Latest Cycling News for February 26, 2004
Edited by Jeff Jones & Chris Henry
Belgian season opens with a bang
By Jeff Jones
Photo: © Sirotti
After a winter of watching Bart Wellens and Sven Nys duel it out in the
dirt and mud, the attention of Belgian cycling fans will fully switch
to the road on the weekend of February 28-29 with the 59th Omloop Het
Volk and the 57th Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, the country's two traditional
season openers. In addition to being the first race of the season, Het
Volk is also one of the most prestigious to win, especially for a Flemish
rider. Last year, Johan Museeuw showed that he hadn't been idle over winter
as he and his Quick.Step team ripped the race apart to finish four riders
in the top five. But with Museeuw a little off form at the moment, the
race is wide open.
The 200 km parcours which starts in Gent's Citadelpark and finishes in
Lokeren features nine of the famous bergs of the Vlaamse Ardennen,
a region in the southern part of Flanders. These, combined with a series
of cobbled sections over the last 30 km make it a challenging parcours,
even though bunch sprints are certainly not out of the ordinary in this
race. However, with snow and strong winds predicted all week in Belgium,
it could be a very fragmented affair.
This year's hills start with the Côte de Trieu after 44 km, continuing
with the tough Oude-Kwaremont (km 51), Kanarieberg (km 66), Abdijstraat-Muur
(km 89), Kleiberg (km 106), Eikenberg (km 116), Leberg (km 127), Berendries
(km 131) and Molenberg (km 139). The final hill comes with 60 km to go
but the Molenberg is no easy task. The riders will turn off a wide road
into a narrow, cobbled laneway past a mill, which suddenly gets very steep
for 300m before the summit is reached. A short, narrow descent follows
and it's back to the flat and windy roads again.
Quick.Step had already forced a selection by the Molenberg last year,
and once over that, five of them team time trialled to the finish with
van Heeswijk, Pozzato and Farazijn in tow, with Museeuw eventually proving
too strong for the rest and riding away to a solo win.
In addition to the climbs, there are several key cobbled sections that
will make a difference, especially if the conditions are bad. The Holleweg
at Volkegem (km 117), Haaghoek at Sint-Kornelis-Horebeke (km 124), Paddestraat/Lippenhovestraat
at Velzeke, just after the Molenberg (km 145) and the Vogelzangstraat
in Lokeren (km 184) will all present opportunities for attacks.
Quick.Step-Davitamon's Johan Museeuw will certainly start as one of the
favourites, having won this race twice previously and never a man to bet
against in a Flemish classic. His lack of form due to sickness this year
may mean that one of his teammates, such as Paolo Bettini or Tom Boonen,
gets a chance.
Right behind Quick.Step is Lotto-Domo, with three time winner Peter Van
Petegem already showing some good legs in the early season Spanish races
this season. With Robbie McEwen there for a bunch sprint and Leon Van
Bon for an opportunistic breakaway, watch for Lotto-Domo in this important
race for them.
Landbouwkrediet-Colnago's Tom Steels won Het Volk back in 1996, and the
sprinter seems to be recovering his form again after suffering for a long
time with glandular fever and subsequent illnesses. But he suffered a
setback in mid-February when he crashed during the Track World Cup in
Moscow, and had to have 60 splinters taken out of his back.
Last year Max van Heeswijk (US Postal-Berry Floor) surprised a few people
by taking second place from the wheels of the Quick.Step steam roller.
This year he's back and already has wins to his credit this year. Along
with a healthy George Hincapie and the promising Stijn Devolder, US Postal
could well make its mark again in Het Volk.
Frank Vandenbroucke (Fassa Bortolo) is perhaps a little under-raced this
season to be in top condition for Het Volk, but he also knows the roads
like the back of his hand and could well be up there in the selection.
Of the other Italian teams, Saeco will be looking to Dario Pieri to kick
off his classics campaign in a strong manner, while Lampre's Romans Vainsteins
could be one to watch. Alessio-Bianchi's leader will likely be Fabio Baldato,
who will have able support from his team which includes "local"
Looking at the French teams, Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r) will probably be the
protected man in his team, while Cofidis will be looking to put Stuart
O'Grady in a good position. Crédit Agricole's Thor Hushovd will
have support from Andrey Kashechkin, who was excellent in this race last
year. FDJeux.com's Baden Cooke, Bernhard Eisel and Matthew Wilson tend
to be their best performers in Belgium.
