News for March 4, 1999

Luc Leblanc retires

32 year old Luc Leblanc, announced on Wednesday that he will retire from racing after a career which brought a road world championship and elevated him to one of the greats of French cycling. He was in conflict with his Italian team, Polti, after they recruited Richard Virenque and wanted to use Leblanc until the end of 1999 in a secondary capacity. He considered that there was an irregularity in his contract. He obtained an injunction from the French Cycling Federation (FFC). He announced his decision at a press conference at 10.00 yesterday.

He had received propositions from several teams, notably the French teams of Casino and Big Mat, but was unable to agree on an arrangement. In the context of cycling in general his qualities (as one of the great climbers of the decade) did not come cheap.

He began his career at 20 years of age, and after 12 years of racing he has many bad moments. He carried some physical problems after he was involved in with his brother at the wheel in a car accident. He also was involved with some bad team. But apart from the bad times, he experienced some great times in bike racing.

He was capable of making spectacular attacking moves but was also strong on riding the percentages. He imposed his will on many great occasions. For example, in the Tour de France, he came in the top 6 on three occasions (winning two stages - at Hautacam in 1994 and aux Arcs in 1996). And he also won many one-day races, the French Championship and the World Championship.

Being an individual, he was often at the centre of controversy. Most notable was the events surrounding his national title at Avize in 1992, when the tactics of Cyrille Guimard on behalf of one of his riders Gérard Rué caused trouble.

Two years after he won the World title at Agrigente in Sicily and became only the 7th French rider to wear the rainbow jersey. He has now said that he would like to work with young riders and perhaps even form his own team.

Another great champion - continues

Belgium is very bleak in winter. Like most professional cyclists, the Belgians prefer to race in Italy or Spain at this time of year. The Belgian opener though has come - Omloop Het Volk - raced in typically cold and wet conditions.

Starting in Gent the toughest of the riders come out to show their early season form. Among them was the comeback rider Johan Museeuw. He is always a big threat in these tough classics and he was the main attraction for the fans at the start on Saturday. He is a hero among cycling fans in Belgium and beyond. Moreso now that he is making a serious tilt at the top again after sustaining bad injuries during last year's Paris-Roubaix. The injury was bad enough but the infection he came down with following the surgery was enough to hear talk of the end. He has now spent months in rehabilitation to get over the knee operation and the septic condition he acquired.

The 32-year old has been racing as a professional for 10 years and just before winning the World Championship at Lugano two years ago he talked of retirement. He clearly was reinvigorated by the rainbow jersey and decided to concentrate on the classics and the World Cup races. He announced he would not ride the Tour de France anymore. He looked to be flying in 1998 when he won the Ronde van Vlaanderen. A week later he fell in the Arenberg forest.

He started racing a bit in September but was in a pretty weak state. He yearned to leave the sport in a decent way. So he stayed on at Mapei and put in a full winter program. He rode, swam and did gym work.

He told the press: "I've returned to see how far I can go. Now that I've got my health back, I'd very much like to be at the front of races again."

His Spanish campaign started reasonably but he looked weak on the hills. He was coming into form slowly. Team manager Patrick Lefevere said he was aiming to ride the spring classics in top form. However it was clear expectations were muted. Better to be surprised than crestfallen.

Lefevere told the press: "We're not expecting too much of him now. He's got a lot of races ahead of him in the next month and a half, and after Paris-Roubaix we'll evaluate his progress. I think he's doing well, but this is his first real test. He's serene, motivated and very calm. It's amazing that he's alive and amazing that he still has his leg."

Museeuw seems to be coming into form very quickly though if his performance at Het Volk is any indication. The 202 km race with 11 tough hills is a test for any rider. The weather and the parcours combine to make it a tough day out. Museeuw rode hard at the front all day and he initiated the decisive final move some 15 kms out from the end. He was unable to stay with Frank Vandenbroucke at the end but still showed that he is back in business.

He told the press afterwards: "If you'd told me about this three months ago, I wouldn't have believed you. I'm thrilled to have been there at the finish. Was I still capable of playing a role in a race? That was my only doubt, and now it's settled. You can't compare me yet to the Museeuw of before, but I'm on the right track."

