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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News for January 25, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

Ag2r Prévoyance: Time to confirm

By Hedwig Kröner

The 2007 team
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

French ProTour team Ag2r Prévoyance experienced a strange 2006 season. One could say that it was the squad's most victorious year, as manager Vincent Lavenu's riders scored wins at all three Grand Tours; but at the same time the season turned sour when it reached its climax at the Tour de France.

At the end of 2005, Lavenu hired one of Spain's most gifted stage racers - Francisco Mancebo - to make sure the squad would be given ProTour status, which was granted. The team started the season successfully by taking wins as soon as January at the Tour Down Under with Simon Gerrans. Then, Cyril Dessel took over at the Tour Méditerranéen, Tomas Vaitkus won a stage at the Giro d'Italia, and everything looked set for the year's highlight, the Tour de France. But in June last year, Mancebo was one of the riders that got entangled in the Operation Puerto affair, and therefore was suspended indefinitely by his team. A long phase of legal battles began...

Nevertheless, Ag2r continued to perform. Sylvain Calzati won a stage at the Tour, and teammate Dessel rode himself into the yellow jersey for a day, and up the general classification, where he fought for his seventh placing with bravery. Oldie but goldie Christophe Moreau, a regular candidate for best-placed French rider in the Grande Boucle, also achieved a top-10 result, just one down behind Dessel.

All in all, Ag2r achieved 18 victories in 2006, and it intends to continue this year - even without the support of a big name rider such as Mancebo, who accepted to leave the team only in December last year in return for a substantial redemption. "Today, we have a clear conscience," commented Yvon Breton, Ag2r insurances' Secretary General and head of communications, at the team's 2007 presentation which took place in Paris on Monday, January 22. "We fulfilled our ethical engagements, and that, really, is priceless."

Still, a bitter aftertaste from the Mancebo intermezzo remained. "Our sport has lost its orientations," Manager Lavenu told L'Equipe. We don't know anymore which riders or results are credible. They told me that I should have known [about Mancebo, who for Lavenu is clearly guilty of doping - ed.], that signing a global cycling leader meant being exposed to this risk. But where is the limit? The top-10 of the Tour? The top-20?"

But looking back on 2006, Lavenu has no regrets. "What happened with Mancebo is a lesson," he added. "We proved that we could achieve something very respectable without a guy like him." With Cyril Dessel, Christophe Moreau, Sylvain Calzati, Samuel Dumoulin and Simon Gerrans, the team has kept many of its promises, even if Tomas Vaitkus decided to continue his career in the ranks of Discovery Channel.

Martin Elmiger present for his Tour Down Under win
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

The 2007 team counts 27 riders, of which there are six newcomers, including the experienced Martin Elmiger (former Phonak) and Italian Rinaldo Nocentini, intended to do well in the Classics. Elmiger already took it up where they had left it last year by winning the Tour Down Under for the team, helped by Gerrans.

"The team is composed of talented riders, different and complementary," said Lavenu. Christophe Moreau, instead of targeting a top-10 placing at the Tour, wants to go after the polka-dot jersey of best climber, and Dessel is expected to confirm his stage race talents. "You want to feel these great moments of intense emotion again," said Dessel, "but I know it's going to be hard."

In the mountains of the Tour, the team is also looking forward to see more of John Gadret, who already showed enormous potential at last year's Giro. For the sprints, Lavenu counts on Alexandre Usau and Jean-Patrick Nazon amongst others. Strong allrounders like Ludovic Turpin, Samuel Dumoulin or the above mentioned Sylvain Calzati will be given the liberties of following their instincts. Three neo-pros have also been signed to complete the roster.

The full 2007 rider roster reads as follows:
José Luis Arrieta (Spa), Sylvain Calzati (Fra), Philip Deignan (Irl), Cyril Dessel (Fra), Renaud Dion (Fra), Samuel Dumoulin (Fra), Hubert Dupont (Fra), Martin Elmiger (Swi, Phonak Hearing Systems), John Gadret (Fra), Simon Gerrans (Aus), Stéphane Goubert (Fra), Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr), Julien Loubet (Fra), Rene Mandri (Est, Auber 93), Laurent Mangel (Fra), Loyd Mondory (Fra), Christophe Moreau (Fra), Carl Naibo (Fra), David Navas (Spa), Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita, Acqua & Sapone), Stéphane Poulhičs (Fra, Elite 2), Christophe Riblon (Fra), Nicolas Rousseau (Fra, Elite 2), Blaise Sonnery (Fra, Elite 2), Ludovic Turpin (Fra) and Alexandre Usov (Blr).

Also see Cyclingnews' riders database.

