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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for April 24, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

US Postal Service will end sponsorship

The United States Postal Service (USPS) will not renew its sponsorship of the Division I professional team headed by five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. The postal service's contract expires at the end of 2004, but USPS spokesman Gerry McKiernan said in an AP report that the agency has decided to go "in another direction", possibly with another sports venture.

"Now, it is an interesting time to stop," Armstrong commented. "I think the team is better than ever. I think that we continue to compete at a top level and win tours and win big races."

Bill Stapleton, Armstrong's manager and chief executive of the Tailwind Sports, which owns and manages the USPS cycling team, said the team is "committed to keeping our riders and staff in place for years to come and furthering our goals of winning important events like the Tour de France."

Presenting sponsor Berry Floor has indicated an interest in assuming a title sponsorship role, however the team's future may depend largely on whether or not Armstrong decides to continue racing beyond this season. At the same time, Armstrong has said himself that he will not ride for any team other than the current USPS structure, making the arrival of a new sponsor to take over current operations critical.

"I think there'll be two different prices for the team," Armstrong told Bonnie DeSimone of the Chicago Tribune, referring to the prospects of a transfer to a new sponsor. "Obviously, if the team is still winning the Tour, or if I continue, it'll be one level, and when I retire, I suspect it'll drop off to another level."

The US Postal Service, which has sponsored the team since 1996, has faced increased criticism over the value of the cycling team, estimated to cost the government agency $8 million per year. An internal March 2003 audit by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) cited an inability to verify revenues attributed the sports sponsorships, while public watchdog groups have repeatedly criticised the expensive contract in light of rising mailing costs and budget shortfalls for the agency.

"The Postal Service needs to consider sponsorships in light of its monopoly status, financial condition, investment returns and core mission," the internal auditors wrote.

Can Di Luca overcome at Liège?

Italy's Danilo Di Luca (Saeco) has been knocking at the door of a major win this spring, but in the Ardennes classics he has been caught short by a reborn Davide Rebellin. Di Luca will once more line up for Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège in search of his first World Cup win since the 2001 Giro di Lombardia. Di Luca finished fourth at last weekend's Amstel Gold Race and a close second at the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday.

"It's truly a hard race," Di Luca said of "la Doyenne" in a Datasport interview. "The decisive points will be the usual ones: from La Redoute to the Saint Nicolas."

Di Luca also expects the usual contenders to make the race. All Italians, he notes, citing Bettini, Rebellin, Bartoli, and Garzelli as the names to watch.

"I expect a group will go from a long way out, and the big teams will have to close the gap," he explained. "Then the big battle will come in the closing kilometres. I'm ready... Without doubt for the victory."

Looking ahead beyond the classics, Di Luca is focused on a run at the Olympic title in Athens. Hoping to use the Tour de France as preparation, he says the Athens road course suits him, even if it's too early to make any predictions.

Astarloa free to go

Cofidis team management announced Friday that it has formally given world champion Igor Astarloa the green light to end his contract with the team. Astarloa had pinned much of his season's preparation on the spring classics, but Cofidis' self-imposed suspension from competition kept the rainbow jersey from challenging in the Ardennes. The Italian Lampre team appears a likely destination for Astarloa, hoping to bring the world champion back to Italy (Astarloa rode for Saeco before joining Cofidis) in time for the Giro d'Italia.

Boonen extends contract

Belgium's Tom Boonen, dubbed by many the heir apparent of Johan Museeuw, has extended his contract with Quick.Step-Davitamon for another three seasons. Team manager Patrick Lefevere, who this week also signed a deal with Paolo Bettini for the next two seasons, appears to be busily securing his key riders for the near future. Boonen this year has already notched several victories, including the classics Gent-Wevelgem and Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen.

"I'm very glad that the team trusts in me," Boonen said after signing the contract. "This is the most important thing to obtain big results."

Lefevere was equally pleased, calling it a "great day" for the team. "Tom is already a very good rider, and in the near future he will demonstrate his skills," Lefevere said. "We're very satisfied that Tom will be able to grow up in our group."

Castresana to Mr. Bookmaker

Spanish professional Angel Castresana Delval is back in the peloton with a contract with Belgian Division I team Mr. Bookmaker-Palmans. Castresana, 32, rode for ONCE-Eroski in 2003 but found himself without a team for 2004 after passing on an offer from Liberty Seguros, preferring to follow Joseba Beloki to a new team. Unable to join Beloki at Brioches La Boulangère, Castresana was left without options.

Mr. Bookmaker director Hilaire Van der Schueren is pleased with his newest acquisition, but regrets not being able to reach a deal prior to the Ardennes classics.

Ballerini cleared

Former professional Franco Ballerini has been cleared of any wrong-doing in an ongoing doping trial in Brescia, Italy. Ballerini, along with nine other riders and former national coach Antonio Fusi, faced possible charges of sporting fraud in a case presided over by Judge Signorelli, the basis for which was suspicion of having used banned substances while still in the professional ranks in 1998. Ballerini currently acts as Italy's national team selector.

"I'm satisfied," Ballerini commented. "I've always said that I was innocent and this trial has confirmed that."

Ballerini is a two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, and in his first year as national selector for the Italian team he helped guide Mario Cipollini to his first rainbow jersey at Zolder in 2002.

Pan American Championships key for US Olympic hopefuls

Important UCI points will be on the line this weekend at the Pan American Championships in Baños, Ecuador for American mountain bike Olympic hopefuls fighting for selection to the Athens games. USA Cycling's selection procedure for the Athens Olympics will be based on the number of UCI points earned by each rider by July 12. The Pan American Championships rank just below a World Cup event in stature, making this weekend's racing the first major points opportunity of the season.

The women's mountain bike field will be offering particularly stiff competition as national team members Alison Dunlap, Mary McConneloug, and Sue Haywood each vie for both the Pan American Championship title and the arguably more important 125 UCI points on offer. The women are fighting for the one place available for Athens, and this weekend will mark the first time all three have competed in the same race this year.

The men's field will be focused on the same goals in Baños, though two team members will be selected for Athens as opposed to just one for the women. Top contenders include Todd Wells, Jeremy-Horgan Kobelski, Jeremiah Bishop, and Adam Craig.

Tour 2005 to Vendée

The Vendée region of France will host the Grand Départ of the 2005 Tour de France. The region has in recent years hosted the start of the race, with both the 1993 and 1999 editions beginning at Puy de Fou. The Ile de Noirmoutier will be the site of the start next year, though the Société du Tour de France does not expect to feature the dreaded Passage du Gois, which in 1999 provoked a number of crashes and saw race favourites such as Alex Zülle lose more than six minutes on the first road stage.

Northbrook Velodrome suspends 2004 season

The Northbrook Cycle Committee (NCC) has decided to suspend the 2004 season at the Ed Rudolph Northbrook Velodrome. The decision calls for planned resurfacing of the velodrome to begin in July rather than September, which means an end to racing this year but better chances of a problem-free 2005.   "It was a tough decision to make," said NCC president Peter Janunas. "Beginning the resurfacing project in July allows us to complete the project before winter sets in. With the unpredictable Chicago weather, there was a fear that beginning the project in September may have meant jeopardizing the start of the 2005 season."

Supporters of the velodrome have raised nearly $230,000 since August of last year. It was then that the Northbrook Park District, which owns the velodrome, announced that unless improvements were made the track may shut down permanently. The cycling community was charged with raising half of the funds needed and the positive response from cyclists from across the country assured the future of the facility.

Planning is underway to determine an alternate venue for District Championship and other important events normally on the Northbrook calendar.

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