News for January 29, 1999

Previewing the World Cyclocross Championship

Two-times Under-23 World Champion Sven Nijs and Veteran Dutchman Adri van der Poel, a one time Elite World Champion both want the same thing on Sunday - to win the World Championship at Poprad, Slovakia. The site of the race is on a hillside in the Tatra Mountains, a popular tourist area in Central Europe. In an interview with Sven indicated that his role model in cycling has been the 39-year Van der Poel, 17 years his senior. So we have the situation where the first-year pro, who has dominated the Espoirs classification for the last two years, comes up against the wily Dutchman who has been the most enduring rider in modern professional history.

Van der Poel began his professional career in 1981 and combined a succesful road career with a scintillating cross record. He has, though, been considered something of a bridesmaid in cross racing - due to the fact that he often come second in major races. He finally broke through in 1996 after gaining 5 silvers and a bronze in World Championship races.

He has indicated his competitiveness for Sunday by some very good late season form, including a strong win at the last World Cup round this year in Nommay, France, where he stormed away at the end to beat reigning World Champion, the redoubtable Belgian, Mario de Clercq.

Van der Poel has told the press: "The key to Nijs' supremacy is his ability to take bends faster than anyone else."

Nijs, is the wizard of Belgian cross at present. He has won the Under-23 World Title for the last two years running - Munich then Middelfart - beating his arch-rival, 20-year old Belgian Bart Wellens on each occasion. Wellens, himself, is entering the Elite ranks next season and will be a sensation.

Nijs has dominated cross racing this year. His record for 1998-99 is stunning. In the major races and rankings he has achieved the following outcomes:

In his interview with, Sven indicated that a lot of credit for the emergence of the dominated Flemish riders this season (Janssens, De Clercq, Wellens, Nijs, Vervecken, van Santvliet to name a few) can be traced back, in part, to Eric de Vlaeminck, the Belgian coach and himself a seven times-world champion. De Vlaeminck says of Nijs: "He has explosive speed. He comes from a successful BMX racing background where he developed his acrobatic skills in tackling course obstacles."

The other major contender looks like being current world champion Mario De Clercq, who won the World Cup this season after the 6 races. He told that he will be fighting the race to the end. He indicated that the mantle of world champion is extra motivation.

However, in a late season surge, former MTB rider Thomas Frischknecht from Switzerland, has stamped himself a key contender. In 1991 he won the amateur World Cross Championship and then went onto win 15 MTB World Cup races. He was using the early part of the cross season as a basis for another assault on the MTB season but after winning the Dutch World Cup event he has gone from strength to strength and now is aiming high.

Italian Daniele Pontoni, second in the overall World Cup rankings, also cannot be dismissed for Sunday. He has been very consistent all season and has won the championship in 1997.

Nico Mattan Update

Nico Mattan has to wait until next week before he knows whether he can continue racing. The 27-year old rider from the West of Flanders will undertake another cardiology test to monitor his heart rate. He will then consult with the UCI and the doctors will decide his future. Mattan was due to ride with the French team Casino after transferring from Mapei. He is continuing training but also has to jump through the bureaucracy of the French Federation before he will be allowed to race.

Drugs Update

Voet again

In a recent interview with a German weekly magazine, Die Woche, Willy Voet, the disgraced Belgian soigneur of the Festina team claimed that the professional cycling peloton has been operating in a culture of performance-enhancing drugs for more than 30 years. He was quoted as saying: There have been three eras in the last 30 years: first amphetamines and anabolic steroids, then at the end of the 1970s cortisone and corticoids, and since the mid-1980s growth hormones and EPO."

Voet was also Richard Virenque's personal masseur also has claimed that the French rider was using EPO and other substances along with almost every other rider in Festina.

Dutch Drug Scandal

After the Danish TV revelations of doping in the peloton, it was the turn of the Dutch TV station, NOS to unveil the next chapter in the on-going scandal. On Wednesday evening, NOS broadcasted a documentary about drugs use in the Netherlands among top sportsperson. They interviewed nearly 600 top Dutch sportsperson about their experiences with doping. The results were stunning. Around 2.7 per cent admitted to using banned substances and a further 3.2 per cent said they were going to start using banned substances. 33 per cent of the sample would not give answers to the medicines that they used but did not deny anything.

With respect to cycling, the documentary interviewed Maarten Ducrot and Gert Jacobs. Ducrot said: "The most important thing for us was whether it was on the banned list or not. I took things which I would never consider taking again. I had infusions - the doctor gave me medicines to get the end of the Vuelta while I had a fever of 39. I think I used stuff which is on the doping list at the moment. Now I know it wasn't good. It isn't good for your health. We had special quivers in the peloton like a 'finale quiver'. They were cocktails with stuff which wasn't on the doping list at that time."

