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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News, September 12, 2008

Edited by Sue George and Laura Weislo

Angry Bettini without Quick Step contract

By Bjorn Haake in Suances with additional reporting from Gregor Brown

Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) gives his victory salute
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Paolo Bettini took his second stage victory in the Vuelta a España with a commanding uphill sprint to the line Suances. But unlike his triumphant victory in Toledo on stage six, this one was tinged with anger as he ended his contract negotiations with his Quick Step team after receiving the news that Stefan Schumacher had been given a contract for 2009.

"The future of Quick Step? Let's talk about the future of Paolo Bettini! The latest declarations made it very clear: I won't be with Quick Step in the next season. This does not please me, because I would have liked to spend another season with Patrick Lefevere and in fact the whole team," said Bettini.

"I understand that it's a question of the budget that Patrick has available," he said although still unhappy about not being signed. "I talked to him for the first time during the Giro d'Italia, and I specifically told him I wanted to ride another year."

The Italian said that he was working with Lefevere to come to an agreement as late as July. "Then we came to the Vuelta and he still hadn't made me an offer. I was expecting a bit more sincerity," Bettini said Thursday evening.

Like his dealings with manager Patrick Lefevere, the atmosphere in 12th stage went from good to bad quickly. The day started out sunny, but conditions changed dramatically, and dark clouds and heavy rain showers pummeled the riders during the race. "It was tough in this weather," said Bettini, who had targeted both stages before even setting foot into Spain.

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Bettini was feeling mixed emotions - on one hand angry and on the other, comprehending a difficult situation for the team and the sport. "I understand the general economic problems and the problems in cycling."

Despite not being re-signed, Bettini wasn't concerned about his future. "I am sleeping well at night. Cycling has given a lot to me and I have given a lot to cycling."

In his ten years with Quick Step, Bettini has taken some great wins. Liège-Bastogne-Liège twice, Milano-Sanremo, two Giri di Lombardia, the Clásica de San Sebastián are just some of his bigger wins. He also was Italian road champion on two occasions. An Olympic title in 2004 was followed by back-to-back wins in the World Championships in 2006 and 2007. He will try to defend the title one more time in 2008, when they are held in his native Italy later this month.

Lefevere defends Quick Step signings

By Gregor Brown

Quick Step Team Manager Patrick Lefevere
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere, facing an emotionally charged separation with reigning World Champion Paolo Bettini, defended his decisions on Thursday. The pair will part ways at the season's end after ten years together when contract negotiations fell through. Bettini was angered that Lefevere signed German Stefan Schumacher, a rider with similar skills as the Italian, but who is seven years younger and in need of a team after his Gerolsteiner squad failed to secure a new sponsor. He ended the negotiations on Thursday.

Lefevere and Bettini have been at odds over a contract extension for 2009 for much of the summer. Bettini, who was going to retire at the end of the season, decided to race another year, but Lefevere felt that Bettini's price was too high and said the Italian had refused to budge on his demands.

"You can't say that Schumacher costs the same money as Bettini, it is totally different. His [Bettini - ed.] remarks are not even correct," Lefevere said to Cyclingnews Thursday.

Lefevere explained that Bettini knew of his budget concerns, and emphasized that he did not choose Schumacher over Bettini. "I already said it in August; I said I am still in negotiation with two guys. Because I signed Schumacher did not mean I did not want Bettini, but is not the same price and it is very different. I am the manager. I am the guy who has to bring the good news and especially the bad news."

The two did not see eye to eye in contract negotiations. "I was speaking with Paolo at the Giro [d'Italia] and then I was speaking with him at the [Tour de] Wallonie. I said, 'I have too much respect for you, I am in a difficult position, and you know I have less money.' I asked him to make a proposition to me. If he says '100' and then says '98' – it is not a real proposition – It is not cooperation."

The duo joined forces with the Mapei squad ten years ago and their run seems to now have come to an end. "It was a great ten years and a good period for me," said Lefevere. "In the last six years, he brought me a lot of wins." Despite winning back to back World Championships, Bettini's number of victories has declined in the past two years, and before stage 12 of the Vuelta on Thursday, he had only three wins this year.

"I think that often riders forget that they are paid for this," Lefevere underscored. "It is a similar story for football in Belgium; they say they don't have respect when they are not renewed."

Bettini, however, felt differently. "It would be normal that after the ten years I represented the team that I would get an extension. But I understand that the market is difficult," said the Italian. "I am disappointed to find out in mid-September that they are not counting on me."

Valverde's Vuelta dream fades

Spain's Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) took the overall lead
Photo ©: Unipublic
(Click for larger image)

Until Thursday's stage 12, Alejandro Valverde was still in serious contention for the general classification at the Vuelta a España. However, he lost contact with the favourites' group on the final descent of the day with about 50 km to go, and when Astana and Euskaltel noticed that he had fallen off the back, they mercilessly picked up the speed in order to drop him once and for all.

