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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, June 27, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

Valverde tunes up in Sierra Nevadas

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Valverde at the Dauphiné
Photo ©: JF Quénet
(Click for larger image)

Tour contender Alejandro Valverde has been prepping for the mountainous parcours he will face this July by hitting a second training camp at altitude in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucía, Spain. While his native Murcia has its share of climbs, the Caisse d'Epargne team leader has decided that the extremes of this years Tour de France required special preparation at higher altitudes.

Valverde used the snowy mountain range to prepare for the Dauphiné Libéré, which he won earlier this month, and returned with his team-mate Luis León Sánchez last week. The pair took in climbs between 1,500 and 2,000 metres above sea level, and slept at altitude. "The outcome has been very positive," he told Cyclingnews. "The fact is that there are no passes in Murcia, so it was convenient travel to Sierra Nevada (about 350 kilometers from Murcia) for more optimal training."

For Valverde, training at altitude is preferable to using a hypobaric chamber to simulate the rarified air of the mountains. "I have had one for three years, but I only used it on some twenty occasions."

The Spaniard feels that the reduced length of time trials in this year's Tour will put the main emphasis on the four mountain top finishes. "In the first of the two time trials in Cholet, I do not believe there will be big time differences because it is too early [stage four] and it is just 30 kilometres. I will be alright at that distance, as I have demonstrated, although its profile favours specialists.

"The other, Saint Amand Montrond [stage 20], is more complicated, but I do not think it will decide the podium positions, in any case there may be variations among the top twenty."

The four mountain top finishes will be the decisive factor in the race, according to the Spaniard. While the first uphill finish atop Hautacam on stage 10 is daunting, Valverde thinks that it is too early in the Tour to be decisive. "There is still a long way to go to Paris," he said of this stage, "and it will be measured efforts [on the climb]. Even so, we must be very attentive to the movements of our rivals."

As for the Italian finish at Prato Nevoso, he had a similar view. "There may already be established and important differences that will serve as a reference, but there are still other mountains and riders will be saving their strength for later stages." The real race will be on the famous switchbacks of L'Alpe d'Huez, said Valverde.

Tour 2008 clear favourites: Evans, Valverde and Cunego

By Gregor Brown

Australia's Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) is the top favourite going into the 2008 Tour de France
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

On the eve of another post-Lance Armstrong Tour de France, it is anyone's guess as to who will don the maillot jaune of best overall rider when the three-week race concludes in Paris. There are only a handful of contenders, but just how they will perform on the parcours with decreased time trial kilometres but more mythical mountain stages is unknown.

When organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announced the route of the 95th Tour de France, it was clear that a rider who could excel in the mountains and hold his own in the time trials would have a shot at the overall win. The riders' climbing legs will be put to the test with four mountaintop stage finishes – Super Besse (stage six), Hautacam (stage 10), Prato Nevoso (15) and L'Alpe d'Huez (17) – while their time trialing abilities will be put to use in only 82.5 kilometres over two stages (4 and 20).

Due to the problems in Team Astana 2007, Alberto Contador, the defending champion and winner of the Giro d'Italia will not be at the Grand Départ in Brest. The 25 year-old followed Johan Bruyneel from Team Discovery Channel to Astana over the winter, a team which carried with it some baggage in the eyes of the ASO. Last year, Alexander Vinokourov's positive doping test during Tour forced the team to withdraw; adding to the doping positives of Matthias Kessler and Andrey Kashechkin, the team completely reorganised its management, but that was not enough to get an invite to the biggest cycling race.

His absence narrows the list of favourites to just five men: Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo).

Australia's Evans – top ten in the last three years, including second in 2007 – is the hottest pick for the 2008 title. Last year, just 23 seconds separated him from a Tour victory. This year, his morale has surely been raised thanks to one of his best spring campaigns in years – with wins in Vuelta a Andalucía (stage), Paris-Nice (Mont Ventoux stage), Coppi e Bartali (overall and stage) – and the recent announcement that the Silence-Lotto team would be 100 percent behind him, leaving top sprinter Robbie McEwen to look after himself in the bunch gallops.

