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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Latest Cycling News for November 30, 2007

Edited by Hedwig Kröner with assistance from Susan Westemeyer

ProTour to expand to Russia and China

China - a vast and beautiful country which holds not only business perspectives for cycling
Photo ©: Steve Thomas
(Click for larger image)

With the announcement of a four-year ProTour license granted to the Tour Down Under, the first non-European race to obtain the status of cycling's most important racing series, the calendar is planned to expand even more. UCI president Pat McQuaid is reportedly in negotiations to create ProTour races on the Asian continent, too, with Russia and China next in line to acquire licenses.

McQuaid's first meeting with Russian sports authorities dates back to last June, but a new gathering will take place soon to discuss the possible creation of a ProTour race in the Black Sea resort of Sochi and surrounding areas. Sochi being the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia aims to increase the region's notoriety, and the country's president Vladimir Putin is personally lobbying to realise the plan.

"The approach came from Vladimir Putin himself," McQuaid told AP. "The government is interested in organising a major cycling race in Russia, more specifically in the Sochi area. The region is not very well known, but they want it to be known. The government sees cycling as one of the best ways to promote the beauty of the Sochi area ahead of the Olympics."

The UCI president also revealed the China was interested in a major tour "as a legacy for the Olympic Games" taking place in Beijing next August. He has met with Chinese officials in April and will be returning to Beijing next week.

"We will create a global tour," said McQuaid, who wants to "take the sport outside of its traditional roots in Europe. It's important for our sponsors to go into these new markets. Cycling needs to offer those markets."

New Beijing track qualifying system - friend or foe?

By Karen Forman in Sydney

Riders fight for their Olympic participation at the Dunc Gray velodrome in Sydney
Photo ©: John Veage
(Click for larger image)

Denmark national track team coach Heiko Salzwedel isn't at all happy. Although he said Sydney has been a good place for his charges since he took on the role two years ago, and is happy to be back at the World Cup, he was not really impressed with the new qualification system for the 2008 Olympics which give automatic selection to individual World Cup winners as well as World Champions.

Whereas in previous years, each National Olympic Committee would select athletes to fill up its allocated spots, the new rules will see 21 riders gain individual automatic qualification through the UCI events. The remaining 144 places will then be distributed to the national committees according to the individual track rankings after the UCI World Championships in March.

"I tell you, I am getting increasingly p*** off," he told Cyclingnews. "It is so great, yes, that we are hearing that there are 400 riders here and a large number of professional teams, but mostly they are pseudo national teams and this is the problem.

"It only costs $1500 to register a team. They can put their teams in events and protect the top teams and just buy their way in. Also the second and third teams of each country can take points from the little countries."

Salzwedel claimed national team tactics were being played out at this and other events, which made it difficult for smaller countries to get a look in and could be destructive to the spirit of track cycling. "After having many years in road cycling I was very happy to be back at the track; to be asked to take on Denmark four years ago as advisor, then coach two years ago after the disaster when it was last at the 2002 Worlds," he said. "There was that great spirit a few years ago. But now I see that the big teams have become bigger and bigger and the small teams smaller."

Salzwedel wants the UCI to make it more difficult to set up what he calls "so-called trade teams". Meanwhile, he said he'll do his best to snatch some of those prized Olympic spots for Denmark and added the Sydney round of the World Cup is the best place to start. "We won the World Cup in the team's pursuit and Madison here in Sydney two years ago and last year were second in both events, so hopefully we will do well here now," he said. "We have changed our preparation because of the big picture - the Olympics. If we reach one final it would be very good; very exciting. Even a sixth would be great. We have a clear goal to win the medals at the Olympics in the Madison and the team's pursuit."

Meanwhile, according to Cycling Australia high performance manager Kevin Tabotta, the new qualifying system for the track cycling events at the 2007 Olympics is fair for Australia.

Tabotta is at the Sydney Track World Cup with three Australian teams - the Cyclones national team, Team Toshiba and Drapac Porsche Development Program - and said the new system was reasonable, although he conceded that "every qualifying system can be tweaked at some point to suit your country," and also that it was "potentially expensive. It's not so bad if it's only for the one year leading up to the Olympics, but if you had to travel to every World Cup for four years before the Games to get qualified, then no country could continue.

"Australia, especially, has to travel all over the world for most of the year. It is good to race at home. We train through the summer and there is no question that having the World Cup at home would be a definite advantage for us."

Tabotta said Australia had to get some results on the board to qualify for the Games, but that he was encouraged by his riders' early results on the first day of this competition. He was particularly excited about the presence of the newly formed Toshiba team, which he said represented a great injection of money for the sport.

"At this point the sponsorship is for one year, but we really hope we can build on this," he said. "The funding allows us to hit more World Cups and therefore potentially qualify for the Olympics."

Lefevere-Dedecker ruling expected mid-December

A judge in Brugge, Belgium, has said that he will announce his verdict in Patrick Lefevere's lawsuit against Belgian politician Jean-Marie Dedecker on December 17. The politician had claimed on television that three of the country's top cyclists underwent doping cures in Italy in February 2006, and Lefevere sued for damages. No riders' names were mentioned, but Lefevere felt the comments were directed at him since virtually all the Belgian top elite riders race for Quick.Step.

Pleadings in the matter were made this week by Esperanza bvba (Lefevere's management company), the IPCT (Association of ProTour Teams), and Celio Sport I& Image (Tom Boonen's management). Dedecker had filed a counter suit claiming the suit was reckless and provocative. Both sides agreed to limit the matter to the statements actually made on television.

