By Andrew Hood
Specialists are changing the face of cycling, particularly the world championships, UCI president Hein Verbruggen said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday. Verbruggen noted that “specialists,” who focus on big events such as the Tour de France, have changed the dynamic of the season.
Verbruggen’s comments come as five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and many of cycling’s top stars are giving this week’s world championships a pass. Since the UCI moved the road racing championships from late August and early September to early October, riders often complain the season is too long and often skip the season’s grand finale.
“The situation in cycling has evolved as you see in other sports, in that you see more and more specialists,” Verbruggen told Reuters. “Lance Armstrong is a specialist in the Tour de France and that’s what he does. He does a pre-season that is the function of the Tour de France and after the Tour de France his season is over – whether I like it or not is another subject.”
Verbruggen lamented the days when riders could contest events throughout the entire season.
“The time of riders like Eddy Merckx is over, riders that were there from March to October. I have to accept the element of specialization has become common, very much accepted and that the specialization of Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich is the Tour de France,” he said. “The last general rider we had, someone who did the whole season, was Bernard Hinault but since then you have had specialization.”
UCI won’t allow WADA at worlds
UCI president Hein Verbruggen lived up to his threats to keep the World Anti-Doping Agency out of the road world championships and angrily insists that cycling is being singled out.
Verbruggen is still fuming over the leaking of a confidential Tour de France report last month that criticized anti-doping procedures and vowed that WADA won’t be allowed to return to races (see “UCInow seeks to ban WADA” – September 23, 2003).
“For the time being there will be no WADA independent observers in cycling until we have had a good discussion,” Verbruggen said during a media briefing on the opening day of the road racing world championships in Hamilton.
WADA will not be involved in testing or monitoring at the championships which begun Tuesday and end Sunday with men’s road race. Verbruggen is scheduled to meet with WADA chief Dick Pound on Friday in an effort to ease tension between the two organizations and discuss the UCI’s concerns over a new doping code, Reuters reported.
Verbruggen insists cycling is being singled out by world anti-doping agencies.
“I feel extremely annoyed that we are continually singled out due to the happenings in 1998 Tour (de France) and I am not prepared to accept that any longer,” Verbruggen said. “I have the feeling we are singled out, we want to be treated like every other sport.”
Zabel unfazed by Ullrich return
Erik Zabel says he does not feel the return of Jan Ullrich to the Telekom team will diminish his role as team captain.Zabel, who unlike Ullrich is set to take part in the world championshipsin Hamilton, believes Ullrich has had time to reflect on his seven yearsat Telekom before Ullrich left the team in 2002.
“I am glad that Jan has come to this decision,” Zabel told Die Welt. “It is good for the team and the sponsors. The year in the wilderness was good for Jan. Now he knows that it is not so bad at the Telekom team.”Tour de France runner-up Ullrich, 29, is now viewed as the focal pointin the team but the 33-year-old Zabel is not worried about his status inthe Telekom stable, which will be called T-Mobile in 2004.”While Alexander Vinokurov, Paolo Salvodelli or Santiago Botero findthemselves in a new situation by the return of Jan, nothing has changedfor me,” said Zabel. “I have cycled with Jan for seven years.”Ullrich hopes to dethrone American rider Lance Armstrong at next year’sTour de France, a race he won in 1997 with the Telekom team.
Helmets required for time trials, track in 2004
The UCI announced Tuesday that hard-shell helmets will be required in time trials and track events beginning in January. The UCI management board confirmed the mandatory use of helmets in all disciplines after a rule was introduced just before the 2003 Giro d’Italia.
The UCI required the use of hard-shell helmets in road races following the death of Kazakh racer Andrei Kivilev, who died of head injuries sustained in a crash in the Paris-Nice race. Cycling’s governing body had attempted to make helmets mandatory in 1991, but riders angrily rejected the idea.
Riders will still be allowed to take off their helmets on summit finishes longer than five kilometers and, at least during this past season, race judges seemed to look the other way when riders unclipped their chin straps on long climbs midway through races.
New Belgian team signing riders
The new Belgian team — Chocolade Jacques-Wincor Nixdorf-Passage Fitness – is picking up many riders from the BankGiroLoterij team, which is folding at the end of the season despite leading the Division II rankings.
According to reports in the Belgian press, the team has already signed Bart Voskamp, Rik Reinerink, Bert Hiemstra, Jan Van Velzen and Gerben Lowik. The team is also talking to BankGiroLoterij sports director Johan Capiot to come across. Jan Koerts reportedly also has an offer from the team. Somarriba eyes medal in time trial
Spanish climbing special Joanne Somarriba is eyeing a medal in the women’s time trial this week at Hamilton. The three-time winner of the women’s Tour de France, Somarriba just missed medaling in the race against the clock at last year’s worlds in Zolder, Belgium. Also riding for Spain will be Dori Ruano, bronze medalist in the 2001 world time trial.
The harder the course, the better for Somarriba, but the Basque rider said the Hamilton course is not what she had hoped.
“The course is not as hard as they said,” Somarriba told the Spanish sports daily AS. “I am going to try to medal, but I came thinking I could win the gold. I think now I will have better chances in the road race.”
Saiz confirms reports of new sponsor
ONCE sport director Manolo Saiz confirmed reports that he’s been in talks with an Italian tool maker to take over the team’s sponsorship for the 2004 season.
“It’s one of our options, but until now we have nothing signed with any business,” Saiz told AS.
The Spanish cycling magazine Meta 2Mil reported Tuesday that Saiz and Stayer are nearing an agreement that will be announced at the end of the worlds. Saiz has reportedly paid a 12,000 euro deposit with the UCI to register the team for next year.
ONCE – a lottery that benefits Spain’s blind population — is pulling the plug on its sponsorship after 14 years backing the team.
Balearic team inching forward
Spain’s other disappearing team – iBanesto.com – also has hopes to continue next season, although the recent announcement that Jan Ullrich rejoined Telekom almost derailed plans to create a Balearic Islands team.
Officials from the Balearic Islands government and José Miguel Echavarri met Tuesday in Madrid to reignite talks. The team was hoping to sign Ullrich, but now is considering new options with its potential sponsor.
“We’re still interested and because of this we sat down to talk with Echavarri, even though we admit that without Jan Ullrich it’s been like a glass of cold water,” said Pepote Ballester, an official from the Balearic islands regional government.
Meanwhile, with Banesto’s fate still up in the air, Phonak has reportedly offered deals to Tour de France stage-winners Pablo Lastras and Vicente Garcia-Acosta.
2004 Giro presentation
The course for the 2004 Giro d’Italia will be presented to the public November 8 in Milan, race officials announced Wednesday. The season’s first grand tour will start May 8 and conclude in Milan on May 30.