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First Edition Cycling News for May 31, 2007

Edited by Sue George with assistance from Susan Westemeyer

Tour de France wildcards awarded

Astana, Agritubel, and Barloworld join 18 pre-selected teams

The 2006 Tour de France peloton
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Tour de France organizers Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) announced Wednesday the three wildcard teams for the 94th edition of the race, which starts in just over one month. 21 total teams will begin in London on July 7. The eighteen ProTour teams announced December 12, 2006, will be joined by Astana, Agritubel, and Barloworld, thereby bringing the total number of riders to 189 (nine riders per team).

Astana, which was one of two ProTour teams along with Unibet.com not previously guaranteed entry into the race, is the nineteenth ProTour team set to participate. The less fortunate Unibet.com, a team caught in the middle of an ongoing conflict between ASO and the UCI, was not awarded a wildcard spot.

Astana boasts two overall favorites including last year's Vuelta España winner, Alexandre Vinokourov, who sat out the TdF in 2006 after his Liberty Seguros team was suspended due to the Operación Puerto doping affair (Vinokourov was not implicated in the scandal). Andreas Klöden, a previous two-time overall podium visitor while riding for T-Mobile, is another overall contender.

The biggest surprise invitee was Barloworld, one of two non-ProTour teams on the roster. The team includes well-known sprinter Robbie Hunter of South Africa and others like Italian Fabrizio Guidi, Russian Alexandre Efimkin, and Columbian Felix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo, who won a stage in the 2001 Tour de France. The South African team has financial and organizational ties to London, where the opening prologue will launch the three-week Tour.

Team Manager Claudio Corti was thrilled with the selection. "Obviously we're very happy with ASO's decision and very thankful that they've recognized the qualities of our team and our professionalism," said Corti. "The project we've been working on for two years has everything in place to take to the highest level. From an organizational point of view, I believe we've already shown that we work to the highest standards. We've always kept our standards very high and focused on quality young riders that are showing their worth, and on more experienced riders who have already obtained impressive results."

The four jersey wearers on the final stage in 2006
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Corti was keeping the team's chances in perspective. "We know we can't compete for the big objectives in the race but we're sure we can play a key role in the racing. The enthusiasm of our riders will be extra motivation so that we put ourselves in the spotlight in the most important race in the world." Corti named two director sportifs, Alberto Volpi and Valerio Tebaldi and said it will soon select its nine riders from a list of twelve candidates already named.

The selection of French team Agritubel was less of a surprise.

"We have the concern of supporting French cycling," said Jean-François Pescheux of ASO according to Reuters. "This team had an excellent first Tour de France in 2006 with a Pau stage win with Juan-Miguel Mercado." Mercado is one of several strong Spanish-speaking riders on the team. Agritubel will likely include key French riders such as Nicolas Vogondy and Nicolas Jalabert on its roster to race their home Grand Tour.

Pescheux told Reuters ASO reviewed twelve candidates for the wildcard spots and chose three very professional teams. "Those teams that do not have at their center a potential winner of the Tour de France have riders capable of animating many stages."

2007 Tour de France Teams

AG2r Prévoyance
Agritubel
Astana
Barloworld
Bouygues Telecom
Caisse d'Epargne
Cofidis
Crédit Agricole
CSC
Discovery Channel
Euskaltel
Française des Jeux
Gerolsteiner
Lampre-Fondital
Liquigas
Milram
Predictor-Lotto
Quick Step
Rabobank
Saunier Duval
T-Mobile

Unibet disappointed by Tour de France snub

By Brecht Decaluwé

No more questions; no Unibet.com for 2007 TdF
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

The non-selection of Unibet.com for the 2007 Tour de France didn't come as a surprise as the Swedish ProTour team has been a plaything in the ongoing battle between the ASO and the UCI. Cyclingnews talked with team manager Koen Terryn. The Belgian was clearly disappointed by the Tour de France snub.

