April 28, 2004
Astarloa signs with Lampre
Reigning world champion Igor Astarloa, released last week from his contract with the embattled Cofidis team, signed Tuesday with Italy's Lampre team.
Lampre have so far notched just four victories this season, all in relatively minor races, and moved for Astarloa after team captain Francesco Casagrande was forced out of the Giro d’Italia by a persistent knee problem. Astarloa will make his Lampre début at the GP Larciano in Tuscany on May 1 before lining up at the Giro on May 8.
"After missing Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, I’m now forced to aim for wins in single World Cup races," Astarloa admitted. "As a Basque, San Sebastian in August now becomes a major objective. The Giro? I can only realistically hope for a stage win and to help my fellow Basque, Juan Manuel Garate, on general classification."
The Procycling story suggests Astarloa's former team, Cofidis, will try to dump one more rider, Mederic Clain, and resume racing at the Four Days of Dunkirk, running May 5-9.
GrahamWatson.com Tour of Romandie gallery updated
Graham Watson will be following Tyler Freaking Hamilton's attempt to repeat in the Tour of Romandie this week.
McGee takes Romandie prologue
Brad McGee of FDJeux.com won the opening prologue of the Tour of Romandie on Tuesday. Defending Tour of Romandie champion Tyler Hamilton was 5th, riding conservatively on a tight and technical course.
McGee won the prologue at the 2003 Tour de France, as well.
April 27, 2004
Tour de Romandie starts for Tyler Hamilton
Tyler Freaking Hamilton starts at the 6-day Tour of Romandie today, as he seems to be coming into peak season fitness.
Tyler Hamilton, who rode through last year's Tour de France with a broken collarbone, is favourite for the six-day Tour de Romandie which starts Tuesday.
The American is using the event as a buildup to this year's Tour de France when he will be one of the main challengers to five-times winner Lance Armstrong.
Hamilton was 9th at Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but he's better suited to the multi-day tours.
Jorg Jaksche is looking to return to racing 10 days after an elbow injury.
More trouble for Kelme
Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme have been rocked by the allegations of their former rider Jesus Manzano, but they may now face UCI suspension for continuing financial problems. Over the last 2 seasons, the team has had problems making salary for its riders, and it survived demotion to Division II this season largely through the addition of a new sponsor, Comunidad Valenciana.
Stories in both Marca and AS state that the UCI is considering suspending the team from all competition unless the Comunitat Valenciana signs and seals a contractual agreement registering their sponsorship. The team's management have been saying that this problem will be resolved "in the next few days" for the past two months, but it now appears a deadline is looming.
Seven of the team's riders have not received licenses for this season.
With the Giro organisers still contemplating rejecting the team from their event following Manzano's recent accusations, the sport's longest standing pro team now finds itself battling on two fronts to ensure it lines up at its major objectives of the season.
London start in 2007?
Tour organizers will be meeting with London mayor Ken Livingstone today. London is interested in being the departure point for the Tour one year, with the prologue around the city's streets.
Leblanc minimised questions on the possible logistical challenges of an over-the-Channel leg of the race, pointing out that the Tour de France has already had an island send-off, in Dublin, Ireland in 1998.
If London's bid comes to fruition, it will be the third time in the race's 100-year history that the Tour has made stage escapes to England (after 1974 and 1994).
www.cyclingnews.com presents the 2004 Tour de Georgia
Cyclingnews.com has updated their Tour de Georgia photo gallery with another 20 or so pictures from Sunday.
April 26, 2004
TDFBlog on Brasstown Bald
Mrs. TDFBlog and I have never seen a mountain finish before, and decided to try our luck at the Brasstown Bald finish of the Tour de Georgia on Saturday. Traffic was moving surprisingly well until we could see the roadblock near where the 180A spur turns up the mountain, so we found a spot, and started trekking up the mountain.
We got a quarter-mile or so up the side, and came to the 5-km to go banner, where not many people were lining the roadway. Apparently, the people even lazier than us were all congregated near the turnoff, while the people motivated to arrive early (and unencumbered by a 10 a.m. girls 8-and-under soccer game) had caught the shuttle buses to the top.
