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Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News, March 30, 2008

Edited by Sue George

CSC plays its cards at Harelbeke's E3 Prijs

By Gregor Brown in Harelbeke

Norwegian Kurt-Asle Arvesen of CSC team celebrates
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Kurt-Asle Arvesen topped a day of hard work by Denmark's Team CSC. The 33 year-old Norwegian, winner of the stage eight in last year's Giro d'Italia, profited from team-work in the closing kilometres of the E3 Prijs to capture his first win in Belgium after he darted clear of his escape companions on the Gentsestraat.

"It is always good to win a bike race; this is my first win in Belgium. It is great," said a content Arvesen at the end of the 200-kilometre E3 Prijs in Flanders.

Arvesen made the 14-man escape group that took shape at kilometre 42. Team CSC made a smart tactical move by placing not only Arvesen in the move, but Dane Lars Bak.

"It was a tactical move on the team's part to get guys in the escape, so we could have Fabian [Cancellara] and the others protected behind. I thought this break could go well, we had a good combination of riders from the major teams. At least it was good to take the climbs in the front," he laughed. "For me, I am always fighting go to be at the front on the climbs, so it was a relief to be in the escape.

"I am good shape at the moment, and I showed that last week in Milano-Sanremo. Tirreno-Adriatico helped me get to the form. I put myself in a position to win when I got in the break. It was not an individual effort; there were a lot of guys who could win. [Team-mate] Matti Breschel won the sprint behind [for seventh], and we had Bak in the move with me."

Read the complete feature.

Eisel as E3 Prijs comeback kid

By Brecht Decaluwé

Bernhard Eisel (High Road) rolls up
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

The comeback kid from the peloton that started in the 51st E3 Prijs Harelbeke was definitely Bernhard Eisel. "How many times did I come back?" was the question he asked Cyclingnews after crossing the finish line in sixth position.

Before the start Brecht Decaluwé caught up with the Austrian and chatted about his persistent performance in Paris-Roubaix 2006. It was a race in which Eisel was dropped behind on the cobbles several times, but managed to come back between the cars in between the pave sectors. "I thought about it when I got dropped, I never gave up."

During a morning conversation, the 27 year-old Eisel said he had never done well in the E3 Prijs Harelbeke. "If I would do well today, that would really boost my confidence, because I can do much better in the upcoming races," Eisel said before the start of the race. After the finish, it was clear that Eisel will be the man to watch during the upcoming races. "Actually I never felt good," Eisel smiled, "but it does gives me great sensations to ride such a race."

Much earlier Eisel seemed to be the strongest man in the breakaway group as he rode away from Gert Steegmans and the others on the cobbles of the Stationsberg. "I just rode a tempo that felt comfortable for me," Eisel said. "I did feel that I could win the race at that time, but when the attacks got going it was over for me. I was dead," Eisel summarized his status when the six leaders hit the final kilometres towards Harelbeke.

Races like Saturday's teach a rider a lot about himself, and Eisel picked up a few things as well. "I need to be more selfish because I want to win races. On the other hand I don't mind supporting my team-mates because I want a good contract as well," Eisel kept an economical view on affairs. "With a strong team it is always easier to ride. Last year we had Burghardt going so well and in Dwars door Vlaanderen we had Andreas [Klier] in the breakaway, so the others had a comfortable day, and for the Tour of Flanders George [Hincapie] is joining the squad," Eisel said.

Rolf Aldag, sportif manager at Team High Road, was happy with Eisel's performance. "I think he is still in the process of turning from a sprinter into a classics specialist," the tall German said. "Even today he was struggling with his name as sprinter because nobody wanted to ride with him to the finish line," Aldag claimed. The German manager said that Eisel should have a great future ahead of him. "We will see Bernhard in Paris-Roubaix, because that suits him perfectly. But during the next years, I think he has his chance in [the Tour of ] Flanders as well, if he can stay on the wheels," Aldag said. Eisel may never be the puncher who rides away from everybody on the Taaienberg, like Boonen and Cancellara did Saturday.

After the race a happy Eisel wrote on his website, eisel.com, "I just didn't have anything left for the sprint. But I am very satisfied with my performance. I'm not far off from perfect form for Roubaix."

Ekimov considers Astana's chances

By Brecht Decaluwé

Ekimov is now director sportif
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

Team Astana director sportif Viatcheslav Ekimov has tons of experience and knows the area of the E3 Prijs Harelbeke well – something that proves useful in guiding his riders.

