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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, March 21, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

ASO picked 20 "best teams in the world"

The Tour will depart without Contador
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

After the announcement by the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) that it had selected the twenty teams which will contest the 2008 Tour de France, there was little surprise at the names on the list. The ASO held true to its promise to leave the Astana Cycling Team of defending champion Alberto Contador out of the Tour, instead choosing Professional Continental teams Slipstream, Agritubel and Barloworld to fill the remaining three spots.

"These are, I believe, the best teams in the world," Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme told AFP. He made it clear that there would be no further consideration of having Astana in the Tour, telling Reuters, "I want to make clear that this decision is aimed at the team, not at Alberto Contador but he happens to wear the Astana jersey."

The move goes against the UCI regulations which state that all ProTour teams must be invited to the Tour de France, but it is likely that the Tour, like the recent Paris-Nice, will not be sanctioned by the UCI unless some sort of compromise can be reached between the two warring parties.

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The UCI has threatened teams and riders with sanctions for competing in Paris-Nice, which was held under the domain of the French Cycling Federation. Prudhomme told AFP that he could consult with the teams before putting them through a similar controversy during the Tour de France. "We don't want to make such decisions on our own. We would sit down and hold talks with the teams and, if a decision has to be taken, it will only be after negotiation."

The ASO has given Astana's past doping offenses as a reason for excluding the team from this year's event, but the team's spokesman Philippe Maertens decried the hypocrisy of the decision. "Where is the logic? There are other teams who have doping records. Rabobank and Cofidis were faulted in last year's Tour," he said.

Prudhomme made it clear that just because the teams have been invited does not mean that they are safe from the strict anti-doping efforts which will be in place. "Invitations are subject to every team's acceptance of the ethics which should be the cornerstone of cycling," Prudhomme said.

Slipstream's Tour plans come to fruition

By Laura Weislo

Jonathan Vaughters has transformed Slipstream
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

With the ASO's announcement Thursday that Team Slipstream has earned an invitation to the Tour de France, team manager Jonathan Vaughters can now carry out the squad's original plan for the 2008 season, which was always centred around racing the Tour. "We planned from the beginning to do the Tour, but you can't expect anything in cycling," Vaughters told Cyclingnews. "Sometimes you do poorly in the races where you planned to do well, and well in the races where you'd least expect. It's funny, we got an invitation to the Tour, but not to Gent-Wevelgem! So you just never know what's going to happen."

Still, the 34-year-old Vaughters, who was last in the event in 2002 as a rider, had planned the squad's racing schedule with the Tour in mind. "We've always had the idea that our main guys would do the Giro and then rest – not race at all or very little – and then do the Tour. Had we not gotten into the Tour, then we would've had to adjust that considerably," Vaughters explained. "It may seem kind of old school, but we're going to race the Giro – and we won't be fiddling around there, we're really going to race – and then we're going to take a break and do some altitude training in Switzerland and then do the Tour with little or no racing in between."

Getting an invitation to the Tour was the result of a strong campaign to build the team's image as one with strong ethics and a sound anti-doping policy, creating one of the world's top teams, and also selling the ASO on the team's philosophy. "Last year, David [Millar] and I went up to Paris when he was deciding whether or not to sign for the team, and sat down with [ASO president Patrice] Clerc and [general director] Gilbert Ysern. We told them our team's concept, and we got a fairly positive reception. It's been generally positive since then."

"But we also established that we are one of the best teams out there," Vaughters insisted that the team earned its spot in the world's biggest race with its results as well as its philosophy. "If you objectively ranked how we did in California, Qatar, Tirreno – although Paris-Nice wasn't so great – we're certainly one of the top 15 teams in the world."

Vaughters plans to wait until the Tour draws closer to announce the long list of riders for the Tour, but indicated that David Millar and David Zabriskie are obvious choices, as are Magnus Backstedt and Julian Dean. But one rider who he wants to see on the team is American Danny Pate. "I'm determined to put Pate on the whether he wants to go or not – if I have to drag him kicking and screaming."

