News for July 3, 2002
Edited by Jeff Jones
Tom Steels has his sights on the Tour
Recently crowned Belgian champion Tom Steels (Mapei-Quick Step) has his eyes firmly fixed on the Tour de France, where he will surely be a protagonist in the bunch sprints. His win on Sunday after 248 kilometres of classic Belgian kermesse racing confounded the other teams such as Lotto-Adecco, Domo-Farm Frites and Palmans-Collstrop who had the numerical strength to completely dictate the race. In the last 500 metres it all came together for a bunch sprint, and Steels made no mistake in winning it, his third Belgian championship.
"I am eagerly anticipating the sprints in the Tour," said Steels in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad. "The National Jersey has given me a lot of confidence; if needed I'll even ride at the front a bit more. I can do it."
He demonstrated that in Maldegem on Sunday by riding in the breakaway from the second lap, contributing his share of work and staying in the leading group for the rest of the day. Although he was certainly the best sprinter in the pack, it's not easy to beat riders such as Van Petegem, Mattan, Verbrugghe, Baguet, Aerts, Merckx, Museeuw and a motivated Ludovic Capelle for that coveted tri-coloured jersey.
Steels also had to come to terms with a two year battle against Glandular Fever (Mononucleosis), which in addition to its physically debilitating effects, severely affected his confidence. Fortunately, his team had faith in him and that is starting to be repaid, with hopefully more to come in the Tour. Steels is Mapei's most successful rider, with 56 victories to his credit since he started riding with them in 1996. Rominger won 48 races for them, while Museeuw and Vandenbroucke won 39.
"After the victory in the Four Days of Dunkirk I sort of sunk away a bit again. In the Tour of Belgium I didn't feel good, I wasn't good in Germany either. The week after I won in Catalonia, my wife Leen and our daughter Lobke came down with a virus. I thought: No, not again! But I stayed calm, and look, it's been a long time since my legs felt this good."
"The doubts will stick with me for a while longer though. What else to expect? Two years of doing it tough don't disappear within two weeks. I can feel that especially in the days before a race. Am I going to make it?"
Steels could feel his legs coming back, but he found it hard to translate that into wins. "On top of that, I didn't get much mental rest during the last few months. My team-mate and friend Fabien De Waele first didn't get selected for the Tour, then Lobke had serious health problems...it all threatened to get on top of me. Luckily I have learned to empty my mind of worries during the race."
Now he hopes to make a good show of things in the Tour, so that "...we can convince Belgian sponsor Quick Step to look after the Belgian side of the Mapei Squad in first instance. This is a very good group; the riders, the personnel, the team director, we have a lot of fun together...there aren't many of us, but we can still make a fist!"
Lampre-Daikin for the Tour
Lampre-Daikin managers Giuseppe Saronni and Pietro Algeri have selected a well-balanced team for the Tour de France. Raimondas Rumsas, in his first participation in the Tour, has been designated as captain. Ludo Dierckxsens and Jan Svorada will be aiming at stage wins, and the Czech sprinter dreams about repeating last year's triumph in the final stage on the Champs Elysées.
Dierckxsens and Svorada will be accompanied by promising young riders such as Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvian road champion) and Brazilian fast man Luciano Pagliarini. The remainder of the team is Rubens Bertogliati, Alessandro Cortinovis, Marco Pinotti and Marco Serpellini.
Pietro Algeri is fully confident in Raimondas Rumsas as captain: "The Lithuanian rider, although debuting in the Grande Boucle, can finish in the first ten positions of the final ranking; I expect to see him among the protagonists both on the mountains and in the time trials."
No love lost between Leblanc and Cipollini
The feud between super sprinter Mario Cipollini and Tour de France boss Jean-Marie Leblanc continues, with Leblanc calling him "More than a champion, he is a star" in response to Cipollini's comment that Leblanc was a "dictator".
"I admire him for his performances, for his perseverance, but I know that in addition to being a champion he is above all a star of show-business who gives provocative comments to the media and the public. Those who know me know that the head of the Tour is not a dictator....If it was so the selector of a soccer team would be a dictator when he chooses the 11 players to go on the field. In '89, I introduced a rational criteria to choose the teams, based on the UCI ranking. Our personal choices only represent four or five teams."
Reactions to the Lotto-Domo merger
After the news became official yesterday that the two biggest ongoing sponsors in Belgian cycling, Lotto and Domo, would merge, the reactions from the riders and staff were mixed. The principal driving force behind the merger was Eddy Merckx, the world's greatest ever cyclist and a man who is now very much involved in the business and politics of cycling in Belgium.
