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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News, March 2, 2008

Edited by Ben Abrahams

Gilbert does it the Merckxian way

By Brecht Decaluwé in Gent

Gilbert produced a performance which drew comparisons to the legendary Eddy Merckx.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

With a blistering attack on the Eikenberg, Belgian star Philippe Gilbert hammered away from a group including big guns Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Thor Hushovd and Leif Hoste, on what seemed an impossible mission: the Française des Jeux rider had 50 kilometres to bridge up to the breakaway, beat them and claim victory on a windy, hilly and cobbled course. Eventually, though, the French speaking Belgian succeeded and claimed his second career win in the Omloop Het Volk, also known as the mini Tour of Flanders.

With a storm raging through Flanders the night before, the riders were heading for a tough race. Combine this with the new course, re-designed in part by triple Het Volk winner Peter Van Petegem, and it was clear the race would be a lot harder than in the past.

"It was a weird race," said Gilbert. "The start was very nervous, but pretty soon I figured I was stronger than the others."

The attack from Gilbert came just after some impressive work from the Quick Step team that reduced the amount of riders in the front rows of the peloton. "Just before we reached the Eikenberg there was a crash in the peloton and we were approaching the climb with only a small group of riders," he recalled.

"I felt really good and as I looked around the only thing I saw was fatigue. I told [Mickael] Delage to pull hard until we reached the foot of the Eikenberg and from there on I took over and gave all I had until I reached the top."

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At first, Cofidis' Nick Nuyens was able to hold Gilbert's wheel, but as the Française des Jeux rider caught and passed early attackers Roy Sentjes and William Bonnet, Nuyens dropped back. At the top of the climb there was a huge gap behind but the eventual winner couldn't decide what to do next. "I looked back and realized it would take a while before someone would bridge up. Ten kilometres later I was still on my own and figured I had to hammer those pedals as hard as I could until I reached the finish."

To read the full feature, click here.

Slipstream Chipotle opens spring season successfully

By Gregor Brown in Gent

Michael Friedman
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

American squad Slipstream Chipotle opened its Spring Classics season successfully thanks to the efforts of Michael Friedman. The 25 year-old American made the day's escape in the 63rd Omloop Het Volk - riding free at kilometre 15 to eventfully finish in 12th place. Huub Duyn and Christophe Laurent came in 30th and 32nd respectively, while Steven Cozza was recovering from jet lag and Tyler Farrar just content to roll into his adopted hometown of Gent.

"It is a start, it is kind of unknown ground for our Slipstream team, and we are making ground quickly; it is a real honour to be a part of that," said Friedman after animating the day for the argyle squad.

He mustered every bit of energy he had when the race went into the red to hang on and finish within the top 15 in one of Belgium's top races. Friedman was impressed when Gilbert passed by, but did not lose sight even though the lights were dimming. "I was a already in the hurt locker [when Gilbert passed at kilometre 173]. I was in the pain cave and I had dropped the flashlight, so it was pretty dark at that point," he laughed. "I was just hanging on. Like I said, it is an honour to be here and be a part of it."

It was the first time Friedman had tested his legs in the semi-classic, and based on today's result he should be prepared for his date with the monstrous Paris-Roubaix. "I am one of the fat kids on the team," he said with a smile on his tired face. "I have a big job coming up in Roubaix for Magnus Backstedt, so I got to be prepared for it."

Steven Cozza
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
(Click for larger image)

Easy to spot with his moustache, Steven Cozza crossed the line in 93rd while looking forward to some jet-lag-free days. "It did not go so well for me. Halfway though the race I stared feeling better, but by then it was too late.

"I am happy for Friedman, and [his ride] is good for the team. I hope for me that tomorrow [in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne] it will be better. I think that flying over here was bad for my legs, but it is usually like that on the first race and then it gets better. I usually suck in the first races, and I flew in on Tuesday. This is European racing, and [the Tour of] California was nothing like today, that was a cake walk."

Tyler Farrar, who led the Tour of California before being sent out the back with sickness, closed out Het Volk in his adopted hometown. After a 13 years hiatus the race finished in Gent, where the 23 year-old from Oregon makes his European base.