"I lived for seven years in Belgium, near Gent, in Evergem," Ekimov said. The 42 year-old Russian is still riding the bike these days. "I did the reconnaissance for this race with the guys, but I've had my time on the bike."

That said, a Mario Cipollini-like return to competition is not something expected from Ekimov. Referring to the Italian's brief return to racing in 2008, the Russian said, "He had a couple of good races, but what did he do? At 42, I think it's better to do a job according to your age."

"We want to take home a big win this month," 'Eki' said to Cyclingnews before the start of the E3 Prijs Harelbeke, a race he almost won back in 1994. "I'm surprised it is so long ago. I remember it was Tchmil who bridged up with me in the final kilometre. He then went on the win Paris-Roubaix, so it wasn't a shame to lose to him," Ekimov smiled.

When asked whether a stage win in the upcoming Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde was considered as a big win, Ekimov hesitated. "The overall victory would be great, but we're focusing more on the one-day races."

"Taking home Flanders would be fantastic," Ekimov considered a victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen as highlight of this part of the season. "Last year Tom [Tomas Vaitkus] could have been on the podium, but he finished fourth. Gusev is coming, but after suffering a broken collarbone so we don't count on him. We've got three team leaders: Tomas Vaitkus for the sprints, and Gregory Rast and Sergey Ivanov for the smaller breakaway groups."

After the E3 Prijs Harelbeke Ekimov can now add another name to his list. Michael Schär made the breakaway of the day. The young Swiss racer only got dropped on the Knokteberg, with 26km to go. The tall 21 year-old sprinted to an eleventh place in Tom Boonen's group.

Kopp makes the break

By Brecht Decaluwé

When Cyclingnews caught up with David Kopp at the team bus the Cycle-Collstrop rider looked devastated by his defeat in the final stretches of the E3 Prijs Harelbeke, during which Kurt-Asle Arvesen overtook the German. It's not the first time Kopp came short of the victory in Harelbeke. He finished fourth in 2005, when Tom Boonen won for the second time.

"A second place isn't too bad, since I didn't expect such a good result before the race although losing out on the victory with 100m to go is disappointing," Kopp said while shaking his head. Nevertheless it gave me a good feeling to see that the three strongest guys were on the podium in the end."

With 36km to go Kopp's race seemed to be over when he was quickly dropped from the leading group on the cobbles of the famous Oude Kwaremont climb. "I didn't feel comfortable on the cobbles today. I think there was a little too much pressure on my tyres. On the other hand it gave me an advantage during the latter stages of the race as I knew the Tiegemberg was asphalted," Kopp explained why he got dropped on the 2,200m long Oude Kwaremont climb.

With 3km to go Kopp accelerated away from the six-man leading group and he quickly gathered a good gap. "Actually I didn't want to attack, but the others apparently dropped their speed when I went to the front," Kopp said. "Anyway, Arvesen deserved it, he was very strong. I focused on Van Avermaet on the climb because I was sure he would attack again."

When asked about what went through his mind when he heard that Boonen and Cancellara launched a counter-attack, Kopp wanted to point out that the strongest group was riding in front of the race. "Actually we had a very good group. Everybody seemed to be in a very good condition and that's why we were able to stay in front."

It's that time of the year again, when the big races following upon each other very quickly. Kopp hopes to do well in all of them. "I hope I can be with Steffen [Wesemann] in Flanders and Roubaix, and Gent-Wevelgem as well of course," Kopp smiled as he probably thought back to his great performance there. The German finished second in Gent-Wevelgem in 2006, just in front of Alessandro Petacchi but behind Thor Hushovd.

Gasparotto saves legs for Brabantse and Ronde

By Gregor Brown in Harelbeke

Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Enrico Gasparotto, active in the winning move in last week's Milano-Sanremo, is back racing in Belgium. He saved his legs in the E3 Prijs to have better chances in the Brabantse Pijl, a race better suited for his style of riding. And in the back of his mind is Ronde van Vlaanderen.

"Today is a hard race, it is similar to The Tour of Flanders," confirmed Gasparotto to Cyclingnews at the start of E3 Prijs in Harelbeke, Belgium. "I don't know what I will do today because I think that tomorrow's Brabantse Pijl is better suited for me. ... Maybe I will save the legs; it depends how I will feel. Last year, I retired in the feed-zone, and the day after I had a good race."

Gasparotto chose to end the day early for Sunday's Brabantse Pijl. "I have good legs, and I will wait until the end of Brabantse. Also, in [Three Days of] De Panne I will do something similar. Then, in Flanders [Ronde - ed.], I will try stay on Fabian Cancellara's wheel!"

