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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News for September 4, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

Gerolsteiner ends sponsorship after 2008

By Susan Westemeyer

Gerolsteiner on the way out
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Team Gerolsteiner has joined the ranks of those looking for a new sponsor. Gerolsteiner Brunnen Gmbh & Co. announced Tuesday morning that it would end its sponsorship of the ProTour team at the end of the 2008 season, when its contract with team owner Hans-Michael Holczer ends.

"As agreed, we will fulfil our contract with Team Gerolsteiner through the end of the 2008 season. But we will not take advantage of our option to extend the contract," Jörg Croseck, the company's director of Marketing, Distribution and Personnel said in a press release. "The decision wasn't easy and we carefully examined whether we could continue to use cycling in the future to reach and interest our customers." The company ultimately decided that cycling was no longer the proper way to reach those customers.

The recent doping scandals in cycling are "not the main reason for Gerolsteiner's decision," according to the press release. "However, they played a part in reducing the value of cycling as a communications platform.

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"We are firmly convinced that Hans-Michael Holczer will be successful in finding a new partner," Croseck said. "His strict and credible anti-doping course, when paired with the image of the team, is an outstanding bargaining position."

The beverage company has sponsored the team since 1998, for about nine million euro a year.

Only 16 ProTour teams? Quality is the priority

By Jean-François Quénet in Plouay

As for now, 15 teams have secured their ProTour status for next year. Out of 20 currently, 19 licenses are still valid for 2008, Lampre's license is the only one to come to its end this year but the Italian squad is bidding for a new four-year term (until 2011) despite the loss of co-sponsor Fondital.

Four license holders are doubtful: Marc Biver might lose his because of too many doping cases inside his Astana team this year, Gianluigi Stanga is looking for a new sponsor since it's no longer a love affair with his German sponsor Milram, Jacques Hanegraaf has lost his sponsor but he's in discussion with Dutch manager Gerry van Gerwen to attract the Milram sponsorship and Johan Bruyneel has announced the end of the Discovery Channel but he's rumoured to take over the management of Astana.

"Our priority isn't the number of teams but their quality in terms of financial solidity, medical approach, administration and the level of their riders," UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf said to Cyclingnews in Plouay.

Not only the budget of the teams will be taken into consideration. It's rumoured that the UCI isn't too keen to trust the people linked to Doctor Michele Ferrari anymore after the Astana fiasco at the 2007 Tour de France. Before the start and before he got caught for blood transfusion, Alexander Vinokourov had clarified that he was coached by Ferrari, who was the man behind Tony Rominger in the early 1990s and Lance Armstrong after that. Rominger was Vinokourov's agent until the Kazakh got busted. He's now in charge of the career of Alberto Contador, among others.

The plan of forming a team backed by a Kazakh connection, managed by Bruyneel with Contador as a leader is not very likely to please the license commission of the UCI ProTour, since the credibility of cycling seems to be its priority now. "It's possible that the license commission will take Astana's license back," Rumpf explained.

Australia and the USA ready for ProTour events

After the first four-years term of the UCI ProTour (2005-2008), the second version of the competition should begin in 2009. It's been an all-European event so far but the UCI is ready for a change, Alain Rumpf continued. "There is a big interest from Australia and the USA for hosting a ProTour race. Our first priority is the quality and the fight against doping; our second priority is to develop the concept of the ProTour on other continents.

"Cycling needs something new but it's also important not to cut the sport from its roots. Look at Plouay: Brittany is the hot bed of French cycling, it's fantastic to see organizers putting together an event of three or four days, for all the categories, including a women's world cup race and a popular fun ride. It's also necessary to have a vision for the sport to be global because cycling is in competition with many other sports in the world. We're closely watched out by the IOC [International Olympic Committee]." The Tour Down Under in Adelaide is expected to become the first non-European event to enter the ProTour.

RFEC President Sánchez confused over UCI's proposal on Valverde

By Antonio J. Salmerón

The President of the Spanish Federation (RFEC), Fulgencio Sánchez, is angry with the UCI's decision regarding Alejandro Valverde. The rider has been barred from the World Championships, September 30 in Stuttgart, by the UCI, which has also requested an investigation by his federation.

