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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Latest Cycling News, March 12, 2009

Edited by Gregor Brown

Armstrong previews Giro's time trial

Lance Armstrong previews Giro d'Italia's long time trial in Liguria, Italy
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Lance Armstrong previewed the Giro d'Italia's long time trial yesterday in Liguria, Italy. The Astana rider based his seven Tour de France wins on strong time trials and wants the same for his first participation in the Italian Grand Tour, May 9 to 31.

"The Giro TT is wicked hard. Never, ever flat and 62 kilometres," he reported on his personal website blog.

The time trial is one of the biggest talking points of the 2009 Giro d'Italia parcours. The stage from Sestri Levante to Riomaggiore is 61.7 kilometres, the longest time trial in 13 years and nearly double the length of the time trial in 2008.

He confirmed Damiano Cunego's early evaluation that a normal road bike would suit the technical route. "I'm doubtful for riding the TT bike as well. And the descents? Insane."

Armstrong, who returned to the sport after a three-year retirement, based his Tour de France victories on the time trials – he won 11 in total. The Giro's time trial in Cinque Terre will leave a mark on the race's overall classification with race favourites, Cunego, Ivan Basso, Denis Menchov and Armstrong all vying for precious seconds or minutes.

Armstrong is enjoying his stay in Europe, which is rumoured to be from his new base in Cap Martin, France. He lived in Como, Italy, in his early years as a professional. Later, he lived in Girona, Spain.

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In the next days he may ride the time trial again, as well as some of the key mountain stages that litter the final week, like Blockhaus or Vesuvio. On March 21 he will line up for his first race in Europe since the 2005 Tour de France at Milano-Sanremo.

Vande Velde relishes solo win

By Bjorn Haake

Christian Vande Velde wins one solo in Paris-Nice stage four
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Christian Vande Velde won Wednesday's stage four of Paris-Nice into Saint-Étienne with a solo ride over the last 20 kilometres. The Garmin-Slipstream leader held off Alberto Contador and the other race favourites to win alone for the first time in his career.

The day after Vande Velde was feeling already great again. "The sun is out, that helps," he told Cyclingnews. But he also admitted the early start of stage five (10:40) for the longest day of the race (204km) made for a short recovery. "I didn't sleep too well last night."

Despite yesterday's efforts, the American is still aiming to slip into another break. He has no ambitions for the overall classification, where he already lost time during the opening time trial due to a crash and on stage three.

He attacked when the lead group was losing time. "The peloton was at about 35 seconds. I didn't hear that there was another group coming up." Three Frenchman – Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux) and Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel) – had countered and were closing in on the lead group with Vande Velde.

"I saw that our group was slowing down. I took a strong pull through a few turns, past a church, and saw that I got a gap." He kept the pressure on over a little railroad bridge and quickly extended the lead between himself and the rest of his breakaway companions.

He then just tried to keep it steady over the final climb of the day, the five-kilometre long Côte de la Rochetaillée. His directeur sportif informed him that Contador (Astana) attacked out of the peloton on the climb. "That made me a bit nervous."

Vande Velde went over the top with around 20 seconds, but on the descent the info from the team car didn't come through clearly due to the high speeds of 70km/h.

He finished 14 seconds ahead of his rivals and enjoyed a victory salute dedicated to his daughter Madeline, who was born last month. "I have only seen my daughter for about a week."

Schleck surprises himself in Italy

By Gregor Brown

Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) on the gravel roads of Eroica Toscana
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Andy Schleck surprised himself with his eighth place performance last Saturday in Italy's Eroica Toscana. The Luxembourger of Saxo Bank made the final selection in the race known for its 57 kilometres of gravel roads.

"Going into the race I did not know what to expect. I know I am not bad on technical roads because I do a lot of mountain biking," he told Cyclingnews.

Schleck's team won the two previous editions with Alexandr Kolobnev and Fabian Cancellara and this year it was the 23-year-old rider, who lead the Danish team. He battled with Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Slipstream) and Giovanni Visconti (ISD), but could not hold off the group that included eventual winner Thomas Lövkvist (Columbia-Highroad).

"I can see my form is coming on. If I do well at Tirreno-Adriatico and then Milano-Sanremo, I think I will be in good shape for the classics in April."

Schleck has ruled himself out of the overall classification in this week's Tirreno-Adriatico, March 11 to 17. He believes he is off the form he will need to have for his objectives in the Ardennes Classics at the end of April: Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

"I need more races and kilometres. I will try to do a good time trial and then we will see. I think a guy like Lövkvist can do well in the hard time trial and then in the overall."

Valverde ruling expected for next week

By Gregor Brown

CONI prosecutor Ettore Torri delivers decision on Alejandro Valverde next week
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Italian Olympic Committee's (CONI) decision whether to suspend Spaniard Alejandro Valverde based on supposed ties to the Operación Puerto doping investigation is expected next week. Head prosecutor Ettore Torri will likely give a suspension to the Caisse d'Epargne rider based upon DNA evidence gained in last year's Tour de France.

