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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News for June 1, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones

2004 Euskal Bizikleta: Basquing in the mountains

By Martin Hardie

The 2004 edition of the Euskal Bizikleta (Bicicleta Vasca/Basque Bicycle) kicks off on Wednesday, June 2 and covers a total of 703.7 kms through the Basque provinces of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and Araba with brief excursions into the neighbouring Spanish communities of Cantabria and Burgos. The race, known by this moniker since 1991 when it was taken by Gianni Bugno, has a history stretching back to 1941 in the form of the Subida a Arrate or the Bicicleta Eibarresa.

Like its cousin the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, the Euskal Bizikleta is known for its 'rolling' terrain. In fact if anything the Bizikleta contains more classified climbs and of a higher category than the Vuelta. All of the stages include their fair share of difficulties for the riders.

Stage 1 starts in Eibar and crosses the cat. 3 climbs of the Areitio and the Aretxabalgane as it passes through central Bizkaia towards the Encartaciones region of that province with its sinuous roads winding through valleys and a succession of nasty cat. 3's, the Garate, San Kosme, Umaran and La Escrita before the final ascent of the cat. 1 Ubal from where it is a fast 9 kilometres downhill to the finish line.

Stage 2 might be called the race's flat stage! La Escrita is encountered early on followed by the Altube (both Cat. 3) midway through the race. After having reached the plateau that forms the majority of the province of Araba, the race heads across the Llano to the finish at Agurain. We might even see a bunch sprint on this stage.

Stage 3 drops down the puerto of Arlaban into Gipuzkoa and from there follows the Deba valley and crosses two cat. 2's Deskarga and Mandubia and the Cat. 3 Astiria before a final loop over two cat 1.'s Urraki and Santa Ageda.

Stage 4a is a short one from Guipuzkoa into Bizkaia, and after crossing the cat. 3 Kanpanzar, races through Elorrio to the finish in David Etxebarria and Mikel Zarrabeitia's home town of Abadiño.

Stage 4b follows that afternoon with a 14.9 km time trial around a circuit which is part of the regular training route for nearly every cyclist from this part of Bizkaia, staring in Ellorrio it skirts the lower slopes and valleys of the mythical mountain of Anboto with its grey rocky face hanging over the entire course. The route follows the scenic (the area is known as the little Switzerland of Bizkaia) dead road up what doesn't seem to be a steep road but somehow always leaves the rider gasping for breath as its crests past the pelota fronton (Basque handball court) in Axpe. From here there is a fast, winding downhill with a sharp left hander at the bottom which then takes the riders on a quick line to the finish in Abadiño four kilometres down the road.

Stage 5 is the traditional queen stage of the Bizikleta. Starting at the studios of the national broadcaster EITB, it seems to cross every climb you might want to avoid on a casual day out on the bike as it passes from Bizkaia back to Guipuzkoa and its final summit atop Arrate. In all the stage includes the cat. 3 San Trokaz, Trabukua and Arreitio, the cat. 2 Elgeta and San Miguel (which has a nasty, nasty descent) and two crossings of the cat. 1 Ixua, the cat. 1 Usartza and the traditional finish at top of the cat. 1 Arrate. This stage is the day in which the race leader battles to hold on to his advantage as the others try and dethrone him across the succession of painful ascents.

The nature of the course and the fact that it falls at the beginning of June ensures that it is always a testing ground for those that aspire to show themselves in France during the following month. One such aspirant, Roberto Heras, has put us on notice that the Bizikleta will be his first serious outing of the season as he eyes his main encounters of the year, the Tour and the Vuelta a España. We won't have the opportunity of a head to head assessment of Heras and Mayo this week, but there are a number of others who should provide an adequate measure for the diminutive Spanish rider who is out to calmly but surely switch roles from Armstrong's helper to team leader in his own right.

Of the local brigade, riders who may be in contention in one way or another include Haimar Zubeldia, Joseba Beloki, David and Unai Etxebarria, Aitor Osa, Jonathan González, David Herrero, Peio Arreitunandia, Koldo Gil, Igor Astarloa, David Latasa, Jon Odriozola and Alberto Martínez. In fact one in four of the participants this year's edition hails from the Basque country - itself a testimony to the strength and size of the Basque peloton. One of them, Haimar Zubeldia might take the opportunity to come out of the shadow cast by his teammate Mayo who will be in France this week. But along with Heras the foreign legion might be well represented by riders such as Sylvain Chavanel, Toni Colom, Miguel A. Martin Perdiguero and Leonardo Piepoli.

Drugs found in Cles

The Nas and the prosecutor's office in Trento are investigating the discovery of a cache of drugs found in a waste bin in Cles, the starting point of the 18th stage of the Giro d'Italia, according to an ANSA report. The syringes, which were contained in a black bag, reportedly included quantities of Actovegin and are currently being analysed to determine the exact nature of the drugs.

On the evening after Stage 16, Italian Nas police carried out a raid on eight riders in their hotels in Brunico, but didn't find anything incriminating.

