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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News, May 3, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

Top rider under suspicion from passport data

Anne Gripper, the UCI's anti-doping manager
Photo ©: AFP
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One of cycling's top riders could face a doping sanction after testing under the biological passport programme revealed abnormal values, the UCI announced Friday. At a press conference in Aigle, Switzerland, the organisation's president Pat McQuaid and anti-doping manager Anne Gripper revealed some details from the testing done to date, but did not name any riders.

Of the 2,172 samples collected from riders since the beginning of the programme, there were 23 riders who "warranted further scrutiny" due to unusual patterns in blood or urine profiles. Of those, one rider is expected to be sanctioned, while four others are also facing potential bans.

The suspect riders come from a pool of 854 cyclists who have taken part in the programme, and McQuaid doesn't think the results are anything to be concerned about. "It is not unusual to have results of this kind, and there is no concern at this moment," McQuaid told the Associated Press.

The passport programme has persisted despite the withdrawal of support from the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), who split with the partnership after the UCI initiated a lawsuit against former WADA president Dick Pound. McQuaid said that the passport data is still being made available to the anti-doping agency, and that sanctions arising from the passport system will follow the WADA code - meaning a two-year ban for suspect athletes.

The Irishman was optimistic that this program has finally made a change in culture in a sport which has been riddled with doping for decades."We are seeing a major change at the top level of the sport," McQuaid claimed. "We all are aware that cycling has a doping problem and for 40 years has been dealing with a doping problem. We needed to go at it with a huge campaign in which we bombarded athletes with tests and the biological passport program gave us that opportunity."

The testing under the passport program targets blood and hormone values throughout the season that could reveal that performance enhancing drugs or methods have been used by an athlete. This type of 'longitudinal analysis' is thought to be more effective at detecting the use of blood boosters such as EPO or blood transfusions as well as hormones such as testosterone, but, according to Gripper, has not replaced traditional drug testing.

UCI president Pat McQuaid
Photo ©: AFP
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"Last year we completed just over 9,000 tests: this year we will be doing just over 18,500," Gripper told the Associated Press, although she expects the volume of testing to go down once they've established good baseline values for all the riders. "This is the peak year of testing. Once we have strong profiles we won't need the same volume of testing," she said. "Given the enormity of what we are doing it has been going well. We are getting the full support of the riders and teams."

The analysis of the data generated from the testing of riders' blood and urine under the passport system is done by a team of scientific experts, all of whom have studied the physiological effects of doping. The group includes Australian Michael Ashenden, who heads up the research consortium Science and Industry Against Blood doping, and was the co-creator of the test used to detect heterologous blood doping which snared Tyler Hamilton in 2004.

Also on the panel are Frenchman Michel Audran, Bo Berglund (Sweden), the chief physician of the Swedish Olympic Committee, Italians Giuseppe D'Onofrio, Pierluigi Fiorella and Giuseppe Fischetto, head of the medical department of the Italian Athletic Federation. Frenchman Olivier Hermine, Robin Parisotto (Australia) and Olaf Schumacher (Germany), the chief physician of the German Cycling Federation complete the list.

All Giro participants adhere to biological passport scheme

Di Luca and his LPR Brakes team are in the system
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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The UCI assured the organiser of the upcoming Giro d'Italia that all of the teams participating in this year's event have signed onto the biological passport programme, including the LPR Brakes team of 2007 Giro winner Danilo Di Luca. The Italian has been under scrutiny by the Italian anti-doping authorities after returning unusually low hormone values after stage 17 of the race last year. Di Luca also served a three-month suspension for his involvement with Dr. Carlos Santuccione, who notoriously provided doping substances to athletes across Italy.

The Professional Continental teams LPR Brakes and NGC Medical - OTC Indutria Porte were not originally part of the passport system, but were recently brought on board. The teams did not receive the 'wild card' status from the UCI which would have allowed them to participate in ProTour events, but joined the system at their own cost. "They have agreed to pay the full cost of the programme for their teams. The UCI has the discretion to include any team which is willing to finance their participation in the passport," read a UCI statement.