The car is the official pace car of this year's Tour de Georgia. It's the 2005 Dodge Magnum wagon, and yes, that thing does have a hemi. (With this and all the pictures in this post, you can click for a larger pop-up image).
It turned out we were fairly well-positioned. Late in the stage, Alessio Galletti of Domina Vacanze jumped out to about a 4 minute lead, and took the King of the Mountain points at Hogpen Gap. The final climb of the day was about 20 kilometers, culminating with the 5+ kilometers up to the top. At 5 km to go, Galletti still had his lead (see the picture), but the pack was just down around that bend, about 35 seconds behind, and closing fast.
Next came the motorcycles, and we got a look at the whole story of the race in one picture: working from right to left, we've got Daniel Rincon pacing race leader Lance Armstrong. Just behind him, in green, is Chris Horner of Webcor, who would finish 4th on the day and 3rd in the race. The paired CSC riders are Bobby Julich, who finished 6th at Brasstown Bald and 4th overall and Jens Voigt (2nd on the day and for the race). There's just the hint of an unidentified yellow helmet on Voigt's other side, then Scott Moninger, who was 5th on the climb and 7th overall, and just coming into view, in orange, Cesar Grajales of the Athens-based Jittery Joe's team, who rode away from this group less than a mile later to score the stage win. He finished 6th for the race.
Close behind this group were some of the leaders' seconds: George Hincapie of US Postal, Charles Dionne of Webcor, and King of the Mountains jersey Jason McCartney of HealthNet, all in danger of losing the lead group. They weren't alone, as some very strong riders came through onesy-twosy: Max Sciandri, Pavel Padrnos, Jakob Piil, Antonio Cruz. A lone Barcoworld rider came through just before the ambulance, leading me to think we might seen everyone, but someone along the course said there was still one more group to come.
Sure enough, a team car pulled up about 30 yeards to our right, and out popped the soigneurs for Domina Vacanze, setting up to hand bottles off to their riders. Six or seven minutes behind the stragglers of the lead group, the gruppetto (the laughing group) of about 30 riders came through, with 3 or 4 Domina Vacanze riders angling to get right in front of us. One of them was former world champion Mario Cipollini, who was not enjoying a 20-kilometer climb. Damon Kluck of US Postal was riding alongside.
We were able to get out of there very quickly, since the shuttle buses from the top couldn't even start running until well after the race was over. We took the chance to head over to Athens for Saturday night's Twilight Criterium, celebrating its 25th Anniversary.
During my freshman year (1985-86), I lived on the 4th floor of Reed Hall (right next to Sanford Stadium) with a bike-crazy roommate (I didn't ride then). He had worked in a shop in Atlanta, and somehow invited the Killians Red team, which featured brothers Alan and Frank McCormack, to stay in our TV lounge. Somehow, they accepted. They provided the post-race keg, and my roommate got a jersey out of it.
If you ever have a chance to see it, don't miss it: Thousands of people line a circuit in downtown Athens, and the race almost never takes off before dark, so the riders are flying through under the downtown streetlights.
(I'm posting this Monday morning, but I'm going to move it back to the coverage from Saturday in a couple of days. If you have trouble finding it, that's probably why.)
April 25, 2004
TdGeorgia Stage 7 photo gallery
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a decent photo gallery from today's Dawsonville-to-Alpharetta stage at the Tour de Georgia. The turnout was amazing — I'll post some pictures from about 150 meters from the line tonight or tomorrow.
Graham Watson Liege-Bastogne-Liege gallery
Graham Watson has posted his photo gallery for Davide Rebellin's Liege-Bastogne-Liege win on Sunday.
Rebellin takes 3rd win of week at Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Davide Rebellin, who won last Sunday's Amstel Gold and Wednesday's Fleche Wallone, took Liege-Bastogne-Liege Sunday. Rebellin played a tactically strong race, getting in a break with classics specialist Michael Boogerd of Rabobank and Alexandre Vinokourov of T-Mobile. Vinokourov and Boogerd marked each other while Rebellin set up for the finishing sprint.
"Rebellin was unbeatable," admitted Boogerd. "I played all my cards. You know you are beaten when Rebellin is on your wheel with 150m to go."
Rebellin is the only man to win all 3 of these classics in the same year, and takes the lead in the World Cup.
