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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition News for February 23, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

Merckx on Museeuw, VDB and Boonen

Belgians get ready for Het Volk

By Jeff Jones

With the opening race of the Belgian season, Omloop Het Volk, just one week away, the anticipation within the small, fanatical cycling country is growing every day. Professional and amateur riders alike have been training hard during the cold winter, and are now putting the finishing touches to their condition with more intense training and motorpacing work. Everything must be right for March, when the action really begins in Belgium.

This is reflected in the media of course, with all the big (and not so big) Belgian riders being interviewed daily by the papers, as to what their aspirations are this season. Then there are the experts, many of whom are former professionals and have been through this same build up 15 times.

Perhaps the best known of these is Belgium's most celebrated cyclist, Eddy Merckx. Merckx won more professional races than anyone during his illustrious career, and dominated from spring through autumn. Now in his 50's, Merckx is the boss of a well known bicycle manufacturing company that bears his own name. Somewhat more portly than his racing weight of 80 kg, Merckx says that he has a bet with Jacky Ickx to get down to below 100 kg (from 105 kg) before summer.

Eddy Merckx is still very much in the spotlight, and thus it is normal that he is asked his opinion on matters pertaining to Belgian cycling. Merckx was interviewed by Het Laatste Nieuws on Saturday, where he did just that. Asked about the current classics king Johan Museeuw (11 World Cup wins), who is perhaps in his final year as a cyclist, Merckx rated him on the same level as Rik Van Steenbergen and Rik Van Looy. But as far as classics riders go, Merckx ranked Roger de Vlaeminck as the greatest.

"To win Paris-Roubaix, Roger had to reckon with much harder competition than Museeuw," said Merckx. "I find it a shame that three quarters of the top riders can overlook a monument like Paris-Roubaix. In my day we all did everything. Save for Van Impe [Lucien Van Impe, multiple winner of the Tour de France polka dot jersey], but that was an exception."

This year, Merckx believes Museeuw can win another big race, perhaps the Ronde Van Vlaanderen or Paris-Roubaix again. "In Paris-Roubaix he has more of a chance than in the Ronde van Vlaanderen because the competition is greater there, but I count on Johan to win another World Cup race. I have heard reliable information that he is in very good condition."

On other Belgian cyclists, Merckx was hopeful about Frank Vandenbroucke. "I hope from the bottom of my heart that he comes back. With that talent Frank is the Cruijff of cycling [a reference to Ajax & Barcelona football legend Johan Cruijff]. He could win anything. Except maybe the Tour de France."

As for Tom Boonen's departure from US Postal to Quick Step, Merckx was in two minds. "A contract is a contract. He signed for two years with US Postal? OK, then he finishes those two years and then enough! That being said, the choice for Patrick Lefevere's team is not bad. Tom is joining a team that emphasises the races that suit his style."

We will find out soon enough how these riders fare this season, but for now, Belgium has to wait another seven days to see them perform on home turf.

23rd Trofeo Luis Puig preview

The expectation in Spain this Sunday is that World Champion Mario Cipollini will make his season debut in the 23rd edition of the Trofeo Luis Puig. The 183 km race between Benidorm and Valencia has twice been won by Cipollini in his career, and despite his total lack of racing kilometres this year, Cipollini has obviously been preparing well on the superstrada.

Only two riders have won the race more than Cipollini: Noél Dejonckheere (Bel) and Erik Zabel (Ger). One of those has retired and the other is choosing to race next week's Vuelta Valenciana instead of Luis Puig, thus Cipollini will have to look for other rivals if it comes to a sprint. Those include Saeco's Ivan Quaranta, Kelme's Isaac Galvez, and Fassa Bortolo's Alessandro Petacchi, all of whom would love to put one past the Lion King before he gets into his stride.

