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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Latest Cycling News for March 22, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

Serene and focused: Alexander Vinokourov

By Hedwig Kröner

Vinokourov (r) with Klöden at Tirreno
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Even though Alexander Vinokourov has his mind focused on his greatest career objective three months from now, the eternal attacker is already in very good shape, finishing an impressive overall third at Tirreno-Adriatico this week. The leader of the Kazakh squad Astana placed just 13 seconds behind his teammate and victor of the race, Andreas Klöden, and thereby showed that the duo will be a major threat to all other Tour de France contenders this year.

"I really surprised myself," Vinokourov told L'Equipe after the race. "I didn't expect to be at this level, especially after a week's treatment of antibiotics for a dental infection. I came to Italy to train..."

Although the 32 year-old will not be starting at Milano-Sanremo ("The finish is almost always for sprinters; the Poggio is not selective enough"), he does plan to be up front again in April. "I can't stay inactive until the Tour - it is not my habit, nor suited to my character," he explained further. "At Liège, I will be there with high goals. It will be my first real test this season; an important step in my progression towards the Tour."

After being forced to skip last year's Tour de France, for the 2007 Tour Vinokourov will prepare himself in great detail, following the same points of reference as in 2006. "In Strasbourg, I was ready to do something big," he said. "Therefore, I will try to continue on the same scheme, without hurrying, taking one step at a time. Liège is part of that plan, but also the Dauphiné, where there will be one or two mountain stages very similar to the ones in the Tour. I know I still have to work on some areas, like the mountains where I have to increase my intensity and the time trial where we will study a better position on the new frames. Soon I'll undergo some wind tunnel testing to improve - I don't want to leave anything to chance."

Vino is calm
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Vinokourov knows he might not have many opportunities left in front of him to win the Tour, and, even though this could increase pressure for the Astana leader, he stayed as calm and stoic as he has always been. Asked if he felt like one of the favourites, 'Vino' replied, "Yes, and I don't have to fear this role. I could have had more pressure this year, as I'm a leader of a team for the first time, a team that I have created myself, with the help of Kazakh sponsors. All of these factors could stress me, but in fact I've rarely started a season feeling so serene."

This, according to Vinokourov, also applied to the collaboration of his teammate Andreas Klöden. The German, who already made it on the final podium of the Tour de France twice, will be the second Astana leader to count on - but will the ambitions of two contenders not interfere with each other? "It's better to have two leaders for the Tour than just one," Vinokourov replied. "With Andreas, there won't be a problem - his ambitions can only be an asset for me. You will see that in that mountains, we won't be upset wearing the same jersey."

And he is counting on the full support of his team to achieve his goals. "Since our very first training camp in January, everybody understood what we had to do together," Vinokourov added. "That the Tour is the last objective of my career. There is a real partnership among us to achieve this."

Unibet.com changes name and jerseys in France

By Susan Westemeyer

Team Unibet.com will appear with yet another jersey and another name this weekend at the Cholet - Pays De Loire. Since the team may not use its official name in France, it will now race in France under the name Canyon.com, wearing a black and orange jersey. Canyon is the team's bike supplier.

"As of Sunday we will ride in a black and orange outfit and the team will be called Canyon.com," Team Manager Koen Terryn told Sportwereld.be. But only in France -- in other countries the team will wear its green and white jerseys and ride under its Unibet name.

"It was the only possibility for us," Terryn said. "The UCI has already agreed to it, but we are waiting for an answer from the ASO. I think that the French will see on Sunday [Cholet - Pays De Loire] how professional we are."

Canyon is based in Koblenz, Germany, and is the first German bike manufacturer to be represented in the ProTour.

Riccardo Riccò gains exposure

Riccò wins number 2 in Tirreno
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Riccardo Riccò is a name slipping off many pundits lips when talking about cycling, and specifically this Saturday's Milano-Sanremo. At the age of 23 he has already conquered some big races; winning his first race as a pro in front of Paolo Bettini and this year, starting off with a bang, with two stages in the Tirreno-Adriatico, as well as a stint in the leader's jersey.

The rider from Sassuolo (Modena) does not lack confidence, and he will go into La Classicissima, his first, as one of Saunier Duval-Prodir's leaders (the other being Francisco José Ventoso, who can be counted on for the sprint).

"Everything in life you can do," was his response when questioned if he could win by Luigi Perna of La Gazzetta dello Sport. "With the condition I have now, nothing is impossible. ... I have nothing to lose."

Riccò has reason to believe after winning twice in Tirreno, and both times in front of high-calibre riders, like World Champion and 2003 Sanremo winner, Bettini. Given his style he will have to try to win by basing his attack on the final two obstacles, the Cipressa and Poggio. There he will face danger from all corners; riders like Bettini, Mirko Celestino (Milram), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Luca Paolini (Liquigas) will be firing their guns over these race-defining climbs.

"At Tirreno they were all strong, and I battled them in those two stages [three and four - ed.], it was not a question of luck," he continued. "I was better. I saw on the climbs I was going well. And the Poggio, after 300 kilometres, is a climb that is dangerous."

