News for April 6, 2000

Reticulocytes save the day

By Tomas Nilsson, correspondent

Reticulocytes are the word of the day in the Danish doping debate after Nicolaj Bo Larsen, MemoryCard Jack&Jones, was found to have a haematocrit value of 51 per cent before the Tour of Flanders last Sunday morning.

Reticulocytes are new red blood cells, and according to tests, Larsen's number of new red blood cells should be normal. Had he taken EPO to get a rapid increase in red blood cells a higher number of them would be new - reticulocytes.

"It is probably possible to find experts with a different point of view, but our material convinced us and our sponsors," said team manager Torben Křlbaek at a press conference Wednesday, according to website Neither the International Olympic Committee nor the International Cycling Union (UCI) have tests capable of detecting EPO use yet. However, the Danish cycling team has, in three days, been able to convince themselves that their rider hasn't used EPO.

The examinations at the UCI approved Labo Klinische Biologi in Nivove, Belgium, have been conducted to see whether Larsen had taken any EPO between the two tests, the teams' own on Saturday evening and the UCI test Sunday morning. The experts claim that it is not possible to raise the haematocrit level overnight, and the team has accepted that explanation. The normal procedure is to take EPO two or three weeks before the time when you want the effect.

All riders on the team signed an agreement not to have a haematocrit level of over 50 percent. If a higher level is detected, the rider will be fired, regardless the circumstances. Each rider is fully responsible for his blood values. Last year, without that clause, Belgian Marc Streel was immediately fired when showing a high haematocrit level.

"The two situations are different," said team manager Křlbaek at the press conference without any further explanations of that difference. "I have seen in the press that he will sue us, and therefore I do not wish to comment that any further," he said to

The doubts of the team management towards the blood test Sunday morning arose since a value of 45 percent was measured Saturday night, followed by 46 and 47 Sunday evening and Monday morning. "But we don't reject the UCI test in any way,", said Křlbaek who was supported by the team's chairman of the board, Johannes Poulsen.

A co-explanation, apart from the reticulocytes, could be that Larsen's arm was strapped with a rubber band several minutes when the samples were taken. This is supposed to help extract the blood plasma out of the walls of the veins and thus reduce the amount of liquid in the blood which would lead to a higher amount of red blood cells. This was the explanation used by Rabobank when Erik Dekker was found to have a high haematocrit level at the World's last year. However, according to Danish EPO expert Michael Friedberg, that can not explain the large gap between the Saturday night value of 45 percent and the Sunday morning reading at 51.

Larsen's haematocrit values have this year varied, according to the team's own tests ,between 45.6 and 48 percent from February last year to January this year. Haemaglobin values have varied from 14.9 to 16.0.

After the MCJJ management met sponsor representatives Tuesday, the sponsors had a 30 minute meeting among themselves and decided to continue supporting the team, without any further consultations. They also asked Nicolaj Bo Larsen to continue his career on the team.

Horse in Wevelgem

In a quite unbelievable turn of events, Eric Zabel's Ghent-Wevelgem came to an abrupt end today when a frightened horse escaped from its field alongside the course. Unfortunately, Zabel happened to be right where the horse entered onto the course and was swiftly separated from his bike. The two horses, possibly startled by a TV helicopter, broke through their enclosure and galloped down the road with the group who where trying to erode a 40 sec lead held by the front group of eight riders.

A marshall on a motorbike managed to deftly part the crowd at a sharp turn so that the horses went straight whilst the race went left. They where last seen heading for France. Zabel rejoined the course and finished 41st - his injuries if any are unknown.

Report courtesy of Kirsten Begg, Specialized Bicycles

Erik's comment:

"This is a real hors categorie race. I didn't see the animal coming. I just looked at my gear, because we were chasing the first group. When I looked I saw the head of a horse. I fell but was not seriously wounded, and I'm very glad about that. But it made no sense any more to chase again afterwards. There are always problems with races in Belgium and the Netherlands," he said.

"The organization of Rund um den Henninger Turm is always 100 percent perfect, and the UCI denigrated that race to catogery one. But maybe it's better for me not to talk about this," he added, clearly looking for an invite next year.

The organiser of Gent-Wevelgem and the UCI denied they were responsible. Christophe Sercu commented: "It isn't our fault that the ponies came onto the parcours. It's a pity, like most of the incidents."

Gilbert Prinzie (UCI): "The owner of the horses is responsible. No one else."

Koppenberg for Flanders

Wim van Herreweghe, the organiser of the Ronde van Vlaanderen has been considering reintroducing the infamous Koppenberg into the 2002 race. The climb is not a lot steeper than many others in the race, but it erased from the parcours after the Jesper Skibby incident (where he was run over by one of the lead cars after falling).

Where it will be situated is unclear: in the neighbourhood of the Kortkeer (214 km this year) or closer to the finish. Johan Museeuw thinks that the parcours is now suited to "toppers", because the first climbs come earlier at 120 kilometres. "That takes power, so the top cyclists aren't fresh for the finale," he said.

No new Dutch hour record

Wilco Zuijderwijk and Patrick Kops attempted to break the Dutch motorpaced hour record recently, but failed, citing a lack of temperature as the reason. Zuijderwijk (behind Bruno Walrave) stopped after 45 minutes and 229 laps. Kops (behind Willem Fack) did the one hour and rode 58 km, 318 metres and 76 centimeters. The record was and still is 59.608,68 (by Robert Slippens in September 1998).

"It was too cold" (6 degrees celsius), said Zuijderwijk. "I started slowly because of the cold, but I didn't have enough left in the last 20 km," was Kops' reaction.

Two USA trackies two Trinidad

USA Cycling, the national governing body for the sport of cycling will send two cyclists to the upcoming three day track meet in Trinidad, April 7-9 on the 460 metre(!) Skinner Park Velodrome.

The cyclists are Joshua Weir from Indianapolis and James Hibbard from Morgan Hill, California, both of whom are resident athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Both are sprinters: Weir is the reigning junior sprint champion, and Hibbard was a member of the national championship Olympic sprint squad, and finished fourth in the 1,000m time trial.

37th Vuelta a Aragon

The 37th edition of the category 2.2 Vuelta a Aragon will be held between April 12-16 in Spain. It has already attracted some top riders - Fernando Escartin (Kelme), Alex Zülle (Banesto), Erik Zabel (Telekom), Mario Cipollini (Saeco) and the likely return of Mapei's Oscar Freire, who has recovered from his injury that forced him out of the Setmana Catalana.

The tour is 825 kilometres long and consists of five stages, with a total prizmoney of 65 million pesetas, nearly half of which are contributed by the local government.

The stages:

Stage 1 - April 12: Bronchales - Alcańiz, 174 km
Stage 2 - April 13: Fraga - Celer, 140 km
Stage 3 - April 14: Benasque - Sabińánigo, 159 km
Stage 4 - April 15: Jaca - Borja, 186 km
Stage 5 - April 16: Magallón - Zaragoza, 135 km

Five more in French doping affair

Five more French amateur cyclists suspected of doping were taken into custody today in Lyon, where they will be questioned by police. The investigation started last week involving a French amateur club in the region of Norbonne. A total of ten are now under suspicion of involvement in doping, four of whom were placed under detention last Thursday. Three were released this week under legal control, while the fourth still remains in Perpignan.

The affair is being taken quite seriously, and police have been investigating the possibility that it is part of a nationwide network of drug traffickers and users. The club involved (Vélo Sprint de Narbonne) has over a hundred riders, and they immediately suspended those accused at a meeting on Monday evening.