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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Latest Cycling News for April 9, 2007

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

RVV winner's story: Battling Belgian cobbles

All smiles: Alessandro Ballan
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

While he wasn't high on the list of possible winners leading into the Ronde van Vlaanderen, after taking victory at the Belgian Spring Classic Alessandro Ballan will be a marked man in the ProTour peloton. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown spoke with the Italian as he rolled into Meerbeke on the weekend.

Alessandro Ballan succeeded in doing what no Italian has done since 'The Gladiator', Andrea Tafi, did in 2002: he won the monumental Spring Classic Ronde van Vlaanderen. The 27 year-old, who finished sixth and fifth at the event in 2005 and 2006 respectively, bolted away from the likes of Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and Paolo Bettini on the Muur. He travelled the final 16 kilometres to Meerbeke with only Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto) for company.

"The sprint was tough: Hoste put me in front for the last one and a half kilometres," explained Ballan, clearly content with the victory.

Hoste forced Ballan to work in the closing metres before he attacked with just 150 metres remaining. "He started with a great advantage," explained the Italian. "He went strong but I kept it going. I had a hard time holding onto his wheel but then I was able to come around."

Ballan has far less experience on the Northern pavé than his Belgian rivals, but he let his legs make up for the fact that he grew up in Italy. "I felt a little bit behind on the Muur and then I started moving up," he explained. "It worked out well and I was able to make my move: I saw that Boonen was in difficulty."

To read the full interview, click here.

More Ronde reactions

Enormous disappointment for three-times second Hoste

Leif Hoste was devastated
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

"Today, I got the closest," a shattered Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto) told reporters in the finish of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen on Sunday. The Belgian had just lost out by a few centimetres to Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) and made the third second-place podium spot at the race in four years - something that would make anybody desperate.

In 2006, Hoste had to bow to Tom Boonen, and in 2004, it was T-Mobile's Steffen Wesemann who took the honours. No wonder that it took Hoste some time to recover his nerve in Meerbeke. "I still feel so bad," he said after calming down. "Not only for myself, but also for my team..."

Yet, another team must have disappointed the Belgian fans even more than Predictor: Quick-Step. The trio of Boonen, Bettini and Van Petegem counted as the one to beat at the Ronde, but after the Muur of Geraardsbergen, none of them were seen anywhere near the front men anymore.

"They're the big losers," commented Hoste to ANP. And tried a weak smile: "This was the best time of the three instances that I became second. Yes, I know I gotta get over it. I'll have to get some drinks tonight. Tomorrow, it won't be forgotten, but tomorrow, we'll look to the future again."

Kroon fourth after CSC's final attack

Fabian Cancellara opened up the fight for CSC
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Team CSC went on the attack in the last 35 kilometres of the 91st edition of Ronde van Vlaanderen, where Karsten Kroon managed a nice fourth place even though he missed out by a hair on the podium.

The team opened up in the finale with a great effort by Stuart O'Grady first, then Fabian Cancellara who put his mighty time trial motor in the service of Kroon, but it did not go according to plan and the race was not decided until very late in the game. Italian Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) literally beat Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto) on the finish line, after they had dropped the other favourites on the Muur of Geraardsbergen.

Kroon sprinted his way to a fourth place and O'Grady was second best for Team CSC in tenth place. "Afterwards, you can say that it was bad timing for his attack," Kroon told the Telegraaf after the race, but the Dutchman himself was cooked in the final chase of the later winner Ballan and Hoste, too. "My attack on the Muur came on sour milk. I gave the maximum I could to get to Ballan and Hoste. The gap was small - one moment of hesitation in front would have been enough, but unfortunately that did not happen. Verdomme, I was so close..."

Kroon's directeur sportif Scott Sunderland still had praise for his riders. "Tactics made it all turn out very differently than expected and we had to take initiative," Sunderland commented. "There wasn't much happening as far as the other favourites went, so it was down to us to make it happen. Fabian very bravely took matters into his own hands at a time, when the race was coming to a stand still. We played our various cards very aggressively and I think we have every reason to be proud of our efforts - especially after Karsten had enough strength left over to secure us a top spot. We opened up the finale with a bang and got a good result, which just goes to show that we have a lot to offer in the oncoming races."

This certainly applies to Cancellara, but also to Kroon. "In the end, I'm still happy that I became fourth here," he concluded. "That does say something about my form."

Flat-out Quick-Steppers got no reward

Kevin Hulsmans (Quickstep)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Instead of making their "90 percent" chance of winning the Ronde Van Vlaanderen come true on Sunday, the team of Tom Boonen, Paolo Bettini and Peter Van Petegem ended up with Boonen finishing 12th as the best Quick-Step rider. A lot of bad luck made the race take quite a different turn than the team of the defending champion had hoped for.

At the Oude Kwaremont, with 79 kilometres to go, Gert Steegmans had a flat. "I had a leaking tyre at a really bad moment," he told the belga news service. "I was the last rider of the bunch to arrive at the top. I had to chase until the Eikenberg." But with 35 kilometres to go, Steegmans was able to follow Fabian Cancellara (CSC) in a breakaway until the Muur of Geraardsbergen, where the bunch caught up with them again.

"But I couldn't take turns, I was so knackered," he commented. "After the Eikenmolenberg, Cancellara took it out a bit and I was able to lead a few times. It was a pity that they reeled us in just before the Kwaremont [Geraardsbergen - ed.]; by then it was all over for me."

