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News for December 23, 2000

Festina judgment handed down

By Jeff Jones

Virenque cleared

The French court in Lille gave its verdict today on the nine people accused in the Festina trial. As predicted, the only cyclist involved in the proceedings, Richard Virenque, was acquitted of inciting other members of his team to take drugs. The other eight team officials, soigneurs and pharmacists, were given suspended sentences of varying length, as well as fines.

Former soigneur, Willy Voet was given a 10 month suspended sentence and a 30,000 franc fine ($US 4,200). He was the man who triggered the biggest drug scandal in the history of the sport, when he was stopped at the Franco-Belgian border before the 1998 Tour de France with a car load of EPO and other banned drugs. Festina team manager, Bruno Roussel, was given a heavier suspended sentence of 1 year and a fine of 50,000 francs ($US 7,000). Three of the others accused were given suspended prison sentences ranging from five to nine months, and fines between 10,000 and 40,000 francs ($US 1,400-5,600).

There was considerable interest in Virenque at the start of the trial, as he was one of the few Festina cyclists who had not confessed in 1998 and had therefore not served a suspension. The trial was to determine the extent and nature of organised doping within the team and Virenque, as the team's "moral leader" was amongst those charged. Then on day 2 of the trial, he finally confessed to using EPO, despite the fact that taking performance-enhancing drugs is not illegal in France.

While this made him vulnerable to a sporting sanction, it shifted the weight of accusations off his shoulders as it was clear that he was not behind any organised doping in the team. "Several factors were noted. The facts would have been enough to justify imprisonment," said the verdict. "But the court took the context into account, in particular the widespread recourse to doping and the deficiencies in the fight against doping."

Virenque was present during the verdict in northern France, but did not comment on the decision. His lawyer Eric Hemmerdinger claimed a "first victory" and called for the UCI to increase the fight against doping rather than punishing Virenque, or others who confess. Virenque faces a ban of six to twelve months when the Swiss Cycling Federation makes its decision in a week's time.

Authorities criticised

In passing down its verdict, the court in Lille also criticised various cycling authorities for "passivity" in dealing with doping. The International Cycling Union (UCI), the French Cycling Federation (FFC) and the Société du Tour de France had asked for a symbolic one franc compensation for damage to their image because of the affair.

However, the court declined to award the damages, and also blamed them for their slow and weak approach in the fight against doping. This in turn had led to comparatively light sentences for the accused in the case, said the court.

The court claimed that EPO and other doping products pervaded the peloton as far back as 1993, and the ruling bodies had known about them. "The court deplores that they remained for several years almost inactive before deciding on 1996 mainly to care about the excess of EPO. They never considered stopping competitions in a sport so plagued by doping and thus avoiding the harm to their image which they are complaining about."

First division trade teams in 2001

The UCI has released the list of the 22 division I trade teams for next season, based on the following rules:

1. The top 16 teams on the UCI ranking as of November 30, 2000
2. The top division II team (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
3. The next five teams with the most UCI points including the new signings, viz. CSC-World Online, Domo-Farm Frites, Mercury/Viatel, Team Coast and Credit Agricole.

Division I team list

1 Mapei-Quick Step (Bel)
2 Team Deutsche Telekom (Ger)
3 Fassa Bortolo (Ita)
4 Lampre-Daikin (Ita)
5 Kelme-Costa Blanca (Spa)
6 Rabobank (Ned)
7 Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola (Ita)
8 ONCE (Spa)
9 Ibanesto.com (Spa)
10 Festina (Fra)
11 US Postal Service (USA)
12 Liquigas-Pata (Ita)
13 Cofidis-Le credit par téléphone (Fra)
14 Lotto-Adecco (Bel)
15 Saeco-Macchine per caffe (Ita)
16 Mercatone Uno-Albacom (Ita)
17 Euskaltel-Euskadi (Spa)
18 Domo-Farm Frites (Bel)
19 CSC-World Online (Den)
20 Mercury-Viatel (USA)
21 Team Coast (Ger)
22 Credit Agricole (Fra

Out in 2001

ag2r-Prevoyance (Fra)
La Francaise des Jeux (Fra)
Vitalicio-Seguros (Spa)
Polti (Ita)

Pantani gets a new lawyer

Just a few days after dismissing his former defense team (by mutual agreement), Marco Pantani has engaged another lawyer to help him in his appeal against his sporting fraud sentence issued two weeks ago in Forli. "The reconstruction that was made by the advisers for the defense is anything but certain, precise and irrefutable," were the judges words at the time before giving Pantani an effective 6 month suspension from competition.

