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Tour News for July 5
Vasseur bitter; Virenque wants vengeance
US Postal's CÚdric Vasseur is one of many riders not happy about missing out on the Tour. As a French rider, and former wearer of the yellow jersey, his presence would certainly boost the popularity of the team, not to mention his skills as a domestique. However Vasseur, Matthew White, and Benoit Joachim were amongst those left out when the Postal team was finalised.
In an interview with Le Voix du Nord, Vasseur said that he was quite bitter at being left behind by director Johan Bruyneel. "I am awaiting his explanations," said Vasseur, who added that he should have been wary when Lance Armstrong wished him "good luck" for the French Championship. "I should have taken that as the alternative!"
The currently suspended Richard Virenque was also in Dunkirk today, where he held a press conference to announce his signing for Domo-Farm Frites. He will not be able to start in the Tour, but maintained that "I will be avenged on my new bicycle."
Virenque is moving back to France from Geneva, citing family reasons, and will be allowed to race again on August 1.
There are plenty of other riders disappointed at not starting the Tour, among them Raimondas Rumsas (Fassa Bortolo). The Lithuanian champion was considered an excellent prospect for this race, after he was left off the Giro team. He told Lithuanian daily Lietuvos rytas that he was "stunned" at the non-selection, and that he had already had offers from other teams.
Giancarlo Ferretti also left Russian champion, Dimitri Konyshev at home, with Oscar Pozzi substituting. However, Konyshev has had a heavy racing program for the last few months, which could partly justify Ferretti's decision.
Other classifications: green, polka dot and white
Besides the all important yellow jersey, there exist several other classifications in the Tour that carry a significant amount of prestige, prize money and of course, UCI points.
The green points jersey is awarded to the most "consistent" rider throughout the Tour. One who can place highly in stage finishes, as well as one who can contest and win the intermediate sprints. There are 21 stage finishes and 42 intermediate sprints, meaning that there is little time for relaxation at the back of the bunch when the green jersey is your aim.
Erik Zabel holds the mortgage on the green, winning it five times in a row (unbeaten since 1996). This year, he is still one of the top contenders despite the fact that his preferred lead out man, Gian Matteo Fagnini has been left at home. Zabel is quick, but he can also climb, meaning that he can pick up points on some of the tougher stages when the pure sprinters get dropped.
He should get some stiff competition from World Champion Romans Vainsteins (Domo-Farm Frites), who is also quite handy on the smaller climbs. Vainsteins is in good form although he doesn't have 15 wins to his credit this year. However, he should feature highly in the first week, and has a team purpose built to support him.
Another rider who has battled with Zabel in the past is Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole). Although the team is not considered to be one of the stronger sprinting teams, O'Grady has a knack of picking up intermediate sprints, as well as finishing consistently highly in stages. He too has good recent form coming into the Tour, and who knows, he may even pull on the yellow jersey again?
Then there are the pure sprinters, such as Tom Steels and Jaan Kirsipuu, who are formidable in a big bunch sprint, but do not possess the qualities to contest the green for the entire duration of the Tour. Other sprinters to look out for include Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) and the improving Robert Hunter (Lampre-Daikin), as well as his teammate Jan Svorada.
In the mountains, the competition will be harder to pick this year. Of the currently active cyclists, Richard Virenque possesses a total of five polka dot jerseys, but he is confined to the sidelines for the time being. Last year's mountains winner, Santiago Botero (Kelme) hasn't shown many signs that he will successfully defend his jersey, so it may come down to another rider from his team - perhaps Aitor Gonzalez - or any one of several candidates.
Euskaltel-Euskadi will be looking to bring something back from this Tour, and a mountains jersey would certainly be good for them. Unai Etxebarria and Haimar Zubeldia have good climbing skills, as does captain David Etxebarria.
The challenge might come from Fassa Bortolo's Francesco Casagrande, who is an excellent climber normally. His GC ambitions may override those for the KOM, but these things tend to go hand in hand. For this reason, it is a good bet that the overall winner of the Tour will finish high up in the mountains classification as well. Jan Ullrich, Joseba Beloki and Lance Armstrong all have good qualifications in this area.
The best young rider jersey is awarded to the rider aged 25 and under who is best placed on the general classification at the end of the Tour. Last year, Francesco Mancebo (Banesto) won it after finishing 9th on GC. He is a possibility to gain it this year, along with Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel), Oscar Sevilla (Kelme), J÷rg Jaksche (ONCE), and Sven Montgomery (FdJ) for example.
Finally, the most aggressive rider is determined each day by a panel of judges who award points for 'combativity'. Long suicide breaks on the flatter stages count for points, and even more if they actually pay off. Similarly, a long, tough day in the mountains in the lead will score in this category. Last year, Erik 'triple' Dekker narrowly beat Santiago Botero for the most aggressive rider classification, but this year he may ride the race differently. Other contenders include Jacky Durand, Christophe Agnolutto, Jens Voigt, Benoţt Salmon and Didier Rous.
Supplementary classification past winners
Points 2000 Erik Zabel (Ger) 1999 Erik Zabel (Ger) 1998 Erik Zabel (Ger) 1997 Erik Zabel (Ger) 1996 Erik Zabel (Ger) 1995 Laurent Jalabert (Fra) 1994 Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (Uzb) Mountains 2000 Santiago Botero (Col) 1999 Richard Virenque (Fra) 1998 Christophe Rinero (Fra) 1997 Richard Virenque (Fra) 1996 Richard Virenque (Fra) 1995 Richard Virenque (Fra) 1994 Richard Virenque (Fra) Young rider 2000 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Most combative rider 2000 Erik Dekker (Ned)
189 Hematocrits OK
This morning's blood tests carried out on the entire 189 rider Tour peloton yielded no results above the 50 percent limit, meaning that all riders will be able to start on Saturday. In addition, the riders' blood samples will be analysed as part of the biological medical screen carried out several times per year.
In addition, there were several surprise urine tests taken on Wednesday evening by the UCI, according to rider sources (separate to the tests taken on Thursday morning). Finally, both Australian riders in the Tour (Stuart O'Grady and Brad McGee) were visited by drug testing agents at the request of the Australian federation. O'Grady happened to be in his hotel at the time, and was able to comply, while McGee had not yet checked in.
Doping: No warning for riders
There will be no second chances for cyclists testing positive during this year's Tour, according to an official communiqué received by the teams. Any rider whose "A" sample is positive for a banned substance will be excluded from the Tour, without waiting for confirmation of the "B" sample.
Last night, the directeurs sportifs and the professional cyclists' group (AIGCP) met to discuss their strategy to deal with any potential problems. The specification of the Tour organisers means that team directors will have to temporarily suspend any rider who tests positive during the Tour.
During the last Giro, several riders were prevented from racing after it was found that their "A" samples were positive to EPO, although it wasn't officially part of the race rules.
Some TdF numbers
1: The number of other countries visited this year (Belgium)