Kevin Hulsmans was chasing down the early breakaway for a long time, helped by Johan Van Summeren (Predictor-Lotto), so he couldn't play a role in the finale, neither. "Yes, we were defeated," he said. "It was a really long day in the end. Tom Boonen came to a fall quite early in the race and I assisted him the whole day. Tom's wrist was hurting and he couldn't put pressure on it. Of course, the disappointment is great - we would have liked to party here!"

Vlaanderen injury list grows longer

The list of injuries coming out of Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen continues to grow after earlier reports on Erik Zabel (Milram), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Lorenzo Bernucci (T-Mobile) and Vicente Reynes (Caisse d’Epargne), amongst many others. AG2R's Renaud Dion broke his left arm when he crashed about 90 kilometres before the finish. The arm was operated on directly Sunday afternoon, according to his team. Dion will remain in the hospital in Ronse for one or two days before returning home. It is not yet known how long he will have to sit out.

Matti Breschel of CSC came away with a bruised elbow. According to an x-ray examination on Monday, nothing was broken although his arm is beaten up pretty good. He hopes to be ready for Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix, team CSC announced. In addition, "Lars Michaelsen suffered scrape wounds over his entire body, as did Fabian Cancellara to a lesser degree."

Zabel out of Paris-Roubaix

Erik Zabel will have to miss Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix because of injuries suffered in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the team announced Monday. Team Manager Gianluigi Stanga said that he had to take Zabel out of the line-up for those two upcoming races. "He needs a few days to recover and to let his wounds heal," Stanga said.

Zabel was involved in a crash during the Ronde, and suffered not only superficial wounds on his arm and leg, but also a serious bruise on his hip.

Contador holds the pressure

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) hopes for another win like in Nice
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

He arrives at the Vuelta al País Vasco as a great favourite for the victory, after his domination in Paris-Nice and in the Vuelta a Castilla and Leon, but Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) also knows that he took advantage of the absence of results of the rest of his rivals - except for his most feared challenger, Alejandro Valverde. The mountainous Vuelta al País Vasco route suits both riders perfectly, and in the final time trial, Contador and Valverde could have another advantage over their rivals.

The Vuelta al País Vasco has been always one of Contador's favourite races, but how does he view it this year? "There are short and explosive climbs, many climbs, but I like that," he said. "Still, I don't know if I'm as strong as I will have to be, because I have already been in form for a long time. Now I would like to do better, of course."

There are also many dangerous rivals, amongst them, "Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sanchez have many possibilities for winning this race, more than the others, but also Koldo Gil, Gómez Marchante, Fränk Schleck, Damiano Cunego, Davide Rebellin...".

The Spaniard seemed to have studied the parcours in depth, and indicated that, "at the conclusion of the first stage, there will be a first breakup in the GC but nothing irreversible. In the second stage, some riders will be eliminated until arriving at the final time trial, in which five or six riders will be fighting for the victory."

Contador made a special point about the time trial (sixth stage), "in which the key will be to be among the first riders in the general classification and how I have recovered of the previous efforts."

CSC expects much of Pais Vasco

Team CSC has no plans of anonymity, when the peloton begins the Basque ProTour race Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco on Monday, a challenging climber's event in Northern Spain. "We are quite ambitious with this race, because we'd both like a couple of riders at the top of the general classification and a top spot in the team's competition, but we'd really like a couple of stage wins as well if possible," said sports director Kim Andersen.

"It's still too early to expect a top spot from Carlos Sastre and Iñigo Cuesta after their recent injuries, but we have some strong profiles in both Bobby Julich, Fränk Schleck and maybe also Jens Voigt, while Alexandre Kolobnev might well show up in a couple of breaks," he continued.

Jens Voigt has made a tradition out of appearing in breaks in this particular race, but this year the final day does not include two stages like usually, and this is where Voigt in 2004 and 2005 won the first stage and in 2006 he was second. Bobby Julich followed his lead in 2004 by winning the time trial later in the day.

All in all, Team CSC has had four stage wins in the history of the race and riders among the top-5 overall three times. Angél Goméz (Saunier Duval) is defending his victory from last year and no present ProTour rider has won the race more than once. Spanish rider José Antonio Gonzalez holds the record with four overall wins back in the seventies.

Ullrich blames the press, attorneys seeking deal?

By Susan Westemeyer

The press is not playing with him fairly, Jan Ullrich said. "In the past few months, certain media outlets have not reported objectively on me. These sometimes manipulated media reports are purposely destroying my reputation." To avoid such reporters, "From now on I will make my statements only on my website," the retired cyclist wrote on

"There are still many questions open, even for me," continued Ullrich, who maintains his innocence even though a Bonn prosecutor has matched his voluntarily provided DNA sample with nine blood bags found in Spain. "Until my case is fully explained, I will not make any public statements - especially not under pressure from others." But eventually the German will have his say: "At the appropriate time I will explain everything from my viewpoint and change the question marks to exclamation points. Some of my critics will then surely lose their arrogant smiles," he proclaimed.

Meanwhile, German Bild tabloid reported that Ullrich's attorneys have "received signals" that a partial confession could lead to a milder sentence for Ullrich. Attorney Peter-Michael Distel said, "My colleague Schwenn and I have good working contacts in Bonn. If there is anything that can be done, then we will talk directly to the prosecutor in Bonn."

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