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Latest Cycling News, March 27, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner, with assistance from Susan Westemeyer

French sprinters score third gold in a row

France's winning team sprinters.
Photo ©: Nick Rosenthal
(Click for larger image)

The French sprint team has yet again shown it is the one to beat in the discipline, winning gold in front of the British squad at the Track Worlds in Manchester on Wednesday night. For the third time in a row, the French sprinters dominated their rivals, even if their line-up this year was slightly different.

Grégory Baugé, Kevin Sireau and Arnaud Tournant, who replaced Mickaël Bourgain in the finale and now counts his ninth victory in the team sprint, even realised the best time ever clocked in the discipline, 43"271, four tenths of a second faster than their British rivals – which can be considered a big gap.

Jamie Staff, together with his team-mate Ross Edgar and Chris Hoy had tried everything in the almost traditional match against the French, but had to admit the superiority of the French team. "They have always been the team to beat," said Staff. "Moreover, they have an impressive reserve of young up-an-coming riders. We will have a hard time against them even in London 2012."

Australia's head coach Michael Barras was stunned by the performance. "They have just rewritten the book entirely and in realistic terms they've put it beyond anybody's grasp," said Barras. "There are very few words for that – it was extraordinary."

With the Olympic Games in Beijing coming up this summer, chances are that the French team will remain the same for the event, lining up Arnaud Tournant instead of Mickaël Bourgain. Head coach Florian Rousseau is due to announce his decision upon the team's return to Paris early next week.

Wiggins ready for team pursuit

Gold medallist Bradley Wiggins hopes for more in the team pursuit
Photo ©: Nick Rosenthal
(Click for larger image)

Briton Bradley Wiggins rose above the pressure to take the individual pursuit title at the World Championships in Manchester on Wednesday, and is now looking forward to the team pursuit competition, taking place on the second day of the World Championships.

His past record of one Olympic and two World titles in the individual pursuit – including last year at Mallorca – combined with riding on home soil meant Wiggins was very much under the spotlight at Manchester on Wednesday night.

But the High Road professional had no problems with the pressure-cooker atmosphere. The 27 year-old deliberately held back in the qualifying leg to finish second to Jenning Huizenga of Holland – but then outgunned the Dutchman by nearly five seconds in the final. "I formed a schedule in my mind of what I would need to ride to beat him and stuck to it," Wiggins said afterwards. "Keeping to that was enough for it all to work out. It's a massive relief to have done this, and really satisfying too."

Nevertheless, the pursuit threw up a number of surprises, with big names such as Volodymyr Dyudya (Ukraine), Dominique Cornu (Belgium), Sergei Escobar (Spain) and Bartko finishing back in tenth, twelfth, thirteenth and sixteenth respectively. Others such as Huizenga, Hayden Roulston (New Zealand) and David O'Loughlin (Ireland) performed above expectations in placing second, fourth and sixth.

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"There were a few surprises," Wiggins told Cyclingnews. "This is Olympic year and everybody has stepped up their game a little bit. You could see that in the times this morning. Huizenga has gradually been progressing in the last year or two. It was a fantastic ride for him."

He and the rest of the British Cycling team will chase more medals on Thursday's second day of the championships, with events such as the men's team pursuit, the sprint qualifiers plus the women's individual pursuit and team sprint all taking place.

As mentioned, Wiggins will aim for a second gold in the team pursuit, seeking to repeat the achievement of the 2007 Worlds. "This is about three events [individual pursuit, team pursuit on Thursday and Madison on Saturday with Mark Cavendish] and we're favourites in the team pursuit as well. All the guys in the team pursuit are going really well. Thursday is going to be another exciting day," he added.

The riders will be further motivated by the location, with the home crowd willing them on. "It is fantastic. It is great to ride here, be it in the Revolutions or the World Cup or a World Championships... The crowd is always fantastically supportive, and it is great to be able to win in front of them," said Wiggins. "This is certainly one of my best world titles [because of that]," concluded Wiggins.

