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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for March 26, 2006

Edited by Anthony Tan, with assistance from Sabine Sunderland

Unibet manager speaks out

By Brecht Decaluwé in Harelbeke

Before the start of the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen in Harelbeke, Cyclingnews caught up with Koen Terryn, team manager of the Belgian Unibet.com team, whose rider Geert Omloop and Dave Bruylandts (the latter previously expected to join the team on April 1) have being placed under temporary suspension.

Terryn said he spoke with both riders to hear their opinion on the latest police raids that took place last Thursday, acting under orders from judicial authorities in Turnhout: "We had a chat for about a half an hour. Immediately, I saw that Omloop is innocent," he said. "He's [been] riding in our team for three years and I know he's honest. He is hurt by this case and he declared to me that he didn't do anything illegal.

"Most of the products that were found at his place were returned. Still, there are four products kept behind. Those products are not illegal, so we trust him. His problem is that he's not a climber - these [the Spring Classics] are his races, so he wants to be riding again as soon as possible."

However, Terryn said things are different concerning the case of Dave Bruylandts, because he doesn't have a contract with Unibet as yet. "We had the intention to sign him on the first of April, but this will be delayed until he is declared innocent," he said.

"I can't assess his honesty because he's new. That's why I couldn't ask him the same questions that I posed to Omloop. We talked while preparing for the new season and he was happy to get a new chance, knowing that he couldn't make any mistakes. If it should be proven that these guys made important mistakes, they will be fired. But, it would have no consequences for the existence of the Unibet team."

IGF-1: The latest craze

In their search for clarity in the ongoing doping saga in Belgian cycling, Flemish newspaper HNB went looking for information on the IGF-1 substance.

'Spectacular, undetectable and perilous' is how this product is described by experts. Since EPO is detectable, IGF-1 is the ideal doping product, according to Dr. Chris Goossens, doping expert for the Flemish Community. It strengthens the muscles, improves recuperation and above all, cannot be detected. The fact that the user might be taking serious risks with his life doesn't seem to matter much, as according to the public prosecutor's office of Turnhout, the insulin-like growth hormone was one of the products found during their raid.

Growth hormone, and more specifically IGF-1, triggers the production of growth hormone in the body. Growth hormone makes us grow, but not only in length - feet, hands and muscles too. Growth hormone itself still is used as a doping product but might be detectable in the near future, via blood tests. However, IGF-1 can't be.

Explained Dr. Goossens, "The product strengthens the muscles and improves recuperation which allows you to train more, it transforms fat into muscle and it's not traceable. Not even with the special kits that will be used to detect the different types of growth hormone [natural or artificially produced]. The American Food and Drug Administration only approved of the medicine for patients with IGF-deficit last year."

Sold as Increlex, there are some salient points to be made against the use, or rather abuse of the product. "There have no studies been released about the side effects," said Dr. Goossens. "If you take IGF-1, you're on thin ice. Disturb your own hormone production isn't healthy at all to start with."

In fact, you're playing with your life if you decide to abuse the product for doping purposes, warns Dr. Goossens. "It's endangering life. Growth hormone and IGF will cause an unbridled growth among other muscles, but the heart is also a muscle. The blood vessels don't follow that growth pattern, which will unavoidably cause heart attacks. The uncontrolled growth of cells has caused growth hormone tumours before."

O'Grady to return at Catalunya

By Shane Stokes

Having missed out on his goal of a strong spring Classics campaign after a bad crash on the second stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, Stuart O'Grady will return to racing in the Tour of Catalunya in May, with the goal of being back in strong form for the Dauphiné Libéré and the Tour de France.

The 32 year-old Australian broke his collarbone and five ribs when he slammed into a pothole and crashed heavily. He told Cyclingnews on Thursday that he is finally starting to get over the injuries, and hopes to resume training soon.

"Things have really come along in leaps and bounds today," he said. "I think it has been about 12 days since the crash, I am now getting myself dressed and have quite a lot of mobility, taking the brace off. I have been seeing a chiropractor every day for the last few days and that is really helped to make a huge improvement.

"I will be on the home trainer in the next four to five days. It is not the collarbone at all - that is not actually giving me any pain, it is the bottom part of the rib cage that is the problem. But I can breathe quite normally now without any pain, as long as I am not puffing and going over the top with it. So I think I will get on my bike sooner than expected."

O'Grady was targeting a strong ride in last weekend's Milan-San Remo classic. He says that it is one of his favourite races, along with the Tour of Flanders, and has posted results there in the past to suggest that it is within his scope of winning it. He was fourth last year and third the year before that, and also took third in the 2003 Tour of Flanders. Both were season aims; both of those goals will have to be postponed for another year. But disappointed as he is, he is able to see a silver lining in it all.

"I guess one thing that comes out of this is that although I will miss the Classics, I'll be fresher and hungrier and angrier than ever when I get back on the bike," he says philosophically. "You have got to take the positives from this kind of situation. When I think back to 2004, I missed some of the Classics but had the best year of my life. Riders who miss the start of the season seem to really kick on well at the end of the season, so that is acting as an inspiration and a motivation at the moment."

"I have a programme laid out. I will definitely be doing the Tour of Catalunya, and maybe a few one-day races up in Denmark a few days before it. I might start off up there, but definitely Catalunya. It could work out well; I was programmed to have a break after Paris-Roubaix, with four weeks off. But instead of having that time off after Roubaix, I will just have an enforced break now. In hindsight, I guess another benefit is that I will have had my break so I will be raring to go, doing full training when I would have been resting. So hopefully come the Dauphiné and the Tour, I will be going very well."

