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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News for February 22, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones & Chris Henry

Still little progress on Pantani investigation

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Although Rimini prosecutor Paolo Gengarelli has again interrogated Michel Mengozzi, Marco Pantani's friend from Predazzo, Italy who provided Pantani with a refuge this summer in his rural hotel and travelled to Cuba with him in November, the authorities are evidently no closer to finding out the identity of the person who probably sold him cocaine in the last few days of his life.

Originally, prosecutors thought they may have had the name of Mr.X, but later recanted this. According to rumours heard in Rimini by investigators, Mengozzi may have told various drug pushers in Rimini to not supply Pantani with cocaine. But Mengozzi categorically denied that he had anything to do with anyone who might have supplied Pantani with the cocaine that he may have mixed with anti-anxiety and anti-depressants that allegedly became a deadly cocktail for the former champion cyclist.

Gengarelli and his investigators have singled out four alleged dealers in the popular seaside resort area, where drug trafficking is widespread in the summer and are continuing to investigate them regarding the Pantani case.

Armstrong Remembers Pantani

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

In an interview published today with Austin (Texas) American-Statesman sports reporter Suzanne Halliburton, Lance Armstrong recalled memories of Marco Pantani, in particular a press conference that he gave in on the Tour De France rest day at Courchevel, France in 2000. "In hindsight, the press conference was really tragic," Armstrong told Halliburton by phone this week from Portugal, where Armstrong was competing in his first race of the season, the Volta ao Algarve.

A few days before, Armstrong and Pantani had duelled to the summit of le Mont Ventoux, where Pantani won the stage, but when Pantani heard Armstrong's version, he simply didn't agree that Lance had let him win the stage. Thus began the bad vibes that led to their verbal sparring on just what had happened in the final meters of Mont Ventoux.

When asked by a reporter at the press conference about Pantani, Armstrong went off on the scoop-eared Italian, calling him "Il Elephantino," rather than "Il Pirata," the sexier moniker Pantani preferred. Armstrong stated in the Courchevel press conference that "Unfortunately, (Pantani) has shown his true colours. I felt like (the stage win) was a gift. I also feel now that it was a mistake to give the gift. I've been disappointed in his actions. I thought he had more class than that."

It was soon duelling press conferences, as Pantani called his own media round-up, telling Tour journalists, "If Armstrong thinks it's all over, he's wrong. In any case, he's not finished with me." The next day from Courchevel to Morzine, Pantani went on the attack, forcing Lance and USPS to chase all day. Armstrong had a huge hunger knock on the final ascent of the Col de Joux-Plane, losing almost 2 minutes to chief rival Jan Ullrich, while Pantani folded and ended up not starting the Tour the next morning.

The next March at the Tour of Murcia, Armstrong and Pantani got together and smoothed out their differences, but Armstrong told Halliburton this week from Portugal that he hadn't seen or spoken with Pantani since October 2002, when Tour organizers invited Armstrong and the past champions to Paris for a ceremony to announce the 2003 centennial route. "Pantani really drifted away from the sport, and his friends," Armstrong said. "A lot of people wanted to help. But he really shut everybody out."

After winning Saturday's TT stage at Algarve, Armstrong had further thoughts on Pantani, telling the media that, "It's a terrible tragedy. It's unfortunate for cycling, for Italian fans, for his family. I'm not going to comment on the rumours and innuendo. It's not good (to comment) for a person who's recently passed on - forget cycling - what about his parents, his loved ones?"

Armstrong confident in Azevedo

At the Volta ao Algarve, where he and his U.S. Postal-Berry Floor team is poised to pull off the victory, Lance Armstrong has once again expressed his confidence in the team's new signing, Portuguese rider Jose Azevedo. Azevedo was brought into the team after the loss of Lance's super climbing lieutenant Roberto Heras, who is now part of the Liberty Seguros team.

"I am confident in Azevedo," Armstrong told Portuguese newspaper O Jogo. "If we compare the different skills, Azevedo has been as good as Heras and in some cases better. It's one thing to win the Vuelta but a completely different thing to win the Tour."

