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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, February 13, 2009

Edited by Gregor Brown

Armstrong and Kimmage face off in California

By Mark Zalewski in Sacramento, California

American Lance Armstrong, 37, faces tough questions
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Lance Armstrong faced a difficult moment in the Tour of California press conference Thursday in Sacramento, California. The seven-time Tour de France winner responded to Paul Kimmage's question about the return of "non-repentant" dopers.

"You've spoke recently about the return of Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis, who have returned after their suspensions, compared to David Millar – that they should be welcomed back like he was. But there was one obvious difference in that Millar admitted his doping whereas these guys have admitted to nothing. What is it about these guys that you seem to admire so much?" asked Kimmage, a reporter with the Sunday Times of London.

Seventeen riders were present to kick-off the stage race, February 14 to 22. Many of the media's questions were about Armstrong's cancer message or his views on racing in the Tour of California, but the most intense moment came with the second question, from Kimmage

Armstrong prefaced his answer with the following statement: "When I decided to come back, for what I think is a very noble reason, you said, 'The cancer has been in remission for four years, our cancer has now returned' – meaning me, that I am the cancer!

"So it goes without saying, no we are not going to sit down for an interview. You are not worth the chair you are sitting on with a statement like that, with a disease that touches everyone around the world."

Armstrong went on to answer Kimmage's question. "You have to consider what has happened to David [Millar], who I admire a lot [and] who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Is it heroic that he has now confessed? Some would say so. I applaud him that he is back and I hope that he is very successful."

"Floyd [Landis], on the other hand, there is a lot of evidence against him and there is a lot of evidence in his favour. Floyd does not believe he is guilty, so to appease people like you he can't confess."

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Armstrong explained his admiration for his fellow cyclists as men and that all men make mistakes.

"I'm not sure I will ever forgive you for that statement. And I'm not sure that anybody around the world affected by this disease will forgive you."

Kimmage got Thursday's last word in what will be an ongoing battle.

"You don't have a patent on cancer. I'm interested in the cancer of doping in cycling. That has been my life's work! I raced as a professional and I exposed it. Then you come along and the problem disappears."

Kimmage, a former professional racer from the 1980s, reported extensively on drug use within cycling – including his award-winning book Rough Ride.

Check back for Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Tour of California press conference.

Hincapie happy outside Armstrong's entourage

By Kirsten Robbins in Sacramento, California

George Hincapie at the Tour Down Under
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

George Hincapie and Lance Armstrong attended the pre-race Tour of California press conference together Thursday in Sacramento, California. This year is the first time in more than a decade the two will not be competing on the same team.

"Lance is one of my best friends and he is an incredible rider. I'm really looking forward to this race."

Hincapie is the only rider to play a role in all of Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories. Hincapie joined T-Mobile, now Columbia-Highroad, when their former team, Discovery Channel, folded.

According to Hincapie, he misses his good friend and former teammate, but not the entourage that continues to flock to Armstrong. "I really don't mind not being a part of the all that anymore," Hincapie said. "It's much easier now."

Armstrong returned to competition with the Team Astana, led by his former Directeur Sportif Johan Bruyneel.

"We have a long history together so it was a little strange in Australia that we weren't teammates. But our relationship is not going to change now that we are on different teams."

The pair met in Australia for the Tour Down Under in mid-January. It was the first race of the season for both riders.

"Initially I didn't know what to expect of Lance being back in the peloton, but he fit right back in. He was riding really well and he looked like he felt really comfortable in the group. It doesn't even look like he missed a step."

The Tour of California starts tomorrow and runs through February 22.

Basso back in California, under Armstrong's eye

By Kirsten Robbins in Sacramento, California

Ivan Basso at the Tour de San Luis
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Ivan Basso, 2006 Giro d'Italia winner, returns to racing in the USA for the first time since 2007. The Italian will face key rival Lance Armstrong in the Tour of California stage race that starts tomorrow in Sacramento.

"I've seen the courses in the last months," Basso said. "It looks like a great race this year. I'm very happy to be here but my condition is not optimal right now. It will be good work for me to prepare for later on in the season."

Basso last competed in the event back in 2007 with the Discovery Channel team. He rejoined the peloton after completing a two-year suspension for his involvement in the Operación Puerto doping investigation.

The stateside event marks phase two of his preparations to win back the pink leader's jersey of the Giro d'Italia, May 9 to 31.

Lance Armstrong returns to the sport after retiring in 2005. He also has his attention placed on the Giro d'Italia. The seven-time Tour de France winner noted that he has been keeping a close eye on Basso's stair-stepped improvements.

