Friday’s Euro-file: Ullrich OK for Tour; Ferretti’s not fired; Hincapie’s back

The UCI has cleared the way for Jan Ullrich to race in July’s Tour de France. On Friday, the UCI officially approved the registration of Ullrich’s new team, Bianchi, and awarded the team Top Club status, essentially guaranteeing it a spot in the Tour. Bianchi stepped in after Team Coast was suspended May 9 after not paying riders' salaries. “As a result of this decision, Team Bianchi retains, as of today, all rights of participation to races on the international calendar, and rights in general linked to a Top Club status,” a UCI statement said. A decision on Bianchi’s status wasn’t

By Andrew Hood

The UCI has cleared the way for Jan Ullrich to race in July’s Tour de France.

On Friday, the UCI officially approved the registration of Ullrich’s new team, Bianchi, and awarded the team Top Club status, essentially guaranteeing it a spot in the Tour. Bianchi stepped in after Team Coast was suspended May 9 after not paying riders’ salaries.

“As a result of this decision, Team Bianchi retains, as of today, all rights of participation to races on the international calendar, and rights in general linked to a Top Club status,” a UCI statement said.

A decision on Bianchi’s status wasn’t expected until next week, but a review of the team’s financial dossier Friday apparently satisfied the UCI top brass, the AFP reported.

“The independent legal and financial structure of the Bianchi Team, the willingness to commit to cycling for the next few years, the fact that this (team) is welcoming all the riders and staff from Team Coast wishing to join it, as well as the economical guarantees provided, allow the UCI to approve their integration to the Top Club as they prove satisfactory to all regulation-aspects,” the UCI statement added.

Several riders, however, have already left Team Coast, including Alex Zulle, Nicki Aebersold and Luis Perez, and it remains to be seen which riders and staff will stay on with Bianchi.

Fassa Bortolo denies Ferretti’s fired
Fassa Bortolo issued a statement Friday denying team manager Giancarlo Ferretti has been fired. Paolo Fassa, owner of the Fassa Bortolo company, released a statement denying an article published by the Italian newspaper Tuttosport, which stated Ferretti’s days were numbered.

“In consequence to the article published yesterday in Tuttosport, the Italian newspaper, I’d like to deny that team manager Giancarlo Ferretti has been fired from our cycling team. His seriousness, his professionalism and the results obtained during the last four years at the head of our team are the motivations why I keep the maximum trust on him,” the statement read. “I insist that all rumors which state Giancarlo Ferretti is (no longer) in the team are absolutely false. In my firm we don’t act by secrets, and an important decision like this should have been done by an official communication made directly by myself.”

Tour of Belgium: Boonen takes one
Belgian phenom Tom Boonen won his first race of the 2003 season after holding out in a breakaway in Friday’s 224km third stage in the Tour of Belgium. Boonen and five others peeled away from the main bunch in the stage from Knokke to Heist Haacht. None were a threat to overall leader Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo), who finished safely in the main bunch to retain his hold on the overall lead. The break built up a lead of more than eight minutes, but came in 3:49 ahead of the main bunch, led by Johan Museeuw (Quick Step).

Tour of Belgium (UCI 2.3), Stage 3, Knokke to Heist Haacht, 224km:
1. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step, 6 hours, 3 seconds; 2. Jimmy Engoulvent (F), Brioches; 3. Karsten Kroon (Ned), Rabobank; 4. Hayden Roulston (NZl), Cofidis; 5. Ludo Dierckxsens (B), Landbouwkrediet – all same time
Overall standings after three stages:
1. Axel Merckx (B), Lotto-Domo, 14 hours, 37 minutes, 23 seconds; 2. Tom Steels (B), Landbouwkrediet, at 8 seconds; 3. Rik Reinerik (Ned), Bankgiroloterij, at 12 seconds; 4. Stefan Van Dijk (Ned), Lotto-Domo, 14 seconds; 5. Max Van Heeswijk (Ned), USPS, s.t.

Castilla y Leon: Mancebo takes over
Felix Cardenas is doing all he can to show that Colombian racing is more than world time trial champion Santiago Botero. The Orbitel rider flew to his third victory in four weeks in Friday’s fourth stage of the Tour of Castilla y Leon (he won a stage and took the overall at the Tour of Rioja in late April).’s Francisco Mancebo finished fifth at 23 seconds back to jump into the overall lead. Saturday’s difficult 182km climbing stage into Avila with three Category 1 climbs and one Category 2 climb will likely decide the overall winner.

