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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, November 13, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Vinokourov comeback with Astana, but when?

By Susan Westemeyer and Shane Stokes

Alexander Vinokourov may come back to racing as early as next spring
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Alexander Vinokourov is hoping to ride the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège with his Team Astana this coming spring, according to reports in the Dutch media. The Kazakhstani rider is negotiating with the UCI to allow him to start as of the beginning of next year, but the world governing body of the sport is firmly against it.

Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France and was given a one-year suspension by his national federation, which ended in July, 2008. The UCI said that at the time that it would accept the one-year suspension, instead of the usual two-year ban, because the rider planned to retire and not return to racing. However, UCI president Pat McQuaid has recently insisted on a suspension of another year since Vinokourov started talking about his comeback.

The 35-year-old former Astana rider was in the Netherlands for a trade mission, accompanied by the Kazakh minister for sport, Anatoliy Kulnazarov, who told Telegraaf, "I assume that Vinokourov will ride next season. Naturally he will be in the Astana team."

Even though Astana spokesperson Philippe Maertens did not wish to comment on the report officially, it thus seems clear with which squad Vinokourov will make his comeback to racing. The question remains when exactly next year he will be allowed to do so.

UCI insists on two-year ban

Pat McQuaid does not agree with the one-year ban handed to Vinokourov
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Responding to the news of Vinokourov's comeback attempt, UCI President Pat McQuaid confirmed that the Kazakh was attempting to return to the sport. However, the Irishman poured cold water on the chances of the rider being part of the Spring Classics.

"I am having a meeting with representatives of the Kazakh federation tomorrow," he told Cyclingnews on Thursday morning. "There is no way he will be allowed back. The UCI does not accept the one-year sanction, it should have been two years.

"We have regulations in relation to when people can come back from an anti-doping sanction. Vinokourov will have to follow the regulations as they are. That would certainly preclude him from riding the Classics next year."

The then-Astana rider tested positive during the 2007 Tour de France. for blood doping. This normally results in a two-year suspension, although a reduction may be given if the rider admits the offence and gives evidence against others involved in the process. Vinokourov never co-operated in this way and so, under UCI regulations, should not return until after the 2009 Tour.

Given that the Kazakh federation went against UCI rules as regards the length of his suspension, it appears that the governing body did not act in an impartial manner. Cyclingnews asked McQuaid if it was time that another body determined the length of bans.

"Under our regulations, the national federation where the rider has his licence is currently the sanctioning body," he answered. "There have been suggestions that it should be taken over by an independent sanctioning body, but we have to look at who would pay for that. Nothing is going to change in the short term, but it might be possible in the long term."

In any case, whether Vinokourov returns to racing in Spring or Summer 2009, he will be doing so with Astana, which has recruited more than one cycling star for the upcoming season. Nevertheless, 'Vino' said he would have no problem riding with Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, the team's leaders. "I think that I could be a good helper to them in the Grand Tours. I have no problem putting myself at their service."

Ullrich returning to public life "step by step"

By Susan Westemeyer in Düsseldorf, Germany

Jan Ullrich won his case and looked serene
Photo ©: AFP
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Jan Ullrich is slowly making his way back into the public eye, but he is taking it "step by step," he told Cyclingnews Wednesday. The events of the last two years "hurt me badly", the retired cyclist said, and he is still finding his way. Ullrich said he did not follow pro cycling at the moment, as "It would break my heart."

Ullrich was in Düsseldorf, Germany, to testify in his suit against former Team Coast owner Günter Dahms, for whom he rode in 2003. The court ordered Dahms to pay him some 340,000 Euro in unpaid wages, plus interest.

Ullrich appeared relaxed and self-confident, posing calmly for the clamouring photographers and patiently answer media questions. However, he seemed to be nervous on the stand, answering the court's question, as he frequently stuttered out his answers and even made a mistake when he said he was 33 years old, but quickly corrected himself to 34.

He was noticeably happy to talk about his current life, describing himself to the court first as "a retiree" and then "a family father." Ullrich married Sara Steinhauser, sister of his former teammate Tobias Steinhauser, in September 2006. He has two children, five-year-old daughter Sarah from his former relationship with Gaby Weis, and one-year-old son Max. "I am happy with my life now, with my family," he told reporters. And although he said that he rides his bike "seldom, but more and more", he did not in any way give the impression of planning a comeback to racing.

On the recent development of German cycling, Ullrich commented, "the question is, how much longer will it exist?" Since his retirement, and because of several doping affairs concerning German riders, sponsors have been dropping out of the sport. Team Gerolsteiner, as well as the Deutschland Tour, ceased to exist. With regard to anti-doping, Ullrich said, "We need a self-cleaning process. But I would still tell parents: send your children to cycling." He added, "the fan potential in Germany is still there, there are millions of fans," before concluding optimistically, "cycling won't die!"

As to the court hearing, Ullrich noted that "it is easy to tell the truth," and added, "I am always open and honest about these things." He was not worried about testifying under oath, saying, "I would never lie under oath. But testifying under oath in Germany, this was my first time and hopefully my last time."

