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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News for February 1, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

Tour start reaps benefits for London

By Ben Atkins in London

Olympic Champions
Photo ©: Ben Atkins
(Click for larger image)

Britain's cycling press was joined by the mainstream media at a presentation hosted by Transport for London (TfL) yesterday, January 31. TfL Commissioner, Peter Hendy, was joined by Olympic Champions Chris Boardman, Bradley Wiggins and rower James Cracknell (a recent cycling convert) to outline the rationale behind London's successful application for this year's Grand Départ of the Tour de France, and the benefits that London would reap in the short and long term.

London - claims Hendy - was the first city ever to apply to host the Tour de France with an aim to do more than just showcase the city to the World. It is one of the busiest cities in Europe and is constantly searching for ways to entice and encourage people out of their cars - and on to their bikes. Measures introduced like the Congestion Charge (a flat daily rate payable by anyone driving within a certain zone in the city) - which is due to be extended into the West End this year have helped to increase cycle use greatly, as have incidents like the Underground and Bus bombings of July 7, 2005. It is hoped though, that the Tour de France and its entire associated spectacle will inspire Londoners to take up cycling in great numbers - for getting around, for general fitness as well as for sport.

The Grand Départ will also be one of the first of many major events to be hosted by Britain's capital in the run up to London 2012, and the world will be watching to judge. It will be a big year for London sport with the opening of the new National Stadium at Wembley. As well as the racing there will be a number of festivals and events scheduled in London's Royal Parks - particularly Hyde Park and St James' Park, which are on the prologue route. It has not been missed that the prologue will be held on the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on London's transport system and there will be some events to commemorate this.

Chris Boardman spoke of his sense of personal disappointment last time the Tour visited the UK. He had been holding the yellow jersey since the Lille Prologue, but lost it to Johann Museeuw as his GAN team fell apart in the team time trial to the Eurotunnel Terminal, just before the race crossed the Channel. He talked up Wiggins' chances on what should be a fast and smooth course, adding a little pressure on his compatriot.

Bradley Wiggins was brought up just over a mile away from the Prologue course in Maida Vale, and so is obviously overjoyed that the race will be in London this year. Addressing the non-cycling media he described the Tour as like the Olympics every day for three weeks - the nearest thing he's ever been to the Tour Prologue was the Olympic pursuit final. He also spoke of the mental pressure of grovelling through the mountains one day and having to get up the next morning and do it again.

As well as the non-tangible economic benefits of increased cycle use, Hendy also announced that London - and the South East of England where the Tour passes on Stage 1 - stands to make around Ł115 million out of the Tour's visit. In fact, he confidently expected to make back London's financial outlay on the increased numbers of public transport users that weekend.

As a rather optimistic footnote, Hendy hopes to have the Tour de France in London at least one more time before 2012. (Also read Cyclingnews' feature Tourist's guide to London: Tour 2007's Prologue Route.)

Motivated Simoni returns form Argentina

Gilberto Simoni in 2006 Tour
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Two-time winner of the Giro d'Italia, Gilberto Simoni, is making his return from Argentina where he competed in the six-day Vuelta a San Luis. Il Trentino, 35 years-old, finished 51st overall but found the experience to be motivating for the for the 2007 season. His year will be based around the Giro, with a break to continue working on his newly discovered passion.

"Giovanni Lombardi invited me here to race," said the Saunier Duval-Prodir rider to La Gazzetta dello Sport of his participation in the South American event. "I always like to try something new. Here it is summer, I had the need to race in the heat and cover some kilometres.

"In reality I only returned to the saddle on January 2 and I arrived here with only 2000 kilometres in my legs. I knew very well that I would be very exhausted. ... Three years ago in Australia [Tour Down Under - ed.], a week of racing was like of month of training."

When Simoni speaks you don't hear a rider on the verge of retiring, you hear a rider who has a love for the sport. Part of which was rekindled when he took part in a series of mountain bike races this last winter.

"... Above all it reconciled me with cycling, because after the Giro I became nauseated and I had lost enthusiasm," continued Simoni, referring to the events of Aprica between him and winner Ivan Basso. "Also this year, you will again see me on the mountain bike. In the middle of March there is the first round of the marathon World Cup [17-18, the Canary Islands]. What can I do? I really would like to win the World Cup.

"The other rounds come after the Giro, which remains my main season's objective," stated Simoni, current Marathon Mountain Bike Italian Champion. "I am no longer young but I know I am still competitive, and it [the Giro] is a course that I like a lot."

The problems of cycling don't pass by Gibo and he is concerned when looking back at 2006, and the recent revelations by cycling' greats. "I believe in the last year are sport has touched bottom. What really bugged me was that in the 2006 Grand Tours there was not the enthusiasm of the public and that the fans don't have the certainty of the names who have won, or who arrived second and third...

