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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News, February 4, 2009

Edited by Greg Johnson and Les Clarke

Boonen declares open season with double win

Prudhomme pleased for big Belgian

By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar

Eddy Merckx congratulates Tom Boonen
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has plenty of reason to celebrate with the news of his doping case's dismissal following his first win in 2009 on the Tour of Qatar's Stage 3 yesterday. The Belgian's return to winning without the weight of court cases pleased Qatar and Tour de France race director, Christian Prudhomme.

"I am happy for him to be back; he has paid his price," Prudhomme, Amaury Sport Organisation's cycling director, told Cyclingnews.

Tour de France organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) excluded the 28-year-old sprinter from racing in the 2008 Tour because of a positive out of competition test for cocaine last spring.

A Belgian court ruled Tuesday that Boonen would not face further charges stemming from the positive control. "I heard during the race the good news, that the case is finished," Boonen said. "Yesterday and this morning I was thinking about it."

While use of the drug in an out of competition scenario isn't a sporting violation, Tour de France and Tour de Suisse race organisers declined his participation in their events.

Boonen's win outside the Doha Golf Club was his 15th stage win in the Tour of Qatar history. He took the lead in the overall classification with the win.

"My season really started today. It is always important for me to win a race," he said. "When I don't win everyone immediately will ask why I am not winning."

Prudhomme believes that Boonen's presence in Qatar signals the start to a year marked by fierce sprint battles.

"It was too bad Mark Cavendish did not make a British triple with a sprint win today, but it has been an exciting race anyway," said the Frenchman. "I think that 2009 will be a year for the sprinters. We have so many here, and then there are others like Thor Hushovd and Robbie McEwen.

"I look forward to seeing Boonen and the other sprinters battle in the Tour de France," he added, indicating the Belgian will be welcome back to the French Grand Tour this year.

The Tour of Qatar, the first of ASO's events for this season, ends this Friday. The French organisation's top cycling event, the Tour de France, takes place on July 4 to 26.

Saxo Bank alters testing strategy

The Saxo Bank team has altered its internal anti-doping strategy thanks to the increased controls being performed by the Union Cyclist International, the team told Cyclingnews. The Danish press had reported that the team had dropped the services of Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, but team spokesman Brian Nygaard said that this is not the case.

Damsgaard pioneered the squad's regime of blood profiling which became the basis of the UCI's biological passport program, and is still on board to analyze the data from the team's test results. What has changed is the fact that he is not performing the regular controls. Instead, Damsgaard receives the results of blood tests from the UCI and examines the data for the team.

"The biological passport designates a certain number of tests per rider taken out of competition - it is the exact same testing strategy we have been using for the past two years," Nygaard explained. "We're not going to double that just for show."

The UCI is now responsible for performing the controls. While other teams must rely upon that organisation's nine-person panel of experts to pour over testing results for over 800 riders, Saxo Bank still employs Damsgaard to examine the blood values and perform additional targeted tests for any rider who may show unusual values.

"The riders will not know the difference," he said. "They will still be tested the same amount. This is the most efficient way to complement the UCI's program. We aren't going to double-test the riders just to make a show out of it. That's not anti-doping, that's just PR."

Damsgaard himself indicated last year that once the UCI had gotten its passport program up and running, that he would be "slowly terminating [his] engagement" with the CSC/Saxo Bank and Astana teams.

Nygaard rebuffed speculations that the team has cut back on its anti-doping programme due to its loss of co-title sponsor IT Factory. He said that the team is still spending the same amount of money as it has over the past two years, but now the UCI is receiving a portion of the money as part of the ProTour teams' mandatory contribution to the passport programme. The team is also funding additional research for new tests to detect new generation EPO molecules.

Burghardt: Qatar important for preparation

By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar

Marcus Burghardt (Columbia-High Road) believes the intensity of the Tour of Qatar stage race is important training for his spring objectives in this year's Classics. The Tour de France stage winner is supporting teammate Mark Cavendish in the often windy sprints at this week's race in the Middle East.

"It is important for a Classics rider to be here," Burghardt told Cyclingnews. "If you look in the bunch you see all the big riders are here."

The German is building to be ready for the one-day Classics this March and April. Burghardt won the 2007 Gent-Wevelgem and a stage in the 2008 Tour de France.

