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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for March 7, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones & Chris Henry

Armstrong counters Pound

Lance Armstrong (USPS-Berry Floor)
Photo ©: AFP

Lance Armstrong's open letter criticising WADA president Dick Pound for his generalised comments about doping in cycling has resulted in a new round of verbal battles between the pair. Yesterday, Pound issued a statement saying he thought it was, "surprising that Mr. Armstrong has attacked in such virulent fashion someone who he has never met, and who never mentioned his name, nor expressed any doubt concerning his exploits."

Armstrong has responded again, this time in an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews after Stage 3 of the Vuelta a Murcia. "The most important reaction to my open letter is that I have complete support on this from my peers, from the teams, from the race organizers, from the fans," said Armstrong. "I don't know how many guys came up to me today and said 'thank you'. And that's what this open letter was for. It was not a defense of me, but it was a defense of our sport. Mr. Pound, in his response to my open letter said 'Lance, I don't know where I ever mentioned you.' But the truth of the matter was that he did something a lot worse than that; he did something two hundred times worse than that. Because he mentioned all of the [Tour de France] riders. WADA is an organization of action, it's not a PR organization. I am a huge advocate of WADA, USADA, drug controls, random controls, out of competition controls. I have donated money to the UCI over the years to increase [drug controls].

"I have nothing personal against Dick Pound at all, and I respect WADA. If they went away, I would be one really upset guy. But I think WADA needs to instill confidence in the athletes. Athletes need to be confident that WADA's programs are run by equal and fair and straightforward people. Johan and I counted this morning: I raced 45 days and had 22 controls. Pretty tough to get away with anything that way or find anyone who is tested as much."

Armstrong also discussed his novel experience as a lead out man for Max van Heeswijk, as well as his 2004 season to date, his impending return to race on US soil in next month's Dodge Tour de Georgia, and his lead up to his pursuit of an unprecedented sixth Tour de France win.

Click here to read the full interview.

FFC Reveals new anti-doping measures

The Fédération Française du Cyclisme (FFC) has announced a series of measures designed to take a tougher stance against doping and increase both riders' and teams' accountability in the event of abnormalities revealed in testing. The measures come largely in response to a more vocal insistence from the French minister of sport, Jean-François Lamour for more action to be taken to clean up the sport.

FFC President Jean Pitallier offered three new approaches which include notification of abnormal test results and the immediate suspension of a rider, according to a l'Equipe report. A new prompt to notify a rider of abnormalities in his/her blood test would be an elevated reticulocyte count, which represents the number of young red blood cells in relation to the total red blood cell count. A new threshold for this count, if passed in a rider's blood test, would spark a letter from the federation's doctor indicating the abnormality and ordering additional testing. The reticulocyte count, like the basic hematocrit count, is thought to provide an indication toward doping, but not conclusive proof.

Because of legal concerns, an automatic suspension of a rider's license can't be considered as a response to test abnormalities, as the suspension is too great an implication of guilt. However, the FFC will send two communiqués in response to an abnormal result: a first confidential notice to the rider, explaining the nature of the results, and a second notice to the rider's team management, aimed at ensuring the team's awareness of possible doping concerns.

The final measure proposed by Pitallier, which has yet to be formalised, again due to legal considerations, is the immediate suspension of any rider who tests positive or admits to the use of banned substances. Noting that too many riders are able to delay eventual sanction after positive dope tests through a lengthy appeals process, Pitallier wants to see all riders who test positive taken immediately out of competition.

"I always hear that we're not doing enough," Pitallier concluded. "But, with [these measures], we shouldn't be criticised."

Tyler Hamilton definitely in Paris-Nice

Tyler Hamilton (Phonak Hearing Systems) has been confirmed as making his season debut in the 62nd Paris-Nice, which begins on Sunday with a 13 kilometre time trial. On Friday, Hamilton was unsure about his participation in the race as he was fighting the 'flu. "In this case we won't expect too much from Hamilton, but his presence will be very good for the team's morale," said team manager Urs Freuler.

