the appropriate wording and criteria. Teams will still be required to provide financial guarantees for the complete season, and will also face licensing fees of around €50,000 per year. The Pro Tour will define factors such as minimum budget requirement for teams and the nature of contracts with riders.

Calendar overhaul

The racing calendar itself will also face some juggling given an overlap of numerous events in months like April and May. The Tour of Germany, which will be included in the Pro Tour, will move from May to August, while the current World Cup race in Zurich, Switzerland will move from August to October. Additional changes are expected, including a new team time trial event in the Netherlands to be run prior to the Tour de France.

The expected demographics of the Pro Tour peloton will likely include four teams from Italy, three from France and Spain, two from Germany and Belgium, and one each from the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Manolo Saiz
Photo ©: AFP

"The section on the calendar, that was the most difficult to move past," explained Liberty Seguros team director Manolo Saiz, who heads the international team's association (AIGCP). Saiz noted that initial expectations included up to 160 days of racing for the Pro Tour teams, but this was reduced to 140-145. "We had to take into account the new realities of cycling."

Other plans for the Pro Tour include an overhaul of the world ranking system, based on the new series of races. An individual classification will be joined by a team classification, which Saiz expects will provide important motivation for teams to perform well throughout the year.

Concerns remain

Concerns over the new structure remain on the part of teams and race organisers alike. For many teams, the challenge of contesting all three grand tours in addition to the rest of the Pro Tour calendar means increased costs and juggling of resources. Most believe that a minimum of 28 riders will be required to handle the racing load, while at the same time the Pro Tour will place requirements on the hiring of neo-professionals.

"The basis for the Pro Tour seems coherent," said Charly Mottet, a former professional and current race director for the Dauphiné Libéré. "What seems important to me is the fact that the teams are obligated to take part in the three grand tours. That's a heavy burden."

Race organisers who currently have high profile events not slated for inclusion in the Pro Tour, such as the Het Volk classic in Belgium, fear that their events will suffer or even disappear due to a lack of exposure. Television broadcasting of races will shift in favour of the new series, leaving some events which currently enjoy good exposure in the dark.

For Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc, who also heads the association of race organisers (AIOCC), exciting racing must come from something more than just mandatory appearances by the top teams and riders.

"Our concern is the creation of stars, and placing an importance on victory, not consistency," he explained. "These reforms will leave some unhappy. The teams not selected, the organisers not selected... But I can assure you that they will all have a place within this framework."

Leblanc also added that the wildcard system will remain in place, notably with four teams to be selected for each grand tour, permitting non-Pro Tour teams to take part in the biggest races of the year. The UCI also expects the Pro Tour to grow in the years to come.

"For 2005 the Pro Tour includes 18 teams," said the UCI's Alain Rumpf. "We're starting out with a modest foundation but we expect it to grow in the next three or four years."

Climbers line up for La Doyenne

By Jeff Jones

2003 winner Tyler Hamilton
Photo: © AFP
Click for larger image

Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the oldest classic of all, will be held for the 90th time on Sunday, April 25, bringing an end to yet another interesting spring season. The 258 km out and back race through the Ardennes, in the French speaking part of Belgium, is considered am excellent opportunity for the climbers. It's expected that those who did well in the Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne will be at the front in La Doyenne.

The race starts from Liège's Place Saint-Lambert and heads south in a fairly direct way (the first leg is only 98.5 km) to Bastogne, where the riders turn and come back via a longer (160 km) and hillier route to Ans, a fairly grimy suburb on the northern outskirts of Liège. Most of the ten climbs that characterise L-B-L are in the final 100 km, with the Côtes de Stockeu (km 170), Wanneranval (km 175), Rosier (km 194), la Redoute (km 223), Sart-Tilman - Tilff (km 244) and Saint-Nicolas (km 253) all contributing to the final selection. The final 1.5 km into Ans is also uphill, although certainly not as steep as the Cauberg or the Mur de Huy.

The defending champion in Liège-Bastogne-Liège is Tyler Hamilton, the slightly built but very powerful rider from Marblehead, Massachusetts. Tyler hasn't quite been in the same form as 2003, but he's close. "I felt like in Pais Vasco I was getting stronger as the race went on," he told Cyclingnews. "I was a hair off from last year, just a little bit below. A race like that is so hard that if you're a fraction off you're a little bit behind. For me it was good training. It would have been great to do better, but it was more for preparation for these races."

