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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Latest Edition Cycling News for April 19, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones, with assistance from Shane Stokes and Sabine Sunderland

ProTour conflict moving towards resolution

Some important sticking points yet to be overcome

By Shane Stokes

Coming up on

Cyclingnews will cover the 60th edition of the Dauphiné Libéré live as of stage 4 on Wednesday, June 10, at approximately 15:00 local Europe time (CEST)/ 23:00 Australian time (CDT)/ 9:00 (USA East).

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UCI president Pat McQuaid
Photo ©: CN
(Click for larger image)

Following meetings of the working group set up by the ProTour supporters and the organizers of cycling's Grand Tours, it appears that some progress is being made in resolving the issues concerned. Speaking to Cyclingnews, UCI President Pat McQuaid confirmed that things are looking brighter than back in December, when ASO, RCS and Unipublic officially rejected the ProTour and announced they would be instead be introducing a ‘Trophy of the Grand Tours' competition [later blocked by the UCI].

"It is closer to an agreement," confirmed McQuaid in recent days. "There have been a set of proposals which have been put forward by the working group which are now going forward to each of the constituent bodies to study. They will all then come back with suggestions. The UCI is also studying those proposals and we will be putting forward some suggestions of our own. We would hope once all these have been considered, that an agreement could be found in the coming weeks."

Although details are vague about what exactly each side has put forward as a solution, it is thought that these current proposals include the possible reduction of ProTour licences from 20 to 18 teams, in order to facilitate the invitation of two more wild card selections by the Grand Tour organisers, and the issuing of these licences for three years rather than four.

However it is believed that the first of these proposals has been a cause of concern for the ProTour teams, as it means that two of them will lose their place in cycling's Elite. The mechanism for determining which two go would need to be finalised, should this concession to the Grand Tour organisers materialise. The UCI are known to be concerned that this could potentially lead to the loss of those sponsors to cycling.

"It is not like a system of promotion and relegation where they could later come back in," said a source within the UCI, who wished to remain anonymous. "So they are unlikely to settle for being a second division team. They will most likely say ‘that's it, we are out,' and 60 riders will be looking for jobs."

Complicating this is the fact that team licences are up for renewal at different times, with three due to reapply later this year, one next year and the remaining fifteen in 2008. AG2R are the only team who have a ProTour licence until 2009. So working out a precise, and fair mechanism whereby two could be eliminated [presuming all wish to continue] is something which the working group and the major players they represent would have to agree upon before this would be accepted.

A second area which still needs to be resolved is the selection of wildcard teams for major events. Under the system proposed by the Grand Tour organisers, a total of four such teams would be invited to races such as the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España. It is believed that the UCI's acceptance of this is likely to hinge on some guarantees being made as to the criteria for the selection of these teams, in order to ensure that they are of a similar standard to their ProTour competitors and that a quantifiable and open system of their choosing is in place.

The UCI is also likely to insist this pool of teams bidding for a Grand Tour place is subject to the same extent of out of competition testing as ProTour teams. Under the current rules, Continental Professional teams are not subjected to the same levels of scrutiny, and so this would need to be changed.

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

Aerts and Leukemans looking to fly the flag

Mario Aerts was the last Belgian winner of the Fleche Wallonne in 2002. Last Sunday the Davitamon-Lotto rider was the best Belgian in the Amstel Gold Race, finishing 26th. He is convinced that the Ardennes classics are more his type of races.

"In the Gold Race all those climbs are hardly longer than a few hundred meters," Aerts is quoted saying in the Belgian press. "A hectic, especially explosive situation. That's why the Ardennes classics are different; it causes a different type of racing.

"I'm going to start with full power in the legs," he told HLN. Thanks to the care of the team's physio David Bombeke, Aerts' left leg is completely free of the pain that troubled him last Sunday. "But it will be hard in any case. The explosiveness which I could use to go on the Mur de Huy three, four years ago is gone. I'll have to anticipate and make sure I get away before the last climb. Because I know it's a lost cause if I arrive there in the company of guys like Schleck, Bettini, Rebellin, Di Luca or Basso."

His teammate Bjorn Leukemans claims to have had super legs in Amstel, but a shortage of "fast" sugars didn't allow him to show those in the finale. "It's a shame. Because no-one had gotten away from me on the Eyserbosweg otherwise.

"I'll see how I feel (today). It should go better today, and the knowledge that nothing is wrong with my form gives me confidence. L-B-L more important? No, if I can win Fleche Wallonne, I won't let it go."

Vanhuffel nearing moment of truth

"My moment of truth has arrived; here my account will be made," Davitamon-Lotto rider Wim Vanhuffel told Flemish newspapers HNB and HLN. The 27 year old has had free reign until now; no stress in the previous months although sickness often kept him out of the top results.

