News for April 24, 2000

The Zabel phenomenon

Erik Zabel
Photo: © AFP

The undisputed leader after 5 rounds of the World Cup this year, Telekom's Erik Zabel is certainly reaching a peak in a career that has been consistently strong. 106 victories, 9 this year, 3 Milan-San Remos, 4 Tour de France Green Jerseys, wins in Paris-Tours, Henninger Turm, Trofeo Luis Puig and the Scheldeprijs - all since 1993 when he turned professional with Telekom.

He is not heavily built for a sprinter at 1.76 m tall and 69 kilos, but this has the benefit of lightening the load when it comes to going up, something at which most sprinters are not good at. Zabel has so far used it to good advantage in the Tour, as well as the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Amstel. The only World Cup race where he failed to finish in the top 4 this year was Liege-Bastogne-Liege, admittedly the hilliest of all five races. It may have been a tactical move as well, as a win in Amstel was worth more than digging really deep for a top 25 in Liege, especially as his closest rivals were not up with the action in the latter race.

He now carries a 165 point lead in the World Cup going into the second half of the season, starting with the HEW Cyclassics Cup in Germany, August 6. Riders have won the Cup with less than 290 points in previous years, and surely Zabel will pick up a few more points in the remaining five races. There is of course the small matter of the unprecedented 5th Green Jersey in the Tour de France, and Zabel will now focus his energies on that.

Zabel is enjoying similar success to Johan Museeuw as he matures, although sprinting is still his forte, rather than the late attack. Although not yet amongst the "veterans", at 29 he has several more years at the top, should he desire to stay competing at this level.

More Amstel Gold reactions

Blijlevens puncture

Polti's Jeroen Blijlevens suffered a puncture in the closing kilometres of the Amstel Gold Race, and was extremely frustrated. "I had good legs. I wanted to prove my condition. A lot of people think I can't ride over the hills, but they are wrong. I hoped to finish in front of the group in order to show national coach that I'm a good prospect for the Olympics in Sydney. The Australian parcours is good for me. Zabel and Steels shall be there too."

Jeroen's wife is pregnant and expects a twin in November, but Blijlevens want to be in Australia in September.

Leon van Bon sick?

"I'll go to the doctor again. I want to know what's wrong with me. For four weeks I have had tired legs before races. They checked my blood for viruses and infections, but without finding anything," said the Rabobank rider who came 98, 11.21 down.

Rebellin wants more hills

Liquigas team captain, Davide Rebellin has had a frustrating year in terms of classics. Not a powerfully built rider, he excels on short steep hills such as in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and La Fleche Wallone (3rd and 4th this year). He came close in the Amstel, attacking on the descent of the last climb, the Pietersberg, only being caught with a couple of hundred metres to go. However, this was not good enough for a rider who had set his sights on winning one of the classics this year.

"I wished that the climb was longer," he said to La Gazzetta - reluctantly - after the race on Saturday. "I knew the last climb and I could only attack where I did because that was the hardest part. My misfortune is that Mapei and Telekom had two riders that they were working for, and one of these was a sprinter. Therefore, they towed the 'dead wood'," he said.

"They caught me a hundred metres from the finish. I had looked and I thought I had more advantage than that so I am really disappointed. Unfortunately, Zabel and Freire were there at the finish. My team were satisfied with my ride, but not me," he said.

Jerome Chiotti: "Federation supports cheaters" - Baal "Never"

The French mountain biker Jerome Chiotti today criticized the French Cycling Federation (FFC) after they announced that they would take disciplinary action against him for admitting to taking drugs. The startling admission came yesterday in an interview published in the French magazine, "Velo Vert" where he said he had taken EPO in order to win the 1996 World MTB Championships in Cairns, Australia. He also said that he had "fixed" the result of last year's French Cross Country title with winner, Miguel Martinez.

Today, Chiotti told AFP that the Federation supports cheaters, since if he is suspended, others would be afraid of speaking out about doping in the past. Chiotti said that he had hoped that his confession would be used in the struggle against doping and had hoped for some support from the Federation. His current sponsor, Giant, is following the case but has not yet taken any action.

"The French Cycling Federation will never support cheaters," said its president, Daniel Baal "We have opened the disciplinary proceedings because it has been imposed on us by the International Cycling Union. Not taking disciplinary action would mean the toleration of things we always have denounced."

Baal also commented on the fact that Chiotti and Miguel Martinez made a deal in disputing for the French Championships in 1999. "The position of the Federation has always been the same since well before 1998. Riders, or people in team management who have cheated against the spirit of the sport and its authorities will be punished."

