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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition News for August 31, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry & Jeff Jones

Ekimov ready for more

Viatcheslav Ekimov
Photo ©: AFP

Viatcheslav Ekimov (USPS-Berry Floor) is one of the top favourites (together with his teammate Victor Hugo Peņa) for tomorrow's GP Eddy Merckx, a 45 km two man time trial in Brussels. The 37 year old recently won the Ronde van Nederland, and showed that he can still be competitive at the top level. His age doesn't bother him, as he subscribes to the "you are only as old as you feel" principle, and he believes he has a few more years in him yet.

"Physically I feel good enough to continue for another two or three years - until my 40th," Ekimov said in an interview with Het Laatste Nieuws. "If that will happen to me, I don't know. Sometimes I'm reminded that I'm not twenty any more. I don't recover as quickly, I have more difficulty from minor discomforts. But if you think "I'm old" then you are. Consequently I refuse to give in to that."

Ekimov was once again in this year's Tour de France one of the key men in the US Postal team, which helped Lance Armstrong to his fifth consecutive Tour victory. Ekimov has been with US Postal since 1997, with a couple of exceptions. He changed teams to Amica Chips in 1999, after what he called a "crisis" with US Postal, but came back with them in 2000, when he won the gold medal in the Olympic Games Time Trial. In late 2001, Ekimov announced his retirement, but after less than a year working with the Russian Itera team, he decided to come back and resumed his spot in US Postal in June 2002. In July 2002, he was again part of the USPS Tour team, repeating his efforts as a domestique this year. And next year?

"[Armstrong] can count on me next year," said Ekimov. "I want to steer him into the history books. There is just one thing I want to say: Lance will win his sixth Tour, guaranteed. Because he has what Jan Ullrich lacks: a strong team around him.

No bad blood between Merckx and Armstrong

No rift in the club
Photo: © AFP
Click for larger image

Long after the hoopla caused by criticism of Lance Armstrong he expressed live on Belgian television, Eddy Merckx has softened his tone concerning Armstrong and his ride in this year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. At least concerning Armstrong's chase of lone leader Axel Merckx as the race entered its final stages, that is.

"At the time, I reacted as a former rider," Merckx explained in an interview with La Dernière Heure. "It wasn't really about Axel."

Merckx added that he and Lance have spoken often since April, and remain good friends. He maintains, however, that Armstrong's performance in Liège was sub-par. "Tactically, Lance rode poorly. When your name is Armstrong and you're riding to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, you should ride differently."

Standing by his opinionated call of the race, Merckx added "now that I've found myself doing live commentary, if it's not to say what I think, then what's the point?"

He also remains somewhat disappointed with the latest five-Tour winner's decision not to contest the World Championships, even on North American soil. "It's too bad that a rider with Armstrong's talent doesn't participate in the biggest races," Merckx said. "When you're a champion like him, you have to take the chance of entering races where you can be beaten."

Merckx also acknowledged the enormous- and unique- importance of the Tour de France in the United States, and the fact that it remains the focal point for American sponsorship. "Armstrong understands this, but it's still too bad for cycling. Lance, I think, also takes into account the fact that he had cancer. He can't let himself ride the entire year; he needs to take the time to recover."

Merckx tips Ekimov/Peña for TT

Unlike some race organisers, Eddy Merckx is not afraid to inject some of his predictions and hopes to conversation about the upcoming event which bears his name. The GP Eddy Merckx, a two-man time trial taking place Sunday, August 31 in Brussels, Belgium, will pit the time trial specialists against each other in the exciting duo format, which Merckx considers both more exciting for spectators and better for the riders as well.

"Ekimov and Peña (US Postal) are my favourites," he told Het Nieuwsblad on the eve of the time trial. "They showed in the Ronde van Nederland that they have the right form. Bodrogi/Rogers (Quick.Step) and Peschel/Rich (Gerolsteiner) are in my opinion riders who stand out, even though Peschel had bad luck in the last time trial in the Tour with a broken rib."

Merckx also didn't hide his desire to see a good performance from Belgian classics king Johan Museeuw, teamed with Dutchman Servais Knaven to form Quick.Step-Davitamon's second entry.

"Without Armstrong and Ullrich, we have still assembled a number of strong riders, even though the late forfeit of Tyler Hamilton is a disappointment. Hamilton just phoned me last Monday to say that he would certainly come."

Either way, Merckx is enjoying the ability to assemble such a field given the timing after the Tour de France and prior to the Vuelta a España. "We had to make some choices, since we had more riders interested than places available," he said in La Dernière Heure. "That's always a good sign for an organiser."

MTB World's preview

By Kristy Scrymgeour

2002 XC Champ Green
Photo ©: CN

Sunday, August 31 marks the beginning of the 2003 MTB World Championships in Lugano, Switzerland. Kicking off the week of racing is an event new to the championships, the marathon, creating an opportunity for ultra endurance riders to shine. During the week are the junior events, the team relay and the 4-cross event with the Downhill and Cross Country races on the following weekend.

The marathon consists of 28km of asphalt, 22km of dirt road/grass and 28km of single track (78km in total) covering mountainous terrain and taking in 2,857m of climbing, the most challenging being what is called the "Devils Wall", which climbs 800m at 22%. Open to everyone over 19 years of age, there are 1,438 people signed up to start the event and the winners of the men's and women's events will be the first crowned marathon world champions in history.

