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Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News, July 11, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

Riccó delivers in Super Besse

By Brecht Decaluwé in Super Besse

Riccardo Riccò takes his first Tour stage win.
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
(Click for larger image)

Riccardo Riccó came to the Tour de France hunting for a stage win, and on the climb up the extinct volcano at Super Besse, the Saunier Duval-Scott rider achieved his goal. Riccó, who at 24 already has three Giro d'Italia stage wins and a second place overall in the Italian Grand Tour, lost time on stage three into Nantes as well as the time trial in Cholet, and discounted any notion that he would contend for the yellow jersey in Paris.

"I'm not chasing the general classification in the Tour de France," said Riccó. "I had enough stress in the Giro d'Italia in which I battled for the general classification. My goals in the Tour are to gain experience and to win a stage.

"Now that I achieved that goal, I'll watch from day to day. If the occasion arises, I'll certainly try to win another stage," he said. "My victory gives me confidence for the Pyrenees and the Alps. It will be different over there, as much will depend on my form; a lot of riders specifically prepared to be good in the Tour de France."

Despite being an Italian, Riccó figured a stage win in the Tour de France had more value than all his previous performances in the Giro d'Italia. "The Tour de France is the most important race in the world. A victory in the Tour receives recognition everywhere. Winning a stage in the Giro as an Italian is most rewarding as well, but the Tour is more prestigious."

As preparation for the Giro d'Italia, the 24 year-old Riccó had aimed to be in good form for the Wallonian Spring Classics like Liège-Bastogne-Liège. At the Giro d'Italia, Riccó witnessed an incredible performance by last year's Tour de France winner Alberto Contador (Astana). The Spaniard had come straight from the beach to the Giro with few expectations, but he took the overall win.

In a way, Riccó has adopted Contador's easygoing Giro approach at the Tour. "It's true that I'm totally relaxed over here. After the Giro I rested for a week before I started going out on training rides again. Maybe it works," Riccò said.

The finish up Super Besse was a tumultuous one, but Riccó seemed in control. He kept watch on his rivals on the long 10km climb toward the finish as he followed the wheel of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). He didn't panic when Christian Vande Velde (Team Garmin-Chipotle) accelerated; instead, team-mate Leonardo Piepoli covered the American's effort.

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Riccó timed his sprint perfectly: Valverde had been forced to the front and was waiting to go, which forced Fränk Schleck (Team CSC - Saxo Bank) to start the sprint as yellow jersey Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) laid on the pavement after his crash - all of which unfolded 300m from the finish line. While Schleck struggled with the headwind at the right side of the road, Riccó powered away on the left towards victory. Afterward, Riccó explained how Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team had done a great job in controlling the breakaway, setting up the battle for the stage victory.

"I was happy to see that Valverde's team started pulling to keep the breakaway group under control with 45 kilometres to go to the finish line. His team did a perfect lead-out, but when [Oscar] Pereiro dropped with 300 metres to go, I noticed that Valverde hesitated to start the sprint, probably because of the headwind.

"I decided this was the moment to go," Riccó said before crediting his team-mate's efforts. "I have to thank Piepoli for all the work he did to help me."

Schumacher bitter at losing yellow

The German begins to pick himself up,
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

It seemed a perfect scenario for the Tour de France's leader, Stefan Schumacher: he was in a lead group with just a few hundred metres to go and set to contest the stage victory. At the very least, with a 12 second lead, he stood to hold onto the yellow jersey. But then it happened: a touch of wheels and he was on the ground with his team-mate tumbling after him.

"This is a very, very bitter moment," Schumacher said. "Until the finish everything went perfectly. The team worked superbly, I was in a very good form and was thinking 'The yellow jersey is safe, now I will try to win the stage with a sprint'. I wanted to attack - but suddenly Kim Kirchen swerved and I touched his rear wheel."

The German doesn't blame Kirchen for the crash. "That was not his intention, it was just bad luck…. But to lose the yellow jersey this way? That's bitter. This really hurts."

Schumacher was especially depressed to have denied his team another day with the yellow jersey after they rode in defense of his lead the entire stage. "I would have liked to have brought another jersey back to the hotel for the team, because they worked so well for it. I am enormously sorry to not have that."

Evans puts Silence-Lotto in ideal position

By Brecht Decaluwé in Super Besse

Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) lies in wait
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Cadel Evans further earned the confidence of his Silence-Lotto team with a solid third place finish on the Tour's stage six uphill dash at Super Besse. Luckily avoiding the crash inside the final kilometre which felled yellow jersey Stefan Schumacher, the Australian finished on the same time as his rival, Alejandro Valverde and moved within six seconds of yellow.

Silence-Lotto manager Marc Sergeant said that he was content with the race situation, and was actually glad to not have to defend the yellow jersey, which passed from Schumacher to Kim Kirchen (Team Columbia). "Once again the result is good. Finishing on the wheel of Valverde on a finish like this is something you can only dream of," Sergeant said. "Luckily still no yellow," he said. Evans' gap of just six seconds is a perfect situation, in his opinion. "It's just enough for us," he said. "If I would've written a scenario before the Tour then it would've looked like this."

