News for April 11, 2000

Paris-Roubaix: more comments

Servais Knaven (Farm Frites, 12th):

"Unbelievable! If you want Mapei wins because they are so strong, why are you starting here? We - Farm Frites - were the only team that wanted to fight. Geert van Bondt was leading the group behind Museeuw for a long time. At 35 kilometers from the finish I went to Franco Ballerini. He was in our group with three teammates: Spruch, Serpellini and Hunter. 'Are you riding with us?' I asked. 'Yes, yes,' he said. But after three kilometers I still didn't see one Lampre rider in the front of our group. It was frustrating. On the cobblestones all behind each other and on the road demarrages by Spruch... Very frustrating."

No good words about the Telekom-tactics. Zabel ordered his teammates to stop the chase behind Museeuw.

Tristan Hoffman (Memorycard Jack&Jones, 4th):

"That wasn't smart by Zabel. But that is the normal tactic of Telekom. They always wait for a long time before they join the work in front. And the wind was in front of us, so no one was willing to do the dirty work."

Theo de Rooy (Rabobank team director):

"It was the same as last Wednesday in Gent-Wevelgem. We were chasing with 4 riders behind the leaders, without having a finisher in our team. Telekom was with 4 riders too, but only one rider was working together with us. I didn't understand that. Do you want to have a chance for the victory? Or not?"

Dirk de Mol (US Postal assistant, former winner of P-R):

"Lampre, Telekom and Farm Frites had to do the work. Not our team. We had Andreu in front of the race. When Zabel ordered his mates to stop, we - Johan Bruyneel and me - didn't understand that. If we were in the same situation as those teams we should sacrifice two riders."

Andrea Tafi (Mapei, 10th):

Last year's winner was quite emotional when he came to the podium to congratulate teammate Museeuw for a brilliant victory. He was disappointed in himself because he was so closely marked, and he punctured just a few kilometres from the end. "Johan is a great champion, and we must accommodate everyone in our large team," he said. "The first one of us who attacks gained the protection of the rest of the team. They are happy for Johan. Sure, if I had attacked, the same would have applied."

"I was still good at the finish - I had the legs to make the podium. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky," he said, referring to his puncture. "I hope that I have confirmed that this is my race. I will be back in 2001 - from tomorrow onwards it is already the eve of the next Paris-Roubaix," he vowed.

Stefano Zanini (Mapei, 5th):

"I worked a lot in the first 200 km, to find my rhythm. At the end at least I was well," said Museeuw's designated lieutenant. "I wanted to be on the podium, but I went around the outside so I wouldn't be boxed in, and there I stayed. I'm sorry for both me and the team."

Franco Ballerini (Lampre, 8th):

"I was going quite well, really well, until my fall on the pavé at Orchies - the same point that ended my race last year," he said. "I hit my left shoulder, and couldn't hold the bars as firmly. Full compliments to Museeuw, he made a big attack into the headwind. But behind, nobody had the strength to organise the pursuit. I really don't understand why Zabel stopped his team. I asked him whether he wanted to cooperate with Lampre-Daikin, but he believed he had nothing to gain. To him it may have been understandable, but I believe he was mistaken."

Dario Pieri (Saeco, 37th):

Last week, second in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, this week, 5:24 down in 37th. What happened? "I fell, punctured five times and lost momentum. Two punctures in particular cost me a great deal of effort in order to get back to the group, and in the closing stages I was without energy. I suppose I must put it down to experience, but at least I finished my third Paris-Roubaix. Sooner or later I will enter the velodrome in order to win."

George Hincapie (US Postal, 6th):

Hincapie was placed sixth, 15 seconds back, despite riding the last 10 kms on a soft tire and crashing at the 210 km mark after the second feed zone. He admitted to being "pretty banged up" after the race.

Johan Bruyneel (US Postal team director):

"Taking away the team performance at last year's Tour de France, this was the best race I have ever seen us race as a team," he said. "The Tour de France was a team success and a result of teamwork over three weeks, but in a one-day race, we were represented the whole race. The team was awesome yesterday."

"There is no doubt about it, this is his race," Bruyneel said about Hincapie. "He was pumped up. His behavior in the race pushed the team to a higher level - the same like Lance (Armstrong) at last year's Tour de France. During the race, I have never seen him so confident. We went up to him a few times in the car and asked him how he was feeling, and for him to say he was flying...well, if you know George, that is usually not George's way of talking."

