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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, April 2, 2008

Edited by Greg Johnson

Di Luca's judgment day delayed

Danilo Di Luca loves the trophy, but will he have to give it back?
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

The expert panel assembled by the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) to review Danilo Di Luca's anti-doping controls following the Monte Zoncolan stage of the 2007 Giro d'Italia closed today, preferring to delay its verdict. After prosecutors made their accusations and the cyclist's defence retorted, the hearing - starting at 10:00 AM, without Di Luca present, in Rome - was closed so that new information could be reviewed.

CONI believes that the 32 year-old Italian from Abruzzo took injections that altered his hormone level in the time between the International Cycling Union (UCI) anti-doping control following Stage 17 and the controversial control by CONI later on that same evening. Di Luca, who went on to win the Giro by 1'55" over Luxemburger Andy Schleck, was heard by CONI prosecutor Ettore Torri in December in relation to the adverse findings.

The expert panel, Giudice di Ultima Istanza (GUI), first heard the accusations from CONI's anti-doping prosecutor Fabio Filocamo. "We are making a precise and concrete accusation [of] a physiological manipulation with the infusion of plasma," Filocamo said, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

The defence responded and then, around 12:30, the expert panel delayed its decision until April 16. The delay gives it time to review experts' findings and seek clarification into the question of whether or not there was foul play following Stage 17 or if other factors were involved.

Any judgment made by CONI would need to be approved or denied by the Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) disciplinary commission, however, the delay by CONI's expert panel will reduce the amount of time Di Luca has to appeal any suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The LPR Brakes rider was not required to be present today for the hearing, and is starting in the 38th Settimana Ciclista Lombarda. (GB)

Paolini wants to send signal in De Panne

By Gregor Brown in Zottegem, Belgium

Luca Paolini (Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Italian Luca Paolini wants to leave his mark on the Driedaagse De Panne as a sign to those who have sidelined his Team Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo this year. The Italian Professional Continental team was not granted starts in Milano-Sanremo, Giro d'Italia and the Ronde van Vlaanderen. However, the rider from Milano, winner of 2007's opening stage in De Panne, sees the three-day race as a perfect spot to rid his "bad feelings".

Paolini failed to repeat his 2007 opening-stage success this year, finishing second to Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld) on the opening stage. The Italians attacked with 20 kilometres remaining, but Paolini couldn't overcome the might of Gasparotto at the finish in Zottegem. "I think I did a good attack on the pavé," he said. "I initiated the attack and then we were in two [with Gasparotto]. I had very stiff legs, and so I think it is good to get second today."

The Italian still has three more stages to leave a mark. The rider wants to prove the decision by various race organisers that have overlooked the squad this year a mistake. "We are not able to race [the Tour of] Flanders; this has left me with a really bad feeling," he said. "The year is going like this, so we are looking to do well here."

Palmiro Masciarelli's team had it share of troubles in 2007 with Michele Scarponi, Franck Vandenbroucke and Giuseppe Muraglia, while Paolini, who was riding for Team Liquigas in 2007, was associated with Operazione Athena. It is believe that the combination of these riders' issues have led to organisers opting to select less controversial teams for their races.

"I think the legs are going well," Paolini confirmed. "I just came from Coppi e Bartali in Italy and so I think here I can do well. This cold and bad weather is good for me; it is enough to have the head and determination in races like this.

After De Panne ends on Thursday, Paolini's next races will be Gent-Wevelgem (April 9), Scheldeprijs (April 16) and the Giro del Trentino (April 22 - 25). In between Belgian races he returns home to Italy where he trains with team-mate Dario Andriotto.

Friedman has Backstedt's back in De Panne

By Gregor Brown in Zottegem

Expect to see Slipstream-Chipotle's Michael Friedman working for Magnus Backstedt in the Driedaagse De Panne. The American rider just returned from the Track World Championships in Manchester, England and is anxious to put his road legs to use before focusing on the Olympic Games. The key stage for Backstedt will be the Belgian stage race's second stage, 228 kilometres from Zottegem to Koksijde.

"It's my first race back in Belgium after Track Worlds," said Friedman. "It did not go so hot, not as well as I wanted [in Manchester]."

After a lackluster run in the World Championships, the 25 year-old who was 12th in the Omloop Het Volk is ready to do some work for 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Swede Backstedt.

"We are rolling into this stage race to see where it goes, preparing for the Tour of Flanders," he explained. "The team is looking out for Maggie, and maybe even Chris Sutton. We have three or four guys who can make the splits, whoever can make the split can be up there in the general classification. We will make the splits and then go from there."

