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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, March 26, 2008

Edited by Gregor Brown

Di Luca upset with ASO's decision

Danilo Di Luca, 32, is upset with ASO's decision to leave out Team LPR Brakes for Flèche and Liège
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The announcement by the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) of the teams invited to its Spring Classics – Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – did not come as welcome news for Danilo Di Luca. The 32 year-old Italian from Abruzzo saw that his team, LPR Brakes, did not make the list and that he would not be able to defend his 2007 Liège title. Di Luca has been involved in two investigations since his win last year in Ans: Oil for Drugs and one involving his hormone levels following 2007 Giro d'Italia's stage 17 to Monte Zoncolan, a race he went on to win overall.

"What bothers me the most is that I will not be able to race Liège with the number 1 [on my back]," said Di Luca to La Gazzetta dello Sport following confirmation of the team selection news.

Di Luca received the confirmation to race in RCS Sport's Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, and he performed well in the former while was disrupted for the latter. On the eve of Sanremo he was notified that he would have to wait ten more days for a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) regarding the 2004 Oil for Drugs affair. "Certainly, the stress in the previous days took its toll."

Classics Flèche (April 23) and, moreover, Liège (27) were Di Luca's season goals. "I would have arrived at the Classics in the best of form, with the possibility of repeating in both races." He won Flèche Wallonne in 2005.

"It is clear the decision to leave us at home is related the investigations open against me. Now, I am really broken. It is absurd that this situation [Oil for Drugs - ed.] goes on for 10 months, since I won the Giro d'Italia, and I have no longer had any peace. I hope that it is closed as quickly as possible."

The expert panel of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) is expected to release its decision on April 1 regarding the irregular hormone levels revealed from controls following stage 17 of the Giro. If found guilty, Di Luca faces a two-year suspension and the risk of losing his Giro title. Assuming all goes well, his return to racing will be in the Settimana Lombarda (April 1) and the Giro del Trentino (22 to 25).

Gasparotto's birthday in Sanremo

Enrico Gasparotto on the Poggio during the Milano-Sanremo, his 26th birthday
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

One of the youngest hopefuls going into last Saturday's Milano-Sanremo was Enrico Gasparotto. The Italian from Friuli-Venezia Giulia had lit the fuse to the stick of dynamite in Tirreno-Adriatico with a show of good form and he had hoped that the explosion of speed would come about for the finale of Sanremo, the day of his 26th birthday.

Gasparotto went into action on the Poggio by marking the move of Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), and helped form the escape of 16 that had the winning gap on the descent and the six-kilometre finale. The tactics of the move were complicated with renowned sprinter Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Tirreno winner Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) in the mix, and when it hit the final 2000 metres Cancellara blasted for the eventual win while Gasparotto finished in 12th.

"I knew that Cancellara would do that, but damn it, I think that Liquigas and Lampre, with two riders each, did not do well to close the gap. I was forced to wait for the others, but..." said a disappointed 'Gaspa' to Cyclingnews in the confusion that typically follows the finish in Sanremo.

In the day's leading up to Sanremo, Gasparotto noted that he could 'dream' of a win thanks to his superb form and that he was anxious to show the disbelievers his value. Even though the day did not come to a win for the Team Barloworld rider, he was happy with this form. "Overall, it was a good day out, and I had good legs. I am happy with my condition, and my support from the team. However, I wanted to have a result, not arrive behind."

He lived up to his promise in attacking on the race's closing climbs. "I tried on the Poggio because I knew in the sprint I would be beaten. I did I all that was possible [and] Rebellin did the best he could [with the numerous attacks] to arrive in a small group. In the end, I waited for Liquigas and Lampre to close, and I waited too much I think."

After Cancellara attacked, there was a bit of hesitation. Lampre had Alessandro Ballan and Patxi Vila and Liquigas had Filippo Pozzato and Franco Pellizotti, and, even though Ballan did a strong pull, no one was motivated to take two-time Sanremo winner Freire to the line.

Gasparotto will travel to Belgium for E3 Prijs Vlaanderen this Saturday, followed by the Brabantse Pijl, Three days of De Panne and Ronde van Vlaanderen. "I will leave after Flanders [Ronde - ed.] to prepare for the Giro d'Italia."

O'Loughlin pursuing Olympic place

By Shane Stokes in Manchester

O'Loughlin practices his start prior to the individual pursuit.
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

Irishman David O'Loughlin will face one of the most important races in his cycling career on Wednesday when he lines out in the individual pursuit at the 2008 Track World Championships in Manchester. After a solid season where he has placed seventh, eighth and fourth in World Cup events, the Mayo rider knows that a strong performance could qualify him for the Olympic Games. However, even he doesn't know exactly what he must do.

"I think a lot depends on not just where I finish, but where everybody else finishes in relation to me," he told Cyclingnews at the velodrome in Manchester. "It is difficult to know what is needed. So it's the case that the higher up I can place, the better."

