By Andrew Hood
Former Tour de France winner Marco Pantani has been cleared of sporting fraud for a case of doping during the 1999 Giro d’Italia, by a court in Trentino on Thursday.
Pantani was charged after high hematocrit levels were found in his blood on the penultimate day of the 1999 Giro d’Italia. The hematocrit limit was imposed in 1997 as an indicator that a rider might be using the endurance-enhancing drug EPO.
The Italian, winner of both the Giro and Tour de France in 1998, had already served a six-month ban for his failed drugs test but faced prosecution charges as doping in Italy is a criminal offence.
Pantani also hit the headlines when a syringe, containing insulin was found in his bedroom during last year’s Giro d’Italia.
For that offence he was initially banned for eight months in June 2002 by the Italian Cycling Federation, but later won an appeal due to an absence of proof.
Cycling’s world ruling body, the Union Cycliste Internationale failed to convince the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reinstate the ban, allowing Pantani to get back on his bike in March of this year.
Caucchioli takes stage, Freire still in lead
Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) attacked with 2km to go to claim the third stage of the Giro della Provincia di Lucca in Italy on Thursday. Oscar Freire (Rabobank), winner of the first two stages, retains the overall lead with one stage left.
Thursday’s stage hit a short but steep climb four times on a finishing circuit situated 12km from the finish line. Some of the biggest guns took part in the exciting finale that’s one of the final dress rehearsals for next week’s world road cycling championships in Canada.
Rabobank drove hard to reel in a move with one lap to go to protect Freire’s hold on the leader’s jersey. The lead group of about 45 riders fractured over the final climb when Francesco Casagrande (Lampre) went on the attack. Freire brought him back on the descent and a group of 13 riders were clear to the finish.
Yaroslav Popovych (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) attacked in vain with five kilometers to go before Caucchioli snuck away with two kilometers to go and hung on for the win. The race concludes Friday with the 156-kilometer fourth stage from Massarosa to Lido di Camaiore.
5th Giro della Provincia di Lucca (UCI 2.3)
Stage 3, Pescia to Capannori, 200km
1. Pietro Caucchioli, Alessio 4 hours, 59 minutes, 43 seconds (40.03 kph)
2. Gerrit Glomser, Saeco +0:04
3. Michele Bartoli, Fassa Bortolo
4. Ivan Gutierrez, iBanesto.com
5. Serguei Gontchar, De Nardi-Colpack — all same time
Voigt wins Paris-Bourges
Jens Voigt (Credit Agricole) edged two breakaway companions to sprint to victory in Thursday’s French semi-classic Paris-Bourges. The German snuck past Florent Brard (Marlux) and Nicolas Fritsch (Fdjeux.com) to score the victory.
The 53rd edition of the Paris-Bourges will help trim the final selection for the French world’s team, so riders were amped to show their form. Five riders snuck away early — Frédéric Guesdon (FDJeux.com), Philippe Gaumont (Cofidis), Stéphane Bergès (AG2r Prévoyance), Stuart O’Grady (Crédit Agricole) and Roger Hammond (Palmans-Collstrop) – to get a gap of three minutes. The bunch came back to together when Brard made the decisive move, with Voigt and Fritsch hot on his wheel. Voigt was strong enough to win the three-up sprint.
Rodriguez recounts up-down season
Fred Rodriguez (Vini Caldirola) will likely end his season in this Sunday’s Paris-Tours race, the penultimate World Cup race in France. Rodriguez is hoping to go out with a bang for a season that’s had its ups and downs for the American sprinter.
“I’ve been racing since February and it’s time to shut it down,” Rodriguez told VeloNews while warming up for the Vuelta a España’s final time trial last Saturday. “Things were going well this season but at (Tour of) Rhodes I lost that race because of a crash. I got sick in March and it was a downward spiral for the next couple of months.”
The 30-year-old was not a major player in the spring classics after suffering bronchitis and rolled into the Tour de France with confidence, but abandoned in Stage 15 to Luz Ardiden. He scored a stage-win at the Tour of Rhodes and two at the Tour de Georgia, but said he wasn’t able to find his form in the season’s major events.
