International news round-up (March 27): Nibali skips Critérium International and Flanders; UCI team plans; Arch opens Zoncolan climb; Africa's MTN-Qhubeka to race Flanders

Colombian Sergio Henao said yesterday that he supports the anti-doping controls at Team Sky, which withdrew him last week from competition.

In a press statement released to websites including Tutto Bici, he explained that he “understands the team’s attention to controlling blood values.” He added that he has always believed in cycling’s “ethical values, such as loyalty and respect for the rules.”

On Wednesday last week, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Sky benched the 26-year-old for abnormal test values. In the afternoon, Sky released a statement from Principal David Brailsford and who said that he contacted cycling’s authorities and that Henao will return to Colombia while Sky gets “a better understanding of these profiles and his physiology”.

Henao explained yesterday that he will cooperate with Sky and other experts “in order to complete all necessary and appropriate investigations.” He added he is “extremely confident in the outcome of the checks that will be submitted shortly and expects to return to activity.”

Henao’s cousin Sebastian Henao continues to race for the team. The case follows Jonathan Tiernan-Locke’s biological passport anomaly that came to light in September.

Nibali skips Critérium International and Flanders

Tour de France favourite Vincenzo Nibali will skip the Critérium International and Tour of Flanders, and return to racing in the Ardennes Classics.

“We saw Vincenzo work hard in Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo, it’s good news to watch the shark attack,” Astana Team Manager, Giuseppe Martinelli said in a statement. “Now, we need to draw back a little, go back to altitude in Tenerife to recover from the efforts and re-train specifically to get ready for the Ardennes – Liège-Bastogne-Liège especially. This race is a fundamental one-day goal in Astana’s 2014 season and we want Vincenzo to be at real top fitness for the day”.

Nibali will return to racing for the Amstel Gold Race on April 20. Martinelli had said in January that he wanted Nibali to race Flanders in preparation for the Tour de France. Its fifth stage covers cobbled sectors used in Paris-Roubaix.

UCI team and calendar plans

Cycling’s governing body, the UCI is pushing ahead with its plans to reform teams and its racing calendar. In a newsletter on Tuesday, it said that it will introduce reduced team sizes and new divisions in 2017.

The WorldTour first division will split into two and will race a limited number of days per year. Level 1A: 16 teams and 120 days – including the Grand Tours, major stage races and classics. Level 1B: eight teams and 50 days.

Starting next year in 2015, the UCI said that it would take the first 16 teams in the 2014 WorldTour for the first division. The two remaining spots will go to the teams, regardless of division, with the highest points.

Monte Zoncolan

Monte Zoncolan

Arch opens Zoncolan climb

Local organisers built an arch in Ovaro, northeast Italy, to mark the start of the Monte Zoncolan climb and inaugurated it on Tuesday. The wood and stone structure spans the road that the Giro d’Italia will face on May 31, the final mountain day in this year’s race.

In its short history, Monte Zoncolan created a place for itself alongside Mortirolo, Angliru and Alpe d’Huez – all climbs with inferior average gradients. It averages 11.9 per cent over 10.1km and touches 22 per cent. Igor Antón won the Giro’s stage to Zoncolan in 2011. This year, the arch will mark the stage race’s fifth visit.

Africa’s MTN-Qhubeka to race Flanders

Africa’s first professional team, MTN-Qhubeka will race the Tour of Flanders next Sunday (April 6) in Belgium.

The team announced its invitation yesterday and said that last year’s Milan-San Remo winner, German Gerald Ciolek will ride as captain.

MTN will likely field some of its Africans, including South African Songezo Jim or Algerian Youcef Reguigui. Jim races in the E3 Harelbeke tomorrow.

Songezo Jim in 2014 Trofeo Laigueglia

Songezo Jim in 2014 Trofeo Laigueglia