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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, May 29, 2008

Edited by Bjorn Haake

Cold comfort: Hampsten's day on the Gavia

By Jason Sumner

Andy Hampsten suffered on the Gavia but was rewarded with victory in Italy's biggest race
Photo ©: Darcy Kiefel
(Click for larger image)

It was the greatest victory of his career, but what Andy Hampsten had to endure on the Passo Gavia in order to secure the 1988 Giro d'Italia, no man would envy. As the racers in this year's Giro prepare to tackle this beast of a climb, the winner of the Corsa Rosa re-lives that day.

You know those cheesy motivational posters that picture extreme situations captioned by inspirational slogans such as "Perseverance", "Teamwork" or "Integrity"? Well, there ought to be such a poster from stage 14 of the 1988 Giro d'Italia that reads simply "Guts".

If you follow cycling with even a casual eye, you've probably already seen the perfect image for the poster. It's a slightly blurred photo of Andy Hampsten nearing the top of Italy's famous Passo Gavia. His head and shoulders are covered in snow, his legs bare and pinkish, revealing the effects of the bitter chill. Cars sit just off Hampsten's back wheel, and it's not hard to imagine the American coming to his senses, tossing aside his bike, and jumping into one of those cars.

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Of course, that's not what happened. Instead the waif-like climber from the American-based 7-Eleven team ploughed on, cresting the top of the 2621m summit, then surviving the bone-chilling 25km descent on the other side. This truly heroic effort was good enough for second place on the stage behind Dutchman Erik Breukink, and it pushed Hampsten to the top of the overall standings, a position he never relinquished on his way to becoming the first non-European (and still the only American) to win the Italian grand tour.

This year, the Gavia is back in the race route, serving as the opening salvo on stage 20 – a brutal, 224km run that also includes ascents of the Mortirolo and to Aprica. No doubt this will be a hard day and may also decide the race, but it's unlikely that the 2008 edition will inflict the pain Mother Nature unleashed on the peloton 20 years ago. Only those who were there truly know the extent of the suffering, and few know it better than Hampsten.

In March, Procycling sat down with the man in the famous photo. Hampsten is now a 45-year-old father of one who prefers snowboarding to bike riding on wintry days. But when the weather is good, his lean, fit frame is a dead giveaway that he still gets out on the bike two or three times a week.

Hampsten splits time between the comfortable confines of his log-cabin house in Boulder, Colorado, and Italy's Tuscan countryside, which is base of operations for his Cinghiale Cycling Tours company. Indeed, ever since the Ohio native made his European racing debut at the 1985 Giro, Italy has occupied a precious place in his heart.

That race is where we begin, as the legendary Andy Hampsten gives us a privileged peek inside one of cycling's most select clubs: The Men Who Survived That Day On The Gavia.

Read the full interview.

Contador previews Mortirolo in light of Giro d'Italia finale

By Gregor Brown in Locarno, Switzerland

Contador hopes for more podium kisses this weekend
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Spain's Alberto Contador continued his ride in the maglia rosa of Giro d'Italia race leader Wednesday, his second day in the pink top. The Astana rider is ready for the Mortirolo, which he previewed the previous day as part of the race's second and last rest day.

Wednesday's stage from Sondrio to Locarno, Switzerland – 146 kilometres – was marked by an escape before ending in a bunch sprint. It was a perfect day for Contador to recover from the Dolomite stages from the weekend.

"It was a tranquilo day," stated the 25 year-old from Madrid, following the stage. "It started fast with the escapes and the final sprint. The last kilometres it was somewhat dangerous, I had to be in a good position [up front] not to lose time – sin problemas.

"We've had two days of pretty good recovery."

Contador previewed the steep, 12.8-kilometre Mortirolo on the rest day. It is the last significant climb in the Giro d'Italia and comes 49.2 kilometres from the end of stage 20.

"Yesterday [Tuesday - ed.] we went with the car – 250 kilometres – to see the Gavia. They [work crew] were putting in asphalt, so I couldn't see it. I saw the entire Mortirolo and it's incredible... It's going to be amazing with the fans lining the road – it will put your hair on end."

Typically, in a Grand Tour riders and teams start defending their positions as the races draws to its end. Contador will likely have this aspect to his advantage.

"Every rider will defend their interests – they can speak among themselves," he continued, dismissing any alliances. "Di Luca doesn't want Riccò to win; vice versa... everyone will have to play their cards.