"There was a little bit of bad luck, I was in that big crash," he noted of the incident at kilometre 142. "We were car 15 [in the caravan] and I had to stand there and wait for a bike change. I was not hurt, but I had to wait as the cars passed. After that, there was a big gap and guys were everywhere."

Finishing in Gent was special, but really Farrar was jut happy to finish the 199-kilometre race. "I heard some friends yelling for me when I came into town, but it was more at the start. When I was coming into the finish it was just a matter of survival."

The Professional Continental team lines up in the 193-kilometre Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne tomorrow, starting a European campaign that already includes guaranteed starts in Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d'Italia.

Française des Jeux makes best use of the Belgians

By Brecht Decaluwé in Gent

Marc Madiot
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
(Click for larger image)

The Française des Jeux team has a strong line-up for both the Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the opening events of the Belgian road season. And while eventual Het Volk winner Philippe Gilbert was the clear team leader, there were some other Belgians ready to step up if necessary.

Team manager Marc Madiot told Cyclingnews before the race on Saturday that his Belgians are doing great, referring to both Philippe Gilbert and Gianni Meersman but also to his other discoveries Tom Stubbe and Jelle Vanendert. "The Belgian crowd is discovering their compatriots only now, thanks to their French neighbours," Madiot laughed. "Tom is in good form already, although he caught a cold recently. Also Vanendert will be a surprise for the Belgian crowd: he's a good bloke and I expect him to go well this season," said Madiot of the talented young climber who recently turned 23.

Team leader Gilbert was a relaxed man at the start of the race he won in 2006. "I know the course well," he said. "The return to Gent is nice; however, today there is a lot of wind, and it is a real race. I am happy to be back in Belgium racing; I live here, and I know so many people in this area... I think I have a chance to make a good result." And that certainly wasn't a lie - Gilbert dominated the race with a blistering attack 50 kilometres from the finish line.

As the designated first lieutenant to Gilbert before the start, Gianni Meersman was expected to be there with his team leader when the big guns fired in the hills near Oudenaarde. Meersman surprisingly joined the French team after Discovery Channel folded last year. "Two months ago my French was still in bad shape, but now it is much better," the Flemish-speaking Belgian explained after an interview in French that went without a hitch.

"My job today is to support Philippe. I've got the same characteristics as him, and so I should be able to perform well in races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the future," said the 22 year-old. Meersman was expected to support Gilbert in the finale, but before that could expect support himself from compatriot Tom Stubbe.

Cyclingnews also talked with Stubbe who is another new signing to the French Pro Tour team. "I joined the team on request of Philippe [Gilbert] who wanted a good domestique in the team; my job is to work," the 26 year-old laughed. "In the Omloop I need to stick around Meersman as long as I can. Thanks to my course knowledge I can move up at the right moments, but nevertheless it will be hard to make it into the finale."

Stubbe didn't figure in the finale and eventually finished 79th. "I caught a cold in the Algarve, but that shouldn't bother me," he said. His next race will be Tirreno-Adriatico, a race that could suit him with the longer climbs in Italy. "That's true, but for now it doesn't matter much where I race; it's more important to actually race. Today I'm a domestique and road captain, but in another race I can have a go myself in the finale," said Stubbe. At Française des Jeux everybody gets a chance to enjoy a free role once in a while.

It takes a little longer for Gerard

By Brecht Decaluwé in Gent

Arnaud Gerard (Franšaise des Jeux)
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
(Click for larger image)

While Philippe Gilbert's superb solo ride in the Omloop Het Volk captured most of the day's headlines, a few cycling fans might recognise the name of his team-mate Arnaud Gerard, who finally came of age during the Belgian semi-classic today. Since becoming junior world road race champion in 2002, the Frenchman hasn't gained the kind of results expected after a promising early career, but proved his worth by setting up Gilbert's final decisive move on the cobbles of 'Lange Munte'.

"Gilbert was the strongest man today. My job was to stay in front as long as I could, and on those last stretches on the cobbles I pulled at 100 percent. Philippe attacked well and off he was," Gerard told Cyclingnews after the race. A couple of minutes later the breakaway group was caught by the favourites, including Leif Hoste, who was spotted directing strong words at the youngster. But according to Gerard, "That was nothing. He only told me to stay on the wheels and stop disturbing the co-operation."

