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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News for February 21, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

Remembering Félix Lévitan

Former Tour de France race director Levitan
Photo ©: AFP Photo
(Click for larger image)

On Sunday, February 18, 2007, former Tour de France organiser Félix Lévitan passed away at the age of 95. Cyclingnews' Les Woodland reccounts the life of the journalist turned race organiser who brought the Tour de France to the commercial world.

Félix Lévitan was the man who brought commerce to the Tour de France…only to be fired for trying to bring it elsewhere.

He was a short, sunken-cheeked Parisian and with Jacques Goddet he brought the Tour de France out of the heroic era of the inter-war years and prepared it for the festival of commerce it is now. The world of cycling owes a lot to both.

No two men could have been more different than Goddet and Lévitan. The first was tall, gentlemanly, spoke fluent English (though rarely did) and revelled in the glory - the thundering drums of the Tour. He wrote prose that sung to the calling of trumpets and clash of cymbals.

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Lévitan was a little street-fighter, a wringer of money from sponsors, a man who saw it as his right to overrule judges and commissaires if they made a decision that didn't fit the commercial purposes he had set, and whose command of English was such that in his British car he had to stick French translations for words such as choke, windscreen wipers and heater.

Read the full Félix Lévitan feature.

Talented Russian Ignatiev revealed in Laigueglia

21 year-old Ignatiev wins
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The talents of Russian Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems) were revealed yesterday when he dashed away shortly after Alassio to arrive solo ahead of the charging peloton in the 44th Trofeo Laigueglia. He was the first Russian to add his names to the race's palmarès, and, like Lance Armstrong in 1993, he took victory at a young age, 21.

The tenacity of "Misha" was already there, as evident by his seven world titles and Gold medal in the 2004 Olympic points race. In 2006 he continued to blossom. "Two wins and the final classification in [Volta Ciclista Internacional a] Lleida, Spain. Another win near Bilbao. And then I went well at the Under-23 Worlds in Salzburg," the rider from Saint Petersburg noted to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

His win in Laigueglia was similar to his victory five days earlier in stage 3 of the Tour Méditerranéen, sneaking off the front in the closing kilometres and then using his huge engine to keep clear. "I have never been a sprinter," he explained after his second victory of 2007. "My tactic? It is easy; to take off and then I defend to death." Teammate Ricardo Serrano added, "The truth is that when everyone is going all out, at the maximum, he escapes."

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital), winner of the 2006 edition, confirmed the young Russian's potential. "At the Tour Méditerranéen he revealed to me his personality," he explained to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "He only has to better his tactics; careful not to waste energy. But you can see that he already has a lot [of talent and tactics]."

The Russian, who speaks English and some Italian, has moved his base from Spain to Marina di Massa, Italy. Along with the other Russians, he trains and lives in a quality environment. "There are four riders in a red house, two in an apartment, myself and Nikolai Trussov in another. There is good weather and great areas for training," he noted. "In the morning I eat cereal, nothing for lunch, risotto and salad for dinner. The rule: if you train little then you eat little. So, to eat a lot, I train a lot."

He confirmed his schedule for the upcoming months, which includes track racing. He will race the track World Championships in Palma de Mallorca, and then start to focus on the Giro d'Italia. "No Sanremo," Misha concluded.

Holczer satisfied with Tour of California changes

By Susan Westemeyer

Kohl going hard for Gerolsteiner
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Hans-Michael Holczer is a happy man again -- at least, he is happier with the Tour of California than he was a few days ago. For one thing, the mass sprint finish went well on Tuesday, and even if one of his Gerolsteiner riders didn't win, "They all finished safely. That's a good thing."

A crash in the race's first stage caused a lot of confusion when not all the riders involved were given the same finishing time. On Monday, Holczer was unhappy that his Swiss rider Oliver Zaugg lost four and a half minutes, and said, "The last word has not yet been spoken."

But Tuesday night things had been changed to Holczer's satisfaction. "The jury has corrected the results of the first stage," he noted. "Even if the crash happened about 10 kilometres before the finish, there's a rule that when 60 percent of the field is involved, then all riders receive the same time." The jury applied this rule retroactively, and Zaugg was given the same time as the others.

Freire - a generous champion

By Monika Prell

Tuesday in the Ruta del Sol, Oscar Freire had the possibility to win his second consecutive stage, but he offered the victory to his teammate Max van Heeswijk. The Dutch rider had already won in Jaén in 1998 and 2004. "I launched the sprint for Oscar, but near to the final line he pushed me and said me to 'go on,' and so I won easily," said the 33 year-old Rabobank rider.

According to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo Deportivo, Van Heeswijk considers the town of Jaén already as "my talisman, because here I won for the third time a stage of the Vuelta Andalucía."

Bruyneel satisfied with Davis signing

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Sacramento, CA

"Well he is racing here, so yes!" replied Discovery Channel's Johan Bruyneel when Cyclingnews asked about the months of suspicion surrounding Allan Davis signing with the team, which were only confirmed Tuesday.

"We are happy is he on the team," Bruyneel continued. "We were looking for a sprinter for a few years now, and he is the kind of guy that doesn't need a team around him. That was always the tricky question, being a team that is focused on the GC riders -- if you take a sprinter on board you usually have to take three or four other guys to do the job. But Allan can look after himself, like in stage one."

Bruyneel confirmed that Davis signed a two year contract with the team, and said he thinks he will be most useful in smaller stage races, such as the Tour of California, where he is currently leading the points classification going into stage three. "I think he can win a lot of races," Bruyneel finished.

