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UCI boss Cookson comes under fire amid more wrangling

Members of the sport’s Ethics Commission have been replaced in controversial fashion, a high profile doping case was not disclosed to the media and last month, 2013 Tour de France champion Chris Froome was granted a therapeutical use exemption (TUE) in disputable manner.

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Shortly after Cookson was elected UCI president in Florence during a spectacular congress – [nL4N0HN2RT] – the Ethics Commission, the guardian of the ethical principles of the UCI’s Code of Ethics, was subject to a major overhaul.

Dutchman Peter Zevenbergen, who brought up claims against Russian Igor Makarov, one of the biggest supporters of Cookson in his election campaign, was asked to leave his job, he claims.

“It is quite simple: the new management committee did not accept my criticism,” Zevenbergen told Reuters on Tuesday.

Article 14 of the Code of Ethics of the UCI state that the members of the Ethics Commission “shall be irremovable”, unless they die or resign.

“I think those who were in the congress meeting last year would have been disappointed with the performance of the Ethics Committee as it was represented, Cookson told reporters on Tuesday.

“I think that it was quite clear that we had to change. We have got a new ethics commission now, all the members of the commission have been renewed. People we have are of the highest quality.”

Zevenbergen said that he received a visit from Martin Gibbs, the UCI director general, in late December, 2013, as the Ethics Commission was investigating claims that Russian federation president Makarov had promised one million euros ($1.36 million)to the Union Europenne de Cyclisme (UEC) in exchange for a Cookson vote.

“Martin Gibbs came to Amsterdam to discuss this with me on the 27th of December. I would not say he asked me to resign, there was some pressure, he said he did not want to continue with me.

“He said if I stayed, it (the Ethics Commission president job) would be an empty function.

“As a consequence Peter Barth from Germany resigned from the commission.”

Sources told Reuters that Barth, who left his job in April, felt the independence of the Ethics Commission could not be guaranteed anymore.

Last month Froome, who rides for Team Sky, was handed a TUE for a steroid-based drugs so he could ride the Tour de Romandie with a chest infection.

Member teams of the Mouvement Pour un Cyclicme Credible (Movement for Credible Cycling, MPCC) prevent their riders from competing while under steroid-based treatment but Team Sky is not one of them.

It was, however, the way the TUE was granted that was subject to debate.

CAN DO BETTER

Regulations state that “the UCI shall appoint a committee of at least 3 (three) physicians to consider requests for TUEs”, yet only the UCI doctor Mario Zorzolli was involved in granting Froome a TUE.

Asked why the UCI would bypass its own regulations, Cookson said: “Not strictly true. The commission had given delegation to the UCI’s doctor to make those decisions

“It would have applied to any other rider.”

Cookson pointed out that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had not seen anything untoward but the Briton added that from now on, only the three-man panel would decide on TUEs.

“But we can do a better job. We will now change our procedure,” he said.

“We have reconfirmed the members of the TUE commission and we have ensured that from now on decisions about TUEs are not taken by one single individual but taken by a panel of TUE experts.”

Last week, Russian Denis Menchov, who retired after winning the Giro and the Vuelta, was retrospectively stripped of all his Tour de France results from 2009, 2010 and 2012 after irregularities in his biological passport were found.

The UCI failed to communicate this to the public or the media despite usually sending out a statement once a doping case is closed. It simply put a pdf document on its website without advertising it.

It only sent a statement after some media discovered the pdf file.

Reuters understands that the case was opened in April 2013, and in September 2013, when Cookson took over from McQuaid, negotiations were still ongoing between the UCI legal department and Menchov.

“We would put out a press release at the end of the process,” McQuaid told reporters on Tuesday.

“I think you have to be upfront and when your system is working and working well you need to be able to state that.

“You need to make statements when you catch big guys and Menchov is a big guy.”

Cookson denied there could be a link between this way of communicating and him having been backed by Makarov, the founder of Menchov’s Katusha team, during the UCI election campaign.

