Latest Cycling News for March 31, 2006
Edited by Anthony Tan
Boonen favourite for RVV repeat
By Jeff Jones
The Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) will be raced for the 90th time on Sunday, April 2. Starting once again in Brugge and finishing in Ninove-Meerbeke, the route takes the riders over 258 km, 17 climbs, and approximately 20 km of cobbles. The course alone makes it one of the toughest one day races in the world, but the combination of skills and fitness required to win it make it a big jewel in the crown of any rider who succeeds.
Last year, Flanders' newest hero Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) won his first Ronde with a masterful performance, attacking a lead group of six with 9 km to go to finish over half a minute ahead of Andreas Klier (T-Mobile) and perennial Ronde favourite Peter Van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto). Boonen was in the middle of a purple patch, having won the E3 Prijs the week before and going on to win Paris-Roubaix a week later. His winning streak continued, more or less, throughout the season, and he finished in September as the World Champion in Madrid.
Boonen is back this year, and he's better than ever. The 25 year-old World Champion has 11 victories already this season, including - once again - the E3 Prijs, always an excellent form tester before the Ronde. In addition, he was a comfortable fourth in Milan-San Remo, and has ridden very strongly in all the Belgian semi-classics, where he clearly wasn't riding conservatively. He is the standout favourite this year and with a very strong team behind him, including 'alternates' Paolo Bettini, Nick Nuyens, and Filippo Pozzato.
Flat then frantic: the Ronde parcours
By Jeff Jones
This year's Ronde Van Vlaanderen parcours is as hard on paper as most of them are. For starters, there's the distance of 258 km, which is a big distance to race a bike over. Add in cobbles - 20 km of them, all up - and climbs, of which there are 17 this year, narrow, twisting, bumpy roads, a strong wind, and probable rain shows, and you have a real hard man's race. It's not a race for a climber, but someone who can produce a lot of power in short bursts, and still have enough at the end to go hard in the final 20 km.
The Ronde starts in Brugge, near the west coast of Flanders, and one of Belgium's top tourist destinations. It huge, cobbled Grote Markt provides enough space to fit the riders, the presentation stage, and a hell of a lot of people. And you can guarantee a big crowd at Vlaanderen's mooiste.
After the gun goes off at 9:40am, the riders cruise out of Brugge to Sint-Pieters, where the race officially starts at 10:00am. Then it's almost due west out to the seaside at Oostende, before the course turns southeast towards the Vlaamse Ardennen. By this stage, the first breakaway of the day should be established, although anything can happen in the Ronde when there's a stiff crosswind blowing. After passing Ichtegem (km 38), which is the official town of the Ronde, the route goes through Torhout, Lichtervelde, Roeselare, Izegem and Kortrijk (km 82).
After 100 km, the race crosses into East Flanders, and the wind should be more at the riders' backs now. The first cobbled section comes at Wannegem (km 114), and although it's only 400m, it's a taste of the 20 km of bone jarring that is to come. A more serious cobbled section comes at Doorne, just outside Oudenaarde, after 117 km, then it's onto Zottegem and the Paddestraat at Velzeke (km 137). Another 2400m of cobbles greets the riders here, in addition to a sort of Roman tunnel of horrors, created by the cartoonist Nesten, who does interesting caricatures of the riders each year.
Click here to read the full route details.
CSC are ready, says Sunderland
Team CSC's Australian sports director, Scott Sunderland, is in no doubt about his team's ability when the Tour of Flanders kicks off on 9.40am Sunday morning at Brugge's marketplace: "We are ready."
"We have a handful of riders on top form, and considering the previous cobblestone races, we know we're strong all round," Sunderland said in a team statement. "Of course, it appears that Tom Boonen is in a league of his own, and he'll probably be the rider everyone will be watching.
"We don't have any actual favourites, but we do have several potentials: Karsten Kroon, Marcus Ljungqvist, Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Fabian Cancellara are all in great shape right now, and they're very keen to sit up front on Sunday. I think our results lately justify a certain amount of optimism. In my opinion, we have a very real chance of a victory," he predicts.
In 258 kilometres, 17 cobbled climbs will be tackled with the Bosberg being the last, about 12 kilometres before the finish in Ninove-Meerbeke. Said Sunderland: "Anything can happen in a race like Tour of Flanders, but one thing is for sure: only the strong survive. The finish is very tough and it will definitely be a great race to watch.
