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Here’s what’s making cycling news headlines this week…
Fränk Schleck Tests Positive / Wiggins runs away with the Tour title / Froome promises loyalty / What about Nibali? / Evans in trouble / Leopard bankrupt? / Schleck hopes for something… / Hushovd’s season slipping away / Boonen too? / Armstrong and co. / Matt Wilson Announces Retirement
Fränk Schleck Tests Positive
RadioShack-Nissan’s Fränk Schleck quit the Tour in the wake of a failed doping test last night.
Late into the second rest day in Pau, the International cycling federation (UCI) announced he failed a doping test for diuretic Xipamide. He could have continued racing due to the nature of the substance, but the UCI advised he go home.
“Mr. Schleck and the team believe this is the right thing to do,” RadioShack said in a press release, “to ensure the Tour de France can go on in calm and that Fränk Schleck can prepare his defence in accordance with the legal timing to do so.”
The banned substance appeared in a urine test taken after the stage to Cap d’Agde on July 14.
“It is not a product that is present in any of the medicine that the team uses and the reason for the presence of Xipamide in the urine sample of Mr. Schleck is unclear to the team,” RadioShack said. “Therefore, the team is not able to explain the adverse findings at this point.”
Schleck was once found to have made payments to Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of the 2006 Operación Puerto doping scandal.
Wiggins running away with Tour title
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) looks ready to become the first Brit to win the Tour de France on Sunday in Paris. He leads by 2-05 minutes over team-mate Chris Froome ahead three key stages: two in the mountains and one time trial.
Who or what can stop him from winning?
It looks highly unlikely that Cadel Evans, Vincenzo Nibali or Jurgen Van den Broeck can do the job. They stand two and a half to five minutes behind, a distance that must be chopped before the time trial if they wish to win.
Wiggins cleaned house in the first long time trial. Froome was his nearest rival, 35 seconds back.
Froome promises loyalty
Froome has shown to be the strongest climber in the race so far, winning the stage to la Planche des Belles Filles and nearly riding away on the stage to La Toussuire.
“If I feel that the Tour can be lost, “I will follow the best riders, be that Evans or Nibali, to preserve our chance and be sure of Sky’s presence,” Froome told French newspaper, L’Equipe.
The article hit on tensions between him and Wiggins. Froome, however, said that he’s loyal to Sky.
“I could win this Tour, but not at Sky. I cannot lie to you, it’s difficult, but it’s my job. It’s a very, very great sacrifice. We have a strategy around Wiggins and everybody respects it.”
Journalists questioned Sky’s sports director, Sean Yates about Froome. One suggested that the team’s sponsor may be pushing for a Wiggins win because it would have a greater impact at home in Great Britain. Wiggins won three Olympic gold medals on the track and led Mark Cavendish to his worlds road race win last year.
“The fact that Brad had the extra time after the time trial and after Froome punctured [in the first leg, losing 1-25 minutes], it’s normal he should be up there,” Yates said. “You could play the card and send Froome up the road on Tourmalet, like [Bernard] Hinault did in 1986, and then he went and blew up. We’re not in a game to gamble.”
Froome signed a new three-year contract last year after helping Sky to second overall in the Vuelta a España last year. He said that he wants to return to win the Tour in 2013.
“It all depends on the route,” he told L’Equipe. “If there are passes, I hope Sky will be honest and all my team-mates will be at my service, with the same loyalty I have shown.”
What about Nibali?
The Italian from Sicily sits 2-23 minutes back on Wiggins. He tried to break free on the descent of the Grand Colombier on Wednesday and launched two attacks on the climb to La Toussuire the next day. His attack on La Toussuire helped put further time into Evans and momentarily shook Sky.
Wiggins appeared at the front and began chasing. Once Nibali returned, Froome attacked and eased off immediately, presumably called back by the team.
If Nibali tried a similar move today to Bagnères-de-Luchon or tomorrow to Peyragudes, it could disrupt the balance in Sky. He might draw out Froome. The two could ride up one position – Froome to first and Nibali second – or Nibali could just ride free.
“I’d definitely change rhythm. I’d put Wiggins into trouble,” Saxo Bank’s team manager, Bjarne Riis told VeloNews. “If I was Froome and wanted to win the Tour, I’d do the same thing! Wiggins’ weak point is that he can’t change rhythm.”
Nibali’s best result in the Tour is seventh place in 2009. He won the Vuelta a España in 2010 and placed third in the Giro d’Italia the same year.
Evans in trouble
Evans looks unlikely to defend his title or even place on the final podium based on the last week. On Sunday, he nearly lost it all when he punctured and his key mountain helper, Tejay Van Garderen kept riding.
“I wasn’t quite sure if he had another team-mate in there with him, but in hindsight, I should’ve waited for him,” Van Garderen said. “It was pretty loud and chaotic, and I mean, I could kind of gather he had a punctured, but ah…”
The main group with Van Garderen, Evans and Wiggins contained about 10 cyclists. Van Garderen, who sits seventh overall and holds the white jersey of best young rider, rode on. Maybe he was thinking to mark Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat), who is second in the young rider classification or an eventual top ten.
A few days earlier, however, the American said it was all for Evans.
“I enjoy begin in the white, but it’s not something I think about long term, for Paris,” he told Cycling Weekly. “If it happens, it happens, and that’s awesome. If it doesn’t happen, and Cadel’s in yellow, that’s the main goal.”
Evans put in a long-range attack on Thursday’s stage to La Toussuire. On the Col du Glandon, he followed a move by Van Garderen, rode free for several kilometres and then succumbed.
