News for November 8, 2000

Darren Smith remembered

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Jackie Panter beside the Darren Smith memorial
Photo: © Tom Balks

Yesterday's stage of the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic finished adjacent to the Darren Smith Memorial at the top of Bumble Hill. For those unaware, Darren was one of Australia's great hopes in cycling in the early '90's, but was tragically killed by a truck whilst training on the Gold Coast. 10 years ago, Darren won the stage on the Classic that went over Bumble Hill, and stage 6 yesterday (won by Pole Dariusz Wojciechowski) was held in his honour.

At the podium presentations yesterday, there were both tributes from race commentator Phil Liggett and Jackie Panter, the daughter of his former coach Bob Panter. Here is Jackie's speech on behalf of her father:

"If Darren was here today we are sure that he would thank Phill Bates and the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic for giving him the opportunity to make his mark in the world of cycling. He would also like to have thanked his family and friends for the support during his all too brief career. In particular he would want to have thanked Judy Lily and the Wyong Shire for their support and Heiko Salzwedal and the AIS support staff for guiding him through the formative years on the European circuit."

"We all remember Darren as a great cyclist and a wonderful person, and one of quotes that we love best about Darren is the one that Jeff Wells summed up. 'Darren Smith could sprint like a jackrabbit, climb like a spider and read a race like a chessmaster.' More importantly we will remember Darren for the person that he was - a good friend and we loved him so much."

"Thank you Mr Bates for this great tribute today, we really appreciate it. My congratulations to everybody who participated today - that is truly the toughest climb I have ever seen."

Thuaux Talks

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Phil Thuaux
Photo: © Tom Balks

One of the discoveries of Australian cycling this year is 21 year old Phil Thuaux (say 'talks') who is currently in 11th position on GC in the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic. He might not win the race overall, but it won't be through lack of trying.

In the longest stage yesterday, 156 kilometres to the top of Bumble Hill, Thuaux rode an impressive and aggressive race to finish 10th. He missed the decisive break after he crashed a few kilometres before, so was chasing while the ten riders were pulling away. He twice tried to bridge, and in the end was partially successful when he caught Martin Lonie (Bates Bikes) with less than a kilometre to go.

After the stage finish as his teammates were eating creamed rice and generally recovering, he was able to elaborate on what happened.

First, the crash. "About four of us came down after 50 kilometres. We were in the gutter, in the crosswinds and someone came down in front and there was a pileup," said Thuaux who then worked to chase back to the main peloton.

Afterwards, he tried to close the gap to the leading group. "I knew the group I was in split, and we had one of our other guys in it [Peter Milostic] so I wasn't too concerned. Then Jans Koerts softly rolled off the front and I jumped to him."

"He only hung round for 5 kilometres then sat up - I don't know why. I told him there was a tailwind soon and I thought he would wait for it, but I knew how far it was. I turned around and he wasn't there. He must have been cracked by the size of my massive legs," said Thuaux, who is nicknamed "The Giraffe".
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Thuaux finishes
Photo: © Tom Balks

Another nickname spotted on Bumble Hill is "The Axeman", a comparatively recent addition. How did he get that? "Last week, I had a friend come to help me in the State's [Titles] and someone further back in the field finished. I was cooling down and he asked 'who won'? 'The Axe' was the reply 'No it's Thuaux' because they can't pronounce my last name."

Thuaux has ridden one two day tour in A Grade, the Tamworth Tour in July (which he won) as well as the NSW State Road Championships one week before the Classic (which he won). He started racing 18 months ago in club C Grade "on my sister's mountain bike in a pair of sandshoes" where he finished in the bunch sprint.

Before that, he was in a completely different sport, "I sailed skiffs for 10 years and I started doing this [cycling] to get fit for the World's for sailing. One guy said I should race."

Are you still sailing? [laughs] "I've been once this season. We've got State Titles in two weeks but I might want to have a break."

In future, "I want to make the most of any opportunity that I've got. A few weeks ago I was wanting to ride. Then once you get a ride you want to finish and once you start going well..."

US Postal probed

US Postal Service, the team of two time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, has been the subject of a preliminary enquiry into doping, launched by the prosecuting office in Paris. According to French newspaper Le Monde, the investigation started on October 18, prompted by an anonymous note from France 3 TV journalists to prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dintilhac in Paris.

