There's plenty of news floating around after Stage 8 of the 2009 Tour de France, including the ongoing battle over the race-radio ban, Bradley Wiggins rise as a Grand Tour player, Lance Armstrong's ongoing anti-doping controls, the latest abandons after the first week of racing, Cadel Evans and his tactics, plus Thor Hushovd taking over the sprinter's green jersey from Mark Cavendish.
Top Tour de France teams will protest plans to ban radio contact between riders and their team managers on two of next week's stages.
Johan Bruyneel, the team manager of Astana which includes yellow jersey favourites Lance Armstrong Alberto Contador, has decribed the decision as "unjustified and unacceptable".
Astana is one of 14 teams who have already signed a petition against radio silence for stages 10 and 13 and will submit it later Saturday.
"The Tour has gotten so big and busy with so many cars on the route that it is completely unjustifiable and unacceptable that in the biggest event of the year, there is an experiment to see what will happen without radios," said Bruyneel.
"We can't accept that. I don't understand why there should be two days without radio."
During each stage's racing, team managers communicate with their riders, who wear ear-pieces, by radio to advise on tactics, approaching hazards and other important information.
But Tour organisers, following initial discussions between the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the teams' own representatives' groups, are insisting on a return to the old days with radio silence for both Tuesday's 194.5km stage from Limoges to Issoudon and Friday's 200km-long ride from Vittel to Colmar.
In theory it should make for more exciting racing. Detractors of the use of radios by teams complain that bike racing is becoming dull, predictable and that some riders no longer use their own initiative.
Radios were introduced to cycling by Armstrong's old team Motorola in the 1990s, but have now become almost as crucial as the bikes themselves.
Yet they are still not used in under-23 races and, despite some claims to the contrary, radios have been banned in other top races.
At the French championships in June, Dmitri Champion stunned a handful of bigger favourites to win the national men's road race while racing without a radio.
However, that has not convinced the likes of Bruyneel.
After a meeting of all 20 of the Tour de France teams in Monaco before last Saturday's opening stage, Bruyneel says 14 teams have signed the petition which is an incentive from the International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT).
"You can argue about it, but the Tour de France should not be a test ground and the teams are an important player in cycling and I don't think we should just accept something ordered on us if it doesn't make sense," added Bruyneel.
"The riders agree, there are issues of security about the dangers of riding without communication."
The petition is likely to fall on deaf ears.
A statement released Saturday by Tour de France organisers said: "In keeping with a decision by the Executive Committee of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the Commissaires Board would like to confirm that the 10th stage from Limoges to Issoudun on July 14 will be held without the use of radio communication.
"The Executive Committee of the International Cycling Union made this decision on June 19, 2009 and it will be upheld for the 10th and 13th stages of the race. We will do everything in our power to facilitate the job of the team managers."
Wiggins showing true Grand Tour colours in France
Olympic track pursuit king Bradley Wiggins has moved to end doubts surrounding his superb form on the Tour de France by insisting his performances are not drugs-related.
Wiggins started and finished the eighth stage of the race Saturday in fifth place overall at 46 seconds behind overnight race leader Rinaldo Nocentini, who is being trailed by both Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong.
As part of a team aiming to put Christian Vande Velde into race contention after his fifth place finish last year, Wiggins has so far stolen most of the American's limelight.
A time trial specialist whose background is in track, Wiggins' new status as an emerging all-rounder has prompted some surprise at the Tour.
The Belgian-born Londoner believes a strict diet and a "lot of racing" have helped get him in supreme physical shape, but he insists that he is not using drugs - and that his ability to survive the killer climbs shows the peloton is cleaner as well.
"I know that some people think I'm on drugs. I know how the sport is," said Wiggins, who won two pursuit gold medals in Beijing last year. "The sport changed so much in the past three years. I was inspired by Christian's performance last year and maybe I realised that on this Tour you don't have to be on drugs to do well."
