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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News for April 8, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones, with assistance from Sabine Sunderland

An interview with Tom Boonen

My main goal is to win the next race

French and tiny, that's how one would describe the 'Bar Tabac L'Allumette' in Bouvines on the outskirts of Roubaix.

Once a year it is used as a press room for the Belgian Quick.Step-Innergetic team the Friday before the main event. Strolling in from across the road, Tom Boonen mentioned that it was getting too small - we thought that Tom Boonen is getting far too big for this place... Confident as usual and joking around with the press, Brecht Decaluwé was there for Cyclingnews.

Q: How important was it to do the reconnaissance ride this morning?

Here comes Tom Boonen
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

TB: We did the most important roads but it didn't learn much. As with the Ronde van Vlaanderen, we know what the most important parts of the race will be. The forest of Arenberg has been cleaned up last year but I'm wondering why they did that. It is worse than it was before. Normally, on a cobblestoned road, you have a line that you can follow. In Arenberg, there isn't such a path. There are only gaps and borders; it is really tough. The mud between the cobbles has been removed. That makes it even worse than the Koppenberg [the cobbled hill in the Tour of Flanders, were most of the peloton had to walk its way to the top - ed.].

The forest of Arenberg is a really dangerous part of the race. The speeds are so high when you enter the forest, they are up to 65 to 70 km/h. It's like racing towards the Oude Kwaremont in the Tour of Flanders; you just have to ride in front. Once you're in the forest and you're riding in front, then nothing can happen. You just have to gamble that you'll be lucky.

Click here for the full feature

One final recon for Quick.Step

By Anthony Tan in Compiegne

The Friday before Paris-Roubaix, defending champion Tom Boonen went for an eighty kilometre final reconnaissance with his Quick.Step team-mates, riding over the decisive final sections of the race he hopes to win for the second time in as many years.

Training kicked off at 10:15 this morning, commencing roughly at secteur pavé 17, otherwise known as the infamous Trouée d'Arenberg that greets the field after 163,5 kilometres in the race, and finished eleven secteurs later at Cysoing ŕ Bourghelles (km 232), 27 clicks from the finish to be held inside the Roubaix velodrome.

After a quick towel down and a change of clothes inside the comfort of the Quick.Step bus, an hour-long press conference [see separate story] was held inside the cosy Bar Tabac L'Allumette in Dehau-Bouvines, where the world champ fielded a barrage of questions, ranging from his bike, his biggest rivals (at first naming his team-mate Kevin Hulsmans in jest), La Foręt d'Arenberg (describing it worse than the Koppenberg in last weekend's Ronde van Vlaanderen, which saw everyone except 10-15 riders walk uphill), and whether his leaner physique has affected his ability on the flat - to which he confidently replied: "No, not at all - I just go faster!"

Quick.Step-Innergetic has named the seven riders who will support defending champion Tom Boonen in this Sunday's Paris-Roubaix: Wilfried Cretskens, Steven De Jongh, Kevin Hulsmans, Servais Knaven, Nick Nuyens, Filippo Pozzato and Kevin Van Impe will be trying to help Boonen reach the Roubaix velodrome in first position, with sports director Wilfried Peeters in the driver's seat.

Quick.Step tidbits

By Brecht Decaluwé in Compiegne

Italian Quick.Stepper Filippo Pozzato doesn't look like a cobble specialist. The recent winner of Milano-Sanremo will also show up in the Amstel Gold Race. But he's not thinking too much about that race right now; last year in Roubaix, Pippo did a great job creating the decisive escape but he faded out of the picture later on.

He looks hungry for a good performance this year: "This is my second showing in Paris-Roubaix. It is a difficult race but it suits me very well," Pozzato said. "Tom Boonen and I will make the race tough for the others. My work in the Tour of Flanders [Pippo worked tirelessly for Boonen - ed.] will give me payback chances in Paris-Roubaix.

"The forest of Arenberg made a big impression on me, it's really hell. The speeds are very high, up to 70 km/h and you haven't got much control on the bike because of those speeds. You have to concentrate on your pedalling as well. Combine that with the difficulty to shift your gears and you know that the first kilometre of the forest is the toughest part of the whole race. Franco Ballerini advised me to be up front over there, but he also said that I shouldn't do it against all costs. If it's too hard to get up front, he said that I'd better drop a few place as the risks are too high.

