Matt Goss and Michele Scarponi are separated by just one point in the latest UCI WorldTour rankings, released by cycling's governing body yesterday.
Following the conclusion of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, in which Scarponi finished second overall, the Italian sits on 202 points, with Goss still on 203 after his win in Milan-San Remo. The 2009 world champion, Cadel Evans, remains in third after his overall win in Tirreno-Adriatico.
Liquigas-Cannondale rider Ivan Basso was a big mover, entering the top 10 and now sitting in seventh, up from 14th after the previous rankings release. Omega Pharma-Lotto's André Greipel moved up eight places to 14th.
There are three Australians in the top 10 of the rankings, so it's no surprise that it tops the list of nations with 517 points, 32 more than Italy, with Germany currently in third thanks largely to Tony Martin's general classification win at Paris-Nice.
Martin's HTC-Highroad remains atop the team rankings, with Scarponi's Lampre-ISD squad trailing in second by 122 points. Garmin-Cervélo, which enjoyed a strong start to the season with Cameron Meyer's win at the Santos Tour Down Under, sits in third, with 247 points.
Disgraced Italian facing life ban following alleged self-administered transfusion
Former Vacansoleil-DCM rider Riccardo Ricco has been called to appear before the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) on Friday morning.
The 27-year-old was hospitalised on February 6 with heart and lung infections following an alleged autologous blood transfusion that went wrong. According to police records obtained by Gazzetta dello Sport, Ricco admitted to transfusing blood he had kept in a domestic fridge for 25 days. However, in the same publication earlier this month, Ricco has since denied admitting such a thing.
"CONI will ban me and it'll all be over," Ricco said. "That's what they wanted.
"But whatever the verdict I won't race again. You [the media] have already decided the verdict. I haven't read the papers but I've been told that you've already put me on trial. But this isn't a doping case, I didn't test positive but I've already been condemned as guilty."
Under Italian law he could face between three months and three years in jail for doping offences. Should the World Anti-Doping Authority find Ricco guilty of doping, he faces a life ban following his 20-month suspension for his 2008 positive for CERA.
"I haven't seen the police documents but I've got my medical records and there's nothing written on them. It's all been made up," he continued. "He [the doctor] says one thing and I say another. But I was almost dead and don't know what I could have said. Let's see what the [blood] analysis says. I didn't say absolutely anything to the doctor."
Ricco was sacked by Vaconsoleil-DCM on February 19.
PureBlack Racing enjoyed a successful debut Stateside last week, with the team winning two classifications and a fourth place in the second stage of the San Dimas Stage Race.
James Williamson finished fourth in the stage two San Dimas Road Race (pictured right), held on an undulating 12.5km circuit while Roman Van Uden won the King of the Mountain jersey and Mike Northey took home the Sprint Ace jersey.
"The team rode the sort of race they wanted to race," said PureBlack sports director Carl Williams. "We wanted to make our mark on our first race on US soil and that's exactly what we did. All the riders performed exceptionally. It was a dream debut for PureBlack Racing."
The 12-strong PureBlack Racing team relocated to the US ahead of the San Dimas Stage Race for a six-month campaign of racing in North America, after 18 months of planning, preparation and racing in New Zealand.
"It was an awesome first road race in the US for the team," said the team's business manager, Greg Cross. "Right from the start the team signaled its intention to be aggressive and attack when Roman and Mike were in a breakaway of three [on stage two]. This enabled them to be in a great position to collect King of the Mountain and Sprint Ace points."
Next weekend PureBlack Racing will line up for the Redlands Bicycle Classic in California, the first race in the National Racing Calendar, beginning March 31.
PureBlack Racing for Redlands Bicycle Classic: Tim Gudsell, Glen Chadwick, Daniel Barry, Scott Lyttle, Mike Northey, Shem Rodger, Roman Van Uden and James Williamson.
French all-rounder uses stage race to shape up for Flanders
The Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, a three-day stage race in coastal Flanders starting today, was not initially on his racing programme but Sylvain Chavanel opted to include it anyway. The Quick Step rider will be lining up as team leader in Middelkerke on Tuesday morning, and even if he said that he'd use the event more as training in view of the Tour of Flanders this week-end, the Frenchman could still be a favourite for the overall.
"As I've had a few illnesses since the beginning of the season, I still need to fine-tune my form," Chavanel told Cyclingnews on Monday. "After Paris-Nice, which I had to abandon, I figured I'd do this before the Tour of Flanders."
Since then, the Frenchman's form has been gradually on the rise, and Chavanel himself suggested that he could be an overall contender if everything goes well. "My fitness has been getting better and better. I still need to put in some efforts, but I also want to take advantage of my form, which is not too bad after all.
