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Friday’s EuroFile: Max at Murcia; Tyler has flu; Lombardi rejoins Cipo’; Pound, Armstrong spar

Max Van Heeswijk scored his second victory in three days after taking Friday’s sprint in the third stage of the Tour of Murcia. The U.S. Postal Service rider has hit a purple patch that includes four wins in three weeks of racing in Spain. This time, Van Heeswijk slipped ahead of Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) to take the honors. José Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears) finished safely in the main bunch to retain the overall lead he earned following Thursday’s time trial victory. Lance Armstrong (USPS) also avoided trouble to remain second overall and even played a hand to help spring Van Heeswijk to

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Cofidis results back from lab; Postal happy with TT; and much, much more

By Andrew Hood

'Mad Max' does it again

‘Mad Max’ does it again

Photo: Graham Watson

Max Van Heeswijk scored his second victory in three days after taking Friday’s sprint in the third stage of the Tour of Murcia.

The U.S. Postal Service rider has hit a purple patch that includes four wins in three weeks of racing in Spain. This time, Van Heeswijk slipped ahead of Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) to take the honors.

José Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears) finished safely in the main bunch to retain the overall lead he earned following Thursday’s time trial victory. Lance Armstrong (USPS) also avoided trouble to remain second overall and even played a hand to help spring Van Heeswijk to victory.

After several attempts at breakaways, a group initiated by Danilo Di Luca (Saeco), Daniel Rincon (USPS), Tino Zaballa and Martin Perdiguero (Saunier Duval) went after about 90km. Alejandro Valverde (CV-Kelme) bridged out coming over the Cat. 3 Alto de Zafra but Illes Balears and U.S. Postal reacted to bring back the move at about 20km to go.

Gutierrez holds onto the overall

Gutierrez holds onto the overall

Photo: Graham Watson

Saturday’s 170km “etapa reina” featuring the Cat. 1 summit finish at the Collado Bermejo will certainly decide the race. The stage features four climbs and the final 900-meter climb is being named in honor of Marco Pantani.

It will be interesting to see who has the climbing legs, with Valverde, Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) and even Armstrong well-positioned to take the win.

Tour of Murcia (UCI 2.3), Stage 3, Yecla-Yecla
1. Max Van Heeswijk (Ned), USPS, 156.4km in 3:32:23
2. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile, same time
3. Peter Wrolich (Aut), Gerolsteiner, at 0:01
4. David Etxerbarria (Sp), Euskaltel
5. M.A. Martin Perdiguero (Sp), Saunier Duval – all s.t.

23. Lance Armstrong (USA), USPS
42. Michael Barry (Can), USPS
59. Jan Ullrich (G), T-Mobile, all s.t.

Overall after three stages

1. José Ivan Gutierrez (Sp), Illes Balears, 8:18:54
2. Lance Armstrong (USA), USPS, at 0:29
3. Ruben Plaza (Sp), CV-Kelme, at 0:35
4. Hector Guerra (Sp), Relax-Bodysol, at 0:37
5. David Blanco (Sp), CV-Kelme, at 0:38

7. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), CV-Kelme, at 0:47
8. Iban Mayo (Sp), Euskaltel, at 0:48
9. Michael Barry (Can), USPS, at 0:50
74. Jan Ullrich (G), T-Mobile, at 9:10

Hamilton in doubt for Paris-Nice
Tyler Hamilton’s season debut at Paris-Nice is in doubt after he’s come down with the flu, his Phonak team reported Friday.

Hamilton was bedridden Friday with fever but is still expected to travel Saturday to Paris. The team will decide Sunday morning before the opening time trial on whether he’ll race.

Neo-pro Johann Tschopp will get the nod to race if Hamilton isn’t ready.

Paris-Nice is set to be Hamilton’s first race for his new Phonak team since leaving Team CSC at the end of last season. Hamilton won the King of the Mountains jersey last year at Paris-Nice en route to winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Tour of Romandie, a stage at the Tour de France and finishing fourth overall in the Tour.

Lombardi back with Cipollini, Domina Vacanze
Giovanni Lombardi has rejoined Mario Cipollini and Domina Vacanze and is expected to race at Tirreno-Adriatico next week in Italy.

The Italian left Domina Vacanze after last season to try his luck at other teams, but plans for the upstart Stayer team never materialized. Lombardi raced six-day events over the winter to keep fit and rejoined Cipollini and Co. at a training camp this week in Tuscany.

Lombardi played a key role in Cipollini’s win-rich 2002 season and served as the Lion King’s set-up man to such victories at Milan-San Remo, the Giro d’Italia and the world championships.

Domina Vacanze officials say newcomer Andrus Aus will take over as final set-up man while Lombardi will act as road captain to drive Cipollini’s train over the closing kilometers to set up the sprint.

Armstrong, Pound clash over doping issue
Five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong lashed out Thursdayat the head of World Anti-Doping Agency for comments he made about cycliststaking illegal substances.