Fraser takes Stage 7; Armstrong wins Tour de Georgia
Lance Armstrong wrapped up the second annual Tour de Georgia Sunday, as the sprinters' teams controlled the pace, and HealthNet's Gord Fraser took his second stage win of the Tour, ahead of Juan José Haedo from Colavito and Mario Cipollini of Domina Vacanze.
Fraser secured the overall sprint jersey by taking first at both intermediate sprints and on the finish line today. Jason McCartney (also of HealthNet-Maxxis) won the King of the Mountains jersey based on his epic ride on Stage 5. Kevin Bouchard-Hall of the TIAA-CREF/USA Cycling team won the under-23 jersey. As they seem to just about everywhere, CSC won the overall team classification.
Mario Cipollini, who appeared to be set up for the sprint today and finished 3rd, didn't show for the presentation, and was fined 200 Swiss francs and his day's winnings for it. Domina Vacanze representatives said Super Mario didn't realize he had finished 3rd, and therefore didn't think he needed to make the presentation.
Ullrich: I built up muscle mass
"The thing about my weight is rubbish. I trained a lot in the winter and built up muscle mass."
He added: "This additional strength will help me to cope with the demands of the Tour and overcome them."
It's strange that all the extra muscle mass hasn't helped him in the early season.
In all seriousness, even if muscle mass is the explanation for the extra weight, it's not likely to help him. Cyclists who build up have to carry all that weight over Europe's highest peaks, and usually find themselves at a disadvantage.
One of the changes that made Lance Armstrong a Tour champion was that he dropped a lot of upper-body mass (due to his cancer treatment) that he had carried since his triathlon days.
More on Grajales' Stage 6 win
The Atlanta paper has a pretty good wrap-up of Saturday's stage (especially when you consider that Saturday was draft day for the Falcons!). Karen Rosen got to talk to Armstrong, Jittery Joe's director Micah Rice, and stage winner Cesar Grajales.
Armstrong on Grajales:
"He was very strong," Armstrong said. "That was a maximum effort on my part and on Jens' part, and we couldn't catch him, so, very, very impressive. Good for him."
Armstrong on the final climb, up 4,679-foot Brasstown Bald:
"It was harder than I had anticipated," Armstrong said. "I kept looking up and thinking, 'There's no way we're going to the top, because we have less than 10 kilometers to go.' But now I understand.
"When you go up the side of a wall, it's pretty easy to climb fast."
Grajales' team director on the win:
"It's the biggest thing that has ever happened to us," team director Micah Rice said. "We always knew he had the ability, so we held on and worked with him, and it finally paid off," said Rice, who expects Grajales to be picked up by a larger team.
April 24, 2004
Grajales outgoats Tour de Georgia field for Stage 6 win
Colombia's Cesar Grajales took a huge win on Saturday, almost certainly the biggest win in the history of his Athens, GA-based Jittery Joe's team.
Grajales rode away from Lance Armstrong, Jens Voigt, Chris Horner, and everybody else on the hors categorie final climb to Georgia's highest point, Brasstown Bald.
After starting in the hometown of Jittery Joe's, the stage ended with a climb of close to 12 miles, including the approach to the mountain and more than 3 miles up the mountain itself. Grajales, who lives about 2 hours away, had been riding the course twice a week in preparation for Saturday's stage.
It is huge for our team because we are the local team," an emotional Grajales said. "We are maybe the smallest team in the group, so this is just amazing for us. Everybody knows that Lance [Armstrong] has different goals. His goal is for the Tour de France. This is the biggest race in the United States, the Tour de Georgia, and I was training for this day three months ago. I'm just happy because all this work, all this training...I'm just really happy."
Jens Voigt was second on the day, finishing alongside race leader Lance Armstrong. The two put time into everyone but Grajales, who jumped into 6th overall. Going into Sunday's final stage from Dawsonville to Alpharetta, it's:
1) Armstrong, US Postal, 22:19:05
2) Voigt, CSC, at 24 secs
3) Chris Horner, Webcor, at 1:01
4) Bobby Julich, CSC, at 1:57
5) Viatcheslav Ekimov, US Postal, at 2:59
6) Cesar Grajales, Jittery Joe's, at 3:07
Sunday's final stage is a much flatter (nothing in North Georgia is flat) road stage, with a circuit finish in Alpharetta, the horse country suburb of Atlanta. Armstrong's overall lead certainly looks secure.