"I didn't love Paris-Roubaix, but I'm fascinated about the charm of the race. Probably, the most important thing is to stay on your bike and spare as much energy as possible going into the finale."

Coach of the Quick.Step team is Wilfried Peeters. The former lieutenant of Johan Museeuw stood twice on the podium in the velodrome in Roubaix with a third place in 1998 and a second place in 1999, also finishing fifth in 2001. Looking at these results, he should be able to tell us what it takes to be good in this race: "Riding on the cobbles is like a man-to-man battle," said Peeters.

"I know that our men can handle that kind of battle very well. Probably, nobody really likes riding on cobbles but they all see it as an enormous challenge. The race situation in Paris-Roubaix can change every moment with bad luck looking around every corner. That way, it's good to know that all our riders can perform at their best."

Triple winner in 1996, 2000 and 2002 was the 'Lion of Flanders', Johan Museeuw. Nowadays he functions as a PR-man for the Quick.Step team. On Belgian radio Studio Brussel, he commented about his past feelings with this race: "Paris-Roubaix gave me beautiful moments but it also brought me a lot of pain. Coming back in this race and winning it in 2002 was one of the greatest performances of my career. It was also the tenth classic that I won, so it was a very strong emotion to grab that win."

Big favourite for the win is Tom Boonen, often referred to as the crown prince of Museeuw. "We are different riders though," said Museeuw. "He was there winning classics at a very young age. I managed to win my first classic at the age of 25. At that moment, I was still a pure sprinter.

"Starting to ride with the Mapei team in Italy and working with Patrick Lefevere got me transformed into a classics specialist. That's the main common thing between Boonen and me. He's able to win the same races like I did. Also as a human, he's very different. I'm a very shy, modest person, Boonen is more a flamboyant guy. He's not afraid to say how things should be said. For the audience it must be great to have such a rider. If he says that he's going to win, he does and that's great. We had the same thing with Frank Vandenbroucke, but he lost much of his glory."

Museeuw expects to see the following riders on the podium next Sunday: "Winner: Van Petegem. Second: Hushovd. And Boonen third. Everyone is naming Tom as the number one, and I am not doing that!" said the Quick Step PR officer.

Van Petegem is ready

Peter Van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto) is ready for the Hell of the North, the race that he won in 2003. After finishing fourth in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Van Petegem showed that he has the legs to be in the finale. "The legs feel reasonably good," he told Sporza radio. "I did some hard training last Wednesday and by Sunday things have to be perfect. Last Sunday was good for me. Ok, winning is different of course, yeah. The last weeks I had a lot of criticism addressed to me; but I knew I was on the right track, I proved that. For Sunday that is positive.

"I've recovered well from last Sunday. . I don't have to take revenge. I'm riding for myself. I proved last weekend I'm fit and able to ride the finale. Sunday, I'm riding Paris-Roubaix, a new race, a new chance, it's not all that bad.

"Tactically it is important to have the least possible of bad luck and then make sure you're at the front. The strongest one always wins in Paris-Roubaix. It can be very easy at times, but it's very hard. If I win on Sunday it will be a beautiful day, if I don't win but I rode well, well yes, my career is partly made already, it's not like I have to prove much anymore. I'll take what I can get.

Even if he doesn't win, Van Petegem won't consider his season a failure: "The season is only four months far, there's another five to go. There's a lot of riders who say they want to win Paris-Roubaix the eve before, or be top five... It's not because you don't win any races that you're not doing well."

When asked about his main rival, Tom Boonen, and possible race outcomes, Van Petegem told HLN, "It would indeed be nice to enter the velodrome with Boonen, because that would mean that you'll at the worst finish second. So yes, it would be OK to sprint on the track with Boonen, it's different than a normal sprint. But I'd rather arrive at the track without Boonen; in case he is there still, well we'll make the best of it.

"Bert Roesems has been performing well for a few weeks now but we have a whole team with important riders; guys who put me out of the wind, give me a wheel when I need it. I insisted on having Bert Roesems in the Ronde, we saw last Sunday he's riding strong. Bert's a guy who can time-trial; in case there's a gap to be closed after a puncture, he's an important man.

