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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, September 8, 2008

Edited by Sue George

Leipheimer GC favorite or right hand man?

By Shane Stokes

Levi Leipheimer (USA) thrilled with winning bronze at the Olympics
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Levi Leipheimer is once again leading the Vuelta a España, returning to the maillot oro after two days in the high mountains. However the Astana rider is on the same team as Tour de France and Giro d'Italia winner Alberto Contador, a Spaniard is considered the number one rider on the squad.

Leipheimer has had an excellent start to the Vuelta a España, winning the stage five time trial, wearing the maillot oro for a stage and then returning to the race lead by the end of Sunday's stage eight after two days in the mountains. He will start the ninth stage from Viella to Sabiñánigo 21 seconds clear of Astana team-mate Alberto Contador, and 49 seconds ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). Tour de France victor Carlos Sastre (Team CSC - Saxo Bank) is one minute 27 seconds back in fourth place.

Leipheimer finished third in the event seven years ago, stunning many with such a Grand Tour debut and showing that he was a bona fide contender for three-week races. Now, years later, he's back racing in Spain and shining in gold.

He first took the lead when winning the time trial, but the maillot oro passed to Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) and then to Alessandro Ballan (Lampre). The American took it back with a strong performance on Sunday's eighth stage to Pla de Beret, and spoke about the previous wearers of the tunic.

"I think that Chavanel and Ballan both earned it," he said, playing down any talk of the team 'gifting' the jersey to them. "We didn't contest Chavanel, but realistically I can't beat him in the sprint. He would get the jersey, no matter what, but to make it easy we collaborated a little bit with him. It was good for us to save the team. On the other hand, Ballan was really very strong yesterday. They earned it."

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The fact is, had Leipheimer followed his usual programme, it'd be highly unlikely that he'd be riding the Vuelta. He's targeted the Tour de France ever since that good Tour of Spain in 2001, finishing eighth, ninth, sixth, twelfth and third between 2002 and 2007.

Following that podium finish last July, the plan was to bank everything on this year's race, aiming to go even higher in the results. However the entire Astana team was refused entry by ASO and missed out on riding the race. As a result, the Vuelta – rather than the Tour – is his and the team's Grand Tour target for the second half of the season.

Leipheimer was consequently delighted to take the time trial stage plus the overall lead on Wednesday. "I've been feeling very strong for the last couple of weeks, since the Olympics [he was third in the time trial in Beijing]," he told journalists after the race against the clock.

"This is another big highlight for me and this team. It's always an honour to win a stage in a Grand Tour, plus wear the leader's jersey."

He was equally happy to get back the gold jersey on Sunday's mountain stage, and is clearly one of the strongest riders in the race.

Impressive form in 2008

Levi Leipheimer carries his great Olympic form into the Vuelta
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)
Leipheimer has taken many important results this season, including first in the time trial and overall classification in the Tour of California, third in the Tour de Georgia, third plus a stage win in the Dauphiné Libéré, first in the Cascade classic and third in the Olympic time trial in Beijing.

Then, after coming back from China, he won the pre-Vuelta Clásica a los Puertos de Guadarrama, gaining an important psychological boost before the Spanish Tour. Whatever the outcome of the rest of the Vuelta, it's likely that his stage win and overall leader's jersey in the race will be one of the standout points of the season.

Two others will rank highly on his list, going by what he told Cyclingnews before the Tour of Spain started. "In terms of highlights…the Tour of California is always important for me, and then winning the Olympic medal was big," he stated. "Those two were definitely on top. They were two of my goals for the year, even before we heard the news about the Tour [ASO's refusal to grant a place to Astana]. Those moments are the ones that stand out for me."

Narrowing it down further, the Olympics was clearly a big, big moment in his career. "Obviously I dreamt about winning the time trial, but I have to say that I am really happy about getting a bronze," he said. "I think just getting an Olympic medal is something else – after the fact, it [the experience] is more than I had ever imagined it would be, really. It was a great experience to be able to stand on the podium, see the flags being raised, and then the next day to do the US media tour that most of the medallists get to do.

Read the complete interview.

Lloyd observes Vuelta from within

By Bjorn Haake in Escaldes - Engordany, Andorra

Matthew Lloyd (Silence-Lotto)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Australian champion Matthew Lloyd (Silence-Lotto) was supposed to help Cadel Evans win the Vuelta. With Evans out with his knee injury, Lloyd has had to refocus and try for a breakaway. It left him in a position to observe the battle for the general classification, which was a treat in itself.

Lloyd was a tad astonished on how the race played out towards Naturlandia. "I didn't think the break was going to stay away. With a rider like Ballan in there, I thought the others would have wanted to bring it back. It certainly was interesting to watch."

Lloyd was wondering when the GC contenders would attack each other. "The favourites will have to play their cards at some point. Everybody needs some seconds." He did notice how comfortable Sastre was looking, which further raised his eyebrows why the Spaniard wasn't trying something on the final climb in stage seven.