Merckx was of course happy that the plan came to fruition, quoted in the Belgian press today as saying "If I can have the honour to supply the team with bikes, it will be a complete success story for me."
Merckx said that it all started with a trade mission to China, during which he had the company of Minister Rik Daems. "It was the ideal moment," said Minister Daems. "The two co-sponsors are stopping. We'd rather see one big, real national team than two half ones. A team that gives us security for the Tour de France. And, with the Cycling Plan, the youngsters get a better chance for the future; so we can keep the level of Belgian cycling high."
Wilfried Peeters, a current director sportif of Domo-Farm Frites, said that "It's like Belgium's two biggest soccer clubs, Anderlecht and Club Brugge are joining forces! We currently have some questions that need to be answered, but they will follow soon."
Eddy's son Axel Merckx (Domo) didn't want to reveal too many details just yet, saying that "There are many question marks at the moment. I think it is a pity one team is disappearing, but you have to be realistic and look at what is happening in the surrounding countries. Mapei's gone, ONCE on a thin wire, and France isn't doing much better. These two sponsors, Lotto and Domo, are really solid, correct sponsors and they are making sure that Belgium will remain a solid identity within cycling for the coming years. Especially because of that, this fusion is a great thing. I compare it to riding for the national team every day of the year. We have proven we work very well together in World Championships, so let's just do that!"
The current captain of Lotto-Adecco, Peter Van Petegem is also positive about the move, which will mean that he will ride on the same team as Johan Museeuw, one of his dreams as a pro. "I see things happening," said PVP. "I already had advanced negotiations with Christophe Sercu before this and we were on the right path. I hope that we'll see eye to eye on further details."
"It will be a team that is looked at by everyone. Every race we will lose in Belgium will be disastrous. That will bring with it pressure but I gladly take that on."
One rider who is not so happy about the merger is Lotto's top sprinter Robbie McEwen, who left Patrick Lefevere's Domo-Farm Frites team last year after he didn't get along with the boss. McEwen moved to Lotto where he immediately had success both at home and in Europe, and had already worked out an agreement with Christophe Sercu for the next two seasons.
"Now I have to look at things again," he said. "I don't know yet. Last year with Domo is still too fresh in my mind."
"In the meantime, I have declined offers from other teams of course. The Lotto team didn't need anyone else really. It is a forced co-operation. History is repeating itself for me. I went from Farm Frites to Domo in this way, now again it's the same."
A spot in Lotto-Domo for Tchmil
The directors of the Belgian National Lottery held a dinner on Monday evening to celebrate Andrei Tchmil's official retirement. Tchmil expressed interest in being part of the new Lotto-Domo team in the role of a team leader for the younger riders.
Olano to retire at the end of 2002
Abraham Olano (ONCE-Eroski) has announced his retirement from professional cycling at the end of this season. The 32 year old said in a press release that he wanted to "live for the first time a life without pressures and to enjoy more time with my family."
"I have taken one of the most important decisions of my life, and at the same time an inevitable one after so many years: to put a full stop to my career as a professional cyclist, despite the fact that at the start of the year my director and I planned to continue for another year."
Olano has won 50 races in his career, including the World Road Championship (1995), World Time Trial Championship (1998) and Vuelta España (1998). He will be lining up with ONCE for his last Tour de France in Luxembourg on Saturday, riding principally to help Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and Joseba Beloki.
Gilmore-McGrory duo to RDM-Flanders
Top six day pair Matthew Gilmore and Scott McGrory will ride for Belgian division II squad RDM-Flanders next season. The two are currently part of the Mapei-Quick Step team, but will be forced to leave at the end of the season due to the main sponsor pulling out.
Frank Vandenbroucke will probably re-sign with Domo
Frank Vandenbroucke's manager Paul De Geyter is confident that the Flemish Disciplinary Commission will clear his rider of charges of possession of banned substances when they announce their verdict on Thursday. If that is the case, VDB will sign a contract on Friday with Domo-Farm Frites, the team from which he was sacked earlier this year.
66th GP Nations
The 66th edition of the Grand Prix des Nations time trial will take place in Havre on September 21, according to L'Equipe. It will be raced over two laps of a 33.5 kilometre circuit located in the north of the city. In the morning before the race, 360 riders will be able to contest the GP du Conseil général de Seine-Maritime.