At the finish team manager Marc Madiot gave his rider a big hug and whispered something in his ear. "He told me that I rode the best race of my life," said the 23 year-old with delight. "For some [riders] it goes quickly, for some it takes a little longer and I am one of those. Today I showed that I made it eventually," Gerard laughed. "Now I want to capture a win myself. Which race? That doesn't matter, as long as I can win something."

UCI says Paris-Nice agreement not unanimous

After the announcement on Wednesday from the International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP) that a unanimous agreement had been reached with all member teams for participation in Paris-Nice, the UCI has said it believes several teams were not consulted about the decision. The dispute centres around Paris-Nice organiser Amaury Sports Organisation's (ASO) decision to run the event under sanctioning of the French Cycling Federation, and outside of UCI regulations.

AIGCP president Eric Boyer signed the statement declaring that, "The conditions of participation proposed by the organisers Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) will be discussed by a directing committee on Friday, February 29."

But the UCI insists that not all team managers were present at the meeting, and some were opposed to the AIGCP's proposals. "After having consulted several team managers, the UCI notes that Mr Boyer's statements do not correspond to the actual situation: several teams were not consulted. It is thus false to assert that the teams unanimously decided to participate in the Paris-Nice," read a UCI statement issued on Saturday.

"Not only did a restricted number of team managers attend the AIGCP meeting, but the majority of these declared that they were opposed to the contents of the press release of 27 February." added the statement. "The truth is thus that the teams did not come out in favour of participation in the Paris-Nice irrespective of the conditions. In fact, several teams contacted UCI seeking to take part in the Paris-Nice under UCI regulations."

With less than a week before the start of Paris-Nice, the governing body is continuing its appeal to teams and riders to support UCI regulations, insisting that refusal to comply will have far reaching consequences, such as the lack of insurance for riders and potential suspensions of up to six months.

"The UCI reiterates its appeal to the teams and their riders to respect UCI regulations as set out in the contract they have signed. Those involved in cycling must be protected by a single set of regulations. Cycling must be governed by a structure that reconciles the interests of all and must not be subject to the diktats of the entity with the most financial influence.

"The UCI demands that ASO should register its events, starting with the Paris-Nice, on the calendars agreed in Treviso in accordance with the commitment made by the President of the French Cycling Federation. The UCI wants the Paris-Nice to go ahead, but under the framework of UCI regulations."

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

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Kemmelberg and a motivated McEwen in Museeuw Classic

By Brecht Decaluwé in Brugge

All the organisers and sponsors
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
(Click for larger image)

Last week the organisers of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen - Johan Museeuw Classic (Three days of West Flanders) presented their 2008 edition at the auditorium of the province West-Vlaanderen. Attended by Johan Museeuw, who has his name linked to the race, the presentation used TV footage from previous editions to show that the race is gaining attention from teams and sponsors year after year.

First run in 1945 by the organisers from Ichtegem as a one-day race, the event retained this format until 1998 when Jesper Skibby was the winner. The following year Ichtegem joined forces with neighbouring Bellegem to form the Guldensporentweedaagse, a two-day race that was held until 2002. From 2003 onwards the organizers added a further day to their event, a format it has retained ever since.

In 2005 the race was cancelled due to snow, coming back in 2006 with Niko Eeckhout as victor while Johan Museeuw allowed the organisers to use his famous name. Last year West-Vlaanderen decided to support the race financially as all the stages were held in the province. Jimmy Casper - who tumbled out of competition on the Kemmelberg in Gent-Wevelgem a couple of weeks later - won the 2007 edition.

"We've tried to make our organisation even more professional and with eight Pro Tour teams at the start - three more than last year - I think we accomplished that goal," said organizer Bert Pattyn. "There are no better available slots, so we can't improve ourselves," added Pattyn when asked if the organisers might prefer a different date on the UCI calendar.

The auditorium in Brugge
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
(Click for larger image)

"Maybe if the Tour de France ceases," he joked. "For us, the problems of the UCI with the big organisers were a good thing since we've got better teams in our race."

