By Andrew Hood
Grand tours moving forward
Organizers of cycling’s three big stage races moved forward Friday with their plans to create a rival racing league, officially asking the UCI for authorization to create its “Trophy of the Grand Tours” format.
According to reports on the European wires, officials from Unipublic, RCS and ASO – organizers of the Vuelta a España, Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, respectively – have formally made steps to move forward with its own series.
Talks between the grand tours and the ProTour broke down acrimoniously last year, prompting the organizers to seek an independent alternative.
The UCI, which is promoting the ProTour format, isn’t expected to give much support to the idea.
Under its current plan, the three grand tours would take all 20 ProTour teams in 2006, but return to a system of automatic inclusion for the top 14 teams with the rest of the field rounded out by wild-card bids. The grand tours are trying to sweeten the pot by increasing prize money for their races, with $600,000 in the offing for the winner.
Heras takes fight personally
Roberto Heras showed up in person Friday, accompanied by his lawyer, as he began his defense against charges that he took the banned blood booster EPO en route to winning last year’s Vuelta a España.
Heras, along with José María Buxeda, provided documents and made personal arguments before the Spanish cycling federation. Heras is facing a two-year racing ban after testing positive for EPO in the Vuelta’s penultimate stage. The cycling federation will make its decision in the coming weeks.
Heras is basing his defense on the argument that the test had inconsistencies and that the EPO test isn’t foolproof, telling reporters he’s “optimistic” that things could fall in his favor.
“I believe we have prepared a solid case in my defense,” he was quoted by EFE as saying, adding that he’s been training in the off-season despite a crash earlier this month that broke his clavicle, forcing him onto an indoor trainer. Racing briefs
Robbie McEwen said he’ll likely race the Tour of Flanders this year, not with the intention of winning but as an assistant to Davitamon-Lotto teammate Peter Van Petegem. He told the Belgian daily Het Laatste that he’s hoping to win Milan-San Remo and will make his season debut at the Tour of Qatar and Ruta del Sol.
Spanish one-day race Trofeo Luis Puig, held the weekend before the start of the Tour of Valencia, has been canceled after race organizers complained of financial difficulties. The Valencia stage race will still be held.
Roberto Petito has signed a deal to race with Tenax-Nobili for the 2006 season. The 34-year-old veteran was left without a team following the departure of Fassa Bortolo at the end of the 2005 season.