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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for January 28, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Ag2r-Prévoyance team presentation

By Chris Henry

New faces, new challenges
Photo ©: Chris Henry/Cyclingnews

With five new riders and a sponsor eager to see its team grow, Ag2r-Prévoyance presented its 19 man roster at the company's headquarters in Paris Tuesday afternoon. Team manager Vincent Lavenu, who enters his 13th year at the helm of the French team (which began as Chazal, then Casino, now Ag2r), spoke confidently of the team's mix of experience and young talent, and the two primary goals he has set for 2004.

Lavenu like all team directors (particularly French) knows the Tour de France will always be the priority of the season. Along former jersey holders and stage winners Laurent Brochard and Jaan Kirsipuu, Lavenu has at last signed the rider he has wanted for the past three years, Jean-Patrick Nazon. Long before he won the final stage of the 2003 Tour in Paris, Nazon had caught Lavenu's eye as a talent for the future. Now he will provide the team with a valuable second sprinter to compliment the talents of Kirsipuu.

To keep pace with the evolution to come within professional cycling, Lavenu understands the importance of selection for the UCI Pro Tour, which is set to debut in 2005 and create a new league structure for the top 20 international teams. Ag2r-Prévoyance finished 2003 ranked 15th in the UCI team standings, and both Lavenu and his title sponsor are keen on expanding the team and securing its place among the best. Specifically, this means the search has begun for a co-sponsor to help build on the existing budget of 4 million euros per year and bolster the team in the coming seasons.

"If another partner were to join the Ag2r-Prévoyance team, along with our friends at [bike sponsor] Décathlon, which has decided to continue its involvement, we could perhaps field a team that's even more successful even if we have complete confidence in the team put together by Vincent Lavenu," added Yvon Breton, the secretary general of the team.

Ag2r said goodbye to three riders after the 2003 season (Botcharov, Loder, Trastour) and welcomed five new members to the team, all of whom offer new capabilities to win races. Four of the five come from Jean Delatour (now RAGT Semences-MG Rover):Samuel Dumoulin, Yuriy Krivtsov, and Jean-Patrick Nazon all. Neo-pro Lloyd Mondory, multiple recipient of the Vélo d'Or award (cadet, junior and espoir), is another rider on whom Lavenu is placing great hope, and after a promising debut as a stagiaire with the team last fall, Mondory isn't likely to disappoint.

Kirsipuu, from the start
Photo ©: CN

The team's pillars of experience will be Laurent Brochard, who returns for his second season with the team, and Jaan Kirsipuu, who turned professional with Lavenu's Chazal team in 1993 and has remained faithful ever since. Kirsipuu has 109 professional victories to his name, and will be looking for his 110th next week as the French road season kicks off in the south.

"It's always good to start with a win, because that gives you confidence for the next races," Kirsipuu told Cyclingnews, all the while insisting that he does not set specific objectives. Winning races is his goal, which races he wins is of less importance. Kirsipuu and Lavenu are kindred spirits, it seems, content to work hard and take victories when they come, but focus above all on a solid team and aggressive racing, always with an eye on improvement.

Ag2r-Prévoyance 2004 roster

Images by Chris Henry/Cyclingnews

Scanlon seeks steady progression

Ag2r-Prévoyance's Irish national champion, Mark Scanlon, begins a new year with the team, maintaining a modest but ambitious outlook on his role and his future. Team manager Vincent Lavenu referred to Scanlon as "a real promise in international cycling" at the team's presentation on Tuesday, noting Scanlon's one victory and countless days of racing selflessly for the team in his first year as a professional.

Fighting jet lag after his return from Australia and the Tour Down Under, Scanlon spoke to Cyclingnews about his goals for the coming seasons.

"I'm just trying to progress year to year," Scanlon said. "I won one race last year and had 244 UCI points, I think it was. This year the goal's going to be to get 300 plus UCI points and maybe win two or three races."

His primary role has been as a team worker, and Scanlon knows he is not yet in a position to pick and choose the races where he will aim for victory.

"It's hard for me to target specific races because I don't get the time to train for them," he explained. "I'm given a race program to follow and I have to do 120 days of racing a year, so I just tend to follow the form rather than peak at a certain stage."

Scanlon will tackle the French season openers next week, once he gets a few hours sleep to readjust to European time, where his teammate Jaan Kirsipuu will once more look for early season success on the roads of southern France. Scanlon himself is riding himself into form, having suffered a fractured rib prior to the Tour Down Under, but continuing to train despite the pain, not having had a proper diagnosis right away.

As for the Tour de France, he is not overly concerned with selection for the team's Tour squad in this his second year as a professional, and knows it's a question of who is in form more than anything that decides which nine men will get to ride. Of more pressing concern is a steady progression this season and the results necessary to secure a two to three year contract, at which time Scanlon will focus on increasingly lofty goals in the sport.

