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First Edition Cycling News, February 16, 2009

Edited by Peter Hymas

Cancellara abandons Tour of California

By Kirsten Robbins in Santa Rosa, California

Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) during his winning prologue performance
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

A high fever forced Saxo Bank's race leader Fabian Cancellara to withdraw from stage one of the Tour of California. Cancellara took the golden leader's jersey after his winning performance in the previous day's prologue.

"It's a real shame to lose the leader's jersey but when you're sick you're sick. There's no point in hanging on like that," said Saxo Bank's Press Officer, Brian Nygaard.

Cancellara's winning performance in the previous day's 3.9-kilometre time trial gave him a slim 1.2 second margin on runner-up and race favourite Levi Leipheimer (Astana). The early lead put pressure on Saxo Bank's shoulders. According to Cancellara, they were prepared to use their smart tactics to defend the golden jersey until the end.

"He wanted to start out of respect for the team, the leader's jersey and the race," Nygaard said. "He started but it wasn't in the cards to finish. He stopped in the feed zone and we are going to try to get him on a flight back to Europe as soon as possible so he can recover."

Cancellara experienced a high fever during the middle of the night, before the start of stage 1. "He predicted he was going to be sick," Nygaard said. "He was feeling bad yesterday before the prologue and then he woke up at three in the morning with a fever and we knew he wasn't going to be perfect today."

Cancellara pulled out of the race midway through stage one. His abandonment meant that Leipheimer assumed position as race leader on the road. "We know as a team we have more than one card to play so we will try the best we can to work with what we have," Nygaard said. "It will make the a race a little more open now because we don't have the leader's jersey anymore."

Ekimov marks Landis as biggest threat

By Kirsten Robbins in Sacramento, California

Floyd Landis and his American team OUCH presented by Maxxis are far from being underdogs at the Tour of California that kicked off with the prologue in Sacramento on Saturday. Even though Landis has not competed for two years, he is still regarded as one of the best mountain climbers and time trialists in the world. According to Viatcheslav Ekimov, Astana's assistant directeur sportif, Landis is the biggest threat to Levi Leipheimer's quest to bring home a third consecutive victory.

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"Landis, for sure, is hungry for the race and hungry for the win," Ekimov told Cyclingnews regarding Landis' return to the peloton after the completion of a two year suspension for a positive drug test at the 2006 Tour de France. "I think he is the number one danger here."

Ekimov also noted that Astana will be up against strong teams including Saxo Bank, Garmin-Slipstream and Cervélo TestTeam during the nine-day stage race but that the OUCH teammates have motivation to perform well on their side. "All Landis will need to do is follow wheels on the climbs and then do well in the time trial," Ekimov said who now assists the Astana captain Johan Bruyneel after competing for 16 years in the professional peloton.

"There will be two more days to control the race after that time trial but his team seems like they are very motivated," he continued. "As for OUCH, this is the biggest race of their season so it was important to them to be here on really good form."

Landis prepared to fight for the overall

By Kirsten Robbins in Sacramento California

Floyd Landis (OUCH p/b Maxxis)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The Tour of California marks the first race back for Floyd Landis after he served a two year suspension through January of this year, though he continues to maintain his innocence. He went into the 2006 season in top condition riding for the Phonak team. He won the inaugural Tour of California and went on to win Paris-Nice, Tour de Georgia and the Tour de France. Phonak let him go following the Tour victory after a urine test came back positive for abnormal testosterone values.

"I'm very happy to be back racing here with the American riders and the international riders," Landis told Cyclingnews before the start of the 3.9-kilometre prologue. "I feel like I've had a warm welcome back. Everyone has been very positive. I'm sure there are all types of opinions about me, but I focus on the race and I feel like I am ready to be here."

Landis was pleased that Ekimov acknowledged him as the most threatening contender. "That's a big compliment coming from someone like him," Landis said. "He was one of the best bicycle racers and is one of my favourite people so I'm honoured to hear that."

Landis is now nicknamed the "Bionic Man" because of his unconventional hip replacement, a femoral head resurfacing, through OUCH Sport Medicine in September of 2006. The replacement was needed after a serious case of osteonecrosis (bone death) as a result of excessive scar tissue blocking blood flow to the hip joint.

"I had some resurfacing on my hip done a couple of years ago," said Landis, who arrived in the early season in peak condition. "I've been able to train really well since then, particularly the last couple of months. We had a great training camp. Actually, we've had a couple of training camps so far. The weather for the last one was beautiful and the training was great."

Landis acknowledged that the Tour of California is the most important race on the calendar for team OUCH Presented By Maxxis and his only chance to test his legs against the ProTour peloton. "This is a very big race for our team," Landis said. "It's big because we won't be racing in Europe with the ProTour teams. The Tour of Missouri and the Tour of Utah will be big races for us too but this is definitely the most important as well as the earliest."