With Monday and Tuesday set aside for training and warm up events, Wednesday begins with the junior women cross country and the Team Relay. Last year the winner of the junior women's race was Australian Lisa Mathison and the Team Relay was won by the Canadian team, which is back again in force.

Thursday will be another day of training, semifinals for Trials and qualifications for 4-Cross and Downhill, whilst Friday features junior men's cross country, women's Trials, men's U/23 Cross Country, and men's and women's 4-Cross events. Last year's winner of the junior men's cross country, Trent Lowe (Australia) is not on the start list this year and the U/23 winner Julian Absalon (France) is now in the elite ranks and considered a favourite after a very strong season. Absalon won the WC in Monte St Anne, Canada and is currently running second in the WC cup series and ranked number one in UCI points.

In the 4-Cross events, Anne- Caroline Chausson (France) will be back to defend her title against World Cup leader Katrina Miller (Australia) and Sabrina Jonnier (France). In the men's event Brian Lopes (USA) returns after a season of injury to defend his title from last year, up against riders such as Cedric Gracia (France), Wade Boots (Australia), and his fellow Americans Mike King and Eric Carter.

The Downhillers will be flying down Monte Tomaro on Saturday with defending champion Nicolas Vouilloz (France) up against UCI points leader Mickael Pascal (France) and Steve Peat (GBR), who won the final NORBA event in Colorado only two weeks ago. Current UCI leader Marielle Saner (Switzerland) will be challenging reigning world champion Chausson in the women's downhill event, along with NORBA series winner Fionn Griffiths (Great Britain).

Finally on Sunday the Cross Country takes place with Roland Green (Canada) returning to defend his title after a season riddled with injury and sickness. Other favourites include World Cup leader Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) and UCI leader Christophe Sauser (Switzerland), as well as Ryder Hesjedal (Canada), who recently won the overall NORBA series.

In the women's event, Gunn-Rita Dahle (Norway) is enjoying amazing form. She will defend her 2002 title with four World Cup wins behind her this year. Riding against her will be German Sabine Spitz and Irina Kalentieva (Russia) who are ranked second and third in the WC series to date.

The junior and elite trials also take place on Sunday with Karin Moor (Switzerland) hoping to defend her title in her home country. Kenny Belay (Belgium) and Marco Hosel (Germany) are favourites in the men's 26" and men's 20" events, respectively.

With one day to go before the start of racing, the beautiful town of Lugano, which has for centuries been famous as a health resort and is also now famous for its chocolate, tobacco and silk, was enjoying clear, sunny skies and a perfect forecast. Temperatures are predicted to be around 23 degrees over the next five days with no rain.

Brussels start for 2004 Peace Race

The 2004 edition of the Peace Race will take its start May 8th in Brussels, Belgium, seat of the European Union. The theme for this year's race is the enlargement of Europe, and the Brussels start is designed to "form a bridge between the European Union and the central and eastern European countries," according to race organiser Pavel Dolezel.

After the race begins in Belgium, riders will transfer by plane to Germany, where the parcours will take them towards the closing stage in Prague on May 16th. The Peace Race will visit Berlin, Germany, Warsaw, Poland, and Prague in the Czech Republic, linking the major capitals of the east. A major event with a rich history, the Peace Race will be run with a UCI ranking of 2.2.

Belda: Sevilla can win

While Oscar Sevilla may be hedging his bets for the upcoming Vuelta a España, due to his prolonged absence from competition this year, his Kelme-Costa Blanca team manager Vicente Belda has other ideas. "This year's Vuelta can be won by Oscar Sevilla," he said simply, with one week to go until the Vuelta kicks off in Gijon, Spain.

Sevilla has noted that he can count only 4,000 kilometres of riding this season, whereas most of his competition will have put in some 30,000. But he remains confident that if he survives the difficult Vuelta opening, his form will continue to improve each day.

Mertens to Vlaanderen

Belgian neo-professional Pieter Mertens has signed a two year contract with Division II team Vlaanderen-T Interim. Mertens joins the team from Beveren 2000, which for 2004 will act as a satellite team for Patrick Lefevere's Quick.Step-Davitamon team, as well as his new Bodysol-Brustor Division II team.

Vinokourov honoured

Top honours
Photo: © C. Henry/CN
Click for larger image

Team Telekom's star performer of 2003, Alexandre Vinokourov, returned to his native Kazakhstan this week to receive special honours for his achievements in the professional ranks this season. Vinokourov, winner of Paris-Nice, Amstel Gold Race, the Tour of Switzerland, and a stage winner and third place overall in the Tour de France, was a guest of Kazakh prime minister Imangali Tasmagambetowund, along with representatives of the country's Olympic committee.

"It was a crazy experience," Vinokourov said, quoted on the Telekom web site. "That sort of thing doesn't happen everyday. My compatriots followed the Tour closely, and I'm glad I could bring something into their lives."

Junior Het Volk

This Sunday marks a big day for Belgium's aspiring juniors, with the running of the "Het Volk nieuwelingen", or junior Het Volk. The scaled down version of the famous spring classic will test the young legs with 67km of racing, including five climbs and a 620€ in prize money. A field of impressive number is slated to contest the race, with 110 riders signed up- mostly Belgian, but with a strong showing expected from the classics riders in training from northern France.

Courtesy: Velomania

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