The week in cycling – 1 February 2013

After a week that has gifted cycling fans some great racing, shoulder-shrugging doping news and exciting team launches, there was no better time to launch this new blog feature.

Tour Down Under

Results wise, it’s been an exciting week. The Santos Tour Down Under came to a conclusion last Sunday and it used 2013 to its advantage, kicking down the door of the new cycling year and cementing itself solidly as the best way for the Pro-Tour season to start.

It’s been no secret that the Tour Down Under has been going from strength to strength since its inception in 1999, but the Australian stage race in and around Adelaide certainly showed its hand this year.

Usually a loosener for cyclists after arduous winter training programmes, the race saw a number of the big sprinters stretch out their legs for the first time this year. Pre-race favourite and previous winner Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) showed his form winning Stages 1, 4 and 6 of the race, as well as the prelude, the People’s Choice Classic. Australian Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) picked up Stage 5 after illness scuppered his chances of overall victory.

Tom-Jelte Slagte wins the Tour Down Under 2013

Relative unknown Tom-Jelte Slagte wins the Tour Down Under 2013, giving hope to his Blanco team and fans alike

It was a good race for the Brits, as Geraint Thomas threw his helmet into the ring to provide Sky with yet another team leader option. Fans of British track cycling exploits will be familiar with the majestically laidback Welshman who, after winning Stage 2, spent three days in the overall leader’s Ochre Jersey. At one point he led the King of the Mountains classification and the Points classification as well.

Thomas was unable to keep the lead however, losing it to the eventual overall winner Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco) on the predictably decisive Stage 5 from McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill.  Thomas fought back on the final stage with the help of Team Sky to climb onto the third step of the podium, bagging the Points classification in the process.

Slagter, provided a glimmer of hope to cycling fans keen to see the Dutch do well off the back of Rabobank’s withdrawal of sponsorship last year. The young Dutchman was a relative unknown before this TDU win, and provides a neat and symbolic starting point for 2013 as a fresh start.

For Blanco, it provides the confidence boost needed to push on in 2013 as well as the reaffirmation that Dutch cycling pedigree is never in question.

Doping revelations from Rasmussen and a one year ban for Schleck

Whilst cycling fans are still coming to terms with Lance Armstrong’s admission of doping in all of his 7 Tour de France victories, another more low key admission was made this week.

Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen admitted to doping throughout his career, from 1998 to 2010. The admission doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, after Rasmussen was withdrawn from the 2007 Tour de France, dropped from the Rabobank team and given a two-year ban which he has already served, for evading doping controls.

Rasmussen’s admission seems to be riding on the doping-tainted yellow jersey tails of Armstrong’s high profile admission in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. There are those who will no doubt argue that Rasmussen’s admission serves little purpose at all, just a confirmation of what everyone already knew. However, it does have worth – instead of wallowing in the past, international cycling should see the Dane’s admission as a chance to continue the fight against dopers going forward.

Michael Rasmussen admits to using banned substances throughout his career

Rasmussen confirmed that he used banned substances throughout his career, but his admission should be seen as an opportunity by cycling authorities

Rasmussen should be plied for information, as everything he holds in his head is surely the most fantastic resource for anti-doping agencies. Rather than going on a witch-hunt, Rasmussen should be allowed to explain fully the mechanics of his doping practices, and the culture which existed within the sport at the time. In allowing him to do so, cycling can better recognise how to prevent both the practices and culture from flourishing again.

This admission from Rasmussen came a day after it was announced that Luxembourg rider Frank Schleck is to miss the 2013 Tour de France. Schleck tested positive for Xipamide, a diuretic, during the 2012 Tour. He denies knowingly taking any banned substances and suggested that nutritional supplements may be to blame for his positive test.

Schleck, whose younger brother Andy also rides for Radioshack Nissan, has been handed a backdated one year ban from the Luxembourgian Anti-Doping Agency. The ban started from the date of his positive test on 14 July 2012, meaning he will be unable to start the 2013 Tour de France, scheduled to begin on 29 June.

He is free to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency are able to do the same should they feel a longer ban is merited.

A good week for women’s cycling

This week saw the launch of the eagerly anticipated Wiggle Honda women’s pro-cycling team. The team includes a wealth of British track cycling talent. Team Pursuit trio Dani King, Joanna Rowsell and Laura Trott have all been signed up in what has been identified as a great step on the road to increasing the profile of the women’s sport.

The team, which has secured funding from Bradley Wiggins’ Wiggo Foundation, is a great vehicle for some of the popular British track cycling heroines to make the transition across to the road.

Wiggle Honda team launch

Rowsell, Trott and King are all included in the new Wiggle Honda team roster. Gender inequalities in cycling still exist, but the new team is a step in the right direction.

It is important to bear in mind that at this point the team is providing nothing more than good publicity, and obviously results are what it should be judged upon. However, with the women’s pro scene crying out for the attention it deserves, now is no time to be cynical. The popular faces of Trott, King and Rowsell may bring new media attention to the sport – something which should be acknowledged as only a good thing.

Meanwhile, the Ladies Tour of Qatar is reaching its conclusion, with the fourth and final stage taking place today. Dutchwoman Kirsten Wild (ArgosShimano) currently leads the overall classification, squeezing into the leader’s Golden Jersey just three seconds ahead of Australian Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products UCK) who punctured on Stage 3.

With the overall classification so close, the final stage from the Sealine Beach Resort to Doha Corniche is bound to be an exciting one.

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