Horse hormones found in French's room

An Australian parliamentary committee investigating drug allegations surrounding track sprinter Mark French has been told that equine growth hormones were found in his room at the Australian Institute of Sport in December 2003, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald. Growth hormones are currently undetectable by drug testing (although this is supposedly set to change by the Athens Olympics), and French has never tested positive for any banned substances. The 19 year old, who has won four junior world championship gold medals, has denied that the drugs were his.

French will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Wednesday. He has already been stripped of his AIS scholarship and if found guilty of possession and trafficking of illegal substances faces a two year ban. He has been allowed to continue competing pending the outcome of the CAS hearing, and has been racing in Japan on the keirin circuit. He did not race at the recent Track World Championships in Melbourne.

Gaggioli suspended for remainder of the season

US based professional cyclist Roberto Gaggioli (Monex) has been suspended for the rest of the season by USA Cycling after a disciplinary hearing found him guilty of assaulting another competitor at a race on May 1, 2004. The incident happened at the Cheaha Challenge event in Anniston, Alabama, where Gaggioli had an argument with Jonny Sundt after the race, which led to Gaggioli attacking Sundt with a 2x4. Sundt defended himself with his bicycle, which was damaged in the process.

The disciplinary hearing was conducted on May 28 with representatives from USA Cycling, the UCI, Roberto Gaggioli and Jonny Sundt present. The outcome of the hearing was that Gaggioli received a ban from participating in any USA Cycling or UCI events from May 31 to December 31, 2004. The ban includes participating as a rider or a manager, although he can show up as a spectator.

"Unfortunately, there have been other incidents where riders have fought at a cycling event," USA Cycling's chief of staff Sean Petty told Cyclingnews. "It's a disturbing trend this year where we have seen several fights recently. There is no place for this type of behaviour in cycling or any other sport.

"We hope that suspending Mr. Gaggioli and any others involved in instigating fights at USA Cycling events will send a message that we take these matters seriously and will take action no matter who the rider is.

"Mr. Gaggioli had his appeal and the decision is final. He is suspended from all USA Cycling events until the end of 2004. Mr, Gaggioli has raced in the United States for almost 20 years as a professional and he should know that this type of behaviour is unacceptable."

Donations wanted for Australian Paralympic Team

The 12th Paralympic Games will be held from September 17 to 28 in Athens and will involve more than 4000 athletes representing 146 countries. It's the second largest world gathering of athletes after the Olympic Games, with athletes competing in 19 different sports.

The Australian team is looking to defend its title as the world's top Paralympic nation after finishing number one in the medal tally at the Sydney Paralympic Games. The team for Athens will be comprised of 250 athletes and staff, and with a cost of nearly AU$10,000 per person, the Paralympics are an expensive exercise.

The Australian Paralympic Committee (APC), a registered charity, is responsible for financing the team and is aiming to raise AU$3 million to ensure that a full team can be sent. The APC is calling for donations, which can be made by visiting any Westpac, Bank of Melbourne or Challenge Bank branch and deposited into:

Account name : Australian Paralympic Committee
BSB: 032 001
Account number: 105 484

Donations can also be made online by visiting the Australian Paralympic Committee's online credit card donations facility. For more information, see www.paralympic.org.au.

Odds for USPRO Championship

This Sunday's Wachovia USPRO Championship has taken on a slightly more "European" flavour with the publication of the first ever betting odds for the winner of the race by Carribean-based online bookmaker and casino Sportsbook.com. The company, which is the title sponsor of a women's team this year and also sponsors men's teams Sharper Image/Mathis Brothers and Team Endeavour, has posted odds for the top 18 riders, ranging from contenders like Webcor's Chris Horner (7:2) to John Lieswyn (Health Net presented by Maxxis) (30:1). The top favourite is Giro stage winner and two-time USPRO champion Fred Rodriguez (Acqua e Sapone).

Sportsbook also intends running a book on the upcoming Tour de France, where Lance Armstrong will be the odds-on favourite to take an unprecedented sixth Tour victory.

Betting lines for USPRO Championship

To Win
Adam Bergman 25-1
Bobby Julich 7-2
Cesar Grajales 25-1
Charles Dionne 20-1
Chris Horner 7-2
Danny Pate 18-1
Field (All Other Cyclists) 2-1
Fred Rodriguez 5-2
Gordon Fraser 20-1
Henk Vogels 25-1
Jakob Piil 8-1
John Lieswyn 30-1
Mariano Friedick 25-1
Mark McCormack 5-1
Mark Walters 15-1
Max van Heeswijk 7-2
Michael Barry 20-1
Mirko Celestino 6-1
Tim Johnson 25-1

Props Cyclist to win Wachovia USPRO Championship
105 USA Born -120
Foreign Born -120

Winning time of Wachovia USPRO Championship
Over 5 Hours 55 Minutes -120
Under 5 Hours 55 Minutes -120

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