French result: could do better

Sunday's Paris-Roubaix saw a fairly modest performance from the French riders, with La Francaise des Jeux' Frederic Guesdon (17th) and Cristophe Megnin (26th). Is this an indication of the weakness of French cycling, or are they just not good enough at this event?

Only six riders have won Paris-Roubaix since the end of World War II, some more than once. Guesdon, Duclos-Lassalle, Madiot, Hinault, Forest and Bobet. Former team director, Cyrille Guimard told AFP that he thinks that the French are just not motivated for these types of races. "Today, only one French rider seems to possess the same spirit: Frederic Guesdon. He is not a super champion, but he is always there and one day, like Marc Madiot, he will succeed. He will ride on "cushions of air" and not feel the pedals."

Lack of funds was another reason cited by the French. Mapei have a huge budget: FF70 million (USD10 million) - with it, they can buy the best riders and therefore have the strongest team. They certainly had the latter on Sunday, but have not been as dominant in some of the earlier races. It definitely comes down to motivation as well, and Paris-Roubaix has become almost a Mapei specialty.

However, Guimard believes that the French team directors who were complaining were only driving cars, and were not in the race. "On Sunday, they made a gift of Paris-Roubaix to Johan Museeuw," he said. When I see Erik Zabel giving the command to his team-members not to chase, I am amazed that Walter Godefroot did not react. For what use are the radios? Zabel had a single chance to overcome and at the finish he came third!" said Guimard.

"Any sprinter starts to find it hard mentally within 30 km of the finish and his attitude is explained, but if he had have chased, then other teams would have come to help. Museeuw, was cooked, and wouldn't have won. This is how it is in cycling today - there is no more intuition or perception," said Guimard, who also thought that without Durand's punctures, the Lotto rider could well have been up to contest the finish.

What of Jalabert? The French world number one did not even contest this race, although he is winning a lot in Spain. He will resume in the Ardennes and probably has his best chance to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege, last won by a Frenchman 20 years ago (Hinault). No Laurent Brochard though, despite his good form at the moment.

Telekom's development

By Tomas Nilsson, correspondent

Telekom is rapidly developing from a one man-one race team with a side show sprinter, to a complete team competing not only for the yellow and green jerseys of the Tour de France but also the World Cup. With Andreas Klöden the team also has a name for the future, even if he is only 18 months younger than Jan Ullrich. In the latest team rankings Telekom is second, only 30 points behind Mapei and almost 400 ahead of third placed ONCE.

Erik Zabel's successes, more unexpected in the northern classics than in Milan -San Remo that he won, create a problem for him as well as his management. The team manager wants him to take a break and do the Amstel Gold Race to be in form for the Tour and the quest for the green sprinter's jersey. Erik himself wants to race also in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the Ardennes in order to take a solid lead in the World Cup in the half time break after the spring season.

Regarding Liège-Bastogne-Liège, team manager Walter Godefroot says that Zabel is allowed to start, but more or less on his own. The race is, with typical German precision, planned for Vinokourov and Bölts.

"I have some mixed feelings about Zabel's plans. The most important target is the Tour de France. We like other victories as well, but the World Cup must not disturb the rest.. We planned Erik for the Amstel Gold Race and the Henninger Turm, not the Ardennes. Erik has to be sharp for the Tour. That is why we contracted Fagnini, Cipollini's former lead out man."

"I have enough experience and don't push myself too far. I only want to defend the World Cup," says Zabel, and on Monday Godefroot had to yield. Erik Zabel will not ride the Vuelta a Aragon but will stay in Belgium for the L-B-L, even if that race with all its climbs may be too hard for him to get points in by finishing in the top 25. The Amstel Gold Race is more suitable and the later HEW Cyclassics and Paris-Tours are designed for riders of his kind.

Erik Zabel is not only number one in the World Cup, he is also the rider who has picked most UCI points this season ahead of Laurent Jalabert (ONCE), Romans Vainsteins (Vini Caldirola) and team mate Andreas Klöden. The latter won the Vuelta Pais Vasco last week and also the prestigious Paris-Nice a month ago, both races in the HC category. He won them in the same fashion: Riding up front in the peloton, staying there, and then striking in a mountain TT towards the end. Not the most mythical way to win cycle races but effective.

Klöden was born 25 years ago in Mittweida in the DDR and started cycling at age eight. In 1996 he won a bronze medal at the U23 World Championships and the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt in 1998. His strength is the ITT that he rides on light gears, 42x19 and 43x17 as compared to Jan Ullrich's 54x11.

