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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition News for June 4, 2007

Edited by Laura Weislo

Giro popularity up thanks to Di Luca

By Jean-François Quénet in Milan

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Danilo Di Luca might win another Giro, but he knows that if he does, he will never feel the same passion as he has this year during his first, so he did his best to appreciate every moment of celebration between Vestone and Milan. "It's been fabulous," he explained. "I've thought of all the people who yelled my name and all the people who have helped me in my cycling career since I started at the age of 8. I wanted to reach Milan as fast as possible. I had in mind the tifosi and all my friends and relatives who were waiting for me here."

Di Luca was pleased that the 90th Giro d'Italia proved to be one of the more well attended editions of the race. "The race has demonstrated to be beloved again, maybe not as much as when Pantani won it, but almost. Cycling is back at that level of popularity. It's important for us, for our cycling world, for you, the media…"

The press service of RCS Sport, the Giro organisers, issued a statement giving figures that demonstrate the extent of the popularity of this year's Tour of Italy. The race was followed by 980 accredited journalists, which is 78 more than last year. The majority of the media were from Italy, and this showed with Italian television shares up to 40% (31.58% on Saturday for the time trial, which represented 3.5 millions viewers on RAI).

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Anecdotally, the crowds along the route were the biggest in the past few years, despite the gloom and doom news reports about doping scandals hurting the interest in cycling. Di Luca never lost faith that the tifosi would continue to love the sport. "I never doubted about the popularity of cycling," he said.

'The Killer' will return next year as the defending champion, but doesn't see the Tour de France as a goal in the near future. "Not being a time triallist, it would be harder for me to win the Tour de France. I won't do it this year, neither next year, but I'll try, probably in 2009."

Petacchi equals his idol's number of stage wins

By Jean-François Quénet in Milan

Alessandro Petacchi (Milram)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)
In the legend of Alessandro Petacchi, there's an amusing anecdote of September 5, 1982, when young Alessandro and his father Lucio destroyed the sofa as they exulted watching Giuseppe Saronni become the world champion in Goodwood, England. By winning his 24th stage in the Tour of Italy in Milan, 'Ale-Jet' has equalled the number reached by Saronni in his time.

Along with this exceptional number of Giro stage wins, Petacchi was thrilled to win in Milan for the third time. "For the past two years I hadn't finished the Giro," he remembered. "One year ago, I watched the race on TV. I was injured with no morale. Believing that I've won 16 races since my accident, five stages in this Giro plus the ciclamino jersey of the points competition, it's really something I doubted I'd be able to do."

Petacchi's Milram team was down to six men by the final stage in Milan, and his train was missing two important members who did not start the Giro, Marco Velo and Fabio Sacchi, but Mirko Lorenzetto and Brett Lancaster, his two last lead out men, did a fantastic job once again in Milan. "We were only six in the Milram team at the end, but it's been a very good team anyway", Petacchi said.

Getting to Milan wasn't easy for Petacchi, especially after his third win in Pinerolo, when he considered quitting because he was tired. "But when I saw my team-mates at dinner table, I thought it wouldn't make any sense for them to continue the Giro without me, I looked at their faces and I decided to stay."

Now Petacchi has his sights set on the Tour de France. "It's possible to win stages at both Giro and Tour, I've done it before." In 2003, Petacchi had a spectacular season for Grand Tour stage wins, winning six in the Giro, four in the Tour and three in the Vuelta. With his old form starting to shine through, Ale-Jet is hoping for a bit of revenge in this year's Tour. "I hope to win again at the Tour, I want to beat Tom Boonen because I wasn't at the best of my capacities when I raced against him at the Tour of Qatar early this year."

Unlucky Zabriskie aims at a third Tour de France

By Jean-François Quénet in Milan

David Zabriskie (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

After losing the potential leadership of the CSC team to Andy Schleck, David Zabriskie did his work and completed the second part of the Giro with one race in mind: the final time trial in Verona. The US National time trial champion hoped to put the stars and stripes on the top of the stage podium, but he only came third after riding in a massive downpour. The man from Utah rode in heavy rain while the only two riders who beat him, Astana's Paolo Savoldelli and Eddy Mazzoleni, had dry conditions.

"I'm not God," Zabriskie said at the start of the final stage in Vestone. "I can't contest the weather. It's a game at 100%. Sometimes you hit the bar, sometimes the bar hits you." Generally speaking, Zabriskie seemed happy with his Giro. Although he didn't win a stage like two years ago, he was pleased to be racing in support of Schleck. "Andy's performance has been a good experience for all of us", he said.

