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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, June 16, 2008

Edited by Bjorn Haake

ASO and AEG sign deal

Andrew Messick is happy to have closer ties with ASO
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), owners respectively of the Tour de France and the Tour of California, have formed a multi-dimensional marketing partnership to grow and develop each other's events.

Beginning with the upcoming 2008 Tour de France and 2009 Tour of California, the multi-year agreement calls for the organisations to develop and initiate comprehensive cross promotional platforms for each other's races, as well as providing assistance with media and sponsorship sales for the races in their respective regions.

Yann Le Moenner, Deputy Director of ASO, said that "AEG's success in developing and promoting properties like the Los Angeles Galaxy [football] team with David Beckham as well as, among others, the NHL's Los Angeles Kings [ice hockey team], will greatly benefit the Tour de France in the United States."

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Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme added, "The Tour of California, which will celebrate its fourth anniversary in February 2009, is still a brand new event on the cycling calendar, but one with a promising future ahead of it." Prudhomme emphasised the fact that ASO can help with "our support ... and know-how established through the organisation of centenary events, such as the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège." He also saw it as the organisation's duty to expand the sport of cycling worldwide.

Among the key components of the agreement, ASO will assist AEG with the international distribution of the Tour of California television and digital media rights. ASO will develop, produce and distribute a portfolio of programming formats, including live coverage of the race. Additionally, AEG will be assisting ASO with the sales of specific sponsorship packages.

Andrew Messick, President of AEG Sports, revealed, "AEG is delighted to be able to partner with the Amaury Sport Organization, who is without doubt the world's most experienced and successful organiser of bicycle races. With their help, we hope to be able to help to grow the sport of cycling, the Tour de France, and of course our Amgen Tour of California."

High Road introduces sponsor

Team High Road will start the 2008 Tour de France as "Team Columbia"

Team High Road has found a sponsor with Columbia Sportswear Company, a global leader in the active outdoor apparel and footwear industries. The three-year deal will see Team High Road change its name to Team Columbia, starting with upcoming Tour de France on July 5. The team will continue to race under the new name until the end of the season. The new team uniforms will be unveiled in Brest, France on July 3, two days before the start of the Grande Boucle.

The sponsorship agreement runs through 2010 and includes both the men's and women's professional cycling teams, which have won over 70 races combined in 2008 – the most wins of any competing team. In addition, at least 15 riders from Team Columbia are expected to represent their countries in the upcoming Olympics.

Tim Boyle, president and chief executive officer of Columbia Sportswear Company, said that "Columbia Sportswear Company's sponsorship of Team Columbia provides an ideal opportunity to elevate the positioning of Columbia in multiple European markets by communicating our authentic, outdoor, active, American brand to our target demographic."

"This is a partnership with great potential," said High Road Owner Bob Stapleton. "Columbia is a market leader with innovative products, progressive management, and ambitious marketing objectives. We welcome Columbia Sportswear as a key partner for the next several years," Stapleton added.

Boonen proclaims innocence, says he was trapped

Tom Boonen says somebody put something in his drink
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Tom Boonen claims that the cocaine for which he tested positive must have been put into a drink he had at a bar. Meanwhile, the Quick Step sprinter was questioned again Saturday morning by the Belgian federal judicial police.

In his original questioning by the police, according to the Gazet van Antwerpen, Boonen proclaimed his innocence and claimed that someone must have slipped something into his drink, in an attempt to trap him. However, his press conference the next day made investigators suspicious, when he apologised for his actions. Since this did not seem to match the story that the sprinter had previously told them, he was subsequently invited by the investigating judge for another session of questioning.

The 27 year-old met with the police Saturday morning in Turnhout. According to the Gazet van Antwerpen, he repeated his statement that had been tricked and gave more details. He said that he and his girlfriend Lore were at the bar "Que Pasa" in his hometown of Mol, where they had drinks outside on the terrace. Shortly thereafter, he felt ill and left the bar to go home.

