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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News for February 3, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry & John Stevenson

Beloki out of GP Marseillaise

Joseba Beloki
Photo ©: AFP

To the surprise of race organisers, Joseba Beloki was conspicuously absent at the last moment from the start lists for the French season openers, the Grand Prix de la Marseillaise on Tuesday and the Etoile de Bessèges stage race beginning Wednesday. Beloki was due to make his first appearance with the Brioches La Boulangère team, and as recently as the past few days was still confirmed for the two races. However, at a team directors' meeting Monday evening, Beloki's name was no longer on the start list. Reports in the Spanish press suggest tendonitis may have forced his withdrawal.

Beloki, who returns to competition after his season-ending crash in the 2003 Tour de France, is once more targeting the Tour de France this season with the objective of dethroning five-time winner Lance Armstrong. Joined by his brother Gorka from ONCE-Eroski, Joseba accepted a two year contract with La Boulangère to head the young French team and provide directeur sportif Jean-René Bernaudeau a contender for the general classification in the grand tours.

French season opens with La Marseillaise

Today sees the European season gather momentum as the French cycling calendar opens with the GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise, a 150 kilometre excursion between Gardanne and Aubagne. Although a stand-alone race, the GP d'Ouverture is followed immediately by the five day stage race, Etoile des Bessèges, and most riders choose to do both.

Last year's Ouverture winner Ludo Dierckxsens (Landbouwkrediet) will be on the start line, hoping for a similarly good result and a better 2004 season than he had last year. Etoile des Bessèges winner Fabio Baldato (Alessio-Bianchi), Joseba Beloki (La Boulangère) and Laurent Brochard (Ag2r). Other riders to watch include Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis), Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r), Didier Rous (La Boulangère) and Cyclingnews diarist Scott Sunderland, who will be making his debut with the Alessio-Bianchi team.

Etoile des Bessèges teams list & stages

CSC Loses two in Mallorca

Team CSC suffered a minor setback early in the Challenge Iles Balears, a series of five races held on the Spanish island of Mallorca. A traditional season opener for much of the European peloton, the race is for some an early objective but for most a chance to hone fitness before bigger events in the early season.

New recruit Jens Voigt (formerly Crédit Agricole) finished eighth behind race winner Oscar Freire in the second of five events, the Trofeo Alcudia. However it wasn't all smooth sailing for the Danish CSC team, as three riders were involved in a pile up.

"At the start of the race a Russian rider was allowed to build a large gap on the peloton," CSC directeur sportif Kim Andersen said of Monday's racing. "It seemed like a quiet day, but then Voigt, Jakob Piil and Kurt-Asle Arvesen crashed."

Piil and Arvesen both abandoned the race with knee injuries, which Andersen believes are not too serious

"I believe they only got some knocks and bruises, but we'll just have to wait and see," he said. "One thing is for sure, though, Jakob and Kurt-Asle will skip [Tuesday's] race."

David Lefèvre stops before he begins

David Lefèvre
Photo ©: Chris Henry/CN

Frenchman David Lefèvre has announced he will retire as a professional cyclist rather than begin the season with RAGT Semences-MG Rover as planned. Lefèvre, who spent 2002 out of competition but eyed a return to the pro ranks in 2004, was presented along with the new RAGT team, a successor to Jean Delatour, in Paris in January. On the eve of the season start in southern France, the 31 year old Lefèvre announced that he would not begin racing as planned.

"Even though I still feel like a pro, I've had an idea in the back of my head to choose a different career," he said in a written statement.

Lefèvre's biggest victory came in 1999 when he won the Etoile de Bessèges. His brother Laurent, formerly a teammate with Jean Delatour, will ride this season for Brioches La Boulangère.

Zülle wants another home tour

Swiss veteran Alex Zülle, who after contemplating retirement in 2003 will continue this season with Phonak Hearing Systems, has declared his ambitions for another victory in his home tour, the Tour de Suisse. Zülle won the event in 2002, but struggled in 2003 amidst a largely lackluster season.

This year, which will most likely be his last as a professional, Zülle wants to perform in the Swiss stage races, while envisioning a support role for new team leader Tyler Hamilton in the Tour de France.

