- Article published:
- February 15, 2013, 17:43
- Stephen Farrand
Spaniard eyes Ardennes before focusing on Tour de France
Joaquim Rodriguez finished third on stage five at the Tour of Oman but hugged his Katusha directeur sportif Valerio Piva as if he had won, after hearing that the Russian team had won it's appeal to the Court of Arbitration and secured its return to the UCI WorldTour.
Rodriguez and Piva refused to confirm their good news, under strict orders not to talk by the team's management, but the big smiles and hugs between the riders and staff as they whispered the news, made it clear that Katusha had finally received some good news.
Since being turned down for a WorldTour spot by the UCI Licence Commission on December 10, the team's future has been up in the air.
It was granted a provisional Professional Continental licence so it could compete but the team had been snubbed for wild invitations to the Giro d'Italia, Paris-Nice, the Criterium du Dauphine, and most recently the Tour de Romandie.
On Thursday night, Rodriguez confirmed that he would leave Katusha if the team failed to secure a WorldTour place. He is determined to ride the Tour de France and was unwilling to let the team's problems impact on his season.
Fortunately the team's future now appears safe. Rodriguez's contract with the team is valid and he insisted he was happy to continue racing in the red and white Katusha colours.
"I'm happy to stay with the Katusha team because I've been in the team for several years now. The team has given me a lot and I've given a lot to the team. This is the best possible solution for everyone," Rodriguez said in a hastily arranged press conference in the permanence of the Tour of Oman.
"In the days before the verdict, we were optimistic and we always believed we'd win, even if it wasn't our decision to make and even if we'd never understood the reason why we were left out of the UCI WorldTour."
"I'll admit it, I was worried about my future, even if I knew I'd have ridden the Tour de France in one way or another. Now my race programme won’t change. I'll ride Tirreno-Adriatico, then the Volta a Catalunya, go for a spell of training at altitude on Mount Teide, and then the Ardennes Classics."
Piva echoed Rodriguez's sentiments of relief and satisfaction. The Italian is highly respected in the sport but had been struggling to keep morale up in the team and struggled to convince organisers to invite the team to key races.
Now it seems Katusha and six other team that applied for a WorldTour licence will have to go through the selection process with the Licence Commission. Rather than eliminate another team from the WorldTour, Rodriguez believes the sensible solution is to allow 19 teams to be part of the 2013 WorldTour.
"I hope another team doesn't have to go through what we've been through and so perhaps the best solutions is to allow 19 teams in the WorldTour," he said.
"That would be fair even if it caused some problems by raising the number of riders in the peloton and on the roads. It'd be worth it and much fairer all round."
"I'm sick of everyone talking about all the problems in our sport. There are still a lot of good things going on. I'd much prefer if we could talk about the Tour of Oman and the Volta ao Algarve, or the Vuelta a Andalucía. At least now I can look ahead to the rest of the season, knowing that goal for the year are safe and that the future of the team is safe."
- Article published:
- February 15, 2013, 18:50
- Daniel Benson
Giro left to ponder CAS ruling on Katusha
Michele Acquarone has reacted to the news that CAS has ordered the UCI to grant Katusha a WorldTour licence, saying that the sport’s governing body must clarify the situation quickly. Acquarone is the head of RCS Sport and organises Italy’s premier races including the Giro d’Italia, the Tour of Lombardy and the Strade Bianche.
Katusha’s WorldTour status would create 19 teams in cycling’s top tier, however the 18 existing WorldTour teams and four wild cards have already been invited to the race. Katusha missed out on a wildcard position this year, meaning that if they were shoehorned into the race 23 teams would take to the start in Naples on May 4.
“What a mess. Now we have 19 teams so I’m curious to see what’s going to happen. We’ve planned everything for 18 teams and then the wildcard teams. We’re not ready for 19 WorldTour teams. Logistically everything has been set up for races like Tirreno and the Giro. I really don’t know how we’d have one more team in the race,” Acquarone told Cyclingnews.
UCI regulations are clear that the WorldTour is comprised of 18 teams, meaning that one team may have be forced to sacrifice it’s current status for Katusha.