The following days the joy continued and he placed second in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. He once again animated the finale and was outsprinted by Jo Planckaert. Watch for him in the Flemish and Ardennes classics which are just around the corner.

Spanish politicians enter the drugs scandal

Politicians want to talk about the participation of Spanish teams in the Tour de France. On March 15, the Spanish State Secretary for Sport, Francisco Villar will travel to Paris to discuss the issue of drugs in sport with his French colleague Marie-George Buffet. There is a danger that the Spanish teams will not race this year as a result of the methods employed by French police and judicial authorities to interrogate suspects. The arrest of ONCE doctor Nicolas Terrados was considered a scandal in Spain. As a result the Spanish teams said they would boycott the 1999 Tour. Villar will talk with the French minister about the handling of Spanish riders this summer in France. He will also be talking to his Italian colleague about the way drugs investigations are being handled in Italy.

Saeco news

Mario Cipollini seeks the 4th victory of the season leading Saeco-Cannondale team in Vuelta a Murcia. The team continues in its Spanish campaign this week with a full complement for the Murcia Tour. Cipollini will be seeking to reach top form for his quest to win Milan-San Remo. This has become his primary early season objective.

Accompany Cipollini will be Roberto Petito, who hails from Civitavecchia, and who is in top form at present. Other team members include Calcaterra, Fagnini, Galletti, Guerra, Scirea and Secchiari. The team will be staying at the Amistad Hotel in Murcia from March 2-6 (telephone: +34-968-28.29.29)

The first month is gone

March is the month that points to the spring classics. The races are used in March to prepare the riders for April, the biggest month of all when it comes to the classics. The Vuelta a Murcia begins tomorrow in Spain, followed by Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, twenty days away from Milano-San Remo. What can be said about what has happened so far, in particular the races held in Spain, which have brought together many champions.

The Mapei-Quick Step team has shown that they are still very serious about remaining number 1. But it was ex-Mapei rider Frank Vandenbroucke now with Cofidis who took Het Volk. Michele Bartoli also has shown he will be hard to topple from the World Cup number 1. He has already won a stage at the Ruta del Sol and repeated the dose at the climb of Calpe, the traditional finish at Valencia. "I still need to drop some extra kilos, but I feel good and I'm starting stronger than predicted", says Bartoli. While Milan-San Remo is not the best race for him, he will still count among the favourites. However, his teammate Stefano Zanini has been slowed down by a case of influenza which made him miss almost all of the Ruta del Sol. But in Benidorm he showed his speed by beating the pure sprinters like Minali and Sanroma and he has been climbing well.

The Tour of Valencia showed that Erik Zabel will be one of the best finishers in the peloton once again. He won a stage at Puerto de Sagunto and seems to be climbing well. Another rider in the same mould is Fagnini. However, he will not be Saeco-Cannondale's team captain for Milan-San Remo - that role has been given to none other than Mario Cipollini.

Other riders to show early form and affirm their quality include Dutchman Michael Boogerd. He is climbing well (Tour of Mediterranean) but is still not competitive in the ITT. Italian Wladimir Belli is showing strong ITT form (a second place in the final ITT at Valencia). The rider from the north of Italy is now trying to convince his team to give him a leading role in Tirreno-Adriatico whereas they want to send him to Paris-Nice. Another big threat for Milan-San Remo will be the Kazak rider Alexandre Vinokourov, who was first at the time trial and the overall at Valencia. He will ride Paris-Nice.

Mario Cipollini has confirmed that he remains the premier sprinter by winning the Trofeo Luis Puig. But he was surprised by an emerging Manuel Sanroma and lost some time at Valencia due to a sore throat. He will ride at the Tour of Murcia and then Tirreno-Adriatico. Paolo Savoldelli has shown early form by winning at Laigueglia. He will go to Milan-San Remo after Paris-Nice. Nicola Minali has disappointed so far being unable to nail one final sprint. But he has placed well and is very fresh. Compatriat Massimiliano Gentili showed good form and held the GC at Valencia for a day but faded badly on the climbs.