For Lloyd, the race personally hasn't gone to his liking just yet. Besides the last-minute change in plans and tactics, he was victim of a crash in stage six. "It was a kind of crash that happens when everyone is a little too comfy. We were really going fast, too. You don't think about it when you ride, but sometimes when I watch it from the outside, I am quite amazed."

Ironically, it is the riders' superior skills that can cause havoc. "We really know how to ride, so sometimes it gets too relaxed. It is sort of like an IT [information technology - ed.] expert sending an email to the wrong person, by accidentally putting in the wrong name in the "To:" field. It happens."

The wind doesn't help either. "Everybody wants to be on the front, so riders are constantly coming, then drifting back again," Lloyd described the constant motion within the endless churning peloton.

It is a very dynamic formation and it was the first time that the race was that nervous this year. Before, things were much more relaxed. Lloyd is hoping to be less relaxed on one of the stage and catch a good break. Now that has recovered from the crash fairly well, he is "hoping for a good two weeks."

Bad weather a good thing for Mosquera

By Bjorn Haake in Escaldes - Engordany, Andorra

Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) finished second on Saturday on top of the Alto de Naturlandia on the Vuelta a España. Unlike many of his rivals, Mosquera did not complain about the weather. The rain and cold didn't prevent him from attacking the select group, of which he was a member, in the final kilometres.

"I do well in the rain, I don't know why." He even escaped Alberto Contador (Astana) in the final kilometres. Contador certainly was trying to catch his compatriot, but in the end he had given up three seconds. The other favourites in the group, notably Levi Leipheimer (Astana) and Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank), conceded a further five seconds.

It wasn't the first time Mosquera noticed his poor-weather abilities. "In the Vuelta al País Vasco, the weather was mostly bad and I was doing well. But the one day it was nice, I lost minutes." That loss came in the individual time trial, so for him, the discipline may have played a role as much as the weather.

On Sunday up to the Pla de Beret Mosquera in stage eight, Mosquera showed that he can perform well in hot temperatures, too. He finished the day in the Sastre-Leipheimer group and moved up to fifth place overall.

Despite his good results this season, Mosquera is not currently thinking about moving to a bigger team. "Now I am only thinking about the Vuelta. I am not pre-occupied about next year. It is distracting and I think my legs wouldn't be as good if I also had to think [about] switching teams."

Instead he wants to finish the Vuelta a España well and then focus on facing his next challenge, the Vuelta Chihuahua Internacional on October 7-14. Fortunately for Mosquera, he is starting to get better in the hot weather and won't have to rely on the rain anymore. As for the terrain in the upcoming race, he admits he isn't as well prepared. "I don't know what the route is like or if it is mountainous."

Nonetheless, he is looking forward to the experience. "It will be nice to see a different country and encounter different mentalities." With the way Mosquera has been racing this season, he could end up on a larger team soon and with more opportunities to race in different countries.

McEwen tops all-Aussie podium in Hamburg

By Susan Westemeyer

Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto)
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

Robbie McEwen showed that he can still take a sprint after a hard race, winning the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, Germany. The Silence-Lotto rider stood atop an all-Australian podium, with Credit Agricole's Mark Renshaw and Allan Davis of Quick Step finishing behind him in the mass sprint after 213.7 km.

"I had looked at the list of previous winners, and I am proud that my name will be added to it," McEwen said. "That was a perfect course today. It gave everybody a chance, even the sprinters. I nearly died twice on the Waseberg, but only nearly. That was the hardest part, but I felt better every time we went over it."

McEwen had earlier ridden the Deutschland Tour and had dropped out of it after the sixth stage. "The rest days after my early out from the D-Tour were good for me,' the 36 year-old said. "That meant I had the necessary freshness. Naturally the shortening of the course from 260 to 213 km was good for me. But everyone always rides aggressively here and that makes the race hard."

The Australian is leaving Silence-Lotto for the new Russian Team Katusha. This was only his fourth win of the season. He won a stage in the Tour de Romandie and two stages in the Tour de Suisse.

A large group got away early in the race and built up a lead of four minutes, but the peloton didn't let them get any further away. The were caught on the third of four ascents up the Waseberg.

Attack followed attack, and the ever-shrinking peloton hunted all the break riders. Team Columbia had led the field much of the early part of the race, but by the end, Gerald Ciolek was on his own.

Giovanni Visconti of Quick Step attacked with 20 km to go, but was caught on the final Waseberg climb. Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) was ceaseless in his efforts and took off with Leonardo Bertagnolli and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), but they could not stay away either. Rigoberto Uran of Caisse d'Epargne was the last to get away, but he, too, was inevitably reeled back in during the set up of the mass sprint.

Quick Step led the way, but McEwen powered his way forward to take the win.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Vattenfall Cyclassics.

