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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News for June 29, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Millar due in court

Cofidis rider David Millar is due to meet with French judge Richard Pallain Thursday in Nanterre, outside of Paris, France. Millar was held for nearly 48 hours by police in his home town of Biarritz, questioned as part of the ongoing investigation surrounding the Cofidis team. Millar was released from custody but during his interrogation is said to have admitted to using EPO.

On the advice of his lawyers, Millar has yet to issue a statement concerning his situation. His management agency Face Partnership confirmed to Cyclingnews today that a statement would be forthcoming after his court appearance. In the meantime, Millar finds himself dropped from the Cofidis team roster for the Tour de France, Cofidis having accepted the Tour de France organisation's wish to exclude any rider subject of a police investigation.

Millar does remain a candidate for the Olympic Games in Athens as the British Olympic Association awaits more information pertaining to Millar's alleged EPO use.

"Until the facts are presented to us by British Cycling the athlete remains a member of Team GB," a British Olympic Association spokesman commented in The Guardian. Millar was selected for his national team last August and has planned to compete in the individual time trial (road) and the individual pursuit on the track.

"We have no notification from any official French legal source and, unless we have notification and confirmation of what has been written in the press, we cannot take action," said Dave Brailsford, British Cycling's world-class performance director said of Millar.

Vasseur keeps fighting

While still a subject of investigation by judge Richard Pallain for possible involvement in the doping affair surrounding the Cofidis team, Cédric Vasseur continues to maintain his innocence and is unwilling to let his expulsion from the French national championships and Tour de France go without a fight.

Vasseur has begun legal proceedings against Cofidis and Amaury Sport Organisation (owner of the Tour de France), claiming that his exclusion from competition is in conflict with the presumption of innocence. His case is expected to be heard Wednesday morning in Lille.

"We'll find out whether the presumption of innocence is recognised in France," said Vasseur's lawyer Bertrand Wambeke. "The Cofidis team was put under considerable pressure by ASO, and Cofidis gave in. When you look at the texts of this affair, it's absolutely clear.

"What really brought things to a head, I think, is a minister [sports minister Jean-François Lamour] who has taken a position counter to the law," Wambeke added, referring to Lamour's own statements calling for the prohibition of any rider under investigation from racing in the Tour.

Steels still dreams of Tour

Four for Steels
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

Belgian Tom Steels has given up on his goal of Olympic competition but he still dreams of returning to the Tour de France, where he has found success in the past in both stage wins and in the fight for the green points jersey. Steels, riding for Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, won his fourth national road title Sunday and by all accounts has returned to his best form in years.

Steels is proud of his team, refuting the notion that after his years with the Mapei powerhouse his move to the smaller Landbouwkrediet-Colnago formation was somehow a step backwards.

"I found with [team manager Gérard Bulens] the energy to come back to the top, and what's fabulous is that the whole team has moved up with me," Steels said, quoted in La Dernière Heure. "I've rediscovered the enthusiasm that helps me do my job the best I can. I don't need 35 bikes at my disposal or a luxurious infrastructure to do this. People say this is a modest team, but I've never been more proud."

Steels' team did not earn selection for the Tour de France this year, but the experienced Belgian holds out hope that a Tour invitation could come next year.

"I hope to come back some day to the Tour and try to win once again," he said. "I feel like I still have the speed and the potential to do well at the highest level, and there is no level higher than at the Tour de France. The important thing for me is to keep progressing."

Leblanc seeks varied Tour

In the creation of a somewhat unusual parcours for this year's Tour de France, race director Jean-Marie Leblanc hopes to see a change in race tactics from the contenders and their team directors. This year the toughest mountains of the Tour are stacked in the third week of racing, and the first individual time trial doesn't come until the uphill test on l'Alpe d'Huez, the 16th stage.

For Leblanc, who expects the tough transitional stages in the Massif Central to play a role as the Tour heads for the big hills, assuming all will be played out on l'Alpe d'Huez could be a mistake for teams and fans alike.

"We're not the ones who are saying come to l'Alpe d'Huez, everything will be decided there," Leblanc told AFP. "If this stage overshadows the rest, that would indicate that the directeurs sportifs and the riders didn't use the terrain we've given them to separate themselves."

The Tour will still begin with traditional flat stages for the sprinters, but with sections of the route in Belgium and northern France bearing closer resemblance to the spring classics, it's clear the Tour organisers have proposed plenty of opportunities for excitement in the Tour aside from the high mountains.

"We made l'Alpe d'Huez the first individual time trial to provoke a change, to oblige the riders to imagine some new strategies," Leblanc added. "Perhaps some of those who wait until l'Alpe d'Huez will find it's too late!"

For Leblanc, following the grandeur of the centenary Tour in 2003 is no easy task, but the changes proposed this year are designed to serve that very purpose.

"The challenge now is to maintain the passion that was put to good use last year at the centenary Tour," he explained. "Basically, we have to be as modern as possible without forgetting our history..."

Tour braces for police raids

Given the latest round of doping investigations in cycling, Tour de France Jean-Marie Leblanc understands fully that this year's Tour could find itself the subject of police raids. Leblanc accepts this, while at the same time expressing his hope that any police actions would be undertaken diligently and with respect for the race.

"It's impossible not to expect it," Leblanc commented in an AFP interview the week before the Tour start in Liège, Belgium. "We know that there could be, if necessary, a police or customs intervention at the Tour. But as I said in 1998, it's important that, if this happens, these interventions are done with the greatest possible respect and dignity for the athletes who face three weeks of tough competition."

Van Goolen injured

Quick.Step-Davitamon's Jurgen Van Goolen was injured while training on his bike Saturday morning. Van Goolen was struck by a motorist who failed to yield, crossing the rider's path and knocking him to the ground. Van Goolen lost consciousness after hitting his head and also suffered injuries to his hands and legs.

Van Goolen remained under observation in the hospital after the accident.

Quick.Step contracts

Quick.Step-Davitamon has announced the extension of contracts for three riders. Sven Vanthourenhout and Bram Tankink have each signed for two additional years (2005-2006), while Kevin Hulsmans will extend for one more season.

Successor to Grande Boucle Féminine

Derailed by financial and legal problems, the Grande Boucle Féminine (women's Tour de France) will not take place this year. However, organisers RCO have secured a place on the UCI calendar for the race's successor in 2005. The new stage race, to be called AuTour des Féminines, is scheduled for the first two weeks of August, 2005.

Armstrong appeal due Wednesday

Lance Armstrong's legal team is expected to hear the verdict on their appeal of a court decision in France denying their request to force the publishers of "L.A. Confidential" to insert a statement from the five-time Tour de France winner denying the charges of doping contained in the book. Armstrong lost the first legal round against Editions de la Martinière, the book's publisher, but filed the appeal immediately. He has likewise threatened legal action against the two authors, David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, as well as l'Express magazine in France and the Sunday Times in England.

Cyclingnews Tour de France fantasy game

With the Tour de France around the corner, Cyclingnews is pleased to offer once again the Tour de France 2004 fantasy game. Registration is open now and will remain during the first week. As always, great prizes will be on offer, and participants may enter as many teams as they wish, trying out different combinations before final entry by the start of stage 6.

Click here for registration and more information.

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