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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for April 4, 2009

Edited by Peter Hymas & Laura Weislo

Basque week an alternative to cobbled Classics

By Monika Prell

Alberto Contador is the defending Vuelta al País Vasco champion
Photo ©: Susanne Goetze
(Click for larger image)

While the strong men of Flanders battle each other across the cobbles, a series of races in the Basque country offer a challenge to the less weighty riders who prefer to wage war on gravity in the mountains.

The week of racing begins Saturday, April 4 with the GP Miguel Indurain in Estella (Navarra). It is followed by the ProTour event, the Vuelta al País Vasco from April 6 to 11. The week's dramatic conclusion will come Easter Sunday with the Klasika Primavera in Amorebieta (Vizcaya), the only race which has not undergone major changes this year.

The GP Miguel Indurain gets a boost to its degree of difficulty with a course change. Previously ascending the Alto de Ibarra once, the new course takes in this deceptively steep, short hill four times in between seven other mountains including the uphill finish at El Puy. At 191 kilometres, the race is not for the weak of heart.

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Last year's winner Fabian Wegmann (Milram) will try to defend his title, but will face a challenge from Alejandro Valverde and Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne) as well as Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel - Euskadi), the Schleck brothers Andy and Frank (Saxo Bank) and Tour champion Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam).

After a day of respite, the most important race of the Basque country will start in the little village of Ataun (Guipúzcoa). The Basque Tour absorbed the Euskal Bizikleta, which fell victim to the economic downturn, and incorporates that race's queen stage into the event. The finish at the Sanctuary of Arrate on stage three will be decisive, as will the final time trial of 24km on the final day.

On the start line will be a host of Tour contenders including Alberto Contador (Astana), the brothers Schleck, Italian Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Australian Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto).

The Klasika Primavera remains unchanged, and as every year it will close the week of racing on April 12. This race is the last chance for all the riders who were disappointed with their performance in the Vuelta al País Vasco to grab a victory. The race is 171.6 kilometres with six classified climbs, and should wring out the last of the energies of the peloton.

Women's Ronde to see a new winner?

By Laura Weislo

Cooke will be the only previous winner to start on Sunday
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The women's World Cup heads to Belgium for round two for the Ronde van Vlaanderen Vrouwen, the women's Tour of Flanders, but will depart with just one of the previous champions, 2007 winner Nicole Cooke.

German Judith Arndt, who last year emerged victorious, will not race this year's event due to a broken collarbone she sustained in training. The race will also be without two-time champion Mirjam Melchers Van Poppel who called in sick for the opening World Cup round in Italy and has not recovered sufficiently to race in Belgium.

The only past champion who will toe the line on Sunday is Cooke, the reigning World and Olympic champion. She was sorely disappointed with the way the Trofeo Alfredo Binda went – she did not finish the cold, rainy race last weekend. With sun in the forecast, Cooke may have a better chance at a second win in Meerbeke. Her last victory here came in 2007 when she out-sprinted Zoulfia Zabirova.

"It was a special victory for me because it's such a well respected race over a tough parcours which has seen so many great moments over many years watched by passionate and knowledgeable fans," Cooke recalled.

Continue to the full Ronde van Vlaanderen Vrouwen preview

Keough wins opening stage in Uruguay

By Peter Hymas

Jake Keough (Kelly Benefit Strategies)
Photo ©: Circuit Global Sports Management
(Click for larger image)

Jake Keough, a 21-year-old professional on the American Kelly Benefit Strategies team, sprinted to victory in the first stage of the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay, taking place from April 3 to 12.

"The kid is fast. He had enough time to throw his arms in the air," said team manager Ken Mills to Cyclingnews. "Our main goal was a stage win, with the general classification being of importance down the road. The monkey's off our back which takes a lot of pressure off our guys.

"We were super active all day, putting a rider in every break," continued Mills. "In the end, Scott Zwizanski was up the road with a Brazilian rider which forced other teams to chase. They still had a 12 second lead with three kilometres to go.

"Cando [Alex Candelario] led out the sprint and says a lot about Keough that a rider of Candelario's sprinting prowess would sacrifice himself."

Currently, the Kelly Benefit Strategies team is fielding teams on two continents, with the squad split between the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay and the Maha Chakri Sirindhon's Cup in Thailand from April 4 to 9.

"Increasing our international schedule is a major goal for the KBS program this year," said Jonas Carney, Performance Director. "We had some of our best results last season while competing overseas and we hope to continue that trend in both Thailand and Uruguay. We're very excited to be participating in these two great events and know that it will provide good preparation for major upcoming events on the domestic circuit this year."

Valverde slated for GP Indurain

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
Photo ©: Franklin Tello
(Click for larger image)

The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) may have requested a two-year ban for Alejandro Valverde, but that hasn't stopped the Caisse d'Epargne star from racing. The Spaniard is slated for Saturday's GP Miguel Indurain.

Valverde was subjected to an investigation by CONI for involvement in the 2006 blood doping scandal Operación Puerto. The Italian investigators reportedly matched blood evidence from the case to samples taken from Valverde during the 2008 Tour de France. The prosecutor recommended a two-year ban this week, but the final decision in the case is still pending.

