News for September 9, 2000

55th Vuelta a España news

Second rest day

By Jeff Jones, online editor

The Vuelta enjoyed its second rest day in three days today after the two and three quarter hour crosswind battle that comprised stage 12. The situation is similar to the first rest day, although the stage did make a difference to some. Angel Casero and Roberto Heras are still 1-2 on general classification. However, Pavel Tonkov, Manuel Beltran, Fernando Escartin, and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano all lost some more time as a result of a split toward the end of the stage. Jan Ullrich (and also Danilo di Luca) retired in order to better prepare for the Olympics, despite the German being in fourth overall.

Speaking of retirements, there have been 38 so far out of 180 starters. At the same time last year, there had been a total of 49 retirements (of 189 starters), with 115 riders eventually finishing. With some quite testing stages to come, the field will certainly be further whittled down to 120 or so by Madrid.

This raises the question as to the difficulty of this year's Vuelta in comparison to previous years and other Grand Tours. Several factors need to be taken into account: the time of the year, and the proximity to other big events. For example this year there were 127 finishers out of 179 starters in the Giro, and an identical number in the Tour de France. In 1998 it was 116/160 for the Giro, and 141/180 for the Tour. A prediction for the Vuelta this year is about 120 from 180 starters, in line with the major races this year.

This would be a reasonable number considering the Olympic Games are very close, as well as the fact that many riders are starting to feel the effects of a long season. Clearly Unipublic (the organisers of the Vuelta) have taken a step forward by reducing the overall length of their tour by 500 kilometres from last year, and 700 kilometres compared with the other Grand Tours this year. The fear was amongst a few that this would somehow 'devalue' the Vuelta, but this has not been the case. In fact, many top riders have found themselves struggling on the flat stages in the crosswinds as teams up front but the hammer down much earlier.

The leader board at the moment is quite justified - the usual names are at the top, with the occasional surprise as you would expect in such a race. Although it is a pity that Ullrich won't be contesting things to the end, a thrilling final nine stages are in store. Given this, the Société du Tour de France, RCS Sport and the UCI should look towards a distance reduction (a cap of 3000 km?) in the Tour and the Giro to reduce riders' overall fatigue but maintain the excitement. The speed is certainly not going to drop but the reliance on certain "recovery" products might.

Today, the riders were transferred from Zaragoza to Santander, where tomorrow's stage 13 starts and finishes. Most riders did 100 kilometres in the morning before being taken by bus to the northern Spanish border. Tomorrow's is 143 kilometres, another large loop and riders will still have to be vigilant about crosswinds. There is only one hill to overcome, the Porto de Alisas which is a 680 metre climb just before the 100 kilometre point, and it is rated as category 1.

Spanish Olympic team

The director of the Spanish Olympic team, Gómez Angulo will follow the Vuelta in the next few stages in order to meet those members of the team who are in the race. David Etxebarria (ONCE), and Abraham Olano (ONCE) are the only ones left at this point, as Oscar Freire (Mapei) has retired from the race, and Juan Carlos Dominguez (Vitalicio) and Miguel A. M. Perdiguero (Vitalicio) are both racing in Poland.

Banesto and the Jimenez problem

Spanish team Banesto have been left high and dry in this year's Vuelta after the long term failure of Alex Zülle and the abandonment of Jose Maria Jiménez. The case of Jose Maria Jiménez is quite hard for Banesto, as they've just given him another two year contract for 150 million pesetas a year ($US 850,000) which was signed prior to the Vuelta. However, he continues to fail at the highest level, and didn't even inform his team of his crash in the weeks before the start. This eventually led to his withdrawal although he was not a great deal of help at any point in the race.

Roberto Heras (Kelme) is at the moment poised to take the leader's jersey in the Vuelta from Festina's Angel Casero. He has an excellent chance given the terrain in the coming stages and could establish a sizeable gap in the four mountain stages to come. This is of course hypothetical at the moment, but the point is that Heras is clearly an excellent talent, and several teams have been interested in signing the Kelme climber.

US Postal was one, however they chose to spend a little less money as Heras would require an expensive buyout. Banesto is another and have a budget that could handle it. They do have riders such as Francesco Mancebo, Unai Osa, Eladio Jiménez but these need a little more development before they become competitive in the major tours.

Banesto's big success after the Indurain era came from Abraham Olano, now riding for ONCE. Olano won the 1998 Vuelta but left the team at the end of the year putting a big hole at the top. The post-EPO Zülle has not quite filled those shoes, although he has given them some success in the shorter races. A Spanish leader is of course desirable for a Spanish team, and Joseba Beloki, Angel Casero, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and Haimar Zubeldia are names that have been tossed into the ring.

With Beloki's re-signing (for five years!) with Festina and Gonzalez de Galdeano's imminent contract with ONCE, that leaves Casero, Zubeldia and Heras. All are expensive and the value of Casero versus Heras will depend strongly on the outcome of the Vuelta. As for Zubeldia, his contract with Euskaltel runs out this year, and it is reported that José Miguel Echavarri has already made him an offer. Zubeldia is promising, but not yet proven at the top level: currently he is 15th at 6'04. Banesto will have to bite the bullet and invest a decent sum of pesetas if they are to return to their glory days of the early 90's.

