July 02, 2004
Le Monde: Millar implicates Euskaltel doctor
This article in Saturday's (UK) Independent quotes from an article in Le Monde (surprisingly lucid Google translation ) that David Millar named the source of his EPO in his hearing Thursday, and that it was Euskaltel team doctor Jesus Losa. Millar's attorney was careful to note that Millar used EPO “outside of France.”
Losa has chosen not to accompany the team to Belgium for the Tour start for "reasons that his team have failed to specify."
The news will hardly be welcome for Euskaltel-Euskadi, already in the midst of a scandal after one of their riders, the Spaniard Gorka Gonzalez, was suspended from racing on Thursday by the UCI, cycling's governing body, for health reasons. Losa is also the doctor for one of Lance Armstrong's main challengers, Iban Mayo.
Millar lives in Biarritz, near the Spanish border.
Saturday's edition of the Spanish sports daily AS also features the story (rough Google translation), and says the team's management "wants to appear at ease, but are worried." Juan Manuel Bastida is serving as the team's doctor for the Tour.
AS quotes team manager Julian Gorospe as concerned that the UCI is persecuting his Spanish team for the sins of Jesus Manzano, who claimed he was encouraged and aided in doping by his Kelme team's management, and because the UCI doesn't believe Spanish cycling has done enough to combat doping.
AS also claims doctors (my translation skills pale) from the investigation spoke with Davide Etxebarria, banned for 2 weeks with a high hematocrit during Euskal Bizikleta/Bicicleta Vaska, but racing in the Tour.
Armstrong won't wear yellow for prologue
Lance Armstrong will wear his US Postal colors in tomorrow's prologue, rather than the yellow jersey he's entitled to wear as the defending champion.
Armstrong's teammate Viatcheslav Ekimov, the oldest racer in this year's Tour, has announced this will be his 13th and last Tour. Ekimov has raced 12 Tours, and finished 12 Tours (Joop Zoetemelk holds the record with 16 starts and 16 finishes). Ekimov won a stage in 1991.
Update: Here's a shot of Armstrong in yellow at last year's prologue:
We prefer 'elite' to obscure
Only Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are more influential as pitchmen than Lance Armstrong, explaining the $14 million he takes home in endorsements every year, in line with Serena Williams and Shaquille O'Neal.
ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell looks at Lance's career off the bike: He commands the highest speaker's fee in sports at $200,000, he's the centerpiece of Discovery's $30 million sponsorship deal, and he's apparently going to be re-signed by Coca-Cola "imminently."
It stings a little when Rovell says "He is without question the most popular athlete who has dominated his sport in relative obscurity."
Despite Armstrong's run and omnipresence during the past five Julys, 93 percent of Americans say they have little or no interest in cycling, according to a poll conducted earlier this year by Knowledge Networks, a market research firm. Only 2 percent say they are very interested in the sport.
Saiz: 'Selfish' Armstrong has 80 percent chance in Tour
Manolo Saiz is the director of Liberty Seguros, and for years directed the powerhouse ONCE team that included at times Alex Zulle, Joseba Beloki, Laurent Jalabert, and Abraham Olano. This year, he'll try to put Roberto Heras on the podium's top spot, but he gives Armstrong an 80 percent chance of taking his sixth consecutive Tour.
That doesn't mean he's happy about it, however. Saiz is typical of many around the sport who think a "true champion" is one who beats all comers all year round. Their archetype is Eddy Merckx, the Belgian who did just that, but still won 5 Tours.
"As usual, [Armstrong] will pack a season's worth of racing into 23 days.
"Listen, I've got heaps of respect for Armstrong on a professional level. He's an authentic champion, and a great one at that. But he's always had a selfish approach to cycling. He's taken a lot from the sport, but he hasn't given much back in return."
So who's the best Tour rider ever?
"There's no comparison," he said, using Merckx as an example. "Merckx gave everything he had to the sport. The whole season. That's what separates the European idea of cycling from the American idea. It's not a judgment, just an opinion. But for all those reasons, that's why I hope he doesn't become the first rider to win the Tour six times."
And what about Roberto Heras, Armstrong's teammate in last year's Tour, now leading the Liberty Seguros team Saiz manages?
"[N]ow he's going to have to prove he's worthy of being the team leader, that he can attack and take the race by the scruff of the neck. I believe he has the ability, and I can see that he is concentrated and motivated. He has a solid team around him. It should be a great challenge."
Cipollini handicaps sprinters' chances
Mario Cipollini was, for a time, the best sprinter in the world. "Super" Mario has 12 stage wins in the Tour, and a record 42 stage wins at the Giro d'Italia. This year was the first time Cipollini was shut out at the Giro, as a bad crash knocked him out early.
Cipollini's crown has been challenged by Alessandro Petacchi, who had an amazing Giro, winning 9 stages this year alone. Cipollini hasn't ridden the Tour in 5 years, while Petacchi won 4 stages of last year's Tour.
Cipollini is marking Petacchi, Tom Boonen, and Erik Zabel in the sprints.
