First Edition Cycling News, September 28, 2008
Edited by Sue George
Spanish armada cruising for Freire
By Hedwig Kröner in Varese
Contrary to what had previously been assessed, the Spanish team at the World Championships in Varese is entered around triple world champ Oscar Freire more than around Classics contender Alejandro Valverde. At the team's press conference on Friday afternoon, it became clear that the squad's strategy was to work towards a small bunch sprint finish, including the fast finisher.
Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez, one of the four most important rider in the team [Sánchez, Freire, Valverde and Alberto Contador - ed.], said that the Varese course was very different to the one in Beijing. "You cannot really compare this Worlds race to the one in Beijing," he said. "First of all, we have nine riders here instead of five at the Olympics, and secondly, the course is very different. The favourite, in my opinion, is Oscar Freire."
Valverde, even if he has been longing for a rainbow jersey for years, agreed. "The fourth worlds title for Oscar is an important objective for the Spanish team. The race, on paper, suits Oscar's characteristics as a rider perfectly," he said, putting his own ambitions aside for his teammate.
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Freire himself attributed his good form to a year without physical problems, which allowed him to train and race himself into top shape for the event and could see 'The Cat' take his fourth gold medal. "The Vuelta [where he won stage 11 to Burgos - ed.] was a great preparation for the worlds," he explained. "I just got better and better as the race unfolded. After pulling out in Suances, I recovered well. Today, my level of fitness is much greater than before the Vuelta."
The Rabobank rider acknowledged that the course may not be as hard as previously thought, and that it could well come down to a small bunch sprint finish. "The course suits me well, but it's always difficult to make any predictions before actually racing it. The worlds in Lisbon [which he won in 2001 - ed.] seemed very hard, but then the race turned out in my favour, in a sprint. The worlds in Madrid [which Tom Boonen won in 2005 - ed.] seemed easy on paper, but turned out very hard. It all depends on how the various courses are raced," he explained about the different parameters that had to be taken into account.
"Normally, the race will be decided in the last two laps. The Italians have to make it hard, but we also have a strong team to stay with them in the finale. The big favourite is Paolo Bettini, but our team is better than theirs. If we get to the finish with about 20 riders, then we have a good chance.
Read the complete feature.
Police raid Luxembourg hotel
By Gregor Brown in Varese, Italy
Italian police raided the Luxembourg team hotel Friday evening in Varese, one day before the World Championships. Brothers Fränk and Andy Schleck were involved in the search carried out by Italy's Anti-Narcotics Group (NAS) of Milano.
Varese's prosecutor ordered the search and on the same day German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported alleged evidence of Fränk Schleck's monetary transfers to Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, centre of the 2006 Operación Puerto investigation. NAS sent 15 men to Hotel Gonzaga in Gaggiolo, according to La Repubblica. NAS did not search Team Norway, who was also staying at the hotel, and it did not report on its findings.
Fränk, 28, finished sixth at the Tour de France and held the race leader's maillot jaune for two days. Andy, 23, finished 12th overall and won the maillot blanc of best young rider. Both Schleck brothers ride for Bjarne Riis' Team CSC-Saxo Bank.
"They were there for about an hour last night, they looked though my belongings, normal vitamins and they did not take anything from the room. Overall, I would have to say they were polite in their work," said Andy Schleck to Cyclingnews.
He commented that unfortunate the raid took place here at the Worlds. "We've seen similar things also happen at the Giro. ... I don't know their reasoning," he said. "I will race the worlds; we saw the course today."
Fränk Schleck has an appointment with his country's anti-doping office after the Worlds. "I can confirm that I have an appointment with the Luxembourg anti-doping committee, and I will, of course, take my time to explain these matters to them as well," he stated earlier this week. The exact meeting's details are unknown.
The Schlecks will race as scheduled with the other members of the nine-man national team. "I would not hold him back unless I have evidence. If the Luxembourg federation decides to take him out of the race, that would be their decision," said Pat McQuaid, International Cycling Union (UCI) President, today in Varese. "If it is proven true what has been alleged against him I would be extremely disappointed."
Gripper backs Schleck racing worlds
By Daniel Friebe in Varese
UCI anti-doping czar Anne Gripper on Saturday defended her organization's decision to allow Fränk Schleck to start the World Championship road race, echoing Pat McQuaid's earlier claim that there wasn't sufficient evidence to stop Schleck competing.
Speaking to reporters immediately after a press conference in which McQuaid effectively gave Schleck the green light to race on Sunday, Gripper admitted that the UCI "simply didn't have time" to obtain and verify the incriminating information cited by a report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung before Sunday's race.
According to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Luxembourg's public state prosecutor Robert Biever is in possession of bank records showing that Schleck paid close to 7,000 euro into a Swiss bank account allegedly owned by Fuentes in March 2006.