Australians improved, but still lacking

Olympic and World Champion, Brad McGee, moved a step closer to his goal of a fourth Olympic Games berth with a solid performance in the individual pursuit on day one of the Track Cycling Worlds in Manchester, but missed a chance to ride for a medal.

McGee was fifth fastest in qualifying, posting his fastest time since 2004 when he claimed silver in the event at the Athens Olympic Games along with gold in the teams pursuit. He completed the four kilometre distance in a time of 4'20"430, more than ten seconds faster than the time he rode at January's Los Angeles World Cup. Cycling Australia coach, Martin Barras, predicted he will continue to improve.

"It would have been nice to get a second round in for him, but he's made substantial progress and looks to have put his health problems behind him," said Barras. "With a bit more racing on the road and track preparation we're extremely confident he'll be right."

For his part, McGee had also hoped for a second ride, but accepted he has a way to go to challenge for a medal. "I rode to the level I am at now and you can't ask for more than that," said McGee, who will line up on Thursday with Graeme Brown, Mark Jamieson and senior team debutant Jack Bobridge for the qualifying round of the team pursuit.

In the men's team sprint, Australia also finished fifth and out of the medals after a qualifying time of 44"614 from the trio of Daniel Ellis, Mark French and Ben Kersten. "It was a little disappointing as we were hoping to get a second ride," said Barras. "Not necessarily to medal but what we want to do at World Championships in an Olympic year is have a chance to assess ... and clarify... who's going to get the gig."

The French were the dominant team of the competition, defeating Great Britain by almost half a second in the gold medal final. Barras admitted a gold medal in the team sprint in Beijing will be difficult to achieve. "The work to be done by ourselves and the Brits (Great Britain) is substantial."

Promising debut for youngsters

Kaarle McCulloch (Australia)
Photo ©: CJ Farquharson
(Click for larger image)

Two riders with their eyes on the 2012 Olympic Games made their World Championship debut. Sydney's Kaarle McCulloch, who claimed the 500m time trial and sprint titles at the Australian Championships last month, finished 12th in the 500m time trial final and admitted the experience was a little daunting.

"It showed in my time as I didn't go as fast as I wanted to," said McCulloch. "I wanted to do a PB which meant a time faster than 34.8 but I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders now and I can't wait to do the sprint and keirin."

"Kaarle was a little overwhelmed but that's why we bring these 'kids' to the Worlds," said Barras. "It's one thing to do it in comfort at home and another to do it under the big lights. It's the same with Leigh Howard (who finished last in the Scratch Race), it's a first experience and they are both great talents with an eye to 2012 and we believe firmly in them."

Day two begins with the teams pursuit qualifying before Ryan Bayley, Daniel Ellis, Mark French and Shane Perkins contest the men's sprint qualifying. Victorian Katie Mactier will race in the women's individual pursuit.

Dutch to look into Ligthart's blood values

Pim Ligthart of the Netherlands was removed from the World Track Championships in Manchester and taken out of competition for two weeks after returning irregular blood values in UCI doping controls carried out on Wednesday. In the same tests, British rider Robert Hayles showed exceeding hematocrit levels and was also suspended from riding for two weeks.

Unlike the Briton, however, the 19 year-old Dutch rider did not have an overly high hematocrit. Team doctor Tjeerd de Vries told Sportwereld that "his blood values were not in order. We will have to look into what happened. Last week Pim had the intestinal flu, perhaps that played a role."

The teenager heard the bad news Wednesday morning after training. "At first I thought it was a mistake and waited for the counter-analysis," he said. "It's really rotten that I can't ride."

Nuyens on list of favourites for Flanders

By Brecht Decaluwé in Waregem

Nick Nuyens and Geert Verheyen wanted a photo for the family album before the Cofidis rider helped his team-mate Chavanel to victory
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

Belgian Nick Nuyens was possibly the strongest man in the Wednesday's 63rd Dwars door Vlaanderen in Belgium. The talented Cofidis rider hammered up the Oude Kwaremont, and together with team-mate and eventual winner Sylvain Chavanel they dominated the race. Nuyens had received some criticism after the Belgian opening weekend for his defensive racing style, and on Wednesday he wiped away every chance for critics with his impressive performance. The 27 year-old outspoken clean rider is more ready than ever for a great Spring Classics season.

