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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Latest Cycling News, February 15, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Contador sticks to plan

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Alberto Contador wants to remain hopeful about defending his Tour de France title
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

After the announcement of the Tour de France organisation ASO to not invite his team Astana to the next Grande Boucle, the 2007 winner Alberto Contador said yesterday on Spanish radio that this would not make him change his season plans significantly. The rider did not think about leaving his Astana team, despite the fact that the organisers of the Tour left a door open to the Spaniard if he would change jerseys. Moreover, Contador still remained hopeful to be part of this year's Tour de France.

The Spaniard had "many solutions" in mind, but not currently thought to go to the French Grand Tour with another formation. "I do not want to race in a team that does not know how to give me support," Contador said last night in an interview on the sports radio programme El Larguero.

"I will not leave the team," insisted Contador, who did not lose hope of being included in the race, although he knew that "it won't be easy." He also believed that ASO should give a "vote of confidence" to the sponsor of the team, Astana.

The Spanish rider said that he was "optimistic" about his presence in the Tour. "The team is completely different, and when we were with the organisers at the presentation, they told us that there were no problems," said Contador, who noted that it was a "surprise" that the team was not invited the Tour of Italy, neither.

Still, the rider from Madrid feared "the worst" with the passing of days and regretted his possible absence from the Tour because he had everything planned. "We had prepared a lot - I hadn't gone to see the climbs yet but I had planned all the dates for training in the Pyrenees and Alps," he said.

For the moment, Contador will not change a lot of his season planning. "I have to omit Paris-Nice (organised by ASO) and go to the Tour of Murcia (March 4-8) instead. Then go to Castilla y Leon and the Basque Country. After that, I will rest and then make the two training camps in the Alps and Pyrenees. I'd like to do the Dauphiné and then we will see," he said.

Puerto investigation to concern Fuentes and Batres only

One day after the Provincial Court of Madrid announced its decision of re-opening the investigation around Operación Puerto, it would seem as if this only concerned the heads of the affair, Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and his assistant Merino Batres. As a matter of fact, todociclismo reported that the criminal investigation that will now be conducted will only apply to the conservation of the 200 blood bags thought to be used for doping practices.

Under Spanish criminal law, flaws in the handling of the blood bags can be penalised, but not the doping practices themselves. Therefore, the actions of the cyclists, former team manager Manolo Sáiz, Ignacio Labarta, Vicente Belda and others will reportedly not be the target of the re-visited investigation.

Spain voted a new anti-doping law in November 2006 which criminalizes doping or doping-related activities. However, it is not retroactive and can therefore not be applied to the Puerto case, which occurred before the new legislation was passed. But the appealing parties (the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the International cycling Union (UCI), the Spanish public prosecutors amongst others) considered that the finial investigation be judge Antonio Serrano was not sufficient, and that the manipulation of blood bags for the cyclists' doping activities did not comply with Spanish law on blood transfusion. This has now been confirmed by Madrid court judges Arturo Beltrán, Jesús Guijarro y María Paz Redondo, who ordered the case to be re-opened.

Meanwhile, Operación Puerto will also be examined in Italy, as the Italian Olympic Committee's (CONI) head anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri has opened an investigation and is expected to hear witnesses - both Italian and foreign riders implicated in the affair - soon. Torri has received further elements which could be used to open disciplinary proceedings against implicated riders, even if they were not Italian, and ban them from taking part in races on Italian soil. This would not only concern the Giro d'Italia and the World Championships in Varese, but also the Tour de France, given that it enters Italy this year.

Riders ready for Saturday showdown

By Greg Johnson in Kuantan, Malaysia

New Tour leader: Mitchell Docker (Drapac Porsche) from Australia
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

As the Tour de Langkawi enters its penultimate stage on Saturday, 19 of the 136 riders that will line-up at the start in Temerloh tomorrow morning are in general classification contention. The problem is, however, nobody knows exactly what to expect from the race's 'Queen' stage.

Saturday's stage was always going to be decisive point in this year's race, however the eighth stage was turned on its head in late January when organizers announced the traditional climb to Genting Highlands would be replaced with the stage to Fraser Hill. Genting was removed from the event after organizers were informed that the owners would be unable to completely close the road up the infamous climb due to Chinese New Year celebrations.

Genting Highland's one year hiatus from the parcous sees riders faced with a new challenge in the form of the 130 kilometre stage to Fraser Hill, which has been seen by very few of the event's staff and even fewer team members. The unknown climb is a major anomaly in the outcome of this year's event, with the top 19's ability to conquer the climb difficult to measure with the little facts that are known about the climb.