OUCH hosted three team training camps geared toward preparing Landis' teammates to defend a GC position. "We are all ready for this race," Landis said regarding the final camp held in Temecula, California two weeks ago. "I've been training really hard and I'm pretty sure we've got one of the best teams here. We need to be smart tactically but I don't think anyone is going to expect us to control the race. There are other teams that have more pressure on them. We'll see how that goes."

Astana is credited as being amongst the strongest team on paper with two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong, Chris Horner and Yaroslav Popovych. "It's clear that Astana has one of the strongest, if not the strongest team," Landis said also acknowledging teams like Saxo Bank and Garmin-Slipstream. "They've made it clear that they are here to win as well. I expect that they will be the main focus of most of the peloton. But there's a lot of other strong riders too and so it's not going to be that easy to win it."

Euser tips Zabriskie

By Daniel Benson in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Lucas Euser
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Dave Zabriskie could be the man to beat at the Tour of California, according to his Garmin-Slipstream teammate Lucas Euser. Zabriskie finished third in the opening day prologue, 2.7 seconds behind winner Fabian Cancellara. Despite being thousands of miles away at the Tour of Langkawi, the young climber believes his teammate has all the credentials to shine, in what is arguably the biggest race on the US calendar.

"Anyone who saw Dave train this winter knows that this guy means business and that he's the real deal. At training camp he was on fire and doing some really amazing things on the climbs," Euser told

Zabriskie had a difficult year in 2008, crashing out in the Giro d' Italia early on and fracturing a vertebra in his back, before recovering form at the tail-end of the year when he won a bronze medal at the World Championships and a gold medal at the American time trial championships.

"Last year didn't go to plan for him and I've never seen him as motivated or as angry this time around. A lot of people didn't realise how serious the back injury was and how much pain he had to ride with."

Now heeled and back in form, Euser believes Zabriskie will be watched by all the other overall race contenders, especially those from the Astana team. "Those boys have a huge team and they're the ones to beat. You just have to look at Levi. He takes this race so seriously and he's been training hard, too. We live near each other so I've seen first-hand what he's been doing."

Garmin-Slipstream will be aiming to de-throne Leipheimer, the two-time champion in the nine-day event. Along with Zabriskie, the team boasts Tour de France contender Christian Vande Velde and climbing specialist Tom Danielson. "The boys just need to stay ahead of the game and put the others on the defensive. We've got real talent and if we get riders up the road then we can cause them problems," said Euser.

Serpa finally succeeds in Langkawi

By Greg Johnson in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

José Serpa (Diquigiovanni-Androni) from Colombia
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

José Serpa can finally call himself a Tour de Langkawi winner, having won the overall classification on his fourth attempt. The Colombian rider has won the Asian stage race's queen stage to Genting Highlands on all three occasions it has been contested, but until this year had failed to win overall.

"I am very happy to win after four years," said Serpa. "I lost the individual classification in the past because I was not in the breakaway [on other stages]. This year all of the team worked really well for me and I am the champion."

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.

Serpa believes he still has room for improvement ahead of this year's Giro d'Italia. His Professional Continental team is amongst the teams invited to the Italian Grand Tour.

"I'm in good condition but I don't think it's 100 percent, I think it's about 90 percent, so I am able to progress," said Serpa.

Savio clocks another milestone in Malaysia

By Greg Johnson in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The tour's winning team Diquigiovanni – Androni.
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

Diquigiovanni-Androni has become the first squad to win four editions of the Tour de Langkawi, following José Serpa's general classification win yesterday. The squad had been tied on three overall victories with Mapei until yesterday's victory.

"I'm very, very happy," said team manager Gianni Savio. "We prepared very well for this race. I like, very much, the Tour de Langkawi and I like Malaysia.

"This is the ninth year I've been here, and always I come back to Malaysia with enthusiasm, with passion," Savio added. "Malaysia is similar to South America, to Venezuela. I am very well and for this reason we prepared very well for this race in Argentina."

Serpa also claimed the event's King of the Mountains jersey, having won the race's queen stage to Genting Highlands on Friday. Team sprinter Mattia Gavazzi secured the points jersey for Savio's squad, on top of four stage victories.

"I didn't expect all this success, because I would be happy to win overall classification and also team classification, if possible," he said. "Two stage wins would have been good, but we won five."

Diquigiovanni-Androni also won the team's classification at this year's event.

Savio's squad first won the event overall in 2002 with Hernan Dario Munoz and again in 2004 with Freddy Gonzalez. Its most recent overall victory came at last year's event, where Ruslan Ivanov took victory.

