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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News for March 1, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones & Chris Henry

57th Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

Quick.Step miss out...just

Bettini misses it
Photo ©: AFP

With five riders in the 36-strong lead group in Sunday's Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Quick.Step-Davitamon was once again the team to beat in the race. As soon as the group formed, it became apparent from the team's tactics that riding for a Tom Boonen victory in a bunch sprint was the preferred option. But at 10km to go, the situation changed as a break of eight riders went clear and stayed away, with Paolo Bettini the only Quick.Step rider in the group.

Although a classy rider and very dangerous in a small group sprint, Bettini has not raced enough this year to be at his best. All he could do was take Steven de Jongh's wheel in the sprint and stay there, eventually finishing second.

Meanwhile behind the break, Quick.Step realised its mistake far too late. After leaving US Postal-Berry Floor's George Hincapie on the front to chase the break, Johan Museeuw and Kevin Hulsmans eventually went forward to help, and the gap was reduced from 22 seconds to 8 seconds by the finish. Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) and Max van Heeswijk (USPS) took the 9th and 10th positions, perhaps a reflection of what might have been if the bunch had stayed together. However, De Jongh was fast today...

"We raced a bit stupidly," said team manager Patrick Lefevere to Het Nieuwsblad. "A blind man could see that we were playing the Boonen card. Time after time the boys were on the front to close all the gaps, you don't do that without being punished for it. We were better off going with the attacks or trying something ourselves."

Johan Museeuw
Photo ©: Luc Claessen

Johan Museeuw blamed the team's ear radios, that weren't working well. "We didn't know, for instance, how good Bettini felt and whether he was sure of winning the sprint. Therefore we had to gamble. Do we let Paolo, still an absolute top rider, commit himself? Or do we chase still? Finally we chose for the latter just a bit too late."

As for US Postal-Berry Floor, it was also quite clear that they were counting on a bunch sprint for Max van Heeswijk, as the rest of the riders did not involve themselves in the attacks. But the team went from having four men in the front group to just two, when Stijn Devolder and Benoît Joachim (who had done a long solo attack earlier) were both dropped in the finishing circuits. With Van Heeswijk saving his legs for the sprint, Hincapie was left to do the chasing work and it was not sufficient.

"The team failed a bit in the finishing circuits," admitted Van Heeswijk. "My task remained clear: sprint. Then you can't jump after the attackers. It's disappointing that the eight just stayed away. But I'll leave here still maintaining a positive feeling. The condition is there."

Lotto-Domo miss out...completely

Peter Van Petegem
Photo ©: Luc Claessen

Apart from Geert Steegmans making the front group and Robbie McEwen trying an interesting solo move halfway, the Lotto-Domo team almost completely missed the boat in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Top man Peter van Petegem was sick with a cold in the week leading up to the race, and had to let go on the Oude Kwaremont. The team chased as hard as it could from then on, but it was in vain.

"If we had to have an off day this year, then this one will do," said team director Hendrik Redant in Het Laatste Nieuws. And now we have to hope that we hit back, like we did last year."

Peter van Petegem realised fairly quickly that he wasn't having a good day, "When we did the first hard efforts of the day I already had problems breathing. And no power in the legs. That meant nothing would come of today. But everyone stayed around me, like normal. In the hope that it would get better."

Van Petegem added that he didn't understand Robbie McEwen's tactics when the team's main sprinter attacked alone at the halfway point, only to be caught by the peloton on the Kruisberg with 80 km to go. McEwen didn't make the split on the Oude Kwaremont. "Robbie didn't feel good," said Van Petegem. "Maybe he reckoned that a big group would pick him up and that he could ride easily with them. But I don't understand that. If I feel sick, I handle it differently."

The conclusion: "When the two top men fail, the whole team stops working."