Laurent Jalabert has been hit by influenza which knocked him out of Luis Puig and the Tour of Valencia. His manager Manolo Saiz has said he would like him to race at Murcia but has erred on the side of caution and will save him for Tirreno-Adriatico instead.

Spanish Style Sprinter

Spain has finally got a sprinter to talk about - his name is Manuel Sanroma and he rides for modest team from Madrid, Fuenlabrada. He has just turned 21 years old and has yet to complete one professional season. He debuted in July last year. But he has already shown great sprinting talent by beating Mario Cipollini recently. According to the experts, he still needs to learn a lot but he has more than enough qualities to become one of the top sprinters.

Historically, Spain has been the birthplace of brilliant climbers. In the 1990's this was augmented by three great time triallists - Miguel Indurain, Abraham Olano and Melcior Mauri. But Spain has never really produced a great sprinter nor a classic's specialist. Sanroma may fill this gap. He has the physical potential and the nerve required to triumph as a sprinter. Maximino Pérez, his team manager says: "He has everything required to win but still needs to be polished."

Another Dam Criterium by Pat Schuster

The dry Arizona air parched our throats as we sped around the 6 corner course for 45 minutes. The pace was high the entire time as every lap was a $50 prime on the line. Even with the agressiveness of the race it still came down to a field finish with Saturn's Nicole Rienhart taking the honors. The way the points of this race work though is that it is a combination of the 2 days finishes so Mari Holjer riding for Sunset Velo took the overall.

Criterium Results:

 1. Nicole Rienhart (Saturn)
 2. Mari Holjer (Sunset Velo)
 3. Nicole Freeman (RECT)
 4. Debra Duran (Sunset)
 5. Erin Carter (Cecorp Giana)
 6. Ann Sherlert (Giant Dominecs)
 7. Katrina Berger (Harborlights)
 8. Pam Schuster (Timex)
 9. Shari Stillman (Psosas (Axis)
10. Marjon Marik (Cox)


 1. Marie Holjer (Sunset)
 2. Nicole Freeman (RECT)
 3. Marjon Marik (Cox)
 4. Ann Sherlert (Giant Dominec)
 5. Pam Schuster (Timex)
 6. Erin Carter (CecorpGiana)
 7. Debra Duran (Sunset)
 8. Shanna Hutchison
 9. Nicole Rienhart (Saturn)
10. Dede Demet (Saturn)

Khalid Kadir writes that in the Pro/Cat 1 race, Jason VanMarle who rides for the Nutra-Fig cycling team won the Road Race on Saturday and finished 6th in Sunday's criterium to take the victory for the stage race.

Navigators update from Redlands

Todd Littlehales of The Navigators Cycling Team stamped his mark once again on the Redlands Bicycle Classic Stage Race today by placing 3rd in the Street Sprint Prologue in Redlands, California. His time of 13.32 over the 150-meter course was the 2nd fastest of the day, but in the elimination round a snapped chain forced him into 3rd place for the stage. Marco Aledia (DeFeet) was the winner with Jame Carney (Shaklee) placing 2nd. Todd won this stage in the 1997 edition of this important event.

The Navigators Team began its 1999 racing season earlier this week in Parker, Arizona, following a ten-day training camp in the Phoenix area. Parker was home to the official opening of the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar by hosting "Another Dam Race" on February 27th and 28th. Todd Littlehales also factored in the overall in that 2-day event by placing 6th in the overall G.C. in the points-race format.

Earlier today, the Navigators Team participated in their first school appearance of the 1999 season at the Loma Linda Academy, also in Redlands. The First-Grade class was treated to bicycle safety demonstrations, fun, games, and a question and answer period during this interactive presentation. The children also received gifts from the athletes after promising to ride safely and always wear their helmets.

This 15th annual 6-stage, 300-mile event, The Redlands Bicycle Classic Stage Race, is the opening event of the 1999 USPRO Tour. The Redlands Classic is well known for its demanding circuits, animated racing and community commitment and participation. The newly formed USPRO Tour series featuring the top-15 cycling events in the United States will be used to determine the best professional cyclists in the Country. The Redlands Bicycle Classic is also the 2nd stop on the National Racing Calendar.