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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, April 27, 2009

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Sastre satisfied, aiming for Giro podium

Vroomen happy with Hushovd, not worried about Dauphiné non-selection

By Shane Stokes

Carlos Sastre is ready for the Giro, he says
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

Defending Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre gave the clearest sign yet that he is coming into form when he finished with the group of favourites in yesterday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège in Belgium. The Spaniard was part of the chasing bunch which crossed the line 1.24 minutes behind solo victor Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), and rolled home in the same time as several of his rivals for the Tour.

"The last race before the Giro d'Italia has left me with a very good taste," he said afterwards. "I think all the training I did at home plus the races I have taken part in have helped me get the level of form that I wanted. I think I'm ready to tackle the Giro with some guarantees.

"The beginning of the season has been very good because I did things in the way I wanted and could prepare myself as well as possible for the Giro, my first major goal of the season."

Gerard Vroomen expects Sastre to deliver at the Giro
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

Cervélo Test Team co-founder Gerard Vroomen said that Sastre is aiming high in the Grand Tour. "His goal is to try to finish on the podium," he told Cyclingnews. "It is the only podium [in a Grand Tour] that he hasn't been on. He is certainly not going to do it as a training ride, that is for sure.

"Of course, as he himself has said, you can only prepare as well as you can. It is not in his hands if there is nobody better than him or if there are four guys who are stronger. We will see how things go."

Sastre did the Dauphiné Libéré last year as preparation for the Tour de France, but the team will be absent from this year's race following their non-selection. Nevertheless, Vroomen said that he wasn't worried about missing the event.

"We had initially considered it, but the organisers didn't know if they were going to have any Pro Continental teams there or not," he explained. "It took so long that we just made a different race programme that we knew we could do.

"Carlos wasn't going to do it anyway because he is riding the Giro," he said. "After the race, he will be scouting out the course of the Tour and training, as well as sleeping a lot - there are 23 heavy days in the Giro. I don't think he'll do any race seriously before the Tour... maybe the Spanish championships.

"And as for the other guys, doing the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse is sort of the same thing. We also have the Ster Electro Toer on at the same time and they [the organisers] really wanted us there. So when the Dauphiné couldn't make up their mind if they wanted us or not, we decided on a different schedule.

Happy with Hushovd

Hushovd "has realized he can win lots of races", according to Vroomen
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

Apart from Sastre, Cervélo is likely to have another ace or two for the Tour. Thor Hushovd has already taken six career stages plus the green jersey, and the increasingly confident rider wants to perform well again. This year, he finished third behind Mark Cavendish and team-mate Heinrich Haussler in Milano-Sanremo, then netted third again behind Tom Boonen and Filippo Pozzato in Paris-Roubaix. In fact, he could have been fighting for the win had he not fallen when clear with Boonen.

Vroomen says that the big Norwegian was disappointed to lose out, but was able to see the bigger picture. "He was pretty upset about it, obviously. But talking with him afterwards, I think it was very positive overall. Now, for the first time, he has realised that he can win that race. In fact, I think he has realised this year that he can win quite a few races that he didn't think were possible before. For example, in Flanders he has never gone as well on those climbs as he did this year. I think he is changing his outlook a bit as a rider, which is exciting."

Strong spring for Gilbert

Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto) didn't make it on the podium in his "home race"
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Silence-Lotto rider Philippe Gilbert has had an impressive spring season, finishing within the top five in three Northern Classics in these past few weeks: at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (third), Amstel Gold Race (fourth), and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (fourth). Still, it wasn't enough for the Belgian to score a victory, and Gilbert was disappointed not to make it on the podium in La Doyenne last Sunday. He came into the finish in Liège with the first big chase group, 1.24 minutes behind the winner Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and a few seconds behind second-placed Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne), but got outsprinted by Flèche Wallonne victor Davide Rebellin (Serramenti PVC) for the third place.

"I'm disappointed to miss the podium by only a few centimetres," he told Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure. "I probably put on a too big gear in the sprint, but that's an error you commit when you're tired."

