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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for January 29, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Heras modest but confident

Roberto Heras
Photo ©: AFP

As he embarks upon his leadership role at Liberty Seguros, ex-US Postal climber Roberto Heras shows that he has no shortage of respect for five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who will now be an adversary on the road. Heras made a late-season move from US Postal Service to join Manolo Saiz at Liberty Seguros, the sequel to Saiz's powerful ONCE-Eroski team. Sensing his time had come, Heras opted for a leadership role rather than another year in the service of Armstrong, who this year aims for an unprecedented sixth Tour victory.

"What I think is clear is that he has the mentality to win, and US Postal deserves a lot of respect, because winning five consecutive Tours is not something any team can do," Heras said Armstrong in a Marca interview. The American may be the favourite, but Heras is ready to play his own cards.

"In principle, Armstrong is stronger than the rest," Heras added. "Next comes Ullrich, followed by a group of riders that have their own possibilities, in which I include myself."

Heras also insisted that Liberty Seguros is not under undue pressure to win the Tour. With a new sponsor and new riders, the team is looking to challenge within the next three years. Nonetheless, Heras, along with his chief rival from the Vuelta a España, Isidro Nozal, is preparing to mount whatever challenge he can. He will begin the 2004 season in Mallorca, followed by a slow and steady buildup to July and the Tour de France.

Click here for photos from the Liberty Seguros team launch

Liberty Seguros out of Andalucia

Manolo Saiz's Liberty Seguros team has announced its withdrawal from two early season Spanish stage races, the Vuelta a Andalucia-Ruta del Sol and the Vuelta a Murcia. The team may instead opt for Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico.

Gaumont: "I'm not a dealer"

In an interview Monday evening with Radio-France-Picardie, embattled French cyclist Philippe Gaumont hit back at accusations of drug trafficking within the peloton. Although Gaumont has admitted to the use of EPO and other substances in competition, he took greater offense to the notions that he is a criminal.

"I'm not a dealer," Gaumont said. "I simply helped a friend, as he would have done, without taking any profit. That was the reason for my interrogation. I did him a favour at his request. That happens frequently in this sport."

Gaumont's statements, including his assertion that ninety percent of the peloton is likely doping, point to the possibility that he could offer more specific revelations concerning the sport and the use of prohibited substances, beyond his own admission of doping. However, for the time being, he does not intend to blow the whistle on other cyclists.

"I've not seen in him any vindictive side; he's not being threatening, because I think like many former or current riders, he could expose some things," Gaumont's attorney explained. "He's not doing that because that's not what he wants to do. He's saying, 'it's a system. If what I did, and I was wrong to do it, can help others not do the same, then I'll talk.'"

FFC Rejects Gaumont's claims

The Fédération Française du Cyclisme (FFC) has openly rejected statements made by Cofidis' Philippe Gaumont, who following his arrest in conjunction with the ongoing investigation into the trafficking of banned substances in France, commented that ninety percent of riders in the peloton could be doping.

"The FFC can say, given the results from medical controls since 1999, the situation in the peloton has markedly improved, even if the latest news reminds us that unfortunately improper behavior is still possible," the FFC said in a statement released Tuesday. "Philippe Gaumont is trying to minimize his own responsibility, which is unacceptable with respect to the rest of his colleagues."

The French federation indicated its desire to see individuals implicated in the trafficking of doping products punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Rutkiewicz suspended

The Polish cycling federation has announced that Marek Rutkiewicz, the first rider arrested in conjunction with the ongoing doping investigations in France, has been suspended from competition.

"Marek Rutkiewicz has been suspended pending the outcome of this case," said federation president Wajciech Walkiewicz. "We haven't contacted him because we don't want phone calls to the Polish federation appearing on his phone bill..."

Rutkiewicz was arrested in Paris upon his return from Poland earlier this month, in part based on police wire tapping of conversations between the rider and Cofidis' Polish soigneur Bogdan Madejak, himself suspected of being a central figure in a banned substance trafficking ring.

Vandenbroucke's brave face

Frank Vandenbroucke, training with his new Fassa Bortolo team in Italy, maintains a confident outlook on his pending trial for possession of prohibited substances stemming from his early 2002 arrest in Belgium. A court ruled Tuesday that Vandenbroucke's case would go to trial, despite a motion from his lawyer to dismiss the charges.

"Naturally, I'm only hoping for one thing: that this affair, which is in the past, is put behind me as quickly as possible," Vandenbroucke said in an interview with La Dernière Heure. "It could have ended [Tuesday], but it didn't, still it's only a question of weeks or months. It will end one day."

Vandenbroucke served a suspension in the Flanders region of Belgium, and has since finished a season with Quick.Step-Davitamon before joining Giancarlo Ferretti's Fassa Bortolo team for 2004. His first race of the season will be in Qatar.

"I hardly think about it, except when the courts call me back," Vandenbroucke said of the ongoing legal challenge.

"Truthfully, this affair doesn't affect me anymore," he continued. "I was already suspended by the federation, and that's what forces me to see things in a positive light. I can't have any more sporting troubles. Only racing is on my mind today. I want to be ready for the objectives I've chosen."

World Cup consolation for Domina Vacanze

After the unpleasant surprise of exclusion from the UCI's Division I ranks for 2004, the Italian Domina Vacanze team of Mario Cipollini received some consolation in the way of an invitation to participate in the ten round World Cup series this season. Although Cipollini's season is likely to be scaled back as he prepares for a bid for participation in the Athens Olympics on the track, other members of the team including Michele Scarponi- 4th in the 2003 Liège-Bastogne-Liège- will take up the challenge.

The UCI announced the 18 teams automatically eligible for the World Cup, which also include French teams Ag2r-Prévoyance and, both of which expressed the desire to shine in the top one day races at presentations this week in Paris.

For, 2004 will be the first season since 1997 that it has been selected for the entire World Cup. That year Frédéric Guesdon won Paris-Roubaix, while Davide Rebellin won in San Sebastian and Zurich. Directeur sportif Madiot explained at his team's presentation in Paris Wednesday that in addition to the usual Tour de France focus, the classics would play a bigger role in's season plans.

The 18 pre-selected teams for the World Cup:

Ag2r-Prévoyance, Alessio-Bianchi, Cofidis, Team CSC, Domina Vacanze, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Fassa Bortolo,, Gerolsteiner, Illes Balears-Banesto, Lampre, Liberty Seguros, Phonak, Quick.Step-Davitamon, Rabobank, Saeco, T-Mobile, US Postal Service

Paumier joins Auber

Stéphane Javalet's Auber 93 team has been scaled back considerably since the loss of former title sponsor BigMat, but the team is still recruiting and will mix it with the top formations at the French season openers next week. The latest rider to join the team is Laurent Paumier, who rode last season for Oktos-Saint-Quentin. Paumier, 30, is the ninth rider on the roster for what is now a Division III team.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)