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Latest Cycling News for February 20, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

CSC eyes the overall in Californian stage race

Cancellara leads Team CSC on GC
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The pre-race training camp of ProTour outfits like Team CSC is indicative of race's growing importance. Now, the Danish-registered super-squad is prepped and ready for glory at the Tour of California, reports Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins.

Team CSC has begun the 2007 Tour of California coming off a ten-day training camp in Gilory, California. The Prologue on Sunday in downtown San Francisco saw CSC's Fabian Cancellara get things going with a fifth place in the 3.1km opener to the Californian race. After a controversial finish to Stage 1, the Swiss rider continues to sit just six seconds behind Discovery Channel's American race leader Levi Leipheimer.

According to US national time trial champion, CSC's Dave Zabriskie, who admits he's not in his best form at this stage of the season, the squad that's been assembled for the Tour of California is up to the challenge of getting one of its riders into top spot on general classification by the time the peloton rolls into Long Beach.

"From what I have seen at the camp, most of the guys are pretty strong and Bobby Julich seems to be in the best shape as far as the people who are racing," said Zabriski, who fell. "If he rides himself into the leader's jersey we are going to support him this week."

Read the full Team CSC Tour of California feature.

Rule Changes at the Tour of California

By Kirsten Robbins in Santa Rosa, California

Leipheimer keeps gold
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

A massive pile up at Tour of California involved the heaviest hitters, including race leader Levi Leipheimer. The crash happened with two laps to go on the finishing circuits of stage one resulting in neutralized race times and Leipheimer holding onto the leader's jersey in his hometown of Santa Rosa.

UCI guidelines have a three-kilometre rule permitting the neutralization of results so that riders receive the same time as the leader in the event of accidents like Monday's in stage 1. In Monday's case, a crashed caused by the road's Botts' dots on the finishing straight happened with ten-kilometres to go. [Botts' dots are raised, semi-spherical pavement lane markers used on roads to give tactile feedback to drivers - ed.]

Leipheimer was caught in the accident and came through the finish line in the second group over one minute down from the winning group. Chief commissaire of the Tour of California Fabrizio Darnellio initiated discussions on changing the UCI regulation from three to ten kilometres to go, ultimately giving Leipheimer the leader's jersey. "Due to the size of the crash and the large number of riders that went down in the crash, our panel of commissaires made a decision to award all the riders with the time of the winner," Jim Birrell, race director said. "I think it was a fair decision and the right decision."

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The finishing circuits at the end of each stage are designed to attract cycling fans in the cities. It is a way to increase support for road racing and to showcase the events like the Tour of California. "The circuits are a necessary evil because when you see the tens of thousands of spectators that line the circuit finishes, it provides a great show for the community that hosts these finishes," Birrell said. "It is something that we need to have, and the accident is an unfortunate situation to have happen today on the most scenic route of the tour."

Leipheimer was caught in the accident, but was fortunate to have the help of his two teammates George Hincapie and Ivan Basso to limit his losses in the general classification. "Coming into the laps we did one circuit and it was incident free," Leipheimer said. "But coming through the finish the second time, I had just made a surge to move up on the right side, and I was in the first fifteen riders and right at the front. All of a sudden, I could see that a T-Mobile rider hit one of the metal balls on the road and his hands came off the bars and he flipped over the bars. He fell to the right causing a huge pile up. There was not a lot of space, one lane. Anyone who was on the right side of him came down. All those little metal dots on the road that are all over California roads, you see we don't get snow so the snow plows don't have to worry about them," Leipheimer joked.

The first group came through for the finishing sprint with Graeme Brown of Rabobank taking the win over Greg Henderson of T-Mobile. The front group included Ben Jacques Maynes of Priority Health, who was sitting in third place overall after the prologue. If the decision was made to stick with the UCI regulated three-kilometre rule, Ben Jacques Maynes from Priority Health would have been presented with the leader's jersey of the Tour of California. "Thinking that I was going to be in the leader's jersey is an honour and a dream, but that is counting chickens before the eggs hatch," Jacques Maynes said. "The commissaire's ruling is sticking, and we just have to live with that. We have a lot more racing and my team is motivated to keep going and to race our hearts out. I'm trying not to pay attention to all these details and get on with the job at hand."

