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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Latest Cycling News for February 27, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

Cooke snares race lead

By John Michael Flynn in Port Arlington

Cooke in stage 1
Photo ©: John Veage
(Click for larger image)

At the end of the second stage of the Geelong Women's Tour, Nicole Cooke (Raleigh Lifeforce Creation) wears the purple race leader's jersey and also leads the points classification. The Briton is in a commanding position but has the disadvantage of never before having raced the Geelong Tour, which tomorrow heads to the town of Lara – a road stage punctuated with one of the toughest climbs in women's cycling.

Team mechanics will be spending this evening changing rear clusters on race, with 27 tooth cogs a must for anyone hoping to make it to the top of tomorrow's power climb.

"Yeah, I've never done this race before so it's going to be a new experience for me," Cooke admitted. "I have heard from my teammates who've done this race before it's a pretty tough climb, so hopefully we're all well prepared for it.

"I've heard it's a specialist climb, it's very steep so hopefully I'll be able to get over the top of it with the front group."

Rivals are taking note of Cooke's early season form, which appears to be a level above the same time last year.

The Brit is rated a strong chance of both winning the Geelong Women's Tour and Saturday's Geelong World Cup, at least according to the opinion of defending Geelong World Cup champion Ina Teutenberg.

"I think there are a lot of people way fitter than they were last year, for example Nicole Cooke," Teutenberg noted. "I mean looking at her this year and looking at her last year, there's a difference."

Illes Balears ends sponsorship

By Monika Prell

Valverde in 2005, Illes Balears colours
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

The government of the Balearic Islands will ended its sponsorship involvement with Abarca Esport, the management company of Caisse d'Epargne. In a letter they justified this decision by "the demands of the UCI and of the main sponsor [Caisse d'Epargne]" that "complicated the continuation of the conventions that we arranged with the entire company."

Pepote Ballesterm, the the government's General Director of Sport, added two more reasons to justify the decision: doping and television. "The pressure of the UCI and the pressure of the media concerning doping are not helpful to the sport. Nor did TVE [the Spanish television station] broadcast the last races."

According to the Spanish newspaper Marca, the government thanked "all who formed part of this project" since 2004, for having promoted both the sport of the archipelago and the "image of the Balearic Islands". The team, directed by José Miguel Echavarri and Eusebio Unzúe, is the successor of the team Banesto (and, and has great cyclists in its ranks, like Alejandro Valverde, winner of last year's UCI ProTour classification and second in the 2006 Vuelta a España, Oscar Pereiro, second of last year's Tour de France, French champion Florent Brard, and Russian Vladimir Karpets, who won the white jersey of the Tour de France 2004.

Oscar Sevilla: "Ullrich is a victim"

By Monika Prell

Sevilla leading Ullrich
Photo ©: Jon Devich
Click for larger image

Oscar Sevilla declared in an interview with Spanish radio Efe Radio that Jan Ullrich "has been a victim." The Relax-GAM was commenting on the retirement of the 1997 Tour de France winner and explained that "perhaps he was very weak or did not see the things clearly. Perhaps he has so much experience and rode for so many years in the elite ranks that he had no more joy and no more energy to go on."

He stated, "First of all, everyone is a person and merits respect, never mind if you are doing things that are good or bad.

"You admire him as sportsman, but when you know him, you admire him even more, because he is a wonderful person, a professional and a very good teammate," the 30 year-old said of his former teammate. "It's very sad [that he retired] when you look at his characteristics and his capabilities. It's a pity that he has to say goodbye, but the time has come and you have to applaud to him and respect him."

More reactions on Ullrich's retirement

By Susan Westemeyer

Ullrich announced his retirement
Photo ©: AFP Photo
(Click for larger image)

Since July of 2006 the retirement of Jan Ullrich seemed very probable. The 1997 Tour de France Champion and 2000 Olympic gold medallist was caught up in the Operación Puerto investigation and could not find a way to clear his name or to receive a racing license to continue his profession. Yesterday, at press conference in Hamburg, Germany, he announced his retirement amongst gathered press and family members.

Comments were quick to come in regarding the man that many considered to be the king of the Tour de France. "I regret his decision very much. But I must say I had seen it coming," Rudy Pevenage, Ullrich's former mentor and director sportif, noted to "Jan had already taken this decision months ago, but only announced it only today.

"It's the witch hunt in the media that made him decide to quit. He also lacked the motivation to work very hard for his sport. I can understand that, as his name was being tarnished time and again. Other riders that were named [in Operación Puerto] are back on their bicycles now. Jan isn't. I think that speaks for itself."

"I had expected this decision," quipped Walter Godefroot, former Telekom team manager, to Sporza. "He could no longer motivate himself to return to his high level of riding. He could no longer bring those efforts. ... Hopefully he can find his way in normal life."

"He started when he was very young and was always confronted with a lot of pressure," said king of cycling Eddy Merckx. "This meant that he became mentally tired. He could have reached more [heights] during his career."

T-Mobile DS and former teammate Rolf Aldag commented to that "Of course it's sad to see a cycling career with so many highs and lows end like this. But we wish Jan Ullrich everything good in the future."

German cycling federation president Rudolf Scharping had hard words for his countryman, noting how Ullrich missed chance to shed light on Operación Puerto. "Today Jan Ullrich didn't add anything to clear things up," he said to AP. "This is a finish to a career which everybody wished had ended better."

Finally, Wolfgang Strohband, Ullrich's manager, noted his desire for Ullrich to keep racing. "I would rather have seen him back on the back," he commented to dpa. "At the beginning I was against this decision, but I saw that there was no point in arguing."

