First Edition Cycling News, October 23, 2008
Edited by Sue George
Elaborate and audacious, topsy-turvy Tour should be wide open to the wire
By Ben Atkins in Paris
After the so-called modest parcours of the previous edition, the 2009 Tour de France will be anything but. From the longer-than-usual 15km opening time trial around the streets of the millionaires' paradise of Monte Carlo, the final destination of the maillot jaune ought to be wide open right up to the final day thanks to a sting in the tail the like of which has not been seen in the Tour before.
"Beyond the prestige associated with the Principality," reflected Tour Director Christian Prudhomme, "the Tour start from Monaco was an immediate landmark attraction: being located in the south-east, it provoked the most intense curiosity as to the envisaged route and favoured audacity in the elaboration of the course."
This has certainly been achieved, and the traditional early stage territories of northern and western France have been avoided completely. The only time the race travels north of a diagonal line drawn southwest to northeast will be the final day's entrance to Paris.
The 2009 Tour parcours is also the most international for many years; starting as it does outside France in the Principality of Monaco, the route also passes through Spain, Andorra, Switzerland and Italy. Additionally, due to the southern position of the Grand Départ, the clockwise route will see the race tackle the Pyrénées first, just as the anti-clockwise route did last year.
As introduced last year, there are to be no time bonuses on the line for stage winners – or at intermediate sprints. The Tour will instead be measured in real time, with the time that riders cross the line to be the one taken. As Tour organiser ASO put it: "Official time remains the absolute reference". This real time also extends to the re-introduced team time trial, back for the first time since 2005. No longer will slower teams be able to rely on the limited time penalties imposed in previous years; time lost on the line will translate to time lost in the overall classification.
The return of the team time trial has a knock-on effect on the rest of the kilometres against the clock. Despite the longer opening test, the total individual time trials are reduced to just 55km – the least since the 52.3km in 1967 – with the third race against the clock in its traditional final week position. This could have disastrous implications for any overall hopefuls who are strong against the clock, but whose team is traditionally weak; Silence-Lotto's Cadel Evans springs immediately to mind here, but team acquisitions over the winter may help to remedy this.
Read the complete 2009 Tour de France preview.
French expect tight Tour, with or without Armstrong
By Jean-François Quénet in Paris
"It's a Tour 'à la Prudhomme'!" said Française des Jeux's Marc Madiot. He summed up the French reaction to the 2009 Tour de France, which was presented on Wednesday morning. "It goes beyond the usual standards. The cards might be redistributed every day. It's good for all the teams except those who want to block the race. At every stage, there'll be a possibility of change.
"The organisers want to change the scenarios every year," he said of what could prove to be an exciting and different race throughout. "The 2009 Tour doesn't look like the 2008 Tour and also probably not like the 2010 Tour. It creates interest. It's good for the race."
A suspenseful Tour is something AG2R's Vincent Lavenu is also anticipating. "To place Mont Ventoux the day before the end is a very good idea. It will make a Tour full of traps. For the past two or three years, the organisers have not gone to too many big climbs. They have realized that the more riders climb, the less they produce spectacles."
"The man in yellow at the bottom of the Ventoux will not have the Tour win locked up. That's exciting," said Stéphane Goubert who is likely to be the oldest rider in the 2009 Tour de France at the age of 38.
2008 stage winner Samuel Dumoulin was inspired by next year's route. "It's built for a great battle for GC. The big guns will have to be careful the entire way. For a rider like me, there will be few occasions to do well. Stage 10 to Issoudun could suit me, but I'd like even more to win stage 19 to Aubenas because that's where I'll feel at home.
"It's hard to say, though, because this year I won a stage that was predicted to finish in a bunch sprint. The wind made things different and that's gonna happen again next year. Some stages alongside the Mediterranean will be exposed to the wind, it means there will be no rest at all for top contenders."
Alain Gallopin, the French directeur sportif of Astana, feared the potential responsibility that would come along with assuming the race lead too early, especially if his team's Alberto Contador or Lance Armstrong were to take advantage of the hilly Monaco time trial, the team time trial or Barcelona's uphill finish atop the Montjuic climb.