Photography

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Régis Garnier/www.velofotopro.com

Boonen starts season without feeling

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step-Innergetic)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The double impact from the news in the last week has had its toll on the Quick-Step riders, including 2005 World Champion Tom Boonen. The team's manager Patrick Lefevere was accused doping-related activities on Tuesday and then on Wednesday, Johan Museeuw confessed to not being "100 per cent honest," or that he used drugs in his final year as a professional with Quick-Step.

Boonen has arrived in the Middle East to start his 2007 season in the Tour of Qatar, a race he dominated last year. He hopes to do the same this year but if he does it will be without feeling, as he is distracted by the recent events.

"I am departing for Qatar but it is without the soul of a rider," confessed the 26 year-old Belgian star to La Gazzetta dello Sport's Ciro Scognamiglio. "I feel that I have come [to Qatar] lacking stimulus and motivation. I am shocked and mortified."

As reported yesterday, More on Het Laatste Nieuws' articles - why now?, there is a sense of political payback for the Belgian team manager, and Boonen does not disagree. "I don't think that it is a coincidence," he continued. "I think that it is a political objective against Patrick via accusations against cycling. But do they know that they are playing with the jobs of 60 people?

"But I don't believe this. It is bullshit. I read the anonymous testimony, with many inaccuracies and inconsistencies."

Museeuw and Boonen raced side by side in 2003 and 2004 and shared many glories, so there are feelings towards the retired Belgian cycling legend. Wednesday's confession by Lion of Flanders left an impact on the younger champion, one of hope and confusion.

"I think that he did well to confess," Boonen continued. "It is the first pass for rehabilitation. But it is not enough to cast a shadow over his entire career, since they were referring to only one year and, practically, his last year."

Boonen will start 2007, with or without feeling, this Sunday, January 28, in the Tour of Qatar. The race, where he will face sprinting rival Alessandro Petacchi, runs through February 2.

Bleib Sauber - Live Clean

By Susan Westemeyer

"Bleib Sauber - Live Clean" is the slogan for a new anti-doping campaign sponsored by the German cycling federation and Upsolut Sports, the organizer of the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, Germany's ProTour race.

"It is the beginning of a wide-ranging and long-lasting action," race organizer Frank Bertling told Die Welt. Rudolf Scharping, head of the German federation, the Bund Deutscher Radfahrer, promised his support, "The fight against doping is a continuous one and is being fought on three fronts: prevention, control and sanction."

Bertling said further that his firm is looking into the legal possibilities of not allowing specific riders not to start in races. "We are not longer ready to simply accept everything that others decide," he noted. He denied that German television had made the telecast of the race dependent on his assurance of a clean race. "The television people have realized that our influence doesn't go far enough to enable us to guarantee that."

Vuelta a San Luis starts with Mancebo and Simoni

By Hernan Alvarez

Argentinean Vuelta a San Luis began on Tuesday evening, January 23. Argentina's Fernando Antogna (San Luis A) won the individual time trial prologue riding the 3.7 kilometres in 4 minutes, 10 seconds and 21 hundredths of a second. Local Matias Medici (Municipalidad 3 de Febrero) finished second with 4.14.22, while Martin Garrido (Duva Tavira) was third with 4.18.08.

Some big names are taking part in this South American tour like Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Francisco Mancebo (Relax-GAM). Juan Llaneras, Jan Hruska and other strong South American riders are also racing in San Luis.

More problems for Vandenbroucke

By Susan Westemeyer

Frank Vandenbroucke
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Franck Vandenbroucke can't seem to stop his legal problems. Het Laatste Nieuws reported today that he spent Wednesday night at the Dinant, Belgium, police station for questioning stemming from the 2006 raid of a bodybuilding studio. The studio allegedly provided doping products, and Vandenbroucke and other riders, including Dave Bruylandts, Jo Planckaert and Chris Peers were rumoured customers.

According to the newspaper, the police had twice requested that VDB appear for questioning, but he did not comply. Eventually an official request was made, leading to his appearance midday-Wednesday at the police station. He was interrogated that evening by the investigating judge, and then returned to the police station, where he spent the night before returning for further questioning Thursday.

Vandenbroucke was apparently asked about his relations to Ferdy Robyns, a former bodybuilder and nutritional consultant, who was named in the case. He has previously denied that there anything suspicious occurred, and that he received only vitamins from Robyns.

Other media sources say that Vandenbroucke is in even deeper trouble. "He was charged Wednesday evening with the purchase and possession of doping products, in this instance it was testosterone," a spokesman for the court in Dinant told the French news agency afp. The cyclist has denied the charges. Other reports out of Belgium also indicate that he was released Wednesday night and did not spend the night in police custody.

Pound worried about German testing

By Susan Westemeyer

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) head Richard Pound is not happy about reports that 400 out of 4500 doping tests were missed by the athletes. "I don't know if the number of 400 missed tests is right, but even if it's only half that many, then we have to worry about the German testing system," he said Wednesday at the WADA symposium in Lausanne, Switzerland.