Once again, Armstrong rated Jan Ullrich as his main rival for the Tour. "The greatest rival is Ullrich. Beloki, Heras, Hamilton or Basso will be adversaries but they're not at Ullrich's level."

Armstrong goes into the final stage of the Volta ao Algarve tomorrow with a 1 second lead over his teammate Floyd Landis.

UCI prepares to name names

In a letter dated February 16, 2004, the UCI has put professional teams, riders, and team doctors on notice that the governing body is preparing comprehensive lists of riders who reveal 'abnormal' results in blood/urine tests, in or out of competition. In effect, the list would provide a series of red flags for riders who may or may not have failed a doping test, but who are perhaps more likely to do so in the future. The letter was sent from the desk of the UCI's anti-doping commission president Leon Schattenberg, along with UCI doctor Mario Zorzoli.

What this letter seeks to establish, as outlined in a l'Equipe article, is an official extension of a process already used informally, whereby teams and riders have been notified privately by the UCI in the event of abnormal test results. In the near future, UCI notification of inclusion on this list could come as a result of several factors. Riders may be called first and foremost if they present suspect results in urine or blood tests, but also if they have an attestation of a naturally elevated hematocrit level, if they have been implicated in doping incidents in the past, or in perhaps the biggest grey area of the new plan, if they put in "extraordinary" performances on the bike.

Riders whose names appear on the list, after being contacted by the UCI, could be declared unfit for competition depending on the circumstances.

A key concept behind this list is its eventual availability to team management as a database for background checks when signing new riders. The UCI is eager to remove the "we didn't know" excuse when teams find themselves with a rider in their ranks who has a history of doping violations or suspect results. Information from blood and urine tests, particularly those taken out of competition, has often been kept secret in the interest of medical privacy. However, as more countries have agreed to the World Anti-Doping Agency's international code, the legal hurdles of releasing medical results such as these has been chipped away.

Results from 2003 blood/urine tests

Shedding some light on the frequency of doping cases revealed through blood and urine tests, the UCI included in its letter to professional teams and riders an overview of the results from the 2003 season. Out of the 5,205 urine samples taken (546 of which were tests for EPO-NESP), 4,918 were returned negative. 220 results showed certain prohibited substances that were deemed justified, while 67 tests (1.29%) were true positive results.

Some 3,000 blood samples were taken, showing an average hematocrit value of 43.9%, a value slightly higher than recorded in 2002. Recall that the UCI's limit for hematocrit is 50%, above which riders are prevented from competing for a period of two weeks as a health precaution, though not necessarily proof of doping.

The UCI expects to have a test in place in 2004 to detect cases of blood transfusions, a practice thought to have come back into vogue of late, often in conjunction with the use of EPO.

Ludo Dierckxsens in for Steels in Haribo

Ludo Dierckxsens will take his Landbouwkrediet-Colnago teammate Tom Steels' place in the Classic Haribo on Sunday, as Steels is still suffering from his crashes last weekend in the Moscow Track World Cup. On Tuesday, Steels had 60 wooden splinters removed from his back and he is still recovering from his injuries.

Team manager Gérard Bulens hopes that his riders will perform well in the French weekend in order to stake a claim on a Tour wild card spot. "Up until now I'm a satisfied man with two wins and a few podium places," said Bulens. "If we continue playing our trumps, I may be able to count on a wild card for the Tour as much as a number of other teams a week before the final selection."

24th Trofeo Luis Puig

Sunday's 24th Trofeo Luis Puig will be run between Valencia and Benidorm in Spain over 195 kilometres. With the Cat. 1 climb of Coll de Rates coming at 37 km to go, it's going to take a fit sprinter to claim victory in this one day classic that typically favours the fast men.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is one of the top favourites, coming close to stage victories in last week's Ruta del Sol. But his big challenger will likely be Erik Zabel (T-Mobile), who managed to beat Freire in the final stage of the Ruta last Thursday. With Igor Astarloa (Cofidis), Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) and Peter Van Petegem (Lotto-Domo) on the start list, there are several riders who can win, especially in the absence of last year's victor Alessandro Petacchi.