Daily Peloton | Dodge Tour de Georgia: Stage 6 Seen and Heard is a photo gallery with comments from a few riders about the long transfers (each day starts in a different city than the previous finish) on the Tour de Georgia, and pictures of riders, of Bob Roll and this shot of Sheryl Crow (click through to see them all):
April 23, 2004
VeloNews Tour de Georgia photo gallery
It's all through the lens of Casey Gibson.
Full Stage 5 report
PezCycling has what I think is the first detailed stage report on today's Stage 5, won by HealthNet's Jason McCartney.
PezCycling quotes Lance Armstrong's reaction to news that US Postal will drop its sponsorship after this season: "It’s always tough news like this but I have great feelings and memories."
Another good point from the story is that the CSC team of Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt, and the Webcor squad of Chris Horner need to go all out to upset the status quo on Saturday's stage if they're to have any hope of knocking Armstrong off this tour's top step.
McCartney wins Tour de Georgia Stage 5
All the leaders (Armstrong, Voigt, Horner, Julich) finished together. George Hincapie lost 48 seconds, and Pavel Padrnos 5:45. The Tour de Georgia ste has complete results.
Tomorrow's stage runs from Athens to the very top of Georgia, Brasstown Bald.
Tour de Georgia photo galleries
The Atlanta Journal-Constituion (free registration required) is doing a fairly good job covering the Tour de Georgia, and in particular, they've got daily photo galleries from their photographer on the spot, Brant Sanderlin. Friday's gallery is here.
There's a link on each page that should let you buy reprints, but I haven't been able to get anything to come up yet.
Some other highlights:
US Postal drops cycling team
The Postal Service announced that it will end its sponsorship of the US Postal Service cycling team at the end of the 2004 season. Despite 5 consecutive Tour de France wins, the USPS has decided to go "in another direction."
Anita Bizzotto, chief marketing officer for the post office, said the excitement generated by five consecutive Tour de France victories "has been inspiring and exhilarating to the Postal Service, its employees, and the entire country."
Tailwind Sports, which owns and manages the team, has reportedly been in discussions to expand the role of secondary sponsor Berry Floor, and Bill Stapleton, their CEO, said they are seeking a new title sponsor:
"Further, we appreciate their continued support as we seek a new title sponsor for the best cycling team in the world. We are committed to keeping our riders and staff in place for years to come and furthering our goals of winning important events like the Tour de France," he said.
If Tailwind were unable to find a title sponsor, there's been speculation that Armstrong might not race in 2005 with a new team, especially since he's likely nearing retirement.
Anonymous team manager: "Those guys know how to beat the system"
AFP quotes a former "prominent American team manager" that riders have to take drugs to stay competitive.
"With so many races, so much pressure to perform, the riders are pressured in taking performance enhancing drugs," the ex-team manager told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The unnamed manager suggested that riders may have a new performance-enhancing substance:
"Growth hormones aren't enough by themselves. EPO is no longer the thing anymore. Something else is coming up. There's something new on the market. It's possible that doctors have come up with a new product."
More than a handful of young riders have died of heart-related problems this year, not a mere coincidence, according to the AFP source.
"The last time we had so many riders die of heart problems was when EPO (erythropoietin) came up. It's more than a coincidence. It's not natural for the heart to fail at such a young age. That's a hint that something is wrong," he said.
AFP's source wants to see cycling adopt a mandatory 2-year doping ban, as in many other sports.
"They should have kicked Richard Virenque out of the sport. What's the message they are sending. You can dope yourself and if you get caught you get six months and race again.
"If you're a big name, nothing happens to you," he added. "That's the problem. The UCI is spineless. It is something very frustrating for the clean riders out there."
Where will he land?
Reigning world road champion Igor Astarloa has been released from his contract with Cofidis, allowing the Italian to pursue a contract with another team, and start riding.
The Cofidis team has suspended operations will allegations of doping against current and former riders and team officials are investigated. Astarloa, who joined the team just before winning the world title in October, is being released by mutual agreement.
Astarloa previously raced for the Saeco team. AFP reports ">he's expected to sign with Lampre.