Gène proves France is not only a mainland

By Jean-François Quénet in Kuala Lumpur

Yohann Gène (BBox Bouygues Telecom)
Photo ©: Bruno Bade
(Click for larger image)

Yohann Gène made history as he won stage 7 in Le Tour de Langkawi, although he wasn't the first Caribbean rider to win a professional race. His big friend and teammate Ronny Martias won a stage at the Tour of Picardie two years ago but this is one step higher in a Hors-Category race. They both hail from Guadeloupe, a French island in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean where BBox Bouygues Telecom's team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau owns two properties and has been spending a lot of time since he retired from racing more than 20 years ago.

"Cycling is the sport number one on our island," Gène underlined. "We are followed by many fans. I hope this win will inspire many young guys from Guadeloupe. They have to know that they need to go away and experience the hard times of amateur cycling in mainland France if they want to succeed as professionals. We have a lot of talent back home but they become stars if they do something at the Tour of Guadeloupe and they don't go any further."

The huge crowds at the Tour of Guadeloupe actually make this stage race in August the second most popular in France after the Tour de France.

Together with Martias, Gène made the right move when he joined the French amateur club of Vendée U at the age of 15. He then made a top-five finish in the national championship for young riders.

He's not the only Guadeloupean to have achieved that but he and Martias are the only ones to have insisted on riding on the mainland for a few years in a row with feeder team Vendée U before turning pro. Gène made it with Bouygues Telecom in 2005. He has never finished in the top-three since then but he often tried and always put himself at the service of his teammates.

"At the Tour of Gabon earlier this year, I went into many breakaways but I got caught in the final kilometre," he remembered. "In the last stage, I got caught with 50 meters to go. I was used to losing, that's why I couldn't believe I was the winner here today. I'm pretty fast but I usually worked for a sprinter like Aurélien Clerc last year, but this time around, we don't have a real sprinter at BBox Bouygues Telecom, so everyone is able to win."

As Guadeloupe and a few far away islands are struggling economically and socially even more than mainland France, Gène was happy to send from Malaysia a message of hope.

Stephens pleased with Aussie efforts

By Greg Johnson in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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

The Australian National Team has out-performed director Brian Stephens' expectations at the Tour of Langkawi, with Jai Crawford finishing runner-up in the race. Stephens' team managed to land four of its six riders in the top-20 on general classification.

"I definitely didn't expect that," said Stephens. "We were definitely shooting to get Jai right up there, I wasn't sure if he could win it but I thought he'd get close – on the podium. But I didn't expect the guys to be able to do the job and still finish that high up.

"It's finished up well, from the mountains on," he added.

In addition to Crawford's second placing, Ritchie Porte finished 10th, Cameron Wurf 16th and Tim Roe in 20th spot. Stephens admitted it was nice to bring a national squad to such a tough race and beat teams like Garmin-Slipstream and Cervélo TestTeam.

"It's lovely, I like seeing their cars in the rear-view mirror," he smiled.

Stephens will head home from Langkawi instead of traveling straight to Europe, as he's expecting a child next month.

Teams happy with revised Langkawi

By Greg Johnson in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Marcello Albasini was pleased with his first Tour de Langkawi
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

The Tour de Langkawi's revised route has been given the thumbs up by the top teams contesting this year's event. The 2.HC race was shortened from its traditional 10 stages to just seven for 2009, with many of the long transfers being removed and the tour more centralized around the nation's capital Kuala Lumpur.

"I think it's been awesome," said Garmin-Slipstream director Johnny Weltz. "It's found its right measurement, with the length of the race. Nine, 10 days at this time of year is kind of long. Seven stages with not too many transfers – I think that's a good balance."

While Weltz had brought a team to the race previously, this year's event was Cervélo TestTeam's Marcello Albasini's first visit to the race. Albasini seemed pleased with many aspects of the race, although joked that the temperature "is a little bit crazy".

"The transfers are not a problem – we have good hotels, not far from the finish, so it is okay," he said. "Also the organization on the road, the security for the cars, it's perfect."

Despite being happy with many elements of this year's race, both directors are hopeful on one change for future events. Albasini said the race wasn't too difficult, and joined Weltz in wanting more climbs in the event.

"I think so, my team likes stages with a few more hills," said Albasini.

"Maybe one more semi-mountains stage in the first five days would be nice," added Weltz. "So all of that isn't sprint stages."

Another team manager new to Langkawi, Fuji Servetto's Alvaro Crespi, observed the race's challenging nature. Each squad has only six riders in the hope no team can control the entire race, despite Diquigiovanni-Androni's impressive domination of this year's event.

"It's not so easy," said Crespi. "It's difficult because every day there are many, many riders attacking, so to control this race is not so easy. But Diquigiovanni-Androni was very, very strong and so at the end we have made the best race we could."

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