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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News for March 23, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

US Postal Service sponsorship still in question

The United States Postal Service's contract for sponsorship of the professional cycling team led by Lance Armstrong is due to end at the conclusion of 2004, yet the future of the venture remains very much in question. PostalWatch, a non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group, rejoiced this week after Advertising Age magazine reported that the US Postal Service is "poised to abandon its lead sponsorship of Lance Armstrong and the [US Postal Service] Pro Cycling Team" after the contract expires in December, calling the team sponsorship a "$50 million boondoggle".

Reached by telephone Tuesday morning, US Postal Service directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel acknowledged the uncertainty but maintained that sponsorship talks were ongoing.

"Yes, we've known about the Advertising Age article since it came out last week, but officially we have no notification from the US Postal Service whether or not they'll continue the sponsorship," Bruyneel told Cyclingnews. "We're still talking to them about everything. We're still very positive about moving forward with them."

Much of the team's continuation has been thought to revolve around Lance Armstrong and whether or not the American will continue racing beyond 2004. This year Armstrong will make a bid for a record sixth Tour de France victory but he has made no firm decisions concerning the timing of his eventual retirement.

Gonzalez begins anew

Spain's Aitor Gonzalez begins a new season, hoping to move beyond a forgettable 2003. Gonzalez joined Fassa Bortolo in 2003 but was unable to confirm the talent he showed when he won his first grand tour, the 2002 Vuelta a España. Racing this week in the Setmana Catalana, without teammate and defending race champion Dario Frigo by his side, Gonzalez has begun to step up his preparations for the major events of 2004.

"It's true, I'm starting a new year after one that wasn't particularly good, but I still have the same ambitions," Gonzalez said in an interview with Spanish paper AS. "My main objectives are the Tour de France and the Olympic Games. I want to arrive well prepared for both and be able to do my best possible ride."

Like other riders gearing up for the Tour, Gonzalez isn't expecting great results in Catalana, but he knows where he stands and understands the importance of moving beyond 2003.

"The real objective, leaving specific races aside, is to rediscover my best form," he said. "Later on in the grand tours is where I'll be judged, but the fundamental issue is finding those good sensations."

One rider he does expect will shine is young compatriot Alejandro Valverde, who is quickly establishing himself as one of Spain's top stage race riders.

"I'm scared of Valverde, like everyone else," Gonzalez said in good humour. "But being sincere, I'm very happy for him because he's a great friend and a wonderful person. Valverde will bring a lot to Spanish cycling."

Petacchi takes a break

Alessandro Petacchi, who despite a disappointing fourth place at Milan-San Remo has already claimed five victories in the early season, will now take a planned break from competition. The Fassa Bortolo sprinter, who rode away with six stage victories in the 2003 Giro d'Italia, four in the 2003 Tour de France, and five in the Vuelta a España, will once more build back up for the grand tours. Petacchi is expected to return to competition in mid-April at the Vuelta a Aragon before tackling the Giro.

First Paris-Roubaix for Rous

French national champion Didier Rous (Brioches La Boulangère) will for the first time take on the pavé of Paris-Roubaix this year. Enjoying good form at the moment, Rous took second place at Sunday's Cholet-Pays de Loire round of the Coupe de France series and shares second place in the series standings with Dmitri Fofonov of Cofidis. Thor Hushovd leads the Coupe de France after three races.

"What pleases me the most is that I've found my legs after being sick twice already since the beginning of the season," Rous told l'Equipe. "This will be the first time I do [Paris-Roubaix] as a pro. It was actually [assistant team manager] Thierry Bricaud who proposed the idea and I accepted. I want to see what it's all about. I think I can do well if I'm in good condition."

Surgery for Nazon

Crédit Agricole sprinter Damien Nazon will undergo surgery Thursday to remove two pins from his ankle. While the pins were in fact the result of a car accident ten years ago, Nazon's crash at the Doha International Grand Prix on January 31 has aggravated the old repair.

"Up until now the pins didn't bother me, but since my crash the pain has been constant," Nazon said in a l'Equipe report. "It wasn't an easy decision to make since this surgery will compromise part of my season."

Quick.Step to Dwars door Vlaanderen

Quick.Step-Davitamon will send a team of classics specialists to the mid-week Dwars door Vlaanderen Wednesday, building up to the Tour of Flanders and the major classics of April. Team leader Johan Museeuw will be joined by Tom Boonen, Frederic Amorison, Laszlo Bodrogi, Wilfried Cretskens, Kevin Hulsmans, Servais Knaven, and Bram Tankink.

30th Circuit des Ardennes

The 30th edition of the Circuit des Ardennes (UCI 2.6) stage race will take place April 8-11 in northeastern France. The race counts five stages in four days, including an individual time trial in Charleville-Mézières, home as well to this weekend's Critérium International. Twenty two teams will take part in the Circuit des Ardennes, won last year by's Thomas Lövkvist, then a member of Bianchi Scandinavia.


Stage 1 - April 8: Renwez, 167 km
Stage 2 - April 9: Revin, 149 km
Stage 3 - April 10: Vireux Wallerand, 167 km
Stage 4 - April 11: Charleville-Mézières ITT, 8.5 km
Stage 5 - April 11: La Francheville, 83 km

Midland Series 2004

Organisers have confirmed the dates and venues for the 2004 Midlands Cross Country MTB series. The series begins April 25th at Sherwood Pines in Nottinghamshire, England. The series then moves to a new venue at Cannock Chase, followed by Wharncliffe Woods and Catton Park before concluding back at Sherwood Pines. This season all events will be run under the British Cycling banner with all results generating British Cycling ranking points.

Series schedule:

Round 1 - April 25: Sherwood Pines
Round 2 - May 30: Cannock Chase
Round 3 - July 4: Wharncliffe Woods
Round 4 - August 1: Catton Park
Round 5 - September 5: Sherwood Pines

For more information see

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