Riccò on the attack
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

It would be dream for Riccò to win in Sanremo, in fact is the dream of every Italian cyclist; they grow up watching their heroes battle on the Liguria Coast after having departed from Milan seven hours beforehand, and they have seen the death-defying descents on the ribbon-like roads leading to the Via Roma. "It is the race that everyone would like to win and it really excites me. I started watching it on TV when I started racing in 1996; I remember well the escape of Gabriele Colombo, the victory of Andrei Tchmil and the sprints of Erik Zabel." He added of his hero, "But above all the attacks of Marco Pantani on the Cipressa, they gave me shivers."

He confirmed that he will have to attack before the finish to try to win. "I will attack and hope that behind the sprinters are caught off guard and watch one another. I need to go all out on the downhill. I am not [Paolo] Savoldelli but I can do damage on the decent."

When listening to Riccò it is clear to hear the tone of a winner. "I always start a race to win. I respect everyone but I am not afraid of anyone. Above all I say what I think; I don't hide out behind a wall. ... There are some riders who say things to journalists and then they hide out in the group. We call them 'vegetables.' Luckily there are also those who do what they say; we are small, one is my teammate, Gilberto Simoni."

He points towards the same rider who he beat to win his first pro race as a favourite for Saturday. "The man to follow is Bettini. He can attack on the Poggio. [2006 winner] Filippo Pozzato, I don't know. He has said he wants to do his battle in the sprint."

Milram and Gerolsteiner for Sanremo

Petacchi in 2006 edition
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Team Milram is pulling out all its big guns for the upcoming Milan - San Remo (Milano-Sanremo), sending all three of its captains. Former winners and sprinters Alessandro Petacchi (2005) and Erik Zabel (1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001) will lead the team, and both are considered among the favourites to win.

The team's other captain, Igor Astarloa, will also be there, as will Mirko Celestino, "so that the team is ready for any event."

Milram for Sanremo: Alessandro Petacchi, Erik Zabel, Igor Astarloa, Mirko Celestino, Alberto Ongarato, Fabio Sacchi, Marco Velo and Christian Knees.

Davide Rebellin and Stefan Schumacher will be leading Team Gerolsteiner in La Classicissima. Both are coming off successful races last weekend; Rebellin finished second overall in Paris-Nice, and Schumacher won a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico. In addition, the team is sending David Kopp for a possible sprint finish.

Gerolsteiner for Sanremo: Thomas Fothen, Heinrich Haussler, David Kopp, Andrea Moletta, Davide Rebellin, Stefan Schumacher, Fabian Wegmann and Peter Wrolich.

Niermann back in the saddle

By Susan Westemeyer

Grischa Niermann is on his bike again, only six days after a collision with a motorcycle in the first stage of Tirreno-Adriatico left with him a broken bone in his ankle. He noted, however, that he can train but may not race again until everything is properly healed, which will be about four weeks.

"The splint, which I have to wear to stabilize my ankle, fits in my racing shoe, fortunately, so that I can more or less pedal," he wrote on his website, grischa-niermann.de. "Right now I can't go out of the saddle or put too much pressure on the pedal, but at least I can ride my bike."

If all goes well, the Rabobank rider hopes to be able to start the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco on April 9.

Pfannberger lightly injured by taxi

Christian Pfannberger of Team Elk Haus is thanking his guardian angels after a taxi rammed him on a training ride on the island of Gran Canaria. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, but the 27 year-old came away with only severe bruising and scrapes.

"I landed full on my hip," the Austrian rider told the news agency apa. "Everything hurt like hell and I was instantly afraid that I had broken my thigh again."

Apparently, the taxi driver never saw the cyclist, and Pfannberger added, "I had at least three guardian angels."

New Zealand Junior World track team announced

BikeNZ has announced its team to represent New Zealand at the Junior Track Cycling World Championships in Aquascalientes, Mexico, August 4 - 8. The team is made up of sprinters and endurance athletes, with all those selected winning medals at the recent national track championships in Invercargill, and seven of the team members setting new national records.

Southland's Eddie Dawkins, who smashed the previous New Zealand under 19 and senior 1000m time trial record last week with a time of 1.3.700, will be looking to improve on that time as it is only two seconds off the junior world record time.

The Junior Track World Championships have proved a successful event for New Zealand teams during the last two years. In 2006 New Zealand won three silver medals and one bronze medal, and 2005 two gold medals and a silver medal. Prior to 2005, the previous medal at a junior track world championships was won in 1995.

Of the team selected this year, only Lauren Ellis and Shane Archbold are returning from 2006. The complete team will be Shane Archbold (Mid-South Canterbury), Alex Cull (Auckland), Jason Christie (Mid-South Canterbury), Eddie Dawkins (Southland), Lauren Ellis (Mid-South anterbury), Natasha Hansen (Canterbury), Cathy Jordan (Southland), Myron Simpson (Auckland), Tom Scully (Southland), Sam Steele (Canterbury) and James Williamson (Southland).

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