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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News, September 26, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

Armstrong addresses industry, LeMond crashes party

Lance Armstrong seemed to be enjoying
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

A day after officially announcing his comeback to professional cycling, Lance Armstrong made an appearance at the Interbike trade show to give the cycling media and industry an opportunity to hear more details of his plans, including the special testing by Don Catlin of the UCLA anti-doping lab. Catlin joined him on stage along with American Taylor Phinney who will lead Armstrong's new developmental team.

Sitting in the front row, asking the first question was another Tour de France champion and outspoken critic of Armstrong, Greg LeMond. Cyclingnews was on hand to hear the plans and questioning from the industry, including LeMond.

Lance Armstrong has been busy over the past two days, even for him. Yesterday he addressed the world about his plans to return to professional cycling at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York City. He then gave his own press conference in New York before boarding his private jet to make it to Las Vegas in time for the Cross Vegas cyclo-cross race. After a day that essentially began at 2:30 a.m. local Vegas time, he ended his day in 22nd place and with the largest throng of media around him.

But the next morning he was back up early for a 9:00 a.m. press conference with more than 100 people waiting with questions. He began with a summary of the already reported news. "I announced my official return to professional cycling in New York City, then got beat up a little bit last night in the cyclo-cross event, which felt great!" he joked. "But I thought it was essential that we be here at the trade show to allow you the opportunity to ask questions."

"There have been a couple of updates since yesterday: I changed my mind! Just kidding. It crossed my mind about 20 minutes into Cross Vegas last night – 'are you sure you want to do this?' "

"The one update from yesterday is that I will now be doing the Tour of California. I will be starting with the Tour Down Under, then heading to training camp and then going to the Tour of California."

In the first seat of the front row was former Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, who led off the questioning with some pointed ones, all surrounding the theme of questioning the reasonability of the planned special testing of Armstrong by Don Catlin of the UCLA lab.

"I see Mr. Greg LeMond is here," Armstrong said somewhat wryly, but allowed him to have the first question.

LeMond pressed Armstrong and Catlin about the type of testing they had planned. He levied some reasonable critiques, essentially calling into question the proposed testing, arguing that it is not comprehensible enough, such as using T/E ratios and tests for specific EPO drugs as opposed to measuring physiological variables such as power output changes over time. LeMond inferred that a spike in power output would better indicate the use of something compared to trying to test for particular substances.

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"That is not my area," responded Catlin. "He will be subject to testing by everyone under the sun. I think that will be all sorted out."

Catlin said that the actual program is still taking shape. "[Lance] has agreed to a couple of a few very fundamental points. One is his data, like T/E ratio and all that kind of stuff that a doping control is allowed to do will be on the web, so you can see it. 'Ah, your T/E ration changed today, what happened?' Like to see if he is taking EPO – all the actors to make it a very public campaign."

Continue to the full feature.

UCI declares peace, appoints new VP

The International Cycling Union announced that its conflict with the Grand Tour organisers has ended after a meeting during the World Championships in Varese, Italy on Thursday. The UCI has been at odds with the three groups which organise the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España since the inception of the UCI ProTour.

The sport's governing body issued a statement that read simply, "The International Cycling Union and the Editions Philippe Amaury (owner of ASO and Société du Tour de France), RCS and Unipulbic have signed an agreements today to put an end to the disputes that have existed over the past four years.

"These agreements provide a framework within which the parties will work together for the sport of cycling going forward. All parties believe that this marks the start of a new positive era for a united cycling family."

The agreement came one day after UCI Vice President Hein Verbruggen, the man who began the ProTour, resigned from his post.

The Cuban News Agency reported that Jose Manuel Pelaez, the head of the Cuban Cycling Federation and Portuguese Artur Lopes will replace Australian Ray Godkin and Verbruggen as Vice Presidents. Pat McQuaid remains on as President, and Vladimir Holecek as the third Vice President.

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

Armstrong welcome at Tour de France, California

The organisers of the Tour de France removed one likely hurdle to his quest at winning an eighth Tour de France: the issue of an invitation to his Astana team. Christian Prudhomme, the Amaury Sport Organisation's Tour director, said that as long as the team has no "ethical problems" in the coming months, the team would be at the Tour in 2009.

This year, Prudhomme refused to invite Astana, which had four separate doping cases during the 2007 season and was forced to leave the Tour that year after its leader, Alexander Vinokourov, tested positive for a blood transfusion.

Armstrong has fought off repeated doping allegations since winning his record seven Tours, and as part of his comeback he has enlisted the services of Dr. Don Catlin to carry out a comprehensive testing program.

Prudhomme admitted that Armstrong still has plenty of star power in France. He told the Associated Press that after visiting the Tour of Poitou-Charentes in Western France, "practically the whole day, people spoke to me about the return of Lance Armstrong."

