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News for November 4, 2000

Cyclocross World Cup round one

This Sunday, November 5 will see the opening round of the cyclocross World Cup in Bergamo, Italy. The six race series travels to six different countries, finishing the the GP de France in Pontchâteau on January 21, 2001.

Dutch World Champion, Richard Groenendaal (Rabobank) will be one of the favourites for the elite race, that features over 70 riders on the start list. Others include veteran Mario de Clercq, Erwin Vervecken (winner of the GP Prague), Bart Wellens and Marc Janssens, all keen to take the lead in the prestigious series. Belgian star Sven Nijs makes his return the following week, and all eyes will be on him then to see how quickly he will recover his form.

The World Cup races

Round #1 - 5/11/2000: GP d'Italie, Bergamo
Round #2 - 18/11/2000: GP de Republique Tcheque, Tábor
Round #3 - 3/12/2000: GP de Luxembourg, Leudelange
Round #4 - 17/12/2000: GP de Belgique, Zolder
Round #5 - 7/1/2001: GP de Hollande, Zeddam
Round #6 - 21/1/2001: GP de France, Pontchâteau

Festina: Day 10

Damages claim

Over the past two weeks, the Festina trial in Lille has opened up several (and closed some) of the wounds of 1998. Bitter accusations, surprising confessions, startling revelations and some brutal honesty has made the trial into more than just a case against 10 people. Central to this has been the presence of several civil parties, for example riders, federations, and race organisers, who have the right to give evidence in the case as it has affected their business.

These same parties are now claiming 'symbolic' damages from the Court in Lille, saying that their reputations have been besmirched by the proceedings. Lawyers representing Laurent Brochard, Pascal Herve, the French Cycling Federation (FFC), the Société du Tour de France, the ONCE company, the International Cycling Union (UCI), and of course the timing company Festina, have demanded a token one franc in damages.

ONCE's lawyer, Pierre-Yves Couturier said that "More than 500 controls were carried out on the riders within the team, and none were ever found positive."

Both lawyers for the UCI and FFC said that their clients had also been actively involved in fighting doping, although the UCI admitted that more work could have been carried out. Société du Tour de France lawyer, Fabienne Fajgenbaum said that the race had played an important part against doping, adding that the trial had helped to break the 'omerta' (code of silence) within cycling.

FFC lawyer, Mr Paul Mauriac did not have kind words for Richard Virenque, who he said had "aggravated us for over two years" then "To say that to be doped is to test positive is the same as saying that to be a robber you have to be caught with your hand in the bag."

A lawyer for the riders Laurent Brochard and Pascal Hervé, who had admitted drug use during the trial, claimed compensation for the fact that there had been not enough done to inform the riders of the dangers of doping(!). Mr Gilbert Collard claimed that the riders were victims of a systematic doping regime, saying that "Richard Virenque should never have been called in front of this court...no-one has any reason to claim against him."

His words were echoed by Festina's lawyer, Ambroise Arnaud who said that he "did not see how Virenque could be considered above the rest of the team. Virenque was the only rider accused, as he was considered the "moral leader" of the team by the court.

Arnaud said that the Festina company had been working in the fight against drugs since 1998, setting up a foundation for scientific research in the area. They chose to do this rather than pulling out of the sport. They have also been rebuilding their cycling team which has achieved some impressive results this year.

He claimed that the real culprits were Bruno Roussel and Dr Eric Rijckaert, who were responsible for setting up the systematic doping within the team.

Urine samples to be destroyed

Despite the hype surrounding urine based EPO testing prior to this year's Tour de France, it appears that cycling will have to wait at least another 6 months before there is routine EPO testing carried out. The urine samples that were taken during the Tour are due to be destroyed on November 15, because the French developed urine test has still not been legally validated for sole use.

Dr Patrick Schamasch, director of the medical Commission of the International Olympic Committee, effectively snuffed out hopes that retrospective analysis would be carried out, saying "It is not still possible to give legal validity to the test that was researched by the French laboratory of Chatenay-Malabry to discover synthetic erythropoetin in urine...We will have to wait for five to six months for a sure test."