The winner of stage two lost 3:23 on the day and dropped from fourth to eleventh overall, most likely burying his chances of the overall win at 4:19 down.

Valverde fell back on the descent from the Alto del Caracol and ended up in a following group instead of the lead group of chasers that eventually caught the day's break. Nearly his whole Caisse d'Epargne team dropped back to try and close the rapidly growing gap, but their efforts were in vain against the Euskaltel and Astana teams, who turned on the speed when they noticed the gap.

"It is a fact that I am not happy with what happened today but now I will have to react and try to do something in the following stages," said Valverde.

"While climbing the last hill I went to the team car to take a raincoat and as a consequence on the downhill I was in the back of the group. We did our best to try to come back in the first group but of course they were doing the same in the leading group and from then on the goal was to lose as little time as possible."

"What happened today is a big disappointment for all the team," said director Eusebio Unzúe. "'Til today, Alejandro had possibilities to fight to win the Vuelta and because of an error and not being where he should at the right time, we have lost all the possibilities we had.

"Everybody was controlling him and when they saw he was in the group behind, they took advantage of the situation to attack. We reacted the best way we could but of course many teams were collaborating in the front group and it was not possible for us to come back."

Crashes continue in Missouri

By Mark Zalewski in Rolla, Missouri

More crashes rippled through the peloton of the Tour of Missouri in stage four, sending at least two riders to hospital and giving many more road rash. Team Columbia was dealt a blow in their bid to retake the yellow jersey when they lost two riders mid-stage, Craig Lewis and John Devine, with Devine breaking his collarbone.

The two Americans were involved in a crash at the top of a hill that sent many riders to the ground. "I saw [Lewis] hit a chunk of metal in the road," said BMC's Jeff Louder. "He flatted and a bunch of guys slammed into him. Its been a nervous race the entire time here!"

Team Columbia's Michael Barry took the solo win on the stage, which was marked by relentless attacks. A second crash split the field, with most of the GC favourites, including leader Christian Vande Velde, Columbia's Michael Rogers and George Hincapie and Symmetrics' Svein Tuft made the front group. Barry escaped that group with three other riders, and then attacked to ride solo to the finish.

Though the weather has stayed dry, save for a few kilometres on stage one, the forecast is not looking good. Rain started to fall immediately after the stage and is predicted for the rest of the race, which ends Sunday in St. Louis.

Rogers prepares for hometown Varese world title

By Kirsten Robbins in Branson, Missouri

Michael Rogers (Team Columbia)
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

After a year marred with injury and illness Michael Rogers, a former triple world champion racing for Team Columbia, placed second in stage three time trial at the Tour of Missouri. This result combined with his double top ten at the Beijing Olympic Games shows that he may be back in the running for a fourth world title in the upcoming world championships. The event will be held later this month in his hometown of Varese, Italy.

"One of the reasons that I came to this race was for the time trial because I felt that it would be good preparations for the world championships in a month," said the Australian in a press conference immediately following the stage. "I think it was one of the toughest time trials I've done, course wise."

A full year has come and gone since the then T-Mobile squad appointed Rogers as their leader for the 2007 Tour de France. What might have been his yellow jersey debut was cut short when he crashed in stage 8 on the Cormet de Roseland descent. The accident happened while he was in a decisive breakaway as the virtual leader on the road.

"The last year hasn't been the best for me," admitted Rogers. "I had a very good chance to take the yellow jersey that day and so that crash was a big blow to my morale."

Rogers re-signed with the High Road-turned Columbia team, however his bad-luck continued into the 2008 year when he contracted mononucleosis. His hopes for a healthy return to the peloton was delayed a second time, and he was bed ridden for most of the early season. "When you think about it, it's been almost one year that I didn't race and at this level of competition it's hard to get back on to do well in the time trial."

"I think I've got a lot of steps to make to try to get back into the yellow jersey," he continued regarding the time between his return to the peloton at the Dauphiné Libéré held in mid-June and the up coming world time trial championship event.

"Coming back to the Olympics with a sixth in the road race and eighth in the time trial was a good result for me. It shows that I'm certainly getting back to were I was. It hasn't been an easy road and it's been very slow."

Boasson Hagen wins again in Britain

Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia)
Photo ©: Gerry McManus
(Click for larger image)

Team Columbia's Edvald Boasson Hagen won his second consecutive stage at the Tour of Britain on Thursday. The young Norwegian won stage five with a late attack from the five-rider breakaway that dominated the stage after getting into the move with the help of his team-mates.

