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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, April 27, 2008

Edited by Ben Abrahams

Liquigas manager Amadio wants Basso 'the racer'

Uncertain Tour de France future for Italian

By Gregor Brown in Liège

Liquigas are unsure whether Basso will be allowed to race the Tour de France
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Liquigas team manager Roberto Amadio wants to see Ivan Basso return to cycling regardless of the number of wins he can bring the team. In the wake of the two-year contract signed between the rider banned for links to the Operación Puerto investigation and the Italian ProTour team, there have been a number of voices questioning if this is right for cycling.

Amadio clarified to Cyclingnews his reasoning for signing the 2006 Giro d'Italia winner, whose suspension ends October 24. "Basso is for 2009, now we are in 2008 and we have to think of doing well," he noted on the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. "Then in 2009, we will look at the programme and what cyclists we will have at his side."

The signature of Ivan Basso, 30, left a lot of cycling fans scratching their heads as it was only last fall that Liquigas let go the very rider, Italian Danilo Di Luca, who had won them the 2007 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro d'Italia.

Amadio hinted that Di Luca, who is friends with Basso, might come back into the fold. "Regarding Di Luca, we made an offer last year; he did not accept it and changed teams. This year we will make another offer, no one is saying that Di Luca can't come back," Amadio continued. However, did he look at other riders, ones not implicated in one of cycling's biggest doping investigations? "All the top cyclists already have contracts in place," he replied.

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The Basso signing was quickly followed by Amadio pulling the team out of the International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP). The association's gentlemen's agreement states that any rider suspended for doping can't race in a ProTour team, like Liquigas and 17 others, for four years.

"I think that Basso has paid for the crime that he has committed, with two years of disqualification that was given to him," Amadio continued. "In the group there are riders with the same guilt as Basso, but continue to race and have not paid – you need only look around. I think that Basso has paid; he is an important Italian who will be re-launched in an important team and rise above the doping issue.

"We upset the AIGCP when we left. If you reflect on that ethics code that was made it does not stand, there have been a lot of things that have changed from 2005, when it was created, to now."

Liquigas may be content being outside of the AIGCP, but what about the biggest race in the world of cycling, the Tour de France? "I don't know; it will be up to the Tour to say this. I think that we need to re-find Basso 'the racer', not the Basso that maybe can win the Tour de France. Liquigas took on Basso because he coming back to be a racer, and it is not important if he wins one, zero or ten races, nor which races he wins."

Christian Prudhomme, director of the Amaury Sport Organisation which runs Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour de France, may think twice before inviting Liquigas to his future races. The Frenchman has harshly dealt with those teams who could give his race a bad image, like with Astana. When asked about Liquigas signing the rider who finished second in the 2005 Tour de France, Prudhomme told Cyclingnews, "we are looking into it".

High Road confirms Vuelta non-participation

Team High Road manager Bob Stapleton has confirmed that his team will not ride the Vuelta a España, following rumours that the US-registered team would not be invited to participate. "We had hoped to support the Vuelta and we continue to have a strong interest in the Spanish market," said Stapleton.

"However, in the absence of a commitment from the Vuelta race organiser, Team High Road has respectfully chosen to withdraw its application and we will instead support the Tour of Britain, the Tour of Ireland and the Tour of Missouri – each of which meets the marketing objectives of High Road."

He made the statement in announcing the racing calendars for the men's and women's teams for the remainder of the season. The highlights for the coming months will be the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. Members of both teams are also expected to participate in the Olympic Games in Beijing.

New climb in Liège-Bastogne-Liège finale

By Brecht Decaluwé in Liège

The course of the 2008 Liège-Bastogne-Liège has been changed slightly to include a new climb called the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons which comes deep into the finale at 241.5 kilometres covered. The new climb replaces the Côte de Sart-Tilman that has featured as the penultimate climb in previous editions as race organisers ASO decided that a harder climb would make the finale a better spectacle. The Roche-aux-Faucons is 1.5 kilometres long, averages 9.9 percent gradient and has steepest sections of between 16 and 18 percent.