A bunch sprint is likely in this race, but it's not a foregone conclusion. The 183 km race starts with a long (38 km) climb up from sea level to the 960m Puerto de Confrides, rated as a second category climb. However, time lost early in the race can be made up over the next part, which is predominantly downhill with the exception of a few small climbs. The final 70 km is quite flat.

Last year, Fassa Bortolo's Serguei Ivanov surprised the sprinters and got clear with 400m to go, to beat Telekom's Rolf Aldag and Erik Zabel, with Mario Cipollini taking fourth. Ivanov will not be back in 2003 to defend his title, preferring to leave it to Alessandro Petacchi or another teammate. Aitor Gonzalez is down for Fassa Bortolo on the start sheet, with the UCI expected to make a decision today about which team (Fassa Bortolo or Domina Vacanze) the Vuelta winner can ride for.

Tour du Haut-Var & Classic Haribo overview

The 35th edition of the Tour du Haut-Var and 10th Classic Haribo mark the start of the 15 round Coupe de France series. Both races take place in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, and feature all the French teams and most of the Belgian teams.

The 180 km Tour du Haut Var starts in Draguignan, and contains several challenging climbs, including the côte des Marjoris (km 52), col de Mons (km 80, and at 814m the highest point of the race), côte du Peyron (km 98), côte des Tuilières (km 157) and the col Saint-Andrieux (km 166).

The 10th Classic Haribo takes place on Sunday, between Uzès et Marseilles. This is more suited to sprinters than Haut Var, with Jaan Kirsipuu a two time winner of the race. However, a strong breakaway specialist such as Andrea Tafi can also do well here.

Jean Delatour riders look forward to French weekend

With the Coupe de France opening today with the Tour Du Haut Var, there are hopes in France that the French teams will perform well. Coupe de France defending champion Jean Delatour started its season steadily in the Tour Méditerranéen, with Patrice Halgand the best placed rider in 22nd overall.

Jean Delatour's directeur sportif Jean-Luc Jonron was optimistic about the team's chances this weekend, quoted in today's L'Equipe: "We have the ability to win. We'll show the jersey."

"It's normal for a French team to have the means to do well in the Coupe de France events," he added. "At the Tour Méditerranéen we missed a bit of success. In the first stage Patrice Halgand was up front, but he missed a corner, and the breaks that included Joly and Goubert were brought back 4km and 3km before the finish. On the other hand, on the Mont Faron we were completely left behind."

Jean Delatour's Stéphane Goubert echoed his director's words. "What we did at the Tour Méditerranéen, that's OK for a start, but we need to perform better to earn a selection for the Tour. We have to think about that."

Patrice Halgand added, "Even if it's a long season, we don't have the right to miss the debut. [My fitness] is not too bad. The whole team is riding better now than at the same time last year."

VDB will start in Haut Var and Haribo

Despite suffering from pain in his left knee earlier this week, Quick Step's Frank Vandenbroucke will still take the start in this weekend's two French races, Tour du Haut Var and Classic Haribo. VDB flew home from southern France to have his knee checked up in Belgium, but after being given the all clear, he returned to Draguignan yesterday to get ready for Haut Var.

Quick Step team doctor Yvan Vanmol told Het Laatste Nieuws that VDB's left knee has given him problems "After a fall he had as a child. The knee remains a weak spot."

In more Quick Step injury news, HLN reported that Pedro Horillo is suffering from a back injury, which forced him to pull out of the Vuelta a Valencia. However, he should be back in time for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

Euskaltel-Euskadi's weekend

By João Cravo

The four remaining wild cards for the 2003 Tour will be dearly sought after by the remaining candidates. Basque squad Euskaltel-Euskadi is aware of that. Having climbers as skilled as the young Iban Mayo (25) and the older Roberto Laiseka (33) or even David Etxebarria (29) doesn't automatically ensure participation in the Tour. Only hard work, results and Leblanc's choice will do the job. Focusing their efforts on the only variable they can 100 per cent control (hard work), Julian Gorospe's squad hopes to find that the equation was right next May 19.

