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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News for April 26, 2007

Edited by Hedwig Kröner, with assistance from Susan Westemeyer

A nightmare year for Unibet's Wilson

Baden Cooke and Matt Wilson in happier times
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
Click for larger image

The Grand Tour/ProTour battle nearly brought the sport to its knees when Unibet.com was denied entry to the first ProTour event, Paris-Nice. Following a compromise agreement, the ProTour went on with business as usual while leaving Unibet.com out of the majority of races. As the sport's power brokers battle it out in the courts, it's easy to forget about the 'collateral damage' to the riders' seasons and careers. Unibet.com's Matt Wilson gives Cyclingnews a candid view of his miserable year so far.

This season is turning out to be a nightmare! Last year was frustrating to say the least. Baden and I came over from Francaise des Jeux last year, and we were prepared to be doing a lot less of the bigger races, but we hoped that we would be granted a wild card for at least one of the Grand Tours. But no. In hindsight, that frustration is nothing compared to what we've faced this year.

In November of last year, after months and months and months of deliberating, the UCI finally granted us the ProTour licence we had been hoping for, and things we're finally looking on track. Immediately Baden, Jeremy Hunt and I sat down and punched out a program for the upcoming year, and started training with three goals in mind: Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubiax, and the Tour de France.

However, pretty much since the moment we landed in Europe, rumours were circulating that we'd been snubbed by the Grand Tours. Assured by our team management and the UCI that this was impossible, we all tried to block out the rumours and continue to stay focused on our goals.

From the first race at Marseille, there were problems with our sponsor's jerseys, but with the 'question mark' jerseys up our sleeves, we took the start anyway and won with Jez. Then straight up after that was the tour de Bessage were Baden won a stage and the team morale was on a high. It seemed as if our sponsor's advertising issues had been overcome, and the form was right on target for our first two goals of the year. Then it went pear-shaped big time.

Click here to read the full feature.

Prudhomme pleased with Basso suspension

Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme at the start of Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Christian Prudhomme, race director of the Tour de France, was pleased with the news that Ivan Basso will not be racing for Discovery Channel pending the outcome of the newest Operación Puerto-related investigation in Italy. "It is a responsible decision on behalf of Discovery Channel," he told the AP. "Everything we have learned in the past few days goes in the right direction."

Prudhomme said that the key at this point were the blood bags seized in the Spanish investigation, and noted that earlier this month, some of the bags were found to match the DNA sample of the now-retired Jan Ullrich. "Ever since nine bags of blood were identified as belonging to Jan Ullrich, it is possible to know. So, we have to know," Prudhomme said. "I have no doubt that the bags of blood that left Spain for Italy will give an answer. It has gone quickly these last days. Numerous team managers are following the same line as we are."

The news that the Italian CONI was going to re-open investigations against the 2006 Giro d'Italia winner came just days after Prudhomme had launched a strong appeal to the teams, asking them not to enrol riders linked to Operación Puerto in races organised by ASO. On the eve of Flèche Wallonne, the French company held a meeting with the teams present for the race in Belgium, which was also attended by ProTour manager Alain Rumpf.

"We can argue on all issues, but not on this one," Prudhomme told L'Equipe, happy to collaborate with the UCI in the fight against doping. Together with the 19 ProTour teams present (only Unibet.com was missing), it was decided at the meeting to get to the bottom of Operación Puerto. "We managed to all come together on this. Our call was heard. In Compiègne, on the eve of Paris-Roubaix, we only had six teams with us."

Alain Rumpf added that anti-doping measures would be reinforced in the months leading up to Grand Tours, when many illicit practices were supposed to happen. "It's very expensive, but with our new out-of-competition control program, we now have the means to get the riders, wherever they are and whenever it's needed," he added.

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'

May 18, 2009 - Valverde to start Catalunya
May 15, 2009 - Valverde not welcome in Denmark
May 14, 2009 - Spanish federation wants proof in Valverde case
May 13, 2009 - Spanish Olympic Committee defends Valverde
May 12, 2009 - Valverde responds to sanction
May 11, 2009 - Italian tribunal delivers Valverde two-year suspension
May 8, 2009 - Valverde case: Italian Olympic Committee defends Torri
May 7, 2009 - Valverde to take legal action against CONI prosecutor
May 5, 2009 - WADA and Spanish federation join CONI and UCI on Valverde
May 1, 2009 - International Cycling Union joins in on Valverde's hearing in Italy

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of Operación Puerto

Valverde's Flèche "a good sign"

By Monika Prell

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde, second at the finish line of the Flèche Wallonne behind Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), admitted that he "lacked the strength to attack in the Mur de Huy", but he was also happy to have remained with the best until the end of the race, according to AS.