Red Zinger Classic returns

By John Alsedek, correspondent

Back in 1975, a self-described 'health nut' named Mo Siegel decided that the sport of bicycle racing would be the perfect vehicle for promoting his infant herbal tea company, Celestial Seasonings. So, he promoted a two-day event called the Red Zinger, named after a particular brand of tea and, in doing so, changed the face of American cycling. Siegel and Denver disc jockey-turned-race promoter Michael Aisner worked together to create a truly unique event: amidst a sea of cookie-cutter criteriums, their mountainous, multi-day stage race almost immediately became the standard against which all other U.S. promotions would be measured. By the late-1980's, Siegel's original vision had become one of the world's top stage races, with international television coverage, a live spectatorship in excess of half a million, and an honor roll that included the likes of Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault. Now, exactly 25 years later, Siegel is out to revolutionize American cycling again, as he, Aisner, and former Coors Light team director Len Pettyjohn have joined forces to devise The Zinger, a one-day, 138-mile, seven-mountain-pass odyssey that might well be the toughest day of road racing on earth.

The concept for The Zinger came about just last year: Siegel was already sponsoring both a Boulder-based stage race and a women's racing team, but then he and Pettyjohn began talking about going in another direction with the money that was available- "something dramatic", as Siegel put it. They soon decided on a single-day event, and not just because of the enormous financial and logistical demands involved in running an international-caliber stage race.

Both men realized that, if they did another big multi-day event, it would invariably be compared to the Red Zinger/Coors Classic- something they didn't want to happen. So they began planning the race's parameters: Siegel wanted the race to have a distinct Colorado flair to it, meaning mountains, and lots of them! In fact, his original thought was to have the race route criss-cross along the Continental Divide.

While he didn't get his wish, they finally came up with one they could agree on. It didn't come easily, though: Pettyjohn "probably spent two or three months just riding portions of the course all through the Front Range. As I would find potential routes, I'd present them to MO, and he'd turn them all down." The race route they ultimately came up with met the requirements of both men: lots of climbing (seven mountain passes, five of which are Category 2 or higher), a do-able set of road closures (since, in certain parts of Colorado, there is only one route from Point A to Point B), and tie-ins to Colorado cycling history (the race begins in front of the Hotel Boulderado, a former starting point for the old Red Zinger). And what a race route it is...

When Len Pettyjohn says "we wanted to do something really dramatic in the sport", he's not kidding. From the start in Colorado's cycling capital of Boulder, the climbing begins immediately, with the long but gradual ascent to the Category 2 Wondervu summit. From there, the riders will tackle the Category 3 Golden Gate Road climb topping out at 9,360 feet before descending into the huge gambling community of Black Hawk. Initially a sticking point in finalizing the route (says Pettyjohn, "Why would they want something that closed roads and drew people away from the gaming tables?"), it became a key feature of the race, as the Mardi Gras Casino has put up a true 'gambler's prime' of $5,000 that is sure to entice many riders into early breakaway attempts.

From there, the field will take on a nasty Cat. 2 climb up to 9,355 feet on the aptly-named Oh My God Road - the name comes from the wild, off-camber, dirt descent (2,000 feet in 8 miles) that culminates in a section of gravel just 20 meters from the turn at the bottom and a 1,500 foot sheer drop for anyone unfortunate enough to miss that turn, as there are no guardrails. At that point, the riders will get a respite of sorts, as the faint of heart will have a chance to rejoin the leaders on the way to the old mining community of Georgetown, where there is a $500 prime.

However, that respite will end when the field reaches the outskirts, as the first two switchbacks of the next climb come just outside the town limits. That next climb is the backbreaking Guanella Pass, a 3,000-foot grind at high altitude that former 7-Eleven pro Davis Phinney calls "a Gavia Pass-kind of road". By the summit at 11,671 feet, the riders will find themselves staring at the backsides of two 14,000-foot climbs, including the famous Mount Evans. There won't be much time for sightseeing though, as the course then drops down another long gravel descent into the glacial valley of South Park (honest) that promises lots of punctures (Shaklee pro John Lieswyn says "I've already started planning my flat-changing program").

Then comes what could be an unexpectedly crucial part of the course: as the route travels through the South Park area, the region's gusting winds, usually cross to cross-tail, may lead to the sort of situation that lost Steve Bauer the '83 Coors Classic, as echelons form and leave some racers stranded in no-mans land. After the Cat. 2 Kenosha Pass (10,001 feet) and Cat. 4 Red Hill Pass (9,993 feet), the survivors will begin the day's final ascent, the Cat. 2 Hoosier Pass, which crests at 11,547 feet. While the climb itself is relatively easy, the descent into the finish at the famous ski town of Breckenridge could be the decider: ten miles long and with six switchbacks, it presents an opportunity where, as Pettyjohn puts it, "the strong guys will really be able to put the hammer down."

Speaking of strong guys, who are the hot favorites to take the victory? There's one name that almost invariably pops up: that of Mercury's Scott Moninger. Lieswyn sums up the feelings of many when he says "everyone knows that, as long as he doesn't have a bad day, he has the legs and the team to win". Others cite his familiarity with the region and his living at high altitude as key factors. However, Moninger himself brushes off the latter, stating "I'm hardly ever home during the summer", which would keep him from gaining significant advantage via acclimatization.

