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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News, July 12, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo & Ben Abrahams

Beltrán taken for questioning, Liquigas to continue

French Gendarmes keep watch on the Hotel des Voyageurs
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

French police took Spaniard Manuel Beltrán into custody for questioning on Friday night following news that he had tested positive for the performance enhancing drug EPO. The 37-year-old Beltrán was taken away from the Hotel des Voyageurs, where he and the Liquigas team were staying. Police also searched Beltrán's hotel room.

"The police have taken Manuel away for questioning," a Liquigas spokesman told the BBC. "He was not sharing the room with any other team-mates. It was only his room that was searched."

Beltrán, a former mountain domestique for Lance Armstrong's US Postal and Discovery Channel teams, was immediately removed from the race by his team, a move which may have salvaged Liquigas' chances at continuing in the Tour de France.

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While reports initially stated that should Beltrán's B sample come back positive, the team would be forced to withdraw from the race, the German television station ZDF received confirmation from the Amaury Sport Organistion (ASO) that the team could remain in the race.

The station also reported that the team will escape the 100,000 euro penalty which was part of the ASO's anti-doping contract signed by all teams prior to the Tour, because they removed Beltrán immediately after the positive A-sample.

Liquigas manager Roberto Amadio said that his rider has said that he has done nothing wrong, and has been suspended until the counter-analysis he has requested can be performed. But, he said, if it is also positive, he will be fired.

The news of the doping positive struck a blow to the Tour de France, which was hoping to clean up its image after multiple doping scandals in the 2007 event. During last year's Tour, there were no fewer than five positives announced during the Tour or shortly after, and the race leader, Michael Rasmussen (then of Rabobank) was removed from the race after it was revealed he had falsified his pre-Tour anti-doping whereabouts declarations.

The doping scandals led to the withdrawal of the Astana team, whose leader Alexander Vinokourov had tested positive for blood transfusion, as well as the Cofidis team of Cristian Moreni, who tested positive for testosterone.

This year's Tour was touted as a "cleaner" race after the UCI began its biological passport programme, and several teams such as Team CSC-Saxo Bank, Team Columbia and Garmin-Chipotle instituted the use of blood profiling to detect the effects of doping. The method is thought to be more effective than traditional doping controls at detecting the use of performance enhancing drugs.

The ASO in its statement declared the positive test result of Beltrán as evidence that the controls are working. "The determination in the fight against doping is total, and ... the noose is tightening on the cheaters," it said.

AFLD to share results with UCI

The French anti-doping agency (AFLD) in charge of contols at the Tour de France will share its pre-Tour test results with the Union Cycliste International (UCI) despite the deep rift between the Tour de France organisation and the sport's governing body. The AFLD was called in to perform the doping controls after the ASO chose to hold the race outside the aegis of the UCI.

Those test results include the blood values from riders who showed abnormal values in controls taken just prior to the start of the Tour de France, the AFLD announced Friday. The AFLD said that it does not have the results of the same riders' testing which was performed in the first half of the year as part of the UCI's biological passport program with which to compare the readings. However, it said, "in the spirit of cooperation with the international federation" it would forward the results to the UCI for inclusion with those riders' profiles.

The AFLD performed blood tests on riders "to allow for subsequent targeted doping tests during the Tour de France," the agency announced Friday, but did not name any riders. That targeted approach yielded the positive of Liquigas' Manuel Beltrán.

Of the controls performed prior to the Tour, some ten or twenty riders showed hematocrit values near the limit of 50%. "Around 20 riders have results a little high, right on the limit," Philippe Sagot, deputy secretary general of the AFLD, told The Associated Press. "There are no infractions, but some figures are very close to the limit, particularly as regards the level of hematocrit," Sagot said.

High values can indicate EPO use, but the reading can also be also due to natural causes. Beltrán was one of the riders to be singled out for additional screening based on the elevated pre-Tour values, and he tested positive on the race's first stage for EPO.

The AFLD said that the other riders who had abnormal results would be informed this weekend, but the agency said that it would take no action against the riders other than to suggest that they submit the results to their team doctor "because of the possibility of a health risk," the statement read.

Attacking Sánchez dedicates victory to brother

By Brecht Decaluwé in Aurillac

Luis León Sánchez dedicated the victory to his brother
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

With a well-timed attack on the tricky descent of the final climb, Luis León Sánchez soloed to his first ever Grand Tour win Friday in Aurillac. Sánchez crossed the line alone and threw his fist in the air before pointing to the sky, dedicating the victory to his deceased brother. "It's been three years now, since he died. My other brother - who plays football [for Levante] in the Spanish first division - does the same when he pulls off a great performance," Sánchez said.

