Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford has admitted that he may be forced to relax the British outfit's "zero tolerance" policy towards doping as he looks to hire staff who will lift the squad's success rate in 2011.
The experienced general manager, who enjoyed immense success with Great Britain's 2008 Beijing Olympics campaign before heading up Sky's ProTeam outfit, says that the original approach will remain, albeit in a more relaxed and pragmatic setting.
"There's no place for drugs in the sport and we like to think that, with a few other teams, we're at the forefront of trying to promote clean cycling. That philosophy will always stay. If we thought it wasn't possible then I'd be out," he told The Guardian newspaper.
"However, when you're trying to lift performance and you look at the staffing side, if you want experience of professional cycling you have to go back a long way to find people over 40 who haven't been tainted in some way by many of cycling's past problems."
It comes off the back of talks Brailsford and Sky management held with ex-Festina rider and former Caisse d'Epargne directeur sportif Neil Stephens last year; the Australian was part of the Festina team which was ejected from the 1998 Tour de France when it emerged Richard Virenque had doped.
Additionally he was a sports director when the Liberty Seguros team was implicated in Spain's Operacion Puerto affair. Brailsford said that Sky decided not to hire Stephens, who will instead be a directeur sportif at the new GreenEDGE outfit run by former Australian Institute of Sport high performance manager Shayne Bannan.
Brailford wouldn't rule out looking at other figures with a 'tainted' past, however.
"It's very dependent on the individual and his history. You have your anti-doping policy and belief but you need to weigh it up and if...
Tom Boonen can't understand why Alberto Contador could escape suspension for his positive test for Clenbuterol at the Tour de France in 2010. The Quick Step sprinter also said that he expected that the Spanish cycling federation's decision, due to be officially announced today, will be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
“I'm not saying that the Spaniard has done anything wrong. I just don't know,” Boonen, told sportwereld.com. “I do know that others in the same situation have been suspended. Why not him?”
“They may have to change the whole system and accept that an athlete can have a certain product in his body without him being held accountable for it. But that is a completely different story.”
World champion Thor Hushovd of Garmin-Cervelo, also in Oman, did not express an opinion. “Until it is official, I prefer to keep my thoughts to myself,” the Norwegian said. “I want to first see more information on the case.”
Taylor Phinney will make his debut with BMC at the Tour of Oman but true to character, the talented American is relaxed and looking forward to pinning on his first race number as a member of a major ProTeam.
Phinney rode the Tour of Qatar with the Trek-Livestrong last year, taking three top ten placing in sprint finishes but was forced to miss this year's race after a hamstring injury disrupted his pre-season training.
He has now recovered but is a little cautious about targeting the 18.5km time trial on stage five, that is likely to decide the overall winner of the Tour of Oman. He explains that his major goal is to catch up on his early season form before heading into the spring classics.
Riccardo Ricco is still in a serious condition in hospital, according to the Italian media. He is said to be suffering from heart and lung infections, delaying his expected release from hospital.
The 26-year-old has been transferred to the cardiology department at the hospital in Baggiovara, where he has a bodyguard to protect his privacy.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, he is being treated with antibiotics and steroids to counteract infections in his heart and lungs, said to stem from the kidney failure he suffered earlier this month. It has been reported that he told doctors that the problems stem from an alleged transfusion he gave himself with blood which may have been stored too long.
In addition, the prosecutor in Modena has now officially opened an investigation as to whether Ricco has violated Italy's anti-doping laws, the news agency ANSA reported. The investigation will also look into whether he had help with the transfusion.
World champion targets the classics, plays down rivalry at Garmin- Cervelo
World champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) will make his season debut in the Tour of Oman on Tuesday but admitted his major goals for the season are still a few weeks away: he is targeting victory at either Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.
The powerful built but softly spoken Norwegian had a busy winter after winning the world title in Australia last October but now appears more confident of his own abilities in the classics after taking the world title.
He played down the risk of problems at Garmin-Cervelo after the creation of a classic super-squad and talked up his form. He spent some of the off season cross-country skiing in Norway but insisted he also spent plenty of time in the saddle in Monaco and at two recent Garmin-Cervelo training camps.
"People want more time from me because I'm world champion but I don’t feel under any pressure here because my big goals aren't in Oman," he insisted while talking to Cyclingnews and other media in Oman.
"My big goals are the grand classics: Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Paris-Roubaix is the most prestigious of them all but all three are great races. For example winning Milan-San Remo with the rainbow jersey would be very nice too."