“I’m curious to see what the UCI are going to do. Maybe they’ll take one team out of the WorldTour because as it stands we’ve got an agreement for 18 teams, not 19. I just don’t know. At the moment I think we have to go back to 18 teams but I will speak to the UCI next week and help to work on finding a solution.”
A bit of history
The number of teams in the sport's top tier has been just one source of conflict between the UCI and the Grand Tour organisers since the inception of the series in 2005.
The ProTour was founded to create a sense of consistency in the top division and to provide teams with assurances they would be invited to the Grand Tours at a time when invitations were often arbitrary and politically-based.
There were 20 teams in the ProTour in 2005, 2006 and 2007, leaving the races only two spots to fill with wild card choices. That didn't sit well with the organisers, who preferred to support the teams from their own countries over higher-ranked foreign teams. The requirement to invite all 20 teams to the Grand Tours was respected in 2005 and 2006, but after Operacion Puerto, that all changed.
The situation came to a head when Unibet was granted a spot in the ProTour, and then Astana was given its license late after being given more time to solve issues with its application. That made 20 teams for the 2007 season, much to the chagrin of the ASO, the organiser of the Tour de France.
The ASO left Unibet out of its races, including the early season Paris-Nice, citing national gambling laws as their reason, but it was a thinly veiled political move against the UCI as well as an attempt to appease its own sponsors, who were competitors of the online betting company. The UCI dug in its heels, threatening to remove the race's ProTour status unless the ASO conformed to the rules of the ProTour.
While Unibet took legal action, RCS Sport and Unipublic, organisers of the Giro and Vuelta, joined ASO in protesting against the UCI and the ProTour and excluded the team from most of their races. Unsurprisingly, Unibet dissolved at the end of the 2007 season.
In 2008, the UCI backed the number of WorldTour teams down to 18 after the demise of Unibet and the Discovery Channel team. That, however, did not solve the conflict as the organisers insisted on forging ahead with making their own decisions on race invitations.
RCS Sport left out four ProTour teams from the Giro d'Italia, and ASO declined to invite Astana after it disgraced the Tour de France with positives from Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrei Kashechkin and Matthias Kessler around the 2007 edition.
The conflict led ASO to run Paris-Nice and the Tour de France outside the aegis of the UCI, and to employ the AFLD to run doping controls for the Tour de France. The French agency successfully uncovered the use of a new EPO drug, CERA, when it declared Riccardo Ricco as the first rider to test positive for the substance in that year's race.
The highly political battle continued as the UCI suspended the French Federation, removing its representatives from the UCI committees, and pulling it from eligibility to host the World Championships for any discipline.
The fight was resolved one day after Lance Armstrong announced his comeback from retirement, when the UCI signed a peace agreement with the ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic. The UCI had Hein Verbruggen step down as vice president, while ASO jettisoned its president Patrice Clerc in favor of Jean-Etienne Amaury, the son of the ASO founder Philippe.
Since then, the newly branded WorldTour and the Grand Tours have enjoyed a relatively peaceful four seasons, but it remains to be seen if the Katusha decision will disrupt that delicate balance.
- Article published:
- February 15, 2013, 19:59
- Peter Cossins
WADA expert hugely critical of methods employed by Eufemiano Fuentes
The scientific expert called by the World Anti-Doping Agency has been highly critical of the blood transfusion methods employed by Operacion Puerto trial defendant Eufemiano Fuentes, saying they “could have caused serious health issues ranging from kidney problems to death.”
During almost five hours in the witness box at the end of the third week of the trial in Madrid, Dr. Yorck Olaf Schumacher said that Fuentes had failed to follow protocols relating to blood transfusions as laid down by the European Union and by royal decree in Spain. Backing up his evidence with medical and technical data, Dr. Schumacher described how Fuentes’ methods were dangerous at every part of the transfusion process, from the moment the blood was drawn from athletes, through its transport, storage and transfusion back into the athletes.
