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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News, June 25, 2008

Edited by Greg Johnson

Contador rates Evans as Tour favourite

Alberto Contador (Astana)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Astana) has named his rival from last year's event, Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), as favourite for this year's event. The Spanish youngster, who recently won the Giro d'Italia, will not defend his title this year but said missing one year of the French Grand Tour wasn't a "catastrophe."

"My favourite for the Tour is Cadel Evans, he's a solid rider who can really make time differences count in the time trials," Contador told AFP. "It should be quite an open Tour, with Evans, [Alejandro] Valverde and [Denis] Menchov the main favourites.

"The Tour is the best race in the world, but if I don't race it one year it's not a catastrophe," he added. "There are other races I can do."

Contador's team wasn't invited to the French event after the drama which surrounded the Astana name at last year's event. While the current Astana team has a completely new management team, that of the former Discovery Channel outfit, event organiser ASO has sidelined the squad for the 2008 race.

Under its former management, Astana rider Alexander Vinokourov tested positive during the Tour which led to the outfit being thrown out of the event.

"I did think at one time about changing teams [to race the Tour], but I couldn't do that – especially as Astana built the team around me," he said. "In the end I think I've made the right decision."

Instead the Spanish rider will focus on further cementing his name in cycling's history books. Contador will target the Olympic Games road race in Beijing, China, this year which features a course suited to the climber, as well as a Grand Tour triple with the Vuelta a España.

Saunier Duval-Scott swaps Tour captain with Riccò

By Gregor Brown

Riccardo Riccò will lead Saunier Duval-Scott.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Due to health problems that have hampered José Angel Gomez Marchante preparations and a strong racing desire by a refreshed Riccardo Riccò, Saunier Duval-Scott has decided to reshape its nine-man Tour de France team. Italy's Riccò, winner of two stages and second overall at last month's Giro d'Italia, will captain the team for the three-week race where he will have climbing ace Leonardo Piepoli along side for support.

"He asked if he could race the Italian Championships [June 29] and then, if [DS Joxean Fernández] Matxin agreed, if he could do the Tour," Saunier Duval-Scott directeur sportif Pietro Algeri said.

Instead of waiting until after his country's nationals this weekend, the 24 year-old told his team that he wants to race the Tour on Tuesday morning, prompting the Spanish squad's announcement.

Riccò has not officially raced since finishing second overall in the Giro d'Italia, where he also claimed the young rider classification and won the Agrigento and Tivoli stages. The Italian was slated to race the Tour de Suisse, June 14 to 22, but decided to stay home at the last minute.

"When the moment came to depart for the Tour de Suisse he said, 'I don't feel it; I really just want to sleep,' and so on," Algeri said. "I reassured him that he won't lose his form, not in just a week's time, and that if he is tired in the head, after two or three days rest, the desire to race will return.

"He told me that I was right, 'I had two or three days of only sleeping and the desire came back. Everyday [after], I trained just a little bit more and just a little bit better,'" added Algeri.

Riccò reportedly performed a mountain test near his home in Formigine (Modena) and recorded more or less the same time that he had set going into the Giro d'Italia. Algeri stated that Riccò will evaluate his form after the first mountain stages and decide if he will ride for the classification or not.

"He said that he does not have a lot of big adversaries, maybe more at the Giro," said Algeri.

The last and only time he raced the French Grand Tour was in 2006, when he finished 97th overall riding at the side of then team leader Gilberto Simoni. This time around it will be Riccò captaining the squad and will have the help of compatriot Piepoli, who crashed out of the Giro d'Italia.

"Piepoli is going well and has not really raced a lot race this season," said Algeri. "'It was a shame to leave the Giro and not do anything, and I want to do something at the Tour,' Piepoli said."

Juan José Cobo, David De La Fuente, Josep Jufré, Alberto Fernández De La Puebla, Jesús Del Nero and Ángel Gómez Gómez will help fill out the team's roaster, with the ninth spot going to Rubén Lobato, Aurélien Passeron or Rubens Bertogliati.

Vaughters names Slipstream's Tour roster

Christian Vande Velde will lead the squad
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Team Garmin-Chipotle director sportif Jonathan Vaughters has named the roster the squad will take to France for its Tour de France debut next month. Vaughters' squad will feature three of the four USA riders competing in this year's Grand Tour, with a mixture of seasoned and debutant riders making up the team's roster.

Christian Vande Velde will be the American Professional Continental team's general classification hope, although the squad also expects Trent Lowe to be strong throughout his debut in the Tour. Other riders debuting with the team include Will Frischkorn, Ryder Hesjedal, Danny Pate and Martyn Maaskant.

"Bringing a team to the Tour de France has always been our vision," said Jonathan Vaughters. "The riders on and off this list have worked incredibly hard for this. As a team, we are dedicated to giving our fans – and the world – something to cheer for at the Tour."

The team will count on the experience of riders like Vande Velde, former Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt, Julian Dean and David Millar during its first outing at the French Grand Tour.

Notably absent from the American team's roster are Dave Zabriskie and Tom Danielson. Zabriskie isn't able to take part in the French race after cracking a vertebra on the second day of last month's Giro d'Italia.

Danielson is also unable to contest the event for medical reasons. The much-loved rider has had a quiet season after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his shoulder and two ruptured discs in his back, something Vaughters says he has only 80 percent recovered from.

"He's up and down," Vaughters told the Denver Post. "He's certainly not ready for the Tour yet. We've got to give him a little more time. We'll put him in some hard races."

Vaughters announced earlier this month the signing of Garmin as the team's new title sponsor. The outfit's new jerseys and team-cars will be revealed at a launch on July 3, in Brest, France, just two days before the squad makes its Tour debut.