There is little time for celebrations as the team prepares for this weekend's Milano-Sanremo. Vaughters has his hands full with organising logistics for the upcoming Classics, but is looking forward to trying out the view from the team car in the Tour. "It'll be something new for me – I hope I like it. I know it's going to be hard. It's going to be a challenge, getting the team there prepared and organised."

Vaughters expects that preparing the team for the Tour will be an enormous task. "Logistics are the bane of every cycling team – for any big race, but even more specifically for the Tour," Vaughters said. "You've got to deal with multiple riders, multiple vehicles, etc., plus we have a lot of sponsors and prospective sponsors wanting to come watch us race at the Tour de France. But we'll get it all taken care of."

Until then, he won't have time to break open the bubbly just yet. "It's time to get crackin' – I'm flying to Milan for Milano-Sanremo, and we're working on big logistics. Maybe we'll have time to celebrate next week, but it might just be me drinking a bottle of champagne by myself!"

Axel Merckx new Rock Racing director?

Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

Axel Merckx retired in 2007
Photo ©: David Reinhardt
(Click for larger image)

Rock Racing has continued to make headlines within the cycling media following its turbulent Tour of California. The team's high-profile acquisition of Mario Cipollini ended last week after disagreements with owner Michael Ball. Following the news that Cipollini will not become a manager are rumors that another former professional, Axel Merckx, is in talks with Ball to become the team's new manager.

"I have been in contact for sure, and we are it is at the beginning stages, but it is too early to say anything more," Merckx told Cyclingnews. "It's a new team and obviously they don't have a lot of experience in the cycling world, but there are a lot of opportunities for them. Bringing the right people into the right spots would be a great opportunity. Not just for me but for the cycling community."

Merckx said he is fully aware about the controversies surrounding the team and its owner, and that he considers Ball a positive influence on the sport. "I know he has a strong personality but I don't think it is a bad thing for cycling," he said. "I have read a lot of things and I don't want to judge based on things from the past. He is a nice person. I have talked to him and he is a great guy."

"Cycling needs that right now and he wants to stay around for a while. He is young in the cycling world, he wants to do it his way, and I think it is very refreshing for cycling. We have to see in the future if it will continue but I am convinced that this is the way cycling should go and he is the right thing to do."

As for his own thoughts on directing, particularly this team, Merckx thinks being recently retired will be his strongest asset. "Everyone knows I've been in cycling for a while. I have a lot of experience and a freshly retired cyclist, so I think like the cyclists do. I am pretty ambitious and want to help younger cyclists. It is an interesting challenge for sure, it's a team that wants to grow a different image for cycling. I think it is a good opportunity for cycling to bring a nice new image to cycling."

The former Belgian national road champion and Olympic bronze medalist retired from professional racing last year at the age of 34, settled in British Columbia, Canada with his wife and started a bicycle touring company with trips to Europe. Merckx said his higher goal is to help younger racers in North American develop and make the jump to European racing -- that running a domestic team would allow him to fulfil that. He said that both his company and the team are relatively new ventures, so it is difficult to see far down the road with either.

"It is also in the beginning stages so it's a young company also," he said of his company Axel Merckx Bicycle Tours. "We just started it in the last few months so now I have to make a decision which way I want to focus myself. I know I want to be in the cycling community, especially in the North American community in order to bring young riders over to Europe. I am committed to making something work now whether it is through my company or with a team. It could go both ways but I definitely want to bring along the younger racing here in North America."

Davis signs with Mitsubishi

Allan Davis (UniSA-Australia)
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)

Australian Allan Davis has signed with the Professional Continental team Mitsubishi-Jartazi, the team announced Thursday. The sprinter, who rode last year with the now defunct Discovery Channel team, scored six wins for that squad in 2007, but had been unable to secure a contract for 2008 after the team folded.

