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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for April 4, 2005

Edited by Anthony Tan & Jeff Jones

Boonen takes the throne

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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With the 89th Ronde Van Vlaanderen now complete, the heir-apparent to Johan Museeuw can now crowned the new Lion of Flanders. Today in Meerbeke, 24 year-old Tom Boonen, who first showed his talent for the Spring Classics three years ago after finishing third at the 2002 Paris-Roubaix, rode an incredible, powerful and faultless Flanders, soloing home to take the biggest win of his career and leaving the rest of the favourites by the roadside.

Placing himself in a select group of six riders with just over 30 kilometres to go that included Peter Van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto) and Erik Zabel (T-Mobile), Boonen not once feared these pre-race favourites who were with him. Instead, the Belgian wunderkind countered an attack by Van Petegem with such force that lef the others wondering who would take second.

Riding the preceeding cobbled climbs such as the Oude Kwaremont, Koppenberg and Valkenberg as if they were flat, Boonen had more than enough energy to ride the nine kilometres that remained on his own and with pure power crossing the line half a minute ahead of Klier, who rode a fantastic Ronde, and Van Petegem, who may have been feeling the effects of his sickness during the week.

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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"This is crazy!", cried Boonen right after the finish line. The 24 year-old was incredibly happy with his victory, for which he had a calculated plan on his mind. "I had this scenario in my head, and wanted to attack à la Edwig Van Hooydonck on the Bosberg, but that didn't work. With nine kilometres to go, it was the ideal moment to go."

Boonen decided to attack because there was another sprinter in the front group in the form of Erik Zabel. "I knew I couldn't go to the finish line with the fast man Zabel still with us; he was so strong today," Boonen said. "Also because Klier and Van Petegem were with me, they would have killed me in the final kilometres. So I decided to take my chances and attacked. I don't quite realize what's happened yet, I will need some more time for it to sink in!"

In any case, Boonen feels ready for a double Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. "Why not? That's actually possible seeing the way I'm riding at the moment. In fact, Paris-Roubaix suits me even better than the Ronde!"

Full results, report & photos
Live report

Post-race comments

Andreas Klier (T-Mobile, 2nd)

"It was a very difficult finale. No-one was still fresh. Actually I was the worst of the three. On the Bosberg I was nearly gone. When Tom went, no-one had an answer. Actually I'm happy that I could still finish second.

Klier was asked whether his team tactics were strange. "No, not really. We rode for each other. I would have done the work for Zabel and then when Erik started to feel bad, I had to go for my own chance. But against Boonen today it was not possible. He was really the best."

Peter van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto, 3rd)

Peter van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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"Without a doubt, the strongest rider won today," said Van Petegem after the finish. "Andreas Klier probably went a bit too early on the Bosberg and at the top he slowed. Then Tom reacted and I could hold on. When Tom went again, I couldn't anticipate it well and immediately the bird had flown. Still, I didn't exactly do nothing. On the Muur I went full-out once, and I wanted to reduce our group, but that didn't work because at the top we slowed down. And I was in the pincers, also because of the team tactics of T-Mobile. But if you win like Boonen here today, then you don't have to plan it. That was excellent."

Erik Zabel (T-Mobile, 4th)

Erik Zabel (T-Mobile)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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"I've been riding the Tour of Flanders for the twelfth time now. I've learned that I run into trouble every time I get to the Muur van Geraardsbergen together with the best. So today, I wanted to get there before them.

Zabel was dropped a few times in the finale, but managed to claw his way back to the front. "I've been riding at the front for such a long time today to make sure I'll be on telly a lot. That's my way of saying 'thanks' to my dad, who has been watching the race on television for many years," said the 34-year-old.

Four teams tested

On the morning before the start of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the UCI's medical controllers tested 31 riders from four teams, between 6:40am and 7:35am. The Italian teams Lampre-Cafitta, Fassa Bortolo, Liquigas-Bianchi, and Spanish Saunier Duval were all tested, with no rider being declared unfit to start.