Wiggins' Garmin team claims to base much of its philosophy on ethics; in layman's terms 'they don't do drugs'.
Wiggins' improving climbing form emerged most notably on the difficult mountain stage to Alpe di Siusi on the Giro d'Italia last month.
Despite finishing 1:47 behind stage winner Denis Menchov, Wiggins finished over a minute ahead of seven-time Tour de France champion Armstrong.
And in the lead-up to the Tour, he had a simple philosophy.
"I've just ridden my bike. Ride my bike, eat less. It's quite simple really," he said Saturday.
Now two kilos lighter than he was at the Giro, Wiggins aims to maintain that form until the crucial third week so that Vande Velde, who crashed out of the Giro injured, can race himself into yellow jersey contention.
"I just want to keep helping Christian and be out there as long as possible. The Alps are going to be more important so I'm trying not to get too carried away with anything," he added. "My personal objective before the Tour was to finish in top 20, but we'll see how it goes.
"I'm just going to keep plugging away, taking it day by day. I'd like to get through the Pyrenees in the same condition, then get through the second week - I've got two arms and two legs like everyone else - and we'll see how it goes in the third week.
"I believe I'm in good physical condition to do something in this Tour," he added.
Asked again when he had found his climbing legs, he added: "I never found them really, I've always had them. I just stopped track (cycling) and lost weight. The rest is science. I'm two kilos lighter than I was at the Giro, so I'm kind of putting out the same power."
Although Wiggins, who is now an OBE (Order of the British Empire), is likely to resume track racing ahead of the London Games in 2012, his reputation as just a track rider continues to precede him.
"I can never get away from that tag unfortunately. I don't know what the fascination is with the track, everyone keeps asking - it's still an endurance sport," he added.
"It's easier for me to just say I'm a trackie, then everyone goes, 'yeah he's a trackie, but he's doing great at the Tour'."
Armstrong's constant doping controls becoming 'nerve-racking'
Lance Armstrong admitted Saturday that constant anti-doping controls are starting to get on his nerves after being tested twice in one day.
The 37-year-old is third in the general classification after Saturday's 176.5km eighth stage from Andorra to Saint Girons as he bids to win an eighth yellow jersey after nearly four years in retirement.
Armstrong is just eight seconds behind current race leader Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy, but the American icon admitted that doping controls are starting to grate with him after two tests just hours apart.
Throughout his career, Armstrong has faced unfounded allegations of doping and insisted earlier this week he has nothing to hide.
Having been tested on Saturday morning at his Astana team's hotel in Andorra, Armstrong was controlled again immediately after finishing here, but said his biggest problem was the time it took to produce a sample for testing.
"Stage eight done. Tough, but not challenging," wrote Armstrong on his Twitter page. "Had anti-doping control AGAIN. Couldn't pee so it took forever. Sucked! Now I am starting to wonder though."
Armstrong was unavailable to explain exactly what he is wondering, but he hinted at feeling the controls are excessive on his morning Twitter entry from his Andorra hotel.
"Knock, knock. Another anti-doping control," he wrote. "Seems excessive, but I am not complaining. This is a good thing and I like good things."
Pereiro, Gonzalo abandon Tour
Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, the Tour de France winner in 2006, abandoned the race during the eighth stage from Andorre-la-Vieille to Sain-Girons on Saturday.
Caisse d'Epargne's Pereiro was the second Spaniard to pull out of the race on the 176.5km stage, the second of three days in the Pyrenees, after compatriot Eduardo Gonzalo (Agritubel).
'Evans will never win Tour like that', says Cancellara
A Cadel Evans attack early in the mountainous eighth stage of the Tour de France on Saturday might have raised the yellow jersey hopes of some of his fans.
But it went down like a lead balloon with former race leader Fabian Cancellara, who claims the Australian will have to do better if he is to go one better than two consecutive runner-up places.
