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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News, May 5, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

The Corsa Rosa promises excitement

By Gregor Brown

Defending champion Danilo Di Luca will have strong support from LPR Brakes, including two-time Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The 91st Giro d'Italia, May 10 to June 1, may be loaded with time trials, but the mountains in the final week will surely prove to be the great decider. Some of the sports biggest names, like two-time winner Gilberto Simoni, defending champion Danilo Di Luca and Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, will battle for the pink colours of the leader's maglia rosa over three weeks from Palermo to Milano.

On Saturday afternoon in Palermo, 207 riders will start the Italian Grand Tour – organised by RCS Sport – and by the time they reach Pesaro (Le Marche), the race will start to spin out of control. There, the Corsa Rosa will present time trial number two out of four, a 39.4-kilometre individual race against the clock, with the third coming in the form of an uphill time trial (stage 16) and the fourth on the final day into Milano (stage 21).

It is likely that the race will have lost some of its members before it gets to Pesaro, but at the end of the day in the medieval town of Urbino, riders will start to question their value in one of the toughest races on the planet. Looming on the horizon are the Dolomites and Alps with their numerous painful ascensions, such as the Alpe di Pampeago, Passo Fedaia, Passo Gavia and Passo del Mortirolo.

Gilberto Simoni made a strong move over the winter by signing with Savio's Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli squad
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

An always-frank Gilberto Simoni noted the impressive parcours in March. "Passo di San Bernardino, wow! Mortirolo! Aprica, Tirano... damn!" remarked the Giro winner in 2001 and 2003. "Then there are a lot of people that don't think of the start, but it is there that some differences can be made, too. This Giro opens the door to a lot of riders, but then in the third week it will be very hard."

Saturday, May 24, the climb kicks in with stage 14's over the Passo Manghen and the finale up the 7.65-kilometre Alpe di Pampeago. Simoni stated his desire to win this stage as he did in 2003, and the 36 year-old Italian from Trento could use it as a springboard to conquer the Giro d'Italia for a third time.

'Il Cobra' Riccardo Riccò will have sole leadership
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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Over the winter, he made a strong move by signing with Giovanni Savio's Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli squad. The experienced team manager built a team around Simoni, one which will be dedicated to the cause. Last year, Simoni nurtured Riccardo Riccò while the two were riding for Saunier Duval and the plan was not always executed to perfection.

Italy's Riccò will have sole leadership now in Saunier Duval. The erratic 24 year-old from Formigine (Modena) demonstrated power by winning 2007's Tre Cime di Lavaredo stage, lack of experience by fumbling an attack to Montevergine di Mercogliano and his unpopularity with the escape in stage eight to Fiorano Modenese. Given his crash in Tirreno-Adriatico and bad experience in the Ardennes Classics, Riccò may need to wait until 2009 to win his home tour.

Click here to read the full preview of this year's Giro d'Italia.

Contador with "unknown form"

Contador would have liked to have more time to prepare for his first Giro d'Italia
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After the surprising invitation of Astana for the Giro d'Italia (May 10-June 1), Spaniard Alberto Contador was very happy, but at the same time a bit afraid. "It's a joy for everybody, but for me it's sort of a challenge. As we were not invited before, many things of my preparation changed. I like to contend every race in which I participate, but now my competition form is a bit of an unknown," stated the 25 year-old in a newsletter.

"In order to prepare my Giro debut properly, I would have liked to know much earlier that I would participate in this race," added the winner of last year's Tour de France. He did a great Vuelta a Castilla y León and an excellent Vuelta al País Vasco, which he was both able to win. Afterwards, a dental infection stopped his training for one week.

The next race in his schedule originally was the Dauphiné Libéré (June 8-15), so that at the moment, he only trained easily, with rest days in between. "When they announced that I would ride the Giro, I was on holidays. The Giro wasn't in my programme and due to this, I am not in top form. But I will give my best," promised Contador, who still has to take a look at the parcours and profiles of the mountain stages.

"The Giro is an extraordinary race for a climber, as the list of its winners shows. I feel a big respect for this race and for this reason, I would have liked to prepare it well," he added. (MP)

A surprise called De Bonis

By Susan Westemeyer

Italian Francesco De Bonis of Gerolsteiner celebrated as he won stage 4 of the Tour de Romandie
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Gerolsteiner's Francesco De Bonis was the surprise winner of the Tour de Romandie's Queen stage Saturday, taking the victory of the race's most difficult stage out of a breakaway. "It was a great moment for me," he told Cyclingnews on Monday morning, but admitted that he didn't believe he would win it until the last minute.

"Before the stage, which was a very short one [112.4 km], our directeur sportif said that an early escape group might be able to get away. I was one of our riders who should try to be part of it," the 26 year-old said. "I made the group so my assignment was fulfilled, which made me happy. But then I noticed that the others weren't any stronger than me, plus I felt very well in the mountains. But I didn't really think I would win until just before I crossed the finish line." Established climber such as John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) and Manuel Beltrán (Liquigas) came second and third within seconds to the Italian.

The first-year pro and his team-mates celebrated his first pro win with a glass of champagne on Saturday night. "Of course I am very happy that I even had a chance to fight for the victory. A lot of other young pros have to wait years before they are lucky enough to get in such a good situation. How often are escape groups are caught just before the finish!," he pondered.

Nevertheless, the victory won't break him out of the helper's role within the team. "The win doesn't really change anything on my real job, which is to help my captain. I still have a lot to learn," he added.

