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Latest Cycling News for March 26, 2007

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Freire: a fragile genius

By Hedwig Kröner

A happy 2X Sanremo and 3X World Champion
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Triple World Champion Oscar Freire has been through some ups and downs in his career, which started out in 1998. His second victory as a pro was the World Championships in Verona, Italy, in 1999, and ever since the prestigious win, the Spaniard's health has been plagued by many different problems: knee, back, saddle area, neck - it seems not many parts of his body have been spared by pain during these years. Yet, when he was in shape, the 31 year-old never failed to score.

"He's a man for moments," said Rabobank team manager Erik Breukink about Freire after his second victory in Milan-San Remo this past Saturday. "You can feel it in advance, that Oscar would have a good day - that was such a day."

Breukink, who's in charge of Freire since the Spaniard joined the Dutch team in 2003, never doubted the rider's way to treat his illnesses, even though there have been plenty. "They say that he's nonchalant, but Oscar lives for his sport," the team manager told ANP. "He treats his body well; you can see it when after he's again been out for a while."

That was the case during much of last season, as Freire was facing severe spinal pains in his neck and did not know to which expert physician to turn anymore. Then, by the end of last year, he decided to stop any treatment and just rest - and the pain miraculously improved.

Now, the triple World Champ is back to his best, as he proved on Saturday when he beat Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) and Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) by more than a bike length on the Via Roma in San Remo. In seven participations in the race, he never placed under the Top 7... "It's a race that suits him well," explained Breukink. "He can ride in the front group well, and always manages his strength perfectly."

This weekend, Freire wasn't nervous, even when Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval) and Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) attacked on the final climb, the famous Poggio. "I didn't find it hard to stay put; I trusted my sprint completely," Freire said post-race. And when it came down to the fast men in the last kilometres, the Spaniard knew exactly which back wheel to take - the one of Alessandro Petacchi (Milram). "He had a nice little train in front of him with three teammates," Freire continued. "I knew exactly where I had to be - nobody would have been able to get me away from there."

He dedicated his victory to his uncle Antonio. "He's in hospital right now," Freire said. "He gave me my very first bike, when I was nine years old."

In the future, the Rabobank star hopes for many more victorious moments in a career that he would like to continue for at least two more years. "The World Championships is the most beautiful competition of the year," he said on Saturday. "This year, I want to win in Stuttgart and after that, in Varese and Mendrisio, as they will be special to me. Both locations are close to my home in Switzerland. So I'll surely continue racing for another two years!" Let's hope the Spaniard's physical problems will leave him alone for a while.

McEwen misses podium by a hair

Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) at the start in Milan
Photo ©: Davide Tricarico
(Click for larger image)

Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen has greatly improved his performances in Milan-San Remo for the 100th anniversary of the race this week-end: The Predictor-Lotto rider threw his bike over the finish line just centimetres behind Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) and Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), ending up with a very honourable 4th place. Last year and in 2004, McEwen could not follow the aggressive riding on the Cipressa climb, and in 2005, he did not start the race because of a flu. His best placing was in 2003, when he finished 30th inside the bunch, 11 seconds of the winner Paolo Bettini.

"I could have finished on the podium," McEwen told Sportwereld after the race. "I chose the right hand side of the road, and got blocked there. When I finally got some space, the sprint was already over."

But the Australian fast man has now showed that he has improved his climbing, finishing fifth on the hilly course of the Salzburg World's, and now fourth in the Classicissima. "I can win here one day - that is the lesson that I have learned at this Primavera, which didn't unfold perfectly for me. Quite the contrary. I crashed and got a brake in the backside: not only was it painful, but it also took a lot of power to chase back to the bunch after that."

Just before the final sprint, too, McEwen encountered some difficulties. "The preparation [for the sprint] wasn't perfect, either," he continued. "When someone form the Milram train [Marco Velo - ed.] came off the lead, he swerved and I almost crashed. I had to jump fast to get to Boonen's wheel."

Finally, a photo finish between Davis, Boonen and McEwen showed that the Australian missed the 2007 Milan-San Remo podium by a hair. Still, the Australian sprinter can be proud of his performance.

Doping in the 90's, according to Belgian TV

By Susan Westemeyer

A Belgian TV program Panorama claimed on Sunday night that former professional cyclist Uwe Ampler introduced EPO to Team Telekom in the early 1990s, against the will of team manager Walter Godefroot. Bjarne Riis allegedly made use of that and other doping products when he won the Tour de France in 1996, according to former soigneur Jef D'hondt.

According to D'hondt, he was at Telekom when Ampler, who rode for the team, starting using EPO. His good racing results encouraged the other riders to try it. "It was the riders themselves who asked for the EPO," D'hondt said, according to Sporza. "Our doctors at the University of Freiburg supplied them."