Regarded as a world expert on blood and its importance within the world of sport, Dr. Schumacher rejected the defence Fuentes had put forward on January 29 that he had carried out transfusions on cyclists and other athletes for “therapeutic reasons”. Fuentes had, said Dr. Schumacher, exposed his clients to the risk of being infected with illnesses such as hepatitis and AIDS.
He also dismissed the claim made by Fuentes, who is one of five defendants on trial for a crime against public health, that transfusions were necessary to prevent athletes being affected by anaemia. “Anaemia in athletes is not real, it’s only a case of dilution of the blood. They recover with two or three days’ rest,” he said. He was also critical of the use of transfusions during competition, saying that an athlete with weakened immune system was more at risk of infection and other health difficulties.
He made it clear that drawing blood carries a greater risk than other medical procedures, particularly when removing very significant amounts. “Extracting half a litre or a litre of blood presents greater risk than extracting the usual amounts. That’s up to 20% of the body’s total, whereas you would only extract 1% for a blood analysis,” Dr. Schumacher explained when asked about the volumes that Fuentes was drawing from athletes he was working with.
He described the process that everyone should go through when giving blood. They should first undergo a physical examination, he said. They should then be given written details on the risks and benefits of undergoing a transfusion before signing a form indicating they consented to the procedure. None of those treated by Fuentes signed a consent form.
Questioned about the locations and methods employed by Fuentes, he stated: “A hotel does not fulfil the conditions required for a transfusion like a mobile unit or an education centre does… A cool bag for picnics isn’t the best thing for transporting blood because it needs to be kept at a monitored and constant temperature.” He added that European regulations prohibited the use of conventional freezers such as those in domestic use for the storage of blood bags.
He was also critical of Fuentes’ use of homologous blood transfusions (between people), saying they carried a higher risk than autologous transfusions (transfusing one's own blood), but made clear that any transfusion could lead to difficulties. “A reaction to a transfusion could result in organs failing and even lead to death.” Asked about blood being transfused that had not been returned to the correct temperature after storage, Dr. Schumacher explained that this “can lead to fatal arrhythmia”. Earlier this week, ex-pro Jörg Jaksche claimed he had undergone a transfusion using a blood bag that had not been fully defrosted, causing severe palpitations of this kind.
The trial continues on Monday when five more medical experts will be giving evidence.
- Article published:
- February 15, 2013, 20:54
- Cycling News
Voss satisfied with 14th overall
Paul Voss cemented his top 15 overall ranking by a strong performance in the Tour of Oman's queen stage on Thursday, when he was in the escape group which stayed away until nearly the end. While he was unable to repeat that performance on Friday, the NetApp-Endura rider was happy with his results.
“Today I had planned to stay with the favourites and to sprint in the finale,” he told Cyclingnews after the stage. “Unfortunately it didn't work out.
He is currently 14th overall, “which may not sound convincing at first, but with the good riders here, and when you think that we are only at the beginning of the season, I think I can be very satisfied.”
From Oman, Voss will travel to the different world of Belgium racing. His next race is the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, “which is of course an entirely different kind of race.” He also knows that he faces a massive change in weather conditions. “We will just have to wait and see how everything goes.”
2013 is the team's first appearance in the Tour of Oman, and the team has been active in breakaways.
- Article published:
- February 15, 2013, 22:33
- Stephen Farrand
Team Sky manager plans step by step preparation for the Tour de France
Dave Brailsford has followed every stage of the Tour of Oman, carefully supervising the team as it gels as a unit early in the season and helping groom Chris Froome as he begins his long road to becoming the team's leader for the Tour de France.
Brailsford and head coach Tim Kerrison watched Thursday's mountain showdown from the roadside, 300 metres from the finish, so they could cheer on Froome from close up in the key moment of the race.
The British team manager is famous for his self-control and marginal gains but he shouted at Froome as passionately and emotionally as the many ex-pat British cycling fans carry union jacks and wearing Team Sky kit at the finish line.
On Friday, Brailsford rode in the Team Sky team car during the stage as Froome and the team responded to Alberto Contador's series of attacks and then beat the Spaniard in the sprint to win the stage and seal victory.
