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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Cycling Newsflash for January 21, 2006

Edited by Gerard Knapp

Mark French misses time for Commonwealth Games consideration
- but plans next attempt before cut-off

Reported by Mal Sawford

Mark winds it up
Photo ©: Gary Newvine
(Click for larger image) Mark winds it up in the flying 200...

The aspirations of Australian track cyclist Mark French to be considered for selection to the Commonwealth Games team suffered a setback tonight after he failed to set a sprint qualifying time of 10.55 seconds for a flying 200 metres at the Joe Ciavola velodrome in Melbourne.

With good support from the crowd, the 21 year old cyclist managed a time of 10.8 in conditions that were described as sweltering, as Melbourne is in the grip of a heatwave that saw the mercury nudge 44 degrees Celsius. One observer said it was "almost unbearable inside the velodrome".

French was said to have looked disappointed after his time. Nonetheless, "he received incredible support from the crowd, so there doesn't appear to be any backlash from the fans", said one observer. French's attempt at the sprint qualifying time was one of the highlights of the Sid Patterson Grand Prix, one in a series of track racing events held in Melbourne over the summer.

This was the first real hit-out for the promising sprinter, who's now back in training after he was suspended and then cleared of doping allegations. At the time of his suspension, he created a huge controversy in Australia in 2004 with allegations of doping among his team-mates.

While all of French's allegations were dismissed by separate enquiries, his former team-mates have spoken openly about their disappointment in the young rider.

At first French declined to speak to the media after his attempt, but he then told Cyclingnews' Mal Sawford, "tonight was to see where we were at and to do my best in front of a big crowd". He said he felt "very comfortable, it made me wonder what all these nerves were about" prior to his attempt.

The sprinter has until January 31 to set a qualifying time to be considered for Commonwealth Games selection (although it doesn't guarantee a spot), and "I'll definitely try again on the 31st itself".

French getting last second advice
Photo ©: Gary Newvine
(Click for larger image) French getting last second advice before the flying 200m attempt

"I'll go back to training and keep on the program I've been on," he said.

French's coach, John Beasley, told Cyclingnews, "realistically, we were pretty happy with the time. Today was just about seeing where we were at, and he's only really been back on the bike for two months.

"It makes it pretty hard for the Commonwealth Games now, and our goal now is to try and cement a spot for the world's in Bordeaux," he said of the next big meeting, being the UCI's Track Cycling World Championships, to be held in France in March.

Of the heat inside the velodrome - said to be around 35 degrees Celsius - Beasley said, "if anything, the heat should have worked in our favour". (Higher temperatures and humidity actually assist track racers as it lowers air resistance - see feature.)

Despite tonight's setback, French is still hoping to secure a berth for the Commonwealth Games, to be held in Melbourne in March.

So far, it's understood that only one Australian sprinter, Shane Perkins, has passed the high benchmark of 10.55 seconds for a flying 200m, but key riders such as Ryan Bayley, Ben Kersten and Shane Kelly are all in Los Angeles this weekend for the USA round of the UCI Track Cycling World Cup, and both Kersten and Kelly won their respective events (the kilo and keirin) last night (see report).

Cleared last year

Last July, French was cleared on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after he had been banned for two years in 2004 after an earlier hearing found that he had used and trafficked in prohibited substances, corticosteroid (allegedly contained in a supplement preparation called Testicomp) and equine growth hormone (eGH).

In its highly-detailed, 24 page ruling, CAS pointed to two major problems with the case against French. The allegation that French used corticosteroids by injecting Testicomp fails because there is no scientific evidence that Testicomp contains corticosteroid. Testicomp is a homeopathic supplement, which is claimed on its accompanying literature to contain corticosteroid, but analysis of Testicomp failed to find corticosteroids in the product. "An admission to use of Testicomp does not amount to an admission that there has been use of a prohibited substrance unless the product used is shown by chemical analysis to contain that which it purports to contain by its product leaflet," says the judgment.