"Most people know that there was a situation that unfolded between Ivan and I," said Armstrong, who supported Basso's mother during her cancer treatments in 2006.

"I've watched him do his first race back in Japan and his results in Argentina. I was closely monitoring his time trial results and how he was doing on the uphills. I think he is the favourite to win the Giro d'Italia this year."

Both riders have one early season race under their belts: Basso at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina and Armstrong in Australia's Tour Down Under.

Basso began the 2009 season with a three-tiered training program intended to have him in peak condition for the Giro d'Italia. He completed phase one at the Tour de San Luis in mid-January. California marks phase two, and the third and final phase will be at the Tirreno-Adriatico, March 11 to 17.

Landis races California despite pre-race crash

By Mark Zalewski in Sacramento, California

Floyd Landis, the leader of the OUCH-Maxxis team, crashed during a training ride Thursday afternoon near the start of the Tour of California in Sacramento. His team reported in a press statement that the crash was not serious and that the former winner would start the prologue on Saturday.

"After evaluation by OUCH medical staff, his injuries were determined to be minor and limited to bruising," the statement said. "His surgically repaired hip is fine."

Landis skipped a pre-race press conference due to the crash.

The Tour of California stage race starts Saturday, February 14, and ends on the 22nd. Landis won the inaugural event in 2006.

Serpa set to finally win Langkawi

By Greg Johnson in Genting Highlands, Malaysia

José Serpa (Diquigiovanni-Androni), the new leader in yellow of the 2009 Le Tour de Langkawi
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

José Serpa of Team Diquigiovanni-Androni is set to claim his first Tour de Langkawi victory in two day's time thanks to Friday's win up the Genting Highlands climb. Despite being unbeaten on the 1679-metre climb during his two previous attempts, Serpa has never won the 2.HC race.

"It will be difficult and hard but I think we will be able to win Tour de Langkawi," said team manager Gianni Savio. "I think we have a good team and are able to work on the flat."

There are two, flat stages remaining in this year's event. The stage race shortened to seven stages from its traditional 10 stages. Tomorrow the rides face the 147.6-kilometre stage from Batang Kali to Shah Alam and then an 80.4-kilometre criterium in Kuala Lumpur Sunday.

In 2007 Serpa won the Genting stage, but a solo attack earlier in the race saw Frenchman Anthony Charteau take and retain a commanding hold on the race. One year earlier, the Colombian was unable to take enough time out of South African David George on his way to the stage win to top the overall standings.

Savio laughed off the suggestion he could claim every jersey in next year's event if he brings an Asian rider. In addition to Serpa's yellow jersey, the Italian's team currently holds both the mountain and sprint jerseys with former race leader Mattia Gavazzi.

"No, no, no, no," he said. "My philosophy is to honour the race. We will be very happy if we're able to win overall classification."

If Serpa can hold on to his lead through to the close of Sunday's criterium, the general classification win will be the fourth by Savio's team in the race's 14-year history. The squad first won in 2002 with Hernan Dario Munoz and again in 2004 with Fredy González. Its most recent victory came at last year's event, where Ruslan Ivanov took victory.

The win would see Diquigiovanni-Androni overtake Team Mapei as the team to claim the most titles at one of Asia's biggest races.

Kessiakoff on the path of his neighbour Cadel Evans

By Jean-François Quénet in Genting Highlands, Malaysia

Fuji-Servetto's Frederik Kessiakoff surprised with his fourth place finish at the top of the gruelling and mythical climb of Genting Highlands at the Tour de Langkawi. However, the 28-year-old rookie was one of the world's best mountain bikers until he switched to road cycling after representing Sweden at the Beijing Olympics.

"In many ways, that's what I hoped for," he said. "I had high expectations, but I also have to be realistic. To be a climber in cycling is something special. Friday's race somehow proves that what I've done in mountain biking is valid also for me as a road rider.

Kessiakoff moved to the road under the influence of compatriot Gustav Erik Larsson, who took the silver medal in Beijing in the time trial.

"I also have to thank Daniele Nardello who I often train with", he said. "He pushed the management of the Fuji-Servetto team to hire me. It was gamble for them. They didn't know what they were getting. At the age of 28, I don't have many years for learning the job."

Kessiakoff lives in Stabio, Switzerland. The village is home to another famous mountain biker who into a road rider – Cadel Evans.

"He's a great inspiration for me. So is Michael Rasmussen, if you look at his riding style. Dario Cioni is another rider who made the transition very well."

He has found what best suits him on the road. The Tour de Langkawi, with the mythical climb of Genting Highlands, was a good starting point for Kessiakoff.

In my case, it's different because I've raced a lot on the road when I was young because I wanted to push myself and I found the mountain bike events too easy."