De Bonis came to the pro ranks relatively late, at 26 years of age. Why not earlier? "I have no idea. There are so many talented young Italian riders, some are just luckier than others and get contracts earlier. But better later than never," he replied.

The Italian won't be riding his homeland Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, but can look forward to the Volta a Catalunya later this month and then "it looks like" the Dauphiné Libéré.

Pereiro on the up

2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro
Photo ©: AFP
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After a less satisfying 2007 season, Caisse d'Epargne's Oscar Pereiro's morale is rising again. The winner of the 2006 Tour de France just finished the Tour de Romandie, and while he may not have scored any victory, the Spaniard is satisfied with how the race unfolded for him. Pereiro finished 11th behind time trial and overall winner Andreas Klöden (Astana) and was unlucky as a crash prevented him from an even better placing in stage four.

"I am in constant progression and that is what really matters," Pereiro affirmed in Lausanne, where Italian sprinter Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) took the stage victory on Sunday. "I got good results as well in the time trial as in the mountains, particularly in the high mountain stage on Saturday, with four first category climbs. I know I am on the right way. [On Saturday] I was in the group with the leader Andreas Klöden when at about 15 kilometres from the finish a dangerous curve surprised us and I crashed together with six or seven other riders. I started again immediately but it was no longer possible to come back in the group with the favourites."

Despite his bad luck, Pereiro felt that his legs matched his willpower again – something he had missed last season. "The crash was a pity because I really hoped to finish the stage as well as the general classification in the top ten, but that is not the most important element", he explained further.

"What is really important is that fact that after the difficult last year, I am again very well in my head, very concentrated and very motivated. I know what I want and where I'm going again. [On Sunday's last stage] I attacked the final kilometres, together with Kolobnev and Tiralongo. In fact we counter-attacked behind Nuyens, but there was nothing we could do against the sprinters' teams, and they caught us five kilometres from the finishing line. But we had to try to do something!", concluded Pereiro, whose next race could be the Criterium of the Dauphiné Libéré.

Rabobank lost out in Romandie

The final two stages of the Tour de Romandie surely didn't go the way that Team Rabobank had hoped, as the defending champion dropped out of the race during Saturday's Queen stage and the team lost promising youngster Bauke Mollema after a crash in the final stage.

Thomas Dekker had wanted to defend his overall victory from last year After finishing second in the third stage time trial, behind the later overall winner Andreas Klöden, the young Dutch rider couldn't keep up with the German Astana climber on Saturday's mountains, in what the team called "a huge disappointment" for him.

With about 25 kilometres to go, the 23 year-old dropped off the back of the group around Klöden, and indicated that he just didn't have it that day, and eventually abandoned the race. "Thomas told me at the start of the [third] climb that he did not feel very good. That was a surprise for me, too, nothing seemed to be wrong," said directeur sportif Erik Dekker, who compared the youngster to Vuelta a España winner Denis Menchov. "Denis came with the same message on almost the exact same moment. He bit the bullet and secured a nice place in the end."

On the team's website, the elder Dekker later said about the younger Dekker (no relation), "He was exhausted yesterday, especially mentally. His resiliency, which is logically weaker and reduced in this period, broke. The main emphasis was put on the three classics and this was supposed to be the dessert."

The 21 year-old Mollema was caught in a serious crash near the middle of Sunday's last stage. "That really caused some pain to his arm and elbow. Bauke spent approximately two minutes on the ground and he was still able, by putting out all the stops, to come back. He managed to do it, but his heart wasn't in it," Erik Dekker said. "He could not even take a water bottle. I told him not to take any risks. That's when Bauke pulled himself out of the race."

A hospital in Lausanne diagnosed a broken elbow, and the youngster flew home on Sunday for surgery that same day in Amersfoort.

Petacchi decision expected this week

Alessandro Petacchi expects to learn his fate this week, as the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) is expected to announce its decision on the doping charges stemming from the 2007 Giro d'Italia. The CAS held a hearing on the matter April 2 but said that it would issue its decision "in three to four weeks."

The Team Milram sprinter tested positive for Salbutamol, an asthma medication, after stage 11 of last year's Giro d'Italia. Petacchi has a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) from the UCI to use the drug, but the amount of the substance found in his body indicated an abuse. The controversy caused him to miss the Tour de France, even if in the end of July the Italian Cycling Federation cleared him of the charges. That decision was appealed to the CAS by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI).

Petacchi, 34, had hoped to ride the upcoming Giro d'Italia and add to his total of 24 stage wins, but a serious case of bronchitis put an end to the plans. He first got ill during Milano-Sanremo and came down with the bronchitis during the Tour of Turkey, where he won two stages. Over the weekend the team announced that he had not been able to train for 12 days and thus would not ride the Giro, which starts this coming Saturday.

Burghardt pain-free

Team High Road's Marcus Burghardt raised a few eyebrows last week when he rode in Rund um den Henninger Turm only two and half weeks after he underwent knee surgery. "My comeback after my knee operation was successful and I am very satisfied," he said.

"It was a hard race for me, but I made it through to the end," Burghardt further noted. He is now doing basic training at his home in Switzerland before heading off to his next race, the Neuseenclassics-Rund um die Braunkohle on May 12.

"I am motivated and can say that my knee surgery was a full success, because I am pain-free! I will now get ready for the Tour de France and I remain optimistic that I can win another top race again this year!" concluded the winner of the 2008 Gent-Wevelgem.

(Additional research and assistance provided by Susan Westemeyer and Monika Prell).

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