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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, June 21, 2008

Edited by Ben Abrahams

Kirchen holds yellow at Tour de Suisse

By Shane Stokes in Lyss

Kim Kirchen (High Road) on the podium
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
(Click for larger image)

Kim Kirchen moved a step closer to winning the 2008 Tour de Suisse when he and his High Road team safely defended the yellow jersey on Friday's seventh stage. The 170.6 kilometre stage to Lyss saw numerous attacks at the start, and so High Road decided to send their other high-placed rider Thomas Lövkvist up the road.

"The start was very, very fast and it is not easy to control things on this type of parcours. Many teams wanted to go in the break, there were many riders up there, and so the tactic of having [Thomas] Lövkvist up there meant that we had to do a bit less work."

He was himself aggressive on the run-in to the finish, jumping across to a break containing eventual winner Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and GC threat Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner). "Towards the end, I attacked myself," he stated. "There was a little hill that I like a lot, and I thought, ‘why not?' The gap was not too big and so I decided to try to bridge [to the Cancellara break]. It is less dangerous up front and getting back up to Fothen was good."

"It was a very nervous at the start but once the break went clear, it was more tranquil. I think the finish was a bit too dangerous, though; there was a roundabout with 500 metres to go. I am sorry but I have to say to the organisation that they need to have finishes that are less dangerous. It was fine for Cancellara, he was clear alone, but for those behind it was risky."

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Although Kirchen is a proven winner, he has somewhat limited experience of being a race leader. "I haven't really been in this position before. I had the jersey once in the Tour of Luxembourg but the rest of my stage race wins were taken on the final day. So now for me this is a new situation. Like I said before, the most important thing is not to be stressed. That is my big target."

Sunday's stage is likely to go down to a bunch finish, but Saturday's mountain time trial gives opportunity for Kirchen's rivals to try to steal the yellow jersey off his shoulders. He is a good climber but the 25 kilometre distance of the test means that nothing is guaranteed.

"I am not sure how it will go," he admitted. "It is very long and like the other riders, I am a bit nervous. With the yellow jersey on my shoulders this is not the usual situation. 25 kilometres is quite long, it will be necessary to make a big effort. I think tomorrow the strongest riders will be to the front and I think the Tour de Suisse will be decided there.

"In the Tour of Catalunya there was a time trial of 17 kilometres but the first seven kilometres were flat and the rest was uphill. I also did the Alpe d'Huez time trial in the 2003 Tour de France. But 25 kilometres is quite long and there are a few riders within a minute [of the lead]. It is still quite open."

He was asked about which riders he feared, but said that his focus was elsewhere. "For tomorrow, I won't think about anyone else other than myself. I will do my thing and see what happens."

Schleck downplays thoughts of TT target

By Shane Stokes in Lyss

Fränk Schleck (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
(Click for larger image)

Although Fränk Schleck looked to be the race's strongest climber on stage five, the crash he suffered close to the finish has led him to declare that he will not aim for a big result in Saturday's mountain time trial.

"I will take it easy tomorrow," he said after the finish of stage seven. "I don't want to hurt myself more than I need to. I am feeling better every day but I am not at 100 percent. I need to find out how my finger is, I am not sure. But even if it is broken, I can't do anything more about it [than strapping it up]. My shoulder is also sore. But it is not going to be a problem for the Tour."

Schleck and the rest of the CSC team were certain to spend Friday evening celebrating Fabian Cancellara's stage win. He said that he was happy about the success.

"It was a very good day for the team, we deserved it. We knew after my crash that it was going to be difficult for me. It wasn't a plan as such for Fabian to go at the end, but he was super-motivated as he lives close to here. What he showed today is that he is the strongest time trialists and rouleur, whatever you want to call him... he is amazing."

UCI prepared to contest Vinokourov return

The UCI is ready to fight a possible return to competition by Alexander Vinokourov, after reports that the Kazakh rider is back in training and intends to ride at the Beijing Olympics. Vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion during last year's Tour de France, but was handed a relatively lenient one-year suspension by the Kazakh cycling federation. Since the suspension was back-dated to the day of his failed test, the former Astana rider would be eligible to race again by mid-July.

