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Photo ©: Schaaf

Latest Cycling News, June 26, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

It's National Championships time!

The European National road and time trial championships are already under way, with most races scheduled on the week-end. As appetizers, Cyclingnews staff has previewed the most important events on the continent, starting with Italy, Belgium and Germany. More previews will follow soon!

Italy: Top guns battle in Bergamo

By Gregor Brown

Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) may find a repeat at Nationals pretty tough
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
(Click for larger image)

Top Italian guns will battle for the rights to wear the national championship jersey this Sunday in Bergamo. The fight of riders such as Damiano Cunego, Riccardo Riccò and Enrico Gasparotto promises to be legendary on the 18.7-kilometre circuit parcours, which includes the Colle Aperto climb.

The city, ten years on from Andrea Tafi's win, returns to host a 254.8-kilometre men's road race as part of the Settimana Tricolore. The 375-metre Colle Aperto, coming just two kilometres before the arrival and repeated 13 times, should produce a difficult day out. Expect to see those riders that excel in the Ardennes Classics rise to the front.

Damiano Cunego is a name that many people are touting as he won the Amstel Gold Race earlier this year and is back on form heading into the Tour de France. The 26 year-old will have strong Lampre support from the likes of Alessandro Ballan and Paolo Bossoni.

Enrico Gasparotto just came off a successful run in the Ster Elektrotoer, winning a stage and the overall, and should be there at the end of the day. Since the Barloworld rider concluded his Giro d'Italia he has been solely concentrating on the nationals which he won three years ago in Abruzzo as a neo-professional.

Riccardo Riccò could really surprise us as he has not been racing since finishing second in the Giro d'Italia, but the Saunier Duval rider has confirmed he has been training long hours and seems to be rejuvenated as evident by his recent self-selection for the Tour de France. Riccò, like Cunego and Gasparotto, showed well in the Spring Classics and should perform well on what is expected to be a hot day out.

Please click here to read the full preview.

Belgium: Ocean breeze will deal blows to competitors

By Bjorn Haake

The 2008 Belgian National Championships will take place in Knokke-Heist, over a real classics distance of 254.6 kilometres. About a quarter of the course is located next to the ocean, meaning the biggest challenge will come from the ocean winds blowing across the course. This will especially make a difference considering the race's long distance.

The circuit is 13 kilometres long and runs in a counter-clock wise direction. The riders will have to race over rail road tracks twice per loop, and the bumpy crossings will add up after 19 laps.

There are long straights in the parcours and a strong team controlling things is likely to provide the victor.

Can Lotto Silence Quick Step?

The two big teams in Belgium are Quick Step and Silence-Lotto. Quick Step will try to defend the title, which it won via Stijn Devolder last year. Devolder may look for a bit of a confidence booster following his disastrous mountain time trial in the Tour de Suisse.

Quick Step's Tom Boonen and Gert Steegmans are the other big guns in the team. Kevin Seeldraeyers, Jurgen Vandewalle, Wouter Weylandt, Maarten Wijnants and Kevin Van Impe may also get a chance, depending on the race situation.

Please click here to read the full preview.

Germany: City course will decide next champion

By Bjorn Haake

Fabian Wegmann riding in the national champ top
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

The winner of the 2008 German Championships will definitely have earned the jersey. The course is not hard in terms of climbing - the highest point is only 90 vertical metres compared to the start – but the course is a typical city course and several dividers, roundabouts and sharp turns will make potential breakaways possible. Some descents also suffer from lack of good pavement, adding to a potential crash fest, especially on a rainy day.

With 19 kilometres, laps are rather long. The men will have to complete the course 11 times, for a total of 210 kilometres. The women will do six laps, yielding 114 kilometres. The race starts out flat, but with a few sharp turns. A short uphill drag is followed by a descent on the Bruchstrasse, with the name probably given by the many potholes, cobble stones and otherwise not very smooth asphalt.

Midway through comes the major climb of the day. It drags on for about one kilometre, with the false flat at the top and possible head winds rushing over the farm fields from the riders' left not necessarily helping. The following kilometres through a residential area is at time technical, but mostly it is downhill, so the riders can recover a bit. The gradual descent extends almost all the way to the finish line, but a U-turn about half a kilometre from the finish will require the riders' concentration and will surely add an interesting aspect in case of a potential field sprint.

Wegmann able to defend?

