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First Edition Cycling News for April 26, 2006

Edited by John Stevenson

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Romandie prologue: Savoldelli surprises

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel)
Photo ©: AFP Photo
(Click for larger image)

The third ProTour stage race of the season, Switzerland's Tour de Romandie, kicked off in the capital Geneva yesterday with a 3.4km prologue time trial won by Discovery Channel's Paolo Savoldelli.

Except for a near-crash 500m from the finish, Savoldelli turned in an almost flawless display of high-speed bike handling skill to beat ProTour leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) by 0.63 seconds and Bradley McGee (Française des Jeux) by four seconds.

"Last year I finished second in the prologue by just 20 hundredths of a second so I'm very happy to have won this time," Savoldelli said afterwards.

Savoldelli's win was unexpected as Il Falco is aiming for a successful defence of his Giro d'Italia title next month; Romandie was supposed to be just a warm-up. "I've been training hard in recent weeks and so my form is pretty good," he said. And now he holds the yellow jersey, maybe he won't just ride Romandie as a form test.

"Like many riders I'm already thinking about the Giro but this is a prestigious race and so I'm going to give it everything to try and win it," said Savoldelli.

Also unexpected was Alejandro Valverde's second place, showing that even after two classics wins there's still some pow in the Valverde legs. Savoldelli may have bigger fish to fry next month, but his combination of sprinting and climbing talent makes Valverde a Romandie favourite after this strong start.

T-Mobile's Jan Ullrich provided the biggest distraction from the main race story in Geneva as he finally started a season delayed by a nagging knee problem. Ullrich has said he's here to treat Romandie as a training race, and his prologue finish, 26 seconds down on Savoldelli in 94th place, seems to indicate that he needs it.

However, Ullrich said after the race that he had ridden well within himself. "I have a lot to catch up. I've never started the season so late," he said. "It was fun to ride after so long. I didn't go all out on this very technical course."

See also: Prologue full results, report & pics
Main & preview, Start list, Past winners, Stages, Map, Photos

Rabo banking on Ardila

By Anthony Tan in Geneva, Switzerland

Rabobank team manager Adri Van Houwelingen
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
(Click for larger image)

Rabobank's team manager for the Tour de Romandie, Adri Van Houwelingen, told Cyclingnews he was in a particularly curious mood about one of his riders on the opening day of the Tour de Romandie in Geneva.

That rider was Mauricio Ardila, who joined Rabobank from Davitamon-Lotto at the end of last season. However, it's not his transfer from a Belgian to Dutch team that makes Van Houwelingen inquisitive - it's the fact that the 27 year-old Colombian had yet to race for Rabobank until yesterday, and was due to start the Giro d'Italia in an outright leadership role less than two weeks from now.

For a team to let a new rider not race a single day a fortnight before his main event seems unusual. However, Van Houwelingen cited that Ardila followed a similar build-up before last year's Tour of Italy, where he came away with three top-five finishes on some of the most difficult stages and took on a dual-leadership role with Wim Van Huffel.

"We already decided in December to do it this way, and he did almost the same way last year. He started in Niedersachsen [Rundfahrt] and immediately afterwards, he did Romandie and then the Giro, but at the end of the Giro, it was pretty hard [for him]. So we decided to scratch Niedersachsen and start here. He did some races in Colombia, among them the national championship, but this is his first race in Europe.

Click here for the full story.

Gonzalez angry

Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Aitor Gonzalez has spoken out angrily about the damage he believes he has suffered as a result of a doping investigation into him that was dropped by the Spanish cycling federation recently.

"I have suffered irreparable damage to my personal and professional image," Gonzalez told Spanish sports newspaper Marca. "The rider was presumed guilty from the start, without any proof. The decision backs up the claims of innocence which I have made along with my team."

The RFEC, the Spanish cycling federation, started an investigation into Gonzalez after rumours surfaced in the press that he had returned a positive test at the 2005 Vuelta a Espana. The rumours did not specify the stage or drug and the RFEC dropped the case last Friday.

Two broken vertebrae for Van Hummel

Kenny van Hummel (Skil Shimano) has broken two vertebrae after crashing in the third stage of the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt last Friday. Van Hummel has also a rib fracture and a pneumothorax. The first year professional is in a corset and must rest for three weeks.

Team doctor Peter Janssen expects that Van Hummel can resume his training after six weeks and will be back in competition about two weeks later. "A good thing is that the fractures are stable, so they can heal fast," said Janssen.

Van Hummel, who finished seventh in the first stage of the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt, has to put his ambitions on hold for while. "I don't like that at all, but I can't change it," he said. "I hope to be back on my bike very quickly to prepare myself for the second half of the season."