"I've always had the idea I want to prove to the team what I'm capable of, so I can win their faith and hopefully what I'm capable of is winning their belief in me," Cadel said in a recent interview with Cyclingnews. "They will work for me and work 110%. Two years ago I wasn't sure of myself, if I could win the Tour and now all the indications are there that I can, so..." Adding power to Evans' punch will be new recruit Yaroslav Popovych, former lieutenant of Armstrong.

Continue to the full preview.

Quick Step refocuses Tour goals

Belgian Gert Steegmans will be the team's sprinter
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The Belgian Quick Step squad has re-focused its Tour de France goals after giving up on the idea that the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) would reverse its decision to keep green jersey candidate Tom Boonen from the start line in Brest.

Boonen's positive for cocaine might not have earned him an official suspension, but his team announced Thursday that it had come to a decision to accept the ASO's request that 'Tornado Tom' stay home this July.

Boonen received the support of his team and its sponsors, who desperately wanted to see last year's points classification winner repeat that victory. But finally, team manager Patrick Lefevere had to accept that this would not happen. "Although we continue to consider what happened to Tom as an extra-sports episode," Lefevere explained, "we also respect the position expressed by the ASO during the meeting held last week in Paris.

"After talking at length with the rider we believe that this is the best solution for Tom and the team. Tom will try to compete for the green jersey next year."

Boonen expressed his disappointment, but vowed to come back fighting at the Tour in 2009. "I know how much this race means to my team, my sponsors and all my fans. Next year, I'm going to come back even more motivated to try again for the green jersey," he said in a statement. "From now on I'm going to give my best in every race I participate, starting with the National Championship on Sunday. The season is not over yet by any means and fortunately I still have a lot of challenges ahead, from la Vuelta in Spain to the World Championship in Varese which takes place on a parcours I really like."

While Boonen contests the Tour of Austria and Tour de Wallonie, Wilfried Peeters and Dirk Demol will be leading a strong squad in France. With Gert Steegmans for the sprints and Stijn Devolder for the overall classification, the team has a good chance for stage victories.

Quick Step for the Tour: Carlos Barredo, Matteo Carrara, Stijn Devolder, Steven De Jongh, Sébastien Rosseler, Gert Steegmans, Matteo Tosatto, Kevin Van Impe and Jurgen Van de Walle.

Third crown for Sylvain Chavanel

By Jean-François Quénet

Chavanel wants to do this again
Photo ©: Fabrice Lambert
(Click for larger image)

Sylvain Chavanel has become the French champion for the third time in three participations. As in 2005 and 2006, he has scored the fastest time in the Burgundy region. "I'm happy to get my third title," he said when he got off his bike. "I've proven to be one of the best specialists for time trial in France, and maybe I'm even the best. But still, I'd rather win the road title on Sunday than today's time trial."

He didn't compete last year under the instructions of his Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer. "I skipped the time trial so people would forget about me in the road race, but it didn't work," he recalled. "But now, with the races I've won this year and the good form I've kept, I'll be marked on Sunday no matter what. But I'm not the favorite, I'm just one of the ten favorites." He refused to name who he sees as his most fearful opponents.

Chavanel built his win on the hill that will be used for the road race on Sunday as well. It was at the beginning of the course of the time trial and many riders put themselves in the red there and never recovered. That was the case for defending champion Benoît Vaugrenard from Française des Jeux who only came 22nd this time and his runner up last year Dimitri Champion of Bouygues Telecom. "I never found the rhythm," said the Parisian rider who had prepared specifically for this race as he knew that he was not in contention alongside Thomas Voeckler and co. for the Tour de France.

Also see Cyclingnews' full coverage of the National Championships.