The first summit of Andorra-Arcalis should also suit 2007 Tour winner Contador, but that comes on day seven of the race. "The team of the race leader might feel that the time after we arrive at the Pyrénées is very long ," Gallopin suggested. "But what's really unique is the Mont Ventoux on the penultimate day. It can kill you you can lose six minutes and the Tour de France win just on that climb! It's going to be hard to control."
Race Director Christian Prudhomme declined to speculate about the possible participation of Armstrong in the 2009 Tour. "It's up to him to decide if he wants to do the Tour. We haven't had any direct contact with him. He said he'll do the Giro. I don't want to feed the saga. He's an exceptional person, but at the start of the Tour, all the riders are on the same line."
Tour organizers Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) reiterated that Armstrong is allowed to race and that he would have to follow the same rules as the other riders as far as anti-doping programs are concerned.
Armstrong leaves the door open
Lance Armstrong left the door open regarding his participation in the 2009 Tour de France after learning more details about the race on Wednesday. Although he was not in attendance at the race's annual presentation, he offered his comments on the next edition.
"The route of the 2009 Tour de France strikes me as innovative and very interesting," said Armstrong. "From its start in Monte Carlo with a 15km time trial, to the reinstatement of the team time trial, to stages in my old hometown of Girona all the way to another visit to my old friend the Ventoux, I could not have hoped for a different Tour.
"While there has been a fair bit of tension and numerous disagreements with the Tour and its organizers, I am well aware that there is new leadership at [Amaury Sport Organization] ASO and I look forward to upcoming conversations and to a mutually beneficial future together," he said. "Whether it's promoting the Livestrong global cancer campaign or making the biggest bike race in the world the gem that it deserves to be, I look forward to next year."
Armstrong addressed leadership concerns and reaffirmed his commitment to his Astana team for next season, regardless of whether he races the Tour de France. "It is illogical to pre-select a leader for any race in October of the previous year. We are blessed at Astana to have the strongest team in the world and I look forward to riding with all of these great riders. I have been around long enough to know that cycling is a team sport and I am fully committed to supporting the strongest rider in any race. Whether that's me, Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer or Andreas Klöden."
Armstrong has not committed to racing the Tour de France in 2009, but he is currently scheduled to race the Tour Down Under, the Tour of California and the Giro d'Italia.
Earlier on Wednesday, at the presentation, Astana's team manager Johan Bruyneel had indicated to Cyclingnews that Armstrong's participation would depend upon a good atmosphere for his rider. "I'd like to have a discussion with the new president of the Tour de France," he said, referring to 32 year-old Jean-Etienne Amaury who succeeded Patrice Clerc in that role. "In normal life, I always attend a party if I'm invited and welcome. If I don't feel that I'm welcome, even if I'm invited, I don't go. Here it'll be the same."
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of Lance Armstrong's comeback
January 18, 2009 - Armstrong announces start of Catlin's drug testing programme
Astana's Contador sets sights on 2009 Tour
After not being invited by organizers in 2008, Team Astana has its sights set clearly on the 2009 edition of the Tour de France. The team's hopes are pinned firmly on 2007 winner Alberto Contador.
"Alberto Contador has only one big goal for 2009 and that is to win the Tour de France," said Team Manager Johan Bruyneel in Paris after the presentation. "From now on, he can already start working to reach that big goal, just like Lance Armstrong did in the past.
Bruyneel explained why the next Tour will be good for Contador. "It is a Tour with less kilometers in the time trial. Also good for him is the omission of the time bonuses although he did win the Vuelta due to bonuses. More uphill finishes would have been better, but we'll take the three and not complain. Ventoux at the end of the race is very special. It will provoke suspense until the very end, which is good for the race.
"Alberto proved in the Tour of Spain of this year that he can cope with the role of leader and favorite. He will be ready."
"Many people say that it is a Tour for climbers, but I don't agree with that assessment," said Contador. "There are only three uphill finishes. In the last Tour of Spain Andorra was not so hard and I don't have the impression that Verbier will be very hard, but I will have to go see and ride them."
"Just like every year, it looks like a Tour for a complete rider," he summarized.
Alain Gallopin backed up Contador's assessment and chances. "Even with this atypical Tour, the most consistent rider will win once again. It will be a nice Tour for our Team and our leaders."