“I understand the implications of that,” said Cookson, who insisted on transparency during his election campaign.

“It was not hidden at all. If I look at it, probably it would have been better if we had made a more positive announcement.

“I have not spoken to Mr Makarov about this and I haven’t seen him since a management committee back in June so I understand why people say these things but it’s not true,” he added.

Last September’s UCI election in Florence which ended in Cookson’s appointment, involved wrangling between delegates, lawyers arguing and eventually Cookson storming the podium and demanding a vote on the presidency which he won.

($1 = 0.7331 Euros)

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Tony Goodson)

Van Gaal can renew United challenge, says Robson

“You could see Holland were very well organised in the World Cup and there was discipline.

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Hopefully, he can bring that to Manchester. I think he will,” Robson told BBC Sport.

“They can bounce back straight away. His CV is great. He’s got great experience with top clubs and top players.”

United finished a lowly seventh in the Premier League last season – 22 points behind champions Manchester City – under former Everton boss David Moyes who replaced long-standing manager Alex Ferguson.

“A lot of the players let themselves down (last season) and didn’t perform the way they had under Sir Alex,” said Robson, who spent 13 years at United and earned the nickname “Captain Marvel” for his driving performances in midfield.

“They will be up for the challenge and will be excited by the new coach.”

The lack of European football, while disappointing, could also be beneficial to United, who failed to qualify for either this season’s Champions League or Europa League, he said.

“The players get a bit more rest and you don’t get as many injuries,” he said. “That can also be a real advantage.”

Van Gaal arrives at United on a wave of hope and expectation following his Dutch team’s performance at the World Cup, where they finished third with the 62-year-old’s reputation greatly enhanced.

He was heavily criticised when he changed Dutch tactics and ditched the traditional attacking style on the eve of the Brazil tournament.

In a country obsessed with playing possession football, the decision to adopt a defensive approach, with emphasis on swift counter-attacks, was tantamount to heresy but Van Gaal was eventually proved right – after getting his senior players to buy into his belief.

“He had everyone believing in the tactical changes and the fact it would work for us,” said Wesley Sneijder on the team’s return home this week. “Our success in the tournament was a lot about the coach.”

There were few detractors by the end of the World Cup as the Dutch battled their way to the semi-finals, finally being eliminated by Argentina on penalties.

BELIEF IN YOUTH

He was also not scared to throw young players – like Memphis Depay and Jordy Clasie – into key World Cup games, highlighting his belief in youth.

In Brazil, Van Gaal made few references to his new job – he signed a three-year contract with United in May – but looked genuinely enthusiastic when he eventually spoke about his next assignment after last Saturday’s 3-0 win over Brazil in the third place playoff.

“It is an exciting challenge,” he told Dutch television.

It is a return to club football for Van Gaal for the first time since Bayern Munich sacked him in 2011.

Van Gaal has shown little of his hand yet with the pre-season signings of Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao and Luke Shaw from Southampton.

At Barcelona more than decade ago he was heavily criticised for creating a colony of Dutch players, but one of them says that is unlikely to happen at Old Trafford.

“There were seven players dominating the changing room, speaking Dutch and not moving out of our own bubble. It was a very unhealthy situation and I think Louis realised that. He won’t do it again,” Ronald de Boer, now an analyst on NOS television, predicted.

(Editing by Tony Goodson/Rex Gowar)

Israel resumes air strikes on Gaza

Israel has carried out at least four air strikes against Gaza, resuming raids after a truce that failed to get off the ground, eyewitnesses said.

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An AFP correspondent reported one air strike east of Gaza City on Tuesday afternoon, and eyewitnesses reported a second in the centre of the city.

Witnesses also reported strikes in Nusseirat in central Gaza as well as in the Khan Yunis area in the south.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.

The raids came shortly after Israel’s army announced it was ending a ceasefire it had observed since 0600 GMT (1600 AEST) under the terms of an Egyptian truce proposal.