Click here for the full results and report, blow-by-blow report and photos from the 57th Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Lance Armstrong happy with life

In an extensive interview with l'Equipe's Jean-Pierre Bidet published on Monday, a relaxed and confident Lance Armstrong mused recently on the changes in his personal life, his continued motivation to win the Tour de France, and the question on everybody's mind, when he expects he might decide to end his career as a professional cyclist. The short answer is that Armstrong doesn't know, but whatever his eventual decision, he clearly gives the impression of a man content, having reached the summit of the sport and remained there for five years.

"I'll stop cycling with the satisfaction of having of a job well done. You know, when I look at my past, I say to myself that I did a lot more than I should have. I remember when I won a stage in the Tour de France, [in Verdun] in 1993, I told myself, 'there, your career is a success.' Then, the cancer struck and I almost died... Now I've won the Tour five times and I hope to add a sixth. How could I possibly have any regrets?"

This year Armstrong is hoping to win that unprecedented sixth Tour, knowing that other five time winners like Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx all tried, unsuccessfully, to do the same. Famous for his meticulous preparation and intense training focused specifically on the Tour, Armstrong insists that the motivation is still there.

"José Miguel Echavarri (Indurain's former director) told me a story about Indurain, about the year he tried to win his sixth Tour," Armstrong remembered. "When [Indurain] told him he was going out for a six hour training ride, he actually only did four... Always a little less than planned. That's something I can't imagine. I remember a day last year in the Pyrenees when I was with Floyd and George. We rode more than six hours, in fantastic countryside and perfect weather. I was so happy to be living that moment. For me, training is still a real pleasure. It's tough, that's true, but it's fun."

US Postal or bust

For Armstrong, much of his decision on when to retire will be based on the decision of his sponsors to carry on with the US Postal Service team. The title sponsor's commitment ends at the conclusion of the 2004 season, and although negotiations for a continuation are under way, Armstrong doesn't yet know the final verdict. Nonetheless, he is confident that finding a new sponsor would not be too great a challenge.

"Above all I hope this team continues," he said. "If I race another season, it's out of the question to do it with a new team, with new directors, new equipment, new tactics, new language... I'd rather stay with the people who I know and who I like."

Armstrong went on to add that the Tour would remain his sole focus. Rather than tackle the major events which have thus far eluded him (Liège-Bastogne-Liège, for example), Armstrong knows that the Tour is the biggest event and the most important event for a sponsor, particularly in the United States where the Tour commands the vast majority of cycling's media exposure.

"It's wide open," Armstrong said of his decision whether or not to continue beyond 2004. "Maybe this year, maybe next year... I think I can still race. I still feel good, still strong, and I know I still have races to win. We'll see in time what the heart and the legs say."

Giro d'Italia finalises teams

Just a few days after the Tour de France announced the remainder of the teams that would contest this year's event, RCS Sport/La Gazzetta dello Sport, the organisers of the Giro d'Italia, has confirmed the 20 teams to take part in the first grand tour of the year. The list includes 11 Italian and 9 foreign squads:

Acqua&Sapone-Caffe Mokambo
Ceramiche Panaria-Margres
Chocolade Jacques Wincor-Nixdorf
Colombia-Selle Italia
De Nardi
Domina Vacanze
Fassa Bortolo
Formaggi Pinzolo Fiave
Kelme-Costa Blanca
Phonak Hearing Systems
Saunier Duval-Prodir
Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie

Enforced rest part of the AIS plan for 2004

By Gerard Knapp

World Cup leader Oenone Wood
Photo ©: John Veage

As Oenone Wood and her team-mates from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) women's road squad continue to blow the competition away in this early part of the road season, new coach Warren McDonald has his eyes firmly set on the Athens Olympics in late August.

By taking the leader's jersey in the UCI Women's World Cup after her win in Geelong yesterday, Wood has elevated her name to the forefront of women's road cycling. The 23 year-old 'pocket rocket' from Victoria has been the dominant rider in Australia, winning both the national road and time trial titles in January, plus the highly-contested Jayco Bay Cycling Classic criterium series and also the four-day Geelong Tour against a quality international field.

