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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, January 24, 2009

Edited by Laura Weislo

Boonen and Quick Step: united they stand

By Daniel Friebe, Procycling magazine Features Editor, in Kortrijk

Tom Boonen is hoping to take a third Paris-Roubaix
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Tom Boonen believes that a new unity in the Quick Step squad, a fresh injection of talent and the foundations laid recently at the team's training camp in Calpe, Spain, should ensure a very fast start for the Belgian team in 2009.

Speaking at Quick Step's official presentation in Kortrijk, Belgium, on Friday, Boonen said that, far from creating divisions in the team, the introduction of star Frenchmen Sylvain Chavanel and Jérôme Pineau had brought the riders closer together. "Even last year, there would always be two tables and two groups in the dining room," Boonen, the reigning Paris-Roubaix champion, explained. "That's not an unusual, or bad thing; it's to be expected. But this year, for the first time everyone's always together. I've never seen that before."

Boonen added that, while he and Chavanel hardly knew each other before the ex-Cofidis man's arrival, the pair have "gelled instantly". Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere had earlier joked that he tried to sign Chavanel more than once before this season, but that whenever talks began, "Sylvain won a big race and put his price up!"

Tanned, relaxed and talkative, Boonen seemed a distant relation of the embattled rider who was considered a persona non grata at last year's Tour de France after a positive, out-of-competition test for cocaine. Boonen faced no formal sporting sanctions but prosecutors in Turnhout will decide on February 3rd whether he is to stand trial for the offence, which can carry the penalty of a heavy fine or even a jail sentence.

Against this backdrop, on Thursday evening, as they gathered ahead of their presentation at the Park Kennedy Hotel in Kortrijk, the team's riders were summoned to a behind-closed-doors meeting with Frans de Cock of title sponsors Quick Step; De Cock "reminded them that, in the current economic times, sponsorship shouldn't be taken for granted, and should be repaid with victories not scandals".

Boonen's mantra on Friday was that he wants to "concentrate on racing" – something which he'll be able to do when he begins his season at the Tour de Qatar on February 1st. "I think I've done more training than in other years," he said. "Yes, we always have a training camp but usually there are a lot of photo shoots and commitments for the sponsors. This year, at the camp before Christmas, all we did was ride our bikes. After that I went home for three weeks and rode again, then we had another camp in Spain. I've done a lot of riding and not that much resting."

A third cobblestone over green jersey #2

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

Despite his heavy winter workload, Boonen says that he intends to hit top form later than he did in the 2008 season, which he ended with 14 victories. "Last season, I was hanging on to my form a bit at Paris-Roubaix," he said. "I don't want to talk about which races I am going to win, who I'm going to beat – I just want to have a good, long season." Asked whether he whether he would prefer to win a third Paris-Roubaix title or a second Tour de France green jersey to add to the one he took in 2007, Boonen smiled "a third Paris-Roubaix".

More than his performances in his beloved Classics, it is perhaps Boonen's sprinting that will be under most scrutiny in the early weeks and months of the season. Boonen suggested last year that his absence from the Tour was a key contributor to Columbia speedster Mark Cavendish's four stage wins, but their other encounters in 2008 indicate otherwise. The two are set to go head to head in Qatar as Cavendish begins the defence of his unofficial title as the world's fastest sprinter.

"Qatar's always a good race, with lots of good sprinters, and last year Cavendish was the fastest rider in the world," Boonen admitted. "He has unbelievable speed. But then Qatar's not just about sprinting...

"Cavendish is faster than Petacchi, for example, but he's not the same rider," he continued. "He's going to win a lot of races, but he's limited in hard races. The Tour's also different every year. Some years, you have ten stages where the last two kilometres are straight and flat, and other years there are only two stages like that."

Boonen was also asked to rate Cavendish's future prospects in two races the Briton will ride for the first time this year, Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix. "I think he can get over the Poggio and win Milan-Sanremo one day but not Paris-Roubaix," he said. "If you look at him and the way he's built, he's a track rider. He's quick and strong and can sprint faster than everyone else after 200 kilometres but, although you can never be sure, I can't see him ever winning Paris-Roubaix. He doesn't have body for it."

