News for April 2, 2000

84th Ronde van Vlaanderen

All geared up

The starters are in, now it just remains for the gun to go off for the 84th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Follow all the action on on Sunday as we will provide live coverage starting from approximately 12:30 pm, European time.


The bookmakers have triple winner, Johan Museeuw (Mapei) at 7 to 2, as well as last year's winner, Peter van Petegem (Farm Frites) although form and lack of injury might favour the latter at the moment. Andrei Tchmil (Lotto) is at 8 to 1, Michele Bartoli (Mapei) at 9 to 1. Fabio Baldato (Fassa Bortolo), Rolf Sörensen (Rabobank, who will start) and Romans Vainsteins (Vini Caldirola) are at 11 to 1. Telekom's Erik Zabel gets 15 to 1, while Polti's Mirko Celestino is at 26 to 1.

Outsiders, but still in with a good shout: Vjateslav Ekimov (US Postal), Tristan Hoffman (Memorycard Jack & Jones), Hendrick van Dijk (Palmans), Nico Mattan, Jo Planckaert (Cofidis), and Steffen Wesemann (Telekom).

In the past 83 runnings of this race, 60 have gone to Belgians, 9 to the Netherlands, and 7 to Italy. The last time a Netherlander won this race was in 1986 with Adri van der Poel.

Museeuw plays down his chances

Johan Museeuw said in an interview after De Panne that "I am ready for it," meaning that he can become the first rider to win the Ronde four times. He is currently equal with Achiel Buysse (Bel), Fiorenzo Magni (Ita), and Eric Leman (Bel), and it would be a remarkable achievement for the man from Gistel were he to gain it. He had to come back from a horrific injury in the Arenberg Forest in 1998 to be at his best again, but he is well deserving of the favourite tag for the Ronde.

In an interview yesterday, he was asked whether he felt a little stress. "Why not," he replied. "I am two years older than when I last won the race. Every race I do, I am counted as one of the favourites."

He considers van Petegem as a real threat: "Peter was so strong in the break last year. I don't know what I have over him, but I will ride my own race," he said. "If you are looking for favourites, then he is the top of the list. He has a very good Farm Frites team behind him. I am not quite at my best yet."

Although he is part of the Italian Mapei "team of stars", Museeuw doesn't mind sharing the limelight with others. The team has won 24 races this year already, and this is good as far as Johan and team director Patrick Lefevre are concerned. "Mapei has made me into who I am. Admittedly, the team was not omnipresent in the Dwars door Vlaanderen and Harelbeke, but I was sick, and Steels had an off day - we were not the strongest in the race. We're not always on top," he said.

He fell twice in the Driedaagse van De Panne, and feels that it might affect him a little on Sunday. However this, combined with his other statements seem to merely deflecting the pressure off the man that a large percentage of the Belgian cycling public would like to see win today.

Baldato looks for an opportunity

Second in San Remo, and second in the Ronde in 1995 and 1996, Fassa Bortolo's Fabio Baldato is confident that he can have a good ride today. His greatest chance, he says, is in a small break and he proved in San Remo that he can put in a strong finishing kick. The trick is getting there of course.

Although team manager Giancarlo Ferretti hates second places, he has been positive with Baldato in the lead up and has helped him regain his confidence. Baldato is an experienced rider: he is 31 and has been a professional for 10 years, winning 27 races. No classics, but stages in the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta. A classic is dearly sought after.

He has been preparing in Belgium for the past few weeks, riding the GP E3 Harelbeke, the Brabantse Pijl and the Driedaagse van De Panne. The racing is hard because of the narrow roads, the tighter bunches, the desperation of teams to win and the risk of falls. One one hand, the risks are high in doing this sort of preparation - a fall can put an end to your classics campaign. However, Baldato has survived and gained some valuable race condition for the Ronde by doing so.

His plan today will be to take advantage of the strong teams - Mapei and Farm Frites - and try to stay with the break on the final climbs. His favourite is Van Petegem, followed by Museeuw, Tchmil, and Bartoli, and Nico Mattan as a surprise.

Sörensen can start

One of Rabobank's leading riders, Rolf Sörensen has decided to start the Ronde on Sunday. His place was in doubt this week after a fall the Driedaagse van De Panne. According to team director, Theo de Rooy, his condition is OK and he will therefore start.

His father Jens agrees: "Now I know that he can play a role in the race. If he was only at 80 percent, then he wouldn't start on Sunday. I know him," he said.

