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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News for May 5, 2006

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Giro preview: Italian giants take centre stage

By Jeff Jones

2005 winner Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel)
Photo ©: Sirotti
Click for larger image

Despite a more international flavour of top level cycling, the focus of the Giro d'Italia is still very much on Italy and the Italians who look set to dominate the race again. From last year's winner Paolo Savoldelli, to 2004 champion Damiano Cunego, 2001 and 2003 winner Gilberto Simoni, to serious challengers Ivan Basso and Danilo di Luca - all the likely winners of this year's edition are Italian. The good news for fans is that they are all in good shape, and we could well see a Giro that is as exciting as last year's thriller.

After winning the prologue in the Tour de Romandie, defending champion Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) looked to be on a perfect course for the Giro. But a stomach bug a couple of days into the race put paid to his chances of fine tuning his form for the three week tour. Still, Savoldelli will start in the prologue in Seraing with the number one dossard and will have enough time to regain any lost form before the Giro's crunch time in the final week. His team should be a little stronger this year too, with Tom Danielson being injury free and more experienced, Vjatcheslav Ekimov, Benoît Joachim, Pavel Padrnos, Jason McCartney and Matthew White ready to shoulder the load on the flats, and Manuel Beltrán and José Luis Rubiera for the mountains.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) was simply brilliant when he won the Giro in 2004. He had to fight against his nominal team captain Gilberto Simoni, who wasn't too happy about playing second fiddle to the young gun, but in the end he had no choice. The two parted teams next season. Now, after doing a bad Giro last year because of mononucleosis, Cunego has and excellent team and great form and will come into the race as a top favourite.

Click here to read the full Giro d'Italia preview.

An interview with Jose Rujano: The Rujano show

Hailing from Venezuela, Jose Rujano was the greatest revelation of last year’s Giro d’Italia. Selle Italia’s diminuitive climbing sensation was third overall in the 2005 Giro, securing both the mountain and most aggressive rider jerseys by the time the race finished in Milan. Declared the greatest South American rider in the Giro's history, he speaks to Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez about that Giro and how it has influenced his future.

Saluting on the podium
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

That huge performance in last year's loop of Italy meant that when Rujano returned to his country, he was welcomed as a hero, received numerous accolades and was considered a role model for his compatriots. Even the Venezuelan national parliament gave him recognition for his unforgettable ride in the Italian mountains.

Rujano is a remarkable climber; at 1.68m tall and weighing less than 60kg during a race, his size and subsequent power-to-weight ratio means he's a man of the mountains, a real 'mountain goat'. He's also used to big altitudes - he was raised in a particularly mountainous region of Venezuela that boasts 3,000-4,000 metre-high mountains.

He set out on his sporting career with two goals: to win Venezuela’s Vuelta a Tachira, which he did both in 2004 and 2005, and to triumph in Europe, which he is also doing, considering his recent achievements. His Selle Italia team director Gianni Savio discovered him while looking to recruit new talent in Colombia and Venezuela. Together with his Colombian teammate Ivan Parra, both became protagonists during last year's Giro.

Click here for the full interview with José Rujano.

Liberty without a leader

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Spanish team Liberty has sent a versatile squad to the 89th Giro d'Italia. Starting on Saturday in Seraing, the riders have gathered in Southern Belgium on Wednesday, training in fine weather conditions. While the team directed by Marino Lejarreta might not have an ultimate leader in the upcoming Grand Tour, Lejarreta is still hopeful that his riders will achieve some good results.

The team "has a bit of everything, young riders and people with experience," according to the directeur sportif. "We do not have a clear leader to go for the victory, but on the other hand we have several riders with possibilities. For Scarponi, Unai Osa and Caruso, the challenge will be to fight for a place on the podium. It will be tough, but they have a lot of ambitions."

Lejarreta looks forward to the race. "The last week of mountains will be terribly hard," he continued. "In general it is a race for climbers, although there are the time trials to compensate a bit. On top of that, there are very few stages for sprinters, which is an abnormal thing in the Giro. It will be an interesting race, pretty open - breaks might be important."

Nevertheless, just like other team directors, Lejarreta feels that the organisers have put too hard passages in the parcours. "It's excessive," he said. "We can't tell for sure until we're there, but on the paper it is excessive. It was not necessary to include stages like stage 17, with a finish in a ski resort with ramps of 25 percent, which could create technical problems for the riders."

In any case, Lejarreta is not certain that the overall winner will be one of the pre-race favourites. "There are Basso, Cunego, Simoni, Di Luca or Savoldelli as favourites, but they are the candidates at the start," he added. "There is no doubt that with that hard a third week, there will be surprises every day. Like last year when Basso had to let go event though it seemed that he was winning easy - this year that can happen to everybody. It will not be possible to know the winner until the very end, except if the weather is too bad to do any of these stages."

The full team rosters for the Giro d'Italia can be found here - the start lists will be updated accordingly until the beginning of the race.

