Plus: Olympic Velodrome crisis, Henderson and McConnell turn their focus to the world champs, Degenkolb and Dumoulin ready to step it up for Le Tour de France and a feel good A-Z from the Giro d’Italia.
Wednesday 1 Jun 2016

Belgian cycling idol Eddy Merckx may face trial following an investigation of kickbacks paid for the supply of bicycles to Brussels police, a Belgian newspaper said on Tuesday.

Merckx could not be reached for comment but the 70-year-old five-time Tour de France winner was quoted by the newspaper, La Derniere Heure, as saying: "I have nothing to say. We'll see what happens."

Asked about the report on Merckx, the public prosecutor's office would only say that a case had been opened. A spokesman declined comment on whether prosecutors wanted Merckx to face a graft trial after summer with 12 others, as the newspaper said.

The newspaper said the cyclist, who won the Tour and the Giro d'Italia five times each between 1968 and 1974, is suspected of giving a local police chief a discount on two Eddie Merckx bikes made by his company and securing a 15,000 euro (AUD $23,075) contract to supply 46 bicycles to the Brussels-Midi police force in 2006.

The police chief and several others were indicted in 2012 but an eventual trial could now involve more people, according to La Derniere Heure.

"What Merckx is accused of is really small potatoes compared to some of the others," the prosecutor said, with a ten year gaol sentence possible but unlikely. Some of the other irregular procurements involved Toyota vehicles and security cameras, according to ABC News in the United States.

Dubbed "The Cannibal" for his appetite for winning, Merckx founded his eponymous cycle company in 1980. He stepped down as chief executive in 2008 but remains involved, the firm says.

A national hero, Merckx has a metro station named after him in the borough of Anderlecht, served by the Midi police force.

Rio de Janeiro's city government said on Monday it had cancelled its contract with the company constructing the Olympic velodrome about two months before the start of the Summer Games in Brazil, after the firm filed for bankruptcy protection.

Rio-based Tecnosolo "did not have the conditions to continue being technically responsible for the construction of the velodrome," the municipal government said in a statement.

The city said the change would not impact the value or delivery of the project, which is set to be handed over to Olympic organisers in June.

Tecnosolo did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Rio 2016 Olympic organisers referred questions to the municipal government.

The velodrome is the most delayed of Rio's permanent Olympic venues. An indoor cycling test event set for the end of April was cancelled in March because it was not ready.

“The test event was due for the end of March and was cancelled, and we had previous plans before that put back as well," Brian Cookson, President of the International Cycling Union (UCI) said to the Associated Press.

"We talked about a training weekend at the end of June but now we understand there are problems with that as well. All of these things are very, very worrying." - Brian Cookson

The construction of the venue, which the city government says is now 88 percent finished, has now been handed over to Engetécnica, another Brazilian company that has been working on the project as a subcontractor since February.

In March, Olympic organizers said the delays had partly been due to logistical issues in laying the track, which is made of Siberian wood.

Australian Olympic mountain bikers and reigning national cross-country champions, Rebecca Henderson and Daniel McConnell (both Trek Factory Racing), have arrived back in Australia to prepare for the world championships, which take place in the Czech Republic from 28 June to 3 July.

Henderson had another stand out performance at the third round of the cross-country world cup series last weekend with an eighth place finish against a stacked field of riders she will race against at the Rio Olympics.

Muddy victories for Neff and Absalon at La Bresse MTB World Cup
The first half of the Cross-country series of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup concluded in La Bresse, France, on Sunday, with new faces on the top step of the podium for the first time this season.

While Henderson said on Instagram that she didn’t have the ‘feeling’ she was hoping for during last weekend's race, the result builds on her career best third place finish at the Cairns world cup in April.

After an impeccable domestic season, McConnell hasn’t had the results he knows he is capable of on the world circuit this year, but his form is also steadily improving leading up to the next big battle.