Wood has been largely unbeatable in a bunch sprint where there's been any kind of selection prior to the finale. The world's fastest female road sprinter, Germany's Petra Rossner, who finished second to Wood in Geelong, accepted that the 158cm, 54kg Wood was a new force to be reckoned with. "There's no doubt she was the fastest," Rossner said of the rider 14 years her junior. "She was the fastest."

While it's accepted that the European and American riders arrived in Australia from a northern winter without much racing under their wheels, McDonald said his team still has some in reserve.

"They've not been totally thrashed (in training) to get to where they are now," he said of the overall fitness level of his squad. "The biggest challenge is managing all of our talent."

Now, the team has two objectives for the year: the World Cup and the Olympics. But in 2003, the Australian women's AIS team also made a flying start to the year and continued its dominance throughout the year, until they went to Hamilton for the World Road Championships in October. At the World's, the team failed to fire and it was thought the season had been too long, despite their strong performances in Italy just prior to the World's.

"This year, there are planned breaks for all the riders," McDonald said. "The Tour de l'Aude (a 10-day stage race held in the south of France from May 13-23) is the longest anyone will race for until they get a break, even if they're on fire," he added.

The Australian coach will be in the number one position when the team cars line up to follow proceedings in the Primavera Rosa, the next round of the UCI Women's World Cup to be finish in San Remo on March 20.

Helping his cause will be Sara Carrigan, currently Australia's highest-ranked female rider and the winner of last year's Geelong round of the World Cup. Last year Carrigan rode for the Bik-Powerplate squad, but in 2004 her team split in two and neither has registered with the UCI as a professional team. In the meantime, McDonald is looking forward to adding Carrigan's strength and experience to his squad for the next few months.

As for Wood, she has to pack away her recently-acquired national champion's jersey for the vertical rainbow stripes of the World Cup leader's strip. "I'm really proud to win and wear the jersey", she said of the distinctive white, green-and-gold strip, "but that World Cup leader's jersey... well, I'll take that!" said the delighted rider when asked of her new obligation as the leading rider in the series.

Wood said she watched how Welsh rider Nicole Cooke had defended the World Cup lead throughout the year and hopes she can follow in her path.

But as 2004 is an Olympics year, everything changes. "The World Cup leader's jersey is certainly prestigious and I think we can hold it for the year", McDonald said, "but the Olympics is at the top of the tree right now".

World Championships good for Canada's economy

The Canadian city of Hamilton's staging of the World Road Cycling Championships in 2003 was a huge boost for the local economy, according to an economic impact study done by the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance. For an outlay of $4.5 million, the study found that Hamilton and the province of Ontario gained an economic benefit totalling $48.3 million. The races themselves turned in a profit of $1.1 million.

The findings of the study were reported in the Canadian National Post newspaper. The final accounting figures for the event are being audited and will be submitted to federal and provincial governments.

U.S. national team to train at Frisco, Texas

A number of America's most promising track racers will spend nearly two months training in Frisco, Texas starting this month. Andrzej Beck, head coach of the U.S. Olympic Cycling Team, has selected the Superdrome as the spring training camp for the U.S. National Track Cycling Team. The athletes are preparing for elite level national and international competitions, including the 2004 Olympics.

The team, comprised of approximately 15 athletes, coaches, and mechanics, will arrive on March 15 and remain in Frisco until May 5. During that time they will train at the Superdrome and also on the surrounding North Texas roads. The public is invited to attend training sessions and a training schedule is forthcoming.

Several racing meets will be held at the Superdrome during the training camp. These include the UCI Track World Cup Qualifier, April 29-May 1, which serves as a qualifying event for the UCI Track World Cup in Sydney, Australia (May 14-16). The Paralympic Team Track Trials will also be held April 30-May 2 for disabled athletes hoping to compete in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, August 20-25.

Following the 2004 Summer Olympics, America's track cyclists will return to the Superdrome to compete in the United States Elite Track Championships, September 7-11.

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