News for April 7, 2000


The men's World Cup and the Classics season is at full throttle now, with three major events in the next three weekends, not counting the mid-week Fleche Wallone. This Sunday is the Hell of the North: Paris-Roubaix - arguably one of the toughest classics to win, due to a greater likelihood of crashes and punctures on the terrible cobbles in the north of France. Speaking from (a little) experience, having an old set of cleats is not such a good idea.

The race has seen several unlikely winners - Dirk Demol, Jean-Marie Wampers and Frederic Guesdon to name a few - mixed in with the greats such as Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck, Sean Kelly, Francesco Moser, Bernard Hinault, and Johan Museeuw. Despite the toughness of the parcours, a "lesser" rider may prevail if luck swings their way on the day.

An example is La Francaise des Jeux' Frederic Guesdon, who won in 1997 gaining an enormous amount of prestige, despite never having done much since. He has never even been back to the Roubaix velodrome, the scene of his triumph three years ago.

He said in an interview with AFP, that "On that day, I didn't really have a chance and was let go. It is true that all the pavé races - my specialty - are grouped into two weeks in the season and luck is a big part. In 1998, I was away in the Tour of Flanders, but I then fell in Paris-Roubaix in the Arenberg forest, just near Johan Museeuw."

"Last year, I had to have two surgical operations in January and March. I did not contest Paris-Roubaix. It's funny, I've never re-examined the velodrome in Roubaix." Who knows, he might be back this year in the top 10 at least.

Former French champion, Charly Mottet thinks that Guesdon can do well, better than Durand even after he won the Tour of Flanders in '92. Guesdon will not put himself under pressure though. "I know what I am worth, I know what is necessary to do well on the cobblestones, but Marc [Madiot] knows his trade as well," he commented.

"He knows each of our qualities. I will not ask for anything, but I hope to have some protection. It would be good to have a team member to look after me for as long as possible. Marc had his brother Yvon. I would like to have Frank Perque, who is a super team-member."

Madiot is a somewhat frustrated team director - he lives for these races, and does not care a lot for stage races. "Even the Tour," he says, "there are only a few occasions to show yourself in the first week."

Tafi v. Ballerini

These two Tuscans are former teammates, and have both won the Hell of the North. Ballerini now rides for Lampre, while Tafi has remained with Mapei, who have dominated this race in recent times. Tafi has the edge over Ballerini in terms of team strength, but neither have shown outstanding form so far this year. The race may well go to someone else - Tchmil, Museeuw, Van Petegem are all in better shape, however they will be closely marked. It may be another year for a "lesser" rider.

Tafi/Ballerini form guide

Andrea Tafi

Born: May 7, 1966 in Fucecchio (close to Florence)
Height: 1.87 m
Weight: 73 kg

First year as a pro: 1989

Winner of Paris-Roubaix in 1999

Other notable wins: Italian Championship in 1998, Tour of Lombardy 1996, Rochester Classic 1997, Paris-Brussels 1996

Paris-Roubaix history: 77th (1991), 79th (1992), 14th (1995), 3rd (1996), 19th (1997), 2nd (1998), 1st (1999)

Franco Ballerini

Born: December 11, 1964 in Florence (Italy)
Height: 1.83 m
Weight: 76 kg

First year as a professional: 1986

Winner of Paris-Roubaix in 1995 and 1998

Other notable victories: GP de Americas 1990, Het Volk 1995, Paris-Brussels 1990

Paris-Roubaix history: 3rd (1989), 19th (1990), 5th (1991), 11th (1992), 2nd (1993), 3rd (1994), 1st (1995), 5th (1996), 2nd (1997), 1st (1998), 11th (1999)

Zabel: shaken, but still keen

After Erik Zabel's unfortunate incident with the horse in Gent-Wevelgem, the German has once again recovered his good spirits and has decided not to press charges against "Tin-Tin" the pony (or its owner). Zabel is relatively unhurt, and has already been training today. He is hoping to defend his lead in the World Cup this weekend in Paris-Roubaix, and Walter Godefroot his sports director believes that he can do it again.

With the help of Steffen Wesemann, who was best of the rest in Gent-Wevelgem, Zabel will aim for another top 10 placing on the Roubaix velodrome, in an effort to preserve his 32 points lead over Andrei Tchmil. The latter has to be one of the favourites in Roubaix, however and Zabel will have to fight hard again.