"Simoni – he has been the most regular, experienced, solid, very strong. A climb like Mortirolo, he knows it well – he can do a lot of damage. Riccò is dangerous, but he doesn't have the same depth and experience as Simoni, so he's who we have to watch more... surely he's thinking about it a lot."

What is the likelihood we will see Contador in pink when the race ends in Milano, June 1? "I don't like to put percentages," he responded.

Test result problems for Astarloa

By Susan Westemeyer

Cyclingnews has reliably learned that Team Milram's Igor Astarloa wasn't suffering from an intestinal infection when he dropped out of the Giro d'Italia after the second stage. Instead, the Spanish former World Champion showed significant problems with what Focus magazine claimed were his blood values, and was therefore removed from the race. It was not a positive doping test, but the matter is now in the hands of the team management.

The Astarloa story bears similarities to that of Serguei Gonchar from last year's Giro. T-Mobile team removed the Ukrainian from the roster immediately after announcing the roster, claiming he was suffering from a cold.

A few days later the team announced that it was withholding him from racing for 30 days, following questionable results from blood tests. The team ultimately terminated its contract with Honchar in June, citing"violations of the Team Code of Conduct."

Eichler carries Giro's numero nero

By Gregor Brown in Locarno, Switzerland

Markus Eichler suffered on the Kronplatz, but was rewarded with the numero nera and a little publicity
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Germany's Markus Eichler of Team Milram team Milram has taken over the numero nero with a lead of more than 20 minutes on Russia's Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems). The 26 year-old moved into the lead of the competition celebrating the last-placed rider of the Giro d'Italia after Italy's Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval-Scott) abandoned on Sunday's stage to Passo Fedaia. Though Eichler is enjoying the attention from the 'black number' he wishes only to survive to Milano and help the team with its work.

"It is funny, but I am happy that I am still in the race," Eichler remarked to Cyclingnews of the recognition on Wednesday morning, before the start of stage 17.

The short-lived maglia nera ('black jersey') of the Giro d'Italia made its return in this year's race. The 'honour' comes in the form of a black back number, not a special jersey. The maglia nera was awarded from 1946 to 1951, and many riders would fight for the honour of finishing last. The last winner was Giovanni Pinarello, who later founded the famous bicycle company based in Treviso.

"It is nice that I have it. I think it is a nice thing. ... I have the black number, you see it was very hard for me," Eichler continued.

He suffered through the Dolomites and was able to continue on, though many riders abandoned or finished the stages outside the time cut. "The Plan de Corones time trial was very hard and I was just inside the time limit. I went at my speed and I was happy to make the time – it was not my perfect terrain. ... It was very hard, very steep and long. I was sitting in the hotel and looking at the time, and I was happy I was in there."

Yesterday he went on to chase down the break, which included Ignatiev, and positioned his Milram captain for the sprint finish into Locarno. It was the last likely stage for a sprint finish and Eichler now has his eyes on Milano's Duomo.

"I want to arrive in Milano. If I have the black number, it is nice, but I want to finish the race."

Plan de Corones King Pellizotti fights for top spot

By Gregor Brown in Locarno, Switzerland

Franco Pellizotti is the king for a day but wants to be victor of the overall
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Winner of the Giro d'Italia Plan de Corones mountain time trial, Italian Franco Pellizotti, is keeping his fight for the top spot of the overall podium going as the race nears its final day in Milano, June 1. He currently is in fifth place, 2'05" behind Spain's Alberto Contador (Astana).

"I will try up until the end of Sunday," declared the 30 year-old of Liquigas to Cyclingnews Wednesday morning in Sondrio, before starting stage 17 of the Corsa Rosa. "I think that I am equal to the others or one step above. I still believe and I will believe up until Milano."

His willpower is aided by his second ever Giro d'Italia stage win, the 12.9-kilometre run to Plan de Corones. He bettered Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) and Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) to win the race's first-ever visit to the ski resort.

"It was a great, emotional win for me," he commented on the stage this last Monday. "I think that I am going strong now."

Liquigas, like the other teams, did the four-hour drive from the Dolomites to Sondrio on Tuesday morning. Pellizotti and his team-mates then went out for a ride, where they tested the finale of Saturday's stage to Tirano. "The rest day went well," he confirmed "We rested after the hard work of these last days. We were able to ride only one hour; riding to the top of Aprica."

"We are very content for his win," added Team Manager Roberto Amadio. "It was a beautiful win and he deserved it. I hope that he makes the podium in Milano. I think Contador has demonstrated that he will be able to arrive in Milano as the victor."

He added of Pellizotti's fight, "We will try, we have nothing to lose."

