Road

Monday’s EuroFile: Boonen in Qatar; Court rejects Pérez’s claim; Verbruggen confident; Tafi hopeful

Boonen outkicks Cipo' in QatarQuick Step's Tom Boonen won the first stage of the Tour of Qatar onMonday, finishing ahead of Mario Cipollini and RobertHunter, the winner of last Saturday's Doha International GP.Monday's stage, the first of five in the ASO-organized event, covered 143km from Al Khor Corniche to the Doha Hyatt Plaza. Boonen holds the leader's jersey with a four-second advantage over Cipollini."This was one of my best ever final sprints. I am extremely happy with my form and winning straightaway after the problems I had this winter certainly boosts my morale,"

By Andrew Hood

Perez in happier times

Perez in happier times

Photo: AFP

Boonen outkicks Cipo’ in Qatar
Quick Step’s Tom Boonen won the first stage of the Tour of Qatar onMonday, finishing ahead of Mario Cipollini and RobertHunter, the winner of last Saturday’s Doha International GP.Monday’s stage, the first of five in the ASO-organized event, covered 143km from Al Khor Corniche to the Doha Hyatt Plaza. Boonen holds the leader’s jersey with a four-second advantage over Cipollini.”This was one of my best ever final sprints. I am extremely happy with my form and winning straightaway after the problems I had this winter certainly boosts my morale,” Boonen said. “Here in Qatar we are working on perfecting the mechanisms of the ‘train’ that will be piloting me during the season. Having won straightaway is important for me and my teammates.”“Last year, I had to wait for three days, now it’s only one day, so for the team and for myself, it’s very nice to win early in the season,” Boonen said. “It wasn’t looking good in the last kilometer because I had a little incident with a guy from AG2R. I was in 15th or 20th position. With 500m to go, I gave everything I had, I started passing guys and went to Cipollini’s wheel. He started sprinting and I passed him immediately. I’m glad that everything went as it did. The golden jersey is not the most important but it’s important for the morale.”Stage 1
1. Tom Boonen (B) Quick Step-D Divito 3:45:17
2. Mario Cipollini (I) Liquigas-Bianchi
3. Robert Hunter (RSA) Phonak
4. Aurélien Clerc (Swi) Phonak
5. Simone Cadamuro (I) Domina Vacanze, all s.t.Overall
1. Tom Boonen (B) Quick Step-Davitoman 3:45:17
2. Mario Cipollini (I) Liquigas-Bianchi, at 0:04
3. Robert Hunter (RSA) Phonak, at 0:04
4. Rik Reinerink (Nl) Shimano-Memory Corp., at 0:08
5. Björn Schroeder(G) Wiesenhof, 0:09

Court stops Pérez challenge
Former Phonak rider Santiago Pérez has lost a bid in Spanish civil court to stop disciplinary proceedings against him following failed tests for alleged blood doping.

Pérez – who won three stages and finished second overall in last year’s Vuelta a España – was seeking a ruling in Spanish court that would have had major implications for anti-doping sanctions against professional athletes.

On Jan. 17, the Spanish civil court threw out Pérez’ lawsuit that contended his legal rights were being threatened by a pending two-year racing ban after out-of-competition tests conducted Oct. 5 revealed the presence of foreign blood cells in his system.

“Such resolutions do not have constitutional issues,” the court ruled. “The allegations do not apply with any special process of the protection of the fundamental rights of the person.”

Had Pérez won, the ruling could have undercut the power of governing bodies and their ability to conduct anti-doping tests and impose sanctions. Instead, by rejecting Pérez’ appeal, the court cleared the way for the Spanish Cycling Federation to consider the case.

The case is similar to another unsuccessful lawsuit brought in European Community courts in 2004 by two Spanish swimmers who contended that doping controls and subsequent sanctions interfered with their rights to earn a living. The court rejected the claim, citing the need to comply with “standard rules of competition.”

A Spanish Anti-doping agency ruling is expected within two weeks and Pérez faces up to a two-year ban for testing positive for a homologous blood transfusion. He’s also expected to lose a contract to ride for second division Spanish team Relax-Fuenlabrada, which signed him on the assumption that he would not be banned.

Pérez was a central figure in the doping scandal that engulfed Phonak last season, which resulted with the team being left out of the ProTour for 2005. American Tyler Hamilton also failed a blood doping test in last year’s Vuelta and former world champion Oscar Camenzind tested positive for EPO.

The Swiss team later fired sports director Alvaro Pino and team manager Urs Freuler and brought in former Tour de France official John Lelangue in an attempt to revive the team’s chances to earn a bid for the 2005 Tour.

Hamilton’s case, meanwhile, will be considered by the U.S. Anti-doping Agency and, after a slight delay, a hearing is expected sometime in February. Hamilton has steadfastly professed his innocence on charges of blood doping.

Verbruggen optimistic for ProTour
UCI president Hein Verbruggen says he’s optimistic the ProTour will be a hit despite the continued dissention among the three major national tours. With the 2005 cycling season kicking into gear, Verbruggen told reporters at this week’s world cyclo-cross champions said he’s “satisfied” with progress in the ProTour.

“We will start the ProTour, which is the most important thing,” Verbruggen told AFP. “Obviously, I am not very happy with the attitude of ASO (Amaury Sports Organization, which organizes the Tour de France). The Giro and Vuelta, which are national tours, need the ProTour more than the ProTour needs them.”

With the ProTour set to begin with 19 teams with Paris-Nice in early March, there is still a behind-the-scenes power struggle between the three grand tours and the UCI.

One of the major sticking points is whether teams can rise and fall out of the ProTour based on their results – much like what happens in Europe’s big soccer leagues – rather than be guaranteed a spot for four years as the rules currently state.

“It’s a closed discussion and we won’t talk about it anymore,” Verbruggen said. “Nobody wants it except ASO and I still don’t understand why. As for the Giro and the Vuelta, well, it was never a concern of theirs until now. A system of relegation at the end of the season won’t solve anything because as soon as a team is relegated, all the riders would leave and join another ProTour team.”

Another sticking point is the struggle between the grand tours and the UCI on naming of which teams can get into the major races. Fundamental to the ProTour plan is Verbruggen’s mantra of “the best teams in the best races.” Under ProTour rules, 19 teams are automatically guaranteed spots in every ProTour race.

Still, the Tour, Giro and Vuelta want more latitude in selecting teams for its races.

“The ProTour will introduce elements of excellence in sporting, financial, ethical and commercial questions,” Verbruggen continued. “That’s why the ProTour is supported by everyone.”

Tafi wants another Paris-Roubaix
Italian classics star Andrea Tafi wants to go out swinging in what will be his final year as a pro. The 38-year-old veteran has been a pro since 1989 and will retire following April’s Paris-Roubaix racing with the Spanish team Saunier Duval.

“I spoke with (team manager) Mauro Gianetti in December about having one last chance at Paris-Roubaix,” Tafi told L’Equipe. “I can help the team with my experience and try to win a second victory at the race.”

Like many cobble-lovers, Tafi is lamenting the absence of the infamous Arenberg section, which will be eliminated this year for repairs.