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Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, February 25, 2008

Edited by Bjorn Haake

Leipheimer repeats in California

Levi Leipheimer wins the Tour of California for the second year running, thanks to his time trialing win.
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

Levi Leipheimer, the golden leader's jersey firmly on his shoulders, and his Astana team-mates rolled into a rainy Pasadena, at the end of the Amgen Tour of California. The team was able to control Leipheimer's closest competitors in the last stage of the race, helping the American win his second consecutive overall victory in California. It was the team's third victory of the season. Leipheimer defended his 49-second lead, which he established by once again winning the individual time trial, over British rider David Millar. Slipstream's Christian Vande Velde finished in third.

Chris Horner, despite battling flu-like symptoms and more concerned to help his team leader Leipheimer win the overall, finished a strong seventh in the final GC. From stage 3 on, going over Mt Hamilton, when Leipheimer took the leader's jersey, the team had its work cut out, going after breakaways every single day.

It didn't go unnoticed by the captain. "Without my team-mates Brajkovic, Gusev, Horner, Ivanov, Kemps, Mizourov and Rubiera, I would never have succeeded", said a delighted leader of the Astana Cycling Team after the finish in front of Pasadena's Rose Bowl. "They were up front in the most miserable, horrific weather conditions. It is a job really nobody wants to do. We proved that Astana Cycling Team is definitely the best team in the world."

Because of the weather conditions, as well as the caliber of teams competing (with big names including Millar, Boonen, Vande Velde, Bettini, Freire, Cipollini and Cancellara), the third edition of the Amgen Tour of California proved to be the most difficult one so far. "You are only so good as the competitors are," continued Levi Leipheimer. "The level of the opponents made this victory so special for me. To win this race was really unbelievable. It was my first objective of the season; we succeeded. The Tour of California is constantly growing. The level of the organization and of the race itself is already higher than these from some European races. The Amgen Tour of California definitely has its place on the cycling calendar." Leipheimer acknowledged that "For some riders, the race seems too hard so early in the season," but stated that "you cannot make a race easier because it is organised in February."

Concerning the controversy around Astana's race invitations, Leipheimer regrets that the team is not welcomed in all races, but is very happy that he accomplished his first goal of the season. The Team will continue to race in Europe and look forward to returning to the US in April for the Tour de Georgia.

BMC wins Most Aggressive Team award in Tour of California

The BMC team gets awarded the most aggressive team award
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The BMC Racing Team has concluded the 2008 Tour of California in style. Entering the race with a mix of experienced professionals and young talent, they raced actively the whole week. They were able to pick up the reward in Pasadena after the final stage, winning the Most Aggressive Team of the tour award. "We are very honoured that the organization decided to recognise the team as a whole," General Manager Gavin Chilcott said after the end of the stage. "This is not a standard award, but has been offered to us in response to a message from the media, regarding our team's performance over the past week."

In the midst of BMC's success in California, Gavin Chilcott was quick to recognise some of the people who have helped his young team get to this point. "Last year Jim Birrel and Kevin Livingston went out on a limb and invited us to the Tour of California," Chilcott recalled. "And though we didn't always perform last year as well as we would have liked, we learned a lot and without that experience we couldn't have made it to this level today." In cycling it is as important to have the races organised as it is to have the racers who want to participate. "Jim and Kevin have made a great commitment to helping up and coming teams, and without their support American cycling would be missing great mentors," said Chilcott, who was very keen to acknowledge this behind-the-scenes support.

"I am proud and happy for the team, though not surprised," Chilcott said. "Everyone was well prepared. We have the right staff, the right sponsors, and the right group of riders, who are all dedicated to doing their best. I am very pleased that we have reaped the benefits from all the preparations we made for this race," Chilcott explained. "Qatar was a worthwhile experience for all the young guys, and the time we spent in training camp; previewing some of the more important mountain climbs has also paid dividends." BMC's success includes a respectable team placement, the King of the Mountain jersey and Alex Moos appearing in the top ten in the general classification. The team also held the jersey for most aggressive rider two days in a row.

Directeur Sportif John Lelangue was also happy. "We were on the podium every day with the most aggressive rider and/or the King of the Mountain; we were always aggressive and always on the offensive," Lelangue continued. "It was a good time for the team, and team spirit is very high."