Not exactly a war of words, but the clash of the sprinting titans and their egos has clearly already begun.

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by AFP Photo

Images by QSI/Tim De Waele

Page clears a hurdle

American Jonathan Page has been cleared of a doping violation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the rider reported on his web site Friday. Page was notified last month that he had missed a doping control at the Koksijde World Cup – a race he abandoned after crashing. Page explained last month that he had sought medical assistance after the crash and was unaware he had been called for a random control.

Page was given an expedited hearing by the anti-doping agency so that his case could be resolved before the World Cyclo-cross Championships in Hoogerheide, The Netherlands, next week. The move clears him to race, but the UCI can still appeal the decision.

USA Cycling announced its roster for the World Championships last week, naming four out of five potential starters in the men's field. It has not yet been announced if Page will be added to the team in the fifth roster position.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for more details on the story as it unfolds.

UCI passport sanctions stuck in neutral

By Shane Stokes

The biological passport has been up and running for over a year but it seems that UCI has yet to put the concept into gear as far as sanctions or suspensions against riders are concerned. According to Pat McQuaid, the organisation's president, his anti-doping experts are currently fine-tuning the project, making it water-tight so that any disciplinary measures can't subsequently be thrown out on appeal.

"The passport is ongoing," he told Cyclingnews on Friday. "Any decision on it isn't in the hands of the UCI at the moment, isn't in the hands of the either the UCI anti-doping department or the legal department. The experts are studying it. We are still working on profiles. I don't want to give a time frame as to when we might be moving to the next stage, which is the stage of starting processes against one or more riders."

McQuaid denies that the project is behind schedule, despite earlier indicating in October that he expected it to be ready for sanctioning purposes by the start of 2009.

"It is not behind schedule because there is no [firm] schedule – there never was a schedule on the biological passport," he insisted. "It is a very complicated system. For instance, if you get some results that are abnormal, you may have to look at more results in order to be able to ascertain and stand over the fact that was an abnormal reading."

The UCI's anti-doping manager Anne Gripper said last month that delays are due to the fact that the biological passport is a new method of detecting doping. It uses longitudinal profiling in order to pinpoint suspicious activity. In many cases no clear positive will be found, but rather a number of indications that something may be amiss. The fact that it is without precedent in sport means that the results will initially be more open to argument.

The biological passport system was heralded as the answer to problems with doping in the sport, but it has met with problems along the way during its one-year existence. The withdrawal of WADA from the passport last season, the non-payment of ASO's contribution in 2008 and uncertainty about the program in light of now-solved issues with the ProTour are all factors which likely slowed the pace of full implementation.

McQuaid stresses that the UCI needs to be sure the system is completely bulletproof. "Because this is the beginning of it and because we are creating the profiles and studying whatever abnormal profiles there might be, we need to be sure," he said. "We need to be on solid ground with those abnormal profiles in terms of opening up an anti-doping case. It is particularly important that the early ones are successful and they stand up to scrutiny, not just under the first process but also the second process – the appeal process."

When asked if it would be fully up and running before the Tour de France, McQuaid confirmed that this would 'certainly' be the case.

Armstrong welcomes Landis' return

Lance Armstrong (Astana)
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)

The 2009 season is looking like it will be a flashback to the earlier part of the decade, and Lance Armstrong is happy to see his compatriot Floyd Landis joining him in making a return to the peloton. Landis' two-year suspension for doping ends next Friday, freeing him to join his new team, OUCH Pro Cycling, on the roads at the Tour of California next month.

But Landis' comeback is hardly the same as the fairy-tale return of the seven-time Tour champion. Landis left the sport in disgrace as the Tour winner who had his title stripped when he tested positive for synthetic testosterone, and while he faced a long and expensive defence of his good name, Landis failed on every appeal to the anti-doping authorities.

