News for April 8, 2000

98th Paris-Roubaix

It draws ever closer and the final finishing touches are being given to the 50 kilometres or so of pavé sections that define the race. "The Hell of North" as it is known, does not derive its name from the treacherous cobblestones or the bad weather that occasionally strikes. It came about in 1919 after the First World War when journalists viewed the course after the previous years of destruction. They discovered a devastated area, marked by shells, cemetries and ruins and named it accordingly.

Only five of the world's top 20 are down as starters: Erik Zabel (3rd), Romans Vainstains (6th), Andrei Tchmil (8th), Jaan Kirsipuu (10th) and Jeroen Blijlevens (20th) will line up at the start in Compiegne. The rest will watch the potential carnage in the privacy of their own homes and hotels.

Spanish riders and teams are always few in this race, dominated by Belgians, French and the occasional Italian. No sign of Jalabert, Olano, Boogerd, Casagrande, Armstrong, Ullrich, or Rebellin, which goes to show that most of the top stage race riders will not risk themselves for this race.

Peter van Petegem had some interesting comments. After training for 120 kilometers on the Paris Roubaix parcours yesterday, he had some stern words about the organisers of pre-season classics:

"We are the clowns in a circus. They send us to terrible roads and make it more difficult every year. I've only fallen on the cobblestone section of Wallers. In the past we could ride beside the cobblestones. But now they put fencing there and they force you to ride in the middle of the road - then you are asking for falls," he said.

When asked if the classic was less without the Forest of Wallers, he continued: "There are no problems with the Muur of Geraardsbergen or even the Koppenberg. When you fall on those parts of the parcours it is at a very slow speed. No broken bones. But why do they put a cobblestone section from Wannegem to Lede in the Ronde van Vlaanderen? You have to be crazy to put this part as the first one in a race. The whole peloton wants to be the first on the small road. And you saw what happened with Nico Mattan. Now he can forget his preseason. Nice, isn't it? But Wallers in Paris-Roubaix? Don't they remember what happened with Johan Museeuw? Do they need a second accident?"

Leblanc disagrees

Race organiser, Jean-Marie Leblanc doesn't consider it overly dangerous though, although this is not surprising given his position. "A dangerous race? No, not more than anywhere else," he said. "The riders are often tightly packed and are sufficiently attentive. They know there are dangers."

Bernard Hinault's quote, "It is not a race, but a circus" is now famous, but the five time tour winner at least rode and won the race in 1981.

Former Swiss star, Tony Rominger took a practical view: "I have always asked myself: 'What good is it to seek out and find ancient paving stones that are only the testimony of last century?' With beautiful asphalt roads that we have everywhere today, it is a little ridiculous... "

Potential winner, Andrei Tchmil says that "you need to be a sprinter to enter the paved sctions in a good position. It is then necessary to accelerate, if possible, on top of the pavé to avoid the fine gravel on the sides. You then need to sprint at the end of the section to keep your advantage on the asphalt."

The first 12 of the 27 cobbled sections begin in Troisvilles (98 km), culminating in the Wallers-Arenberg section at kilometre 168, often a deciding moment of the race one way or another. The last 100 kilometres contains 13 sections (and sub-sections of less than 500 m), with the final stretch being 300m with two kilometres to go until the finish.

Well, for the 200 starters on Sunday the circus will be avidly watched by millions. Join us here on for our live coverage of the event.

Tafi is confident

Last year's winner, Andrea Tafi (Mapei) is looking forward to one of his favourite races of the year, despite not showing any outstanding form to date this season. Can he and his Mapei team repeat their success of last year, or will it be another year for Ballerini, Tchmil or maybe even an opportunist?

Tafi believes in himself, and feels more confident than last year. Although he won't have the Tricolore jersey of the Italian champion that he wore to victory last year, Tafi still takes in the symbolism. Yesterday he rode to "The Velodrome" in Roubaix, before returning to base in Gent for a day. "It was like being in a film," said Tafi to La Gazzetta dello Sport, about his victory last year. "I was in the tricolore jersey with all those people at my feet."