Vuelta a Castilla y Leon (UCI 2.3), Stage 4, Burgo de Osma to La Granja, 173km:
1. Felix Cardenas (Col), Orbitel, 4 hours, 34 minutes, 50 seconds; 2. Nacor Burgos (Sp), Relax-Fuenlabrada, at 23 seconds; 3. Javier Zapata (Col), Orbitel; 4. Alex Zulle (Swi), Phonak; 5. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), – all same time
Overall standings after four stages:
1. Francisco Mancebo (Sp),, 12 hours, 25 minutes, 16 seconds; 2. Denis Menchov (Rus),, same time; 3. Alex Zulle (Swi), Phonak, at 27 seconds; 4. Alberto Contador (Sp), ONCE, at 42 seconds; 5. David Arroyo (Sp), ONCE, at 42 seconds

Bavaria: Rich holding on
German sprinting ace Erik Zabel (Telekom) scored his fourth victory of the season in Friday’s fourth stage of the Tour of Bavaria. Zabel held off Phonak’s Alexandre Usov and Nicola Gavazzi (Saeco), who crossed third. Gerolsteiner’s Michael Rich maintained the overall lead going into Saturday’s fifth stage.

Tour of Bavaria (UCI 2.3), Stage 4, Plattling to Grafenau, 166km:
1. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom, 4 hours, 12 minutes, 44 seconds; 2. Alexandre Usov (Blr), Phonak; 3. Nicola Gavazzi (I), Saeco; 4. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole; 5. Stefan Kupfernagel (G), Phonak – all same time
Overall standings after four stages:
1. Michael Rich (G), Gerolsteiner, 11 hours, 54 minutes, 9 seconds; 2. Patrik Sinkewitz (G), Quick Step, at 30 seconds; 3. Thomas Liese (G), German national team, at 0:34; 4. Olaf Pollack (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:41; 5. Jens Voigt (G), Credit Agricole, at 0:52

Tour d l’Aude Feminin: Brodtka, Carrigan take stage wins
Friday’s action in the Tour de l’Aude was split into two sectors, but Saturn’s Lyne Bessette powered through both to retain the overall lead.

In the morning 35km road stage from Montreal d’Aude to Bram, Germany’s Angela Brodtka outsprinted Bertine Spykerman and Aussie Alison Wright, who came across third.

Things were much more active in the afternoon 63km stage from Bram to Saissac. Aussie Sara Carrigan pulled away from the main bunch to finish 55 seconds ahead of second place Olga Slioussareva (Velodames-Colnago) and jumped into fourth place overall. Bessette finished safely in the main bunch in 11th place at 1:33 back to retainthe overall lead.

The race continues Saturday with the 123km eighth stage in Axat and concludes Sunday.

Tour de l’Aude, Stage 7a, Montreal d’Aude to Bram, 35km:
1. Angela Brodtka (G), German national team, 48 minutes, 54 seconds; 2. Bertine Spykerman (Ned), Dutch national team; 3. Alison Wright (Aus), Australian national team; 4. Anita Valen (N), Bik Powerplate; 5. Petra Rossner (G), Nurnberger – all same time
Stage 7b, Bram to Saissac, 63km:
1. Sara Carrigan (Aus), Bik Powerplate, 1 hour, 49 minutes, 20 seconds; 2. Olga Slioussareva (Rus), Velodames-Colnago, at 0:55; 3. Rasa Polikeveiciute (Ltu) 2002 Aurora RSM, at 0:59; 4. Alison Wright (Aus), Australian national team, at 1:01; 5. Sandrine Moreau (F), French national team, at 1:04
Overall standings after seven stages:
1. Lyne Bessette (Can), Saturn, 18 hours, 59 minutes, 52 seconds; 2. Judith Arndt (G), Nurnberger, at 1:19; 3. Olivia Gollan (Aus), Australian national team, at 1:23; 4. SaraCarrigan (Aus), Bik Powerplate, at 1:42; 5. Nataliya Kachalka (Ukr), 2002 Aurora RSM, at 1:47

Hincapie’s back in business in Belgium
American George Hincapie is back in the saddle this week, tackling the Tour of Belgium. Hincapie was sidelined with a parasite that kept him out of his beloved classics, but vows to fight back and be in shape to help Lance Armstrong make a run for a fifth consecutive Tour de France in July.

“I am in a much better state of mind, because I found my health,” Hincapie said in an interview in L’Equipe. “I spent so much time feeling sick and tired … I feel in good health, but I am not 100 percent. That will take time. But that will come.”

