By Andrew Hood
Former world Madison champion Robert Sassone, who is being investigated after drugs were found at his home, tested positive for a steroid derivative last year, officials announced Tuesday.
Traces of betamethasone, a glucocorticosteroid, were found in Sassone’s urine sample after the Six Days of Noumea race, which was held in the French Pacific territory from November 28 to December 3.
The use of glucocorticosteroids, which are used to treat asthma, is strictly limited under the rules of cycling.
In January, a French judge took the first step towards formal charges against the 25-year-old former Cofidis rider after amphetamines, Erythropoietin (EPO), growth hormone, testosterone and anabolic steroids were found during a search of his home at Hyeres in southern France.
Sassone was placed in police custody but later released.
The probe was part of an investigation into the Cofidis team, France’s number one cycling outfit.
Cofidis came under the spotlight after Polish rider Marek Rutkiewicz, who left the team at the end of the 2003 season, was arrested along with team soigneur Bogdan Madejak.
Madejak is accused of being part of a drugs smuggling ring and has now been suspended by the team, who boast a string of top riders including world champions David Millar and Igor Astarloa.
Sassone, who turned professional in 2000, won a gold medal at the world track championhips the following year.
He was a member of the Cofidis team until last season and joined third division Oktos-Saint-Quentin team this season.
Armstrong-Ullrich showdown unlikely at Murcia
Like Jan Ullrich, Lance Armstrong says that he has no intention of pulling out the stops at this week’s Tour of Murcia, the five-day Spanish stage race that starts on Wednesday.
Both Tour de France contenders have downplayed the coincidental intersection of their spring schedules. Ullrich has told German newspapers that he is intent on merely “clocking the kilometers,” a sentiment echoed by Armstrong.
Armstrong said in an interview with L’Equipe “the only race that matters” is the Tour de France, so don’t expect the five-time Tour champion to be battling against the likes of Alejandro Valverde (CV-Kelme) for overall honors.
Despite the two stars’ protests to the contrary, Thursday’s 21.3km time trial could provide a clue to this year’s Tour. Armstrong won the time trial in his first race of the year in the Tour of Algarve testing a new time trial position in Portugal last month and the race against the clock is vital to his hopes of a sixth Tour.
Ullrich took more than 1:30 from Armstrong in a 47km time trial in last year’s Tour but lost in a dramatic climb to Luz Ardiden when the American survived a crash to win which effectively settled the outcome.
Other Tour contenders lining up include Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Tendonitis has forced Joseba Beloki (Boulangere) to delay his season debut from last year’s epic Tour when Beloki broke his leg in a spectacular crash just when he looked capable of pulling off an upset. Beloki said he hopes to start Setmana Catalana later this month.
Stages for the Tour of Murcia (UCI 2.3), March 3-7
Stage 1, March 3: Murcia to San Pedro del Pinatar (Cat. 3 climbmidway through stage), 177km
Stage 2, March 4: Lorca-Lorca, ITT, 21.3km
Stage 3, March 5: Yecla-Yecla (three Cat. 3 climbs in first100km), 156km
Stage 4, March 6: Totana to Collado Bermejo (four Cat. 3 climbswith 9km climb to Cat. 1 summit finish), 169km
Stage 5, March 7: Murcia-Murcia (Cat. 3 at 69km), 133km
Kivilev to be honored at Paris-Nice
Paris-Nice will honor the memory of Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev, who died in a crash not far from his adopted home of Le Puy-en-Velay during last year’s race.
With Le Puy-en-Velay hosting a stage finish and a start, the peloton will remember the Cofidis rider whose death led to the mandatory use of helmets in all professional races.
This year’s “Race to the Sun” features a challenging and interesting course with eight stages pushing south from Paris to its traditional finish along the sea in Nice. While there are no summit finishes, there are plenty of ripples in the contours to deliver what should be an exciting, attack-riddled race.
“We drew the course in such a way that nothing would be decided before the final 48 hours,” race boss Jean-Marie Leblanc told reporters during the race presentation.
The race opens Sunday with a long prologue at 13.2km between the Parisian suburbs of Chaville and Issy-les-Moulineaux on Sunday. The course pushes south with two rolling stages to Roanne. Stages four and five are up-and-down roller-coasters that will require a watchful eye for the overall challengers to squelch any dangerous breakaways.
Stages six and seven skirt the Alps and hit challenging Category 1 and 2 climbs that are sure to light up the action. The finale into Nice covers the same finishing circuit as last year, with three passages over the Cat. 1 Col d’Eze towering above the Mediterranean Sea.
Tyler Hamilton will be making his season debut and his first race with new team Phonak while returning champion Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) will be keen to defend his overall title. Other top contenders include Ivan Basso and Jorg Jaksche (CSC), Sylvain Chavanel (Boulangere) and Laurent Brochard (Ag2r).