British champion David Millar described the new climb as decisive. "It's going to destroy the race," said Millar. "It is f***ing hard. It's a second [Côte de] la Redoute. Obviously all depends on how the race develops but legs are going to fall off from there. It makes Saint-Nicolas just a slog.

"Nobody's going to attack on the Saint-Nicolas. There will be three or four guys ahead. It will be a good race to watch," Millar predicted. "Nobody's going to have wings tomorrow. There's nobody going on the big ring on to that last drag up to the finish – those days are gone."

Flèche Wallonne winner Kim Kirchen wasn't sure how the new climb would affect the finale, but was in favour of it nevertheless. "It will be different for everybody as nobody knows what this new climb will do with the legs in the finale," said Kirchen. "Having this new climb is a good thing. For the young guys it doesn't matter but some riders have already raced it ten times and it starts to get boring. I didn't like the long distance between the university and the last climb [in previous editions]."

Cunego trying to make a little bit of history

By Gregor Brown in Liège

Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

Italian Damiano Cunego will seek to make his own bit of history this Sunday in the oldest Monument of them all, the 94th Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The winner of the 2004 Giro d'Italia and last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race hopes to be the champion that future cycling enthusiasts are tuning into on old TV re-plays.

"On TV in Italy, I am able to see some of the old races re-played, this race, but also others, like the Tour [de France]," said the 26 year-old from Verona to Cyclingnews, the day before Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Cunego, who overhauled Luxembourg's Fränk Schleck at the top of the Cauberg in Amstel Gold, hopes to add another Monument to his palmarès. In fact, the winner of two editions of the Giro di Lombardia has been doing his research while at home and in front of the television.

"When I have a little bit of time, I watch these," he continued of the old races that are re-played in Italy. "Every year, at Liège there are different winners that come and go, but Liège is always Liège. I am very drawn in by this race. The parcours remains, but every year it has its different protagonists."

As one of those protagonists, Cunego will arrive Sunday morning in Liège's Place Saint-Lambert calm, with money in the bank thanks to last Sunday's win. "I believe that Liège is very important for me, but I am calm," he said. "We have already won at Amstel and we can race with tranquillity. It gives me faith and tranquillity. It is an important race where I will be able to have a result. I have already had a third place, a seventh and a ninth... I would like to do something better."

One thing that has changed with La Doyenne ('the grand old lady') is the penultimate climb, the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. The climb – 9.9 percent average gradient, 18 percent maximum – was inserted in place of the Côte du Sart-Tilman and should see the race in pieces for the final climb of Côte de Saint-Nicolas.

"The course is harder, but... I like it. It is a Liège that I like. I went and saw the climb yesterday – it is very taxing. It is a lot harder with respect to the normal Liège. Maybe it is better adapted to the climbers, and it is better this way."

Cunego then detailed his battle plans for Sunday. "On the last climb, there will be [Cadel] Evans and [Fränk] Schleck, and they will try some sort of attack. My only way is to give it a go in the sprint, it will be a slim chance, but I have to wait until the sprint."

Schleck to keep Luxembourg winning?

By Gregor Brown in Liège

Fränk Schleck (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

Fränk Schleck could make it two in a row for Luxembourg in the Ardennes Classics, following on from the success of compatriot Kim Kirchen in Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne. The 28 year-old of Team CSC is one of the favourites for Sunday's 261-kilometre Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The rolling, long parcours is suited to a rider of Schleck's build as evidenced in last Sunday's Amstel Gold race and the third place he earned in the 2007 running of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Even if he was bogged down in the race-ending showers that fell on the shorter Flèche Wallonne, Schleck has the condition to make a difference by the finish in Ans.

"Yes," confirmed Schleck to Cyclingnews when asked if he was happy with his form in light of the second place he obtained behind Damiano Cunego in Amstel Gold. "The legs were great. I just had a shitty race on Wednesday, with a lot of crashes and I was really getting cold with the rain. I did not feel really good there, but I am confident for tomorrow and I have my legs. I had super legs on Sunday and I don't see why they would not be there tomorrow."

The weather is supposed to be warm and sunny with a forecast of 21 degrees Celsius and clear, which is music to the ears of CSC's captain. "I don't like it, I don't like the rain," he said of the downpour in the last half of Flèche Wallonne.

The top riders for Liège-Bastogne-Liège are marking Fränk Schleck down as one of their favourites to keep under surveillance, but he is going about his business without worrying about other riders' plans. "It does not really matter if I feel like a favourite, for the other competitors I am a favourite," said Schleck in the warm rays that were falling down on the Place Saint-Lambert.

The CSC rider was another to check out the new climb of Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, and believes it will seriously shake up the race. "I went to see it, it was really hard. It is going to make a big difference. It is very different [to the Côte du Sart-Tilman], and also we no longer have the long big down hill to Liège.

"I don't thing there will be more than four or five riders together at the finish line."

He confirmed this will change his race tactics, but he would not reveal how. "I can't say, I think a lot of guys are reading. I am. I read Cyclingnews," hesitated Schleck, and then added, "I think it is obvious that [Damiano] Cunego and [Alejandro] Valverde, they don't have to attack, they can wait for the sprint."

If Schleck does cross the finishing line on Rue Jean-Jaurès first, he would not only add to Luxembourg's wins in this year's Ardennes Classics, but become only the second-ever Luxemburger, after Marcel Ernzer, to top the Liège-Bastogne-Liège podium.

"I love this race. It is all about having the desire to do the race," he concluded.

Rabobank without clear team leader

By Brecht Decaluwé in Liège

Oscar Freire (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

The Dutch Rabobank team has a lot of strong riders in its line-up for Liège-Bastogne-Liège including Robert Gesink, Thomas Dekker, Denis Menchov and Oscar Freire, but lacks an obvious leader like many of the other top teams. Cyclingnews spoke with several of Rabobank's riders at the team presentation in Liège on Saturday evening.

Gesink and Dekker are two young riders who moved over from the youth team in the past and both are riding impressively on the hills these days. Dekker has proven that he can cope well with the team's leadership during the past couple of weeks, but the 23 year-old hasn't been able to convert his good form into a big win just yet.

"I think I have three really good weeks behind me," said Dekker. "I finished third in Castilla Leon and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, but also fifth in the Amstel Gold Race and the Flèche Wallonne. I hope to be on the podium on Sunday because I have a good level and I'm feeling really strong. It would be really nice to finish this period with a podium place."

Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a race that suits the Dutch rider pretty well and Dekker explained why he should be able to excel in Wallonia. "The climbs are a little bit longer and the new climb makes it a little bit harder as well since it is a bit steeper, which is good for a rider like me.

"It's one of the hardest climbs of the race as it comes so deep in the finale after 241 kilometres. It will make a big difference since we're not hitting the big road like previous years. There's a good chance that if you attack on the Redoute you can stay away. It's better for guys who want to go in the attack. There's less chance that guys will come back because it is harder."

Despite his predictions, Dekker will choose a different tactic and stay with the big favourites. "For me it's easier to ride with opponents like Schleck and Evans and stay there on their wheel," he said. When asked which guys are more suited to going in the early attack, Dekker explained that several of Rabobank's other riders could have a go. "Gesink could do it and Denis [Menchov] is always strong as well. We also have Oscar although I don't know how he's feeling but probably he will be there."

After Liège-Bastogne-Liège Dekker won't be enjoying a vacation as he participates in the Tour of Romandie that starts on Tuesday, while his next big goal is the Tour de France. "I try to go for the white jersey," Dekker stated," but I don't know who my rivals will be, that's always difficult to say before the race."

Cyclingnews also spoke with triple world champion Oscar Freire to talk about his current form. The likeable Spaniard explained that the team was probably stronger as a group, rather than choosing a designated leader. "I don't know how Menchov is right now," began Freire. "Gesink is in a good shape, and also Thomas is good. So maybe we don't have a clear leader but we have a good team for the finale. It's too difficult to know how it will be in the finale."

Asked about his own form, Freire remained cool about his chances in a race that hasn't suited him in the past. "Now I am good but it is a difficult race," he said cautiously. "One time I finished very close behind the leaders. I didn't sprint for a sixth position or something like that. That time we were really close to the leaders. Every year is different so we'll see. I hope to be in front but the finale is so difficult. I'll choose tactics during the race."

