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Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News, April 7, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

Ronde winner a future Tour contender?

Devolder gives it full gas
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Belgian champion Stijn Devolder took the most important victory of his career when he won Sunday's 92nd Ronde van Vlaanderen. But for the man who has worn the leader's jersey in the Vuelta a España and placed just outside the top ten in the same event, could a Grand Tour be in his future? Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé was in Meerbeke to find out.

Stijn Devolder's solo victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen in the jersey of Belgian champion brought back memories of Eric Vanderaerden's epic win through stormy weather back in 1985. But even more, his win can be compared with the first victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen from the man who is often referred to as 'the lion of Flanders'. Back in 1993 the lion was still called Johan Museeuw, but just like Stijn Devolder, he is a quiet man from West-Flanders.

Timid and not being known as a chatterer when confronted with the press, Devolder focuses more on the things he excels in. "I have always dreamed of winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen in the jersey of Belgian champion. Today that dream comes true, and I can barely grasp that it really happened," Devolder said at the post-race press conference in Meerbeke, Belgium.

Cyclingnews asked the 28 year-old from Kortrijk what it was like to be riding through a double row of fans when he passed them when riding away from the team bus. The crowd of approximately 15,000 went mad when the Belgian champion passed them towards the start on the medieval-looking market in Brugge, the heart of West-Flanders. An emotional Devolder said, "It's the most beautiful race of the year. I've never suffered as much as today, but with it there are oceans of people along the roads, it is also something to enjoy while you're suffering. You can't compare it with any other race."

Continue to the full feature.

Flecha couldn't have done better

By Brecht Decaluwé in Meerbeke

Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) did his best
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Juan Antonio Flecha had his best day ever in the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday. The Spaniard from the Rabobank team attacked what was left from the peloton on the Muur in Geraardsbergen, and ended up riding in the main chasing group behind sole leader Stijn Devolder after the famous climb. Flecha's team-mate Sebastian Langeveld was there as well and attacked the group right away. When he was caught back Flecha jumped away and tried to close the gap with Devolder on his own. He came as close as nine seconds, but couldn't get any closer.

Eventually Nick Nuyens caught up with the Spaniard, and in the sprint the Belgian took second place ahead of the 30 year-old. After the race Flecha was more than happy with his result and his performance on the day. "It's been a hard long day out there. It snowed halfway through the race, so if you arrive third after such a hard day it's not too bad. It was almost a perfect race for me. I only didn't catch Devolder, but he is a good rider."

When Cyclingnews asked Flecha if he felt he could've done something different to claim the win, Flecha got a bit annoyed. "Nothing went wrong in my opinion. I tried really hard to close the gap, but I couldn't. I went full on and did my best, but Devolder was too strong for me. Then Nuyens came back and in the radio I heard I had to keep going because the others were coming back."

The friendly Spaniard continued to say how much help he received from his Rabobank team-mates. "Without forgetting the guys who helped me during the first hours, it was fantastic to have support in the finale as well. All my team-mates helped me save a lot of energy."

Flecha even received assistance from three-time World Champion Oscar Freire, who launched a solo attack with just over 50 kilometres to go that started all the fireworks in the last hour. "Oscar tried himself, and Sebastian [Langeveld] was unbelievable today. I don't know if it is his first time here in Flanders, but it seemed as if he had been here ten times. It wasn't only his way of riding, which allowed me to sit back in the chasing group, but also his approach; he wasn't afraid of the race. He was always trying to anticipate, never waiting, and that's impressive. That choice was good for him, and I could profit from it.

The 23 year-old Langeveld was there up until the end, and set up his captain for his podium placing move. "When he was caught by some riders, I could attack from behind their back. You can only have a good result in these races when you have a strong team. On the Muur, [director sportif Erik] Dekker told me to go if I wanted to have a chance. I was attacking early on, anticipating a little bit, and then I hung on. The morale in the team for Paris-Roubaix will be very good. Right now, I'll enjoy this third place first. Nobody should be disappointed."

