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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for March 25, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones

Unibet suspends Omloop in wake of raids

The Unibet.com team has suspended Geert Omloop in the wake of the Belgian police drug raids on Thursday. Although the investigation by the court in Turnhout is still open, Unibet.com has suspended Omloop, and the arrival of Dave Bruylandts to the team on April 1 is now up in the air.

While several other riders named by Gazet van Antwerpen have already denied that their homes were searched, Bruylandts has admitted that one did take place. "There were a few things taken from me, but whether they are the products specified in a well known newspaper, I will not offer an opinion. I am, after all, not a doctor," he said in a statement from his lawyer, Frederic Lenders, who added, "The interrogation was mainly concerned with the contact of Bruylandts with the others named in the investigation. Dave was heard as a witness, not as a suspect."

"Geert Omloop is for me a clean rider," said Unibet's team manager Koen Terryn to Het Laatste Nieuws. "I have full confidence in him. Dave Bruylandts is only on our payroll from April 1, and so cannot yet be called a rider of Unibet.com. Christophe Roodhooft and Peter Wuyts have left our team [at the start of 2006 for Palmans-Collstrop - ed]. Of course there will be a link made to our team.

"I am waiting for further information and can't yet do much about this whole affair. It's logical that we will take sanctions if Omloop and Bruylandts are really 'mixed up' in this affair."

Roodhooft and Wuyts have denied any involvement in the investigation, as has Sven Vanthourenhout, who was one of those named by GVA. "I don't know anything. I've not spoken with anyone from the court. Where did they get that from? Of course I know the others named. Am I therefore guilty? That can't be possible? I am clean."

Jan Verstraeten also denied that he was raided. "I don't know of any house search, so there were also no products found at mine. I've already got phone calls from Hans van Kasteren, my current team manager, and Jurgen Mettepenningen, with whom I am talking about a contract for next season. My name is damaged, but I stand upright."

Classics stars on show in Harelbeke

By Jeff Jones

2005 winner Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

The Belgian classics season clicks into top gear with the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen on Saturday, March 25. The race is a perfect prelude for next Sunday's Ronde Van Vlaanderen, and most of the riders looking to do well in the Ronde will test themselves in Harelbeke. Held over a challenging 198 km course, the race features 12 of Flanders' notorious bergs, starting with La Houppe after 117 km and finishing with the Tiegemberg at 14 km to go, with very little respite in between. The old favourites of the Paterberg (km 160), Kwaremont (km 164) and Knokteberg (km 173) should be more than sufficient to break the race open.

Last year, Tom Boonen notched up his second success in a row in the E3 Prijs, beating T-Mobile's Andreas Klier in a two man sprint. The pair had escaped on the Taaienberg with 55 km to go, and impressively held off the chasing bunch all the way to the end. This year, Boonen is in good enough form to take three in a row, but it depends on how hungry he is before the Ronde. He'll have most of his teammates with him that will ride on Sunday week, so the E3 Prijs will be a good dress rehearsal.

On the Davitamon-Lotto front, Gert Steegmans, Peter Van Petegem and Robbie McEwen are the men to watch, with Nico Mattan always a chance. CSC has hopes for Fabian Cancellara, in the absence of the injured O'Grady and Breschel. AG2R's Lloyd Mondory performed well to finish third in Dwars door Vlaanderen during the week, while Cofidis will be looking to the reliable Staf Scheirlinckx.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of the 49th E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, starting 14:30 local time (CET)/08:30 (USA East)/05:30 (USA West)/00:30 (Australia East).

Click here for the full preview, Map, Past winners, Start list

Commonwealth Games road race preview: The final countdown

By Kristy Scrymgeour and Mal Sawford

Stuart O'Grady led Australia's podium sweep in Manchester, England four years ago. Will it be another Aussie whitewash?
Photo ©: D.J. Clark
(Click for larger image)

The final day of the 2006 Commonwealth Games will take place on Sunday with only the road races remaining in the cycling events. The women will line up first for nine laps of an 11km course that starts and finishes in the Royal Botanical Gardens in downtown Melbourne. Huge crowds are expected to match or exceed those attracted to both the marathon and individual time trials, with fine and sunny conditions forecast.

