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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for May 29, 2007

Edited by Ben Abrahams, Greg Johnson & Paul Verkuylen

d'Hont retracts Ullrich EPO claim

By Susan Westemeyer

Ullrich announced his retirement in February
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Former Telekom soigneur Jef d'Hont, who recently told German magazine Bild am Sonntag that he injected Jan Ullrich with EPO, has now retracted the claim in an interview with Dutch radio station NOS on Monday. When questioned as to who, if anyone, did administer EPO to the 1997 Tour winner, d'Hont did not give a clear answer but said he would reveal more in three weeks upon publication of his book in Germany.

Meanwhile, Ullrich himself continues to remain silent on the matter. "We have nothing to say about the case," said his manager Wolfgang Strohband to Spiegel. "You won't get a denial from me and a press conference isn't planned, either."

German sports lawyer Michael Lehner, who represented Danilo Hondo in his doping trial, told the dpa press agency that Ullrich may be worried about having to repay much of his salary to T-Mobile, should he make any kind of admission to doping. "I don't think that Ullrich is so afraid of the fraud case in Bonn. He could reach an agreement with them and pay a fine," said Lehner. "His main worry is with a possible requirement that he would have to repay money back to T-Mobile. Then he would be broke."

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Lehner, who currently represents German anti-doping crusader Werner Franke in a case against Ullrich, urged the retired star to "come out with the truth now," but doesn't believe that will happen. "His advisors will force him to keep quiet," Lehner said.

Former Telekom team manager Walter Godefroot, who d'Hont alleged was behind the doping scheme, has indicated he will soon break his silence on the matter. "My version will come," said the Belgian, who is now an advisor to the Astana team. However, Godefroot denied he would make any direct comment on the d'Hont charges. "I won't say anything to that - there would only be more sensation made out of anything I say."

Godefroot was originally asked by his former T-Mobile rider Alexander Vinokourov to advise the Astana team. At the team's presentation in January, he said that he would help Vinokourov and Andreas Kl÷den prepare for the Tour and would accompany them there. Now, he is saying that he doesn't know how he will help the team or how long he might be at the Tour. "I haven't been with the team for several weeks," he revealed, "and can't say anything about any special Tour preparations."

Astana team manager Marc Biver described Godefroot as "an honourable person" and said that the team would value his assistance at the Tour de France. "I can't charge him with something as long as I have no evidence," said Biver. "He did his work at that time as well as possible. I am sure of that and I hope that he will be with us at the Tour."

Another former Telekom rider Mario Kummer, who currently serves as a directeur sportif with Astana, has denied any involvement with doping, contrary to reports in German newspaper Neue ZŘricher Zeitung that he had confessed to Biver. "I have nothing to confess," he told the dpa. "I slipped into the Telekom Tour team in 1996 at the very last minute, and broke my collarbone in a crash on the first stage in Holland. That ended for me the Tour which Riis later won."

"The newspaper misinterpreted me," added Biver.

Di Luca: No ear piece required

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

During the second rest day of the Giro d'Italia, in the Dolomite town of Agordo, maglia rosa Danilo Di Luca revealed an unusual fact that he never uses a radio while racing, and never has done. Cyclingnews' Jean-Franšois QuÚnet spoke with the Italian about this peculiar trait, the rising stars of Italian cycling and why the Tour de France just doesn't appeal to him.

"It's not that I refuse it," said Di Luca, referring to his lack of an ear piece which many riders in the modern peloton cannot function without. "But after a little while it gives me troubles in my head. In fact, I've had to use my mind instead of just listening to the instructions given by the director. I'm convinced it has helped me improve to the level where I am now. I know what I have to do."

Two-time Giro champion Gilberto Simoni admitted Di Luca's tactical astuteness was a major factor in his success this year. "I wouldn't say that Di Luca is the revelation of this Giro," Simoni commented during the rest day. "But he's up there every day, that's the difference. I can see that his way of racing isn't the same. He thinks more."

In the crucial mountain stages, the 'killer' has controlled the race with a rare tactical intelligence. That might add to the ongoing debate in cycling regarding the use of ear pieces which many observers claim have ruined the excitement of races. The UCI has long been considering the possibility of banning radios among riders, a decision which may re-ignite interest in races where cycling doesn't enjoy such a passionate following as the Giro d'Italia.

"When I came to Giro, the newspapers weren't talking about cycling at all", remembered Di Luca, hinting at the ongoing doping sagas reported in the cycling press. "I was hoping that it would change and it has changed. Now the media focus on the race."

To read the full interview with Danilo Di Luca, click here.

