Latest Cycling News, April 4, 2008
Edited by Hedwig Kröner
Beer, chips and mayonnaise and the Ronde
By Bjorn Haake & Paul Verkuylen
This year's edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen promises to be one of the most exciting editions of recent times. The weather is forecast to be cold, wet and miserable, which means that not only will the favourites have each other to contend with, they will face, to the joy of the Belgian public, the danger of wet and slippery cobbles, which have decided the race on more than one occasion in the past.
The recent string of strong results from Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) and Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) it looks as though a new era of Classics specialists had finally come of age. More fancied and experienced Classics men such as Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Fabian Cancellara (CSC), Leif Hoste (Silence - Lotto) and last year's winner Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) will have their work cut out for them.
With the Ronde so deeply engrained in the culture of the Belgian public, it is hard to look past local hero, Boonen, to play the role of favourite. The pressure is so great for Boonen, winner in 2005 and 2006, that a minor placing here may well lead the critics to suggest that he has lost his touch. Having started his season with a series of wins in Qatar, the strongman from Mol has been steadily improving his form. During the recent semi-classics Dwars van Vlaanderen and the Brabantse Pijl, Boonen was seen keeping out of trouble, but expect him to be in the thick of it come the final 50 kilometres.
Silence-Lotto's Hoste is not far behind Boonen on the pressure-o-meter. Having finished second no less that three times, he could well be forgiven for thinking that the Flemish Gods are playing a joke on him. After a quiet build-up to his main target of the year, he recently expressed that he is content with his form which suggests he is hoping 2008 is his year. A recent crash in the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde may impede him somewhat, but as is typical of the hard men from Flanders, he is not letting it get to him.
Defending champion Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) may find the going tough this year. Last year's warm weather conditions suited the big man from Italy perfectly, but this time around with wind, rain and hail expected, he may find it much harder to break out of the group. Not that he should be discounted however. His performances in Milano-Sanremo and the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde have shown he is in the similar devastating form he had last year.
To read the full preview of the Ronde, click here.
McEwen's good preparation without happy end in De Panne
By Bjorn Haake in De Panne
Robbie McEwen is quite happy with his form, but not so happy with how the sprints went in the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. When cooling down after the time trial he reflected on the morning stage 3a. "It was a bit frustrating. I got chopped up, as they say, within the last kilometre." He had experienced the same in stage two, saying that "I got boxed in, a bit like yesterday. I wasn't well placed in the last corner, so I didn't sprint."
McEwen echoed the sentiments of others, stressing that the racing in De Panne "is very irregular, to say the least." But while he also pinpointed racers preparing for Flanders, he drew his own conclusions, stating that "there was a bit of wind, but we never raced very hard... There aren't many riders who want to go really deep in De Panne; they just want to ride the kilometres."
The problem with making the race easy is that in the end "everybody is up there, whether they can sprint or not." He also admitted that in the bunch sprints it always "takes a bit of luck."
But other than the frustrating experience with getting boxed in he said that he "is feeling good. I am riding well." He added that he was only 43 seconds off Devolder, which showed that "my condition is good, as I can't time trial," he added with a smile. The Australian emphasised his ability to race hard at the moment, which makes him really look forward to tackle the "two races that I have targeted for this month, Gent-Wevelgem and the Scheldeprijs. My condition is ready, now I just have to do a sprint."
McEwen was looking forward to the months of May, June and July, with the Giro, the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France, explaining that "those are races that suit my characteristics. Recovering day-to-day, the big bunch sprints after long stages. That's what I am best at." And he likes the weather better, too.
The last day in De Panne wasn't too bad then, as it was sunny and reasonably warm. But he put in the race "almost as an afterthought. I am purely here to prepare for Gent-Wevelgem. Riding in the wind and on the small hills. In fact, I was riding for the team on the first day, riding on the front and trying to keep Leif Hoste close in GC, but unfortunately he was injured." McEwen finished in the first main group that day by "going very deep." He felt that his preparation was good, having backed up his performances with good legs the next two days.
"So if I can cross the line first in Gent-Wevelgem then it will have been the perfect preparation," he concluded with a smile.
GP Indurain opens 'Basque week'
By Monika Prell
One of the highlights of Spanish cycling is without a doubt the so called 'Basque week'. Three races (Gran Premio Miguel Indurain, Vuelta al País Vasco and Klasika Primavera) within one week - pure joy for every Basque cycling supporter.
On Saturday, April 5, this series will be opened by the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain in Estella (Navarra). In the HC-rated event, 198.6 kilometres from Estella to the little church of Basílica del Puy will wait for the riders. After having passed twice the little town of Estella, the peloton will have to ascend three mountains, twice the Guirguillano (1st category) and once the Alto de Lezaun (2nd category). The climb to the Basílica del Puy will also be valued as mountain of the third category.
