It’s a dark Thursday, with news of a tragedy in Qatar overshadowing an action packed first four days of racing. We’ve also got the latest from France, AG2R’s intentions for California, the new World Cross Champ in action and an interesting way to spend a weekend in August.
Tragedy Strikes In Qatar
Last night, (Wednesday) young Belgian professional Frederiek Nolf (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) died in his hotel room at the Tour of Qatar.
On Thursday morning, his team mates awoke to the news that the 21 year old (who was to celebrate his 22nd birthday next Tuesday) had died in the night of as yet, unknown causes.
Team manager Christophe Sercu told Sport.be that there was no indication on Wednesday night that anything was wrong with the rider, saying that “Wednesday night there was nothing going on. Frederiek sat with his team mates to eat his evening meal and around 10.00pm went with the rest of the squad to their rooms to sleep.”
Even Nolf’s room mate, Kristof Goddaert was not aware that anything was wrong during the night.
While today’s stage at the Tour of Qatar will be annulled and ridden by the riders in one group, the Topsport Vlaanderen team is heading back to Belgium with the riders competing in France at the Йtoile de Bessиges also leaving the race to head home.
Nolf had been a professional cyclist since January last year and had a strong career in the amateur ranks, including winning the Belgian championships in the sub-junior category and winning 19 races as a junior as well as finishing 3rd in the Tour of Flanders in that age category.
An autopsy will be carried out to determine the cause of death and the team has already made it clear that there have been no anomalies in any of the medical testing carried out on Nolf over the past year.
PEZ extends our sympathies to the family and friends of Frederiek Nolf, on behalf of all of our staff and readers.
Desert Dйjа Vu: Boonen Back In Qatar
Tom Boonen’s season is off to a great start with the announcement that there will be no further legal action over the former world champ’s cocaine ‘bust’ last year, being followed along nicely by a stage win and a two day stint as leader, in a race that was starting to look like it might have forgotten all about the Quick Step superstar.
“I learned of the court’s decision during the race,” said Boonen after the stage, “We can say that my season starts today. I wanted this victory more than anything.”
Yesterday’s stage saw another new winner step onto the podium with Team Columbia’s Mark Cavendish battling it out during the stage to arrive at the front for the finale.
“There were five of us in the front group early on, then four, then three in the last part, but everybody did a perfect job all day. The conditions were very tough, but that’s Qatar, it’s always windy here,” explained Cavendish after the finish.
The compact sprinter sees no reason to relax either, just because he has his first win of the season, saying, “There are two more stages to come and hopefully I’ll be able to do well in those ones, too. I’ve been unfortunate in the finishes earlier on in this race, now it seems my luck has turned.”
Here are some pics and a quick wrap of the action so far:
Sunday 01/02: Doha – Doha (Team Time Trial 6 km)
Team Garmin smoked ‘em all (by a second) in the TTT showing that they really deserve to be regarded as the favourites in Venice come May. The win put QuickStep out of their usual winners spot and Brit Bradley Wiggins into the leader’s jersey.
Monday 02/02: Khalifa Stadium – Al Khor Corniche (134 Km)
Another stage, another Brit in the lead and another chance for us to say “but where’s Tom?” Roger Hammond gave the Cervйlo Test Team their first win (north of the equator) this season by attacking a 14man group including Boonen and Napolitano and also took over the lead from Wiggins.
Tuesday 03/02: Al Zubarah – Doha Golf Club (137,5 Km)
And here it is. Boonen’s warmed up and decides he’ll take the stage and the jersey. It might be three leaders in three days, but things seem to be back to normal now the QuickStep express is firing on all cylinders.
Wednesday 04/02: Doha Old Souq – Madinat Al Shamal (141 Km)
No one can say this race is boring in 2009. Mark Cavendish has accomplished his Qatar mission and after a series of breaks and re-captures, sprinted home clear of Heinrich Haussler and Boonen to claim the fourth stage.