Italy's Danilo Di Luca (Team LPR) and Australia's Matt Goss (Team CSC - Saxo Bank) and Travis Meyer (South sparked the early break. Team Columbia was not represented in the move, so the boys in blue went to the front and chased, narrowing the gap to 15 seconds so that Boasson Hagen could jump across. When he made it with Rock Racing's Victor Hugo Peña for company, the bunch let them go, and the five knew they would go on to fight for the stage victory.

The final 30km of the stage included three short but steep climbs in the heart of Dalby Forest in the North York Moors. Di Luca attacked on the second climb with 12km to go but was caught on the descent to the finish. Peña made a late move two kilometres out but when he was pulled back Boasson Hagen surged clear 700 metres from the finish and won by four seconds.

"My teammates made a huge effort to get me up to the break, and so I have to thank them. We don't have anyone up high in the overall classification and so we worked hard to make sure I was up there," Boasson Hagen said.

"Me and Goss worked together to get Di Luca back on the climb. Peña attacked, so Goss and Di Luca chased him and then I made a counter attack with about 700 metres to go. I suppose late attacks are becoming my specialty," said Hagen.

France's Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel) kept the overall race lead, six seconds ahead of Britain's Steve Cummings.

Friday's 156km stage six will run from Darlington to Gateshead near Newcastle in the northeast of England. The stage includes two early climbs but is likely to end in a sprint, meaning Boasson Hagen has a great chance of taking a third consecutive victory.

Unzúe happy to finally sign Larsson

By Bjorn Haake in Burgos

Gustav Erik Larsson (Sweden)
Photo ©: Casey Gibson
(Click for larger image)

After signing Swede Gustav Erik Larsson, Caisse d'Epargne General Manager Eusebio Unzúe revealed that he had been hoping to sign the Olympic time trial silver medallist for some time. Larsson rode with Bjarne' Riis' CSC team this season after being a part of the now defunct team the previous year.

"He's a rider who I had already set my eyes on in the last two or three years. I liked the way he is riding," said Unzúe. "We tried to sign him last year for the current season, then finally this year we reached an agreement in June." Larsson signed a two-year contract with the Spanish squad.

Unzúe thought the loss for CSC would be minor, but not because of a lack of performance of Larsson. "They have several good riders with his characteristics." The Danish team has a number of strong time trialists including Olympic gold medallist Fabian Cancellara. Unzúe thinks Larsson may be more than just a good rider against the clock. "He can win a stage race of six or seven days. He is a great time trialler and I think he can also be there in the Tour for Alejandro [Valverde]. Even in the medium mountains he can be there. I think he is a very interesting rider in several aspects."

Armstrong dominated the day

The big news of the day was of course the Lance Armstrong announcement. Unzúe weighed in his opinion to Cyclingnews. "It was definitely a surprise for me. Why he wants to return after four years [in 2009 it will be four years since his retirement in 2005 - ed.] He will have to explain that..."

Unzúe seemed still a bit surprised about the announcement. "I don't think it will be bad for the sport. As for his return, I don't really know... He is quite a personality and a bit of a notoriety." The question if Armstrong can win the Tour de France again was answered without hesitation by Unzúe. "No. I don't think he can. It will be very difficult after being away four years from the activity of a professional cyclist. It's clear that he can do great things, but to win the Tour? Of course, he is the man of the records... Maybe that will be another one - the eighth Tour at age 37!"

Skil-Shimano signs two

Skil-Shimano has signed Koen de Kort and Cyril Lemoine for the coming season. Dutchman de Koert is leaving Team Astana and Lemoine comes from Crédit Agricole. Both riders have signed one-year contracts.

De Kort, 26, rode for Team Rabobank before joining Liberty-Seguros in 2005, the team which eventually became Astana. According to the Professional Continental team Skil-Shimano, he is "expected to futher develop himself in structured surroundsings and with a balanced programme." His strengths are in time trials, short stage races, and one-day races.

Lemoine, 25, has an option for a second year. The 25 year-old turned pro with Credit Agricole in 2005, and won the U-23 classification at the Tour de Luxembourg in 2006. His new team calls him "a strong, powerful rider" for short stage race and the classics.

Lampre ready for its last ProTour race

Team Lampre is ready for its final ProTour race of the season, the Tour of Poland, which will run from September 14 to 20. They will arrive at the start, an opening team time trial in Warsaw, with Marco Bandiera, Matteo Bono, Francesco Gavazzi, Grendene, Roberto Longo, David Loosli, Mirco Lorenzetto and Sylvester Szmyd.

"The team that will be in Poland will be similar to the one that took part in Detuschland Tour and Vattenfall Cyclassics," said Fabrizio Bontempi, Lampre's director. "Lorenzetto and Loosli are in good condition, we'll try to take advantage of their fit."

"Szmyd will have enthusiasm because he'll race on hometown roads," he said. "He'll try to compete in the overall standing. It will be interesting to see Grendene in his second race as pro."

(Additional editorial assistance provided by Susan Westemeyer.)

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