Tour de Georgia updates
I'm likely to get out to the race this weekend, and hope to post some pictures and more.
Meanwhile, if you've got anything related to the TdG you would like to share, you can e-mail pictures, commentary, or news to a new email address: it's 'tdg' at 'tdfblog.com' (no quotes).
If you're heading out to see the race, here's a local view of where the race is going, and what some of the towns along the course have planned.
Armstrong takes leader's jersey in Georgia
Lance Armstrong showed his off-season work on time trialing is paying dividends, as he took the climbing individual time trial at the Tour de Georgia Thursday afternoon.
The win puts Armstrong in the overall race lead, 24 seconds ahead of Jens Voigt, who had a similar double win in March at the Criterium International.
The strong Euro-based teams are starting to open up a lead in the overall classification (Tour de Georgia results page), as US Postal and CSC holding 5 of the top 6 placings in the GC. Chris Horner of Webcor has dominated the US scene over 2003 and the early season of 2004, and his 3rd place, 51 seconds back here in Georgia shows he's got the legs to race anywhere.
April 22, 2004
In Rome, Armstrong does as the crit riders do
Lance Armstrong gave a good indicator of his fitness level, with a win in a criterium-style finish at the Tour de Georgia in Rome. It's not often we see Armstrong winning a race by a bike toss, but a short steep climb on the finishing circuit took its toll of the sprint specialists, leaving the primary overall contenders in a small group to contest the finish.
Armstrong picked the right wheel to follow in the sprint: Ivan Dominguez, who has now finished 2nd in all 3 stages of the Tour de Georgia. Dominguez takes the leader's yellow jersey at least through tonight's Time Trial around Rome. Dominguez was marking Chris Horner and George Hincapie:
"I like a race like that one. I don't like a flat race. I'm not a climber, but I hate flat races. Coming up the last hill I was behind Horner and he started going and I lost maybe half-a-bike, and Bobby Julich and George Hincapie, they passed me and then stayed there. Coming to the finish I just followed Hincapie's wheel, and I started passing him and Armstrong got me on the finish."
Armstrong was never a criterium specialist, even when he raced in America, and he commented on the different skills necessary for racing circuits of city streets instead of a road course:
"This is a whole other art, here. It's crazy," Armstrong said. "I'm glad I don't do it for a living. You can tell these guys are used to racing this style of races. In these races you have no friends, you have no allies, and you have no brakes. In Europe it's very different. There's a different hierarchy in the European peloton, and most guys use their brakes over there a little more."
Ullrich skipping LBLBBC Sport | Ullrich misses Belgian race
Jan Ullrich is skipping Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday. Following 4 days after his early exit yesterday from Fleche Wallone, the schedule change suggests Ullrich's training can't be going according to his original plan.
"His focus points for the Tour de France are now the Tour of Germany and the Tour of Switzerland," said T-Mobile team sporting director Mario Kummer.
April 15, 2004
Cipollini confirmed for Tour de Georgia
Domina Vacanze announced the former World Champion Mario Cipollini will be on the starting line for the Tour de Georgia, beginning April 20th. Cipollini will be using the race as preparation for the Giro d'Italia, which begins May 8th in Genoa.
Cipollini has more Giro stage wins than anyone else, 42 in all:
"The Tour de Georgia will provide good preparation for me," Cipollini said. "The course is challenging and the race finishes ten days before the start of the Giro (which is) very good timing."
Domina Vacanze also will bring David Clinger, who won a stage of last year's Tour de Georgia.
April 14, 2004
Beloki to return to racing
Joseba Beloki will try again to come back from the injuries he suffered in Stage 9 of the 2003 Tour. Beloki has raced in a couple of races this year, but his results have been disappointing. At his most recent race, Beloki dropped out during the first stage.
Beloki's manager, Jean-Rene Bernaudeau said Beloki's abandonment at the Tour of the Basque Country resulted directly from his eagerness to be back in the saddle:
e was so motivated to compete at home that he forgot how hard the race was.
"He might have made it past the second stage but straight away on the first day he had to deal with 130km and five climbs. It was just too much."
Bernaudeau wouldn't predict Beloki's chances at the Tour, but says he's "done a lot of kilometres in training....a podium is something which is a possibility."