It was Cancellara who got the better of Gasparotto in Tirreno-Adriatico (second by 16 seconds) and then four days later in the Milano-Sanremo, Gasparotto's 26 birthday. Even if he missed his chance of winning in Sanremo he was pleased with his day out.

"Someone told me that I did the right thing to try to attack and someone else told me I should have to wait only for the sprint," he confided. "I re-watched the race on TV, and if I did not attack I think we would have arrived in a group of 70 riders for the final sprint. Overall, I think I had a good Sanremo."

And his birthday? "I went out for dinner with a friend, that was all I could do because I was so tired from the race," he confessed. "I returned to Varese on Saturday night, and then on Sunday [for Easter] I went to my parent's home for two or three days. And now I am here!"

Gasparotto will battle, amongst others, two-time Sanremo winner Oscar Freire (Rabobank) in the Brabantse Pijl.

Ballan manages pressure of Ronde defence

By Gregor Brown in Harelbeke

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) looked confident
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Alessandro Ballan is handling the pressure of Ronde van Vlaanderen defending champion. The 28 year-old Italian from Castelfranco Veneto rocketed to fame, especially in Belgium, when he won the Monument last year, but he displayed a very calm demeanour only one week before he is set to defend his title.

"Today, is a little bit of training, and then using Three Days of De Panne for Flanders," explained Ballan to Cyclingnews in Harelbeke, at the start of the E3 Prijs. He went on to finish 38th at 4'15", and looks forward to De Panne, April 1 to 3. The race, which he won last year on the eve of his Ronde successes, should provide the final polish to his already shiny form.

"It is logical that there is more pressure from the public now, also from the team," Ballan continued while being mobbed by Flemish fans shouting his name.

He spoke about Team Lampre for 2008. "There is no longer [Daniele] Bennati, who kept me covered. I am the only leader, and there is more pressure. This year it is different; regarding sprinters we have [Danilo] Napolitano. We have the experience of [Fabio] Baldato and [Paolo] Fornaciari, and the young riders, who don't have experience here in Belgium, but go strong. It's not a bad team."

Ballan confirmed his key man in the Classics. "Baldato is the key guy for these roads."

Just one week prior he was using the best of his form gathered in Tirreno-Adriatico to have a go in Milano-Sanremo. Ballan made the move of 16 that was formed under the impudence of Davide Rebellin's attacks on the Poggio, but he could not contend with the Fabian Cancellara attack at two kilometres remaining.

"I tried to take the wheel of Cancellara. I pulled the chase to bring him back after he escaped in the finale, but he was going very strong. He deserved [the win] because he was so strong. We made a mistake not getting on his wheel immediately after he attacked."

If any year was the year for Ballan to win the Sanremo, 2008 was it. The race was ripe with attacking riders to snuff the sprinters, but there was perhaps one too many attackers. "You have to have the legs there – period. Cancellara showed that he had them," he noted. "I was hoping to do something, but arriving at the finish, I don't know. I put in a lot of my energy on the Poggio."

He was happy to be in Belgium, exchanging the smooth switch-back climbs of Italy for the cobbled ones. "The Poggio is longer, and less harder; Here the climbs are harder and steeper, and with pavé... So it is completely different. They suit me."

Ballan will race in Three Days of De Panne, April 1-3, defend his title in Ronde van Vlaanderen, April 6, and make another run in Paris-Roubaix, April 13.

Steegmans rides strong after encounter with tractor

By Brecht Decaluwé

Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) is signing autographs for young fans..
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

After Gert Steegmans suffered a rough crash involving a tractor on Wednesday in the Dwars door Vlaanderen, the faithful lieutenant of Tom Boonen decided nonetheless to start the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen on Saturday. The strong Belgian told Cyclingnews at the start of the E3 Prijs that he had received a big blow.

"We shall see how it goes today. My thigh is still looking dark blue, and my back hurts a lot as well. This start in Harelbeke isn't really enjoyable for me. Everybody wants to give me a friendly knock on the back to say hello, it's terrible," Steegmans complained. "In the past I could get ready outside the team bus without a problem but that's no longer possible." Clearly the winner of a stage in the Tour de France 2007, and two stages in Paris-Nice this year is longing for the anonymity he enjoyed during previous years.

As the in-form Quick Step racer is unsure about his current abilities, he will quickly find out how good he is in a race situation. "As soon as the first attacks are launched, I'll know how my body reacts. Let's hope it goes well because it would be such a shame to miss out on the true Spring Classics."