"We're heavily disappointed by the news, but of course we could see the storm clouds were gathering. Nevertheless it's painful when you're confronted with the facts," Terryn said. "We won the mountains classification in Catalunya with Luis Pasamontes and we felt there was still a remote possibility for us. Apparently yesterday's meeting I had in Paris with Patrice Clerc didn't affect our chances." The Unibet manager didn't want to draw any conclusions regarding the longevity of the team now that the sponsor won't be spotted in the most important race of the season.

"After the Giro snub, we were wounded, and I guess that now we are going into a coma," Terryn finished.

IOC to investigate Telekom at the Olympics

The podium in Sydney
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Riders from Team Telekom won all three medals in the 2000 Olympic road race in Sydney. Will Jan Ullrich, Alexander Vinokourov, and Andreas Klöden now face losing those medals? The International Olympic Committee announced that it has established a disciplinary commission (DC) "to inquire into possible anti-doping violations at previous Olympic Games, in connection with the recent revelations concerning the Telekom Cycling Team. The DC will also inquire into possible anti-doping violations with regard to the activities of physicians from the University of Freiburg (Germany)."

The Commission will consist of Denis Oswald, Sergey Bubka, and Gunilla Lindberg, with Oswald serving as chairman. It will submit its recommendations to the IOC Executive Board.

According to the IOC's press release, "The fight against doping is a top priority for the IOC. The IOC is driving a zero tolerance policy, activating this with stringent means at the Olympic Games and Disciplinary Commissions set up to carry out investigations when necessary. The IOC finds the revelations in recent days disappointing and concerning, and is therefore determined to look into the matter and any possible impact it might have had on the Olympic Games."

"The IOC will keep up the fight against doping through strengthened, concerted efforts between governments, WADA, and the world of sport, not only to test athletes but also to educate young people about the health dangers of doping and the devastating effect it can have on the credibility of sport, as well as on a person's image and career."

"Of course we will cooperate and provide all important information," Michael Vesper, general director of the German Olympic Committee told the dpa regarding the investigation.

Simoni prefers stage wins

By Jean-François Quénet in Sutrio

Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval-Prodir)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Gilberto Simoni hadn't won a stage in the Tour of Italy for three years, and it's been four years since he imposed himself on the Zoncolan - climbed the other way round, where he's unbeaten because the Giro has been there only twice. The hill was actually recommended to the organization of the race by soccer coach Francesco Guidolin, now with Palermo. Guidolin, as a cycling fan, discovered it while he trained.

"It was a very unusual atmosphere on this narrow road without the team cars behind us," said a talkative Simoni after stage 17. "It's been an exciting day of intense racing."

Twice the double winner of the race said this year's edition is "a Giro of great humanity." He enjoyed not only seeing Marco Pinotti wearing the pink jersey earlier in the race, but also what happened all the way through. "Last year after less than a week, I said we had nothing to expect," he recalled. Without speaking the name of Ivan Basso, whom he criticized strongly twelve months ago, Simoni said, "One person dominated the event. This year, it's a fabulous sporting battle. Di Luca is the strongest, but he has had to suffer for coming where he is now. He has overestimated himself sometimes. He has given a few pink jerseys to his teammates and a few stages away here and there. I hope he's going to win now."

Simoni has put aside his personal ambitions for the General Classification. "Stage 1, the team time trial, already cut my legs," he recalled. "Then I've had to fight day after day. As a team, Saunier Duval has been great. We have won a mountain stage each, Piepoli, Riccò, and I. The stage that could have changed the overall was the one of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. I sent Piepoli and Riccò away because Liquigas didn't want to pace, then I had no more chance to make the maglia rosa.

"I've concluded it was useless to target the final top three. I've done that in the past," said Simoni. "I prefer the stage win. I wanted the Tre Cime but I'm happy with this one. The kisses of the misses and the flowers for my wife, that's better than just another third place in Milan."

No more TdF on German TV?

The two national German television senders, ARD and ZDF, are inclined not to prolong their contracts to televise the Tour de France, it was announced Wednesday. They will continue to show the Tour and the Deutschland Tour this year and next year, as required, but "will not renew their option for the 2009 Tour at this time."