Armstrong appealed to fans to respect that Landis has been punished for his offense and should be allowed to ride. "People serve their time, just like anybody else. Once their time is up, they get to go back to work," Armstrong said Thursday.

"Sometimes I get frustrated with people who criticize his return, and then what, they're going to sign up and cheer when David Millar returns? It's the same thing. You've served your suspension, let's get back on the bike and race," he said, using the EPO-confession of the British star as evidence of the fans' hypocrisy.

"There's no point in criticising Basso, criticising Landis, or criticising anyone… if you've paid your penalty, this is normally how society works. Let's forgive and forget and get on down the road.

"Obviously Floyd's a friend of mine, he's a former teammate and he has a lot of fans. In that sense, you've got to remember that Floyd might have been found guilty but at the end of the trial if you polled the people, 50 percent thought he was innocent – in regard to that it's good that he's back."

UCI 'cross World Cup nearly a wrap

By Peter Hymas

Sven Nys sewed up his lead in the World Cup.
Photo ©:
(Click for larger image)

The UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup concludes this Sunday with its ninth and final round taking place in Milan, Italy. The overall World Cup champions have already been decided at the previous event in Roubaix, France where Sven Nys and Hanka Kupfernagel each accumulated enough points to create an insurmountable lead in their respective Elite men's and women's series. On Sunday, Nys and Kupfernagel will make their final appearance of the season resplendent in the white World Cup leader's skin suit, a kit reserved for World Cup events only.

The Under-23 men and Junior men have already concluded their abbreviated, four-race World Cup series in Roubaix, France. The German Philipp Walsleben dominated the U23 World Cup with victories at each venue, Tabor, Pijnacker, Zolder and Roubaix, while the Netherlands' Tijmen Eising nearly duplicated the feat, winning three of four Junior men's events.

While the overall series champions are not in doubt, the Milan World Cup still provides an opportunity to earn a prestigious win, fine-tune the form one last time prior to the world championships and solidify, or perhaps better, one's position on the world championship starting grid by earning valuable UCI points. Additionally, there's the overall World Cup purse to finalize with the top-25 men and top-10 women in the series taking home prize money.

Read the full preview.

Gasparotto comfortable in new Lampre colours

By Gregor Brown

Enrico Gasparotto has settled in with his new Lampre teammates during its camp in San Vincenzo, Italy. The Italian joined the ProTour team of Damiano Cunego and Alessandro Ballan after a year with Team Barloworld.

"We are mostly all Italian and so the language is Italian. In fact, it is more of a local dialect since most of the guys are from Veneto. Today, we were joking and laughing, the five and half hour ride passed quickly," said Gasparotto to Cyclingnews from the team's training camp on Friday.

Gasparotto, like many Italians, flew South to find more ideal training grounds during the unusually hard winter. He completed a ten-day training camp on the Spanish island of Tenerife prior to joining his Lampre teammates in Tuscany for a meeting that runs from January 20 to 27.

"Like Lance Armstrong? It was not new for me, it is already my third year I have been riding in Tenerife," he said when compared to Team Astana's seven-time Tour de France winner who trained on the Spanish island last month.

Gasparotto had one of his best seasons to date last year with wins in the Driedaagse De Panne in the spring to the Giro della Romagna in the fall. His consistency throughout 2008 earned him the UCI Europe Tour leader's jersey.

He decided with the team to start his season at the GP Etruschi, February 7. Gasparotto will help the team's first-year sprinter Andrea Grendene while he continues to build his form for the races like Milano-Sanremo in March. He will race in the Giro della Grosseto and Trofeo Laigueglia after his season debut.

FBD Insurance Rás route announced

By Shane Stokes

Winner of the 2008 FBD Insurance Rás, Stephen Gallagher
Photo ©: Stephen McMahon
(Click for larger image)

Totaling 65 kilometres more than last year's race, the organisers of the FBD Insurance Rás have upped the emphasis on endurance for the 2009 edition.