Sergeant felt sorry for Schumacher, who lost the overall lead with a poorly timed crash in the final 300m. "It's a pity that the crash played havoc among the general classification contenders, because that's surely not what we wished for them."

"Of course [Kirchen] deserves it, but Schumacher's team [Gerolsteiner] worked for it all day long and he was up there until 300 metres to go," Sergeant said.

The next three days will be a tactical challenge, as they pose hilly stages that could change the overall classification, but precede the first major mountain finish atop Hautacam. "That's also why I regret that Schumacher is no longer in yellow because those guys take control of the race, like they did today," Sergeant said.

"On the other hand Columbia will also be working because they have a new sponsor who recently joined cycling. Yesterday they captured a stage victory and now they wear yellow, so I guess they're living on a cloud right now and that's something you don't give away just like that," Sergeant said.

"On the other hand Kirchen is now one of the favourites for the overall victory, which is something nobody expected."

UCI waits to act on passport data

Anne Gripper, the UCI's anti-doping manager
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The UCI's new biological passport anti-doping system is steadily gaining more data on riders, but any sanctions based on the blood profiling system will have to wait until later in the season, the organisation's anti-doping manager Anne Gripper told Cyclingnews. Following a May announcement that 23 riders showed abnormal blood values, fingers began to be pointed, but Gripper denied that these riders were being considered 'suspicious'.

"We're not treating the 23 riders as suspicious. Their values were simply different from the norm," Gripper said. "They could all have naturally high values."

She also denied that the 23 were being singled out for targeted testing, and explained that the profiles of all riders would be built upon over the next few months. "These riders are being tested in the same way as every other rider on the programme too. So by the end of the year we'll have aimed to have tested every rider the same number of times."

A Belgian newspaper reported that the number of abnormal values had risen to 31, but Gripper discounted the story. "I don't know where the number of 31 comes from," she said.

Urging patience with the system, which examines a rider's blood and urine profiles over time to detect the effects of doping, Gripper assured that there wouldn't be any doping bombs dropping on the Tour de France from the biological passport programme. "We're certainly not sitting on any information with the plan of making it public during the Tour. When we're ready, we will make the announcement."

"This isn't a quick fix measure, we're working for the long term health of the sport so we'll only announce any form of doping , if that's the case, when we're ready."

USA announces final Olympic selections

The final names of the United States' cycling team for the Beijing Olympic Games were announced Thursday by USA Cycling. Joining Kristin Armstrong on the women's road team will be Amber Neben, in her first Olympic Games, and Christine Thorburn, who represented her country in Athens in 2004. Mary McConneloug was named to join the women's mountain bike team alongside Georgia Gould.

All three athletes earned discretionary selections and were nominated to the team by a nine-person selection committee.

It as also confirmed that Sarah Hammer will contest both the individual pursuit, for which she automatically qualified and the points race on the track

Neben will contest the road race alongside Thorburn and Kristin Armstrong. Currently ranked ninth in the world, Neben is one of the most decorated American cyclists on the international circuit. Over the course of the last three years, she's either won or placed in most major UCI races across Europe.

Thorburn will compete in both the road race and the individual time trial in Beijing. After finishing just out of the medals in Athens four years ago with a fourth-place finish in the race against the clock, Thorburn has consistently been one of the United States' top international performers in both events.

McConneloug will join Georgia Gould on the two-woman cross country mountain bike squad. Currently the highest-ranked American in the world in 10th, McConneloug was the third-best American at the 2008 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships last month with a 20th-place finish.

Pereiro pleased with Valverde

By Brecht Decaluwé in Super Besse

Alejandro Valverde gave it all he could
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
(Click for larger image)

After the Caisse d'Epargne team engaged in a 50-kilometre chase to bring back the day-long breakaway on stage six, and then reeled in late attackers on the final climb, Oscar Pereiro was the final man to deliver Alejandro Valverde to the front with 300 metres to go. Although Valverde lost the stage win to Italian Riccardo Riccó, the 2006 Tour de France champion, Pereiro, was not disappointed in his captain.

"I was pulling from 500 metres to go and went to the limit, but the wind was very hard," Pereiro said. That effort was actually his second, as he put in a strong pull with one kilometre to go, recovered, then went back to the front to lead out the sprint. "In the sprint the strongest rider normally wins the stage, and today Riccó proved to be stronger.

"I'm not mad, but we like to win races. Clearly we're not the only team with good riders here. The most important thing was that Valverde wasn't bothered too much by his crash from yesterday," Pereiro said and concluded. "The whole team did a great job by being in front for the last 50 kilometres, but the problem in the finale was that there was a headwind."

A contender himself, Pereiro is not discounting trying for a repeat Tour win. He is now in tenth place overall, but is still committed to working for Valverde. "For me the most important thing today is the fact that Alejandro recovered from the crash of yesterday. Personally I confirmed that I am very well with excellent form. Nevertheless I want to go on with my philosophy and see what happens day after day, but I think that after what I did today my name will no longer be associated with the word 'surprise'."