For T-Mobile, Andreas Klier, Daniele Nardello and Steffen Wesemann are
the guys to watch, while Frank Høj will lead Danish Team CSC's
charge. Finally Rabobank will be there with riders like Steven de Jongh,
Roy Sentjens, Mark Wauters
Join us for live coverage of the 59th Omloop Het Volk, starting
approximately 11:45 local time (5:45 EST/2:45 PST/23:45 AEDT).
2002 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) 200 km in 4.52.30 (41.026 km/h)
2001 Michele Bartoli (Ita) 200 km in 4.52.00 (41.096 km/h)
2000 Johan Museeuw (Bel) 204 km in 5.01.00 (40.664 km/h)
1999 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) 202 km in 5.12.00 (38.846 km/h)
1998 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) 202 km in 5.08.00
Organisers optimistic about weather
Photo ©: Cyclingnews
The regular snowstorms this week in Belgium have cast doubts on whether
Omloop Het Volk will go ahead on Saturday. The winter weather is predicted
to continue until then, and the organisers may have to cancel the race,
as they did in 1960 and 1986, if they can't guarantee its safety.
On Thursday morning in Gent (where the race starts), the snow was thick
on the ground, and although by midday the sun had come out and it was
starting to melt, the roads were still very icy and slippery. The conditions
are worse on the small roads in the hilly southern area of Flanders where
there is little traffic to melt the snow, and race director Lucien Van
Hoorde was out on Thursday morning examining the roads.
"We remain optimistic," Van Hoorde told De Standaard. "The salt
teams are out there making the parcours snow and ice free. The Eikenberg
and the Molenberg particularly are in a wretched state. But there is a
solution for everything. We can put in a diversion and not do those hills.
It's better than canceling the whole race. The salt teams will stay alert
and we will evaluate it every hour. There are still two days left."
Nico Eeckhout (Lotto-Domo) will miss the Belgian opening weekend due
to a sore throat, something that his teammates Hans De Clercq and Peter
Van Petegem have also been suffering from. Eeckhout's place will be taken
by Thierry Marichal, while De Clercq and Van Petegem are expected to ride
both Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
Steels in doubt
Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) will probably only ride one of either
Het Volk or Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne this weekend. The sprinter, who won
Het Volk in 1996, is recovering from a fever and will make his decision
on Thursday which race to ride.
No Het Volk for Francesco Planckaert
Eddy Planckaert's son Francesco will not be doing Het Volk or Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
After Planckaert rode the parcours with his Chocolade Jacques teammates
yesterday, his team director Johan Capiot decided against letting him
start. The climb of the Oude Kwaremont was decisive.
"Francesco did his best, felt good for the 180 kilometre tour but...rode
as thirteenth of thirteen over the top," Capiot told Het Nieuwsblad.
"[His next race] will thus be Fayt-le-Franc next week."
"Wrong, I was within the first ten!" responded Francesco. "I would have
happily ridden Kuurne, but respect Capiot's decision. I had very good
Pro Tour puts noses out of joint
2004 final year of the World Cup
The UCI's grand plan to reform cycling via the Pro Tour in 2005 is not
being met with unbridled enthusiasm, particularly by race organisers and
sponsors who will miss the cut when their races are re-classified according
to the new rules. The Pro Tour will include the top 20 teams who will
have to ride the top 30 races, including the three grand tours and all
the current World Cup races, for a maximum of 180 racing days. The World
Cup will thus be superceded.
For a country like Belgium, which is steeped in cycling, the Pro Tour
could have a negative effect on the quality of the races. The UCI has
only promised Pro Tour status to four one day races in Belgium: Ronde
Van Vlaanderen, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Gent-Wevelgem and
Flèche Wallonne. Significant races such as the Omloop Het Volk, GP E3,
Dwars door Vlaanderen, Grote Scheldeprijs, Driedaagse van de Panne will
all be relegated to non-Pro Tour status, meaning fewer UCI points and
fewer of the top teams. But is this such a disadvantage? These races are
not World Cups or Grand Tours at the moment, carry fewer UCI points, but
are still contested by very good fields.