Early crash compromised Ballan's chances

By Gregor Brown in Meerbeke

Ballan's crash in Heestert
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Alessandro Ballan was ready to defend his 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen title to the highest of standards, but a crash early on in the event lessened the Italian's chances. Despite the incident at 85 kilometres into the 264-kilometre race held in Western Belgium, the Lampre rider battled on to finish fourth.

The 28-year-old's race was affected by a crash in Heestert, where he came down hard on his leg, ripped his shorts and dampened his confidence. "I did not want the crash after 80 kilometres. It compromised me a little bit and I was a little bit afraid of crashing again afterwards." Nevertheless, he kept on strong through the day that was marked with snow and hail. "The cold, it was that way for all of us, so it was okay," Ballan commented modestly.

After the crash, the Italian took a conservative approach to the race until the other big names began to make their moves. "I was very tired; I waited for the favourites," he noted. Ballan marked Tom Boonen on the Berendries at 42 kilometres remaining and went on to form the five-man move with George Hincapie (Team High Road), Karsten Kroon (Team CSC), Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank) and the eventual race winner, Belgian Champion Stijn Devolder (Quick Step).

"Devolder went very, very strong," the Italian continued. There was a lack of organisation which aided Devolder's final attack with 25 kilometres remaining. "I hoped that someone would have helped organise the chase to pull him back; however it came to nothing."

Ballan drives the chase
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Ballan's chase group was eventually joined by others, including his team-mate Simon Spilak. "I was with the others up until three kilometres to go, when Spilak arrived in our group; he went right up to the front to pull. Unfortunately, we were not organised in our efforts. Anyway, Devolder went very, very strong," concluded Ballan.

"There was a lot of confusion, I am sorry that it did not go better for Alessandro," said team-mate Fabio Baldato. "It ended up bad, you really need to have luck and keep out of trouble in this race. I think that Lampre rode a great race; like Spilak, who was really enthusiastic about the day."

Italy's Baldato agreed that the crash ruined Ballan's odds, "Alessandro, not counting the crash that compromised his race, was one of the race's stars today. He played his cards, but was a little washed out by the movements of Quick Step."

Behind the dirt on Baldato's face was a sort of a frown; it was his last Ronde van Vlaanderen in a 17-year career. "For me it was the last Tour of Flanders, but I will take away great memories and emotions from this race."

Barredo forms key to Quick Step's success

By Gregor Brown in Meerbeke

Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step
Photo ©: Stijn Vercaemer
(Click for larger image)

Carlos Barredo got his chance to form part of the A-Team in one of the Team Quick Step's biggest season objectives, the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The 26 year-old from Asturias, Spain, had taken part in the race twice before, but this was the first time while riding for the team of Tom Boonen. The day was a brilliant success for the team which helped Belgian champion Stijn Devolder to victory.

"It went very well," Barredo noted to Cyclingnews at the arrival of the 264-kilometre Monument in Flanders.

Barredo had taken part in Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2004 and 2005 with Liberty Seguros, and after a good showing this spring, the Belgian super-team chose Barredo to fill its eight-man race line-up. He did not disappoint; Barredo made his presence felt in the final 100 kilometres, riding up front on the climbs leading to the Leberg, where Devolder's first attack was launched.

"I think that we rode a great race and we worked a lot," he continued. "In the end, you are very happy when a team-mates wins. Everyone knew that this is the race that counts the most for the team, and for us, what we did, It was great."

While Devolder maintained his advantage up the road, Barredo kept in contact with two-time race winner Boonen. "He was fine with Devolder up the road – we are a team. At the beginning we worked completely for Tom, but the race decides the tactics. After the hills started, I worked with Devolder, he felt well and pulled of a number."

Barredo, whose contract runs through the end of 2008, hopes the same winning group of riders can stay together for 2009. "I hope that next year this same group continues on working together; this is a very strong team," he finished, as he went in search of the soigneur to wipe the road grime off his face.

Only broken arrows left for unlucky Hoste

By Brecht Decaluwé in Meerbeke

Three times runner-up and favourite Leif Hoste encountered bad luck during the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The Belgian was riding in the lead group and in a strong position with a team-mate to help, but thanks to a mechanical, the 30-year-old Belgian was brought to a standstill at the foot of the Steenbeekdries, a critical point in the race with 64 kilometres to go. Hoste threw away his bike and couldn't be helped by team-mate Johan Van Summeren who waited for his leader.

