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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News for October 5, 2007

Edited by Bjorn Haake

Nico Mattan ends career

Nico Mattan always good for a laugh
Photo ©: Herbert Krabel
(Click for larger image)

Nico Mattan (DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed) will have his final race Sunday in St. Eloois Winkel, Belgium. His final day as a race will be a criterium on a small, 1.5-kilometre circuit, to be raced 20 times. The Belgian is currently racing in the Circuit Franco Belge that runs through to Sunday, and because Mattan's festivities start at 14:30, it is unlikely that he will complete the final stage in the four-day race.

He told Sportwereld that more and more racers show interest in the crit around the block on Sunday. "Peter Van Petegem, Leif Hoste and Frank Vandenbroucke want to participate," Mattan indicated. There are actually more people interested than Mattan can allow on the small course, signs of his popularity among the fellow racers.

Mattan, who owns a clothing shop in St. Eloois Winkel, is not worried about lack of spectators. "I have 1,200 names in my phone book," he laughed. To celebrate the end of his 14 year career, he didn't want the traditional crit that ends in a sprint and miraculously the centre of attention, no matter how bad a sprinter they may be, wins it. "I wanted something special, something playful." So he invited some of Belgian's old greats, like Johan Museeuw, Fons De Wolf, Stan Tourné for a two-man team time trial event where one of the old pro's will be paired with ... a tourist rider!

Mattan explained that top stars like Boonen or Museeuw get the spot light regardless, but others must sell themselves. To get press, he used to race against horses or pose with a pin-up. Today, Mattan thinks racing is a little too serious. "I remember when four of us, Peter Farazijn, Chris Peers, Jo Planckaert and I, started the Tour of Flanders on a tandem. We rode through the centre of Brugge like that. But it's impossible today. They fly from the first kilometre and even in the earlier races there is no more time for some fun."

With Mattan gone from the peloton, is there anyone who can step in to fill his place among the too-serious racers? Mattan couldn't come up with anyone who shares his playful attitude except perhaps Gianni Meersman (Discovery Channel). "Not a real playboy, but somebody with flair," Mattan emphasized, saying that it is important to be a good rider first, then there may be time for play. "That's how I did it, too."

The crucial point of Mattan's career was in 2000, when he joined Cofidis, where he took his first professional win. "The French mentality. Tranquille, tranquille. If it doesn't work out today, then we'll do well tomorrow." He ranked 2001 as his top year, when he won the Driedaagse van De Panne, GP Plouay and the Giro del Piemonte. "[All] races with a high international rating," he smiled, remembering the year he won the prologue in Paris - Nice, beating prologue specialist David Millar.

Later in his career, he won the 2005 Gent - Wevelgem, which he contends was well deserved. His win was clouded by controversy when lone breakaway rider Juan Antonio Flecha was caught before the line. There were complaints that the organisers did not move the lead vehicles out of the way, and the draft helped the bunch catch Flecha, allowing Mattan to win.But Mattan insisted that "the cars didn't help me. They were going 35 [km/h], while I was doing 50. Even with my hands in the air I would have passed him."

Mattan will always be remembered for being a bit different from the rest, something that extended to his race preparations. "Before a prologue I wouldn't eat much. And in the Tour's rest days, the whole team would go training, but I would just lie on my bed. I knew it was the best for me."

As with many riders of his era, Mattan came under suspicion of doping, mainly through his ties to Bernard Saiz, also known as Dr. Mabuse. But Mattan insisted that Saiz helped him with means other than illegal products. "He is one of the people I learned the most from. He gave top training advice. He taught me to ride the Paris - Nice prologue in my head a few times. Those are tips that make a good racer."

Even though his career as a racer is at an end, Mattan will stay on as assistant directeur sportif with his current team, DFL-Cyclingnews. "Initially I thought it was a little too obvious to become sports director, right after the career. But I think I was the type of rider ideal to become a directeur sportif."

Pitallier concerned about corruption

By Hedwig Kröner

FFC's Jean Pitallier
Photo ©: AFP

French cycling federation (FFC) president Jean Pitallier has had some outspoken words on corruption during the UCI Congress in Stuttgart last week. The 70 year-old alleged fraudulent practices within the International Cycling Union (UCI), and said that these were even more dangerous to cycling than the doping problem. "If doping is a real threat to our sport, I think that there are even more dangerous issues threatening us," said Pitallier, who believes that former UCI president Hein Verbruggen is still pulling the strings at the governing body. "I want to speak about money-making and corruption, which are actually not without link to doping. I personally have the greatest concerns about the way in which the ProTour has been created and organised by the UCI."

The FFC, as well as other federations, has been standing behind the Tour de France organiser ASO in its bid to change the concept of cycling's highest calendar, the ProTour, which was founded by the UCI four years ago to replace the World Cup. Meanwhile, UCI president Pat McQuaid accused some of the federations of disobedience, and called for greater unity within the cycling family to solve its current problems.

"If it is true that doping remains the main issue that cycling - and any other sport - will have to face, the lack of unity in our community could render irrelevant any initiative taken to fight against it," McQuaid insisted when speaking at the Congress himself. "The division some members of the cycling family are trying to provoke could have disastrous consequences: it could prevent cycling from overcoming the issues that are putting its future in jeopardy. As we have seen in these last weeks, the principal result of the constant undermining of the UCI’s authority, is to damage the image of our federation and consequently of our sport. Today we face unjustified attacks that would not be possible if we were more united.

"Everybody has the opportunity to express their disagreement. The UCI is a democratic institution. But far too often this right is twisted into an act of insubordination. This has consequences on the stability of the entire movement. This is why insubordination cannot be tolerated," McQuaid stated.