"The route is identical to last year's and we know it well, because it's extremely important to know every single turn. We have been out training on some of the strategic spots to refresh our memory, and also to make sure the riders are familiar with the route. We've done absolutely everything in our power to be ready, so now we'll have to wait and see what happens on Sunday. Personally I think we'll go far."
Stuart O'Grady interview: Seeing a silver lining
With his Classics plans laid to rest after an unfortunate early season tumble, one of the peloton's most aggressive and experienced hardmen tells Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes his season ain't over yet.
This spring was to be a big one for Stuart O'Grady. At 32 years of age he has a strong blend of strength, experience and results, and his move to Team CSC last autumn was expected see him move to a new level as a Classics contender. In the past he's taken podium placings in both Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders; motivation boosted by his change of team, he was all fired up for good performances in both.
However, the Australian has been forced to change those plans, his Spring campaign being foiled by a bad crash on stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this month. O'Grady broke his collarbone and five ribs when he hit a pothole and is only now returning to training with some sessions on an indoor trainer. He's worked with a chiropractor to try to get moving again as soon as possible and, motivated to bounce back from this misfortune, he's now aiming to hit peak form this summer.
"I guess one thing that comes out of this is that although I will miss the Classics, I'll be fresher and hungrier and angrier than ever when I get back on the bike," he states. "You have got to take the positives from this kind of situation.
"I was programmed to have a break after Paris-Roubaix with four weeks off. But instead of having that time off after Roubaix, I will just have an enforced break now. In hindsight, I guess another benefit is that I will have had my break so I will be raring to go, [doing] full training when I would have been resting. So hopefully come the Dauphiné and the Tour, I will be going very well."
Click here to read the rest of the feature.
Davitamon-Lotto to Flanders
Davitamon-Lotto will be one team hoping to challenge the might of Tom Boonen and his Quick.Step team in Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen, with 2003 RVV champion Peter Van Petegem among their eight-man line-up:
Riders: Wim De Vocht, Bart Dockx, Bert Roesems, Gert Steegmans, Leon Van Bon, Peter Van Petegem, Wim Vansevenant, Henk Vogels
Chocolade Jacques update
Promising Flemish youngster Steven Caethoven (Chocolade Jacques) was forced to abandon the Driedaagse van De Panne due to sickness, but is expected to make his comeback next Wednesday in Gent-Wevelgem, followed by the GP de Denain Porte du Hainaut and Rund um Köln. His team-mate Tom Stubbe will return in competition this weekend at the Hel van het Mergelland on April 1.
Dean Downing interview: Doing it Deano's way
Dean Downing is another British cycling export, plying his trade in Europe during 2006 with the newly merged DFL-Cyclingnews.com-Litespeed team, based in Belgium. The brother of British national road champion Russell Downing, 'Deano' has posted the team's first wins of the season and has come into the 2006 season with excellent form. He spoke to Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins after the team's second training camp of the year.
Downing has had a promising start to the 2006 season, scoring wins in the Neerlineder kermesse held in Belgium on March 5, and then posting another win last weekend at the Trofee Van Haspengouw (Aalst-St.-Truiden) interclub event on March 25.
Downing said at the team launch earlier this year that he'd changed his training for the lead-up to the 2006 season; concentrating on training on the road through a British winter, rather than racing on the track (both Downing brothers are highly accomplished track riders). In fact, by mid February, he'd logged 7000km since mid-November, riding around the roads of Sheffield, near his home. At the launch, he told Cyclingnews, "I've done enough training, I want to get racing". Indeed, all those wintery kilometres have certainly paid off as he's given the newly-merged squad an excellent start to the season.
Cyclingnews: The DFL/Cyclingnews.com team is based in Belgium - do you know whereabouts exactly, and do you know anything about the area?
Dean Downing: A small town called Booischot; its about 20 minutes from Leuven where Stella is brewed, so that could be dangerous
CN: Having a quick scan down the list of riders, it's a pretty young team [in fact 'Deano' is the oldest at 31]. Does anyone stand out as a leader that you'll all work for, or will it be left to each individual race?
DD: I think they had to sign some young guys after signing me [laughs]. I think the new director doesn't want there to be an out and out team leader as such, just leave it to individual races. We have quite a few different style races planned this season; the flat Belgium races and the Tour of China, which I hear is a bit hilly, so it'll be hard for a rider to be up there in every one [of those races]. It can sometimes put pressure on a leader if the riders are always looking to them for everything, too.