And Gilbert had all the reason to be tired in the finale of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, as he had attempted to break away from the bunch one hour earlier in the Côte de Sprimont - the hill prior to the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, where eventual winner Schleck attacked. Gilbert was able to create a good gap - and pass a group of counter-attackers - but finally had to give in to the superior legs of the Luxembourger.

"I jumped away on instinct, as I felt good," he recalled. "I was certain that Andy Schleck was going to attack in the Roche aux Faucons [climb], so I needed to anticipate and I thought that some other guys would come with me. Maybe I came back a little too fast on the counter-attackers, and nobody was able to follow me when I passed them."

Despite having nearly 30 seconds advantage over Schleck and the other favourites at the foot of the climb (and 20 seconds at the top), the 2008 Het Volk and Paris-Tours winner could not hold off Schleck, whose performance that day was amazing. "I thought [the gap] would be enough and managed my effort. Unfortunately, Andy came back in the uphill stretch to Boncelles. I held on during 300 metres, but he had two teeth [gears] more than me," he said. "He was simply the best."

Still, Gilbert is satisfied with the outcome of his 2009 spring season. "This spring concludes well for me: I got third in Flanders, fourth in Amstel and Liège. I race to win one of these monuments, and this year, I improved once again."

Cunego missed Liège podium

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC) tried, but wasn't at his best in the finale of Liège
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

One of the Ardennes Classics favourites, Damiano Cunego (Lampre), scored three top ten results this past week: the Italian finished fifth in Amstel Gold Race, third in Flèche Wallonne and seventh in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Italian, whose big objective this spring was not only the Classics, but on top of that the Giro d'Italia (starting in two weeks), was trapped by race circumstances and the sheer superiority of Andy Schleck, victor of the 2009 edition of the race on Sunday.

"I wasn't able to follow Schleck, whose attack was really strong and also well-timed," Cunego said of the moment when the Luxembourger made his move on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. The 2008 Amstel Gold Race winner thus remained in the chase group including other favourites, and despite trying to jump away in the finale, had to settle for a group sprint in Liège.

"Behind [Schleck], we were in a group with well-represented teams, and I tried to use the work of the other riders, as I was left alone without teammates [Enrico Gasparotto fell back due to cramps - ed.]. In the end when I realized the race was on, I tried to escape with Sanchez for a possible second placing. Finally, the race ended in a sprint in which I felt a little short. I was unable to achieve a podium placing, which would have been a positive result to conclude my Belgian campaign."

Il piccolo principe [the little prince - ed.], as he is called in Italy, will now focus on his home Grand Tour, setting off in Venice on May 9. Cunego aims at another overall win after his 2004 success. "Tomorrow [today - ed.], I will take a day of rest, then begin a specific training programme which will take me to the start of the Giro d'Italia," he said.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Wegmann's unsuccessful Ardennes campaign

German champion Fabian Wegmann was unable to deliver success in the Ardennes Classics
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

Team Milram's Fabian Wegmann went into the Ardennes Classics with high hopes, but came out with more down-to-earth results. The German national champion didn't bring in the top finishes he had hoped for, but was best German finisher in the two last races.

Wegmann, 28, had particularly looked to the Amstel Gold Race, where he has finished 11th in 2008 and 13th in 2007. Unfortunately, he was struck by either a mild stomach flu or food poisoning at the race, and nearly abandoned. He nevertheless hung on, and made it back up to the front of the race before running out of steam, eventually finishing 68th.

Things went better Wednesday in the Fleche Wallonne. Wegmann was in an escape group and stayed with the leaders up until the end. "I was in sixth place up until 300 meters before the finish," he noted. There, on the Mur de Huy, his earlier illness came back to haunt him, with his strength failing to keep with the leaders on the last few hundred meters. He finished 18th, though, as the best German rider.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège saw Wegmann once again finish as the top German, this time 29th, 1.24 minutes down in the first large chase group. "That was an unusual finale today. I can't remember ever before seeing such a big group arrive together at the finish. On the final climb I once more gave everything," he noted.

Still, he had to fight against physical problems once again. "After this difficult race day I was plagued by cramps and just able to make it to the finish."

