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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, February 1, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

New Astana launched in Albuquerque

By Laura Weislo in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

Alberto Contador also fields some questions
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The bright teal of the 'new' Astana team stood out against the earth tone setting of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as hundreds of fans, supporters and local dignitaries gathered at the USA presentation of the squad on Thursday night. Riders and staff lined up against the wall in the wings, awaiting their chance to be introduced to the crowd as flamenco guitarists and dancers performed, giving a distinctly southwestern American flavour to the presentation of the Kazakh-backed outfit.

Billed as the Astana Cycling Team's USA launch, the event which followed the team's week-long training camp was less a traditional team presentation, and more a celebration of a partnership between this culture-proud community and its newly adopted band of athletes. The crowd was brought to its feet by the appearance of Spaniard Alberto Contador, and for a widely bilingual Latin-American crowd, the connection to the Tour de France champion through the mother tongue was heartfelt.

Equal in prominence to Contador was general manager Johan Bruyneel, who was honoured by a long video tribute of clips from the US Postal years followed by a standing ovation. After viewing clips of Bruyneel coaching, somewhat oddly, George Hincapie through his heartbreaking flat in the Arenberg forest of Paris-Roubaix 2002, and Armstrong's loss to Erik Dekker in the 2001 Amstel Gold , Bruyneel stood up to give the usual thank you's, and delivered a message not so much about the team, but about its associations with the community of this mid-size high desert town.

Dancers come back out
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The event, which was open to the paying public, was a fundraiser for two of Bruyneel's pet charities, the American Diabetes Association (New Mexico chapter), which he supports in his hopes to fight the effects of childhood obesity, and the Multiple Sclerosis society (Rio Grande chapter), but the ceremony was befitting of visiting royalty. Set on a stage with a backdrop of colours taken straight from the high desert sunset, flamenco dancers pounded the stage with several vigorous performances, and then, as the evening wound down, emerged to present the team staff and finally each rider on the 2008 squad. Absentee riders and staff were introduced by video, and the familiar name Jose Luis Rubiera received a healthy round of applause.

American Chris Horner and German Andreas Klöden were some of the last riders to take the stage, each receiving a resounding reception before giving a brief word and stepping back to let the team's top stars, Levi Leipheimer and Contador, have their turn in the spotlight. Leipheimer conceded the leadership in the Tour de France to his Spanish team-mate Contador, and humbly accepted his third place in last year's event, where he missed the next step up by just eight seconds. "Every rider can go back and try to pick out seconds they could have picked up here and there," Leipheimer told the crowd, "but you have good luck and you have bad luck along the way. In the end, you deserve your placing."

Contador's appearance before the crowd was the night's apex, and dancers clad in special yellow dresses escorted him to center stage in order to answer questions about his life as the 2007 Tour champion. With much of the Spaniard's answers clearly left lost in translation to the non-Spanish speakers, the cheers and laughter in the audience showed that Contador had a second family in Albuquerque who spoke his language.

The Astana team will remain in Albuquerque through the week's end, before a part of the squad will head to defend Leipheimer's title in the Tour of California, while the rest will return to Europe to prepare to defend Contador's Paris-Nice title as well as Klöden's 2007 victory of Tirreno-Adriatico.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Jonathan Devich/

An interview with Johan Bruyneel

Johan Bruyneel during the Discovery Channel days
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

The new Astana general manager Johan Bruyneel could very well have been off taking a tropical vacation on this cold January day, rather than following riders on a frigid training ride in Albuquerque, New Mexico up into the snow-capped mountains. After all, he had retired last year. Despite twice retiring from the sport: first as a rider, then as a director, Bruyneel never left cycling for more than a few weeks. Cyclingnews' Laura Weislo found out what keeps driving the Belgian back to the sometimes crazy world of cycling.

To Johan Bruyneel, getting into cycling could scarcely have been avoided. After all, his father was president of one of Belgium's most hard-core cycling clubs. His cousin, Georges Van den Berghe was a team-mate of Eddy Merckx, and had ten days in the yellow jersey in the 1968 Tour de France. However, Bruyneel hardly planned to become a professional, never sought out a position as director, and thought he was through with cycling before he accepted the position of general manager with Astana.

For the man known as the tactical genius behind Lance Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories, Bruyneel seems to have let the winds of fate decide his career rather than actively seeking out his path.

"In Belgium it's natural to become a soccer player or a bike rider. Those are the two big sports. I was successful without really trying - at the same time I was racing I got a degree in marketing, and when I was in my last year as an amateur, I got two good results and was asked to become a professional," he said, clearly understating his early results.

After a career which spanned ten seasons, included a stage win in the Tour de France in 1995 and a podium finish in the Vuelta a España, Bruyneel suddenly decided it was time to quit. In his final year, he admitted that he mulled over the idea for most of the year before stopping short of the season's end and hanging up the bike. "I decided to retire from one day to the next. I knew I wanted to retire. All of a sudden, I just felt I had to get to the end of the year, but I didn't really like it anymore."

