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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News for May 16, 2006

Edited by John Stevenson

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Stage 9 wrap-up: Vaitkus breaks through

Tomas Vaitkus (AG2R, C)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

24 year-old Lithuanian Tomas Vaitkus (AG2R) scored his biggest career win after turning pro four years ago, taking out the ninth stage of the Giro d'Italia in Termoli in a very close sprint. Vaitkus edged out Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step), who initially thought he had won the stage, while Olaf Pollack (T-Mobile) was a frustrated third. Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) placed fourth - the first sprint that he has lost in this Giro - but he was clearly suffering after being dropped on a climb with 25 km to go. The leader's jersey stayed with Ivan Basso (CSC), who was well protected by his teammates all day.

The stage was a short one, starting in Francavilla Al Mare and following the coast for most of the way until a right hand turn inland presented some hillier terrain. Yuriy Krivtsov (AG2R Prevoyance) and Cyrille Monnerais (Française de Jeux) broke away after 5 km and gained a maximum of 4'20 after 57 km, with Quick.Step riding in pursuit for Paolo Bettini. On the climb up to Guglionesi, Krivtsov dropped Monnerais, but was caught with 23 km to go, just as Robbie McEwen went off the back of the peloton. McEwen lost 40 seconds, but was able to chase back on with the help of his teammates, but the effort cost him in the final sprint, where Vaitkus hit out from 200m to go, and was unable to be passed by either Bettini or Pollack.

See also: Stage 9 full results, report & photos and Live report.

Post-stage reactions

Stage winner Tomas Vaitkus (AG2R) was a very happy man after the ninth stage of the Giro d'Italia, and not just because he'd just won his first stage of a grand tour. "I'm overjoyed. This victory in the Giro means a lot to me. I can't believe it," said Vaitkus, "This is a special victory for me because I'm the first Lithuanian to ever win a stage at the Giro."

Vaitkus has been waiting for his chance in the flatter finishes of this Giro, and has been among the contenders several times, finishing third in stage 6, eighth in stage 4, and sixth in stage 2.

"I've been close in all the other Giro sprints but never managed to win and when I saw Bettini put his arms up I thought I'd lost again," he said. "Fortunately the photo finish proved I'd got it."

The man Vaitkus turned out to have beaten, Paolo Bettini, was not happy about the finish. He accused Vaitkus of moving into the barriers during the sprint. Vaitkus admitted he'd drifted but said it had not been deliberate, and he was not penalized by the commissaries.

"I saw Bettini go on my left and when I jumped I moved a bit to my left. That was because I was sprinting at 100 percent. It was a natural movement and definitely not intended to damage Bettini's sprint," Vaitkus said.

While Vaitkus undoubtedly deserved a long sought-after win, he also benefited from the fatigue of Davitamon-Lotto sprinter Robbie McEwen, who had suffered on the climbs earlier in the day and was fourth across the line.  "The climbs cooked me a bit and I just didn't have the legs to go in a long sprint like that," said McEwen after the race. "I was able to get back on after the climbs but I didn't have much left and I struggled all the way to the line."

Looking further than the day's combat, the race leader, CSC's Ivan Basso, hinted that he shouldn't be ruled out of contention in this Giro. Basso has been conspicuously absent from many pundits' lists of Giro favourites, probably because he is expected to keep enough in reserve that he can  aim to improve on last year's second place in the Tour de France.

"The Giro is wide open," said Basso. "There are two weeks to go and the tough mountain stages still to come."

Basso's directeur sportif Alain Gallopin said CSC had not really worked to defend Basso's pink leader jersey today. "We left if to the other teams to control the stage and we got through it quite easy," said gallopin. " It was a short hectic stage, but without any serious attacks. The stage tomorrow is a lot more demanding and there will probably be a couple of attempts for us to control. Other than that the next thing for us to focus on is the time trial on Thursday, where we naturally have big ambitions.”

Bad luck for Liberty Seguros

Liberty Seguro's Michele Scarponi lost five minutes in today's stage, and any chance of contending for a good place in the general classification after a fall stopped both him and team-mate Daniel Navarro until the team car could reach them.

Descending the Guglionesi, with about 20km to go, Scarponi and Navarro both hit a pothole and damaged their rear wheels. The double mechanical prevented Navarro from simply giving Scarponi his wheel so they both had to wait. Also waiting, further down the road, were their team-mates Javier Abeja, Serguei Yakolev and Marcos Serrano, who had assumed Navarro was helping Scarponi.

Meanwhile, realising that Robbie McEwen had struggled on the climb, the other sprinters' teams threw everything into a dash for the line, leaving the Liberty riders to trail in over five minutes down.

Meanwhile at the first stage of the Volta a Catalunya, Liberty rider Luis León Sanchez was late for his start at the opening time trial. Sanchez had lost track of the time, and when warned from the team car that he was next to start was still some distance from the start ramp. Officials had to get Erik Zabel, who was next off and ready by the time Sanchez arrived, to move aside so that Sanchez could set off.

Hruska out of Catalunya

UCI officials conducted blood test health checks on 40 riders before the start of the first stage of the Volta a Catalunya and found Czech rider Jan Hruska (3 Molinos Resort) to be unfit to race. Hruska will have to stop racing for two weeks under UCI rules.

Ginés García, manager of the 3 Molinos Resort team, played down the finding, even though Hruska is the fourth member of his team to fail a blood test this year. "Hruska really has a reticulocyte level underneath the allowed one by the UCI," said García, "and unlike Tauler, Hruska has not had a previous [incident]."