"I felt it was about time for me to go in the attack myself and stop anticipating on attacks from other riders. In the hill zone I decided the moment had come because I don't have a chance to win the race if I don't wear my opponents down," Nuyens commented to Cyclingnews after the race.

When asked if he wasn't too disappointed that he didn't win himself, Nuyens didn't regret the lost opportunity. "It doesn't matter. Of course it's more fun for me if I win, but the most important is the team victory. It's good to be riding together with someone who can finish it as well in these races," Nuyens pointed out.

If the Chavanel group had been caught, Nuyens might have been the strongest rider in the escape, although the Belgian didn't agree with that theory. "I wasn't thinking about attacks anymore. I was only busy with defending the breakaway, so it was all or nothing. If you saw my sprint then you know I didn't have much left." Nuyens barely managed to get out of his saddle and crossed the line as one to last rider of the group.

The Cofidis attack on the Oude Kwaremont was one of the most impressive moments of the race. Staf Scheirlinckx paved the cobbled road for his captains, and when they took over nobody was able to follow. Until now, these kind of actions were only deployed by the mighty Quickstep team. "I like Quickstep a lot. I know how it has to be done," Nuyens laughed. "I thought there would be more on our wheel, so this is morale boosting, especially after a Milano-Sanremo where I was lacking the guts to throw myself into the battle for a good position. Now I wanted to show that I'm riding well.

"For me, this is a very difficult race to win as the hills are far away from the finish, although Chavanel showed it is possible to do it," Nuyens added, defying his own theory that Dwars door Vlaanderen can't be won by a non-sprinter. When asked whether the list of favourites for the Tour of Flanders which contains names like Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Leif Hoste and Alessandro Ballan can now also contain Nick Nuyens, the Belgian reacted firmly. "If it isn't there by now, I don't understand anything about it!"

Dutch veterans still going strong

By Brecht Decaluwé in Waregem

At the finish of the 63th edition of Dwars door Vlaanderen in Waregem, Cyclingnews managed to talk with two experienced Dutch riders about their performance in the semi-Classic that – until 2000 – was known as Dwars door België.

Willems Veranda is an unknown Belgian Continental team that received a wild-card invitation for this race. As the team will not be participating in many other big races, it was a perfect opportunity to show their value. But at the finish in Waregem, only one of the team's riders actually crossed the line, in 22th position, and unsurprisingly it was the squad's most experienced athlete Mad Max Van Heeswijk. "I feel our team received enough chances, but having the chance to show something is one thing, being able to do so is something else," the 35 year-old laughed. "Maybe we lack the form that is needed to be competitive. For me personally it was a good day. I felt I had very good legs, it's starting to come again."

As the Dutchman was soaking wet, we quickly let him go to the camper where the other riders hopefully left the former Vuelta a Espańa stages winner some hot water. Next Saturday, the Willems Veranda team will be racing, the E3-Prijs Harelbeke.

Another Dutch veteran is Aart Vierhouten who's currently riding for the small P3 Transfer Batavus team. Vierhouten crossed the finish in 24th position together with his 13 years younger team-mate Arnoud Van Groen. Vierhouten launched a counter-attack during the finale on the cobbles, in an effort to bridge up with the first chasing group behind the leaders but fell short, making it a 'chasse patate'.

Nevertheless, the former lead-out man from Robbie McEwen was satisfied with his race. "It was pretty tight. I probably choose the wrong moment to bridge up, but in this weather it wasn't easy." When asked what an experienced rider like Vierhouten does against these soaking weather conditions, Cyclingnews received some advice. "You need to switch off your feelings and ride," Vierhouten laughed before heading to the showers.

Scarponi ban shortened after CAS ruling

After a ruling of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Michele Scarponi's suspension was reduced and the Italian rider will now be eligible to race again as of August 1, 2008, instead of the original date of November 15. The CAS actually lengthened his ban from 18 to 21 months, but took into consideration two "periods of inactivity" by the rider, thus moving up the date of his potential return.

