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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for January 11, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Domina Vacanze looks past exclusion from Division I

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Vincenzo Santoni, team manager of Domina Vacanze, has had more than his share of bummers in the last twelve months. First Domina Vacanze lost 2002 Vuelta a España winner Aitor Gonzalez to Fassa Bortolo in a contract dispute, then Domina team leader and World Champion Mario Cipollini was inexplicably not invited to the Centenary Tour de France, Now, Santoni's team has been excluded from the 30 team Division I of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Although bitterly disappointed, Santoni remained philosophical.

"We've suffered another episode of grossly unfair treatment," Santoni explained Friday to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "My instinct is to dump it all and leave the sport of cycling, but I just can't walk away like that. [Domina Vacanze's] budget is in order. You'll have to ask the President of the Professional Cycling Council (PCC), Vittorio Adorni, the reason we've been excluded from Division I. The top management of cycling have the power and they run (cycling) based on favouritism and preferential treatment. Nonetheless, we were in Division II [in 2002] and we'll show how good of a team we are at the races."

Adorni didn't mince words in his riposte to Santoni over Domina Vacanze's exclusion, saying "To speak of unfair treatment is out of the question. The teams that the PCC allowed in to Division I had their accounts in order, and the others (Domina Vacanze & Kelme) didn't send complete documentation. And I didn't decide this by myself; it was the entire PCC that is for that. We realized that this (exclusion) was regarding Cipollini's team, but we have to respect the guidelines of the auditors."

Francesco Moser, President of the International Association of Professional Cyclists and member of the PCC was very frank regarding the Domina matter, saying that "We need all the teams to meet the standards, and especially for Division I. (Ernst & Young) have very rigid parameters. There were five pages of auditors notes for Santoni's team. The team manager says everything is in order, but that's not the way it is."

However, a team spokesperson told Cyclingnews that "we knew months ago that all the accounts were in order, especially the bank guarantees... This entire thing seems strange to me."

Domina Vacanze now has until next Thursday, January 15 to get its documentation in order and secure a place in Division II. "We were a Division II team [in 2002] and we will do Milan-San Remo and the Giro d'Italia," said the disappointed Santoni. "As for the rest, we'll have to see."

Click here for the list of 30 Division I teams.

Safety net for Kelme

The government of the Valencia region of Spain has indicated its willingness to provide financial support in the event of the Kelme team's collapse. Shocked by the exclusion from the UCI's Division I for 2004, various heads of state from the team have suggested that the future of Kelme is far less certain as a Division II team. For that reason, Valencia's Council for Education, Culture and Sport has offered to find a new solution if necessary.

"A new team would have to take on the personnel from Kelme, because we don't want cyclists and support staff to end up unemployed," said the head of Valencia's Council for Education, Culture and Sport, Esteban González in Marca Saturday.

Although Kelme's fate is not yet sealed, confidence is in short supply for a rebound after the UCI's decision to deny entry in Division I. Any replacement team would carry the name of the Communidad Valenciana (Valencian Community).

With a commitment in hand from Vuelta a España organiser Unipublic to invite a replacement team to the Spanish tour, Valencia expects any new formation would be suitably competitive even if smaller in scope than the current Kelme team.

New season start for O'Grady

By Chris Henry

New colours, new plan
Photo: © Cyclingnews
Click for larger image

With his move to Cofidis for 2004, and an increasing focus on the spring classics- notably Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, Stuart O'Grady is facing a different start to the year than he is used to. Excited by his new team, and eager to both test himself and race alongside two world champions (Igor Astarloa and David Millar), O'Grady still feels a twinge of regret at not being able to begin his season in his home country Australia.

It's all part of the plan, however, to be in top form in April, the pinnacle of the classics season. Obligations to the new team and the realities of training and a proper buildup for specific events mean O'Grady will miss both the Tour Down Under and the chance to defend his title at the Australian national championships. Both events have smiled on him in recent years.

"As much as it hurts to be over here freezing my ass off, it's a whole different perspective," O'Grady told Cyclingnews at the Cofidis team presentation Friday in Paris. "I can sit back and say that the Tour Down Under for me has been fantastic, but to win Paris-Roubaix you cannot be going that deep in the red in January. There's no two ways about it. And you can't be national champion in January and still be firing on all cylinders in April."