"De Panne is not an essential objective: above all, I want to be in top shape on Sunday [for the Tour of Flanders - ed.]. So I don't want to take too many risks. Then again, I'm not going to hesitate if there's an opportunity..."
Chavanel did not hesitate in the last 35 kilometres of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, either. His presence in a late attack made sure that his Quick Step team was covered behind, and even if a bunch sprint marred his personal chances for victory, team-mate Boonen finally delivered.
"Boonen's victory was a great relief for everyone," he said when asked about the pressure on the team, whose manager Patrick Lefevere nominated...
The Three Days of De Panne got underway in pleasant conditions in Middelkerke on Tuesday. Although there was a slight chill in the North Sea air at the start, the sun was shining and with surprisingly little wind, the peloton should not fragment significantly until it hits the first of the day’s twelve climbs at Edelare.
While a number of Flanders favourites are keeping their powder dry for Sunday, most notably Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and the Garmin-Cervélo squad, there are a number of riders here who are carefully honing their form ahead of De Ronde.
Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) took his Belgian bow on Sunday at Gent-Wevelgem, and he is topping up on his cobbled miles in De Panne. Alessandro Ballan leads the BMC charge, and they have been significantly boosted by the presence of Manuel Quinziato. Peter Sagan and Daniel Oss are part of a formidable Liquigas-Cannondale line-up, while Sylvain Chavanel takes the reins at Quick Step in Boonen’s absence.
While today’s stage seems one for the classics hard men, the sprinters will get a chance to shine later in the week, with Manuel Belletti (Colnago-CSF Inox), Jimmy Casper (Saur-Sojasun), Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD), Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad) and André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) among the fast men on show. Meanwhile, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) will surely be the favourite for the concluding time trial, and the Englishman appeared in relaxed mood in Middelkerke.
Sergeant back from track worlds, Quinziato back from the flu
Bright skies greeted the peloton at the start of de Panne this morning in Belgium with Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins in a relaxed but confident mood. The Brit, who is enjoying fine form so far this season has targeted the overall here in de Panne with a 14.7 kilometre time trial perfectly suited to him set to conclude the race.
I’m here to try and win it but obviously it’s such a fight to win this race and anything can happen. I’ve got to get to that time trial first, but if I get to the time trial then I’ve got a good chance of winning it. So much can happen in the next few days,” Wiggins told Cyclingnews.
"Nine times out of ten, and every time I’ve ridden this, today has been the most critical stage and this has been the day that things have been decided and the next few days have been about maintaining everything.”
Wiggins' strong start this season is in contrast to last year when despite a stage in the Giro, he aimed to save his best form for the Tour de France. In 2011 he has already been competitive in both Paris-Nice and Criterium International, finishing on the podium in both events.
"It’s just enjoyable to be racing and not having all the rubbish about waiting for the Tour because you might get it wrong and then you’ve done nothing all year. This is pretty similar to what I did two years ago and I’m enjoying racing at the moment and being at these type of races which I enjoy, rather than things like Pais Basque, which I just didn’t enjoy doing.”
Jesse Sergent (RadioShack) comes to de Panne with different aspirations, having raced at last week’s track Worlds where he won silver in the pursuit behind Jack...
Time trial specialist helps officials in two anti-doping cases
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has reduced Tom Zirbel's two-year suspension by six months having ended his sanction on March 21, 2011. According to Zirbel, his sanctioning was reduced because he aided the agency in two separate anti-doping cases.
"I'm happy to announce that USADA has reduced my sanction to end on March 21, 2011," Zirbel said in an email to Cyclingnews. "Therefore, I have been allowed to race the rest of the 2011 season and beyond though I do not currently belong to a team.
"There is a rule in the WADA Code that allows an anti-doping authority to offer a reduction in sanction in the event of 'Substantial Assistance' from a sanctioned athlete," he said. "My substantial assistance amounted to me putting USADA in touch with a person who had incriminating knowledge about an athlete who USADA was building a case against. And I actually did this in two separate cases that USADA was or is pursuing. Of course, none of this would have come about without the help of a new program set up by USOC ombudsman John Ruger."
According to Zirbel, the program was recently started at the CU-Boulder Law School and allows law students to take on real cases of athletes who are fighting a doping violation but don't have the money to get professional representation.
"The program in overseen by a lawyer/professor within the school and I was the first case that they took on," Zirbel said. "It was their dealings with USADA that allowed the transfer of information to ultimately lead to the reduction.
"Honestly, it's a little silly that I'm getting a reduction in sanction for something that has absolutely nothing to do with me, but apparently that's how this game is played," he said.
Zirbel was handed a two-year suspension from USADA after he tested positive for Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) from a urine sample taken by the anti-doping...