"Even if we get those documents, we have to seek very strong legal advice," Gripper said. "We have to check the evidence very, very carefully. I know it's frustrating, but that's what we have to do to ensure fairness. I can assure you that we'll do the checks. We're acting on all sorts of evidence all the time.
"You have to remember that sometimes when situations arise through judicial or law-making authorities, it's not possible to release information to a sporting organisation - they have to go through criminal procedures first, so we have to find out what's available first. Sometimes it takes a long time to obtain the information. Look at how long it's taken in Operación Puerto," she added.
Also on Saturday, Gripper said she had no information on the names of the riders whose suspect blood samples from this year's Tour de France will be re-tested by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) this week. Gripper did, however, confirm that the recent end of the war between the UCI and Tour organisers ASO meant that the UCI anti-doping commission, and not the AFLD, would take on testing duties at the 2009 Tour.
The announcement of yet more positives tests from this year's Tour would surely cause more embarrassment for the UCI, given that the AFLD has already managed to unmask more high-profile cheats in the three week of the Tour than the UCI has managed all year.
Gripper, however, rejected this, suggesting that the AFLD's tests claimed so many victims because they happened to coincide with the advent of a testing method for the blood-booster Mircera.
"I think in this case, it's just an indication that the detection methods have caught up more quickly than normal with what riders are doing," Gripper said. "Normally it takes a bit of time, but this time it came very quickly after riders started using this product. It's a great example of how riders can't afford to take any risk with what's undetectable. The mechanisms of catching them are getting better all the time."
Riccò, Vinokourov and others must pay UCI to return to racing
By Jean-François Quénet in Varese, Italy
In June 2007, the UCI introduced a new rule presented as the ultimate way of dissuading riders from doping: ProTour team (and Agritubel's) members signed a letter in which they declared they'd pay one year's salary to the UCI for the fight against drugs should they test positive.
Questioned about that matter, president Pat McQuaid stated in a press conference on Saturday in Varese, Italy, that invoices have been sent to the riders. Reading between the lines, he was admitting that none of the riders had yet paid.
The UCI can't bill the offending riders until procedures reach their conclusion. Since the June 2007 agreement, Alexander Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Cristian Moreni, Iban Mayo, Patxi Vila, Paolo Bossoni, Manuel Beltrán, Riccardo Riccò, Moisés Dueñas and Dmitriy Fofonov have tested positive.
"If they want to come back [to racing], they will have to fulfil their commitment," McQuaid said of the financial obligations now hanging over the heads of those riders.
Some of them might try to return to cycling in a role of team manager, while others, like 24 year-old Riccò might try to come back as a rider, but they will only be able to do so if they pay what they owe. However, as long as the riders don't have a licence anymore, the UCI cannot pursue them.
"We are looking into integrating into work contracts or UCI rules the measures that have been taken in the recent past, like the DNA [testing] availability and the payment of one year's salary," UCI Pro Tour manager told Cyclingnews.
Armstrong's "Down Under" start uncertain
Lance Armstrong made his comeback details more clear last week, saying he would begin racing at Australia's Tour Down Under, set for January 18-25. However, the Associated Press reported from the World Championships that the UCI is saying that might not be possible, per the six-month minimum notice requirement of their rules for un-retiring riders.
The UCI rule states: "A rider who has given notice of retirement from cycling to the UCI may not resume competing at international level unless he notifies the UCI at least six months in advance before he expects to return to international competition and is available for unannounced out of competition testing at any time during the period before actual return to competition."
At issue is when Armstrong notified the UCI. The AP reported on September 8 that Armstrong had already registered for the US Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) out-of-competition testing pool and said he would be eligible for elite competition on Feb. 1, 2009. However, it is unclear as to when he notified the UCI of his intentions.
UCI president Pat McQuaid told the AP at the World Championships, "We have to look into that. I am not sure what the exact dates are that he started the program."
By the numbers, Armstrong would have had to notify the UCI by July 20, 2008 to be able to start racing for the Tour Down Under on January 20, 2009.
Australians ready for Worlds
Robbie McEwen and Allan Davis are among the members of the Australian national road team which will compete in the UCI Road World Championships on Sunday in Varese, Italy.
McEwen predicted a long, tough race, something to survive, in order to make the final sprint.
"The course here in Varese is very tough and obviously over 260km any course is going to be tough but this one has a short sharp climb of one kilometre plus another one of just over three kilometres and I think it will really turn into a race of attrition. As a team I think we'll really have to be a little opportunistic," said McEwen.
"Guys like myself and Allan Davis, who are sprinters, are really going to have to try and survive the race and that means surviving the relentless attacks of the Italians trying to split things up."
Fortunately, the team from Down Under will be able to rely on more than just its sprinters. "If we happen to not be able to follow the pace on the climbs then we still have Michael Rogers who did a great ride at the Olympic Games and maybe even Matt Lloyd who is coming back from a small injury but I think he could also possibly be up there in the final part of the race," said McEwen.