In terms of providing yellow jersey fireworks, the second of three days in total in the Pyrenees was really more of a damp squib.
Evans attacked early, was reeled in, and then after a double acceleration by fellow yellow jersey hopeful Andy Schleck, the Astana team of Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador flexed their muscles to take a grip on the stage.
As Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez went on to beat three of his breakaway companions to victory, the main peloton came in nearly two minutes later with no changes in the overall classification.
Contador is still six seconds behind unlikely champion Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R, Armstrong is third overall at eight seconds, while Schleck is 1:49 in arrears and Evans is still 3:07.
To his credit, Evans, who had tried in vain to attack his rival on the last kilometres of the summit finish to Arcalis where Astana's 2007 champion Contador finally won on Friday, at least tried something.
But as a tactical ploy, it was a no-goer. And the Australian admitted it had been a total waste of energy, which might handicap him on Sunday's mammoth climb over the Tourmalet down towards Tarbes.
"I saw an opportunity there on the climb and I've got nothing to lose so I thought I'd try something," said Evans. "As it turned out, a big waste of energy. Hopefully I will recover that by tomorrow."
Five kilometres from the summit of the day's first climb, the 23km long Port d'Envalira, Evans attacked the yellow jersey peloton prompting a number of riders to counter.
An earlier seven-man group had formed earlier, and from that little bunch Frenchman Sandy Casar had managed to break free to come over the summit alone.
Evans joined him at the 50km mark with Garmin's David Zabriskie, Vladimir Efimkin of AG2R, Christophe Kern of Cofidis and Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel.
On the long descent Cancellara was one of four other riders who had battled to join their breakaway, but Evans' presence ultimately forced Astana to up the pace.
Evans was caught 13km further on and Cancellara managed to stay out the front before being caught on the Col d'Agnes.
"Because I had good legs I attacked on the descent and with (Thor) Hushovd and (George) Hincapie we managed to catch Evans' group up. But Astana weren't having it. Because Cadel was there we had no chance. Racing like that, I'm sure, Evans will never win the Tour."
He added: "When he (Evans) finally decided to sit up (and wait for the peloton) it was too late. We'd hoped to take a bigger lead into the third climb (Col d'Agnes) so we could go up riding tempo."
Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel, who has helped Armstrong win seven Tour crowns and Contador one, said he was baffled.
"I don't know what Evans' intention was, but if you look at the profile it is a long climb and when you see after Port d'Envalira that there is still 150kms left to go, I didn't really understand," said Bruyneel.
He hinted that Evans' teammates at Silence should really have been attacking, and not him.
"That is their strategy, but I would not do that with my team and our top guys," added Bruyneel, who even questioned Saxo Bank after Andy Schleck's bid to distance Astana on the Col d'Agnes.
"For example, with Saxo Bank, I would have sent Frank Schleck to attack rather than Andy and it's only Cadel from Silence who is dangerous for us."
For some, it seems Evans has still got a lot to learn if he is to close a deficit which he feels has already ruled him out of contention.
Still, he complained: "You'd think anyone in the Tour de France would let me go in a breakaway, and then when they get into a break with me - like a couple of members of them did - they carry on like three-year-olds with their tantrums, saying 'get out of the group, they're gonna chase us'.
"I just get so sick of being told, 'why don't go on an early breakaway," he added. "Why don't you you do this, why don't you do that'. You've got to take these opportunities when they come."
Hushovd in green
Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd took command of the Tour de France green jersey on Saturday from Britain's Mark Cavendish after an impressive ride in the mountains.
And the 31-year-old Norwegian, who won the green jersey in 2005, showed his ambition by winning two of the day's three intermediate sprints to pick up 12 points and take the green shirt from Cavendish, who has held the shirt since last Sunday's second stage from Monaco to Brignoles.
There are three sprint sections on the ninth stage from Saint Gaudens to Tarbes although Cavendish, who struggles over the climbs, may decide not to challenge.
© AFP 2009
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