"My derailleur came into my rear wheel," Hoste explained. "If you feel that you are still able to do something in the race, then such an incident is frustrating. I felt I had the legs to win today, but there were a lot of guys with legs to win the Ronde." There were a couple of occasions where Hoste seemed to be returning to the peloton behind the breakaway, but repeated accelerations in the group ahead lengthened the chase for Hoste.

Hoste, his nose buried in the task at hand, had no idea what was transpiring up ahead. "Afterwards I heard about that, but I didn't see it. I only saw the rear wheel of the guy in front of me," he explained. "The team was super strong, and thanks to them I could come back to the peloton."

By the time the Belgian made it back to the group, Devolder, Nuyens and Flecha were already battling for the victory. "And by then my best arrows had been fired away, I only had broken ones left," Hoste joked. Eventually the Silence-Lotto rider finished 19th in the group that sprinted for fourth place at 21" from winner Stijn Devolder. But the resilient rider took the setback in stride, and looked forward to the races ahead. "There's another chance next week," he concluded.

Strong Hincapie in unlucky breakaway

By Brecht Decaluwé in Meerbeke

George Hincapie and Bernhard Eisel
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

Team High Road's George Hincapie had one of his best performances in a Spring Classic since he was third in the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2006. After his Classics campaign was ruined by a broken wrist in the Tour of California last year, Hincapie's fifth place in this year's Ronde was promising.

Team High Road director Rolf Aldag was pleased, but gave the team room for improvement. "I give my team a 9 out of 10. They worked perfectly, only the win isn't there. Klier was pulling early on, on the ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, to make the race a little harder. We expected the race would be very hard, and big gaps would be created with the predicted foul weather," the German said to Cyclingnews.

Hincapie was in a breakaway that had a good chance for the win for a while, and actually featured the eventual winner Stijn Devolder. Right when that group was caught with 25 kilometres to go Devolder jumped away again, and was never brought back. Aldag felt they couldn't have done it any different. "You might ask what would have happened if Hincapie would've saved his energy for the Muur, but afterwards it's easy to search for an 'if'," Aldag reacted on the chosen tactics.

On the Muur in Geraardsbergen there were three team High Road riders in the big chasing group behind Stijn Devolder, but they were sitting rather far back on the top of the climb. "I had good legs today, but I was just caught back before the Muur, and had a bad moment," Hincapie said. "After the climb there were a lot of attacks in a hectic finale, and I basically had to sit back."

The American managed to save some energy for the sprint where he was only beaten by Alessandro Ballan for fourth place. "Gent-Wevelgem should be a race that suits as even better, with the riders we have. So, I've got high hopes for the race on Wednesday," Aldag looked forward to the races in the near future.

Hushovd unsatisfied despite amazing performance

By Gregor Brown in Meerkeke

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Norway's Thor Hushovd came away from the 92nd Ronde van Vlaanderen disappointed despite out-performing most of the odd-makers. The 30 year-old multiple stage winner in the Tour de France responded well to the accelerations over the cobbled and difficult course, even if he is better known as a sprinter.

Crédit Agricole's leader was there with Sebastian Langeveld when the Dutchman accelerated on the Taaienberg with 62 kilometres remaining. He also showed himself in another attempt, this time with Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi-Jartazi) and Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), in following Stijn Devolder's winning move at 25 kilometres remaining. However, Hushovd expected more.

"No," responded Hushovd when asked if he was pleased with his day, which resulted in 27th. His best performance came in 2006, with 14th. "I just ran out of energy," he continued, exhausted, to Cyclingnews. "I did not have more in the legs, shit happens."

He did acknowledged the form that had him at the sharp-end of the race. "I was in good shape, but then all of my energy left and I didn't have any more left, it was just bad."

He is perhaps a little big too big of a rider for the 17 climbs that compromise Ronde van Vlaanderen, and his chances will surely come in Wednesdays's Gent-Wevelgem. Hushovd won the mid-week Classic in 2006 following a fifth-place performance the year before. Expect to see Hushovd's form on display once again in Wevelgem.

