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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News for September 18, 2007

Edited by Ben Abrahams & Paul Verkuylen, with assistance from Susan Westemeyer

Boonen in Belgian Worlds team

Tom Boonen quit the Vuelta after Stage 12.
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Tom Boonen has been selected to the Belgian World Championship team, national coach Carlo Bomans announced Monday. The sprinter, who is still suffering from injuries sustained in a crash at the Vuelta a España, will decide later in the week whether he will ride in Stuttgart. If he decides against racing, his place will be taken by Frederik Willems of Liquigas.

"Tom is already getting better," Bomans told Sportwereld. "On Wednesday he has a long training ride planned, so we'll see after that. For Boonen there is no deadline. If necessary we will replace him 24 hours before the start of the World Championships.

"Obviously Tom can do something on the hilly parcours in Stuttgart, otherwise I would not have selected him," continued Bomans. "Perhaps he could work for the other riders? There is no problem with his condition, only his knee. The team supported him tremendously at the World Championships in Madrid, so perhaps it is the ideal moment for Tom to give something back.

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"We have no Freire, Bettini or Di Luca in our team, thus we do not have to make the race. That role is for the Italians, the Spaniards or the Germans. This parcours is the most demanding I have seen in my career as a national coach, it really does not lend itself to a bunch sprint."

Bomans wants each rider on the Belgian team to ride the course before an official race plan is hatched. So far only Philippe Gilbert has ridden the circuit, reportedly comparing it with that of the Amstel Gold Race.

The Belgian team will be made up of: Mario Aerts (Predictor - Lotto), Björn Leukemans (Predictor - Lotto), Greg Van Avermaet (Predictor - Lotto), Johan Vansummeren (Predictor - Lotto), Stijn Devolder (Discovery), Jurgen Van Goolen (Discovery), Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Maxime Monfort (Cofidis), and Tom Boonen (Quick.Step).

The great divide

An interview with Patrice Clerc

Patrice Clerc
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Amid the flurry of planning that goes on this time of year, one important bit of negotiating for the 2008 season has stalled out completely, and it's perhaps the most important one facing the sport: the relations between the UCI and the Tour de France organisers, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO). Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner caught up with ASO president Patrice Clerc about the UCI/ASO battle and found that the only thing going on between the two organisations is tension.

2007 has been a turbulent season for professional cycling: from the ongoing Operación Puerto fall-out bringing down stars like Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, to the battle over Alejandro Valverde's participation at the World Championships, to doping confessions and tell-all accounts by current and former professionals, to doping positives and 'non-negatives' springing up throughout the season, and the whole Unibet.com debacle - it's been a rough year. But perhaps equally as dangerous to the future of the sport is the dissolving relationship between the Grand Tour (GT) organisers and the sport's governing body, the UCI.

The UCI and Grand Tour organisers came into conflict with the conception of the ProTour, and the tensions have only risen with this three year old series. The GT's complained about being forced into having their races as part of a series and told which teams they could invite, while the UCI struggled to maintain control over the fledgling concept. After two years of polemics, the battle came to a head before the first ProTour race of the season, Paris-Nice, nearly stopping the ProTour in its tracks when the ASO threatened to run the race under sanctioning of the French Cycling Federation.

The ASO had refused to formally invite UCI president Pat McQuaid to the Tour even before it sat in shock while watching its crowning glory, the Tour de France, be tainted by several unheard-of scandals, but the sequence of events during the Tour only served to make matters worse. After all, the bearer of the maillot jaune was expelled from the race for whereabouts discrepancies which the UCI was well aware of, and the doping positive of Patrik Sinkewitz would have become public while he was racing the Tour had he not crashed out first. The resulting withdrawal by German television of its live broadcast was another slap in the face for the ASO, which values its television contracts quite highly.

To read the full interview with ASO President Patrice Clerc, click here.

McQuaid wants life long bans

Pat McQuaid has shifted his stance on doping bans.
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

UCI President Pat McQuaid has called for the introduction of life long bans for doping related offences. Following yet another summer of failed tests and allegations within the ProTour circuit, cycling is coming under increasing pressure to lift the ban from two years to life.

"I would certainly be in favour of doing that," McQuaid told BBC TV show Inside Sport. "As far as I'm concerned, it is a zero-tolerance policy."

McQuaid's sudden support of the life long ban comes as somewhat of a surprise, after he previously stated that the two year ban was sufficient for first time offenders. During this year's edition of the Tour de France which was rocked by the non-negative posted by Alexander Vinokourov after his dominant time trial, the 58 year-old Irishman said: "I think the punishment is tough enough because when guys get caught it's the end of their career."

This year's Tour was perhaps the most devastating edition since 1998 which was rocked by the Festina affair, and with riders continuing to fail tests, the cloud of suspicion over the rest of the sport refuses to budge, all of which has added to McQuaid's stance.

One could argue that Michael Rasmussen's contract termination while leading the world's biggest race was either the low or the high point in the fight against doping in cycling. It was alleged that the Dane had lied about his whereabouts and had purposely missed doping tests in the lead up to the event in June. These allegations led to Rabobank team management confronting the former mountain bike world champion and his subsequent dismissal for not following Rabobank's internal regulations.

The Tour had already seen a German rider uncovered as a cheat, and pre-race favourite Alexander Vinokourov had already left along with his entire team, yet the Rasmussen case was not to be the last the 2007 Tour saw of doping scandals: two more riders failed tests after that and the race's eventual winner, Alberto Contador, has been forced to defend himself against allegations of doping resulting from last year's Operación Puerto investigation.