"We will not review the option to extend the contract before we can be sure that doping has no chance at the Tour de France," Nickolaus Brender of the ZDG told the dpa press agency. He also said that he has scheduled meetings with the German cycling federation and the German cycling reams to discuss the issues.

During this year's telecasts, "doping will play a central role in the journalistic aspect," he said.

In addition, the ARD will no longer use former pro cyclists as co-commentators in the live reports. ARD's Fritz Raff told radsport-news.de that this was "a basic decision and not a vote of no confidence against the experts." Most recently, Marcel Wüst has served as the station's cycling expert.

"Only the Germans are cleaning house"

Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Robert Förster, Gerolsteiner's top sprinter, is worried about his future and the future of cycling. "Sure I'm afraid, when I see what is going on right now and nobody knows where it will end. It is good, but... . We're talking about cycling. We're talking about Germany, where things are being cleaned up. They say it was 20 pros. We want a clean sport," he told the Leipziger Volkszeitung.

"But who speaks of the fact that in Spain there are absolutely no training controls? That in Italy nobody cares about what is happening in Germany now. Of all the people in the Fuentes affair, only Basso has confessed, and that only partially. I don't believe that everything will be taken care off, when only the Germans are cleaning house."

Förster, who won stage 5 in the Giro d'Italia before dropping out, said he was "disappointed" to hear the doping confession of his team's sport director, Christian Henn . "But I find it good that he was the first after Dietz to say: That's the way it was. It would have been a lot worse for cycling, if 10 guys had come out and said, 'We didn't do anything.' I don't have a problem with Henn."

He was surprised at the suggestion that it was still easy to use doping and not get caught. "I don't understand that. .... I was tested 28 times last year. All of our riders have to have blood tests done four times a year. Our blood is tested before each Grand Tour and during those tours. That goes for every ProTour rider as well as the Continental teams. Plus there are training controls. I don't see any holes in that system. I have already been tested 10 times this year. What will it help to be tested more often?"

Arvesen explains comments on Riis

By Susan Westemeyer and Katharina Schulz

Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)
Kurt-Asle Arvesen of Team CSC has learned the hard way that it may be better not to speak to the press right after crossing the finish line "after a 250 km long stage in one of the hardest races in the world, the Giro d'Italia".

Saturday afternoon, he was asked about his reaction to team chief Bjarne Riis' doping confession. He answered that it is worse to drive too fast in a school zone than to dope, since speeders took the risk of killing children, and dopers are only hurting themselves.

The Norwegian Cycling Federation (NCF) took exception to this comment, which it thought trivialized doping. Harald Tiedman Hansen, second vice president of the federation, said, "We at the NCF think that this statement should never have been made. It is very unlucky, that something like that is said".

On his website, kurtaslearvesen.com, Arvesen later acknowledged that his response should have been different, or that it would have been better if he had not answered at all.

"I have absolutely nothing to do with doping and support no athlete who dopes," he stated. "Doping is unforgivable."

He explained his statement to the NCF, to the satisfaction of both sides. Both sides agreed that the statement was affected by the situation under which it was made, and that the media had made too much of it.

Peña reacts to positive test

By Monika Prell

Aketza Peña (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
Photo ©: Unipublic
(Click for larger image)

After the announcement of his positive A sample from the first stage doping test during the Giro de Trentino, Aketza Peña (Euskaltel Euskadi) had to abandon the Giro d'Italia and to take a flight to Bilbao in order to provide an explanation to his team.

"For me, the notice was an enormous surprise," said Peña. "I was riding my first Giro d'Italia, very focused on the race, and suddenly this notice arrived. I don't find any explanation. I undertook the same preparation as in other occasions before a competition."

The 26-year old said that he is "devastated, but now my defense has to begin. I will address myself to my Association in order to get some advice. The first step will be to demand a counter-analysis. I have got five workdays to exercise this right. Tomorrow I will start."