Nuyens: It’s A Boy
After making a last minute run back from Qatar to be with his wife, Nick Nuyens became a father for the first time on Tuesday.
Nuyens’ wife Evy Van Damme, one of the top female cyclists in Belgium until her retirement in 2007, gave birth to a healthy son, Sterre.
Having been allowed to return to Belgium by his Rabobank team, Nuyens has missed out on his first race of the season, so will now head to the Tour of Majorca on Feb 8. Either way, Nuyens doesn’t seem to think it will be a big problem for his assault on the Belgian opening weekend which kicks off with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday February 29.
“In training I have ridden well and it is also possible to win the Omloop when you are less than 100%”, he told Sporza. Having crossed the line first in 2005 while racing for Quick Step, I guess we should take his word for it. As a new dad however, I just hope he gets some good nights sleep in the next three weeks so he can prove that statement correct!
Йtoile de Bessиges
The early French season stage race is off and running with former Tour de France stage winner, Jimmy Casper, out-sprinting the bunch to take both the stage win and the race’s first leader’s Jersey.
The win was not only a boost for Casper personally (after his “positive” then “not positive” test at last year’s Tour) but a great start to the year for his new team, Besson Chaussures-Sojasun. Second and third in the kick went to Sйbastian Chavanel of FdJ and Klaas Lodewyck of TopSport Vlaanderen.
Stage 1, Wed Feb 4: Bellegarde to Le Grau du Roi, 150km
Stage 2, Thu Feb 5: Nimes to Saint Abmbroix, 150km
Stage 3, Fri Feb 6: Branoux Les Taillades to La Grance Combe, 134km
Stage 4, Sat Feb 7: Allegre Les Fumades to Allegre Les Fumades, 150km
Stage 5, Sun Feb 8: Gagnieres to Besseges, 145km.
AG2R Debut In California
Team AG2R LA MONDIALE will be making their Tour of California debut this year with a team that packs a lot of experience as well as ambition.
Guided by experienced cyclists such as Cyril Dessel, Stephane Goubert, Tadej Valjavec and Martin Elmiger, the French team is approaching this competition with an aim to the overall team’s classification as well as further preparation for their European season.
“It’s a very interesting layout with difficult stages which promise an exciting race scenario,” said sports manager, Julien Jurdie. “The profile of the race slightly resembles that of Paris-Nice and this Tour of California should be an excellent preparation for this upcoming French race, which is only a few weeks away.”
The team will be looking at numerous objectives at the race, which will contain a strong mix of ProTour, International and local professional squads, with Jurdie saying that they are, “aiming for stage victories and as always one of our main objectives is the team ranking. Furthermore, if the conditions of the race allow us to clinch a spot in the final ranking, we will not hesitate to do so.”
The full AG2R team for the Tour of California is:
Cyril Dessel, Hubert Dupont, Martin Elmiger, John Gadret, Stйphane Goubert, Rinaldo Nocentini, Christophe Riblon and Tadej Valjavec
World Champ Steps Out
Newly crowned cyclo cross world champ, Neils Albert, has given his new white strip its first outing, finishing 10th in Maldergem, while Belgian team mate at last weekend’s championships, Sven Nys took the win.
Albert said after the race that he hoped his fans forgave him for ‘only’ finishing tenth, but since his win in Hoogerheide he has hardly seen his bed.
The coming days he plans to be back on his A-game and show the fans what the rainbow jersey wearer is capable of. Today, he is riding the indoor cross event in Hasselt and then on the weekend there is the Gazet van Antwerpen race in Lille on Saturday and the Superprestigecross in Hoogstraten on Sunday.
24 Hours Of Le Mans
No, not one for the petrol heads out there, we are talking about a bike race.
While the concept of 12 and 24 hour team and individual races are not uncommon in mountain biking, holding road events over such a timed distance is something rather uncommon.
So, on August 22 and 23 the French Cycling Federation in partnership with Shimano France and the MSV cycling Club will be organising an event on the famed LeMans Bugatti motor racing circuit, south west of Paris.