Beat Zberg retires

By Hedwig Kröner

Beat Zberg (Gerolsteiner)
Photo ©: Sirotti
Click for larger image

The elder of the two Zberg brothers, Beat, will quit pro cycling at the end of this season. The Gerolsteiner rider, 37 years of age, has announced his retirement at the end of 2007 after 15 seasons within the peloton. Zberg has won 18 races during that time, among them the Henninger Turm race in Frankfurt, which he won twice. But he also leaves behind an impressive amount of top placings in highest-ranked races: he was fourth in the Dauphiné Libéré, fifth in the Tour de Suisse and sixth in the Giro di Lombardia in the first year of his career.

Finishing third in the Amstel Gold Race in 1995 and 1997, seventh in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1997, second in the Tour de Suisse in 1998, fourth in the Giro di Lombardia in 2000 and 2003, Zberg raced for a total of five teams: Helvetia, Carrera, Mercatone Uno, Rabobank and Gerolsteiner.

Together with his younger brother Markus and his elder sister Luzia, the Zberg family has scored a total amount of 38 professional victories so far, amongst which a silver medal at the 1999 Worlds by Markus ranks as one of the highlights.

Predictor may continue past 2008

Omega Pharma, the mother company behind main sponsor Predictor, has not yet made a decision about continuing past the current 2008 commitment. "But the signs are good," Predictor manager Marc Seargant told Sportwereld. Seargant indicated that an extension of "two years, maybe even a bit longer," seems a possibility. Omega Pharma will make a decision at the end of the month.

Sergeant is not worried about the quality of the team. "Think about Greg Van Avermaet and Dominique Cornu. And next season there will also be two neo-pros, with Jürgen Roelandts and Francis De Greef."

Ken Stewart passes away

By John Trevorrow

One of the legends of Australian cycling and one of its true characters, Ken Stewart, passed away peacefully last Wednesday, October 3, only a few days shy of his 86th birthday. Ken had a stroke three weeks ago and had been in a coma in Frankston Hospital since then.

Stewy, as he was affectionately known, was inducted into the Victorian Cycling Hall of Fame in 2005. Ken won the Austral Wheelrace in 1941 and also won eight Australian track Championships, 17 Victorian, 23 South Australian and 14 Queensland Championships.

Stewart was a Champion cyclist on track and road and finished second to the great Billy Gyatt in the 1954 Melbourne to Warrnambool. He also rode in three Sun Tours, including the inaugural one in 1952.

Stewart won the 1974 World Veterans Road Championship in Austria and was second in '75 and third in '76. In 1988 Ken dominated the World Masters Games winning the sprint, time trial, five-mile scratch race as well as the criterium.

Stewart was selected in the Australian Olympic team for the 1940 Olympics that were cancelled because of the second world war.

As a professional, Stewart toured Europe in 1950 and 1951, winning the prestigious Grand Prix of Denmark.

Koppenberg being restored

Jesper Skibby
Photo ©: DCP/Bert Geerts
(Click for larger image)

The restored Koppenberg is waiting for the the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Work to repair the ancient cobblestone climb has been completed and cyclotourists can already sweat up the steep hill which has pitches up to 22 percent. The climb is most famous for the 1987 accident when race leader Jesper Skibby fell on the narrow road and almost got run over by race commissaire's car. To avoid blocking the approaching peloton, the commisaire had ordered his driver to press on, riding over Skibby's front wheel and narrowly missing his feet. Back then racers had pedal clips that were much harder to get out than today's clipless pedal technology.

The incident led to the abandonment of the Koppenberg in the Tour de Flanders for years. It reappeared in the 2000's, but was not included in this year's edition. Whether the Koppenberg will be used in the next Ronde Van Vlaanderen is not yet clear, but the city of Oudenaarde, the vicinity in which the climb lies, certainly wants it that way. Organizer Wim Van Herreweghe told Sportwereld that "Soon, we will test if it's reasonable to send the racers over the Koppenberg. We will also ask the opinion of ex-racers."

Bouygues Telecom changes

Jean-René Bernaudeau
Photo ©: Chris Henry/CN
Click for larger image

Jean-René Bernaudeau is signing French riders again to his team, Bouygues Telecom. Perrig Quémeneur is the next rider who will be recruited from French amateur team Vendée U, according to velo-101. He is the fourth signing, after Damien Gaudin, Evgeny Sokolov and Sébastien Turgot. Last year, Bernaudeau was recruiting more from teams in other countries.

Quémeneur was already riding for the team as a stagiaire, and impressed Bernaudeau with a tenth place in the Tour de Limousin. Russian rider Yuri Trofimov (Moscow Stars) will also join the team.

The contracts of veterans Laurent Brochard, Pierre Drancourt, Andy Flickinger, Yoann Le Boulanger and Didier Rous have not been extended.

Amateur Faye gets three-year suspension

Doping is not only prevalent in the professional scene, but also in the amateur ranks. French rider André Faye (ESM Gonfreville l'Orcher) was suspended for three years. He tested positive at the Circuit des Plages Vendéennes in February, reported velo-101. Initially, he was a no-show for the control, but claimed the was not informed in a timely manner. He voluntarily provided a sample the next day, but his urine revealed 19-Norandrostérone, a muscle-mass stimulant.

The 32 year-old will likely see his career at this way. He claimed that he bought a food supplement in Belgium to help with recuperation, but he certainly did not want to cheat. He will bring the supplier to court, claiming that the product contained other substances than advertised.

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