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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest First Edition Cycling News for February 27, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones

A cold and snowy KBK

By Jeff Jones

2003 winner Roy Sentjens
Photo: © AFP
Click for larger image

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is the traditional followup race to Omloop Het Volk, which marks the opening of the Belgian calendar. Shorter and featuring less climbs than Het Volk, the 57th K-B-K is seen as more of a sprinter's race, although there is still enough in it to cause breaks. And with the cold and snowy weather in Belgium looking set to continue until early next week, this will certainly play a role in the outcome of the race.

This year's 188 km parcours contains eight climbs, skipping the Kluisberg this year and going via the Oude Kwaremont (km 110), Cote de Trieu (km 125), Tiegemberg (km 134) and Nokereberg (km 144), the final climb in the race. If the current weather conditions prevail, then the riders will have a head/crosswind for the next 20 km back to the finishing circuits in Kuurne.

The field is typically similar to Het Volk, although don't expect to see Saturday's winner in contention on Sunday. Last year on a miserable day, young Dutchman Roy Sentjens (Rabobank) took a fine opportunistic win after attacking a five man breakaway with 2 km to go. Only 26 riders finished the race, with most of the peloton being pulled out for being too far behind.

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Organisers remain positive despite more snow

The conditions today
Photo ©: Scott Sunderland

Another heavy overnight snowfall in Belgium has again choked up the major and minor roads across the country, causing a great deal of traffic chaos on Friday morning. Although yesterday's snow had melted in the sun by lunchtime, the organisers of Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne will have a lot of work and stress on their hands for the next two mornings if they are to ensure their races go ahead, as more snow is predicted.

There has been talk of removing the cobbled climbs of Eikenberg and Molenberg from the Het Volk parcours, but there could also be problems with the long, flat cobbled sections such as the Paddestraat and Lippenhovestraat. Cyclingnews diarist Scott Sunderland, keen to assess the training conditions, drove over these sections on Friday morning and reported that he couldn't even feel the cobbles due to the thickness of the snow.

Follow the parcours
Photo ©: Scott Sunderland

Het Volk has been called off twice in the past due to the weather (1960 and 1986), while Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne suffered a similar fate in 1986 and 1993. "For the time being there is no problem," said Het Volk organiser Wim Van Herrewegh. "All the roads of the Omloop are rideable. There were only a few small problems here and there on Thursday morning, but even those disappeared during the course of the day. If it snows really heavily and everything stays on the ground, then we are helpless. Then there will indeed be nothing else to do but to call it off. We're speaking of extreme circumstances though."

In addition, the organisers will place people on each climb tomorrow to assess the conditions, and if the climbs are deemed to be too bad, then they will reroute the race.

If the race does go ahead, 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).

More Omloop Het Volk information

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Images by Scott Sunderland

Hunter off the bike

South African Robert Hunter (Rabobank) will miss Het Volk after damaging his ribs in a crash in the recent Ruta del Sol in Spain. It is uncertain yet as to whether he has broken any ribs, but doctors have ordered him to stay off the bike for the time being. Hunter, winner of the Tour of Qatar, is expected to return in Paris-Nice at the end of next week.

McGee comes down hard on dopers

French-based Australian cyclist Bradley McGee (FDJeux.com) has joined an increasing number of professional cyclists that have spoken out recently against doping in the peloton. France is one of the countries least tolerant to performance enhancing drug use in sport, and recent events such as the investigation into past and current members of the Cofidis team and Philippe Gaumont's comments that doping is the norm, rather than the exception within the peloton, have plunged the country into another wave of anti-cycling cynicism.

In a strongly-worded statement in his web site, McGee has come out strongly against not only doping, but the accusers making the claims. The long entry stands apart from the regular short diary fair of recent races, places and training. Rather, it is a broadside against those who accuse all cyclists of doping, as well as an outline of his philosophy, from how he developed his natural ability through hard work to excel in the sport.

Explaining the background to the entry, titled Looks like we've got another 80s man, McGee told Cyclingnews, "the piece I put together has been building in me for some time. Ever since landing in France, late January, and realising the torment my sport was in due to the recent Cofidis caper. Not only was it heavily broadcast in the sporting media but also in the mainstream media here in France, where I feel sensationalism took the story to devastating levels for cycling's credibility."

McGee has been off the bike due to a knee injury and he used the opportunity - and energy - to unleash the withering response to those who accuse all in the sport of doping. "I hate being put in this position but enough is enough," he said. "It is ridiculous how individuals can generalise and accuse larger groups (in this case cycling - and therefore I am involved) and yet not be liable for damage done nor responsible for telling the truth".

In the entry, he writes:

I believe that given the right training, team working creation, recovery and mental approach that anything is possible in my profession. I have not, do not, and never will take performance enhancing drugs or procedures to make this belief come true. Why would I? And yet, given recent estimates and accusations in the media by cyclists, journalists, government officials and even a member of the World Anti Doping Authority (WADA) I fall into a category of 'must be' doped riders.

F*** You.

Come and live with me. Sit in a car and watch me train. Sit up all night stressing over upcoming races and map out game plans. Share the pain through injury and feel the torment when for unknown reasons the form is just not there.