A crash in the Tour of Qatar delayed Backsted's form running into April's big one-day races. "I am getting back into form now," said the Swede. "I started to feel okay after the stages in Critérium International. It is hit and miss now, but the overall my form is improving. Hopefully, we will get there just in time for the big ones."

With the Paris-Roubaix on the horizon, Friedman said he's comfortable with his fitness. The French Spring Classic will be held in a little under two weeks time, on April 13.

Friedman will take a break after his domestique roles in Paris-Roubaix and then redirect his attention towards the Olympic Games. "I am still focused on the track for the Olympics," said Friedman. "I am partnering with Colby Pierce in the Madison.

"However, when you ride the road all year long and then try to make the jump to the track it is hard," he added. "In order to qualify, under our countries procedures, I will have to ride on the track at the end of May."

Ballan ready for second step towards Magni record

By Brecht Decaluwé in Zottegem, Belgium

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

The Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde is the Belgian stage race where Italian Alessandro Ballan's career really got going. In 2005 Ballan won his first race as a professional rider there. Ever since he has been in the spotlight with wins in the Tour of Flanders and the Vattenfall Cyclassics, including his remarkable teamwork for team-mate Damiano Cunego or even Paolo Bettini at the world championships.

These days the likeable Italian is no longer coming to the Driedaagse to win the race. Instead Ballan is preparing for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, which traditionally follows on the Sunday after the three day stage race in West-Flanders.

The 28 year-old hopes to repeat last year's win in the Tour of Flanders, thus stepping closer to the accomplishments of legendary compatriot Fiorenzo Magni. Magni is still the only rider ever who managed to win 'Vlaanderens mooiste' three times in a row.

Magni, who won from 1949 to 1951, received the nickname 'Toscan of Flanders' for his great accomplishment. Although Ballan is able to perform well in Paris-Roubaix as well, finishing third in 2006, he prefers the cobbled hills of Flanders over the pavé in the North of France.

"I'd prefer to win in Meerbeke [finish town of the Tour of Flanders] once again, rather than taking a first victory in Paris-Roubaix," Ballan said. "The amount of candidates for the win is impossible to sum up, maybe I'll have to surprise them all in the final kilometres."

For now Ballan is focusing on the Driedaagse De Panne, where the Italian is attempting to defended his title. The tall rider was battling along on the front during yesterday's opening stage. Ballan's efforts were contrasted by other favourites for the Tour of Flanders like Stijn Devolder and Leif Hoste.

"I was going well and I wanted to test my condition [in the big group]; it was a test for Sunday in the Ronde," he explained. "I saw that my legs are there, so it was great trial run but too bad I only got ninth place."

The Italian will decide after today's stage whether to push in search of a second victory at the Belgian event or conserve his form for Flanders. "Tomorrow will also be for training," he added. "I hope that it is a calm stage with a sprint finish, and afterwards, I will see if there's a reason to do the time trial at full speed for the classification.

"However, if it is only for seventh or eighth place there is not a reason to go all out, instead I'll save myself for Sunday," he added.

Expect the Italian to be right there in the finale when the peloton hits the famous Muur van Geraardsbergen, one of the ultimate cobbled climbs before the finish in Meerbeke.

No rest for Eisel

Bernhard Eisel (High Road)
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

Bernhard Eisel (Team High Road) is transforming himself from a sprinter to a Classics specialist. After finishing sixth in the E3 Prijs on Saturday, the Team High Road rider finished fifth in the first stage of the Driedaagse De Panne. The Austrian had hoped to finish higher, but the earlier race had taken too much out of him.

"Actually, I wanted to take it a little easier this week after the harder days earlier," he said. "But that didn't work out."

With about 25 kilometres to go, Eisel attacked out of the following group and caught up with the four leaders. "But I had to fall back on the third-to-last climb," he recalled.

Eisel fell back into a group with seven other riders that couldn't catch the leaders. One of the others in the group, Baden Cooke (Barloworld), didn't do any of the lead work as he had team-mate Enrico Gasparotto in the front, and Eisel was tired from his earlier efforts. "But in the final sprint I surprised my colleagues: I attacked, let Cooke counter it, threw myself behind him and then just went right on by him.

"My form is really remarkable," he admitted. "But I still had the E3 Prijs from last week in my bones. Of all the riders who were in the front on Saturday, I was the best today."

