News Shorts – Feb 15, 2012

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Cycling was back on the streets this week with wins by a top sprinter, World Champion Mark Cavendish, and an emerging one, Elia Viviani. The previous week’s doping controversies have almost been forgotten. The Jan Ullrich chapter is closed, Contador is still training despite his suspension, Armstrong is celebrated with a cold brew, and cycling only suffered only a slight hangover.

Marco Pantani, RIP

On February 14, eight years ago yesterday, one of cycling’s greatest riders was found dead at a hotel in Rimini, Italy. An autopsy revealed he had a cerebral edema and heart failure, and a coroner’s inquest revealed acute cocaine poisoning. [CT] As Simon Mottram said in an email today, “We should all wear our arm warmers at half mast today in his honour.”

Ullrich looks ahead

Jan Ullrich said that he is looking ahead after receiving a doping ban. Sport’s High Court, the CAS ruled the 1997 Tour de France winner had connections to doping doctor, Eufemiano Fuentes, stripped him of his wins, including second at the 2005 Tour, and suspended him for two years.

“I am glad that a decision was made,” the 38-year-old German explained. “It ends a chapter in my cycling career and marks the end of a very difficult time for me and my family.”

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled on an appeal by the Union Cycliste International (UCI). The UCI objected to Switzerland dropping the case against Ullrich and requested his permanent ban.

Spanish investigators linked Ullrich, Ivan Basso and many others to Fuentes as part of Operación Puerto. They found over 200 coded blood bags when they raided Fuentes’ offices in May 2006, some containing EPO and all ready to be transfused back into their owners. Ullrich kept competing and won the Tour de Suisse, but it was his last race as he was barred from racing the 2006 Tour.

On Thursday, the CAS stripped his results since May 1, 2005, including third place at the 2005 Tour and five wins: the 2006 Suisse overall and stage 9, and stages in the 2006 Giro d’Italia, 2005 Tour of Germany and 2005 Suisse. It banned him for two years, retroactively from August 22, 2011. And detailed his tie with Fuentes, including €80,000 in payments, several visits and DNA evidence that matched stored blood bags.

Jan Ullrich ahead of Marco Pantani on Col de La madeleine during the 1998 Tour de France

Ullrich confirmed his involvement with Fuentes following the ruling. “It was a big mistake,” he said. He wanted to admit it early on, but “on advice of lawyers” he “kept silent.” He added he was “very sorry.”

The Operación Puerto investigation was the biggest since the Festina Affair in 1998. It involved cyclists from Tyler Hamilton to Fränk Schleck, Valverde to Basso, Santiago Botero to Francisco Mancebo.

As it turns out, Ullrich is also banned from taking part in German Cyclosportif events as well. “According to the anti-doping rules of the BDR, the ban includes non-license holders and so it also concerns public races,” Reuters quoted BDR vice president Udo Sprenger as saying. “So Ullrich is banned from starting in any Germany public race that has been authorized by the BDR.”

Armstrong celebrates with a beer

US Federal investigators closed its fraud case against Lance Armstrong without charges. The retired seven-time Tour winner said last week that he celebrated by drinking a beer.

He told the AP news agency, “I hugged my kids, hugged my girlfriend and went and opened a cold beer.”

He now faces a possible doping investigation by his national anti-doping agencies, the USADA. “I don’t want to get bogged down with that,” he explained. “I’m not going to worry about that.”

‘We support Contador’ – ‘A cheat’

“We support Contador,” around 2000 fans shouted on Sunday in Alberto Contador’s hometown of Pinto, Spain. His home country is supportive of him despite the CAS ruling he broke an anti-doping rule, banning him for two years and stripping his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro win.

The Spanish federation acquitted him of the same doping charges early last year. Last week, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president, John Fahey said that some prejudice exists in national federations.

“It’s regrettable,” Fahey told the BBC. “I can understand where emotion and patriotism takes over commonsense some times, but none of us should be supportive of anyone who’s found to be a cheat.”

Contador’s ban started, retroactively, January 25, 2011. It ends August 5 this year, which allows him to return to racing at the Vuelta a España, August 18 to September 9. On Friday, he posted “Going back to work” and a training photo on Twitter.

Evans in action, with new boy

Cadel Evans is back in action with his son, Robel. On Friday, he helped present the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, talked about Contador and his new baby.

