News for January 1, 2001

Happy New Year!

The end of the 20th century and the second millennium has now officially drawn to a close, with somewhat less of a fanfare than at this time last year. The arbitrary nature of time has something to do with this, but the fireworks (in Sydney at least) were worth making an effort to stroll down to the Opera House for. Once again, we would like to extend our best wishes to everyone out there who has touched on for their daily hit of news, results, pictures and more in the cycling world. We hope that you will continue to support the site in '01!

2000 Review

The past year in cycling contained a little more action than usual, with the advent of the Olympic Games in Sydney. The 2000 Games was only the second time that top professional road riders were allowed to compete in the road race, as well as the second time that Olympic cross country mountain bike races were held. Many riders had targetted the Olympics as their big goal of 2000, and it certainly showed as we were treated to two weeks of the best track, road and MTB racing that could be seen in one city.

There were world records broken on the track (Leontien's 3000m, the German pursuit team's sub-4 minute 4 km, Robert Bartko's fastest ever "conventional" 4000m), a magic moment for Australian cycling when McGrory and Aitken won the madison, Marty Nothstein's emotional victory in the men's sprint, Felicia Ballanger's last year of domination of women's sprinting and many more memorable moments. Both MTB races had a fantastic atmosphere with Italy's Paola Pezzo doing the double after Atlanta in the women's XC, and Frenchman Miguel Martinez demolishing the men's field.

Finally there were the road events, the standout of which was Jan Ullrich's emphatic victory in the men's road race, followed by a silver in the TT (won by Vjatcheslav Ekimov), and Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel's clean sweep of the women's events, giving her three gold and a silver from four starts.

From a Sydneysider's standpoint, the Olympic Games were "it" for 2000. However, as far as cycling was concerned they were just part of the season's big peaks, including the three major tours, the World Championships, and the Spring Classics. At least the Games only happen once every four years!

Apart from some brilliant performances by Johan Museeuw, Andrei Tchmil, and Paolo Bettini, the World Cup Classics season was dominated by Erik Zabel, who won Milan-San Remo (for the third time) and the Amstel Gold Race to basically secure the World Cup by the end of April. For a sprinter, Zabel is extremely versatile and can handle the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix just as well as the mountains in the Tour de France. His fifth green jersey in that race was a record, and one that he will certainly try to improve upon in 2001.

The Giro d'Italia produced a tense race this year that came down to the penultimate stage. It seemed as though Francesco Casagrande was strong enough to take the race, but an amazing performance by Stefano Garzelli in the final time trial was enough to put Casagrande out of the pink and into second place. The Giro also saw the return of Marco Pantani, whose self-imposed exile since the '99 Giro led many to think that he would quit the sport altogether. He rode himself into form in the last week, and followed this with a couple of strong performances in the Tour de France, but was then surrounded by controversy for the rest of the year.

The Tour (as always) did not fail to impress. With many more of his rivals present than in 1999, defending champion Lance Armstrong was going to find his task much harder in 2000, or so it seemed. However after one crushing ride on stage 10 to Hautacam, he was never in doubt of losing the yellow jersey and he won his second successive Tour de France from an improving Jan Ullrich.

The Vuelta a Espańa that followed a month later was used by some as Olympic preparation, but for many it was the final competition of the year. It can be best described as "short and sharp" with the mountains ensuring that Kelme's Roberto Heras would finish with an impressive win for the team. Heras' subsequent departure to US Postal left a sour taste in the mouth of Kelme, who even considered ending their association with cycling after 21 years. However, they rallied around and will be back for 2001 with some new talent sure to emerge.

Post-Olympics saw the final major competition of 2000 being held in the small French town of Plouay, in Brittany. It may have been small but it was certainly popular, as hundreds of thousands of fans came out to watch the various World Championship time trials and road races. Latvian Romans Vainsteins surprised many by taking the men's road race in a bunch sprint, helped by the fact that neither of the two strongest teams could gain the upper hand. Vainsteins had been preparing specially for the event, and he had been threatening in many of the World Cup races throughout the season. His win was one of his last races with Vini Caldirola, after he transferred to Domo-Farm Frites for 2001.