Mayo hopes to race again

By Antonio J. Salmerón

The Saunier Duval-Scott climber Iban Mayo is will awaiting for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to decide his fate over an alleged positive control for EPO. The rider's first sample from the second rest day of the 2007 Tour de France tested positive for the banned blood booster, but the backup sample was sent to Belgium for analysis where the result came back inconclusive. A third analysis was performed in France, which came back positive.

The outraged Spaniard cried foul, calling the multiple analyses illegal. The Spanish cycling federation considered the Belgian result to be final, and cleared the rider, and then refused to re-open the case. The UCI took the case to CAS, which will make its decision next month. "I hope that the final decision is not delayed further," Mayo said. "I expected it in May, but it was merely a review, a procedure for submitting claims. I thought that everything was going to be faster. There is no choice but to wait and be patient," the Basque rider said to

He has already spent almost a year without racing. "You have ups and downs, especially when you see all the irregularities of the process. The most difficult thing is that my squad has not allowed me to race. The Spanish Federation has not sanctioned to me; my case is filed, and I had a license to compete from the Challenge of Mallorca (in February).

The 31 year-old rider born in Igorre (Bizkaia) wants to continue racing with Saunier Duva-Scott for one more year, "because I had signed by Saunier Duval-Scott for two seasons (2007-2008), but I'm even automatically renewed for 2009. But I don't want to force the situation."

EPO urine test a failure, Danish scientists claim

The urine test to detect the banned blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO) has come under question by a new study from Denmark. Scientists have called into question the efficacy of the test after they sent samples known to contain EPO for testing to two World Anti-doping Agency accredited labs, and received inconsistent results.

The study, which will appear in next month's edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology was performed last year by the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center. Samples were taken at various times from eight men before, during and after being dosed with EPO.

The samples were then sent to two WADA labs, one of which did not find a single positive sample. The other lab did find some positives, but also declared one sample positive which should have been negative, according to the researchers.

WADA questioned the study, claiming that its own investigations have shown different results. WADA scientific director Olivier Rabin told the New York Times that his group performs similar procedures to test its accredited labs, and has never seen such disparity. "I have never seen such a drastic situation as the one reported in this article," said Dr. Rabin. He did concede that when labs receive his samples, they are aware they are from WADA.

The difficulties in detecting EPO is why both teams and the UCI have moved toward the biological passport program, which examines the results of doping with EPO, rather than looking for the drug itself.

Baugé undergoes surgery, will miss French championships

Track sprinter Gregory Baugé will miss the French championships after having to undergo surgery, his coach Florian Rousseau learned Wednesday. The 23 year-old had an infected wisdom tooth removed. Baugé is still expected to race the team sprint and keirin at the Beijing Olympics, however.

Baugé will not be able to defend his titles in the individual sprint and keirin at the French championships which run from July 3 to July 9 in Hyères, but said he would get back on his bike next week.

Tough Tour Of Ireland route announced

By Shane Stokes

Building on the success of last year's race, the 2008 Tour of Ireland looks to be a more ambitious, challenging event and one which should guarantee an uncertain outcome right up until the final moments of the last stage.

Details of the race were announced on Thursday in Dublin Castle, with the 2.1 event starting on August 27th and once again running for five days. "We were very happy with last year's race but we want to continue to develop the event," said race organiser Alan Rushton.

"We will have sixteen teams of seven riders, coming from Europe, the USA, South Africa and Australia. We have already signed up the top team in the world, Team Columbia, and they are bringing over Mark Cavendish. He is a top sprinter, the fastest boy in the world at the moment, and also will have the three times world time trial champion Michael Rogers. So we are very excited about that.

"There will be riders from over 20 countries in all," he continued, confirming that Ireland's Contental teams An Post M. Donnelly Grand Thornton Sean Kelly and Pezula Racing would be taking part. "We will be releasing details of more teams in the next few weeks."

The race will begin with a 192 kilometre stage from Dublin to Waterford, taking in the climbs of Djouce on the road up to Roundwood plus Mount Leinster, and then finishing in the Quays. Day two should also result in a bunch finish, the 158 kilometre leg travelling along rolling roads en route from Thurles to Loughrea.