He further told the police that the statement he read at his press conference had been written by his lawyer.

At his press conference last week, Boonen had said that he would take a short break from racing. He had been scheduled to ride the Tour de Suisse, which started Saturday, but was excluded by the race organisers. Now, however, he is scheduled on Tuesday to start the Ster Elektrotoer, which had said that he was welcome.

In further news, team manager Patrick Lefevere and sponsor Quick Step CEO Frans De Cock are meeting today with the Amaury Sports Organisation, which manages the Tour de France and has also excluded Boonen from its race. De Cock has said that the sponsor wants Boonen to appear in the race for financial reasons.(SW)

No more medical visit prior to the Tour de France

By Jean-François Quénet in Grenoble

George Hincapie during the medical check, which will no longer be done at the Tour de France
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

During the three days preceding the start of the Tour de France in Brest on July 5, there won't be the traditional show of the medical visit for all the participants. Event director Christian Prudhomme realised that the general public was confused and thought it was an anti-doping check up. He inquired inside the medical staff of the Tour and concluded this was an unnecessary affair.

At the start of stage seven in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, Tour chief doctor Gérard Porte confirmed the issue and noted, "The last time we declared a rider unfit to race was about 32 years ago. It was a Belgian rider who had a furuncle. His team questioned us and we told them they'd better go to hospital. The guy knew that he wasn't able to ride the Tour."

This medical visit consisted of a cardio check up and measurements. It helped for the statistics. The media will now have to look into their archives to figure out if the shortest [rider] is really Samuel Dumoulin and the tallest Johan Vansummeren.

"The medical visit was a good thing for the media," Dr Porte underlined. "Now they will have to work differently in the few days before the race. For us, the medical staff of the Tour de France, it was a good thing for meeting everybody before the start, the riders and their doctors, and get to know each other. But from a medical point of view, it wasn't very useful. Nowadays, the cyclists have a lot of medical check-ups."

By cancelling the medical visit from their pre-race programme, the Tour de France organisation will avoid confusion from people thinking they gave the green light to riders proven to be on drugs. The doping tests in and out of competition are under the UCI and/or the national anti-doping agencies.

Dessel puts his hand up for the Olympics

By Jean-François Quénet in Grenoble

Cyril Dessel aims for the Olympics
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

France doesn't have a top cyclist for the Olympic road race on August 9 in Beijing but at least a serious candidate with Cyril Dessel, who came in sixth overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. He was the only Frenchman to win a stage and it seems that his health problems of 2007 are past him. The AG2R rider has now totally fully recovered from toxoplasmose.

"I think I'm back at the level I had in 2006," he explained at the end of the Dauphiné. After the French Championship, he'll go back with high ambitions to the Tour de France where he also finished sixth – and best Frenchman – two years ago.

"After the Tour, I'd like to ride the Olympics and get a good result in Beijing. For me, it's this year or never and I think the course suits me. I really want to experience the Olympics." National coach Frédéric Moncassin confessed the difficulty for him to select the riders since he'll have to give his list of five men – including one who will double up with the time trial, which will possibly be Sylvain Chavanel – on July 21, one week before the end of the Tour de France. He has kept in his mind the memories of Athens, where the riders on form at the beginning of the Tour were no longer able to compete for the victory at the Games.

Moncassin will form a totally different French team for the Olympics in August and the World Championships in Varese in September.

Half of the ProTour teams have 15 days to renew

By Jean-François Quénet in Grenoble

Visiting the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré in Grenoble, UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf stated the series is going ahead with a similar format for next year, despite the split between the organisers of the biggest races and the governing body. "We offer the possibility to all the current events to remain a part of the ProTour," Rumpf told Cyclingnews. "They are welcome to apply but it still has to be approved by the Licenses Commission."

New events for next year will be Russia's GP of Sochi in May, a yet to be determined finale in early October and a new Tour in China. "We're still looking at China for September 2009, with promoters looking at new events to be organised beyond the Olympic Games."