In an open letter released by his representatives, Armstrong said hewas “stunned and saddened” by Dick Pound’s comments that “the public knows that the riders of the Tour de France and the others take forbidden substances.”

Pound’scomments were reported in the French newspaper Le Monde on January27. Armstrong’s letter was published Friday in several European newspapers.

“I have said this before and I will say it again: I believe that I amthe most tested athlete on this planet, I have never had a single positivedoping test, and I do not take performance enhancing drugs,” Armstrongwrote.

Armstrong is in Spain competing in the Tour of Murcia as part of histraining to pursue an unprecedented sixth straight Tour de France title.

Although Pound’s comments were reported more than a month ago, Armstrongsaid he felt compelled to defend himself and the professional cycling community.

“I have learned over the years that proving a negative can be quitechallenging with people who simply do not want to believe that my accomplishments are possible without drugs,” Armstrong said.

“I can live with that. But, for Mr. Pound to assert that I take drugs,or that my fellow riders in the Tour do, is simply careless and unacceptable.”

Armstrong acknowledged that cycling has had doping problems but saidthe sport has cleaned up. He noted that the Tour de France tested him regularlyand that tests are controlled by the French Ministry of Sports.

“The Tour de France is one of the most controlled sports events in theworld,” he said, adding that the majority of cycling tests by the WADAcome back clean.

“I ask you to focus your efforts on the fight against doping rather thanspending your time accusing innocent athletes without any evidence otherthan your own speculation,” Armstrong said.

In a letter of reply Pound expects to send to the same newspapers Armstrong contacted, the anti-doping chief said: “It’s astonishing that Armstrong should attack in such strong terms a person he has never met and who never mentioned his name at any time, and who never cast any doubt on any of his achievements.”

Pound told the news service AFP that he would be delighted to see cycling become a sport clean of drugs but added recent events indicated there was still work to be done.

“That said,” Pound continued, “WADA will always take into account the views of champions such as Armstrong and sporting organisations such as the UCI .”
By The Associated Press and AFP

Several drugs found in Cofidis samples
A combination of cocaine, EPO and cortisone was found in urine samples of riders with top French cycling team Cofidis, police sources said Friday.

Four riders — Daniel Majewski, Marek Rutkiewicz, Robert Sassone and Philippe Gaumont — and Cofidis team soigneur Boguslaw Madejak were being investigated after police raided the Cofidis team headquarters and riders’ homes in January.

Amphetamines, erythropoietin (EPO), human growth hormone, testosterone and anabolic steroids were found when police raided the home of former world champion Sassone, who tested positive for a steroid derivative last year. Cofidis came under the spotlight after Polish rider Rutkiewicz, who left the team at the end of the 2003 season, was arrested along with Madejak.

Madejak is accused of being part of a drugs smuggling ring and has been suspended by the team, who boast a string of top riders including world champions David Millar and Igor Astarloa. Sassone, who turned professional in 2000, won a gold medal in the Madison at the world track championships the following year. He was a member of the Cofidis team until last season and joined the Division III Oktos-Saint-Quentin team this season.

Cofidis sacked Gaumont after the rider admitted to regularly using EPO.

Cycling had been hit by a series of doping scandals recently. Former Tour de France and Giro d’Italia winner Marco Pantani died from what appeared to be an overdose of cocaine and tricyclic anti-depressants. Pantani was the second cyclist with a recreational drug habit to die in recent months, following the death of Jose-Maria Jimenez in a clinic in Spain in December.
(Copyright AFP2004)

Bartko takes time trial
German track rider Robert Bartko (Rabobank) chugged to a soggy time trial victory in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen race in Belgium on Friday. Rain pelted the riders from the gun, and Bartko edged Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC) by 10 seconds while Servais Knaven (Quick Step) came through third at 15 seconds slower.

Jeff Louder led the Navigators with 63rd at 52 seconds back while Kirk O’Bee was 68th and Phil Zajicek came through 86th at 1:01. The Navs lost Ciaran Power, who finished beyond the time limit. Seventeen riders were eliminated for finishing beyond the time limit going into Saturday’s and Sunday’s road stages.

Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen (UCI 2.3), time trial, 7.6km
1. Robert Bartko (G), Rabobank, 7.6km in 9 minutes, 21 seconds
2. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor), CSC, at 0:10
3. Servais Knaven (Ned), Quick Step, at 0:15
4. Frank Høj (Den), CSC, at 0:16
5. Nico Mattan (B), Relax-Bodysol, at 0:19

63. Jeff Louder (USA), Navigators, at 0:52
68. Kirk O’Bee (USA), Navigators, at 0:55
86. Phil Zajicek (USA), Navigators, at 1:01
108. Mark Walters (Can), Navigators, at 1:07

More reactions from Thursday’s ITT
Friday’s rolling third stage of the Tour of Murcia shouldn’t see anymajor shake-ups in the overall standings assuming Spanish teams Illes Balearsand CV-Kelme will work to consolidate their positions in the overall classificationheading into Saturday’s climbing stage.