A feature on Stuart O'Grady will be published on Cyclingnews soon.

Van Petegem handling the stress well

"The opposition? Doesn't worry me"

It's that time of the year again; "March has showers and April its moods" as the Flemish saying goes. And the Belgian press is hot and cold too. With the classics warming up the atmosphere in Belgian cycling, and some doping scandal thrown in to spice things up some more, there's one guy who again seems to have all eyes on him in the coming weeks.

Peter Van Petegem has got used to the critical remarks the Belgian press and cycling fans direct at his address for some years now. But even though the "Zwarte van Brakel" seems to be untouched by the buckets of remarks poured over his head, he's raising his voice more than previous seasons. "It's always so that people make up my bill before my races are ridden; they decide wether I'm going well or not" he remarked in HNB. "Apparently I'm a much desired object to pull to pieces."

"The Omloop Het Volk was ridden a month ago almost. The Monday after I went training as usual, without worrying, without doubting, without dwelling on it. I've been doing this job for 15 years and always have made sure that I was ready for my period of races. I have an agenda with my appointments and I'm planning on keeping them. The opposition? Doesn't worry me. I can see for myself that Boonen is on the right track. A rider who's in good shape plays with the pedals."

"Nowadays, nobody lets things lie [meaning every race is important - ed.]. Neither will I. I'm stressing that my preparation was perfect. Now it's a matter of being good and have things go my way. I say that the winners are separated from the losers only after Roubaix. To give critical remarks now is all but too easy. And whoever claims I'm only racing one week per year can come around to my place. I call those remarks stupid."

Sponsor Marc Coucke has expressed his concern about the lack of performances by Van Petegem earlier this week, saying a lack of results would have its consequences for Van Petegem. "But if I don't win, will he sack me?" Van Petegem raised the question in HLN. "Last year, I finished third in the RVV. That wasn't bad, was it? Ask every professional cyclist in Belgium: they would sign [me] immediately for a season with a third placing in the Tour of Flanders. But apparently that's not enough from me.

"Not one team has the sponsor on the riders' heels like in this team. Take Quick.Step for example: Lefevere is the boss and the sponsors don't mingle in the races. Coucke is so driven, he wants to get as much out of his investment as out of his business. The team is a second job for him. It's like we have to score every day.

"Ronde winners have got a strong head. And my head won't break that easily; even if I get loads of critique. If you can't handle the stress to perform in the two weeks between E3 Prijs and Paris-Roubaix, you have to stop racing. But I can still handle it. I'm not even thinking about calling it quits. All I do know is that it will be a hard day for me, as I have been enjoying racing for 15 years already."

Devolder needs to control himself

"I urgently need to learn to control myself," Discovery Channel's Stijn Devolder told Het Laatste Nieuws. "I don't like anything more than to race according to my own temperament. It's just that that isn't as profitable."

His 2005 season is the proof of that: he raced aggressively in Qatar, the Ruta del Sol, Het Volk, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Tirreno-Adriatico and the E3 Prijs, with a stage win in the Three Days of De Panne the best result. "But by then I had already had my best days. In the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, my favourite races, I was as dead as mutton. Painful."

In agreement with Demol and Bruyneel, Devolder tried a different approach, the base of which was laid at the Vuelta. "Just before the hardest mountain stages, I had him racing with the brakes on," said Demol. "He [Devolder] was angry. 'Come on Dirk, not going all out in a time-trial? You can't be serious!' he said. 'I am' I said. Because on Cerler I want to see what you're really worth. He became a big revelation."

"I have to avoid going into the red too much," admits Devolder, "make the difference between the important and trivial stuff. And expend my energy better during the race, attack at the right moment, that's what I'm keeping in mind. With only one goal: to win more often in the period between Dwars door Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. For now, I'm below Hincapie in the Classics, in a free role."

At yesterday's E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, Devolder saw Boonen as the man to beat: "At the moment, he's wiping everything and everybody off the map. A combination of power and cleverness will be needed to beat him. But hey, he won't win every race, will he?"

Hoste on home turf

Having grown up in Bavikhove, near the start of yesterday's E3 Prijs Vlaanderen in Harelbeke, Leif Hoste was very much racing on home-turf. "This is more than just coming home to me," the Discovery Channel rider was quoted as saying in HNB.

"I should be able to go higher than the level I was on in 2004. I'm virtually riding every race there is from Harelbeke onwards and I consider myself able to play a role in every finale. Everything that went wrong last year has been turned around. I hope that this can last another three weeks. No, the big results aren't there yet. But the feeling that things are heading the right way is most important. If I'm afraid of Boonen? On the contrary..."

Comm Games road race tidbits

By Rob Jones

Mystery disappearance - or not?

You have probably read about the Sierra Leone athletes that have gone missing - well, we have now heard that two of their cyclists are absent. What makes it interesting is that the team bought a couple of Masi bikes locally for them to race on (worth approximately AUD$6000), which the athletes have now apparently sold prior to disappearing...

Question mark over women's RR favourites

The official start lists are not yet out, but it looks like there will be 136 men and 36 women. The big speculation for the women's race is Sarah Ulmer (New Zealand). Ulmer is a favourite, but scratched from the time trial because of a back problem. Nicole Cooke (Wales), the defending champion, is also a bit of a question mark, since she was a late withdrawal from the points race and has not been seen much.

A race of attrition

While the 11 kilometre circuit is not particularly difficult, there are lots of corners and a couple of climbs per lap to make things interesting. Given that the temperature is expected to be above 30°C, this will likely be a race of attrition.

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