Did Bjarne Riis use EPO in the 90's?
Photo ©: Gerry McManus
(Click for larger image)

D'hondt specifically named two further Telekom riders. He claimed that Riis had a particularly high hematocrit, caused by the use of EPO. During the Tour de France 1996, which the Dane won, "Riis had a hematocrit of 64 at one time during the Tour," according to D'hondt, who further claimed that the now-CSC manager developed rheumatism because of his use of doping products.

The other Telekom rider named was Erik Zabel, who the Belgian said "did not participate" in the use of the doping substance. "Our sprinter Erik Zabel did not do it. He tried a small amount, but he was categorically against it. He said that he did not need it."

In response, Walter Godefroot, who is now team manager for Team Astana, said, "There was no organised team doping at Team Telekom," according to sporza. However, according to Het Laatste Nieuws, Godefroot confirmed that he had heard of EPO use on the team and communicated that to the UCI. He added that there was no sense browsing in the past. "We have learned enough already," he said. "Let us leave the past behind and concentrate on the future."

Quick.Step's Patrick Lefevere
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
Click for larger image

Quickstep Manager Patrick Lefevere also appeared on the program, and according to sportwereld, said angrily, "Just what do you want, anyway? Do you want every rider to get down on his knees and confess?"

Another name from the past appeared in the story - Jesus Manzano, who claimed that "there were tricks to get around the doping tests." Manzano said that after he had a severe crash in the 2003 Tour and he was waiting for an ambulance, his team manager whispered to him to keep quiet about his use of doping products.

The program concluded that EPO is no longer in use, at least among Belgian riders. Various doctors stated that such riders as Tom Boonen, Nick Nuyens and Gert Steegmans are not using EPO. Their development to become top riders was reportedly the result of a natural progression, and their blood values have remained constant over the years. Both Nuyens and Steegmans appeared on the show to deny that they had ever used doping products.

Boonen gets new custom bike

Former World Champion Tom Boonen - who has had back problems for four years - is to receive a custom-built from Specialized. On Sunday, the American bike manufacturer said it had given the Belgian a custom-made bike to test, in the hope that his problems will improve.

Monaco-based Boonen has now returned to his home country in preparation for the Spring Classics. "Because the races take place here now, he's staying in the country and will see a back specialist, too," Quick-Step team director 'Fitte' Peeters told Sportwereld. "Tom's back problems started in Gent-Wevelgem four years ago, when he crashed into a photographer. It remains a delicate issue, but we have it under control."

Serrano out of Castilla y León

By Monika Prell

Marcos Serrano, one of the leaders of Karpin-Galicia for the Vuelta a Castilla y León, won't be able to participate due to a bronchitis. According to todociclismo, he will be replaced by Gaizka Lasa. Leading the team will thus be Ezequiel Mosquera, who is in a good competition form - he finished second in the Vuelta a Mallorca amongst other placings.

His sport director, Álvaro Pino, said on Mosquera, "He will be the our leader in this race because he showed an excellent form and a big regularity in the races he rode." His rivals include the likes of Ivan Basso, Alberto Contador (both Discovery Channel), Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne).

For the initialising time trial on Monday, Pino rated his own Santos González as a favourite. "He's a cyclist who can be good in this time trial, but for winning the entire race he has to be at 100 percent, because for the victory you have to sustain a mountain top finish like the one in Navacerrada in the last stage and for the moment, González still doesn't have his ideal competition form."

The complete team roster for the Vuelta a Castilla y León: Ezequiel Mosquera, Gaizka Lasa, Eduard Vorganov, Gustavo Domínguez, Gonzalo Rabuñal, David Abal, Ramón Troncoso and Santos González.

Dessel down with toxoplasmosis

AG2R's Cyril Dessel is suffering from toxoplasmosis, blood tests have revealed. The Frenchman, who wore the Yellow Jersey at last year's Tour de France, felt tired since the beginning of the season, and will now rest completely for a period of ten days. Dessel will thus not participate at the Settimana Internazionale this week, and find out whether he needs to take antibiotics in a few days.

"The second part of the season shouldn't be compromised," he told L'Equipe. "In any case, I had planned a pause in April, like last season, and I should be back to competition in the Tour de Romandie in May."

Hoj out of Classics

One-day race specialist Frank Hoj was looking forward to racing again in the Spring Classics, but unfortunately the Dane has to remain at home for another four weeks. The Cofidis rider, who cut the tendon of his left toe in early February in a cycling-unrelated accident, was eager to build up form for the April races, but this only worsened the situation. The tendon cracked again, and now Hoj needs to rest completely.

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

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