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Photo ©: Swift

Latest Cycling News, September 12, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Vuelta rest day wrap-up: Rolling along

Spain's Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) keeps the maillot oro warm
Photo ©: Unipublic
(Click for larger image)

The Vuelta a España just keeps rolling along. The raced entered the Pyrenees, hitting the high mountains for the first time, and then had a spell of rolling stages. The result? The maillot oro ended up on the shoulders of a relative outsider, who has to be considered more of caretaker than a real contender. Egoi Martínez of Euskaltel-Euskadi was the lucky one, who took advantage of a long breakaway and time bonuses to snatch the leader's jersey away from Astana's Levi Leipheimer. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer examines stages seven to 12.

The race favourites – Alberto Contador of Astana, Carlos Sastre of CSC, Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde and Leipheimer – all managed to stay close to one another much of the week with a slight advantage going to the two Astana riders. Valverde appeared to lose all his chances on Thursday's stage when the main group gapped him on the descent of the day's final climb.

Leipheimer must have felt as everything was going against him in this race. He took the maillot oro in the fifth stage time trial, only to lose it the next day. He won it back on stage seven and lost it the next day when Martínez gathered enough bonus seconds to take the lead by 11 seconds. To top it off, Leipheimer, who has made no secret of the fact that he himself wants to win the Tour de France, had to hear that Lance Armstrong is returning to the peloton – and apparently in an Astana jersey – with the announced intention of winning the Tour yet again.

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The main theme of the second week was the breakaway. Escape groups controlled stages seven, eight and nine. The sprinters finally got their chances, taking the last three stages – even if the sprints didn't always go as planned.

In the mountain rankings, Alessandro Ballan of Lampre won the first Pyrenees stage and took over the red mountain jersey, only to turn it over to David Moncoutié (Cofidis) two days later – both in escape groups, by the way. On the points front, Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) turned the blue jersey over to Valverde for two days, and it ultimately ended up with Greg Van Avermaet of Silence-Lotto, who used – what else – an escape to take it.

Click here to read the full Vuelta wrap-up of the second week of racing.

Astana happy about dropping rival

Tomas Vaitkus (Astana) did a tremendous pulling job for Astana
Photo ©: Unipublic
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Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde experienced what is probably going to be his worst day in the Vuelta a España yesterday. Rain and cold temperatures of stage 12 taking the riders from Burgos to Suances, as well as a tricky descent off a Cat. 2 climb put an end to his GC hopes.

With about 50 kilometres to go, while the bunch was still descending the Alto del Caracol, Valverde was riding towards the back of the strung-out field. Maybe he misjudged the situation, as the peloton had been taking things slowly on the wet roads of the stage's downhills – in any case, he explained later that he had been getting a rain coat at his team car, which is why he delayed from the front. Teams Astana and Euskaltel seized their chance and put on a tremendous rhythm, which made the peloton split in several groups.

In the end, Valverde lost 3'23 minutes, and thereby the Vuelta on a transitional stage which should have been without consequences on the overall classification. Yesterday, the Caisse d'Epargne leader left the finish area in Suances without commenting, but his teammate Oscar Pereiro, himself an experienced Grand Tour racer, couldn't hold back: "A man of his category and experience should not lose the Vuelta on a stage like this. Once again, a stage race slips through his fingers because of a crappy mistake," he told Spanish media.

Astana leader and Vuelta favourite Alberto Contador was happy to have distanced his direct rival. "Of course I'm glad that we could take time back on Valverde," he said after the race. "I don't understand how he could be so inattentive but that's cycling. You have to be at the front of the race. I am happy, and happy as well with the work of my team. They all worked so hard. Because of their work today they have been able to make a time difference with Valverde that gives me peace of mind."

Team CSC-Saxo Bank's Carlos Sastre, who came to the finish line within the first group and thus took Valverde's fourth placing at 1'38 minutes off the leader, resumed what happened: "I've said many times that you can't win the Vuelta a España in one day, but you can lose it in a day. [Yesterday], we saw how a stage that theoretically should have seen the whole group come in together or some breakaway, became a super fast, super nervous and super dangerous stage – in which, if you just fell a little bit back and were not in an opportune situation, you could lose all of your opportunities, like it was the case of Valverde."

Even though Sastre's teammates did not specifically help in the pulling of the front group, Sastre said it had been a good day for him, even if it had been tiring. "It was a hard and cold day, especially in the descent of the Lunada climb. It was in no case an easy stage, as the differences were made in the downhill. However, I didn't feel bad descending, I was always in the front. I was there too when the splitting happened, once it was known that Alejandro was behind and two teams raced flat out to increase the advantage. I came to the finish with the best, and continue my way in this Vuelta."

Freire out

Rabobank's Oscar Freire has decided to call it a day at the Vuelta. On the race's second rest day in Suances, his team announced that the triple World champion would not be at the start anymore of Saturday's mountain stage to the famous Angliru.

This does not come as a surprise, as the Spanish sprinter, winner of stage 11 at this year's Vuelta, will now focus on the World Championships in Varese, Italy.

"I hope this is a good sign for the Worlds," he said after his victory on Wednesday. "Last year I prepared essentially the same way, but I was lacking a bit at the Worlds. This year I arrived at the Vuelta much fresher."

Barry back on form

By Kirsten Robbins in Rolla, Missouri

Barry finished with 46 seconds to spare
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

Team Columbia's Michael Barry marked his first win in three seasons at stage four of the Tour of Missouri. His last triumph was in 2005 at the Tour of Austria, but the Canadian is known for a decades worth of top-notch domestique work for winning teams like US Postal Service, Discovery Channel and T-Mobile. After a season of ill health, Barry is back, feeling "better than ever."