There is no love lost between Brailsford and Team Saxo-Tinkoff manager Bjarne Riis and Froome's defeat of Contador is making the Tour of Oman especially satisfying.
"It doesn’t matter how long I've been involved in the sport, it still gets me jumping up and down. And I'm glad I'm still feeling that," Brailsford confided to Cyclingnews as he analysed Froome's performance and development during the race.
"For where Chris is at the moment, he showed he's in good shape and has the confidence to take it on in the final. That's a good sign. He's got the self-confidence to attack and go for it," Brailsford pointed out with pride.
“He's had a consistent winter. He's done a lot of good basic training back to back. He's had the consistency and that's the platform you need to build a good season."
The step by step plan
The Tour of Oman will soon slip into the distance as the bigger races appear on the horizon, but the six-day February race will be remembered as Froome's first professional stage race success and his first step towards victory in the Tour de France. That is also Team Sky's plan: preparing Froome with incremental steps of responsibility and hopefully success.
"You build towards the big races by doing it step by step," he explained. "If you come out with some positives from here, it carries on into your training, it goes into the next few weeks, when you're training hard and then you take it to your next race. You build momentum."
"We're starting from zero again this year and it's going to be hard to replicate last year. The key thing is to build the team. We've got new riders in the squad and it's always a bit different with a new group. But being in a position to win overall is a very positive thing."
Brailsford does not have the same close relationship with Froome as he has with Wiggins. That, like Froome's Tour de France leadership ability is a work in progress. However, Brailsford knows the team can head home to Europe on Saturday night knowing that Froome has passed his first test of leadership.
"Chris has a lot of natural but perhaps quiet self confidence," Brailsford explained looking up the road ahead.
"What he needs now is time to practice the leader's role. The more you do it, the more you get used to it and the more you get better at it. If you are calm and confident, you make the right decisions. I think he just needs experience but he's got the ability, that's for sure, so he's a very exciting prospect."
- Article published:
- February 16, 2013, 09:38
- Cycling News
World champion working hard in Oman to avid the problems of 2012
At the Tour of Oman, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) has stood out more for his rainbow jersey than for his results but he has dismissed off any doubts about his form and is convinced he will be a contender in the spring Classics, from Milan-San Remo until Liège-Bastogne- Liège.
Gilbert is always polite and professional, but he is more protective of his time and privacy after the scrutiny and thousands of questions, especially in Belgium, about his difficult 2012 season. He answers further questions about last year but they clearly touch a nerve.
"There's been a lot of talk about my spring season last year but it's only three months in a career of ten years. I have nothing to complain about," Gilbert said, firing a warning shot while speaking to the media, including Cyclingnews, at the Tour of Oman.
"I was there in the finale in almost every classic but everyone said things were very bad. But bad is when you get dropped and climb off in races. I was not that bad and got better week after week. Eventually my best form came back."
Gilbert concedes that his hugely successful 2011 season left him tired for 2012. Poor results in 2012 were the price he paid for his long run of victories in 2011, although he recovered his powers sufficiently to win the world championships in Valkenburg in September.
"Maybe in life you only have one big season and perhaps it was 2011 for me," he said.
"But it was also long season: I did all the classics, rode the Tour de France and went for the green jersey, I was at full gas everyday but then I never rested afterwards because I won the WorldTour. After the Tour de France I targeted San Sebastian, the Eneco Tour, the Canadian races and the Worlds. I think it was too much for one person and I needed a few months to recover from it."
To avoid the constant scrutiny of 2012 and avoid having to chase his fitness, Gilbert started his season at the Tour Down Under. Stage races are key building blocks as he prepares for the Classics.
"My form's not bad for the moment. I'm not good enough to win, but I'm not unfit. I had a good winter and I'm riding some stage races like Tour Down Under, now Oman and then Paris-Nice, to get better and better every week.
"I feel ready and on track. The intention is to be at my best for the classics. The season is becoming longer and longer in cycling, but it's difficult if you have to chase your form. Last season I was in that position and never managed to catch up."