In response to the speculation about whether Armstrong would race the Tour next summer, Bruyneel only said, "The decision on Lance's participation in the Tour de France 2009 is for later. For the moment it is 50-50 whether he will ride the Tour. After the Tour Down Under and the Tour of California we will know more."
Valverde aspires for 2009 Tour podium spot
By Antonio J. Salmerón
Not being present at the Tour de France 2009 launch didn't stop Alejandro Valverde from giving his opinion about next year's race. He told Cyclingnews that the route looked good for helping him make the podium.
"We only know the major details published," said Valverde. "I'm concerned about the 40km time trial near the end of the Tour because such long distances are not good for me. There is also a team time trial, and Caisse d'Epargne usually does well in these. With Mont Ventoux as the penultimate stage, it seems logical that this is where the podium will be decided."
"I feel the Tour will be balanced and challenging from start to finish, as is expected of a big race like the Tour," he said.
"Whether Armstrong takes part in the Tour is not known. I know I'll meet up him sooner or later. He's not the only one who worries me though. There are other great champions. If you are in the Tour, it will be harder next year. Ivan Basso, if he manages to get in top shape is another to keep in mind as well as [Carlos] Sastre, [Alberto] Contador and the [brothers] Schleck."
After two years racing and in the top 10, including wearing the yellow of the leader for a time, Valverde said he is again setting his sights on the podium on the Champs-Élysées. "I will sacrifice other races for the Tour. That is, I will focus on the Tour and try not to get too tired beforehand.
"I know what it is to win big classics, but now I'm going for a new triumph in a major test of three weeks, the Tour. If I do not win, I want to at least be on the podium. I think I am qualified to be fighting with the best, as I have demonstrated."
Sponsor Caisse d'Epargne's recent loss of 600 million euro does not have Valverde too worried. "I was having dinner with the people of Caisse d'Epargne on Monday night, after having picked up a prize (UCI ProTour). I confirmed that it has been my best year in my career, more consistent all season. From an economic viewpoint, there is no need to worry about the future of sponsor Caisse d'Epargne. It has been merged with another bank, and is now even stronger."
No doubt it has been an intense season for Valverde with criticism and pressure coming from within and outside of his team. "The criticism has not been good, and there have been mistakes. And while I am considered a winner, it's not always possible for me to win."
Piepoli a no show for doping hearing
Leonardo Piepoli, who was due to attend a hearing before the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) on Wednesday, failed to show up according to Ansa.
Piepoli was scheduled to appear before CONI on October 10, but the hearing was postponed upon the request of his legal team. Two of the Italian cyclist's blood samples taken one day before and during the Tour de France tested positive for EPO CERA. One sample taken on July 4 and another was collected on July 15.
During the Tour, Piepoli rode for Saunier Duval, a team whose star rider, Riccardo Riccò, also tested positive for EPO CERA. Riccò's positive came during the Tour and the entire team withdrew from the race. Prior to the team's withdrawal, Piepoli had won stage 10.
Piepoli has maintained his innocence.
Bossoni suspended & Carini confirmed positive for doping
The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) handed down a ban for professional cyclist Paolo Bossoni on Wednesday. A two-year ban from all cycling competition was given, taking effect the day of the hearing according to the agency's website. The former Lampre racer tested positive for EPO in a control taken in June at the elite men's road race for the Italian National Championship. He had finished sixth in the race.
Also on Wednesday, CONI announced the "B" sample of Giovanni Carini was also positive. Carini had had tested positive for EPO at a control for the non-contracted elite category, which he won, at the Italian National Championships.
Quick Step, Marco Polo & Lampre for Japan Cup
A few more teams, including Quick Step, the Trek-Marco Polo Cycling Team and Lampre, announced their intentions for the upcoming Japan Cup on October 26.
After his win at the Giro di Lombardia, Damiano Cunego will end his season in Japan Cup. He will be supported by Marco Bandiera, Francesco Gavazzi, Marco Marzano and Paolo Tiralongo.
"Japan Cup is a tough race, the most important in Asia. That's why our team in Japan will be competitive and similar to the one that won Giro di Lombardia," said Lampre's director Fabrizio Bontempi. "Of course Cunego will be there for his Japanese fans. It will be difficult to control the race, because every team will have only five riders. The alternative to Damiano could be Gavazzi, who was last year third."
