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Tour de France News for June 3, 2004

Edited by John Stevenson

Euskaltel plays down Extebarria exclusion

Despite his exclusion yesterday from the Euskal Bizikleta, Basque rider David Etxebarria should have no problem being a member of Euskaltel-Euskadi's squad for the Tour de France, according to team manager Julián Gorospe.

Gorospe told Europa Press that Extebarria's 15-day suspension from riding after returning a haematocrit reading of 52.8 percent in no way counted as a positive drug test, and revealed that Extebarria has an exemption from the UCI allows him a higher-than-usual haematocrit of 52 percent.

Gorospe claims that Extebarria's 52.8 percent reading was the result of a digestive tract illness picked up at the Gran Premio de Llodio on Sunday. "He was ill," said Gorospe and the dehydration caused by the illness caused an increased haematocrit level.

Extebarria will now be unable to race until he passes another blood control at the Volta a Catalunya (June 14-20).

Gorospe said he did not believe Extebarria's suspension would prevent him being a member of Euskaltel's nine-man Tour de France team, but did not deny that the Tour organization can prevent a rider from taking part.

David Etxebarria: Not the end of the world

By Martin Hardie

David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is disgusted, his pride is hurt, but his 'take life as it comes' attitude is weathering the storm he currently finds himself in. This week's Euskal Bizikleta was a race on which he had placed a lot of hope. He counted himself as one who could do something. With teammate Haimar Zubeldia content with a podium position and maybe a stage win, David was amongst those hoping for victory in the five day race. But as he said Thursday in his habitual race day column in Bilbao's DEIA newspaper, it was solely because he placed so much hope in doing well this week, still knowing that he was ill, that he "risked it and decided to race."

"I say I risked it because for two days I have been sick, like other teammates, with dehydration and stomach problems," Etxebarria explained. "And in these conditions, it is known that your haematocrit level rises, and this is what happened to me. My level was 0.8 percent higher than normal. On Tuesday my director and doctor advised me not to race. They were worried about what might happen, but the Euskal is the Euskal and I took the decision to race. This has been my only sin.

"Like many other cyclists I have a certificate from the UCI that recognises that I have a haematocrit much higher than normal, up to 52%," he explained. "My grandfather, for example, has a level of 54%. The fact is that Cunego, winner of the Giro, also has his limit fixed at 52%. I obtained this certificate a few years back in Lisbon; I think it was the year that the blood controls came into being.

"Why then yesterday was the level higher and I haven't been on other occasions?" Etxebarria asked. "Well it is very simple - never before have I raced in the situation I was in, and what's more never have I been sick when I had to have a haematocrit test."

"It hurts a bit that I could not win the Euskal as people thought I could," he added. "I am aware that some people might try to take advantage of this test to call into question the results I have obtained in my ten years as a a professional, during which time I have passed over 200 anti-doping controls without a problem. But it doesn't worry me what they might say because I do not have anything to be ashamed of. There is the certificate from the UCI.

"What's more, to be over by 0.8 percent is nothing like a 'positive', and they will not sanction me. My mind is calm. I know who my friends are. They know me and only their opinion matters. It is a problem, yes, and a big one, but it is not the end of the world."

Beloki still unknown

Despite steady training and a consistent face of optimism concerning his preparation, Joseba Beloki (Brioches La Boulangère) remains perhaps the biggest unknown among Tour de France contenders. Struggling throughout the spring as he returned to racing after crashing out of last year's Tour, Beloki has yet to find his top racing form, or it would seem anything even close. Eager to test himself in this week's Euskal Bizikleta in his home Basque region of Spain, Beloki finished the first difficult stage in 79th place, 7'17 behind race winner Miguel Martin Perdiguero.

"I'm glad to be back in competition so I can see where I am," Beloki commented before the first stage. "This race is excellent preparation for the Tour."

Since joining the French La Boulangère team as unique leader for the Tour de France, Beloki has faced a variety of setbacks including tendinitis and lingering complications from his season-ending crash last year. Though he still speaks of the 2004 Tour, he acknowledges that his role as a favourite is no longer justified.

"I'm optimistic (for the Tour), but I don't have any illusions," Beloki told Marca. "If I'm not back for the Tour, I will be for the Vuelta. Of that I have no doubt."

Dean back on the bike

New Zealand Credit Agricole rider Julian Dean is back on the bike after being out of action for over a month. Dean broke both arms in a crash at the Four Days of Dunkirk last month and has since had to cope with the frustration of being sidelined and only able to ride on a wind trainer.

On his website Dean writes that he is now able to ride on the road again, after a week of mixing road and wind trainer riding - something he says he hates. "It was only the possibility of riding the TDF that kept me motivated," he writes. "Even then it was f***** hard to do. One of the hardest things I've ever had to get my head around."

As well as hoping to get into Credit Agricole's team for the Tour, Dean is expected to be named to the New Zealand road team for the Athens Olympics, which will be announced tomorrow.

However, his recovery is far from complete. Although he can ride perfectly well, Dean admits "the right [arm] is not so good and, at some point, will need surgery. I can't quite extend it fully and given that for my post-pro-cycling, pro-golf career, I play left-handed, I'll need to get it fixed. I also have problems with rotation, and even have difficulty putting out my hand to get my change at the supermarket. Not sure when the op will be but most likely after the season."

In the meantime though, he has to convince Credit Agricole "that I am fit and ready without having raced a whole lot. I'm confident that I'll be ready but I'm not so sure that they are."

Dean plans to return to racing at the Tour of Switzerland (June 12-20) and says that, "I hope that at the Tour of Swiss, I can convince them of it. For sure, no matter how I am at the Tour de Swiss, I'll be a whole lot better by the Tour de France."

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