The change of the parcours isn't major and Peter Van Petegem thinks it won't make a difference: "Paris-Roubaix is always hard; there's still 25 sections of cobbles, one more or less. It's the strong men who remain in the end and who make the race.

A new bike? "It's tradition that almost everyone has a new bike; a bit longer to have more stability on the cobbles. Especially in the bad weather; it's important to stay upright.

"Scheldeprijs and Amstel Gold race are the only two races after this weekend. Then, like everyone else, I will have a small rest period. I'm not planning to stop racing yet!"

Peter Van Petegem will have the following riders by his side on Sunday: Nico Mattan, Leon Van Bon, Henk Vogels, Tom Steels, Wim Vansevenant, Gert Steegmans and Bert Roesems.

Planckaert reflects on his Roubaix

In the lead up to Paris-Roubaix, the Belgian press are using the rich resources Flanders has to get a good idea of what the classic of the north means to the one-day specialists, the true Flandriens. Sven Spoormakers of Het Laatste Nieuws reminisced with Eddy Planckaert about his glory days; about that race in 1990 in which he knew his biggest and last big victory. The day he won Paris-Roubaix, in front of Canadian Steve Bauer whom he beat in a millimetre sprint in the velodrome of Roubaix.

"It was my last chance to win Paris-Roubaix." Eddy Planckaert recalled. "I had dreamed about it the night before. My dream came true. I went, with still hundred kilometres to go. All on my own. My brother Walter - who was my sports director at Panasonic - declared me insane. When I gained two minutes, I waited. Van Hooydonck, Gayant and Bauer and a few others came back. All the other favourites didn't dare to move. Then Bauer attacked on the Carrefour de l'Arbre. He gave it his all and I rode next to him, whistling. Then only Van Hooydonck remained. When we entered the track, Gayant and Wampers joined us. Jean-Marie (Wampers) tried to pull the sprint, but Van Hooydonck went from far. He let Bauer pass underneath and I had to go the whole way around. On the last piece I closed my eyes and stopped breathing. I threw my bike and won."

There wasn't even a centimetre in it Planckaert remembers: "A centimetre; forget it! Five or six millimetres, yeah. Fifteen minutes after the finish I still wasn't sure. Did I win or not? But everybody kept congratulating me. The soigneurs of the team fell in my arms. Post said I had won. I didn't believe them. I hadn't seen it myself because I was sprinting with my eyes closed that last hundred meters."

Winning Paris-Roubaix was the biggest achievement in his career, a stunt Eddy is still very proud of: "It gives my palmares 'cachet'. I won on average eleven races in a season; in Spain, in France, in Italy, here... Races like Omloop Het Volk or the E3-Prijs; who remembers that I won those two times? No-one, do they? Eddy Planckaert, he won Paris-Roubaix. And the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. And some people know that I once won the Green Jersey in the Tour de France.

"You know, more than the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix if the world championships of the classics specialists. Coureurs like myself, they simply had to have Paris-Roubaix on their palmares. If I never won it, I would have been ashamed for eternity," the most colourful offspring of the Planckaerts claims.

"I swore to myself, as a little boy that I would win that race. I was ten years old and stood along the cobbles, with a spare wheel in each hand. My brothers Willy and Walter were riding. The first rider to pass was Eddy Merckx; wearing his rainbow jersey. His face enchanted me then. The grimness it radiated. That I had and would have to be capable of myself. From that moment onwards Paris-Roubaix had something divine."

Planckaert went on to paint a colourful picture of how it must feel to win solo on the track in Roubaix. "It must be an unbelievable feeling to enter that velodrome by yourself. To experience everything at ease, without having to stress about those others who also want to win the race... it has to be like an orgasm. No, better than an orgasm. A sort of trance; a feeling as if you're floating meters and meters above ground.

"The cobbles are the hell, and the track is heaven. And well, the showers are inferno. It's just the order of things isn't logical. They're tombs, from the coldest stone I ever felt. Sometimes the water was hot and then you were lucky. But when you won, you entered the showers as the last rider. Then there was only fog. You were standing there; in a sort of a mist, all by yourself, underneath a measly stream of ice-cold water.

"Paris-Roubaix, that's suffering. That's cobbles. That is dust and mud in your nose and your throat and your ears and your eyes. That's cursing a whole day, and yelling and shouting. But I would have never wanted to win Paris-Roubaix without experiencing those showers afterwards."