Oscar Pereiro: The long wait, part 2

Pereiro looks relaxed
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

Oscar Pereiro, tenth in 2004, tenth in 2005, and now perhaps the winner of the biggest race in cycling? He's still waiting for the USADA vs. Floyd Landis hearing which will determine if that will be the case, but it's one of the two possible outcomes to the saga which has shaken the sport. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes sat down with the Spaniard at the pre-season training camp in Mallorca and talked about this and many other topics.

Pereiro was a strong rider in the seasons prior to 2006, but outside the sport of cycling and his home area of Galicia, he wasn't a particularly famous person. That all changed in July, for three reasons. The first was due to his taking yellow, the maillot jaune catapulting him into the public eye worldwide. The second was due to the stubborn and courageous fight he put up to keep the golden fleece. And the third was the fact that he's next in line if Landis is disqualified, becoming the first Spanish winner since Miguel Indurain in 1995.

These three factors have changed his life. "It is different... I have become very well known. I cannot walk down the street without being recognised," he said. "Every two or three days there is more news about the Tour. For example, today Landis speaks, blah blah blah. There is too much stress."

Before the start of the Vuelta a España, he said that he hadn't been able to train much after the Tour due to the demands on his time. He spoke then about being unable to live a normal life but, despite this, he does see the benefits of fame too. "I like being well known. It is nice when people respect you, but is also good when you're not disturbed too much."

When Cyclingnews asked him how things had been since the end of the season, he said he was quite satisfied. "It was a very stressful winter because of everything that was going on. But I was also training well; I am in good shape and made a lot of social sacrifices. Now I am concentrating on the start of the season.

"My condition is not 100%, but it is better than last year. That winter, I worked too much in the gymnasium. I am happy this year with my condition."

Read the full Oscar Pereiro interview; The long wait part 1 and part 2.

Gent-Wevelgem names five wild cards

2006 podium
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

While the status of Paris-Nice is in disarray due to the ProTour/Grand Tour row, Gent-Wevelgem, not run by any of the three grand tour organizers, has announced a list of five teams to race in its 69th edition. Along with 20 ProTour teams, the organizer of the Belgian Classic has selected Belgian teams Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen, Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner, British DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed, Dutch Skil-Shimano and German Wiesenhof-Felt.

The ProTour event, won last year by Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), will be disputed April 11.

Lampre-Fondital for Volta Valenciana

Lampre-Fondital is heading to Spain for the 65th Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. The team will be led Director Sportifs Giuseppe Martinelli and Fabrizio Bontempi for the five-stage race, running from February 27 to March 3.

The eight riders taking part are Fabio Baldato, Daniele Bennati, Claudio Corioni, Damiano Cunego, Enrico Franzoi, Francesco Gavazzi, Tadej Valjavec and Patxi Vila. They will have the support of mechanics Borselli, Carminati and Tosello, and masseurs Corna, Inselvini and Pallini, and doctor Ronchi.

"We are convinced we will have a good Volta Valenciana," said Martinelli. "The good showing we had in the Ruta del Sol demonstrates that we had a good training camp in San Vincenzo, thanks to perfect weather and logistic conditions.

"Bennati has showed that he's ready to win, Cunego will race without forcing it but with the aim of improving his form and Valjavec raced the Ruta del Sol as a protagonist.

"Note that it will be the season debut of Vila, the first road race of Franzoi after the bronze medal in the Cyclo-cross World Championship and the first race of Gavazzi in the professional ranks."

Simoni and Riccò in Switzerland

Saunier Duval-Prodir will race this weekend in Switzerland in the GP Chiasso and GP Lugano. Director Sportif Pietro Algeri will lead the yellow ProTour team consisting of nine riders. Italians Gilberto Simoni and Riccardo Riccò will head the team with support from Raivis Belohvosciks, Rubens Bertogliati, David Cañada, Ángel Gómez Gómez, Manuele Mori, Guido Trentin and Remmert Wielinga, who won the 2006 version of Chiasso.

Racing heats up in Africa

Africa is a hotbed of cycling activity in the month of March with a host of important events taking place in the north and the south of the continent as part of the UCI Africa Tour. Beginning at the Southern tip of Africa, South Africa will for the first time host two UCI classified events in a single month, starting with the Giro del Capo, March 6 - 11.

Some strong cycling talent from Europe will take part in the Giro del Capo, including defending champion Peter Velits from the German Wiesenhof outfit. Top international sprinter, South Africa's Robert Hunter, will for the first time in his career race in the Giro del Capo as part of the Barloworld squad. Barloworld is sending a strong team, which also includes former Tour de Langkawi winner Ryan Cox and Giro d'Italia stage winner Félix Rafael Cárdenas.

The Giro del Capo has changed from a five-day to a six-day stage race through the introduction of a prologue, to bring it in line with international events. Aligning it with international standards, team sizes have also increased from five to six cyclists each to expose more top cyclists - local and international - to the event.

South Africa will host a second UCI classified event when the Maloti Tour kicks off on March 18, and finishing on March 27. A large part of the 2.2-ranked event will take place in Lesotho, a country bordered all around by South Africa, with many of the stages finishing on hilltops.

Moving further north, the Tour of Cameroon, February 24 - March 10, will consist of teams from Holland, France, the Gabon, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Togo, Angola, Congo Brazza, Benin as well as four teams from Cameroon.

Finally, the Tour of Libya, March 17 - 23, will consist of 13 teams, from Asia, Africa and Europe, and cover a total distance of 860 kilometres.

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