Road

Friday’s EuroFile: Cofidis frees Astarloa; Quick Step keeps Boonen; Cunego takes Trentino; Pantani’s decline; Pro Tour reaction

Reigning world road champion Igor Astarloa has been released by the embattled Cofidis team because he wanted to compete in two one-day classics next week and the team has abandoned competition while conducting an investigation into allegations of organized doping by several former and current riders. "Igor Astarloa is now free to sign for another team," said Cofidis in a statement on Friday. The 28-year-old Spaniard, who had joined the team in January and was under contract until 2006, will now join the Italian team Lampre. Another of the team's reigning champions, Britain's David Millar,

By Staff and wire reports

Reigning world road champion Igor Astarloa has been released by the embattled Cofidis team because he wanted to compete in two one-day classics next week and the team has abandoned competition while conducting an investigation into allegations of organized doping by several former and current riders.

“Igor Astarloa is now free to sign for another team,” said Cofidis in a statement on Friday. The 28-year-old Spaniard, who had joined the team in January and was under contract until 2006, will now join the Italian team Lampre.

Another of the team’s reigning champions, Britain’s David Millar, was prevented from competing in his World Cup track debut at Manchester this month. Millar, who is aiming for gold in the time trial and on the track at the Athens Olympics this summer, has not commented on his future with Cofidis.

Boonen extends with Quick Step
Belgium’s Tom Boonen, the recent winner of the Ghent-Wevelgem one-day classic, on Friday extended his contract with the Quick Step team.

The 23-year-old former U.S. Postal rider, who is being tipped to follow in the footsteps of his recently retired compatriot and teammate Johan Museeuw, will now remain with the Belgian outfit until 2007.

Quick Step has also been quick to keep Italy’s two-time World Cup champion, Paolo Bettini, who now has a contract until the end of the 2006 season.

Cunego wraps up Trentino
Italian rider Damiano Cunego (Saeco) won the Tour of Trentino on Friday to notch up the first major victory of his career.

The 22-year-old, who had led the race since Tuesday, ended with a 49-second winning margin over Slovenian Jure Golcer (Formaggi Pinzolo). Cunego’s teammate Gilberto Simoni was third overall.

Cunego’s best result before this victory was second place in the 2003 Tour of China.

Tour of Trentino
Stage

1. Jan Svorada (Cze), Lampre, 3:55:58
2. Alejandro Alberto Borrajo (Arg), Ceramiche Panaria, same time
3. Graziano Gasparre (I), De Nardi, s.t.
4. Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukr), ICET, s.t.
5. Antonio Salomone (I), Barloworld, s.t.
6. Elio Aggiano (I), LPR, s.t.
7. Gerhard Trampusch (A), Acqua & Sapone, s.t.
8. Nicola Loda (I), Tenax, s.t.
9. Giuseppe Palumbo (I), Acqua & Sapone, s.t.
10. Giuseppe Di Grande (I), Formaggi Pinzolo, s.t.

Final overall standings
1. Damiano Cunego (I), Saeco, 7:31:03
2. Jure Golcer (Slo), Formaggi Pinzolo, at 0:49
3. Gilberto Simoni (I), Saeco, at 0:53
4. Giuliano Figueras (I), Ceramiche Panaria, at 0:55
5. Pavel Tonkov (Rus), Vini Caldirola, at 1:06
6. Gerhard Trampusch (A), Acqua & Sapone, at 1:25
7. Luca Mazzanti (I), Ceramiche Panaria, at 2:55
8. Juan Miguel Mercado Martin (Sp), Quick Step-Davitamon, at 3:02
9. Giuseppe Di Grande (I), Formaggi Pinzolo, at 3:08
10. Kyrylo Pospyeyev (Ukr), Acqua & Sapone, at 3:10

Pantani used cocaine to cop, ex-girlfriend says
The late Tour de France winner Marco Pantani took cocaine to cope with the fallout from his positive doping test in 1999 when his world fell apart, according to the Italian cyclist’s former girlfriend, The Associated Press reported.

“I think it was the only way for him to bear the weight of depression, to survive the unbelievable pressure he was being subjected to,” Christina Jonsson was quoted in Thursday’s edition of the weekly Swiss news magazine L’Hebdo.

“Imagine it. A day earlier he was in great form, ready to go for it, and in only a few hours, he found himself trapped in his home with his entire universe crashing down around him.

“Cocaine allowed him to live for four years outside that world.”

Jonsson, who is Danish, lives in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she was interviewed. She was Pantani’s girlfriend for seven years until the summer of 2003.