The journalists claim that during the 2000 Tour de France, plastic bags originating from US Postal team vehicles were transferred to a German car before being disposed of. Hervé Brusini (who gave the interview in Le Monde) said that the bags contained various medical products, and that there were empty containers left on the roadside that are due be analysed. The Le Monde article did not reveal if any banned substances had been found.

"We have not finished our investigation," said Brusini in an interview with AFP. "We have only reached a stage of suspicion and have not entered into a full investigation." His journalists' suspicions were only aroused when they saw the method of disposal of the plastic bags by the US Postal team.

According to another French newspaper, le Canard Enchaine, one product that is suspected of being used by the team is Actovegin, originating from Norway. Containing extracts of calf serum, it is intended for improving blood circulation and could have erythropoetic effects, however it is not on the banned list. Actovegin is not sold in France because it contains extracts of animal origin and is a product that does not specify the active ingredient.

The public prosecutor will determine whether there is enough evidence to launch a full investigation, which has been carried out so far by the French drug squad. Should it happen, the investigation would be of a drug trafficking nature.

US Postal respond

The following statement was issued today by the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team's General Manager, Mark Gorski:

"Today, the management of the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team learned from a French news agency report that a preliminary inquiry has been opened by French authorities concerning our conduct at the 2000 Tour de France.

I have discussed this matter with our team's Director Sportif Johan Bruyneel and the team's medical staff and am absolutely convinced that there were no improprieties. If there is an official inquiry, we are confident that it will find that the team was in full compliance with the strict guidelines set forth by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).

We continue to adhere to a zero-tolerance policy concerning the use of substances banned by the UCI.

Festina judgment

December 22 is the day that has been earmarked for judgment of the Festina lawsuit. The trial that lasted a little over two weeks reached its end yesterday as prosecutor Gerard Vinnsoneau requested sentences for the nine accused. He asked for suspended sentences for eight of the nine, ranging from 2 to 18 months, with associated fines. However, the only cyclist on trial, Richard Virenque was not recommended for sentencing in this case.

Virenque's problem is the sanction that he would receive from the Swiss Federation for confessing to doping. He faces a minimum penalty of 6 months, which would start from February next year and cause him to miss the Tour de France. As such, teams have been unwilling to pick him up until they find out the decision.

On the final day of the trial, Virenque's lawyer, Eric Hemmerdinger said that his client blamed the doctors and soigneurs who made the first injection. According to Mr Hemmerdinger, the doctors firstly tried to put doping in a softer light, saying that "it is not serious, you will see that everyone does it. It is said that a rider is 'preparing' for a race, that he is taking the 'good medication' or he is ' plying his trade'."

"In the world of hypocrites described by Luc Leblanc, the first who speaks has the finger pointed at him and becomes the cheater. He will be excluded or in Mr Virenque's language, the black sheep."

Ex-rider arrested

After a long chase by Belgian police, Ronny van Sweefelt (38) was arrested in Merksem, near Antwerp yesterday. Amphetamines were found in his blood and he was travelling with a lot of doping products in boxes, bottles and packages. He threw the material out of his car during the chase.

The police shot 13 bullets at the car, and Van Sweefelt lost control and hit several other cars before he stopped. The former amateur rider averaged more than 10 victories per year in the eighties. It isn't yet known what he intended to do with the products: sell them to cyclists or at dance parties.

Cycling sponsor in trouble

By Tomas Nilsson, correspondent

The Danish IT company Memory Card Technologies, sponsors of the cycling team CSC Memory Card with Laurent Jalabert and most of the top Danish riders, is in deep economic trouble. The company's stock capital, 170 million Danish kroner (some 17 million USD) is all but finished. The reasons are a rising dollar rate and falling prices on DRAM-chips for computers, the company's main products. Company spokesmen maintain that problems can be solved but that a "strategic alliance" or a sell out might save the company. A decision will be taken Wednesday by the company's general assembly.

For the cycling team Memory Card is still a main sponsor, according to the team's managing director Bjarne Riis. He told daily news paper BT however that after the signing of Laurent Jalabert several companies have been in contact.

The American IT company CSC will pay, according to BT, some 10-12 million kroner ( $US 1 million) to the team. However, Memory Card is believed to pay no more than a third of that sum.

"If it doesn't work out for memory Card we will contact other companies that have been interested," said Bjarne Riis to BT.

Wuyts signs

27 year old Peter Wuyts will leaves the Lotto team for the new Collstrop-Palmans team managed by Hilaire Vanderschueren. Wuyts signed for one season and is the 17th rider in this team.