The Trek-Marco Polo Cycling Team, one of the strongest teams in Asia, will bring a strong line-up. Although without Leon van Bon, who is racing six-day races in Europe, the team will bring Australians Jai Crawford and Rhys Pollock and Malaysian Loh Sea Keong, Chinese Fuyu Li and Japanese Ken Onodera will also take the start.
Crawford hopes to round off a strong season with a top-ranking in the Japan Cup, so he travelled to Japan early to check out the course. "The Japan Cup is a great chance to compete with the top-guys and prove my qualities on a tough course. I hope to be in the finale and am confident I can have a good finish. Next to me there are a few other guys in our team that could surprise, especially Rhys has had an impressive season but Fuyu and Ken can handle parcours like this well, on a good day."
Lampre for Japan Cup: Damiano Cunego, Marco Bandiera, Francesco Gavazzi, Marco Marzano and Paolo Tiralongo under D.S. Fabrizio Bontempi.
Trek - Marco Polo Cycling Team for Japan Cup: Jai Crawford, Rhys Pollock, Loh Sea Keong, Fuyu Li and Ken Onodera under D.S. Remko Kramer.
Quick Step for the Japan Cup: Mauro Facci, Stijn Joseph, Alessandro Proni, Leonardo Scarselli, Giovanni Visconti under D.S. Davide Bramati.
Gasparotto named best in Europe
Barloworld's Enrico Gasparotto won the overall title for the UCI Europe Continental Tour for 2008. The Italian won with 644 points ahead of Stefano Garzelli (Acqua&Sapone Caffè Mocambo) with 588.2 and Mikhaylo Khalilov (Flaminia-Bossini) with 488 points.
Gasparotto fared well at the Tirreno-Adriatico, where he was second overall, and he won a stage at the Three Days of De Panne and a stage and the final classification at the Ster Elektrotoer. But it was September that was his best month. He won the Giro di Romagna, narrowly finished second at the Coppa Placci and finished fourth in two stages of the Tour du Poitou Charentes.
His Barloworld team also finished second overall in the UCI Europe Teams' classification.
Roche to run New York marathon
Tour de France winner and World Champion in 1987 Stephen Roche will run the New York City marathon on November 2. The accomplished Irishman will be competing in his first marathon as a fundraising project for the foundation of cancer survivor and ex-footballer Geoff Thomas.
"Training for the marathon is hurting me, but I know there are people who are hurting even more. I have a choice about whether I run in the New York Marathon. I am healthy enough to do it and in doing so I can raise funds and awareness for people who are less well off physically and have no choice."
In 2003, Thomas was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia and was given just months to live. A bone marrow transplant from his sister saved his life and since then he has raised over £1 million for leukaemia research in the UK. His fundraising efforts were inspired by Lance Armstrong, and in 2005 he rode the gruelling 3,500km of the Tour de France route and then did it again two years later with four other cancer survivors.
"I have watched many fellow patients lose their battle with blood cancer and I can't watch my friends die and do nothing," said Thomas. "Lance Armstrong was a huge inspiration to me and it has always been my ambition to go to America and have a team running in New York."
British cycling champion Brian Smith and marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe are also participating in the marathon and the fund-raising effort.
For more information on the Geoff Thomas foundation, visit www.geoffthomasfoundation.com.
Garmin-Chipotle H3O to celebrate 2009
Slipstream Sports will host a celebration to introduce its 2009 Team Garmin-Chipotle H30 professional cycling team on November 22 at the Boulder Theatre in Boulder, Colorado. Returning and new members of the squad will be on hand for a preview of a Sundance documentary about the team, a Question and Answer session, silent auction and a chance to ride home on a complete 2008 team edition of the Felt F1.
A VIP cocktail hour will kick off at 5:30 pm local time with general admission opening at 6:00 pm. For a complete schedule and tickets, visit www.slipstreamsports.com/2008/10/21/ring-in-the-argyle-new-year.
(Additional editorial assistance provided by By Jean-François Quénet.)
(All rights reserved/Copyright Future Publishing (Overseas) Limited 2008)