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Tour de France News for June 29, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones

Millar due in court

Cofidis rider David Millar is due to meet with French judge Richard Pallain Thursday in Nanterre, outside of Paris, France. Millar was held for nearly 48 hours by police in his home town of Biarritz, questioned as part of the ongoing investigation surrounding the Cofidis team. Millar was released from custody but during his interrogation is said to have admitted to using EPO.

On the advice of his lawyers, Millar has yet to issue a statement concerning his situation. His management agency Face Partnership confirmed to Cyclingnews today that a statement would be forthcoming after his court appearance. In the meantime, Millar finds himself dropped from the Cofidis team roster for the Tour de France, Cofidis having accepted the Tour de France organisation's wish to exclude any rider subject of a police investigation.

Millar does remain a candidate for the Olympic Games in Athens as the British Olympic Association awaits more information pertaining to Millar's alleged EPO use.

"Until the facts are presented to us by British Cycling the athlete remains a member of Team GB," a British Olympic Association spokesman commented in The Guardian. Millar was selected for his national team last August and has planned to compete in the individual time trial (road) and the individual pursuit on the track.

"We have no notification from any official French legal source and, unless we have notification and confirmation of what has been written in the press, we cannot take action," said Dave Brailsford, British Cycling's world-class performance director said of Millar.

Vasseur keeps fighting

While still a subject of investigation by judge Richard Pallain for possible involvement in the doping affair surrounding the Cofidis team, Cédric Vasseur continues to maintain his innocence and is unwilling to let his expulsion from the French national championships and Tour de France go without a fight.

Vasseur has begun legal proceedings against Cofidis and Amaury Sport Organisation (owner of the Tour de France), claiming that his exclusion from competition is in conflict with the presumption of innocence. His case is expected to be heard Wednesday morning in Lille.

"We'll find out whether the presumption of innocence is recognised in France," said Vasseur's lawyer Bertrand Wambeke. "The Cofidis team was put under considerable pressure by ASO, and Cofidis gave in. When you look at the texts of this affair, it's absolutely clear.

"What really brought things to a head, I think, is a minister [sports minister Jean-François Lamour] who has taken a position counter to the law," Wambeke added, referring to Lamour's own statements calling for the prohibition of any rider under investigation from racing in the Tour.

Steels still dreams of Tour

Four for Steels
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Belgian Tom Steels has given up on his goal of Olympic competition but he still dreams of returning to the Tour de France, where he has found success in the past in both stage wins and in the fight for the green points jersey. Steels, riding for Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, won his fourth national road title Sunday and by all accounts has returned to his best form in years.

Steels is proud of his team, refuting the notion that after his years with the Mapei powerhouse his move to the smaller Landbouwkrediet-Colnago formation was somehow a step backwards.

"I found with [team manager Gérard Bulens] the energy to come back to the top, and what's fabulous is that the whole team has moved up with me," Steels said, quoted in La Dernière Heure. "I've rediscovered the enthusiasm that helps me do my job the best I can. I don't need 35 bikes at my disposal or a luxurious infrastructure to do this. People say this is a modest team, but I've never been more proud."

Steels' team did not earn selection for the Tour de France this year, but the experienced Belgian holds out hope that a Tour invitation could come next year.

"I hope to come back some day to the Tour and try to win once again," he said. "I feel like I still have the speed and the potential to do well at the highest level, and there is no level higher than at the Tour de France. The important thing for me is to keep progressing."

Leblanc seeks varied Tour

In the creation of a somewhat unusual parcours for this year's Tour de France, race director Jean-Marie Leblanc hopes to see a change in race tactics from the contenders and their team directors. This year the toughest mountains of the Tour are stacked in the third week of racing, and the first individual time trial doesn't come until the uphill test on l'Alpe d'Huez, the 16th stage.

For Leblanc, who expects the tough transitional stages in the Massif Central to play a role as the Tour heads for the big hills, assuming all will be played out on l'Alpe d'Huez could be a mistake for teams and fans alike.

"We're not the ones who are saying come to l'Alpe d'Huez, everything will be decided there," Leblanc told AFP. "If this stage overshadows the rest, that would indicate that the directeurs sportifs and the riders didn't use the terrain we've given them to separate themselves."

The Tour will still begin with traditional flat stages for the sprinters, but with sections of the route in Belgium and northern France bearing closer resemblance to the spring classics, it's clear the Tour organisers have proposed plenty of opportunities for excitement in the Tour aside from the high mountains.

"We made l'Alpe d'Huez the first individual time trial to provoke a change, to oblige the riders to imagine some new strategies," Leblanc added. "Perhaps some of those who wait until l'Alpe d'Huez will find it's too late!"

For Leblanc, following the grandeur of the centenary Tour in 2003 is no easy task, but the changes proposed this year are designed to serve that very purpose.

"The challenge now is to maintain the passion that was put to good use last year at the centenary Tour," he explained. "Basically, we have to be as modern as possible without forgetting our history..."

Tour braces for police raids

Given the latest round of doping investigations in cycling, Tour de France Jean-Marie Leblanc understands fully that this year's Tour could find itself the subject of police raids. Leblanc accepts this, while at the same time expressing his hope that any police actions would be undertaken diligently and with respect for the race.