As far as teams are concerned, nine of the 18 current groups have a ProTour license going on for 2009: AG2R, Saunier Duval-Scott, High Road, Gerolsteiner, Liquigas, Lampre, Astana, Caisse d'Epargne and Milram. None of the teams whose license is expiring at the end of 2008 has applied for a new license yet. "They have till June 30 to do so," Rumpf said. "We verbally heard from some of them that they want to continue."

Some team managers are rumoured to ask for a different format, with less riders per team – it's now between 27 and 30 – and the possibility to choose to take part only in two thirds of the ProTour races. New projects for ProTour teams are still up in the air for 2009, Rumpf suggested.

AG2R happy with Dauphiné

AG2R La Mondiale was happy with its performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. General Manager Vincent Lavenu declared, "On the bottom line we are very happy with the great victory of Cyril, a sixth place in GC and the second place in the teams classification. And even today [Sunday - ed.] the riders were concentrating on attacking, with Christophe Riblon in the break of the day. A bit of a regret, too, as I think he did a youngster's mistake by attacking them in the [final] col, which has certainly cost him a potential victory. But Christophe will learn from situations like this, with races on a very high level and making tactical mistakes."

Lavenu added that "the team is on the rise. Cyril is getting back to his best level and Vladimir Efimkin has progressed in this Dauphiné. Unfortunately, John Gadret was sick and he couldn't go to his limits, but the team is well and overall the race was satisfactory."

Cyril Dessel had his own comments about the race. "The principal favourites of the Tour were in this Dauphiné, so I think I have every reason to be satisfied. I need to recover now, as I spent a lot of energy, getting the stage victory and that sixth place in GC to defend. Now, I will try to a good French National Championships and good Tour de France."

For the Tour, Dessel is hopeful, although he cautions that "you don't have to put me amongst the favourites. There are three or four riders who are above my level. With the way I am currently feeling I can hope to do something and why not re-live the great moments like in 2006?"

Dessel had a struggle to get back to the top. "One can say I am came from very far, and already there is a big satisfaction to return to this level, because only sixth months ago it was far from certain."

Zubeldia to top form in three weeks

Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) finished a strong fifth in the Dauphiné Libéré, which completed Sunday. The Basque showed great fitness ahead of the Tour de France, which will be his next race, starting on July 5.

"I was feeling well, especially in the climbs, and that encourages me to continue my preparation for the Tour de France," the rider from Usurbil commented. "It's a great sign to rub shoulders with riders like Evans or Valverde; that shows me that things are going well."

Zubeldia, who finished 12th in the Tour de Romandie and sixth in Catalunya, thinks that there is still room for improvement. "There are three weeks left until the Tour de France starts, and one has to be cautious. During that time it is important to recover well and to fine tune right up to the start of the race."

Euskaltel's leader is very satisfied with how the team has presented itself in the last few races. "The team functions very well. In the decisive moments we are in good positions and this gives us morale and confidence."

Vanendert's season over

Jelle Vanendert's 2008 season has ended with a crash in the final stage of the Dauphiné Libéré. The Française des Jeux rider suffered a dislocation of the hip when he crashed on the descent of the Col de Cucheron. He had surgery the same day.

Cyclingnews will have more to come on Vanendert.(SW)

Ster Elektrotoer to kick off

Paul Martens now rides for Rabobank and doesn't have to battle the strong Dutch team anymore
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The five-day Ster Elektrotoer will kick off on June 17, looking for another closely contested race. Last year, Paul Martens headed into the final stage with a lead of a slim two seconds over Sebastian Langeveld from Rabobank. But Langeveld out-sprinted Martens for the time bonifications offered during the stage and ended up taking the overall title by the same margin he had trailed going into the stage – two seconds.

Back then Martens, riding for the Skil-Shimano team, was disappointed, as he thought he knew the abilities of his former team-mate Langeveld. But he admitted that the Dutch rider, who was not known for his explosiveness, must have worked on his sprinting abilities.