The UCI said today that they will not use the stand-alone test unless it is fully approved by the IOC. UCI spokesman, Enrico Carpani expressed doubts as to how long the samples could be stored - it will be four months this month. The UCI had previously decided to destroy the samples on November 15 in consultation with the French Ministry for Youth and Sport. Mr Carpani also said that the results from this year's Tour de France should be confirmed. "We can't say in 2001 that the results from 2000 have changed," he said.

At the moment, the only approved method of EPO detection combines both the urine test and the Australian developed blood test (the "on" model version). This was used at the Olympics without any positive tests recorded, either because all the athletes were clean or had stopped using EPO two days before they were tested. To be positive, an athlete had to give abnormal results in both the blood and urine test.

Combined with this are the happenings of the last 10 days in the Festina trial, where the statement "cycling is not a clean sport" has been made by several people involved in the case. Cycling's credibility has once again taken a battering, but the powers that be are still afraid of trusting science to help them eliminate the abuse of one drug that has been far more detrimental to cycling than any technological advancement.

Next week

The final week of the three week long case will determine what sentences, if any, are imposed on the 10 accused. The federal prosecutor will request the penalties on Monday, which could mean up to 2 years imprisonment and a 100,000 franc fine for cyclist Richard Virenque. All 10 are accused (to various degrees) of inciting others to take drugs during the 1998 Tour de France.

Conconi tried EPO?

Well known Italian sports doctor, Professor Francesco Conconi, may have injected himself with EPO according to a report by Italian public prosecutor, Pierguido Soprani. Conconi is the central point of an ongoing investigation in Italy into doping during the late 80's and early 90's.

Soprani reported that the then 59 year old Conconi (under the code name "Ferroni") recorded a hematocrit value of 57 on September 3, 1994. At that time, he participated in a mountain race in Stilfser Joch in Southern Tyrol, finishing only 2 minutes behind one of his subjects, Francesco Moser. Moser was then preparing for another attempt on the World Hour Record, using Graeme Obree's 'downhill skier' position, a precursor of the 'superman' position.

Conconi's result in that race was somewhat surprising, as he was only a part time cyclist. However, Soprani's report, which has hit the headlines in the Italian press, claimed that this was part of Conconi's research into EPO and its benefits.

He is accused of administering EPO and other drugs to over 400 athletes including several Tour de France and Giro d'Italia winners, however he has denied it strenuously. "These accusations are enormous. I am completely innocent, I have never given forbidden products to anyone.

Pierguido Soprani will open the investigation in Ferrara next week.

Desbiens signs

31 year old Cofidis rider, Laurent Desbiens has signed for one year with the Belgian team Ville de Charleroi. He won the 4 Days of Dunkirk in 1993 and a stage in the Tour de France in 1997. He held the leader's yellow jersey in the Tour for two days in 1998.

Pantani in accident

Marco Pantani has once again been involved in a car accident, crashing and writing off his Mercedes in the town of Cesena. The Pirate was driving at speed the wrong way up a one-way street, before he struck some parked cars and then hit someone's porch. He was trapped inside the vehicle for some time, before being aided by a passer by, who noted he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. However, he was not seriously injured and refused to go to hospital after the incident. This is his third traffic accident of the year.

Tribute to Saúl Morales

The city of Madrid will host a tribute race to deceased cyclist Saúl Morales, a Fuenlabrada rider who was killed during the Tour of Argentina earlier this year. Roberto Heras, Fernando Escartin, Joseba Beloki and Jose Maria Jimenez will all participate in the 7th edition of the Criterium of the Association of Professional Cyclists (ACP), that will be run in San Sebastián de los Reyes, Madrid.

Other riders present include Daniel Clavero, Santos González, Roberto Laiseka, the González de Galdeano brothers, Manuel Beltrán, Francisco Mancebo, Oscar Sevilla, Chechu Rubiera, Miguel Angel Martín Perdiguero and Melchor Mauri.

The race is a combination of a team time trial, an individual time trial, an individual pursuit (Santos Gonzalez v Juan Carlos Dominguez) and elimination and points score races. There will be four teams of eight riders for the teams race: Beloki, Escartin and Haimar Zubeldia will be part of the "A" team, Rubiera, Clavero and Mauri the "B" team, Heras, Odriozola and Alvaro González de Galdeano in the "C" team, and Perdiguero, Sevilla and Laiseka in the "D" team.

