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First Edition Cycling News for August 15, 2007

Edited by Greg Johnson & Paul Verkuylen

Proud Rasmussen to race this weekend

Michael Rasmussen, formerly of Rabobank
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Embattled professional cyclist Michael Rasmussen has released a statement announcing his participation in this weekend's Dutch Ronde van Pijnacker criterium, with the Danish rider determined to show he's still allowed to race and wants to return to the ProTour. Rasmussen was fired last month by ProTour team Rabobank while wearing cycling's most coveted jersey - the Tour de France's maillot jaune.

"I am way too proud to leave this way, and I still feel that I have much more to offer," Rasmussen declared on his website www.feltet.dk/michaelrasmussen/. "I might be in a position, in which it to a great extent is a matter of needing a favour from a friend - and luckily I have a few of them. Obviously, if you look at the name Michael Rasmussen at the time some will perhaps get cold feet.

"Therefore it is quite fine to show that you are not as bad as said in the papers," he added, before pointing out a local Rabobank co-sponsor's the race he'll contest this weekend. "I don't know right now, if I am allowed to ride in a ProTour team, and I am not sure if I am going to ride Tour de France again, but in my opinion you will still have to look at the foundation upon which [Rabobank] made their decision. It hasn't necessarily been their decision that was made in France."

The Dane was dropped by his squad during the Tour, and subsequently flown by private charter from France to his Italian residence, after former professional Davide Cassani alleged Rasmussen was in Italy at the time he claimed to be in Mexico; one of Rasmussen's reasons for not properly filing his documents to assist out-of-competition dope testers, which are central to the whole situation.

Rasmussen, who contested the Tour de Charlottenlund earlier this month, said this weekend's event is about getting back on the bike and showing the public that he is still allowed to race. "It is about getting back on the bike and to show the world that nothing is preventing me from racing," he said. "One of my big problems is that people might expect something else to be the reason for my redundancy than what has been told so far. That it in fact has happened on such a thin basis. I would like to dismiss all that and show that I can race. Nothing prevents it, and I know that for sure, because DCU has checked with UCI prior to my start in Charlottenlund."

While Rasmussen said he's been sad since last month's events, he dismissed claims he'd been seeing a psychologist. Instead, Rasmussen has drawn on the strength of his family and fan base during the hard times.

"Of course I have been very sad. That is natural," he stated. "25 years of hard labour was removed within a very short period of time on a very poor basis by a man with nerves worn thin and put under a lot of pressure, under a set of circumstances that are far from ideal for that kind of decisions."

"It's not like I have been seeing psychologist or so, but of course I have some good friends and family who have supported me tremendously. And that is nice," he continued. "Obviously, it helps knowing that 50,000 have made the effort [of visiting my] website and signing to support me. That tells me that there are quite a lot of people in the world who sympathize with me. It doesn't mean that you can't face a period of depression, but I don't think that I'm that type. Actually, I might be pretty unusual. The pressure that I was exposed to during the Tour would probably have forced most people to the wall earlier. If somebody should have broken down during that period, it should have been me."

Robbie out, Cadel in for Vuelta

Cadel Evans takes his lap
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Predictor Lotto will line up at the Vuelta a Espańa on September 1 with six Belgians. Australian Tour de France runnerup Cadel Evans will lead the Belgian squad's attack on Spanish soil next month. Contrary to yesterday's reports, Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen will not contest the year's final Grand Tour.

"Robbie will be riding a more 'Belgian program', with the Eneco-Tour, Aartselaar, Paris Brussels, where he will go for a hat-trick of successive wins, Fourmies, Isbergues, Franco-Belge and Paris Tour," read a team release. "For Predictor-Lotto, it is not only important commercially but also on a sporting level of great importance to be active in these races with top riders."

After missing out on the Tour victory by a slim 23 seconds, Cadel Evans will again be riding for the general classification. The rider hopes to improve his ProTour ranking at the Grand Tour, where he currently sits in fourth place, in addition to preparing for the World championships in Stuttgart, Germany which follow closely after the Vuelta.

O'Neill leaving Health Net for BMC

By Mark Zalewski

Nathan O'Neill (Health Net)
Photo ©: Kurt Jambretz
(Click for larger image)

The eight-time Australian time trial champion Nathan O'Neill confirmed to Cyclingnews on Sunday that he has signed with the BMC team for 2008, just after winning the Tour of Elk Grove overall with a blistering opening prologue. This comes with the news that Tony Cruz will be riding for the second-year team as well.