The Trofeo Luis Puig also serves as a prologue to the Vuelta Ciclista a la Comunidad Valenciana, which runs from next Tuesday through Saturday, and includes riders such as Alex Zülle (Phonak), Joseba Beloki (La Boulangčre), David Millar (Cofidis) and Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile).

Tough Giro prologue in store

The organisers of the 87th Giro d'Italia have unveiled the route of the prologue of this year's edition, which will take place in Genova on May 8. It's not necessarily going to suit the strongest riders, but more those with good technique and handling skills. Measuring 6.9 km in length, it contains climbs, pavé, straights and corners, and is intended to be quite challenging. The course starts in Piazza della Vittoria and finishes in Via Cadorna in front of the Arco di Trionfo dedicated to those who have fallen in the wars.

Albert decides for SpaarSelect

The best junior cyclo-cross rider in the world, Niels Albert, has chosen SpaarSelect as his team for next season. The young Belgian had offers from Saey-Deschacht and Palmans-Collstrop, but eventually decided on joining Bart Wellens in SpaarSelect.

New Finish for McLane Pacific

The USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC) will kick off in Merced, California with the 11th running of the McLane Pacific Cycling Classic on March 13-14. The race that started as a small one day criterium in 1993 has grown to be one of major races on the US calendar, while continuing to donate all proceeds to the United Way of Merced County.

"This is one of the few national level races where not one race director, promoter nor committee member is paid a dime," commented race director Doug Fluetsch "All is done for the good name of cycling and charity. But to keep the race growing, we continually try to throw some spice in the rum, this year we have changed the finish line to a more technically and terrain challenging area of the course."

With the support of almond grower Braden Farms, which has lent its parking area and barn for the race, the McLane Pacific has been able to change the old false flat, downhill, straight approach to the finish line to a twisty, uphill rolling and typically headwind approach.

"This will make the finish easier for the judges to score, although it may be a headache for those riders who have expected a free ride to the finish at McLane Pacific", added Fluetsch.

The total road race distance for the pro-men race is 120 miles and for the women is 96 miles.

Team Basis has training camp too!

By Snerf, Team Basis media director

Team Basis racers congregated last week, in Ruidoso, NM, for the 2004 Basis training camp. At 6,900 feet, Ruidoso is a small ski village, located in central New Mexico, next to Wal-Mart.

"Ruidoso is simple, quiet and devoid of distraction," noted team director Ms Nicole Freedman. "I knew I had a 'captive' audience for my endless dissertations on important racing topics like the significance of Newton's mathematical theorems on modernity."

Team Basis huddles for warmth
Photo: © Team Basis
Click for larger image

"I chose Ruidoso because of the altitude, the mountains and the warm weather," Ms Freedman droned on in an interview with herself.

With promises of a luxurious weekend of pampering, campers began filing in on Thursday evening, bathing suits and sunscreen in hand. Such optimism prompted a multi-year-drought-ending blizzard in Ruidoso, which lifted only as racers departed at the end of camp.

Impervious to the weather, Basis riders motivated themselves for their first team training session. Racers filled bottles with orange flavoured Accelerade drink mix - their teeth becoming a perfect match for the subtle orange team uniform. The group then hopped on the team Computrainers after which one rider was heard to note, "My computer animated racer is THINNER than your computer animated racer." The ride was uneventful as nobody can be dropped and made to feel slow and incompetent on a trainer.

In preparation for the following morning's photo shoot, the normally frugal team director Ms Freedman, surprised the racers by inviting Michael Jackson's plastic surgeon to work on the racers. "I was shocked, actually, at how reasonable his rates were," she said.

On site for the shoot, team photographer and racer, Ms Kate Maher carefully propped a digital camera up on a cardboard box. She spent the subsequent hours darting between the camera's self timer button and her group of teammates who huddled together for warmth, 10 feet in front of the camera. An orange and purple blur in the bottom right hand corner of most photos has been identified as Ms Maher.

The following evening, team mechanic and coincidentally racer, Ms Stephanie Hannos, conducted the first team bonding session instructing racers how to glue their tubular tires to the wall, carpet, couch, each other, and occasionally a bike wheel. The team eagerly awaits the first team time trial. "And then, they all went around the first turn and one after another they spilled onto their sides and landed on top of each other," a spectator will announce.

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