Though the cold weather and highly contagious viruses that ravaged the peloton as a whole also impacted the BMC squad, all of the individual accomplishments were made possible by the whole team. "I said yesterday that this KOM jersey is a victory for the team and that without them, I wouldn't have this honour," Scott Nydam reported. The fact that this had been the Tour of California with the hardest climbing yet, had not escaped Nydam. "Everyone worked so hard for this jersey. I just wish Jackson could be here to share this."

Jackson Stewart held the KOM jersey as well as the most aggressive rider jersey after his epic solo breakaway on Stage 1. Unfortunately, hypothermia on the frigid stage 4 derailed his chances of taking the KOM jersey, which he and Nydam kept passing back and forth. "Jackson really did so much for this jersey and for the team," Nydam said. "He set the tone for the week."

It had been an emotional week for Nydam, who has been dealing with the pain of hearing his father is seriously ill. "I keep fighting to help him keep fighting," Nydam reported earlier this week. Sharing some podium time with his trusted training partner, Levi Leipheimer, had also added to Nydam's morale. "It has been such a special week," Nydam enthused. "Being on the podium with Levi has been such an unexpected reward for all the work we do together. It has been extremely special." As Andy Rihs said, "these young guys are the best this sport has to offer, and I am proud and happy to be a part of the project!"

Mattis breaks High Road dominance in World Cup opener

Katheryn Mattis takes the win in the World Cup opener
Photo ©: John Veage
(Click for larger image)

Team High Road had dominated the recent Geelong Tour, winning two of the three stages and were the natural favourite for the World Cup race in the same town on Sunday. However, it was the duo of American Katheryn Mattis and Australian Emma Rickards, slipping away after three of the eight laps on the circuit, that made the headlines.

The pair worked well together and entered the final lap with a three-minute lead. Mattis was the first to jump, but eventually the two reached the finishing straight together, where they had enough time to play tactics and even trackstand.

High Road was disappointed with leaving it too late,and were unhappy with the lack of help from other teams. However, other teams were afraid of the sprinting abilities of High Road. And with Ina-Yoko Teutenberg taking third by winning the dash to the line of the peloton coming in, High Road proved that the other teams had a concern for a reason.

Check out Cyclingnews' full report and details on how the first World Cup race of the season unfolded.

Valverde happy with Tour du Haut Var

Alejandro Valverde is happy with his form thus far
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Alejandro Valverde finished 11th in the Tour du Haut Var on Sunday. The race started and ended in Draguignan, with the race distance to be completed just shy of 200 kilometres. The race was won by Davide Rebellin, of Italy.

Valverde was nonetheless happy at the finish. "The day was a very hard one, because of the difficult course and also because of the way the race developed," declared the Caisse d'Epargne captain in Draguignan. "To be the first race that counts for the classification of the French cup, we knew it was supposed to be vigorously disputed and it was exactly like that... And not forgetting the distance, 197.3 kilometres, which is a lot for a race organised in February."

Valverde was active in the race and described the decisive moments. "A break occurred at mid-race and I found myself in front, together with Nicolas Portal and about thirty other riders. The idea was to try to do something at the last difficulty, the côte des Tuillières; but Rebellin was the first to attack and with him Nocentini and Botcharov."

Valverde tried together with other racers to bring the break back, but the trio in the front was very strong. "Together with Gilbert and Schleck, we tried to bridge the gap but [there was] no way and we stayed at about six or seven seconds." In the end he was content to just roll into the finish, saying that "I did not sprint for fourth place, but I am very satisfied, because without being at 100% yet, all day long I was able to stay with the riders who have the best condition right now, and that is very positive..." He also praised the teamwork and the condition of his team-mates. "The entire team Caisse d'Epargne achieved an excellent job and that is also very positive, if we think about all the important races we will take part in later in the season. I will return to competition with the Vuelta a Murcia, which will start March 4," Alejandro Valverde concluded.

Regio Tour organiser ready to go back to amateur event

Milram's Alessandro Petacchi may get one more chance to pull on the sprinter's jersey at the Regio Tour before professionals get excluded
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

As Cyclingnews reported earlier, the Rothaus Regio Tour is forced to go back to its roots. The event started out as an amateur-only race in 1985. Frequently, national teams, such as selections from the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic, would participate. The most famous amateur winner of the general classification was Mario Cipollini in 1987. In 1994, the event changed to a professional one and in 1996 it was Jan Ullrich, the East German who made his domicile in the south western area of Germany, who won on his training roads.

