By Andrew Hood
Despite the insistence of director Juan Fernandez that his team is financially healthy the Union Cycliste Internationale on Thursday suspended Germany’s Team Coast for its failure to provide necessary financial guarantees.
Fernandez had earlier said that the team is in a good position to retain the services of 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich (see “Ullrich still a Coastie, says Fernandez” below), but the UCI action now puts that contract in doubt.
The troubled team’s riders have been told they may continue participating in Spain’s Tour of Murcia, which ends on Sunday, however participation in the Paris-Nice which starts Sunday has now been ruled out.
Team Coast is among the world’s top ten and was registered as a first division team by the UCI on January 10 under certain conditions – top among which was that riders’ monthly salaries would be paid on time.
It is believed the current decision relates to unpaid salaries.
Among Coast’s biggest stars are Switzerland’s Alex Zülle, a former Tour of Spain winner who had been one of the favorites for the upcoming Paris-Nice stage race, and Spaniard Angel Casero, who also won the Vuelta.
Ullrich joined the team earlier this season after see-saw negotiations with the Danish CSC team run by his former team-mate Bjarne Riis, who won the Tour in 1996 a year before Ullrich claimed his only yellow jersey. The 29-year-old Olympic road race champion signed a three-year deal said to be worth two million euros annually, joining the team from Telekom along with his personal coach, Belgian Rudy Pevenage.
Ullrich is currently serving a six-month ban for taking recreational drugs while he was out injured. His ban will expire on March 23. Coast, whose headquarters are in Essen, Germany, is a clothing company run by millionaire Gunther Dahms.
An official UCI statement is expected later today.Ullrich still a Coastie, says Fernandez
This story written and posted prior to UCI’s decision to suspend the Coast squad
Juan Fernandez, sport director at Team Coast, says Jan Ullrich willbe staying with the German team despite rumors of his imminent departure.Fernandez, speaking to reporters before the start of Wednesday’s stageat the Tour of Murcia, said Ullrich won’t be departing the team sponsoredby a chain of German clothing store. Reports hit newspapers last week thatUllrich was considering leaving Coast to join Saeco or Mercatone Uno.
“There have been a lot of reports that say Ullrich is going to anotherteam. He has a contract with Coast and he will fulfill that contract,”Fernandez said. “It’s possible there are economic problems with the business,but in respect to the cycling team, everything is in order.”
Fernandez told VeloNews at last week’s Tour of Valencia thatUllrich could return to racing later this month, possibly as soon as SetmanaCatalana. Ullrich is serving a racing ban until late March after he testedpositive for amphetamines in June, after taking the party drug Ecstasyat a night club.
“We have three provisional races when Jan could start. We have SemanaCatalana, La Circuit de la Sarthe or Vuelta a Aragon,” Fernandez said.“It all depends on his physical level so that he’s strong enough to makeit through the race without problems. If he’s not at a competitive level,he won’t go yet.”
Fernandez said Ullrich’s race schedule has not been finalized, but heexpects the 1997 Tour champion to be in shape to start the Tour de France.
“We haven’t got it defined just yet. A lot depends on how things gowhen he comes back. If he’s feeling very good after his first race or two,then we can change things around a little bit,” Fernandez said.
“For sure, he’ll be doing the Tour of Germany and the Tour de France.There are a lot of races where he can go to be in between, so it’s definitelynot set yet.”
Rumsas has no fear of returning to France
Raimondas Rumsas is back on his bike, despite the scandal in last year’sTour de France that saw his wife behind bars in a French prison for morethan three months. The Lithuanian finished third in the Tour last yearbehind Lance Armstrong and Joseba Beloki, but was soon let go by his Lampre team after French police found his wife carrying banned products in the trunk of her car while trying to leave France during the final weekend of the Tour.
Rumsas never failed a doping test during the Tour and has since been hired back by Lampre. He’s racing in this week’s Tour of Murcia and the Spanish sports daily AS interviewed him before the start of Wednesday’s stage. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
AS: So you’re going to race this year?
Rumsas: “Sure, why not? Lampre let me go at first, but it’s clearthat I never used doping products at the Tour. I passed many controls andthey were all negative.”
AS: What then were the doping products found in the trunk ofyour wife’s car?
Rumsas: “I am bored with speaking about this all the time. Theyhave published enough lies. What I have to say, I have said it to the Frenchjustice. I prefer not to think about it and only think about the future.”
AS: Do you believe it will scar you during the rest of your racingcareer?
Rumsas: “What can I do? Everyone can think what they want. Ican only look forward. Cycling is my life and the only thing I can do isshow that I am a racer that sacrifices and fights to make a place in thepeloton.”
AS: Your team, Lampre, is not yet invited to the Tour. Do youthink the scandal from last year will impede an invitation?
Rusmas: “That’s something you need to ask Leblanc.”
AS: Aren’t you afraid if you go back to France, the police willinterrogate you or throw you in jail?
Rumsas: “No, I’m not afraid to return to France. The French policecame to see me in Italy and I have told them everything I could say.”
AS: If you don’t go to the Tour, will we see you in the Giroor in the Vuelta?
Rumsas: “The leader at the Giro will be Francesco Casagrande.As of now, I’m not going, even though it’s not totally decided. The Vueltacould be a possibility, even though it’s still very far away to think aboutthat.”
Van Dijk wins GP Samyn
Stefan Van Dijk scored a win for Lotto-Domo in Wednesday’s GP Samyn(1.3). The team has been reeling since it was blown out by rival QuickStep in Saturday’s Het Volk, where Quick Step had four riders in the top-5and Johan Museeuw rode away with a dramatic victory. Lotto-Domo entirelymissed the move and the chatter has dominated the Belgian headlines since.The Dutch rider Van Dijk won the sprint in 4 hours, 16 minutes, finishingahead of Belgian Gert Vanderaerden (Palmans-Collstrop) and Jeroen Blijlevens(Bankgiroloterij).
Hejesdal sixth on road
Canadian mountain bike phenom Ryder Hejesdal continues to prove he’squite handy on the road, finishing sixth in the lead chase group in theBrussels-Opwijk U23 race Sunday at 16 seconds back. Hejesdal was part ofa group that broke away and Jukka Vastaranta, a Finn and Rabobank teammate,attacked late in the race to win. Hejesdal is racing on the road with Rabobank’sdevelopment team, but mountain biking remains his main focus – for now.