Rabobank took notice, however, and a year after Langeveld also hired Martens. The latter will be back to try again, although he is more likely to play a support role now in a strong Rabobank line-up, with Graeme Brown hoping for sprint victories, while Joost Posthuma is dreaming of another stage race victory, after the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. Langeveld, who had a great season already and rode extremely well in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, will not take the start in Holland.

With the flat racing and the six-kilometre prologue, Mark Cavendish will be among the favourites for the overall title. He has shown he can time trial well in those short races against the clock. Of course, with the second stage finishing on top of the famous Cauberg, where the Amstel Gold race ends each year, it could be his versatile team-mate Bernhard Eisel instead, to take the race leader's jersey.

Quick Step has made a last-minute change and Tom Boonen will participate. He initially was scheduled to race the Tour de Suisse but the organisers prevented him from that, following his cocaine case.

Other teams that have chances of victory are CSC (Goss, Breschel) and of course Astana, which has been doing well since being prevented from riding the Tour de France, starting each race doubly motivated. Belgian team Silence-Lotto is also a good bet in this kind of race. Robert Hunter from Barloworld will be looking for stage wins in the sprints while Milram's Markus Eichler and Tinkoff's Mikhail Ignatiev are likely candidates for breakaways.

Of course you can never count out any rider of the Skil Shimano team. Maybe they will have another future Rabobank rider on the start.

Stage details and a preliminary start list are available.

Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale truly international

Nicole Cooke won the women's Tour de France in the last two years
Photo ©: John Flynn
(Click for larger image)

The women's version of the Tour de France will start in Gent, Belgium, on June 17, then head to Italy via France. The race will end in Sestriere on June 22, making it a truly international event with three countries being visited in six days.

Gent hosted the finish of the second stage of the Tour de France last year, when Belgians Gert Steegmans and Tom Boonen celebrated a double victory. The teams will be introduced on June 16 at the Vrijdagmarkt, from where the riders will also take the Grand Départ on the 17th.

The first stage will see the riders head from Gent towards Oudenaarde, carefully avoiding the cobbled section of the Koppenberg, but not missing out on other key sections of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, like the Steenbeekdries (which was the eighth helling in this year's Ronde). Then, it is on to the French border near Mouscron, where the riders will hover around, switching countries a few time before the finishing sprint in Wattrelos, France.

The second stage heads back into Belgium after 12 kilometres. After a very flat day, the likely bunch sprint will take place in La Louviere.

Due to the profile, potential attackers should try to get away before the peloton enters France again after 23 kilometres. It is in the initial phase, with a few short climbs, where differences can be made. The second part is again entirely flat, as the stage will end in Fourmies.

Via two more flat stages the race will finally approach the decisive parts in the Alps. On June 21, the peloton has to deal with an uphill finish in Villard de Lans, with the final climb bringing the riders from about 200m of altitude to almost 1200m. And in the final stage, from Guillestre to Sestriere, the race hits the race's highest point, at 2,400m of altitude.

Africa Tour title goes to White

Nicholas White, here winning a race in Europe earlier in his career, has taken the overall title in the Africa Tour
Photo ©: Régis Garnier/
Click for larger image

South Africa's Nicholas White, leader of the South African based MTN team, secured the UCI Africa Tour title after building up an unassailable lead at the Tour of Morocco. There are two events left to race.

Although White placed sixth in the strong field in Morocco, his victory in the penultimate stage of the 10-day tour, which started and finished in the capital of Casablanca, was enough to secure the prestigious white jersey and title of most consistent rider in Africa for 2007/2008.

Russian Alexey Shchebelin (Cinelli OPD) was the overall winner at the Tour of Morocco, followed by Amore & Vita's Slawomie Kohut, two minutes and 40 seconds down. South African road champion Ian McLeod, a former professional on the Française des Jeux ProTour team, came in third at four minutes 20 seconds.