These events have served as the catalyst for the UCI to make the war on doping its priority and McQuaid admitted that cycling had a drugs problem but was doing its utmost to beat it. Referring to, among other things, the anti-doping charter that all the professional teams have now signed, as well as the most rigorous testing regime in world sport as evidence of cycling's determination to win back public confidence.

Leipheimer following Bruyneel to Astana?

Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

According to Spanish website sport.es, American Levi Leipheimer will swap his Discovery Channel jersey for that of Team Astana in 2008, after the American squad disbands at the end of this season. Rumours of Discovery's team manager Johan Bruyneel being courted by the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation (which manages the Astana team) have been rife in recent weeks, with the Belgian confirming to Cyclingnews that he has been contacted regarding a position.

Quizzed at the recent Tour of Missouri, Bruyneel refused to comment on his future plans, preferring to concentrate on Discovery's last race on American soil. However, Nikolai Proskurin, vice president of the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation recently told Kazakh magazine Our Sport that current Astana manager Marc Biver would not be with the team next year, potentially paving the way for Bruyneel. "It is 150 percent certain, that [Biver] won't work for us in 2008," said Proskurin. "We have had good discussions with Johan Bruyneel. We want him as Biver's successor. Johan enjoys a good reputation in cycling."

Aside from Leipheimer, there have also been suggestions that Bruyneel would bring to Astana several Discovery Channel riders, among them Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, Tomas Vaitkus and Sergio Paulinho.

Efimkin to Quick.Step - Innergetic

Russian Alexander Efimkin, the brother of Caisse d'Epargne's Vladimir Efimkin, will be riding in the colours of Quick.Step - Innergetic next season, the Belgian squad announced in a press release on Monday. The 25 year-old, a professional for two years with Barloworld, won a stage and the overall at both the Settimana Lombarda in Italy and Giro del Capo in South Africa this year.

"Efimkin is a good athlete that we followed for a long time," said Quick.Step team manager Patrick Lefevere. "With him, our team will be even more international (Quick.Step now has seven nationalities in its ranks). The signing of Efimkin is perfectly aligned with the process of globalisation that is enveloping our sport and it also showcases our sponsors in the Soviet market."

The signing of Efimkin bumps Quick.Step's 2008 roster up to 27 riders.

Germany shortens Worlds short list

The German cycling federation (Bund Deutscher Radfahrer) has reduced its pre-selection for the World Championships later this month from 21 riders to 16. It removed from its list two injured riders, Andreas Klöden (Astana) and Grischa Niermann (Rabobank), as well as Vuelta stage winner Andreas Klier (T-Mobile), Paul Martens (Skil - Shimano) and Björn Schröder (Milram).

Veteran Milram sprinter Erik Zabel, whose nomination has sparked controversy after his admission to using EPO in 1996, remains on the short list.

Germany is allowed nine riders in the road race and two in the time trial.

Wiesenhof first and second

Team Wiesenhof-Felt celebrated a win and a second place on Sunday, as it nears the end of what may be its last season ever. Wiesenhof announced in May that it would end its sponsorship at the end of the 2007 season.

However, team manager Raphael Schwede isn't giving up hope in his search for a new sponsor. "We are still holding discussions," he told Cyclingnews. "There is nothing new right now. We will know by the end of September."

Over the weekend, he could look to the two extremes on the team, as one of his youngsters won a race in France and a veteran took a second place in Germany, missing out on the win by only one second.

Peter Velits, a 22 year-old Slovak, won the Grand Prix des Fourmies out of a four-man escape group ahead of Daniele Nardello (Team LPR) and Baden Cooke (Unibet.com). "That was very clever of Peter," said directeur sportif Ronny Lauke on the team's website wiesenhof-felt.de.

Over in Germany at the Rund um die Nürnberger Altstadt, 33 year-old sprinter Olaf Pollack won the sprint of the following peloton to place second behind Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner). Teammate Robert Retschke finished ninth. "We can be very satisfied with the results of Pollack and Retschke, as well as with the performance of the whole team," said directeur sportif Markus Schleicher. "We came within a hair of our second win this Sunday."

German track rider Fulst to retire

Double Olympic gold medal winner Guido Fulst announced his retirement from the German national track team on Monday. His decision was not based on athletic grounds, but because he has accepted a job offer which will allow him to start a new career. "Even if it's not always easy with my 37 years to keep motivating myself, this decision was anything but easy," he told the dpa press agency. "But with my age, I simply must take advantage of this opportunity."

Fulst will stop riding after the Berlin six-day race in January. He had been pre-selected for the track team for the 2008 Olympics.

Fulst has participated in 16 world championships and four Olympic Games. He won four world championships and two Olympic gold medals, in 1992 and 2000.

Astana to GP Wallonie

Team Astana will indulge in a spot of midweek racing this Wednesday, bringing an eight-man selection to the Grand Prix de Wallonie in Belgium. Run over a 203.2 kilometre parcours between Chaudfontaine and Namur, the race takes in a series of testing climbs including the Citadel of Namur less than one kilometre from the finish.

Astana's lineup will be spearheaded by Russian one-day specialists Guennadi Mikhailov and Serguei Ivanov and Australian Aaron Kemps. The remainder of the squad is composed of Igor Abakoumov (Bel), Maxim Gourov (Kaz), Benoît Joachim (Lux), Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) and Michael Schär (Swi).

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