Steegmans' body apparently coped well with its injuries; he was in every breakaway attempt and eventually managed a place in the ultimately successful breakaway group. The Belgian probably wanted to give all he had in order to make sure he is ready for Flanders. Director sportif Dirk De Mol was happy to have Steegmans in the breakaway. "He's the best man to have out there. But when he got dropped on the Knokteberg, the race was over for us. The gaps between the several groups were too big to turn anything around in our advantage."

Cape Epic stage one winners ride into yellow

Sauser and Stander get candid about their stage win

By Nic Lamond in George

Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander of Songo.info
Photo ©: Gary Perkin / SPORTZPICS
(Click for larger image)

"The first hour was hard, I always struggle at the Absa Cape Epic when it's cold early. I'm normally still in bed at 7:00 am. And your race face is not on, too." With his face down on a massage table, Team Songo.info's Christoph Sauser admitted that he's no morning person. He was having his legs massaged and body primed for another day in the saddle, but he had packed his race face safely away for when he'd need it Sunday.

Sauser was getting a vigorous massage that looked like it might have been more painful than the 123km stage one, with its more than 3,000m of climbing – all of which he had endured earlier in the day. His physio was working his legs like a child moulding a plasticine ball.

The Swiss maestro had managed to fend off countless attacks and simultaneously coach his young South African riding partner, Bury Stander to victory in stage one of the Cape Epic, also taking the overall leaders' jersey in the process.

Sauser has adapted to the draining heat and beating sun of Africa well, freely admitting that the sun gives him the lift he needs when the racing intensity increases as the day wears on. "When the sun comes out and warms up my legs, and the finish line comes closer," said Sauser, "then I get really excited and I don't feel the legs any more. Overall my body gets into a really good rhythm. That's when I start to feel really good."

That's also when he and Stander finally broke clear of the competition Saturday, at around four hours into the race. "When we broke away with Cannondale Vredestein earlier in the day, [Jakob] Fuglsang went really hard on the one climb and Roel [Paulissen] completely blew. Obviously Fuglsang rode his team-mate into the ground, while we just kept on going steady.

"We just said that if someone catches us, they catch us: it's still a long way to go for the next 800km." The casual approach to matching the pace of the energetic Cannondale Vredestein team paid off for Sauser and Stander, as they pulled clear of the field and crossed the line at the spectacular Saasveld Campus in first. "We managed to get into the leaders' jerseys and win the stage, so an awesome day!" Sauser said.

Stander, too, was surprised by the way they secured the win. "You know, we didn't really attack. We just kept it steady and guys just dropped."

Karl Platt of Team Bulls
Photo ©: Sven Martin / SPORTZPICS
(Click for larger image)

Sauser heaped praise on Stander's effort, "He is so talented. Especially in the head. He cramped at the end, and when he finished he just said, 'Tomorrow I'll be fine again! No more cramps. He is not afraid to ride with me… and I like it."

But what happened to the South Africans Kevin Evans and David George of Team MTN who donned the leaders' jersey after Friday's impressive prologue ride? According to Stander, the first two hours of the day belonged to MTN. No one could follow. The lead bunch regrouped and fell apart numerous times then regrouped again. Sauser reckons he felt the strength of the other teams begin to wane with the repeated attacks, "The Bulls and eventually MTN struggled after that. And that's when Fuglsang and myself went really hard."

Stander said he and Sauser did not plan the victory: "During the stage, we didn't think about the result much but towards the end I could see that we were both going really well, and riding better and better toward the finish. And things just worked out…" At around 100km a steep and eroded jeep tracked wound into the forest, and the pair was the only ones left pedalling for glory. In their wake were the blown legs and bodies – casualties of the day's battles.

Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm of Team Bulls salvaged an impressive second place only 30 seconds behind the winners while Cannondale Vredestein's Paulissen and Fuglsang limped home 10 minutes behind the leaders. MTN finished 27 minutes back after Evans fell sick following the second water point. He somehow managed to finish the race, with the assistance of George, who pulled him by his jersey for the final 30km.

See full coverage of stage one of the Absa Cape Epic.

Team Rocky Mountain climbs on

By Nic Lamond in George

Normalcy returned in the ladies' race after a troubled prologue Friday for Team Rocky Mountain's Alison Sydor and Pia Sundstedt. The pair lost two minutes in the fast-paced race after a flat that forced them to cede the coveted leaders' jerseys to Team Trek/VW's Susan Haywood and Jennifer Smith. But after five hours and 44 minutes in the saddle Saturday, the two were atop the podium and pulling the leaders' jerseys over their heads at the awards ceremony. They will go into stage two will a full 12 minutes clear of second-placed Team Dolphin Trek's Fabienne Heinzman and Katrin Schwing. Trek / VW is sitting 19 minutes back in third.

