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By Andrew Hood
Tom Danielson lines up Saturday for the Vuelta a España with a clean bill of health following a painful and sometimes bizarre battle with debilitating stomach problems.
Danielson missed what was expected to be a Tour de France debut this year following a series of recurring stomach problems that derailed efforts at the Volta a Catalunya and the Dauphiné Libéré earlier this season.
“I was in so much pain I wanted to cut open my stomach and give birth to an alien,” Danielson told VeloNews. “June and July were really dark months. My body was screwed up, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t pedal. I was hoping to do the Tour and I was dealing with failure. I went from being in awesome condition to just being screwed and sitting on the toilet, not able to ride my bike. I felt like a fool because I couldn’t race.”
A desperate Danielson wound up at a European hospital in early June trying to identify what was rotting in his guts. When Spanish doctors told him he might need a colosectomy, he packed his bags and returned to home.
Doctors in Colorado deciphered that Danielson was whacked by a parasitic double whammy and was actually suffering from two intestinal bugs at once.
The first was a relatively easy-to-detect case of Giardia, a microscopic protozoan parasite which infected his gastrointestinal system that Danielson suspects he picked up riding on manure-laden roads this spring in Spain’s Catalunya.
The other was a still-unknown parasite that doctors guess entered Danielson’s system while he won the Tour of Malaysia back in 2003.
Were it not for the severe diarrhea that plagued him this spring, however, doctors might not have ever found the Asian parasite.
The diagnosis of the Giardia led doctors to recommend a powerful, scorched-earth treatment that essentially eradicated everything in his intestinal lining.
“I took what was basically one dose of Draino that killed everything,” Danielson said. “I was really sick for four days for the one-time medication. I wasn’t able to walk. Maybe a week later, I started to feel like a normal human being again.”
Danielson – set to race with Slipstream next season – slowly regained his health with a careful diet of natural oils, healthy foods and no processed sugars to allow his system to regain its footing. He trained in Colorado and even won the Bob Cook Memorial Mount Evans Hill Climb in late July.
Danielson returned to racing at the Tour of Germany (27th overall at 8:37 back) and returns to the Vuelta where hewon a stage last year with mixed expectations. He’d love to do well, but he’s not sure if he’ll be at 100 percent.
“I don’t know how I will do. I’d love to do well, but it might take me longer to come back because racing is so difficult,” he said. “I had time to analyze the situation and ask myself how much do I love this sport or is it just a job. The answer is that I do love it. All I wanted to do is race again.”
Danielson, meanwhile, is part of a solid bloc of Discovery Channel riders in what will be the team’s final grand tour.
Stijn Devolder and Janez Brajkovic will be riding for a strong GC showing while Allan Davis will be looking to chase sprints and riders such as Chechu Rubiera and Egoi Martinez will be on the hunt for breakaways.
Discovery Channel for VueltaJanez BrakovicTom DanielsonStijn DevolderAllan DavisEgoi MartinezJason McCartneySergio PaulihnoChechu RubieraJurgen Van Goolen
Kashechkin fired after ‘B’ positive
The hammer officially fell on Andrey Kashechkin on Friday as the Astana team fired the Kazakh rider after testing positive for homologous blood doping.
Astana officials announced Friday that Kashechkin, once viewed as the heir to Alexandre Vinokourov, is now officially off the team after a follow-up “B” sample of confirmed initial results that indicated the Astana rider tested positive for banned blood doping.
“As it was to be expected the B sample of Andrey Kashechkin has also tested positive for blood doping,” a team statement read. “The Kazakh rider had been tested during a random doping control on August 1. After being temporarily suspended by the Astana cycling team, Andrey Kashechkin is dismissed with immediate effect.”
Vinokourov was also fired from the team after he also tested positive for homologous blood doping during the Tour de France. The team decided to leave the Tour and sidelined all racing activity for a month to try to come to terms with the doping scandals that have rocked the team.
Both Vinokourov and Kashechkin have protested their innocence and vow to fight allegations. The pair faces a possible two-year racing ban as well as a fine equivalent to one year’s salary after they signed an anti-doping pledge ahead of the start of the Tour.
Valverde pulls out of Plouay, sponsor mulls future
The UCI’s decision to call out Alejandro Valverde for alleged links to the Operación Puerto doping ring continues to roil through Spain.
Valverde has since pulled out of Sunday’s GP Plouay as many within Spain have rallied against the UCI’s decision to sideline the Spanish star and defending ProTour champion.
There’s still been no official response from Caisse d’Epargne officials or comments from Valverde.
On Wednesday, the UCI made the shocking decision to prevent Valverde from starting next month’s world road race cycling championships on suspicions that he may be linked to the doping ring allegedly organized by Spanish sports doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Valverde has consistently denied he’s linked to the Puerto business, but rumors have dogged him since last year that he could be one of the unnamed riders in the police dossier.
The UCI said in a statement that after “meticulous studying of the 6000-page Puerto dossier, the UCI has concluded that several documents may show the involvement of Alejandro Valverde in the affair. … According to UCI regulations, and to safeguard the atmosphere and reputation of the world championships, Alejandro Valverde will be prevented from participating in the forthcoming UCI Road World Championships in Stuttgart.”
The UCI has ordered the Spanish cycling federation to open an investigation in the alleged Valverde links. Officials say they will meet Monday to consider what actions it will take.
“We are waiting to see exactly what the UCI has seen in the 6000 pages of the dossier on Alejandro Valverde that we were not able to detect,” said Eugenio Bermúdez, director of the Spanish cycling federation. “If we had found something, we wouldn’t have maintained the same position during all this year. Right now, we don’t know if Valverde will race the world’s or not. When the documents arrive from the UCI, we will study them and make a decision.”
Caisse d’Epargne officials, meanwhile, are reportedly scheduled to meet Friday in Paris to mull the French bank’s future involvement with the team.
Devolder with QuickStep, Wiggins to T-Mobile
More Discovery Channel riders are finding teams following the decision to shut down the team at the end of the 2007 season.
Stijn Devolder, Belgium’s national champion, has penned a deal to join Quick Step-Innergetic for the 2008 season. Devolder, 28, raced the past three seasons with Discovery Channel and will lead the team’s efforts at the Vuelta.
Bradley Wiggins will be leaving Cofidis to join T-Mobile for next season. The British world track individual pursuit champion came to Cofidis from Crédit Agricole, but will switch colors to the German T-Mobile team for 2008.