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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, February 1, 2009

Edited by Sue George

Historic day for Germans at cyclo-cross worlds

By Brecht DecaluwÚ in Hoogerheide, Netherlands

The U23 podium included two Germans
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Philipp Walsleben and Christoph Pfingsten made history in Hoogerheide by taking first and second places for Germany in the Under 23 category of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands. With an aggressive race, Walsleben became the first Under 23 cyclo-cross World Championship gold medal winner from Germany, which placed three riders in the top five.

Cyclo-cross specialist Walsleben rode aggressively and escaped for the duration of the event. Twenty seconds behind him compatriot Christoph Pfingsten joined the party by sprinting past Poland's Pawel Szczepaniak for the silver medal. Another German, Sascha Weber, surely would have preferred to join his mates on the podium, but he still finished an impressive fifth place.

Pre-race favorite Walsleben was pleased with his win even though it didn't come as a huge surprise. He has won everything there is to win in his category and will turn professional as a member of the same team as Niels Albert. "I missed on winning only three races in the U23 category," Walsleben said, reflecting on his results.

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Walsleben had attacked with the intention of shrinking the lead group. "I only realized that my gap was big enough for the win during the last two laps because my attack originally was meant to make the [lead] group smaller. It was hard to get away with the wind, but once I had the gap, the wind was probably my advantage. Probably nobody wanted to ride into the wind so that they would maintain their own chances."

Tough day for English-speaking riders in Hoogerheide

By Brecht DecaluwÚ in Hoogerheide, Netherlands

Bjorn Selander (USA)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Not too much was expected from the English-speaking racers competing in the junior and Under 23 cyclo-cross UCI World Championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, on Saturday, and in fact, there were no surprise medal-winning performances.

In the Under 23 race, British racer David Fletcher finished seventeenth and Bjorn Selander ended up ten places back as the top American, in 27th place.

"Sometimes you got to go with that," said Selander. "A lot of good guys had poor luck today. Some guys crashed in front of me during the first lap. I kept going for it though and I was able to move up. The start was key of course."

"I broke my front derailleur but luckily I was right near the pit; it happened at the perfect place. Danny [Summerhill] was in the same group as me. He tried to get away but a bit later he was caught. I don't know what happened with him. Then I tried as well, and I got away. I felt good and I kept going for it. It was a great course although I would have preferred it to be a bit more muddy. That makes it easier to move up," Selander said.

Summerhill finished 32nd while Canada's top performer was Andrew Thomas in 47th.

Before the junior men's race, which was run prior to the U23 race, it looked like the American juniors had a good chance on the podium, but in the end they missed it by a lot. US National Champion Zach McDonald crashed twice and rolled over the finish line as nineteenth rider.

"I felt pretty good at the start but an Italian came down, and I couldn't avoid him. I twisted my handlebars and I had to pit, and that makes you lose fifteen positions over here. The next lap another Italian took me down as well after the fly-over, with the same result. I rode pretty well and although a good result would've been nice, I didn't need it to come back to race here," McDonald said.

In the end, it was Luke Keogh who finished as first American junior although he wasn't happy with his thirteenth place. "I had to start from the fourth row and after the start, it all stuck together. There was a crash and I ended up being behind it, then it's over. We were working hard to get back in our group, and I was able to win the sprint of the second chasing group.

"I already started my sprint in the field and kept going on the uphill road towards the finish line. I don't think somebody thought about jumping away behind my back," Keogh said.

"The whole year was a great experience. I'll be back here," Keogh promised about his future racing in Europe.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the junior and U23 races at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships.

Prudhomme welcomes sprint battle and women's race in Qatar

By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar

Tour director Christian Prudhomme
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

Amaury Sport Organisation's Christian Prudhomme welcomed the expected sprint battle amongst the likes of Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish in the 2009 Tour of Qatar, February 1 to 6. He joined cycling legend Eddy Merckx Saturday in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday to open the eighth edition of the stage race that also includes a first-ever women's event.

"This had been going well since 2002. It is pleasure and an honour for us to be here this year for the battle of the king of the sprints. There are the most famous sprinters in the world here in Qatar," said Prudhomme, cycling director of the same organisation that owns the Tour de France.

There are 17 teams, 135 riders, who will race in the six-stage event. Some of the top sprinters include Boonen (Quick Step), Cavendish (Columbia-High Road), Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas), Angelo Furlan (Lampre-NGC), Robert Förster (Milram), Danilo Napolitano (Katusha) and Magnus Backstedt (Garmin-Slipstream).