To read the full interview with Johan Bruyneel, click here.

A fresh start for Team High Road

All smiles for 2008 and Team High Road
Photo ©: Sabine & Rolf Jost
(Click for larger image)

Towards the end of 2007 things were looking shaky for the riders and staff on the T-Mobile team. After months of negative media publicity the title sponsor pulled out. Fast forward two months, though, and the prospects are far better for the squad now known as Team High Road. Andre Greipel, Adam Hansen and Oenone Wood have opened up the 2008 account with fine wins in the Tour Down Under and Australian national championships and, as general manager Bob Stapleton tells Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes, everything is progressing well with the team.

Given that its previous title sponsor pulled out late last year, it's ironic that the new Team High Road appears to be starting the season with outstanding results. While a settlement deal with T-Mobile has given the squad enough of a budget to continue for up to two years, it's still on the hunt for a new title sponsor.

With the change of the team name, it would appear the last link between the present and past has been severed.

For much of 2007, it was clear that the ghost of past indiscretions hung over the current riders. Few of them were part of the earlier team, but revelations about past scandals coupled with isolated incidents involving Patrik Sinkewitz (positive for testosterone) and Leonardo Bernucci (positive for sibutramine, an appetite suppressant) put a dark cloud over the squad.

It was an unfortunate situation for the other riders in the magenta jersey. The general consensus within the sport was that the 2007 team, managed by American businessman Bob Stapleton, was one of those with the strongest anti-doping stances. However, due to the repeated bad press it was getting in the German media and worldwide, T-Mobile reversed a decision it made in August to stick by the team; on November 27th it threw in the towel, stating that due to the scandals it would no longer remain involved in cycling.

All was not lost, though. On that same day, it was announced that the team would continue under a new name. For Stapleton, there was no question of walking away.

"For me, the basic issue was do I want to stay, to keep the team together, to keep these guys on their bikes?" he said, speaking to Cyclingnews in recent weeks. "So this was never for me about the money or trying to bring in new sponsors. It started off by asking myself the question if I wanted to screw up a bunch of people's careers, people who didn't do anything wrong? After all, if we had folded the team these guys were all damaged.

"We have got such a young and promising roster," he continued. "For the guys later on in their careers, it would have been very difficult to cope with [having to find] something new. Because of that, I really felt it was the right thing to do to keep the team going. To maintain our operations and to give these guys a chance to show what they could do."

To read the full interview with Bob Stapleton, click here.

Qatar applies for Tour prologue

By Susan Westemeyer

The Emirate of Qatar has officially applied to Tour de France organiser ASO to hold a prologue of the race in the country on the Persian Gulf. Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme confirmed that he had received the application, signed by Prince Al-Thani.

"Two years ago we examined the climatological conditions in Qatar, along with Eddy Merckx, to see what a race in the summer would be like," he told Sportwereld. "Our main concern is for the riders."

The problem, of course, is the weather, with average temperatures in June and July hitting 41° Celsius. But this being 'average', it means it gets hotter in the middle of the day, up to 50° Celsius. And that's out in the desert, which surprisingly, isn't the hottest part of the country. "It's also worse in the city, where air-conditioners pump cold air into the houses but hot air into the city, and the humidity in coastal areas more than compensates for a slightly lower temperature," according to, which concludes, "Everyone who can leaves Qatar for the summer."

To combat this, the Qatar cycling federation has come up with the unique idea of building a covered and cooled cycling tunnel, in which the prologue could take place. The building plans already exist.

"The candidacy is a logical step for Qatar, which after hosting the Asian Games in 2006, is also a candidate for the Olympic Games of 2016," Prudhomme said. "The distance shouldn't be a problem. When we took the Tour to London, everyone said we were crazy." Now, he indicated, Qatar is a possibility for the Tour in 2014.

Van Avermaet still learning

By Shane Stokes in Doha, Qatar

Belgian Greg Van Avermaet won the fifth stage of last year's Tour of Qatar
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Greg van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) won a stage in last year's Tour of Qatar and is both third overall and best young rider heading into the final stage of the 2008 edition. The Belgian is 30" behind race leader Tom Boonen (Quick Step).

With placings of second, fourth and eighth on stages, Van Avermaet was aiming for a high result on stage five in this year's Tour of Qatar. However, a crash in the final 500 metres involving Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream Chipotle-H3O) and several others affected his run-in to the line, and he finished back in 11th position.

"I had to brake just after the crash and the sprint was over then," the 22 year-old told Cyclingnews. "But I am happy that I didn't fall and my condition is good. I don't think I would have won without the crash, winning is too much for me as to beat guys like Boonen and Napolitano would be very difficult, but maybe when I am a little bit older.