Cunego: "The war is not over"

By Gregor Brown in Super Besse

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) was dropped
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Italian Damiano Cunego is not ready to give up his quest for the Tour de France overall classification, even though lost another 32 seconds to his rivals on the stage six finish in Super Besse. "This is a battle and the war is not over," Cunego told Cyclingnews/ "This was one of the many battles to come. Even in the past, in the Giro d'Italia, when I lost time I was always able to come back."

The 26 year-old Lampre rider was distanced from his main rivals – Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov and Alejandro Valverde – in the final metres of the 195.5-kilometre stage. The stage featured two category two climbs, with the second 11-kilometre ascent to the line which proved his undoing.

"It was a very demanding stage," Cunego said. "I could tell I was not on great form mid-way through." The Tour's first uphill finish sometimes takes a climber's legs by surprise, and Cunego, who sacrificed riding the Giro d'Italia to focus on his second Tour still sees opportunities ahead to take back time.

"My objective is to race for the classification, this is my only option. Thirty seconds can be considered small... I have lost minutes upon minutes in other occasions and I always recovered by the end.

"There is not a need to dramatize this. However, I am a little sorry for this moment today, not to be at the same level as the others."

Cunego's rivals were able to contend for the stage as Riccardo Riccó dashed towards victory, which was an important lesson for the Italian.

"I learned that they are going strong and will never let off," Cunego continued, sitting on the steps of his team bus. "In the next days, I need to try to continue racing calm – without spending energy – and move closer to them in the coming weeks."

Devolder gains morale boost at Super Besse

By Brecht Decaluwé in Super Besse

Stijn Devolder, Belgium's hope for the Tour's general classification, gained confidence in his climbing abilities after finishing 20 seconds behind stage winner Riccardo Riccó. He was in the lead group coming into the final sprint, but was caught up behind the crash of yellow jersey wearer Stefan Schumacher.

"Today has been good for my confidence ahead of the stages in the Pyrenees," Devolder said. "I've been through a lot in recent times and mentally it has been a hard week to deal with that. Every time I feel something in my legs I start to think that I'm not good. Today was good for me as I noticed that I'm not doing too badly after all."

Had it not been for Schumacher's crash, Devolder might have contended for the stage win. The Belgian saw Schumacher going down right in front of him and had to set a foot on the ground. "It was preposterous! We were just watching each other and then there was that crash," Devolder said.

The Cyclingnews diarist is now in ninth overall, 1'21" behind leader Kim Kirchen. Despite a setback during the time trial in the Tour de Suisse and sickness during the first week of the Tour de France, it seems Devolder is on track to achieve his goal of a top-ten position in Paris.

"The legs are turning well, but the most important thing is that it's back good in the head. Mentally the last couple of weeks it started to become tough on me. It seems that I got rid from injuries and sickness. Now I need to get that form towards the top. I've got two days to rest a little in the peloton before looking forward to the Pyrenees," Devolder said.

The Tour's great unmentionable

By Daniel Friebe, Procycling's Features editor

The Tour de France is different this year, and it's different because no one's mentioning the Great Unmentionable. You know the one. Cyclist's oldest taboo. Or maybe its newest. The elephant in the room. Sport's equivalent of the Scottish Play. Those fingers tightly crossed now? Okay, sod the consequences, I'm going to say it: the Tour is different this year because no-one's talking about d-d-d-doping.

It's not just me - everyone's noticed it. And we like it. We like it not because talking, writing, pontificating about doping isn't stimulating or important, but because there's been precious little reason to broach the subject on the first few days of the race, and that's mighty encouraging. It's also a novelty. Once the "D-word" never alighted on Tour journalists lips because they were either too naive to realize what was going on, or too pious to acknowledge it; then came the Festina scandal and a decade when we talked about little else. This week we haven't bothered simply because, well, it's starting to seem as relevant as the new Coldplay album my colleague Ellis Bacon keeps playing in the car.

Now don't get me wrong. At least two stages and their winners this week have elicited their fair share of sniggers and sarcasm (I don't need to tell you who they are). On the whole, though, the atmosphere in the press room has been worlds away from the cynical, rabid, Robespierrian fervor of last year. Soon we'll be logging on to Youtube, wistfully reliving those press conferences where Michael Rasmussen looked one nasty question away from bursting into tears. We'll be pining for Alex Vinokourov and his blood transfusions. But for now we're just fine. Even Paul Kimmage seems to be enjoying himself.

Read the rest of Daniel Friebe's blog at

Stage 6 Video highlights and podcasts

Just can't get enough of the Tour? Well fear not because Cyclingnews has expanded its coverage once again this year to bring you video highlights of every stage plus daily podcasts courtesy of and Procycling magazine.

Our video comes directly from Tour de France owners Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), and will be online shortly after the finish of each stage. We've also got highlights from classic Tours of the past so click here to see the full archive.

Check out the podcasts page in our Tour de France section for a full round-up of news and views from the Tour.

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