Gasparotto dominates the Giro della Romagna

After Saturday's second place at the Coppa Placci, Team Barloworld's Enrico Gasparotto achieved victory at the 83th Giro della Romagna , a classic Italian race. In a three-man sprint, Gasparotto easily outdid Italian Francesco Reda (NGC-OTC), whilst team-mate and Austrian Champion Christian Pfannbeger took third.

The 199.3km race, with six climbs, started and finished in Lugo di Romagna, Italy. It was marked out by a fast beginning with a strong headwind. Team Barloworld's riders pushed the pace at the front to help force a selection.

As a result, after 40 km from the start, a group of about 20 riders remained at the front, including Barloworld's Gasparotto and Pfannberger. They gained a two minutes' lead over the rest of the peloton and, with 18 km to go, Gasparotto tried his luck attacking at the beginning of the last climb. Only Reda managed to keep Gasparotto's wheel and Pfanngerber soon joined them.

In the final sprint, the former Italian Champion overcame Reda thanks to Pfannberger's teamwork.

"I'm so happy today," said an enthusiastic Barloworld DS Valerio Teabaldi, "and I'm very proud of my guys. We kept the control of the race from the very beginning and proved to be the strongest team. Pfannberger and Gasparotto are in great shape at the moment. Enrico attacked on the last climb like he was riding a Belgian classic race! He was impressive and he deserved this victory."

Gerolsteiner quartet to Milram

Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Team Milram is beginning to take shape for the coming 2009 season, as it announced Sunday the hiring of three more riders from Team Gerolsteiner, as well as Directeur Sportif Christian Henn. Two-time German champion Fabian Wegmann and the brothers Markus and Thomas Fothen all signed two-year contracts with what will be the only German ProTour team in 2009, as did Henn. The team also told Cyclingnews that Björn Schröder had extended his contract with the team.

"We are trying to put together a squad for the coming season with which we can be at the front in every race," said Gerry van Gerwen, Milram General Manager. "These signings are an important step in this direction."

Wegmann, 28, has won the German national road title the last two years. He has also won the GP Miguel Indurain twice. In 2004 he took the mountain title at the Giro d'Italia. He turned pro in 2002 with Gerolsteiner.

Markus Fothen, 26, turned pro with Gerolsteiner in 2004. He finished 15th overall in the Tour de France in 2006, and won a stage in the Tour de Romandie in 2007 and one in the Tour de Suisse this year. His younger brother, Thomas, is 25 and joined Gerolsteiner in 2006.

Henn, 44, rode professionally from 1989 to 1999. He joined Gerolsteiner as a Directeur Sportif in 2001, and has been assistant general manager since 2004.

Schröder rode for Team Weisenhof from 2003 to 2005 before joining Milram. This season the 28 year-old won the Rothaus Regio Tour.

O'Bee signs with Bissell

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

Two-time US Crit Champion Kirk O'Bee in the national champion's jersey
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Two time US criterium champion Kirk O'Bee has signed a contract with the Bissell team for 2009, moving from his current team Health Net-Maxxis. This contract and negotiation is a complete opposite to his situation last year, which went well past the eleventh hour and almost saw him sit-out the 2008 season.

"That was the plan to get something signed and sealed, at least before nationals!" he told Cyclingnews about his relief. "I think this is the earliest I have had a contract signed!"

Bissell director Glenn Mitchell told Cyclingnews in our team review feature that he was specifically looking for finishing speed to add to his team. "He's a two-time criterium champion and second in Philly this year," he said. "He has been up there in the one-day races and we will be able to get a little more explosiveness at the finish from him."

With Bissell CEO Mark Bissell taking over the team management, having additional local ties helped O'Bee's case. "And he's from Michigan, as is our title sponsor, so it fits in well for that!" said Mitchell. "I've been a team-mate of his in the past so I am totally aware of his abilities and what he brings to the team. We can tailor it so that he gets more times to be the guy to go to."

O'Bee said he will also bring more experience and maturity to the mostly younger team. "I think I'll have more leadership responsibilities. Right now I am the only finishing guy they have singed up. I know they are looking for some guys to help me but I bring some maturity to the team with the experience I have."

Germany selects two Columbians for Worlds time trial

Team Columbia's Tony Martin and Bert Grabsch finished one-two in the closing time trial of the Deutschland Tour on Saturday, and that was enough to seal their nominations for the World Championships later this month in Varese, Italy. The Bund Deutsche Radfahrer (BDR) announced Sunday morning that the two would represent German in the World's time trial on September 25.

Martin, 23, is a first year pro with four victories this season. He won the Hel van het Mergelland, the prologue of the Ster Elktrotoer and time trials in the Tour de l'Ain and the Deutschland Tour. He was also second behind team-mate Marco Pinotti in the closing time trial of this year's Giro d'Italia.

Grabsch, 33, turned pro in 1997. He won the German national time trial title in 2007 and 2008. He won time trials this season in the Österreich Rundfahrt and the Sachsen Tour, in which he also took the overall title.

(Additional editorial assistance provided by Susan Westemeyer.)

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