Tour de France News for June 17, 2004
Edited by John Stevenson
Beloki confirms Tour absence
Joseba Beloki has confirmed that he will not ride this year's Tour de
France. After Beloki's
departure from the Brioches la Boulangere team yesterday, Brioches
team manager Jean Bernaudeau said he thought it was impossible for Beloki
to find another team with which to ride the Tour, but Beloki says this
isn't the case.
"I am free, but the reason I have decided not to ride the Tour is that
I am not in condition to do so," he said. Beloki said that his relationship
with Brioches la Boulangere had gradually deteriorated. The situation
had not been helped by him being unable to use the allergy medication
he has used all his life and for which he has a UCI permit. The decision
by the team sponsor not to renew for 2005 meant he preferred to leave,
Beloki is now planning to find a team that will support him for a comeback
at the Vuelta a Espana. He has not ruled out joining Liberty Seguros,
the team run by Manolo Saiz, his former manager at ONCE.
"That is something that can be discussed," he said. "I am available and
if someone is interested in putting me on the roster he should call me.
I am not closing any doors, but my intention is to ride [for a Spanish
team]. Living abroad is difficult and I am a person that needs to be very
united with my team-mates and team support," Beloki said.
Boonen can't wait
Quick.Step-Davitamon's most successful rider this season, Tom Boonen
is growing increasingly anxious as his first Tour de France participation
draws near. Boonen, winner already of major races including Gent-Wevelgem
and the Tour de Picardie, took the lead of the Ster Elektrotoer Wednesday
after victory in the prologue
time trial. The big Belgian will go head to head with Erik Zabel,
Oscar Freire, Tom Steels, and other sprints throughout the Dutch tour,
but his thoughts are still focused on the Tour de France.
"At the beginning of the season, I didn't think riding the Tour was absolutely
necessary," Boonen explained at a press conference before the Ster Elektrotoer
prologue. "But now I'm happy and I can't wait to get there. I feel like
if I didn't ride it would be a mistake. To race and finish the Tour would
mean to get stronger and step up to the next level."
Boonen has evolved quickly into a bunch sprinter capable of beating the
fastest finishers, though he has yet to come face to face with Alessandro
Petacchi, winner of eight Giro d'Italia stages this year and undeniably
the top sprinter of the moment.
"I want to win at least one stage," Boonen said. "Being second or third
doesn't matter, and I know that to win I have to beat Petacchi. Maybe
I'm in for a rude surprise, but I think it's possible."
Unlike some riders who enter their first Tour de France with plans to
race only a week, or ride conservatively to use the race as a learning
experience, Boonen is very clear in announcing his ambitions.
"I'm going to race all out because otherwise I might as well stay home,"
Verbruggen trusts Armstrong
UCI President Hein Verbruggen, asked for comment on the latest round
of doping allegations in the sport, providing a firm stance on both the
UCI's efforts to curb drug use and added his own conviction that five-time
Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is not among the cheats.
"Most of all, these people are trying to make money," he said of the
new book targeting Lance Armstrong. "I've seen the results of Armstrong's
medical controls. I'm told that his medical file is impeccable and I know
he's not using banned substances. I believe in the results and I trust
Lance. My opinion isn't going to change.
"In six years this hasn't stopped, and it's not going to stop," Verbruggen
said of criticisms linking doping with cycling since the 1998 Festina
affair, quoted in l'Equipe. "Our problems have always received
more press than other sports, but that's how it goes. There are always
cheaters, I know that, but we're fighting against them. We're doing everything
we can and we can't go beyond that."
Meanwhile, the UCI has come under fire once more for not having signed
the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) World Anti-Doping Code. The UCI
remains the only Olympic federation which has not signed the code.
"The UCI is dragging its feet," said French minister of sport Jean-François
Lamour in an AP interview. "I think that's unfortunate, but I'm
sure [the UCI] will sign very soon."
Lamour still expressed hope, despite his current dismay over the state
of affairs in cycling, that the sport has a cleaner future ahead.
"I'm convinced there are young riders in the clubs who are training and
who are practicing the sport clean," he said. "They need our confidence...
I admire these cyclists who compete in such a hard sport, and I'm sad
that the Tour de France bears this image."
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)