Beloki will skip Liege-Bastogne-Liege next weekend in favor of the Tour of Castille and Leon April 28-May 2.
The Lion at rest
Johan Museeuw's last race was no fairy tale. He finished 77th in the Grand Prix de l'Escaut, finishing a 16-year career with 11 victories in the spring classics, and the 1996 world championships.
Museeuw won 2 Tour de France stages in 1990, and wore the leader's yellow jersey in 1993 and 1994. He also won the World Cup and Belgian championships in 1996.
"I hope I will be remembered as a rider who always gave his all. I'm very proud of what I've achieved during my career," the 38-year-old said.
"There have been so many good and bad moments but I think the best was when I won the Tour of Flanders in 1995 because I won it on my own after attacking on the legendary Muur of Grammont climb. My world title in Lugano in 1996 was also very special."
Museeuw will become a director of the QuickStep team. He can take some solace in the fact that QuickStep's Tom Boonen won the day in his last race.
Ullrich out at Amstel
Jan Ullrich will skip Sunday's Amstel Gold race, which he was scheduled to race. Eurosport has the best lead on this story:
German rider Jan Ullrich has struck his name from the start list of Sunday's Amstel Gold race, the fourth (of 10) races on the 2004 World Cup calendar. The 1997 Tour de France winner would "not have been competitive in this difficult race," T-Mobile team director Mario Kummer said Tuesday. Translation: Ullrich's too fat.
This is essentially the same story I posted on Monday morning, but without mention of Ullrich skipping Amstel Gold, and without that lead.
The Dallas News (registration required) quotes Sheryl Crow from Us Weekly magazine (which, incredibly, has almost no web presence):
"I'm afraid the next album will be entirely about Lance," she says. "It's going to be the sappiest thing ever written."
Peppard also uses the gossip columnist's best friend, "as rumors circulate in the tabloids", to mention the possibility that Lance Armstrong and Crow are trying to get pregnant.
April 13, 2004
Countdown to Tour de Georgia
VeloNews reports that Bobby Julich will be flying back to the US later today in preparation for the Tour de Georgia next week. There are detailed maps available, if you're planning to watch some of the race.
I was in Athens a week ago tonight, and saw a US Postal car already in town.
April 12, 2004
Germany's long national nightmare is over
Finally, a first place finish for the German sprinter, six-time winner of the Tour de France green sprinter's jersey. So far this season, he had finished second in everything but American Idol.
At the same race, Zabel's teammate Jan Ullrich finished...well, hmmm, oh, there he comes....64th, 5:41 back of the leaders, at a race he won with a dramatic breakaway last year.
cyclingnews.com reports that Eddy Merckx commented on Ullrich:
"It seems that Jan has again not worked hard enough in his previous preparation and is still too much overweight. Sure, he has still over two months, but to beat Lance Armstrong in the Tour will be harder than 2003."
Ullrich, for his part, said he's where he needs to be in preparing for the Tour:
"In 2003 I was an outsider and I was only able to win because the others didn't recognise me in my Coast jersey. However, it's a long time to the Tour and I'm on the right track."
Ullrich has a number of big Euro races coming up, while Lance Armstrong will be contesting the Tour de Georgia, against a mostly American field, that's not likely to be as strong. On the other other hand, the Tour de Georgia is a stage race with a time trial and some climbs, so Armstrong will have a chance to see how he's recovering from hard days.
Cooke: I'll sue Le Monde over doping story
A story in the French daily Le Monde (in French) on Tuesday claims to reveal the transcript of a phone call between suspended cyclist Philippe Boyer and "a supposed friend of Cooke's, a woman called Sandrine."
"Sandrine" discusses problems she said Cooke was suffering after injecting himself with amphetamines:
"He had flashes in his eyes and he was trembling like mad," she is reported to have told Boyer.
Against Boyer's advice the article says she called a doctor and told him that she and her friend "had taken amphetamines to go out".
Cooke, currently racing for fdjeux.com, categorically denied the allegations and said he would sue Le Monde:
"I absolutely deny the alleged facts and the insinuations which suggest I'm a drug addict," Cooke said in a statement released by his lawyer, Jean-Marc Allery.