Dirk Demol: "If Hincapie wins Paris-Roubaix he'll become immortal"

"Frontpagenews" Demol thinks out loud when he's asked about how America would receive a victory of George Hincapie in the Hell of the North, in an interview with Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. "Then he doesn't have to obtain any big results any more for the rest of his life; nice hey," Demol said.

The most important thing according to Discovery Channel's team director is that Hincapie keeps his head clear on Sunday. "Not like in 2002, when he rode in Boonen's tracks too long without an extra jersey in the cold and bad weather; burned all the coals in the fire and dived into the ditch in the finale. That must have been the only time he met his limits in his favourite race. Not this Sunday, please. Because guaranteed, Boonen will ride just in front of him again. A super-Boonen. And he (George) has to make sure that he stays with him."

Wauters' final day in Hell

"My dream has always been to win that race. For once, I won't think about the risks on Sunday." said Marc Wauters when he was queried about his plans for Paris-Roubaix by HLN. In his last season as a pro in the peloton, Marc Wauters admits he's become more careful, that fear even gets the better of him nowadays. "I've gotten scared. I don't participate in the wriggling and pushing any more. In Tirreno I rather did an extra bit in the wind, than to get to the front via the belly of the peloton. In the Three Days of De Panne I kept a low profile too."

But his 4th placing in 2003 is something Marc Wauters wants to improve on. "In the RVV I succeeded in positioning myself well again. I can still do it and I will do it. Sunday in Paris-Roubaix. I've been training for this for so many months. I won't be thinking about the risks. All the training work would be superfluous if I went for the brakes too quickly.

"I know how to ride across the cobbles and I don't have to get over any hills. So I can ride my tempo and don't have to make those short sprints uphill. The chance of me winning is going to be small of course. The way Boonen and Hincapie are riding at the moment, I don't see myself as a real favourite. You won't hear me say that I will beat Tom Boonen on that track. Or that I will ride away from Tom Boonen on the cobbles. But if I can be spared from bad luck; I might get far. And then, you never know what can happen after 260km."

T-Mobile changes P-R roster

T-Mobile has made two changes to its roster for Paris-Roubaix. Lorenzo Bernucci and Sergey Ivanov will be replaced by Andre Korff and Bas Giling. Bernucci is suffering from leg bruises suffered in a fall in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, "which makes his start in the 'Hell of the North' with its more than 50 kilometres of cobblestones impossible, despite intensive medical care," the team said. Korff, who rode the RvV in place of Stefan Wesemann, is currently riding the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Ivanov will now concentrate on his preparations for the Amstel Gold Race. In P-R he will be replaced by Bas Giling, who in 2004 was second in the U-23 edition of the race.

Hondo still waiting

The court has cleared him to ride, the UCI has said that he can ride, and Swiss Cycling has given him a license to ride - but Danilo Hondo is still not riding races. Why not? Because he still hasn't got a contract with a team. His latest plan was to appear as a "guest rider" at Rund um Köln on Easter Monday, but the race management has nixed the idea. "Our race has 1.1 status. Mixed teams may not start," explained the race's technical director.

Courtesy of Susan Westemeyer

UCI doping news

The following riders have been suspended for doping offences, according to the UCI:

Federico Muńoz Fernandez (Col), tested positive for EPO during the race Vuelta a Guatemala (Gua) on 27th October 2004, sanctioned by the Court Of Arbitration For Sport (CAS), suspension of 2 years from 18th February 2005 to 17th February 2007, disqualification from the race. The CAS also fined the Federacion Colombiana de Ciclismo to pay the UCI a contribution of CHF 5,000.- towards the latter’s legal costs.

Rory Sutherland (Aus), tested positive for clomiphene and hydroxy-clomiphene during the race Deutschland Tour (Ger) on 23rd August 2005, sanctioned by Royale Ligue Velocipedique Belge, suspension of 15 months from 16th September 2005 to 15th December 2006, disqualification from the race.

Gabriel Pop (Rom), did not present himself at the anti-doping control during the event Tour of Hellas (Gre) on 22nd April 2005, sanctioned by the Court Of Arbitration For Sport, suspension of 2 years from 27th February 2006 to 27th February 2008, disqualification from the race.

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