"The race's intensity is perfect training," he said. "You are able to train to ride in the perfect position and to fight for position. You also need this in the Classics, even if there is no wind."

The 8th Tour of Qatar, February 1-6, features Classics' riders like Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Filippo Pozzato (Team Katusha), Leif Hoste (Silence - Lotto) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank). The stages are mostly flat and designed for sprint finishes, but the crosswinds and intensity appeals towards the riders.

"My first goal is to have a good result in Het Volk [now Het Nieuwsblad]," said Burghardt, of the February 28 race. "It is not easy to win, but I will try to have a good position in the first ten or 15. It is my goal to win a big race like the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix."

Qatar is Burghardt's first race of the 2009 season, having finished his 2008 campaigns at the UCI Road World Championship in Varese, Italy in October.

Eneco ProTour licence in question

Organisers of the Tour of the Netherlands have appealed against a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne to grant the Eneco Tour a ProTour licence. The situation has arisen as a result of a conflict between former and current Eneco Tour ogranisers, according to

Former vice president of the Eneco Tour's organising committee Henk van Mulukom and Rob Discart, the man who is currently in charge of the event that represents a merger of the Tour of Belgium and the Tour of the Netherlands, are believed to be at the centre of the battle.

The pair shared duties of organising the race from its inception in 2005, although by 2007 the relationship had soured and van Mulukom no longer works in that role.

Several years prior van Mulukom had signalled his misgivings on the part of Tour of the Netherlands organisers, although the main sponsor of the Eneco Tour favoured Discart. Now van Mulukom wants to run his own event in the Benelux nations, similar to the current Eneco Tour.

Despite the personal element of the situation, van Mulukom was trying to maintain an objective air about his appeal. "The foundation does not deny the right of a UCI ProTour license to an organisation it knows," said van Mulukom. "It is, however, important that objective principles be applied," he added.

It's another strange chapter in the race's history, with many in the sport questioning its relevance to riders since its inception that correlated with the launch of the ProTour, although it gives fans living in the hotbed of cycling a chance to see the world's best every year.

Road schedule for ill Boom announced

Lars Boom runs swiftly
Photo ©:
(Click for larger image)

Lars Boom (Rabobank) contest this year's Vuelta a España as the rider turns his attention from cyclo-cross to road cycling this season, his team has announced. In the short term, however, Boom has to skip two upcoming 'cross races because of the flu.

Boom's road season will start with the Eschborn-Frankfurt City Loop (formerly Rund um den Henninger Turm) in Frankfurt, Germany, on May 1. He will then take on the Tour of Belgium, May 27-31, and the Tour de Suisse (June 13-21) before contesting the Dutch national road championships, where the 23-year-old will look to defend his road and time trial titles.

The second half of the season will be dominated by the Vuelta, said coach Franz Maassen. "The goal is for him to make it to Madrid, possibly with a view to the World Championships in Mendriso, Switzerland, but we will have to see how it goes," said Maassen.

Boom was disappointed to not defend his title in the UCI World Cyclo-cross Championship last weekend, but had already said on Saturday that he had a sore throat. The team noted that Boom did not use this as an excuse for his performance in the race Sunday, where he finished 20th.

Boom is now in bed with the flu and has had to cancel appearances this week at the Parkcross race in Maldegem and the indoor race in Hasselt. It is not yet known whether he will be able to ride Saturday in the GVA race in Lille or the Sp-cross race in Hoogstraten on Sunday. (SW)

Michigan's Tour de Leelanau cancelled

Taylor Tolleson (BMC) won last year's race
Photo ©: Mark Zalewski
(Click for larger image)

The 2009 Priority Health Tour de Leelanau has been cancelled due to the global downturn. Organisers Iceman Promotions said the economic crisis had caused sponsors of the annual European-style road race in northern Michigan to tighten their belts.

"This development is disappointing but not completely unexpected," said race director Steve Brown. "All of our planning was on track until everything fell apart in October and the last quarter of the year. It's like losing a good friend. I've enjoyed every aspect of the Tour de Leelanau, especially working with the Leelanau County community, sponsors, volunteers, cyclists, officials and the media. I'll miss it terribly."