Saunier Duval relying on three-pronged attack

By Jean-François Quénet in Agordo

Ricc˛ and Piepoli
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Despite their average start to the Giro d'Italia, losing one minute 25 seconds to Liquigas in the opening team time trial, Saunier Duval is undoubtedly the impressive team of this year's race. The one-two by Riccardo Ricc˛ and Leonardo Piepoli at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo was a great achievement after Piepoli's solo win up the sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Guardia and Gilberto Simoni's second place behind Stefano Garzelli in Bergamo. "We have fired up the race every day since Montevergine," Simoni said in a press conference organised by his team on the rest day in Falcade.

Although they have a leader, Simoni, who has won the Giro twice before, Saunier Duval has attracted a lot of sympathy because of Ricc˛ who is a friendly bloke, a good talker, a spectacular climber and a true champion in the making. He's already clever when it comes to answering the sceptics. "I turned professional one year later than planned because of my blood values but it was all checked and I now have a special authorisation by the UCI just like Damiano Cunego," he said.

Questioned about his relationship with Roberto Pregnolato who was Marco Pantani's controversial soigneur, he answered: "He's from Modena like me and he gives a massage sometimes when I'm at home."

Having 'the Pirate' as an idol makes Ricc˛ friendly but it also places him under suspicion. He doesn't care much about that, nor does he care about the friction already created in the peloton after he accused the majority of bike riders of being "vegetables" because of their passive attitude in the bunch. The facts are in favour of Ricc˛ though, not only does he talk loud and clear but he assumes his role on the road.

"Shall I repeat it? Winning at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo has been the most beautiful day of my life", he said. Piepoli gave him advice for his cycling career: "Learn who to trust and who not." While Simoni is prepared to give him the captaincy of the Saunier Duval team, should the two have be racing together again next year.

Gilberto Simoni
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

For now, they are team-mates but also room-mates. "We don't have much in common though," Simoni said. "At 10pm, he already sleeps, I don't go to bed before midnight. When I go back to the room, he's asleep and when I wake up, he's gone. We actually meet more during the race."

Aged 36, Simoni has given up his ambitions of winning the Giro for the third time. "This is the last time I race as a captain," he said. "I can maybe ride another Giro but I'll do it at the service of someone else who is able to win it."

Ricc˛ is the logical choice, although he's already under pressure. "I haven't said I'd go for the win next year but for the overall classification," he corrected. "This year, I've done what I had to. I'm fine. I'd be happy to go home now. I know there's still a possibility to ride for the white jersey. But if Andy Schleck keeps going the same way, he'll even have an advantage on me in Saturday's time trial. I'll fight till the end. But my only chance really is if he has a bad day."

The idea of a bad day is also what the whole Saunier Duval team hopes for to eventually beat Danilo Di Luca. "Yesterday Di Luca was in the hardest situation and he played it perfectly," directeur sportif Pietro Algeri explained. "At the end, he was even the strongest uphill. It means he's going to be very hard to beat although anything can happen."

"Di Luca can have a black day," Piepoli added. "If so, it'll be up to us to bring the light. Well, we'll try and put him in difficulty and we'll see if he's got the balls or not."

The big battle is expected on Wednesday on the Zoncolan, which will be climbed on its steepest side. "This hill can create a difference," said Simoni. "But Di Luca has no adversary uphill, I'm the only one and yesterday he didn't bother. If I was only 31, I would have done a different race yesterday. The only thing I can do is to follow Di Luca, I can't drop him."

McGee to 'face reality'

McGee in the 05 Tour
Photo ę: AFP
Click for larger image

Australia's Bradley McGee has spoken about undergoing surgery in an attempt to fix an ongoing back injury once and for all. The Franšaise des Jeux rider's manager revealed over the weekend that McGee would again be sidelined from the Tour de France as he attempts to fix the injury.

"It is time to face facts and realise the band-aid treatment of my sciatica problem is not going to support my professional cycling ambitions," stated the rider on his website, "It seems I can hold the condition at ease through 95 percent of my job requirements but given a time trial or heavy power down in climbing I find the problem resurfacing almost every time. Not good enough."

The 2004 Olympic Gold medallist had shown that he was on the road to recovery during the Tour of Picardy, where he launched an impressive attack before a bunch sprint finish, but he was forced to pulled out of the weekend's Tour de Lorraine.

"Having put it off and used alternatives I will now go ahead with a surgeon's skills and hopefully put an end to the rollercoaster," added McGee. "Less concerned I am of the procedure then the fact that if it doesn't work I am no longer to be a competitive professional cyclist."

Should the surgery be a success, McGee will be watching the 2007 Tour from the comfort of his home while he recovers, with an expected return to the bike slated for August through to October.