Team Garmin-Chipotle Tour de France roster: Magnus Backstedt, Julian Dean, Will Frischkorn, Ryder Hesjedal, Trent Lowe, Martijn Maaskant, David Millar, Danny Pate and Christian Vande Velde.

Menchov, Freire lead Rabobank at Tour

Denis Menchov will lead the Rabobank squad at the Tour de France, a team which also features three-time World Champion Oscar Freire for the sprint stages. Young Dutch rider Thomas Dekker was not nominated for the squad.

Dekker was uncertain of his place on the team after a poor performance at the recent Tour de Suisse. Dekker explained to de Telgraaf that he believed his form was on the way back up after his poor showing in Switzerland, which the rider attributed to a cold he contracted while training in bad weather in the Alps.

"But during a training ride in Tuscany on Monday I felt my old self again," said Dekker. "Last year, I showed that I am capable of working hard for the team in the mountains.

"If Menchov is in a good position, then I am sure that I would be worth a lot to him," Dekker said feeling certain of his Tour participation before the squad was announced.

Dekker's team director Erik Breukink had other ideas opting to leave the popular Dutchman at home and taking an in form Laurens ten Dam in his place. "We have chosen the nine riders who are currently the best," he explained. "His results in the Tour de Suisse, where Dekker himself said he was unsure of his form was what prompted us [to not select him]."

For 2008 the Rabobank management decided to change tactics from previous year for the 30 year-old Russian. Before winning the Vuelta a España in 2005 and 2007, Menchov rode the Tour de France. His results indicate that he has consistently performed better in his second Grand Tour of the season, which prompted the Dutch squad to use the Giro d'Italia as his warm-up race for the 2008 Tour de France.

Menchov's best result in the Tour was a sixth place in 2006.

Rabobank for the 2008 Tour de France: Denis Menchov, Laurens ten Dam, Pieter Weening, Oscar Freire, Juan Antonio Flecha, Sebastian Langeveld, Koos Moerenhout, Bram Tankink and Joost Posthuma.

Millar profiled on HBO sports program

By Steve Medcroft

The United States of America media company Home Box Office (HBO) is airing an episode of its sports analysis program Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel that features a segment on attempts to rid cycling of performance-enhancing drugs. During the episode, that airs for the first time 10:00 p.m. EST/PST Tuesday evening, correspondent Jon Frankel looks at David Millar's fall to a doping scandal and subsequent re-invention as a champion for a drug-free sport.

The segment starts by painting a simplistic and bleak picture of the sport; placing blame for a negative public perception and loss of sponsorship support solely at the hands of the riders who have been embroiled in doping scandals in recent seasons then quickly switches focus to Millar.

In the segment, Millar walks through his career, saying he was naive about the prevalence of doping in the sport when he started as an amateur and said doping "went against everything I stood for." Millar then speaks about a point in his early days as a professional after he won a race when he showed a team-mate that his natural hematocrit level at the time was 8 points below the UCI allowable 50 percent. "I saw it as showing him that you could win without doping," Millar says in the show but adds that his team-mates response was that Millar was unprofessional to not have a hematocrit level right at the allowable limits. The message, he said, was that doping was considered normal and expected.

The segment covers Millar's return to the sport and alignment with Jonathan Vaughters' Slipstream cycling team and delves into the team's mission to operate as a clean and open team. Vaughters and Dr. Paul Strauss, developer of Slipstream's blood profile program, are both featured in the segment.

The episode, which also features segments on the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games and horse breeding, will be aired again several times before the end of June.

De Jongh extends Quick Step deal

Steven De Jongh has extended his contract with the Quick Step ProTour team for another year, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. The 34 year-old has had a strong season in 2008, winning the Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne earlier in the season.

"We are very satisfied with this agreement," said Team Manager Patrick Lefevere. "Steven is an important part of our train for the sprints and he also showed that he is able to win the races when he has the responsibility of the team."

De Jongh knocked back offers from rival teams to stay with the Belgian squad, he said. After spending five years at the Dutch Rabobank squad, De Jongh moved to the Quick Step squad in 2006.

"I had several proposals for other teams but I chose Quick Step because my heart is with the team, with Tom [Boonen] and the rest of the guys," he said. "Everybody in this team works very hard to reach the objectives."

The Alkmaar-born rider made his professional debut with TVM in 1995. The previous year de Jongh claimed four victories as an amateur, including a stage of Australia's Commonwealth Bank Classic.

Dutch mountain biker denies doping

Dutch mountain biker Arielle van Meurs has denied doping, after she was removed from the World Championships for a high hematocrit. "Of course I deny that," she told, claiming she has naturally high hematocrit values.

On Saturday morning, van Meurs underwent a blood test at breakfast, and, she said, it showed that here value was 47.9, when the maximum allowed is 47.

"The blood is too thick and the International Cycling Union (UCI) said it was too dangerous to ride. That has nothing to do with doping," she said. "I have naturally a very high hematocrit and it is often above the standard. Plus, the night was very warm and that doesn't help."

After the morning test, the 33 year-old went out to the course for a training ride. While out training she was pulled over after the first lap, informed of the test results and removed from the championships.

Women adopt Team Columbia name

Team High Road's men's squad will be re-launched in early July as Team Columbia, but the women's squad has already undergone the name change. The team is being re-named after team owner Bob Stapleton announced earlier this month the signing of clothing company Columbia as new title sponsor.

The women's team is now listed under the new name, Team Columbia Women, in the UCI's official lists. The women's team remains registered in Germany, while the men's team has a United States of America license. The men's outfit is still listed under the High Road name by the UCI, with the re-launch expected to take place in Brest, France just days before the start of next month's Tour de France.

(Editorial assistance and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)

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