2000 Pan-Am Masters Championships report

By James Cushing-Murray*

Teams of masters from the United States, Canada, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay, New York and Cuba met for seven days of track and road racing in Havana between October 12-22. This year's Pan-Am Masters Championship received much needed sponsorship from Festina watches and Sugino jerseys.

While the team from the U.S. was the largest at 55, the Colombians were close. American masters usually have the better equipment than even the pro's but the Colombians' equipment upstaged us with such trick equipment, that it was rumored to have come straight from the Milan bike show. The Cubans were better prepared this year and riding steel bikes, often welded in several places, won some tough races and were always competitive.

These championships mark a fitting end to the racing season for most competitors not planning on racing in the Southern Hemisphere. The racing was hard and serious but then, after all, Cuba is a place known for cigars, rum and dancing.

I started off in San Diego, checking in the largest bike bag known to man stuffed with a road and track bike, six wheels, spare parts and clothes for the Cubans. The ticket agent looked somewhat askance at my bike bag asked what was in it. I told him "I'm going to Cuba and have two bikes and lots of stuff to give the Cubans. His face lit up and he said "I'm from the Dominican Republic and I know they'll need those parts."Walking over to the bike bag to put a check on it, he said "just say you have one bike in the bag; otherwise, you could be charged double." He checked my bag with a handshake and no charge for even a single bike. Off to a good start.

The U.S. team met in the Miami airport for a 40 minute charter flight to Cuba. We had a four hour check-in period which seemed long until I arrived and saw the check-in area littered with all forms of bike bags, boxes, wheel bags and suitcases. We had brought literally tons of equipment to donate to the Cubans. Everything had to be weighed and x-rayed before check in.

Even with four hours, we were late boarding a vintage 727. This was a good time to leave behind stress, an attitude that time is money and begin learning patience. Clearing through immigration in Havana was quick. We loaded our bike bags onto a truck and boarded a charter bus. Several riders had brought bottles of rum at the airport passing them up and down the aisle - I knew right away this was going to be a different race week.

The hotel met us with a welcoming committee carrying trays of rum and coke followed by a buffet dinner. All meals were included with our rooms, including two daily coupons for beer. If not for all the racing and hot weather, it would have been tough not to gain weight.

After a rest day with track riders familiarizing themselves with the track and roadies out loosening up their legs, our first race was the U.S.- Cuban Solidarity Cup. The women had their own class and the men were divided into three age groups.

Proving that the heart and legs are more important than the equipment, the Cubans dominated the two older age groups. This many steel bikes haven't been seen on a start line since the 70's. Only one American was riding a steel bike, Earl Henry, and he was leaving it behind. It was a tough course and most of us weren't quite prepared. Fortunately, American pride was salvaged when Ray Diaz powered off the front of the 30+ men's field and soloed in for victory. But fitting in with the feeling of solidarity, we all knew Ray, while from NYC, has a Cuban father, Dominican mother and Colombian grandparents. Ray made a very moving podium speech in Spanish thanking the Cubans for their invitation: the crowd loved it. Points were awarded in all classes and while the points were close, the Cubans won.

Track racing began the next day. Riding as I usually do on a new track, I built up some speed, rode to the top of the track and promptly slid from the top of the apex of turn 3 and 4 to the track's apron. While the straights were not steeply banked, the turns were really banked and required more speed.

The U.S. Team was well represented by riders such as Linelle Betts, Earl Henry, Richard Simmons, Jason Snow and Patrick Gellineau who are either national and/or world champions or past national/world champions.

But the day belonged to an upcoming 30+ rider from Texas, Rodney Minor riding for the Superdrome club in Frisco, Texas. On an otherwise slow track, Rodney rode a personal best of 11.7 for the 200 meters staking claim to the title of the fastest Pan-Am master. Rodney was the only rider to break 12 seconds. Earl Henry, national road and sprint champion, rode a 12.5 showing at age 59, he is one of the fastest masters overall. Arthur Berger, from New York, showed up for the 55+ 2000 meter pursuit with a road bike and won even though this was the first time he had ridden any track. Linelle Betts rode a 200 meter time that embarrassed a few men.

