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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for February 14, 2005

Edited by Hedwig Kröner and Jeff Jones

Hundreds in Cesenatico for Pantani death anniversary

Hundreds of people have gathered in the Italian town of Cesenatico, birthplace of Marco Pantani, in memory of the tragic death of "the pirate" on February 14, 2004. Pantani's body had been found lifeless in a hotel room in Rimini one year ago. In remembrance of the cycling legend, a church service was held on the eve of the anniversary of his death, attended by numerous tifosi but also close friends and members of the general public.

Pantani's death has stirred up the cycling community in Italy, giving rise to several conspiracy theories. In a recent biography of the Tour de France winner by John Wilcockson, Christina Jonsson, Pantani's girlfriend for several years, claims that Pantani's exclusion of the Giro d'Italia in 1999 [because of a positive doping test involving a hematocrit value of 52 - ed.] had been planned by an Italian betting mafia.

"Marco Velo, still riding professionally for Fassa Bortolo, stated after Pantani's death that there had been rumours of Marco's exclusion even one day before the blood test. You know that very high bets are placed on the main contenders in Italy," Jonsson is quoted in an interview in the book.

Eddy Merckx on Lance, doping and a healthy life

A very lean looking Eddy Merckx was a guest on the Belgian VRT program Sportweekend on Sunday, February 13. The cycling legend, bronzed by the sun in Qatar, clearly re-energised and definitely looking a lot healthier than a couple of years ago, expressed his hope for Lance Armstrong to ride another Tour de France this year.

"It's not something we have discussed recently but I'd like to see Lance being present again this year at the start of the Tour de France," said Merckx. "It would be a real pity if the winner of six Tours wouldn't go for a seventh victory. But I understand that his contract with Discovery holds a clause which allows him to skip this year and then contest the Tour again in 2006. If we don't see him this year, we will next season."

Asked if he would ride were he in Lance's shoes, Merckx added, "Yes, I would. But then, I was a different rider, I would have raced a lot more during the year too."

Does Merckx have a favourite for the first big Classic of the year, La Primavera/Milan-San Remo? "I hope a Belgian wins. And yes, why not Tom Boonen. He's that year older now, he's up to it."

Merckx also commented on his disagreement with IOC's Jacques Rogge statement that "a zero-tolerance" concerning doping has to be established. "What I mean by that is that it is not possible at this moment to apply zero-tolerance politics. There are too many riders who have medical certificates for medication which they then are allowed to take while racing. Zero-tolerance means that those riders shouldn't be racing at all; it's not fair to the rest of the peloton. You have to make the rules the same for all. If you apply a zero-tolerance policy, then a rider who isn't 100 percent healthy needs to stay at home. It's not a matter of doping or drugs specifically, it's just a matter of making sure that the athletes are taking care of their health."

What about riders caught doping? "The rules are there to be applied. Riders that are caught have to be sanctioned. There can't be exceptions, whether they are big names in the sport or not, everyone has to be treated the same."

Johan Museeuw is one of the biggest names in Belgian cycling who has been sanctioned for drugs, and his case has made big headlines in Belgium and around the world. "I don't know the dossier, so I can't give any comments on that issue," said Merckx. "It strikes me as unjust that journalists were allowed to look into the court's dossier; such things shouldn't happen as the case has not been closed yet. But it appears to me that Museeuw should speak out, come clean. I can imagine how hard it would be for his family. Especially when you have children to think of. Kids at school can be hard for each other."

Merckx was then asked about his own health, and the secret of his sudden weight loss last year. "Ha, there's all those things people say. Some even say I got a stomach "ring" put in so I could lose this weight. What really happened is that I had an operation on the oesophagus because I had been troubled by serious heartburn for quite some time. This caused me to be awake for hours during the night and the situation also made me eat less and lose weight to start with. Simultaneously I was starting to get into an exercise routine and I watched my diet. After retiring from pro cycling, but liking great food and a beer, the weight stacked on easily. I weighed 113 kg at one stage; it had to come off, now I'm back down to 85 kg."

Unlike some of his retired peers, Eddy Merckx has no plans of taking up masters racing. "No, not at all. That time is over and done with," he said. "I've raced enough, I don't feel the need at all to go and compete, not at all! I've got about 1,000 km for 2005 already, and I could sit in the wheel from the younger riders out training in Qatar, but that's as far as it goes."

Quick.Step to Laigueglia without Pozzato

Two-time winner Filippo Pozzato will not take part in the 42nd Trofeo Laigueglia because of the 'flu that struck him last Friday evening. Quick.Step announced that the winner of the 2003 and 2004 edition will be replaced by his teammate Addy Engels.

The 42nd Trofeo Laigueglia, a 1.1 UCI-rated race, will take place on Tuesday, February 15. The riders will have to complete 183 km from the start in Laiguelia, close to San Remo, until the finish line in the same town. The Belgian team will send the following riders to the Italian Riviera: Paolo Bettini, Mads Christensen, Addy Engels, Marc Lotz, Cristian Moreni, Luca Paolini, Michael Rogers and Patrik Sinkewitz.

Lampre-Caffita sends Simoni

Italian team Lampre Caffita has announced its roster for Trofeo Laigueglia, giving Gilberto Simoni the preference over Damiano Cunego. After a 12 day training camp in the region of Laiguelia, often involving rides of more than 200 km, Lampre team managers Saronni and Corti have decided on the team roster for the prestigious one-day race.