Things get tougher on stage three, a 210 kilometre route from Ballinrobe to Galway, as the riders will face the category two climb of Finny plus two other tough ascents. As was the case last year, the stage will finish in Salthill after five hours racing around the picturesque region of Connemara.

This is then followed by a tough 186 kilometre race from Limerick to Dingle, crossing the category one Connor Pass before heading on to the first crossing of the finish line. The peloton will then take in a tough 36 kilometre finishing loop out by Dunquin and the steep climb of Mam Clasach, before once again heading for Dingle and concluding with an uphill sprint there.

The final stage is set to be a real classic. It starts in Killarney and covers 155 kilometre in all, this distance including four laps of a gruelling 17 kilometre finishing circuit. Each of these will take in the 25% wall of St. Patrick's hill plus another new climb on the other side of the Lee, making it entirely possible the race lead could change.

It is a reversal of last year, when the St. Patrick's hill stage started the race; on that occasion, eventual winner Stijn Vandenbergh ( got clear with ten others and took his first professional victory in Cork. He and his team then defended the lead until the race end five days later in Dublin.

Concluding the race with the tough finishing circuit in Cork means that suspense is guaranteed right up until the final moments of the race; this should satisfy the vocal crowds there and also the large worldwide audience, which will see the race courtesy of broadcasters such as Versus USA, ITV, RTE, Sport + France, ESPN Star Sports Asia, Viasat Scandinavia, Mnet South Africa, SBS Australia, Gillete World Sports and EBU – UER Europe.

This overseas coverage will satisfy the main race sponsor Fáilte Ireland, which is the government body charged with promoting tourism there. Other sponsors include An Post, Fiat, Di Marchi Sport, Vittel water, Festina watches, Waterford Crystal, Thule car racks and Ordinance Survey Ireland. More backers will be announced closer to the race start.

Stage 1: Dublin to Waterford, 192km
Stage 2: Thurles to Loughrea, 158km
Stage 3: Ballinrobe – Galway, 201km
Stage 4: Limerick to Dingle, 186km
Stage 5: Killarney to Cork, 155km

Monaco to decide on Rasmussen sanction

Dane Michael Rasmussen, who was removed from the 2007 Tour de France while wearing the yellow jersey for having falsified information on his whereabouts prior to that race, could face an official sanction from the Monaco Cycling Federation (FMC) on Tuesday.

Rasmussen was heard by the FMC, which issued his racing license, on May 28, according to AFP, "We handled the four alleged infractions on a case by case basis. It was a difficult matter, dense, and the UCI regulation is not simple," said Daniel Bottero, the president of the hearings commission of the FMC.

"We have handed over our judgment [Thursday] to the federation of Monaco, who has promised the International Cycling Union (UCI) to give its decision on Tuesday at the latest," Bottero told AFP.

Rasmussen was removed from the Tour on July 25, 2007 by his Rabobank team. The Dane had received warnings for incorrect whereabouts information several times by the UCI, but in the final case was found to have told the cycling body that he was in Mexico while witnesses saw him training in Italy.

Rasmussen is currently suing his former Rabobank team for wrongful dismissal, and claims his team knew his exact location during last June. The decision in that suit is due next week.

If the FMC decides that the Dane had given false information three times within an 18 month period, he could be given a two-year suspension.

Mandri recuperating from Giro injuries

Estonian Rene Mandri has resumed training after suffering severe injuries in a crash on stage six of this year's Giro d'Italia. The AG2R La Mondiale rider suffered multiple fractures and a pneumothorax in that wreck, and had to recover in France before heading back to his native country to convalesce.

He has since received good news from medical examinations. He was cleared to resume training on a stationary bike, and the only pain he suffers from is his broken radius, which requires a split. He will soon be able to return to training on the road, and is expected to return to competition in August. "I am resuming training little by little, but I am optimistic for the future. In any case, I am motivated to go hard!"

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