Wegmann's next race is scheduled to be the Eschborn-Frankfurt City Loop (formerly Rund um den Henninger Turm) on May 1. Then he will have a break from racing before starting his Tour de France build-up with the Bayern Rundfahrt, May 27-31. (SW)

Last-minute programme change for Valverde

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) will line up in Switzerland as of tomorrow
Photo ©: ISPA
(Click for larger image)

Alejandro Valverde will not, as previously scheduled, participate in the Vuelta a Catalunya coming up in May. Instead, the Caisse d'Epargne rider opted to take part in the Tour de Romandie from April 28-May 3.

The change came about "to take advantage of the fact that I'm approaching my peak of form," the Spaniard announced on Sunday evening, after finishing 19th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. "This will allow me to rest a bit more during the month of May, and cut down my training schedule a bit, in order to be somewhat fresher at the start of the Dauphiné - which will be the ultimate preparation for the Tour de France," he explained.

Before this, however, Valverde has yet another important appointment pending: on May 11, the Italian Olympic Committee CONI has summonsed the rider to explain himself regarding his alleged implication in the Operación Puerto case. Earlier this month, the CONI requested a two-year ban for Valverde, saying it had proof that the rider used performance-enhancing blood doping.

Bos wins after turbulent week

Theo Bos of Continental Team Rabobank brought in his first pro win on Sunday in the Ronde van Noord-Holland, just one week after his controversial finale in the Tour of Turkey, when he brought down Tour leader Daryl Impey.

Sunday's finish was a mass sprint, as was the race finish the previous week. Impey, who went on to win the Tour of Turkey, was seriously injured in a crash only 800 metres before the finish line, when Bos brought him down.

Bos said, "I absolutely needed this win. The week was very difficult. I could think of nothing other than last Sunday."

The 24 year-old used the race on Sunday "to blow off some steam. And if you can win then, that is extra good."

Bos said that he did not hear any negative comments from colleagues about the Turkey incident. "I hear a lot of riders say they are persuaded that I did not take Impey down on purpose. And also that they can fully understand what happens in a sprint at full speed."

He has already sent Impey an email, Bos noted, "and that contact was not unpleasant. I will call him soon. I hope that he gets well quickly." (SW)

Former green jersey Ludwig back to action

By Bjorn Haake

Olaf Ludwig, former professional at Team Telekom, is ready to get involved again in cycling as an advisor for Life Style cycling. After his professional career, Ludwig was organising VIP rides for Telekom and T-Mobile, before taking a complete break from the sport.

The time off was long enough for Ludwig. "Now I am looking for new opportunities," he told Cyclingnews. "The idea to do cycling events for everybody at a certain level came through the contact with Guido [Eickelbeck]."

Ludwig and Eickelbeck know each other from racing as amateurs and recently met on Mallorca to discuss Ludwig's involvement with Life Style Cycling. "It's similar to the VIP events we did at Telekom, but I had less and less time as the workload increased."

After leaving T-Mobile, the German had more time to ride again, but he doesn't go out every free minute. "I do about 3,000 kilometres per year, but just riding - I don't train."

With recharged batteries, Ludwig looks forward to a new challenge, helping Eickelbeck at the Velothon event in Berlin in June. "We had good talks and after Velothon we will decide how we can work together."

Ludwig, who is from East Germany, became professional in 1990 thanks to the fall of the wall, reuniting the two Germanys. "I was already 30 and I was eyeing the Classics like Milano-Sanremo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen or Paris-Roubaix," Ludwig said.

He signed a two-year contract with Panasonic and the first season was supposed to be a learning experience. "The Tour was not a focus for me but my director at the time wanted to do well in the team time trial." Ludwig was looking day-by-day and eventually finished the Tour de France with the green jersey on his shoulders in Paris.

But today, he said, there can be no thought of green without specifically targeting it. "In my career I was still cross-country skiing in January to be fast in Milano-Sanremo, which is unthinkable today. Now if you want to be fast in March, you will have to cycle through the winter and in the sun of course."

Ludwig had a hard time choosing a career highlight from his professional career, remembering the 1992 World Cup win or his third place in the World Championship road race in 1993. As an amateur, it was easier for Ludwig to pick his best memory. "The Olympic road race in Seoul in 1988."

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