Latest Cycling News for September 23, 2004
Edited by Jeff Jones & Hedwig Kröner
Vuelta: the fight continues
With four more stages of the Vuelta a España to come, it's going to be a battle until Madrid among the Vuelta's top GC riders. So far it's still the diminutive Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) who holds the leader's jersey, but although he put two minutes into closest rival Alejandro Valverde (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme) yesterday, Phonak's Santiago Perez dropped him in the final kilometres of the Covatilla to move to within 1'12 of Heras on GC. If Perez can keep his momentum up, then Heras will be in a very vulnerable position this Sunday in Madrid.
Phonak's director Alvaro Pino was quoted in Diario Vasco today as saying, "We are going to fight until the last day. Up until now it has been between Heras and Valverde. For me Roberto continues as the favourite because he doesn't have a bad day and is very difficult to beat, but we will keep on struggling. There remain some tough stages and on Saturday we will have to try and get a little closer to Heras."
As for Perez's spectacular rise on the general classification, "I never thought we would be in this situation but everyone in the world has their first chance, It is very tough but the way we are going, we have to try...Santi showed he is the strongest again...the other day the great favourite was Valverde, today it is Heras, but he will have to be very careful with Santi who is progressing with ease."
Comunidad Valenciana director Vicente Belda conceded that Valverde has virtually no chance of winning now. "With two minutes and a bit there is no way we can think about the victory and we will have to look for stages," he said. "[To win] the Vuelta is practically impossible. We have to be conscious of the fact that it looks like Heras and his team are the winners."
Regarding Valverde, Belda said, "When he exploded, he couldn't do anything more because the attack was very strong and explosive. Valverde had a bad day...after 17 days this can happen, it was very hot and he paid for it. Liberty went very strongly but that was not the cause."
Valverde confirmed that the GC is almost a lost cause for him, saying, "The Vuelta is between Roberto and Santi, for me it is lost, not lost but it is very difficult. It is possible i have now lost it...I suffered in the heat, I think I was dehydrated, I wanted to go harder on the pedals but I just couldn't do it. When Carlos was pacing me I couldn't follow him. It was only a bad day and it isn't important."
Race leader Roberto Heras knew that Valverde was in trouble, and took full advantage. "On the ascent I heard Valverde talking to Garcia Quesada, he wanted him to go slower and that was when I attacked, he had a bad time but later on he got a bit better."
There is still one more big mountain finish to come as well as the time trial, and from what we have seen so far in the Vuelta, fortunes can change very quickly.
Aitor Gonzalez out, and maybe to Euskaltel?
Fassa Bortolo has confirmed that Aitor Gonzalez has abandoned the Vuelta as of this morning. In a statement, the team said that Gonzalez is suffering from viral gastroenteritis, a frequent problem at the race this year. Aitor Gonzalez has been feeling ill for a whole week, and said, "I wanted to hold on, and I did. But I had a fever during the whole day yesterday, from morning to evening. I'm leaving with the thought that this Vuelta could have been successful for me because I was in good shape, but I was simply unlucky."
Meanwhile, Spanish online newspaper DEIA reports Gonzalez' management is in contract negotiations with the Basque squad Euskaltel-Euskadi. His current team, Fassa Bortolo, is not willing to extend his contract for next season (see story). Euskaltel wants the winner of the 2002 Vuelta be its leader at the Spring Classics, one-week-races like Paris-Nice, País Vasco, Tour de Romandie, Tour de Suisse and at the Vuelta. Directeur sportif Julián Gorospe reportedly has Haimar Zubeldia in mind as a leader for the Giro d'Italia, and of course Iban Mayo for the Tour de France.
Whether or not Aitor Gonzalez will be finalising this rather cautious one year contract now depends on financial considerations. Gonzalez' pay at Fassa is reported to be around € 600.000 a year, which Euskaltel says it cannot afford.
In the blood
How the new blood doping test works
The latest salvo in sport's ongoing battle against doping has seen 2004 Olympic time trial gold medalist Tyler Hamilton accused of blood doping after initial tests at the Olympics and the Vuelta a España appeared to reveal evidence of blood manipulation. In search of the background and science behind the new test, John Stevenson spoke to Dr Michael Ashenden, project coordinator for the research consortium Science and Industry Against Blood doping, and one of the scientists responsible for developing the new technique.
Dr Michael Ashenden is a man on a mission, and that mission is a very straightforward one: the eradication of blood doping, which he describes as "the most diabolical form of doping."
As the project coordinator for international research consortium Science and Industry Against Blood doping, Ashenden has a deep scientific interest in the subject. But once the subject strays from discussion of fluorescent dyes and antigens, you can tell there is a real passion burning here to end a practice that the former Australian Institute of Sport exercise physiologist believes is extraordinarily dangerous.
"It has to be stamped out," Ashenden tells Cyclingnews over the phone from his organisation's base in Surfer's Paradise, Australia, "and I hope that if there is one positive that comes out of [the Hamilton incident] it's that athletes using this form of doping know they have to stop. It's repugnant."
Blood doping involves using a transfusion of either the athlete's own blood or, more commonly, someone else's, to temporarily increase the quantity of red blood cells in the body and therefore the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. It's a startlingly crude but extremely effective performance-enhancer. Unfortunately, it's also beset with serious health risks.