Lovatt and Tanner lead Stena Line team

By Shane Stokes

With the start of the 2006 FBD Insurance Rás now less than one month away, race director Dermot Dignam has announced that current King of the Mountains champion Mark Lovatt and former stage winner John Tanner will both lead the powerful Doncaster Stena Line team in the 2.2 ranked race. The Britons will be joined by Wayne Randle, another vastly experienced rider, with Gavin Evans and up and coming young rider Ashley Brown completing the team.

"If experience is anything to go by, this could be the most formidable squad in the race," suggests Dignam. "When Lovatt last teamed up with Randle and Tanner in the 2000 RÁS they took three of the top ten places on overall classification. Randle finished second overall to Julian Winn, followed by Lovatt at 13 seconds. And Tanner took tenth place overall and also won stage 5 to Enniscorthy."

Lovatt is a previous yellow jersey wearer in the FBD Insurance Rás and last year secured the red and white mountains jersey with an excellent ride on the penultimate stage through the Wicklow mountains. All three are known as attacking riders who stir up the action whenever they take part in the round-Ireland competition. Their participation will further increase the characteristically aggressive nature of the FBD Insurance Rás.

The team will be backed by Stena Line, which has a long association with the FBD RÁS. It is the official maritime carrier for the world-ranked eight day race, and each year brings teams from Scandinavia, Britain and continental Europe.

Eamonn Hewitt, Communications & PR Manager for Stena Line's Irish Sea Organisation, said that the company was happy to back the Doncaster team. "We are particularly delighted to have such strong riders as Tanner, Lovatt and Randle on the Stena team and look forward to them competing for overall honours," he stated.

"Stena Line is delighted to support the FBD Insurance RÁS again this year," he continued. "The Company has a relationship that goes back many years, not only with this great event but with Cycling Ireland also. We had the privilege of moving the Tour de France into and out of Ireland in 1998 and can appreciate the organisational complexity of an event such as the FBD Insurance RÁS. We therefore congratulate Dermot Dignam and his hard working team on their sterling efforts over the years."

Elliott organisers to consider return to international calendar

By Shane Stokes

Following the successful running of the Shay Elliott Memorial in Wicklow on Sunday, race promoters Bray Wheelers and event sponsors Murphy and Gunn are to have talks in the near future about the possibility of returning the race to the international calendar as a world-ranked event.

Named after Ireland's first holder of the Tour de France yellow jersey, the Elliott memorial is regarded as the most prestigious one-day contest outside of the national championships, and was run as a 1.5-ranked event earlier this decade. However changes to UCI rules meant that prize money and other costs spiralled, causing the race to revert to national status.

While the FBD Insurance Rás is currently Ireland's only road race to award world-ranking points, next year's 50th anniversary of the Elliott event, which originally started out as the Route de Chill Mhantain, may see it run off as a 1.2 ranked competition. This would increase the numbers travelling from overseas and add further prestige to what is already a highly regarded race. It would also be a substantial boost for Irish cycling.

"We will sit down with Bray Wheelers soon and discuss a possible return to the international calendar," confirmed Murphy and Gunn's Mark Colbert yesterday. "We have big ideas for next year, including the possible running of a criterium or a youth race the day before the main event, making it a festival weekend."

Sunday's race was doubly successful for the sponsors, with the Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group team taking an excellent first and third. Andrew Roche broke clear approximately 15 kilometres from the end, finishing clear of former Tour of Spain points classification winner Malcolm Elliott and his own team-mate Connor Murphy.

It represented a very encouraging performance for the squad, who this year made the step up to UCI Continental level.

Mayo rides support women's clubs

Cyclists who took part in last year's Mayo Club/County Cycle challenge will recall it as one of the top spins of the year - and now the wheel has turned full circle and the ride is on the horizon again.

The challenge - organised as a fund-raiser by Mayo Ladies GAA Board in association with Western Lakes CC - will take place on Saturday, April 29, and large numbers of rider are again expected to take part.

A novel feature of the ride is that sign-on is free of charge to members of Cycling Ireland (though non-members must pay a €10 sign-on fee to obtain a one-day licence.)

This year, there are two adult starting-points at 9.30am - Ballina Bus Station and The Mall in Castlebar. Sign-on is from 8.45am at both places, and dressing rooms and showers will be provided in James Stephen's Park, Ballina, and An Sportlann, Castlebar.

Both rides are approximately 90 miles long. The Ballina ride follows a route through Ballina, Crossmolina, Bellacorick, Bangor, Belmullet, Barnatra, Rossport, Glenamoy, Belderrig, Ballycastle, Killala, and finishing in Ballina.

The Castlebar ride visits Castlebar, Foxford, Swinford, Charlestown, Knock, Ballyhaunis, Claremorris, Ballintubber, Killawalla, Westport, Newport, and Castlebar.

There will be refreshments on route and afterwards on both spins. Mayo Ladies GAA Board will take up bucket collections in the major towns along the way, and they supply marshalling to maximise the enjoyment of all cyclists.

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