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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest News for February 24, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

Europeans feel the heat in Geelong

By Karen Forman in Geelong

Feeling the heat
Photo: © John Veage
Click for larger image

When they didn't figure in the placings or even a lot of the action in Sunday's first stage criterium, spectators surmised that the European riders who had come to Australia for this week's Geelong Bellarine Tour and next Sunday's World Cup first round, were suffering in the heat, given they had come straight from a harsh European winter. Or, maybe they were saving themselves for the bigger event.

The comments continued around the course during stage two, until the German-based Nürnberger Versicherung team took control of the 84km event for three of the four laps. They helped set up their Australian team member, Margaret Hemsley, who attacked with less than two kilometres to go and took the stage.

At the same time, Hemsley's team mate, Petra Rossner, joked with Cyclingnews that she saw even less of the race than some of the media, who were tucked into vehicles well behind the action, because she was off the back of the bunch.

The five-time winner of the Liberty Classic in the US and reigning World Cup champion, Rossner finished the stage over nine minutes behind Hemlsey. Her team mate Judith Arndt, who won last year's Tour de Snowy (the predecessor to the Geelong Tour), was close to the action to help Hemsley on her way to the line and finished nine seconds down.

Are they "saving up" for the World Cup? "Oh, we weren't just training today," Rossner said with a wry grin at the finish.

Also coming in over nine minutes down with Rossner was team mate Madeleine Lindberg, the 2001 Swedish road and time trial champion from Vasteras in Sweden, who joined the German the team this year after a stint with the Dutch Farm Frites squad last year.

The Swedish rider admitted the temperature change had been a factor. "It was minus 10 when we left home, even colder," she said. "One morning it was minus 20 in Sweden - that's cold. We went to a training camp in Cyprus which was a bit warmer, but not like this, in mid-January for two weeks. But the rest of the time I have been training on the mountain bike because the winter in Sweden, it is too icy for the road bike."

"It is starting to feel better, but this is hot today, even for the Australian girls," Lindberg said. "It is always the same for us. Last year we came out of winter to the Australian summer for the Tour de Snowy and World Cup and it was pretty hot as well.

"These girls have been training in this all summer and have had racing, like their nationals," said Lindberg, who has been racing seriously since she was 12 and won a stage in last year's Women's Tour de France. "I have been doing slow basic training because it has been winter. It is the same for more of the European riders here at the moment. We are at the start of our season. They are peaking in theirs.

"Even if it wasn't so hot, the race would be hard, because they are all fit and the Australians are peaking, while we are building up. I think we are doing pretty good, so we are not worried."

She said she found the criterium quite demanding and finished in the second group. "It was a hard course, with a narrow corner and a little hill," she said. "Then today it wasn't too hard until the last lap. I am working for the bunch here, because I am not good enough, but it has been a very good day today and of course I am feeling very happy."

Like her teammates, Lindberg says she is looking forward to Sunday's World Cup. After that, they fly back to Europe. Lindberg will have a week at home in Sweden, then will go to Germany for a team presentation, then to Italy for the first European World Cup. "It will be a bit colder there."

Kirsipuu turns 100

Jaan's 100th
Photo: © AFP
Click for larger image

33 year old Estonian sprinter Jaan Kirsipuu reached a milestone on the weekend that not too many riders manage in their careers: 100 race victories. Kirsipuu won the 10th edition of Classic Haribo, a race that he has won twice previously (2000, 2002). In Monday's l'Equipe, Kirsipuu spoke of his hundredth win as a notable achievement, but kept it all in perspective.

"When I turned pro, I never thought about the number of victories, only of winning races, even the small ones," Kirsipuu explained. "One hundred... it's a significant number, but it's not with a hundred victories that I'll be included among the greatest. It's not the number that makes the difference."

A specialist in bunch sprints, Kirsipuu is also a very strong rider in a breakaway or a time trial. He palmares include three national time trial and road championships, three Tour de France stages, a stage in the Vuelta, two stages in Paris-Nice, three Tours de Vendee, three Grand Prix Cholet, two Grand Prix de Denain, a Grand Prix Isbergues and a Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. He turned pro in 1993 with Chazal, then rode for Casino (1996-1999) and Ag2r-Prevoyance (2000-2003), all the while remaining faithful to his directeur sportif, Vincent Lavenu.

"He's had his whole career within the same structure, much like Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle did in his day," Lavenu told l'Equipe. "In a world where emotions are often swept up in the money, this proves that personal relationships also count." Kirsipuu confirmed this sentiment, noting that despite numrous offers from other teams, he's made the best decision in staying with a team that has always showed faith in his abilities.

Vandenbroucke in doubt for Het Volk again

After pulling out of yesterday's Classic Haribo in France, Quick Step-Davitamon rider Frank Vandenbroucke is once again doubtful for this weekend's Omloop Het Volk, the opening race of the Belgian season.

"Frank had to put on the brakes after around 20 kilometres," said Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere. "He again had trouble with intense knee pain. I fear the worst for next weekend. If he's not a hundred percent, then he won't race."

Vandenbroucke was optimistic late last week, despite being forced to return home for a visit to a physiotherapist. "I'm afraid that Frank was looking a bit through rose coloured glasses after his visit to the physio," added Lefevere. "He is so hungry to race, especially in the Belgian opener, that maybe he lost a sense of reality."