The new man for the job is Federico Cecconi, who said that he is "waiting to read the transcripts in detail, but from what has transpired in the press it would seem that the judge has debased whatever formulations were made by the counsel for the defense. Here we are talking about one scientific hypothesis against another. Neither of the two, until I'm told otherwise, are based on a complete hematic assessment that is normally used in an anti-drug test."

Michaelsen worried about preparations for 2001

Lars Michaelsen has left La Francaise des Jeux and will be riding for Division I newcomer Team Coast in 2001.

The Danish rider, who turns 31 in March, is concerned about the nature of his preparations for the start of the season - the part of the season in which he has accumulated a great deal of his points for the UCI rankings in recent years.

Michaelsen is worried that he will not have spent enough days on the road when the season begins. "Never before have I raced so few kilometers before the first big race in Belgium, Het Volk and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, as well as Tirreno-Adriatico, as the case will be in a little over two months time." Michaelsen finished the 2000 season at #80 in the UCI rankings. 150 of the 548 points he earned were accumulated in the introductory phase of the season.

"Lindner has decided that Frank Høj and I are to begin with Trofeo Laigueglia (20. February), immediately after which we will participate in the Giro Ligure, a 4-day arrangement. Those races are so demanding that there is a risk that we won't be able to get the desired training out of them. In any case, it means that I will be starting the season almost three weeks later than I am accustomed to. I am very anxious so see what it will mean when Het Volk comes along on March 3. I would rather have participated in the Ruta del Sol, which is easier to ride at that time of the year, but I will accept the plan that Lindner has made - then it must be his responsibility if it turns out that I am too far behind for the races where I am usually among the best.".

Training camp in Mexico

"A lot depends on how well our three-week training camp in Mexico proceeds. We are heading out on 9. January and will first be home again on the 31st. It is Lindner's theory that there should be at least a period of 2 weeks before the first competition after the time in the thin air. I will certainly not rule out that the time in Mexico can compensate for the lack of racing days, but it is a matter of uncertainty that is difficult to figure out at the moment."

Lars Michaelsen

14 career victories

Pro since 1994

1994 Catavana
1995 Festina
1996 Festina
1997 TVM
1998 TVM
1999 La Francaise des Jeux
2000 Team Coast

Michaelsen's best season to date was arguably while riding for Cees Priem and TVM in 1997, where he finished the year as #44 in the UCI rankings. The highlight of that season was a stage in the Vuelta and several days in the race's leader's jersey. Otherwise Michaelsen's greatest single victory has been Gent-Wevelgem in 1995.

Courtesy of Jon Jay Neufeld

BCF Coach Education Courses

Free for Existing ABCC and BCCA Coaches Funding from the British Cycling Federation's Coach Education department, BCCA (Cyclo-Cross) and the RTTC (Time Trials) will enable existing coaches to take the Federation's new Level 2 Update course free (normal cost: £125).

The new Level 2 Update course is aimed at coaches with existing qualifications, and follows on from the Level 2 Club Coach Award launched at the beginning of 2000. The course takes into account the knowledge and experience of ABCC and BCCA qualified coaches and is in a two-day format, compared to the three days of the BCF Level 2 Club Coach Award course for new coaches.

Course Dates for Early 2001:

East Midlands (South Normanton): Sunday, January 14 & Sunday, February 11 East (University of Luton): Saturday, January 20 & Saturday January 27 Central (Beaconsfield): Sunday, January 21 & Sunday, February 18 North West (Manchester): Saturday, January 27 & Saturday, March 3

For further details on all Coach Education courses please contact Margaret Nolan, Coach Education Manager, on (0161) 230 2301*4, or e-mail coaching@bcf.uk.com