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Latest Cycling News, February 29, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner, with assistance from Susan Westemeyer

Di Luca confident in vindication

By Gregor Brown

Much is at stake for Italian Danilo Di Luca these days
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Italian Danilo Di Luca is at another turning point in his career, facing a two-year suspension if the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has its way. The anti-doping branch of CONI announced on Wednesday that it was seeking a ban for the 32 year-old rider from Abruzzo related to a test taken following stage 17 of the 2007 Giro d'Italia. Di Luca finds the new action by CONI "absurd" and remains confident that he will be vindicated.

The rider known as 'The Killer' ignited tifosi in 2005 when he won Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and finished fourth in the Giro d'Italia, before later going on to win the first ProTour competition. His potential had been confirmed and he was not considered a true leader in his new Liquigas team. Last year, he fulfilled a dream by winning the Giro d'Italia, but that is when his troubles began.

Over the off-season, while searching for a new team, he was suspended for three-months for frequenting Doctor Carlo Santuccione in relating to the Oil for Drugs affair. He signed for LPR Brakes and started racing with the Giro di Reggio Calabria; however, the test taken following his fourth place finish on Monte Zoncolan caused problems.

"I was convinced that the CONI prosecutor would have shelved the case," said Di Luca to La Gazzetta dello Sport Wednesday evening. "However, they deferred me [to be suspended]. Does it seem correct to you? In the courts you can't be condemned without proof. However, this sporting justice does not take into account anything, neither experts nor testimonies."

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If Di Luca is given the two-year ban – based on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code 2.2 – the Giro could decide to strip his 2007 maglia rosa.

"There is a stubbornness towards me, now it is evident. ... It is clear that in this story we have arrived to the point of absurdity."

Di Luca's spirits are kept high, and he believes he will be vindicated. "I have given my all to cycling since I was eight years old," he continued. "However, in life there are not only races. I will decide when to stop, not the others. ... I still have faith that this all will be cleared in front of the expert panel [Giudice di ultima istanza] of CONI."

He has received support from the Italian cycling federation (FCI) President, Renato Di Rocco, who confirmed to Cyclingnews that he visited Di Luca at his home in Pescara yesterday afternoon.

Time line:
September 26, 2007: Di Luca authorises the International Cycling Union (UCI) to give CONI permission to carry out testing on its Giro controls.
November 7: The CONI anti-doping prosecutor is notified the hormone levels of its test vary from the one the UCI carried out on May 30.
December 6: Di Luca is heard by CONI.
January 15, 2008: CONI's prosecutor receives the control results.

Omloop Het Volk: Opening classic returns home

By Gregor Brown in Gent

Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) wins the 2007 edition, and will once again be a hot favourite when the race finishes in Gent
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

The Classics season is back upon us with the running of the 63rd Omloop Het Volk, this Saturday in Belgium. Those who love the one-day races of the spring will rejoice when the riders take off from Gent's Citadelpark as it signals not only the start of the 199-kilometre race but the days of pavé-littered slugfests in treacherous conditions.

The Omloop Het Volk, run by newspaper Sportwereld, packs enough pavé and hellingen ('climbs' in Flemish) to warrant its early season status as a semi-classic, and sends out indicators as to whom will be the warriors to watch for the events later in spring, like Three Days of De Panne, Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix.

As announced last May by the organisers, the 63rd edition returns to its roots with a parcours that starts and finishes in the Flemish city of Gent, north of Brussels. The race began in Gent last year but the city of Gentse Feesten has not seen an aankomst ('arrival' in Flemish) since 1995 when Franco Ballerini won.

The race finished in Gent for the first 49 editions, but afterward the aankomst was moved to the northeast, in Lokeren.

The new finish means that the parcours has been modified; the first helling comes later, as does the final one. This year, the riders will face 73 kilometres before the Grotenberge, it will be followed by Leberg, Berendries, Valkenberg, Tenbosse, Pottelberg, Kruisberg, Taaienberg, Eikenberg, Wolvenberg and Molenberg. All-in-all there are 11 hellingen in the 2008 parcours, down from one from 2007.