However, he had trained hard for six months for it, finally winning after a devastating attack in the Arenberg. He had already finished third in Mapei's somewhat infamous 1-2-3 in 1996, and second in 1998, and was well due for a win. The 33 year-old has put in a similar amount of training this year, and feels more powerful than ever despite being a kilo lighter.

His main adversary, apart from the cobbles, is Andrei Tchmil (Lotto) who is older and certainly at peak form. Tafi will have to try one of his trademark long attacks to win on Sunday, and if he is let go like last year, the likes of Tchmil will find it very hard to stop him. He will ride a Colnago Carbon C40 in the race - the same bike that has won four out of the past five editions of the race. If it is sunny, Tafone will go for 21 tubulars, but will opt for the fatter 26 tubs if the conditions are bad. Cluster: 11 to 21, with a 53/46 chainring combination.

His Mapei team will be co-led by Johan Museeuw with strong support from Wilfried Peeters, Tom Steels and Stafano Zanini, the latter of whom won a stage in this weeks Pais Vasco. Can they do another 1-2-3? On form, probably not this year but certainly a podium position. They lack Michele Bartoli who decided after Gent-Wevelgem to stop until next weekend (LBL) because of his knee, but still have enough riders to act as domestiques.

Magnusson non-starter

Farm frites' Swedish sprinter, Glenn Magnusson will not start in Sunday's Paris-Roubaix due to a crash in today's GP Pino Cerami. He will be operated on tomorrow in the hospital in Niuewegein for a broken collarbone. Belgian Steven Kleynen will take his place in the team's selection.

In the women's Farm Frites-Hartol squad, Andrea Bosman has also been forced out of Saturday's Ronde van Ronostrand. The Rotterdam rider won this race twice, but is not fit enough to start this year. Jeanet Harder will take her place in the "Black Train".

Beat Zberg (Rabobank) and Kevin Livingston (USPS) are also out of action for a while. They both crashed in stage 5a of the Tour of the Basque country. The former has kidney bleeding and the latter sustained a broken collarbone.

Pantani denies ONCE connection

Currently doing secret miles around the roads in Tuscany, Mercatone Uno's Marco Pantani is biding his time before making his presumed return to racing later this year. There were rumours reported that Spanish team ONCE wanted to sign him for the Vuelta, but they have been denied by the Pirate's spokespeople.

Regio Tour

The three nations Regio Tour, with German organisers, is classed alongside the Tour of Germany as a category 2.3 event, but has had troubles in attracting the leading riders. Organizer Rudi Renz hopes for a change this year. The race is five weeks before the Olympics and should be, by his opinion, a good alternative to build up for stars like Cipollini and Zabel, both with Olympic aspirations.

18 teams with seven riders in each will be invited, six or seven of then from the first division, hopes Renz. Telekom, Saeco and Polti will come, Rabobank not which means that Grischa Niermann, who has raced well so far this season, wont be able to show off at home.

The stages:

Stage 1 - August 9: Strasbourg (Fra) - Kehl by Offenburg, Gengenbach in the Black Forest, Welschensteinach, Streitberg to Breisach on the Rhine, 165 km
Stage 2 - August 10: Basel (Swi) to Müllheim, 163 km
Stage 3a - August 11: From Europapark Rust by Oberhausen to Emmendingen, 90 km
Stage 3b - August 11: Glottertal - St. Peter, ITT, 13 km
Stage 4 - August12: Badenweiler to Guebwiller (Fra), 168 km
Stage 5 - August 13: Lahr by Allmannsweier, Nonnenweier, Kappel, Rust and Oberhausen to Vogtsburg, 160 km

French doping: 5 named

Some more details have emerged about the five former and current French riders involved in the doping affair of the Velo Club Norbonne. Thierry Laurent (former pro, retired early 1999), Cristophe Morel (French cyclocross champion this year) and three others - a bicycle shop owner in the Rhone-Alps region, and two French elite II riders. Morel is believed to have been released already, and the investigation centers on Laurent, who authorities think is behind a large drug sales and distribution network.

Only one of the five riders arrested last week when story first broke remains in detention. He is considered to be an intermediary in the trafficking of amphetamines, according to police reports.