Hard work means hard work. While still involved on the Volta ao Algarve and having just finished the Vuelta a Andalucia< Euskaltel will this weekend contest the first two legs of the 2003 Coupe the France. The squad will compete in the Tour du Haut-Var and Classic Haribo, with David Etxebarria (coming out of a knee injury), Unai Etxebarria, Iker Flores, Lander Euba, David Herrero, Josu Silloniz and Samuel Sanchez.

There they will face top riders such as Davide Rebellin, Christophe Moreau, Oscar Camenzind, Carlos Sastre, Viatcheslav Ekimov, Andrei Kivilev, Didier Rous, Laurent Brochard, Paolo Bettini, Sandy Casar, Roman Vainsteins, Félix Garcia Casas and Christophe Rinero, amongst a few others, in what will be an interesting test for the Euskaltel team.

This Sunday, February 23 Euskaltel-Euskadi will be present on a second front. Team manager Julian Gorospe will feature the following riders at the 1.2 classed Trofeo Luis Puig in Alicante: Gorka Arrizabalaga, Gorka Gonzalez, Iñigo Landaluce, Egoi Martínez, Julen Fernandez and Joseba Zubeldia.

The hard road to the Tour will continue from Tuesday, February 25 at the Vuelta a Valencia, which runs through March 1. There the team will take an identical roster, reinforced by Roberto Laiseka and the neo-pro Dioni Galparsoro, to defend the orange colours of the Basque team.

Kelme won't focus on spring classics

The Spanish Kelme team will contest only one of the major spring classics this year, Milan-San Remo. Unlike the previous ten years, when Kelme was the only Spanish team to contest all World Cup events, the team has had to focus its priorities given a smaller roster of only 21 riders.

Team directeur sportif Vicente Belda, quoted in Saturday's l'Equipe, explained, "We can't cover all fronts at the same time. We won't be at the Tour of Flanders, nor Liège-Bastogne-Liège, nor Amstel Gold Race. We'll rejoin the World Cup in August at the Clasica San Sebastian."

Hans De Clercq responds to Giro accusations

Lotto-Domo's Hans De Clercq is one of the 51 people wanted for further questioning by Italian prosecutor Luigi Bocciolini in relation to the Giro 2001 Razzia investigation. De Clercq, like his colleagues, faces a jail term of between one and three years if convicted of "sporting fraud" by Bocciolini. He is accused, again like many of his colleagues, of possessing caffeine, which is considered a banned substance when taken above a certain level.

De Clercq responded to the Belgian media by saying that "I had caffeine tablets with me, for when my morale was a bit low. For the Giro d'Italia, you're away from home for three to four weeks, and then you certainly have bad days. So many people take Prozac, I take caffeine. But I have a doctor's certificate for it. I was controlled twice during the Giro, and each time I was negative."

Lotto's doctor Daniël De Neve added that De Clercq maybe took "five or six" tablets of 'animine', which contains caffeine. However, one of these pills is only equivalent to a Red Bull, according to De Neve.

De Clercq's roommate at the time was Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens, who was also on prosecutor Bocciolini's list. But Blijlevens claims all the products that were seized from his room were De Clercq's, and not his. He sent a letter to the magistrate explaining this. "I heard that my name was removed from the list of accused riders, but that has evidently not happened. I don't understand it," he said.

The full 51 man list from La Gazzetta dello Sport is published below, along with the accusations, the substances found in their possession, and possible sentences if found guilty. Interestingly, the majority of cases involve caffeine, which as pointed out previously, is only banned above a certain level. Thus, this long list will more than likely be substantially reduced as the wheels of justice turn, in ever decreasing circles.

