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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Sunday, March 8, 2015

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories

Bicycle racing fans, rejoice! We've got three high-end races going on today. First, we've got the final stage of the Belgian Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen. And starting today are two big-time stage races, the Tour de Langkawi and Paris-Nice. We'll post complete results for all three races as soon as possible.

Team Sky Director Doping Accusations Resurface

The British paper, The Daily Mail, has re-examined the paperwork of the TVM doping case of 1998. Three officials of the Dutch team were accused of doping riders with three team staff members being handed suspended prison sentences and fines. None of the riders were prosecuted in hopes that the riders would come clean with what was going on in the team. One of those riders was former top pro racer Servais Knaven, who is now a key lieutenant of Team Sky boss David Brailsford. Sky says it has has a zero-tolerance policy towards doping.

Servais Knaven

Servais Knaven in his days of racing as a top pro. Here he is in the 2005 Tour of Flanders.

The Daily Mail dug into the 14-year old French court documents and now asserts, and I quote from the paper's web site:

"An expert toxicologist who tested Knaven’s blood, taken when TVM abandoned the 1998 Tour following a police raid that July, testified he had taken EPO

"Cortisone, a banned endurance steroid hormone that riders are not allowed to take without special permission, was found in his urine

"A drug called Naftidrofuryl, which widens the blood vessels and is most typically used in the treatment of arterial disease, was also in his urine, as was a trace of the anti-inflammatory drug propyphenazone

"Sachets of a drug called Persantin was found in Knaven’s room. Also known as dipyridamole, it is a blood thinner designed to prevent clots. There is seemingly no sporting reason for taking it but it could be used as a ‘counterbalance’ for users of EPO, which can dangerously thicken the blood

"Knaven said: ‘With regard to use of Persantin and Naftidrofuryl, neither of them were illegal or on the list of banned substances. I used them on very rare occasions to get rid of cramps during long stage races.’

"Statements given to police by Knaven in December 1998, of which the MoS has full transcripts, show that he did not contest the findings of tests on his urine, blood and hair. He said there could be an alternative explanation to the EPO finding other than doping; he had no idea what some of the other drugs were or how they got into his system; admitted taking Persantin, for ‘heavy legs’; and concluded by saying Mikhailov was a good doctor and that he, Knaven, took whatever the doctor told him; the medical evidence was disputed in court."

Knaven said at the time, "I’ve never tested positive, therefore whatever Mikhailov has given is inevitably allowed. I don’t ask questions. For me it’s enough to know that whatever I take, I don’t test positive. I trust Mikhailov."

Here is Team Sky's Statement on the matter:

"Team Sky's policy on zero tolerance is well known. We have had a clear anti-doping policy from the start which we reiterated in 2012. We are proud of the leadership role we have played in helping move the sport on to a brighter future and showing you can win clean.

"A number of allegations have recently been made regarding Servais Knaven, one of Team Sky’s Sport Directors. These relate to his time as a professional cyclist with the Dutch team, TVM, going back to 1998.

"We have always said that if we were presented with clear evidence we would put it through our anti-doping process to establish the facts.

We have taken these allegations very seriously. In the limited time we have had we have done everything possible to investigate them. We have interviewed Servais at length. More importantly we handed over the information presented to us to three independent world class anti-doping experts for their analysis and expert opinion.

"Their view on the basis of what has been presented to us is that there is no proof of doping and Servais continues to maintain his innocence. We would be happy to share these findings with any other anti-doping agency.

"It is important to remember that no charges were ever brought against Servais. This goes back over 15 years and has been looked at several times during that period. 

"Servais has played an important part in the success of Team Sky over the last five years. He remains a valued member of the team."

Strade Bianche Reports

Italy's single-day race over Tuscany's white gravel roads, the Strade Bianche, is quickly turning into a real favorite of bike racing fans. We've got lots of pictures posted as well as complete results.