Another revelation this year, let's call him a late bloomer, is Steffen Wesemann, who so far has triumphed four times in the Peace Race but has never been involved in the outcome of the major races, at least not on his own account. However, now he has been at the front in Tour of Flanders as well as Paris-Roubaix, taking his chances but also working for Erik Zabel. Last Sunday he almost single handedly (or maybe feetedly) narrowed the gap to the eventual winner Johan Museeuw from over two minutes to fourteen seconds in the final 20 kilometers of the race.

"I have a sort of "libero" role on the team. If I am at the front I am allowed to take my chances, but of course, when Erik is along I work for him. That's the only way to run a cycling team. We all want to defend his lead in the World Cup," he said according to Telekom's website. He also reveals that he learned to ride on cobbles and let the bar dance in the hands, on the then cobbled roads around his native Magdeburg.

Wesemann is now preparing his attempt to be the first to win the Peace Race five times in May and will have a training week at the end of April. The coming week though he will substitute for Erik Zabel, who remains up north, in the Vuelta a Aragon.

Wesemann is a decent sprinter, but question is if he can count on Fagnini leading out for him. The race might very well be an opportunity for the team to let the Italian get some bonus in the form of victories. So far this season he has led out for Erik Zabel excellently has really been worth it. The disappointments in Telekom this season have actually been the most anticipated riders, Jan Ullrich who recently suffered a severe cold bordering on influenza, and the usual debate about his excess weight, and Alexandr Vinokourov, acquired as no 2 after Ullrich.

The latter has more than once found himself in the shadow of revelation Andreas Klöden, launching desperate attacks to settle the races along the road, while the less tempered German has ridden along in the peloton. The "Vino" attacks have helped wear Klöden's opponents down but it has been quite obvious that the Kazachian has had higher ambitions than that. His time will probably come the day when he uses his powers at the right moment.

La Flèche Wallone: It's not over yet

With just a few days to recover from their aches, bruises and battered egos, the "hard men" of the peloton will once again line up to contest remaining few northern classics. On Wednesday, there is the Flèche Wallone (Waalse Pijl) - a 1.HC race for the men and round three of the World Cup for women, and the following Sunday is Liege-Bastogne-Liege (Luik-Bastanaken-Luik), round four of the World Cup for men.

La Flèche Wallone is often quite a good predictor for LBL, although it is rare that the two races are won by the same rider. Last year, Michele Bartoli won in a truly epic race after escaping for 80 kilometres in the snow, while Hanka Kupfernagel rode similarly to win the women's race. Bartoli paid for his efforts though, as he was beaten in LBL by Frank Vandenbroucke. All three of these riders will not be seen at this year's races, although there are still plenty of others to make for an exciting race.

The two races are less cobbled and hillier than the previous three rounds of the World Cup, and see a different type of rider win. Laurent Jalabert, Davide Rebellin, Michael Boogerd, Francisco Casagrande, and Oscar Camenzind are more suited to this race than the cobbled classics, and it will be a fascinating battle on Wednesday to see who gets to the top of the Mur de Huy, with its maximum grade of 20%, for the third time.

In the women's race, Lithuania's Diana Ziliute would have to be the favourite as she is the current World Cup co-leader with Anna Wilson (Saturn), who will not be contesting the race. She has probably the strongest team (Acca Due O - Lorena Camicie), with the likes of Marion Clignet and Zoulfia Zabirova in support. Current World Champions, Edita Pucinskaite (Team Alfa Lum R.S.M.) who came second last year, and Leontien Zijlaard-Van Morsel (Farm Frites-Hartol) will be amongst the favourites, with strong challenges coming from Teutenberg (Germany), Geneviève Jeanson (Canada) Brunen, Melchers (Dutch team), Cappellotto, Bonanomi and Pregnolato (Gas Sport Team), Jacinta Coleman (Nürnberger) and Karen Kurreck (Edilsavano).

The women start just after the men and will do 91 kilometres, taking in the last part of the men's course including the famous Mur de Huy. Even though it is only the third time that this event has been raced on the women's calendar, it is already proving to be one of the toughest tests of the year and has helped cement the women's World Cup as the premier one day race competition of the year.

Cyclotourist dies

In Belgium, Harry Fagot (64), a member of the cyclotourist club of Leefdaal, died after an accident in Overijse on Sunday. Companion Robert Delvaux (56) was seriously injured and fighting for his life in the Gasthuisberg hospital in Leuven. A group of 25 from Bertem were riding from Overijse to Huldenberg. The two cyclists touched each other and fell, and were hit by a following car.