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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for June 1, 2007

Edited by Laura Weislo

Milram's two for two Thursday

Tired, but happy
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)
After a difficult spring plagued by injuries which culminated their star sprinter, Erik Zabel, confessing to EPO use in the 1996 Tour, the Milram team has something to smile about - back to back wins in the Giro d'Italia and Bayern Rundfahrt. Both wins came from bunch sprints, although Alessandro Petacchi's Giro stage 18 win was gained in more dangerous circumstances than Erik Zabel's win in stage two of Bayern Rundfahrt.

After being charged with the task of bringing back a break of seven, the diminished Milram had their work cut out for them. Milram lead-out man Christian Knees described the finale on the team's website, "We were all at the front from the beginning and tried to make sure that no dangerous big group escaped...

Finally, only seven riders escaped, we could be quite satisfied with that. Martin, Cortinovis and me were to catch up with the group again. We got help from Liquigas, who wanted to defend Di Luca's overall lead, from Credit Agricole, who also has two good sprinters, and from Saunier Duval, who are leading the team classification.

"Some time before the finish the distance was at 2:30 minutes, so we had to give everything on the last 50 kilometres. Actually, we controlled the group, and I rode in front until five kilometres to go... Right before the finish there was a crash of two riders, but fortunately we got around it."

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Petacchi described the sprint as the longest of the Giro d'Italia. "It was a very long and a very hard sprint. First I was jammed, but I freed myself. I was able to move up but it was hard. Another crash. I did not understand," said Petacchi. "Many thanks to my team mates again. They worked hard the whole day for me. This victory is very important for our team. It was a bloody long sprint," the 33 year-old continued.

Erik Zabel (Milram)
Photo ©: Andrea Hübner
(Click for larger image)

In the Bavarian town of Eichstätt, Erik Zabel handed his team a somewhat unexpected win in stage two of the Bayern Rundfahrt, crossing the line just ahead of his younger team-mate Sebastian Siedler and Paris-Roubaix champion Stuart O'Grady. The win in Germany also Zabel in to the overall lead of the race.

After an emotional week following his admitted use of banned performance enhancing drugs in the '90's, Zabel admitted that he did not think "that I would ever win again."

"I am aware that my confession has elicited varied reactions, and that people are not per se happy seeing me on the bicycle. But my team and the public have accepted me well."

Frenetic finale from French finishers fells field

By Jean-François Quénet in Riese Pio X

Kurt Asle-Arvesen's seat
Photo ©: JF Quenet
(Click for larger image)

Ag2r produced a spectacular end of stage 18, but not in the way they might have intended. A pair of riders from the French team crashed hard on the run-in to the finish in Riese Pio X, but may have been protected from serious injury by the 90th Giro d'Italia's patron saint, Pope Pius X. The finishing town was renamed after this pope, born Giuseppe Melchiore Sarto in this town on June 2nd, 1835, and who was the Pope for 11 years from 1903 to 1914 before being achieving sainthood in 1954.

In a left-hand turn just 800 meters before the line, Ag2r's Alexandre Usov from Belarus came into the turn first, but was carrying far too much speed for the bend and slid out, taking Frenchman Lloyd Mondory down as well. "They only sustained bruises, especially Usov whose left arm and thigh are burned", directeur sportif Laurent Biondi explained. A third Ag2r rider, Yuriy Krivtsov from the Ukraine, crashed as well but later, also with no consequences.

The crashes failed to break any bodies, much to the riders' relief, however, the bikes did not fare as well. Lampre's Paolo Tiralongo was seen walking his mangled Wilier across the line. "I was guiding Damiano in the last meters of the stage, when suddenly I found some riders stopped ahead," Tiraolongo explained. "I couldn't avoid to hit them: I didn't get hurt, but my bike was not so good after that accident."

Many fans assumed that the CSC rider finishing 3rd behind Alessandro Petacchi and Maximiliano Richeze was Kurt-Asle Arvesen, but it was actually Denmark's Matti Breschel. The Norwegian Arvesen was involved in the second crash, and his seat post was destroyed along with a few spokes on his wheels. "But I'm fine," the winner of stage 8 said. "I don't even know what happened in that crash."

Echávarri defends Valverde against Tour exclusion rumours

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Photo ©: Daniel Schamps
(Click for larger image) Team manager Jose Miguel Echavarri

With widely publicised speculation regarding star Caisse d'Epargne rider Alejandro Valverde's involvement in Operación Puerto, rumors have now began to cast doubt on his Tour de France participation, according to the Spanish radio SER. Valverde was initially suspected of involvement in the affair on grounds that one of the of the blood bags found the clinic of Eufemiano Fuentes in Madrid was labelled 'Valv.piti'.