Now the winner of the inaugural time trial of the 2005 Tour de France is aiming at a third participation at the French event. "I want to do it but I don't make that decision," he added. "Everyone in the team wants to do it." CSC is expected to ride the Tour de France with Carlos Sastre as a captain and Fränk Schleck as an alternative.

Proving the pundits wrong

Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Danilo Di Luca has done it. He secured his first win in the Giro d'Italia with just under two minutes on runner-up Andy Schleck after the penultimate stage. Over the three weeks, from Caprera to Milano, 'The Killer' dominated his opposition to achieve a deserving victory. On the eve of the final stage, when in all likelihood the 31 year-old from Abruzzo will be fitted with the final Maglia Rosa on Corso Venezia, Di Luca spoke with Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet.

"It means everything for me," said Di Luca, reflecting on the Giro overall and the fist-pumping in the final metres before the line in Verona. The Liquigas captain had secured his victory in the Giro during the 43-kilometre time trial and turned back towards the team car to express his enthusiasm. "Since I've started with this wonderful sport when I was 8 years-old I've worked for this precise goal, and now I've achieved it - winning the Giro d'Italia. Especially for me as an Italian it's the best target to reach."

Di Luca, from the region of Abruzzo, became the first of the Giro's 64 Italian winners come from south of Tuscany.

Many people doubted his chances of winning the Giro, believing that 2005's near podium finish was more chance than anything else and that 2006 showed he could not contend in the Italian three-week race. Instead, like the Classics before, he came back to prove the pundits wrong. "Only a few people believed that I'd be able to win the Classics and the Giro, and I have now demonstrated that I was right to believe in myself and to keep thinking that I could do it.

"I've won it. I had desired this win so much. It gives me an enormous joy. There's nothing that needs to be said to my detractors."

There were key passages in this year's Corsa Rosa where Di Luca was put on the rivet; he survived and in some cases excelled. "Briançon and Zoncolan," he noted as his best and worst stages. "Briançon because I'd won it so easily and Zoncolan because I'd suffered a lot."

To read the full interview, click here.

Landis gets back on the bike

Landis racing the cross country event
Photo ©: Beth Schneider
(Click for larger image)

The embattled champion of the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis, toed the line for his first race since riding into Paris with champagne last year. Landis took part in the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado, racing in the men's mountain bike cross country event. While Landis is currently barred from participating in any UCI sanctioned events after he tested positive for exogenous testosterone during the 2006 Tour, the unsanctioned event was happy to include Landis in their event, and his presence drew quite a bit of attention.

Landis, racing as part of the Athletes for a Cure team will donate any of the team's winnings to the foundation of the same name. However, after his 36th place finish in the cross country event, getting in the money isn't looking so good. "I haven't suffered in a while," Landis told the Associated Press after the race, his first mountain bike race since 1998. "I figured this was a good place to start."

Landis found the event to be a welcome change of pace, despite the thrashing he incurred at the hands of his competitors - even women's winner Shonny Vanlandingham passed him. "I just get tired of having everything focused on me," Landis said. "Once I got here, it occurred to me again that it's not always like that."

Sporting a bit more weight than what he had to carry over the mountains and into the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, Landis admitted that he wasn't in the best of shape after months of touring the country holding 'town hall' meetings followed by his arbitration hearing with USADA where he finally was able to officially defend himself against the doping charges. "There were quite a few weeks when I rode a reasonable amount, 200-300 miles (300-450 kilometres) a week," he said. "Then that hearing. It was almost 10 days. I didn't ride at all. You're sitting there. The next thing you know, you're eating doughnuts and you don't even care. It was awful."

However difficult his trials and tribulations over the past year have been, racing in support of the foundation that supports the Prostate Cancer foundation put some perspective on the situation. "I can't imagine what it's like to go through that, knowing it's probably going to end your life," Landis said. "That's a lot more serious stuff than what I went through. These guys asked if I'd show up. Well, it's no effort on my part to come to a race like this. I said I'd gladly show up."

Cordero comments on Valverde

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Víctor Cordero, the general director of the Vuelta a España, responded to rumours that Alejandro Valverde would be excluded from the Tour de France on Sunday, telling Cyclingnews, "It is not true. The Tour de France organising has not said anything. I understand what the Tour de France organising is demanding to Caisse d'Epargne: to make clear who is linked to the Operación Puerto, according to the well-known code of ethics that all of us in cycling agreed to sign."