The cycling groups argued that Dedecker's remarks went beyond what is allowed by freedom of speech. They were unable to sue for criminal defamation, because the politician is protected against such prosecution because of his function.

Dedecker claimed that the applicants "want to damage me and use me as an example of how they will shut the mouth of everyone who speaks out against doping," according to the Belga press agency. "I plead for the freedom to express opinions." He added that he questioned the motives of the companies suing him, since "at least 17 riders who have worked with them have admitted doping."

Riis: 2008 Tour to be "cleanest of all times"

CSC team manager Bjarne Riis
Photo ©: Gerry McManus
(Click for larger image)

"I think that in 2008 we will have the cleanest Tour [de France] of all times," said Bjarne Riis. Speaking from the CSC team building exercise camp in Norway, the team manager believed that real progress against cheating has been made this year. "Much work has been done in the fight against doping. All teams should follow our example, because we have a strict anti-doping programme."

The team is carrying out its annual training camp in the snow this year, through Sunday, December 2.

Riis himself has admitted to using EPO, human growth hormone and cortisone when he won the Tour de France in 1996. "I was a professional cyclist under the conditions that were given at the time," he said. "I feel good about that victory, even though I didn't earn it in an honest way."

The Dane has introduced a strict anti-doping programme at Team CSC under the leadership of Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, who will also conduct team Astana's anti-doping programme next season. Riis claimed to have not renewed Michael Rasmussen's contract in 2002 because of suspicions, and called Jörg Jaksche's claims that the two discussed specific doping products "grotesque".

Two CSC riders became involved in doping scandals. Tyler Hamilton, a former CSC rider, was found to have used blood doping while riding for Team Phonak, and Ivan Basso left CSC under a haze of suspicion, and later confessed to having been a client of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.

Riis did not attend the Tour de France this year after his doping confession.

Contador gets Vélo d'Or

2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador honoured with the "Vélo d'Or", a yearly prize awarded by 18 international cycling journalists and initiated by the French Vélo Magazine. The Spaniard, who also won Paris-Nice this season, succeeded to Paolo Bettini who won the 2006 trophy.

"Its a great honour to be the second Spanish rider to receive this award after Miguel Indurain [in 1992 and 1993 - ed.]," commented Contador, who won by just one vote over Swiss time trial world champ Fabian Cancellara, Double road world champion Paolo Bettini came third with just one vote less than Cancellara.

The French Vélo d'Or has been awarded for the fourth consecutive time to Julien Absalon, four times world mountain bike champion. Christophe Moreau (Ag2r Prévoyance) and Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) came second and third.

Sprint d'Or not awarded

Journalists of L'Equipe had this year decided not to cast their vote for the Vélo d'Or because of the doping affairs that tainted the season. Furthermore, in Belgium, the most important cycling award of the French-speaking community, the Sprint d'Or, will not be handed out.

"This year, there is very little to celebrate," said the editor in chief of the Belgium public television RTBF, which has been granting the prize since 1995. "If cycling starts to clean up in front of its own door, then we can make a new start."

AG2R prepares training camp

French ProTour team AG2R-La Mondiale will be meeting in Temple-sur-Lot from December 12-21 for its first winter training camp. The team counts 30 riders for 2008, who will all be present for the usual programme: training rides between 60-180 kilometres, adjustment of gear, meetings and photo shoots with the new team kit.

The squad counts eight new riders on its roster: Christophe Edaleine, Vladimir Efimkin, Stijn Vandenbergh and Tadej Valjavec, as well as the youngsters Tanel Kangert, Cédric Pineau, Alexandr Pliuschin and Jean-Charles Senac. Cyclo-crosser John Gadret will also be present even though he will be arriving only on December 17 due to the World Cup race in Overijse, Belgium on the day before. Christophe Riblon and Nicolas Rousseau will just be back from Beijing for the team meeting, after having participated in the second round of the Track World Cup in the team sprint, a vital step in view of their qualification to the Olympics next summer.

The 30 riders of the 2008 team are: José Luis Arrieta, Sylvain Calzati, Philip Deignan, Cyril Dessel, Renaud Dion, Hubert Dupont, Christophe Edaleine, Vladimir Efimkin, Martin Elmiger, John Gadret, Stéphane Goubert, Tanel Kangert, Yuriy Krivtsov, Julien Loubet, René Mandri, Laurent Mangel, Lloyd Mondory, Jean-Patrick Nazon, Rinaldo Nocentini, Cédric Pineau, Alexandr Pliuschin, Stéphane Poulhiès, Christophe Riblon, Nicolas Rousseau, Jean-Charles Senac, Blaise Sonnery, Ludovic Turpin, Alexandre Usov, Tadej Valjavec and Stijn Vandenbergh.

Manager Vincent Lavenu will have the help of four directeurs sportifs next season: Laurent Biondi, Gilles Mas, Arturas Kasputis and Julien Jurdie.

Raisin to wed on the beach

Things are starting to look up again for Saul Raisin. Even though the former Crédit Agricole rider will probably never return to pro racing, Raisin announced that he is getting married on Saturday, December 1 to "the love of my life, Aleeza." The ceremony will be on the beach in Maui, Hawaii.

"What can I say? I am truly blessed! Now it is time to start my life over with the person I love the most and want to spend my life with," he wrote on his personal website. "Life always gets better! For every door that closes, a new and better one opens."

A very large door closed in his life last week when doctors found that he was still suffering from the after-effects of a life-threatening crash in April 2006 and could therefore not continue his profession. Nevertheless, the American made a remarkable recovery and was able to ride the time trial at the US Pro Championships this September. Still, the risk of crashing again when racing was deemed too high for him to pursue his career.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Future Publishing (Overseas) Limited 2007)