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News briefs: Spring MTB races; Contracts and lawsuits

By VeloNews Interactive

With the Sea Otter Classic moving to April this year, one of mountain biking’s newest races looks to be reaping the benefits of an open calendar in March. The Nova Desert Classic – which is billing itself as the rebirth of the Cactus Cup – recently announced that Subaru America has come on board as the event’s title sponsor. The race is also doing well when it comes to attracting big-time talent. According to a press release issued in mid-December, Subaru-Gary Fisher, Trek-Volkswagen, RLX-Ralph Lauren and the Luna women’s team have all committed to showing up in Phoenix for the March 21-23 event.

BMX’ers to USAC Camp
In an effort to identify untapped talent within the American cycling community, USA Cycling is planning to host a weeklong camp for a small group of elite BMX riders January 8-15. The hope is that from this group USAC may be able to put together all or part of an Olympic sprint team that would compete on the track at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.

The athletes will come to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for physiological testing and training. All those attending were identified by virtue of their BMX accomplishments and their interest in advancing athletically in a different cycling discipline. Among those who are supposed to attend are 2002 BMX world champion Kyle Bennett and 2002 ABA Champ Danny Nelson.

Maybe not for CSC, but Ullrich will ride in ’03
Four teams are interested in signing former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, his manager Wolfgang Strohband said on Thursday. According to Strohband, the 1997 Tour champion is mostly interested in a tentative offer from the Danish CSC squad, but the team is still looking to sign a co-sponsor in order to swing the deal. Ullrich has also received overtures from the Swiss Phonak team, Italy’s Mercatone Uno and German Team Coast.

Strohband, who said 29-year-old Ullrich would cost any new team more than one million euros (one million dollars) a year, said that “One thing is sure. Jan won’t be without a team next year.” Ullrich, also a four-time Tour de France runner-up and an Olympic gold medalist, is still under suspension from the sport until March 23, 2003, after testing positive for amphetamines.

He admitted taking ecstasy on a night out with friends while recovering after surgery on a problem knee.Copyright AFP2002 Cipo’ has a new team, but Pantani future uncertain
World champion Mario Cipollini will ride for the Domina Vacanze team next season but the future of fellow Italian cycling star Marco Pantani remains uncertain after the breakdown of a merger bid between the Acqua Sapone and Mercatone Uno teams.

The new team was to be christened Mercatone-Elitron, but the boss of Cipollini’s Acqua Sapone team, Vincenzo Santoni, said the issue of Mercatone Uno rider Pantani’s image rights had killed a deal which had seemed close to completion.

The failure resulted in the end of the Acqua Sapone team, but also an uncertain future for Pantani, who won both the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in 1998.

“Marco wants to continue cycling and we’re going to roll up our sleeves now,” said Pantani’s manager Manuela Ronchi. “It’s the time to work quietly. He has to have the best choice.”Copyright AFP2002

Third plaintiff joins Strock suit
Former U.S. national junior team rider Gerrik Latta has joined a lawsuit originally filed two years ago by his one-time teammate Greg Strock, charging that the team’s former coaches engaged in a program of doping riders as the competed in the 1990 world championships.

Latta filed suit in U.S. district court in Denver this week, joining Strock and teammate Erich Kaiter in alleging that U.S. junior team coach Rene Wenzel and others oversaw regular injections of substances they variously described as vitamins and “extract of cortisone.”

Strock filed suit two years ago after claiming to have learned that the immune illness he suffered at the end of his cycling career was the probably the result of a series of cortisone injections while a member of the team. Kaiter read of the suit in a cycling magazine and joined in a few months later.

Like his teammates, Latta also has alleged that he received injections as a member of the team. In a complaint filed Monday Latta described injections administered by a soigneur from Scotland and supervised by Wenzel.

“On approximately July 10, 1990, while Wenzel supervised, (angus) Fraser, wearing a white apron, started injecting Strock, Mr. Kaiter and other members of the Junior National Team with ‘vitamins, minerals … ATP producing pills,’ ‘extract of cortisone,’ and ‘something to cleanse [their] systems and help [them] recover,’” the complaint read. “The injections were made by Fraser and Wenzel as many as three times a day for a period of approximately two weeks.”

“In regard to Mr. Latta, he was also injected at the express direction of Wenzel in Cleveland. England, in 1990 before the World Championships. On Wenzel’s order, the injections were administered by Angus Fraser. Mr. Latta was not one of Wenzel’s core team riders, but he received injections at the hands of defendants at least three times. The injections ceased after his event (the team time trial) which was one of the first scheduled events at the World Championships. Other members of the USCF/USAC team continued to prepare and compete under the direction of defendants.”

Under advice from attorneys, Wenzel has declined to comment on the case. USAC attorneys and Wenzel’s representatives have asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that no matter what the facts of the matter; the statute of limitations would preclude a suit. Strock and the others have countered that the statute would only apply from the date that the riders concluded that they had been illegally doped, rather than from the date of the alleged actions. Like the other two plaintiffs in the case, Latta has named Wenzel, Fraser and the U.S. Cycling Federation in the suit. Former U.S. national coach Chris Carmichael was originally named as a defendant in the Strock suit, but settled the case out of court. Carmichael and attorneys representing Strock have declined to confirm the settlement. – Charles Pelkey

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