Hour record goes back to Merckx

The International Cycling Union have officially reinstated the world hour record to Belgian great, Eddy Merckx, who rode 49.432 kilometres in 1972 in Mexico. They have renamed the current record (56.375 kilometres set by Chris Boardman) as the "Best Performance Over the Hour" while Merckx's record is the "UCI Hour Record".

The distinction was deemed necessary due to the technical improvements to the bicycle and position that made Boardman's hour so fast. The so-called 'superman' position developed by Scot Graeme Obree was outlawed in 1997, bringing to an end an era where the hour record was a battle of technology as well as the rider versus the wind. 56+ km/h is an amazing performance, no matter which way you look at it, but it is also not a thing to retain a benchmark for such a world record.

In the eyes of most, Eddy Merckx was the greatest cyclist who ever lived and his record was admittedly set at altitude but on a fairly standard track bike with drop bars, spoked wheels and a diamond frame. It was extremely light with parts made of titanium and drilled out chainrings, but there were no distinct aerodynamic advantages compared with a normal road bike.

Chris Boardman has already announced his ambition to attack this record as the last great time trial of his career. It will take place in the rarified air of Manchester during the World Track Championships in October using a conventional bike similar to Merckx's. Will Boardman become the first to break 50 km/h in a standard position or will Merckx's feat stand for a little while longer?

80th Paris-Brussels

One of the last big races before the Sydney road race is the 245 kilometre Paris-Brussels, a 1.1 category race that was formerly part of the World Cup. It is an important form test for many prospective Olympians and will see 25 teams at the start in Soissons.

The main difficulties are toward the end, and should provide enough for a selection to occur. The Mont-Saint-Roch, côte de Halle, Bruineput and the Keperenberg are amongst these, with the last of these just 5 kilometres before the finish.

Last year's winner, Romans Vainsteins (Vini Caldirola) will be at the start, along with Stuart O'Grady (CA), Axel Merckx, Michele Bartoli, Paolo Bettini (Mapei), Dimitri Konyshev, Andrea Ferrigato (Fassa Bortolo), Jeroen Blijlevens (Polti), Henk Vogels and Gord Fraser (Mercury), Davide Rebellin (Liquigas) and Hendrik Van Dijck, and Dave Bruylandts (Palmans).

The teams are as follows: Mapei, Fassa Bortolo, Vini Caldirola, Rabobank, Lampre, Saeco, Cofidis, Liquigas, Memorycard, Lotto, Polti, Francaise de Jeux, Credit Agricole, Bonjour, Mercury, Palmans, Linda McCartney, Ville de Charleroi, Collstrop, Vlaanderen 2002, Tonissteiner, Saint-Quentin Oktos, Nurnberger, Bankgiroloterij, and US Postal.

Kyneb to Fakta

By Tomas Nilsson, correspondent

28 year old Michael Kyneb will leave Memorycard for second division Team Fakta. Kyneb has had an awful season with health problems.

"Michael fits our team very well. He is a good rider for the races we are aiming at; smaller stage races with good climbs. That will give him opportunities to have the success he is worth. I believe in him and expects a lot," says sports director Kim Andersen.

Michael Kyneb has the overall and one stage victory in the Tour de Region Wallonie 1999 and also a stage win in the Tour of Sweden in 1996 and another in the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt.

Memorycard's Bjarke Nielsen is wavering between two good offers, from Memorycard and Team Fakta but hasn't made up his mind yet. There are more rumours about riders for Memorycard: Vini Caldirola's Latvian Romans Vainsteins, who is ranked fourth on the UCI list and also Lotto's more modestly ranked (499) Belgian Koen Beeckman.

Finally, other team news has three Rabobank riders: Karsten Kroon (24), Bam de Groot (25) and Aart Vierhouten (30) signing for another year with the team.

Danish Post goes on - and quits

The Danish Postal Service will continue as main sponsor for the Danish Cycling Union and the Tour of Denmark for another three years after the Danish Cycling Union will continue its hard line on doping. The support for the amateur club Herning CK will however be closed according to a local TV station. Herning's chairman Preben Sørensen played a major part in the "coup" that put Bjarne Riis in the managing director's seat some weeks ago and the subsequent dismissal of his predecessor Torben Kølbæk.

In addition to Post Danmark, the clothing business Bestseller (owner of the Jack&Jones brand) will leave and Xerox Partner is also considering leaving Herning Cycle Klub. Xerox demands that Sørensen apologize to Kølbæk. All the sponsors are prepared to continue if the chairman Sørensen resigns.

Telekom mechanic in court

37 year old Belgian, Dirk Tyteca was arrested on the Franco-Belgian border in January 1999 for possession of 7.8 grams of Amphetamines. He was at the time (and still is) a mechanic with the German Telekom team, and his case recently went to court in Brugge, Belgium.

In the hearing, Tyteca explained that he only had the drug for "personal use" and it was not for other riders in the team. Team director, Walter Godefroot supported the statement, saying that Tyteca had family problems at the time, but underwent a two month rehabilitation and was now clean. This was backed up by further medical tests and there was no reason to sack him, according to team management.

Mercer suspended

US rider, Scott Mercer has been given a one year suspension by the USCF after the assault incident involving him and Adam Hodges Myerson last month. Myerson suffered damage to his skull after Mercer struck him in the head and was taken to hospital where he was operated on. He has since made a good recovery and even contested the US Criterium championships a few weeks back. Mercer was given an immediate 1 month suspension which was later increased to a year by the USCF board.