Name                  Accused of           Substance(s)                     Risks
Dario Andriotto (Ita)    doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
José Luis Arrieta (Spa)  doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Jeroen Blijlevens (Ned)  doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Ermanno Brignoli (Ita)   doping/sport fraud   insulin                          1-3 yrs
Matteo Carrara (Ita)     doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Hans de Clercq (Bel)     doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Alvaro de Galdeano (Spa) doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Daniele De Paoli (Ita)   doping/sport fraud   insulin & caffeine               1-3 yrs
Giuseppe Di Grande (Ita) doping/sport fraud   insulin, Gh & caffeine           1-3 yrs
Alberto Elli (Ita)       doping/sport fraud   corticosteroids, insulin & Gh    1-3 yrs
Giuliano Figueras (Ita)  doping/sport fraud   corticosteroids, insulin & caff. 1-3 yrs
Dario Frigo (Ita)        doping/sport fraud   testosterone, Gh & caffeine      1-3 yrs
Pablo Lastras (Spa)      doping/sport fraud   corticosteroids & caffeine       1-3 yrs
David Latasa Lasa (Spa)  doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Giovanni Lombardi (Ita)  doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Marco Magnani (Ita)      doping/sport fraud   corticosteroids & caffeine       1-3 yrs
Renzo Mazzoleni (Ita)    doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Gabriele Missaglia (Ita) doping/sport fraud   testosterone                     1-3 yrs
Giampaolo Mondini (Ita)  doping/sport fraud   insulin, Acth & caffeine         1-3 yrs
David Navas (Spa)        doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)  doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Jon Odriozola (Spa)      doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Unai Osa (Spa)           doping/sport fraud   corticosteroids & caffeine       1-3 yrs
Pavel Padrnos (Cze)      doping/sport fraud   mannitol                         1-3 yrs
Marco Pantani (Ita)      doping/sport fraud   insulin & lidocaine              1-3 yrs
Julio Perez Cuapio (Mex) doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Andrea Peron (Ita)       doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Mariano Piccoli (Ita)    doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Domenico Romano (Ita)    doping/sport fraud   mannitol                         1-3 
                         receiving forbidden goods                             + aggrav.
Maximilian Sciandri (GBr)doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Marcello Siboni (Ita)    doping/sport fraud   insulin, Acth & caffeine         1-3 yrs
Cesar Solaun (Spa)       doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Antonio Varriale (Ita)   doping/sport fraud   caffeine                         1-3 yrs
Stefano Zanini (Ita)     doping/sport fraud   insulin                          1-3 yrs
Vicente Belda            4 crimes                  caffeine
Zurbano Galilea          4 crimes                  caffeine
Vicente Narvarte         4 crimes                  caffeine
Gianluigi Stanga         4 crimes                  caffeine
Francisco Fernandez      4 crimes                  testosterone
Giacomo Andalo           4 crimes                  insulin & gonadotropin
Bruno Pierantoni         4 crimes                  insulin & gonadotropin
Leone Pizzini            4 crimes                  insulin & gonadotropin
Primo Pregnolato         4 crimes                  insulin & lidocaine
Fabrizio Settembrini     4 crimes                  insulin & gonadotropin
Jolanda Fuentes          4 crimes                  caffeine
Lothar Heinrich          4 crimes                  corticosteroids & caffeine
Jesus Hoyos              4 crimes                  caffeine
Claudio Sprenger         4 crimes                  caffeine
Alfredo De Marchi        4 crimes                  insulin & gonadotropin
Bruno Olivieri           4 crimes                  insulin & gonadotropin
Juan Sunol               4 crimes                  caffeine
*4 crimes = doping, sporting fraud, administering banned substances,
illegal practice of medicine
Source: La Gazzetta dello Sport/

Heart problem forces Nitsche to retire

Gerolsteiner's Thorsten Nitsche has decided to retire due to heart problems. Nitsche, 25, experienced an irregular heart rate during the Tour of Qatar this year, and was advised to stop with high level competition. He will undergo an operation next week, and will be still allowed to ride recreationally. As for his future, Nitsche wishes to study, but he may also get a job in the Gerolsteiner team.

(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)