The addition of O'Neill should vastly improve the general classification and time trial potential of the team, which has failed to make much in the way of appearances on the steps of major US podiums this year. O'Neill has netted multiple titles this year, including the Tour of the Gila and a repeat at the Mt. Hood Classic. He also rode strong on the tough Brasstown Bald stage at this year's Tour de Georgia, finishing fourth.

Not having the fire power of a team like Health Net-Maxxis will make his leadership role more difficult, but the Aussie, who makes his home in Georgia, seemed excited about the new prospects for 2008. And if he keeps his winning time trials like he has this year, the prospects for his new team should be exciting too.

Unibet future no sure bet

Unibet.com ProTour team general manager Koen Terryn is pessimistic about the future of the team, with an imminent announcement expected over the organisation's future in the sport. On Monday the team was told that it is not welcome at the Vuelta a Espana, meaning the squad has not contested a single Grand Tour this year, despite the ProTour licencing agreement stating all teams under its governance will gain automatic entry into these events. Unibet.com, a Sweden-based online gambling firm, will decide today if it will continue with its investment in cycling.

"We will know more [then]. The figures of the second quarter will be released then in Sweden, they will decide then if the team will continue. I am very pessimistic about the whole thing," explained Terryn to Sports Wereld. "With the team we have not been able to ride even one of the big Tours thanks to the boycott by ASO. If they decide tomorrow to shut the team down, it will be a great disaster. We have still got riders under contract for next season"

Despite the squad posting strong results in the events it has contested, its position as a political pawn in the Grand Tours and UCI's ongoing battle has prevented the gaming giant from getting the in-competition exposure required to warrant its multi-million Euro investment.

"There is a chance that the team will continue in 2008, but who wants to pump eight million Euros into a team that you hardly ever see at work, or who have to compete with question marks on their jerseys?," confessed Terryn. "Finding new sponsors is not easy. Cycling's image has been tainted, thanks to the doping scandals of the last few weeks. Who is going to be crazy enough to pump handfuls of cash into a team to only be confronted with a new doping process."

Zabel, Valverde not welcome in Stuttgart

Erik Zabel wipes away the tears
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Stuttgart World Championships organising committee president, Susanne Eisenmann, has she doesn't want Eric Zabel or Alejandro Valverde contesting this year's race in Germany, according to German paper Stuttgarter Nachrichten. German Zabel confessed earlier this year to trying performance enhancing drugs during the 90s, while Valverde's name has been linked with the Spanish civil guard's Operación Puerto doping ring inquiry.

"The participation of some riders does not fit in with our plans to give cycling a fresh start," said Eisenmann, in a reaction to Zabel saying that the Worlds are his biggest objective for the year. The German cycling federation, BDR, is expected to make a decision on Zabel's participation in the nation's squad by month's end.

According to the rules set out by the BDR, riders who are under suspicion of doping are prohibited from representing the nation at major events such as World Championships or the Olympic Games. Zabel is still very popular in his native Germany, despite his confession to using EPO during the 1996 Tour de France, which led to him being stripped of being the ambassador for the worlds.

Eisenmann is also against Valverde's participation in Stuttgart, due to his alleged involvement with Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. "I am against him competing, but legally I cannot stop him from starting the race," said Eisemann. German Andreas Klöden, who rides for the embattled Astana ProTour team, must be "treated as innocent until proven guilty" concluded Eisenmann.

Devolder tug of war continues

Discovery Channel's sports director Dirk Demol has denied that an agreement between the squad's Belgian champion Stijn Devolder and Quick.Step-Innergetic has been reached. "There are, as always, four teams interested in Devolder: Rabobank, CSC, Predictor-Lotto and Quick.Step. That an agreement has been reached is nonsense," he said.

Patrick Lefevere, who operates the Quick.Step-Innergetic squad, backed up the statement to Sports Wereld. "I spoke with Stijn last Thursday, but officially there is noting signed yet," he declared. "That will not happen before the end of the week either, because I am on holidays. I have read that he wants to be on a Belgian team, and there are not too many of those."