"It's impossible not to expect it," Leblanc commented in an AFP interview the week before the Tour start in Liège, Belgium. "We know that there could be, if necessary, a police or customs intervention at the Tour. But as I said in 1998, it's important that, if this happens, these interventions are done with the greatest possible respect and dignity for the athletes who face three weeks of tough competition."


Blood tests to be introduced for Tour

In a new effort to combat doping in cycling, the UCI plans to introduce full blood testing in the Tour de France - the first time that such a measure has been used to determine whether a rider is positive or not. Up until now, blood testing has only been used as a health measure (haematocrit test) or as a precursor to a urine test. But the relatively short range effectiveness of urine testing for blood boosting drugs such as EPO has greatly reduced the chance of catching athletes using the drug, as EPO has performance enhancing effects lasting several weeks.

Blood screening has been used for several years now, and there was a strong push by researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport to get an anti-doping blood test approved before the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. But they were knocked back, partly because of fears of false positives.

Now it appears that all the hurdles have been overcome, and UCI doctor Mario Zorzoli told Procycling today that, "We have decided to introduce anti-doping blood tests. Nothing is official yet, but we know that our regulations permit us to perform blood tests and we're not worried about doing precisely that. It should happen: we have methods available to us to do it. I believe that it will be a first in a sporting event."

The irony is that a number of personnel from France's National Anti-Doping Laboratory in Chatenay-Malabry have planned a strike on Saturday, July 3 to coincide with the start of the Tour de France.

Cofidis names its nine

Although the absence of David Millar will certainly put a hole into the Cofidis team for the Tour de France, the nine man squad named today should still make a strong impression. Candidate stage winners include Stuart O'Grady and Jimmy Casper, who have shown that they can take part in long breakaways as well as mix it up in the bunch sprints. O'Grady won two stages of the Dauphine Libéré while Casper came very close to winning one, and both are in good form.

The rest of the team includes Frédéric Bessy (Fra), Christophe Edaleine (Fra), Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra), Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz), David Moncoutié (Fra), Janek Tombak (Est) and Matthew White (Aus), who will finally realise his dream of riding the Tour. The reserves are Daniel Atienza and Peter Farazijn, with Francis Van Londersele and Alain Deloeil as directors.

Wegmann in for Gerolsteiner

Not surprisingly after his third place in the German championships yesterday, Giro d'Italia mountains jersey winner Fabian Wegmann has been selected as the ninth rider for the Gerolsteiner team to replace the injured Markus Zberg. The 24 year old will be riding in his first Tour, and will start with no particular ambitions.

The full Gerolsteiner team is thus: René Haselbacher (Aut), Georg Totschnig (Aut) and Peter Wrolich (Aut), Danilo Hondo (Ger), Sebastian Lang (Ger), Uwe Peschel (Ger), Ronny Scholz (Ger), Fabian Wegmann (Ger), Sven Montgomery (Swi).

Scanlon officially confirmed for Tour

By Shane Stokes, Irishcycling.com

Mark Scanlon's participation in the 2004 Tour de France was officially confirmed today by his Ag2R Prévoyance team with the announcement of their nine man line-up for the race. Scanlon will join Ag2R Prévoyance teammates Laurent Brochard, Jaan Kirsipuu, Jean Patrick Nazon, Stéphane Goubert, Nicolas Portal, Yuri Krivstov, Mikel Astarloza and Samuel Dumoulin in the Tour lineup.

The 23 year old professional will make history by becoming only the eighth ever Irish starter, and the first since Stephen Roche back in 1993. "I am delighted to get the chance to ride the Tour," said Scanlon today. "I'm very happy to ride but I am going to approach it like any other race, rather than build myself up too much. I'll just take it as it comes and see how I get on."

Scanlon was chosen yesterday evening by the Irish selectors for the Athens road race but, like his Tour de France participation, this was anticipated beforehand due to his good results this season. These include two race wins in Estonia, plus the accumulation of 198 world ranking points.

Scanlon is the most talented Irish cyclist in many years. Ever since that dramatic victory in the 1998 world junior championships in Valkenburg he has been recognised as the most likely rider to earn a Tour de France start.

Earlier this month he spent time training in the Alps in order to prepare for the demands of the Tour. As the race approaches, he will taper down his training in order to ensure his batteries are fully charged before the arduous three week contest.

"I haven't been doing any special training of late, just following my normal routine," he said. "I won't be doing anything too excessive over the next few days, just getting ready for the start of the race."

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Armstrong appeal due Wednesday

Lance Armstrong's legal team is expected to hear the verdict on their appeal of a court decision in France denying their request to force the publishers of "L.A. Confidential" to insert a statement from the five-time Tour de France winner denying the charges of doping contained in the book. Armstrong lost the first legal round against Editions de la Martinière, the book's publisher, but filed the appeal immediately. He has likewise threatened legal action against the two authors, David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, as well as l'Express magazine in France and the Sunday Times in England.

Cyclingnews Tour de France fantasy game

With the Tour de France around the corner, Cyclingnews is pleased to offer once again the Tour de France 2004 fantasy game. Registration is open now and will remain during the first week. As always, great prizes will be on offer, and participants may enter as many teams as they wish, trying out different combinations before final entry by the start of stage 6.

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