Hamas had effectively rejected the proposal, saying it was not consulted and would not halt fire without a broad deal that included concessions it has sought.

“Hamas has fired 47 rockets since we suspended our strikes in Gaza at 9am. As a result, we have resumed our operation against Hamas,” the army said on its official Twitter account.

“Following six hours of indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel, the IDF (army) has resumed operational activities against Hamas,” military spokesman Lieutenant Peter Lerner said on his Twitter account.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Israeli official told AFP that the military had been ordered to “act forcefully”.

“After Hamas and Islamic Jihad refused the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire and fired dozens of rockets at Israel, the prime minister and defence minister have ordered the IDF to act forcefully against the terror targets in Gaza.”

More than 192 people have been killed in Gaza over the past week as Israel has waged a relentless air campaign against Hamas militants.

In response, militants have fired more than a thousand rockets into Israel where no one has been killed in the current confrontation.

Bunker mentality the key as Rose aims for third straight win

The 33-year-old Englishman followed up his triumph at the Quicken Loans National in Maryland last month by capturing the Scottish Open title at Royal Aberdeen on Sunday.

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Rose believes the key to making it three wins in a row at Hoylake will be to keep away from the sand traps.

“It’s important in links golf to keep the ball out of the bunkers,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “They are true penalties.

“Typically if you take on the first set of bunkers you’re not always rewarded because very often they are so well designed that there’s the next set of bunkers at 280, 290, 300 yards so your decision is to take all of the bunkers out normally.”

Ryder Cup team mate Rory McIlroy said earlier in the day that the par-fives would be the most important holes at Royal Liverpool this week and Rose agreed.

“Some of the par-fives are going to play relatively easily,” said the 2013 U.S. Open winner at Merion. “If you don’t make four you’re actually dropping a shot.

“It’s a very fair golf course. The fairways are relatively flat, the greens are relatively flat yet the trouble is there – the rough is relatively thick but nothing is extreme.

“It offers shot-making, something for everybody.”

Rose, who has only once finished in the top-10 in 12 previous appearances at the British Open, said his victory at Merion taught him the virtues of staying patient in a major championship.

“The important thing for me this week is not to let expectation or anything like that get in my way,” he explained.

“It’s basically about building a game plan and going out and committing to it, just let the rounds and the week develop.

“That’s what happened at Merion. I sort of grew into the week and felt like I got better every day and last week I did the same,” said Rose.

“In the past I was maybe less experienced and maybe not quite as good. Now I just build my strategy around what I’m good at and I don’t force things as much as I used to.”

It is not often that professionals win back-to-back tournaments, let alone three in a row, but Rose feels his chances of landing the coveted Claret Jug have increased as a result of his victory at Aberdeen.

“I don’t feel it any less realistic because I won last week,” he said. “I think the odds go more in my favour just through confidence.”

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Anything possible for Mr 55 at Open

With good reason, Aussie battler Rhein Gibson feels like anything is possible at this week’s British Open.

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After all, a world record round of 55 doesn’t happen by accident.

Gibson, ranked 997 places below world No.1 Adam Scott, will make his major tournament debut at Royal Liverpool having qualified with a fourth-place finish at the Australian Open.

Lining up alongside the world’s best will be “the experience of a lifetime” for the 29-year-old New South Welshman but he’ll tee off on Thursday knowing he’s capable of something no other man in the field has achieved.

Gibson shot a 16-under-par 55 at the River Oaks Golf Club in Oklahoma in 2012, a performance recognised by Guinness World Records as the lowest round in history.

And going low hasn’t been a one-off occurrence for Gibson.

He’s twice shot rounds of 60 and fired a 10-under 62 in the final round of the Indonesia PGA Championship in March.

“I’ve gone low quite a bit so knowing that coming here is definitely a positive,” Gibson said on Tuesday.

