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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition News for June 14, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry & Jeff Jones

Next stop: Tour de France

Tour favourites finish Dauphiné dress rehearsal

By Chris Henry

Mayo's ready
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

For the principal actors in the Dauphiné Libéré, particularly those tipped as the top favourites for the Tour de France general classification, the week-long race was the final major test before the "Grande Boucle" in France. Three points of reference were provided in the performances of Iban Mayo, Lance Armstrong, and Tyler Hamilton, while other riders like Oscar Sevilla and Juan Miguel Mercado showed solid condition well worthy of causing a Tour de France stir.

Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) came to the Dauphiné to win. After a hard-fought battle with Armstrong last year, when he put the American in difficulty but ultimately missed the final step of the podium, Mayo was intent on stamping his authority on this year's Dauphiné. That he did. With a victory in the prologue, a resounding triumph on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux, and nary a moment of weakness throughout the week, Mayo and his Euskaltel teammates achieved exactly what they aimed for.

"I like this race a lot," said a typically subdued Mayo before climbing the podium after the final stage. "This is a great victory. My biggest win is perhaps still at Alpe d'Huez in last year's Tour, but this is important too.

"Every rider likes to be in a yellow jersey, but I know that the Tour de France will be different. But for the moment I'm very happy with my race and this victory."

Armstrong quiet pre-Tour
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

Lance Armstrong (US Postal Service) came to the Dauphiné to train and prepare for the Tour. The Dauphiné's two-time defending champion made it clear he did not want to dig too deep into his pre-Tour reserves and repeat the struggle against Mayo et. al. Even if Mayo expected the US Postal leader to come out fighting anyway, most realized Armstrong was firm in his intentions and would only focus on the two tests against the clock.

Third place behind Mayo and Hamilton in the prologue was acceptable. On Mont Ventoux, Armstrong's fifth place incited more speculation about his condition but by no means was worthy of great concern for his Tour de France potential. He expected to go faster up the mountain, but showed no sign of panic after losing so much time to Mayo. He finished the Dauphiné in fourth place in the classification, two minutes behind Mayo. The two minutes were lost in the time trials, but Armstrong showed no weakness during the climbing stages and even sprinted to finish the final stage first among the Mayo/Hamilton group.

"It was an interesting week," Armstrong commented on French television Sunday. "It was a tough week. I didn't feel as good as I thought I would, but we also saw a super Iban Mayo, and a super Tyler Hamilton."

Armstrong conceded without hesitation that he still had work to do in training before the Tour de France, but the five-time winner remains as ever the man to beat this year as he has been the last four. And his rivals know this.

Hamilton strong
Photo ©: AFP

Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) also provided his own story. More than ever Hamilton is a contender for the Tour de France title this year, riding as sole leader for the Swiss Phonak team which in recent weeks has burst onto the scene with a number of riders in excellent condition. Hamilton took Armstrong's approach to the Dauphiné, testing himself in the two time trials but not concerning himself with his final place in the classification. The difference between the two was that the 'other' American came out ahead, finishing second overall just 36" behind Mayo. Hamilton was second in both time trials and turned out to be Mayo's greatest threat.

For these three, and many others, the stage is set for another exciting Tour de France. Armstrong could be facing more serious rivals than he has throughout his Tour de France reign, and the odds are against him as he tries to become the first man ever to win a sixth Tour. Arch rival Jan Ullrich may be returning to his best form once again, but Armstrong knows that he has more than just the German to worry about come July. "This will be the hardest Tour for me," he admitted.

New image challenge for Armstrong

Lance Armstrong prefers not to speak about specifics when admitting to a certain degree of stress before the Tour de France. With reports of a new book challenging his reputation due to be published this week, the five-time Tour de France winner will likely be on edge as he prepares for a new battle to protect his image against allegations of doping.

The book, entitled "L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong", is written by Sunday Times sports reporter David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, a cycling writer formerly with French newspaper l'Equipe. In pre-release publicity, this week's edition of the French magazine l'Express contains allegations included in the book.

Not just doping

The article in the French news weekly l'Express also alleges that Armstrong had bought off the Coors Light team in 1993 West Virginia, part of the the Triple Crown series which offered a million dollar prize for the winner of all three races (Thrift Drug Classic in Pittsburgh, K-Mart Tour of West Virginia, First Union USPRO Championships).

Former Coors Light team director Len Pettyjohn, reached by phone in Colorado Sunday, told Cyclingnews, "At the time, Mike Engleman (currently a coach with USA Cycling's women's program) was in second in West Virginia and he was getting tired. We didn't think we could beat Lance, so we agreed not to attack him so we could win team classification and he could win the overall.

"But when we got to Philly, there was no deal," Pettyjohn added. "And our guys didn't race like there was a deal. On the ninth time up the Manayunk Wall, Roberto Gaggioli attacked and made a selection. But he came back to the car after and said 'I hope (Lance) doesn't attack... I'm toast.' But Lance attacked on the last time up the Wall and there was nobody who could cover his move.

"I never saw any money change hands nor heard any of the guys talk about it," he said.

Vinokourov out

Although his T-Mobile teammate Jan Ullrich retained the Tour de Suisse golden leader's jersey today, defending champion Alexandre Vinokourov came to grief on the finishing circuits, crashing with 47 km to go and abandoning the race. It was a hard blow for Ullrich, who was counting on having Vino with him in the mountains later this week, but fortunately the Kazakh did not break any bones.