"Now [Johann] Museeuw steps forward with his doping admission; how strange that he would have only doped in his last season."

Simoni will join his teammates for a training camp in Spain before continuing his road racing season in Europe, with a build up to the Giro, where he hopes to add the 2007 title to his ones of 2001 and 2003.

Hinault "disappointed" in Ullrich

By Susan Westemeyer

Hinault in action
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault said that "At this point in time, he [German Jan Ullrich] is a cheat. It is up to him to prove that he has not cheated." The Frenchman did not mince his words in an interview published by Sport Bild on Wednesday, January 31.

When specifically asked if 1997 Tour winner had done "dishonest things," Hinault responded, "I am disappointed in him. I would never have thought that he would do something like that. But people want to earn money, so they consider anything to be right. There has to be an end to this sort of thing!"

Hinault continued that he questioned whether Ullrich should be allowed to start in the 2007 Tour de France. "The riders under suspicion should first take a DNA test, then they can be allowed to start. That goes for Ullrich, too." And also for Ivan Basso? "Naturally. He is equally under suspicion."

The Frenchman, who works for ASO (organizers of the Tour de France), has theories as to how to successfully combat doping. "Every rider has to be afraid that he will lose his place in pro cycling when he does something dumb. Lifetime bans help. And fines. That would help a lot of riders to think twice."

Italian Ivan Basso was heard by his national federation, FCI, given the green light to race when his case was officially shelved on October 27, 2006. Meanwhile, Ullrich is stuck in legal limbo between the German and Swiss federations, with a hearing to be scheduled by the latter federation, with whom he had his racing license.

Merckx "disappointed" in Museeuw

By Hedwig Kröner

The undisputed 'cannibal' of cycling, Eddy Merckx, is currently in Qatar upon invitation of the Emir of the Arab state, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, for whom the Belgian arranged organisation of the race since its inception six years ago. Still, the recent scandals surrounding his fellow countrymen Johan Museeuw and Patrick Lefevere have of course reached the Emirate as well. Speaking to Spanish sports paper AS, Merckx admitted that Museeuw's confession of having used banned substances during his career had shocked him. "Bad, they're really bad," he commented on the current polemics. "I'm disappointed in Museeuw, even though he said he'd only doped at the end of his career."

However, the allegations made by Het Laatste Nieuws, according to which Quick-Step director Patrick Lefevere has been involved in doping activities for 30 years and was still doing it now, were "a completely different story" according to Merckx. "There's a journalist who spoke a lot but without proof, and accused him of very severe things. It's always the same, like in Operación Puerto. Everybody knows that Eufemiano Fuentes treated other sportsmen. But then, why don't those names come out?"

Finally, the five-time Tour de France winner spoke of Alejandro Valverde, who he considers may win the Tour de France this year. "Valverde is very good; the best of the Spanish riders at the moment," the Belgian said. "He's won important Classics and has also raced at a high level at the Vuelta. It's a pity that he crashed out of the Tour last year. He has class and experience - he's a definite candidate for the win [this year.]"

George to lead Langkawi trifecta bid

By Greg Johnson in Langkawi, Malaysia

George tops 2006 podium
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

The South African squad is hoping to continue its dominance of Malaysia's Tour de Langkawi when the event gets underway tomorrow, with team leader and defending champion David George declaring he has the same event winning form as last year.

"I think the condition is more or less the same," George told Cyclingnews. "Last year everything right and this year we need everything to go right again for the second year in a row."

George believes his current form combined with the experience of contesting last year's event holds him in good stead to defend his title, and claim the team's third consecutive Tour de Langkawi victory.

"I think there's enough hard stages that if we don't get caught out on breakaways or get split in the bunch, then physically I think we should be there," said George. "I think there are one or two stages that suit me, and I can hold my own on the flat stages as well."

George’s beliefs are backed wholeheartedly by team manager Tony Harding, who added that while his main rider is strong, the level of competition has also stepped up a notch.

"George is in excellent form, he's a good professional cyclist, he always prepares himself well for an event like this," noted Harding. "I don't think David is going to let himself down - he's definitely not going to let South Africa down. In saying that the competition is a lot more difficult this year - were going to have our work cut out for us."

Despite the confidence George has in his form the South African has far from written off his rivals, saying he believed there are riders from all corners of the globe that will make him work hard for a second victory.

"Every day is important because there's a big difference in level within the group so you've got to be awake because a group of riders can go and that's it," he added. "If we don't get caught out with things like that we should be okay to be there when it counts."

The Tour de Langkawi gets underway tomorrow with a 82 kilometre stage on the Malaysian island of Langkawi before heading to the mainland for the remaining nine stages of the Tour.

Clerici: 1954 Giro winner passes

Carlo Clerici, winner of the 1954 Giro d'Italia, passed away last weekend, January 28, after a two-year struggle with cancer. He is only one of two Swiss riders to have won the Giro.