The sprinters "are the reason why the Tour of Qatar exists. One of the last victories of Mario Cipollini was here and Robbie McEwen won here. Tom Boonen has a record 14 wins here. Mark Cavendish, who is the new star of the sprints, will create a real fight and battle between these two men. It means that Qatar is a great race and the race for the start of the season."

"Every year we have seventeen teams, but we have never had the quality of riders that we have here," said Merckx, an honorary member of the Qatar organisation. "Also, there are around 28 nations represented in the Tour of Qatar."

Qatar will also host the start of the season for many of the female cyclists. This is the first year it organises a women's stage race, February 8 to 10.

"We are proud for the first ladies' Tour of Qatar. There are around 15 teams of six riders, and 17 different nations."

The men's race starts Sunday with a team time trial of six kilometres. The following five stages are mostly flat, sprinters' stages.

Former World Champion Boonen won the race overall in 2008 and 2006.

Cavendish and Boonen show in Qatar?

By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar

Mark Cavendish looks eager
Photo ©: Daniel Benson
(Click for larger image)

The Tour of Qatar will pit two of cycling's top sprinters – Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen – for the first time since June. Briton Cavendish is prepared to start the season Sunday and face his Belgian rival after a winter focused solely on winning road races.

"You can say that we have the strongest teams, so maybe it is a fight only between us. However, it is not just to beat Boonen, but to win a bike race. It doesn't matter who it is, my job is to win races," said Cavendish to Cyclingnews.

Team Columbia-High Road's Cavendish is racing in the Tour of Qatar, February 1 to 6, for the first time in its eight-year history. He faces Boonen – winner of 14 stages and two overall classifications in Qatar – and other top sprinters in what is a race that consists of mainly flat, fast stages.

Cavendish ended his 2008 season with the Tour of Missouri in September, where he won three stages. Over the winter he kept focus on training for 2009 instead of racing on the track like in past years.

"I am excited, absolutely," he said about starting the 2009 season. "It is the first winter that I have ever trained on the road without having to do anything on the track. I think I have super-good form, I hope I have super-good form."

Cavendish starts his season in Qatar to be ready for the Tour of California, February 15 to 22. Columbia-High Road owner Bob Stapleton wants his star sprinter to be in good form for racing in California, where the team is based.

"In California last year, I was fast, but not going so good. Last year, I went in and it took me five days to become acclimated. That is what this race is about, it is the perfect race to do that in, and hopefully get a result as well."

Cavendish had his best season to date in 2008. He won two stages at the Giro d'Italia and four in the Tour de France.

Velo adds to Boonen's Qatar Quick Step train

By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar

Tom Boonen and the boys
Photo ©: QSI/Tim De Waele
(Click for larger image)

Wilfried Peeters confirmed the Quick Step team of Tom Boonen is motivated and strong for the start of the Tour of Qatar Sunday in Doha. The Belgian Directeur Sportif will guide the team of eight riders, including new lead-out man Marco Velo, over the six-day stage race that opens with a team time trial.

"The last two years, we won the team time trial. We have a lot of motivation for it and our team is even stronger this year," said Peeters to Cyclingnews.

The race opens with a six-kilometre team time trial as it has in the last two editions. Quick Step took advantage of the opening stage with its fast lead-out train in the last two years to take the leader's jersey.

The team has the added experience of Italian Marco Velo for 2009. He joins the team after three years at Team Milram. Peeters will use him and then Wouter Weylandt and Steven De Jongh, respectively, to lead out Boonen.

"It is important to guide the team; Quick Step took me on to give direction to the train," said Velo. "I gained a lot of experience, first with Alessandro Petacchi and then with Erik Zabel. I will transfer that experience to this team for Tom."

After the opening day's team time trial, there are five flat stages that will suit the sprinters. The Quick Step team will have a hard fight as the race has one of the strongest lists of sprinters in recent years.

"If there is one faster in the sprints, like Mark Cavendish, it is okay because it gives motivation for the next two months ahead," said Peeters.

The Quick Step team trained in Qatar in the last two days leading up to the race. Friday it rode for four and a half hours and Saturday it rode for two hours.

Peeters, a professional cyclist from 1986 to 2001, joined the team on its rides. He explained the relaxed atmosphere in Qatar provides for the only chance throughout the season to join his charges in training.

Lampre prepares in Qatar

Eight Lampre-NGC cyclists, one director sportif, three mechanics, three masseurs and a doctor arrived in Doha on Wednesday, a few days prior to the start of the Tour of Qatar. The team, including Marco Bandiera, Mauro Da Dalto, Angelo Furlan, Mirco Lorenzetto, Massimiliano Mori, Marcin Sapa, Simon Spilak and Daniele Righi, has gotten in some quality training as it acclimates to the region.