Click here to read the rest of the feature.
Record entries for Baw Baw
A record 138 entries have been received for this Saturday's Baw Baw Classic. This has delighted race organisers, but the response has left many wondering: why on earth would you want to climb a hill like that?
Five-time winner of the Masters category, Ken Ford, is straight to the point: "It's all about the challenge. That final climb is one big challenge, alright." Indeed, as one of Australia's toughest one day road races, the Baw Baw Classic covers a distance of 94.5 kilometres, starting from Warragul in Gippsland before climbing through the Deli region, Noojee, Icy Creek and Tanjil Bren. The course then saves its best till last: the 6km surge up one of the steepest paved sections of road in the country.
Race director Chris Beales believes the late summer and fine weather in Victoria has also helped. "Most of the riders have come off a huge summer of racing and are fit and strong. Baw Baw provides the first real test for the winter. And of course, the success of the Commonwealth Games has also inspired many to get back out there and race," he said. Records have also been broken with the number of local riders entered, initially causing concern that there were few people left to volunteer as corner marshalls!
Nic Sanderson maintains the role of men's favourite after his return to Australia from Belgian team Davitamon-Lotto. 2004 winner Chris Fry should save his trademark climbing prowess for the final climb, while Canberra's Michael Tolhurst and mountain biker Murray Spink will also be riders to look out for.
Favourite for the women's race, Helen Kelly, is using the race as part of her final preparation for her 2006 European season. "I have never seen the final climb but the profile on the website definitely indicates that it is steep," she said. "I have talked to many people who have raced this event before and everyone has told me how tough it is." Kelly will face her stiffest competition from her home state, including her fellow VIS teammate Peta Mullens and junior Lisa Friend, as well as Mildura's Stephanie Frawley.
In the Masters 2/3 category, 2005 winner Tom Crebbin seems a sure bet, while in the Masters 4/5/6/7 category, Ken Ford remains the reluctant favourite to take out a sixth straight Masters crown. Does he believe he can hold off Ararat's Ian Blackie who has finished second to Ford over the past two years? "I am not really sure about that," said Ford. "Ian will be there again giving me a hard time and I just hope I can hold him off."
More information: www.bawbawclassic.com
Irish weekend preview
By Tommy Campbell
Balbriggan cycling club are holding two events this weekend. This Saturday afternoon, the Harry Reynolds sponsored by MeadWestVaco goes to post and the defending champion Niall Delahaye has signaled his intentions that he is up for another win. On Sunday, the McKenna family are supporting the Ben McKenna Memorial and here David Peelo will be defending the title.
Interestingly, Delayhaye is now a member of the Usher Irish Road Club, whereas Peelo twelve months ago delivered the goods of that, but now David has moved on to greener pastures with the Murphy Surveyors/Kilcullen CC. For the two days of racing, a prize fund of over 2,000 Euro is in the kitty.
Down south, also on Sunday, the Fermoy CC are holding the Silver Pail Trophy, formerly the DJ Forde Trophy. A former winner of the trophy in the late '60s, Philip O'Brien, will be commissaire for the races in Balbriggan. Competition is expected to be very keen in the Co. Cork town when the event rolls out in close proximity to the home of Michael Flatley of 'Riverdance' fame.
Denis Lynch is the defending champion and his form in the last two weeks would make him one of the fancied candidates. The promoters, Fermoy CC, are confident that Michael Hennessy will keep the silverware in Fermoy.
Esch-sur-Alzette honours Pou Pou
The most popular French cyclist of the 1960s, Raymond Poulidor, was received yesterday by the organising committee of the town of Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxembourg, who will host both a start and finish at this year's Tour de France.
Fondly nicknamed 'Pou Pou' or, less fondly, 'the eternal second' (having thrice finished the Tour second and five times in third), a large crowd of his fans attended the reception as the town's president Henri Hinterscheid honoured Poulidor for his achievements. Among the public was previous Tour stage winner Bim Diederich, now 84, and Acacio Da Silva, the last 'Luxembourger' (whose real nationality is in fact Portugese) to wear the maillot jaune in 1989. Poulidor is currently 69 years old.
Courtesy Ed Buchette
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