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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for May 25, 2007

Edited by Laura Weislo

T-Mobile to continue sponsorship despite doping admissions

Former teammates Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

In what was perhaps the only piece of good news to emerge from Thursday's T-Mobile press conference dominated by emotional doping confessions of former riders, the German telecommunications giant announced it will "honour its sponsorship engagement" within cycling, scheduled to run through 2010. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer reports from Bonn, Germany.

"In the last few days we have heard many explanations," said Christian Frommert, Director of Sponsoring Communications at T-Mobile. "It is not enough to just give an explanation, the world of cycling is not in order."

Following Frommert's assurances, Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag, 'stars' of what has been the most popular cycling documentary in decades, Hell on Wheels, a film that follows the Telekom team in the 2003 Tour de France, described their experiences with EPO throughout the mid-to-late 90s.

"About four of us sat on the curb during one of the Grand Tours," began Aldag, referring to his 1994 season. "We had been totally dropped and couldn't keep up. What could we do? I started thinking about doping and asked around.

"In 1995 I started with EPO before the Tour and just kept on, step by step. I had the feeling that I wouldn't be caught. That made it easier. In 1997 I had a haematocrit of 50. That made me stop and think. It was not fun to get up at 5am and check my blood values and see if I could ride that day. I think my highest blood value was 53."

Erik Zabel wipes away the tears
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Aldag then admitted he even had a tattoo made on his upper arm, to hide the bruises resulting from injections of doping products. "In 2002 I ordered EPO through the Internet," he continued. "It was so bad, I never used it. I saw that it was life-threatening. It finally went click in my head.

"I have lied to everyone, and I apologise for that. There was no reason to tell the truth - everyone else was doing it, too. I stayed with that story for a long time."

This spring he finally decided to come clean, and after long discussions with his wife, he spoke to T-Mobile manager Bob Stapleton about his past and offered to quit his current post as Sports Director. "I knew we had to change things, that is why we are here today. I apologise for lying and for doping," he said.

To read Cyclingnews' full report, click here.

Riis to hold press conference

Hot on the heels of doping confessions from former Team Telekom riders Erik Zabel, Rolf Aldag, Christian Henn, Bert Dietz and the admissions from team doctors Andreas Schmid and Lothar Heinrich that they administered doping products to the team's riders, Team CSC director Bjarne Riis has called a press conference scheduled to be held in Denmark on Friday.

Zabel admitted to using the banned blood boosting hormone EPO during the 1996 Tour de France, a race won by Riis who was also riding for Team Telekom. Riis, the director of Team CSC since 2001, must now respond to the confessions of his former colleagues and doctors, all of whom refused to speak about any other riders' activities.

Riis has also been indirectly criticised by Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme, who, speaking at the Giro d'Italia on Thursday said, "Not only the riders have to pay for the doping culture that we have to get rid of. Those at the command of the teams, whether they have cheated or not, they have to pay as well."

Tour director speaks out on doping establishment

Pat McQuaid listens to Christian Prudhomme
Photo ©: AFP
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In a week that marked the one year anniversary of the start of the Operación Puerto affair, some of the biggest names in cycling are now 'coming clean' about their doping history, and the months leading up to the Tour de France have once again been embroiled in doping drama. Cyclingnews' Laura Weislo and Jean-François Quénet report on how the leaders of the sport's biggest race view the current situation.

The past twelve months have been difficult for the sport of cycling, to make a vast understatement. From the initial shock of the 58 riders named in Operación Puerto and the exclusion of riders from the 2006 Tour, to Floyd Landis' doping positive and subsequent public war with the antidoping establishment, 2006 was a bleak year. However, recent events seem to indicate that a corner has been turned in the fight against doping, and several riders - Erik Zabel, and his former team-mates Rolf Aldag, Bert Dietz and Christian Henn - have admitted to using drugs.