Marco Pinotti pulls through

By Gregor Brown in Locarno, Switzerland

Marco Pinotti fights on despite stomach problems and undesired long transfers
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Italian Marco Pinotti is pulling through the 91st Giro d'Italia. The 32 year-old of Team High Road – last year in the maglia rosa of race leader for four days – has been suffering with stomach aches, though he was able to help the team pull off its third stage in the race on Wednesday.

"I will see how I go. In the last three days I have had stomach aches and I am not feeling so well," confessed Pinotti to Cyclingnews the morning of stage 17, which was won by team-mate André Greipel. However, the 'ingegnere' (engineer) from Bergamo is suffering. "I have had nausea; I don't know what it could be ... I was not able to go well on the climbs."

With the big mountains coming on Friday and Saturday, he cast doubt on finishing in Milano, "I am thinking day by day."

The three Dolomites stages left an impression on Pinotti, specifically the Plan de Corones time trial. He had only once-ever ridden the 5.25-kilometre final gravel run. "I did it two years ago, in vacation on a mountain bike, so I knew what to expect. It was not really the course, but afterwards, the time to arrive to the hotel... also for the other tapponi. This Giro will be noted by its number of transfers."

Pinotti felt that Giro d'Italia Race Director Angelo Zomegnan put on a good show for the fans. "He is a good manager, who can make a good product for the public," commented Pinotti, who, following the stage, faced a four-hour transfer on the race's 'rest day,' Tuesday. "We arrived at two o'clock," he added. The team then unpacked and went for a training ride near Sondrio.

Rojas wants to make Tour team in Switzerland

By Antonio J. Salmerón

José Joaquín Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne) hopes for a Tour invite
Photo ©: Antonio J. Salmerón
(Click for larger image)

Since his participation in the 4 Jours de Dunkerque, the young José Joaquín Rojas of Caisse d'Epargne started to believe in his dream of giving his debut in the Tour de France. "I know I am in the working group that prepares towards the Tour, but not much more." But the 22 year-old wasn't going to be too distressed if he won't make the team. "I go where I have to go. If it's to the Tour, that's great. If not, maybe to the Vuelta, which would be a safe bet in that case [if not invited to the Tour]."

He had the chance to rest and is now preparing for the second half of his season, where a start in the Tour would without a doubt be a brilliant reward. "I train with being in the Tour on my mind, but I think the announcement will only come in the last week before the race. I hope everything goes well, that I don't crash and that I can get a victory until then," Rojas told Cyclingnews.

Initially, his team was contemplating a return for Rojas at the Euskal Bizikleta, but eventually they decided to have him tackle the Tour de Suisse instead. "I want to solve this problem," he said with a smile, explaining the 'problem' of trying to make the Tour team. And the mountainous race offers some possibilities. "In Switzerland, that's where the road to a Tour spot is paved. Last year, we won with Karpets and [Vladimir] Efimkin [now at AG2R La Mondiale] was also leading the race. I need to get some quality race rhythm going, working for the team – of course, if a possibility presents itself, I will have to seize it."

After Switzerland, Rojas will give it a shot at the Spanish national championships. "My objective is to win there, and for that I hope to get out of Switzerland very strongly."

Few riders his age (he turns 23 on June 8, a week before the Tour de Suisse starts) are in the world's top 10 ranking. "I am very satisfied how the season is going, with the exception of those crashes that have prevented me to continue even stronger, like when I crashed into the barriers in the sprint against Gilbert, or other times, when I got boxed in, like in Gent-Wevelgem, where I finished seventh. I came back from Australia with good form, like the victory in Mallorca had shown. What an annoyance! I couldn't participate in Murcia and Paris-Nice. I also couldn't avoid getting hit by a car, when I was training in Cieza. But I want to see me ahead in a sprint with the greats," Rojas emphasised his desire to take out a big win against the fastmen.

All the better if that could be at the Worlds. "I don't think that [national coach] Antequera has a clear picture of the team until very close to the date, and my desire is to give reasons to be there."

Dekker and Gesink said to head Dutch team in Beijing

Thomas Dekker and Robert Gesink will be the captains of the Dutch Olympic team in the road race later this summer in Beijing, the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf has reported. National coach Egon van Kessel has also already selected Stef Clement, who, along with Dekker, will ride the time trial, the newspaper said.

The final two places will be filled in the third week of the Tour de France. Van Kessel is said to be considering Sebastian Langeveld, Karsten Kroon and Koos Moerenhout to fill the spots.(SW)

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