On the Cuban side, Raul, the Locomotive, Vazquez won the 50+ pursuit showing that his win in the previous day's Solidarity Cup wasn't a fluke. I usually pride myself in being able to hang on a wheel with the best of them, but the Locomotive pounded me into the ground half way through the Solidarity Cup race.

Track racing continued for three days with sprints, kilos, pursuits, points races, Olympic sprints and scratch races. The track is an excellent facility with an infield warmup track, covered cabañas with bike racks and benches, infield concession stand and, best of all, a men's urinal right in the infield.

The track facility also includes living areas where many of the supported Cuban riders live and a large repair shop. The mechanics here can fix anything and fixing doesn't mean replacing a part. Peter Volpe broke an Ergo shift lever. Somehow, by rivets, copper wire and solder and magic, the lever was fixed and stronger than ever. They even did some repair work on my Bullseye track cranks. When the most popular Cuban cars are late 40's and early 50's Chevy's, I suppose the Cuban mechanics ingenuity isn't too surprising.

A rest day followed the track events and then the road events began with a time trial. As with all races, we rode our bikes to the starting line. In this case it was a 40 minute ride. We had a bus which carried spare wheels and drinks.

I suppose we should have been worried when the Colombians showed up with follow cars and motorcycles with spare wheels on their side but the U.S. Team did well and not one U.S. Team member was disqualified for drafting or holding on (this is serious competition, you know). The Colombians pretty much dominated the day but the Cubans won all three medals in the 30+ class.

Martin Ferrera a Cuban triathlete won the 30+ race riding a borrowed American bike and pedals (it turned out he forgot to bring his own pedals). I saw Martin the following day at the criterium. Seeing that he wasn't racing, I ask why. Martin's English was limited and as an explanation, he grasped the rear stays of his old aluminum lugged carbon fiber LeMond bike. They were so lose he could squeeze them together.

Jerry Matiniez from New York saved the day winning the 40+ time trial and team mate Gus Ferrer placed third. The next day in the criterium, Gus won. Like Ray Diaz, who won on our first day in Cuba, Jerry, originally from Puerto Rico, spoke perfect Spanish and Gus immigrated from Cuba when he was young. The U.S. Team also had Michael Lyach who won the 60+ criterium. Michael immigrated to Argentina from Czech Republic, then to Canada and finally to the U.S.. Michael also spoke fluent Spanish. Without a doubt, these riders felt a special emotion racing in Cuba lifting them to individual bests.

Both the criterium and final day's road race were dominated by Colombians and Cubans with the notable exception of Patrick Gellineau who won both the 45+ criterium and road race. Earl Henry won the 55+ criterium. But like the Spanish speaking riders on the U.S. Team, both Earl and Patrick have Caribbean roots and racing in Cuba was special for them. It should also be mentioned that Lee Whaley from Dallas won the very tough 30+ road race.

After the road race, there was a mad scramble packing bike bags and luggage mercifully lighter now. The award ceremony followed. While the championships were about jerseys and medals for the U.S. Team, for the Cubans, the championships were much more important. Cubans accumulated points in each race and their point total entitled them to choose from the donated goods. One room was full of bicycle parts, clothing and other goods. Many of the items would have been impossible to obtain if not for the championships.

Our final night in Cuba was just like our first night - fun. Our trusty bus took us out to a ranch in the country for a dinner of roast pork, drinks, cigars and dancing. Few of the team were from California explaining why the line surrounding the poor pig seemed to never end.

And just as we were late arriving in Cuba, we were late departing but most of us were sad to leave: back to cell phones, conspicuous consumption and work.

The Pan-Am Masters Championships trip is organized by Mike Fraysse with Tracey Lea's help. Both did a great job under difficult circumstances. If you're interested in next year's trip contact Mike at 1-800-994-3335 or write to Mike Fraysse's Bicycle Resort, 573 High Road, Glen Spey, NY 12737.

Pan-Am track results
Pan-Am road results

*The author, James Cushing-Murray, has been racing since 1965.