Hincapie said the parasite prevented him from recovering after hard efforts.

“For normal people, this type of infection is not very serious and does not affect them as much,” he said. “But for a high-level sportsman like me, subjected to large physical efforts, this parasite completely exhausted me. The problem is that I did not manage to recover. … This parasite also produced toxins in my lungs and prevented me from breathing correctly.”

Hincapie said the forced departure from racing was difficult to handle, but he counted on the strong support from U.S. Postal sport director Johan Bruyneel and Armstrong. Hincapie said he was treated by both traditional and alternative means after returning to the United States.

“These last five months were really very difficult,” he said. “I was really very anxious.”

Hincapie said he followed Paris-Roubaix online and later watched it on TV. And he vowed to return to the cobbles next year, bent on victory.

“I know that I have the potential, that I can do it, because I believe in me,” he said.

German Nieto, Lance’s favorite
For many, German Nieto is just another Spanish rider in the bunch. Lance Armstrong, however, thinks differently. In an interview this spring on Spanish television, the four-time Tour winner said his favorite Spanish rider was none other than the modest, bald-headed man from the Division 2 Relax-Fuenlabrada team.

Nieto smiled when asked about this special recognition from the Texan.

“I raced with Lance as an amateur, but we are not good friends. We say hi to each other when we see one another at the races, but that’s about it,” he told VeloNews. “When I heard this, I wasn’t sure if he was joking or serious. Either way, I have a lot of respect for Lance Armstrong, and when he even mentions my name, I take it as a compliment.”

Nieto, 31, has won one race during his 10 years as a professional, and is beginning his fifth year with Relax-Fuenlabrada. He’s racing this week in the Tour of Castilla y Leon, where the modest team is fighting the good fight against such powerhouses as and ONCE.

“We keep fighting,” Nieto said. “We have two victories for us this season and that’s important. We are a small team compared to the larger teams, but we have a lot of good riders here, lots of professionals who are looking to make results. We have a lot of motivation to win a stage at the Vuelta this year.”

U23s on a tear
The U.S. Postal U-23 team scored a major win in the team time trial in the Ronde de I’lsard d’Ariege stage race, contested around the Pyrennes in France. The team finished 25 seconds ahead of second-place Germany, while individually Michael Creed wears the race leader’s jersey. The team holds the top five positions in the overall standings, with Patrick McCarty in second, Saul Raisin in third, Will Frischkorn in fourth and Tyler Farrar in fifth.

Aebersold joins Phonak
Swiss rider Niki Aebersold is the last rider to leave the financially troubled Team Coast, signing up with the Swiss Phonak team. The 30-year-old Aebersold followed former Coast teammate Zulle to Phonak after being released from his contract following the UCI’s decision to suspend the German team for failing to pay their riders’ salaries.

“Niki has joined the team, and he has got a contract to the end of the season. He is a good friend of Alex Zülle, and hopefully he will be a helpful advantage to him and the whole team,” a Phonak spokesman said Thursday.

Zülle started the season with Coast but jumped ship in March. Phonak, meanwhile, is adjusting its racing calendar after being left out of the starting list for the Tour de France.

Giro: All clear so far on the doping front
All anti-doping tests carried out at the Giro d’Italia through May 14 have been negative, the International Cycling Union (UCI) said on Thursday.

“The anti-doping commission of the UCI communicates that all the urine samples taken up to May 14 have resulted negative for all doping substances,” said a statement released during the 12th stage of the race.

The Giro has been tainted by doping scandals over the last few years. The UCI said the tests, which included those for the blood-boosting substances EPO and NESP, were carried out up to and including stage five.

Riders can be stopped from racing for safety reasons if their red-blood-cell counts are too high, but the UCI statement said no riders had fallen foul of their pre-race tests.

“Regarding the haematocrit blood controls carried on May 8 and 19, no riders were declared unfit to race,” the statement continued.

In 1999 Marco Pantani failed a blood hematocrit test and was disqualified while leading the race, and two years later plainclothes police searched every team, finding large quantities of illegal medicines.

Last year, overall favorites Stefano Garzelli and Gilberto Simoni were disqualified after failing drug tests, although Simoni was later cleared by the Italian Cycling Federation.

Under the terms of a special agreement between teams, the UCI and the Italian cycling authorities, certain substances are allowed if the team can give a legitimate medical reason for their use. Thursday’s statement said the UCI’s anti-doping commission would carry out a check of all the medical justifications for those restricted-use products over the next few weeks. -AFP2003