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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest News for March 27, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry & Tim Maloney

Zülle to Phonak?

Swiss veteran Alex Zülle and his manager Tony Rominger are looking to nullify his contract with Team Coast. Zülle is still concerned about salary discrepancies from the 2002 season, and the suspension of Team Coast, which prevented him from competing in Paris-Nice, has not helped matters. Zülle had planned contact with Bjarne Riis for an eventual move to CSC, but those talks were called off. Now the Swiss Phonak formation appears to be the first choice of Zülle and manager Rominger.

"Alex absolutely wants to get out," Rominger told Radsport-news. "Phonak is the goal, if the contract with Team Coast is dissolved."

Team Coast manager Wolfram Lindner let his dissatisfaction be known, explaining that after a dismal 2001 season, Coast supported Zülle and supported him as he worked to regain his form. Lindner claimed that Zülle had not mentioned his discontent until just recently, despite the fact that the Swiss rider's intentions to look elsewhere have been well publicized for several weeks.

Johan Museeuw update

Quick.Step-Davitamon's Johan Museeuw, who was injured in a crash in yesterday's Dwars Door Vlaanderen, was able to train for 90 minutes this morning. He is still suffering pain in his left knee when he pushes a big gear, due to the contusions on his kneecap. The team's medical staff and the rider will make a decision about his short term training and racing program on Friday.

Giro organisers seek better controls

Giancarlo Ceruti, head of the Italian cycling federation, held a meeting Wednesday to discuss improved doping controls at the 2003 Giro d'Italia. The Italian federation and Giro organisers are eager to harmonise the controls and procedures of the UCI, WADA, and the Italian authorities, who following the approval of law #376 by the Italian Parliament in December, 2000, allow greater scrutiny of riders and team doctors and their medical protocols.

Giro d'Italia director Carmine Castellano, also present at the meeting, is expected to insert new, stricter doping rules into this year's Giro rule book. Castellano hopes to avoid a repeat of the fiasco of 2002, when Stefano Garzelli and Gilberto Simoni were both permitted to continue racing after they had been controlled for allegedly using banned substances.

The Italians are clearly anxious to remove the dark cloud of doping scandal which has hung over the Giro in recent years. "We're going to ask WADA to perform checks prior to the race to prevent any riders who don't conform to the regulations from starting," Ceruti told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

The Italian federation is also looking to improve testing procedures, notably testing for use of EPO. Dr. Mauro Salizzoni, president of the federation's doping commission, wants to see more reliance on urine testing for EPO, rather than blood tests. "The problem [with blood tests] is that a rider can still use EPO," Salizzoni explained. "Even if he has fairly innocuous blood values, a rider could bring his haematocrit level from 38-43% and under the current regulations nobody could say anything. We think the best approach is to use urine controls."

Pantani's back, but still faces legal hurdles

Marco Pantani made his long-awaited return to the peloton Wednesday, competing in the Settimana Ciclistica Coppi-Bartali. Nonetheless, Pantani still faces several court dates relating to his implication in doping offenses stemming from the 1999 Giro d'Italia, when he was ejected from the race after the stage to Madonna di Campiglio.

Pantani is expected before a judge in Tione, Italy on April 4. State prosecutor Giardina has sent forward a case for sporting fraud concerning Pantani's ejection from the 1999 Giro. Two months later, on June 5, an inquest will begin by Padoa state prosecutor Paola Cameran, calling some 20 riders and seven team staff to appear before the judge.

Conconi trial stopped

The court of Ferrara, Italy has stopped the trial of Italian Dr. Francesco Conconi, who was facing charges of sporting fraud for his alleged distribution of EPO to some sixty cycling team directors. The trial, which started last October, is not expected to restart before the end of this year. Conconi has already been cleared on six charges brought against him, and the indictment for sporting fraud has been sent back to the prosecutor.

Leblanc hints at Tour selections

In an interview with l'Equipe, Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc offered his thoughts on several riders who have made headlines, for good reasons or bad. The always contentious issue of wild-card selection for the Tour will once again draw attention, particularly as this year's race celebrates the centennial of the first Tour. Leblanc was asked about three riders in particular: world champion Mario Cipollini, Raimondas Rumsas, and Marco Pantani.

Concerning Cipollini, who whose team was not invited to race the 2002 Tour, Leblanc gave indications that Cipo's chances are good for a trip to France in July. "Before the Tour of Qatar, I spoke to him on the telephone," Leblanc revealed. "He told me how much he hoped to be at the Tour, and of his desire to win a stage wearing the rainbow jersey. I told him it would be a real pleasure for us as well."

Cipollini will still have to wait for his team to receive a wild-card, but evidently his chances are good. "He's won races, and so have his teammates," added Leblanc. "There's no great reason to think Mario Cipollini won't have his place at the Tour."

Concerning Rumsas, who was the centre of a post-Tour scandal following the arrest of his wife by French customs police with banned doping substances in her car, Leblanc was particularly blunt. "The behaviour of the Lampre team in 2002 was a great discredit to the end of the race," Leblanc said. "A few weeks ago I read that Rumsas thought that Jean-Marie Leblanc and the Tour de France weren't going to select [Lampre]. We hadn't thought about that before then, but perhaps that's a good idea."

Finally, it seems the normal selection protocol for the Tour will spare Leblanc any great debate over the selection of the enigmatic Marco Pantani, who yesterday embarked on yet another comeback in the professional peloton. "He rides for a Division II team. We only invite Division I teams. That issue is settled."

Navigators to Gent-Wevelgem

The Navigators Cycling Team has been invited to this year's edition of Gent-Wevelgem (April 9). Currently racing in Italy at the Settimana Ciclistica Coppi-Bartali, the American Navigators riders are in the midst of their second European campaign of the season.

USOC awards Armstrong

Lance Armstrong received his second award in two years from the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), which has named him Sportsman of the Year for 2002. In winning his fourth consecutive Tour de France, as well as the Midi-Libre and Dauphiné Libéré, Armstrong received his third such award from the USOC.

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