First Edition Cycling News, February 27, 2008
Edited by Greg Johnson and Paul Verkuylen with assistance from Susan Westemeyer
ASO: Paris-Nice will take place
Teams react to UCI's boycott request
By Greg Johnson
Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) has reiterated its position following a threat from the International Cycling Union (UCI) to not recognise its first event of 2008, Paris-Nice, with the major French race organiser declaring that the March 9-16 event will go ahead as planned. The sport's world governing body called on all professional teams to boycott this year's event, after ASO announced it would operate the race under the French Cycling Federation's governance, instead of the UCI, and "under the exclusive jurisdiction of French law."
ASO reacted to the UCI's release yesterday with a brief statement that simply reiterated that Paris-Nice would go ahead as planned. "Despite the hostile positions taken by the UCI president, Paris-Nice will take place as planned, and will be organised according to the technical rules of the French Cycling Federation, in application of the French law," said the release.
The UCI's call for teams to boycott the race if ASO continues down the French federation route has been met with a cautious response from team managers. International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP) president Eric Boyer, also the Cofidis squad's team manager, said he would meet with UCI president to inform him of the teams' intentions once a unanimous decision had been made.
"For the moment I'm consulting with all of the teams so that we can unanimously define which direction we are going to take," Boyer told AFP. "After that I will be asking for a meeting with [UCI President] Pat McQuaid to inform him of our intentions.
"Our decision will determine how we will race (other events) the rest of the season," added Boyer, referring to events run by Grand Tour organisers ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic.
Boyer's comments indicate that the power – in the form of exposure and prestige of their combined event portfolio which includes the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España – held by the Grand Tour organisers would be a factor in the teams' decision. Should the teams decide to enter the Paris-Nice, it will force the UCI's hand with the governing body's only options to sanction the teams or back down.
Early indications from the team managers in the world's top teams indicate that the UCI might yet again be backed into a corner in the continuing UCI Vs. Grand Tour organisers war of words. While many team managers are unhappy that they're stuck in the centre of world cycling's power battle once more, the few that have spoken out since yesterday's announcement have indicated it's likely the teams will again side with ASO, as it did last year.
"The quarrel between ASO and UCI only makes cycling weaker," Silence-Lotto's Marc Sergeant told Wielrensite.nl. "The team is definitely not thinking of not starting. Immediately, I do not see a reason for the team to boycott Paris-Nice. We want a strong cycling scene, but our sponsors are not expecting us to put pressure on the kettle."
Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere voiced a similar opinion to fellow Belgian team manager Sergeant. "How am I supposed to explain this to my sponsors?" Lefevere said. "Paris-Nice is a race that is televised in our country. What is going to happen now? Is that going to happen this year also? Will Quick Step be part of the peloton?
"That is a street that has no end, but I am the tired of all the screaming in the desert," he added. "I am supporting the race. But who is going to be sure of a start later on in the Tour [de France]?"
Rabobank spokesperson Luc Eisenga told DPA the Dutch team was hoping for a long-term solution to the on-going war "the teams are not directly involved [in the dispute] but are those who suffer from it." Gerolsteiner's Hans-Michael Holczer told the press agency he felt the latest battle would act as a "rehearsal for the Tour [de France]" later this year and that he hoped all parties could sit down and come to a long-term agreement.
The current dispute over which teams should take part in Paris-Nice is almost exactly the same as the one that happened in 2007. Then, ASO refused to invite Unibet.com – a ProTour team under UCI rules. ASO claimed that under French gambling laws, it was illegal for a team sponsored by an online gambling concern to advertise itself in France. Unibet said it would change its name and jersey for French races, but had no luck with ASO and was excluded from all its races, starting with Paris-Nice.
The UCI demanded that ASO invite Unibet, threatening all teams with sanctions should they participate. The crisis was finally averted a few days before the start of Paris-Nice, with the UCI backing down and allowing ASO to invite the teams it wanted. Unibet was left with a worthless ProTour licence and folded at the end of the year and has since all but collapsed, with team manager Jacques Hanegraaf now running a smaller Professional Continental team called Cycle Collstrop with the remnants of Unibet's infrastructure.
McQuaid: ASO's attitude totally wrong
UCI president Pat McQuaid has blasted major French race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) for moving the Paris-Nice stage race from its control to the governance of the French Cycling Federation (FFC), saying the company is only interested in its profit margins. McQuaid announced yesterday that he'd contacted all professional cycling teams and asked them to boycott the event, unless ASO changes its stance.
"It doesn't surprise me that they would do it," McQuaid told Associated Press. "Their attitude to this is totally wrong. ASO's only objective is an ever-growing financial profit.
"Those interests are to some extent regulated by an international federation," he added. "Now they are going outside that, it is purely the law of supply and demand."
McQuaid threatened ASO in his release yesterday, saying that the world body couldn't and wouldn't allow its commissars or anti-doping staff to work on the event. Furthermore, he added that the event would have no standing in the UCI's eyes and that any results from the event wouldn't be recognised by the body.
While McQuaid hasn't yet said that teams who chose to participate in the event would be sanctioned, the Irishman would be forced to take action should the teams defy the governing body's orders. "We've made it clear the consequences of taking part in race outside the international rules," said McQuaid.
ASO appoints French anti-doping agency for Paris-Nice
By Mark Appleton and Jeff Jones, Bikeradar.com
Paris-Nice road race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) has, under the auspices of the French Cycling Federation (FFC), placed the French anti-doping agency (AFLD) in charge of doping control at the season's traditional 'Race to the Sun' curtain-raiser. The news will come as a further slap in the face to the UCI, who yesterday said that if the race goes ahead without its doping control officials and commissars, it effectively enters the realms of a private competition with no international status whatsoever.