Read the full preview here.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the 90th Liège - Bastogne - Liège from start to finish. Coverage begins at 10:30 CEST/04:30 EDT, 01:30 PDT, 18:30 AEST).

VDB leads Fassa Bortolo for Liège

Former Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Frank Vandenbroucke will lead his Fassa Bortolo team at the fifth round of the World Cup on Sunday. Vandenbroucke was the team's top finisher at the Flèche Wallonne, coming in 7th place, 18" behind race winner Davide Rebellin of Gerolsteiner.

"I hit the Mur in 11th position and it was too far back to think about the victory," Vandenbroucke said after Wednesday's race. "I'm still hopeful for Sunday, even if I know I'm not the Vandenbroucke of 1999. On a one kilometre climb, I can't drop everybody. But the morale's still good."

Fassa Bortolo for Liege-Bastogne-Liege: Dario Cioni, Massimo Codol, Juan Antonio Flecha, Kim Kirchen, Roberto Petito, Filippo Pozzato, Fabio Sacchi, Frank Vandenbroucke

Klasna heads home

Despite a solid spring and a stage win at the recent Sea Otter Classic, Sierra Nevada's Trent Klasna decided to pull out of the Tour de Georgia after only stage 2. Klasna suffered in the opening days of racing in Georgia, victim of over-training and in need of some rest and relaxation. Klasna indicated that he was "just struggling to sit in the bunch" in stage 2.

Team director Mike Neel decided together with Klasna that rather than continue to suffer in Georgia, he would be better off heading home to recover before the USPRO Championships in June, along with the US Olympic trials.

Athens debut for Subway-Express

A new American Division III team, Subway-Express, will make its National Racing Calendar (NRC) debut this Saturday at the Athens Twilight Criterium in Athens, Georgia. The team is sponsored by Subway Restaurants and the Express Racing Club and will be riding Fuji bicycles.

Subway-Express is managed through danAm Sports by general manager and former Saturn Cycling Team director René Wenzel. While the team's main focus will be the Southeast, the calendar will include many of the NRC races. From Athens Twilight, the team will move on to the Heritage Criterium on April 28 and the Roswell Criterium on May 2, before heading to Joe Martin Stage Race and the Wachovia week in Pennsylvania.

"We may be getting a late start, but we're here to stay," said Wenzel, "Our budget isn't huge, but our organization is solid, our riders are loyal, and our sponsors are hugely supportive."

2004 Team Roster:

Nathanial Cornelius
Todd Cornelius
Chris Foster
Christian Foster
Cameron Hughes
Michael Kehrberg
Remi McManus
Jacob Stechmann
David Richter
Scottie Weiss
Robbie Yost

Sponsors: Subway, Express Racing Club, Fruit 2 O, Fuji Bicycles, Ritchey, Truvativ, American Classic, Selle Italia, Vittoria, Speedplay, SRAM, Rudy Project, Wenzel Coaching, MOAB

Roberge to direct Quark

The Quark Cycling Team announced Thursday that Giana Roberge has been named as team director for the remainder of the 2004 season. Roberge will return to the roll she fulfilled at Team Sports for the previous five years. The step is a natural one for both Quark and Roberge; it was Roberge who worked with Quark to secure the sponsorship of the women's team.

"I am looking forward to assisting Quark in meeting their marketing agenda, as well as working with such a professional and hard working group of female athletes," said Roberge.

The team will focus primarily on defending Lyne Bessette's lead in the Women's Prestige Cycling Series, as well as preparing the athletes for their respective Olympic qualifying trials and the Olympic Games in August. Roberge's first event directing the team will be the Montreal World Cup in the end of May.

"Having Giana work with the Quark Team, we can all be assured our athletes will be taken care of, and our sponsors' interests will be catered to," said Tom Schuler, General Manager of the Quark Cycling Team.

NAS-Track series on PBS

Rochester Hills, Michigan's PBS broadcast affiliate DPTV Channel 56 will air a series of six 30-minute programs following the NAS-Track racing series this summer. The series will cover the entire 2004 NAS-Track Madison Racing League, based in Rochester, Michigan at the Bloomer Park velodrome. The series runs from June 25-July 30, while broadcasts are scheduled on Saturday nights from July 3-August 7. The programs will be distributed throughout the national PBS network.

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