By Andrew Hood
According to reports in the Spanish daily El Mundo, police are investigating contents of a package of white powder reportedly found in the room of José Maria Jiménez in a health clinic where the star rider died on December 6.
El Mundo noted that police are examining the contents of “a bag weight about five grams and containing a white substance that could be cocaine.” Hospital workers reportedly found the bag after the star rider died suddenly.
Jiménez, 32, died of a cardiac arrest at about 10:30 p.m. in a Madrid mental health clinic where he was being treated for depression. Earlier in the day, he complained to his mother of a headache and toothache, who advised him to take aspirin. He reportedly collapsed while showing friends photos of his cycling success.
Nicknamed “El Chava,” Jiménez was known for his attacking style in the mountains and became one of Spain’s most popular riders in the post-Indurain era. His sudden death threw the Spanish cycling community into shock and thousands turned up to pay final respects at his funeral Monday.
Police, meanwhile, say they will examine the contents of the bag and review autopsy results.
Five racers died in 2003
The death of José Maria Jiménez marked the fifth by a professional in 2003.
Italian Denis Zanette, 32, (Fassa Bortolo) died Jan. 11 of a heart attack during a visit to the dentist. In March, Andrei Kivilev, 29, (Cofidis) died after suffering a fall in the second stage of Paris-Nice. His death prompted the UCI to adopt mandatory helmet-use for elite athletes.
On June 3, 23-year-old French rider Fabrice Salanson (Brioches La Boulangere) died in his sleep during the Tour of Germany. On July 20, Estonian racer Lauri Aus, 33, (Ag2r) died after being hit by a car during a training ride.
THG unlikely to be issue in cycling, says Armstrong
Lance Armstrong said during a news conference in Brussels on Friday that he doubted the steroid THG would be found among cyclists.
The new drug, discovered in October in the United States, and for which several top athletic stars have tested positive, shook the sports world.
Still, Armstrong said he doubted that THG would be a problem because he believes tests for the steroid are effective.
“From what I have read, it concerns certain athletes who were dealing closely with certain laboratories in the USA,” he said. “I don’t think that would involve any of us (cyclists).
“In any case, in the future THG will not be a problem because it will be traceable. But I prefer not to talk too much about doping.”
British sprinter Dwain Chambers and four American athletes are reported to have tested positive for THG. The Americans were caught after samples from the U.S. national track championships were re-tested for the steroid.
The test for detecting THG was developed by the laboratory headed by Professor Don Catlin at the University of California-Los Angeles after an anonymous coach sent a syringe containing the previously unheard-of substance.
González promises return to top level
Aitor González, winner of the 2002 Vuelta a España, promises to return to his winning ways after a forgettable 2003 season that saw him struggle through the year’s most important races.
Speaking in an interview in La Gazzetta dello Sport during a Fassa Bortolo training camp, González said he’s intent “on returning to be the Aitor González that won the Vuelta in 2002.”
“I admit that I was well below the expectations that were placed upon me. I arrived at the Giro (2003) convinced that everything was going to be OK and I still don’t have an explanation about why I had such a bad performance,” he said. “What happened later at the Tour and the Vuelta was a consequence of what happened to me at the Giro.”
González said he’s been training hard already for one month and has started a new diet that will help keep off weight, one of the popular Spanish rider’s Achilles heels.
The Fassa Bortolo rider still hasn’t finalized his 2004 racing schedule, but said he hopes to focus on the Tour then the Vuelta. González also has eyes on the Summer Games in Athens, but remains unsure about the 2004 road world’s in Verona, Italy. Piepoli to lead Saunier Duval
Italian star Leonardo Piepoli will race with the new Saunier Duval team in the 2004 season La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Friday. Piepoli, 32, raced for the past several seasons with Banesto and successfully defended his title at the Tour of Aragon this season.
Piepoli turned down a chance to race alongside compatriot Davide Rebellin at Gerolsteiner and instead will help lead Sauvier Duval, which takes over the title sponsorship for Vini Caldirola.
The team will have its official presentation next week in northern Spain.
Bruyneel comments on Heras’ departure
U.S. Postal Service sport director Johan Bruyneel said the departure of star climber Roberto Heras has been softened somewhat by the arrival of Portuguese rider Jose Azevedo.
Heras left the Posties with one year remaining on his four-year contract to join Manolo Saiz’ new team, Liberty Seguros. U.S. Postal came out ahead when Heras and Saiz were forced to buy-out the final year of Heras’ contract, allowing the team to pen Azevedo and perhaps another rider for the 2004 season.
“Two weeks ago I was contacted by Roberto’s lawyer and was told about an offer Roberto received,” Bruyneel said in a U.S. Postal Service press release. “My first reaction was not in favor of it at all (Heras leaving), considering the time of year and especially because Roberto was an important rider for our team at the Tour and with him winning the Vuelta. When I found out Roberto’s intentions (to leave) were pretty serious, I felt it was no use and we had to work out a deal. If someone’s intentions are to ride for another team, what can you do? Ideally, I would have liked to have kept him on the team but if not, we needed to immediately find a replacement.”
Bruyneel said when he learned that bringing Azevedo to the team was possible, he jumped at the chance. Azevedo finished sixth overall in the 2002 Tour de France while racing with ONCE.
“Azevedo is a great rider and will fill in Roberto’s position well,” Bruyneel said. “Roberto is a different type of rider, having won big stage races while Azevedo has not, but for the Tour, he will be one of our big riders.”
Commenting on Heras’ decision to leave the team, five-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong said he was not surprised.
“Roberto’s a leader and had the opportunity to go and do that, plus get a longer term deal,” Armstrong said on his web site. “I wish him well. The ‘Ace’ (Azevedo) does fit in well. He can climb, time trial, and is strong in the (team time trial). He’ll fit nicely.”
Bruyneel said the split with Heras was just part of the business of modern cycling.
“It will be interesting to see him (Heras) as a leader of one of our rivals,” Bruyneel said. “It will be strange at first but we are all professionals and definitely have no hard feelings.” Illes Balears-Banesto team presentation next week
The cycling world will get its first official look at the new Illes Balears-Banesto squad at a team presentation next week. Team directors José Miguel Echávarri and Eusebio Unzue will unveil the lineup for the 2004 season. The team includes: José Luis Arrieta, Daniel Becke, Antonio Colom, Isaac Gálvez, Chente García, Iván Gutiérrez, Joan Horrach, Vladimir Karpets, Pablo Lastras, José Antonio López, Francisco Mancebo, Denis Menchov, David Navas, Aitor Osa, Unai Osa, Mikel Pradera, Steffen Radochla, Vicente Reynés, Antonio Tauler and Xabier Zandio.
AFP contributed to this report.
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