According to the Caisse d'Epargne manager José Miguel Echávarri, the name was linked to Alejandro Valverde by French and Italian media, who reported that 'Piti' was the name of Valverde's dog. But Echávarri railed against the having to face accusations "when there is not any judicial link established," he clarified on Thursday afternoon to Cyclingnews. The constant rumors have led the team to threaten legal action against news outlets that perpetuate them.

Echávarri spoke similar words on the SER radio program, adding, "The Tour did not say to us that we cannot start with Valverde. They did not say this because they can't say it. The UCI clarified that Valverde is not involved in the Operación Puerto and until today, nothing has changed."

Echávarri told Cyclingnews that, "Some press media close to the Tour de France is publishing information without any rigor and seriousness that attempt to harm the presumption of innocence of the sportsman [Valverde]."

Alejandro Valverde
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

Echávarri expressed that he is tired of "so much hypocrisy and lies, of so many public accusations without apparent basis to them." He decided yesterday morning to phone to the the Tour de France organisation, "in order to request seriousness from them." He denied that the Tour contacted him requesting that Valverde not participate in the Tour. "That is not true. The Tour did not tell me that Valverde must not participate in the next Tour de France, but I do not like the position they are adopting regarding the false rumors on Valverde," Echávarri insisted to Cyclingnews.

"After listening these false reports, you are confused and defenceless. We have always been very rigorous in this sense", the Caisse d'Epargne team manager expressed. He assured that, "I always try to convince everyone in cycling that we have to be respectful with the presumption of innocence of anyone, and, if they are sure that there are true accusations against anyone, they are free to retire his license". In this sense, Echávarri admitted that "there is much lack of unity in the cycling

No Giro stars for Saunier Duval at the Tour de France

By Jean-François Quénet in Riese Pio X

Gilberto Simoni prefers tanning in Italy
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Although Liquigas is doing a perfect job at the service of Danilo Di Luca since they won the inaugural team time trial in Sardegna, Saunier Duval is definitely the most spectacular squad of this year's Giro d'Italia. They have won three prestigious stages with Leonardo Piepoli at the sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Guardia, Riccardo Riccò at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo and Gilberto Simoni up the Zoncolan, and the team missed out on a first stage win in Bergamo in a contested finale where Stefano Garzelli allegedly got some help from the motorbikes.

The future of the roster is in question in Italy as Riccò is high demand on the market, especially by Milram, who is in search of a climber, but the young Italian prodigy is under contract with Saunier Duval until the end of 2008. Riccò is openly aiming for a better financial deal, as he read in the Italian newspapers that his value has been multiplied by fifteen - reaching €600,000 per year.

Riccò also wants to be granted the status of a captain. He's prepared to leave if he doesn't get what he wants from team manager Mauro Gianetti. On the other hand, Simoni is out of a contract for next year. Aged 36, he doesn't want to race the Giro as a captain anymore. But he pretends he'd like to stay with Saunier Duval. It will be time for discussions after the Tour of Italy.

With such a strong team, it is surprising to find that none of the three stars of the Giro will be lined up by Saunier Duval at the Tour de France. Only Iban Mayo will double up. David Millar will start in London with high ambitions for the prologue, and Christophe Rinero will keep the French flavour of the team. The rest will be Spanish with José Angel Gomez Marchante possibly in the role of captain, Iker Camaño, Tour of the Basque country winner Juan José Cobo, David De La Fuente, Ruben Lobato and Francisco Ventoso.

Schleck's dream: Maglia Bianca and Giro podium

By Gregor Brown

Andy Schleck (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

"It was my first Grand Tour, it was my first three-week race, it was my first encounter with vertical mountains," explained Andy Schleck after stage 17 to Monte Zoncolan to La Gazzetta dello Sport. The 21 year-old Luxembourger had passed his freshman exams with the 'university's' best; holding the wheels of the Saunier Duval express train of Piepoli and Simoni on the 22% gradients of the Friulian mountain.

"When I was with Simoni and Piepoli, I continued to pedal without pondering my objectives ... I did not expect to win but no rider at the start excluded victory... Picture yourself at 200 metres from the finish. However, Simoni and Piepoli are stronger, blasting with an attack that I cold not follow. I had my turn and it went how it went."