At this time last year, the plucky Aussie sprinter was a key rider at Milano-Sanremo, where he featured prominently in the finale and finished just behind Rabobank's Oscar Freire, using a perfect bike-throw to snatch second from Tom Boonen (Quick Step), with his fellow Aussies Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) 4th and Stuart O'Grady (CSC) in 5th.

Davis also won a stage of the Volta a Catalunya and five stages of the Tour of Qinghai Lake but then he was entangled in allegations of involvement in Operación Puertothat resurfaced and nearly kept him from racing the World Championships in Stuttgart.

Davis fought off the attempted ban by the UCI, and has insisted that he had nothing to do with the affair (see statement) and was one of the first to sign the UCI's anti-doping charter. He raced in the Herald Sun Tour in October last year for the Australian FRF Couriers/NSWS team, and then in January of this year he animated the Tour Down Under as part of the UniSA team, where he took a stage victory and challenged High Road's Andre Greipel for the overall win until the final stage.

The UCI vice president and fellow Australian Ray Godkin supported Davis in his search for a new team in January.

Davis is expected to make his debut with the team at either the Dwars door Vlaanderen on March 26 or the E3-Prijs on the 29th.

High Road keeping options open for Sanremo

George Hincapie (High Road)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Team High Road is hoping to cover all of its bases for the upcoming Classics opener, Milano-Sanremo. Taking on the daunting 298 kilometre challenge this Saturday will be former U23 world champion Gerald Ciolek, Bernhard Eisel, Roger Hammond, George Hincapie, Kim Kirchen, Andreas Klier, Thomas Lövkvist and last year's ninth place finisher in Sanremo, Vicente Reynes (formerly of Caisse d'Epargne).

"We haven't got a single leader we'll be working for 100 percent, rather we'll be keeping a look-out on all fronts," team sports director Valerio Piva said. "Last year Gerald did very well in his first participation in Sanremo, placing amongst the top 30. He was in the front group over the Poggio climb and there at the finale," Piva continued. "This year, therefore, it's reasonable to expect the same or something more from him."

Lövkvist's just finished Tirreno-Adriatico with a promising third place overall, and he, along with Hammond and Hincapie will be attentive to follow any breakaways on the Cipressa and Poggio, according to Piva. "Bernhard [Eisel], like those three, will be trying to go with the moves before Sanremo itself. Vicente was ill during Paris-Nice but he is now doing a lot better, so we expect him to be present in the finale."

Piva feels that the extra kilometres tacked on will help the sprinters' teams keep the race under control, saying, "They'll have a little more margin to reel in the breakaways after the Poggio, and will want to use it."

Di Luca to remain in limbo

Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) in Tirreno
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

2007 Giro d'Italia champion Danilo Di Luca will have to wait ten more days until the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will make a decision on his appeal of his three-month suspension for the 'Oil for Drugs' investigation, the court announced Thursday after meeting in Milan.

Code named 'Oil for Drugs' by the Italian anti-doping authorities, the four year old sting operation resulted in action against more than 100 athletes from all across Italy with links to Dr. Carlos Santuccione, also know as 'Ali the Chemist'. Italian investigators turned up large amounts of doping products during the operation's raids, as well as wire-taps, allegedly containing conversations between Di Luca and Santuccione. The information found its way to the French newspaper Le Monde in June, 2004, leading to the rider being barred from the Tour de France that year.

Di Luca has denied his involvement in the doping ring since the beginning. Italian police searched his home in 2004, they did not find any banned substances. That did not stop CONI from handing down a three-month suspension in 2007, news of which had him barred from racing the World Championships in Stuttgart. Despite having already served the suspension, he appealed the punishment to CAS, which was supposed to return a judgment by Thursday. The court announced that it needed more time to reach its verdict, according to Ansa.

"I suffered injustices in the past nine months, with this story I have already lost one Tour, a World Cup and the Olympics. With the suspension of three months in 2007, they made me lose another Worlds and the victory in ProTour. I want justice, I want my image to be cleared," said an impatient Di Luca after the hearing.