Pattyn was of course referring to Astana. The Kazak sponsored team led by Johan Bruyneel didn't receive an invitation to compete in Paris-Nice nor Tirreno-Adriatico, and they will line up a strong team in Kortrijk on March 7. A good start list doesn't guarantee a good race, though, as last year the organisers complained about the lack of commitment from big star Robbie McEwen. "This year he comes again, but this time he promised he would be racing for three full days, last year he was only riding at 50 percent. He wants to prepare for Milano-Sanremo over here," Pattyn said.

Bunch sprints are to be expected in most of the stages although the race does encounter some serious challenges, most notably the Kemmelberg on stage three. The notorious descent caused a lot of damage in the peloton during Gent-Wevelgem when a lot of riders went down. Jimmy Casper, James Vanlandschoot, Andy Cappelle, Allen Johansen, Luke Roberts, Tyler Farrar, Fabio Sacchi and Wim Devocht were the main victims and doubts were raised over the safety of using a narrow descent with a poor surface.

The Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen will be the first race to use an alternative descent after climbing the cobbles. "We've ridden over the Kemmelberg as well in the past, but this will be a very important test case," noted Museeuw. "I'm afraid because it's a small road and if something happens there at 60 km/h..."

The former rider talked with Cyclingnews and suggested the organisers add further stages to make the race a serious alternative to Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico. "With three days it's a little too short to prepare well for Milano-Sanremo in order to compete with Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico," Museeuw explained.

"I'm proud to have a race in my own region," he added. The organisation even scheduled the race to pass through Museeuw's hometown of Gistel, barely missing a passage through the former Spring Classics specialist's living room. "There will not be as many people as during my farewell party, but it will be great," Museeuw smiled.

Special jerseys are awarded to the riders.
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
(Click for larger image)

Organiser Rik Goethals from Ichtegem introduced a special jersey from the race, which he hopes will become a real collector's item. "We want to bring the cycling and art culture together. It's not the first time we asked to design special jerseys, and last year it was successful. Casper was proud to be the owner of the 'beer-jersey', I'm told that he's a connoisseur," Goethals said. "This year the jerseys made by Decca were designed by Johan Tahon and he choose to use a textile structure print, which is typical for this region."

During the race there will be a statue dedicated to Germain Derycke (1929-1978) in Bellegem. The rather unknown Belgian battled against Fausto Coppi at the 1953 world championships in Lugano and eventually grabbed silver, but also managed to win the Ardennes Classics, Milano-Sanremo and a stage in the Tour de France.

The field expected in Kortrijk contains eight Pro Tour-teams, seven Professional Continental teams and four Continental teams, coming from 10 different countries. Among them are Silence-Lotto, Quick Step, Française des Jeux, Astana, Team High Road and BMC. The biggest names are Robbie McEwen, Wouter Weylandt, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tomas Vaitkus and Niko Eeckhout, but expect Alexandre Usov, Borut Bozic and Hans Dekkers to give them a hard time in the bunch sprints in West-Flanders.

Kupfernagel previews Olympic courses

By Bjorn Haake

Hanka Kupfernagel on the Great Wall of China
Photo ©: Mike Kluge
(Click for larger image)

World time trial and cyclo-cross champion Hanka Kupfernagel recently travelled to China with partner and coach Mike Kluge to preview several courses for the Beijing Olympic Games in August. The couple found the weather quite different to that expected this summer with temperatures hovering around freezing. While not ideal for training purposes, the cold air did make Beijing's notorious pollution more bearable. "Everybody has been talking about the air pollution, but when we were there it was no so bad," said Kluge.

In August last year, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge said that some endurance events at the Beijing Games may have to be postponed, unless the city could significantly reduce its serious smog problem. The Australian Olympic Committee has already stated that its athletes won't arrive in Beijing until the last possible moment, in order to avoid potential respiratory problems.

Worse than the weather was the traffic, and as the two rode through the city they got into several dicey situations. With China's rapidly expanding economy, the bicycle appears to be losing out against a fast growing car market. "The car drivers there do not have much respect and they will often cut you off," added Kluge.

As for the road course itself, Kupfernagel was content with what she saw. "It's OK," she said. The versatile German can potentially medal in three different disciplines this summer. She has good chances in the time trial, the endurance track events and also the mountain bike race. However, with the places for each nation rather limited, expect some more controversy to unfold in the German national team over the next few months.

Kupfernagel is currently in South Africa for a training camp.

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