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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for April 8, 2009

Edited by Greg Johnson and Les Clarke

Aldag: Cavendish not guaranteed Wevelgem win

Rolf Aldag
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Team Columbia-Highroad's sport director Rolf Aldag has played down talk that his top sprinter Mark Cavendish will win today's Gent-Wevelgem. The former cyclist believes Cavendish has an edge on his rivals, but another Spring Classic win today will be a hard-fought victory.

"Psychologically, Cavendish has the edge on his rivals, and they won't all be waiting for a bunch sprint," said Aldag. "They'll be testing us from the moment the race starts and they won't make it easy for him. If the weather is bad or if there are splits in the peloton at the wrong moment, maybe we'll see a different outcome."

Aldag is prepared for whatever Gent-Wevelgem throws up later today, with his squad containing two previous winners in addition to hopeful Cavendish. Both George Hincapie and Marcus Burghardt have claimed the Belgian race victory previously and could get another shot today, depending on how the event unfolds.

"They'll both be ready to go in the moves should they need to, and we'll keep our options open," he said. "We'll do everything we can to get Mark to the finishing line for a sprint.

"We know he's in great condition, he's really motivated and he's also shown this year that his climbing had improved enormously without him losing any speed at all in the sprints," he added. "I know he's got a score to settle with Gent-Wevelgem, too, because it didn't work out so well for him last year in the finish and he was disappointed. This time around, he's very keen to set the record straight."

Click here to read Cyclingnews' interview with Mark Cavendish.

Sutton could be key to beating Cavendish

By Daniel Benson in Gent, Belgium

Chris Sutton
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

Chris Sutton continues his Classics campaign with Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix in the next few days, after his debut Tour of Flanders ride last weekend. The tough Australian admitted the former is a race he can win, and said he may know the key to beating the man currently regarded as the world's best sprinter – Columbia-Highroad's Mark Cavendish.

The Garmin-Slipstream rider worked tirelessly for Martijn Maaskant at Flanders and will repeat the trick at Paris Roubaix, but not before testing his mettle in Gent-Wevelgem. "I can win Gent-Wevelgem, whether it's tomorrow or in the next 10 years, it's a race that suits me with the short cobbled climbs and the sprint finish," said the former Cofidis rider.

"There will be myself and Julian Dean and we'll talk during the race, so whoever is stronger on the day will get the support of the other rider," he added.

Sutton has been an important factor in Garmin's Spring Classics campaign this year. The 24-year-old rode Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier in the Spring, and despite a serious crash, recovered to find form for Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Flanders, where he placed 107th. Sutton explained that having a settled roster for a block of races has given the team more belief and solidity than in 2008.

"This is the longest time we've spent together as a unit. Last year we chopped and changed more and I only came in for Paris-Roubaix, but this year we've done all the Classics together and the results have flowed," said Sutton. "Just look at what we did with Tyler Farrar at Tirreno-Adriatico. We proved that Cavendish is beatable and not many teams have been able to do that. Don't forget, all the sprinters were at that race too. We've come along in leaps and bounds."

Sutton and his teammates will be hoping that lightening strikes twice for them in Gent-Wevelgem, where they'll work for both Sutton and the more experienced Julian Dean, a rider who has helped Sutton develop. "He [Julian] doesn't get the credit he deserves but he's given me so much knowledge since I've been on the team; whether he's sprinting or acting as a lead-out man, he's the best teammate I could have," he said. "The knowledge he's given me has brought me up so many level."

When asked what it takes to beat a rider like Cavendish, Sutton wasn't ready to give anything away: "He is beatable, I know how but I'm not telling anyone just yet. The team has plans and we'll be trying different stuff. Of course he's the best sprinter, but I watch videos of all my opponents and know he has a weakness. He'll probably say he doesn't have one but I know he does."

At Roubaix the team will focus on supporting Maaskant as he looks to build and improve on his fourth-placed finish in 2008. The relaxed Dutchman finished fourth in Flanders last weekend and Sutton has spent time trying to build his friend's confidence. "I was telling him that he's a favourite for a race, and he was like, 'I don't think'," said Sutton.

"We had a team meeting and we were saying 'you're a favourite Martijn, you really are.' He doesn't put a lot of pressure on himself." Sutton will be a key man in Maaskant's camp, with the responsibility of looking after him for as long as possible in the race. It's a similar role to last year, when the Australian shepherded Maaskant for most of the race.