ProTour leader unchanged but Devolder closing

By Ben Atkins in Meerbeke

With his victory in today's Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) took fifty points towards the contentious season-long competition. However, because of the withdrawal of all events run by Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), RCS Sport and Unipublic from the competition, this is only the second event in the series after January's Tour Down Under.

Current ProTour leader André Greipel (High Road) has 62 points, courtesy of his victory in Australia's Tour Down Under, and started the race this morning on a special white and blue Giant frame to match his jersey. Devolder did not ride the Tour Down Under and so these are his first points and Greipel holds on to first place in the classification, albeit with a considerably reduced lead.

The next event in the series will be Gent-Wevelgem this coming Wednesday, April 9th.

De Goede takes World Cup lead

Suzanne De Goede and Emma Pooley after round 2
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Suzanne de Goede of Equipe Nürnberger used a sixth place finish in the Ronde van Vlaanderen to take over the leader's jersey in the women's World Cup rankings in the race won by Team High Road's Judith Arndt. The team's joy in the jersey was tempered by its concern for Trixi Worrack, who was taken to hospital after colliding with a motorcycle.

"Of course I am very happy with the lead in the World Cup," said the 23 year-old Netherlander. "Our tactics worked in this hard race. This jersey cost the team a lot of energy. We lost our first rider right at the beginning of the race and in the finale I was by myself after Trixi's crash."

Only 25 kilometres into the race, Worrack crashed on the cobblestones and had to take over the bike of team-mate Eva Lutz. Later, just a few kilometres before the finish, she collided with one of the race motorcycles and was taken to hospital, where the preliminary diagnosis was serious bruising and scrapes.

De Goede, who joined the team this year from T-Mobile Team, finished second in the last World Cup race in Italy. She now leads the World Cup standings with 98 points over Judith Arndt (Team High Road), who won the Ronde, and Emma Pooley (Specialized), who won in Italy, both of whom have 75 points.

World Cup standings after three rounds

1 Suzanne De Goede (Ned) Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung          98 pts
2 Judith Arndt (Ger) Team High Road Women                        75
3 Emma Pooley (GBr) Team Specialized Designs For Women           75
4 Katheryn Curi Mattis (USA) Webcor Builders Cycling Team        75
5 Oenone Wood (Aus) Team High Road Women                         57
6 Kristin Armstrong (USA) Cervelo Lifeforce Pro Cycling Team     50
7 Emma Rickards (Aus) Cervelo Lifeforce Pro Cycling Team         50
8 Julia Martisova (Rus) Gauss RDZ Ormu                           45
9 Miho Oki (Jpn) Menikini - Selle Italia                         40
10 Emma Johansson (Swe) AA-Drink Cycling Team                    36

Flanders injury report

As expected, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and its foul weather proved to be dangerous to the health and well-being of a number of racers. The slick cobblestones weren't the only danger on the 264-kilometre course. Saunier Duval-Scott rider Ángel "Litu" Gómez was one of the worst off, suffering a horrific crash with 60 kilometres to go. The Spaniard hit a traffic island and crashed dramatically. He was taken to a hospital in Oudenaarde, where X-rays showed he had fractured his right radius. He was expected to undergo surgery to repair the fracture Sunday night.

Gómez' team-mate, Frenchman Denis Flahaut was also present at the hospital, but was lucky to find he had not broken his elbow as was suspected. Also on the wounded list were Frenchman Sebastien Hinault (Credit Agricole), who received stitches in the face, Russian Vladimir Gusev (Astana) and the Italian Enrico Franzoi (Lampre).

Bruyneel making the best of Astana's situation

By Laura Weislo

Bruyneel and Contador plan
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

On the eve of the Vuelta al País Vasco, Astana team director Johan Bruyneel is still stinging from the squad's exclusion from the Tour de France, but is hoping to make the best of a bad situation. His star rider, 2007 Tour champion Alberto Contador, was not able to defend his title in Paris-Nice, either, but instead put in a convincing victory in the Vuelta a Castilla y León in March. The young Spaniard will be looking to repeat that performance in the Basque tour.

The team is clearly on a mission to prove that the ASO has made a mistake in leaving out one of the strongest teams in the world from the sport's biggest race. The team was refused entry into any of the ASO's races, the organisation citing the 2007 Astana team's multiple doping positives as the reason.