"Anyway, I am happy with my progress so far. Last year, I was sometimes 40 minutes down in the last group but now I am doing all the stages in the first group. That is very important for me - I am having no weak moments and I am always very good. I am very happy."

Van Avermaet said that this year will be about learning and also helping team leaders. "I am looking forward to the Belgian Classics. I will do Milano-Sanremo and all the Belgian races. They are my favourite races.

"I will be working for Leif Hoste in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but maybe in the smaller races I will have a chance to go for it myself. Perhaps in the semi-Classics, 1.1 races like the Dwars door Vlaanderen or races like that. We will see."

What about Grand Tours? "I think it is too early for me to do the Tour de France," he replied. "We have Cadel and McEwen for it. Maybe after a year or something it will be for me. I might do the Vuelta."

Another year for Goubert

Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r) leads Sorensen on the Lagos de Covadonga climb in the 2007 Vuelta
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

The best French rider of the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España last year - 27th and 13th in the respective overall classifications - Stéphane Goubert of AG2R is not a famous pro cyclist, not even in his home country. Contrary to his then-team-mate Christophe Moreau, a well-known name in the cycling scene even before his 2007 Dauphiné Libéré victory, Goubert climbed the Tour overall classification quietly, and finally took the 'title' of best Frenchman from Moreau who had occupied that position in the last few years.

The 37 year-old had initially thought of 2007 as his last year as a pro, but after the Vuelta, he decided to continue his career for another year. "Best Frenchman in the Tour, that's good for the sponsor as well as personally, but it's not everything. To finish beyond the top 20 is not an achievement," the 37 year-old told L'Equipe on Thursday. "It's at the Vuelta that I realised that I still had the level: I was with the best in the mountains, and I showed that I could be amongst the top 10 in a Grand Tour. If it hadn't been for that first time trial, I could have done better."

'Goubi' will thus lead the younger riders of his AG2R team for another season. "I signed for one season," he continued. "I've been working this way for a few years already. If I have good training sensations but get dropped in races, I would have no morale left to continue. But it's also because the sport's having difficulties today that I don't think I have the right to leave. I couldn't think of my team's youngsters being left alone, without guidelines. I feel obliged to them. It was a big factor in taking my decision."

The experienced all-rounder is also hopeful that the fight against doping, which gained a new momentum this year, will finally bear fruit. "I have an optimistic character, and I hope that the solution is near," Goubert added. "This season will be a turning point. For the first time, I have the impression that the whole cycling community has understood the gravity of our problem and that everyone wants to solve it. That everybody realised that cycling is not far away from dying! Before I leave, I want to finally see cycling take the right direction."

Petacchi regrets cancellation of Niedersachsen RF

By Susan Westemeyer

Alessandro Petacchi loves Germany's Niedersachsen Rundfahrt - which only makes sense considering the Team Milram sprinting star won eight out of ten stages in 2006 and 2007, as well as the overall title both years. So it was only natural that the Italian was sorry to hear that this year's race had been cancelled.

"What a pity. It was a nice race and I had a good feeling with it," he told Cyclingnews on Friday. "Besides, it was important for our sponsor Milram. I hope they can find a solution for this race."

Organisers announced Sunday that the race would not be held this year, but that they hoped to come back in 2009 with a smaller version of the event.

At the Milram team presentation earlier this month, the 34 year-old Italian praised the race, saying, "I find the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt to be a very important tour and I hope to do well again this year, to bring in good results and win again."

World's View Challenge gets underway

The Intaka Tech World's View Challenge is the inaugural premier international road cycling event that will be taking place among the rolling terrain of South Africa from February 2-7, 2008. The five-day event is UCI 1.1-ranked with ProTour, Pro Continental teams and National teams competing over a total of 588km.

South Africa's Team Barloworld chose to make the race its first one for the 2008 season, with ProTour teams Milram and Liquigas also participating. The series is made up of five one-day races with different routes and distances each day, with a rest day between race days three and four.

Team Barloworld riders participating in the race include Robbie Hunter (RSA), Daryl Impey (RSA), Christian Pfannberger (Aut), Diego Caccia (Ita), Patrick Calcagni (Sui), Christopher Froome (Ken), Enrico Gasparotto (Ita), Hugo Sabido (Por) and John Lee Augustyn (RSA), who comes back to action after the last season accident.

Tour of South Africa cancelled

Cycling South Africa (CSA) has announced that the 2008 Tour of South Africa will not take place. According to the federation, the event organisers were unable to raise sufficient sponsorship funding to cover the anticipated expenses, but want to start working as soon as possible to make the race happen again in 2009. One possibility would be to hold the event in February, "then hopefully the Tour of South Africa and the Giro can work together to share expenses, particularly in bringing overseas teams to South Africa," Larence Whittaker, CSA president said.

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