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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News for March 31, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Beloki OK

Joseba Beloki's condition has been deemed OK after a series of tests in Nantes, France following his premature exit from the Critérium International last weekend. The tests had already been scheduled by his Brioches La Boulangère team prior to the Critérium, but Beloki's crash on the first road stage warranted additional examination. Beloki opted not to start Sunday's stage 2, stiff from the fall and preferring not to overextend himself too early.

"It's much better than expected," team director Jean-René Bernaudeau told l'Equipe. "His flexibility tests were good and he's regained most of his strength. He's just a little bit lacking at the top of his thigh. The bruise from his crash Saturday is practically gone."

Beloki too is reassured, clearly eager to continue racing after a number of setbacks this spring due to tendinitis.

"I'm very glad to know that everything is progressing correctly it should," he said. "My season can finally get started."

Beloki's next race will be the GP Miguel Indurain on April 3, followed by the Tour of the Basque Country (April 5-9). Given his delayed entry into competition, Beloki has decided not to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Vandenbroucke ready for Flanders

After solid performances and a steady improvement of his condition through races such as Paris-Nice and the Setmana Catalana, Frank Vandenbroucke (Fassa Bortolo) has declared himself ready for Belgium's biggest event, Sunday's Tour of Flanders. Second last year behind Peter Van Petegem, Vandenbroucke is arguably stronger this season and ranks among the favourites for the second round of the World Cup.

Currently taking part in the mid-week Three Days of De Panne stage race, Vandenbroucke showed already on Tuesday's stage 1 that he is ready to fight for the lead positions, finishing in the second peloton, 41 seconds behind the first group led home by Danilo Hondo. Vandenbroucke already has planned not to take part in the stage 4 time trial Thursday afternoon, preferring to save his strength for Flanders on Sunday.

"For the Tour of Flanders, I don't need the Three Days to be in form, I'm already there," Vandenbroucke told La Dernière Heure. "I'm feeling really good. The important thing is to be in the moment, to keep an eye on my rivals.

"On one hand, you can't just let victory go at the Three Days of De Panne, but at the same time, I'm not going to kill myself to get it," Vandenbroucke added. "The important day is Sunday!"

Astarloa could race Flanders

World champion Igor Astarloa (Cofidis), injured in a car accident in Italy last week, hopes to return to racing for the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. Astarloa suffered a head injury in the accident and will wait for results from his latest examination to determine whether or not Sunday's World Cup race is a possibility.

Euskaltel-Euskadi for Flanders

The Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi team has announced its roster for the upcoming Tour of Flanders on Sunday. Iñigo Landaluze, who showed good spring form throughout Paris-Nice, will help lead the orange charge, along with Mikel Artetxe, Koldo Fernández de Larrea, Markel Irizar, Egoi Martinez, Aketza Peña, Aitor Sillóniz, and Josu Sillóniz.

Comunidad Valenciana "defenseless"

Esteban Gonzalez Pons, an advisor for the Valenciana community's Culture, Education and Sport office, admitted to the Spanish press that his region felt defenseless against the accusations of Jesus Manzano concerning the Kelme team, for which the Comunidad Valenciana became a title sponsor this season. Blind sided by the allegations and subsequently excluded from all races- including the Tour de France- run by the Amaury Sport Organisation, Pons and the Valenciana government contacted Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc to request an urgent meeting.

"We requested to meet with the Tour even though we already know their position, and they know that we consider it an injustice," Pons said in a Todociclismo report. "As a sponsor I feel defenseless to everything that has happened. This time it happened to us, but tomorrow it could be the Illes Balears, the Basques [Euskaltel-Euskadi], or any other sponsor of a cycling team."

The Valenciana government is particularly angered by its exclusion from the ASO events considering the financial bailout it offered Kelme late last year.

"If there were some proof to the accusations, I wouldn't say all this," Pons added. "But if the sport scares away the sponsors, cycling will be finished."

Verbruggen urges riders to talk

UCI President Hein Verbruggen, in an interview with French paper Le Figaro over the weekend, called on more cyclists to speak out against doping in the sport. Citing Lance Armstrong's open letter to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Richard Pound, in which the five-time Tour de France winner fervently insisted that he and the majority of riders in the peloton are clean, Verbruggen asked for more of the same.

"Those who are clean need to talk, to let themselves be heard and to unite," Verbruggen said. "When the best cyclist in the world says 'I'm clean', that carries a lot of weight. This message gives Armstrong a new responsibility vis-a-vis the other riders.

"[Armstrong] has a moral responsibility since finding unity among the riders is not an easy task," Verbruggen added. "He's a smart guy. He can see his sport is suffering."

RAGT Regroups

After a disappointing season debut and no results at Paris-Nice, the newly formed RAGT Semences-MG Rover team is picking up momentum. Team directors are particularly eager to show the team's colours having earned a wildcard selection to the Tour de France this summer. Last weekend's Critérium International provided a first glimpse of the team's potential as Guillaume Auger animated the first road stage with a day-long break and the first mountains jersey as his reward.

"That's how I won a stage in the Tour Méditerranéen back in 1999," Auger explained. "There was no way I could win the sprint. I prefer to make the most of what I know I can do: getting off to a good start early on and hoping that luck will be on my side."

Auger was caught within the final 15 kilometres on the day, but remains satisfied and looks forward to earning a place in the team's Tour squad. An early break at Paris-Roubaix could also be in the cards.

"There's a good working atmosphere with the management and we are not put under any pressure, except for last week," Auger said of the team's progress this spring. "That said, we put the pressure on ourselves face up to our responsibilities."

"[Saturday] we have made up for the shortfall at Paris-Nice," added directeur sportif Jean-Luc Jonrond. "The message got through this time, so why not next time too? As far as I'm concerned, I never doubted that we would not be able to sort ourselves out."

Astarloza sick

Spain's Mikel Astarloza (Ag2r-Prévoyance) will be out of action for an undetermined period, suffering from mononucleosis. After dealing with fatigue for several weeks, the diagnosis finally confirmed the virus, which had also struck his roommate Iñigo Charreau earlier in the winter.

Women's first: team pursuit

The Marcellettes
Photo ©: M. Bengtson

Queensland, Australian and world women's track cycling history was made on Sunday, March 21 at the Chandler velodrome in South East Queensland. The inaugural 3000m women's team pursuit was held as a state title event, with the Marcellettes winning by over six seconds to the Broncos cycling club. The team pursuit was the feature event on the last day of the titles and was the first of its kind for women's cycling.

The Marcellettes women's cycling team, based in Brisbane city, was formed by Marcel Bengtson in 2001 to boost women's cycling numbers in Brisbane. The team includes eight riders: Liz Young, Jacinta Powell, Sheree Richmond, Wendy Habermann, Kate Perkins, Liz Lawson and Genevieve Rosengren.

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