Jacques Maynes added, "I'm not in a position to question the commissaires and I just have to live with it keep racing my bike. I'm paid to pedal, and they are paid to make those decisions. It is hard to swallow that, but that is what we have to do."

The riders have the ability to protest the chief commissaire's decision but there has not yet been a complaint at this time. "I am not surprised with the commissaire's decision," Leipheimer said. "We have to remember that circuits in a race of this caliber are not very common but it is very necessary. You saw the crowds today and the amount of people who came out to see the race. They deserve a show and to see some great bike racing. Doing these three laps gets them that."

Leipheimer added, "With the crash I didn't know what the commissaires would decide after the race but I was still happy that I had the experience because these are the races I have suffered on and have trained on for the eleven years that I have lived in Santa Rosa. To be here and race with the world's best at the Tour of California is a dream come true.

Wearing the leader's jersey from the prologue from the San Francisco prologue through Santa Rosa's stage one is a career highlight for Discovery rider. The thought of winning the Tour of California is a dream for Leipheimer but no sweeter because of today's unfortunate crashes in the finishing circuits or the abandonment of CSC's Dave Zabriskie.

Zabriskie was a favourite after having placed second in the event last year. He was rushed to the hospital with a concussion and a possible broken wrist after he crashed at the seventy-mile mark along HWY 1. "I don't wish crashes like these upon anyone," Leipheimer said. "I am very disappointed that Dave Zabriskie crashed today because he was the race favourite to win, in my opinion, and I certainly don't want to beat him this way, and I hope he is OK. If I go on to win it doesn't make it any sweeter for me because he crashed out."

Friday's time trial is the stage Leipheimer is focusing on as being the most decisive stage for the general classification. "All I can do is my best, and I would like to have a good time trial," Leipheimer said. "But I shouldn't even be thinking about the time trial yet because there are still three more stages that are tough and just as phenomenal as today. Tomorrow is another picture postcard day."

An "important" win for Brown

By Susan Westemeyer

Brown took important win
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

In Tour of California stage 1 Graeme Brown squeaked out a victory of the width of a tire over T-Mobile's Greg Henderson, as a small group which had escaped an earlier crash sprinted in to the finish. Team Manager Erik Breukink was happy for his Australian sprinter, saying "This victory early on in the season is a great boost for his morale and will do him good." Breukink also added that "Graeme was still pondering over what had happened to Tom Steels in Qatar. Although Graeme didn't cause the crash on purpose, the moment goes through his mind from time to time. So this victory is extremely important to him."

Meanwhile, some questions arose as to why some riders involved in the crash were given the same time as the leading group, and others were not. T-Mobile's Gerald Ciolek was one who went down, and according to official results, lost over eight minutes, but the team's website,, says that he was given the same time as the winner. Gerolsteiner Team Manager Hans-Michael Holczer was confused as well. "I don't understand why, for example, our Oliver Zaugg was given a different time," he said. "The last word has not yet been spoken."

Zaugg was officially recorded as finishing 4'30" minutes down.

Ballan and Pozzato face-off in Laigueglia

Ballan on way to 2006 win
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) will face off Tuesday, February 20 in the 44th Trofeo Laigueglia, starting from Golfo and ending after 183 kilometres. Ballan is the Corsa Ligure's returning champion but Pippo is a two-time winner, and together the two, who train together on their home roads of Veneto, have won three of the last four editions.

Both riders are competing with five races already in their legs for 2007, a winter of hard training behind them and a common goal in mind, to win the Milano-Sanremo. "The first 1,000 kilometres this winter were done on a fixed gear bike, I did large amounts of work on force with mountain intervals, mostly under good weather, and time in the gym," commented Ballan to La Gazzetta dello Sport. His compatriot was just as happy with the last few months, "I have been very good. [Regarding] the mountain tests on Monte Grappa, they say that I was better than one year ago; also I did work at the gym. Then there was the start in Mallorca; I had an intestinal virus, no fever but I hardly had any force, and luckily I did not lose much [in form]."