O'Loughlin is currently 11th in the world rankings and will go up against the world number one, Phillip Thuaux of Australia, in the eighth heat. In all 26 riders will pair off and race against each other, with the fastest four in line for medals. Being outside this could still qualify him for the Olympics; Cycling Ireland's High Performance manager Frank Campbell said that a top seven place could possibly be enough, depending on who is ahead of him. But equally, this might not be sufficient.

For the 29 year-old, the only answer is to concentrate on his own performance, focussing on setting the fastest possible time and then seeing afterwards if it is sufficient. O'Loughlin's national record is 4 minutes 25.31 seconds, as set in the Beijing World Cup in December; Campbell feels he will have to smash this to stand a chance.

"It's really hard to know what place would get him into the Games due to the way the criteria have worked out," he said. "It's disappointing because he has ridden well in the World Cups, but because of the system it's all a bit uncertain.

O'Loughlin will almost certainly have to shatter the Irish record
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

"However, in his own mind, he knows what he needs to do, a time he needs to get. We feel he will have to do a sub 4 minute 25, probably somewhere in the region of 4 minutes 23 to put him in fourth or fifth place. Even then, we will have to wait and see after that."

O'Loughlin was noticeably more relaxed on Tuesday than he was one year ago, the nerves of riding his first Track World Championships all too obvious then. Ireland's sole competitor in Manchester is more self-assured and believes that he is in the right sort of condition.

"I'm feeling good, I'm confident, the form is good and I am in a much better position than this time last year. So I am definitely looking forward to it."

Wednesday will tell if he has done enough. But either way, Campbell feels that a lot of progress has been made and Irish cycling will benefit.

"This is about [qualifying for] the Olympics, sure, but it is also about moving the whole track project forward," he said. "If we can continue the improvement and continue the system we have in place, then we will get a big benefit from it in the future."

Photography

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews.com

Kirchen out of Ronde van Vlaanderen

By Susan Westemeyer

The Ronde van Vlaanderen was supposed to be one of the major season highlights for Team High Road's Kim Kirchen, but the Luxemburger will not ride the race, it was announced this week. He has joined the list of High Road riders who have suffered from health problems this young season.

According to wort.lu, Kirchen, who last year finished seventh overall in the Tour de France, came down with a cold about a month ago and lost too much training time to be able to participate in the Ronde. Instead, he will ride the Critérium International this weekend, followed by the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco.

"His full focus now will be on Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège," High Road spokeswoman Kristy Scrymgeour told Cyclingnews.

All-Dutch podium in Castilla y León

By Susan Westemeyer

It was an all-Dutch podium in the Vuelta a Castilla y León Tuesday, a rare event in a Spanish race. Rabobank's Thomas Dekker and Bauke Mollema finished second and third behind Karsten Kroon of CSC, and formerly of Rabobank. That togetherness was expected to carry on after the stage, too. "Karsten has promised us some champagne as well," said Rabobank team leader Adri van Houwelingen. "We and CSC are staying at the same hotel, so it is going to be a fun evening."

Kroon won a sprint which came after a three-kilometre climb, to take the Danish team's 11th season win. "I've done this finish in Ávila a couple of times before in the Vuelta and it suits me really well – especially considering my present form. So I decided to go for the victory and everything worked out perfectly," he said on team-csc.com. And he was, naturally, happy with the long-overdue win. "It was about time! I've been close a few times now, but I haven't had that last bit of luck. I've been in the top-10 three times and then today was finally my lucky day,"

The 32 year-old out-sprinted his younger compatriots out of a 51-rider strong group. "Of course I would have preferred to win the race with my own team, but it is not like we want to take anything away from Karsten, in spite of the fact that some people do think differently about this," van Houwelingen noted on rabobank.nl. "This definitely would have bothered us had this been the Tour of Flanders. Right now, we are just enjoying the excellent podium places of Thomas and Bauke and particularly their great style of riding."

On the sprint on the cobblestone streets of Ávila, Dekker, 23, "perhaps took the lead a little bit early" with 300 metres to go, allowing Kroon to blast past him in the end. Meanwhile neo-professional Mollema, 21, "launched himself like a rocket from the fourteenth position all the way to the front ranks."

Van Avermaet pleased with his return

By Susan Westemeyer

Greg Van Avermaet missed a lot of time this spring with a virus that settled in his middle ear, causing equilibrium problems that stopped him from racing. But the 22 year-old Belgian has made a tremendous comeback, finishing only 21 seconds down on Sunday in Milano-Sanremo.

"I surprised myself with that," the Silence-Lotto rider told the belga press agency. "I had Nokere in my legs after my forced pause, and rode the 'Primavera' only for training."

It was not easy for Van Avermaet to sit out for exactly one month. "It was certainly not pleasant," he noted. He was sorry not to be able to help his team-mates, but "I was obliged to rest and get healthy, and hope not to lose too much condition. That succeeded to a large extent, thanks in part to an intensive training period in the Tuscany."

Looking to the future, he said, "Sanremo assured me that I have not lost much of my condition, but I don't want to state any specific goals for the rest of the spring season. In the first place, I want to remain healthy and if that succeeds, I may be able to make some progress. If I am successful, that will be wonderful. But if no success comes along now, then it will happen in 2009."

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