"The fact that he is a star ... means that this touches everyone," he said.

Prudhomme added that he hopes Armstrong will show "humanity" in his return, rather than a super-human performance which make fans suspicious. "If you have that humanity with Lance Armstrong, then we will have a very beautiful Tour de France," he said.

Going back to Cali'

Armstrong also announced Thursday that he plans to race in the 2009 Amgen Tour of California with the Astana Cycling Team. The race, which has expanded to 800 miles over nine days will visit San Diego county for the first time, and was expected to draw record crowds even without the presence of the seven-time Tour champion.

AEG president Andrew Messick was delighted to hear of Armstrong's plans. "We expect it will bring an unprecedented level of attention to our race," he said. " The scene in Las Vegas today was a little bit crazy. It was not just people who care about cycling, but people who care about what Lance does and follow him. It's an opportunity and a challenge for us to rise to the occasion."

Armstrong made it clear in his press conference on Wednesday that he would only visit races in geographical areas where leaders have made a firm commitment to battling cancer. The Tour of California has held the "Breakaway from Cancer" initiative since its inception in 2006. Messick said that he hoped that they could work with the Lance Armstrong foundation. "We think Lance's efforts are consistent with our anti-cancer initiative," he said, but denied that the race had promised anything to lure Armstrong to their race. "We have not made any financial commitments to Lance's foundation," said Messick. "We have talked about ways we can work with them."

Armstrong buys into SRAM

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Las Vegas

Armstrong's new relationship didn't quite extend to using SRAM gear at Cross Vegas
Photo ©: Michael Robertson
(Click for larger image)

While a lot of recent news about Lance Armstrong has overshadowed the wheeling and dealing happening at the Interbike trade show, one aspect of his return actually has relevance specific to the industry. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Armstrong is investing millions of dollars into component maker SRAM, as part of the deal with Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., subsidiary of the recently collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers.

While the two entities are relatively separate, the infusion of cash from Armstrong is expected to have a positive impact. Lehman had actually courted Lance prior to any knowledge of his comeback, beginning as far back as 2007. And the fact that Armstrong will be riding SRAM as part of the existing sponsorship with Astana is apparently just coincidence. "The funny thing, when we did the deal with Lance we were unaware that he was planning to return to competitive cycling," Charlie Moore, a managing director of Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking told WSJ. "It's serendipitous."

"It's great to have that kind of intelligent money, really knowledgeable money to be part of the company," SRAM chief executive Stan Day told Cyclingnews. "It's a small piece of the total investment but it is a meaningful piece to be sure. We are excited that Lance is interested in riding are components and investing in our components, and that is a great combination."

"We certainly weren't the first in the industry to hear about it, but it came onto our plate three weeks ago," said Day. "We were as surprised as the whole industry but also pleased. Lance brings great credibility and great draw to the industry and it is good to have him back."

The combination of Lance as a technical advisor, investor and now sponsored rider is quite a coup for SRAM in terms of battling for a share of the market with Armstrong's former component maker Shimano. Armstrong had been with the Japanese company for so long that he still rode their components at Wednesday night's Cross Vegas race at Interbike.

"We couldn't switch his bike out and have him go into a race right away!" Day laughed. "But he's ridden our product a lot over the last several months and he is comfortable with it. He likes the weight, stiffness and the use of carbon. It will be interesting to work him closer and get his ideas. We will incorporate that with our other athletes' feedback."

Day was present at the press conference where Armstrong gave details about his comeback and his opinions on doping in cycling and sport in general. "I agree with him," said Day. "We have rules. Let's test for it and if somebody gets caught, kick him out and get on the with the sport. Quit whining about it! We are all big grown men at this point and if somebody breaks the rules, get out and keep playing the game."

Craven hoping to turn pro

By Hedwig Kröner in Varese

Dan Craven (Namibia)
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
(Click for larger image)

Namibian cyclist Dan Craven came in 51st of a total of 57 riders competing in the time trial even at the UCI World Championships time trial Varese on Thursday. This was far from being a satisfying result for Craven, who finished 5'39 minutes behind the winner, Bert Grabsch of Germany. "I was passed by my four-minute man, so that's no good," he said as he came back to the team tents after the finish. "But this was my first time trial since last year's worlds, so I wasn't expecting any wonders."

Craven, who races at amateur level for Swiss Team, based just 50 kilometres from Varese, has nevertheless had some good results as well as a victory this season and is hoping to turn professional in 2009. "It's a lovely team to develop, but now it's time to move on," he said. "I'm currently hoping for a pro contract. There is a tiny possibility in a European professional team - but it's taking its time and I'm starting to get a little bit uncomfortable. I'm 25, in my last year as an amateur, so I've got to turn pro or look for something else to do."