When the Kazakh cycling federation handed down its decision in December 2007, the UCI had initially planned an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but subsequently withdrew after Vinokourov announced his retirement from professional cycling. However, on May 31 Vinokourov participated in the Laurentine Kivilev, a 100 km cyclosportif held on the French Riviera as a tribute to his compatriot Andrei Kivilev, who died at the 2003 Paris-Nice. Vinokourov revealed at the event that he was training three times per week, but denied a comeback was on the cards.

"We have had indirect reports that Vinokourov is training again," said UCI legal adviser Philippe Verbiest to AFP. "Should it appear that Vinokourov really is training for a comeback we will start up the appeal procedure again." According to the Belga news agency, the Kazakh cycling federation has made little secret of its desire to see the 34 year-old participate in the Beijing Olympics.

Swiss prove dominant at U23 MTB Worlds

By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy

The U23 men's XC podium:
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Friday was a good day for the Swiss at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Italy. The nation had two riders on the U23 podium, three in the top four or four in the top nine, depending how you count.

Pre-race favorite Nino Schurter captured the U23 world title. He had previously won it in 2006 in Rotorua, New Zealand, but had to settle for second in 2007 in Fort William, Scotland. 2008 was his last chance before graduating to the elite ranks.

Second place Burry Stander (South Africa) had his work cut out for him amid a sea of Swiss racers. After using up all his energy to drop the third and fourth placed Swiss racers Matthias Flückiger and Fabian Giger, there was nothing left in the tank to defeat Schurter.

Given that Stander and many of the young Swiss are already making a name for themselves on the elite World Cup circuit, Cyclingnews asked Stander about the pace of the U23 World Championship race compared to the 'average' World Cup weekend. "Today [Friday], it was harder," said Stander. "I had a goal to get rid of Matthias. If it had been a World Cup, we'd have let the older guys set the pace, so for me anyway, it was very hard."

"I don't know," shrugged Giger when Cyclingnews inquired what made his team so strong thereby forcing Stander to such a blistering pace. "We have a good team. We push each other."

Switzerland conceded victory to France on Tuesday in the team relay, but the team was clearly on track for the U23 race. "We are not surprised," said Swiss team manager Alex Suter when asked about the performance of his U23 racers. "We expected at least one medal. We know we have a large and strong elite squad, but we also start with the small kids - not racing, but teaching them concentration."

Suter didn't mean the collective "we" of the Swiss federation, but named the nation's culture and its supportive cycling attitudes. "Parents come out with the kids and with the teams. You see kids grow up in the [cycling] scene."

The Swiss are favourites to come home with still more cross country medals. Christoph Sauser, Florian Vogel and Petra Henzi are among those tipped to do well in the elite men's and women's races to be held Sunday.

See full coverage of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships and stay tuned for Cyclingnews' first ever live coverage of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships on Sunday.

Gagne goes well

By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy

Raphael Gagne (Canada)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Raphaël Gagné gave Canadians more to cheer about at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championship in Val di Sole, Italy, after he finished seventh in the U23 men's cross country race. Under largely clear and sunny skies on Friday afternoon, Gagné surprised even himself with such a good race.

"I'm super happy to be in the top 10," Gagné told Cyclingnews after his race. "It was a goal of mine to make the top 15, and I would have been happy with just that."

Gagné, who won the Baie-St-Paul round of the Canada Cup earlier this month, finished 8.46 behind newly crowned U23 World Champion Nino Schurter (Switzerland) and just 20 seconds off his next best man, Dario Alejandro Gasco (Argentina).

"I felt good - even if the climbing was steep," he said smiling as his team support crew towelled him off. "There was not too much flat, which is good for a rider like me, and the technical parts were good. I can do those."