"I do not understand what the UCI is now saying about Valverde. If he could race the Tour, why not race in Stuttgart. We reviewed the Operación Puerto summary, as well as the Spanish Civil Guard and the judge in charge of this affair, and we do not see a connection between Valverde and the people supposedly implied in Operación Puerto," Fulgencio Sánchez said to Cyclingnews. "We count on the support of the CSD [Spain's Superior Council of Sports], which is working on the subject in order to give a legal answer to the UCI," Sánchez continued.

He demanded that the UCI assume the legal and sporting responsibilities that could derive from false accusations against Valverde. "Pat McQuaid knows perfectly well that the instructional judge of the Operación Puerto investigation will prevent the initiation of any investigations." He added, "what the UCI has sent to us is the same documentation of a year ago." Although, he admitted that, "the RFEC is going to act according to the Spanish legal regulation. ... Valverde will be at the World Championships in Stuttgart, even if McQuaid dares to prevent him."

T-Mobile fires Bernucci after positive test

T-Mobile Team has terminated its contract with Lorenzo Bernucci, effective immediately, after being notified by the UCI that he had tested positive for Sibutramine, an appetite suppressant. The team ruled that the Italian rider's action violated the team's internal code of ethics.

Bernucci tested positive on August 15 during the Deutschland Tour. The 27 year-old told the team that he had been taking the product under the brand name of Ectiva for four years and did not know that it had been added last year to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of prohibited substances. He purchased it over the counter at a pharmacy in Italy to help keep his weight under control.

If it is ruled that Sibutramine is not used for performance enhancement, a first violation carries a minimum punishment of a warning, and a maximum of a one-year suspension.

"We do not know if this was an attempt at performance enhancement or just poor judgment. But we know it is unacceptable that riders take any medication without the approval of the team doctor. It's a clear violation of our code of conduct and we act now on that basis," said General Manager Bob Stapleton on the team's website,

Bernucci had been riding the Vuelta a España. He lives in Monaco, so the Monaco Cycling Federation will be responsible for investigating the charges.

Shimano testing in the Vuelta

By Iker Rioja

A group of Japanese technical experts from Shimano have attended the first two days of the Vuelta a España, enjoying the race while testing some innovations in electronic shifting components. According to Televisión Española, four riders of Gerolsteiner (including Markus Fothen) and two of Rabobank are testing the equipment during the race. It seems that they are quite happy, although they have remarked that they have to make frequent changes in equipment.

Spanish ex-professional Pedro Delgado has stated that Mavic did a very similar thing "ten years ago." He commented on how the times have changed. "The problem is when rain starts to pour hard on it, the system seems to go crazy. An amateur can handle it, but not a professional rider," added the winner of 1988's Tour de France.

"If this new development from Shimano is able to work properly after three or four days of wind and rain, and its batteries last much longer, we could be very happy."

Di Luca's case continues

Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri heard Guido Mariani and Rossano D'Intino in light of new information that there may have been blood stored in thermal containers for Danilo Di Luca. Torri is continuing with the Oil for Drugs investigation of 2004, but took time yesterday to hear the two Forest department agents.

The two agents clarified that there were no blood bags sequestered last fall. Alessio Starnieri claimed to have information of thermal containers of blood kept by Di Luca's brother, Altobrando. Neither Altobrando Di Luca nor Starnieri was heard yesterday.

Torri is expected to pass on his recommendation for shelving or disciplinarily action to the Italian cycling federation (FCI) before the close of this month. The decision will have an obvious impact on Di Luca's participation in the World Championships, September 30.

For more details on the Oil for Drugs, read NAS blitz nets nada and NAS raid Giro again from 2004.

Caisse check at Caisse d'Epargne

By Monika Prell

The Eneco champion
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

The season has yet to conclude, but Caisse d'Epargne is already doing a "Caisse check" and can be very satisfied with the season of 2007.

The team is one of the most decorated teams of the cycling world, with 29 victories in the 2007 season, amongst them nine stage races: the Challenge of Mallorca (Luis León Sánchez), the Vuelta a Murcia and the Volta a Valencia (Alejandro Valverde), the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour de Suisse (Vladimir Karpets), the Vuelta a la Rioja (Rubén Plaza), the Euskal Bizikleta (Constantino Zaballa), and José Iván Gutiérrez's wins in the Tour Méditerranéen and the recent Eneco Tour.

