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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News for March 12, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown and Sue George

Di Luca shows early form with win

Di Luca wins Milano-Torino in 2005
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Only four days ago Danilo Di Luca said, "It is still not yet the moment for me," when asked about staking claim to victories. Saturday, on Corso Casale in Turin, he showed his form was much better than he had indicated. The Killer struck; he won the two-up sprint (Cannondale vs. Cannondale) from Colombian Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) to claim the 92nd Milano-Torino.

"In a sense, I was a little stupid on the climb," he commented after the win to La Gazzetta dello Sport regarding the race's finale, over the Colle di Superga. "On the climb, I went better than I had envisioned and I was able to make the difference. On the other hand, on the descent there were two or three types of turns I did not like. But Soler and I were able to hold a good advantage. Then in the sprint I went well."

Di Luca is building his 2007 like the miraculous 2005 season, where he won the ProTour overall after snatching Pais Vasco, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and fourth in the Giro d'Italia. He does not think his form is coming on too strong too soon, and, in fact, he hopes to better his condition of two years past.

"I know that I am able to return to the form of 2005, or even go better. And it was two years ago in the Milano-Torino that I finished with the front-runners, fifth. Who starts well, continues even better."

He scoffed at the idea that the purpose of the win was to have his name in the lights after his newly signed teammate, Filippo Pozzato, took two big wins, and suggested that, with their diverse programmes, there are no problems. "It is not like that at all," the 31 year-old rider from Abruzzo quipped. "We have different programmes. Filippo will remain our man for Tirreno-Adriatico, where I will aim for a stage win, the Milano-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders. After it will truly be my turn; Amstel, Flèche, Liège, Giro d'Italia..."

Thinking about the Corsa Rosa, he added, "It is clear if we face an Ivan Basso like 2006 we will be racing for second; everyone, not only me. But not every year is the same. And the adversaries, myself, Cunego, from Simoni to Savoldelli, are all able to grow. ... And then, the parcours I like a lot. If I am at my best, the climbs will not worry me, and the time trial, I am not the worst at this."

The winner of the first ever ProTour competition believes that the newly designed structure promotes the best of the best in cycling. "The riders are able to do very little," he noted of the UCI/Grand Tour organizers row regarding the ProTour. "The roles of the team manager and the teams are important, like you saw. Anyway, I think that the ProTour, with the agreed best teams that have to race the best races with their best riders, is a proper idea."

Bennati tunes up with Boonen at Paris Nice

Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Three-time stage winner in the 2007 Vuelta Valenciana against Italian sprint-gun Alessandro Petacchi, Daniele Bennati is now pointing towards Paris-Nice, where above all he will be searching for form for the upcoming Classics but noted that a win would not be so bad.

During this last week, Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Innergetic), who will also be racing in France, noted that his key rival for the future is Benna. "Bennati will be the most dangerous rival for me in Sanremo." The Belgian sees the Italian as a danger-man for one of his key objectives, Milano-Sanremo, which is only 12 days away.

Benna noted his purpose in France is only for form, but that a win, especially against the 2005 World Champion, would bring him pleasure. "My real objective here in France is to better my condition in view of the Classics," said the 26 year-old to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "But I will not hide the fact that I would like to collect a win. It is not important who I win in front of, but certainly if in the photo there is Boonen then it would make me even happier."

The sprinters will have their chances on the first three stages.

Sunday, the Paris-Nice started off with a prologue, where Bennati finished 13th at six seconds back in the 4.7 kilometre run. He wants to better himself in this field so that he can combine it with his sprinting talents to take the leader's jersey in the big stage races.

"I want to try all I can to improve my form in this event," he said Saturday before the start of the race. "This is a specialty I can use in the future, for the Tour de France, and the other Grand Tours. Last year, in the Tour's prologue I arrived 18th. I think that am endowed for this event even if, up until now, I have not trained specifically for it. I believe it is important to become used to it and to approach it with the right mentality."

After the Paris-Nice Benna will cape off his training for one of his season's major objectives, Sanremo. "Maybe I will go to review the finale, above all the descents of the Cipressa and Poggio."

Valverde motoring in Murcia

By Shane Stokes

Jose Luis Jaimerena and Alejandro Valverde talk
Photo ©: Foto Abarca Sports
(Click for larger image)
2006 Vuelta a España runner up and ProTour champion Alejandro Valverde has posted a clear sign to his rivals that he is in strong form prior to his season targets of the spring classics and the Tour de France. He took his second general classification victory in eight days.

The 26-year-old Caisse d’Epargne rider triumphed in the Vuelta a Murcia on Sunday, one day after taking over the leader's yellow jersey in his home race, and just over a week after landing the win in the nearby Tour of Valencia.