Schleck reflected on the experiences gained in Italy. "I can here to learn, and to learn to know myself. I don't know my limits, and I still don't know." Finishing third in stages 10 (Santuario Nostra Signora della Guardia), 12 (Briançon) and 17 (Monte Zoncolan) indicates his staying power in a race of three weeks.

Saturday he will confront his final exam in the Corsa Rosa; the 43-kilometre run to Verona should give pundits an idea of what he can do in a time trial after nearly 21 days of racing. "Now I have two objectives, the Maglia Bianca and the podium," continued Schleck. "But it is not a dream, the only stage that will make the difference will be the time trial; I can't catch DI Luca, and Simoni should not catch me."

The white knight put enough time into Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir) to ensure the young rider's jersey would stay on his shoulders, and, at 2'24" behind Maglia Rosa DI Luca he seems ready for a podium spot in Milano. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, one week ago brother Fränk called their dad, Johnny, a past professional, and said "He is going to be on the podium." Johnny said, "you are crazy." After Zoncolan there was another phone call. "I had told you so," said Fränk, winner on Alpe d'Huez in 2006.

Mario Cipollini was impressed with the young rider's grit. "Amongst the protagonists, it was Schleck that impressed me the most," said the sprinting legend. "He is only 21 [22 in two weeks - ed.], and his efficiency in this Giro was extraordinary. His capabilities enabled him to pass the hardest exams. If everything goes how it should we are looking at a new campione."

Wegelius out with fever

By Jean-François Quénet in Riese Pio X

Liquigas was the only complete team after the gruelling stage of the Zoncolan but they had to say goodbye to one of their most generous members, Englishman Charly Wegelius, who pulled out 58 kilometres into stage 18. "I had a fever last night after the race and diarrhoea too," he told Cyclingnews. "I just couldn't keep going and it's getting even worse."

Wegelius was doing his 5th Giro d'Italia and the best of his career so far, as it's very likely that his captain Danilo DI Luca will win the overall classification. "I've worked for that and I would have been pleased to be a part of the team 'til the end, I'm very disappointed, "he said. He's still likely to attend the celebrations in Milan on Sunday, should DI Luca keep his lead after Friday's hilly stage in Trentino and Saturday's 43-km time trial from Bardolino to Verona.

Zabel to ride German nationals

Erik Zabel, who won the second stage of the Bayern Rundfahrt just one week after his tearful EPO doping confession, is the first rider to declare himself for the German national road championships, the race organisers announced Thursday. The race will be held Sunday July 1 in Wiesebaden.

"Erik Zabel told me he would be ready to start," said Udo Sprenger, vice president of the German cycling federation. "Zabel's participation in the German road championship is possible despite his doping confession, since the incident happened 11 years ago and legally falls under the statute of limitations."

Zabel has won the title twice, in 1998 and 2003. This year's race consists of 13 laps of a 15.33 km course, for a total of 199 km.

Broken foot for Lang

Sebastian Lang's foot hurt after he crashed in the second stage of the Volta a Catalunya, but he rode the race to the end. The foot still hurt, however, so the Gerolsteiner rider finally had it checked out Thursday -- and got the bad news. An MRI showed that he had not only broken the heel but also had bleeding within the bone tissue.

"At least now I know the reasons for my pain. But it is still a real blow," he said. "This is not how I had planned my season."

The time trial specialist is now not expected to sit out the Dauphine Libere and his participation in the Tour de France is "strongly endangered," the team's press release noted.

Riis ejected from Danish Canon of Sport

The 1996 Tour de France winner and Team CSC director, Bjarne Riis, has been removed from the Danish Canon of Sport*, following his admission of doping earlier this week. According to Danmarks Radio, the president of the commission which elects athletes to the list, Else Trangbaek, said, "Bjarne Riis has admitted to being doped. We therefore consider that his performance was faked. And for that reason he cannot be among the greatest sportsmen."

Long hounded by rumour and suspicion of having ridden the '96 Tour with an extraordinarily high hematocrit level, Riis finally admitted to having used EPO, cortisone and hormones during his professional career and during the Tour de France which he won. He came forward with the confession following similar announcements by his former Team Telekom team-mates Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag.

Riis' snub by his own country could presage similar treatment by the sporting establishment. Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has indicated that he has no interest in Riis being present at this year's Tour. However, Riis is eager to put the past behind him and focus attention on the success of his team. "I don't want my personal past to overshadow that work and brilliant effort that Team CSC is doing today," Riis said during his press conference.

(*Not the Danish sports hall of fame as previously stated - ed. )

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