Paris-Nice (UCI HC), March 7-14, 1305km
Stage 1, March 7, Chaville to Issy les Moulineaux (prologue– rolling, technical course with plenty of turns), 13.2km
Stage 2, March 8, Chaville to Montarqis (five Cat. 3 climbsin first half of course, flat to circuit finish), 166.5km
Stage 3, March 9, La Chapelle Saint Ursin to Roanne (two Cat.3s in final half, downhill into Roanne), 229km
Stage 4, March 10, Roanne to Le Puy en Velay (three Cat. 3sand Cat. 2 Col de la Croix at halfway mark), 179km
Stage 5, March 11, Le Puy en Velay to Rasteau (one Cat. 2 andthree Cat. 3s, including final climb with 13km to go), 215km
Stage 6, March 12, Rasteau to Gap (Cat. 2 and Cat. 1 in first62km, Cat. 1 Col de la Sentinelle at 142km and Cat. 1 Col de Manse at 164km,fast run into Gap), 173.km
Stage 7, March 13, Dignes les Bains to Cannes (seven climbs,four Cat. 3s, two Cat. 1s and Cat. 2 Col du Tanneron at 165.5km), 185.5km
Stage 8, March 14, Nice-Nice (same finishing circuit as lastyear, with two passages over Cat. 2 Col due Chateauneuf and three overCat. 1 Col d’Eze), 144kmTeams for Paris-Nice:
Chocolade Jacques Wincor-Nixdorf (B)
Quick Step– Davitamon (B)
Team CSC (Dk)
Iles Baléares–Banesto (Sp)
Liberty Seguros (Sp)
AG2R Prévoyance (F)
Brioches La Boulangère (F)
Crédit Agricole (F)
RAGT Semences-MG Rover (F)
Alessio–BianchiFassa Bortolo (I)
Phonak Hearing Systems (Swi)and U.S. Postal–Berry Floor (USA).
Tirreno-Adriatico big for Italians
Tirreno-Adriatico (March 10-16) is the other big date on the March racing calendar, with seven days of hard considered the ideal warm-up for the World Cup opener at Milan-San Remo on March 20.
Race organizers officially presented the course for the 39th edition of the “Race of Two Seas,” with its tradition start and finish in Sabaudia and San Benedetto Del Tronto, respectively.
The opening two stages are ideally suited for sprinters, with Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) and Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) sure to be on the front lines. Cipollini will be keen to avenge two losses against Petacchi at last month’s Giro di Lucca.
Stages three is hilly with a slightly climbing finish into Isernia that could favor the likes of Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) or defending champion Filippo Pozzato (Fassa Bortolo). Stage four hits the Valico di Rionero Sannitico in the opening 60km and ends with a 3.6km climbing finish to Paglieta.
There’s barely a flat stretch of pavement in the hilly stages five and six while the final circuit stage into San Benedetto Del Tronto should see the sprinters take over for one more mass gallop before heading Milan-San Remo.
Tirreno-Adriatico (UCI HC), March 10-16, 1,245kmStage 1, March 10: Sabaudia-Sabaudia, 172km
Stage 2, March 11: Latina to Maddaloni, 164km
Stage 3, March 12: Maddaloni to Isernia, 168km
Stage 4, March 13: Isernia to Paglieta, 179km
Stage 5, March 14: Paglieta to Torricella Sicura, 215km
Stage 6, March 15: Monte San Pietrangeli to Torre San Patrizio,185km
Stage 7, March 16: San Benedetto Del Tronto- San Benedetto DelTronto, 162kmTeams for Tirreno-Adriatico
br>Giro finalizes teams
Giro d’Italia race organizers released the 20 teams set to duke itout for the season’s first grand tour (May 8-30). With 11 Italian teamsand nine foreign teams, one more than last year, the Giro starts in Genoaand ends in Milan.Teams for the 87th Giro d’Italia:
Acqua&Sapone – Caffe’ Mokambo – (I)
Alessio – Bianchi – (I)
Ceramiche Panaria – Margres – (I)
Chocolade Jacques Wincor – Nixdorf – (B)
Colombia – Selle Italia – (Col)
De Nardi – (I)
Domina Vacanze – (I)
Fassa Bortolo – (I)
Fdjeux.Com – (Fra)
Formaggi Pinzolo Fiave’ – (I)
Gerolsteiner – (Ger)
Kelme – Costa Blanca – (Sp)
Lampre – (I)
Landbouwkrediet – Colnago – (B)
Lotto – Domo – (B)
Phonak Hearing Systems – (Swi)
Saeco – (I)
Saunier Duval – Prodir – (Sp)
Tenax – (I)
Vini Caldirola – Nobili Rubinetterie – (I)
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