Fabian Wegmann of Gerolsteiner is looking to defend his 2007 title, and if only so his girlfriend can keep recognising him in the peloton! The route may be a bit too flat for his liking, but the punchy rider is a good descender, too. Gerolsteiner is not putting all its eggs in one basket and has a total of 15 (!) riders on the start line. The Fothen brothers Markus and Thomas, as well as Stefan Schumacher and Johannes Fröhlinger could be the other men in potential breakaways, while Heinrich Haussler and Robert Förster will bide their time for a potential sprint.

Please click here to read the full preview.

More National Championships previews can be found here:


Regularly check the main page of the National Championships' coverage as it is constantly updated.

A summary of all the Championships' results can be found here.

Bennati out of Tour

Daniele Bennati won in style on the Champs-Elysées last year
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Injury-stricken Daniele Bennati is out of luck this year. After having his Spring season destroyed by a persisting knee problem, the Liquigas sprinter is now reported not being able to contest the Tour de France, where he won two stages last year.

Bennati suffers from an inflammation of the left Achilles tendon. He started to feel the pain during the Mortirolo stage at the Giro d'Italia, where he nevertheless won three stages as well as the best sprinter's jersey.

"I’m really sad to miss the race," commented the rider. "Unfortunately, the strain of the Giro has caused my left leg to suffer, which is the one that had slightly less training because I injured it at the start of the year. I've spoken with the team and we all agree that it’s better to rest now and not risk the end of the season."

Press agent for Liquigas, Paolo Barbieri, confirmed to Cyclingnews, "Given the problems that he has we hope that he can be back in form for the season finale. It is very sad, we had high hopes after the Giro [wins] and this Tour would have given him a lot opportunities. We will see him again in September."

'Benna' wanted to add the Green Jersey to his Maglia Ciclamino this year. Still, team manager Roberto Amadio assured his confidence in the rider. "I'm sure that he will come back successfully at the Vuelta," he said.

Liquigas announces line-up

Meanwhile, Bennati's team has published its Tour de France roster. "We've put together a competitive team that should do well on the different routes in the Tour," said directeur sportif Stefano Zanatta. "We're aiming to win as many stages as possible, and we've got the right men to accomplish this goal."

Filippo Pozzato will be closely watched on the hilly stages of the Tour as he will try to repeat his feat of last year when he won stage five from Chablis to Autun. 'Pippo' will be assisted by Manuel Quinziato, the team’s asset for the time trials, as well as Frederik Willems from Belgium and Aliaksandr Kuchynski from Belarus.

Battling it out on the race’s 19 mountain ascents will be the Spanish rider Manuel Beltran, a veteran who is ready to offer his years of experience to help the two new riders to the Tour, Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger, the recent winner of the Tour de Suisse.

Murilo Fischer and Francesco Chicchi will be Liquigas' sprinters to watch out for. In the absence of Bennati, the Brazilian and Italian will try to go for a stage win in the bunch finishes themselves.

Steegmans stepping up a gear

Gert Steegmans, 27, has been on target this year
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

With Tom Boonen almost certain to miss the Tour de France, Gert Steegmans has additional responsibility in the sprints. But that too gives him additional opportunity. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes looks at the Belgian's changed role.

On the second stage of last year's Tour de France Gert Steegmans showed that he had what it takes to win at the very top level of the sport. Normally a lead-out man for Tom Boonen, the then 26 year-old Belgian accelerated so powerfully in the final few hundred metres that his team leader could not get by.

To his credit, the 2005 World Champion appeared as happy with Steegmans' triumph in Gent as he would have been if he won himself. Boonen went on to win the green jersey in the race, taking two stage victories in total, while Steegmans settled back into his customary role.

However that success marked the beginning of a new period for the rider. He'd taken good victories before, with his 2006 haul including two stages of the Tour of Algarve plus stage victories in the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque, the Tour of Picardie and the Tour of Belgium. In addition, his pre-Tour haul in 2007 was also a healthy one, with stage victories in the Tour of Algarve, the Driedaagse van De Panne and the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque.

Yet something undoubtedly clicked in his mind on that day in Gent. After the Tour, Steegmans dominated the Circuit Franco-Belgie, winning two stages, placing second on another and landing the overall victory. This year, he took the Trofeo Calvia in Mallorca and then won stages one and two of Paris-Nice, with his victory on the first day in France being particularly impressive; he started his sprint 350 metres from the line in Nevers and opened up a two second gap over Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) and Karsten Kroon (Team CSC). Perhaps that was the moment where he showed that he had outgrown his lead-out man role.