The transfer carousel resulted in several surprises for the upcoming season, with a few riders breaking their contracts in order to sign with other teams. The aforementioned Roberto Heras and Romans Vainsteins were part of a circus that included Joseba Beloki, Peter Van Petegem, Frank Vandenbroucke, Stefano Garzelli, Fernando Escartin, Alex Zülle, and Kevin Livingston. New first division teams were formed or enhanced, including Domo-Farm Frites, Mercury-Viatel, and Coast, while others broke up such as Vitalicio Seguros.

In Europe, the winter season not only encompasses cyclocross and six-day racing, but also court cases. As soon as the wheels had finished turning at the World's, it was back in court for the protagonists in the Festina affair and Marco Pantani's "sporting fraud" case, as well as several other cases. The Festina trial was the most hyped, and saw a lot of mud flying back and forth in the courtroom in Lille. Despite Richard Virenque's long delayed confession, the case ended rather tamely as far as the penalties were concerned. No-one actually had to go to jail (although some of the accused now have criminal records) unless they commit the same offence again. It was a hard slap on the wrist, but one all the same.

The case clearly showed that there was systematic doping in the Festina team in the early '90's, but did not extend to any other teams, despite Willy Voet's statement at the beginning of the trial that "At Festina we doped for six years straight and we still didn't win the Tour". The events of 1998 are too big to fade into history like so many previous "minor" infringements of the UCI anti-doping regulations. But they clearly show that a lot of effort needs to be placed into bringing cycling into the 21st century if it is to survive another 100 years.

This is but a brief review of the happenings of the previous 12 months. Tomorrow we will announce the results of the "Best rides of 2000" competition (voting has now closed) together with's picks of 2000. Once again, have a great 2001!

Mercury-Viatel plans for the season

U.S. director John Wordin's Mercury team received an early Christmas present last year when bicycle entrepreneur and America's best ever cyclist, Greg Lemond, came on board with some extra funding courtesy of telecommunications company Viatel. Although 39 year old Lemond had originally planned to start his own team in 2001 or 2002, the opportunity arose for involvement with Mercury which was a 'softer' re-entry into the European peloton.

Lemond was going to build his Viatel team around Peter Van Petegem and aim for the first division in 2002. However in an AFP interview, Lemond said that the serious financial and time commitments necessary to run a team forced a re-think. He will be an advisor to the Mercury-Viatel team in 2001:"For me it will be a year of transition. I see myself as the spokesman of the team. I would like to learn how to get on with all the riders and to see what I can bring to them," he said.

He was still able to bring Van Petegem (2nd in Paris-Roubaix and Gent Wevelgem in 2000, 1st in Ronde van Vlaanderen 1999) and Geert Van Bondt (1st Gent-Wevelgem 2000) to the team, enhancing an already solid lineup for the classics. Combined with Dutch champion and Tour stage winner Leon Van Bon and powerhouse sprinter and Vuelta stage winner Jans Koerts, the experience and results are already there to achieve the team's main goal in 2001 - a Classic win.

Not just any Classic either, as Lemond told AFP that "to win the Tour of Flanders or perhaps Paris-Roubaix would be good. Even to finish in the top five in the Tour is possible because we have some very good riders [McRae, Tonkov, Teteriouk, Axelsson]."

Director John Wordin added that "We have a very strong team with a good mixture of Americans and Europeans. To work with Greg will be an enriching experiment for the riders. For our young team, it is moving to be associated with the greatest American rider in history."

The team's budget for 2001 is approximately $US 5 million, about half that of the most expensive team in the peloton (Telekom). They will hold a 10 day training camp in the middle of this month in Los Angeles, before travelling to Malaysia for the Tour de Langkawi.

Dutch team without bikes

With the Tour of Wellington starting in just two days time, bad luck has hit the Dutch BRC Kennermerland team of Paul Tabak (manager), Braam de Waard, Tino Haakman, Gerard Windhouwer and Niels Eriks. Their journey from the Netherlands that was far from smooth after a truck backed into one of the wings in Brussels, forcing them to disembark and eventually miss their connecting flight at Heathrow. This forced them to separate in order to fly to New Zealand, with the inevitable luggage mix up.

Without bikes or clothes, they made it to their training base in Levin, where the fifth rider of the team (Francis de Jager) managed to borrow some bikes so that they could train. The five day tour starts on Wednesday with a criterium in Lower Hutt, however they have been promised their luggage and bikes by tomorrow (Tuesday).