Of course, there will be plenty of others out there with a shot at the win, including Moninger's teammate Floyd Landis, who placed third in the '99 Tour de l'Avenir; 7 Up/Colorado Cyclist's Clark Sheehan, a Denver native son who will be training at even higher altitudes for The Zinger; and Jelly Belly's Eddy Gragus, a former national champion of whom his team director, Danny Van Haute, says "Eddy comes from Colorado, so he knows the roads and passes....I think Eddy will have a good chance to win".

In any event, the list of potential winners is far shorter than for the typical downtown criterium. And that raises a valid point: is The Zinger TOO hard? One rider echoed the sentiments of many when he said that "I think it is a little overkill - they want epic, and that's what it will be. There is a big prize purse, but I'm not sure if it's worth the suffering that will be had."

Others, including Sheehan, think otherwise: "I'm really looking forward to it - I mean, gosh, it really IS epic, and how often do you get the chance to race like this anyplace but in Europe?" To Len Pettyjohn, that's exactly the point: "We just don't have races like this in the States. Almost everything here is city-based circuits, which are fine, but this is the kind of racing that America really needs. Everybody suffers: that's part of bike racing...if you want to be a good racer, you have to be able to go in the mountains."

One thing's for sure: whoever wins the inaugural edition of The Zinger will be able to go in the mountains...and everywhere else.

Danish Post Cup

The Danish national elite series, Post Cup, starts in Roskilde Monday with Bo Hamburger and last year's overall winner Mikael Blaudzun from Memorycard in the field. Other pros: Tayeb Braikia from Linda McCartney Racing and Lennie Kristensen, Team Fakta. The distance of the race is 170.1 kilometres.

The Post Cup calendar:

April 24: Roskilde
May 14: DCR
June 18: Odder
August 27: Hammel
September 10: Holbćk

Age shall not weary them

A look at the top 25 finishers in this year's Amstel Gold Race reveals that cycling is certainly an "older" person's sport. Indeed the youngest finisher here is Oscar Freire at 24, but the average age is 28.8 years old. Similarly, the top 25 on the UCI ranking have an average of 29.4 years.

Last year's winner of the World Cup, Andrei Tchmil is now 37 and still going well, while this year's likely winner (Erik Zabel) is 29. Experience must count for a good portion of course, as bike racing is such a tactical sport. However, all the experience in the world won't help you travel across cobbles at 50 km/h - a certain degree of fitness is required.

With age comes strength and it seems that the late twenties are the best for cyclists, as they have not started to lose their other physical capacities. Some race at the elite level into their early forties, although this is still rare in the professional ranks. In the amateurs though, there's many a young rider who have had their legs ripped off by a 50(+) year old.

Ages of the top 25 finishers in the Amstel Gold:

1 Erik Zabel - 29
2 Michael Boogerd - 27
3 Marcus Zberg - 25
4 Romans Vainsteins - 27
5 Hendrick Van Dijck - 26
6 Laurent Dufaux - 30
7 Peter Van Petegem - 30
8 Zbigniew Spruch - 34
9 Oscar Freire Gomez - 24
10 Francesco Casagrande - 29
11 Andrei Tchmil - 37
12 Davide Rebellin - 28
13 Patrick Jonker - 30
14 Paolo Bettini - 26
15 Steffen Wesemann - 29
16 Marco Velo - 26
17 Alexandre Vinokourov - 26
18 Christophe Moreau - 29
19 Biagio Conte - 32
20 Servais Knaven - 29
21 Christophe Mengin - 31
22 Fernando Escartin - 32
23 Mario Aerts - 25
24 Maarten Den Bakker - 31
25 Peter Farazijn - 31

Smith goes back to triathlon

One of Linda McCartney's new signings for 2000, Spencer Smith has decided to quit the road scene and go back to triathlon for the time being, although he will remain sponsored by the team. According to team reports, he has found racing at a professional level in Europe "unbelievably hard, and I've struggled at times, which I fully expected. I still think I can make it to the top, but it's going to take a year or maybe even two before I'm at the sort of level I need to reach to compete."

He will concentrate on the Ironman discipline, aiming for Hawaii later this year, and has had good support from family and friends in his decision. He is unlikely to concentrate on the Olympic Games in Sydney however, as that is a much shorter event.

Post to leave Axa and Alessio lose sponsor

René Post
Photo: Nees

Dutch rider, René Post (26) has announced that he will leave his division III cycling team AXA immediately. The reason given was that he wished to pursue more of his social life, and will ride with a smaller team. "I feel sad about my decision because I liked the team and the atmosphere a lot".

He will now ride for the "Modderkolk" amateur team. "It's more relaxed and less pressure", he said.

Italian division II team, Alessio-Banca SGM has lost its co-sponsor Banca SGM. The latest team jersey reflects this to read "Alessio" only. It is thought that Banca-SGM actually went bankrupt, although this is to be confirmed.

Thanks to Nees and Daniel Schamps for this information