The UCI is optimistic that the programme is providing an effective deterrent to doping, but aren't so naive to think that all riders are now clean. "We can never be 100-percent sure that a rider isn't doping. We can't control the decisions taken by riders before and during a race," read the organisation's press release. "But we can certainly influence their decisions by conducting an effective anti-doping program. Riders will be completely deterred from doping when they feel that the risks of being detected and banned exceed the potential benefits of using doping methods and substances."

Dunkerque to start without Ladagnous

Mathieu Ladagnous
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The 4 Jours de Dunkerque will kick off on May 6 without last year's champion, Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux). The Frenchman was injured on Thursday while mountain biking, according to La Voix du Nord.

Ladagnous will have surgery in the near future on his injured ankle, and will be out of competition for approximately six weeks. The 23-year-old won the 2007 edition of the 4 Jours de Dunkerque with a gutsy battle for intermediate time bonuses with Belgian Dominique Cornu on the race's final stage.

Gerolsteiner team's fate to be known before Tour

The Gerolsteiner team should find out if it will gain a new sponsor for the 2009 season in June, manager Hans-Michael Holczer said on Friday. "We will know what will happen in four to six weeks, in any case before the Tour de France," Holczer said to the German news agency sid.

The company announced it would not extend the sponsorship of the cycling team last September, ending the involvement of the bottled water maker which began in 1998. Holczer has been actively seeking a replacement, and indicated he has two German companies in talks.

"The decision is now in the hands of the leadership of both companies," said Holczer. The team's estimated annual budget is eight million euros.

The Milram squad is the only German ProTour team left in the peloton after T-Mobile pulled out as a sponsor and the cycling team, re-branded as Team High Road, changed its country of license to the United States. While the T-Mobile sponsorship ended as a direct consequence of multiple doping scandals, the Gerolsteiner company insisted that doping was not the main reason that it did not renew its support.

Peter Velits: the modest champion

Peter Velits captured gold
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Peter Velits burst onto the international scene when he won the U23 World Championship in Stuttgart last September. The win also brought him (as well as his twin brother Martin) a ProTour contract with Team Milram. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer caught up with the modest Slovakian just before Liège-Bastogne-Liège to see how he is adjusting to the ProTour.

23-year-old Peter Velits is one of several exciting new talents in the ProTour peloton. The Slovakian, along with his twin brother Martin formed part of Team Milram's young squad this season. While Peter hasn't yet brought in any wins this season, his aggressive riding style and past palmares suggest that a break-out season is coming soon. As a member of Continental Team Konica Minolta in 2005-2006 he took a number of wins, including the Slovakian U23 time trial title. Last year he moved up to Professional Continental team Wiesenhof-Felt, where he won the Grand Prix de Fourmies, before going on to win the U23 Worlds title in Stuttgart.

Winning the U23 Worlds title "was a great feeling," he said. "I didn't fully realize it until two weeks after the event." The title was important to him for two reasons. "It was a good experience for me to see that it is possible for me to set a goal, prepare yourself for it for a long time and then to achieve it. That made me very proud and showed me that it is worth while to prepare yourself for a goal because it is really possible to achieve it."

There was a more practical reason, too. "Besides this, it was the opening day to the big cycling circus and I have a lot of good memories of this day!" Velits had good reason to be happy about the Milram contract. Not only was he joining the ProTour, but he was assured that he would be able to continue riding – the sponsor of his Team Wiesenhof-Felt had already announced that it would stop at the end of the season, and ultimately the team had to fold.

He turned pro in 2005 with Team Konica Minolta, and says that there is a big difference between the South African Continental team and the ProTour Team Milram. "Last year Wiesenhof-Felt was a big step if you take a look at the quality of the service and of the races. And now Team Milram is definitely the top. I don't think it can be more professional than what I experience here."

Continue to the full interview.

High Road sends top riders to Berne

Arndt will be back to dish out punishment in Berne
Photo ©: Niels De Wit
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The Team High Road women's squad will send a strong team of six to the next World Cup round, the Tour de Berne. While the race has been one for the sprinters in the past, this year's radically changed course will provide an opportunity for the team's leader, Judith Arndt, to contend for the World Cup leader's jersey.

