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Photo ©: Swift

Latest News for June 16, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones

Bruyneel: Deal good; Ullrich hurt by Vino withdrawal

By Ed Felker in Washington

The inking of the new sponsorship deal with Discovery Communications, Inc. for three years was good news for Johan Bruyneel, directeur sportif of the current U.S. Postal-Berry Floor team, who can now look ahead to the Tour de France without wondering if his riders are angling for contracts with other teams.

"I think it's going to make a big difference in how we can concentrate on the Tour and we don't have to be worried about the future. The riders, maybe looking to other teams. It's great, it's what we need," said Bruyneel, speaking after the sponsorship announcement in suburban Washington, D.C.

That said, Bruyneel also indicated that another big development this week - the announcement that T-Mobile rider Alexandre Vinokourov will not start the tour due to a crash at the Tour de Suisse on Sunday - will also benefit Armstrong's bid for a sixth tour victory.

"You don't wish for anybody to have accidents or to crash. It's very unfortunate that the rider who was third in the Tour de France last year is not going to be there. But it's a big disadvantage for Ullrich not to have somebody who is a threat."

Bruyneel downplayed any sense of panic stemming from the Dauphiné Libéré, where Armstrong placed fourth overall behind a scorching Iban Mayo of Euskaltel-Euskadi, and Tyler Hamilton and Oscar Sevilla of Phonak. Armstrong, who rode the race in part to contest the Mont Ventoux time trial, placed fifth in that stage, nearly two minutes behind stage winner Mayo, despite posting his fastest ever result.

Bruyneel said the Stage 4 team time trial will still be important towards the goal of putting some time into Mayo and Hamilton before the mountains, though to only a limited degree due to the 2'30 maximum loss a team can suffer.

Rather, he said what matters more is how Armstrong and his competitors use next few weeks. "When we were in the mountains of the Dauphiné, we were five weeks away from the mountains of the Tour de France. That's a long time."

The value of the Dauphiné was to observe who was strong there, but also who is able to stay strong over the next four or five weeks. "The art would be to be 100 percent at the halfway point of the Tour." Asked if it would be difficult for Mayo to hold his form that long, Bruyneel was blunt: "Honestly, I hope so."

Another revelation: Bruyneel made it sound like Lance has given up on his prototype Trek time trial bike, at least the one that has been featured on The Lance Chronicles documentary and on the Trek web site. "He is using a new time trial bike. I didn't say the new time trial bike," Bruyneel offered.

Beloki out of La Boulangère

Joseba Beloki has left Brioches la Boulangère, effective immediately, and will in all likelihood not take part in the Tour de France. The Basque rider and La Boulangère's team manager Jean Bernaudeau reached a mutual agreement to part ways on Tuesday evening, and Beloki is now free to find another team.

Even if Beloki was to be signed by a team in the next two weeks, Bernaudeau said that it would be impossible for him to take part in the Tour. "Contractually it's impossible," he was quoted by L'Equipe as saying. "He is either with us on the Tour or he is with nobody. For the rest, this is a unilateral decision that finally satisfied the two camps. He is not leaving us upset, and this is the important thing."

Beloki has not been anywhere near his best since his bad crash during the 2003 Tour, in which he broke his right thighbone, right elbow and wrist. Hired especially by La Boulangère to ride the Tour, Beloki made a late start to the 2004 season, but there were no real signs that he would be ready in time. Problems with getting his asthma medication (pulmicort) cleared by the French Cycling Federation added to his woes, but the announcement that La Boulangère would stop its sponsorship at the end of the season, despite Beloki having a two year contract with the team, precipitated his final decision to leave.

Tour chief puts pressure on Saeco and Cofidis

Patrice Clerc, the President of the Amaury Sport Organisation (which owns the Tour de France), is putting pressure on the Saeco and Cofidis teams to drop riders that have allegedly been involved in doping scandals. Clerc spoke out after a report appeared in Le Monde linking Saeco's Danilo Di Luca, Alessandro Spezialetti and Eddy Mazzoleni with doping. The three have been charged by police in a wide ranging investigation into doping in Italy, and Le Monde published extracts of police records that allegedly detail mobile phone calls between the riders and Dr. Carlo Santuccione about using EPO.

In a similar case, Cofidis rider Cedric Vasseur is under investigation by French police, and although Cofidis maintains that Vasseur is innocent until proven guilty, Clerc said that he should not be allowed to start the Tour de France.

"I don't see how they can start the Tour if they are found guilty of dangerous links through tapped phone calls," Clerc told AFP. "There are still cheats out there. We have to own up to it and fight to eliminate not only the riders but everyone in their set-up involved in it."

UCI rankings: Zabel still on top

Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) has maintained the number one position on the UCI rankings after the latest update on June 13. The German sprinter, who is still lacking the form he would like for the Tour, has a 20 point advantage over Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Davitamon), who is now ramping up his program to get ready for the Tour and late season classics. In third place still is Alessandro Petacchi, who won an incredible nine stages of the Giro d'Italia. Giro winner Damiano Cunego (Saeco) is in sixth place, and is also the top rider of 2004, having scored 1563 points so far this season.

Riders on the upward trend include Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) who finished second in the Dauphine Libéré and ascended from 26th to 16th position. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) had a good Dauphine as well, winning two stages and moving up from 56th to 31st on the UCI rankings. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank, 89th to 51st) and José Enrique Gutierrez Cataluna (Phonak, 383rd to 113th!) also benefited from the points on offer in the Dauphine.

In the teams rankings, Saeco still holds the number one spot from CSC and Gerolsteiner, while T-Mobile has moved up into fourth ahead of Rabobank.