Regarding the accusation of use and trafficking in eGH, the ruling finds problems with what would in a criminal case be termed the chain of custody of the waste bucket found in French's room. Other riders at the AIS facility in Adelaide had access to French's room and therefore "we cannot conclude that there is sufficient evidence to to lead to a conclusion that use of eGH by French is proven."

The ruling then addresses the DNA evidence against French, concluding that the DNA recovered from a needle in the waste bucket and alleged to have been French's may have come from another source.

Similar problems with the evidence and chain of custody issues caused the CAS to find that it was not proven that French had been involved in trafficking eGH.

French's appeal did not directly address the lifetime ban from Olympic competition that he received as a result of being found to have trafficked in prohibited substances. However, the decision does clear the way for French to compete internationally once again as the Olympic ban will be lifted. "Under the AOC's anti-doping policy that follows automatically," AOC spokesman Mike Tancred told AAP.

The French case led to one of the biggest media storms ever to accompany a doping allegation in Australian sport, which in turn raised concerns that investigators, politicians and the media were trampling the rights of French and other cyclists implicated by him in their enthusiasm to appear tough on drugs in sport.

French watched from the sidelines as other riders represented Australia with great success in Athens 2004. Being out of cycling, was hard, he says. "That was the worst time of my life and nothing will ever be able to give that back to me," he said. "I've lost 18 months of it, two world titles and an Olympic Games and I was at the top of my class - I was up there with the Ryan Bayleys and all the other boys.

"I've been cleared - everything's positive [but] I've still lost 18 months of my life," he said at the time.

Veldorome named in honour of Vic president

Separately, tonight at the Darebin International Sports Centre, CycleSport Victoria re-named the velodrome in honour of its president, Joe Ciavola, who's held the position for the last eight years. The new Darebin track will now be known as the Joe Ciavola Velodrome.

Ciavola had a successful racing career which included many wheelrace and Six Day event victories; he was a member of the 1962 Commonwealth Games (Perth) and competed for Australia in two World Cycling championships. He was said to be instrumental in securing the velodrome and the office facilities of the Darebin complex for the new home of Victorian Cycling.

Cyclingnews' coverage of the 'Mark French affair'

July 12, 2005: Mark French cleared by CAS
November 18, 2004: Anderson report clears all but French
August 13, 2004: Dajka loses final bid
August 4, 2004: Witch hunting in the 21st century, part 2

August 3, 2004: Dajka appeal will be heard
August 2, 2004: Dajka misses deadline to appeal
July 30, 2004: Kersten in, Dajka out of Australian Olympic squad
July 29, 2004: Dajka's spot in Athens squad faces new threat, Selective leaks or reporting designed to defame?, Growth hormone test is go
July 29, 2004: Dajka's spot in Athens squad faces new threat
July 21, 2004: Australian Olympic Committee selects Eadie and Kersten
July 19, 2004: Eadie wins appeal
July 19, 2004: Eadie considers legal action
July 16, 2004: Dajka cleared by Customs
July 14, 2004: Eadie out, Kersten in, pending appeal
July 13, 2004: Eadie lodges appeal
July 12, 2004: Eadie hit with doping notice - from 1999; French saga rolls on
July 10, 2004: AOC 'withholds' Dajka from Australian Olympic team
July 9, 2004: Pound comments 'ill-informed', says ASC
July 2, 2004: Anderson report clears named riders; full Australian Olympics cycling team nominations
July 1, 2004: The high cost of controversy
June 26, 2004: Accused rider hits back: 'I was never in Adelaide'
June 25, 2004: One week for French inquiry
June 24, 2004: Mark French makes statement
June 23, 2004: Pound weighs in
June 22, 2004: Cycling Australia welcomes inquiry; Riders deny involvement in doping
June 22, 2004: French gets life, but still offers to assist new enquiry
June 21, 2004: Lifetime Olympic ban for French
June 19, 2004: French faces blowtorch from sports authorities
June 18, 2004: Opposition calls for inquiry into AIS track cycling program
June 9, 2004: French suspended two years
June 1, 2004: Horse hormones found in French's room

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