O'Grady will begin his season in more typical French fashion, starting with the country's season opener, the GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise, followed by the Etoile de Bessèges stage race, Paris-Nice, and Milan-San Remo. Soon after, he will target the queen of the classics, Paris-Roubaix.

Racing for fun...
Photo: © Shane Goss
Click for larger image

With the exception of the Doherty Hotel's Launceston International Classic in Tasmania at the end of December, O'Grady stayed away from racing during his off-season time in Australia. Despite doing the one race "for fun", he still showed good form and finished fifth in a hotly contested event.

"I really wanted to spend as much time as possible at home with the new family," O'Grady explained. "It's all going really well, it's just a completely different start to the season for me. Who knows what it will hold."

Asked who might be favoured to win the Australian road race title this year, O'Grady was at a loss for a top pick.

"Good question. No idea..." he said. "I'm sure Robbie [McEwen] is as motivated as ever, but I think has enough support that eventually one of them is going to be in a breakaway. I think Brad McGee's going well enough to win. The nationals are a really special day and you're really closely marked, so it's more of an opportunity for a lesser known rider but a part of a bigger team to get away."

Irish team complete for Langkawi

By Shane Stokes,

Cycling Ireland announced Saturday the final two places on the team which will ride the prestigious Tour of Langkawi (February 6-15). Eugene Moriarty and Tim Barry will complete the seven-man squad for the UCI 2.2 event, joining David O'Loughlin, Paul Griffin, David McCann, Philip Deignan and national U23 champion Denis Lynch in the Hibernian Team Ireland setup for the ten-day event.

Olympic team manager Martin O'Loughlin had been trying to secure the participation of Mark Scanlon and Ciarán Power for the Malaysian tour. However, the chance of either taking part was slim as both Scanlon's Ag2R squad and Power's Navigators team have commitments elsewhere around the same time. Both riders are due to get their season underway later this month in the Tour Down Under in Australia.

The seven-man Irish selection will nevertheless head to the Tour of Langkawi intent on getting a share of the publicity, prize-money and UCI points on offer. Their task will be made a little easier by the news that the race organisers have invited four officials to the race; Frank Campbell will act as manager, John Keegan as mechanic, while Jerry O'Dwyer and Brendan Whelan will provide the daily massages which will help the riders cope with the demands of the tough early-season event.

Ullrich sidelined

Jan Ullrich has been advised by doctors to remain in bed to fight a fever and intestinal flu, meaning he will delay his trip to Mallorca to join T-Mobile for early season training camps. The risk of infecting his teammates was as much a consideration as the need for rest, but Ullrich is still planning on beginning his season in Mallorca at the beginning of February.

Jayco Bay Classic news

By Karen Forman in Geelong

McEwen pushes on despite sore hip and bad stomach

Robbie McEwen riding
Photo ©: Shane Goss

With five series wins behind him, Robbie McEwen was hopeful of notching up a sixth when he came to Geelong for the 2004 Jayco Bay Classic criterium series ­ particularly when strong wins at Surfers Paradise and Launceston in December hinted at particularly good form for so early in the season.

Given his history at the Bay Classic, he wasn't surprised when he found himself a marked man during the first stage of the five-day series at Hastings on Wednesday. He said he had pretty much expected the boys, sponsored for this event by Skilled, would be doing what they could to keep him out of the placings.

What he wasn't banking on was a crash during that rain-affected first stage which would leave him stiff, sore and bruised in the hip, knee and ankle for the rest of the week ­ so much so that he has been feeling "like I am riding sideways". Nor did he count on being affected by a stomach upset, which struck at the end of the second stage at Port Arlington. It's nothing he considers too serious, just problematic enough to keep him from putting in a big effort in the second and third stage and knock him out of the fourth stage completely.

He will be back, he says, for the finale of the five-day event at Docklands in central Melbourne, and he will be "going for it". Not only because he has won the past three Bay Classics and is disappointed that he hasn't performed to his best at this one, but also because it's the businesses in the Docklands area which have sponsored his team MAB/Mirvac/Lend Lease/Vic Urban and he wants to do the right thing by them.

"I've had a bit of a problem since I crashed on the first day, with my hip, knee and ankle and have been struggling every since," McEwen told Cyclingnews yesterday. "I felt I had come into the event in good form, given my results at Surfers and Launceston, so it hasn't had anything to do with my form.

