First Edition Cycling News for March 14, 2004
Edited by Chris Henry
Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) showed for the second time in three days that he is a rider for Paris-Nice, even if this year's general classification was beyond his grasp. After a first stage win in Rasteau Thursday, Vinokourov added another Paris-Nice success to his palmarès with a solo victory in Saturday's penultimate stage which finished in Cannes, not far from Vino's Monte Carlo home.
"The team worked hard, and in the finale I found my legs again," Vinokourov explained, referring to a previous attack he put in on the final climb of the Col du Tanneron. "When I attacked I wasn't sure if I could reach [Samuel] Sanchez. I told myself I had to try and when I saw there was a headwind along the beach, I thought it was better for me. I caught him and countered right away."
Vinokourov also tipped his cap to yellow jersey Jörg Jaksche, who this year has shown himself to be the strongest in the race. "If Jaksche wins, he deserves it," Vinokourov added. "We were teammates briefly at Telekom. He's earned the victory. He's developed a lot as a rider and he has a strong team."
CSC Loses three with one to go
Team CSC, the dominant team of Paris-Nice this week, suffered a setback Saturday with the loss of three riders due to injury. Michele Bartoli, Michael Blaudzun and Jakob Piil were all forced to leave the race on the penultimate stage, but the remaining members carried on and helped yellow jersey Jörg Jaksche to the finish without any major difficulties. CSC Still holds first, third, and fourth in the general classification.
"I was a little bit worried today when we lost three guys in the morning," directeur sportif Kim Andersen said, quoted on the team's website (team-csc.com). "But the team is riding so strong now. We saw today Jens Voigt riding so strong. That helps everyone."
"We never know what can happen, even today we saw riders attacking," Andersen added. "[Sunday's] stage is difficult, but it's not so long. Even the last climb is still a long distance from the finish line. So if someone is getting away, four or five guys can bring them back."
Jaksche once more took advantage of the bonus sprints in stage 7 to grab one more second over his closest rival, Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner). Rebellin sits in second place, 15" back heading into Sunday's final stage around Nice. CSC's Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt are third and fourth, while US Postal's George Hincapie rounds out the top five, 46" behind Jaksche.
Vandenbroucke admits satisfaction
Content to let others do the talking about his rediscovered level of fitness, Frank Vandenbroucke revealed a bit of his own satisfaction after a series of strong attacks in stages 6 and 7 of Paris-Nice. Vandenbroucke wasn't able to pull back any time on yellow jersey Jörg Jaksche (Team CSC), but he was pleased with the way the racing went.
"I feel strong," he said simply in a La Dernière Heure report. "Now I know where I am and how I'm going. This is the first time in a long time that I've had real explosive power on the real climbs.
"It's incredible how much stronger I am than last year," he said happily. "I'm really happy with my condition. Everyone know's I'm thinking of the classics, and this gives me even more motivation, since I can only get better."
Still, no matter how good the condition, Vandenbroucke's inability to shake the top GC riders has tempered his outlook on the final classification in Nice.
"I shouldn't dream... I'm not going to win Paris-Nice. Jaksche is too strong."
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French fail to impress at Paris-Nice
With Sylvain Chavanel (Brioches La Boulangère) occupying the spot of top Frenchman at Paris-Nice but sitting only in 15th place overall (4'35 behind race leader Jaksche), there has been no lack of disappointment voiced over the collective performance- or lack thereof- in the French peloton. Already confronted with reverberations from the doping affair which surrounded Cofidis, and forced to accept new measures such as the mandatory use of licensed physical therapists for massage rather than regular team staff, morale has not been at its highest in the French community.
"For the most part, the French riders are disturbed," explained Philippe Raimbaud, manager of Chavanel's the Brioches La Boulangère team and president of the French teams association, in an interview with l'Equipe. "Some aren't at their best form, and it's also clear that it's a French tradition that the Tour de France occupies everyone's thoughts. It's not the first time that the French aren't there for the classics, and normally we won't be. But it's true, this Paris-Nice is disappointing, very disappointing."
Despite the cloud of doping which has hung over cycling this year, Raimbaud is not eager to accept the notion of 'two speeds' within the peloton, an explanation often put forth by French teams which claim to take a tougher stance on doping than their international counterparts.
"A French team has sought and claimed a high ranking for a long time," Raimbaud said. "The last world rankings I looked at had this team in fourth [editor's note: Cofidis is ranked #2 as of March 7]. So if cycling is running at two speeds, which speed is this team? To me this is not a good argument."
For Raimbaud, the lack of morale prompted by doping accusations, substitute soigneurs, and so on is a reasonable explanation for poor performance, but only to a point. Now, he says, it's time for a mobilisation of the French peloton.
"Everyone has their own responsibilities," he said. "Riders shouldn't try to hide behind the toxic atmosphere in order to hide their own shortcomings."
French sports minister follows through
France's minister of sport, Jean-François Lamour, is following through with his efforts to step up the accountability in the fight against doping. After insisting on the application of regulations requiring licensed physical therapists to take the place of technical assistants on French teams for the job of massaging riders, Lamour sent a small inspection team to the race for a spot check. The RAGT Semences-MG Rover and FDJeux.com teams were paid a visit, where inspectors took the names of the therapists hired for the race.
Lamour is also set to meet with a number of French cyclists after Paris-Nice to engage in a dialogue on the subject of doping in the peloton. Christophe Bassons, Sylvain Chavanel, Jean-Cyril Robin, and Florian Rousseau have been invited to talk with Lamour in Paris on Thursday, March 18.
Dierckxsens ready for the classics
Ludo Dierckxsens, who this year will turn 40, continues to defy the passing years and once more looks forward to his beloved spring classics. Riding for Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, "Popeye" Dierckxsens hopes to return to the fore after a fractured clavicle and subsequent knee operation completely sidelined his 2003 season. According to the Belgian's directeur sportif Adriano Baffi, Dierckxsens is ready to roll as he continues his tune up at Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy.
"Ever since our first training camp in Italy, I noticed Ludo's excellent condition and his motivation," Baffi told La Dernière Heure. "Everyone knows that Dierckxsens is a hard worker, but this winter he worked harder than ever to be able to show his detractors that he still has a place in the peloton."
Even if the tough as nails Dierckxsens confesses to a certain satisfaction at being in Italy rather than the cold and damp conditions of Paris-Nice this year, he isn't one to complain about adverse conditions, particularly when preparing for his favourite races.
"The riders here [in Italy] should feel lucky considering what's been going on at Paris-Nice!" Dierckxsens said. "A cancelled stage is a catastrophe for the classics specialists."
As for his own chances this spring, Ludo has just one thing to say. "My supporters can count on it, I'll be there and I'll be ready for my target races... Sure I'm going to be 40, but I'm not done yet."
Rabobank for San Remo
The world's top-ranked team, Rabobank, has announced its roster for the opening round of the World Cup series, Milan-San Remo. Team directors Erik Breukink and Frans Maassen will count on the leadership of two-time world champion Oscar Freire, who after Saturday's stage 4 sat in second place overall at Tirreno-Adriatico. Freire will be joined by Robert Hunter, Erik Dekker, Matthew Hayman, Maarten Den Bakker, Marc Wauters, Jan Boven, and Bram de Groot. Karsten Kroon and Marc Lotz have been named as reserves.
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