But Vanhuffel is not the man to start worrying now, and he keeps enjoying life to the full. "Some people question that, doubt my performances of last year. I laugh those doubts away. I could get really stressed. Certainly because some people dared to question my results of last year and spread rumours about the way I train and live. All those stories I've heard. Everybody seems to know everything about me but no-one comes and asks me to my face. Bizarre! They see me drinking a Leffe in a pub and question out loud if I look after myself well enough. But I laugh at all that. I know myself what is good and bad for me. I play my cards openly and I admit I need a beer now and again. Last year, I took half a crate of Leffe (beer) to the Giro! My answer? All that talk is bull."

Vanhuffel realises that time is running out. "There's certainly no lack of motivation. Otherwise I wouldn't have spontaneously offered to ride Amstel Gold last weekend. I didn't feel like doing those long training sessions; I'd rather race then. The team management was pleasantly surprised to get my request. I'm convinced I'm on schedule. In the Brabantse Pijl, I wanted but I couldn't. In the Fleche Wallonne, I'll have to anticipate things and not wait till the Mur de Huy. If I am still good on the côte de Bohissau, which is traditionally the judge, I won't hesitate."

"If things don't go the way they need to now; questions will be asked. That increases the pressure. Something is expected from me, that I repeat my strong Giro performance of last year (11th GC) and shine in the mountains. It would be good to do better. A stage win would be beautiful, top ten in GC perfect. For me, the Giro is still more important than the Tour. If the Giro isn't good, then I might salvage something in France. But it won't be easy. How will I digest that Giro? Will I be riding the Tour? I only want to think about all that afterwards, really.

"It wasn't that dramatic, was it?" Vanhuffel replied to a question of whether it was time to "save" to Davitamon-Lotto's bleak season. "Problem is: we are constantly compared to QuickStep. Not winning is losing. And that makes things by definition bad. But save? No, we just go for it. Now it's up to us!"

Verbrugghe struggling

"I'm a bit ill," says 2001 winner Rik Verbrugghe. "The night before Amstel was restless; I slept badly. Three days of antibiotics; but the worst has passed I think."

But it's not only the cold which is nibbling at Verbrugghe's form. Last Tuesday, he dislocated his shoulder according to HLN. This causeed a stiff neck and a forced position on the bike which resulted in a tilted pelvis and blocked diaphragm.

"It happens now and again," Verbrugghe said. "The osteopath has treated me and loosened it all. Hopefully that treatment has a positive result. I'll be really good or bad. There's no in-between. My goal is to be totally fit again by Sunday; for Liege-Bastogne-Liege."

Phonak betting on Merckx and Moos in Fleche Wallonne

Team Phonak will be competing on two fronts today: at the Tour de Georgia and La Flèche Wallonne. The Belgian classic covers 202 km from Charleroi to Huy, where the fourth stage of the Tour de France will also start from on July 5. With the finish atop the famous Mur de Huy (1.3 km at 10 percent), it usually all comes down to that last climb.

Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero, who was Phonak's best rider at the Amstel Gold Race (7th), travelled to his native Spain on Monday where he will train intensively for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which is scheduled for next Sunday. Thus, Phonak has named Axel Merckx and Alexandre Moos as leaders for Wednesday. The Swiss rider has already demonstrated his outstanding form as a support rider on several occasions this spring. Uros Murn, who injured his hand during a crash at Paris-Roubaix and therefore didn't compete in the Amstel Gold Race, will return to action for the team.

Live coverage of Flèche Wallonne

Make sure you follow all the action, live on Cyclingnews, from 14:00 local time (CEST)/08:00 EDT (USA East)/05:00 PDT (USA West)/22:00 AEST (Australia East).

Michaelsen wins Georgia opener

Lars Michaelsen (CSC)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Lars Michaelsen (Team CSC) kicked off Tour de Georgia 2006 in the best possible way by sprinting to a brilliant victory in the 207 km first stage between Augusta and Macon. The Danish veteran won ahead of Fred Rodriguez (Lotto-Davitamon), when the stage was decided during the final 100 meters.

"Lars and Rodriguez were sprinting in separate sides of the road, but Lars was simply faster," said a very satisfied sports director Tristan Hoffman after the first stage. "Everything went well for us and you have to admit that this is the ideal way to start a race. We had things under control and it was great to watch the sprint at the end, where Allan Johansen also managed to launch an attack on the climb during the last stretch."

Tour de Georgia stage 2 preview

Fayetteville - Rome, 197.5km

Today the Tour de Georgia field tackles a relatively-flat stage with rolling hills (See stage map & profile), but the entry into the city of Rome could cause a split in the field, with three circuits involving a climb up the short but steep Clock Tower Hill.

Last year, Andrea Tafi put in a brave solo attack in his final US race, but was caught entering the circuits by a fast charging peloton, led by the entire Discovery Channel team, with Lance Armstrong in tow.

When in Rome ... LA takes a sprint victory in '04
Photo ©: Bob Badalucco

In fact, Armstrong was the surprise winner of the stage into Rome in the 2004 edition (stage 3), something he described as a "almost a freak experience" (not winning a race, but beating the sprinters at their own game).