"Even in a hospital a doctor will not transfuse unless there is no other option," says Ashenden. The risks are many, and potentially lethal. "You could catch AIDS, you could catch hepatitis, you could get an infection from the needle. You could also become sensitised to the minor blood group proteins so that you would have problems later if you really need a transfusion."
It's these minor blood groups that are Ashenden's area of interest because they produce both the risk from blood doping, and the means to detect it. Everyone is familiar with the major blood groups, A, B and O. If you're type A and you get a transfusion of type B blood, the resulting reaction can be fatal. But there are also many other 'minor' blood groups that depend on the nature of the proteins on the surfaces of the red blood cells.
For a single transfusion, these minor blood groups are not usually an issue. However, it's possible for the immune system become sensitized to them, that is, to learn to treat them as foreign invaders. The proteins we're talking about here are the body's way of differentiating 'self' from 'other'. That sensitisation can subsequently have serious consequences.
"One transfusion can be enough to make you sensitized," says Ashenden. "Subsequently your body might destroy the transfused cells or if there are enough of them you might suffer a haemolytic reaction which can be life-threatening. Once you are sensitized, you're sensitized for life. In hospitals there are tests for this, but they're not going to be used in a hotel room where an athlete is pumping himself full of a team-mate's blood."
Beloki confident about next season
Joseba Beloki (Saunier Duval), last year's Tour de France rival of Lance Armstrong, abandoned the Vuelta on stage 16 in poor condition. He was barely able to follow the peloton's pace in the mountains and had to retire from the race, feeling "completely exhausted".
After a more than a year of not being able to race after his famous crash while descending the Col de la Rochette, the Saunier Duval leader is not giving up his hopes of getting into shape again. "I'm still satisfied with what I've done. I wanted to finish the Vuelta, but I just couldn't," he said to Marca.
The Spanish rider does remain confident in himself. "I will be competitive next season. I'm not finished yet," he added.
Bartoli on the attack again
According to the newspaper Corriere dello Sport, Italian Michele Bartoli (CSC) is very disappointed that he hasn't been chosen on the National team for the 2004 World Championships in Verona. "I called Ballerini [the National coach - ed.] and told him I was in good form for Verona. But he didn't trust me, and that's a shame. I have really been feeling very well."
The Tuscan hasn't ridden any World Championships since 2002 and has actually been thinking of putting an end to his career after this season. "But then I said to myself - you can't quit like this," Bartoli admitted. He has now decided to end of this season successfully to show Ballerini that he made a mistake by not choosing him. The Coppa Sabatini on Thursday, the Giro dell'Emilia on Saturday as well as the Giro di Lombardia on October 16th - of which he has won the last two editions - all are on his list now. "I'm very strong, and I will prove it," said Bartoli.
Giro di Lombardia course changed
The last World Cup race of this season (and the last World Cup race before the Pro Tour changes), the Giro di Lombardia, will take a different route on October 16, as announced by the organisers RCS Sport in a press conference on Tuesday.
The race will start in Mendrisio, Switzerland, and end in the Italian town of Como. The 246 km long parcours is slightly shorter, and the first 18 km will be on Swiss territory, before the race moves into Lombardy, Italy. 44 km before the finish, the famous climb of Ghisallo is waiting for the riders, as well as the climb of San Fermo della Battaglia just 5.7 km metres before the finish line.
O'Loughlin and McCann in action at World's
By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent
National Road Race Champion, David O'Loughlin and the National Time Trial Champion, David McCann will be on duty for Ireland at the World Cycling Championships, which are being staged in Verona Italy next week. This is the second occasion in five years that the Italian city has been given the championships. Originally, the UCI including presidential hopeful Pat McQuaid and local officials, had earmarked Killarney in Co. Kerry, Ireland for the 2004 events after many visits, but lack of funding scuppered their hopes.
Both Davids will participate in the time trial and road events. With both Mark Scanlon and Ciaran Power being unavailable to go to Italy, it has presented the ideal opportunity for O'Loughlin and McCann to showcase their talents, particularly for the benefit of the professional managers who are always on the lookout for talent on the big stage. Both are also keen to get pro contracts.
BikeNZ fires track coach
The New Zealand cycling federation (BikeNZ) has terminated National Track Coach Kurt Innes' contract with immediate effect, according to a statement. Innes, who was criticised by members of the NZ pursuit squad during the Olympics, had confirmed he did not plan to apply for a permanent position with BikeNZ when his contract expired on 31 October. Consequently, following his input into the Olympic debrief process, BikeNZ agreed to end the employment agreement.
"The need for a National Track Coach to lead the track programme in the run up to the 2004 Olympics was recognised by BikeNZ in September 2003, in establishing a fixed term national track coach position focussed on Athens," said BikeNZ CEO Rodger Thompson. "BikeNZ must acknowledge the massive challenge Kurt faced in taking on a programme 10 months out from an Olympics. We're very pleased with what Kurt achieved and grateful for the effort and hours he invested in the lead up to Athens."
Thompson confirmed that the next step for BikeNZ following the Olympic debrief process is planning for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and taking a proposal to SPARC's New Zealand Academy of Sport with a view to securing a four year investment. If successful, BikeNZ will be able to offer long term contracts to high performance staff.
"The process we're going through right now is to review the Olympic campaign, including support (staffing) structures, to ensure we create the most effective structure for the long term," said Thompson. "It is critical that on the back of the Olympic debrief, we put together a sound long-term programme and secure the NZ Academy of Sport's support."
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)