“Bike racing’s always a gamble. Sometimes you try something, but the more you risk, the more you have to gain, but also the more you have to lose,” Evans said. “In retrospect, it wasn’t a successful move, but you don’t want to get to Paris thinking I should’ve done something more.”
Fränk Schleck races the Tour, but also wants to be paid by Leopard. He, his brother and Fabian Cancellara complained to the international cycling federation (UCI) that Leopard, the management company of their RadioShack-Nissan team, is not paying salaries.
The team confirmed to a German newspaper the complaint. Last month, the UCI said RadioShack hadn’t paid three riders’ salaries since May. One of those is rumoured to be Jakob Fuglsang, who said he’ll leave the team at the end of the year.
On Saturday, Leopard released statement: “In response to malicious and unfounded rumours, Leopard formally denies any situation that could be interpreted as close to collapse or to bankruptcy.”
Schleck hopes for something…
Andy Schleck had to renounce the Tour this year due to a small hip fracture suffered in the Critérium du Dauphiné. On Thursday, he returned to Basel, Switzerland for exams.
“Andy still experiences pain, so a new examination was necessary. The MRI scan showed clear signs of a good healing, but the fracture is not fully healed yet,” Team Head Doctor Andreas Gösele said in a team statement.
“I can’t wait for the day that I can race again,” Schleck said. “It’s too early to make concrete plans for my return to competition, but I’m hopeful that I can still make something of my season.”
Hushovd’s season slipping away
Thor Hushovd announced this week that he’d be unable to race for Norway in the Olympics.
“The Olympics has been a major goal of the season and with a course that would fit me very well,” he said on the Norwegian cycling federation website. “When the body is not functioning optimally, unfortunately, I have to withdraw.”
BMC Racing announced Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert as their new big signings last year, but both have failed to win so far. Hushovd suffered with a virus for most of this season. In last year’s Tour, he helped Garmin to the team time trial win, took the yellow jersey and won two more stages.
On Saturday, Hushovd abandoned the Tour of Poland and returned to his base in Monaco.
Tom Boonen (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) ruled the Northern Classics this year, winning the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but a crash may force him to miss the Olympics. In the Tour of Poland first stage last week, he fractured a rib on his right side.
He is due to announce this week if he thinks he can represent Belgium at the Olympics.
Armstrong and co.
The US doping investigation into Lance Armstrong continues, with lifetime bans announced last Tuesday for three of the six charged.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) banned Luis Garcia del Moral, Michele Ferrari and Jose “Pepe” Martí from practicing in sport.
“The respondents chose not to waste resources by moving forward with the arbitration process,” said USADA, “which would only reveal what they already know to be the truth of their doping activity.”
Del Moral worked as a doctor and Martí worked as a trainer in the team. Ferrari trained Armstrong, though already banned from working with athletes in Italy. USADA proved they trafficked and administered drugs, including EPO.
Bruyneel has asserted his right to be heard by a panel of arbitrators. On Wednesday, Armstrong received a 30-day extension to accept penalties or to accept arbitration.
It’s unclear if RadioShack team doctor, Pedro Celaya will request arbitration or accept sanction.
Matt Wilson Announces Retirement
Matthew Wilson has announced that he will retire from racing next month. The Victorian will make his final race appearance at Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg. After that Wilson will transition to a Sports Director for ORICA-GreenEDGE in 2013.
“ORICA-GreenEDGE have offered me an amazing opportunity to pursue a career that I hope will suit me well,” said Wilson. “We have been discussing this move for awhile, and I really felt now was the right time. I’ve started to feel that I can be of more use to my team in the car than on the bike. When you realise that, it’s time to stop.”
Wilson will join the team at the Vuelta a España to begin to learn more about the various responsibilities associated with his new role.
“Originally, it was planned that I would ride the entire season, but due to a variety of circumstances, we moved things up slightly,” noted Wilson. “Hamburg should be a good last race. It’s a one-day race I’ve always enjoyed, and it allows me to meet up with the team in Spain to begin to get a feel for my new role.”
The 35-year-old career domestique said his body has begun to protest the rigors of racing.
“My body just isn’t as strong as it used to be,” he explained. “I find myself getting sick and injured more often. Getting back to top condition has become harder and harder. I got to the point where I had to start thinking about my future and what my body would be like if I kept pushing it the way I have been. I’ve never been a rider with huge natural ability, so if I’m not 100%, I suffer badly.”
The former Australian National Road Champion calls his road title one of two personal highlights over his 12 years in the professional peloton.
“Winning the Australian National Championships in 2004 and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in 2007 are the two wins that stand out for me the most,” Wilson said. “But so many other wins that I’ve been involved in like Baden Cooke’s green jersey in the Tour in ’03, various Grand Tour stage wins, Simon Gerrans’ Sun Tour and this year’s Milan San-Remo all stand out. I never saw myself as an individual rider. I knew I never had the talent to be a consistent winner, but I could give a lot to the team in pursuit of these goals.”
“The start of my first Tour de France was huge,” added Wilson. “It was a massive moment. I had dreamed about the Tour de France ever since I was a little kid. I never really believed I would get there so it was a hugely emotional moment to arrive on the start line of my first Tour.”
Wilson believes professional cycling has undergone significant changes throughout his career.
“The peloton has become a lot more dangerous over the past ten years,” he said. “It’s not that it wasn’t dangerous before, of course, but riders in this new generation don’t feel the same restraints of tradition and respect that I began my career with. That’s fine, though. Everything has to evolve. For me, I think it has become a young man’s sport.”