2002 marks the third year in a row that the GP des Nations has been held in the Seine-Maritime department, and the organisers are likely to come to an agreement to hold it there in 2003 and 2004.
England road team for Commonwealth Games
The England Men's Road team for the Commonwealth Games will be headed by experienced Italian based Lampre-Dakin rider Max Sciandri. Max is backed by fellow European pros Jeremy Hunt (BigMat), Charly Wegelius (Mapei) and Roger Hammond (Collstrop), along with the top domestic riders of the last few seasons, John Tanner and Mark Lovatt. Hammond, Hunt, Wegelius, Tanner and Lovatt all raced over the Commonwealth Games course at the National Championships on the weekend, and they expect to be able to challenge the powerful Australian squad.
Wegelius will also ride the Time Trial along with Stuart Dangerfield. The course should suit Wegelius's particular talents - the Mapei rider has a good record in hilly time trials and won a silver at the 1999 European Under-23 Time Trial championships.
RONA team for Wendy's International
The RONA Cycling Team traveled to Columbus, Ohio for the Wendy's International Sports Festival from July 2-7. The Wendy's International is a series of races for runners, in-line skaters and cyclists. The cycling competitions are criteriums and sprints held in and around Columbus.
Team RONA will be represented in Columbus by Canadians Andrea Hannos and Amy Jarvis, New-Zealander Melissa Holt and Americans Nicole Freedman and Gail Longenecker. Gail is a native of Ohio.
Greg LeMond to lead Saturn Cycling Classic
America's first Tour de France winner Greg LeMond has announced that he will be the official starter for the 2002 Saturn Cycling Classic on August 10. He will ride in the pace car, leading the peloton from the starting line in Boulder at 9:20 a.m. to the finish line in Breckenridge, Colorado at approximately 4:00 p.m.
2002 marks the third year of the race and the second year as the Saturn Cycling Classic. It is an extremely tough 140 mile race on a route that climbs over seven mountain passes and descends over steep paved and dirt roads as it crosses the Continental Divide before dropping to the finish in the ski resort town of Breckenridge. Last year, Jonathan Vaughters of Denver was the first to cross the finish line.
"The Saturn Cycling Classic is exactly the kind of event the U.S. needs to develop future stars at the highest pinnacle of racing in the world. This is epic stuff, the kind of race I would have loved," states LeMond, who tasted success on the same terrain more than 20 years ago when he won the Red Zinger Classic, beating the world's top ranked Russian National Team. LeMond also returned to Colorado in 1985 and 1986, splitting Coors Classic victories with his teammate Bernard Hinault.
There will be over $75,000 in prize money this year, with the first-place cyclist winning a 2003 Saturn VUET sport utility vehicle.
In addition to the men's elite race, the Saturn Cycling Classic will feature the Nicole Reinhart Criterium races in Breckenridge starting at 11:30 am and 12:30 p.m. for amateur men in categories 3 and 4 respectively. Races for juniors with Olympic dreams start at 1:45 p.m. and the women's race starts at 2:45 p.m. Two recreational rides will be available for amateur cyclists, starting in Breckenridge.
West Virginia Division of Tourism to co-sponsor Gomart Cycling
Top US amateur team Gomart Cycling will now be known as the West Virginia-Gomart Cycling Team with the addition of the West Virginia Division of Tourism to its list of sponsors. "I have been working on this for years, and it finally came together," said Craig Slaughter, Team Director. "It is actually a grant that will continue to be available to leverage all the private sponsorship dollars I can cobble together. This is a very significant development for our program, as it has virtually unlimited potential. As you would guess, we are looking for partners that want to be a part of West Virginia Cycling."
The team has won four amateur national championships since 1997. Last year, Benjamin Sharp won the USCF Criterium National Championship in August and Mike House won the Junior National Cyclocross Championship in December, going on to the World's in February. Most recently, the team won the Tour of Southeast Ohio in dominating fashion as clearly one of the favourites to take home the stars and stripes jersey at road nationals in Tennessee on July 20th.
Benjamin Sharp and Wes Seigler have returned to the team after trying their legs with Pharmacia. After failing to make scheduled payments to riders the Pharmacia team folded in June.
"We are happy to have Ben and Wes back in the fold. Both left on good terms. Very few riders would fit into our team at mid-season without upsetting team morale. Ben and Wes are two very strong but unselfish riders. They fit us like a glove," added Slaughter.
The team's website is at: www.westvirginia-gomart.com.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2002)