"Judith Arndt, Linda Villumsen and Kim Anderson are on paper the ones most likely to do a great ride on Sunday," sad team director Ronny Lauke. "Judith has been the most consistent in all of the last races, and she will be one of the favourites." The winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen round will not be the team's sole focus for the event, however. "Everybody will have their chance, but for the other three taking part it depends a bit on how they're going on the day."

Instead of a mainly flat course with just a short hill, the Tour de Berne now consists of four laps of a 33 kilometre circuit, with a climb four kilometres after the start/finish.

"The climb's five and a half kilometres long and then it undulates for a while before dropping down again to the finish. That means anybody who does get away on the climb will have to get a really good gap to be sure they stay away."

The placement of this challenging course on the calendar has posed some challenges for the team, which has been going strong since February, and still faces the Tour de l'Aude in two weeks' time. Lauke said that the time would soon be coming for a "bit of a break before the summer for some of our top riders."

"There are a lot of difficult challenges coming up, like the Tour de L'Aude and its normal you can only hold the form for so long."

High Road for the Tour de Berne: Kim Anderson (USA); Kate Bates (Aus); Judith Arndt (Ger); Chantal Beltman (Ned); Linda Villumsen (NZL); Oenone Wood (Aus).

Euskaltel – Euskadi in the Vuelta a Asturias

By Monika Prell

Euskaltel – Euskadi will participate as one of two ProTour teams in the 52nd Vuelta a Asturias (May 3 to 7). The Basque team will send the local Samuel Sánchez as well as Gorka Verdugo, Aitor Hernández, Antton Luengo, Jon Bru, Javier Aramendia, Beñat Albizuri and Andoni Lafuente, under the direction of the team manager Miguel Madariaga.

Even if the Asturian fans would like to see an overall victory by their hero, Samuel Sánchez commented to Cyclingnews: "I will just try to win the individual time trial [on Sunday], nothing else." The 30-year-old, who has the Tour de France and the Olympic Games as objectives this year, will "sum up kilometers in my training for the Tour. I want to reach in the best form at the Tour." Following the Vuelta a Asturias, he will ride the Volta a Catalunya and the Dauphiné Libéré in preparation for the Tour.

Team manager Miguel Madariaga agreed with Sánchez' plan . In a talk with Cyclingnews, he admitted, "We called Samuel because he is the local rider, and because the other riders are in the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de Romandie. He is preparing the Tour de France, so the Vuelta a Asturias is not a real objective for him. Nevertheless, he will be our leader, even if he won't be able to win the overall classification." Madariaga also described the team's objectives: "We will try to do a good Vuelta [a Asturias], winning a stage and getting good form on our way to the Tour de France."

Gorka Verdugo and Aitor Hernández will ride their first race after Paris Nice. Verdugo did well in the March event, finishing 7th overall, while Hernández had to abandon after a crash. The 26-year-old struggled afterwards with pain in his right knee, a fact that did not allow him to train normally. Antton Luengo is a candidate to win in the mountain stages while Jon Bru also go after a stage victory. The young Javier Aramendia, Beñat Albizuri and Andoni Lafuente will support their leaders in the mountains.

Judge upholds 'Toona suit

A Pennsylvania judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Altoona Bicycle Club against the former promoter of the International Tour de 'Toona. The stage race had become a mainstay of U.S. racing over the past 20 years, attracting the best riders from across the country for the week-long race.

This year, the event has been reduced to a one-day race due in part to the $370,825 that the club alleges was taken by former club president Kirk Leidy without club permission. This dispute along with a lawsuit brought by a racer who was paralyzed in a crash in the event two years ago had temporarily reduced the race to one day, but the club's president, Larry Bilotto, said the race would be back to its normal format next year.

According to the Altoona Mirror, Leidy's lawyer asked for all but one of the charges to be dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. The case is now set to go to trial, although no date has been announced.

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