However, it is his TT victory on Saturday which will perhaps give him greatest satisfaction, given that this was the first time trial victory of his professional career. The race against the clock was previously regarded as a chink in his armour, but he has worked hard to improve in this discipline. Last year he showed he was making progress when finishing third in the final time trial in the Vuelta.

Caisse d'Epargne directeur sportif José Luis Jaimerena was delighted with the result. "Valverde's win in the time trial is very important because that represents a further step in his career, an expected one. He was showing since last year that he was improving and developing a lot in that specialty. His victory is a proof that the work he did gave results and that is very important for the future, to give him more confidence."

Speaking after the TT win on Saturday, Valverde expressed the same sentiment. "This is the first time I won a time trial and to do it in my home region of Murcia is something very special. I am each year doing better in the difficult discipline that is the time trial, and which has always been my weak point. As a consequence, this victory is a very good sign for the important events I will take part in later in the season."

"It is a fact that I took part in the Vuelta a Murcia with the intention of doing well," he said. "After the Vuelta a Valencia , I did not know how my condition would be. It was better than I thought! This victory gives me a lot of confidence before the Classics because it takes a lot of pressure off me."

Valverde will now take a break from racing, with the Criterium International likely to be his next event.

Coming out fighting, Unibet hits back, ProTour or not?
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

With talk of being sold out by the IPCT, weakness on the part of the UCI, legal action, a cartel rivalling the ProTour and a monetary interest by Grand Tour organisers in preserving the wildcard system, Unibet's Koen Terryn was taking no prisoners when he talked to Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes on two occasions last week. Unhappy with the way his squad has been treated, he, the team and its lawyers are now fighting for their place in ProTour events and their very future in the sport.

The team worked hard last season to get a ProTour licence, buying new riders, making changes to the management and increasing their annual budget from four to ten million euro per year. Speculation built last autumn that they were certain to get a licence and in the middle of December, that pass to the ProTour was issued by the UCI.

However, in spite of all that effort, the team has yet to see any return for its investment. The first race in the top-ranking series, the Paris-Nice, will begin on Sunday, but Unibet's fast-track court action ended in failure, and the Swedish-registered squad will miss the start. They have also been left off the start list for Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d'Italia, although it remains to be seen whether that could change as a result of the recent UCI – Grand Tour organisers' agreement.

According to a team press release issued on Saturday, Friday's decision was taken due to a law passed in France back in 1836 which essentially protects a state monopoly on gambling. and the team's former backer previously competed on French soil without any problems, but this year it has become an issue. To get around this, the team used non-branded jerseys – as did the Boule d'Or team over two decades ago - yet, despite being told by the police that these complied with the law, the latest court action has turned that situation around.

In a week when a similar monopoly in Italy was ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice, prompting speculation that such protectionism could soon be phased out due to actions being taken by the European Commission, the team was not impressed with the turn of events.

Read parts one and two of the Coming out fighting, Unibet hits back news feature.

Ullrich sought a deal?

By Susan Westemeyer

Jan Ullrich's attorneys allegedly tried to reach a deal with the prosecuting attorneys in Bonn, Germany, offering to pay a fine in exchange for having the investigation closed, the German news magazine Focus has reported. The deal was rejected, according to the press agency dpa.

The German investigators want to compare Ullrich's DNA with the DNA in blood bags taken into custody during the Operación Puerto. The blood bags are expected to be delivered soon. The Spanish court has also announced that it will turn over to the UCI documents concerning the riders named in the case.

However, it is expected that the court will announced on Monday that the charges against Fuentes and the others named in the case will be dismissed, putting into question the availability of the blood bags and other evidence.

In the event that the evidence cannot be used in further proceedings against the riders, Ullrich's manager Wolfgang Strohband wouldn't dismiss the possibility that the recently retired German might return to the peloton. "He knows nothing about the developments in Spain," Strohband told BILD magazine. "So I can't say anything about Jan's renouncing his retirement. Anything is possible..."

Intestinal bug wipes out T-Mobile in Belgium

By Susan Westemeyer

The intestinal virus that is sweeping Europe swept through the T-Mobile Team in Belgium Saturday, wiped out not only five riders but also the Directeur Sportif. Only Mark Cavendish and Adam Hansen finished the second day's stage of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen for the magenta team, and both were able to hang on and finish the race on Sunday.

According to the team's website,, Scott Davis, Andre Greipel, Aaron Olson and Frantisek Rabon didn't even make it to the start on Saturday. Sprinter Eric Baumann started, but soon dropped out. "Aaron Olson has it the worst. And Eric absolutely wanted to try it -- but he soon agreed that there was no point to it," said Directeur Sportif Jan Schaffrath.

Schaffrath himself was also suffering. "That was absolutely my hardest day in cycling. Even sitting in the team car, I wasn't sure whether I would make it through the day."