Davis is heading into the race feeling good. "It's a pretty good time form-wise for me. The last two months have I've been quite consistent and very happy with it. The last two times I did Tour of Poland before worlds I had my best worlds 12th (2003) and fifth (2004) the last time here in Italy. We've got a good team and a lot of options to play," said Davis. "[It's] good to have not just one plan probably three or four. I hope we can be competitive tomorrow."
Davis pointed to Paolo Bettini and the rest of the Italian team as the squad to watch. "They'll have a controlling role in the race which they always do and pretty much all the other nations play off them and see what they do and then make our mind up. I expect tomorrow will be the same dominant role from them."
"I think we've got the firepower to match it when it comes down to the crunch time so that's pretty much how it will be and hopefully when it splits and at the time race is made we're there with numbers," said Davis.
Efimkin signs with AG2R La Mondiale
AG2R La Mondiale signed Alexander Efimkin to a professional contract for two years. He joins his twin brother Vladimir, who earlier this year joined the squad, which is directed by Vincent Lavenu.
"Alexander is a versatile rider," said Lavenu. "He can perform as well in the Classics as in stage races. Following him, I think that he will do well racing more at an international level."
Alexander Efimkin, a Russian 26 year-old, who now resides in Italy, has four professional victories already to his name. In 2007, after having taken a stage, he stepped into the lead at the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda. He did the same at the Giro del Capo. This year, he finished 10th at Paris-Nice.
Thomas Dekker to Silence - Lotto
Thomas Dekker has signed a two-year contract with the Belgian team Silence according to the De Telegraaf. The Dutchman has been linked with several teams since his departure from Rabobank, but he seems to have settled for the Belgium squad lead by Cadel Evans.
The 24 year-old has had a turbulent year. His relationship with Rabobank - a team he has ridden for since his junior days - deteriorated after he was left off their Tour de France roster. He has barely raced since, eventually parting ways with the squad in August. An indication that he would be transferring to Silence-Lotto came when he appeared at his own cyclo-sportif event riding a Canyon bike - which has recently signed on as the official bike sponsor for the team in 2009.
His inclusion in the squad is a boost for Evans as Dekker will be a strong ally as the Tour heads into the mountains. Dekker had indicated that a definite place on a Tour de France squad would have to be one of the terms of his contract with whichever team he signed for.
Dekker will not be competing in the elite men's road race at the UCI Road World Championship.
Team Saxo Bank signs Bellis
Team Saxo Bank signed 20 year-old Jonathan Bellis to race as a neo-pro. The British racer is primarily known from racing the track, on which he has won the World Championship and the European Championship as well as World Cup medals. He also won bronze at the U23 World Championships in 2007 in Stuttgart, Germany.
Bellis raced with the team at the Tour of Britain earlier this month and also trained with the Danish squad last winter.
"I've been with the team at two separate occasions now and I'm looking forward to really becoming a part of it all," said Bellis according to teamcsc-saxobank.com.
"I'm very excited to see how far I can take it on the roads and I know I couldn't find a better place to learn. The team has really supported me throughout this season and I'm very happy that they've maintained interest in me although I've had to focus a lot on the track. Now I'll look forward to testing myself on the roads knowing that I'm part of a fantastic team."
"Jonathan has been of interest to us for quite a while now and there's never been any doubt that he was the right kind of rider for us after testing him at the training camp," said Team Director Bjarne Riis.
"These days there are a lot of talented young riders coming from the tracks and both the Danish and the British program have hatched some seriously interesting riders. Now we've managed to secure ourselves one of the best and it'll be interesting to see Jonathan unfold his talent on the roads. In spite of his main focus being on the track he's already demonstrated his skills on the road as well and we're looking forward to having him with us."
Swift Racing seeking new title sponsor
The Swift Racing Team is looking for a new title sponsor for 2009 after its current title sponsor is withdrawing due to hard times.
"I understand their situation. I worked in business myself before coming into team management and I know what they are going through," said Team Manager Stefan Wyman. "They have been nothing but supportive of us throughout their sponsorship and without their belief we wouldn't have achieved so much this season. It's not going to be easy to replace them, but I'm determined to give it 100% to try to keep this team running.
"I've run this team for five years and don't want this to end now. We had huge plans for 2009, with strong riders ready to join us. I really felt that 2009 was the year we could start to challenge for major honours."
The team took 21 wins, in road and cyclo-cross, with the most recent at the Gabby Day, the first National Cup cyclo-cross races in the United Kingdom.
"I've told my riders the situation, and I hope to be able to bring them some more positive news in the very near future. We are in talks with several interest parties and are keen to hear from anyone else that may be interested in getting involved with the team."
Wyman can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Additional editorial assistance provided by Mark Zalewksi.)
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