But... certainly one rider won't look back on the race with any sort of pleasure. Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Gerrans was just back to racing after healing up from a collarbone he broke in December. With the strong winds and difficult unpaved roads, there were numerous falls and crashes. Gerrans was one such victim. Gerrans fractured his elbow in a fall. Gerrans had this to say after learning he won't be racing for a while, "A few weeks of rehabilitation are before me. What does not kill you makes you stronger."

Simon Gerrans

Simon Gerrans at the 2014 World Road Championships

Heal quickly, Simon. Everyone wants to see you back racing.

The participating teams had a lot to say after the race. Here's a sampling:

From LottoNL-Jumbo:

Sep Vanmarcke again determined the outcome of a big cycling race today, this time, over Siena’s gravel roads instead of Belgium’s mud. The Team LottoNL-Jumbo rider placed fourth place in the Strade Bianche one-day race behind winner Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep).

Vanmarcke, the big pacemaker in last week’s Belgian opening weekend, attacked several times on Saturday. His efforts saw several strong men lose touch and helped him to get into a late four-man breakaway with Stybar, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Sep Vanmarcke

Sep Vanmarcke racing in the 2014 Paris-Roubaix

With ten kilometres to race to Siena’s piazza, however, Vanmarcke’s tank ran empty. He lost touch, but kept the leaders in sight and fought to hold on to his fourth place.

“I came close, a lot closer than I had thought I would,” Vanmarcke said. “It went better than expected. It is unfortunate that I ended up just outside the podium, but I’m pleased to see that my climbing has improved a lot compared to last year. I feel ready for the spring classics.”

Sports Director Erik Dekker enjoyed the race from his team car. “I saw some great action. Sep did not expect this, but I knew he was up for this,” Dekker said.

“He did really, really well, especially considering his mechanical halfway in the race, at a very inconvenient moment. Just like last week, he found his way back to the front within no-time, but you saw he missed that little bit of extra energy in the final. Of course, there is some disappointment after the race because of that mechanical, but Sep did really great.”

BMC sent this note:

Siena, Italy - BMC Racing Team's Greg Van Avermaet finished runner-up to Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick Step) Saturday at Strade Bianche after being part of a breakaway late in the 200-kilometer race.

Van Avermaet was first to attack on the steep incline in the final kilometer, which momentarily gapped breakaway companions Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) and Stybar. But Stybar fought back and caught and passed Van Avermaet in the narrow, twisting streets leading to the finish in Piazza del Campo square.

Greg van Avermaet

Greg van Avermaet racing on the white roads of this year's Strade Bianche

The result was Van Avermaet's best of the season, adding to third-place finishes in stages at the Tours of Qatar and Oman.

Tinkoff-Saxo had this to say about Strade Bianche:

Tinkoff-Saxo was in the mix at Saturday’s Strade Bianche, where the team rode actively to support team captain Peter Sagan’s chances in the Italian “modern classic”. Sagan eventually lost ground in the finale after a long stint at the front, while Roman Kreuziger was the first from the team to cross the line in Siena in 11th place - a minute behind race winner Zdenek Stybar.

Team Manager Bjarne Riis acknowledges that Tinkoff-Saxo had eyed a top result but that the race still proved valuable. “I think we rode a good race and that we pulled off our initial strategy quite well. We started the race aiming for a notable result and Sagan was also in a good position going into the last part of the race. In the finale he lost some power and didn’t have what it took to fight for the win. He has to peak at the Classics, so we knew it was a possibility that he would lack the last percentages today”, says Bjarne Riis and adds: “No doubt that it was a tough race and that it was ridden with a high intensity. The team kept Peter in a good position throughout the race and they stuck to the strategy. However, Peter attacked too early with 50k to go and he took a lot of responsibility at the front of the group - and therefore also a lot of wind. It would perhaps have been more secure, if he had waited”.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan racing over the white roads of this year's Strade Bianche

The 200k race including 45 kilometers of famous, Tuscan, gravel roads took the riders from San Gimignano to Siena and made for another edition of hard racing. Peter Sagan attacked on a gravel section with 50km to go and was accompanied by a select group of favorites. The Slovak champion was, however, not able to sustain the effort in the absolute finale and finished 31st in Siena. Bjarne Riis reckons that the difficulty of the route and the intensity of the race made for valuable preparation ahead of the cobbled classics in late March and April.