"My hip is really swollen and sore and I feel like I am sitting sideways on the bike all week. I have been pushing through, but it's still and sore and I need to get some work done on it."

He said he hadn't managed to find anyone locally who could do what he needed, so was looking forward to returning home to Brisbane to work with elite physiotherapist Victor Popov solidly for the week leading up to the national road championships.

"I am hopeful we can get it sorted out," McEwen continued. "Obviously it hasn't been the ideal start that I was hoping for. Having won the series for the last three years I was pretty much hoping that I would go well, it would have been reasonable to expect I would, but I have been finding it difficult."

He said he had tried to show his face a couple of times in sprints and attacks but was also aware he had been marked by the excellent teamwork of the riders.

"I have been trying to get into the breaks but I am not driving myself into the ground," McEwen explained. "If I hadn't been injured I might have seen a different race, but it is what it is. Also, I haven't had the best stomach, although that plays second fiddle to the hip."

McEwen remains confident he can get the injury sorted out in time for the nationals, which start in seven days time near Ballarat in Victoria. "I've been better, but the season is long..."

Uruguayans having a wow of a time

David McKenzie's stage win on the Geelong waterfront for his Bicycle Superstore team not only caused great excitement for the 30 year old winner from Melbourne and the team sponsors, but also two team members who hail from a country not often seen riding bikes at elite level... especially in Australia.

Uruguayan visitors Hector Morales and Jorge Libonatti were delighted to be instrumental in Macca's win, just as they are over the moon about even being able to contest the Jayco criterium series. And more, they are simply rapt to be in riding in Australia... now recognised as one of the top cycling countries of the world.

The pair is in Australia on a six-month program sponsored by Uruguayan cycling clubs to gain race experience in another country. The program came into being after Uruguay won its first-ever cycling gold medal at the Olympics.

According to Bicycle Superstore team manager Nigel Letty, the guys are having such a good time and recording such good results in Australia, that they have extended their visas for another six months.

"We are really happy to have them on our team," Letty told Cyclingnews. "They are such nice, genuine, hard working guys who really love the sport. And modest, too. On the first day at Hastings we went into book them into the hotel and Hector started talking to the receptionist. She asked him what he did and he said, "I race bicycles". I said to her, he's being modest there, they are professional cyclists. The guys went red and said, 'not professional' yet here they are racing some of the best in the world...and doing well."

In fact, Libonatti finished ninth overall and third in the third intermediate sprint during stage two at Port Arlington and won the second intermediate sprint at Geelong waterfront last night. Morales led two attacks which became breakaways early in last night's race and both riders were instrumental in McKenzie's third place in the stage. "Hector is right up there, he is riding really, really well and Jorge is a great rider," said Letty. They are two great guys and are fitting into the team perfectly. They have got a bit of a problem with communication as they speak very little English. Jorge is learning and Hector follows him."

Letty said Bicycle Superstore was originally going to have Henk Vogels in the team, as he did the Sun Tour for them last year. "But he had a really bad crash and wasn't able to ride. Then when I said to (Jayco organiser) Karin Jones that we would like to put a team together and she said she had two Uruguayans who wanted to be in a team, I was very keen to see their resumes."

With first and second in the nationals and first and another placing in the Grafton to Inverell, Tour of Queensland second and stage wins, Nigel said he couldn't wait to sign them up. "I spoke to Dave Sanders and he said to snap them up, they're awesome, and that was the start of our team."

Not surprisingly, Nigel is "absolutely over the moon" about Macca's win on Friday.

"We celebrated hard and I rang a lot of people to tell them what we had achieved," he said. "The only down was what happened with the Herald Sun when they ran an old picture of Macca wearing a Jayco jersey instead of our jersey. As a sponsor you hang out for a win and podium finish and a bit of the media attention, so that was disappointing. The Geelong Advertiser had a fantastic picture, though."

Cyclingnews on SBS TV today

Australian TV viewers can get a chance to see the Cyclingnews crew in action today (Sunday) on SBS's "Cycling Central" program, which is aired between 5:30 and 6:00pm every Sunday. The show is hosted by experienced Tour de France reporter Mike Tomalaris and covers a variety of aspects of cycling each week.

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