The Berendries, which last year was the penultimate climb and saw a group of eight fighting a losing battle, will now come early on. However, it is the vicinity of the final climb, the Molenberg, that will see the race even more dispersed when it arrives in Gent. The 463-metre-kilometre climb starts 23 kilometres later than last year, at 39 kilometres to go. Any small group that is formed in the closing kilometres will be sorted out in the finale, the uphill drag of Charles de Kerchovelaan. Gert Steegmans will know the finale well, he won stage two of the 2007 Tour de France on the same 1000-metre run-in.

To read the full preview of the Omloop, click here.

Boonen chooses Tirreno over Paris-Nice

Will Tom Boonen be victorious in Tirreno like he was in Paris-Nice two years ago?
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) will not participate in Paris-Nice this year. The Belgian sprinter and Classics specialist chose to race in the Italian Tirreno-Adriatico instead of the French 'race to the sun', but not for political reasons. Quite simply, the parcours of the 2008 Paris-Nice is less suited to his sprinting abilities than in recent years.

"The profile of Paris-Nice is harder this year," team manager Patrick Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad. "On paper, there is only one stage that is likely to end in a bunch sprint. That's why we made the switch." Also, Boonen could not make the difference in last year's Paris-Nice, compared to 200ere he won three stages.

For the first time since he rides for the Belgian team, Boonen will thus prepare for Milano-Sanremo in the 'race between the two seas'. Statistically, this would improve his chances to win on the Via Roma in San Remo on March 22: the last eight winners of the event all raced Tirreno-Adriatico in the lead up to the event. Andrei Tchmil, victorious in 1999, was the last rider to compete in Paris-Nice before participating in the Classicissima.

Quick Step medical woes

"The 2008 season has started fantastically for the Quick Step Team," the team proudly announced on Thursday, with nine wins already in the new season. But a few of the Belgian ProTour team's riders are having some health problems.

Sébastien Rosseler is being held out of competition until problems with his right knee are cleared up. "This pain started in winter during a training session. It is a pain that I feel right inside my knee. In accordance with the team's medical staff, for the past three weeks I've been alternating long bike rides in order to keep my leg muscle tone in shape with physiotherapy and rehabilitation sessions."

Kevin Van Impe is also having right knee problems. He had to drop out of the Volta ao Algarve because of the pain and is currently having physiotherapy and undergoing tests to find out what is wrong. Alessandro Proni is currently having therapy on his left achilles tendon, which flared up during the final stage of Algarve.

Matteo Carrara has recovered from the flu and dysentery that he came down with after Algarve. "I had a high temperature at the beginning of the week but I'm getting better. I've managed to train the last two days. It seems like the worst is already over". He will return to action at Paris-Nice. Finally, Davide Vigano caught the chicken pox when he came home form Algarve, but is expected to be able to start training again next week.

Team Volksbank makes its Het Volk debut

Andre Korff will lead Team Volksbank in the Omloop Het Volk this weekend, the first time the Austrian Professional Continental team will appear in the Belgian semi-classic. The team will have to do without its two captains, Gerrit Glomser, who is sick, and Olaf Pollack, who is on Mallorca training for the Track World Championships.

Directeur Sportif and former pro rider Gregor Gut will take a young seven-man team to the race. "We know that they have the legs for it. But in these northern races the head is equally as important. Despite the lack of Glomser and Pollack, we have riders on the squad who can try something. And that is exactly what we will do. We sure won't hide ourselves!"

Team Volksbank for Omloop Het Volk: Josef Benetsender, Alexander Gufler, Andre Korff, Philipp Ludescher, Daniel Musiol, Peter Presslauer and Rene Weissinger.

Sastre to start in Almería

Sastre hopes for a podium in the 2008 Tour de France, as he achieved at the Vuelta last year.
Photo ©: Unipublic
(Click for larger image)

Spaniard Carlos Sastre will make his 2008 racing debut at the Clásica de Almería this upcoming Sunday, and will continue his programme with the Vuelta a Murcia afterwards. "I'm going to make the same start like last year. The only thing I hope is to have a little more luck and no mishap," the CSC rider commented.