However, it appears that the AFLD was well prepared for the call from ASO, perhaps not surprisingly as the story has more than a sense of déjà vu about it, mirroring as it does events surrounding last year's race. And in an ominous indication of a potential escalation of the clash between the international federation and ASO, the AFLD has indicated that it is ready to take on similar responsibilities for the Tour de France.
ASO's agreement with AFLD is due to be signed on Thursday, with ASO spokesperson Christophe Marchadier saying the French company was simply waiting "for the teams to express themselves" before continuing down its chosen path.
No longer, it seems, is the agency simply viewing itself in the role of a UCI contractor, implementing doping controls deemed appropriate by cycling's international governing body. Speaking before Monday's announcement by the UCI which denounced the "insubordination of ASO and it allies," AFLD president Pierre Bordry said. "The first thing we had to consider was our strategy. The UCI's approach seemed too systematic to us. They test only the stage winners and the overall race leader. To avoid being tested it is sufficient to simply finish down the field. There needs to be more random testing."
Under French law the AFLD can test nails, hair and even skin samples and Bordry has said that it may be necessary for his organisation to undertake testing outside of France in the run-up to the Tour, if indeed they are charged with running the Grand Tour's anti-doping programme. However, the possibility that the AFLD will take on such a role also throws into question the future of the biological passport programme instigated by the UCI.
"These irresponsible attitudes threaten to undermine the remarkable efforts recently made in cycling, in particular with the biological passport, which the UCI reserves the right to apply as a priority to those of its partners who abide by its rules," the federation said a strongly worded statement yesterday.
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split
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Sick Roelandts replaces ill van Avermaet
Silence-Lotto's Greg van Avermaet has been replaced by Jürgen Roelandts in the Belgian team's roster for this weekend's race, which mark the opening of Belgian's Spring season. The ProTour outfit confirmed yesterday that van Avermaet would sit out the race, after suffering from a middle-ear infection that affects his sense of balance.
"Of course I am sorry, but it's not the end of the world," van Avermaet told Sportwereld.be. "This is not a permanent problem, and that makes it bearable."
"I hope to participate in the GP Samyn on March 4, but the most important thing is to get well again," added the 22 year-old.
Roelandt will take van Avermaet's place on the Silence-Lotto squad for Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. The rider, also 22 years of age, finished sixth overall in the Volta ao Algarve. He will not be in top shape for the weekend races, however, because he came home from Portugal sick.
Leukemans calls for acquittal
Björn Leukemans fronted a Flemish disciplinary committee on Tuesday after testing positive for testosterone late last year, which subsequently lead to a two year ban from the sport. Leukemans' lawyer, Johnny Maeschalk, asked for an acquittal on the grounds that the rider had a prescription from his team doctor for the medicine which contained testosterone.
"An acquittal for Björn Leukemans, that is the only possible solution in this case," Maeschalk told the court on Tuesday.
Leukemans tested positive for testosterone in an out of competition test at the end of September last year, right before the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. The 30 year-old received a two year suspension mid-January.
According to Leukemans the positive control was due to a medicine he had taken in good faith, having received a Prasteron prescription from his Predictor-Lotto team doctor. Leukemans, who had brought the medicine package with him to an earlier court session, brought the handwritten prescription from the doctor.
"This is a unique phenomenon that an athlete can prove the submission that he is innocent," Maeschalk said. "There is in this case no question of a grey zone. There is a formal document. What more could Björn do? He asked Sam Vermeire (the former team doctor) if Prasteron could constitute a problem, which Vermeire denied.
"How can a cyclist do more?" questioned Maeschalk. "Should he spend nine years studying and constantly keep himself up to date with the medical industry? Both Prasteron and the active ingredient DHEA are not on the Flemish list of banned products. I repeat, what more could Björn do?"
Maeschalk also presented the WADA code, which delves deeper into the domain of risk liability. The code states that when a doping case is identified, a "reasonable balance" should be applied, and in some cases a violation can not result in a sanction even though in black and white there has been a breach of the rules. "That is the case in this case," said Maeschalk. "There is a violation, but we have proof that the presumption of innocence shows."
A decision on the case is scheduled to be made on March 11.
High Road strong for New Zealand
Team High Road believes its women's team will be hard to beat at this week's Women's Tour of Wellington. The team enjoyed a strong week in Geelong, Australia last week repeating the multiple podium finishes it took in the 2007 Tour of Geelong and Geelong World Cup, however the power-house women's team again failed to repeat its double victory at the two Victorian races from 2006.
Despite a strong field lining up in New Zealand tour, High Road team manager Ronny Lauke believes the team has the power to take victory. "We've already had a good start in the Tour of Geelong and got a podium in the Geelong World Cup race, so we're looking forward to adding some more victories this week," Lauke told Stuff.co.nz. "We have a strong squad so we are looking forward to some good action.
Not only does the squad feature defending champion Judith Arndt, but also Geelong place getter Ina-Yoko Teutenberg. The German duo will make a formidable combination at the race which commences later today.
"We have the defending champion and we will be working very hard to make it happen again, but it will be very difficult because there is a strong lineup from other teams," he added.
Lauke said the early season events were important to help judge the rider's form ahead of the Olympic Games and women's Tour de France.
"The buildup period to the Olympic Games and the Tour de l'Aude, which is probably the biggest women's tour, consists of several stepping stones so it is very good to get some work done and to see where we are after the winter," he said. "It's quite an important time for us to see whether we're on the right way or the wrong way."
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