McGee, who just turned 28, has been with Francaise des Jeux since 1999 when he turned professional. His results, which include two Tour stage wins and several days in the yellow jersey, apart from his Olympic, Commonwealth and World Championship medals on the track, have come from a mixture of talent and hard work, and McGee puts emphasis on the latter. "The human body, given the correct mental approach, can do amazing things."

Appendicitis for Pezzo

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Two time Olympic champion Paola Pezzo suffered a minor setback in her quest for Olympic glory in Athens in August. Early Friday morning, February 27, Paola woke up with stomach pains at her home near Lake Garda, Italy. Her companion Paolo Rosola took her to the hospital in Brescia where she was diagnosed with an appendicitis attack. She was operated on at 4:00am with no complications, and is already walking around feeling better. Rosola, her coach and companion, told Cyclingnews that, "It wasn't that serious and Paola is already up and around. She'll lose a couple of weeks of training."

Paola was considering making her 2004 racing debut this weekend in Brescia at the first race in the Liquigas Cup mountain bike series, but felt that her recent heavy training sessions with the Italian Olympic team near Rome had made her too tired to race effectively. Rosola said, "Paola just did an ergometer test after her last training camp and we were very pleased to see that her output has increased by 25 percent, so she's improved a lot."

Pezzo is expected to make her debut in late March in the second round of the Liquigas Cup series in Lucca, Italy.

Armstrong confirms Tour du Languedoc

The Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, which replaces the GP du Midi Libre and will be held between May 19-23, will feature Lance Armstrong in one of his final races before the Tour de France.

Belgian cyclists are great homemakers

Belgian Newspaper Gazet Van Antwerpen ran a survey of Belgian professional cyclists, who are said to be among the most "old fashioned" riders in the peloton: No sex, no beer, no fast food before a race, and what about helping their wives out around the house?

The survey reported that only 6 of the 55 Belgian pro's "never help" with the household chores, while 28 help "now and then", 15 do daily jobs around the house, and 6 chose not to answer the question.

"You don't hear me complain," said ex-model and mother Angelique, wife of Belgian classics rider Peter Van Petegem. "Peter is not at home a lot, but when he is, he'll help out wherever he can. For the dishes, there's the dishwasher, so there's nothing to be done there. But he sets the table and clears it off again too, every day. He doesn't mind going grocery shopping with me either. Together we browse through the supermarket, cosy [giggles]!

"The garbage bags, that's his job too. But most of his energy goes to the children. He takes them to school and goes and picks them up again too. He bathes them and gets up for them at night when needed...you name it, he does it. Gardening or doing some home improvement is not his forte. But he looks after the animals: the donkey, the sheep, the chickens...he enjoys watching them."

Not only does he do the household chores, Peter Van Petegem also enjoys relaxing during the season, which is often a talking point in the Belgian media. "I try to be in top shape from the Omloop Het Volk until the Amstel Gold Race," said Van Petegem. "Isn't it only human that after that I let my hair down just a little bit?

"That I chose to gave a good time with my mates just once during the month of May? I'm not a monk you know. When my life as a top athlete comes to an end, I want to have lived. I have been a pro for a long time now. Imagine if I'd been a hermit all that time. By now I would be tired of the bike. A few beers now and again: it has to be possible!"

Other survey results

16 of the 55 surveyed said that Lance Armstrong will win his sixth tour, 24 said he won't, and 14 remained undecided. Only 4 riders said that there is a Belgian pro that can win the Tour in today's peloton.

As for the most beautiful race on the calendar, 15 voted for the Tour of Flanders, 11 loved Paris-Roubaix, 9 went for the Tour de France, 5 preferred Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 3 favoured the World Championships road race and 2 picked Amstel Gold (10 riders were undecided). However, 33 Belgian pro's rated the World Championships title as the biggest one to win in cycling. Only 11 chose the Olympic Gold as most important, and 5 of them didn't answer.

As to which races they didn't like, 5 reported Paris-Roubaix, 2 hate races in which echelons are the norm, and one of them even picked the Tour Down Under, but 33 riders gave no answer.

The survey showed that more than a third (22) of the Belgian pro's spend between 25 and 30 hours/week training and racing, and another 18 spent even more time than this doing their jobs. Half of the riders said they chose the job to get to the absolute top of cycling, while quite a few said they became cyclists to earn good money, some 20 percent hoped to keep on winning like they did when they were young once they turned pro, while 8 percent were happy to become domestiques. 40 percent of riders said they have "fulfilled their expectations."

The salary question was a delicate one, and most (33) riders said that they earn less than €2,500 per month, after tax. Only six reported that they earned more than this while 15 didn't answer the question. None of them said that they earned too much money, while 21 believed that they were underpaid and 24 said it was enough. 12 confirmed that their former employer still owed them money, 32 said that everything has been paid and 10 didn't answer.

The answers to the lifestyle questions showed that most Belgian pro's "occasionally" drink alcohol during the season, "never" use any recreational drugs, "never" smoke, and "occasionally" have sex before an important race. The average Belgian cyclist spends most of their free time with the family, browsing the internet, watching TV, listening to music and playing video games.

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