Even though he couldn't repeat last year's victory, the Spaniard was satisfied. "I am content. Today I felt much better than in the Amstel Gold Race. The entire team did a phenomenal work and I would have liked to finalise it, but you can't always win, can you. I believe that being there in front, struggling for the first place is a very good sign, primarily for Liège-Bastogne-Liège that will be a very nice race." As to his rivals on Sunday, Valverde expected them to be "the same we saw on Sunday in the Dutch classic and (yesterday) in the Flèche Wallonne.

"In the finish, Danilo di Luca was a bit upset with me because I did not collaborate in the counterattack, but because we had Joaquím Rodríguez alone in front, of course it was not my turn to work. Later on the peloton caught us. I really did not think that they would reach us so fast. In the Mur, it's possible that I lacked a bit strength because I already had attacked before, but in the last meters I recovered to overcome Riccò' and Kessler and finished second", stated the 27 year-old.

Merckx hoping for good Liège showing in final season

By Shane Stokes

Axel Merckx (T-Mobile) in his last season
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

Axel Merckx was on the attack yesterday in Flèche Wallonne, testing his legs before what he hopes will be a strong ride in his final Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. After a long career, the 34 year-old T-Mobile rider is in his final few months of racing, and confirmed to Cyclingnews yesterday that he is ready to hang up his wheels.

"It is my last season," he said. "There is a time to start, a time to go and I feel that I am ready to retire now, enjoy my family and start a new part of my life. We will move to Canada. We have a house there already so we will settle down there and then start something there, or in Europe... it depends."

Before he goes, he is hoping to add to a palmarès which includes an Olympic bronze medal, stage wins in the Tour of Italy and Dauphiné Libéré and tenth place overall in the Tour de France. Following previous career placings of fifth and seventh in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, another strong showing there would be a very welcome result.

"Liège has always been a target for me, always a pretty important part of the season. If I have a good showing at these races it is important... not just for the team, but for me personally, also."

Cyclingnews also asked him his view of Tuesday's meeting between ASO and the ProTour teams, regarding stepping up the anti-doping fight and proposed DNA tests on all the riders linked to Operación Puerto. "It [the meeting] doesn't change anything for us on T-Mobile, as we already have contracts to give DNA. It doesn't concern us [directly], it doesn't change anything," he replied.

As regards the situation with Ivan Basso and the new investigation into his possible involvement with Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, Merckx said that he wasn't sure of the full facts. "I haven't talked to the rest of the guys around here. A lot of things have been said about it, but I don't know the bottom line of it and the full story of what is going on. I only know that he is not here today and that Discovery have suspended him, or rather made him non-active for a while. We will see how it goes from there."

Gerolsteiner looking forward to Liège

Having won the first two Ardennes Classics, Team Gerolsteiner is heading confidently into the third race within a week. Amstel Gold winner Stefan Schumacher and Flèche Wallonne winner Davide Rebellin will lead the team Sunday in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Rebellin, who won all three of the races in 2004, is considered by many to be the favourite going in to the race - but not the only one, he said. "I am not the only favourite," he told HLN. "There are many guys who are riding strongly. But I have the advantage, in that I can start Sunday without any stress."

Schumacher, who was a dark horse winner in Amstel Gold, did not finish the Flèche Wallonne. The combination of exhaustion after his winning effort on Sunday, lingering problems with a knee injury suffered in Pais Vasco and the high humidity in Belgium proved to be too much for him, and he dropped out of the race, but looks to be fit again on Sunday.

The team itself pointed at Fabian Wegmann as its third man who could go for the victory on Sunday. The lean climber already proved very useful for both Schumacher and Rebellin this week, and could just be the perfect 'plan B'.

Gerolsteiner for Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Markus Fothen, Tim Klinger, Bernhard Kohl, Davide Rebellin, Stefan Schumacher, Fabian Wegmann, Oliver Zaugg and Markus Zberg.

Tough Flèche for Getränke Hoffmann

Team Getränke Hoffmann managed to finish the women's Flèche Wallonne with only half of its riders Wednesday. Only Tina Liebig, Stephanie Pohl and Natalie Bates made it to the end.

"It's driving us crazy, it's really not funny any more," said a frustrated directeur sportif Torsten Wittig. "We had expected things to go differently today. We have to exactly analyse what we have to change, in order to finally get away from all this bad luck."

Team captain Theresa Senff, who had hoped to end up on the podium Wednesday, had to leave the race after crashing and injuring her shoulder. She had injured the shoulder earlier this month already, in a car accident as she was heading to the Ronde van Vlaanderen, which caused her to miss that race.