Baumann breaks shoulder in crash with car

By Susan Westemeyer

T-Mobile sprinter Eric Baumann suffered a broken shoulder blade in a training accident Tuesday, and was lucky that it wasn't worse. He was on a descent when he rode head on into an oncoming car and he flew into the car's windshield. He was knocked unconscious, but didn't suffer any head wounds other than a few facial cuts.

The 27 year-old will remain in the hospital in Leipzig until Thursday for observation. He will probably start training again soon, but only his legs. "He won't be able to pull on the handlebars - and that is definitely a handicap for a sprinter like him," said team doctor Helge Riepenhoff on the team's website, T-Mobile-team.com.

Baumann recently won a stage in the Sachsen Rundfahrt, and was scheduled to ride the Regio-Tour later this month, and the Vuelta a Espana, but now those races will not be possible.

Gil exonerated in Puerto case

By Monika Prell

Spaniard Koldo Gil has been exonerated of any implication in the Spanish civil guard's Operación Puerto doping ring inquiry. The UCI has removed his name from the list of involved cyclists, meaning the rider can continue to compete with his Spanish Saunier Duval squad, according to Marca.com.

Gil received a letter from the UCI where they excused the Pamplona resident as a suspect in the case. The rider formerly competed with Liberty Seguros team of Manolo Sáiz between 2003 and 2005, and had been mentioned as one of the owners of the 200 blood bags found in a hospital of Madrid in 2006.

Following the UCI's notification the 29 year-old is expected to be announced in his squad's Vuelta a Espańa roster, with the race commencing on September 1 in the Galician town of Vigo.

Franke trial postponed

The trial Jan Ullrich has against German doctor Werner Franke, has been postponed until November, a spokesperson of the court has announced.

Ulrich has taken Franke to court when the German said in an interview that he could prove that the 2006 Tour de France winner was a client of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Franke said that he could prove that Ulrich paid the Spanish doctor 35,000 Euros.

The case was due to go before the court this Friday in Hamburg, but has now been postponed until November. Franke recently made headlines after claiming Alberto Contador's 2007 Tour win was "the greatest swindle in sporting history", adding that documents "simply landed in my briefcase" which allegedly show the Discovery Channel rider was involved in Operación Puerto.

Cheerwine makes sweep of easy NRC points in Elk Grove

By Mark Zalewski in Elk Grove, Illinois

Cheerwine podium in Elk Grove
Photo ©: Kurt Jambretz
(Click for larger image)

On Sunday near Chicago the Cheerwine team made significant progress in their battle for both the 2007 individual and NRC titles, making a clean sweep of the podium at the Tour of Elk Grove. Laura Van Gilder's second place increased her lead in the individual standings while the team's performance edges them closer to Webcor in the team competition.

The points earned by Cheerwine will definitely fall under the category of making the most of an opportunity, as the women's race was only attended by 35 riders. This mystified the second-year race organisers, citing that a $17,000 prize purse for the women alone should have brought more riders and teams.

However, the race this year only had one race for the pro women, compared to three for the pro men and compared to two races for the women last year. Also, the women's categories were split over the two days as opposed to an open format, which Cheerwine's Kelly Benjamin said took away at least a third of the women's pack.

More than one racer in the pro women's category felt it insulting that their races were cut down to one while the pro men were increased to three. They understood why many women's teams would not undertake the expense of flying their riders in for one criterium when they will be flying back just a week later for the national championships in Downers Grove.

Nonetheless, the race organisers were disappointed in the turn-out and said they will consider it as a factor in making plans for next year's race - which Elk Grove mayor Craig Johnson said would be expanded for the pro men to include a road race.

Cyclo-cross readies with World Cup seminar

With the start of the 2007-2008 cyclo-cross season just over a month away, the discipline's World Cup organisers have held a two day summit in Aigle, Switzerland. The meeting, held at the International Cycling Union's headquaters, saw the commissaires' panel members join World Cup organisers to discuss issues affecting the sport's future.

With the upcoming season getting underway on September 16 with the Steenbergcross in Erpe-Mere, Belgium the opening day of the seminar saw practical aspects of the sport and its regulations addressed by the commissaires. They were joined the following day by World Cup organisers, with each of the nine calendared races having a representative present, where organisation and marketing was discussed.

This season's first World Cup being held in Belgium on October 21, following the cancellation of a planned North American debut of the series. The series of all European events finishes in Hoogerheide, Holland on Janurary 20, 2008.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2007)

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