"It feels really good to get a win for myself but I'm really pleased with the whole team," said Barry who spent the two opening stages on the front delivering Mark Cavendish to double victories.

"I take a lot of pleasure and enjoy helping the other guys," he continued. "They're good guys and I think when we win, who ever it is, the whole team celebrates and feels good about it. So this isn't just a victory for myself – it's for the whole team."

Barry noted that his health has not been up to par for nearly two seasons. He suffered a case of pneumonia in 2007 followed by a series of other health related problems. However, his recent ninth place performance at the Beijing Olympics is a good indication that he has made a full recovery.

"I really struggled the last year and I didn't know whether I would come back or not," he continued. "I had a whole lot of health problems and I just started to get my legs back in May, it feels good. I have many people to thank. My team has been supportive and my family was extremely supportive, along with my coaches -- I haven't felt this good in my whole career."

Belgian Worlds squad revealed

The Belgian cycling federation has announced the riders to compete in the road race in the World Championships in Varese later this month. The nine riders representing Belgium on the difficult Italian parcours will be: Mario Aerts, Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder, Kevin De Weert, Philippe Gilbert, Maxime Monfort, Nick Nuyens, Greg Van Avermaet and Jurgen Van Goolen.

As reserves, Dominique Cornu, Bert Dewaele, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Johan Vansummeren and Maarten Wijnants have been named.

A fifth for McEwen?

Robbie McEwen (Predictor - Lotto) won the race four times already
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Australian Robbie McEwen could be up for a fifth victory of the one-day race Paris-Brussels this Saturday. The 221km test between Soissons and the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels seems to suit the Silence-Lotto rider, who showed that his form was excellent lately by winning the Hamburg Cyclassics last Sunday.

His main rivals in the case of a very likely bunch sprint will be his compatriot Mark Renshaw (Crédit Agricole), who came second in Hamburg, Belgians Gert Steegmans (Quick Step), Kenny De Haes and Niko Eeckhout (Topsport Vlaanderen), as well as Luca Paolini (Acqua&Sapone), William Bonnet (Crédit Agricole), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Janek Tombak (Mitsubishi) and Robert Wagner (Skil).

Last year, McEwen outsprinted Jeremy Hunt and Venezuelan Honorio Machado Perez, as well as Baden Cooke and Thor Hushovd, who had made his move too soon. His record of four victories is already one for the history books of the race.

Zubeldia ready to team up with Armstrong, Rubiera too?

If Lance Armstrong returns to pro racing with team Astana – an announcement is expected in the coming weeks, at the latest on September 24 – Euskaltel's Haimar Zubeldia will be one of the American's team-mates and a possible helper for him at the Tour de France. The Basque climber participated in his last race for the orange-clad squad at the Hamburg Cyclassics last Sunday. Next year, he will adhere to the team managed by Johan Bruyneel, where he will join such stage race specialists as Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Klöden as well as possibly the seven-times Tour de France winner Armstrong.

Zubeldia said that he was ready to team up with the American, whom he rivaled at the Tour four times (2001, 2002, 2003 – when he finished fifth – and 2005). In 2006, Zubeldia achieved an eighth placing, and last year, he finished fifth again. The Basque climber noted that he would have signed with Astana anyway, even if the news of Armstrong's return would have come earlier.

"My decision to sign with Astana would have been the same," he said. "The news is very surprising, but everybody is free to do what he wants. We have to respect his decision, as he surely thought it over a lot."

Zubeldia added that he had no doubts the American would "return at the highest level."

Rubiera tempted

'Chechu' Rubiera, a long-time teammate of Armstrong at US Postal and Discovery Channel, is currently at the end of his contract with team Astana and actually thought about retiring. But now that his former team leader may be back, Rubiera might change his mind.

"I had convinced myself that I was finished with cycling, but now there’s an offer on the table for me to stay with the team one more year," he said. "I enjoyed the best years of my career with Armstrong and if he’s coming back, I might want to be around to see that."

Liquigas announces new recruits

Italian team Liquigas is continuing its hiring of new riders for next season, on top of the coming of Ivan Basso and Sylvester Szmyd. Fabio Sabatini (Milram) has been added to the roster to support Daniele Bennati in the sprints, climber Olivier Zaugg (Gerolsteiner) will be of importance in stage races and time trialist Brian Vandborg from Danish Continental team GLS has been given a one-year contract.

Liquigas will also take on young promises from its Espoir Team 2000 Marchiol-Liquigas. 21 year-olds Jacopo Guarnieri, currently racing the Tour of Missouri, and Daniele Oss signed two-year contracts with the ProTour team to turn professional in 2009.

Teams for Nürnberger

Team Gerolsteiner will send the 2005 winner to "Rund um die Nürnberger Altstadt" on Sunday, September 14, while Team Volksbank-Corratec will feature four Germans in the race. Gerolsteiner, which won the race in 2005 and 2007, will be led by former winner Ronny Scholz and the brothers Markus and Thomas Fothen. Tour de France third-place finisher Bernhard Kohl will also appear.

The Professional Continental Team Volksbank-Corratec will be led by four Germans, and three riders who last year finished in the top ten. Sprinter Olaf Pollack, who last year finished second behind Columbia's Gerald Ciolek, will look to improve this year.

Gerolsteiner in Nürnberg: Markus Fothen, Thomas Fothen, Johannes Fröhlinger, Bernhard Kohl, Volker Ordowski and Ronny Scholz.

Volksbank-Corratec in Nürnberg: Andreas Dietziker, André Korff, Harald Morscher, Daniel Musiol, Olaf Pollack and René Weissinger.

(Additional editorial assistance provided by Susan Westemeyer.)

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