Scott Sunderland plays his part

The last check-in before Flanders

I have just finished lunch and will be driving over to the hotel in a while. The team will be staying at the headquarters, the Beaulieu center, in Waregem. Before dinner I have to talk to Hendrick about his race plan for tomorrow, how he wants to approach the first and second half of the race. My job: looking after our main man, keep him out of the wind, bring him to the front, etc.

It is important to have Hendrick in the first ten at the start of the cobblestone sections. For me, my first race since five weeks will be successful when I get to the second feed zone at 180 kms. Hans De Clercq and Wim Feys will take over at that moment to guide Hendrick through the second part.

Walter - the team director - told me not to do more then I should at this moment. Even if I feel good I've sort of got orders to stop at the second feeding. Next week Gent-Wevelgem (Wednesday) and Pino Cerami (Friday) are on the program.

The bikes will get checked by the mechanics as soon as we get to the hotel. I only started riding my Fondriest team bike again on Thursday, as it was at the 'panel beater' getting fixed up after the tumble in Kuurne. A complete new bike is on its way, should be here before Amstel Gold, so that will be good for the morale.

The masseur will give us a massage before the evening meal. As there is no restaurant at the Beaulieu center, we go to a small restaurant just down the road. The owner loves cycling - who doesn't in this part of Belgium? - so we get buried under mountains of pasta and other pre-race food.

Tomorrow morning, breakfast at 7.30 (pasta, cheese, ham, yoghurt, muesli, etc. and not to forget Nutella Chocolade spread for the Belgian guys who couldn't start a race without emptying the whole pot). Walter always takes the time to sit down with us and go over the parcours again. Tactics, jobs, are all discussed once more.

And then, on the road to Brugge for the start. 'See ye' after !

Boogerd struggling

The recovery of Michael Boogerd is going more slowly than he would like. He fell on the descent of the Montjuich one week ago, sustaining injuries to his shoulder and ribs.

"I trained four hours on Wednesday and six hours on Thursday. It was very hard. I died of pain. But I will go to Spain for the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco (2.HC) on Monday. I have to do that otherwise I'll lose too much condition and can forget the rest of the preseason classics," said the Netherlander.

VDB: No ONCE contract...yet

Team Cofidis' "most valued player of 2000", Frank Vandenbroucke, has been in the press again denying rumours that he is to sign with Spanish team ONCE next year. According to a report in Belgian daily, "Le Soir", VDB considered a future with them although the man himself denies it at the moment: "To join ONCE would be a logical step in my career," he told Spanish press. "But at the moment, there is no plans for this in my head, I only think about the present and the past form that I want to recover."

"I will return to racing in May. Before I did not plan to do the Midi Libere, but now it will be without a doubt in my program. I will run the Bicicletta Vasca, the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse," he said to Le Soir. However, he also played down questions that he would be competitive in the Tour de France, as "I do not have the qualities of a favourite. But, the Tour is a dream and in principle the route is good."

VDB almost left Cofidis late last year after he claimed the team treated him badly in suspending him. There were rumours at the time that he would go to ONCE, but eventually he and his team management sorted things out, but shortened his contract until the end of 2000.

Mercury Capital Cup added to USA calendar

USA Cycling have announced a new addition to their national racing calendar - the Mercury Capital Cup, to be held on May 27 in Washington D.C.. The race, sponsored by the Washington division of the Mercury car company will see some top US and international teams competing, including US Postal and of course Mercury.

The course will be located near the Foggy Bottom metro, and racing will begin at 8 a.m. with a complete schedule of USCF categories, finishing with the women and men's pro events. This will be the last chance for the best US teams to gain some race fitness for the First Union USPRO Championships scheduled for the following weekend in Philadelphia, PA.

US team to Cuba

Seven junior and espoir cyclists have been sent by USA Cycling to compete in La Vuelta Ciclistica a la Habana Del Este, April 5-9, in Havana, Cuba.

The junior women's squad is comprised of Sarah Uhl (Perkasie, Pa.) and Lauren Franges (Barto, Pa.), while the junior men's team consists of Mike Friedman (Canonsburg, Pa.), Tim Reinhart (Macgunie, Pa.) and Peter Lawler (New Ipswich, N.H.). In addition, two espoir (under-23) cyclists - Michael Luther (Blasdell, N.Y.) and William Skinner (Monson, Mass.) will also participate. The latter are both members of the USA Cycling Resident-Athlete Program.