UCI president Hein Verbruggen believes that the Belgians have nothing
to fear for their non-Pro Tour races. In an interview/debate in Het
Nieuwsblad, Verbruggen responded to the question by saying, "I think
that Het Volk would gain no advantage by starting in the Pro Tour. It
gives you more financial obligations and you must also bring more Spanish
teams to the start, that you actually don't miss now. A foreigner who
looks at Belgium says 'April is a Belgian month in the Pro Tour, including
Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel.'"
Organiser Wim Van Herreweghe responded by saying, "Amstel is not Belgian.
And Liege is not in Flanders. The Pro Tour comes along only two times
for half a week. That is too little. The Belgian public and the sponsors
must see the top riders more often."
Despite this, and accusations that he is not respecting cycling's culture
there, Verbruggen maintained that the top teams will still come to Belgium
in order to prepare for the classics. And under the proposed rules, there
will be no real restrictions on the top 20 professional teams entering
races such as Het Volk.
Verbruggen has also offered more Pro Tour racing days in the form of
the "Benelux Tour", a stage race combining the tours of Belgium, the Netherlands
and Luxembourg that would be held at the end of August. "Bring them all
together," said Verbruggen. "Then I'm thinking of two or three stages
in the Netherlands, throw in a team time trial over the Afsluitdijk, where
we would get some nice pictures, then the parcours of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège
- because they know that in Italy - and then one or two stages in Luxembourg.
Whoever wins this can do more than just sprint on a tablecloth. At the
moment you have three tours that I really don't stay up to watch in the
evenings in Switzerland."
The debate will no doubt continue for the rest of the season, and although
the UCI's Pro Tour plans are not set in stone yet, it is hard to imagine
that they will be able to please all of The People, all of the time.
Moreau returning slowly
Sidelined by another season-beginning injury, Crédit Agricole
leader Christophe Moreau is slowly but steadily building back up after
tearing ligaments in his knee during the team's January training camp.
After several weeks on the home trainer, Moreau has hit the open roads
once more, but is still looking at a wait of another month before he begins
"For Christophe, it's as if he's back at the level he had in December,"
directeur sportif Denis Roux told l'Equipe. "If everything goes
well, we can (at best) think about his coming back for the Cholet-Pays
de Loire on March 21st."
Cofidis' David Moncoutié, who suffered numerous cuts and received
stitches in his knee after a crash in the Trofeo Laigueglia, will return
to competition this weekend at the GP Chiasso in Switzerland, followed
by the GP Lugano. Moncoutié only lost three days of training, but
held off on racing while his knee healed.
Garzelli criticises Italy's treatment of Pantani
Former Giro d'Italia winner Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola) offered
harsh words over the tragic death of Marco Pantani in an interview with
Spanish paper Meta2Mil, saying that Pantani was "treated worse
than a mafia boss". Garzelli, a former teammate of Pantani's and subsequent
rival on the bike, spoke out in particular of the state of cycling in
his home country Italy.
"Italy is not being fair with cycling," Garzelli said. "Not only with
Pantani, although it's clear he felt this more than anyone. Marco was
the visible leader of Italian cycling, and he became the object of this
Garzelli, noting that in addition to the legal investigations into doping
and Pantani's expulsion from the 1999 Giro, not being invited to the 2003
Tour de France was perhaps the final blow to the troubled champion.
"Pantani faced more police investigations than a mafia boss," Garzelli
said. "That pressure, the persecution, became unbearable, particularly
for someone like Pantani who had a fragile head. More than one person
could stand to take back their words."
Salvetat joins Lapierre
Maryline Salvetat of France, silver medal in the women's Cyclo-cross
World Championships behind compatriot Laurence Leboucher, has signed a
contract to ride with Team Lapierre International for 2004. Salvetat,
who also won the national cyclo-cross title in France, will race mountain
bike events this season, alongside Sabrina Enaux and Hélène
Marcouyre, before tackling the next 'cross season.
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