In the group of 19 riders there are just two teams that have two cards to play on tomorrow's stage, which includes Team Type 1. While Team Type 1's Matthew Wilson is eight seconds down on race leader Mitchell Docker (Drapac-Porsche), and Glen Chadwick a further seven seconds adrift, the American squad will benefit simply by having two options on whatever comes of tomorrow's stage.

"Nobody really knows this climb so it's going to be hard to tell what to do," said Wilson on how the team will approach the stage. "We just have to play it by ear; we're in a great position though with two guys who can both climb."

To read the full preview of the Tour de Langkawi 'Queen' stage, click here.

Langkawi mountains competition 'a matter of advertising'

By Ben Abrahams in Kuantan, Malaysia

The start of the KOM
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

Mountain or molehill? That was the question riders and journalists were asking after Le Tour de Langkawi's King of the Mountains jersey was awarded on Thursday afternoon in Bandar Penawar. At just 600 metres long with a gradient of no more than five percent, the category four ascent to decide the mountains classification leader was more suited to stocky sprinters than mountain goats, evidenced by its winner Christoph Meschenmoser (Team Ista).

And with just one more 'mountain' remaining on the race route - the significantly harder climb to Fraser Hill on Saturday, classified 'Hors categorie' (beyond categorisation), the question must surely be asked: why bother with a mountains jersey at all? According to race director Michael Robb, the short climb was only there to "give a little interest" before Saturday's summit finish.

"The KOM of course was very short and quite an easy gradient," Robb told Cyclingnews. "But it's been a very, very flat route. It was just to give a little interest. It's up to the organisation to determine the gradient of the climb and its classification. That's bike racing, you can have a hard climb or an easier one."

President of commissaires Madis Lepajõe from the UCI echoed Robb's sentiments, and said that he had seen such short climbs before. "I think I have, yes. Not very often, but I have.

Is that it?
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

"This was just to play out the King of the Mountains jersey and to give the possibility to demonstrate the jersey," he added. "So it was no serious climb and category four is the most easy climb.

"I think this is more a matter of advertising. Every publicity is good publicity. One more jersey - it's good for the sponsor, it's good for the race and the image of cycling here. There's no problem with that."

Never before used at Le Tour de Langkawi, Saturday's Fraser Hill itself remains something of a mystery, with riders quizzing each other about its difficulty at the post-race press conference after stage seven. "Fraser Hill is quite an easy gradient to start with," explained Robb. "It's long, I think it's about 22 kilometres or more. It's quite gradual to start with, but constant climbing. Then the last number of kilometres it's quite steep."

Quickstep for California

Belgian team Quickstep has announced its rider selection for the Tour of California, which starts this Sunday. The ProTour team will file some of its greatest riders, including Tom Boonen for the sprint finishes and Olympic and current World champion Paolo Bettini.

The full Quickstep line-up is: Tom Boonen, Paolo Bettini, Dmytro Grabovskyy, Kevin Hulsmans, Kevin Seeldraeyers, Andrea Tonti, Matteo Tosatto and Jurgen Van de Walle.

Pollack looks to help young Austrian team

Pollack in his new jersey.
Photo ©: Team Volksbank
(Click for larger image)

Sprinter Olaf Pollack is on his third team in as many years, but hopes to stay with Team Volksbank and help to form the young Austrian Professional Continental Team for the future. This year he has his eye on both the road and the track, especially the track events in the Beijing Olympics. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer looked at how the German settled in with the new team and found out what his goals are for the season.

Pollack rode for Team Gerolsteiner from 2000 to 2004 before transferring to rival T-Mobile, where his greatest achievement was wearing the leader's maglia rosa in the Giro d'Italia. But he was not offered a new contract for the 2007 season, and ended up spending last season with Team Wiesenhof-Felt, a now dissolved German Professional Continental team. He started the season well, surprising everyone by winning the first stage of the Critérium International.

But Pollack is also a track specialist and in the German national championships finished second in pursuit, team pursuit and Madison.

Track continues to play an important part in his sporting life, and he rode several Six Day races over the winter. Pollack has his eye on the track events in the upcoming Beijing Olympics. "My concentration in my season preparations was all on the track and the Olympic games in Beijing, my big season goal for 2008. It was like jumping into cold water to try and find my rhythm for road racing again," he told cyclingnews.

Part of that preparation for the road season was getting to know his new - and young - team-mates at the team training camp in Tuscany. "The first thing was to find our way to each other and to build a homogeneous unit, which we were able to do at the training camp. They're all funny and friendly guys, who are all willing to pull together."

He is joined at Volksbank by fellow newcomer, but old acquaintance, sprinter André Korff. The two, both 34 years old, are among the oldest on the team and see themselves responsible for helping the younger riders. "We have a lot of young riders, who are capable of accomplishing a lot," he noted. He and Korff "have set as our goal, to share with them our years of experience and to awaken their killer instinct. Everyone has to find their own specialty. We can still form the team."

