Steamboat Springs When the best cyclist in the world start arriving this week for the fourth Mercury Tour Mountain Bike Stage race, three-time champion Jerome Chiotti will not be among the field.
"It's not a bad thing for us," race organizer Len Pettyjohn said. "Eventually, somebody was going to beat him. Now it's time for some of the younger riders to start coming up."
Chiotti is on the sidelines after admitting he used the performance-enhancing hormone erythropoietin (EPO) during the 1996 World Championships. The French rider revealed that he used the drug, which boosts the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells, in an interview with a major bicycle publication in the spring.
Pettyjohn said Chiotti has apparently been clean for some time, but he also thinks the Union Cyclieste Internationale wanted to make an example of the French cyclist prior to the Olympic Games in Sydney.
"He wanted to make a point that he had used the drug, that other cyclists were using the drug, and that he felt bad about using the drug," Pettyjohn said.
Chiotti's stand has been met by mixed reviews in the cycling world and has left many wondering why he decided to come clean in the public's eye instead of just cleaning up his own act and keeping quite.
Pettyjohn said EPO was first introduced by doctors as a treatment for patients suffering from cancer and kidney problems that resulted in a lower red-blood-cell count. However, shortly after its introduction, endurance athletes also realized that the drug could be used to increase their athletic output. The drug was also difficult to detect, making it very attractive to endurance-based athletes.
Chiotti admitted to using the drug during a attention-grabbing interview with Velo News in April. Since then, he has come under fire from the UCI and other sanctioning bodies.
He lost his racing license and has been forced to sit out this year. It is uncertain whether the top mountain biker will ever be allowed to race again.
For local mountain biking enthusiasts, the news means that Chiotti will not be back to defend his title in the Mercury Tour Stage race.
The race opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Mount Werner's Prologue trail. The Prologue will not count in the final stage standings, but will help organizers determine a start order for Thursday's race.
The Tour will continue on Thursday with the Continental Cross-Country race and the Mount Werner Hill Climb on Friday. Both races will start at 9 a.m.
Things will heat up on Saturday as the racers hit the Thunderhead Circuit starting at 11 a.m. The final stage will take place on Sunday when the riders test their skills on the Gondola Criterium course.
There will also be amateur racing during the week as well as festival rides.
While the men's winner is not going to return this year, last year's women's champion, Jimena Florit of Argentina, will return to defend her title. Olympic contender Ruthie Matthes will also compete.
Other riders with Olympic dreams will be on the men's side as Travis Brown and Tinker Juarez look for their first Mercury titles. Pettyjohn is expecting Steve Larsen, who was upset in his bid to make the U.S. Olympic team earlier this year, to have a strong showing in Steamboat.
"I'd say he has something to prove," Pettyjohn said. "He is one of the top American riders, but because of one bad race he will not be going to the Olympics. I think he will want to show these young guys a thing or two."
To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail email@example.com