Following his fifth-place performance in Thursday’s time trial, LanceArmstrong (USPS) sits second overall but the five-time Tour de France winnersays he’s not in the hunt for victory.

Armstrong’s main goal at the five-day Murcia race was to test his newtime trial position and continue to build his fitness leading up to July’sTour.

“I’m not disappointed with the performance, but I’m not content either,”Armstrong told reporters after finishing the 21.8km course 29 seconds slowerthan winner José Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears).

“It was OK, because in the part of the course I had a faster intermediatetime than (Michael) Rich, but I paid for that effort in the last four kilometerswhen I didn’t feel so good,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong won a time trial in the Tour of Algarve three weeks ago, buthe admitted the level of competition was much higher in Murcia where someriders are already hitting top strength for early season goals.

“Here, I already knew I was going to get more competition than at Algarve,”Armstrong said. “I don’t see myself as a winner at Murcia.”

Postal sport director Johan Bruyneel said he was pleased with ridesfrom Armstrong and other Postal riders. Michael Barry placed 12th in thestage, 50 seconds off the winning pace, while newcomers Jurgen Van denBroeck finished 19th at 1:00.

“It was a good performance from Lance today, and also from Michael Barryand Jurgen (van den Broeck),” Bruyneel said. “Lance did a good firstpart of the race but the second part was a little more difficult, whichshows that he is not in top shape yet, which was expected. Overall, itwas a good test. We are going to sit down tonight and go over somestuff on positioning and things like that.”

Bruyneel said he was pleased with Van den Broeck, a young Belgian riderbrought into the Postal fold for the 2004 season. Van den Broeck won the2001 world junior time trial title.

“It was a good sign for such a young guy,” he said. “It was a long timetrial as well and to be in the top 20 is definitely a sign he has the qualitiesof a time trialist. He was very nervous and very motivated and rode at100 percent. Looking back at yesterday and today, I really like whatI saw in him.”

Bruyneel is also content to see Max Van Heeswijk take a victory in Wednesday’sopening stage at Murcia. Van Heeswijk already won two stages at Ruta delSol last month and will help lead the Posties in the upcoming classics.

“Max has been amazing. In all three of his wins, he has had tobeat some of the top sprinters such as (T-Mobile’s Erik) Zabel and (Rabobank’sOscar) Freire in Portugal and Zabel again today. Clearly, Max workedvery hard over the winter and brought great form to our training camp wherehe was the strongest rider,” Bruyneel said. “He is obviously very motivatedto keep his form through next month’s Classics. I think there is a bigwin (to come) in his legs.”

Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), meanwhile, finished 31st at 1:35 slower. TheGerman said that was just fine by him.

“I was happy with the way it went, but one of my main goals was to testmy new time-trial bike,” he told reporters. “Everything ran according toplan. We have to adjust a few more details. I have to feel good on thebike if I want to go fast. So it was important to test the time-trial machinein competition. I certainly didn’t ride at 100 percent.”

Museeuw to race PN, mulls MSR
Johan Museeuw (Quick Step) will skip Tirreno-Adriatico in favor ofParis-Nice, starting Sunday with an opening time trial. The Lion of Flanderssaid he’s still considering racing in Milan-San Remo later this month,one of the few classics he’s never won.

“I don’t know what I will do after (Paris-Nice),” Museeuw wasquoted on Datasport. “At my age, I take it week to week. If I feel good,I don’t see why I wouldn’t race Milan-San Remo.”

Museeuw is retiring following the spring classics, when he hopes toscore one final big victory on the cobbles. He told VeloNews inJanuary that Milan-San Remo is a race he never could master in his 17-yearcareer.

“I tried to be there for Milan-San Remo, but it’s not my race,” Museeuwsaid. “It’s early and I’m not full strength, but I thought I could win.(Andrei) Tchmil won there but it’s a special race. It’s long but the raceis the final 30km. I need a hard race with maybe bad weather, wind. Milan-SanRemo is hard, but it’s all the last 30km. If I go to Milan-San Remo towork for (Paolo) Bettini, then I say it’s better to give my place to anotheryoung rider so they can work and get the experience in this race.”

Tendonitis delays Casagrande
Italian Francesco Casagrande will be forced to skip both Tirreno-Adriaticoand Milan-San Remo with lingering tendonitis, Datasport reported Thursday.

The 33-year-old has pushed his season debut back to at least SettimanaInternazionale di Coppi & Bartali set for March 24-28, his Lampre teamreported.

Lampre for Tirreno-Adriatico: Alessandro Ballan, Sergio Barbero, GianLucaBortolami, Matteo Carrara, Andrej Hauptman, Samuele Marzoli and DanieleRighi.

Liberty to race TA
Liberty Seguros will race Tirreno-Adriatico next week, race organizersannounced. The Spanish team is a late replacement for Chocolate Jacques,which couldn’t make the race for logistical hassles. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeanowill lead the line-up for Liberty.

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