“But I don’t want to be just known for that (the 55).

“Hopefully it’s just another feather in the cap of a long career.

“Hopefully my golf can shine for years to come.”

Gibson, who lives in the US but plays predominantly on the OneAsia Tour became a beneficiary of the R&A’s new qualification system that offers British Open spots for the top three finishers at the Australian Open who haven’t already qualified.

After placing tied-fourth in a stellar field behind Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy and compatriot Scott, Gibson wasn’t even aware he had clinched an Open berth when he walked off the 18th at Royal Sydney.

“These two guys in suits came up to me and I thought `s**t, what did I do wrong?’,” Gibson said.

“And they were like `we’re from the R&A and you’ve got a spot in the Open’.

“It was surreal to be honest and just capped off an already-good week.”

Gibson says his first crack at the highest level is both about the experience and a possible stepping stone to future success.

There won’t be any 55s at Hoylake this week but Gibson knows, if he’s on, he has the game to surprise a few.

“I’ve proved to myself that I can play because I’ve qualified for it,” said Gibson, who has been preparing in the UK since Wednesday.

“On the other hand, it’s an opportunity that, if I did play well, you never know what could happen.”

Ecstatic Berlin crowds welcome victorious German team home

Hundreds of thousands of revellers packed Berlin’s “fan mile”, a 1.

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3 km stretch of road running from the west of the capital up to the Brandenburg Gate, for a huge party. Many more lined the streets in the city centre along the team’s route.

The players danced and sang their way onto a stage at the Gate, a potent symbol of the Cold War, dressed in black T-shirts with the number 1 emblazoned on them and threw footballs into the crowd.

“Without you we wouldn’t be here. We are all world champions,” low-key coach Joachim Loew, affectionately known as Jogi, told the fans, many of them holding red posters with the words “Thanks Boys”.

Young and old fans alike were decked out in Germany shirts, many with their faces painted black, red and gold and with wigs and bandanas in the national colours. Many had started drinking beer hours before the team’s arrival from Brazil.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s something to remember,” said Sabine Kopf, 42, who travelled by train from the western city of Cologne with her husband and 11-year-old son who wore a shirt with “Jogi’s Joker” on the back.

A black open-roofed bus drove the players, who jumped, screamed, waved and held up the golden World Cup trophy, through the streets of Berlin at a snail’s pace for about 2-1/2 hours.

“I am really excited to welcome the World Cup winners during my lifetime. I am from East Germany and this is important,” said Guenther Richter, 51, from East Berlin.

Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Argentina in Rio de Janeiro marked the first time a reunified Germany has been world champion, with West Germany having won the trophy in 1954, 1974 and 1990.

One group of players drew attention for poking fun at their defeated opponents by stooping low and chanting “This is how Gauchos walk, Gauchos they walk like this”, before jumping up to shout: “This is how Germans walk, Germans they walk like this!”

PRIDE

The success of the national team since 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup, is widely seen as having helped Germans take greater pride in their nationality. History had previously made them uncomfortable about displaying such feelings.

Television channels blanketed the airwaves with coverage of the party and newspapers dedicated whole editions to the win.

“This is what four feels like!” splashed top-selling Bild on its front cover, with a picture of the team with hands raised.

“Welcome, World Champions!” Berliner Zeitung wrote on its front page.

Football enthusiast Chancellor Angela Merkel watched the match in Rio and had pictures taken in the dressing room with the exhausted but jubilant players afterwards.

Some experts think the popular chancellor may expect a boost in her ratings due to the World Cup feel-good factor. She did not receive the team on Tuesday as she was in Croatia, leaving Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit to welcome the players, who signed the city’s roll of honour.

A roar went up from the crowd in the “fan mile” when the team’s plane circled overhead. “Football’s coming home!” bellowed fans when it touched down at the airport.

Captain Philipp Lahm led the team down the plane’s stairs holding above his head the golden trophy secured in Sunday’s final, with midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger close behind him wrapped in a German flag.