“The Tour was a disappointment again, but things are starting to work out again for me. I want to get back at my top level for next year,” Rodriguez said. “I was disappointed with my season before the Vuelta, but I’ve been able to balance it out and get back to where I know I can be. This season hasn’t been enough for me. I wanted more.”
Rodriguez came to the Vuelta with a cold but made it through the Pyrenees and went up against Erik Zabel (Telekom) and Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) in the sprints in the Vuelta’s second half, earning three top-3 finishes.
Rodriguez said there’s still an outside shot he’ll race at the world championships, otherwise he’ll return to the United States to attend the Las Vegas show, talk to his sponsors and head home to California for a short break before preparing for next season.
Rodriguez says he’s talking to several teams for next year, including Saunier Duval, the co-sponsor of Vini Caldirola which is stepping up to create its own Division I team based in Spain for 2004.
“What’s for sure is I’d like to get a team that will give me a little more support,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve really noticed here (at the Vuelta), where I’ve been going up against Telekom and Fassa Bortolo. They’re like super-teams.”
Beloki speaks with Riis, ONCE might nab Vodafone
Team CSC boss Bjarne Riis is talking with three-time Tour de France podium boy Joseba Beloki, according to reports on Danish TV. Riis said Beloki spoke earlier with the Danish team, but this time around the financial demands are “considerably” less than before.
Team CSC lost star rider Tyler Hamilton in a bidding war with Phonak, but has signed promising Italian rider Ivan Basso from Fassa Bortolo to lead the team in grand tours. But a rider of Beloki’s proven qualities would be a big boost for CSC.
The news comes just as reports are surfacing that ONCE – which is losing its title sponsor at the end of this season – could be nearing an agreement with Vodafone, the British mobile phone operator. The story has been floated before, but the German newspaper “Bild am Sonntag” reported a deal is still in the works.
Bessy, Rinero round out French world’s squad
Frederic Bessy (Cofidis) and Christophe Rinero (MBK) have been handed the final two spots for the French team for the world road race cycling championships which begin in Hamilton, Canada next week.
The riders make up a 12-man team of youth and experience which will be pitted against the likes of Italy and Spain when the men’s 260km road race is held on October 12. The 1997 world champion Laurent Brochard (AG2R) and Cofidis rider Cedric Vasseur are the team leaders for the event.
Team France (Men)
Peña to lead Colombian road squad
U.S. Postal’s Victor Hugo Peña, who wore the yellow jersey in this year’s Tour de France, will lead Colombia’s squad for the world road race cycling championships which begin in Hamilton, Canada next week.
Peña leads a team that will be missing reigning world time trial champion Santiago Botero, who is still struggling with fitness after his disastrous Tour campaign, and Ivan Parra, who ruled himself out, citing personal reasons. Team Columbia (Men)
Juan Pablo Suarez
Victor Hugo Peña
Cesar GrajalesTime trial
Victor Hugo Peña
Ex-world champ Vainsteins has no visa for Canada
Romans Vainsteins, the Latvian rider who won the 2000 world title in Plouay, doesn’t have a visa to travel to Canada for the road worlds later this month. According to a report in L’Equipe, Vainsteins is waiting for the paperwork to arrive before traveling to Hamilton, where he’ll be one of many outsiders looking for a surprise victory.
Ullrich cleared to race in Athens
Reigning Olympic champion Jan Ullrich will be able to defend his title in the 2004 Athens Games, according to a ruling Wednesday by Germany’s Olympic committee.
Despite testing positive for amphetamines in June, 2002, the 1997 Tour de France champion was given an exemption for a rule that bans athletes from competing in the Olympics after failing a doping test. The committee ruled that Ullrich’s positive test – the amphetamines originated from the party drug Ecstasy in a wild night partying after undergoing his second knee surgery – was not deemed as performance-enhancing.
Ullrich later served a six-month racing ban and returned to competition this spring and bounced back to finish second to Lance Armstrong in the 2003 Tour. Ullrich, the defending road gold medalist and time trial silver medalist, said he wants to defend his medals at the upcoming 2004 Olympic Games.