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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News for March 21, 2005

Edited by Jeff Jones and Hedwig Kröner

Heras returns

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros)
Photo ©: Unipublic
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros-Würth) will return to racing at the Setmana Catalana from March 21-25. The man who has won the Vuelta a España three times and been a valuable helper to Lance Armstrong in his Tour de France victories, has been keeping up his training schedule during winter and starts racing with a desire for victory, be it smaller races or his season's goal: the Tour de France.

"What I can't understand is feeling good, and not being competitive," Heras said. "For training, I stay at home. What I do need to ascertain is my level of fitness in competition, in relation to the others. Because I think I'm well prepared, but I don't know how the others will be. It's clear that I don't want to go unnoticed."

This year, Heras is participating in his first race later than in the years before. "Normally, when I had to ride the Tour, I started with the Vuelta a Murcia," he said. "Last year, I started in Mallorca and did Milano-Sanremo before Setmana Catalana. The Tour de France and the Vuelta a España being my goals, starting a little bit later gives me a margin not to burden myself with too many competitions along the season." Heras, who hasn't been suffering any illnesses during his off-season except for the 'flu at Christmas, will be helping his teammates Koldo Gil and Alberto Contador in the upcoming Setmana Catalana.

"I'm really looking forward to starting again," he continued. "The Setmana Catalana motivates me, although it is not a ProTour race. I have always been riding it and know it well. Moreover, we will pass through my home, Girona. The first three stages will be pretty hard, especially the third one, which might be decisive. The 16 km time trial on the last day will only tighten the final classification."

Roberto Heras is one of the main contenders for overall classification victory at the Tour de France, and that's what has been on his mind lately: "I hope to do well at the Tour. I think we have the right team to ride a great Tour, if all turns out right. After that, there's the Vuelta but I can't think of that now. When you've set your mind on the Tour, you have to concentrate on it exclusively. You can start to think about other objectives only once you've finished it," he concluded.

Cooke and Gilmore lead Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan in 2005

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Cornuda, Italy

Rochelle Gilmore and Nicole Cooke
Photo ©: CN
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The day after the Primavera Rosa on a cloudy Palm Sunday in Veneto, Italy, the Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan women's cycling team presented its squad for 2005, and Cyclingnews was there. With two Anglophone leaders in Nicole Cooke and Rochelle Gilmore, Maurizio Fabretto's Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan squad for '05 is a horse of a different colour. Fabretto declared, "This team has gotten better every year over the ten years we have done it and we believe that 2005 will be no exception."

As she is expecting her first child this year, team stalwart and 1998 World Champ Diana Ziliute is sitting out the 2005 season. The petite 28 year-old is over her disappointment of being excluded from the Lithuanian team for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and is already planning a big comeback in 2006.

Runner-up in the Primavera Rosa, Nicole Cooke, is beginning her fifth racing season on an Italian team and the 21 year old Welshwoman seems to thrive in La Bella Italia. We asked "La Cooke" what her 2005 goals were and she related that, "Certainly to defend my Giro d'Italia title is the main one, and I want to have a good spring campaign as well, in races like Flèche Wallonne and Tour of Flanders."

Team ride
Photo ©: CN
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Cooke's housemate in Italy is fellow Anglophone, Rochelle Gilmore of Stanwell Tops (NSW), Australia. "La Gilmore" is coming back to Fabretto's team and Italian racing after a season in S.A.T.S., and although her Italian may be a bit rusty, the speedy 23 year-old sprinter looks like she's on her way to a breakthrough season in 2005. Already winner of the first round of the Women's World Cup in Geelong, Australia, Rochelle told Cyclingnews, "I'm happy to be back in Italy and on this team. I'm really looking forward to having the team work for me in the sprints; I've felt strong every sprint I've done this year."

In Saturday's Primavera Rosa, Rochelle flatted at the worst possible time just before the Cipressa and ended up out of the action. Unfortunately absent from the Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan festivities today was Olympic MTB Champ Gunn-Rita Dahle, who was T-boned by another rider on the descent of the Cipressa in the Primavera Rosa Saturday and returned to her home in Stavanger, Norway to recuperate from her injuries.

Click here for the Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan team roster

Zabel:"I've been losing explosiveness"

In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the six-times winner of the Green jersey at the Tour de France, Erik Zabel, has been talking about the reasons behind his recent lack of victories. The T-Mobile sprinter, called by many "Mr Consistency" blamed both himself and his rivals for the fact that his last stage or race victory was on May 22, 2004 at the Bayern-Rundfahrt - 10 months ago.