Frischkorn breaks hand

Will Frischkorn
Photo ©: Daniel Schamps
(Click for larger image)

TIAA-CREF rider Will Frischkorn sustained a broken hand in a crash in Saturday's stage 2 of the Tour de Picardie. He was able to finish the stage, but had to drop out of the race pending surgery.

Frischkorn's hand was operated on yesterday, and fortunately major surgery was not required. Doctors were able to manipulated the bone back onto place, and Frischkorn will have to wear a cast for the next two weeks. He hopes to return to racing at the Tour de Beauce, June 13-18.

According to TIAA-CREF manager Jon Vaughters, the crash happened in the closing metres of stage 2. "Will was positioned well in the top 10 going into the finish stretch of stage 2," saud Vaughters, "but crashed on the final 50 meters when another rider bumped wheels during the sprint and sent them both into the barricades."

Frischkorn had a fairly quiet early season, racing only at Redlands and Tour de Georgia, and was in France to use the Tour de Picardie to fine tune his form ahead of a busy schedule planned for June including the June 1 Captech Classic and the Tour de Beauce.

Tour of Britain finale tests Tour de France and Olympic routes

The route of the 2006 Tour of Britain was unveiled in London yesterday, and organisers revealed details of the final stage, which is set to be the biggest bike race ever held in the British capital.

The 80km final stage will use a circuit that includes sections of the 2007 Tour de France stage and some of the proposed 2012 Olympic course.

The stage will start in Greenwich Park, and riders will cross Tower Bridge and into the City of London. The course will cross Hampstead Heath then down to Regent's Park, through Hyde Park on to the Tour de France Prologue route and finally in to St James's Park for 20 laps of the park to the finish.

Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport for London, said, "London has never seen a cycle race of this scale. This is the third time the Tour of Britain has finished in the capital and this year's race promises to be bigger and better than ever. The final stage of the race will be a great rehearsal for the 2007 Tour de France and the 2012 Olympics cycling race, and will showcase what cycling has to offer our great city.

Tour of Britain 2006 stages

Stage 1 – August 29: Scotland, Glasgow to Castle Douglas
Stage 2 – August 30: Northwest, Blackpool to Liverpool
Stage 3 – August 31: Yorkshire, (final route to be confirmed)
Stage 4 – September 1: West Midlands, (final route to be confirmed)
Stage 5 – September 2: Southeast, Rochester to Canterbury
Stage 6 – September 3: London, Greenwich to The Mall

Healion and Roche lead Murphy and Gunn Rás team

By Shane Stokes

Paul Healion and Andrew Roche have been confirmed as leading the Murphy & Gunn / Newlyn Group team in the 2.2 ranked FBD Insurance Rás, which begins with a stage from Tallaght to Enniscorthy this Sunday.

The squad was upgraded to UCI Continental status this year and has been dominant in Irish competition thus far in 2006, winning many top events there.

Roche, Rás victor in 1997, took a fine victory in the Shay Elliott Memorial race last month and has performed strongly in stage races both home and abroad. Paul Healion is in the best form of his career, taking six races including the overall title at the Credit Union Ras Mumhan, scooping two stage wins at the Tour of Ulster and placing third overall there, and then finishing a strong second in the Lincoln Grand Prix in England.

They will be supported by John O’Shea, John Dempsey and Morgan Fox. The latter is a former continental professional and national road race champion, whose experience will be invaluable should one of the riders take the race lead.

“When we formed this team at the start of the year, we always had the FBD Rás high on our list of priorities and targets,” stated chief sponsor Stephen Murphy this week. “The Rás is not only the biggest race in Ireland but is one of the biggest and best run races in Europe, and as such is the ultimate goal of every aspiring Irish cyclist. While Murphy & Gunn / Newlyn Group have been dominant at home so far, the Rás attracts Europe’s top riders and with just five man teams is a notoriously unpredictable race to control. We are the first totally Irish pro team to ride and are hoping for perhaps a stage win or maybe more.”

“It’s the most important race of the year for every Irish cyclist,” says Paul Healion. “I’ve trained very hard all winter in Australia and have always been aiming for the Rás but didn’t realise I would be going so well coming into the race. Hopefully I will be trying to get up there for the overall classification and maybe try and win a stage but I won’t worry too much about stages if I can get up on GC. It‘s a very hard race to control, eyeballs out from start to finish every day. You have to be up there every day and can‘t ease up or lose concentration in case a move goes and you find yourself ten minutes down.”

This year’s FBD Insurance RÁS will begin with a 121 kilometre stage from Tallaght to Enniscorthy on Sunday, and finish over a thousand kilometres later in Skerries on Sunday May 28th. The world-ranking race will feature a strong field of international teams, who will scrap it out in stage finishes in Enniscourthy, Cobh, An Daingean, Listowel, An Cheathru Rua, Westport and Clara.

Westjet supports Symmetrics

Canadian Continental team Symmetrics has announced a new sponsor in Calgary, Alberta-based low-cost airline WestJet. Travel costs are a major part of the budget for any team, so having an airline come on board as a sponsor will be a big boost for Symmetrics, according to team co-owner Kevin Cunningham.

"Just these past few months, we've been to El Salvador, Brazil, Mexico, California, Australia, and across Canada for various races and sponsorship commitments", said Cunningham. "The travel fees are what take a good portion of our budget each year. With WestJet's commitment, it means more race exposure for Symmetrics riders and sponsor companies. Having WestJet aboard is one more step to our long-term commitment to the development of Canadian cyclists."

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