Vuelta Ciclista a Aragón suspended

By Monika Prell

Due to the absence of the Spanish television, who this year will reduce its broadcast of cycling to a minimum, the Vuelta Ciclista a Aragón had to announce its suspension for 2007. Tuesday, the organiser (Club Ciclista Iberia) declared in an official communication that "despite the efforts of the government of Aragón as main sponsor and force of our beloved Vuelta, it has been impossible for us to come up with the amount for the television broadcast. We had no sponsor for this. So we are obligated to announce the suspension."

According to the Spanish newspaper El Correo, the Vuelta Ciclista a Aragón will lose its UCI rights and date in the calendar, April 18-22, because it has been suspended for the second year in a row.

Steegmans "step by step" to success

By Susan Westemeyer

One year ago, Gert Steegmans was a "Nobody," according to, but then he won two stages of the Volta ao Algarve and finished second in the overall. And he is looking to repeat his success this year.

"I want to out-sprint Alessandro Petacchi," he said. "That would be beautiful. And why shouldn't it succeed? I saw how easily Boonen beat him in Qatar and I have also been faster than Boonen."

Steegmans, 26, changed this year from Davitamon-Lotto to Quick-Step, and also moved to Monaco, close to teammate Tom Boonen. "I am stronger than a year ago," he noted. "I could train perfectly in Monaco."

After Portugal, he has his eye fixed on a race in his Belgian homeland. "I am ready for the Omloop Het Volk," he announced, but he is staying with his step-by-step plan. "Last year I learned how to crawl; now I want to learn to walk and next year I just want to run. The big Classics are always welcome, but first I want to win one of the semi-classics."

Michele Scarponi signs with Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo

Scarponi in 2005 Vuelta
Photo ©: Sirotti
Click for larger image

Tuesday, Italian Michele Scarponi signed a one-year deal, for 2007, with Palmiro Masciarelli's Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo squad. While riding for Liberty Seguros-Würth, he had been named as part of Operación Puerto but had since been given the nod to ride by investigators.

"I am very content, I can't wait to start, it has been a lot of time for me spent away from the races," confirmed the 27 year-old rider from Jesi (Le Marche). "In this time I have been training a lot, and I have excellent condition."

Team GC-man, Stefano Garzelli, who finished fifth in the Trofeo Laigueglia on Tuesday, confirmed his satisfaction with Masciarelli's acquisition. "I am happy to have a teammate like Scarponi. He is a great signing for the team, he is an athlete in whom I have a lot of trust," he explained.

Team Manager Masciarelli indicated that he would assign his new signing to the side of Garzelli for the Giro, in which the team was recently given a wild card invitation. "I believe that Scarponi will be able to make important contributions at the Giro d'Italia, with him we will be even more competitive." Regarding Operación Puerto, he said to La Gazzetta dello Sport, "His position is the investigation is shelved. I have the documents from the Spanish investigators."

Liège wants 2012 Tour start

By Susan Westemeyer

Liège, Belgium, wants to host the start of the Tour de France in 2012, the city announced at a press conference. Liège is also a candidate for a stage of the 2009 Vuelta a España and a stage of the 2010 Tour.

"Such international competitions are very important for our image and ensure an economic force," politician Christophe Lacroix said, according to The Tour last visited the city in 2004.

If the Tour start can be arranged, "we probably will have to look for partners. The investment is not exactly small," Lacroix noted. He is confident about the city's chances, saying, "Our contact with the Tour directors is excellent. We have an agreement in principle for 2010 and 2012."

ASO launches children's program

By Hedwig Kröner

Tour de France organiser ASO has presented a new project for children in Marseille, France, on Monday, February 19. Up until the departure of this year's Tour de France in London, 12 French cities, 500 schools and up to 10,000 children will be involved with the project A chacun son Tour ("A Tour for everyone").

Firstly, primary schools will be given a special educational package to inform children about the sport of cycling. Moreover, so-called "cycloparcs" will be organised for children aged 8 to 12 to discover the various disciplines of the sport. Boys and girls will then be selected to ride last kilometres of the 2007 Tour de France on the day it finishes in their town, and one child per city will be invited to Paris for the finale of the race.

Through the program, ASO hopes to boost children's interest in the sport. National education minister Gilles de Robien also supports the initiative. "Many lessons can be learned through the Tour: the respect of rules, geography, mathematics..." he told L'Equipe.

Sydney to host criterium with a twist

Sydney's Dunc Gray criterium circuit, adjacent to the city's Olympic velodrome, is set to bring together the speed of track competition combined with the team tactics of a road race in the inaugural Gladiator Criterium taking place on Sunday, March 11. Organised by the Lidcombe Auburn Cycle Club, the event will feature up to 12 teams of four riders, one of whom must be withdrawn every 15 minutes, until just one member of each team remains to fight out the finish. And as if one twist wasn't enough, organisers are throwing in another by allowing every rider to take one lap out until the 45-minute mark.

"It's definitely the first time an event of this kind has ever been run," said race organiser Paul Green. "Australian TV station SBS are coming down to televise it, I think everyone's thinking 'oh crap this is going to be interesting!'"

With a first prize of $1600 and a total fund of $8,500 the event has secured participation from the top road teams in New South Wales plus interest from Professional Continental outfit Drapac-Porsche and an interstate squad from Queensland. "We're hoping it'll end in about an eight to ten man sprint," said Green. "If it's still together with 45 minutes to go then some of the weaker teams can hang in there and really try to keep the race as close as possible."

The A-grade Gladiator Criterium is the culmination of the day's events, which also include a full-day track carnival, women's open and men's B-grade criterium races. The race will be called by well-known New South Wales cycling commentator Paul Craft. Festivities start at 11am with the main event taking place at 4.30pm.

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