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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for March 27, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones & Anthony Tan

Brabantse Pijl wrap-up

Double success for triple world champ

Oscar Freire (Rabobank)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Rabobank's trump card Oscar Freire has given the Dutch team a morale boosting victory by taking his second Brabantse Pijl in a row. Freire benefited from some solid teamwork from Juan Antonio Flecha when the pair escaped with Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step) and Karsten Kroon (CSC) with 7 km to go. Flecha gave it everything to keep it together for the final climb, where Freire could use his superior sprint to beat Kroon and Nuyens.

"This victory makes me very happy because it's never easy to get a win," Freire told Sporza in Spanish after the race. "The contenders were very strong but our team performed very well, particularly Flecha. I had a lot of physical problems last year, though I still could do some training in the winter."

Also see: Full results & report, Live report, and Photos.

Post-race quotes

Second placed Dutchman Karsten Kroon (Team CSC) was beaten in the sprint by Freire. "My sprint was alright," he told Sporza. "Starting the sprint early made it possible to close down Nuyens on the left side of the road. So he was already out of contention. Freire proved to be a bit stronger than me in the sprint.

"Before that, Nuyens was alone in the front. I was able to come back to him, but he was riding very fast. I couldn't help him increae our lead on the two Rabobank guys. They must have been very strong because they came back to us.

"I'm gathering top 10 places over here, but you can have them all for a single victory. Next week I'll try to perform well in the Tour of Flanders, but my main target will be the Wallonian races. Changing teams, from Rabobank to CSC, was the best thing I could do. Never in my career, I've been riding so strongly."

CSC team director Scott Sunderland commented on, "Of course Karsten was happy with his result and as a team we also have every reason to be pleased with our efforts. The team has improved from race to race this spring and I'm sure that we are totally ready for April's big classics."

Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step) tried to pull away from his fellow escapees but Karsten Kroon, and later on Freire and Flecha caught him. In the sprint he finished a frustrated third. "I don't understand why Kroon was chasing me," Nuyens reacted to Sporza. "He should've known it was up to Freire to lead the chase, because you know he's the fastest at the finish. Freire wasn't the strongest man in the race. He was just faster than us in the sprint.

"Our team did very well, particularly Baguet and Vasseur. The atmosphere in our team is fantastic and we understand each other very well. Today, we proved that Quick.Step has two top quality teams. For me, this was the last test before the Tour of Flanders. My fitness is alright and I think that I'll be very important for Tom Boonen next week. Predicting what the result will be is difficult, but probably I'll be there in the finale."

Davitamon rider Björn Leukemans had a good race and tried a few times to get away on the Bruineput. But in the end, he wasn't able to get into the decisive break. "Right from the start, we didn't have anybody in the early escape. Our team had to chase them down and that's why some of us were tired in the finale. Suddenly, there were five guys from Quick.Step attacking. We had two guys who needed to gamble on which was the good escape. You need some luck to succeed in this.

"Probably, I'll ride the Tour of Flanders because Leon Van Bon is ill and Nico Mattan is not going well either. The pressure on our team is mounting because we're not winning races. Maybe one victory can make things completely different for us."

Unexpected victory for Basso in France

Ivan Basso (CSC)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

A convincing win in the morning's road stage backed up by a solid afternoon time trial has resulted in Ivan Basso achieving overall victory in this year's 2.HC-ranked Critérium International, beating early leader Erik Dekker (Rabobank) and Ukrainian Andriy Grivko (Team Milram), who took second and third place respectively.

Consequently, the 28 year-old's preparations for his assault at the upcoming Giro d'Italia are now one step closer: "I must admit that I wasn't expecting to win anything this early on, but it's a great feeling and a big morale booster to be standing on that podium," said Basso on "This race is part of my preparation for the Giro, where my form should be peaking, and the win today helps underline the fact that I'm heading in the right direction.

"I'm equally surprised and happy. It means a great deal to me to win here in France, where I've always felt welcome. I didn't actually come here to win and wasn't banking on my form being good enough for a top result, but after the work the team did this morning, I found myself in a position where it was possible. I'm very pleased with my time trial today and it gives me a good feeling in relation to the big stage races."

Said his team manager Bjarne Riis: "The team worked impeccably today. We split the peloton on the climbs and managed to isolate Dekker [on Stage 2], and then it was up to Ivan to finish the job. He deserved this victory and it confirms that his form is extremely good this year. He's actually only just started to build it up towards the Giro, but he's already strong enough to make a difference in a tough race such as this.