German television ARD reported earlier this month on the missed doping controls. WADA asked the German anti-doping agency to submit a written report on the matter by January 31.

Unibet.com for le Tour de Langkawi

Rujano in 2005
Photo ©: Cyclingnews
Click for larger image

Newest among the ProTour teams, Unibet.com, will contest the 12th edition of Le Tour de Langkawi on February 2 to 11. A very international team based in Belgium and registered in Sweden, features a line-up of riders from three continents.

Given its ProTour status on December 9, the team is managed by former Tour de France rider Jacques Hanegraaf, who comes back to Malaysia, previously appearing with Palmans-Collstrop and then MrBookmaker.

Last week, having started their season successfully in Australia's Tour Down Under, where Baden Cooke got a stage win, Unibet.com will enter Langkawi with the hope of attacking from all angles and have Venezuelan climber José Rujano as their leader for Asia's biggest race.

"We are coming to Malaysia with a José Rujano as team leader. Rujano was in Europe already in our training camp in Belicasim, Spain on January 5 to 16," said Hanegraaf. "Rujano showed decent form during this training camp already. His main goal for this season will be the Giro d'Italia.

"But he has trained enough already to get a good classification in Le Tour de Langkawi. We still have to see in which condition he is exactly before we can announce the goal for him at Langkawi."

Rujano is best remembered in Malaysia for his second placed finish in the Genting stage to eventual champion Ryan Cox in 2005. He also finished second in the overall classification behind Cox that year, but rose in the Giro d'Italia two months later where he won the mountains classification as well as finishing a close third in the general classification behind Paolo Savoldelli and Gilberto Simoni.

"But we also have our main prospect from Colombia, in 21 year-old Rigoberto Uran. He is the most talented Colombian rider in the history of cycling, which includes Luis Herrera, who won the king of the mountains in the Tour de France during Bernard Hinault's era in the 80s and Fabio Parra, who finished third in 1988," continued Hanegraaf.

"We have given him a three-year contract because we believe that he is the future of cycling. We put a lot of confidence in him. He's one of the best young riders you can find all over the world. He's good not only in the climbs, but also on the flat roads and in time trials.

"During the training camp in Spain, Uran was riding alone at 60 km/h with the rest of the team behind him, struggling on his wheel. He's physiological tests are extraordinary. So, for Le Tour de Langkawi we are sending a team of good climbers and guys who are good on the flat and sprinters. We have a balanced team, including Russian sprinters who will go for the stage wins."

That Russian is the talented Sergey Kolesnikov, winner of the Tour of Hainan in China in November and who comes into Le Tour de Langkawi on the back of a good performance in the UCI track World Cup in Los Angeles, where he won the bronze medal in the points race.

Unibet.com's line-up for Le Tour de Langkawi: José Rujano (Ven), Rigoberto Uran (Col), Sergey Kolesnikov (Rus), Alexander Khatuntsev (Rus), Niels Scheuneman (Ned), Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel).

Saunier Duval-Prodir for Qatar

The Tour of Qatar kicks off this weekend, and Spanish-Swiss team Saunier Duval-Prodir are ready. Francisco José Ventoso, who took stage one in 2004, expects a similar achievement this year. Along with Ventoso, the team will field David Cańada, Ángel Gómez Gómez, Piotr Mazur, Luciano Pagliarini and new arrivals Raivis Belohvosciks, Jesús Del Nero and Remmert Wielinga. Italian Pietro Algeri will direct the team.

Hopkins readies for memorial return

Jeff Hopkins
Photo ©: Stuart Baker
(Click for larger image)

Jeff Hopkins (Jittery Joes) is out to launch his 2007 season with a win when he defends his 2006 title in Sydney's prestigious Joseph Sunde Memorial Criteriums to be held on Australia Day, Friday 26, January, at Sydney's popular Heffron Park circuit. The event, now in it's 14th year, is in memory of Joseph Sunde, who passed away in 1993 after an 18 month battle with leukaemia.

The event raises money for the Children's Cancer Institute of Australia with a raffle prize of a Trek 1400 road bike to win.

While Hopkins will have his Australian team mate Trent Wilson to support him, the dynamic duo are sure to receive strong challenges from FRF Couriers team of Troy Glennan, Peter McDonald and Joe McDonnell. Local rider Anthony Spuregon (Caravello) may prove the biggest threat if his recent form at Heffron Park is anything to go by.

While this year's event will be its 14th running, Hopkins is the only winner to have taken victory on more than one occasion, with the seasoned professional taking out the Elite Men's race in 2002 and then again last year.

Racing gets underway with the Masters support race at 7:30 am followed by the popular graded handicap event at 9 am with the feature race kicking off at 10am.

For more information on the Joseph Sunde Memorial Criteriums click here.

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