Perhaps another key was race experience on the course earlier in the week. "Doing the team relay on Tuesday was good for me," he said. The course was radically different then as it was wet and muddy, but it still gave Gagné a chance to see what it felt like in a race situation, plus get the legs going for a short, one-lap test at race pace. Of 20 teams, Canada finished sixth with Gagné, Catherine Pendrel, Derek Zandstra and Evan Guthrie.

The direct sunlight during the race was mitigated by only a few passing puffy white clouds, which left the heat to take a toll on some riders. "I cramped on laps four, five and six," said Gagné matter-of-factly when describing his six-lap effort. "But I paced myself and it wasn't too hot. I did drink a lot of water and Gatorade." The riders were seen taking feeds at almost every opportunity through the feed zone.

Gagné has another year left to go for a medal in the U23 category, but he's already looking ahead. "The Worlds come to Mont-Sainte-Anne in 2010. It'll be my first year in the seniors." It'll also be a worlds on home terrain; Gagné hails from Quebec.

Next up for Gagné is plenty of racing in Québec. After the Canadian nationals on July 19 in Mont-Sainte-Anne, the world heads there for the next round of the UCI World Cup on July 27. The Bromont World Cup will follow one week later on August 3.

Mountain bike legend honoured

By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy

UCI President Pat McQuaid recognizes Thomas Frischknecht's
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

UCI President Pat McQuaid honoured Thomas Frischknecht at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy on Friday afternoon. The 38 year-old Swiss racer was at the very first Mountain Bike World Championship in Durango, Colorado in 1990, where he took second place and the first of his 15 world championship medals. He won 18 World Cup victories en route to three overall titles (1992, 1993, 1995).

In a special ceremony, Frischknecht said: "It seems like just yesterday that I started. But if you look back to 1990 when it all started, some things were different, some things are the same. The atmosphere has stayed the same.

"We are still fighting for glory and it's great that we can keep it that way. Passion is what has kept me in this sport for so long," he said, accepting his award.

He's been marathon world champion (2003, 2005), cross country world champion (1996), cyclo-cross world champion, European champion and Swiss national champion (11 times). At mountain biking's Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996, he won silver while also racing on his nation's road team.

Frischknecht now serves as a spokesperson for the Alta Rezia tourist area. He cultivates his vineyards in Tuscany, Italy, and oversees the distribution of his Chianti wine.

Morabito content with form

By Shane Stokes in Verbier

Two years ago Steve Morabito won the mountain stage to Leukerbad in the Tour de Suisse. The 25 year-old Astana rider is back in the race this year but is riding for Andreas Klöden, giving up any personal ambitions.

He finished 21st on Thursday's mountain stage to Verbier and is clearly on the way back to condition after a bad crash and resulting injuries forced him out of the Tour of Italy.

"The race is a great one, the form is good after my crash in the Giro," he said. "I am happy to be at a high level and to help Andreas Klöden. It is a great job for me and it also helps me to learn and become stronger."

Klöden was second to Kim Kirchen on stage six and is currently sixth overall, 58 seconds back. Morabito feels the race is not over yet. "If he has a good day, everything is possible."

Holm trusted in Stapleton

By Shane Stokes in Verbier

Commenting on the recent news of Team High Road's new backing by Columbia Sportswear, directeur sportif Brian Holm told Cyclingnews on Thursday that he believed Bob Stapleton would secure a deal sooner or later.

"I was always pretty relaxed concerning the sponsor because we went through a lot of stuff last year with T-Mobile and it was quite hard for everybody," he stated. "But somehow when you are working with Bob Stapleton, when you are employed by his company, you feel pretty secure.

"So actually I was never nervous about anything. Maybe I was too relaxed but there was no reason to panic...I saw that he solved all our problems last year. I think that Bob getting involved was one of the best things for professional cycling. We are all very proud to work with him."

Milram down to three at Ster Elektrotoer

Team Milram's bad luck at the Ster Elektrotoer in The Netherlands continued Friday, when 29 year-old Dennis Haueisen crashed in the feed zone and was taken to hospital. Haueisen's departure means that Milram now has just three riders remaining in the event after Italian Luca Barla had to leave on Thursday because of a shoulder injury.