The Spanish rider and his federation have protested the action of the Italians, saying that CONI had no jurisdiction in the case. It is likely that if the CONI suspends Valverde in Italy, the UCI will enforce the ban world-wide.

Valverde is not on the team's list for the Vuelta al País Vasco ProTour event.

What do you think abut CONI's requested ban of Valverde? Discuss in the forum!

Bennati will start the Ronde, despite leg injury

Daniele Bennati (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Daniele Bennati will be present on the Ronde van Vlaanderen start line on Sunday, despite suffering lingering effects of a crash in stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico.

"Daniele doesn't want to miss it and, in conjunction with the medical staff, we have decided to support his desire," said Stefano Zanatta, Liquigas directeur sportif in a statement. "During Driedaagse De Panne he showed good condition until the pain became acute again."

The team doctor Roberto Corsetti explained the recovery process of Bennati since his accident. "The day after Daniele crashed, he started to feel a light pain in the muscle of his right thigh which faded during the remainder of Tirreno-Adriatico. At Milano-Sanremo, in the final kilometres, the pain reappeared more intensely. We decided for three days of complete rest together with physiotherapy work. Prior to leaving for Belgium his situation clearly improved.

"Considering that the participation of Daniele in the Ronde van Vlaanderen will not compromise his next scheduled races, and in respect of the strong will showed by the athlete, we have decided to let him start," continued Corsetti.

Carlos Sastre to refine form in the Basque country

Carlos Sastre at the Tour of California
Photo ©: Wil Matthews
(Click for larger image)

Carlos Sastre will compete in the upcoming Vuelta al País Vasco and intends to draw important conclusions regarding his preparation for the Giro d'Italia.

"It's my last stage race test before the Giro and I hope to assess the quality of my training. Each passing day I'm feeling better," said Sastre.

True to his custom, especially in recent years, the Tour de France's defending champion has started the season slowly, knowing that the peaks in form must match his objectives. This year Sastre has three goals: the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and world championships.

"Vuelta al País Vasco is like a concentrated Giro." said Sastre, who's attention is drawn to the first and penultimate stages.

Concerning the Vuelta al País Vasco, Sastre commented that he "expects to do well and hopes to reach the end in the best condition."

Columbia-Highroad women optimistic about the Ronde

Chantal Beltman (Team Columbia-Highroad)
Photo ©: Bert Geerts
(Click for larger image)

Columbia-Highroad's women's team heads to Belgium for the Ronde van Vlaanderen Vrouwen, the women's Tour of Flanders, on April 5, fielding a strong lineup for the second round of the women's World Cup. Despite missing last year's winner Judith Arndt, who is recovering from a broken collarbone, the team feels confident and optimistic about their chances.

"It will make for a more open race where each of us will be able to take our own opportunity," said Columbia-Highroad rider Chantal Beltman in a press release. "Personally, I've ridden fewer races this Spring than last year, but I know the course very well, because I've ridden every edition of the women's Tour of Flanders since it began. Knowing where big moves tend to go should help me be in the right place at the crucial points, and that could be what counts."

The weather always plays a big factor, and the 32-year-old Beltman says the unusually dry weather expected for the weekend could completely change the race. "If it stays dry like it is now, it will be a lot faster than usual, and be a much more nervous race," said Beltman. "In Flanders, the strongest and cleverest rider always wins. If the weather remains good, however, it will be harder to see who that is until late in the race. If the race takes a while to take shape, using your strength right could be even more important than usual."

Columbia-Highroad for Ronde van Vlaanderen Vrouwen: Kim Anderson, Chantal Beltman, Luise Keller, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, Linda Villumsen, Alex Wrubleski.

Five more arrests in Austrian doping case

Prosecutors in Austria confirmed that there were five more people arrested in a sweeping doping investigation. The Vienna prosecutor's spokesman Gerald Jarosch announced that four Austrians and one Slovak were taken into custody, and that investigators had seized doping products valued at 200,000 euro in raids on suspects' houses.

While officials have not released the names of the five who were taken into custody, reports identified the Slovakian national as "Alexander N., 39" and one of the Austrian as "businessman Gerhard D., 51." The suspects are accused of supplying doping products mostly through Austrian fitness centers.

Jarosch added that Kohl's manager Stefan Matschiner remained in custody for an ongoing investigation into his involvement in doping athletes. Earlier this week Kohl detailed how his manager assisted him with doping, and after interrogations, Matschiner reportedly confessed to his involvement.

The prosecutors are currently investigating some 70 additional suspects who allegedly purchased products from the five suspects.

Basque Tour goes Universal

The upcoming Tour of the Basque country will be aired live in the USA on the Universal Sports website, the broadcaster announced this week. The Universal Sports television network will also air a 90 minute same-day race coverage program at noon eastern time. The Spanish race will feature defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana), 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) and Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) for the six-stage event.

The Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco, April 6-11, takes place in the cultural region of Basque, shared between France and Spain. The event is traditionally a mountainous stage race, featuring steep climbs with little to no flat stages. Last year, Contador won both the first stage and the final individual time trial to win the event. will show live coverage beginning daily at 10:00AM eastern time except for the final stage which will begin at 10:45AM.

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