Ballan had a chance to preview the parcours of Sanremo on Sunday, in the final day of the Tour Méditerranéen, and he returned on Monday to do more testing. "We did the Cipressa and Poggio on Sunday and today [Monday - ed.] we did and redid it again," explained Ballan of his training with Lampre-Fondital teammates. "On the Poggio there is a false-flat ... where you can attack. But one year ago I found Pozzato there on my wheel."

The 2006 Sanremo winner, Pippo, confirmed his desire to repeat, even if he has not been able to test the parcours so far this year. "I wanted to ride the Poggio Sunday but I turned around because of rain. I wanted to also try today [Monday - ed.] but we encountered lots of other cyclists, and so we decided to train on another climb."

For the Trofeo Laigueglia the two have their marked-men. Ballan, who will be racing with number 1 on his back, noted, "It would be beautiful to repeat last year's victory. I will be watching the young [Mikhail] Ignatiev and the other Russians of Tinkoff."

Pippo, who will wear the number 18, concluded, "Ballan told me that [Lampre's Daniele] Bennati is going well, also on the climbs, and to give attention to [' Matteo] Carrara."

Davis inks deal with Discovery Channel

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Santa Rosa, California

Davis (r) in Discovery colours
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

Australian Allan Davis is back racing at the top level of the sport since being cleared from allegations in Operación Puerto case last year. While it was rumoured for much of the past months that Davis was in talks with Discovery Channel, including being spotted at the Tour Down Under riding the team's issue Trek bike, it was not until the start of the Tour of California that anyone noticed Davis wearing the Discovery team kit.

And it was not until the first stage when Davis' form put him into the points leader jersey that the cat was really out of the bag. "I signed everything just a couple of weeks ago," Davis told Cyclingnews. "We just had to sort a few things out. I'm very happy to be here." Davis and Discovery finalised the arrangement so recently that he was not even able to attend the team training camp in Solvang. "I didn't go to training camp, we were still sorting things out... and then I came straight here from Spain."

Davis did not come to California without preparation, having raced well at the Tour Down Under for the composite Australian national team. "I did Tour Down Under. And then my family is in Spain, so I flew there to hang out with them and then came here. The Tour Down Under was my first race in a while and then I needed to work on leg speed, so I did a lot of motor pacing with Neil Stephens."

Davis finished stage 1 in California with two intermediate sprint wins and third on the day, which he had to do alone with the rest of the team stuck behind the crash on the day looking after race leader Levi Leipheimer. "I was on Haedo's wheel, and then Brownie and Hendo were up the road with O'Grady," Davis said about the stage finish. "I think I gave them too much of a head start and wasn't good enough to catch them. But I feel good in the sprints here, really good."

"This was my first race with the team, and I've only been on a few training rides. But I know some of the guys from racing over the years. I'm rooming with George this week, and I know him -- he's a really good guy and makes me feel welcome to the team. Johan [Bruyneel] is really good. I am impressed so far -- it's one hundred percent a professional team, and that is what I like about it."

When asked about the terms of his contract, such as how many years it is for, Davis chuckled and simply replied, "I'll let you know later!"

Stagnation in Operación Puerto

By Monika Prell

At the beginning of the Operación Puerto, the judge Antonio Serrano chose the anti-doping laboratory in Barcelona to analyse all the blood and plasma bags found. In November, the laboratory which belongs to a municipal institution, accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and directed by Jordi Segura, detected EPO in eight of the examined blood bags.

Serrano wants all the blood bags to be analysed, but the laboratory refuses. According to the Spanish newspaper El País, first they want the payment of about €25,000, which is the cost of the first analysis, therefore any future analyses have been suspended.