Bruylandts hoping for good GC in Paris-Nice

David Bruylandts (Chocolade Jacques) is looking forward to Paris-Nice. The Belgian climber believes he is capable of finishing in the top ten. "That should be doable," he told Het Nieuwsblad. "In the best circumstances a top five is even possible. I'm determined to go for the classification. There are no uphill finishes, so my chances of a stage win are decreased. With Brard and Belohvosciks we can come out well from the starting blocks on the first day, and then there's still Chris Peers and Gerben Löwik, who can always hold their ground in a thinned out peloton."

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Millar begins Olympic push

While many top riders see the early season stage races as preparation for the Tour de France, Cofidis' David Millar is focusing his energy and attention on the Olympic Games in Athens which follow three weeks later. Millar has already started racing this year, but tackles his first big test at Paris-Nice, where he will show off his rainbow jersey of world time trial champion for the first time (excluding exhibition events in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom). Paris-Nice opens with a 13 kilometre time trial, but beyond the first day, Millar has no illusions about an overall result.

"For me the season has barely started and I'm starting Paris-Nice without any pressure," Millar commented in a l'Equipe interview. "The extreme concentration that makes me go quiet in the hours before a time trial, that's reserved for my two objectives for the season: the Tour prologue and above all the Olympic time trial. You can't put yourself under that kind of stress all the time. It's too exhausting."

Millar will spend some time with the British national track team in April, although he has no plans to compete in the Manchester round of the Track World Cup. He will work with Chris Boardman's former coach, Peter Keen, to test his capacities and progress on the track.

"For me, and for British cycling, an Olympic title is the biggest goal," Millar explained. "The time trial and the track are part of our culture more than the Tour de France, and it's for that reason that I'll prepare for Athens more than any other race."

Rapinski injured

Viktor Rapinski (Navigators) remains in a hospital in Oudenaarde after crashing in last Wednesday's Memorial Samyn in Fayt-le-Franc, Belgium. Rapinski tore his kidney and will stay in hospital until he stabilises, before returning home to Belarus.

Bennati ill

Italy's Daniele Bennati, a young talent who this year left Domina Vacanze to join Phonak Hearing Systems, has been forced to skip Tirreno-Adriatico (March 10-16), and will not be able to start in Milan-San Remo on March 20. Bennati has been sidelined with a virus and his return to racing has not been determined.

Annual heart checks for Flemish cyclists

The Flemish government has introduced annual electrocardiograms for Flemish racing cyclists who are aged 17 and over, according to Het Laatste Nieuws. The checks will continue until the end of the riders' careers. The measures are aimed at picking up any irregularities in riders' hearts that could lead to premature death. Several young Belgian cyclists have mysteriously died of heart-related problems in the past year, which has prompted this reaction from the Flemish government.

The government has also relaxed the restrictions on the number of races that U23 riders are allowed to do. From now on, restrictions will only apply to U19 racers. Finally, riders are allowed to be coached and enter races from seven years and older, rather than the previous limit of eight years.

America's Cycling Team-UPMC off to Chile

Cyclingnews diarist Joe Papp and his America's Cycling Team-UPMC will shortly be on their way to Chile to contest the UCI 2.5 Vuelta a Chile (March 11-21). In addition to Papp, the team includes Alejandro Acton (Argentina), a stage winner in the 2003 Vuelta a Chile;, Gerardo Castro (Uruguay), Eneas Freyre (USA), Mateo Sasso (Uruguay) and Alvaro Tardaguila (Uruguay).

The team will be captained in Chile by Acton, who spent February racing in Uruguay as preparation for the Vuelta. "It will be a challenging tour for our riders," said team director Mike Fraysse, who managed the ACT-UPMC team in the recently concluded Vuelta a Cuba. "Several of the guys fell ill in Cuba, but the addition of Eneas [Freyre] will strengthen our team in the mountains. The team's goal for Chile is simple. We want to win a stage."

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