First Edition Cycling News, December 5, 2008
Edited by Peter Hymas and Laura Weislo
Armstrong: Contador is the best
By Bjorn Haake and Laura Weislo
The second return of Lance Armstrong has attracted the rapt attention of the world wide press, and no aspect of the story has been examined closer than the supposed rivalry between the seven-time Tour de France winner and his teammate Alberto Contador, himself a three-time Grand Tour champion in the past two seasons. Both riders appeared in public together for the first time at a press conference in the hotel Las Madrigueras on the island of Tenerife where the Astana team is having its camp.
When Lance Armstrong announced his comeback, he made it clear he would try for an eighth Tour title, but then backed down to a point where it wasn't clear if he would actually race the July event. He emphatically stated his intentions to compete in the Tour earlier this week, qualifying the announcement by saying that he was committed to racing "for the strongest guy".
Today, Armstrong dispelled any notion of there being internal strife within the team by unequivocally supporting his young Spanish teammate, Alberto Contador. "I think Alberto has obviously a tremendous amount of natural talent, and can read a race," Armstrong said. "I have a lot of respect for this man. I can't say it any simpler. This guy is the best cyclist in the world."
"There are certain unwritten laws in cycling – the others ride to support the strongest rider. Weather it means to support Alberto [Contador] or Levi [Leipheimer] or Andreas [Klöden], I'll do that."
Astana meets the press
By Peter Cossins in Tenerife
What a difference a year makes. At the end of 2008 the Astana team was presented to a press corps about a dozen-strong. Today's presentation in the swanky setting of the Golf Las Americas country club in Tenerife attracted more than 10 times that number, almost all of them drawn by the second comeback of Lance Armstrong.
Astana may be a team that is now home to no fewer than five riders who've finished among the leading contenders at the Tour de France, but there's no doubt Armstrong is the man everyone wants to see and speak to. The first indication that the Texan was on the premises was a stampede of photographers as he entered the press conference. For the first couple of minutes photographers jostled, TV cameramen yelled as their view was blocked and no one could restore order.
When relative calm was brought, this press conference was tame compared to most of those Armstrong attended during the latter years of his seven-year-long run of Tour success. While doping would have been one of the main themes then, now there are new topics for the press to dig over...
Why is he coming back? What's he expecting when he does start back? Does he think he can win the Tour? And, above all, how are his goals going to mesh with those of Alberto Contador, who Armstrong described as "the strongest cyclist in the world at the moment"?
He said that he felt "OK for an old guy", and he certainly looks the part. Clearly, the marathon training he's done over the past three years that was more recently honed by his preparation for last August's Leadville 100 has been continued. He looks lean and is reported to be riding hard in a very fast group of Astana riders on this extremely mountainous island.
He reaffirmed that his two reasons for coming back are to boost the profile of the Livestrong organisation, whose colour he will continue to train in, and to enjoy the new-found passion he has for racing and training. If there's one thing that should make his potential rivals at the Giro and Tour sit up and think, it's Armstrong's declaration that he feels more motivated now than he did in 2004 and 2005.
As for Contador, sounding croaky after his recent throat operation, the Spaniard said all of the right things about having Armstrong back on the team. Asked whether he had the strength of personality to stand up to Armstrong's evident desire and determination, Contador said everyone has their own way of being and, although he may seem amiable and laid-back, underneath that he has plenty of character. Bruyneel was quick to back this up and later spoke at greater length about the huge impression the Spaniard has made on him.
All of the time he was doing this, Bruyneel was grinning like the Cheshire cat. And why not? He's got the two strongest stage race riders in the world on his team and they might just clean up all three major tours between them next season.
Vinokourov returns to racing
Alexander Vinokourov will become the next big name to make a comeback to the sport of cycling when he tackles the Rabobank Beach Challenge this Saturday. The race organisation for the mountain bike race which takes place in Scheveningen, the Netherlands, confirmed Vinokourov's participation Thursday.
Vinokourov immediately retired after being given a year's suspension for testing positive for blood transfusion at the 2007 Tour de France. The UCI has promised to fight the Kazakhstan federation's light sentence should Vinokourov return. However, the December 6 Rabobank Beach Challenge is not a UCI sanctioned event.
The Kazakh rider made his intentions to return to road racing known last month. Whether or not he would return to his former Astana team remains to be seen, although team manager Johan Bruyneel said that he could see no reason why Vinokourov should not be able to ride with the squad.
Tour of California organizers 'pumped'
By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
"We think it is the best one we have had yet," is how the president of AEG Sports Andrew Messick, owner of the Amgen Tour of California, described the 2009 edition of the race – which will see an expansion to nine days and feature more climbing than the previous three years, all the way until the final with the toughest climb of the entire tour, Palomar Mountain, more than 1100 km into the tour and just 85 km from the overall finish near San Diego.
"We are excited that there is a chance the race will be resolved on the last day with two challenging stages on the Saturday and Sunday," Messick told Cyclingnews. "We like that there will be drama right to the finish. Anyone who wants to be champion will have to be fast up Palomar!"
Messick is referring to the first three tours, which saw the overall all-but-decided before the final stage. The first two years were more of a parade finish with a circuit race, and last year's finish into Pasadena with a climb over Millcreek Summit that was not quite challenging enough to isolate the leaders. But that course will now serve as the penultimate stage to Palomar, reaching 5,123 feet of elevation with a much steeper ascent.
"That climb into Pasadena isn't really that hard," said the race's technical director Chuck Hodge. "It's a long gradual 20 mile climb; Palomar is a real climb. I'm not sure how we are going to rate it but it will be at least a category 1 or an HC! It's close to a Mt. Hamilton – the descent is not as technical but it is long and fast, and there is still another climb after it before the finish."
Messick also explained that the expansion of the race was in an attempt to cover more of the state, especially new areas. "We are excited that we are covering the ground that we are. There are some parts of the state we are going that we will not be able to go [in 2009,] like the stage to San Luis Obispo down the Pacific Coast Highway. But we are happy to be in San Diego for the first time, and back in places like Santa Rosa where we have a history."
Messick also said that most of the teams have been finalized and that the announcement should come within a few weeks. "Once we announce the teams we will be in a position to say this is one of if not the strongest fields ever assembled in America!"
The original race plan called for a road stage start in Sacramento, but Messick said that was altered in the past months on advice from teams and various sanctioning bodies concerned over the level of racing so early in the season. "We've had in the last three months a number of very productive and candid discussions with the teams, UCI and USA Cycling. We were persuaded that with the mileage going from eight to nine stages might be just a little bit much for February. After consultation we came to the conclusion it may be better for the athletes and for the fans too, to see the race."
Messick also said that the change to a prologue start, like the three previous editions, would afford fans more solo time of a certain rider – one that organizers are clearly thankful for. "We are excited that Lance is going to be participating in the race," said Messick. "It's an extra opportunity to see him perform solo as well, which was also a factor [in the decision.]
Women's race remains one-day criterium
While the men's race is expanding in terms of length and difficulty, the proposed expansion of the women's racing from last year's inaugural women's criterium in Santa Rosa has been postponed. Messick said that while last year's race was a success, the logistics did not fall into place as planned – with much of that as a result of the change to a prologue in Sacramento for the men.
"We spent a lot of time and effort on [the women's race,]" said Messick. "There was a fair amount of interrelatedness [with the men's race.] But once we decided to have a prologue in Sacramento, the course became an issue and it became very complicated."
What the race planned on doing was using the finishing circuits of the men's stages to hold a women's criterium prior to the arrival of the men. As such, the criterium planned for Santa Rosa is still a go. "Having finishing loops in Santa Rosa makes a lot of sense. We plan on growing it in 2010, but it would be better for this year to stay with what we had last year, which was a big success."
While not necessarily related to the women's racing reduction, the state of the U.S. and world economies is still an elephant in the room, even for a big race like the Tour of California. When asked what the impacts of the recession mean for the race, Messick quickly replied, "We love Amgen!"
"This is a challenging time for the sports industry and for cycling. We are saddened by what happened to the Tour de Georgia. It was an outstanding platform to showcase the sport. We think 2009 will be a very challenging year, not just for our cycling race but for our other sports, like our tennis tournament, soccer teams and ice hockey."
"Having a partner that takes a long term view is great. And we have a new relationship with Rabobank, and our very appreciative that they have invested in our race. The wind is not at our back right now and we are going to everything we can to grow it, but conditions are a lot tougher for us."
Read Cyclingnews' detailed coverage of the 2009 Tour of California route announcement.
Rabobank names TDU squad
An Australian and Dutch line-up from the Rabobank team aims to make their mark at the 2009 Tour Down Under.
Lead Rabobank rider Graeme Brown has a long history with the Tour Down Under and Race Director Mike Turtur tips him as a cyclist to look out for in the peloton with his strength as a sprinter.
"Graeme Brown will be one to watch in the sprints, after finishing fourth overall in the sprint classification in the 2008 Tour Down Under," said Mike Turtur. "He will aggressively chase all the points he can for the SA Lotteries Sprint jersey."
Fellow Australian Mathew Hayman will return to the Tour Down Under after a crash on stage 4 of the 2008 event left him with a broken collarbone.
"Graeme and Mathew performed very well at the 2008 event and I am sure they will travel to Adelaide with the aim to win with the Rabobank team," said Turtur.
The Rabobank team line up for the 2009 Tour Down Under, led by Team Manager Adri Van Houwelingen, is Graeme Brown (Aus), Bram De Groot (Ned), Mathew Hayman (Aus), Jos Van Emden (Ned), Rick Flens (Ned), Tom Leezer (Ned) and Kai Reus (Ned).
Koji plays his last tune
By Steve Thomas
Things will just not be the same at major Asian and many French races in 2009. Why? Because Koji Fukushima, the amiable Japanese professional, has decided to hang up his racing wheels for good at the age of 35. For many years Koji has been something of a star attraction at races, where he not only puts on one of the best and most aggressive displays of riding, but also woos and entertains the crowd with his friendly banter, commentary (in many languages) and his all time show stopper – playing the harmonica.
Originally form Osaka (now living in Nagano) Koji was something of a late comer to cycling, only taking it up under persuasion from his older brother and Mietan Hompo team mate Shinichi. Cycling was seen as a way to get the growingly wayward teenager back on the straight and narrow.
It didn't take long for Koji to find his legs and in no time at all he followed his brother to race in France. The rest, as they say, is history. The two brothers spent many seasons pioneering Japanese cycling at an international level in France, forging ahead with teams like Bridgestone Anchor and more recently Mietan Hompo, with a great deal of success.
If there were medals for sheer gutsy aggression then Koji would have been a world champion many times over. Koji's constant attacking became his trade mark. "It's maybe not always the best way, but it's my style – and I like to ride that way," said Fukushima. Sometimes his aggression did pay off with a victory, perhaps most notably when he pulled off a lone stage win and took the yellow jersey in the 2005 Tour de Langkawi, one of his favorite races.
"For me, personally, I think it was one of the best moments of my career," said Fukushima. "But this year, when the team won the Tour du Limousin, that was also very special, just different.[Yukiya Arashiro (Mietan Hompo) won the 2nd stage and the Young Rider classification-ed.] It was great to finally see that we had managed to get the team to a level to win such a highly ranked UCI race."
The decision to retire was a last minute decision and one he really did not want to take. "It was only decided a week ago," said Fukushima. "I really didn't want to stop, but I think now that it's better all-round. In the past I had improved every season, but for the last two years I have not progressed at all - it's frustrating. However, we have a lot of young and talented riders coming through on the team. We want the team to become bigger and better so it's time for me to stop."
The exact details of Koji's new role within the team are still to be finalised. "I have to discuss a lot with the team manager," said Fukushima. "My manager (Asada) said he thought I should change roles within the team, from rider to public relations. I won't be racing any more, that's for sure. I will be doing some non-competitive events, maybe even helping with a cycling school to help show the sport to young riders in Japan where cycling is just not part of the culture."
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Steve Thomas
Furlan to Lampre
Angelo Furlan, the 31-year-old Italian sprinter, signed a one year agreement with Lampre-NGC for 2009. A professional since 2001, Furlan has 11 career victories, most notably two stages in the 2002 Vuelta a Espana 2002 [stage 17 and stage 20], the 2004 Coppa Bernocchi and one stage of the 2008 Tour of Poland.
"Joining a top level team such as Lampre-NGC is for me a huge joy," Furlan said. "I think I'm in the right place where I can find satisfaction. I feel good and I'm sure I can obtain important results."
"We're happy to welcome a powerful sprinter with great finishing speed," said Fabrizio Bontempi, Lampre-NGC sport director. "We noticed Furlan in the 2004 Coppa Bernocchi, now his time to wear the blue and fucsia colors has come."
Ride with Robbie McEwen at Revolution 4
Going for a ride and having breakfast with one of the greatest road sprinters of all time is a rare opportunity, but three-time Tour de France green jersey winner Robbie McEwen is giving you that chance.
All AAA tickets ($49) to Revolution 4, purchased before 4pm on December 4, will go into the drawing for 10 people to join McEwen for a morning ride followed by breakfast at Urban's Curious Restaurant, in St Kilda, on December 17. Prize winners will be advised by 5pm on December 5.
Last year's pre-Christmas event, Revolution 2, was one of the best displays of track cycling ever seen in Melbourne with notable performances from Stuart O'Grady and Graeme Brown plus a spectacular crash in the "Future Stars" event which attracted more than two million hits on youtube.com.
This year's pre-Christmas Revolution 4 is expected to be a sell-out. Revolution 4 will take place December 17 at Melbourne's Hisense Arena and tickets can be purchased from Ticketek on 132 849 or www.ticketek.com.au.
Now online: 2008 Cyclingnews reader poll
It's that time of year again... the 2008 Cyclingnews reader poll is now online. Each year, we give you the chance to select the riders, teams, races, moments, equipment and photos that have really stood out from the pack in the last 12 months or so. To keep things simple, we'll be asking you to vote from a fixed selection in each category, as well as some 'free text' fields, so the survey should take you less than 10 minutes to complete.
As an incentive, we'll be giving away a pair of Zipp's 81mm deep 808 tubular wheels on the new 88/188 hub to one lucky entrant... So if you want to fly like Fabian Cancellara this Christmas, let us know your thoughts on the rider of the year!
(All rights reserved/Copyright Future Publishing (Overseas) Limited 2008)