Last year's winner, the Italian Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) will participate and surely try to repeat his triumph in the ascent to the Basílica del Puy, but the team Caisse d'Epargne is also aiming for a win in its home race. This would be their first victory after Francisco Mancebo took the honours in 1998.
"I was really satisfied after the Critérium International last week-end," said Valverde on Thursday. "Considering the fact that the GP Indurain is organised in Navarra, that race is very important for my team and I hope I will be able to finish with the first riders. I still have a few weeks left before my condition is at 100 percent, which should be just before the Tour de France, but I am already feeling very well and I hope I will be with the best already this Saturday in Estella, as well as in two weeks in the Amstel Gold Race, the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège."
This year, nine Pro Tour teams (AG2R, Caisse d'Epargne, Cofidis, CSC, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Gerolsteiner, Liquigas, Milram and Saunier Duval), four Professional Continental teams (Andalucía Cajasur, Contentpolis Murcia, Extremadura and Karpin Galicia) and two Continental teams (Burgos Monumental and Orbea Oreka) will participate in the race. Favourites include Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Carlos Sastre (CSC), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel Euskadi), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Igor Astarloa (Milram) and David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval). The weather should be good, about 15° Celsius and the meteorologists do not expect any rain - which should make for a big crowd to watch the spectacle.
Also read the full Pais Vasco preview.
Burghardt returns to racing
Knee problems have forced last year's Gent-Wevelgem winner to miss this year's Spring Classics, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. After therapy and two weeks of training on Mallorca, Marcus Burghardt is ready to start racing again.
The 24 year-old is still not in a condition to ride his favourite races of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, much to his regret. "The one-day races in Belgium are good for me. I have a lot of fans there. And Paris-Roubaix is also something special." Training and therapy have helped him to recover. "But my form won't be enough for such difficult races as Vlaanderen," he told Freiepresse.
Instead, the German will ride a small race in the Netherlands, the Hel van het Mergelland, before heading off to the US later this month for the Tour de Georgia. He continues to have high goals for the season: "I want to make the squad for the Tour de France and after that, to the Olympics."
Astana welcome in Austria
Team Astana may not be invited to the Tour de France, but it definitely has an invitation to race in July. The Österreich Rundfahrt has no problem with the team and hopes that the squad will send such big name riders as Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden.
In an interview with LaOla.at, race director Uschi Riha said that the team was invited "because they took out the old management and replaced it with the Bruyneel team." She added, "The current Astana team is Discovery Channel under a new name. And they are doing everything to give back a clean image to cycling."
It was not yet clear, she noted, who might participate in the race. "The question is whether Contador gives up on this season or prepares for the Olympics and/or the Vuelta. His participation and that of the other Astana stars depends on that. The chance of a Contador start are about 50-50, I reckon. I tend to think we will see such riders as Levi Leipheimer or Andreas Klöden. But it is still too early to name specific names."
There is one Astana rider who she very much hopes will ride. Rene Haselbacher "is naturally a reason for the invitation, but not a requirement. It would be nice to have another prominent Austrian at the start."
Equipe Nürnberger for the weekend
Equipe Nürnberger is going into Sunday's World Cup race, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, looking to defend its lead in the World Cup team rankings and, of course, also to claim a podium place. The team will be led by Trixi Worrack, who has finished second and fourth in the race in the past, and newcomer Suzanne de Goede, who finished second in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
Directeur Sportif Jens Zemke looked forward to another strong performance. "There's a reason why we lead the team rankings after the first two World Cups. That shows our strength. We are on a good way and look forward to the challenge," he said.
Worrack and De Goede will be supported by Eva Lutz, Christine Becker, former World Champion Regina Schleicher and Giro d'Italia winner Edita Pucinskaite.
In addition, four of the team's young riders will ride the race for the German national team, Marlen Jöhrend, Corinna Thum, Romy Kasper and Lena Köckerling.
The team is sending another squad to the "Grossen Frühjahrsstrassenpreis des RSC Fürth," a hometown race for the Nürnberg team. Four riders will represent the Equipe: former German national champion Claudia Häusler, Larissa Kleinmann, Marie Lindberg and Modesta Vzesniauskaite.
Moreno optimistic after season debut
By Antonio J. Salmerón
Last Sunday, Daniel Moreno started his 2008 racing programme with his new team Caisse d'Epargne. The 26 year-old climber began a new chapter of his career after three and a half years with Relax, during which he proved to be a remarkable climber. On top of this, Moreno has a good peak of speed, which he showed by taking the victory in the last Subida a Montjuich, in Barcelona.
Moreno also left behind three long months of doubt about his professional future after the disappearance of his former team Relax-Gam. "I want to thank team manager Eusebio Unzué for the opportunity given to me by Caisse d'Epargne, giving me a new contract with the season already underway. I want to do my work as well as possible, hopefully scoring some victories. I hardly know anything about my new team, but in the Gran Premio de Llodio (last weekend) I saw the seriousness with which things are done within the team."