Earlier this year Sánchez also won the seventh stage in Paris-Nice. Other impressive performances include the overall win in the 2005 Tour Down Under, a third place overall at the 2007 Paris-Nice and the Spanish time trial championship last month.

Just like his friend and team leader Alejandro Valverde, Sánchez is a man from the Murcia region of Spain. With his several attacks today he managed to bring Valverde into a good position during the race. "In the circumstances I could try my luck in the finale and I ended up riding in the front," said Sánchez.

The talented Spaniard is a future general classification rider, but currently he's a perfect team-mate for Valverde. At the post race press grill Sánchez said that Caisse d'Epargne isn't only trying to set up Valverde, but also former Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro. "Our goal in this Tour is to get Alejandro [Valverde] or Oscar [Pereiro] in the yellow jersey to Paris," he said.

"I'm lucky to be riding in a team with a lot of fantastic riders like Alejandro and Oscar," added Sánchez. "I hope to learn a lot from them during the next three to four years before I have a go in the general classification. I hope to improve my climbing skills in the high mountains before I can follow the example of other great young riders like Ricardo Riccò and Alberto Contador."

Cunego caught out in Massif Central mayhem

By Gregor Brown in Aurillac

Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

One of the Tour's pre-race favourites, Lampre's Damiano Cunego, suffered a blow to his campaign during the seventh stage across the risky Massif Central roads. The stage was one where the Tour de France is not won, but it can easily be lost, a lesson Cunego learnt the hard way when he hit the deck after 60 kilometres.

As the race was zooming towards the French town of Tagenac in the Cantal département of southwestern France, Cunego became tangled up with another rider and hit the road hard on his backside.

"It takes only one moment to compromise everything," explained the 26 year-old Italian to Cyclingnews following the stage. "Everything is crushed," he continued from the passenger seat of the team's car in Aurillac.

Cunego remained on the ground following the crash as CSC - Saxo Bank was thundering along at the head of the splintered peloton. A full-force chase by his team worked, but his legs were weakened to the point that he was exhausted on the climb of Saint-Jean-de-Donne, nine kilometres from the finish. He finished in a large group some 27 seconds back.

"I looked like [Rabobank's Juan Antonio] Flecha, I got hooked up with him and slid about 10 metres on the ground. Afterwards, I tried to re-join the battle immediately, but at first I was solo as everyone was up the road." His team then came to his rescue. "We re-joined, but I suffered a lot."

Cunego described most of the pain to be coming from his right gluteus. "I did not feel my right leg all day - I hope it is nothing serious," he said.

He had been defiant at Super Besse on Thursday, saying that "the war is not over," but 24 hours later he did not seem as confident in the battles to come. "If I keep loosing seconds every day it will end quickly. It is better I don't think about this.

CSC - Saxo Bank tactics cause minor damage

By Brecht Decaluwé in Aurillac

CSC-Saxo Bank did its utmost to smash the race to pieces
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

CSC - Saxo Bank tried to stamp its collective authority on the Tour de France Friday, with a show of force on the undulating roads through the Massif Central. But the Danish team's tactics produced only a minor reshuffle at the finish, with Damiano Cunego the sole big name to lose time.

Bjarne Riis' team meant business right from the start, putting Jens Voigt in the breakaway and then driving the peloton soon after Cunego was involved in a crash after 60 kilometres. It appeared that CSC - Saxo Bank had made a concerted effort to distance Cunego and Quick Step leader Stijn Devolder, as the peloton split into echelons with a 25-strong group up front. However, 40 kilometres later, after work from Lampre and Quick Step, the two main groups were back together.

Rolf Aldag, directeur sportif from the Columbia team was not comfortable with the CSC tactics. "If they started pulling after Cunego crashed then I think they shouldn't have done that," Aldag said.

Riis explained why CSC chose to ride offensively and said he felt Cunego had received enough time to return in the peloton. He was actually more annoyed with the tactics of Caisse d'Epargne, who refused to work with CSC despite having several riders in the front group. "Every team has its own tactics and one should respect that. There are other days where teams don't understand us, when we do something," Riis said.

When asked about the crash of Cunego and the reaction from the CSC team, Riis said: "Early on we had Jens [Voigt] in the front, so we didn't have to ride. Then we didn't ride because there was a crash, but afterwards the race goes on and since Jens was caught back we moved to the front. The course turned and there were more crosswinds, no metre was flat and that's hard for everybody.

"I told the guys to put the hammer down to put the pressure on everybody and see which riders and teams have the legs in the peloton," Riis added. "The most important thing I learned is that my team is strong. Slowly we are getting into the race and we are looking forward to the mountains."