"I am forced to start immediate legal proceedings against the paper," added the Fdjeux.com rider.
The call was recorded by French police investigating the 1998 death of an amateur cyclist.
Graham Watson Paris-Roubaix gallery posted
(Click through to GrahamWatson.com gallery)
Some great shots of a couple of early miscues, including US Postal's Max Van Heeswijk, who was slightly injured in one early fall, and a shot of Johan Museeuw crossing the line at Paris-Roubaix for the last time.
Peloton's biggest rider snags his biggest winEurosport | Backstedt blisters sprint
What a week for Magnus Backstedt, the nearly 200-pound Swede, formerly of Credit Agricole, now back in the big leagues with Alessio. Second in Wednesday's Ghent-Wevelgem, Backstedt was not to be denied today at Paris-Roubaix, for the biggest win of his career and the first-ever Swedish win in the race.
Johan Museeuw, looking for a 4th win in Paris-Roubaix, flatted 4+ miles from the finish, riding in the winning break with Backstedt, Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo), Tristan Hoffman (CSC), and Roger Hammond (Mr. Bookmaker). Museeuw will retire after next week's GP L'Escaut at 38.
Backstedt took advantage of his track experience to dive to the inside of the group in the last 100 meters in the velodrome at Roubaix and led Hoffman, Hammond (his 3rd matched Barry Hoban for the best Paris-Roubaix finish by a British rider), and Cancellara over the line. Museeuw of QuickStep was 5th. George Hincapie was the highest-placed American at 8th.
Backstedt after the race:
"Its been a dream my whole life to win this race and I just can't believe I have done it," he said.
"Coming out of the last [cobblestone] section I turned around and saw there was only five of us left and I thought hang on -- this is the chance of a lifetime to do something here."
"I do a lot of track riding in the winter and I just knew that I had to keep high on the last corner [on the velodrome] and then dive down on the inside as we hit the last straight. After that... Wow!"
April 06, 2004
Leblanc: Cofidis no Kelme
Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc issued a press release Monday reconciling Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme's exclusion from the 2004 Tour with the invitation to Cofidis, which has riders and a former soigneur under investigation. Leblanc chalked it up to the fact that Cofidis qualified automatically, by being one of the world's top 14 teams after the 2003 season.
"If Cofidis had been on the list of teams that needed an invite, then without doubt we would have reflected on the issue and we would have been able to take a prudent decision."
Leblanc also suggested there's still a chance that Cofidis could have its invitation revoked:
"If serious faults are revealed by the judicial inquiries we will take account of them but we are not at that point yet."
On Thursday, Leblanc will meet with a representative of Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme, looking to reverse the director's decision to exclude the team.
Ullrich says he's on track for Tour
Pay no attention to my early-season results, says T-Mobile's Tour contender Jan Ullrich.
"Why should we follow the same paths before the Tour? I want to take my time to make it back at my best level."
Ullrich says he's "relieved" he had a healthy off-season.
"All my training is based on the Tour so that I can start it at my very best this time."
April 05, 2004
Cofidis sponsorship in jeopardy
Procycling.com quotes Cofidis team owner François Migraine: "the chances of Cofidis renewing its contract beyond 2005 are diminishing."
Certainly, the publicity the telephone card company has received from the ongoing drug probe of current and former Cofidis riders has been almost uniformly negative.
...after Philippe Gaumont’s recent statements about doping to French daily Le Monde and the news last week that Cédric Vasseur and Médéric Clain are being investigated by French police, Migraine’s patience seems to be running out.
Speaking to Reuter before the Tour of Flanders, Cofidis team manager Alain Bondue commented: "With the way things are going, I wonder whether we will even reach the end of this contract."
Valverde cites 'extra incentive' in Basque win
Speaking after today's stage, Kelme's star racer, Alejandro Valverde, alluded to claims by former teammate Jesus Manzano that the team helped him use performance-enhancing drugs:
"I wanted to do well in this stage because the team is going through a lot of trouble thanks to the statements of a certain gentleman," Valverde said alluding to Manzano's detailed doping allegations within the Kelme squad.
The reigning world championships silver medallist flatly denied Manzano's allegations:
"When we heard about the statements, we were very surprised. But what this gentleman was saying is completely false and we've already started to see the consequences on him and I'm sure that at some point or another, everything will be solved."