Not long ago, the Vuelta a España organising member expressed its desire that the Spaniard from Caisse d'Epargne return to dispute the Vuelta, a race in which he finished second in 2006, although it is not included in Valverde' personal calendar for 2007. Nothing has changed since then, according to Victor Cordero. "We do not have anything against Alejandro Valverde now. The only thing that we demand is that anybody clearly identified and linked to a doping investigation cannot participate in the Vuelta, but this task falls to the participating teams, not to us," Cordero commented.

The Vuelta director added more concretely about Alejandro Valverde that, "in my opinion, he is not mentioned in the Operación Puerto," although he clarified at the same time, "it does not fall to me to decide if it is thus or no."

Euskal Bizikleta one for the climbers

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Gómez Marchante (Saunier Duval), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital), Oscar Sevilla (Relax-Gam), Paco Mancebo (Relax-Gam) and Iker Flores (Fuerteventura) are some of the favourites to win the Euskal Bizikleta which kicks off on June 8th in the Basque country of Spain. This UCI category 2.HC race will see a strong field of six ProTour squads: Saunier Duval, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Caisse D'Epargne, Lampre-Fondital, Liquigas, Saunier Duval and along with the Continental Professional Spanish teams.

A total of 437.6 kilometres of racing will be packed into only three stages. The first stage runs from Eibar to Tolosa, and include four category three climbs and one category one mountain over the 172.2 kilometre parcours. The second day will be divided in two partial stages: the first will run from Abadiño to Tolosa over 92 kilometres, and the second will be a time trial of 20.5 kilometres in Abadiño.

The final stage will be the most challenging, and over the 152 kilometres course between Iurreta and Eibar, the riders will face two category one climbs plus one category two and three category three hills before ascending to the finish line atop the category one, 586 metre high Arrate climb.

Breakout performance for Webcor's Abbot

Mara Abbott (Webcor)
Photo ©: CJ Farquharson
(Click for larger image)

Coming into the Montreal World Cup, one would expect a 22 year old neo-pro like Webcor's Mara Abbott to be a bit intimidated by the strong field, but riding against the likes of T-Mobile's Judith Arndt, World Cup leader Nicole Cooke, or even the World Champion Marianne Vos didn't seem to phase this former swimmer. "I came here ... with so much excitement," she said. "I mean I was so excited to race that I couldn't even stand it and it should have been scary for me, normally I wouldn't have been able to sleep. But I was having fun the whole time - it was really cool."

Her excitement propelled her off the front of the race where she found herself in the winning breakaway with the Italian Champion Fabiana Luperini and Team Uniqua's Edwige Pitel. Abbott couldn't match Luperini's speed in the final kilometre, but her second place confirms that this is a breakout year for the double collegiate champion. The Italian legend acknowledged the young American, saying "I want to give a lot of praise to the girl who was second because she really worked hard today."

Abbott's year started with a stunning victory in the 'queen stage' of the Redlands Classic, where she out-climbed Amber Neben to the top of Oak Glen. She went on to place second in the Sunset Road Race stage, finishing second in the overall classification and taking home the jersey of the best climber as well. Abbott confirmed her status of America's premier female climber by winning the Tour of the Gila. Abbott and her Webcor team will compete next in the Grand Tour of Montreal, which will give the Boulder, Colorado resident plenty of opportunities to test her climbing legs.

New book details Robert Millar's career

A new biography detailing the career of British cyclist Robert Millar is due to be released Monday. The book, entitled "In Search of Robert Millar: Unravelling the Mystery Surrounding Britain’s Most Successful Tour de France Cyclist", written by Richard Moore, follows the career of the quirky Glaswegian who remains the only British rider to win a classification of Tour de France. Millar won the the mountains classification and finished fourth overall in the 1984 Tour.

According to publisher Harper Collins, "In Search of Robert Millar will follow the career of this otherworldly character, from his tough childhood on the streets of Glasgow in the 1960s to his move to France and success in the world’s most brutal and unforgiving races, including the controversy surrounding his positive drugs test and his enforced retirement from the sport at the age of 36.

Saunier Duval rider, and fellow Scot David Millar (no relation) reviewed the book in The Scotsman, saying "This book is not only a very interesting study of a little-known man, but also a bible to anybody aiming to be the best in their field, a lesson in how to reach the top and the hardships and sacrifices it takes to get there. He was so fearless and far ahead of his times in so many ways, so nonchalant in his insolence towards the well-trodden road, and yet one can't help but find an insecure fragile man who deep down cared for every word spoken about him."

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