By Andrew Hood
Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2r), winner of a stage in the Tour de France, won the morning sector of Thursday’s action at the Tour de l’Ain in France. Nazon won the 83.5km stage from Izernore to Saint Genis Poully ahead of compatriot Jerome Pineau (Boulangère) and Saulius Ruskys. Earlier in the stage, Benjamin Noval (U.S. Postal Service) was part of a breakaway that included David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Mikel Astarloza (Ag2r) that went over the Col de Cuvery. The trio was reeled in 9km to go to set up the mass gallop. American Tony Cruz, a winner on Wednesday, came through sixth for another fine finish. A violent afternoon thunderstorm prompted organizers to cancel the afternoon sector that included climbs into the Jura Mountains. As a result, Pineau retained the overall lead going into Friday’s final stage.
CSC, Saunier Duval clear Pro Tour hurdle
Team CSC and Saunier Duval got the green light from the UCI to join the inaugural Pro Tour for the 2005 season, bringing the total to 13 teams now part of the super league of 18 that will be part of cycling’s major reorganization of the international calendar.
The UCI announced Thursday afternoon in a meeting in Bern, Switzerland, that Riis Cycling, owners of Team CSC, and GM Bikes, owners of Saunier Duval-Prodir, have met the extensive requirements to be considered part of the Pro Tour series.
“Taking into account that these teams had to meet the requirements imposed for the period running until November this year (bank guarantee, riders list, etc.), and that actual conditions will remain unchanged until that date, the Commission will confirm decisions taken by attributing the teams a UCI Pro Tour license,” according to a press release.
Other teams approved June 30 at the group’s first meeting include: Illes Balears and Liberty Seguros (Spain), Phonak (Switzerland), Cofidis, FDJeux.com and Credit Agricole (France), Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile (Germany), Quick Step (Belgium), Rabobank (Holland) and U.S. Postal Service/Discovery Channel (United States).
The remaining five licenses will be open to any nation, a break from the original idea of limiting the number of licenses for certain countries. No Italian teams have been nominated while the new Belgium team Omega Pharma-Lotto and the new Bouygues Telecom sponsor for the Boulangère team are expected to be approved when the group meets again after the Olympics. Euskaltel-Euskadi and the troubled Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme team are also hoping to meet requirements.
New sponsor for Boulangère
The French team Brioches la Boulangère will roll on in the 2005 season after Bouygues Telecom has agreed to step up and take over the team’s title sponsorship. Jean-René Bernadeau officially announced the news Wednesday giving the French team a strong chance of entering the new UCI Pro Tour for the upcoming season.
The team has had a tumultuous 2004 season, in part caused by the news that Boulangère was going to walk out of its contract with one year remaining because of the high costs associated with being part of the Pro Tour format.
The arrival and departure of high-priced Joseba Beloki left the team in turmoil in its buildup for the Tour de France, but unsung Thomas Voeckler wore the yellow jersey for 10 days to give the team some much-needed publicity.
Bouygues Telecom is part of the larger French business group Bouygues, but the details of the deal weren’t released. The team will have 27-28 riders, but recently lost the services of rising star Sylvain Chavanel to rival Cofidis for 2005. Axel Merckx, once thought to be joining Lance Armstrong’s Discovery team, is now expected to join the new Bouygues squad in 2005.
Phonak secures base
Phonak Hearing Systems announced that seven riders have signed contracts through the 2005 and 2006 seasons to join six others already under contract, guaranteeing the Swiss team continues with a strong base in the coming years.
José Enrique Gutierrez, Santos Gonzalez, Martin Elmiger and Bert Grabsch are four existing riders who were given two-year contract extensions while reigning Swiss champion Gregory Rast, Dani Schneider and Sascha Urweider will join the team for two years.
Tyler Hamilton, Nicolas Jalabert, Alexandre Moos, Oscar Pereiro, Nicki Aebersold and Tadej Valjavec are all under contract through 2005. The team said more riders will be signed in the coming weeks, but confirmed Alex Zülle will retire.
Former world champion Oscar Camenzind left the sport of cycling last Tuesday after news of a positive drug test resulted in his exclusion from the Olympics. Camenzind was facing a two-year ban after testing positive for EPO.
Aerts, Evans to Omega Pharma-Lotto?
News reports in Europe have linked the T-Mobile duo of Mario Aerts and Cadel Evans to the new Belgian team Omega Pharma-Lotto for the 2005 season.
Spanish wire services were reporting Aerts, 29, will return to Lotto for two seasons, where he won the 2002 Fleche Wallone before joining the German T-Mobile squad. Other reports have noted that Evans will join the Belgian team. On Evans official web page, the Aussie reported that something was cooking in a diary entry Thursday.
“At the moment it’s just a matter of the lawyers agreeing on the right wording for my contract and a few bureaucratic details, otherwise everything is going ahead according to plan. Until the lawyers agree on the right words, I can’t make an official announcement quite yet, but it’s only a matter of a few days.”
Evans has been unhappy at T-Mobile, especially since he was left off the team’s Tour squad despite winning the Tour of Austria in June. Up next for Evans is the Tre Valli Varesine on Aug. 17, the first time he’s raced in Italy since 2002, then possibly GP Zürich and before the Vuelta a España.
Quick Step goes it alone
Quick Step announced Tuesday it would be parting ways with current co-sponsor Davitamon to avoid a possible conflict of interest in the sometimes unclear links between teams and sponsors.
Davitamon, makers of vitamins and dietary supplements, is part of the Omega Pharma group, which recently announced it would join forces with Lotto to create the new Belgian super-team for entry into the UCI’s Pro Tour in 2005.
The statement didn’t reveal if Quick Step was ruling out another co-sponsor coming on board for the upcoming season.