The former Acqua & Sapone rider had confessed to his involvement with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes last spring, but denied having actually doped. The Italian Cycling Federation announced in July that he was suspended for 18 months, from May 15, 2007, to November 15, 2008. Scarponi did not receive the standard two-year ban because he cooperated with investigators.

Both the UCI (International Cycling Union) and Scarponi appealed the decision. The UCI asked that a two-year ban be imposed, while the rider asked that the court take into consideration the periods during which he did not race. The case was heard on February 7 in Lausanne.

The court granted both appeals, to a limited extent. It extended the ban from 18 to 21 months, noting that Scarponi provided only "limited assistance" to investigators and that "his revelations, of a reduced efficacy, have occurred relatively late." However, it also noted that Scarponi had not ridden between June 30 and December 31, 2006, and from May 15 to July 13, 2007, "during which M. Scarponi decided to suspend himself voluntarily."

Steegmans, Klöden in sick bay

The season is developing a disturbing trend for Quickstep's Gert Steegmans, as he hit the pavement again in Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen. "My fourth fall of the season. It can stop now!" he told the Gazet van Antwerpen.

The Paris-Nice stages winner was riding along when he suddenly found himself flying through the air before landing on a tractor, not exactly the softest landing place. "Fortunately the tractor broke my fall," the 27 year-old said. "But it almost broke my neck. Don't ask me how the accident happened. I really don't know."

Steegmans got up as quickly as he could and back on his bike, "but I felt immediately that I could put no strength on the pedals. It was over." The Belgian came away with bruises to his back and thighs.

Meanwhile, over in Spain, Astana's Andreas Klöden had to drop out of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon with a sinus infection and light bronchitis, for which he is taking antibiotics. In a press release issued Wednesday night, it was noted that Klöden had not felt well since the start of the race but tried to work for his team-mates as best he could. He was to fly home to Switzerland on Thursday to recover.

Rund um Köln organiser won't give up

The cancellation of the German one-day race Rund um Köln this week due to snow was a hard blow to Artur Tabat. The 66 year-old has organised the event since 1972, and it was the first time that he had to cancel the race. But Tabat already believed that the financially-troubled race will be back in 2009.

At least he didn't have financial problems this year. His two largest sponsors, Milram and Schwalbe, have both indicated that they wouldn't request back monies they had already paid. "I will do what I can, to make sure that Rund un Köln will take place in 2009 again," he told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

Tabat added that he was receiving a lot of public support, citing numerous e-mails, text messages and phone calls. CSC's Jens Voigt thanked him for the decision to cancel the race, and even High Road's Linus Gerdemann, who couldn't take part, chimed in. "He contacted me from his hospital bed and said that I shouldn't give up," Tabat said.

BMC receives Tour de Suisse invite

On Wednesday, the organiser of the Tour de Suisse has extended a wildcard to the Swiss-American BMC Racing Team. The Pro Conti squad had already secured multiple prestigious invitations this year, including wildcards to the upcoming Criterium International and the Tour of Romandie. Expectations for a Swiss invitation were high, but nobody on the team was taking anything for granted.

"When you are not a ProTour team you are never sure of an invitation," directeur sportif John Lelangue said after hearing of the news. "But even though we do not have a big name leader," Lelangue explained, "we have Alex Moos who has performed at a high level for many years, and we also have three of the brightest young Swiss riders on our roster."

Lelangue was sure to bring a motivated team to the Tour of Switzerland. "On a sporting level the tours of Romandie and Switzerland are historic races," he added. "They are also ProTour races, so our Swiss team members will be interested in showing their skills in front of a home crowd, and our American riders will be interested in gaining experience and confidence racing against the big guns of the European peloton."

At this point in the team's growth, their philosophy is not to have one main leader, but rather to work as a team and race aggressively. "We are not planning on winning the overall," Lelangue said, "but we will certainly bring our best team with the ambition to be an animator and attack the race head on."

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