Kessiakoff will start in Evans' usual races, such as the Coppi-Bartali and the País Vasco prior to lining up in the Amstel Gold Race in April.

Crawford headlines strong Langkawi day for Australians

By Greg Johnson in Genting Highlands, Malaysia

Jai Crawford (Australian National Team)
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

Australia's Jai Crawford moved a step closer to his dream of winning the Tour of Langkawi's queen stage Friday with a second place finish on Genting Highlands. His result topped an impressive day for the Australian National Team, with the squad landing three riders in the top 20.

"To be on the podium at the moment, I'm really happy with that," said Crawford. He added that it's the best day of his professional career.

"I had a really good solo win in Tour of Wellington, but this is a big race, there are some big names here. It's not the end though; I've still got to hold onto second a couple more days."

The national team faces a dominant Team Diquigiovanni-Androni. Its rider José Serpa leads the overall after winning the stage Friday.

Jackson Rodriguez and Carlos José Ochoa attacked Crawford as their Diquigiovanni-Androni teammate Serpa rode away. The 25-year-old managed to shake his Venezuelan opponents and set off in pursuit of Serpa, but finished just 23 seconds behind the Colombian.

"I didn't expect to have three Diquigiovanni-Androni guys there with me," said Crawford. "I think they were foxing a little bit – they were saying in the media that their general classification guy was crook."

Crawford's teammate Cameron Wurf had helped explode the lead group earlier. He drove hard as the race reached the 20-kilometre climb. Despite his efforts, Wurf still managed to be the 17th man up the mountain, with compatriot and teammate Ritchie Porte in 11th place.

"That's what we come here for. We've been in the waiting room for four days; to get Jai up there today," said team director Brian Stephens.

Cervélo miss out in Langkawi decider

By Daniel Benson in Genting Highlands, Malaysia

Englishman Dan Fleeman (Cervélo TestTeam)
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

Coming into the key stage of the Tour of Langkawi from Petaling Jaya to Genting Highlands, Cervélo TestTeam was amongst the favourites to win, but despite its best effort the Swiss team left empty handed.

The team had spent the first four days waiting in the wings as the sprinters fought out the flat stages. With stage five finishing at the resort of Genting, the team's climbers were hoping to shine. They had the perfect start when Marcel Wyss broke clear with Daniele Nardello after 30 kilometres.

Wyss helped establish a lead of over four minutes before the day's crucial climb up to Genting Highlands. He even managed to drop the experienced Italian on the lower slopes – no small feat considering Nardello's calibre.

"I was really pleased to get in the break today. We've been waiting for this stage for the entire race as we have not come here with a sprinter," Wyss said to Cyclingnews at the finish.

But once clear of Nardello, Wyss' and the team's luck began to change. A puncture at the wrong time cut Wyss's lead. Once he returned to the bunch, teammate José Angel Gomez Marchante lost contact.

Despite this, Britain's Dan Fleeman was still riding well and in contention for the stage. The Birmingham-born climber responded to Serpa's first attack but blew soon after. He fell back through the field and eventually finished a disappointing 23rd on the stage.

"I was right there with the group in the final ten kilometres and when Serpa charged off I was one of the first to go after him," Fleeman said.

Teammates Marchante – who had by now found a rhythm - and Philip Deignan eventually caught and passed Fleeman. The Spaniard and Irishman finished tenth and thirteenth respectively.

Greipel "rolling" along with injury

André Greipel is slowly recovering from shoulder surgery and is riding a stationary bike. The Team Columbia-Highroad sprinter crash in the Tour Down Under last month.

The 26-year-old German underwent surgery the end of January for a dislocated shoulder, torn tendon and chipped bone.

His right arm must be kept totally quiet for another month, but he can work on his legs and is already putting in the first kilometres on his stationary bike.

"It makes me hope that I can get out in the fresh air on my bike as soon as possible," Greipel said on his website.

On Friday, he is to travel to the hospital in Hamburg, Germany, for an examination. If the report is good, then he can start with rehabilitation. (SW)

Cinelli-OPD without 2009 licence

Frank Vandenbroucke, Jörg Jaksche and the rest of Team Cinelli-OPD have to look for new employers after the team manager, Nico Mattan, heard Thursday afternoon that it will not receive UCI licence.

"With 99 percent certainty, I will find a new team for myself, the other four Belgian riders," he said to He explained that he will get in touch with other Continental teams.

He noted that he will use his contacts, along with bike manufacturer Cinelli, to find a team with which they can merge.

"Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is in only three weeks. Frank Vandenbroucke and Bert Roesems will be at the start." (SW)

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