Another former pro, Gert Jacobs said: "I didn't know what I took. I trusted the doctor. Okay, I was once tested positive for testostorone use... But what is doping? What happens with the rules at this moment? When I would normally have a level of 42 per cent I can use EPO up to the level of 50 perc cent and I would never get caught. I think riders know that and go to the legal limit using EPO...."

The other Dutch passion, speed skating was implicated in the drug revelations. The question was asked: What happened with a suitcase containing all the urine samples from the 1985 European Allround Speedskating Championships held in the Dutch city of Groningen?

The KNSB (official body) brought the case to a lab in Mijmegen on the Sunday night following the Championships. The lab was closed and so they gave the case to a night porter at the Radboud Hospital in Nijmegen. He put the case in the refrigerator. On Monday morning, a person from the lab came to the hospital for the case. But later, an official employee from the lab also came to the hospital and requested the case. Of-course, this person was told that the case was gone ... to the lab! So there was no drug testing at all of the winners and others at the 1985 European Allround Speedskating Championships. In the TV documentary Wim Schenk of the KNSB said that they did an investigation but could not explain the disappearance. They informed the international body the ISU but the affair has never been made public until now.

Erwann Mentheour tell all!

Ex professional rider Erwann Mentheour has published a book in which he tells all about drug taking in the peloton. Mentheour who rode for 12 years in the professional peloton was the first rider to be suspended for having an excessive red blood cell count after the UCI introduced the tests to help stamp out EPO use. He retired at the end of 1997 after he failed to get a new contract for 1998. In his book, entitled "Secret Defence" the Bretan writes openly about drug taking. He said: "Training and food intake accounts for about 70 per cent of a rider's results. The rest is accounted for the way the rider organises himself and the quantity and type of drugs he takes."

Antonio Fusi accused of drugs involvement

Antonio Fusi, the national coach for the Italian team is now being involved in a doping scandal in Italy. The coach has been accused of being involved in a shady gang of drug dealers and producers. Last week, the police searched the house of Fusi in Brescia and also the houses of former riders Pierino Gavazzi and Fabio Bordonali. Gavazzi and Bordonali were leading amateur teams in the region of Brescia. The police found no banned drugs.

The police in Rome are coordinating a national campaign against drugs use in sport under the direction of the prosecuter Pierguido Soprani. The police have a stack of documents that they seized from a sport's research institute in Rome. In the papers they have in their possession there is a vast amount of evidence of drug taking among top sportspersons in Italy over the last 20 years. The Italian Olympic Committee - CONI - is implicated. The sports involved are cycling, skiing, athletics and canoing.

The documents are also being used to help the prosecution against professor Francesco Conconi and the sports medicine institute at Ferrara University. The prosecuter has alleged that CONI knew that it was common practice for top sportspersons to be giving banned substances by the institute. Conconi is a member of CONI's anti-doping commission and Rector of the Universiteit Ferrara.

Linda McCartney - the first All Vegetarian Team

John Deering, the PR person for the new UK (multinational) Linda McCartney team has sent me the details of the squad after their presentation in Trafalgar Square yesterday.

The Linda McCartney team will be the world's first all-vegetarian professional squad. John says: "We believe we have the finest professional squad ever assembled in Britain, and are convinced we can make a concerted effort on the Tour De France within three years. We have a huge Aussie slant too - you already know our Down Under boys."


Team Manager: Sean Yates (GB)
Asst Manager: Adrian Timmis (GB)
Asst Manager: Keith Lambert (GB)


Ben Brooks (Aus)
Julian Clarke (GB)
Jonny Clay (GB)
Russell Downing (GB)
Scott Guyton (NZ)
Allan Iaucone (Aus)
Matt Illingworth (GB)
Chris Lillywhite (GB)
David McKenzie (Aus)
Chris Newton (GB)
Rob Reynolds-Jones (GB)
Heiko Szonn (Ger)
Chris Walker (GB)
Julian Winn (GB)

Sean Yates has arrived to add his huge experience of continental racing to our projected success. Sean wore the yellow jersey during the 1994 Tour de France and won stages in the Tour and the Vuelta, and can count the overall in the Tour Of Holland and the GP Eddy Merckx amongst his prestigious palmares.

Chris Lillywhite has won virtually every major race in Britain over his long and consistent career, including the Milk Race. He will be our team captain on the road.

Chris Newton, Chris Walker, Jonny Clay, Russell Downing and Matt Illingworth were all members of last year's all conquering domestic team, Team Brite. They are all looking forward to the extended challenge of European stage racing. Chris Newton was top home rider in the Prutour last year, and Russell Downing capped a promising 1998 with a fine ride in the espoir's race at Valkenburg.

The team's major target for 1999 will be the upgraded Prutour, but will follow a split programme of European stage races, such as the Circuit de la Sarthe, Bergamasca and the Peace Race, and the domestic Premier Calendar. We will debut in The Tour of Langkawi next week, where Dave McKenzie and Allan Iaucone will be looking to capitalise on their recent fine form.