"My main objectives are the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de Suisse," Zülle said. "Another victory in Switzerland would naturally be fantastic."

With his best years in the Tour de France behind him, Zülle, 35, has indicated he would be content to work for Hamilton and Phonak's other star arrival, Oscar Sevilla, should his form be good enough to warrant a ride in the Tour.

"Tyler is a classy rider, and has a unique character," Zülle added. "I see myself as a source of guidance, and also as a helper for the team."

'Cross rankings: Wellens still on top

Bart Wellens
Photo ©: CN

The UCI has published the latest cyclo-cross rankings and in the wake of the weekend's world championships it's no real surprise that double world champ Bart Wellens still tops the list with 2498 points, almost seven hundred ahead of Sven Nijs. The unchanged, all-Belgian top three is rounded out by Ben Berden.

Germany's Hanka Kupfernagel tops the women's rankings ahead of Maryline Salvetat of France, while her win at the weekend moves Laurence Leboucher up from third to tenth.

While 'cross fans would undoubtedly like to see the sport become more international, the latest rankings show pretty clearly where the world's cyclo-cross strongholds are. Only three nations are represented in the men's top ten - Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic - and eight of the top ten are Belgian. Not surprisingly, Belgium tops the men's national rankings, with a staggering 7628 points against the Czech Republic's 2084.

UCI Cyclocross Rankings at February 1, 2004

(Previous position in brackets)

1 (1) Bart Wellens (Bel)                 2498 pts
2 (2) Sven Nijs (Bel)                    1805
3 (3) Ben Berden (Bel)                   1451
4 (5) Erwin Vervecken (Bel)               953
5 (4) Richard Groenendaal (Ned)           935
6 (6) Mario De Clercq (Bel)               921
7 (7) Jiri Pospisil (Cze)                 726
8 (8) Tom Vannoppen (Bel)                 701
9 (10) Sven Vanthourenhout (Bel)          678
10 (9) Peter Van Santvliet (Bel)          564
1 (1) Hanka Kupfernagel (Ger)            1280 pts
2 (2) Maryline Salvetat (Fra)             930
3 (10) Laurence Leboucher (Fra)           569
4 (3) Daphny Van Den Brand (Ned)          567
5 (4) Marianne Vos (Ned)                  495
6 (6) Alison Dunlap (USA)                 465
7 (5) Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn (Ned)        462
8 (7) Nadia Triquet (Fra)                 368
9 (8) Gina Hall (USA)                     363
10 (9) Carmen D'Aluisio (USA)             305
Countries - men
1 (1) Belgium                            7628 pts
2 (2) Czech Republic                     2084
3 (3) Netherlands                        1847
4 (4) France                             1524
5 (5) Switzerland                        1240
6 (6) U.S.A.                             1099
7 (7) Italy                               741
8 (8) Poland                              658
9 (10) Slovakia                           494
9 (9) Spain                               494
Countries - women
1 (3) France                             2046 pts
2 (1) Germany                            1912
3 (2) Netherlands                        1859
4 (4) U.S.A.                             1566
5 (5) Belgium                             975
6 (6) Great Britain                       742
7 (7) Italy                               484
8 (8) Switzerland                         310
9 (10) Canada                             190
10 (9) Denmark                            183
Full rankings

Seskin Hill finish highlight of tough FBD Milk Rás route

By Shane Stokes,

Unveiling a tough, testing route yesterday, that should result in some truly spectacular racing, FBD Milk Rás race director Dermot Dignam has included the first big mountain-top finish since the ascent of Wicklow Gap in 1983. The legendary Seskin Hill on the outskirts of Carrick on Suir will be the battleground at the end of the sixth stage of this year's race, a difficult legbreaker of a climb which for years served as a training ground for Sean Kelly and which became known worldwide due to its use in the Nissan Classic. Coming towards the end of a difficult week, and serving as the finale of a 151 kilometre stage from Millstreet in Cork, the gruelling slopes will provide a perfect launching pad for those aiming to take, or keep, the yellow jersey of race leadership.