McQuaid warns of rival international federation

By Shane Stokes in Manchester

UCI President Pat McQuaid makes serious allegations against ASO
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

UCI president Pat McQuaid spoke up at the UCI Track World Championships in Manchester about the recent developments in the world of road cycling. The Irishman has been under fire from the Grand Tour organisers who have undermined the authority of the sport's governing body in recent months by holding Paris-Nice under the auspices of the French Cycling Federation.

McQuaid highlighted the seriousness of the situation, and claimed that the Tour de France organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) purposely creating a split in the cycling world, and are benefiting from the support of some major players from the world of politics and sport.

"It is obvious now to the UCI that ASO is forming another international federation," he told Cyclingnews at the track world championships in Manchester. "ASO have their races, they have their own rules, they have the support of the President of the country Mr. Sarkozy, they have the support of the government, and they have the support of the Minister of Sport Bernard Laporte, who is assisting them in setting up this federation.

"In addition to that, they have the French federation on board, they have a controlling influence on AIOCC [International Association of Cycling Race Organisers], and now it is obvious, from the manoeuvrings of the AIGCP [International Association of Professional Cycling Teams] prior to Paris-Nice, that they control it as well through Eric Boyer."

Cycling inched closer towards civil war prior to the start of Paris-Nice when ASO revealed that it would run that race plus its other events outside the aegis of the UCI. Participating teams were required to sign contracts with the race organiser and each ultimately did so, despite the warning of the UCI that this was contrary to the rules of the governing body and would result in sanctions.

The UCI is still deliberating what to do with those teams, but McQuaid claims that several of them had concerns about the situation but were ultimately forced by ASO to comply with its requests under threat of exclusion from its biggest event come July.

To read the full feature, click here.

Bad breaks for Rabobank

Team Rabobank was only able to send seven riders to the start of the Driedaagse de Panne on Tuesday. Two serious injuries from Saturday's E3 Prijs sent the team scrambling for replacements, while Gerben Löwik and Marc de Maar recovered from their broken bones.

Löwik was only six kilometres in to the weekend's race when he was unable to avoid a pothole in the road and went down. He got back up though and continued on his way. "I got back into the group after the crash, but let [directeur sportif Erik] Dekker know that I had considerable pain in my arm," the rider told "I just couldn't keep up. 10 kilometres later, he told me, 'if you turn off here, you can probably ride along the canal back to the hotel'."

Löwik did that and rode the 40 km back to the Holiday Inn in Gent. "With some shoes I borrowed from the hotel reception, I stepped into my car and drove to the hospital," he added. "There they found a cracked bone. I got a cast on it and drove home. I'll miss two weeks. Last year I missed the Ronde van Vlaanderen because I broke my hand in De Panne."

Marc de Maar can't tell how his crash happened, because he doesn't know. The road suddenly got narrower and there were riders all around him. "The next moment my handlebars were struck from my hands," he explained. "I have lost a couple of seconds of what happened on Saturday."

De Maar also ended up in hospital in Oudenaarde with an elbow broken in four places. "Tears flowed on Saturday night," the 23 year-old admitted. "More from frustration than from pain. This will cost me four to six weeks, I have already heard. And there were such great races as the Giro [d'Italia] on my calendar." (SW)

Valverde, Pereiro to lead Caisse d'Epargne at GP Indurain

By Monika Prell

While Caisse d'Epargne has a French sponsor, the team considers itself as a team of Navarra, Spain due to its headquarter in the Pamplona, the capital of Navarra. So there is no surprise that it will try to shine in the GP Miguel Indurain, that will be held on Saturday, March 5 in Estella, Navarra.

Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro will be the team's two leaders for their home event. Valverde will try to win the race that Caisse d'Epargne won last in 1998, when Francisco Mancebo was able to reach the Basilica del Puy first.

"In the last years, every time there was something that embarrassed us to struggle for the victory," said team sport's director Eusebio Unzué. "It is our home race, the other teams know that it is a race where we want to be protagonists and they impose us the whole responsibility.

"The arrival at El Puy is very spectacular for the public, but its placing in the race makes it very tactical, you have to reach very well placed," said Unzué.

For Pereiro, this race will mean his comeback after having suffered from a bronchitis that made him lose 12 days of competition.

The team contesting the event will include several of the team's likely Giro d'Italia riders, including Russian Vladimir Karpets, Venezuelan José Rujan and Spaniards Joaquím Rodríguez and David Arroyo. Besides them Spaniards Xabier Zandio, Pablo Lastras and Dani Moreno and Colombians Rigoberto Uran and Marlon Pérez will contest the event.

(Additional editorial research and assistance for this bulletin provided by Susan Westemeyer.)

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