His hopes for the final stage were simple: "Our only goal is to bring at least one of our last two riders to the finish line." T-Mobile accomplished that goal, but not without difficulty, as both Hansen and Cavendish crashed during the stage. Hansen was uninjured, but Cavendish suffered "the usual scrapes and a nasty bruise around one eye," according to Schaffrath.

"On this weekend, I experienced everything a Directeur Sportif can experience," he said. "We're just happy that this race is over and that we can all recover now."

Basso in Tirreno to verify fitness

Ivan Basso on Tirreno
Photo ©: Mark Johnson
(Click for larger image)

Ivan Basso, Discovery Channel's new star signing, will race the 2007 Tirreno-Adriatico to verify his form, especially after having crashed last month. The 29 year-old Varese took a tumble in Tour of California stage one, in Santa Rosa, which resulted in a banged right knee.

"For now the only objectives that count are the ones that will allow me to re-win the Giro d'Italia," he said to Rai Sport. Basso will start in the Corsa dei Due Mari this Wednesday, March 14.

"I don't want thwart my preparations for the Giro," he finished. After the Giro, Basso will point for the Tour de France, which he was unable to start last year due to Operación Puerto investigations, and the Time Trial World Championships in Stuttgart.

Milram leads with Astarloa and Lorenzetto

German-Italian team Milram is leading with Igor Astarloa and Mirco Lorenzetto in the Paris-Nice. The two riders are backed by Ralf Grabsch, Brett Lancaster, Martin Müller, Alberto Ongarato, Björn Schröder and Sebastian Siedler.

Bergamasco Vittorio Algeri, Director Sportif of Milram for Paris-Nice, explained that the team are working for the Italian on the flat stages and the 2003 World Champion on the rolling stages. "Our objective is to do well in the sprints with Lorenzetto and work for Astarloa in the other stages," he noted to

"We have a lot of trust and we want to leave a good signal here in this race," he concluded.

Petacchi and Zabel to Tirreno-Adriatico

Milram is pulling out its big guns, sending Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel to Tirreno-Adriatico this coming week, in preparation for Milan-Sanremo. Mirko Celestino is the team's man for the non-sprint stages.

Milram for Tirreno-Adriatico: Mirko Celestino, Alessandro Cortinovis, Volodymyr Dyudya, Alessandro Petacchi, Fabio Sacchi, Marco Velo, Erik Zabel, Christian Knees.

World Champion Bettini helps produce riding guide

World Champion Paolo Bettini has teamed up with the city of Bibbona to help produce a guide to the roads of his home region. The route book continues his partnership with the city, along with his support base, Club Paolo Bettini.

The purpose of the guide is to help riders, both road and mountain, discover the same routes in the southern Tuscan zone used by Il Grillo in training. He pointed out that it is not all about numbers and directions.

"Other than the technical aspects I also wanted to take into consideration the natural beauty and fascinating panorama that exist in our land," he explained. "The bicycle is a great way to be put into the middle of this great land and to discover every little characteristic. And the particulars, as you know, often make the difference."

The guidebook contains 12 road routes and four for the mountain bike. It is available at all tourist offices in the area of Bibbona, or you can contact the tourist office via its website

Irish Continental Team to target Elliot race

By Shane Stokes

Irish continental team Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group/M. Donnelly Sean Kelly spends much of the season based at the Kelly academy in Belgium, but the squad will return home for the 50th running of the Shay Elliott Memorial on Sunday April 22.

With Murphy & Gunn also sponsors of the event, regarded as one of the toughest one day races in Ireland, the riders will do their utmost to repeat the win taken out by Andrew Roche in 2006. It is expected that some riders may travel across from the UK for the event, which commemorates Ireland's first wearer of the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.

The race was first run in 1958 as the Route de Chill Mhantáin, with John Lackey coming out best in that inaugural edition. Fittingly, the trophy used now is that presented to Elliott as best amateur in France in 1955.

As has been the case in recent years, the 160 kilometre course will include the tough ascents of Old Wicklow Gap, locally known as Croghan, and Glenmalure. A memorial to Elliott is positioned at the summit of the second climb.

The race will be backed by Murphy & Gunn and Stena Line. Further information is available on

GP Schwarzwald shortened

By Susan Westemeyer

The GP Triberg-Schwarzwald will be shorter this year, 139 kilometres instead of 162, the race organizer announced. The German race is to be held June 9.

Previously the professionals had to go seven laps around the round course, but this year it will be only six. "At the Grand Prix 2006 a representative of the UCI, who is also president of the race jury, said that the race is very, very hard," race organizer Rick Sauser told the Sü "We took his advice and after thinking about it a long time, decided to shorten the race."

Sauser sees no negative effect on his race from the recent doping scandals. "To the contrary, we have more applications than ever." He will also not discriminate against riders who may have been named in the doping scandals, saying, "Anyone who has a UCI license can start here."

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