In 2004 (Alexander Vinokourov) and 2006 (Andreas Klöden) two riders who rode for Astana in 2007 were able to win the overall. And that could have been the downfall for the professional event. The main sponsor Rothaus, a brewing company, demanded the event scaled back to its original amateur status, starting in 2009. The organiser, Rudi Renz, told Cyclingnews that he "is not afraid of losing spectators. It was popular even as an amateur race and we always had some strong people in the field. When someone won the Regio Tour, you knew he could go all the way."

Renz was happy that Rothaus decided to continue to support the race, including the professional version in 2008. They just demanded that teams implicated in doping will not be racing. "We have already contacted the teams for this year's race. There will be no Team High Road [the successor of German T-Mobile - ed.] and no Astana." This will exclude former winner Andreas Klöden from participating.

But even with the professionals invited still for this year, Renz emphasised that he didn't mind having unknown racers. "I think we need to let the young ones come to the forefront. Milram has made its team younger and has a lot of talent. We need to give them the opportunity to race. Sure, Alessandro Petacchi has always drawn spectators and also always done well [he won stage 1 last year - ed.]," Renz made clear that going back to its roots is not necessarily a step back.

One thing is clear, though. It is the sponsor that dictates the rules. "Rothaus said that we don't want to support the professional racing anymore, due to the doping scandals. As an organiser of a race like this, I need the sponsor. So either you can go the way like the other German races – the races in Hessen and Niedersachsen had to be canceled – or you do what the sponsors demand."

Silence-Lotto deals with injuries, illness for Omloop Het Volk

By Susan Westemeyer

Team Silence-Lotto has to juggle its line-up for the upcoming Omloop Het Volk, with one sick rider having to drop out, but another injured rider ready to come back.

Greg van Avermaet, 22, was unable to ride in the Volta ao Algarve because of a stomach virus, and is now having problems with his balance. "The virus has moved to affect my sense of balance," he told sportwereld.be. "The doctors can't tell me how long the problem will drag on. It is getting better, but cruelly slowly." He knows he won't be able to compete in Het Volk, for which he was figured to have good chances. "I don't have any illusions. Unless it would completely go away suddenly and rapidly. But then, I still haven't touched my bike in a week. This is really frustrating, because I was in good form."

As he predicted, Robbie McEwen was back in training Sunday, after crashing out of the Volta ao Algarve Friday, hurting his arm and hand. The injuries turned out not to be serious, and the Australian rode the Het Volk route on Sunday in training. "Everything is OK," he told Sporza.be. "The training has gone well. I am ready for the Omloop."

Klöden satisfied with season start

By Susan Westemeyer

Andreas Klöden gets better after a rocky start to the season
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Andreas Klöden had a hard time getting going this season, but he has overcome his problems and is "totally satisfied" with his season debut in the Volta ao Algarve.

"I have had to deal with a number of blows since our training camp in the US," he noted on his website, andreas-kloeden.com. "First the infection, which meant I couldn't train, so that I couldn't start in the Mallorca Challenge as planned." That was followed by the news that his team, Astana, would not be invited to any races organised by the Tour de France or Giro d'Italia management. "These are the kind of things that make it even more difficult to optimally concentrate on training."

But he finally got on the road with the Volta ao Algarve, and "I could feel that it was getting better every day. The good training over the winter kept me from falling into too much of a hole. My form is not 100 percent, but during the time trial .... I could tell I was on the right way."

The 32 year-old said that on account of the heavy rain, which fell every day, "I didn't give my all during the whole race, especially during the time trial," in order to avoid crashing and possible injuries.

His immediate goal now is to recover with light training and "to stay healthy and continue my training plans for the next weeks, so that my form continues to improve."

With not being able to participate in the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia or even Tirreno-Adriatico, a race which he won last year, the German will have to figure out a new season highlight.

Gerolsteiner finishes with two

By Susan Westemeyer

Oliver Zaugg was part of the nine-man break that almost stayed away
Photo ©: Mark Johnson
(Click for larger image)

Despite everything, Team Gerolsteiner was satisfied with its performance in the Tour of California. Of its eight starters, only two made it to the finish in Pasadena on Sunday. Five of the team succumbed to the stomach virus that hit the peloton, and a sixth, Paco Wrolich, crashed out. "Too bad that some of the guys couldn't show what they could do," said Directeur Sportif Michael Rich. "But we rode well and, considering the circumstances, presented ourselves well."