"Ivan has got a big result under his belt now and this goes to show he's an all-round rider. It was a good win for the team and we defended our victory from the previous years in a brilliant way. Ivan has impressed in all three stages - and this after a week where he has really worked hard with his training at home. The race has proved a good test, and no one can disagree with the fact that he passed with flying colors. He is very motivated to win the Giro and he'll be even stronger then."

Basso added that up till now, everything has been perfect for him this year. "I feel more ready and I also feel that the work, I'm doing together with Bjarne and the team, is the absolute right way for me to achieve my goals this year. This victory is an important step on the way."

Rabobank's morale still good

Maybe a good omen for Rabobank's fortunes in the Brabantse Pijl was the team's analysis of events after the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen on Saturday. While Erik Dekker beat Ivan Basso and Andrei Grivko in the sprint on the opening stage of the Critérium International, their best-placed rider in the E3 Prijs was Juan Antonio Flecha, who crossed the line in 18th place.

Flecha did honour his nickname 'the Spanish Flandrien' by being in the thick of things for a long time - that was until Tom Boonen decided to have a go at it. "That's the only positive thing in this race for us," sports director Frans Maassen said afterwards. "We lost Oscar, Joost got sick and Jukka's completely not in form. On top of that, we missed the first attack when a group of 26 riders rode away. We had to sacrifice four men to straighten things again. We were only 70km into the race and we only had two riders left, Flecha and Horrillo."

Maassen, however, remained positive: "We are sitting at the diner table with good morale anyway. Flecha and Dekker are our leaders for Ronde Van Vlaanderen next week. Flecha is doing a good job here and Dekker won in France. So there aren't just dark clouds hanging above us. We are going for Oscar on Sunday; and for Flecha it will be an excellent training for next week." according to Frans Maassen."

Sure enough, Rabobank's fortunes changed at the Brabantse Pijl; Freire and Flecha placed themselves in the winning move with the triple world champion coming out on top, Flecha finishing fourth and the team's optimism back on track for next Sunday's Ronde. Team management had considered replacing Michael Boogerd with Marc Wauters or Jan Boven, but the change wasn't executed in the end because both riders want to start in the Driedaagse van de Panne, which begins on Tuesday.

Finally, there was Mathew Hayman's win in the Commonwealth Games men's road race and Kai Reus' overall win in the Tour of Normandy, giving an orange glow to the weekend's racing.

Courtesy Sabine Sunderland

Bäckstedt out for the classics

Swedish riders Magnus Bäckstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi) will miss the rest of the classics due to a tendon injury. Doctors have ordered him to rest for a full month before resuming training, and he will not be able to take part in his favourite April races.

The problems started when he crashed in the Challenge Illes Baleares in February. Initial diagnosis of the injury was an inflamed tendon and he continued to train and race - albeit sporadically and in a substantial amount of pain. Bäckstedt did Tirreno-Adriatico, then lined up for Milan-San Remo, where he rode for almost 200 kilometres in support of his team leader Luca Paolini. But his knee locked up during the race, and he was unable to go any further.

After returning home to the UK and having undergone an MRI scan, ultrasounds and assessments by both doctors in England and Italy, Bäckstedt reported, "Doctors have told me that the tendon behind my left knee has a split in it. My main hamstring muscle has been compensating for it and I was close to tearing this from the bone. Luckily we caught it in time and I now have a month of recuperation ahead of me."

Following his victory in the Paris Roubaix classic in 2004, Bäckstedt was the Liquigas squad's leader for the northern classics and his absence now leaves a void in the team. "I am hugely disappointed for my teammates, my team sponsors and my fans. Nothing even comes close to trying to describe the emotional roller coaster that I have been on over the last month or so.

"Anyone who knows me will testify what a total professional I am. I prepared so well for this season, I was lighter, fitter and stronger than I have ever been in my career. I have done it once this year, I can do it again! I will rest and gradually build back up to be competitive for the Tour de France and the second half of the season," he concluded.

Attacks of the worker bees score Comm Games golds
- domestiques' day afternoon

Natalie Bates
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

The Commonwealth Games have finished, with the home nation - Australia - winning the overwhelming majority of the cycling events. Out of the total of 18 gold medals on offer across all disciplines, Australia won seven golds on the track and all four on the road, only missing out on a medal in the MTB cross country.

