By Andrew Hood
Just days after the Cofidis team presentation, the French daily L’Equipe is reporting Tuesday that a current trainer and one its former team members, Marek Rutkiewicz, are suspected of operating a “vast” drug ring between Eastern Europe and the peloton.
According to reports, police acted on a tip and stopped Rutkiewicz — a 23-year-old Polish rider formerly with Cofidis and newly signed with French team RAGT Semences-MG Rover (formerly Jean Delatour) — at Charles de Gaulle airport Monday night in Paris.
Rutkiewicz was taken into custody after police allegedly found doping paraphernalia. His new team promises the rider “will be fired immediately.”The newspaper also reported that a Cofidis soigneur named Bogdan “Bob” Madejak is the apparent target of a long-term investigation dating back to May, 2003.
Police searched his home, tapped phones and allegedly discovered Madejak is part of a “vast” drug trafficking ring based in Eastern Europe that included “EPO, steroids and other doping products”, L’Equipe reported.
Police also searched the home of Madejak’s daughter and the Cofidis team doctor Jean-Jacques Menuet. Cofidis officials say they’re not worried.”Rutkiewicz is no longer a part of this team,” said Cofidis team manager Francis Van Londersele. “We let him go because of his lack of results, not for a concern of doping.”
But the team insisted it had total confidence in its team doctor and general manager, and said the fact that the police found nothing proved they were doing their part in the fight against drugs in cycling.
“Cofidis is convinced that the police investigations carried out yesterday proved that it is doing everything possible in the fight against drugs, and not the opposite,” the team said in a statement released to the press. “Unfortunately nothing can ever prevent incidents of regrettable isolated behavior. “Cofidis has complete confidence in its doctor, Jean-Jacques Menuet, with whom it shares its philosophy of combating drugs and in its general manager, Alain Bondue, for respecting his commitments in the fight against drugs.”
In addition to the recently signed Stuart O’Grady and world time trial champion David Millar, the Cofidis line-up includes world road race champion Igor Astarloa of Spain and France’s track world champion Laurent Gane.
Valverde now hot property
With the uncertain future of Kelme, runner-up world champion Alejandro Valverde is suddenly a hot property, with such teams as Liberty Seguros and Saeco waiting in the wings if the team is disolved.
Kelme, along with Italian squad Domina Vacanze, were denied Division 1 status last week by the UCI. Sponsors say the Kelme team will live on, but Valverde said he’s not interested in staying with a second division “that can’t start the season’s major races.”
Liberty Seguros, led by former ONCE sport director Manolo Saiz, recently signed Roberto Heras and Christian Vande Velde from U.S. Postal Service. Saiz says he’ll wait until later this week to see if Kelme can straighten out its papers to meet UCI requirements.
“There’s nothing doing with Valverde until Jan. 15,” Saiz told the Spanish daily MARCA in reference to a deadline extension offered up by the UCI.
Armstrong to start season early in Portugal
Lance Armstrong has confirmed that he will begin his build-up for an assault on a sixth successive Tour de France triumph by riding in the five-day Algarve Tour in Portugal from February 18-22.
Armstrong’s U.S. Postal team director Johan Bruyneel told l’Equipe that Armstrong agreed to take part in the race after organizers included a 20km time trial.
In previous years Armstrong has started his season by riding in Spain’s Tour of Murcia at the beginning of March.
Bruyneel said the rest of Armstrong’s race calendar had yet to be decided.
(Copyright AFP2004)Moncassin new French road captain
Former sprinting pro Frederic Moncassin has been named as the new sport director for the French national team. Moncassin, who raced for Castorama, GAN, WordPerfect and Credit Agricole, will take over from Charly Berard.
The 36-year-old Moncassin, a winner of two stages of the Tour de France, will take over duties leading up to the 2004 Summer Games. Laurent Jalabert reportedly turned down the job.