Van Hooydonck: 'Museeuw used drugs his entire career'

Two-time Tour of Flanders winner Edwig Van Hooydonck has rubbished claims by Johan Museeuw that he only used performance enhancing drugs during the final year of his career. Following a series of allegations in January from Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, Museeuw admitted to "not being 100 percent honest" during his final season with Quick Step-Davitamon in 2004, but denied doping in previous years.

"Museeuw used drugs his entire career, it's that simple," Van Hooydonck said in an interview with Gazet van Antwerpen.

Van Hooydonck then described Museeuw's performance during the 1992 Brabantse Pijl in Belgium. "I was in the break with Museeuw," said the Belgian. "He raced and won the E3 Prijs only the day before, a race which I didn't compete in. Then you must think: I am fresher, I have the best chance to win. Then you see that guy (Museeuw) ride away from me on the Alsemberg in a gear three teeth bigger than me.

"Later you hear that Museeuw admitted that only in his last year he used doping products. Yeah right! That guy used drugs his whole life."

Museeuw responded by saying he was sorry that Van Hooydonck would make "unfounded and wrong insinuations" and that cycling is not getting any better with such rumours at a time when so many riders are coming clean voluntarily.

Euskaltel-Euskadi for Tour de France

The Tour de France may still be over a month away, but that hasn't stopped Basque squad Euskaltel-Euskadi from naming its provisional 11 riders from which nine will be chosen to start the Grand Boucle in London on July 7. Former ONCE rider and team technical secretary Igor González de Galdeano announced the team, to be led by climbing specialist Haimar Zubeldia who aims repeat his 2003 success where he finished fifth.

The remaining 10 riders are: Mikel Astarloza, Iñigo Landaluze, Iñaki Isasi, Aitor Galdos, Igor Antón, Gorka Verdugo, Jorge Azanza, Amets Txurruka, Rubén Pérez and Andoni Aranaga.

Among its ranks of climbers, the team also has two potential sprinters in veteran Iñaki Isasi and young Aitor Galdos. Igor Antón will aim for the white jersey of best young rider after his promising ride in the 2006 Vuelta a España were he won Stage 16.

González de Galdeano, who wore the yellow jersey during the 2002 edition, gave his opinion on the current favourites for this year's race, naming Astana riders Andreas Klöden and Alexandre Vinokourov plus Discovery's Alberto Contador as the most likely winners.

Courtesy of Monika Prell

More knee trouble for Boogerd

Michael Boogerd's knee problems which forced him to retire from the Volta a Catalunya last week after the third stage, have been diagnosed as periostitis, an inflammation of the membrane that covers the bone on the outside of the joint.

The Dutch champion has been plagued by the same problem before. "It is an injury that won't just disappear," Rabobank directeur sportif Erik Breukink told Sportwereld.

Boogerd, who is retiring at the end of this season, has been told that he must rest for four days, after which his Rabobank team will re-evalute the injury and make a further decision regarding whether or not he can begin training again.

Sabatini withdraws from Giro

Fabio Sabatini (Team Milram) won't lineup at the start of today's 16th Giro d'Italia stage in Agordo after the Italian withdrew from the event due to injury. The 22 year-old has failed to overcome an injury from a fall on the event's fourth stage.

"Really, I am displeased at not being able to finish my first Giro d'Italia for those of the Milram team," said Sabatini in a team release.

The Tuscan rider will spend 15 days recovering after suffering a micro-fracture in the fall.

"I held out until I was able because I thought 'it's a muscular problem', but the pain has intensified itself," he added. "Now I hope to recover quickly. I want to do a good finish to the season"

Melbourne to Warrnambool launched

The 2007 edition of the world's longest one day bike race, the 300km Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic, will be launched today at its new start destination: the Sanctuary Lakes Golf Club. The Victoria, Australia race, which fielded a record 192 entrants last year, is hoping to go bigger this year, with organiser John Craven aiming to break the 200 entrants barrier.

"We're again looking at bringing out some top-rated overseas riders for the event," Craven told the Geelong Advertiser. "Last year we had a good line-up of locals and overseas competitors including Kristian House from England and Kjell Carlstrom from Finland."

The 112 year-old race is aiming for excellence and hopes to add another Cycling Australia Event of the Year award to the one it claimed in 2005. "With the current boom in cycling in Australia, it's resulted in a reinvigoration of the Melbourne to Warrnambool," Craven said. "This race is an Australian sports institution."

The event, which will be run on October 27, has also announced a massive $17,000 in prize money for this year, including some $2000 for first place in A Grade.

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