Pantani was found dead February 14 in a hotel room in Rimini, Italy. A coroner’s report ruled he had died from cocaine poisoning that appeared to be accidental, despite speculation the cyclist may have committed suicide following a period of depression.

Pantani’s 1998 Tour de France victory was the last by a rider other than American Lance Armstrong. The Italian had also won that year’s Giro d’Italia for a sensational double triumph.

But his career took a dive after he failed a random blood test in 1999 and was kicked out of the Giro, which he was dominating.

“I think that he took (performance-enhancing) drugs,” Jonsson said. “Living with him, I always had the impression that Marco was taking his medicines on his own and that he measured the risks well.”

For days, he remained closeted in his house, hiding in darkness and silence from some 200 reporters who had set up tents outside, said Jonsson.

“He was completely paralyzed. We couldn’t go out,” Jonsson told l’Hebdo. “I couldn’t communicate with him. He felt betrayed and abandoned. He said his exclusion was planned and that there was a conspiracy against him.”

Then, she said, Pantani started going out nights. And, after about 10 days, he told Jonsson he had started taking cocaine.

“I started to cry,” Jonsson said. “I was desperate . . . When Marco announced he was taking cocaine, it was also to let me know he wanted me to take it with him. If I loved him, I would do cocaine with him. It was a nightmare.”

More evidence of drug abuse emerged when a syringe containing traces of insulin was found in Pantani’s hotel room in a police raid during the 2001 Giro and he was suspended for six months.

Last summer, he was hospitalized in an Italian clinic specializing in treatment of depression and drug addiction. – The Associated Press

French mixed on Pro Tour
Tour de France race director Jean-Marie Leblanc has given the thumbs-up to efforts to shake up cycling despite the ongoing doping crisis and the fact that some smaller races will be squeezed out of the limelight.

The UCI’s plans for a major reform, which primarily involves teams and the cycling calendar, were announced by the Professional Cycling Council here on Thursday.

The result is the UCI Pro Tour, a 28-race annual calendar that aims to solidify the competition in a sport that has often seemed disorganized and unbalanced.

Around 30 top teams, each to be awarded licenses by the UCI based on strict criteria, will be invited on the Pro Tour, which will encompass the current 10-leg World Cup and the grand tours of Italy, France and Spain and such established races as Paris-Nice.

Leblanc, who has directed the world’s biggest race for the best part of 15 years, believes that despite some criticism the Pro Tour is a step in the right direction.

“I believe that the direction we’re going in is, overall, the right one,” said Leblanc, who said that while some race organizers will be squeezed out, the Pro Tour would help publicize the sport.

“I can understand that some race organizers have been left out, and won’t be happy – but that doesn’t mean that those races will be condemned.”

Marc Madiot, a former two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix and the current manager of Fdjeux.com, hit out: “In principle I would agree with the plans, but we have to be careful not to simply forget the roots of cycling in France.

“It bothers me that a race like the Grand Prix Ouest-France, which is in a traditional cycling stronghold (Brittany), won’t be part of the Pro Tour. And why only three French teams?”

Leblanc, however, believes the reforms, aimed at bringing cycling to a more international audience, can help everybody involved.

He added: “The Pro Tour will help give cycling, and the races on it, a lot more publicity, which will have a financial snowball effect on sponsors.

“It means we can ask them for more money, more riders can be taken on and the organizers of races know they will be guaranteed the presence of good teams.”

“The organizers of the Giro and the Tour of Spain, who today only have 10 or 12 first-division teams, will have 18 top-flight teams in the future.”

The Pro Tour has also been designed to encourage cycling stars like Lance Armstrong, the five-time Tour de France winner, to take part in some of the other big races.

As for suggestions that obliging teams to compete in the Pro Tour’s 28 races would lead to overwork, Leblanc noted that each team would have 28 riders “and it won’t always be the same guys in each race.”

“Today the peloton competes around 80 days of the year,” he added. “In Bernard Hinault or Sean Kelly’s time it was 130-140 days of racing a year, so the riders are competing a lot less.

“Secondly, we hear on television that there is more doping because races are becoming harder and harder, which is not true. In 1948-1950 the Tour de France was 4700-4800km long. Today it’s 3500, so the workload is a lot less.” -AFP

Racing today
Stage three of Niedersachsen Rundfahrt (GER 2.3) in Germany, where Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) has won the opening two stages . . . Stage two of the GP MR Cortez Mitsubishi (POR 2.3), where Spanish sprinter Angel Edo (Milaneza) took the opening stage . . . First stage of the Tour of the Rioja (SPA 2.3), where David Blanco (Kelme) and Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval) line up as favorites.