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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Latest Cycling News for February 22, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

Paris-Nice plunged into uncertainty

ProTour team participation in NE events against UCI regulations

By Shane Stokes

Patrice Clerc, President of ASO
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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The planned running of Paris-Nice as a national event and the participation of UCI ProTour teams in the race looks to be in serious question following the news that the UCI has issued a directive to the relevant teams stating that they cannot take part in the event.

It was confirmed earlier this week that following the failure of talks with the UCI, ASO was seeking to sidestep the governing body by joining up with the French Cycling Federation (FFC) and run the race as a national event.

However the UCI circulated a letter to the ProTour teams on Wednesday evening, pointing out that current regulations prohibit NE events from including ProTour teams. According to article 2.1.009 of the UCI regulations, "only the UCI Continental teams of the country, regional and club teams, national teams and mixed teams may participate in national events. Mixed teams may not include riders from a UCI ProTeam [ProTour team]."

The UCI and ASO have been at loggerheads in recent months, with the previous existing tension over the ProTour escalating into all-out battle. Fellow Grand Tour organisers RCS Sport and Unipublic declared their support for the French company, taking on the governing body over the top-ranked series.

The three organisers have directly challenged the UCI by excluding the 19th ProTour team from their races. ASO has suggested that it is doing so in order to comply with French laws regarding gambling, but the team has nevertheless been able to compete on French soil this season by using unbranded jerseys.

Read this full exclusive news feature: Paris-Nice plunged into uncertainty

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

Cioni holds tight in Ruta del Sol

Dario Cioni (Predictor-Lotto)
Photo ©: Ed Tarwinski
(Click for larger image)

Dario Cioni (Predictor-Lotto) is holding tight to his general classification lead in the Ruta del Sol. The 32 year-old Italian took the lead on day 1 after a 111 kilometre escape and has held on, just barely, since. Just like the finish on that first day, he has Oscar Freire (Rabobank) nipping at his heels. The Spaniard won stage 2 and helped his teammate, Max Van Heeswijk (Rabobank), take stage 3, and would dearly love to overhaul Cioni before the race ends today, Thursday, in Antequera.

Yesterday on the finish into Córdoba, won by Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Innergetic), Cioni almost saw his race unravel. Despite falling after the red triangle, he holds on to a one second lead over Freire, Tadej Valjavec (Lampre-Fondital), Antton Luengo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Francisco José Ventoso (Saunier Duval-Prodir).

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At 500 metres to go, Cioni went down, but due race rules he was given the same time as the leaders. "Here they are risking it all, and, of course, I have to be at the front in the finale," explained the Tuscan to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "A Spaniard took a tumble in front of me, and then I plunged into him. It should not be anything serious, let's hope." Cioni came away with some scrapes on his left knee.

Thursday's finale will not be a walk in the park; the riders will face five category 3 climbs, with the last coming at 20 kilometres to the line. Besides the top five being within one second of each other, the are another 23 all within five seconds of taking the jersey that Cioni wears.

Förster starting slowly in California

By Susan Westemeyer

Things didn't start out so well in the Tour of California for Gerolsteiner's Robert Förster. The prologue was hard, mainly because "we all had problems riding a race in the middle of the night, European time," he noted on his website,

He thought things would be better in the first stage, but the first mountain of the day showed him that "nothing was working for me. Absolutely nothing. The motor was in the red zone, the muscles were as stiff as boards and I was once again practically alone at the end of the field." He caught up with the last group and came into the finish in time to avoid being directly involved in the big crash.

Indirectly, though, he noticed, "We saw the jury's total chaos about the crash. Lots of lapped and crashed riders all mixed up together. Nobody knew any more who had been in what group. And then that the little American got the time of the first group wasn't really a good action. But we are here in America..."

Things went better for the sprinter in the second stage, but he wondered about his finishing position. "Why was I just 12th? I'll be thinking about that question for a while, you can believe me on that." And, he noted, "It's not nice to see how the winner raises his arms in the air, when you're still 20 metres away from the finish."

Philippe Gilbert re-starts after surgery

By Jean-François Quénet in Faro, Portugal

Philippe Gilbert
Photo ©: JF Quenet
(Click for larger image)

It's kind of strange to see Philippe Gilbert beginning his season only in the second half of February. The up-and-coming Belgian is known for loving his job to such an extent that he wants to start racing as early as possible. He won a stage in the Tour Down Under in January 2004 and was about to claim the French opener GP La Marseillaise in 2005 when a marshal sent him on the wrong road. His late start this year is due to an operation he underwent.

"I had four stitches on my left leg and it was fine," Gilbert explained before starting stage 1 of the Volta ao Algarve. But two weeks later there was a risk of infection and, again, I got operated on. That time, I had 15 stitches. I couldn't ride my bike anymore. I stopped for nine days. Then I started training again slowly. But I wasn't too upset. It was my first forced stop since I turned pro so I didn't take it badly."

It's questionable whether he'll be in his best shape to defend his title at the Het Volk or not. One year ago he created a huge sensation by becoming the first Walloon to win the Flemish event for which all of Belgian cycling fans expected Tom Boonen to inaugurate his rainbow jersey with a victory at home.

"At the Het Volk, it'll be mostly up to the wind to decide if I maybe can do it again or not," Gilbert reckoned. "If it's a head wind like last year, it'll be extremely tactical and I might be able to play my cards, but if it's a side, there'll be a need for super good legs and I don't know if it'll be my case after this slight delay in my preparation. But I don't mind actually, because I only take part in great races so I'll have other chances to show myself and I'd be happy to peak one month later than last year. It would coincide with the Tour of Flanders."