It's been a long time since we had a mountain top finish', Dignam said today. 'Each year we try to do different things with the route, and what better place for a stage end than at the top of Seskin Hill? It is very well known in Irish cycling and with the top just one mile from Carrick on Suir, should generate huge crowds and a really great atmosphere.'

The 2004 FBD Milk Rás follows a tried and tested format in parts, but Dignam's inclusion of a summit finish at Seskin Hill makes for a spectacular race. Tough category one climbs form part of the route each year but it is 21 years since the Rás had such a tough finish. Factor in the passionate crowds which can be expected in Sean Kelly country and, it seems, a cracker of an contest is in store.

The one thousand-kilometre FBD Milk Rás will begin on May 23rd when a large multinational field of professionals and amateurs gather in Dublin for the now-customary start there. Several hot-spot sprints and King of the Mountains climbs punctuate the 132 kilometre route towards Trim, with the points won at Stamullen, Greenanstown, Slane, Glassallen and Collen counting towards the sprints and mountains classifications. As per usual, a constant stream of attacks can be expected throughout the stage before the final sprint on Emmett street in Trim.

Day two takes the riders on a twisting route from Trim to Oranmore, 167 kilometres passing through towns and villages such as Ballivor, Mullingar, Athlone and Ballinasloe. The stage has no major climbs but winding, undulating roads plus the small time gaps expected in the general classification will promote aggressive racing from the drop of the flag.

The follow day's leg to Charleville takes the riders on a 152 kilometre stage through Ballina and Newport and sees the return of the KOM sprints. Points are up for grabs at the third category climbs of Killanena, Aylevaun and Ogonelle, but according to the race organisers, a bunch sprint is the most likely outcome at the finish in Charleville.

Day four to Cahirciveen is where the big time gaps are most likely to start to appear. This is both the longest and one of the most difficult stages in the race, with a total of nine categorised climbs rearing up along the 181 kilometre route. The tiring riders will encounter third category slopes at Glenduff Hill, Glenquin, Glenshearoon, Seefin, Drum West and Mount Foley, while towards the end of the stage the second cat Raheen and Cill Urlait ascents plus the first category Coonanaspig set the scene for a rip-roaring battle between the emerging favourites.

Just three climbs feature on stage five, but the first category ascents of Coomakista and Inchee Mountain may well shatter the main field and see many riders come in a long way down. The first of these two climbs comes shortly after the start of the 152 kilometre stage; the danger is that many of the weaker riders could lose contact, beginning what would be long, lonely day in the saddle. The two early climbs plus the third category County Bounds ascent should however provide ample opportunity for the contenders to try to take time from the yellow jersey before the stage finish in Millstreet.

Day six seems destined to go down in Rás legend, as it has been 21 long years since the race last featured a summit finish. The 151 kilometre stage to Carrick-on-Suir has just two climbs, one of which is the third category Pike, but the gruelling uphill slog to the finish line at the top of Seskin Hill is guaranteed to blow the race apart. The former world number one Sean Kelly built his strength on this cruel slope; it will take another strong, determined rider to come away with the honours at the end of this prestigious stage.

The penultimate leg of the race provides further opportunity for those looking to steal yellow, with 149 kilometres and nine climbs separating start and finish. The day's slopes include the category one ascents of The Heights, Corrabutt Gap and Mount Leinster, with plenty of fireworks guaranteed before the fragmented field descends down towards the stage end in Tullow. There remains but the final day, an hour long criterium in Dublin's Phoenix Park, so unless the time gaps are uncharacteristically miniscule, the mountainous run from Carrick to Tullow will provide the final real shakeup in what should be a dramatic, distinctive edition of the FBD Milk Rás.

The route

Stage 1 - May 23: Dublin - Trim, 132km
Stage 2 - May 24: Trim - Oranmore, 167km
Stage 3 - May 25: Oranmore - Charleville, 152km
Stage 4 - May 26: Charleville - Cahirciveen, 181km
Stage 5 - May 27: Cahirciveen - Millstreet, 152km
Stage 6 - May 28: Millstreet - Seskin Hill Carrick-on Suir, 151km
Stage 7 - May 29: Carrick-on-Suir - Tullow, 149km
Stage 8 - May 30: Phoenix Park Circuit, 40km

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