“We all saw each other here in 2006. But now we’ve got the damned thing,” Schweinsteiger, who got a battering during the final match and ended up with a bloody cut under his eye, told the fans in the city centre.

Germany snatched the win in extra time with a stunning goal from fresh-faced Mario Goetze, a 22-year-old boy wonder who got a hero’s welcome when he danced onto the Berlin stage.

“This is an unbelievable feeling. It’s a dream,” he beamed.

(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Stephen Brown and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Ian Thorpe’s coach guides Olympic hopefuls

Ian Thorpe’s former coach has been tasked with guiding Australia’s next generation of Olympic swimming stars.

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Tracey Menzies coached the Thorpedo to six gold medals, and now she’s responsible for the eight swimmers selected to represent Australia at the Youth Olympics, which begin on August 16 in Nanjing, China.

Held every four years for athletes aged between 15 and 18, the event features 28 sports including athletics, diving, tennis, and fencing.

A team of 89 Aussies will compete across 23 sports, which for the first time includes rugby sevens before the sport makes its full Olympic debut in Rio 2016.

Nanjing looks to be the perfect opportunity for up and coming swimmers to make their presence known and return Australian swimming to the heights it once reached with Thorpe.

The 31-year-old has struggled with personal demons since he retired from professional swimming in 2012.

Earlier this year he was admitted to a rehabilitation facility to receive treatment for his ongoing battle with depression.

He recently revealed he is gay after years of dismissing speculation about his sexuality.

Before she became his coach in 2002, 29-year-old Menzies was relatively unknown outside swimming circles when she took over from Doug Frost.

Then 19, Thorpe had considered retiring after losing enthusiasm for the sport but instead switched coaches.

Menzies is credited with helping him become the first man to win a medal in the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle events at a single Olympic Games in Athens.

With her eye on the future, the experienced trainer says the Youth Olympics will be invaluable not only for her charges but Australian swimming.

“I believe this is a great opportunity to show these young champions what lies ahead and it may be the thing that inspires some of our athletes to be on the 2016 Olympic team,” she said.

“What I would like to take away from these Games is a better understanding of what we as a sport and nation need to do to help these athletes step up for 2016.”

The Youth Olympic team will depart Australia for China on August 13 under the guidance of another talented swimmer, chef de mission Susie O’Neil.

F1 boss Ecclestone explains ‘insurance policy’ payment to German banker

Given detailed evidence for the first time in his bribery trial, Ecclestone repeated earlier statements that the payment to former BayernLB chief risk officer Gerhard Gribkowsky was an insurance policy after the German put him under pressure over his tax affairs.

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“I was a little sarcastic when I asked would 50 million help you?” Ecclestone said of a conversation with Gribkowsky.

“It was the cheapest insurance policy I have ever seen,” added the Briton, a billionaire who is a familiar face to millions of motor racing fans around the world.

Ecclestone is accused of channelling $44 million to Gribkowsky in return for smoothing the sale of a major stake in the business to private equity fund CVC, which became the largest shareholder in Formula One in 2006.

The prosecution alleges that Ecclestone, 83, wanted CVC to take control as it meant he could stay on as chief executive of a business he had been instrumental in building.

Ecclestone, who denies wrongdoing, could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty and a conviction would end his long grip on the business.

Part of the prosecution case rests on the accusation that Ecclestone knowingly bribed a public servant, as BayernLB is state owned.

But a former state finance minister told the court

Ecclestone would not necessarily have been aware of the bank’s status.

“BayernLB appeared like any other commercial bank in its business dealings,” said Kurt Faltlhauser, who was on the bank’s board.

Ecclestone admits paying Gribkowsky but has maintained this was because the German was threatening to make false claims to the British authorities about his tax status that could have jeopardised his fortune.