Tinkov happy with team's invite

Hamilton talks with Tinkov
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
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Tinkoff Credit Systems president Oleg Tinkov voiced his opinion on being selected for the 2007 Giro d'Italia. A race where the team will field American Tyler Hamilton, who has made a return to cycling after two years away due to a doping suspension. "I am very happy to know that my team has been welcomed by organizers of the second most important three week race in the world. This is a great accomplishment for both me and my staff but there is also a great responsibility to live up to expectations."

"I am also disturbed and disappointed to learn that the UCI president is singling out one team and ignoring others," noted the 40 year-old Russian regarding the UCI/Grand Tour row. "I understand the embarrassing position of the world cycling governing body in regarding to the situation with Unibet, a ProTour team that has not been invited to Giro. But, this situation has nothing to do with my team and should not become our problem.

"The real problem is a situation created by evasive and unclear regulation. This is exactly what happens when rules are unclear. I am reminded of a conversation I had with President McQuaid when I asked about obtaining a ProTour license and was given a very evasive and vague answer lacking concrete steps or any guarantees.

"We all know what happened to a very well organized and professionally managed team, Barloworld, which repeatedly requested a ProTour license without success," Tinkov continued. "Or the situation with Unibet, that was granted a license yet not invited to races. I bring these issues up in hopes gaining some clarity and for the sake of establishing an environment where problems and criticism are addressed away from the teams and back in UCI headquarters in Aigle."

Tour Down Under to expand in 2008

Tour Down Under is to be expanded to include two weekends of cycling. Tourism Minister Jane Lomax-Smith has reported the 2008 Tour will include an extra day of racing, taking it to an eight-day event, as part of the Rann Government's commitment to grow the event.

"The Tour Down Under will celebrate its 10th birthday next year and what better way to mark the occasion than with an expanded program of racing and festivities," Dr Lomax-Smith noted. "We committed up to $2 million in extra funds over the next four years to expand the number of teams and increase the race's profile internationally.

"Next year's Tour will include an extra road stage, expanding it to a full six-day Tour with two additional days of team presentations and elite cycling displays in the Down Under Classic."

He further noted future plans of the Tour Down Under, which could coincide with the UCI's wish to globalise the ProTour. "We are also positioning the Tour Down Under to become one of the first ProTour races outside of Europe ... The Tour Down Under is already the highest technically ranked cycling road race in the southern hemisphere ... We are continuing to lobby and work towards ProTour contention with Mr Pat McQuaid, President of the Union Cycliste Internationale.

The 2008 Tour Down Under event schedule is as follows:
Saturday, January 19, 2007 - Team Presentation
Sunday, January 20, 2007 - Down Under Classic
Monday, January 21, 2007 - Rest Day
Tuesday, January 22, 2007 - Stage 1
Wednesday, January 23, 2007 - Stage 2
Thursday, January 24, 2007 - Stage 3
Friday, January 25, 2007 - Stage 4
Saturday, January 26, 2007 - Stage 5
Sunday, January 27, 2007 - Stage 6

Race route details and team presentation plans will be announced in the coming months.

Koldo Fernández: "positioning in the sprint is my big handicap"

By Monika Prell

Koldo Fernández is waiting for his first victory as professional. The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider became a pro in 2004, and at the moment he is riding the 53rd Vuelta Andalucía (Ruta del Sol), where he has achieved in every sprint-finish stage a top-ten place. Yesterday, in stage 4, he finished third behind Tom Boonen and Danilo Napolitano.

"I feel very good," said the 25 years-old after the stage via "I have to confess that my competition form is not very different compared to other seasons, but I'm getting better in the positioning, that normally is my big handicap. I'm always beginning the sprint in bad position, and even if my strength is very good, I lose a lot while positioning myself; I don't see gaps and I'm loosing positions that I have to regain later."

He thanked his teammate Beñat Albizuri for the "great work he is doing. He is leading me to the front of the race, and every time he is positioning me very well. He's always with me and helps with the work. I look for his rear wheel and he takes me to the front."

Fernández is happy with the beginning of his season. "I achieved good placing at the beginning of this season. During the Volta a Mallorca and the Vuelta Andalucía I finished twice eighth, one time sixth, one time fourth and today [stage 4] third. Due to the experiences I get in every sprint, I'm learning to position myself better. I can't say that I will win yet, but I'm sure that one day I will."

About the team, he declared that it "is acting phenomenally. In the races we are very concentrated; we are in all the escapes. This is not due to luck, it's because we are going very well."

Pozzato to Tour du Haut Var

"The third place in Laigueglia has given me confidence; I will aim for a better placing in the Tour du Haut Var," confirmed Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) to Rai. The French race is scheduled for this Sunday, February 25, and will function as another test for the 2006 Milano-Sanremo winner, who hopes to repeat victory in the race this year.

Pippo has confirmed other pre-Sanremo races in his schedule. Following Tour du Haut Var, he will race the next weekend in Belgium in the Het Volk and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, and return to Italy for the Tirreno-Adriatico, a race he won in 2003 while riding under Giancarlo Ferretti.

Julich: Worlds or Olympics

Bobby Julich (Team CSC) is going back to basics in 2007 and is planning on following the same program, which has brought him success in previous years. This means, among other things, that the American won't be doing Giro d'Italia.

Julich is still not sure if he will race in 2008. He is not ruling it out and explained on that is possible because he wants to try and qualify for the American Olympic Team. If 2007 does turn out to be his final year as a pro rider, he indicated that he hopes to go out on a high note with "A time trial medal at the World Championships."

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