Melchers queen of Flanders

Mirjam Melchers (Buitenpoort-Flexpoint)
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
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The second women's Ronde van Vlaanderen crowned a superb winner in Mirjam Melchers (Buitenpoort-Flexpoint), who rode with her teammate Susanne Ljungskog in the final 15 km to take a huge victory. The Dutchwoman was the strongest of the pair, after having attacked the bunch with 5 km to go to Geraardsbergen. She was joined by Ljungskog just over the top of the climb, and they could not be hauled back.

A chasing group, which contained World Cup leader Oenone Wood (Nurnberger), was holding the two leaders at 40 seconds when disaster struck, and their lead car took them the wrong way inside the final two kilometres. The group ended up coming up a side road into the finish and were all given "did not finish" by the race jury. No World Cup points were awarded because of the mistake, and Wood kept the jersey.

Full results, report & photos

Kevin Van Impe interview

Playing the Wild Card

Photo ©: Elmar Krings
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As the spring is tempting the flowers and trees to show their crisp new colours, a new flock of young Belgian riders seems to be blooming as well. Vansummeren, Boonen, Devolder, Nuyens, Gilbert, Van Huffel... their names are popping up everywhere in the Belgian Cycling press, and most of all, in the results. Kevin Van Impe is one of them.

The nephew of the last Belgian Tour de France winner Lucien Van Impe is only 23, but determined to confirm his promising talent this season. A solid start in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, where he finished second, has given Kevin renewed credibility and he is eager to show more. Cyclingnews' Sabine Sunderland met up with this congenial Flandrien, in the lead up to the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.

Somewhat hidden away from the busy traffic in between Oudenaarde and Aalst, in the small town of Bambrugge, I'm welcomed by the warm smile of Sally Van Impe-Van Oudenhove. The interior of their freshly painted cottage is very much Laura Ashley/Flamant style, romantic and extremely homey.

"We live here with my parents," Sally explains "Our house will be built in the not so distant future. But as a young couple we have to save our pennies and it's great to be able to share my parents' place as long as we don't have our own nest."

Kevin smiles shyly, "I'll need to show my face this season and get a bigger contract next year, building a house here in Belgium costs you an arm and a leg!"

Racing bikes is something deeply ingrained into the Van Impe family. Uncle Lucien was one of the biggest climbing talents ever; the ex-winner of the Tour de France took the polka-dot jersey home six times. But Kevin's father Frank also knew how to ride a bike. He was pro for 7 years and is still very much involved with the sport as director of the Belgian Keukens Redant amateur team.

"You can say cycling is in my blood," Van Impe admits. "It's all I know. It's everything. I don't have a big degree; I live to ride that bike. I tried soccer for a while, but it was clear pretty quickly that I should stick to the bike."

Click here to read the full interview

Latest affaire du Armstrong

Dealing with the Italian authorities over the Simeoni affair is only one of Lance Armstrong's headaches at present. Last Thursday, March 31, a former personal assistant of the six-time Tour winner filed court papers in a Texas state district court, alleging he had found the banned substance androgen inside Armstrong's apartment in Girona, Spain, in early 2004.

In his court brief, Mike Anderson, who worked for Armstrong for around two years, claims to have found a white box that did not have a doctor's prescription attached when cleaning Armstrong's bathroom at his Girona apartment last year, but did have the name "Androstenine, or something very close to this", he said.

Anderson's brief then states that he went to the computer to find out what the drug was on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) websites, and confirmed what he had found was the banned substance androgen. He then returned the box to the cabinet without telling Armstrong, but when Anderson looked for it again before Armstrong left to train in the Canary Islands, he couldn't find it.

Anderson does state only finding the drug, and said that he never once saw Armstrong take steroids or banned substances. But he also told the court Armstrong made significant promises so that he could start a bike shop, and didn't tell anyone about what he found for fear of being dismissed.

"I had a job to do, that's why I kept my mouth shut," said Anderson. "I tried for a very long time to give him the benefit of the doubt. I waited for months to even tell my wife."

Armstrong's attorney, Timothy Herman, has called the allegation false and "absurd". "We are not going to be blackmailed or pay extortion money to hide something that isn't true," he said. According to a report by Associated Press, Armstrong is already seeking US$125,000 in damages for legal fees, inconvenience, harassment and other expenses related to the litigation.

Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco preview

By Martin Hardie

The Vuelta a Pais Vasco was first run 71 years ago and in that time, with interruptions because of war and dictatorship, this year will see only its 45th edition. The race, which has been in recent years a 'Haute Categorie' tour has come along way since Ernest Hemingway ate and drank with the peloton one night in San Sebastian 70 years ago.

This year, as the race takes on the status of the first UCI Pro Tour event south of the Pyrenees, we can expect things to be a little different to the one he observed where the "bicycle-riders drank much wine, and were burned and browned by the sun. They did not take the race seriously except among themselves. They had raced among themselves so often that it did not make much difference who won".

The Itzulia, as the Vuelta is known in the Basque language, is a five-day event that rolls up and down the country's steep green hills. After four days of continual leg sapping climbing, the last day is traditionally split between a shorter but crucial road stage and a short but usually decisive time trial. Although the ProTour sought at one point to have the race lengthened to six days, this year sees no change to the traditional format which passes through all of the Basque provinces - Giupuzkoa, Bizkaia, Araba and Navarra - that fall within the territory of Spain.

The race, of course, is a source of local pride with Basque riders, always out to prove themselves on their home turf. But it is also a keenly-sought crown in the jewels of any riders palmares, an important step in the preparation of many for the Ardennes Classics and the Giro d'Italia. Over what are effectively six stages, the peloton will face 20 categorised climbs and little respite. Day one kicks of in the seaside party and surfing town of Zarautz with a circuit that winds along the picturesque coastal road before cutting in land and crossing the Cat. 3 Meagas. The route laps this circuit three times before a final nasty ascent of the Cat. 2 Garate, which, although only 2kms in length, kicks in at 16% and summits 7kms before the plunge back to the beach.

Stage 2 heads out of Giupuzkoa and into Bizkaia. It commences with a couple of Cat. 3s, the Itziar and the Arieto, which rises out of Ermua and drops into the valley which the riders will follow down past Durango to Bilbao. After a sprint outside the Athletic Bilbao soccer ground, the race enters the Las Encartaciones region with its continual run of sharp pitches. This is a great day for an escape to make some time early, but they will have to fight to hold their lead over the Cat. 2, Arborleda, the nasty Cat. 3 Cobaron Cat. 3 and the 8.5km ascent to the finish on the Cat. 2, La Lejana.

Stage 3 takes the race out of Bizkaia through the territory of the GP Llodio, and into the plateau country of Araba. The climb up to the plateau is via the Cat. 2 La Barrerilla, which will be familiar to Ciclismo Euskadi camp-goers, as the winding climb up the rock face from Orduña back home to their base in Murgia. After that and before finishing in the Basque Government's capital in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the stage goes up two sides of the Cat. 2 Zaldiaran to the south in the Sierra, which forms the land border between the Basque Country and the wine producing area of la Rioja.

From Gasteiz, Stage 4 heads east towards Navarra and has a heap of difficult encounters along the entire route. The Cat. 1 Opakua falls early on and could be another launching pad for a break that will then have the Cat. 2 Urbasa, the Cat. 3 Altamira and two ascents including the final mountain top finish of La Cadena (Cat. 3). If that's not enough, the race's 'queen stage' will be fought over a mere 93 kms and will finish atop the beastly Cat. 2 Arantzazu, which, over its 8kms, kicks in at 10 percent plus before steadying out for a 6km grind of around 6%. This will be the last chance for the climbers to position themselves before the afternoons 9.3 km closing time trial in the ancient university city of Oñati. The race against the clock will be flat by Basque standards, but even then will have an altitude gain of 150 metres or so up and over the Alto de Olalde, before dropping back into town.

T-Mobile have already expressed their desire to do well in the Itzulia with their mixed bag of Germans, Kazakhs and Spanish. Dennis Menchov will front his new squad, Rabobank, for the event but has admitted that he isn't at the peak of form he was last year when he took the event from Iban Mayo and David Etxebarria. Etxebarria will line up alongside Roberto Heras and mark this attempt to take out the race by returning to the folds of Manolo Saiz at Liberty Seguros after being one of the stalwarts of Euskaltel-Euskadi in recent years.