Godefroot is particularly impressed with Wesemann, who he said has not been riding to his potential until this year. "Even when he won the peace race, he often lived the good life," said the Telekom director. "Now he is much more focussed on his work and the results have come. For example, before Gent-Wevelgem he wanted to train some more behind the motor bike." It will be Wesemann's first Paris-Roubaix, and he should put in a strong showing.

The Telekom team for Paris-Roubaix is: Erik Zabel, Rolf Aldag, Ralf Grabsch, Danilo Hondo, Kai Hundertmarck, Jan Schaffrath, Stephan Schreck, and Steffen Wesemann

Laurent among five arrested

Former French professional, Thierry Laurent (33) was among the five cyclists arrested in Lyon yesterday as part of the latest French doping probe. Laurent, who rode with RMO, Novemail, Castorama, Agrigel-La-Creuse, Festina and Lotto between 1988 and 1999 was one of the most well known of the five, who also include Christophe Morel, the reigning French cyclocross champion.

This is not the first time Laurent has been in trouble - he was expelled from Agrigel-La-Creuse in 1996, serving an 8 month suspension for giving a positive drug test. In the following year, he was thrown out of the Giro d'Italia for an excessively high hematocrit. He and the other four (10 in total) are being investigated by magistrate Francis Boyer in Perpignan in relation to the possession, usage, purchase and sale of drugs in the Norbonne region.

Four amateur riders, who were members of the club Velo Sprint Norbonne, were placed under detention by police last week when they were found to be in possession of "Belgian pot" - a mixture of amphetamines, cocaine, heroin and caffeine. The examinations revealed the possible source of the drugs, and five more were arrested yesterday.

Grundy hopeful

Despite the mishaps of Australia's leading mountain biker, Cadel Evans Volvo/Cannondale), national coach Damian Grundy believes that this year could see the Aussies take home more than one medal in the mountain bike competition from the Olympics. "I've been telling people for the last four years that I think we can win two mountain bike medals in Sydney and I'd say it's possibly three," Grundy said to AAP.

The women's team is looking particularly good now, with Mary Grigson's triumph and 5th place in the first two rounds of the MTB World Cup in the USA. The men's squad, although dearly awaiting Evans' return, will also have Rob Woods, Paul Rowney and Josh Fleming who finished 5th, 6th and 17th in round 2 of the Cup. All of these will be trying hard for the three available spots come September.

Evans' injury may have some positive aspects as well, according to Grundy. He now does not have the pressure to defend (or attack) the World Cup series lead and can focus more on the Olympics. Presumably he will race in the upcoming rounds when fit but it will be more a means to an end.

The Swiss women's selection

Competition for Olympic road spots is tight in all countries, particularly in the women's teams. A maximum of three will be allowed to start in Sydney from each country - sometimes less if they haven't qualified enough riders.

In the Swiss selection, there are 9 positions in the training squad that will have to be cut down to three. One possible choice is newcomer Sandra Wampfler, who has just turned 30. Up until this year, she was a part-timer, with ambitions of becoming a professional this year. She had to come to an arrangement with her employer (a school in Prêles) and team up some more sponsorship with her team.

However, in the middle of winter, disaster struck as the main sponsor of her team pulled out and she was left high and dry, without a great deal of motivation. "It is clear that I cannot qualify for Sydney if I cannot race abroad. It is only possible with a team or in the national squad," she said in an interview with Swiss paper "Beiler Tagblatt".

However, in February she was offered a spot in the national team, which she grabbed firmly, her best option for riding in the games. It improved after she obtained some more sponsorship from W. Gassmann AG . Now, she treats her racing with a lot more seriousness. Her main competition for the Olympic squad will be Nocole Braendli and Swiss champion Priska Doppman, and it would be her biggest thrill to gain selection for Sydney 2000.

She will race in next week's World Cup round three - La Fleche Wallone in Belgium, followed by the GP Gippingen. In May, she will travel with the national squad to Italy for the Giro del Trentino and the Czech round of the World Cup.

Guariniello to investigate deaths

Italian public prosecutor in the of Turin, Raffaele Guariniello is conducting an investigation into the deaths of over 100 cyclists over the past 30 years. The aim is to try and determine whether there is any correlation between the deaths and the possible use of doping substances. Initial examinations have shown that many were caused by cardiovascular diseases, however no conclusions have been made yet.