One of the CSC riders, Fränk Schleck, said he wasn't aware of Cunego's crash and had a different story to tell. "We were pulling in front and 10 minutes later we heard there was a crash," said Schleck. "We started to ride in the front to stay out of trouble."

Jens Voigt (CSC-Saxo Bank)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Team-mate Jens Voigt wasn't happy with the support from the Caisse d'Epargne riders either. "We created a split in the crosswinds section. It looked quite promising for a moment, but nobody helped us, that's why we stopped," said Voigt. It did seem like some riders from Caisse d'Epargne were also pulling at one moment, but Voigt said he did not consider that as help. "They pulled with one man while they had the strongest team in the race, that's not enough," Voigt said.

While the efforts of the CSC team didn't harm any general classification contenders, it did hurt a lot of other riders and some were forced to abandon. France's general classification contender Christophe Moreau had written a preview on the stage in L'Equipe in which he said that it would be an even harder stage than on Thursday; in fact Moreau himself turned out to be one of the victims. Other riders who abandoned were Mauro Facci (Quick Step) and John Gadret (Ag2r La Mondiale). The latter had been sick and suffered right from the start.

Big time gaps were marked down at the finish line in Aurillac, and the last group crossed the line 21'53" after winner Sánchez. The Garmin team suffered a big blow as their road captain Magnus Backstedt missed the time cut by more than four minutes. The giant Swede crossed the finish line in a terrible condition and needed medical assistance.

Despite the casualties, Aldag maintained it was a waste of energy from the CSC team. "For us it didn't matter too much what CSC was doing up front, as long as our general classification guys were there," said Aldag. "I think CSC used a lot of energy and in the head they're probably not feeling that great, because their efforts didn't really result in major upsets.

Hendrik Redant from the Silence-Lotto team shared this opinion. "All favourites were in the front, so the echelons were useless," said Redant.

Vande Velde gambles on himself

By Shane Stokes

Vande Velde kept control in the time trial
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

With several days atop the teams classification and placings of second and third on stages of the race means that the Garmin-Chipotle team has already justified its wildcard slot in the Tour de France. The US squad plans to keep pushing for results, with team leaders Christian Vande Velde and David Millar plus the other riders all motivated to perform.

Vande Velde is currently fourth in the general classification and is, according to directeur sportif Johnny Weltz, capable of a strong showing there. "He looked very strong and he took a chance," said Weltz, speaking about his attack towards the end of the sixth stage to Super Besse.

"In the next days here in the mountains, things will settle more and more and he won't get so much space. But I still think it is realistic for him to do a good fifteen, perhaps."

Vande Velde went clear with climbing specialist Leonardo Piepoli on the ascent of Super Besse, showing his strong form on the ascent. The two were however hauled back by the Caisse d'Epargne-led peloton, and Vande Velde ultimately finished 23 seconds back in nineteenth place.

"I think Christian made a good move there, but Valverde and his team were pretty sure what they were doing and they didn't leave any chances to anybody," said Weltz after the stage. "The race favourite took the responsibility, I think they are pretty confident. There were not many surprises today, the people who should be there were there."

The rider himself was happy afterwards, even if the move didn't work out. It gave him confidence to aim for a high GC position.

"My legs felt great. I was away with Piepoli who is probably the best climber in the world. I found myself a little out-gunned, in a no-man's land I didn't want to be in.

"I shouldn't understate myself, though. I should really start looking after myself more for the overall."

Weltz said he is impressed by what he has seen this season, and particularly in the Tour de France. "I think he is doing extremely well. He is extremely well balanced and very confident. I think we can say he is in the form of his life."

Vande Velde has been a professional for eleven years, riding in that time with the US Postal, Liberty Seguros, CSC and now the Garmin-Chipotle team. This season he wore the maglia rosa in the Giro d'Italia and also won the time trial stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe. Weltz said that his good form is partly dude to the motivation of being part of the Garmin Chipotle squad, and also because of the structure.

"The setup in Girona is very important. You have the whole team around him, giving full support. You have everything in the neighbourhood and I think that gives him confidence." So too his strong showing thus far; unlike may of the others in the top ten, Vande Velde has little pressure of expectation.

Stage 7 video highlights and podcasts

Just can't get enough of the Tour? Well fear not because Cyclingnews has expanded its coverage once again this year to bring you video highlights of every stage plus daily podcasts courtesy of and Procycling magazine.

Our video comes directly from Tour de France owners Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), and will be online shortly after the finish of each stage. We've also got highlights from classic Tours of the past so click here to see the full archive.

Check out the podcasts page in our Tour de France section for a full round-up of news and views from the Tour.

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