The case began in April and is expected to run until at least October. It is being heard only two days each week to fit around Ecclestone’s commitments to Formula One. The latest grand prix in the motor racing series will be held in Germany this weekend.

The Munich court jailed Gribkowsky for 8-1/2 years in 2012 for corruption over the payments from Ecclestone.

BayernLB became a major shareholder in Formula One following the collapse of the Kirch media group in 2002.

(Writing by Keith Weir; editing by Andrew Roche)

Nibali has tragic Pantani in mind as he eyes Tour title

Should he prevail on the French roads, Nibali would become the first Italian rider to win the race since the late Pantani, the 1998 winner who died of a cocaine overdose 10 years ago.

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“In spite of what happened to him, I would be very proud to succeed Pantani,” Nibali told reporters in a hotel car park on the first rest day of the Tour, which he leads with a 2:23 advantage over Australian Richie Porte.

Spain’s Alejandro Valverde is third, 2:47 off the pace, after compatriot Alberto Contador, twice a Tour winner, crashed out of the race on Monday.

“Pantani’s mother had offered me one of his yellow jerseys so if I win this Tour I will bring one of my yellow jerseys to her,” said Nibali.

The Italian, who is a great connoisseur of his sport’s history (“I can talk to you about Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, but also about Bernard Hinault and Louison Bobet,” he says), knows that the road to Paris is treacherous.

Although the Astana rider believes the hardest stage was Monday’s trek to La Planche des Belles Filles, which he won to reclaim the yellow jersey, several traps lie ahead.

“The Tour seems easy now but it’s when everything looks easy that it becomes the most difficult,” he said.

“There are several riders who lie in wait,” Nibali said, citing Valverde and Porte.

Frenchmen Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot are fourth and sixth respectively with a credible chance of a podium finish and possibly better, according to Nibali.

“We saw it with (Michal) Kwiatkowski yesterday, he went from afar and quickly opened a four-minute gap,” said Nibali.

“We will not make the mistake of underestimating anyone. I made that mistake once, it was in the Vuelta last year and (Chris) Horner won.”

His quest to become the sixth man to win all three grand tours continues on Wednesday with the 11th stage, a 187.5-km ride to Oyonnax featuring four short categorised climbs in the last 50 kilometres.

Only Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, Contador, Belgian Eddy Merckx and fellow Italian Felice Gimondi have won the Tour, the Vuelta and the Giro.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Tony Goodson)

Germany World Cup win inspires Kaymer

Martin Kaymer is hoping to ride a wave of German success into the British Open at Hoylake this week, saying that footballers have much in common with golfers when it comes down to performing on the big stage.

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The recent US Open winner watched Sunday’s World Cup final with his caddie in a house near the course outside of Liverpool.

Germany’s 1-0 triumph over Argentina in Brazil, he said, was the “first moment in my career as an athlete where I was very, very proud to be a German athlete”.

The 29-year-old from Dusseldorf, who also won the PGA Championship in 2010, has close ties with several of the German international players and has the occasional game of golf with them when he is in Munich where several play for Bayern.

He said star striker Thomas Mueller had used his US Open win, which came just as the World Cup was getting underway, as a morale booster for the German squad getting ready for action out in Brazil.

Now he was looking in turn to gain inspiration for a tilt at golf’s oldest and most prestigious trophy.

“They were a good, brave, strong team. And they just delivered. And there was nothing about any secrets, just play your game, use the opportunities that you get. Don’t make any silly mistakes and wait,” he said.

“And that’s the same on the golf tournament. You have a day where you don’t play that super good, but you hang in there and you play something around par that doesn’t get you out of the tournament.

“Then you wait for that amazing day, that they had against Brazil (7-1 win in the semi-final), and that you need during the golf tournament to win it.”

To date, Kaymer has not had that many “amazing days” at the British Open.

In six appearances to date in the third of the year’s four majors, he has just the one top 10 finish to his credit, a seventh place at St Andrews in 2010, shortly after his breakthrough US Open win.