To read the full feature on Olaf Pollack, click here.

Brochard to quit?

Former world champion Laurent Brochard may be putting an end to his career as a professional bike racer. The 39 year-old was not given a contract extension by his 2007 team Bouygues Telecom, and has been looking for a contract ever since.

Brochard had a lot of contacts, especially to Belgian teams, but none of the talks bore fruit. Still, the Frenchman hasn't given up hope to be back racing this season. "Even if time flies, I think there is still a possibility," he told L'Equipe this week. "Especially since some race organisers are inviting teams of a lesser level, who hadn't expected it and who therefore could need experienced riders."

But he knows that this possibility is getting slim. "I would have liked to do another season," said 'La Broche', who started his career in 1992. "But if nothing happens, I won't have any regrets, either. I continue to train. But it looks like the world of cycling doesn't want me anymore! Oh well..."

Brochard is nevertheless not expected to make a big deal of his retirement, if retirement it is. "I've always been discreet," he added. "I'm not the kind of guy to make a big announcement if I decide to quit. I prefer to leave quietly."

Fiordifrutta announces 2008 team

Fiordifrutta, an Italian producer of organic jams and honeys, has announced the roster of the number one ranked US amateur cycling team. The team has spent the last five years near the top of the National Racing Calendar points classification and has graduated nine riders to the professional ranks in the last few years. The New England-based squad racked up thirty-four wins in 2007, racing a full road and cyclocross season.

In late February, the team will start its season with a training camp, including a tour of Rigoni USA which provides the title sponsorship for the sixth straight year through its Fiordifrutta brand. "Fiordifrutta is pleased to have a long-term relationship with such a fast group of racers who are great ambassadors for my product," said Rigoni USA's Claudio Mucci. The team is also pleased to have performance testing support from Incline Training in Massachusetts which is run by PhD physiologist and former Webcor director Jay Gump. The team's schedule for 2008 includes NRC and National Championship events as well as regional races on the East coast.

The squad has always focused on the development of younger riders, and continues as the nation's premier program to help riders step up to the next level of cycling. Team riders who have moved onto careers in professional cycling include: Jonathan Page (Colavita/Sutter Home, Sunweb/Projob), Mike Jones (Healthnet), Shawn Milne (Navigators, Healthnet), Justin Spinelli (Saeco, Navigators), Dan Timmerman (Kodak/Sierra Nevada), Mike Cody (Jelly Belly), Matt Svatek (Sportsbook.com), Mike Dietrich (Kodak/Sierra Nevada), and Phil Wong (Jittery Joes). Team riders who have ridden for the US National Team in Europe include: Oliver Stiler-Cote, Shawn Milne, Darby Thomas, Robbie Dapice, Donny Lopez, Matt White, and Johannes Huseby. Team members have held more than thirteen National Championship titles.

The team in 2008 is a close group of sixteen riders, consisting of twelve returning veterans and four new additions. The veterans are highlighted by team leaders Matt White and Josh Dillon. Last year, these two riders were often together on the results board, with fifth and seventh place finishes in the elite national road race, and fifth and sixth place spots respectively in the elite national time trial. White is also a cyclocross superstar on the national circuit with multiple UCI race wins in the last two years.

Fiordifrutta also supports some of the nation's top U23 riders including Todd Nordblom (third at U23 road nationals, second at collegiate road nations) and Toby Marzot (first at collegiate road nationals, two time US world team member for cyclocross). Jamey Driscoll was second at U23 cyclocross nationals and has won the Crank Brothers US Cyclocross Grand Prix for U23 the last two years. Another strong U23 rider is Hayden Brooks from Australia, who just finished 13th in his national time trial championships.

Other returning veterans include Cory Burns (eighth at elite time trial nationals) and Josh Lipka (two time New England junior time trial champion). Experience and leadership on the road come from Chris Rozdilsky, Johs Huseby, and Will Riffelmacher.

New riders include Phil Gaimon (seventh at Univest and 12th at elite road nationals), Alister Ratcliff (second in the Green Mountain Stage Race's road race), sprinter Eric Schildge, and New England up-and-comer Steve Weller.

Curt Davis and Chris Peck continue managing the squad and have been involved with this same team since 1995 as it has eventually evolved to promote the Fiordifrutta brand.

The 2008 Fiordifrutta team roster is:

Hayden Brooks, Cory Burns, Josh Dillon, Jamie Driscoll, Phil Gaimon, Johannes Huseby, Josh Lipka, Toby Marzot, Todd Nordblom, Alister Ratcliff, Chris Rozdilsky, Eric Schildge, Steve Weller, Matt White, Will Riffelmacher, Curt Davis (rider-manager), Chris Peck (manager).

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