Contador has now been forced to re-focus his season on winning the País Vasco, the Dauphiné Libéré, and then going on to contest the victory in the Vuelta a España, and he will do so with much of what would have been the 2008 Tour de France team at his side.

But on the positive side, Astana has been able to avoid much of the stress surrounding the ASO's battle with the UCI over sanctioning of its events. Earlier this year, Astana was in the unusual position of being excluded from Paris-Nice by the ASO, but, as a part of the professional teams' organisation, the AIGCP, also being asked to vote on the decision of the teams to race in the event against the UCI's wishes.

"As member of AIGCP we were invited but we abstained," Bruyneel told Cyclingnews. "Personally, I think that the teams made a mistake by participating in a race that is not on the UCI's calendar," he opined. The decision was a contentious one, and one that will likely have repercussions for all the riders who participated.

"In the meantime, everybody (the ASO as well - look at the recent decision to put Paris-Roubaix on the UCI's calendar) realized that cycling needs one uniform regulation," Bruyneel continued. "Every race under the umbrella of the UCI (not as organizer but as arbiter) seems more than logical."

The Belgian did not, however, think that the ASO was trying to take over the UCI's role with their actions on Paris-Nice, as UCI president Pat McQuaid alleged. "I think that in the first place ASO was trying to protect their own race. They realize that they are strong enough to play a dominant role in cycling. They're just defending their territory."

Bruyneel told Cyclingnews that while the team is still a member of the AIGCP, but that he questioned the merit of an organisation which lacks cohesiveness. "We ask ourselves more and more why we are a member of such a divided association, whose president has another agenda than protecting the rights of the teams," remarked the Belgian.

Frenchman Eric Boyer took over the presidency of the AIGCP from Bruyneel's compatriot Patrick Lefevere early this year, but has had a rocky start to his term. The Cofidis manager was caught in the line of fire in the ASO's war with the UCI, and ultimately led the decision to have riders start Paris-Nice in the face of threats of sanctions and fines from the UCI.

Bruyneel has had a turbulent past with the AIGCP. As director of the Discovery Channel, he came under fire for hiring Ivan Basso despite his being implicated in the Operación Puerto affair. The team quit the organisation last June. The group was then divided into two camps over the topic of teams hiring Puerto-implicated riders.

With Astana, the team is back in the AIGCP, but still not getting anything except "moral support" after his squad's exclusion by the ASO, and that even this was only from "the expected teams", Bruyneel said. "Our exclusion by ASO did not affect our vision, our meaning or our vote," he continued, undaunted. "We already turned that page and are looking at the future. It is my goal to ensure that the teams are strong enough to have a real say in the debate. Every team needs to be rated at its true value. The teams must be self-evident interlocutors."

But the 43-year-old has not let the situation stop him from pushing towards future goals, which will most certainly include the 2009 Tour de France.

Volksbank joins MPCC

Team Volksbank is the 12th team to join the MPCC, the 'Movement for a Credible Cycling'. "I am extremely happy, that we can take this step and could convince the MPCC that our efforts in the fight against doping are absolutely restrictive, with no holes and serious, that we are totally dedicated to the clean future of cycling," said team manager Thomas Kofler. "This goal has absolute top priority for us at Team Volksbank and can only be reached when we all work together, with the elite circle of the MPCC."

The Austrian Professional Continental team will now introduce the biological passport. That involves twelve annual unannounced controls, both urine and blood, and requires the riders to report their whereabouts three months in advance.

Kofler noted proudly that Volksbank was one of the few cycling teams in which no rider or other team member had ever been involved in a doping affair. All of the riders have signed the UCI's "Commitment to a new cycling". In addition to the UCI and WADA requirements, the team said it would develop its own internal controls. The honour is not cheap, though - the team estimated that it would cost more than 80,000 Euros.

In announcing the team's acceptance, the MPCC said that it greeted the candidature of the team. "Team Volksbank says that it shares the philosophy and engagement of the Movement, and will respect its code of ethics."

(Additional reporting and research provided by Susan Westemeyer.)

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