The course does not boast many challenging climbs but is more like a technical criterium course, containing 23 corners and a number of short but very steep climbs. But as Australian men's road director Neil Stephens told Cyclingnews today, "The circuit is only as hard as you make it." Hard or not, the number of corners means that breakaway groups will be quickly out of sight, and will also make it very difficult for any one team to co-ordinate a concerted chase. Wins from small groups or solo breaks seem the most likely outcomes.

The women's field is only 36 riders strong; however the field is world class. According to the Australian team, they have six riders who are capable of winning the race and will use the many cards they have to play. "Australia comes first," says Australian women's national coach Warren McDonald. "I think personalities aside, Australia comes first. The girls have raced enough over the last couple of years to know that when they put Australia first, the results will come."

McDonald declared his team "a phenomenal six". "It's the strongest team we've fielded at a Commonwealth Games and even a world championships and it's going to be exciting." Joining time trial gold and bronze medallists Oenone Wood (Nürnberger) and Sara Carrigan will be sprinter Rochelle Gilmore (Safi-Pasta Zara Manhattan), the Bates sisters - Kate (Nürnberger) and Natalie (AA Drink) - and Olivia Gollan (Nobili).

Click here for the full preview.

Van Bon sick

Leon van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto) will not be riding tomorrow's E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, nor Sunday's Brabantse Pijl, as he is sick. His place on Saturday will be taken by Tom Steels. The team has not decided who will substitute for Van Bon on Sunday.

Stronger bike for Boonen

Tom Boonen is to ride the E3 Prijs with a sturdier frame, reports Sportwereld.be. The brute strength of the Quick.Step rider in the sprints has seen him have several mishaps with his gearing. Thus, Quick.Step's frame supplier Time is beefing things up for Tornado Tom, just in case.

Milram recons the Ronde

Team Milram has reconnoitred part of the Tour of Flanders, training between the Kwaremont and Muur van Geraardsbergen on Thursday. A day after abandoning Dwars door Vlaanderen, Alessandro Petacchi analysed his chances for the Ronde. "This is the third time that I've come to the Tour of Flanders," he said. "The first time was in 1997 and the second time was 2002, I retired in both races. I know that it is surely not many for someone who has a goal to do well in this race.

"I know that I need a particular spirit for this race. I surely won't start to win, but I want to do it for the experience to complete my professional skills."

Erik Zabel was more optimistic, saying, "The Tour of Flanders is a beautiful race. I was fourth last year and I hope to do better in 2006 in the Milram jersey. This race is different from all the other races: It needs a different mental approach. I think we can do well."

Milram's team manager Gianluigi Stanga summed it up: "The Tour of Flanders is one of the most beautiful races in the world and a ProTour appointment. So we, of Team Milram, start with the aim of doing well. We know that it will be very difficult, but we have to try. We have Zabel, fourth last year, and Petacchi. Alessandro’s form is good but it isn’t enough for this race. In this race, you need a particular mental approach. I think it’s very important for his experience. We’ll see..."

An interview with Andy Flickinger

After four years with the same team and seemingly written off, Andy Flickinger has found a new lease of life at Bouygues Telecom, with the past winner of GP Plouay believing 2006 to be his lucky year. Story by Anthony Tan.

He may only be in his mid-twenties, but Andy Flickinger is already entering his eighth year as a professional. Catching up with him a day before his first race of the year, the Tour de Langkawi, one's presented with a casual response when approached for an interview. "When you want," is all he says.

I tentatively say 'now?', he nods, and as we walk over to a quiet area of the hotel lobby at the Concorde Shah Alam, a stone's throw away from this mosque of gigantic proportions and where prayer is in full swing, I first make note of his 1.93 metres, where two of my steps appear to go in time with one of his casual plods. But not wishing to offend a Frenchman, asking how comfortable he is with his height, I begin the conversation talking about his crowning moment, victory in the 2003 GP de Plouay.

"Yeah, three years ago," confirms Flickinger. "After that, I had one year that was very difficult in 2004, and last year, I wanted to be strong in the Tour de France but I couldn't do it. I won one race [a stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe - ed.], did the world championships on the track, and after, I began preparing for this year."

Click here for the full interview.

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