Tour de France bosses Patrice Clerc (ASO president) and Christian Prudhomme paid a visit to the Giro d'Italia on the day the race crossed over into France, using some of the roads made famous in both Grand Tours. The Tour director seemed optimistic about the recent events. "It's the end of an hypocritical system put in place back at the end of the 90's when a miserable cycling was run by Hein Verbruggen, the UCI president at the time," Prudhomme stated.

Prudhomme had harsh words for those from the 'old guard' who are still involved in the sport. "Not only the riders have to pay for the doping culture that we have to get rid of. Those at the command of the teams, whether they have cheated or not, they have to pay as well. Either they have cheated and they must be kicked out, or they have not cheated, but if there have been many problems inside their team, it means they don't have the skills for the job and cycling can't keep them. We must restore credibility and dignity in this magnificent sport."

Read the full feature here.

Di Luca challenged by young Luxemburger

By Jean-François Quénet in Briançon

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Back in pink after a dramatic finale in stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia, Danilo Di Luca is not hiding the fact that, apart from the always dangerous Gilberto Simoni, he also fears the young Team CSC rider Andy Schleck. The 21 year old Luxemburger has been impressive in the mountains, and continued to shine on the legendary passes of Agnello and Izoard as he did on his way up to the sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Guardia.

Coming third in the highest town of Europe, he fortified his white jersey of best young rider and moved into fourth place in the overall standings. "I'm happy with I did today," a smiling Schleck said in Briançon. "I didn't expect to go so well. As I saw Cunego getting dropped, I was feeling better and better. I even had the legs to go for the win but I missed some punch in the last kilometre. This is the third time in this Giro that I get beaten in a hilly finish. I'll try again, maybe by going away from further."

Schleck now has a 3'46 advantage on Riccardo Riccò who has been true to his role as domestique for Gilberto Simoni, leaving Schleck well on his way to claim the white jersey. However, he might fight for the pink as well if he keeps climbing so easily. He's only 1'25 behind Di Luca before the uphill time trial of Oropa, something the more seasoned Italian is well aware of.

"In this exercise, I'm convinced that I can gain time on the others," Di Luca said. "Except on Schleck who is a cronoman who also goes very well in the climbs." Liquigas' leader of the Giro still believes Simoni is his main – if not only – adversary. Diplomatically, he didn't exclude Cunego, although the "Little Prince" of 2004 didn't seem totally at his ease on the Alpine slopes.

"I'm particularly afraid of Schleck," Di Luca added. "We don't know him. Well, we know him but he's only 22 [he turns 22 in June - ed.], he might have a bad day when he could lose some time." For his part, Schleck was realistic and modest in his assessment of the situation. "Honestly I don't think I can target the pink jersey this year, Schleck said. "I'd be happy to keep the white jersey already."

Time will tell, but three years ago, a young Damiano Cunego didn't believe he would be the overall winner until he proved himself to be the strongest in the third week.

Euskaltel pursued by bad luck

By Monika Prell

After the bad crash in yesterday’s stage which saw the abandon of Aitor Hernández with a fractured clavicle, today Euskaltel bemoaned its third loss after Hernández and Beñat Albizuri. Dioni Galparsoro who injured his back in yesterday's crash stared down the face of deep pain when he decided to start stage 12 from Scalenghe to Briançon. But in the first kilometres of the descent from the Col del Agnello, he fell down and broke the head of his right radius.

Galparsoro climbed back on his machine and continued the descent, but the pain and the advice of the race doctors made him quit the race. He was taken to a hospital where the fracture was confirmed. Other injured riders Joseba Zubeldia (fractured tailbone) and Iván Velasco (injured back) will soldier on in the race. On a more positive note, Antton Luengo who crashed in the first stage, is feeling much better and reached the finish line as best Euskaltel rider in 67th place, 17'54 behind stage winner Danilo Di Luca.

Philly week: Reading raises the bar

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

Greg Henderson (Health Net p/b Maxxis)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The three-race series known as the Commerce Bank Triple Crown is right around the corner, and the promoters of the race recently announced that the second race of the series, the Reading Classic, will be significantly harder this year - with three ascents up the steep and technical Mt. Penn climb in the final laps, as well as a special prime for the first to the top.