White won the 2007 edition of the Tour of Morocco, but while his team failed to retain his individual title, they left satisfied – four stage wins, third, fourth and sixth overall and sprinter ace Malcolm Lange rode away with the points jersey, after winning three stages.

But the main prize for White and his team was sealing the win in the Africa Tour, a continental series comprising 25 events in various African countries and running from October through to the following September.

White started his assault on the 2007/2008 Africa Tour with maximum points when he won the Continental road and time trial titles in Cameroon last November.

He then finished fourth at the Tour of Gabon in January and collected more valuable points at the Intaka Tech World's View Challenge races in February. He scored third place behind Manuel Quinziato of Liquigas in the opening race, then added a few more points at the South African Road Championships in May.

"It would have been better if I'd been able to defend my Tour of Morocco title, but I wasn't at peak form coming into the race following a bit of illness leading up the event," explained White. "I really suffered on the third stage and lost time which I was just never able to make up in this quality field.

"Our main goal was to ensure I maintained my lead in the Africa Tour, which I did and that's important for our team and our main sponsor, MTN, which has a large presence in Africa," added White.

The Eritreans also kept the flag flying high for the Africans in the Tour of Morocco with impressive performances from Dawit Haile, Daniel Teklehaymanot, Ghebrehiwet Merhawi and Frekalasi Debesay.

The UCI's Head of National Federations Relations, Dominique Raymond, was present for the final stage and met with the newly-elected members of the Royal Cycling Federation of Morocco as well as the teams from Eritrea, Senegal, Libya and Algeria.

She was also informed of a humanitarian action undertaken during the Tour of Morocco by the official transport sponsor, KIA: They donated 60 bikes to school children, who travel 10 to 15 kilometres to get to school, in the aim to encourage them to continue their education.

Team Type 1 successful in North America

Team Type 1 had successes in North America, with Matt Wilson scoring a stage win, Glen Chadwick winning the King of the Mountains crown and Moises Aldape claiming the sprinters' jersey in the Tour de Beauce in Canada. And the RAAM team is starting to catch up with the leading Byggkjøp / BMC Cycling Team.

In the Tour de Beauce, Aldape also finished third overall and Team Type 1 won the teams classification as well. In addition to Aldape's podium finish, Team Type 1 had Valeriy Kobzarenko finish fourth overall and Chadwick fifth. Canadian Svein Tuft (Symmetrics Cycling Team) took the overall title while Bernardo Colex (Tecos Trek UAG) finished second.

For Wilson, it was his second victory of the year and his first in North America. The former Australian road race champion had been slowed this season by a broken wrist suffered in a training accident. But in Sunday's 77.7-mile (125 km) circuit race in Quebec City, Wilson played team tactics to perfection by escaping out of the main break to claim the win by four seconds over Philipp Mamos (Sparkasse).

"We knew Symmetrics would try to ride a slow pace today and that the field would probably let them go," Team Type 1 Sport Director Ed Beamon said. "So we gambled that they might let the break get the five minutes Chris [Jones] needed to move into the top three overall. We got to almost four minutes, but some of the guys in the break would not cooperate and it started coming back."

In the Race Across America (RAAM) – an event in which Team Type 1 is the two-time defending champion in the eight-person team division – the squad was running a close second late Sunday night with fewer than 700 miles remaining in the non-stop, 3,015-mile (4,852 km) transcontinental race.

Team Type 1, which is made up entirely of athletes with Type 1 diabetes, trailed the Byggkjøp presented by BMC Cycling Team by less than 90 minutes at the 39th of 54 time stations. Both squads were averaging better than the record 22.42 mph that Team Type 1 averaged in winning the event in 2007.

At its current pace, Team Type 1 will arrive at the finish line in Annapolis, Maryland, Tuesday between the hours of 1:00 and 4:00 in the morning.

(Editorial assistance and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)

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