“I haven’t heard from Contador since the ruling, I don’t have his number,” Evans told Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Without Alberto, though, the Tour won’t become easier. In fact, it could become more difficult without a reference point like him and one less team to take the reins of the race.”

Evans celebrated his 35th birthday yesterday, but his attention was on Robel. Evans and his wife Chiara adopted the one-year-old Ethiopian in December.

“Chiara is a great mom, with a lot of patience,” Evans added.

“Robel is already a star, and if he takes some attention from me, I don’t mind. It’ll be great to help him grow and realise his dreams. He’s happy, every morning waking up with a smile. I think you will also see him also at the races.”

After starting his season on February 5 in Mallorca, Evans will continue in the GP Lugano on February 26. His next races are Strade Bianche on March 3 and Tirreno-Adriatico from March 7 to 13. He won Tirreno last year ahead of Robert Gesink (Rabobank).

Viviani reigns

Sprinters Mark Cavendish and Elia Viviani ruled the sprints last week in Qatar and in Italy. World Champion “Cav” collected two wins before crashing in the Tour of Qatar and Viviani the same number, without the crash, in Italy’s toe, in the Giro della Reggio Calabria.

Elia Vivani collecting a win during Stage of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

As of Monday, Viviani accumulated the most wins in 2012.

1 Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) 5
2 Tom Boonen (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) 4
3 Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura) 3
4 André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) 3

“I didn’t expect to begin so well, honestly,” Viviani told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “We are only at the start. My big aims are down the road.”

Viviani will race next in London at the track World Cup, testing the velodrome and focusing on the Olympics there this summer. He will also travel to Melbourne for the World Championships in April. He will race the scratch, the omnium and the Madison.

Cavendish races this week in Oman

“It’s a pity” that Cavendish ended the race with a crash, said Sky’s DS, Steven de Jongh. “He has nothing broken so we can move on to Oman now.”

He faces former team-mate Matt Goss, who returns to racing after the Tour Down Under. He leads GreenEDGE with sprinters Baden Cooke, Allan Davis and Stuart O’Grady.

Jabal al Akhdhar (Green Mountain), Stage 4, Tour of Oman 2011

Tour of Oman:
Stage 1: February 14: Al Alam Palace – Wadi Al Huwqayn, 159km
Stage 2: February 15: Wadi Dayquh Dam – Sur, 140km
Stage 3: February 16: Al Awabi – Bank Muscat, 144km
Stage 4: February 17: Bidbid – Al Wadi al Kabir, 142km
Stage 5: February 18: Royal Opera House – Jabal Al Akhdar, 158km
Stage 6: February 19: Al Khawd – Matrah Corniche, 130km

Pozzato and Barry out

Cavendish’s team-mate Michael Barry and Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini) did not start the Tour of Oman yesterday due to crashes. Barry broke his elbow and Pozzato his right collarbone.

Doctors performed surgery to fix Pozzato’s fracture on Sunday. He hopes to race alongside Evans in the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, starting from March 7, and to be ready for Milano-Sanremo 10 days later. He won Sanremo in 2006.

“I hope to recover quickly,” Pozzato said. “Maybe I’ll already be back on my bike on Wednesday [today].”

Luke Rowe and Oscar Gatto, Giro stage winner last year, will replace Barry and Pozzato, respectively, in Oman.

Sky’s GC men debut in Algarve

Sky’s Cavendish is ruling in the Middle East while Chris Froome and Brad Wiggins start racing in Portugal today. The two Brits placed on the podium of the Vuelta a España last year, second and third respectively, and will team for the Volta ao Algarve. They are building towards the Tour de France, to take on Evans’ title.

“No one is unbeatable,” Wiggins said last month at a training camp. “Superman doesn’t exist anymore.”

Wiggins crashed out of the Tour de France early last year – collarbone fracture – and returned for the Vuelta. Froome’s ride, nearly winning the Vuelta, proved to the team that he can possibly lead alongside Wiggins in the Tour.

Richie Porte signed for Sky this year and may race the Tour as re-enforcement.

Algarve Stages:
Stage 1: February 15, Dunas Douradas (Almancil) – Albufeira, 151.0km
Stage 2: February 16, Faro – Lagoa, 187.5km
Stage 3: February 17, Castro Marim – Malhão (Loulé), 194.6km
Stage 4: February 18, Vilamoura – Tavira, 186.3km
Stage 5: February 19, Lagoa – Portimão ITT, 25.8km

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