The team had only brought five starters instead of the usual eight, due to injuries to Artur Gajek and Ukrainian Volodymyr Diudia. "Fortunately Dennis had only bruises and scrapes on his hips and back from the crash," said Milram directeur sportif Raoul Liebregts. "We start the race with only five riders. In the last two days we have lost two of them."

The three surviving riders are Germans Markus Eichler and Dominik Roels, plus Italian Alberto Ongarato.

Laws injured in training

British rider Sharon Laws, tipped to join team-mate Nicole Cooke in the Great Britain women's road race team in Beijing, is to see a specialist to assess the implications of an ankle injury sustained this week after a heavy fall while training with her Halfords-Bikehut team near Abergavenny in Wales.

The former mountain biker and adventure racer has risen to the verge of Olympic selection at the age of 34 in her first season of road racing, which has included a sixth place in the Tour de l'Aude. Halfords-Bikehut team manager Julian Winn said it was too early to speculate on the implications of the injury, adding "We'll know more once we've seen a sports injury specialist."

California sheriff faces charges over cyclists' deaths

The California sheriff's deputy whose patrol car ran down three competitive cyclists on March 9, killing two of them, was charged Thursday with two counts of vehicular manslaughter. If found guilty, deputy James Council could receive a jail sentence of up to two years, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The accident happened when Council fell asleep at the wheel of his car and crossed the centre line on Stevens Canyon Road in Cupertino, California. He was four and a half hours into his shift after working over 12 hours the previous day. Matt Peterson, 29, of San Francisco and 30 year-old Kristy Gough of San Leandro were both killed, while 20 year-old German Christopher Knapp suffered a broken arm.

The charges were classified as misdemeanours rather than felonies, as Council had not engaged in serious reckless driving, nor did he have drugs or alcohol in his system. A GPS device in his patrol car and witnesses at the scene confirmed Council was not speeding.

Assistant District Attorney David Tomkins told the newspaper that prosecutors had spent more than two months reaching a decision on the charges, after requesting a sample of Council's blood be re-analysed for traces of over-the-counter and prescription medication. "We wanted to make sure," said Tomkins. "That's why we ordered a more sophisticated drug screening."

Council was charged at the Santa Clara County jail on Thursday and subsequently released on $5000 bail.

Rasmussen email hacker gets jail term

A 31 year-old Danish man was jailed on Friday after being found guilty of hacking into the email account of Michael Rasmussen and trying to sell the details to a newspaper. Danish daily B.T. declined to purchase the emails and informed the police, who arrested the man in August last year.

According to AP, the hacker, whose name was not revealed, told the court he had guessed Rasmussen's password and gained access to emails relating to the cyclist's whereabouts in June 2007. At the time, Rasmussen had told the UCI he was training in Mexico, although it later emerged he had been spotted riding in the Italian Dolomites.

The former Rabobank rider is currently fighting a legal case against his former employer after being thrown off the team during last year's Tour de France. He is reportedly seeking damages of 5.5 million euros. A decision in the case is expected to be made on July 2.

Leukemans decision due June 27

Former Predictor-Lotto rider Bjorn Leukemans appeared before the Disciplinary Board of the Flemish Community on Friday, seeking a decision in his ongoing case for testosterone usage. The hearing was adjourned until next Friday, June 27 when the Belgian will know whether he is to be cleared of all charges or if his case must be re-examined.

Leukemans tested positive for testosterone in an out-of-competition control on September 26, 2007, just before the world championships in Stuttgart. He did not deny taking the substance, Prasteron, but said it was under advice from team doctor Sam Vermeire. Both rider and doctor were subsequently dismissed from the team.

On April 22, Leukemans was suspended for two years by the Disciplinary Board of the Flemish Community, but successfully appealed to the Council of the State, which ruled that the ban was disproportionate given the evidence on offer. The case was then referred back to the Flemish Community and three separate judges appointed. They must decide whether to maintain the two-year ban or absolve all charges. Leukemans made no comment at the meeting on Friday.

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