“While it would have been better tactically for Peter, if he had waited, it provided him with the opportunity to test his shape and to give his legs a proper beating. The most important is that he’s peaking at the Classics, but he’ll also get several chances at Tirreno-Adriatico”, comments Bjarne Riis, who underlines that the team now looks ahead to the Italian stage race starting Wednesday and Paris-Nice beginning this Sunday.

Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quickstep) won the race ahead of Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), while Roman Kreuziger was the best-placed Tinkoff-Saxo rider in 11th place.

This from Lampre-Merida:

Przemyslaw Niemiec's performance in the Strade Bianche (photo Bettini) was full of quality and it gave to the Lampre-Merida's rider a place in the top 10.

The Polish athlete confirmed that he is one of the most competitive cyclists in the blue-fuchsia-green team, obtaining the 9th place, at 1'03" behind winner Stybar.

The dirt-road sector of Monte Sante Marie was the key moment of the race: 9 riders escaped from the bunch and three of them, Valverde, Stybar and Van Avermaet, battled on the final hill of via Santa Caterina to Siena (16% slope).
Stybar preceded Van Avermaet and Valverde.

The pack rides on the white roads of Tuscany

Racing on the dirt roads of Tuscany

Niemiec pedaled in the main group. He had to face a puncture 70 km into the race. He also tried an attack with 16 km to go and in the final kilometers he had the energy to reach the finish line in the top 10.

Good feedbacks from neo-pro Ilia Koshevoy: the Lampre-Merida cyclist in his debut in the Strade Bianche, waited only few kilometers before challenging the strong wind that was blowing on the course and escaping from the bunch with other 7 riders. His escape ended with 70 km to go.

Unlucky race for Pozzato, who spent energy coming back in the bunch after a puncture and, because of this, could not be in the front when the race became demanding.

1- Stybar 5h22'13"
2- Van Avermaet 2"
3- Valverde 18"
4- Vanmarcke 46"
5- Rosa 56"
9- Niemiec 1'03"
27- Pozzato 4'21", 43- Pibernik 7'35", 45- Serpa s.t., 88- Conti 29'24", Koshevoy dnf, Mori dnf, Richeze dnf

Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen

Meanwhile, there was also racing in Belgium, at the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen. Cult Energy sent this note:

Today’s 174 kilometer-long first stage of Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen in and around Brugge was dominated by a breakaway consisting of four riders. As planned Cult Energy Pro Cycling were waiting in the peloton for the right moment to set up the sprint but a counter-break took the cake.

The four escapees, Tim Kerkhof (Team Roompot), Gijs Van Hoecke (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Alistair Slater (An Post - Chainreaction)  and Gorik Gardeyn (Veranclassic - Ekoi) were holding on to the lead until a small group managed to bridge the gap from the peloton adding new power to the group. From then on, the pace intensified resulting the peloton to split up several times.

Entering the local circuit, five escapees were hanging on to a small gap to the peloton where Cult Energy Pro Cycling assembled to set up Russell Downing and Michael Carbel for the expected bunch sprint. Going under the red kite, the front group had ten seconds on the field and Yves Lampaert (Etixx-Quick Step) launched his sprint just in time to make it first across the finish line before the galloping herd got the best of him.

Cult Energy Pro Cycling DS, Luke Roberts comments: "Unfortunately, we lost Russell halfway through the stage in a crash, He made it back on on the bike but pretty beaten and unable to give a 100 per cent. When the GC riders launched their attack on Kwaremont we simply weren't able to respond and lost contact to the front. Tomorrow's another day and as I expect a bunch sprint, we'll be setting up Carbel and probably Russell again for the finale," says Roberts.

Yves Lampaert

Stage winner and race leader Yves Lampaert

Yves Lampaert (Etix-Quick Step) leads the race overall.

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories