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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, December 11, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Giro visits Merckx's first: Block Haus

By Gregor Brown

Riders to face challenging Giro climb – 2100m top of the Block Haus.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The 2009 Giro d'Italia, May 9 to 31, will feature the seldom-used climb of Block Haus in Abruzzo, Italy. The climb, at over 2100 metres, was the spot where cycling legend Eddy Merckx launched his career as a stage racer in 1967.

Race organiser RCS Sport will present the official route of the centenarian Giro d'Italia on Saturday, in Venice. In October it announced that the three-week race will begin with a 21-kilometres team time trial in Venice. Block Haus will likely appear in the race, May 27, before a 15-kilometres time trial finish in Rome.

Merckx won the Giro d'Italia five times, including 25 stage wins and 78 days – the record – in the maglia rosa. The 220-kilometre Block Haus stage in the 1967 edition was the first time organisers used the climb and it was the first time Merckx won a mountaintop finish in any race. He finished ninth in that year's Giro, but came back to take his first Grand Tour win the following year. He also went on to win five editions of the Tour de France.

It will be the fifth visit to Block Haus in Giro history and it will be one of the shortest at an expected 80 kilometres. The stage will likely depart from Chieti and head west to Lettomanoppello and the base of the 23-kilometre climb. The final six kilometres features gradients mostly above nine percent.

The climb appeared three more times after 1967.In 1968, Franco Bitossi won the 198-kilometre stage; in 1972, José Manuel Fuente topped a 48-kilometre half-stage in the morning; and in 1984, Moreno Argentin won a 194-kilometre run from Numana.

The 2009 Giro is becoming one of the most anticipated editions in years thanks to the growing list of participants. Seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong will race the Giro for the first time in his career as part of his comeback to cycling. His rivals for the overall classification will include Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and Gilberto Simoni.

Van Goolen targets Giro

Jurgen van Goolen showed his GC qualities this September at the Vuelta
Photo ©: Unipublic
(Click for larger image)

Jürgen Van Goolen will ride the Giro d'Italia in 2009 for Team Saxo Bank and will be the team's GC candidate in the race, although the Belgian said that he would rather have chosen to ride the other two Grand Tours.

"Jürgen will be doing the Giro next year and will have a great chance of making a good result," team spokesman Brian Nygaard told Cyclingnews.

"The team management is giving me a free role" in the Giro, Van Goolen said to "After my strong Vuelta they want to see how well I can do in the general classification of a Grand Tour." He admitted that he himself would have preferred to ride the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.

The 28-year-old finished 16th overall in the Vuelta this year. In the coming season he will ride Paris-Nice and the Vuelta a País Vasco as warm-ups for the Spring Classics and his Grand Tour targets.

Rogers out for two national titles

2008 TT winner Adam Hansen will be up against teammate Rogers in the race against the clock, and his ally in the road race
Photo ©: John Veage
(Click for larger image)

Three-time world time trial titleholder Michael Rogers will make a two-pronged attack on the Australian open road cycling championships at Ballarat from January 7 to 11. Rogers will contest the 39km men's individual time trial on Thursday, January 8, and also line up in the 163km road race on the Buninyong circuit three days later.

Rogers will have good backup support for the 16-lap road race, as two members of his Columbia trade team, Mark Renshaw and Adam Hansen, will also be competing.

Hansen rocketed to prominence in Australian cycling at the 2008 titles by winning the time trial, before finishing second to the breakaway Matthew Lloyd in the road race. The battle between Queenslander Hansen and Canberra's Rogers in the time trial will be much-anticipated.

The 2008 titleholder, Lloyd, will try to retain his title in Buninyong. "Having experienced the course at close quarters, I would like to think I can hang on to the jersey, but it's one of those circuits where anything can happen," Lloyd said.

Unlike this year, the six events will be conducted over five days of championships. Event director John Craven hopes that the new format will attract record crowds. "The police estimate of the crowd at the men's road race this year was 17,000," he said. "I would expect that number to be surpassed on January 11."

Entries for the national championships close on Monday, December 29.

Le Tour de Langkawi launched

A more compact 14th edition with the return to Genting

By Jean-François Quénet

The 2009 Tour de Langkawi route
Photo ©: Le Tour de Langkawi
(Click for larger image)

The 2009 Le Tour de Langkawi, launched on Thursday in Putrajaya, Malaysia, will be more manageable for the teams as it features less days of racing as in the past. The 14th edition of the stage race, taking place from February 9 to 15, will be seven days long instead of twelve or nine days in recent years.

"We often heard from overseas teams that nine or ten days was very long for the beginning of the season," said the Chief Operating Officer Datuk Naim Mohamad, who attended International Cycling Union (UCI) congresses and seminaries in Europe and realised that besides the Grand Tours, the most successful stage races like Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tour de Romandie or the Dauphiné Libéré are one week long.

Teams have also been accommodated with a transfers-free event as it will start near Kuala Lumpur International airport in Putrajaya – the administrative centre of the Malaysian government – and end with the traditional and spectacular Kuala Lumpur criterium finishing on Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in front of the Sultan Aziz Shah building.

Malaysia's historical town of Melaka, classified as world's heritage, will be the heart of the highest-ranked cycling event in Asia for three days. Bunch sprints are expected for the first half of the race in the south west of the country, although there will be some climbs every day in contrast to the 2008 edition when the first king of the mountains jersey was awarded on stage six.

The event will also return to the gruelling climb of Genting Highlands that was scratched from this year's race due to road works and Chinese New Year celebrations. As the replacement with Fraser's Hill wasn't up to par, Le Tour de Langkawi will find its trademark again and suit the climbers. Winner in 2007, Crédit Agricole's Anthony Charteau, found the way to beat the pure climbers from South America. Moldavian Ruslan Ivanov of Diquigiovanni succeeded him on the record book in 2008.

Twenty teams are expected to take part in the 1029.3km-long hors catégorie event. ProTour and Pro Continental teams from Europe and America, Continental teams and national teams from Asia, Oceania and Africa will line up as it is common that all five continents are represented in Malaysia. Three local teams will also participate: the Malaysian national team and the two UCI-registered Continental teams MCF and Le Tua.

Le Tour de Langkawi is organised by the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) with the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sport (KBS). "Malaysians are really lucky to have a government which is totally committed and has a serious outlook at the value of organising an event of massive proportion such as the Le Tour de Langkawi," said the chairman of the race, Hj Abu Samah Hj Abd Wahab, who is also the president of the MNCF.

The stages of the 2009 Le Tour de Langkawi list as follows:

Stage 1 - February 9: Putrajaya-Senawang, 135km
Stage 2 - February 10: Senawang-Melaka, 161.7km
Stage 3 - February 11: Melaka-Melaka, 186km
Stage 4 - February 12: Melaka-Bandar Baru Bangi, 222.2km
Stage 5 - February 13: Petaling Jaya-Genting Highlands, 95.6km
Stage 6 - February 14: Batang Kali-Shah Alam, 148.4km
Stage 7 - February 15: KL criterium, 80.4km


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Le Tour de Langkawi

2010 Tour de France start details announced

The 2010 Tour de France will start in Rotterdam, Netherlands,
Photo ©: ASO
(Click for larger image)

The 2010 Tour de France Grand Départ was presented today in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) made official the details of the first two days of the French Grand Tour, including the nine kilometre opening time trial in the Dutch harbour city on Saturday, July 3, 2010.

The 2010 Tour will be launched from the south side of Rotterdam, with the start ramp set up in Zuidplein, from where the riders will head north. The first stretch will take them to the Erasmus Bridge. At this point, a minor rise as well as a constant wind will play havoc with the riders' rhythms.

After a sharp bend to the right, the route will wind back up the banks of the New Meuse River for one kilometre. The transfer back to the left bank will be made via the two bridges that cross the 'Nordereiland' peninsula. To arrive at the finish near the 'Ahoy' stadium, the riders will follow the same road taken in the first two kilometres, but in the opposite direction.

The start of the second stage will be given at 'De Heuvelpark' for the traditional pre-race procession through Rotterdam town centre. The departure from the town will take the riders out west into a particularly windswept region: on the Zeeland polders. The race will then move due south and cross the border separating the Netherlands from Belgium, approximately twenty kilometres north of Antwerp. The stage finish in Belgium has not yet been announced.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by ASO

Schleck and Riis happy

Fränk Schleck and Team Saxo Bank welcomed the news that the Luxembourg Anti-Doping Agency (ALAD) had closed its investigation of Schleck without taking further action.

"First of all I'm happy that I had the chance to prove that I was innocent," Schleck said. "Throughout the whole process, I have been confident that I would come out good because I have a completely clear conscience. Now, I can focus on the new season and I'm looking forward to coming back strong."

In September, the Süddeutsche Zeitung disclosed that the 28-year-old had wired nearly 7000 euro to a bank account belonging to Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. Schleck claimed not to know that Fuentes, centre of the Operación Puerto doping investigation, was involved and that the money was only for training plans.

The ALAD closed its investigation into the matter this week.

Team manager Bjarne Riis said that "It was vital to us that Fränk had not been involved in the wrongdoings concerning the case in Spain and we feel that the confidence that we have in Fränk has been rewarded. I'm sure that this has been quite a stressful time for him, but at the same time it will give him strength and motivation to be even better next season."

Madiot responds to Armstrong

FDJ team manager Marc Madiot denied Lance Armstrong's allegations
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

In the controversy regarding Lance Armstrong's return to professional cycling and especially the Tour de France next year, the seven-time Tour de France winner had recently voiced some concerns over his safety on French roads. In an interview with English newspaper Guardian in November, Armstrong had said that "there are directors of French teams that have encouraged people to take to the streets, elbow to elbow."

Last week, during his team Astana's press conference on the Spanish island of Tenerife, the American re-iterated his allegations, specifying that it was Française des Jeux' team director Marc Madiot that told the public to "block the roads" in case of Armstrong's return to the Tour.

Madiot firmly refuted ever having made such comments. "I have never said such a thing," Madiot told L'Equipe last week. "I would never stop anyone from riding a bike. It would be the worst to incite anyone to make Armstrong crash. He has every right to remain in cycling, to promote his foundation against cancer – I would even be ready to help him. All I said was: you cannot build up the future with the past."

Second chance for Pro Conti applicants

The International Cycling Union (UCI) is hearing four applicants to Professional Continental team licenses today in Geneva. The teams, which had been secluded last week, received additional time to complete and re-submit their files to the governing body in order to be granted the license. Contentpolis-AMPO, LPR Brakes, H2O-Teltec and Amica Chips-Knauf all choose to try again, whereas American team Rock Racing did not re-apply.

Spanish team Contentpolis-AMPO is confident that the review of the necessary sponsorship documents will convince the licenses' commission of the team's seriousness. The squad, which also created Junior and Under-23 teams, has recently received the support of the new president of the Spanish federation, Juan Calos Castaño. Both the local government of Murcia and the cooperative society of Ampo have showed interest in being further linked to the cycling team in the following seasons. Sixteen riders have been announced for next season.

French team H2O-Teltec is also hopeful that it will be granted the license. Co-sponsor Teltec was recently bought by American company Blackberry, which is why contractual documents were delayed. The team's budget was also decreased to two million euro after initial plans to sign such star riders as Paolo Bettini and Davide Rebellin were dashed.

"We might start out with a smaller budget, but we are still confident," the squad's manager Max Radoni, told L'Equipe. The team will count 18 riders for next season.

The UCI meeting will be held in a centrally located hotel in Geneva on Thursday morning.

bigla announces 2009 line-up

By Ben Atkins

The Swiss women's bigla Cycling Team – spelled lower case – announced its full roster for 2009. The team remains largely unchanged from that of 2008 – with double Giro Donne winner Nicole Brändli, classics specialist Noemi Cantele and the Kazakh and Swiss champions Zulfia Zabirova and Jennifer Hohl – but for the addition of some big names. Double World time trial champion Karin Thürig moves from Swiss rivals Cérvelo-Lifeforce, joining her sister Andrea who has been with bigla since 2007.

Lithuanian champion Modesta Vzesniauskaite joins the team after two years at the German Nürnberger Versicherung team. The 25-year-old will be looking to specialise in stage races. Also joining is Mirjam Hauser-Senn, who has spent the past two years at the Specialized Designs for Women team. The one rider from the 2008 line-up to be leaving the team is Swiss track champion Andrea Wolfer. The 20-year-old is looking to further her ambitions on the track which doesn't meet with the aims of the team.

The full bigla team for 2009 consists of: Veronica Andréasson (Swe), Nicole Brändli (Swi), Noemi Cantele (Ita), Andrea Graus (Aut), Mirjam Hauser-Senn (Swi), Jennifer Hohl (Swi), Holler Monica (Swe), Bettina Kuhn (Swi), Andrea Thürig (Swi), Karin Thürig (Swi), Sereina Trachsel (Swi), Modesta Vzesniauskaite (Ltu) and Zulfia Zabirova (Kaz).

Keisse positive on two substances?

Iljo Keisse may be facing double trouble, as apparently he tested positive for two substances on the last day of the Gent Six Day race. One is said to be cathine, while the other is still unnamed.

Keisse, Topsport Vlaanderen team doctor Daniël De Neve and soigneur Robert D'hont all confirm that Keisse was suffering from a cold before the start of the Six Day, for which the doctor gave him medication, none of which contained the forbidden substance. However, the product is contained in many over-the-counter medications. Later during the race Keisse came down with intestinal problems and took Immodium, which should not have caused the positive samples.

The Belgian said that he has not heard anything official. "I am still waiting for a letter from the UCI," he told

His team, Topsport Vlaanderen, is not saying much either. "We will not announce the details of the positive case," team manager Christophe Sercu said. "That is not the team's job."

Still, Keisse's manager Bob Verbeeck and his agency Golazo Sport, have suspended their work with the rider.

(Additional editorial assistance by Susan Westemeyer.)

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