The race is open to all bike riders over the age of 18, whether they are members of a Cycling Federation or not, and they can enter the event as individual competitors or in teams of 2, 4, 6 or 8 riders. Already teams from all across Europe have entered the event, with race organisers expecting that between 2000 and 3000 competitors will take part.
Build in 1966 the Bugatti Circuit is a permanent, floodlit racetrack (4.185km in length) located in the south of Le Mans in France (only 55 minutes from Paris and 1h30 from Roissy CDG Airport by train). Various motor-sport races take place there. The most famous are the automotive, motorbike and truck races under the world-known designation of 24 Heures (which also feature a roller-skate competition) and the French Moto Grand Prix.
There are five categories in the event:
SINGLE (1C*) :1 Man or1 Woman
PAIR (2C) : 2 Men or 2 Women or 1 Man and 1 Woman
PRESTIGE (4C) : 4 Men or 4 Women (Mixed not available)
COMPETITOR (6C) : 6 Men or Mixed (2 Women minimum)
LEISURE (8C) : 8 Men or Mixed (3 Women minimum)
For full details on the event, entry fees, accommodation and transport, visit the race website at >www.24heuresvelo.fr
Astana Team With LIVESTRONG
On World Cancer Day this week, Team Astana unveiled the “Ride for LIVESTRONG” website, www.rideforlivestrong.com, which will allow cycling fans around the world to join the team in the global fight against cancer.
The three key elements of Ride for LIVESTRONG are a race kilometre contest; a fundraising initiative and an educational program.
“Many of the riders, like our fans, have a personal connection to cancer; Ride for LIVESTRONG allows them to take an active role this season to support this effort,” said Astana team manager, Johan Bruyneel.
Through www.rideforlivestrong.com, fans can select their favourite Team Astana rider and view the rider’s profiles and their connections to cancer. The website also features cancer statistics for each rider’s home country, as well as the burden of cancer in each of the countries where Team Astana will compete this season.
By selecting a rider, fans can enter into a race km contest to win great team sponsor prizes, including a race-ridden 2009 Trek Madone 6.9 road bike; a special edition Giro Ionus LIVESTRONG road helmet signed by Lance Armstrong, and a Nike LIVESTRONG clothing package.
Fans may also choose to make a donation to support the fight against cancer through the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Campaign. Once a favourite rider is selected, fans will be directed to the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s secure transaction website. A one-time donation of $27.50, or more, allows fans to sponsor a rider for the entire season in honour or in memory of a loved one who has been touched by cancer. Names will appear on a rider’s profile page. Donations are not required, however, to enter into the race kilometre contest to win Team Astana gear.
“Through RIDE for LIVESTRONG, Team Astana is encouraging the international cycling community to get involved in our movement to make cancer a global priority,” said Lance Armstrong, founder and chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF). “I am honoured that my team is demonstrating outstanding leadership in a show of support for our campaign.”
The Astana Cycling Team has set the goal of raising $275,000 over the course of the season for global cancer research. This goal equates to one cent for every cancer death during Lance Armstrong’s retirement (27.5 million). The funds raised will support the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Campaign (www.livestrongblog.org) efforts to make cancer a global priority. The LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Campaign is focused on supporting the 28 million people living with cancer worldwide, dispelling the misconceptions surrounding the disease and urging world leaders, leading cancer organizations and cancer survivors to join together in this effort.
Damsgaard Stays With Saxo Bank
The Damsgaard – SaxoBank situation is a little clearer this week with the reports of the Doctor (and his anti-doping program) being dropped by Team Saxo Bank being clarified by the team.
Due to the escalating number of tests that riders are put thorough as part of the UCI’s Biological Passport program, it was felt by the team that there was no need to double up on this comprehensive testing.
So, while Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard will stay on as a consultant with Team Saxo Bank, his role will not be to oversee the administration of more anti-doping controls, but rather to apply his knowledge to further scrutinise the results that are generated through the UCI’s program. Sort of like a double check, but without doubling up on the testing.