Rankings as of June 13, 2004

Elite men
1 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                  2254.75 pts
2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick.Step-Davitamon                        2235.00
3 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                         2137.00
4 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner                              1980.00
5 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme    1873.00
6 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco                                      1675.00
7 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor         1592.00
8 Iban Mayo Diez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                          1440.00
9 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank                                  1314.00
10 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team                       1304.50
11 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC                                      1288.60
12 Roberto Heras Hernandez (Spa) Liberty Seguros                  1244.25
13 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon                          1218.00
14 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank                              1174.75
15 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                1174.00
16 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems                    1159.20
17 Robbie Mcewen (Aus) Lotto-Domo                                 1145.00
18 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Saeco                                     1133.00
19 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) De Nardi                                 1105.50
20 Isidro Nozal Vega (Spa) Liberty Seguros                        1100.00
Top riders of 2004
1 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco                                      1563.00 pts
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                         1103.00
3 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner                              1043.00
4 Iban Mayo Diez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                          1031.00
5 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon                            951.00
Division I teams
1 Saeco                                                           4459.00 pts
2 Team CSC                                                        4242.00
3 Gerolsteiner                                                    3843.00
4 T-Mobile Team                                                   3808.00
5 Rabobank                                                        3728.00
6 Phonak Hearing Systems                                          3623.00
7 Euskaltel-Euskadi                                               3476.00
8 Fassa Bortolo                                                   3458.00
9 Quick.Step-Davitamon                                            3431.00
10 US Postal Service presented by Berry Floor                     3202.00
Full rankings: Individuals, Teams, Nations

Ben Kersten takes giant step towards Olympics

Ben Kersten
Photo: © Shane Goss
Click for larger image

Just over two weeks ago, Ben Kersten thought his Olympic chances were doomed when he failed to finish in the top four positions in the World 1,000 m TT Championship. The triple World Junior Champion had missed out on fourth place by 6 hundredths of a second, clocking an impressive 1.02.299 and gaining fifth place. Shane Kelly, who clocked 1.02.314 to finish sixth, had already claimed the ride at the Olympics after finishing second in the previous world titles, and even a top four position by Kelly would have gained a place for Kersten at Athens.

Kersten, who missed out on competing in the Sydney Olympics after winning the Australian kilometre title in 2000, the team sprint and second in the National keirin title, had thought that his Olympic chances were doomed yet again. He had considered that he had been treated harshly by then National Coach Charlie Walsh after being dumped on the eve of the Olympics, went into cycling wilderness for over 12 months.

Kersten’s progress back to world prominence has been steady and he has always been close to the podium, finishing just out of the medals in the past three years in one of the toughest track cycling disciplines. The 22 year old was given a chance to qualify for the Team Sprint by the Australian selectors, with Sean Eadie having failed to gain a qualifying time for the Olympic Sprint team. Eadie rode 10.465 in the World Sprint Championships, narrowly missing the selection time of 10.450, and also had failed to get under the 18.0 seconds for the standing 250 metre time trial.

Kersten, was given until June 15 to beat Eadie's Australian title winning time of 18.095 for the 250 metre standing start - the fastest time the former World Sprint Champion has recorded in the past two years, but outside of the qualifying time set for the Athens Olympics. Eadie missed most of the 2003 season through injury and was unable to defend his World Sprint crown in Germany last year.

After 10 days of specialised sprint training, Kersten lined up on Tuesday afternoon in front of selectors Alex Fulcher and Gary Sutton, Ray Godkin (Vice President of the UCI), a handful of supporters, other cyclists at the Dunc Gray velodrome and several gymnasts training in the centre of the arena.

At his first attempt, Kersten started strongly and stopped the clock at 18.183, a personal best eclipsing his Australian championship silver medal time of 18.382. It was an excellent time for Kersten but not what he was seeking.

After an hour of waiting and preparing, Kersten powered from the blocks in the second ride, appeared to ride much faster, but even though hand held times suggested Kersten rode 18.0 seconds, the electronic timing had stopped on .6 of a second. There had been a timing malfunction at the most critical time. For the time to be official it required electronic timing.

Kersten had no other alternative but to seek a third ride and at 4.30pm, he blasted out of the starting gate, powered through the first 70 metres in 7.2 seconds to charge home and eclipsed the qualifying time by 14 hundredths of a second, stopping the clock at 17.986 seconds.

The jubilation from years of Olympic frustration was too much as the Australian sprinter broke down and wept in the back straight of the velodrome. Ben Kersten was full of emotion and said, "Eight years of hard work and dedication came down to just one ride in the end. It is a great relief and I believe that with total dedication I can continue to improve the time."

Kersten's time of 17.98 is a boost to the chances of the Australian team at the Athens Olympics. Jobie Dajka and Ryan Bayley, the two other members of the team sprint, have recorded exceptional times in the one lap splits and a sub-18 second start would certainly make the Aussie team a real contender.

With 2 more months of specialised training, Ben Kersten hopes to go even faster - perhaps around 17.7 or 17.8 seconds, which would give the Australian team a strong chance at the Olympic gold medal.

Athens already holds good memories for Kersten, who had to break his own world record and that of Marco Brossa of Italy, who created a new world record in the ride prior to Ben, to claim his back to back World Junior championship in the kilometre in 1999. Ben also teamed with Jobie Dajka and Mark Renshaw to win the Junior World team sprint championship in Athens.

The Australian selectors meet on Thursday, June 17 to discuss the national team and time appears to be on the side of Ben Kersten. There is little doubt that Sean Eadie will also have one more attempt to qualify.

Related story: Australia misses out on hoped-for second kilo berth

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