For their part, the Orange Armada have been pretty quiet so far this year. It was in April and the Itzulia last year that Iban Mayo started his period of being on fire, coming second here and following it up with impressive victories in Asturias, Alcondendas and the Dauphiné Libéré. But Mayo has been quiet and taking it easy to date, and the Orange guy that seems to be on song or coming close with every ride is Mayo's teammate Haimar Zubeldia. Looking forward to the Giro and with over 10,000 kms of training in his legs already this season, Zubeldia told Cyclingnews that because of the change in his calendar, "I am coming to this race with a lot more form" than last year.

Zubeldia continued that we can expect "the maximum" from Euskaltel "because we are riding at home... and that the team knows that we have to win this race." With Mayo, Samuel Sanchez back after injury, Iker Camano and Egoi Martinez as his key henchmen, Zubeldia is feeling good. He believes that the race will be decided on the Friday morning as the race climbs Arantzazu.

"The time trial is like last year, but the climb in it is much harder. I think it will make some difference," said Zubeldia. "But you have to take into account that the morning has a mountain-top finish, and so before the time trial, the race might be pretty well decided."

Although competition could come from a number of quarters, Heras, the T-Mobile squad, Cadel Evans and Cunego are the likely candidates. Zubeldia also has an eye on CSC: "CSC are very strong, especially Julich, Voigt and Basso. Contador looks good in Liberty and I thought Menchov and his team looked good in the Criterium International. Of course, I am not going to forget Valverde!" he concluded.

With around 15 riders who could be in the shout for victory at the end, one thing is for certain, as always in the Basque Country: that is along with the incessant climbing, the weather can be a decisive factor at this time of year.

The Stages

Stage 1 - April 4: Zarautz - Zarautz, 133 km
Stage 2 - April 5: Zarautz - La Lejana-Trapagaran, 166 km
Stage 3 - April 6: Ortuella - Gasteiz, 176 km
Stage 4 - April 7: Gasteizy - Altsasu, 167 km
Stage 5a - April 8: Altsasu - Oñati, 93 km
Stage 5b - April 8: Oñati Individual Time Trial, 9,3 km

The Teams

Davitamon - Lotto (Bel), Quick.Step (Bel), Team CSC (Den), Bouygues Telecom (Fra), Credit Agricole (Fra), Cofidis (Fra), Francaise Des Jeux (Fra), Gerolsteiner (Ger), T-Mobile Team (Ger), Rabobank (Ned), Fassa Bortolo (Ita), Domina Vacanze (Ita), Lampre - Caffita (Ita), Liquigas - Bianchi (Ita), Euskaltel - Euskadi (Spa), Illes Balears (Spa), Liberty Seguros (Spa), Saunier Duval - Prodir (Spa), Phonak Hearing Systems (Swi), Discovery Channel (USA), Relax-Fuenlabrada (Spa), Comunidad Valenciana (Spa), Kaiku (Spa)

Lampre for Pais Vasco

Following solid performances at the Vuelta a Murcia and the Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale Coppi-Bartali in March, where he finished third overall in both races, Damiano Cunego will race the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, which begins today in Zarautz. The Basque race marks his third stage race of the year before the Tour de Romandie later this month, the latter event being Cunego's final preparation before the Giro d'Italia in May.

"After finishing on the podium at both Murcia and Coppi e Bartali, Damiano will be looking at repeating a good result in the Pais Vasco, where he will be riding with team-mates who will be forming the main part of the team at the Giro d'Italia," said Giuseppe Martinelli, Lampre-Cafitta's directtore sportivo. Martinelli added that Cunego will be eager to show his good form on the two mountain stages in Pais Vasco, but the priority is to continually improve as each day passes.

Team roster:

Damiano Cunego
David Loosli
Juan Fuentes Angullo
Eugeny Petrov
Gorazd Stangelj
Sylvester Szmyd
Andrea Tonti
Patxi Vila Errandonea

Directtore sportivi: Giuseppe Martinelli and Guido Bontempi

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