But their ride wasn't without its drama. Sundstedt had a tough ride and struggled with a recurring knee injury. The Finn claimed it was the worst day she'd ever had on a bike, but her eternally positive team-mate, Sydor, saw it differently. The perennial mountain bike champion chalked the day's racing down to experience: "We had our technical crisis yesterday, and our physical crisis today. But it just showed us that we can cope with it!"

In Sunday's stage three, riders can expect the toughest day ever designed in the race's short five-year history. 132km, with over 2,500m of climbing greet racers, but it's the two monster climbs en route that will hurt most. Those at the back of the field will likely struggle just to avoid the 11-hour time cutoff.

Riders health carefully monitored during Cape Epic

Jakob Fuglsang and Roel Paulissen are among the 1,200 racers at the Cape Epic
Photo ©: Gary Perkin / SPORTZPICS
(Click for larger image)

Fortunately, only minor injuries were reported for the first stage of the Absa Cape Epic; however, all 1,200 riders at the South African mountain bike stage race are being carefully monitored by a staff of 20 team doctors, nurses, medical administrators and paramedical staff.

Three roving medics on route ensure immediate assistance in case of any injuries or physical discomfort, with the event's very own medical facilities available at both, the start and the finish of each stage. Medical software specifically developed for race's staff, enables Race Doctor Basil Bonner and his team to follow every step of the patient's first medical contact right through to his or her full recovery at a glance.

"The Cape Epic is a logistical challenge, in terms of medical facilities, as we are not in an urban area," said Dr. Bonner. "With our new Bluespier Patient Manager we have all medical data instantly available, no matter where the patient is currently being treated.

"Colour codes alert us to the urgency of the treatment required and we can allocate the patient to different groups, for instance the saddle sore clinic or the strapping clinic for cut and abrasion injuries. At the end of the day, we can print a report summarizing all medical statistics of the stage."

Race organizers said it is the first use of the specially designed system at any international sporting event.

Tour de 'Toona shrinks to one-day

The women set to start the criterium final stage in 2007
Photo ©: Kurt Jambretz
(Click for larger image)

The Tour de 'Toona, held in and around Altoona, Pennsylvania, will shrink to just one day for 2008. After 20 years, the race had grown to seven days. What remains is a criterium on July 27 in downtown.

"I'm just disappointed this year we're stepping back, but we hope next year to come back even stronger," Race Director Larry Bilotto said to the Altoona Mirror. The organization plans to return to a full schedule in 2009.

Bilotto said the steering committee needed a break, especially after contending with lawsuits related to a former race director and a rider injured in the 2005 edition, deaths of committee members and recent sponsorship struggles. He did not elaborate on the latter.

The shortened race will likely draw fewer pros although regional amateur attendance is expected to remain strong. The area may miss the economic contribution of the race – a major regional event. A Penn State study had estimated the Tour de 'Toona brought US$2.5 to $4 million to the area.

Last year's edition was won by Kristin Armstrong (TEAm Lipton) and Karl Menzies (Health Net - Maxxis).

D'Hont to write about Ullrich

By Susan Westemeyer

Jef D'Hont is writing another book, and this time he is taking on Jan Ullrich. His first book, published last year, set off a series of doping confessions and investigations. "Before the first book, Rudy Pevenage asked me, 'leave me out, and Jan, too, please. Because we both want to tell our stories ourselves.' I did what he asked – but they didn't. They haven't said anything so far. So I will."

In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, D'Hont said that he had heard from Ullrich after saying that he had made remarks directly relating the former Telekom rider to the use of EPO. "He called me one time, and asked, Jef, did you really say that? I said, yes, I did. He said other things too, but I can't speak about those – not yet. I am sure that Ullrich is sweating about it, because I have a tape of what he said." He continued, "In my second book there will be a lot about Ullrich."

D'hont said that no one from the UCI or any national federation had contacted him for further information on what he knows. "No functionary in cycling seems to have any interest in my knowledge."

The former soigneur has gotten some feedback, though. After Philippe Gilbert won the Omloop Het Volk earlier this month, he said "Thank you, Jef. I won only because of you, because of your book!" D'Hont explained that after the Festina scandal in 1998, French teams have had "hard anti-doping programmes and so the French riders didn't have a chance against the others, who obviously continued with their deceit." Gilbert told him, "The others are suddenly not as good as before," and "I took that as a very fine compliment."

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