Eurosport also notes Joseba Beloki's withdrawal from the race, suggesting Beloki was suffering form cramps.
Valverde takes first Basque stage
Alejandro Valverde took today's first stage of the Tour of the Basque Country, ahead of Liberty Seguros's Angel Vicioso and Gerolsteiner's Davide Rebellin. The Daily Peloton notes that American Levi Leipheimer of Rabobank and US Postal's Jose Azevedo both were in the select group that contested the finish, and both finished in the top 10.
The stage victory was a rare piece of good news for Kelme which has been rocked by allegations from former rider Jesus Manzano that he was subjected to widespread doping while with the team.
The story also notes an important drop-out:
While Valverde was celebrating, his fellow Spaniard Joseba Beloki retired before the end after failing to keep up with the pace.
Three months is a pretty short time to go from unable to hang with the laughing group to leading the pack. If I were Beloki (and would that I were), I would be looking past the Tour to the Olympics or the World's.
April 04, 2004
Museeuw countdown: 3 races to retirement
Thirty-nine-year-old Johann Museeuw finished with the main field in today's Tour of Flanders, a race he has won 3 times. Museeuw is in the middle of a farewell tour of the spring classics, with 3 dates to go, including next weekend's Paris-Roubaix, where he has a chance to join Roger De Vlaeminck as the only riders ever to win four times.
VeloNews editorial director John Wilcockson offers up a profile of the Lion of Flanders, who joined the pro peloton in 1988:
Museeuw has been Belgium's best and most consistent bike racer for the past dozen years. He had eight podium finishes at the Tour of Flanders between 1991 and 2002, and a year ago he was planning to end his career with another shot at the record fourth win. But he fell sick just before La Ronde for the first time, and so he decided to extend his career into 2004.
It's Steffen Wesemann in Flanders
A surprise winner today at the Tour of Flanders, as German Steffen Wesemann of T-Mobile took the win. Wesemann and Belgians Leif Hoste of Lotto and Dave Bruylandts of Chocolat Jacque broke away at 17 kilometers, on the second-to-last climb of the day.
The race favorites were unable to close the gap, giving Wesemann a big win in the season's second World Cup race.
April 02, 2004
Cipollini out of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem
AFP reports that superstar sprinter Mario Cipollini of the Domina Vacanze team will not start Sunday's Tour of Flanders or Wednesday Ghent-Wevelgem, which Cipollini has won three times.
Domina Vacanze officials did not reveal the reason for the 37-year-old Cipollini's withdrawal.
It's easy enough to speculate on the reason.
April 01, 2004
Tests: Beloki near top form
Joseba Beloki's team director, Jean-René Bernadeau, reports that Beloki has recovered "almost all his muscle capacity in his lower right thigh."
Beloki, who crashed out spectacularly in Stage 9 of last year's Tour de France, returned to racing in the Criterium International last week, but finished last in the first stage after a minor crash.
However, with his medical tests aced this week, Beloki is now eyeing an ambitious campaign for the remainder of the spring, starting with Saturday's GP Miguel Indurain and quickly followed by the Tour of the Basque Country starting Monday, April 5.
Beloki was 3rd in the Tour in 2000 and 2001, and second in 2002.
US Postal wins again: Hincapie at De Panne
George Hincapie scored his first overall win in three years by taking a 3rd place in today's time trial, 5 seconds behind the stage winner, which vaulted him from 3rd overall to the overall victory.
Hincapie looks to be in great shape for Sunday's Tour of Flanders and next week's Paris-Roubaix.
"It's a good feeling to win today, as I trained very hard for this week and for the next two weeks," said Hincapie. "It's a good sign, but I will start thinking about Sunday (Flanders) on Saturday night."
How I hate April Fool's Day...
Five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and his new companion, nine-time Grammy Award winning Sheryl Crow, have recorded a duet at Armstrong's home in Girona, Spain, and will release the single in conjunction with this year's Tour.
The song, titled "Love and Life," features both lead and backing vocals from U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor rider.
"I'll probably catch a little flak about this from the guys on the team," Armstrong said, "but it won't be the first time. Besides, you only live once, right?"