The Tour's title sponsor, Priority Health, has suspended its sponsorship of all cycling races in 2009. This also affects the Priority Health Cycling Classic events in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.

"The races have been a great success in their respective communities, providing a significant boost to local merchants," said the health insurance company's Amy Miller. "They also were very effective at reinforcing the Priority Health brand. Unfortunately, current economic realities simply prohibit our continued investment in these races."

Archer GP cancelled

Britain's Archer Grand Prix, scheduled for April 19, has been cancelled due to a lack of sponsorship funds. Questions that had arisen about the financial security and future of the event have been answered with this announcement.

"Undoubtedly the recession has been a major factor, but not necessarily the only factor," said Stuart Benstead, who has been an organiser of the race during its 52-year history.

Benstead explained that government regulation may be part of the reason the popular event on the Premier Calendar has been cancelled for 2009.

"It is particularly galling that arrangements had already been put in place for Thames Valley Police (TVP) to provide a motor-cycle escort team and our relationship with them has been first class," he said. "Nevertheless, the costs of this escort, together with the road closure order, would have been easily the biggest proportion of the whole budget.

"It is understandable that TVP treats all sporting events on the highway in the same way," he continued.

"It is a huge pity, however, that British Cycling and the road running and horse trial governing bodies have failed to persuade the government to introduce new legislation for alternative self-regulation safety measures for such events. So major charity road runs as well as cycle events have been lost.

"In fact TVP officers have told us that they would welcome such legislation so that they can concentrate on their mainstream duties.

Like many events that require major safety measures to be taken, cost becomes the major concern, especially if sponsorship pickings are slim. "The cost across the country is colossal, and almost 100 per cent of other major cycle races needing a police escort and/or road closure are now drawing their major financial support from Regional Development Authorities (RDA) or local authorities," he said.

Benstead then applied that scenario to the area his event is held in. "There is no wonder that all [major races] are situated from Lincoln to the north of England, or in Wales and Scotland," he said. "The Chilterns base for the Archer GP is unlikely to be perceived as in need of business or tourism support through sports sponsorship.

"I find this almost complete reliance by cycle sport on government-controlled funding very worrying indeed, whereas most other sports do have a core commercial sponsor for their domestic programme," he added. "The international side of cycling is well funded and this is justified by its success. But the domestic side, from where most of the Olympic and world champions have emerged, is very vulnerable indeed.

"We have approached a considerable range of companies without success, including a number within the cycle industry which has perhaps has not been hit so hard by the recession," said Benstead. "Some quote the cost of their sponsored teams, which presumably will now have the cost of having to go abroad that weekend for suitable quality racing."

Latest Procycling now on sale

The 2009 Season Preview issue (No. 122) of Procycling, the world's best road magazine, has gone on sale in the United Kingdom and will soon be available in the United States of America and the rest of the world. The headliners this month are Christian Vande Velde, who welcomes Procycling into his Chicago home to talk about his stunning 2008 season and explain why he thinks he can finish on the Tour de France podium in July, and a 30-page season preview section providing stats, dates and expert analysis of the biggest teams and races in the sport. Don't miss it if you want to find out which team's being sponsored by a "wardrobe lift", which first-year Saxo Bank rider has been tipped as the 2010 Tour winner, and much else besides.

There's a strong French theme to the interviews this month. Reunited at Quick Step, Sylvain Chavanel and Jerome Pineau quiz each other on the why and how of their move to the Belgian team. Procycling also heads to Française des Jeux boss Marc Madiot's home town to find out why he prepares his riders for the road season with a lot of cyclo-cross.

Procycling's Lance Armstrong series turns this issue to the 2001 Tour and the break out of nothing that almost cost the Texan overall victory. The main players on the rain-soaked stage to Pontarlier look back on a remarkable day that almost led to one of the race's biggest upsets ever. Bike test sees Frankie Andreu checking out the beautiful curves of Terry Dolan's Hercules Ultegra SL Max, plus there are interviews with Damiano Cunego, Philppe Gilbert and exclusive columns from Garmin's Dan Martin, Saxo Bank's Frank Hoj and Gianni "The Prince" Savio.

(Additional editorial assistance by Susan Westemeyer)

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