Last year was the first year of the Reading course, replacing the flat and fast Trenton course with a more difficult 7.6 mile rolling hills and downtown circuit. On the final lap last year, the race took a small detour climbing nearly a mile up Mt. Penn before diving down in the finish. The idea was to make a course that would force a separation between the pure sprinters and the all-around racers. And it did, at first. But cat-and-mouse tactics on the descent enabled kiwi Greg Henderson to catch back on to the select leading group and easily out-sprint them for the win.

Henderson is expected to return with his new team, T-Mobile, but with a much more challenging task in repeating his Reading win. But for race fans, the drama that will be involved with this course change will add a new level of excitement to the race. And the racers in the leading group that were bested by Henderson last year, such as Sergey Lagutin (Navigators Insurance, Danny Pate (Slipstream-Chipotle) and Kirk O'Bee (Health Net-Maxxis) will likely welcome the course change.

US National Calendar heads east

The 2006 Raleigh Crit was memorable for the weather
Photo ©: Robert Harvey
(Click for larger image)

The USA Cycling's NRC series heads to the east coast, with the criterium specialists hitting four races in four days from Raleigh, North Carolina to New Jersey. The first race of the series, the Raleigh Downtown criterium is the youngest of the races. Only in its third year, the race is drawing an increasingly large and talented field of riders to the newly renovated streets of North Carolina's capitol city.

Last year's race saw massive downpours that soaked the men's field, but the forecast this year calls for dry and clear conditions. 2006 winner of the women's race, Sarah Caravella, will return with her new team, Aaron's Pro Cycling team, but she will have to contend with sprinter extraordinaire, Laura Van Gilder, who will be bringing a strong Cheerwine team to back her up.

The racers will pack up after the evening's crit and head north to Baltimore for Saturday's Bike Jam festival, followed by Monday's classic, the Tour of Somerville in New Jersey. Somerville is also a part of the USA Crits series, which is currently led after one round by Abercrombie & Fitch's Mark Hekman and Aarons' Katharine Carroll.

Bölts resigns from Gerolsteiner

Udo Bölts has asked Team Gerolsteiner to release him from his contract as a Directeur Sportif with the team, following his disclosure that he used EPO and growth hormones while riding for Team Telekom in the 1990s. Bölts said, "It is my decision alone. I don't want to distract from the success of our young riders with my past. Besides, I need some breathing space and will withdraw from cycling."

Team manager Hans-Michael Holczer said, "After his doping confession and the newest happenings in cycling I can understand his decision all too well and will accept it."

Bölts, 40, worked for the team on a part-time basis and was scheduled to lead the team for 32 race days this year.

Ullrich minus an attorney

Peter-Michael Diesel is no longer Jan Ullrich's attorney,but it is not clear whose idea that was. "We have withdrawn the mandate from Diestel. He may no longer speak for us," Ullrich's manager Wolfgang Strohband told the Bild magazine. But Diestel told the sid news agency, "There were differences of opinion. I gave up the mandate. I will sue anyone who says otherwise."

Reed adds to USA medal count

Jennie Reed added to the USA's medal count in the Pan American Road and Track Championships on Wednesday, taking her second medal of the week with a silver in the match sprint after she bagged the gold in Mondays' keirin.

Reed took two out of three head-to-head sprints from Mexico's Nancy Contreras to advance to the gold-medal final against Cuba's Lizandra Guerra. Guerra, who finished second to Reed in the keirin two days ago, bested Reed to claim the gold.

In his first race since announcing his return to competitive cycling, Colby Pearce placed fifth in the men's points race. Pearce was one of several riders to lap the field and scored a total of 35 points to finish 11 back from winner Arles Castro of Colombia.

The U.S. is all but assured a fourth medal on Thursday as Michael Blatchford qualified for the gold-medal final in the men's sprint. Blatchford advanced out of his semi-final round and will face Julio Herrera of Cuba for the continental title.

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