Koppenberg pavés to be renovated

The city council of Oudenaarde, Belgium, is ready to invest 42,000 Euros in renovating the cobblestones on the Koppenberg, the famous climb that has been part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen before but was snubbed by the organisers this year on the grounds that it was too dangerous."We want the Ronde van Vlaanderen to be possible there next year," said director of public works Guy Hove, according to HLN.

The dreaded cobblestones were restored in 2002 at a cost of 250,000 Euros already, but need work again. Rain has washed away the supports, and many cobbles are loose. In February of this year, examinations were made to determine the best way to renovate the pavés. The town has now voted the money to carry out the needed repairs.

AEG-Toshiba-JetNetwork for USA Crits Southeast

Based out of Athens, Georgia, team AEG-Toshiba-JetNetwork has announced its roster for the USA Crits Southeast series. The team will be led by sprinters Frank Travieso and Keith Norris, both coming off strong rides overseas and in the annual California racing swing. Chris Frederick, Yosvany Falcon, Ivan Franco, and Eric Keim will round out the team's six-man squad for the eight-race NRC series, which start with the Athens Twilight Criterium on Saturday, April 28.

"We are really excited for the Twilight and the USA Crits Southeast series, as most of the guys live in Athens and we want to put on a big show for the hometown fans," said team sport director and past Twilight champion Roberto Gaggioli. "Our team is definitely one to watch as it is a priority for us," added the newest Athens resident.

Former Twilight Junior and Finals winner Norris stated, "Twilight is one of the reasons I returned to racing, the crowds, the excitement, the atmosphere, it's the best in the world. The fans will really be in for a treat this year."

Event founder Gene Dixon stated, "This year's Twilight features the most parity among the major teams seen for some time in US racing as each team has a few guys that can really win the Twilight and the overall USA Crits Southeast series." This year's USA Crits Southeast series will feature eight races for both men and women and will boast over $150,000 in prize money.

The individual races are:

Heyward Allen Toyota Athens Twilight, Athens, GA - April 28
Nalley Historic Roswell Criterium, Roswell, GA - April 29
Beaufort Memorial Classic, Beaufort, SC - May 1
Walterboro Walterboro Cycling Classic, Walterboro, SC - May 2
Uptown Greenwood Criterium, Greenwood, SC - May 3
Smithbarney Classic, Spartanburg, SC - May 4
Sunny King Criterium, Anniston, AL - May 5
Decatur Daily Downtown Criterium, Decatur, AL - May 6

Austrian U23 doping bans upheld

By Susan Westemeyer

An independent arbitration committee in Austria has upheld the two-year suspensions for U23 riders Christian Ebner and Marco Oreggia, who were involved in doping cases related to the World Championships in Salzburg. The committee upheld the decision of the Austrian cycling federation (ÖRV) announced in December. The suspension runs from September 13, 2006, and affects all national and international competitions.

The suspension stems from an unannounced doping control during an ÖRV training camp for the World Championships. Ebner "disappeared" after the doping controller appeared, in an apparent attempt to avoid the test, while Oreggia tested positive for EPO.

Quality field for East Midlands International CiCLE Classic

By Gerry McManus

One hundred and sixty top class riders will roll out from Oakham Town Centre on Sunday April 29 for the third running of the East Midlands International CiCLE Classic (also known as the Rutland to Melton). The UCI 1.2 ranked race has attracted more than 250 entries who wanted to ride the event styled on the illustrious Paris-Roubaix classic in France.

This race is very different from other races on the British Cycling Premier Calendar series as it features a number of tracks and old roads to give it some of the same difficulties experienced in the Roubaix race. However this race is far from flat and is more like the Tour of Flanders in places. There is a prime at Cold Overton Hill and three at Borough on the Hill with the King of the Hills jersey and £100 waiting for the rider with most points. The sprinters will be incentivised to stay at the front group too with £50 on offer for the winner of each of the three hot spot sprints at Oakham Town Centre and Owston Village Centre.

The roads used in the last 90km contain 11 sections of poorly surfaced or farm roads and light tyres have not been recommended. Loose gravel could put an end to some racing ambitions if not carefully approached. Irish international Andy Roche (Pinarello RT) has not been put off after his bizarre accident in sight of the finish line last year while chasing down eventual winner Rob Sharman (KFS Special Vehicles). Roche took a bad tumble on a good road surface and broke his collarbone. His teammate Malcolm Elliott cannot be missed off the favourites list either, having won the prestigious Shay Elliott Memorial in Ireland last weekend. Sharman is back to defend his title this year and wears the number one dossard.

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