By Andrew Hood
First, officials canceled Friday’s opening stage of the fourth Giro della Liguria due to traffic problems. Then they canceled Saturday’s stage for the same reason and finally pulled the plug on the entire race, the Italian ANSA wire service reported.
Local officials weren’t happy that key roads along Italy’s Italian Riviera would be closed for the opening stages and said race organizers hadn’t received official approval for the event.
Unable to find a compromise, the race has been canceled and teams will reconvene for Tuesday’s Trofeo Laigueglia (UCI 1.2).
Armstrong to test-drive new TT position at Algarve
Lance Armstrong makes his 2004 season debut in next week’s Tour of theAlgarve along Portugal’s southern coast. The addition of a 20km individualtime trial makes the race even more appealing for the five-time Tour deFrance champion.
“We didn’t insist on it, because we would have done the race anyway,but I told the organizers we were interested in making a test and theydecided to add a time trial,” U.S. Postal Service sport director JohanBruyneel told the Spanish daily MARCA.
Bruyneel said Armstrong has been working in a wind tunnel to test anew time trial position that’s “more aerodynamic, lower on the bike.” Armstrongput in 1600km at the training camp in California and is eager to testthe new time trial position.
“The objective isn’t to win, but to test new things,” Bruyneel said.“The best test is a race and there are not many long time trials duringthe season when you can make tests.”
Bruyneel said Armstrong has decided to start his season two weeks earlierthan usual, taking the Algarve race ahead of the Tour of Murcia, the Texan’srace of choice the past few years.
“For personal reasons, we have decided to spend April in the UnitedStates and not race the classics,” Bruyneel said. “So we are starting theseason two weeks earlier in Algarve.”
After Algarve, Armstrong is scheduled to race Tour of Mucia, Milan-SanRemo and Criterium International before returning to the United States.
Spain to expand drug tests
Spanish authorities are promising to increase vigilance against dopingamong national pros following pressure from the UCI, which is worried followingseveral high-profile EPO doping bans among Spanish pros last season.
Javier Pascual Llorente (Kelme), Fran Pérez (Milaneza) and AitorKintana (La Barca) all failed EPO tests last year. In an article publishedlast month in El Pais, the UCI expressed its concern about the rise inEPO cases and said that, according to a close examination of blood tests,doctors could estimate but not prove that “70 Spanish cyclists used EPObefore important events.”
According to a story in the Spanish daily AS, the UCI presidentof the medical commission, Leon Schattenberg, met Nov. 20 with Spanishteam managers to send the message of better and more controls.
“We realized we had to extend the reach of the controls as far as possible,”Fernando Jimenez, president of the Association of Professional CyclingDoctors, told AS.
Spanish authorities are now calling for additional testing of Spanishpros beyond the required quarterly tests required by the UCI. The plan,which is set to be discussed at a meeting next week, is to have additionaltests in February, April and August. Under the plans, teams will know thedates but not the names of riders to be tested.
There’s growing concern that doping is on the rise, especially in Spainwhere, unlike Italy and France, doping in sport is not a federal crime.Jimenez said the recent “Cofidis Affaire” and the promise to include morepolice investigations has not tempered their decision to act.
“The Cofidis case came up after our decision,” Jimenez said. “It hasnot influenced us. The tension has always been with us. We simply livewith it.”
Merckx hopes for Olympic success
Axel Merckx is set to make his season debut at Ruta del Sol next weekafter spending the winter skiing and cross-training in his home in theCanadian Rockies. The Lotto-Domo rider says his top goals are shiningin the spring classics and the 2004 Summer Games.
“I want to do well in Fleche Wallone and be strong at the Olympics,”Merckx told the Belgian daily La Deniere Heure. “The course suits me perfectlyand I like the heat.”
Merckx said he expects Armstrong to win the record sixth Tour: “Thevice tightens a little each year but he has enough margin to win again.”
Liberty Seguros off to camp
Liberty Seguros is skipping next week’s Ruta del Sol and instead willattend a training camp today through next week in northern Spain. The teamstarted the season off on a high note, winning two stages at the MallorcaChallenge with Allen Davis.