Petacchi, for his part, is downplaying his chances at multiple sprint wins, and pooh-poohing the overall green jersey competition:
“It doesn’t really interest me,” said the Fassa Bortolo sprinter in his pre-Tour press conference. “I want to concentrate on getting stage victories. It might surprise but my aim is the very reasonable goal of a stage win during the first week. I won’t be thinking about any more than that initially. If I was thinking about the green jersey from the start I would then have to dispute the intermediate sprints, which would be a sure way of missing out on what really counts, the last sprint of the day.”
The Tour will be the first head-to-head meeting between Petacchi, and Belgium's Tom Boonen, who has 13 victories so far this season.
Leipheimer diary updated
It's the calm before the storm, and Rabobank's Levi Leipheimer updated his web diary on the anticipation and pomp surrounding the "Superbowl of biking." Of the "parade lab," where organizers confirm the physical condition of all the riders, he says:
They take our temperature, measure us, weigh us, make sure our hearts are beating and all that stuff. The press film it all so everyone knows we're in perfect health going into the tour. That, and they'll know if we become shorter at any point during the race? So much for my half inch shorter identical twin jumping in for me after week two.
More courts: Di Luca to sue Tour
Danilo Di Luca of Saeco intends to sue the Amaury Sport Organisation for banning him from its Tour de France, starting tomorrow.
Di Luca was refused entry because he is under investigation for doping in Italy, but he maintains that organizers should let him race, because he hasn't been banned by the UCI or sanctioned by the Italian federation. Di Luca suggested last week that there's as much reason to ban Lance Armstrong as Danilo.
"I'm going to sue the Tour de France and ask for considerable damages," Di Luca told Reuters after returning to Italy from Liege, where the Tour will start on Saturday.
"I decided to take legal action after the meeting with race director Jean Marie Leblanc. Not being able to ride the Tour de France has caused huge damage to my image ... There was no reason why I should not be allowed but Leblanc decided otherwise. He decides everything at the Tour de France."
Jalabert: Armstrong to win; he's like "Terminator that never dies"
Laurent Jalabert says Lance Armstrong will win his 6th consecutive Tour de France this year, but expects it to be tight.
Jalabert, who won both the green and polka-dotted jersey in his career, now does cycling commentary for French TV.
“[I]t is going to be very difficult to beat him. However, this year there are several riders who are aiming to beat him, whereas last year most were just thinking of coming second to him.”
Jalabert discounted Armstrong's difficulties last year as springing from his fall in the preparatory Dauphiné Libéré. Asked to compare Armstrong and Indurain, the two five-timers he raced against, Jalabert at first refuses, then says:
“I preferred riding against Indurain because of his manner – less provocative, more discreet, he had more class… Armstrong seems as if he doesn’t feel pain, he’s like a machine, like the star of an American film, a Terminator who never dies.”
Armstrong's L.A. Confidential challenge rejected
Lance Armstrong's legal attempt to have a denial inserted into French copies of L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong took another blow on Friday, as a French judge rejected his appeal.
To be decided separately in France and in England are Armstrong's charges that the book is defamatory.
Millar out of Olympics
David Millar has withdrawn from the Athens Olympics, according to a statement quoted by Sportal of Australia and posted on Millar's website:
"He has been suspended from British cycling pending a judicial hearing and voluntarily removes himself from the British Olympic Team."
Millar is still on the Cofidis team, but it doesn't look like that can last:
"David has not been axed by the team," Cofidis communications director Alexandre Michaud said.
"We will meet up with him during the Tour and if he says to us what he said to the judge - that he took EPO - his contract will be terminated."
Vaughters picks Mayo
Jonathan Vaughters rode for US Postal and Credit Agricole in 4 Tours, 1999-2002. His guest column at the Denver Post predicts:
- 1. Iban Mayo
- 2. Lance Armstrong/Jan Ullrich (not sure, sorry)
- 4. Unheralded rider who sneaks away to a huge advantage in the first week
- 5. Tyler Hamilton
- 6. Roberto Heras
He predicts that Mayo will put time into everybody on the mountains, and take yellow at the Alpe d'Huez time trial. One of the TT specialists (Armstrong or Ullrich) will count on being able to take the necessary time back in the long TT, but Mayo will keep it close there to win with one of the narrowest margins in history.
Roche tips Ullrich
Stephen Roche, 1987 Tour de France champion, says Jan Ullrich will finally get his 2nd yellow jersey in the 2004 Tour.
"I would be really surprised if Armstrong won," Roche told BBC Sport.
"He may be mentally tougher than he's ever been and tactically more astute, but I don't believe he's the same rider physically anymore."
He added: "If I were to pick it, I'd go Ullrich first, Tyler Hamilton second and Armstrong third."
Roche gives a lot of weight to Armstrong's performance at the Dauphiné Libéré, and to Ullrich's strong Tour de Suisse, and the tighter Tour de France from last year.
"Last year, the cracks started to show," said Roche. "Those cracks are only going to get wider."
Pro Tour's first 11 teams named
The UCI's Pro Tour kicks off at the beginning of next season, with up to 18 teams. The first 11 teams will be:
• Illes Balears-Banesto
• Liberty Seguros
• Quick Step-Davitamon
• Discovery Channel (nee US Postal)
• Credit Agricole