"With regards to the present condition of Cunego and Simoni, I have seen a good Cunego on par with last year," said Lampre's technical director Giuseppe Martinelli. "Simoni is very motivated, his condition is definitely more advanced than last year.

Lampre-Caffita will be represented by the following riders in Laiguelia: Alessandro Ballan, Daniele Bennati, GianLuca Bortolami, Salvatore Commesso, David Loosli, Michele Scotto D'Abusco, Gilberto Simoni and Sylvester Szmyd.

German federation to elect president

The German cycling federation BDR will elect its new president on March 19. The election will decide between two candidates: former Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping and hotel owner Max Benz. Former BDR president Sylvia Schenk retired from her position last year.

Scharping also had to resign from his ministry post in 2002 after several affairs. While none of them were truly severe, the Social-Democratic party was afraid his reputation would influence public opinion. Today, he ex-minister is still active politically, while his engagement for cycling has been widely perceived as being purely personal.

Max Benz, the underdog candidate, is a 35 year-old sports hotel owner thought of as someone who can bring a breath of fresh air into the federation. On February 19, both candidates will outline their programs to the state committee's presidents in Hofheim near Frankfurt. An unofficial vote will be cast after the meeting, with the final election taking place one month later, on March 19. presented

The team lines up
Photo ©: Henry Iddon
Click for larger image

Three Olympians and a former World Champion drew a healthy press interest from international television and print as the MG Rover factory in Birmingham, UK played host to the 2005 presentation of Britainís top cycling squad. had a full complement of riders on show, not withstanding the arrival back of four of the squad from the Tour of Langkawi overnight and an impressive line-up of sponsors including representatives of all three major sponsors. Ushered between rows of the new 500bhp MG SV-R sports car and accompanied on bagpipes by Under 23 National Road Race Series Champion, Evan Oliphant, the squad took time to provide the audience with a question and answer session with Eurosport's Tour de France anchor man David Harmon.

Asked what an Olympic Champion looks for in joining a professional team, double bronze and silver medallist Rob Hayles was quick to point out that quality is everything. "I'm really excited to join I've got a really strong team of riders around me and the infrastructure is so strong, you don't consider joining a team with anything less," he said.

Chris Newton and Dean Downing
Photo ©: Henry Iddon
Click for larger image

Former World Points Champion and fellow silver medallist Chris Newton was equally as enthusiastic, most notably by the ability to step beyond many of the constraints of the past few years. "I've had to concentrate on lots of other things for quite a while now but I'm desperate to win the rainbow jersey of World Champion back again," he said, adding, "With a team like this around me I think I can win the National Road Championships and the Tour of Britain too!"

Team Director Phil Leigh has worked hard in fostering a secure and stable environment for the team but conceded that 2005 was a quantum leap forward: "We've become the worldís first UCI registered track trade team and with the backing of such great and committed sponsors we are utterly focused on success. The plain fact is you just canít expand the quality and quantity of a teamís racing without the support of sponsors who understand succeeding."

As well as Olympic stars Hayles, Manning and Newton can also boast a wealth of young talent in Ben Greenwood, Leigh Cowell and Evan Oliphant who took second, third and first respectively in the National under 23 Road Race Series. "I'm a lucky boy," proclaimed Cowell. "How many other young riders get the support and chances I'm getting here in this team! With such experienced riders and staff itís the best possible place for a young rider with ambition to be."

The team launch straight into a heavy spring calendar with Team Captain Russell Downing, Robin Sharman, Evan Oliphant, Leigh Cowell and 20 year-old Ben Greenwood on duty at the Circuit de Plage in France followed by a full team training camp in Sardinia.

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Images by Henry Iddon

Aerospace Engineering-VMG Cycling launched

A new UCI Continental team, Aerospace Engineering Group-VMG Cycling, has announced its roster for the 2005 season. Mainly sponsored by Aerospace Engineering Group, an aircraft components and accessories company with facilities in Europe and Miami, the team is joined by a new sponsor, VMG, a Bahamian company dedicated to the development and promotion of cycling and athletics.

With team headquarters located in Serbia and Montenegro, the roster will consist of riders based in both Europe and the United States. The team will compete in UCI events around the world. Racing has already begun with the teamís participation in the Volta do Estado de Sao Paulo de Ciclismo (UCI 2.2), in Brasil, from January 16-23.

The full team roster: Njegos Blagojevic, Clemente Cavaliere, Chris Deluise, Dor Dviri, Yosvan Falcon, Chris Frederick, Fabio Gilioli, Esad Hasanovic, Alexander Jugovic, Eric Keim, Victor Laza, Eric Murphy, Hugh Moran, Predrag Prokic, Dejan Stefanovic, Ivan Stevic and Ryan Trebon. Team Manager is Radisa Cubric, team director Alexander Nikaecevic with assistant directors Gustavo Carrillo and Vladimir Kovljenic.

The team is further sponsored by Toshiba, Telekom Srbija, a Serbian telecommunications company and EPS (Electric Power Industry of Serbia), Serbiaís largest supplier of electricity. Downtown Bicycles, M Cycle Gym, Ft. Lauderdale Marina Marriot and J-Town Bikes will offer assistance to the team as well. The team is equipped by Jamis Bicycles, Louis Garneau, Truvativ, Michelin, Shimano and GU.

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