"Has my capacity been declining? Or is a rider like Alessandro Petacchi just been getting so much better?" he asked himself. "It's probably a mixture of both. My rivals have certainly been getting better, but that's just one side of the story. The other is: I am still capable of pushing 1400 to 1500 Watts in a sprint - so I still possess the same strength at 34 years of age than at 25 or 26. But I don't have the same explosiveness anymore."

Zabel finished in 14th place last Saturday at Milano-Sanremo, a race he has won four times. Last year, he missed the victory by a hair, when Oscar Freire came up from behind as Zabel was raising his arms at the finish line. "This story has been getting much more media coverage than the whole of my four victories there," he said. "It went so far that some mathematicians calculated whether I would have won had I not raised my arms...I would have," he recalled. "This episode is a part of my life as a racer. But it will probably never leave me."

Nor will the discussions about his participation at the Tour de France this year. Tour runner-up Andreas Klöden has been saying that only a team composed of one leader and eight helpers could be victorious at the overall classification at the Grande Boucle. Asked if he thought Klöden was right, Zabel diplomatically countered, "I'd put it this way: Only the individually strongest rider wins the Tour de France." T-Mobile insiders have also been talking about the time-trialling skills of 'Ete' Zabel, saying that his performances were slowing down the team in one of the important events towards Tour de France victory: the team time trial.

"I don't think it's funny when I get the blame for the team's loss of 15 seconds at the team time trial," he continued. "I am not the best time triallist, but go beyond my pain threshold on that day, to be able to look into the eyes of my teammates in the evening." Zabel is currently listed in the provisional team selection for the Tour de France, which includes 15 riders. His participation in the race will probably not be known until only a few weeks before the event, when the team management decides on it.

Also see: Cyclingnews' interview with Erik Zabel at the team presentation of T-Mobile, in Bonn, Germany in January.

Cunego motivated for Settimana Internazionale

The only short stage race in Italy in which Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Caffita) will participate before the Giro d'Italia will be the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali from March 22-26. "I took part in this race in 2002, my first professional year," the 2004 Giro d'Italia winner recalled. "I remember getting 14th in the most gruelling stage. This year, after my debut in Murcia where I finished on the podium, I feel I am in good condition and am confident I will do well."

The 23 year-old Cunego will assess his current form at the race. "I would like to finish in a good position after the team time trial in Misano Adriatico on Tuesday. I will have a really strong team with me. In stage four on Friday, the final climb to Serramazzoni I will measure myself in order to better understand my actual condition, which I believe to be good at this moment," he said. Cunego has had two days of intensive work on Thursday and Friday, with rides of five and a half hours (180 km) the first day, and four and a half hours (150km) on the following day. On Saturday, Sunday as well as Monday, he will train two hours surrounding the city of Verona.

Lampre-Caffita is also counting on Giuliano Figueras, winner of last year's Settimana Internazionale. "Giuliano performed very well in San Remo," team director Giuseppe Martinelli said. "I am confident that he can recreate the right rhythm at the race. As well as looking over Damiano's shoulder, he can also be a great participant in a few attacks. I think we can think about a victory here."

Lampre-Caffita will line up the following riders in Riccione on Tuesday, March 22: Damiano Cunego, Giuliano Figueras, Marco Marzano, Eugeni Petrov, Marius Sabaliauskas, Gorazd Stangelj, Alessandro Spezialetti and Andrea Tonti.

Aitor Gonzalez to miss Tour

Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Aitor Gonzalez will not ride in the next edition of the Tour de France, as according to his team director Julian Gorospe, he is "a rider who is not suited to the Tour." He will do the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta España, which worked for him in 2002 when he won the Vuelta.

One of Euskaltel's other big riders, Haimar Zubeldia, will "only do the Tour if he is in form," said Gorospe. Zubeldia will aim at the Giro d'Italia this year.


Leonett re-elected president of Venezuelan federation

Artemio Leonett Maestre has been re-elected as the president of the Venezuelan Cycling Federation for the period between 2005-2009. The elections were held in the administrative HC of the Velódromo Héctor Alvarado, and the following were voted in as other board members:

Artemio Leonett M (President) Leopoldo Melo B. (1st Vice-president) Adelmo Parra A. (2nd Vice-president) Ruben Gracilazo de la Vega (General Secretary) Hector Villarroel M. (Treasurer) Omar Leal D. (1st delegate) William Perez L. (2nd delegate) Rafael Acuña D. (3rd delegate) Haroldo Herrera (4th delegate)

Honorary Council (2005-2009): Felix Ramon Castillo, Fouad Hadid, Carlos Castillo

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