The eight day, 2.2-ranked event will this year begin in the Irish town of Kilcullen on May 17th and conclude on May 24th in Skerries, covering 1289 kilometres and 20 categorised climbs in between. Three of the stages will be longer than 175 kilometres, something which race organiser Dermot Dignam said will play a factor in determining the final outcome.

"Stamina will win the 2009 FBD Insurance RÁS" he stated this week. "The route includes something for everyone – the sprinters are catered for, the mountains are there for the climbers. But when the final accolade is presented in Skerries, it'll be to the rider with the greatest stamina.

"The long grueling stages are where the valuable seconds will be gained and that's where strength and ability will count most".

The opening stage of the race takes the riders 125 kilometres to Wexford, while the following stage is both hillier and longer, extending 178 kilometres from Wexford to Cobh, via New Ross and Waterford. Three climbs are featured before the uphill sprint to the line, including the category two ascent of The Sweep.

Day three is the longest of the 2009 edition, clocking up a 189 kilometres en route to Cahirciveen. It's also got the first category climbs of The Coom and Coomakista, making it potentially the hardest stage of the race. The following day's leg to Killorglin is also in the running for that status, though, being only marginally shorter at 178 kilometres and including five category three climbs plus the first category Conor Pass.

The profile is somewhat flatter for the final four days of the race. The penultimate day is almost completely flat, and will see the riders clash on the fast 150 kilometre route to Clara. As has been the case in recent years, the Irish tour will then conclude in the Dublin coastal town of Skerries.

Dignam expects a mixture of professional and amateur teams in the race, which was won last season by Stephen Gallagher (An Post M. Donnelly Grant Thornton Sean Kelly).

He said the international line-up is thanks to the support of two big partners of the 56 year-old race. "We have a world-class international sports event in this country," he stated. "That's due to the backing of FBD since 1984, one of the longest running sports sponsorships in the country, plus the valuable support of the Irish Sports Council".

2009 FBD Insurance RÁS:

Stage 1, May 17th, Kilcullen – Wexford, 125 kilometres
Stage 2, May 18th, Wexford – Cobh, 178 kilometres
Stage 3, May 19th, Cobh – Cahirciveen, 189 kilometres
Stage 4, May 20th, Cahirciveen – Killorglin, 178 kilometres
Stage 5, May 21st, Killorglin – Scariff, 155 kilometres
Stage 6, May 22nd, Scariff – Castlebar, 159 kilometres
Stage 7, May 23rd, Castlebar – Clara, 150 kilometres
Stage 8, May 24th, Clara – Skerries, 155 kilometres

Win an autographed Team Columbia jersey

Enter Cyclingnews' contest to win a unique piece of cycling history – a 2008 team-issue Team Columbia jersey signed by the entire 2009 men's team, gathered in Mallorca, Spain for its December 2008 training camp.

The Team Columbia jersey appeared on the top step of the podium 85 times in the 2008 season, more than any other professional team, with stage wins at the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, Tour of California, Tour de Georgia, Dauphiné Libéré, Tour of Germany and Tour of Ireland plus victories in one-day events such as Flèche Wallonne and Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen.

Twenty five riders signed the jersey, including

- Mark Cavendish, four-time 2008 Tour de France stage winner, three-time 2008 Giro d'Italia stage winner
- Bert Grabsch, 2008 World TT Champion
- Marcus Burghardt, 2008 Tour de France stage winner
- Edvald Boasson Hagen, 2008 Critérium International stage winner, three-time 2008 Tour of Britain stage winner
- George Hincapie, 2008 Tour of California stage winner, two-time US national champion
- Kim Kirchen, 2008 Tour de France yellow jersey and green jersey wearer, 2008 Flèche Wallonne champion
- Marco Pinotti, 2008 Giro d'Italia stage winner, 2008 Tour of Ireland champion

The contest's winner will be selected at random from all correct answers to a Team Columbia trivia question.

Hurry now and enter to be in the draw. Good luck!

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