In this light, his result at the worlds may not help his cause, but Craven only prepared for the race in the last couple of weeks. "I was hoping to do a little bit better today to do give it a little bit of a boost, but if my four-minute man catches me, that's not a very good sign."

Asked what it was like to race against the best in the world while knowing that he wasn't in contention for a top placing, he said, "It's kind of weird for me, as an African, to come here full of awe for all these pros - but then again, they're only human. So you're afraid, you're nervous, but you just take up you opportunity and do what you can. It's nerve-wrecking, but it's fun!"

Nevertheless, Craven had some riders on the radar which he measured up with. "Maciej Bodnar from Poland [36th at 4'01 minutes - ed.], who rides for Liquigas, was in my team in 2006, so I know him as we're friends. Of course, I would have loved to beat him, but he's been riding for Liquigas the whole year - I didn't expect to beat him, really... It's a pity that there were no South Africans in the time trial, as I would have loved to to gage myself against them."

Martin looking for tough race in the U23 Road World Championships

Daniel Martin (Garmin Chipotle H30)
Photo ©: Stephen McMahon
(Click for larger image)

Daniel Martin will head up the Irish team in the Under-23 road race on Friday, and the 21-year-old will start as one of the favourites this year. The Team Garmin-Chipotle professional has already made waves on the European circuit this year after he won the prestigious Route Du Sud stage race in France and then went on to become the Elite and Under-23 Irish road race champion.

His preparations for the World Championships were delayed, however, when he caught a virus and was forced to retire from the Tour of Ireland in August, but he bounced back to finish fourth overall in the Tour of Britain. A victory from Martin would be the first gold medal in the championships in ten years since Mark Scanlon won the junior gold medal in 1998.

"It has been a big step up in training and racing with the team this year and I took on a new coach as well," explained Martin. "I have been doing a lot more intensity training this year and it seems to be working very well. This is my fifth time riding at the World Championships and that has helped me to be pretty relaxed this time.

"I am treating it like a normal race. It is one of the hardest races of the year because everybody is so motivated for it. You have to fight all day and stay strong mentally and hopefully everything will go my way."

Martin finished 26th last year in the under 23 World Championships when he struggled on the last two laps in the Stuttgart race won by Slovakian rider Peter Velits. Martin's preparation for this year began back in July when he road the European Championships.

"We stayed down the road in Lake Maggiore and I did a couple of laps of the circuit and it seems tough and pretty good for me," continued Martin. "I am happy that there is no descent from the last climb to the finish. Though it can be difficult to compare riding in the peloton against when you are out training on your own. I had a few teammates who rode it in the Giro d'Italia and they said it is not too hard. It is going to be a waiting game. I have been used to riding in longer races between 190 – 200km races this year and I am hoping this will count for me on the last lap and the last climb."

The full U23 team is Daniel Martin (Gerona), Ronan McLauglin (Donegal) and Conor McConvey (Belfast)

USA Crits wraps up in Vegas

After an exciting season of outstanding competition, the stage is set for today's finale of the USA Crits 2008 Championship Series. Expect extremely aggressive fields of professional and elite male and female cyclists to speed along the one-of-a-kind course at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Firmly in their sights will be the prospect of a prestigious victory, lap-leader cash awards, team bragging rights, and a healthy prize purse to motivate racers to step up their performances.

Nobody has to spell that out for Cuba's Yosvany Falcon (Toshiba-Santo), who says he can't help but consider the racer who will try to knock him out of first place overall in the men's competition. Hot on Falcon's back wheels in the standings is Adam Myerson (Time Pro-Cycling), and the final race is nothing more than another chance to stage an upset. Here's how things stand right now at the top of the men's leader board.

"I'm excited about the final," says Falcon. "To win the USA Crits Series will probably be the best result for me in the United States this year. Of course, I'm going to try to maintain my lead using my speed because I definitely don't want him [Myerson] to pass me on the last lap." Falcon adds that he expects his Toshiba-Santo teammates Mark Hekman and Frank Travieso to help him fend off all threats.

The race is more than a little interesting in the women's lineup too. Cheerwine Cycling's Kelly Benjamin is in the overall lead, but the UNLV graduate is still being chased hard by Jennifer Wilson (Vanderkitten).

Benjamin has been a study in consistency for most of the USA Crits Series this year, and that has helped her stay just out of reach for months. The biggest question is this: Can she maintain her form and her lead to claim the championship, or is it physically and statistically possible for Wilson to catch and overtake her? It's a rivalry to watch. Also watch out for champion racers Tina Pic (Colavita/Sutter Home) and Laura Van Gilder (Cheerwine).

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