Giant-Alpecin have named their long-list of riders as they prepare for this year’s Tour de France with the overall objective of winning a stage. The team will also focus on the development of the whole squad through the experience gained by the riders during this year’s Tour.

“We go to the Tour de France with the aim of winning a stage, and our long-list for this year’s Tour should provide opportunities to achieve this result,” said coach Adriaan Helmantel.

“In terms of preparation, we have done video recons of eight stages. This footage will be analysed and used to prepare the guys and determine our tactics. In addition, some riders will train at an altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada, Spain, to build up their fitness levels. Finally, the last key races for the team before the Tour de France will be the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de Suisse and Ster ZLM Toer.”

Stacked roster ready to rumble at Critérium du Dauphiné
As the clock ticks down to the start of the Critérium du Dauphiné the main contenders are itching to see how their training has panned out in this week-long test ahead of the Tour de France.

The list includes Tom Dumoulin, who has just been selected for the Dutch team in the Olympics and is fresh off an unexpected reign in the Maglia Rosa at the Giro d’Italia before a forced exit due to an infected saddle sore. The long-list also includes John Degenkolb, who made a recent return to racing at the Amgen Tour of California following a long rehab after the team was hit by a car during a training ride last year.

Other riders on the long-list are: Nikias Arndt, Warren Barguil, Roy Curvers, Koen de Kort, Johannes Fröhlinger, Simon Geschke, Tobias Ludvigsson, Georg Preidler, Ramon Sinkeldam, Laurens ten Dam, Albert Timmer and Zico Waeytens.

This one arrived in our inboxes today from the press team at the Giro d’Italia. Cute.

A for Apeldoorn, where the 99th Corsa Rosa started.

B for Bobridge, the “Maglia Nera” of the Giro who finished the race in 156th position, at 5hr 08min 51sec behind the winner.

C for Chaves, second place in the GC; he’s the third Colombian rider on a Giro podium.

D for Digital media of the Giro. Facebook: 19 million unique users;  Twitter: 50 million views; Web: 50 million pages viewed.

E for Europe, the Corsa Rosa went through four countries: the Netherlands, Italy, France and Germany.

F for Fans, who took to the streets of the Giro every day in great numbers.

G for Germany, the country with the most stage victories (seven).

H for Hotel: 17,500 rooms booked by Giro organisations.

I for Icon, the Trofeo senza Fine (Neverending Trophy) for the winner of the Giro.

J for Jungels, the 99th Giro’s Maglia Bianca.

K for the 3,463.1km ridden by the Corsa Rosa.

L for Lombarda, the Colle that decided the GC.

M for the Maglia Rosa, which has been worn by 235 riders since 1931.

N for the Number of official accreditations at the Giro: 39,000.

O for Oss, the most aggressive rider of the Corsa Rosa, who spent 557km in the break.

P for (Grande) Partenza from Geldeland, the region of the Netherlands where the Giro started and the first three stages took place.

Q for Quantity: 198 riders started the Giro, 27.4 per cent (53) were Italians and  72.6 per cent (145) from other countries.

R for Ride Green, the environmentally sustainable project, which has already recycled 84 per cent of the 56,734kg of separated waste collected during the race.

S for Shark, the “Squalo dello Stretto” – the shark of the Messina Strait – is the nickname of Vincenzo Nibali, the winner of the Corsa Rosa.

T for TV: 184 connected countries worldwide. In Italy, Rai’s live broadcast of Stage 20 recorded a peak of 4,200,000 viewers, with a 36 per cent share.

U for Ulissi, the only Italian rider who won two stages. In total six stages were won by Italian riders.

V for Valverde, the Spanish rider who took third in the GC.

W for Lupo Wolfie, the Giro mascot.

X … for the city of departure of the 100th edition of the Giro.

Y for Young, 100,000 youngsters involved in the Biciscuola and Cycling Cup projects.

Z for Zhupa, the only Albanian rider who rode and finished the Giro d’Italia (in 2015 and 2016).