Asked about if he remembers the day when the sample was taken, he answered, "The stage was very hard. It was a day with a lot of mountains, typically for the area of Trentino. The climatic conditions were quite adverse, with a lot of heat, and I reached the finish line completely dehydrated, I even had agues."

Nevertheless, he understands "that the team followed the norms of the UCI." Euskaltel Euskadi has suspended Peña until the affair is officially cleared.

North Americans put on strong Pan-American show

By Mark Zalewski and Kirsten Robbins

Canada's Gilbert wins men's road race while American men focus on track

Several days of Pan-Am competition
Photo ©: AFP Photo / Mexsport
(Click for larger image)

Road and track competitors from North and South America came together for the Pan-American Championships in Valencia, Venezuela, May 21-27. Cyclingnews' looks at how the North American racers fared in the Continental Championship road and track events, where invitations to the World Championships and UCI points were up for grabs.

The US and Canadian men's teams had an apparent difference in focus for the Pan-American Championships, with the US sending men only for the track racing and the Canadians sending a men's team with road strength. The results certainly reflected this with Canada's Martin Gilbert winning the men's road race and Zachary Bell taking second in the time trial. On the track, the US men's team finished with four medals led by Brad Huff, who opened with a gold medal in the omnium and went on to capture another with Colby Pearce in the madison.

Gilbert's win was even more impressive since Canada was at a disadvantage in terms of manpower. "The result is even more satisfying because we had a five-rider Canadian team while other countries fielded as many as ten," said Kris Westwood, high performance program director for the Canadian Cycling Association. "Martin rode well. He capitalized on an opportunity to breakaway and took the lead."

"I wasn't pleased with my track results this week so this is a confidence booster," Gilbert said. "With 25 kilometres to go, I saw an opportunity to catch [the] two riders ahead of me. There was one Venezuelan and a Mexican." Gilbert used the next five kilometers to reel the two leaders by himself. Once there, he put in a final attack and managed to hold on for the win. "I made an attack and I kept the lead in a sprint to the finish." Those other two riders, Manuel Medina (Venezuela) and Carlos Hernandez (Mexico) finished second and third, respectively.

"I hope I'll now be considered for the road racing pool and compete more often in the road events," added Gilbert, who is headed to Philly-week for more races next week.

Westwood was happiest with the road race victory because of what it means for the entire team for the next Olympics. "Martin's victory allows us to earn valuable Olympic qualifying points. I believe it is the first road race victory for Canada at the Pan Am championships. It was more important for us to win here than at the Pan Am Games in July. Those Games are not an Olympic qualifying event."

To read the full feature on the performance of the North American men and women at the Pan-Am championships, click here.

Dumoulin surgery to repair fractured clavicle

Ag2r Prévoyance rider Samuel Dumoulin suffered a broken left clavicle after falling in Saturday's stage 6 of the Tour of Catalunya. The 26-year-old was scheduled to undergo an operation at a hospital in Grenoble to repair the fracture on Wednesday and will miss about 10 days of training according to L'Equipe.

Nature Valley sponsorship extended through 2010

Key sponsor Nature Valley, maker of granola bars, has extended its sponsorship of the Nature Valley Grand Prix through 2010. The race is part of the five-day Great River Energy Bicycle Festival in Minnesota. Organizers attributed the renewal to a growth in public interest in cycling in Minnesota. General Mills, owner of Nature Valley brand, calls its hometown Minneapolis, where the race is anchored.

The race was first held in 1999 as a one-day USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC) event, and only three pro women showed up. Growing over the years, the race now includes six stages and is ranked as a major NRC event.

The 2007 Nature Valley Grand Prix will take place June 20 – 24. Beginning with a new stage, the Downtown Saint Paul Criterium, the race will then visit Cannon Falls, downtown Minneapolis, Mankato, and Stillwater. The start lists, which will be released in the coming weeks. Favorites thus far include last year's Nature Valley GP champions World Champion Kristen Armstrong (TEAm Lipton) and Tasmanian Karl Menzies (HealthNet), who ranked second in the NRC overall for 2006.

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

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