Born in Zurich, in 1929, his father was Italian and mother Swiss, and in fact he raced the 1953 Giro as an Italian according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. A year later he returned, as a Swiss rider with Italian team Guerra - Ursus, and claimed victory.

The winning move was made on the stage from Naples to L'Aquila, 252 kilometres, where Clerici gained an insurmountable time advantage. "We had underestimated him," recalled Fiorenzo Magni, three-time winner of the Giro, to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "We were certain that we could drop him in the Alps, on the other hand, Clerici, who up to that point had won nothing, proved to be a good rider." He closed the 1954 Giro with 24'16" on compatriot Koblet, 26'28" on Assirelli and 31'17" on Coppi.

After 1954, Clerici returned to his domestique duties, claiming his home race, 1955 Züri Metzgete (Championship of Zurich), before retiring after the 1958 season.

Gerolsteiner and the desert wind

By Susan Westemeyer

Peloton splits in stage 4
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Gerolsteiner's Robert Förster has ridden in the Tour of Qatar before and knows what the wind does to the race. Every year there has been at least one stage where the wind has ripped the peloton apart and forced him in to one of the chasing groups. This year, he swore, things would be different, as he noted on his website, robert-foerster.de.

Almost immediately after the start, the field broke apart, but with Frösi in the first group. "After 5 km about 10 riders had to fall out of the group, including Petacchi and me. That's OK, I thought, the second group is OK for this early in the race. So we rode about 65 km/hour, with a pulse of 185, and were always 30 seconds behind the leading group." By kilometre 45, he was feeling the effects of his efforts, deciding it might be better to not take each of his required turns riding in the wind, "because by pulse measure was showing utopian figures and my legs were begging for relief."

"Hey, I yelled to the Belgian Eckhaut, he should pull in front of me. I won't tell you what I said next, because Eckhaut let the others pull away and then the two of us stood alone in the middle of the desert. We joined the next group that came by, but eventually everybody lost all the morale and strength, and we arrived in Doha about an hour down."

His teammate Sven Krauss took advantage of the uncomfortable circumstances to share his knowledge and experience with those who needed it; even if that's not what he really wanted to do. From the start the race went haywire. "I didn't want to take any risks and held myself back out of the wildness, in the hope that nothing would happen. That was my first and last mistake today," he wrote on his website, sven-krauss.com. He found himself all the way at the end of the field, which by then had broken up into many small groups.

"I was with 12 Qataris and Iranians. That's what we call 1.) embarrassing, and 2.) development help; because they had no idea of how to ride together in the wind." His lessons were successful. "After I had taught my guys that I wouldn't allow them to all ride behind me the whole way, our group started to ride well together. So well, in fact, that we caught up with the group ahead of us and all arrived together at the finish."

Auber 93 presented

Team lines-up
Photo ©: Daniel Schamps
(Click for larger image)

French Continental team Auber 93 has presented its roster in Aubervilliers on January 30, 2007. The squad of young talent, of which three development riders made the leap into the ProTour ranks at the end of last year (Said Haddou - Bouygues, Julien Mazet - Astana, and René Mandri - Ag2r) and one to a Pro-Conti outfit (Emilien Bergčs - Agritubel), has fulfilled its objective for the last season according to team manager Stéphane Javalet.

"Our mission is to make young riders discover the professional world within a well-designed calendar," he told L'Equipe. And to amass victories along the way: seven races were taken by Auber 93 riders last year. For this season, the squad, with its base near Paris, has picked some regional riders - four of its ten cyclists were born in Paris. Renaud Pioline comes form Aubervilliers itself, Steve Chainel is a cyclo-cross rider and Guillaume Levarlet competes with the French U23 national team.

To discover the full roster of Auber 93, go to the 2007 Cyclingnews teams database.

Photography

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Daniel Schamps

Seigneur becomes DS

Eddy Seigneur, who ended his career as a pro rider at the end of 2005, will this year become a director sportif within French ProTour team Cofidis. The four-time French time trial champion will make his debut in this function at Tirreno-Adriatico, Italy, in March. Team Manager Eric Boyer is fond of the idea, and thinks the 37 year-old will do well.

"He's one of the younger retired riders of the peloton; very close to the current generation," Boyer told L'Equipe. "He has a lot to give to us by directing the younger riders of the squad."

Jongewaard injured in training accident

By Ben Abrahams

Australian mountain bike champion Chris Jongewaard has sustained minor injuries after a car door was opened in front of him during a training ride in Adelaide, South Australia this morning (Thursday). Jongewaard was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital with a gash to his upper arm and is likely to be off the bike for at least a week.

Fortunately, the timing of the accident means Jongewaard's preparations for the upcoming road season should not be seriously disrupted. The South Australian is still expected to join his new US-based Continental team, Jittery Joe's, at the end of February.

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