By Andrew Hood
A healthy North American presence will highlight next week’s Paris-Nice with no less than eight riders from five teams represented.
The robust contingent reflects the continued strong position of U.S. and Canadian riders in the European peloton.
Paris-Nice will mark the continental arrival of most of the Americans. Tyler Farrar (Cofidis) has been racing in Europe for nearly a month while Michael Barry (T-Mobile) was in Mallorca for his team presentation and training camp last month.
Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer, joined by Discovery Channel teammate Tom Danielson, will be one of the pre-race favorites after coming off his winning performance in February.
Dave Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and 2005 Paris-Nice champion Bobby Julich will be representing Team CSC colors while Chris Horner (Predictor-Lotto) will be making his season European debut as well.
One major name missing will be defending Paris-Nice champion Floyd Landis, who is battling doping charges and isn’t expected to race this season. North Americans expected to start Paris-NiceTyler Farrar (Cofidis)Bobby Julich, Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde (CSC) Chris Horner (Predictor-Lotto) Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel) Michael Barry (T-Mobile)Paris-Nice (March 11-18)
Prologue, March 11 – Issy-les Moulineaux, 4.7km (ITT)Stage 1, March 12 – Cloyes-sur-le-Loir to Buzancais, 186kmStage 2, March 13 – Vatan to Limoges, 177kmStage 3, March 14 – Limoges to Maurs, 215.5kmStage 4, March 15 – Maurs to Mende, 169.5kmStage 5, March 16 – Sorgues to Manosque, 178kmStage 6, March 17 – Brignoles to Cannes, 200kmStage 7, March 18 – Nice-Nice, 129.5km
Sastre banged up in fall
Team CSC captain Carlos Sastre was banged up in a high-speed crash in Wednesday’s windy opening stage at the Tour of Murcia and won’t be confirmed to start until later Thursday.
Sastre, 31, went down hard late in the 166km stage from San Pedro del Pinatar to Las Torres de Cotilla after riders powering in echelons fell in front of him. The Spanish climber suffered cuts and scrapes throughout his body as well as hard impacts to his elbow and hip.
“It was in the late part of the stage and we were rolling along at 50kph in echelons for the strong wind that was blowing during all the stage,” Sastre told the Spanish wire service EFE. “Two riders from Euskaltel fell in front of me and there was nothing I could do to avoid them. Later, I could feel how other riders fell on top of me.”
Hurricane-force winds walloped the peloton throughout the day and six riders ended up abandoning the race due to injuries. Sastre said is expected to be able to start Thursday’s second stage, but admitted he’ll likely feel banged up.
“I hope with the massage and a rest that, even though I will have pain, I will be able to take the start,” he continued. “These first races are very nervous and things are complicated even more when the wind is blowing.”
Sastre made his season debut in the Clásica de Almería and is scheduled to compete in Spanish races before heading the Ardennes classics. UCI backs CSC’s anti-doping efforts
Team CSC’s cutting-edge anti-doping program of increased internal controls and monitoring has received approval from the UCI, the team announced Wednesday.
Led by Danish anti-doping expert Rasmus Damsgaard at the Danish Bispebjerg Hospital, the team’s efforts to assure that none of its riders are cheating received the blessing from the UCI.
“The UCI has taken a historic step in giving Team CSC’s initiative their seal of approval,” Damsgaard said. “Furthermore, the UCI has indicated to us that they have used our program as a model for their own future initiatives, which means a great deal to us because it gives our sport an even better chance to fight doping on a scientifically sound level.”
Last year, Team CSC was thrown into turmoil when star Ivan Basso was kicked out of the Tour de France just days before its start after his name appeared on a list of riders linked to controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
To help restore the team’s battered image, Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis contacted Damsgaard about creating a testing program that will monitor riders with team conducted tests throughout the season.
The team report that 300 out-of-competition tests conducted on its riders have all returned negative.
“It’s been our vision all along to create a project which would set new standards and now we have it on paper,” Riis said. “Our main ambition has been to show how the sport can regain full credibility and at the same time give the riders the opportunity to win a lot of races without suspicion of doping.”
Casper’s win consoles Unibet.com
Jimmy Casper’s sprint victory in Wednesday’s GP Samyn helped sooth the wounds for the battered Unibet.com team that has been at the middle of a bitter power struggle between the UCI and Tour de France organizer ASO.
Unibet.com became the sacrificial lamb earlier this week in nine-hour marathon negotiations between the UCI and ASO to salvage the 2007 ProTour calendar and avert a major split within the sport.
Unibet.com and Astana were both declassified as ProTour teams for races organized by ASO, Giro d’Italia organizer RCS Sport and Vuelta a España organizer Unipublic in a compromise agreement.
But Astana – anchored by such stars as Alexandre Vinokourov, Paolo Savoldelli and Andreas Klöden – has been quietly told by the major race organizers they will be given the green light to start all the major races.
Unibet.com, however, has been singled out by ASO because it insists that non-French betting agencies cannot be advertised within France. The team has threatened legal action against both the UCI and ASO.
“We took a bludgeon blow this week when we learned we’re not going to Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico. Instead, we’ll race the Three Days of West Flanders, which isn’t the same thing,” Casper said after his win. “We’re still hoping things will turn in our favor. I haven’t had much morale these last hours, but this victory will help me have a good night’s rest.”
Rojas takes first win as pro
José Joaquín Rojas, the promising young rider on Caisse d’Epargne, couldn’t hide his happiness after taking his first win as a pro in Wednesday’s crash-marred first stage at the Tour of Murcia.
A native of the local region, Rojas surprised the veterans to snag a win on home roads.
“To win in your region is worth two. It’s a success that has a special value for coming in my region,” Rojas said. “I was lucky (for the falls) but I also recognize that my team was working hard all day.”