Click here to read the full feature.

Rasmussen vs. Rabobank verdict expected next week

A judge in Utrecht, Netherlands, has announced he would pronounce his verdict on the legal case opposing Michael Rasmussen and his former team Rabobank on Wednesday, July 2. According to Belgian press agency Belga, the trial involving 5.5 million Euro in damages will thus be decided before the start of the next Tour de France.

In last year's Tour, the Dane was excluded from the race by his own team for having lied about his whereabouts prior to the event. Rasmussen admitted having misled the UCI, signaling a stay in Mexico while he was actually in Italy, but said that Rabobank's team management perfectly knew of his whereabouts. The rider, who is hoping for a come-back soon, claims his dismissal of the team was not valid. The 5.5 million Euro damages would cover not only his contract but also bonuses and other income he would have received as Tour de France winner.

Tour de l'Avenir presented

With the Tour de France only nine days away, its 'younger brother', the Tour de l'Avenir, has been presented by race organiser ASO. The event, carried out for the 54th time, will take place from September 5-14 this year, taking its U23 riders from Chalette-sur-Loing in Northern France down to Mirepoix in the South, close to the Pyrenees.

The 1380km-route is designed to be selective as it will make the peloton take on the Massif Central, France central mountain range, as well as the Pyrenees. A prologue of 7.5km as well as a time trial totaling 21km adds to the race's resemblance with the Tour de France.

The Tour de l'Avenir will be carried out as a UCI Nations Cup Under 23 event. 20 national teams, each counting six riders, will be at the start line.

The stages outline as follows:

Prologue - September 5: Chalette-sur-Loing, ITT (7,5 km)
Stage 1 - September 6: Chalette-sur-Loing-Avallon (131 km)
Stage 2 - September 7: Vézelay-Commentry (195,5 km)
Stage 3 - September 8: Néris-les-Bains-St-Symphorien (209 km)
Stage 4 - September 9: St-Symphorien-sur-Coise-St-Flour (181,5 km)
Stage 5 - September 10: Saint-Flour-Carmaux (212,5 km)
Stage 6 - September 11: Blaye-les-Mines-Blaye-les-Mines, ITT (21 km)
Stage 7 - September 12: Saint-Juéry-Revel Saint-Ferréol (134 km)
Stage 8 - September 13: Revel-Guzet (149,5 km)
Stage 9 - September 14: Seix-Mirepoix (144,5 km)

Feillu extends

Young French hopeful Romain Feillu (Agritubel) has extended his contract with the Professional Continental team through 2009. The Silver medallist of the 2006 U23 Road World's in Salzburg did not wait for the Tour de France to make his decision. "I received some other proposals from various teams, but I chose to stay for the familiar feeling within the team," said the 24 year-old. "I'm very happy to pursue my adventure with this outfit and its members, whom I have become very attached to."

Feillu had been out with toxoplasmosis at the beginning of the season, but is back to form after his recent win of the Boucles de l'Aulne. He is part of Agritubel's line-up for the Tour de France this year.

Interbike to remain in Las Vegas

The Interbike International Bicycle Expo will remain in Las Vegas, its management today announced. An agreement with the Sands Expo and Convention Center to host the industry's show for a minimum of three more years, beginning with the 2010 show, is currently being finalised.

"The decision to keep the Interbike show in Vegas comes after years of research and communication with our retailer attendees, exhibiting manufacturers and important industry partners," said Lance Camisasca, Interbike's industry consultant. "The data and communication we have collected, along with industry recommendations from organisations like the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) and Bikes Belong, confirm our decision to keep the show in Las Vegas."

Keeping Las Vegas as the host city for the Interbike trade show came into question two years ago in preparation to renew the show's contract with the Sands Convention Center, which expires with the 2009 show. Among other things, members of the industry were interested in seeing the show support a more cycling-friendly city, while maintaining the best return on investment for exhibitors and retail buyers.

"While no one city is a completely perfect fit for the show, we are confident that Las Vegas continues to be the city of choice for the majority of our members," said Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. "After numerous communications with our members and board and reviewing the annual survey results, the proof is in the numbers. In addition to what shop owners and managers say to us and what they put in a survey, retailers' loudest vote has been with their feet by attending the show."

The 2008 Interbike trade-only events begin with OutDoor Demo (September 22-23, 2008 in Boulder City), followed by the Interbike Expo, September 24-26 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas, and OutDoor Demo East, October 21-22 at Roger Williams Park in Providence, Rhode Island.

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