Stay tuned after Roubaix for a full interview with Chris Sutton and click here to talk about Gent-Wevelgem in the Cyclingnews forum.

Top sprinters out of Wevelgem

Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Two top sprinters have been pulled from their respective teams rosters on the eve of today's Gent-Wevelgem Spring Classic. Both Liquigas' Daniele Bennati and Cervélo TestTeam's Thor Hushovd will not start the Belgian race today.

Reports earlier in the week had suggested Hushovd broke his wrist after crashing at Ronde van Vlaanderen. While the team corrected those reports, a meeting between Hushovd, the team doctor and sports director has resulted in the Norwegian skipping today's race.

Hushovd will be replaced by Great Britain's Daniel Loyd.

Bennati has withdraw after withdrawing from Ronde van Vlaanderen at the 100-kilometre mark. The rider has been experiencing pains in his right thigh, according to Liquigas sport director Stefano Zanatta.

"We can't run the risks," said Zanatta. "Yesterday evening Daniele came back in Italy where he faces five days of rest and a new scan, then he will restart riding gradually. A rest period and physiotherapy work could guarantee his complete recovery for the Giro d'Italia."

Armstrong responds to AFLD report

Lance Armstrong has responded to a story run by French sports daily L'Equipe that he behaved in an inappropriate manner during an anti-doping control on March 17. A report was filed by a representative of the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) stating that the American acted in a strange manner on the occasion of the out-of-competition test, his 24th control since returning to the sport last year.

Armstrong's response – in full – to the allegations is as follows:

"Outrageous reports yesterday coming out of France allege that I 'misbehaved' during a recent unannounced drug test performed by the French government while I was training in southern France in early March.

"The test in question was my 24th unannounced drug test since I announced my return to cycling last fall. The first 23 of those tests were performed without any questions and all have been returned negative. This 24th test, which included a blood test, a urine test, and a test of a substantial quantity of my hair, was also negative.

"I returned home that day after a long training ride to find a man chasing me as I rode up to the house. He stopped me and told me he was from the French laboratory and was here to test me. I had never heard of labs or governments doing drug testing and I had no idea who this guy was or whether he was telling the truth.

"I've been tested in-competition and out-of-competition by USADA, by WADA, by the UCI, and by testing authorities at all the events in which I have competed, but I was unaware that in France the government tests athletes and takes the position it can test any athlete residing in or visiting France. I also had never heard of a laboratory (as opposed to an anti-doping organization) sending testers to collect samples.

"We asked the tester for evidence of his authority. We looked at his papers but they were far from clear or impressive and we still had significant questions about who he was or for whom he worked. I was there with Johan Bruyneel and two other people. We told the tester we wanted to check with the UCI to confirm who he was and to make sure he wasn't just some French guy with a backpack and some equipment to take my blood and urine.

"Johan stayed with him and in his presence called the UCI to find out what was going on. We asked if it was OK for me to run inside and shower while they made their calls and the tester said that was fine.

"As soon as they completed the phone calls, which took about 20 minutes, we started the tests. Johan had confirmed with the UCI that the tester had authority from the French government to take samples. I immediately provided blood, urine and hair samples – all the samples that he requested, as he requested. All this was done within 20 minutes of returning home from my ride and finding the tester at my home.

"I did not try to evade or delay the testing process that day. I had just returned from an all day training session, wasn't sure who this French man at my home was, and as soon as the UCI confirmed that he was authorised to conduct the tests, I let him take all the samples he requested.

"The drug collection forms we both signed state that we started the testing just 20 minutes after I arrived home. In addition, the form asked the tester to state if there were any irregularities or further observations from the testing process and to that he wrote "no". I have learned that after the tests were all negative, the laboratory has now suggested that the 20-minute delay should be investigated.

"I find it amazing that I've been tested 24 times without incident and the first test I do in France results in more outrageous allegations and negative leaks to the press. This is just another example of the improper behaviour by the French laboratory and the French anti-doping organisations.

"I am sorry that they are disappointed that all the tests were negative, but I do not use any prohibited drugs or substances. As always, I'm available anytime and anywhere to be tested. It is this sort of behaviour that hurts the entire system and causes me and many other athletes to call for reforms in general and an improvement in the conduct of French laboratories and authorities in particular."

Valverde hearing date set

The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has set May 11 as the date for its anti-doping hearing involving Caisse d'Epargne's Spanish star Alejandro Valverde.

