By Andrew Hood
The 2004 European bike racing season kicks off Sunday with the five-day Mallorca Challenge, the continent’s first major race of the road season.
Many big-hitters are starting the series among the 19 teams and 300 riders, including such big guns as Erik Zabel (T-Mobile), Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Alejandro Valverde (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme). Held over five stages, the races are held as a string of one-day races rather than accumulative time.
Races: Day 1: Palma to Palma, 82.5km; Day 2, Alcudia-Port d’Alcudia, 159km; Day 3: Soller-Port de Sóller, 150,6km; Day 4: Calabona-Manacor, 159,8km; Stage 5: Magaluf-Palmanova, 149.3km
Teams: Quick Step-Davitamon, T-Mobile, Illes Balears-Banesto, Gerolsteiner, Rabobank, Liberty Seguros, Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme, Relax Body Sol-Fuenlabrada, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Paternina-Costa de Almeria, Labarca 2-Café Baqué, Saunier-Duval, Team Wiesenhof, Bankgiroloterij, Phonak, Lokomotiv and Team CSC.
UCI set to sign WADA
World cycling chiefs have announced they are set to sign up to the World Anti Doping Agency’s code of conduct, Reuters reported.
Hein Verbruggen, president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), had until recently seemed reluctant to subscribe to WADA’s ruling. Verbruggen still insists that key issues, including the length of bans, must be addressed before cycling will commit.
“There is no doubt that we are going to sign up to the code ahead of the Olympic Games,” said Verbruggen, before highlighting his concerns. “The principle of a two-year ban in itself is not a problem. It’s one of the cornerstones of our own rules. The problem is that it will be virtually impossible to reduce the ban if it has been [wrongly] exaggerated.”
All international sports federations must adhere to WADA’s code if they want to participate in future Olympics. But Verbruggen said the WADA rules don’t give cycling’s governing body flexibility in dealing with different cases. The UCI’s executive committee has drawn up plans for proportional sanctions.
“The [WADA] code does not allow for proportionality, and that’s difficult for us to accept,” he said. “First of all, because it’s not fair, and secondly, because it will be disputed in the courts. If, for example, you take EPO, it will be a two-year ban. But if you have one milligram too much of nandrolone, it will also be two years.”
In the past the UCI has been at loggerheads with WADA, but Verbruggen said both organizations were now in virtual harmony.
“Relations between the UCI and WADA are excellent,” said Verbruggen, who was quick to add that the UCI’s anti-doping code was one of the main sources for WADA’s current code. Martinelli sees better ‘04 for Saeco
Saeco sport director Giuseppe Martinelli thinks his boys in red will enjoy an even more successful season than last year, when Gilberto Simoni won his second Giro d’Italia and the team won the world title with Igor Astarloa, now riding for Cofidis.
“We’re physically stronger. We’re also well balanced as a team and competitive on all fronts. We’ve carefully planned our program of races based on the experience of previous years,” Martinelli said on the team’s web page.
Simoni returns as the clear team leader, with eyes on a third Giro title and a podium finish at the Tour de France.
“It’s very stimulating working with Gilberto because he’s a champion rider who accepts advice and so is also a true professional,” Martinelli said. “Naturally he will be aiming to win the Giro d’Italia and be up there with the best at the Tour de France, where I think he can finish on the podium.”
Martinelli said he also expects big things from Danilo Di Luca, who is expected to turn it up a notch as he makes a run for the overall World Cup title.
“Without a doubt our decisive rider will be Danilo Di Luca,” Martinelli said. “It’ll be a decisive moment in his career. He’s got the ability to great things and we’re expecting him to finally mature. I’m very severe with him even if he’s not always with himself but he’s got to learn to listen more.”
Big man Dario Pieri will lead the team on the cobbles, but Saeco, former home of Mario Cipollini, will not have a sprinter in 2004.
”(We have) no regrets. We tried with (Ivan) Quaranta, but in 18 years as a directeur sportif I’ve never met anybody like him,” he said. “I believed in him, but he completely let me down. Fortunately it’s all in the past.” Beloki follows similar line to Tour
Three-time Tour de France podium finisher Joseba Beloki will make his 2004 debut in his new team colors at the GP de la Marseillaise (February 3). Next he’s scheduled to race the Tour of Valencia (February 24-29), the Tour of Murcia (March 3-7), Criterium International (March 27-28), Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 25), Bicicleta Vasca (June 2-6) and the Spanish road championships in late June.
Cadamuro takes sprint in GP Doha
Simone Cadamuro (De Nardi) won the 117km Grand Prix of Doha in Qatar on Saturday, outsprinting Belgium’s Tom Boonen. Italian Francesco Chicchi crossed third.
1. Simone Cadamuro (I), De Nardi, 117km in 2:34:58
2. Tom Boonen (B), QuickStep-Domo, s.t.
3. Francesco Chicchi (I), Fassa Bortolo, s.t.
4. Giosué Bonomi (I), Saeco, s.t.
5. Robert Hunter (RSA), Rabobank, s.t.