Tafi was swallowed by the Discovery train, and in turn, the paler-shade-of-blue-train - Gerolsteiner - set up their sprinter, Peter Wrolich, who stole the show and took the win.

The finish is likely to be a bunch kick of 'sprinters-who-can-climb', or an opportunist rider with the explosive power to tackle the climb may be able to hold off what will be a hard-charging bunch, assuming the somewhat-inevitable breakaway group is caught.

Live coverage

Make sure you follow all the action, live on Cyclingnews, from 13:30 local time (EDT), 10:30 PDT (USA West) 19:30 CEST (Europe), 03:30 AEST (Australia East). In yesterday's stage we experienced unexpected demand, so we apologise for any delays you experienced, but for the remaining stages, the servers are scaled up and ready to rumble.

Live coverage - mobile devices

Even if you're not at your computer, you can still follow all the action - for free - by entering this bookmark for the Tour de Georgia into your WAP-compatible handheld device:

The WAP service provides the complete live report automatically delivered in regular updates. When you first visit the link, you have the option of starting at the very first update, or jumping directly to the very latest action. It's also possible to navigate forward and back between all the updates.

Sean Kelly Racing Team in "Elliott Trophy" on Sunday

By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent, Evening Herald, Sunday Independent

Sean Kelly, a name synonymous with Irish Cycling for his exploits on the European Continent for many years is doing the rounds again, but as a director sportif of the Sean Kelly Racing Team. Nothing would please him more than having his name again engraved on a trophy which he won twice over 30 years ago.

In 1974 and 1975 Kelly won the Shay Elliott Memorial, showing his promise in a race named after the man who was an inspiration for the Carrick rider. Kelly went on to a top pro career, taking many of the biggest races in the sport and holding the world number one slot for several years.

The link between two greats of Irish cycling will be rekindled this Sunday. Sean himself is not participating but the team he now oversees, the Sean Kelly – ACLVB M. Donnelly Racing Team, will be in action. The Continental squad is based in Belgium and includes strong young Irish talent plus a number of locals.

Leading the Sean Kelly Racing Team will be Paídi O'Brien, who won a stage last week in the Credit Union Ras Mumhan four day in Kerry. Also included on the entry list are eight former winners of the trophy.

The annual "Elliott" race is being held in Co. Wicklow and departs from the Town Hall in Bray at 10.30. It is promoted by the local cycling club, Bray Wheelers.

Three recent Irish winners are currently competing with Continental Professional and Continental teams abroad. David McCann won the race ten years ago and since he joined the Giant Asia team, his standings have increased dramatically. His name is always touted as a possible winner wherever he participates, and he is expected to be there on Sunday. Navigators Insurance riders David O'Loughlin and Ciarán Power have also been victorious, in 2004 and 1997 respectively, although it is unsure if they will be taking part this time round.

A name that stands out on the list of previous winners is that of Pat McQuaid, who won the trophy back in 1972. Of course, he is now the President of the UCI. His son Andrew is scheduled to start the event and, who knows, with the support of the Sean Kelly Racing Team, history could be in the making. If he came out best, it would be the first father/son combination on the winner's list.

The sponsors of the event, Murphy & Gunn/Newlyn Group are also in with a shout of victory. This year they began backing a Continental level team and while they have yet to shine in overseas races, they showed dominant form in last weekend's Ras Mumhan in Kerry.

Racing gets underway from Bray at 10.30 and with a sprint prime awaiting the riders at Kilpeddar, just 11 kilometres into the 163.5 km race, the speed is likely to be high from the start. At Rathnew, riders come off the N11 and onto a twisting road to Glenealy, then onto Rathdrum, Avoca, Woodenbridge and Arklow.

They then head towards the start of the first real climb of the race, the steep ascent of Old Wicklow Gap, locally known as Croghan. After the prime, the riders will speed on to Aughrim and the undulating run-in towards the foot of the daunting Glenmalure climb, past the Shay Elliott monument at the top. A tricky descent to Laragh follows, after which the riders will climb to Annamoe and make a diversion around the Roundwood Lakes to avoid traffic congestion in the town.

Then it's back onto the undulating roads between Roundwood and Calary towards the high-speed descent of the Long Hill. Once back onto the N11, the riders will have a fast downhill run towards Bray but then turn left and grind up the leg-sapping incline to the finish at Fassaroe Lane.

Past winners

2005 Kevin Dawson (GBr) Planet X
2004 David O'Loughlin (Irl) Team Total Cycling
2003 Alessandro Guerra (Ita) Endura
2002 Mark Lovatt  (GBr) Compensation Group 
2001 David Peelo (Irl) Usher Irish RC
2000 Stephen O'Sullivan (Irl) Clarke Contracts
1999 Brian Kenneally (Irl) Cidona Carrick Wheelers
1998 Michael O'Donnell (Irl) Bray Wheelers 
1997 Ciaran Power (Irl) Comeragh CC
1996 David McCann  (Irl) Phoenix CC
1995 Richard McCauley (Irl) Bray Wheelers CC

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