VDB will visit physiotherapist Lieven Maesschalk on Monday, and the team will assess his condition following training on Wednesday.

Hincapie suffers in Portugal

US Postal rider George Hincapie did not have the easiest time of it in the Volta ao Algarve, where he finished 34th overall. The team's classics specialist suffered from sinus problems during the race, and had to take antibiotics.

Knee problems for Wielinga

Dutch rider Remmert Wielinga (Rabobank), winner of the final stage of the Ruta del Sol, was forced to pull out of the Trofeo Luis Puig on Sunday with knee pain. ANP reported that Rabobank team director Theo de Rooij said that it could have possibly been overstressed due to the bad weather in the Ruta del Sol. Wielinga will visit team doctor Leinders on Monday, and will also be examined at Amersfoort hospital.

Bruyneel comments on the Armstrong separation

US Postal's team manager Johan Bruyneel has commented on the news that Lance and Kristin Armstrong have separated (see February 22 news). Although Bruyneel understandably would not be drawn into comment on their private lives, he did not believe it would affect Armstrong on a sporting level.

Quoted in Het Laatste Nieuws, Bruyneel said "In such situations the first days and weeks are the hardest to get through, but that doesn't mean that Lance will crack. He, like me, has been even more fanatical about his work than in previous years. Lance is a perfectionist, a complete professional, therefore I am not worried about his work and results."

Gonzalez decision delayed

The UCI will make its decision on the Aitor Gonzalez team dispute next week, according to a report in Spanish sports daily AS. Gonzalez signed for Fassa Bortolo late last year, but Domina Vacanze team director Vincenzo Santoni maintains that the Spaniard still has an agreement with him, that he signed early in 2002.

Gonzalez' manager, Ángel Buenache, was quoted as saying "The judgment will be favourable and Aitor will be able to race with Fassa Bortolo."

Saiz believes the Tour is too big

ONCE team manager Manolo Saiz is a man with a strong personality, strong convictions, and generally impossible to ignore. Having been an anonymous rider in his day, this perfectionist soon realised that his true vocation was in managing cycling rather than racing a bike. At the age of 24, Saiz was already the coach of the Spanish junior squad. Two years later, he was promoted to the U23 squad. Saiz kept that job for three years before assuming the leadership of the new professional team, ONCE in 1988. In 2000 Manolo Saiz was the man behind the creation of a professional council within the UCI. He has also been president of the international teams association (AIGCP) since 1998.

As a manager Saiz has been successful, winning four editions of the Vuelta in 1991 (Mauri), 1995 (Jalabert), 1996 and 1997 (Zülle). On top of that he has always fought for what he believed was right, such as when he decided to abandon the Tour on July 29, 1998 as a consequence of the Festina affair, which led to the exclusion of Festina itself and the withdrawal of seven other teams.

His views, while many may not agree with him, are often far reaching. "Nowadays cycling is being seen more and more as a synonym for the Tour de France and vice-versa," Saiz was recently quoted in El Correo. "I think this is wrong and this is bad."

Although the ONCE years clashed with the reign of Miguel Indurain in the Tour in the early 90's, and then Lance Armstrong in the last four years, Saiz' words can't be interpreted as jealousy. Focusing on "our responsibilities" instead of "their responsibilities" Manolo paints the monster: "We can't create something so big that makes everything else look like an ant," he stated. "If we do so we're creating a monster that will eat us."

Manolo does not pay tribute to riders who specialise in the Tour. "I can't accept that a rider who is only focused on the Tour could be considered more important than the seasonal riders," he said emphatically. "How it is possible that Museeuw or Zabel are treated as if they had no value while Armstrong is looked like he was the Holy Bible?"

He is also concerned that the Tour is impacting on other big races in the form of TV rights. "Each year, the Tour bills more and more for TV rights," he observes. "While the Vuelta, Giro and World Cup are billing less and less each time."

Speaking as the president of the team's association, Saiz adds, "After all, of the Grand Tours, the Tour the one that distributes the least portion of its gains to the teams. We [the teams] make the grandeur of the Tour, and it rewards us with nothing."

"I love the Tour, but I believe that cycling is (or must be) bigger than the Tour."

Manolo Saiz is conscious that Tour fever has infested his ONCE team leader Joseba Beloki, who declared that he would prefer to be second in the Tour rather than win the Vuelta. "I'm trying to change Beloki's mentality," confessed Saiz, "Because that is surely an error. You get a second position in the Tour? Great you're a good rider. But if you win the Vuelta or the Giro you are a champion. Win, that's what differentiates a champion from a good rider. Beloki must understand that once for all."

"After the last Vuelta I asked my riders 'Do you know who was the winner? The one that had the ambition to win'. Ambition produces champions. Conformity produces losers."

However for Saiz, these words do not even count as involuntary praise of Armstrong. "For Armstrong only the Tour counts, nothing else," said Manolo. "After the Tour he goes back home to only reappear the following year. I don't think that's good."

Finally, Saiz recalled the good old days. "Today cycling is monotonous," he lamented. "When I was young, Ocaņa and Merckx used to escape from the peloton five climbs before the finish line. Now there are still 50 riders at the bottom of the last climb. OK! We then have 10 minutes of top level cycling, but we've had five hours of boredom behind us."

Courtesy of João Cravo

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