In its ruling, the court noted that it had "no reason to think that Jan Ullrich did not tell the truth," and added that Dahms' accusations had little evidence to support them. Ullrich said he found the decision in his favour "good" and that "deceit doesn't win, the truth does."

The German, who lives in Switzerland, said that if he does receive payment from Dahms, he would donate it to childrens' charities. He noted that he cycled "out of passion. Money was never important to me. I never rode for the money."

Blood passport results expected soon

The UCI's biological passport programme should soon reveal the first cases of riders suspected of cheating during the 2008 season. Anti-doping experts are currently examining about 800 medical files of top level pros that have been tested since the inception of the programme in the beginning of the year, and are expected to inform the UCI of cases susceptible for doping charges during the month of November.

The head of the UCI anti-doping commission, Anne Gripper, revealed that the expert's recommendations included suspect cases, but did not want to comment further. "For us, it is important that the first cases are very solid," she said to French news agency AFP. "Even if this can be frustrating because it takes a long time, we will remain patient and prudent. The first cases need to be flawless to stand firm against meticulous scientific and legal scrutiny, rather than hastily presenting cases that could be appealed."

Procedure mistakes could indeed lead to legal battles over the outcome of the rider profile, as has often been the case in doping cases in the past. It is therefore very important to "identify each result that contributed to establishing the profile to see if it can be considered valid," according to UCI scientific adviser Mario Zorzoli.

It is this work that is now close to being finished, with the independent experts giving "recommendations" to the UCI this week. "The anti-doping commission will then decide if we open a disciplinary procedure, like for a positive anti-doping control," said UCI press officer Enrico Carpani. These procedures would in turn lead to possible suspensions of the concerned riders by their national federations. "But this can take some more time," added Carpani.

Simeoni stays with Flaminia, appeals to Armstrong

Italian champion Filippo Simeoni will race one more year
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Weeks of anticipation have swirled around which banner Filippo Simeoni would race under in the 2009 season. The Italian national champion put an end to the rumours on Wednesday when he made the decision to stay with Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce, his 2008 team. Simeoni has signed a contract that will tie himself to the team from Lazio region of Italy and its manager Roberto Marrone for one more season.

Speaking of the 2008 national championship, Marrone said, "Wearing our jersey, Simeoni conquered a trophy that is most important in the life of a rider and a team. It seemed right to remain faithful to it."

The designated team leader, who said the 2009 season could be his last, agreed. "After winning the national championships' jersey, the most prestigious victory of my career, I want to prove myself against the strongest riders of Italy again," the 38-year-old said in a press release.

Simeoni, who hopes for a team invite to the 2009 Giro d'Italia, also sent a reconciling message towards come-back rider Lance Armstrong, who will race the Giro with his Astana team. The Italian and the American were at odds over Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari during the last years of Armstrong's career.

"We are rivals on the bike, but we can be friends in charity works," he said. "He is dedicated to the fight against cancer, and I am dedicated to [Italian blood donation association] AVIS. These are two solidarity projects that could be united in one important event for the world of sport and society. I would like to ride with Armstrong side by side to promote our projects for a good cause."

In 2002, Simeoni admitted to taking doping products and testified that he had been instructed in this sense by Ferrari, who was then convicted of sporting fraud but later acquitted. In July 2003, Armstrong accused Simeoni of being a liar, and the feud between the two ended in court. The Italian said he was threatened by Armstrong as well as other pros when the American chased him down during stage 18 of the 2004 Tour de France. (Kirsten Robbins contributed to this report.)

Löwik still searching for team

Gerben Löwik of Team Rabobank is among those riders still looking for a contract for the 2009 season. "The time is running out," he admitted.

"Normally I know in October what I will do in the coming year," he told the WielerMagazine. "Now it is already November and there are no concrete proposals."

The 31-year-old was told by the Dutch team in August that his contract would not be extended. That was no surprise, he said, because his years with the team have been marked by injuries.

Löwik turned pro in 2000 with Farm Frites, and joined Rabobank for the first time in 2001. He then rode for Bankgiroloterij in 2002-2003, and for Chocolade Jacques for a year. He rejoined Rabobank in 2005.

Pereiro's permanent crash reminder

This image shows just how far Oscar Pereiro fell after going over the crash barrier.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Oscar Pereiro will never forget his crash during the Tour de France this year, when he fell off the side of the road on a switchback in the mountains. And to make sure he remembers, he has had the date of the crash tattooed above the scar on his arm.

The accident occurred on stage 15, on the descent of the Colle d'Agnello. The Spaniard, who was named winner of the 2006 Tour, slid out on the rain-wet road and went over the barrier, tumbling five meters down a rocky embankment to the road below. Amazingly, he suffered only a broken arm.

The tattoo of the date, July 20, 2008, is directly above the 25 centimetre scar on his arm. "That is not an unlucky date for me," he said, according to Sportwereld. "It reminds me of how much luck I had that day instead of misfortune."

(With additional editorial assistance by Susan Westemeyer.)

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