Thanks to good weather conditions, they rode 120km on Wednesday, 160km on Thursday and then did light training and specific workouts to prepare for the opening stage, a 6km team time trial on the streets of the capital.

"We could train in a good way. That's important for everyone's fitness and for trying to realize good results in this race," said Fabrizio Bontempi

AG2R ready for French season opener

French team AG2R La Mondiale will open its road campaign at home on Sunday with the GP La Marseillaise, held in southern France. The race is traditionally held on the first weekend in February.

Julien Jurdie, directeur sportif of the team, indicated that the team was ready. "The objective is obviously to start the season positively and not to reproduce last year's debut. For that we will have to be present [on the front of the race] and not to miss the breaks."

Jurdie had full confidence in all of his riders. "We have a team with young riders, especially Guillaume Bonnafond and Jean-Charles Senac, who are motivated and who had a good winter training." And for the results AG2R has the established racers like Stéphane Goubert, Hubert Dupont and Christophe Riblon. "The mix of the two [groups] will allow is to contribute to the race and not just be spectators."

AG2R La Mondiale will send Guillaume Bonnafond, Hubert Dupont, Jean-Charles Senac, Julien Loubet, Blaise Sonnery, Stéphane Goubert, Christophe Riblon and René Mandri to the event.

Madariaga's shares Euskaltel - Euskadi dream

By Monika Prell

Miguel Madariaga
Photo ©: Monika Prell
(Click for larger image)

The Basque Sports Federation celebrated its "First Gala of the Basque sports" in the Palacio Euskalduna in Bilbao on Thursday, and cycling was honored once more thanks to Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez. However, the Euskaltel - Euskadi rider missed the ceremony because he was away participating in his team's training camp in Calpe. Instead team manager Miguel Madariaga appeared to accept the award on behalf of Sánchez.

"Our objectives for 2009 are to improve our results," said Madariaga to Cyclingnews. "We had a very good season in 2008, but we lacked a big Tour win and we will try to for this goal in 2009. Our best riders, Samuel [Sánchez] and Igor Antón, have recuperated fully from their injuries, but I also have to comment about how some of our young riders surprised me positively in the Tour Down Under."

Madariaga is happy with how the training camp has been going. "It is very good. We are working hard. Here [in the Basque country], we were not able to train because of the bad weather [cold, rain and a cyclone], so we decided to escape. There, on the eastern coast of Spain, we are lucky. The weather is great and everything is going well."

On Friday, the team checked out some of the mountains that will be included in the upcoming Vuelta a España, like the Alto de Aitana, which will benefit Sánchez

"He is preparing well. He can do a great Vuelta a España and a good World Championship," said Madariaga of Sánchez. "We decided that he will compete in the Vuelta a España to win, so he won't participate at the Tour de France." Instead, Igor Antón and Mikel Astarloza will show their skills as team leaders in the French Grand Tour.

The team will sit out the Giro d'Italia. "We don't have a team to race all three big Tours due to a small budget," said Madariaga, "and instead of doing a bad Giro, I prefer to concentrate on the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España."

Asked if he would have liked to have signed more riders, Madariaga said, "It's always a question of money, and with the little budget we have, we are not able to sign many riders," however he conceded, "[It's] a dream of mine...if I had the money - I would sign Alberto Contador. It would be possible, because even if he is not Basque, he rode as an amateur for the team Iberdrola, from San Sebastián. But this will stay a dream."

Cremona's track is born

Guillermo Berzins checks out the track
Photo ©:
(Click for larger image)

On Saturday morning, 20 trucks rolled from Holland into Cremona, Italy, to build the 200m wooden velodrome that will be used for the Six Days of Cremona from February 6 to 11.

Technicians are hard at work to finish the building of the track by Sunday evening.

Fascinated by the quick assembly, Argentine Guillermo Berzins said, "It is almost unbelievable. In a few hours a velodrome can be born. The birth of this velodrome makes me even more excited going into the event."

Former British National Champion dies

Mark Bell, the former British Olympic cyclist, has died on Friday, January 30, at the age of 49.

Bell won the British Cycling Road Race Championships in 1981 as an amateur and again in 1984 as a professional. He competed on the British road and track teams at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and his success in the UK included wins in the Archer GP, Essex GP and stages in the Milk Race.

Mark's brother, Tony Bell, posted the news of Mark's death, on on Friday evening.

Tony said: "Mark battled with a lot of problems in his last years, but, when he was on top of things and doing well, he was a lovely man. I'm just so glad that I spent a lot of time with him over the last couple of months. We're all going to miss him so much."

Over the weekend message boards and forums have been full of cyclists paying their respects.

Cyclingnews extends its condolences to the family and friends of Bell.

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