Normally the judge decides at the end of a process which party has to pay the costs of the tests, but in this special case this standard is not valid. Serrano will take measures when the interrogation of the Spanish and foreign cyclists will be finished, which maybe will be in spring.

But Operación Puerto does not only affect the Spanish. An investigation of Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla is underway in Germany on fraud charges. German investigators are waiting for DNA samples from the blood bags found in Spain, in order to compare them to DNA samples taken from Ullrich.

Also in Italy, where the NAS (Anti-Narcotics Group) of Bergamo is continuing its investigation, dubbed Operazione Athena, all are waiting for the blood probes belonging to Ivan Basso, so its investigation can be continued.

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'

May 18, 2009 - Valverde to start Catalunya
May 15, 2009 - Valverde not welcome in Denmark
May 14, 2009 - Spanish federation wants proof in Valverde case
May 13, 2009 - Spanish Olympic Committee defends Valverde
May 12, 2009 - Valverde responds to sanction
May 11, 2009 - Italian tribunal delivers Valverde two-year suspension
May 8, 2009 - Valverde case: Italian Olympic Committee defends Torri
May 7, 2009 - Valverde to take legal action against CONI prosecutor
May 5, 2009 - WADA and Spanish federation join CONI and UCI on Valverde
May 1, 2009 - International Cycling Union joins in on Valverde's hearing in Italy

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of Operación Puerto

Euskaltel-Euskadi improving time trial skills

By Monika Prell

Team Euskaltel-Euskadi is working on its time trial skills. After its travel to San Diego, California in January, where Samuel Sánchez, Haimar Zubeldia and Igor Antón underwent some tests in the wind tunnel, the team is now working on some aerodynamic tests at the San Sebastián velodrome.

Today, two riders will begin a cycle that will last some days; Haimar Zubeldia and Aitor Hernández will perform different tests. According to the team's site, DS Igor González de Galdeano, trainer Josu Larrazabal and bio-mechanic Juan García López will supervise the tests. In the following days, more riders will participate.

No Gent-Wevelgem for Hoste

Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto) will skip Gent-Wevelgem this year, and concentrate on the Ronde von Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, he explained to Gazet van Antwerpen. "Last year I was good in the Ronde [where he finished second behind Tom Boonen - ed.] but because I rode Gent-Wevelgem, I came up a bit short on the cobblestones of Roubaix."

Hoste, who joined Predictor-Lotto this year, added that "Gent-Wevelgem is a beautiful course, but what follows four days later is much more important. Tom Boonen stood on the start line in Gent-Wevelgem with me in 2006 and we both complained about pains in our legs. And Tom didn't have his full strength in Paris-Roubaix, either."

UCI checks Worlds parcours in Stuttgart

By Susan Westemeyer

The UCI has inspected the plans and course for the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, and pronounced itself satisfied. "We're sure that an excellent organized World Championships will be staged here," said UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani.

A delegation from the UCI was in the Stuttgart area to inspect the facilities, logistics, course and plans for the Worlds, to be held September 25 to 30. Charley Motet, who rode eight times in the Worlds for France, said of the road race, "The start and finish are in the same place -- that's ideal." He also praised the route itself, "It's the most difficult course over the past few years. The uphill stretches will add up to 5,600 metres of climbing, which is the equivalent of a mountain stage.

"The final three laps will be downright brutal," Motet continued. "You'll have to keep riding at the front as the rest of the field will definitely lose touch on those hills. I hardly think the terrain will suit a sprinter like Tom Boonen." Motet indicated that the parcours favours all-rounders like Paolo Bettini, Alejandro Valverde, or Alexander Vinokourov.

Haussler delays season start

By Susan Westemeyer

Gerolsteiner's Heinrich Haussler will have to delay his season debut, after his dentist pulled two wisdom teeth last week. "They seem to have been responsible for some sharp pains in his knees from time to time," team spokesman Jörg Grünefeld told Cyclingnews. Everything turned out well, and "since yesterday he's back in training on Mallorca, making up some lost kilometres," Grünefeld said. The German-Australian rider will probably open his season with the GP Chiasso on March 3.

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