Among the thirty cyclists appear the two Spanish champions: the Catalan Joaquím Rodriguez is the road champion and the Cantabrian Iván Gutiérrez won the time trial championships for his fourth time.

"The second places? We stopped counting them," Directeur Sportif Eusebio Unzúe said to Diario Vasco. "We already have about thirty. You can't say that we did not win.

"Valverde finished sixth, that is not bad," he commented on his star rider at the Tour de France. "The problem was that everybody expected him to win, but we are talking about the Tour, a race that is not easy to win. And we know what we talk about."

Unzúe wants to change some things in his team. The first one is the number of riders. "We want to keep 25 riders. I guess that the ProTour will go on and so for this you are not able to reduce the squad more."

Valverde at the Tour
Photo ©:
(Click for larger image)

As of today today, ten riders have a contract for 2008 and five have renewed their contract: Joaquím Rodríguez, Xabier Zandio, Iván Gutiérrez, José Vicente Garcia and Oscar Pereiro.

Seven riders won't continue in this team: Frenchmen Florent Brard and Sébastien Portal, Italian Marco Fertonani and Spaniards Aitor Pérez Arrieta, Vicente Reynes, Constantino Zaballa and Rubén Plaza.

Three riders are still waiting for a definitive decision. "We did not already rule what we will do with [Joan] Horrach, [Pablo] Lastras and Francisco Pérez. We said to them that if we have a place free, they will be the ones we will select. As a last resort we could also create a place for any of them." At the moment it seems that Pablo Lastras, who won a stage of the Eneco Tour last week, is likely to re-sign.

Team Caisse d'Epargne has some obligations towards the French sponsor, and it should contract additional French riders. For the moment, Mathieu Drujon (Auber) and Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole) will be incorporated in the 2008 squad. "We want to contract another French rider. We are negotiating with various cyclists, but at the moment we don't have anything locked," explained Unzúe.

Unzúe made it clear that the team won't offer a contract to 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador. "We would need more budget, and we would have to create a team only for him in regards to the Tour. Actually we are not able to do that."

Heras to Fuerteventura-Canarias Islands?

Heras in 2005
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

Spanish Professional Continental Team Fuerteventura-Canarias has opened negotiations with Roberto Heras. The three-time winner of the Vuelta a España is eligible to ride again next season after sitting out his two-year doping suspension. According to the Spanish website, the Spanish team hopes to join the ProTour next year and Heras' signing could be the first of many which would allow it to be more competitive in larger races in the coming season.

Heras, 33, was riding for the Liberty Seguros team in 2005 when he was tested positive for EPO during the Vuelta's penultimate stage. He was stripped of the title he had won that year and it was awarded to Denis Menchov of Rabobank.

Vandenbroucke: Belgium or Italy?

Frank Vandenbroucke will decide soon where he will ride next year. "The question is whether I will remain in Belgium or Italy," said the 32 year-old Belgian. He has a meeting this week with his manager, Paul De Geyter, "who has several teams' offers in his hand."

"If I stay in Belgium then I would want to ride the whole Belgian program, which suits me so well," he said, according to the Belga press agency. He is currently under contract to the Italian team Acqua & Sapone. "At Acqua & Sapone I have not always had the possibility of riding those races, because the team has chosen to skip them." He has another reason for wanting to return to his homeland to ride, he noted. "It would be good for me to be supported by my faithful fans. For that reason I would like to ride for a Belgian team. This way I would be close to my fans."

There would be no problems with providing a medical certificate, the troubled rider said. "I had only to submit a paper saying that I wasn't taking any medication after my suicide attempt earlier this year. That has been done. Also I had an electrocardiogram and sent all the necessary paperwork to all the correct agencies."

Astana on the Belgian roads

After the GP Jef Scherens last Sunday, Astana will ride in the province of Antwerpen during the Schaal J.C. Sels race, September 4. The 25 teams will cover a long course of almost 198 kilometres with departure and arrival in Merksem, making a small incursion in Holland. Swiss Michael Schär and Austrian René Haselbacher will seek to confirm their results from last Sunday.

The Astana riders for Schaal JC Sels are Maxim Gourov (Kaz), René Haselbacher (Aut), Serguei Ivanov (Rus), Benoît Joachim (Lux), Aaron Kemps (Aus), Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus), Dmitriy Muravyev (KAZ) and Michael Schär (Swi).

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