"After all, we had two podium placings," he noted. Heinrich Haussler finished second in the second stage and third in the first stage. Haussler, who is celebrating his 25th birthday today, was wearing the points leaders' jersey when he was struck down by the intestinal infection.

Markus Zberg finally gave in to the illness on Sunday, so that only climbers Oliver Zaugg and Bernhard Kohl represented the team in the final stage. Zaugg was part of the nine-man escape group, which formed about 30 kilometres after the start. He was only absorbed back into the peloton shortly before the finish. "But it was a good performance from Oliver," Rich said. Kohl finished the race as 13th overall, and Zaugg was 22nd.

Wrolich crashed on Thursday, and required six stitches in his face. He has already returned to his home in Austria. "I will now try to recover at home as quickly as possible," he said on his website, peterwrolich.at" The biggest problem is not the facial wound, but my ribs, which are apparently heavily bruised. " He hoped to start training again on Sunday. "I hope that I will be back to normal by the middle of the week."

Women getting ready for Tour of New Zealand

The women's professional peloton is now heading to Wellington, New Zealand. The Women's Tour of New Zealand will start on Wednesday, the 27th of February and run until March 2.

Most of the riders have already arrived, some of them coming straight from the World Cup in Geelong. The Webcor Builder Team with World Cup winner Katheryn Mattis was scheduled to arrive today, 15:15 local time at the Wellington International airport.

Third-placed Ina-Yoko Teutenberg will be there with a strong selection of the women's High Road team. Cyclingnews diarist Judith Arndt and Australian Oenone Wood will be there to try to continue their domination that they showed in the Geelong Tour, taking two of the three stages.

Austrian Christiane Söder has to be one of the favourites, having won the Geelong Tour recently, thanks to her dominance in the time trial. Lithuanian Edita Pucinskaite, who won the Giro d'Italia last year, will look to use the race to get her in shape for the later season highlights. But you can never count her out, even in February.

Sweden's Susanne Ljungskog, (Menikini - Selle Italia) is a two-time World Champion (2002 and 2003), who returns to New Zealand for the fourth year running. Ljungskog won last year's Tour de l'Aude in France. The stellar line up of talent also includes reigning Olympic Champion Sara Carrigan, who will race in the Lotto-Belisol Ladies Team.

2006 time trial World Champion and three times US Champion Kristin Armstrong and 2004/2005 time trial World Champion Karin Thürig, from Switzerland, will line up with New Zealand's number one rider, Joanne Kiesanowski, for the Cervelo-Lifeforce team.

Number one pro team Webcor Builders Team from the United States is sending a strong team, including Canada's reigning road and time trial Champion Gina Grain, 2006 dual Canadian Champion Alex Wrubleski and 2006 World Championship bronze medallist, American Christine Thorburn.

Team Vrienden Van Het Platteland from the Netherlands is bringing top American road rider Tina Mayolo Pic, Dutch rider Cacolien Wallaard and top Australian professionals Lorian Graham and Nikki Egyed.

The locals will look to New Zealander Carissa Wilkes, who finished 17th in the World Cup race on Sunday.

The presentation of the teams will take place Wednesday at 11:00, at the Lower Hutt theatre. The race will get underway at 14:30, with a circuit race around Fraser Park in Lower Hutt. On Thursday stage two takes the riders from Martinborough to Masterton and on Friday riders complete the toughest stage in the tour, a 125-kilometre run around the Wairarapa, including four major climbs and finishing with a 12-kilometre hill climb to the top of Admiral hill.

The tour heads to Wellington on Saturday with a 124-kilometre stage around the Miramar Peninsular and finishes on Sunday with the Wellington criterium around Lambton Quay. The final stage start at 15:00.

Liquigas Team heading to Valencia

The green-blue team is leaving for Spain, where it will take part in the Vuelta Ciclista a la Comunidad Valenciana. The five-day race will start on Tuesday, 26 February, from Sagunto and finish Saturday, March 1 in Valencia. The route is made for the sprinters and there will be multiple opportunities for a bunch gallop. Liquigas will take to the start with Francesco Chicchi and Claudio Corioni, both of them in search of the first success of the season, and Filippo Pozzato, who is always ready to take advantage of a good occasion.

The team will be completed by Maciej Bodnar, Vincenzo Nibali, Roman Kreuziger, Vladimir Miholjevic and Guido Trenti. Team manager is Stefano Zanatta.

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