CONI carried a brief announcement on its website stating: "The National Anti-Doping Tribunal, chaired by Francesco Plotinus, announced that the hearing in the case of Spanish rider Valverde has been scheduled for May 11, 2009 at 10.15 [08.15 GMT]."

Earlier this month CONI requested a two-year sanction for Valverde for an alleged violation of article 2.2 of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code. It's based on testing done to ascertain whether blood found in the clinic of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, which contains traces of EPO, matches that taken from the Spanish rider during the second rest day of last year's Tour de France.

Valverde's lawyers have already asked the Department of Public Prosectuion to forward CONI evidence against the rider to Spanish sporting justice authorities as they are the "only" ones with jurisdiction in this case. Valverde is still free to race in the meantime, which means he will compete in two of his 'pet' events, the Ardennes Classics Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne.

Dajka death not suspicious

Jobie Dajka (Australia)
Photo ©: Matthew Moses
Click for larger image

South Australian Police believe the circumstances surrounding the death of champion Australian cyclist Jobie Dajka are not suspicious, according to local media reports. While details on the discovery of a body at the 27-year-old's home in Paralowie yesterday are limited, local police are compiling a report for the coroner.

Dajka spoke publicly last year about his battle with depression and alcoholism after spending a number of years surrounded in controversy. The 2002 UCI Track World Championship kieren gold medalist was sent home from a pre-Athens Olympic Games training camp in 2004 after lying to a doping inquiry.

"It is a sad day for the sport when this sort of thing happens," Cycling Australia president Mike Victor told AAP. "We feel for his teammates who knew him.

"It is a blow to the sport and he never really got over the disappointment [of missing Athens] and he had other issues going on in his life," he added.

Dajka's circumstances worsened one year after the fallout from Athens, as he was convicted for assaulting Australian track coach Martin Barras. As the court hearing in 2006, Dajka pleaded guilty to a further 12 charges ranging from traffic infringements to theft. He was fined $2,600 for the 13 offences and placed on a good behaviour bond with a suspended jail sentence.

"Personally, I'm deeply saddened by Jobie Dajka's passing," Australian television personality Mike Tomalaris said on his blog. "I can only hope his legacy as a sportsman and genuinely honest human being will not be forgotten by Australia's cycling community."

Dajka was banned from the sport for three years following the Barras assault, however the ban was lifted early in 2006.

Former professional cyclist and Adelaide resident Patrick Jonker described Dajka as an amazingly talented athlete and good guy. "He was one of Australia's finest sprinters for a long time, mainly as a someone I respected his ability to sprint," Jonker told "He was a fiery character, an amazingly talented athlete, a good guy who made some bad decisions here and there."

Backstedt returns to the road

Magnus Backstedt (l) with his Maximus Coffee team
Photo ©: Daniel Schamps

Having retired from professional cycling during the 2008 season, 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt made a return to the road last Sunday in the Prix de la Ville de Nogent-sur-Oise.

The big Swede rode the race for Maximus, having managed the same outfit at the La Boucle de l'Artois held the previous day. He apparently "suffered in every part of his body" in his first professional-level road race for almost a year.

Hovelijnck motivator for Quick Step

Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere has explained how he used the case of injured team rider Kurt Hovelijnck as a motivator for his riders in last Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen. Speaking at a press conference following Stijn Devolder's second consecutive Flanders victory, Lefevere explained what he had told his riders.

"On Saturday in the briefing I mentioned Kurt Hovelijnck – think of someone who is now in the UZ [Gent Hospital] and in real pain," Lefevere said. "The tactic was described and I asked who did not agree. Everyone remained silent, my riders followed everything."

Just days after Devolder's win, Quick Step management announced that Hovelijnck has been released from the Intensive Care Unit of UZ and is no longer in a coma. His condition is reportedly improving.

Win on the Cyclingnews forum

Here's your chance to win the latest film about the world's favourite Classic, Paris-Roubaix.

Cyclingnews has four copies of Road to Roubaix to give away to readers who love their Classics. Cyclingnews reviewed it ahead of Christmas last year and liked it so much we had the guys at Masterlink Films send us some more to share.

It's easy. Just log on to the Cyclingnews forum and tell us: Why do the Spring Classics get you going?

You can tell us about your experiences at the races (if you've been fortunate enough to be there) or whilst watching them on TV. As long as you keep it brief (no more than 200-300 words) and exciting, you'll be in the running to win a copy of the film that delivers an intimate look at Paris-Roubaix. The contest closes the day after Paris-Roubaix, on April 13.

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