Freire thought that the new climb could have a surprisingly big impact on the finale. "Normally the most decisive part is between the ultimate climb and the finish, but this year it might start earlier," he said. "Maybe we will ride slower because the race is harder."

Besides Milano-Sanremo, Freire hasn't been able to win a Spring Classic and despite his previous record still holds the race in high regard. "For everybody – not only for me – this is one of the most important races. The most important are the world championships," the triple world champion laughed.

Rabobank's other draw card will be 2007 Vuelta a España winner Denis Menchov, although the Russian is riding the Spring Classic as a build-up for what is to follow. "I hope that I can be there to help the guys in the finale but clearly this isn't my cup of tea," Menchov said. "I've always focused on stage races and I'm not going to change that in the near future. Of course, if the opportunity arises then I wouldn't hide away."

Kirchen proud Luxemburger with Olympic dreams

Kirchen winning Flèche Wallonne
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

By claiming his first Spring Classic victory at the 2008 Flèche Wallonne, Kim Kirchen has risen to a new level in the professional peloton. On the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé caught up with the Luxemburger to talk about his recent triumph and future goals this season.

As much as Wednesday's win was a breakthrough moment in the career of Kim Kirchen, the 29 year-old insisted that experience in previous editions was important for his success. Having ridden the race in both dry and wet weather in years past, Kirchen knew exactly where the danger areas were, and which riders to follow in the finale.

"Flèche Wallonne is a fast race right from the start," he said. "For me it was good because I know the course and I know where I need to be in front. I know the descents and the tricky corners. It was very dangerous when it started to rain but I already did the race in the rain so I had some experience.

"I attacked last year [before the Mur] and it didn't work. It was a bit risky to wait and stay with guys like Rebellin for the Mur but sometimes you have to take risks. Maybe I was a little bit lucky because the three leaders [Fabian Wegmann, Alexander Efimkin and Gustav Erik Larsson] had a nice gap and it wasn't easy to get it all together."

Battling cycling's big guns up the Mur de Huy after 200 kilometres is sure to put a sting in anyone's legs, and Kirchen admitted that he's needed a few days to recover from Wednesday's effort. "Yesterday I felt a little bit tired," he said, "but today everything is fine. I think you need at least three days to recover."

To read the full interview, click here.

Canadian champ continuing strong season in Georgia

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Dahlonega, Georgia

Canadian road champion Cameron Evans (Symmetrics) flew the maple leaf flag proudly during the long break of the fifth stage of the Tour de Georgia. More impressive was that Evans had to sit out all of the 2005 and part of the 2006 season due to a nasty injury – putting on hold a promising career. Today's strong ride, combined with his win in San Dimas last month, shows that he is coming back to his pre-injury form.

"It was January of 2005 when I shattered my kneecap and broke a bone in my leg," he told Cyclingnews. "It pretty much put me out for a year and a half. I started in 2006 to come back and 2007 was a rebuilding year. This was my first year where I didn't have to do a lot of rehab."

Evans rode in today's long break with Tim Johnson (Health Net-Maxxis), Teddy King (Bissell) and Valery Kobzarenko (Team Type 1), only to be caught on the final KOM with just 2km to the finish. "At that point I looked behind and saw the field there, so I knew it was over with us," he said. "We knew it was a long day, and when the gap went up quickly it would be on in the end, so we tried to conserve. Maybe if it wasn't for that last little hill..."

Evans seemed to be climbing well, and did take first on one of the KOM climbs, but he said that was a secondary concern today. "The first KOM I thought a bit about it, but it seemed too early to put out that effort. I saved myself a little bit and I think those guys paid for it a little bit in the end.

"I thought a little bit about [the KOM jersey] but after 200km in the break I don't know how I would be defending it tomorrow!"

Bissell gives England the green light to sprint

By Kirsten Robbins in Dahlonega, Georgia

Yes...I got it!
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The Bissell team's Tour de Georgia stage five winner from Australia, Richard England, ran away with the sprint after his directeur sportif Glen Mitchell have him the green light have a go on the run in to Dahlonega. England is no stranger to field sprints, taking a fourth place in stage one and two top ten finishes even after providing his team with invaluable domestique work throughout the duration of the race.