The Spaniard had continued keeping fit while looking for a new employer, and his return to racing was "better than expected. My feelings in Llodio were good, taking into account that it was my first race this year."
Although Moreno's race programme was not yet set in stone, the rider knows what is expected of him. "I still do not know my calendar for this season, except the next races such as the Gran Premio de Estella-Miguel Induráin, Gran Premio de Amorebieta and Paris-Camembert. But it is obvious that I start out at Caisse d'Epargne to work for my colleagues, and if I have any chance to go for a win, I will take it."
Moreno seemed convinced that he would "not race the Tour de France this year, because for this race everything is already planned for Caisse d'Epargne, but I would like to race the Vuelta, which would be my main goal. Last year I had a great performance there. A part from that, I would also like to participate in the Volta a Catalunya."
2nd Tour of Ulster coming up
The Tour of Ulster in Ireland will take place for a second year on Bank Holiday weekend, from Saturday, May 3 to Monday, May 5, 2008 in the Omagh District. The race has returned to the County town of Tyrone, Omagh mainly due to the huge success of last year's event, which was based within the wider Omagh District Council area.
The 2008 event will follow a race format of four stages over three days, a 55 mile road stage followed by a 2.3 mile time trial on Saturday evening, a 69 mile road stage on Sunday and finally finishing with a 73 mile road stage on Monday.
Colin Boyle, Race Organiser for the second year, spoke enthusiastically about the forthcoming event and enthused about the challenging route he had devised. "I am looking forward in particular to the second stage on Sunday, which will bring the competitors over four tough climbs over the Sperrins, with the final ascent of Gortin Glen, to the stage finish at Omagh Leisure Complex. Some potential Olympians will compete in this premier race," he commented.
The winner of last years event was Ballymena man Ryan Connor (Pezula Racing Team), with second place going to Kerry man Paul Griffin (Giant Asia) and third place to Andy Roche (Isle of Man). Most of the top Irish riders are anticipated to enter, making up a full field of around 100 cyclists.
Tension builds as Cape Epic nears finale
Slender leads in the men's and mixed categories make for a dramatic final two days
By Nic Lamond in Hermanus
After day six of the 2008 Absa Cape Epic, just 159km and two days remained for the leading teams to defend their positions. Some of the category leaders however, were enjoying a comfortable lead, but the Cape Epic has a reputation for dramatic changes of fortune right up until the last push for the line. So as well as solid planning and meticulous mechanical preparation teams are hoping for good luck in the remaining days.
The leading women's team of Alison Sydor and Pia Sundstedt (Rocky Mountain) had over an hour's lead on second-placed Susan Haywood and Jennifer Smith (Trek/VW WSD). The hotly contested masters category also boasted a leading pair (Shan Wilson and Walter Platzgummer of Adidas/William Simpson) with close to an hour's grace over their nearest competitors.
It's a different picture altogether in the mixed and men's teams. The German pair of Ivonne Kraft and Nico Pfitzenmaier (Joybike-Maloja Express) were just 18 minutes ahead of South Africans Yolande de Villiers and Johan Labuschagne (Cyclelab Toyota). And with two days of technical riding remaining the win is by no means assured.
The men's race is also still wide open. After the dramatic fish to stage five by the leading team of Roel Paulissen and Jakob Fuglsang (Cannondale Vredestein) - where an unfixable puncture forced Paulissen to ride the last 18km of the day on his rim - stage six's 130km stage to Hermanus was relatively incident-free. The Bulls Team (Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm) picked up a handy 40-second time bonus at the 81km mark and the South African team of David George and Kevin Evans (MTN Energade 1) were the first over the finish line in a three-way sprint between the Bulls, Cannondale Vredestein and MTN. But it's the Cannondale Vredestein team that held a slender nine-minute lead over last year's champions Team Bulls. MTN Energade were 1'25" adrift, but by no means out of the running should the leading teams get into any kind of trouble.
And there's plenty of obstacles that pose real trouble between here and the finish line at Lourensford Estate in Stellenbosch, outside Cape Town.
The casualty list keeps climbing as the event nears its final stop. That's not surprising. Not only are the distances participants covering long and technically demanding in unbearable heat, but the terrain is littered with obstacles waiting to snare deraillleurs or destroy wheelsets. Even if the riders' bodies can handle the pain, their bikes may not. At the end of stage six, 180 (17.7%) of the racers who started in Knysna had abandoned the race with mechanical breakdowns or physical injuries that make going even another pedal stroke further impossible.
(Additional editorial assistance provided by Susan Westemeyer.)
(All rights reserved/Copyright Future Publishing Limited 2008)