News for February 5, 2001

Recent results and new features

European season kicks off in Spain and Italy

By Jeff Jones

Erik Zabel can lay claim to winning the first road race on European soil this season with his impressive performance in the first stage of the Challenge Mallorca. While Zabel didn't start racing quite as early as in pervious years (with the Tour Down Under), he showed that his off season has been productive. The circuit race in Palma was only 80 kilometres, but a win is a win and Zabel will aim to build on it up to a possible fourth Milan-San Remo victory in March.

Although not ranked on the UCI calendar, the GP Costa degli Etruschi marked the start of the Italian season and was of course fiercly contested. Saeco's new signing, Fabio Sacchi continued his good form from the TDU, winning the race from an 18 rider break that escaped with 80 km to go. He outsmarted and outsprinted most of the Fassa Bortolo team, who could only finish 4th, 5th and 6th after driving the breakaway.

The season also started in Croatia with the first of five Trophy Riviera races today. Croatian Vladimir Miholjevic recorded a win from Dane Morten Pedersen after the two had escaped from the peloton, with Saso Podgornik taking third.

The season starts in France on Tuesday with the GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise and the Etoile de Bessèges on the following day, continuing to build with the Tour Méditerranéen (Feb. 14-18), Tour du Haut Var (Feb. 24) and Classic Haribo (Feb. 25), culminating with Paris-Nice (March 11-18).

Then there is the Tour de Langkawi, that also starts tomorrow (Feb. 6), although 'Stage 0' has already been run and won by Italian Paolo Lanfranchi, a former winner of the Langkawi race. Combined with racing in Portugal, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Rhodes, Uruguay, and Mexico, Feburary looks to be a busy month for road racing!

Hervé can start in Langkawi

Alexia Alluminio's Pascal Hervé was preparing to fly home from Malaysia after he learned last week that he would be suspended for two months for doping following his admissions during the Festina trial. He was dissatisfied with the decision (Hervé thought that he would not be sanctioned at all), although his team thought that two months was better than eight.

Hervé however appealed his sanction, meaning that he can race until the decision is made final. Although this might affect him later in the season, it means that his trip to Langkawi is not totally wasted. The FFC sent him a temporary licence and he will ride the 12 day race that starts tomorrow, February 6.

U.S. Postal finish training in Altea

The U.S. Postal Service team has finished its first European training camp in Altea, Spain. According to all reports, the camp has gone well, serving several purposes. An important one was to unite the new riders with the existing team members, and having a Spanish start would have helped Roberto Heras, Jose Rubiera and Victor Hugo Peña find their feet.

The riders were also better prepared for the training, after their first camp in Tucson, Arizona earlier this year. Team physical therapist, Pepe Martí commented that "the cyclists have better adapted to the endurance work that in past years."

Endurance work means piling on the kilometers, and most of the time it's between 5-6 hours per day (150-180 kilometers). For a couple of days, they were on the road for just 3 hours for better recovery, but made up for it with some 7 hour long workouts in the mountains. The region is rich in climbs, perfect for training. Of course, the fully computerized riders also pay a lot of attention to their laptops.

The weather stayed perfectly fine for the time of year, 15 degrees celsius and sunny, but incredibly windy, so the riders are glad there are high cliffs to hide behind. However, one rider's health was not up to the weather: Vitacheslav 'Slava' Ekimov. It is nothing serious, just a nasty cold. He feels stuffy and is suffering from a sore throat. His voice, which is naturaly deep, has turned into an operatic 'basso profundo'. That's the price he paid for running around frost-bound Moscow at the beginning of last week.

Yet Eki doesn't give way to self-pity. "Sometimes a cyclist has to do some walking, unless he is going to forget the way a human being goes on foot," he reasons. After the training camp, Ekimov will go on working out at home in Tortosa, but that period will in no way be a couple of days off. 3 hours of riding on the "rest day" and about 5 hours daily in general. The off season is completely finished, and his first stage race in Portugal is starting in a week and a half.

The U.S. Postal Service team are targetting the Tour de France (of course) this year, as well as the Vuelta a España and the Classics, where they have yet to make a strong mark. However, to maintain form right through until October is nearly impossible, and each rider will be prepared for certain major races.

The team's first race will be in Portugal, with the Volta ao Algarve (February 11-15) followed by the Ruta del Sol (February 18-22) and the Trofeo Luis Puig.

Thanks to Sergey Kurdukov (Russian Eurosport) for the Ekimov update

Wiggins hopes for the future

Despite the demise of the Linda McCartney team, Bradley Wiggins should have numerous chances to turn pro (again!) and there has already been a good deal of interest from major teams for next season. He, like many other LMC riders, will probably miss the 2001 professional season, but he has the advantage of being quite young and talented.

He has had several invites to training camps and to ride as a 'stagiaire' at the end of season. However Bradley has decided to ride for the British WCPP team where he will have many opportunities to race some of the pro events in Europe. European and World titles will remain a main target and when not riding for the WCPP he will probably ride as a 'solo professional' for various sponsors to be announced.

Despite his young years, he is one of the most talented espoir riders in the world, and is already a World Champion, Olympic Silver Medallist at 20. He has ridden one professional stage race in his career (Circuit de Mines) and placed 7th overall, winning the best young riders category. He is also the youngest rider in the history of Six Day racing, and was 3rd in the Grenoble Six.

His main aims this year will be to perform well with the WCPP on the road, and the Antwerp Track World's where he said he has "unfinished business" in the team pursuit. In 2004, at the Athens Olympics, he will aim for the Individual Pursuit if given the opportunity. So far, he has shown he can win anything.

Llaneras in doubt for World's

2000 Olympic and quintuple World Champion, Juan Llaneras may not defend his points title at this year's World Track Championships in Antwerp. It is not due to lack of form or injury however, but the lack of a sponsor for the former ONCE and US Postal rider.

Llaneras, who hails from Majorca, is currently taking a one month break to look for some financial support, and still says that he can't understand why no-one wants to employ him. "But that is the reality. At the moment, what matters to me the most is to find a good sponsor because the money is very important for me to live," he said.

Although he remains focussed on the track, he would not rule out road racing if the opportunity came. He admitted though that he had not seriously looked for a professional road team "but I do not rule it out either."

Hemsley ties the knot with Boorer

There was another big cycling wedding in Australia over the weekend, as AIS and Farm Frites-Hartol rider, Margaret Hemsley was married to Newcastle cycling identity and all-round good guy, Greg Boorer in Canberra on Saturday. As the following pics (taken by AIS coach, James Victor) show, the occasion was enjoyed by all who attended, not least the happy couple!

Outside the church

At the reception

The cycling crew

Recent results and new features on cyclingnews