On Sunday, Australians Natalie Bates and Mathew Hayman capped off excellent team riding to win the women's and men's road races, respectively.

Both wins were celebrated by their team-mates - such as pre-race favourites Allan Davis and Oenone Wood - as being just rewards for selfless team riders who've put in years of hard work for the team cause.

What it also demonstrated was the depth of talent in both squads, and a very strong teamwork ethic; it didn't really matter who won, as long as he or she was Australian.

Bates and Hayman benefited from a very strong Australian team, which offered them a superior array of tactics. After only 10 km, Bates made the early break in the women's race, together with Toni Bradshaw (New Zealand), Emma Davies Jones (England), Mandy Poitras (Canada) and Noor Azian Binti Alias (Malaysia). With no real interest in chasing the break by the peloton (all the main teams were represented), the group gained four and a half minutes.

Bates had been sitting in under team instructions, and when she attacked at 30 km to go, no-one could go with her. She time trialed to the finish, keeping a three minute gap, while her erstwhile companions were absorbed by the bunch, allowing Oenone Wood (Australia) to beat Nicole Cooke (Wales) for the silver medal.

"In Australia we are very focused on winning medals," said Natalie Bates. "That's all well and good but sport is much more than that. Cycling is a team sport and you need a team to get consistent results. As Nicole (Cooke) showed out there today - she is one of the best riders in the world, but without a team to support you it's hard. It is a team sport and we are a fantastic team and can put it together on the day. [The win] doesn't sink it right away. Gold and silver - I'm so stoked. We would have been happy if any of us had won. I'm pleased it's me this time - it's a real buzz! Having everyone on the podium was very special."

In the men's race, a similar situation developed when Mathew Hayman joined two South Africans: David George and Ryan Cox on the penultimate lap of 15. Although normally, the South Africans had the advantage in numbers, Hayman was able to mark their attacks and put in the winning move of his own on the first climb of the last lap. George closed to within five seconds of the Australian, but couldn't quite get there and Hayman celebrated a big win. His teammate and pre-race favourite Allan Davis was able to get away from the rest of the bunch to take the bronze medal.

After the race, Mat Hayman said, "The team were amazing. Did you see those guys riding on the front all day? Four hours on the front. We went into the race with such a strong team plan; Alby (Allan Davis) is such a dynamic rider he can sprint and he can climb, so we were really working for him but Neil (Stephens) had a lot of faith in me, so Al and I were the two guys the team was riding for."

Davis continued, "Full credit to him (Mat) and the whole Australia team. We were in control of the race from kilometre zero; we went in with high hopes and the way we raced makes me proud to be an Australian."

See: Complete reports on the Men's road race: Full results, report & photos, Live report, Women's road race - Full results, report & photos, Live report.

An interview with Nic Formosa

It's never too late

On his way to Melbourne
Photo ©: John Flynn
Click for larger image

Following in the finest tradition of Jamaican bobsleigh, the tiny Mediterranean island nation of Malta (which can be navigated by bike in 30 minutes) will send a five member cycling team to compete in Sunday's road race at the Commonwealth Games, and don't be surprised to hear a few Aussie accents among the Maltese contingent in the peloton! Cyclingnews' John Michael Flynn speaks with one of those Aussies, Nic Formosa.

In what presents itself as one of the truly heart-warming stories of the Games, 35-year-old Formosa will represent the country of his parents, fulfilling one of those 'never say never' dreams, which just so occasionally comes true in the world of sport.

"When I was young I had aspirations of riding Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, but it never eventuated," Formosa says, before adding, "Australia was just a hard place to get anywhere with that sort of stuff - I'm not a super talented cyclist, but I've got a pretty good work ethic, training ethic."

And this is something that has served him well, being a highly-respected member of the Queensland cycling community; the name Nic Formosa will be well known to several of the Australians competing in the Commonwealth Games road race. He enjoys the unique distinction of having competed both against Australian Commonwealth Games cyclist Allan Davis, and Allan's father, at the elite level - in the late 80's and early 90's the Mackay raised Formosa was one of Queensland's best emerging cycling talents, representing his state at numerous national championships.

Nic was still up there with the best until 1998, winning his state criterium and team time trial titles, before a shocking crash at the Tour of New Caledonia ended or at least altered his career. "I went over a cliff and broke my right tibial plateau," Formosa recalls of the life-defining accident.

Click here for the full interview.

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