Last year, Sastre crashed out of the Vuelta a Murcia. "That crash caused me some injuries which delayed my preparation by 20 days," he said. "Which is why I wasn't at the best of my form in the races afterwards, especially the Belgian Classics."

The Clásica de Almería, according to the CSC stage race leader, is "not too hard so it's a good way to make first contact with competition again." The Vuelta a Murcia, he added, "is a very good race because it has a little bit of everything. While they don't have mountain summit finishes, the stages provide some difficulty, and the time trial allows you to test yourself."

Sastre will continue his schedule with the Vuelta a Castilla y León, the Vuelta al País Vasco, the GP Primavera de Amorebieta, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. "Murcia and Castilla y León are less demanding that Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico, which is why I chose them in the last few years to softly begin my season, the ultimate target being the Tour de France," he said, still in doubt over his participation in the Giro d'Italia.

"We won't decide on this until after the Vuelta al País Vasco," Sastre explained. "It depends on how I feel at this point of the season."

Also see: An interview with Carlos Sastre, January 13, 2008.

Wrolich slams Austrian Olympic qualifications

Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner) disagrees with his national cycling federation
Photo ©: Ben Atkins
(Click for larger image)

"The 2008 Olympic Games will take place without me – whether I qualify for them or not," Peter Wrolich has decided. The Gerolsteiner rider criticised the qualification guidelines issued by the Austrian cycling federation (Österreichische Radsport-Verband, ÖRV).

"Last week I was allowed to see the qualification races that the ÖRV and the ÖOC (Austrian Olympic Committee) have negotiated," he wrote on his personal website. The following races are listed:

9-16.3. Paris-Nice
7-12.4. Vuelta Ciclistica al País Vasco
27.4. Liège-Bastogne-Liège
29.4-4.5. Tour de Romandie - Stages 1 and 4
19-25.5. Volta Ciclista a Catalunya
8-16.5. Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
10.5-1.6. Giro d'Italia - Stages 7, 14, 15, 19 and 20
14-22.6. Tour de Suisse
5-21.7. Tour de France - Stages 6, 7, 9, 10, and 15
6-13.7. Österreich-Rundfahrt

"It looks like I will take part in at most one or two of these races. With only one exception, they are all stage races, and only mountain stages count. In my opinion, this defies any logic – as far as I know, the Olympic road races is also this year a one-day race. I'm sure the ÖRV has its reasons. I don't share their opinion, and would have done it like all the other big cycling nations do: put together a team which works together harmoniously."

"The course in Beijing is difficult, no question. But I don't understand why they are only using mountain stages from stage races as qualification. Since I will have only one or two chances to qualify, I see this as a sign that the ÖRV doesn't want riders with my kind of abilities there," the sprinter said.

"I played this same game in 2004," the 33 year-old added. "I did everything they said and still got left at home." His fellow countryman, Bernhard Eisel of Team High Road, announced earlier this week that he would not participate in the Olympics, either.

New sponsor for Holland Ladies Tour

The Holland Ladies Tour has acquired a new sponsor, allowing the ten-year old race to continue. The new backer is a Dutch chain of bike shops, Profile De Fietsspecialist, and replaces the former sponsor Expert, which announced earlier this year that it was discontinuing its support.

Race director Marten de Lange told Dutch telesport, "I am an optimist by nature but the facts didn't lie. With the arrival of Profile, our problem is over." The sponsoring contract is for only one year, but the company has indicated that it is interested in a long-term relationship.

This year's Ladies Holland Tour starts on September 2 in Nijverdal and ends on September 7 in Valkenburg.

Redlands Classic: Volunteers wanted

The 2008 Redlands Bicycle Classic Organizing Committee has announced its need for volunteers to carry out the 24th edition of the race in California, USA, from April 3-6, 2008. Volunteer positions are available in the following areas: Race Marshalling, Assistant Judging, Merchandising, Registration, Neutral Support and Host Housing.

For more information, please go to the race website at and click on the Volunteer link to see what positions are available.

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