The crash happened when Vinokourov hit a traffic island at 50 km/h. The 30 year old sustained concussion, facial abrasions and shoulder and hand injuries, and will have to rest for at least two or three days before riding again. Doctors are investigating the possibility of torn ligaments in his shoulder, which could put his Tour de France in danger. "Vinokourov plays an important part in our Tour plans," said T-Mobile's spokesman Olaf Ludwig on the team's website. "We are counting on him and Ullrich very heavily in France."

Although Ullrich was happy to have maintained the leader's jersey, he was critical of the organisers for what he thought was a dangerous finishing circuit. "After this fast stage I don't understand why the finishing circuit was not properly marshalled like it should be for an top level international tour. Alexandre became a victim of the chaos. Instead of being able to attack with me in the coming stages, he is now lying in hospital. That is annoying."

T-Mobile's team director Mario Kummer said that "To defend [this jersey] without Vinokourov now becomes rather tough. We will nevertheless keep fighting. We'll defend the lead for as long as possible."

CSC Tour team

Team CSC director Bjarne Riis has announced his selection for the Tour de France. This year the team enters the Tour without Tyler Hamilton (4th in 2003), but is reinforced with Ivan Basso and Jörg Jaksche. Carlos Sastre returns as co-leader for the general classification alongside Basso. Kim Andersen and Alain Gallopin will act as directeurs sportif.

"It has been a hard decision, and again this year we have had a problem of luxury," Riis commented on the team's website (team-csc.com), "because there are several strong riders who didn't make it."

Team CSC has selected the following nine riders for this year's Tour: Carlos Sastre, Ivan Basso, Jörg Jaksche, Jens Voigt, Bobby Julich, Nicki Sørensen, Jakob Piil, Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Michele Bartoli.

"With Sastre and Basso we have two riders who are able to finish among the 10 best in Tour de France," Riis said. "At the same time we have riders who can go for victory in almost any of the stages. The team time trial is a very big goal, and it would be a huge success if we could win this stage, which in my opinion is one of the most prestigious in our sport."

Tour veteran Andrea Peron has been named as first reserve.

"He has been unlucky because of an injury in the spring, but has bounced back strongly," Riis said of the Italian. "He has been told to prepare himself, as if he was to ride in the Tour, so we can be sure to have a perfect replacement, should bad luck occur."

Ten Japanese riders to compete in Athens

By Miwako Sasaki, Japan Cycle Sports

The Japanese Cycling Federation has announced the selection of the road, track and MTB teams for the Athens Olympic Games. In the men's road race, only two riders can participate, because Japan is only ranked 39th on the UCI nations rankings and had to qualify via the B World Championships last year (7th place) and the Asian Championships (1st place).

Recently crowned Japanese Champion Yasutaka Tashiro (Team Bridgestone Anchor) and Asian Champion Shinri Suzuki (Shimano Racing), who was also second in the Japanese Championship, will compete the men's road race. Shinichi Fukushima (Team Bridgestone Anchor) who won the Tour of Japan (UCI 2.5) in May couldn't be selected for Athens as he only finished 4th in the Japanese Championships, which was the selection race for the Olympics.

In the women's road race, Japanese Champion Miho Oki (Team Farm Frites-Hartol) will compete with Miyoko Karami.

For the men's MTB race, Kenji Takeya(Ford/Specialized) was selected, but there is no position for the women's MTB at present. If Japan receives a place in future, Yukari Nakagome (Team SY-Nak Specialized) will take the spot because she won the selection race for Athens.

On the track, five riders were selected: Toshiaki Fushimi, Tomohiro Nagatsuka and Masami Inoue for Olympic Sprint. These keirin (Japanese public management gambling) riders will also compete in the sprint, 1000m TT and keirin. Makoto Ijima was selected for the men's points race.

Sayuri Oosuga, who is a speed skater and was also selected the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, was selected for the women's 500m TT. She started cycling last year and won the 500m TT in the B World championships. Oosuga will be the fourth Japanese athlete who has been selected for both the Winter and Summer Olympics, and she is expected to get a medal.

McCann, O'Loughlin step up battle for Olympic place

By Shane Stokes, Irishcycling.com

David O'Loughlin and David McCann are continuing their tussle for an Olympic place this weekend, with both riders recording wins abroad. FBD Milk Rás champion McCann added to his UCI points total when he rode to a fine win on the opening stage of the UCI 2.5 ranked Tour of Korea. The Belfastman, who is riding the race with the Giant Asia team, had been slightly below par due to jet lag in Saturday's prologue time trial. As a result, he has missed out on taking the leader's jersey after Sunday's win.   

O'Loughlin continued his own push for an Olympic place when he rode strongly in Belgium over the weekend. The Mayo rider won the Begijnendijk race yesterday with a fine solo effort, breaking away from seven others in the final twenty kilometres to win alone. He then placed second in the 1.6 ranked GP Claude Criquelion Sunday.

McCann, O'Loughlin and US-based professional Ciarán Power are scrapping it out for a place in the Olympic road race. Two places have been secured for Ireland but with Ag2r-Prévoyance professional Mark Scanlon well clear on world ranking points, he is, barring injury, assured of taking one of those slots.

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