Schmitz misses out on Giro

T-Mobile's Bram Schmitz will not take part in the upcoming Corsa Rosa. The Dutch rider came down with a flu again after feeling ill also at the Niedersachsen-Rundfahrt. T-Mobile will replace Schmitz with Czech neo pro Frantisek Rabon.

Sprinters will pull out before end

The two sprinting giants
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

With this year's Giro d'Italia offering only a few stages for possible bunch sprint arrivals, some of the top fast men have already made up their mind on when they will be retiring from the race - before it's actually begun. Another reason for early withdrawal will be the next-up Grand Tour in France in July. Davitamon-Lotto's Robbie McEwen told Het Laatste Nieuws that he will not end the Giro in Milano.

"I'm not going to be there for stage 15 and the last criterium in Milan," the Australian said. "Somewhere in the middle of the Giro I'll return home. It makes no sense to give it all to get over the mountains and then not score anything at the Tour. This Giro is unbalanced - the sprinters' share is meagre." Asked if he will try to go for victory again in Namur, where he won a Tour de France stage in 2004, McEwen said, "I've scrapped the Giro stage that arrives in Namur - too difficult."

The main rival of McEwen will of course be Italian supersprinter Alessandro Petacchi. "Petacchi is strong, and so is his train," McEwen added. But Petacchi also has plans to abandon the Giro before its finish. "I won't be winning nine stages this year," Ale-Jet said, thinking back on his record-breaking success in 2004. But he is confident in his abilities. "With that few chances [of winning], you have to be in top condition at the start. I've proved that in Niedersachsen."

Just like his Australian rival, Petacchi also has his mind set on the rest of the season. "The last ten days are not tailored to a rider like me," he said. "I also want win stages at the Tour; and who knows? Maybe even at the Vuelta."

All riders fit to start

All 198 riders have been declared fit to start the Giro d'Italia after passing the usual pre-race blood controls by the UCI. The controls were carried out in the team's hotels in Southern Belgium on Thursday morning between 7.15 and 9.30am. In previous years, some riders were denied the start at the Giro - in 2004, Jure Golcer and Uberlino Mesa could not participate; in 2005 it was Nuno Ribeiro.

Teams for Clásica de Alcobendas

Liberty Seguros has announced its roster for the Clásica de Alcobendas from May 6-7. The 2.1, three-stage race in the Madrid area will see Carlos Abellán, Assan Bazayev, Aaron Kemps, Jose Antonio Redondo, Jose Joaquín Rojas, Eladio Sanchez, Luis León Sanchez and Iván Santos line up. Luis León Sanchez will be aiming for the overall victory after taking the wins in the time trial these last couple of years. The young Spaniard is eager to get his first victory after four second placings achieved in the first part of the season.

Team Barloworld will also be participating at the event this week-end. "We’re disappointed we’re not at the Giro d’Italia but our season continues," said team manager Claudio Corti. "Team Barloworld is developing and showing we deserve a place in the ProTour. That’s the goal we’re working towards." Corti is firing up his riders for the Clásica de Alcobendas, which includes a flat stage, an uphill finish and a final time trial.

Team leader Igor Astarloa, who rode well in the similar Criterium International in France in early April, will be racing at home in Spain - which might give him the bit of luck needed to break his bad spell after his first success at Milan-Turin in Italy in early March. But Astarloa will not be the only leader of the Barloworld team in Spain. Both Pedro Arreitunandia and Felix Cardenas can get a result on the uphill finish. The team in Spain will be directed by Alberto Volpi and will also include Diego Caccia, Mauro Facci, Rodney Green, James Perry, Tom Southam and Amets Txurruka.

Ullrich plans to ride in Hamburg

T-Mobile's Jan Ullrich plans to ride the Cyclassics race in Hamburg at the end of July. "If Jan comes through the Tour de France okay, then he will start in Hamburg," said team spokesman (and former rider) Rolf Aldag. Aldag expected an interesting race, with a combination of riders: those who will arrive directly from the Tour, which ends a week before, and those who are preparing for the fall classics. "You never know what will happen in Hamburg," he said.

Courtesy of Susan Westemeyer

LuK Challenge entries complete

Organisers of the German LuK Challenge, a pair time trial to be held on July 29, 2006, have announced that their rider entry list is finalised. Ten teams of two will take on the 77.7km-long course around Bühl after the Tour de France. Quick.Step will be represented by Tom Boonen and Sebastien Rosseler, even though the time trial is not the World Champion's specialty. "We are an international team and our sponsors value a worldwide presence," Patrick Lefévère explained at the LuK Challenge presentation in Germany. "Besides, it's a good opportunity for Tom to gain experience."

Amongst the favourites will clearly be Team CSC's pair of Fabian Cancellara and Ivan Basso. "It depends on the condition," said this year's Paris-Roubaix winner Cancellara. They will be gearing up against another strong pair, Fränk Schleck and Luke Roberts, as well as German track specialists Robert Bartko and Robert Bengsch.

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