"Here in Oman I'll see how I feel in the first couple of days and then take it from there. If I'm feeling good maybe I'll try something but we've also got Heinrich Haussler who is also going well."
"I think it's really important that I stay focused on what I want to do. My goals are to win big in April and so if I try to win everything now, I'd be tired and wouldn't even finish the season. I've got to do what I've done every season and so far I've done the training like every...
Joaquim Rodriguez has decided to concentrate on the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana this year, and let the Tour de France go. The Katusha rider, who last year won the International Cycling Union's ProTour ranking, said he had to be realistic in his goals.
The Giro and Vuelta courses, “are more suited to my characteristics, as the climbs are more explosive and very good for me," he said on his personal website.
“This year we had to select the schedule and while the Tour is very nice, I must be realistic and recognise that I am not going to win the Tour, but that I can win either of the other two.”
In 2010, Rodriguez finished fourth overall in the Vuelta and eighth in the Tour. He did not ride the Giro last year. He has ridden it four times, with his highest finish being 17th in 2008.
Rodriguez is starting his season today in the Tour of Oman, which will be followed by the Tour of the Basque Country and the Ardennes Classics. “I want to win one of the three 'greats' – Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.”
The main problem for the 31-year-old is his time trialing. He lost the lead in the Vuelta last September with a poor performance in the 17th stage time trial, finishing over six minutes down and falling off the podium.
"I know it is not very difficult, but I'm not going to jeopardize other aspects to gain a lot of time against the clock. I will focus on my work in the mountains. Explosiveness is my forte.”
Spanish Tour de France champion free to race after charges are dropped
Alberto Contador is set to line up in the Tour of the Algarve starting on Wednesday after the competitions committee of the Spanish cycling federation decided to overturn its decision to ban him for a year following his positive test for Clenbuterol. The Spaniard confirmed early reports, saying he had been "officially cleared by the Royal Spanish Cycling Federation and has been authorized to return to competition immediately."
According to his press release, "If everything goes well, he will be at the start of Agarve tomorrow.
According to a number of Spanish newspapers, the competitions committee decided to rethink its verdict on Friday last week based on article 296 of the UCI’s regulations, which says that an athlete can be exonerated if they prove that they had inadvertently ingested a banned product through no fault or negligence on their part.
Although Contador and his legal team were unable to produce a sample of the meat that they have claimed was tainted with the clenbuterol that resulted in the positive test, the fact that it could not be shown conclusively that Contador had deliberately taken the product worked in his favour.
"First of all, I'm relieved and obviously happy about this ruling. It has been some very stressful months for me, but throughout the case, I have been totally available for all inquiries in relation to my case, and all the way through, I have spoken in accordance with the truth," said Contador. "To both the team and the authorities I have explained that I never cheated or deliberately took a banned substance."
El País is among the newspapers reporting that the four lawyers on the committee may also have been swayed by a tweet posted last Thursday night by Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez...
Signage, his lead out and a rogue spectator spoil his day
Race organiser Eddy Merckx sought out Mark Cavendish after the stage one finish at the Tour of Oman to congratulate him for the way he took on Theo Bos in the sprint but Cavendish was not happy with second place.
The HTC-Highroad rider almost caught Bos in the final metres of the sprint but that only compounded his frustration after a series of incidents stopped him from sprinting as he would have liked.
He explained that badly placed signs left many of the riders unsure of how far they were from the finish in the final kilometres, his HTC teammates then struggled to produce a smooth and effective lead out and a spectator standing in the road near the finish stopped Cavendish from opening his sprint at exactly the right moment.
"Every one was fresh and so you've got every man and his dog sprinting," Cavendish said after taking a few minutes to compose himself.
"We tried to get it together but it was fast and we (the riders on the HTC- Highroad team in Oman) haven't raced that often together."
"Then the signing was wrong. The three kilometre sign was actually where it was two kilometre to go. We thought we had another kilometre to go before the right hander. Then we did the roundabout and it was suddenly a kilometre to go."
"I was about 30 riders back at that point but I saw that Gossy (Matt Goss) was in a good position, so I shouted to him. He went with about six hundred metres to go but he went on the outside, on the right.
That was probably the hardest way because the wind was coming from the right/back. But we went up and I felt good. Then with about two hundred metres to go there was a guy standing in the road and so I had to switch in and I couldn't start my sprint until after that."
"I threw my bike at the line but I just couldn't get to him (Bos). If I'd been able to start my sprint earlier, then maybe I could have won or maybe I would have blown. Who knows?"