Goal for 2013: Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders
Gilbert is one of few riders who has the ability and characteristics to win on the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders and the steep climbs of the Ardennes.
He will target every classic except Paris-Roubaix but has set himself a special goal.
"It'd be special to win one of the classics I've still to win: Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders," he said.
"My classics campaign is very long but I think you can win 'La Primavera' even if you're not at your best. Everything depends on the wind. With a tailwind (on the late Capi climbs) you have a far better chance. When a headwind becomes a factor, then everyone just stays on the wheels."
Gilbert is not worried or interested by possible rivals such as Mark Cavendish or Peter Sagan, who was far better than the Belgian in Oman and won two stages before pulling out with a sore throat.
"There are twenty riders who can win Sanremo. It's not a good idea to focus on what he (Cavendish) has to say," he said.
"I worry about myself. What counts is the shape of your rivals in the week before a big race. I don’t care if Sagan is stronger than me at the moment. If he's still stronger than me at Flèche Brabançonne (on April 10, just before the Ardennes week) then I have a problem. But that will not be the case."
- Article published:
- February 16, 2013, 10:29
- Cycling News
Mechanical problem thwarts Cavendish in sprint
Theo Bos claimed his first win of the season when he unleashed a powerful sprint at the end of stage two of the Volta ao Algarve on Friday, and his victory ensured that the leader’s jersey stayed within the Blano Pro Cycling team’s ranks.
Bos’ teammate Paul Martens had pre-empted the sprinters to take a canny victory on the opening stage and Blanco was again to the fore in attempting to set up the sprint in Lagoa on Friday.
“It was a collective victory once again, the guys did a really great job,” Bos said. “The last kilometre was difficult, because it was uphill initially, then it went downhill for a bit before it dragged back up to the line.”
In the testing finale, Bos had looked to position himself on the rear wheel of Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), but he had to change that tactic when the Manxman suffered a mechanical mishap in sight of the line.
“Tom Leezer had dropped me off around 300 metres from the line,” Bos explained. “I chose Cavendish’s wheel first but he had problems with his chain. I had to come from a little further back, but it went perfectly.”
With Cavendish out of the equation, the powerful Bos had more than enough in reserve to overhaul Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack Leopard) and local rider Bruno Matos (Carmim-Tavira) in the sprint. It is now four years since the former track rider made his debut on the road at the 2009 edition of the Volta ao Algarve. “I’m really happy with this win as it’s only my fifth race of the season,” Bos said.
For Cavendish, meanwhile, there was the frustration of missing out on a sprint finish and the chance to add to his running total of five victories in 2013. His Omega Pharma-QuickStep team was active in the finale, but Cavendish’s luck deserted him in the finishing straight and he rolled across the line in 29th place.
“Mark had a mechanical problem while he was preparing to sprint. These things happen,” directeur sportif Tom Steels said on the team’s website. “We did everything we could and I’m proud of the work we did today.”
- Article published:
- February 16, 2013, 11:36
- Cycling News
Former Rabobank and Sky doctor implicated by former riders
Belgian public prosecutors are to open a criminal investigation against former Rabobank and Team Sky doctor Geert Leinders, according to a report in Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad on Saturday.
A spokesperson for the pubic prosecutor in Dendermonde, East Flanders did not give details as to the nature of the investigation but told NRC Handelsblad that it pertained to “the statements of Rabobank riders.”
In recent months, a number of Rabobank riders have confessed to doping during their time at the team and directly implicated Leinders. Danny Nelissen named Leinders when he confessed to using EPO at the team in 1996, while Levi Leipheimer is also reported to have told USADA that he was assisted by Leinders with his doping from 2002 to 2004.
In January, Leinders was questioned on the allegations by the Belgian Cycling Federation in a hearing that lasted over three hours.
Leinders worked for Rabobank from its inception in 1996 until 2009. He most recently worked for Team Sky in 2011 and 2012, although the British team opted not to renew Leinders’ contract in light of the revelations concerning the Rabobank team during his tenure.