Verbruggen rejects 'Cofidis affair'

UCI President Hein Verbruggen, speaking to reporters at the Liberty Seguros team presentation in Madrid, Spain, rejected the notion of a "Cofidis affair" in relation to the series of arrests made in France of members past and present of the top French team. Rather, Verbruggen bemoaned the media's exaggeration of the events, which he considers an issue of "two positive French cyclists" rather than a full-blown doping scandal.

"There is no Cofidis affair," Verbruggen said, "and I don't have any interest in discussing it. I'm surprised that this is generating so much noise, two French cyclists who are positive. I see everybody getting involved, politicians, etc... I've also seen that there were 45 tennis players on something and I haven't seen any involvement from the police or politicians there."

WADA Criticises UCI after latest cycling scandal

Verbruggen's comments come at the same time as renewed criticism from the World Anti-Doping Agency concerning cycling's ability to tackle the problem of performance-enhancing drugs. In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, WADA chairman Richard Pound insisted that the UCI has yet to accept the problem facing the sport.

"Even the president of the UCI, Hein Verbruggen, has to admit that there is a problem in cycling and it's existed for a hundred years," Pound told Le Monde. "The public is not fooled, it knows perfectly well that cyclists in the Tour de France and others are taking illegal substances. It's the same thing with football in the United States: the players that weigh 200 kilograms, people know it's not because of the meat they're eating."

Pound also returned to a report published by WADA which highlighted inadequacies in the doping controls at the Tour de France, a report which has been openly contested by the UCI.

"We have studied the report again, with regard to the UCI's comments, and we have decided not to change anything," Pound said. "We're very satisfied with the work of the observers."

As for the current investigation surrounding various riders and a soigneur associated with Cofidis, Verbruggen insists it is not the team which is at the center of the scandal.

"It's not a 'Cofidis affair', because if they had found anything on the team, we would know about it," Verbruggen concluded.

Vandenbroucke faces trial

Frank Vandenbroucke's bid to avoid a trial in Belgium for his 2002 arrest along with Bernard Sainz for possession of banned substances has, barring a successful appeal, failed. Despite his lawyer's argument that VDB has paid a penalty for his arrest in the public eye (and thus damage to his reputation), and served a suspension handed down by the Flemish cycling federation, the Belgian courts did not see sufficient reason to throw the case out.

Vandenbroucke is now expected to appear before a court in Termonde in the beginning of March, although he has fifteen days to appeal Tuesday's decision. At issue is the police seizure of several substances from his home in early 2002, including morphine, EPO, and the steroid clenbuterol.

De Cauwer counts on Wellens

Belgian national selector José De Cauwer believes reigning world champion remains the man to beat at this weekend's cyclo-cross world championships in Pontchâteau, France. Wellens has been the dominant force in cyclo-cross this season, and De Cauwer indicated in a brief interview with La Dernière Heure that he was the best bet for top 'cross nation Belgium.

"Bart is someone who knows how to suffer, not just for the pleasure of winning, but also for the pleasure of progressing," De Cauwer said, referring to Wellens' improvement this season, even on top of his rainbow jersey of last January.

"It's possible that Sven [Nys] has rested somewhat on his laurels," De Cauwer said of another of Belgium's top cyclo-crossers. "Maybe he's the type to let himself be beaten by one problem or another. Admittedly, he was hampered a bit this season by some injuries."

Moreau on the trainer

Christophe Moreau is back on the indoor trainer, easing into recovery from a knee injury sustained during Crédit Agricole's recent training camp around Hyères, France. Moreau, in an effort to avoid a crash after a touch of wheels in the group, damaged ligaments in his right knee after an abrupt movement on the bike.

The injury looked to threaten yet another early season for the Crédit Agricole team leader, but recovery is said to be going well and Moreau should begin more vigorous training after about ten days on the home trainer. His season debut will likely come in March though no date has been fixed.

Big sponsor for Central Coast Track Open

The Commonwealth Bank Australia (CBA) is the new title sponsor for the "The Commonwealth Bank Central Coast Track Classic" to be held January 31 at Adcock Park Velodrome in Gosford.

CBA has supported cycling in the past with the now defunct Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic. This sponsorship deal with the Central Coast Division marks a return to the sport. The event is expected to attract over 150 of the state’s and Australia’s best cycling talent to the Central Coast. Juniors start at 3:30pm and the main carnival begins at 6pm

One of the feature events will be a winner-takes-all grudge match between three of the world's fastest sprinters. World silver medallist in the keirin and Sydney Olympian Anthony "The Weapon" Peden from New Zealand will be racing in a feature sprint event against former junior world champion Shaun Hopkins and Italian national team member Greg "Rocky" McFarlane.

The field, containing no fewer than three former world champions, will also be competing for the prestigious and profitable $1,000 wheelrace. Due to the nature of wheelraces (or handicaps), anyone from the fastest man in the world to the slowest weekend warrior can steel the victory in a tension-building final.

The fast boys will be at it again in the keirin series doing battle for an $800 Velocraft Time Trial Frame.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)