"My team did an awesome job today, it was like a completely different atmosphere, the way we were racing," said England comparing his team's usual GC-style of racing with Friday's focus on the sprint. "We had a guy in the break all day, guys to make sure we didn't miss splits, guys helping to put our team in good position in the end and it all went to perfection.

"We sort of knew that last climb was going to split the field a little bit and that I had to be in the top dozen, they did everything to keep me there and I had six Bissell guys around me in the end. Hopefully from now on when I've got good legs, I'll get a bit more respect from the other guys in the peloton but more importantly my team-mates will have the confidence in me that they need."

According to directeur sportif Glen Mitchell, the Bissell team used most of their budget to give their GC riders the crucial support needed to be competitive in top-level stage racing in America. "Having a GC team is just the way the team has evolved and it stemmed from the results Ben Jacques-Maynes was getting," said Mitchell at the team training camp in Santa Rosa, California held in February prior to the Tour of California. "Sprinters cost a lot of money and we hope to improve that part of our team in the future, but for this season we decided to focus our budget on the GC side first."

While the team has proven to be highly competitive in the overall standings of races in the US, England felt his legs were good enough for a stage win in the Tour de Georgia and asked his DS to shift the team focus for stage five.

"I wanted to tell Glen that I was feeling really good and felt like I needed a bit more support from my guys," said England regarding a pre-race meeting with Mitchell the evening before his winning stage. "It had to come from Glen because I didn't want to try to ask the guys myself. I wanted Glen to back me up, I told him I got good legs and all I needed was a little bit of help in the end and that a podium would be great for our team here.

"Less than twenty-four hours later we won a stage here at the Tour de Georgia and it was a good way to repay Teddy for being out in the break all day and to get Bissell on the podium."

England hopes this stage win will build his own confidence as a top notch sprinter while further building the confidence his team needs to do the difficult backup work. "I've always known that I had the speed but did not necessarily put the aggression behind it and didn't necessarily have the same amount of help as a Toyota guy like Dominguez and guys where their teams really have confidence in their sprinters.

"I've also never had the consistency in sprinting that I've had recently," said England. "I've worked to change my mental attitude toward sprinting and really make sure that when I was coming into the finishes and it was a bunch finish that I would be switched on and more aggressive than what I might have been before."

Health Net's daily double

By Kirsten Robbins in Dahlonega, Georgia

Tim Johnson (Health Net)
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

Health Net presented by Maxxis has consistently landed two riders on the podium and wearing two distinct leader jerseys at the first four stages of the Tour de Georgia. The jersey collection started in stage two when Frank Pipp captured the preliminary KOM sprint, holding onto the jersey until stage five where the next set of points next became available.

Pipp's pre-climbing KOM jersey was coupled with his teammate from Australia Rory Sutherland who earned himself the most aggressive rider jersey when he attacked the field on the stage three finishing circuits pursuing a solo victory.

"We can't just have one guy on the podium we gotta to have two," said stage five's most aggressive rider Tim Johnson during the post race press conference. "I attacked at the bottom of the hill after being out front all day just because it was crunch time and I wanted to go for the win."

Team captain Rory Sutherland partially attributes his domestique team's Tour de Georgia podium appearances to the camaraderie of the riders off the bike. "A lot of things with cycling fall onto luck and confidence," said Sutherland who placed second on stage five. "We've got aspirations and they are realistic with what we want to get out of this race. One thing that I will say about our team specifically is that we've got a really good group of guys who are friends that happen to race bikes together. I think that makes up for a big part of our successes."

Sutherland reiterated how difficult it is for any rider, domestic or ProTour, to be involved in a lengthy breakaway where there are constant attacks before the successful separation finally occurs. "You need the luck to get into the moves, like Tim did, where the last few days it took 60 or so many kilometers to get it started. There was a lot of attacking to get one up the road, 40 or 50 kilometers an hour," said Sutherland. "The fact that we were able to get our team up the road and up on top of the podium everyday, showing that we can mix it up with the ProTour guys, is obviously really important for us and for domestic cycling in the USA."

(Additional reporting and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)

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