Whatever the CAS decision at that time, Di Luca's return to his normal serene state of focus ahead of the Ardennes Classics is unlikely to come, as he has another pending case in front of CONI for returning abnormally low hormone values after stage 17 of the 2007 Giro d'Italia. CONI recommended a two-year suspension for that result, and will hold a hearing regarding that case on April 1.

Mattis will not defend World Cup jersey

Katheryn Mattis wins in Geelong
Photo ©: John Veage
(Click for larger image)

Geelong World Cup winner Katheryn Curi Mattis (Webcor) will not be able to wear her well-earned World Cup leader's jersey in the upcoming Trofeo Alfredo Binda due to a a broken collarbone sustained in the Tour of New Zealand earlier this month. Mattis had hoped that her fractured clavicle would heal sufficiently to allow her to ride in the white jersey in the Italian World Cup round, but those hopes came to an end with her latest round of X-rays. "Defending the jersey would have been a huge honor. I am very disappointed," Mattis said.

In talking with her doctor and consulting with sport medicine doctors Max Testa and Eric Heiden, Mattis made the hard choice to stay at home, have surgery, and refocus on the later spring races. "When the doctor showed me the x-ray today, I was shocked to see that things had become worse. Initially, after the crash, the bone looked to be only fractured and now it clearly shows the bones displaced."

Disappointed, but not discouraged, Mattis still has European racing in her plans. She will join her Webcor team-mate, Christine Thorburn, and four other US riders to represent the US National Team in La Fléche Wallonne on April 23. From there the whole of the Webcor squad will do the Tour de Berne World Cup and the Tour de l'Aude Cycliste Feminin.

15 teams for Tour de Georgia

Americas Tour winner Tuft could represent Symmetrics in Georgia
Photo ©: Mark Zalewski
(Click for larger image)

Medalist Sports announced the 15 teams which will contest this year's edition of the Tour de Georgia on Thursday. A total of 120 riders will make up the field with five ProTour teams, two Professional Continental squads, and six Continental outfits with eight riders each.

ProTour teams Astana, Saunier Duval-Scott, Team CSC, Team High Road, and Gerolsteiner will be joined by Pro Conti teams BMC and Slipstream/Chipotle presented by H30 as well as domestic professional squads Bissell, Health Net - Maxxis, Jelly Belly, Jittery Joe's, Symmetrics, Team Type 1, Toyota-United Pro and the Chinese registered GE/Marco Polo- Trek team.

"This is not only the most international field we have had at Georgia, but one of the most elite as well," said Jim Birrell, managing partner of Medalist Sports and race director for the Tour de Georgia presented by AT&T. The competition for the invitations was tight this year, and Birrell admitted, "We have many teams from across the U.S. and Europe that we just could not accommodate."

This year's addition of a team time trial stage to the event has drawn interest in the race from squads which will be looking to hone their skills in that discipline ahead of the Giro d'Italia, which opens with a team time trial this year. "We will be bringing our 'A' team to the Tour de Georgia," said Slipstream's David Millar. "The team time trial will give us a unique opportunity to showcase the depth of our squad. I am now on an American team and it will be great to race against top European races here."

The Symmetrics Cycling Team of Canada, winners of the UCI Americas Tour in 2007, will be led by Svein Tuft, and will be looking for a good showing after being left off the invitations for the Tour of California. Also looking for a strong showing against the high caliber field will be Tour de Taiwan winner HealthNet - Maxxis, who placed second to the Discovery Channel in the team classification at the 2007 Tour de Georgia.

Team Type 1 (USA) will make its debut on American soil at this year's Tour de Georgia. In its first professional outing of 2008 at the Tour de Langkawi, the team placed second overall. Australians Matt Wilson, a former National Road Champion, and Glen Chadwick, along with American Jesse Anthony lead this squad.

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