The Olympic committee summonsed Valverde on February 11 based upon supposed DNA matches between the blood it collected when the 2008 Tour de France visited Italy and the blood collected in the May 2006 Operación Puerto anti-doping raids. Madrid court documents supposedly link the cyclist to Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, who was at the centre of a series of blood transfer banks for athletes.

Valverde appeared at the Italian Olympic Committee's headquarters in Rome on February 19 to answer to Torri. His attorney Federico Cecconi sent a 21-page document to counter the allegations on March 5, one day prior to Valverde's deadline to respond to CONI.

A recommended suspension by Torri would not stop Valverde from participating in races outside of Italy, such as Vuelta a Castilla y León, March 23 to 27. However, the International Cycling Union (UCI) told Cyclingnews last month that it would look at the case if Torri pronounces him guilty.

"If everything has been made accordingly with the rules, we will also recognize and enforce it worldwide," said its spokesman Enrico Carpani.

Valverde's most recent race this season was the Clasica de Almeria. His palmarès includes wins in two editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the 2006 Flèche Wallonne and the International Cycling Union's (UCI) ProTour classification in 2006 and 2008.

Cancellara slated for Milano-Sanremo

By Susan Westemeyer

Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) set to race Milano-Sanremo
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Fabian Cancellara has recovered from his shoulder injury sufficiently for Saxo Bank to declare him fit to ride Milano-Sanremo and the subsequent Belgian Classics. However the Danish team has lowered its expectations on his possible performances.

The 2008 Milano-Sanremo winner crashed in early March while training and injured his right shoulder blade, causing him to miss the Vuelta a Murcia. He returned to racing in this week's Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing over seven minutes down in Wednesday's opening stage.

"The shoulder is better," team spokesman Brian Nygaard told Cyclingnews. "It is at least good enough for him to race."

Nygaard added that, "We will assess the situation after Tirreno," but that the current plan is for the Olympic time trial champion to try to defend his victory in Milano-Sanremo, before heading to Dwars door Vlaanderen, the E3 Prijs, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix.

Ciolek goes green on a conflict-free Milram team

Germany's Gerald Ciolek
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Gerald Ciolek has the chance to be the number one sprinter on a ProTour team this year, even if he shares the captain's role at Team Milram with Linus Gerdemann. Ciolek has his eye on the green jersey at the Tour de France, but doesn't anticipate any conflict with Gerdemann, who will ride for the yellow jersey of general classification.

Both Gerdemann and Ciolek joined Milram last fall from Columbia-Highroad, whose forerunner was T-Mobile/Telekom – a team recognised for its conflicts between general classification leader Jan Ullrich and green jersey contender Erik Zabel.

Ciolek, 22, said that there won't be any such conflict at Milram, "because we have many riders who can not only help in the mountains, but are also good for the sprint. And it is in everyone's interest that the strongest team comes to the Tour," he said on

Sprints have changed over the years, he said. Previously one dominant team would take charge over the last 10 kilometres. "It is important to have a team that can have as many riders forward at the right time as possible, and optimally, as late as possible."

The young German started his season with a victory in the Trofeo Calvia, part of the Mallorca Challenge, mid-February. It was his earliest win in a season as a professional. Most recently, he started the Eroica Toscana, but had to abandon the race early due to stomach problems, from which he has now recovered. (SW)

Backstedt confirmed for Rutland to Melton CiCLE Classic

By Gerry McManus

Magnus Backstedt will be back in race action in the United Kingdom at the East Midlands' International CiCLE Classic on Sunday, April 26.

The former Paris-Roubaix winner will compete in the United Kingdom's only UCI-ranked international one-day event with his newly created Team Maximus Backstedt recently set up the team of seven Swedes and one Brit who are looking to transfer from the elite amateur ranks to professional cycling.

The CiCLE Classic route features narrow farm tracks reminiscent of those found in the Spring Classic races in northern France and Belgium. It will see 200 riders navigate through the East Midlands countryside and villages on rough terrain following the ceremonial start in Oakham. The confirmed route for 2009 will see the riders complete almost 100 miles (160km) on their way to Melton.

Riders will have to race over 15 kilometres of rough roads, including two tough ascents of the Somerberg climb. The final stretch of 800-metre gravel road comes just two miles from the finish.

"I will be riding as one of the team leaders," said Backstedt. "But my focus is always on letting the young guys have the first go and I will be part of a backup plan. They are the ones who need the results to move up in their career and I have got all the results I need. But in saying that I still enjoy winning."

The Swedish team will face tough competition from riders from the United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium, Slovakia, Denmark and Ireland, but Backstedt is certain that his team will have an impact on the race.

"We always come to a race to make things happen. We race hard, give it all we have on the day and this race will be no different. In a race as unpredictable as the Rutland-Melton we will come with a few ace cards up our sleeves. ... If you focus too much on one rider you will very likely go away with nothing. A quick puncture changes everything, just like the Paris-Roubaix.

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