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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News, March 15, 2009

Edited by Laura Weislo

Sánchez-Contador battle continues

By Jean-François Quénet in Fayence

Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Luis León Sánchez has created a huge surprise by taking the yellow jersey at Paris-Nice from the shoulders of Alberto Contador with a brilliant 16-kilometre solo effort at the end of Saturday's stage seven from Manosque to Fayence. But the Spaniard had mixed emotions about taking over the lead from his compatriot and long-time friend.

"I never hoped to do that," the Caisse d'Epargne rider said. It is the second time he has won in a battle with Contador at Paris-Nice. In 2007, on the penultimate stage to Cannes, Caisse d'Epargne's Sánchez and Contador (then riding for Discovery Channel) joined forces in an attempt to dethrone Italian Davide Rebellin, who held the race lead.

On the final flat section leading to the finish alongside the Mediterranean sea, Sánchez was directed to attack by his directeur sportif and think only of the stage win. Contador was left to be picked up by the peloton while Sánchez collected the stage win glory, and had to wait until the next day to storm away from Rebellin into Nice and seize the final overall classification.

"There was no problem between Alberto and myself after that," Sánchez clarified. "We spoke that night and we had another chat in August. Our girlfriends also speak to each other regularly. We have spent five years together in the same team and now we have parted ways, but we've remained good friends."

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Both Contador and Sánchez started their pro career under the colors of ONCE in 2003. They rode together with Liberty Seguros. Probably their best combined effort was for winning the queen stage of the Tour Down Under in 2005. It was Contador's come back race following his brain surgery after the crash in the 2004 Tour of Asturias. They both arrived hand in hand in Willunga. Contador claimed the stage win and Sánchez took the overall classification.

They parted ways after the dismissal of the first Astana team following Manolo Saiz's arrest in the Operación Puerto. "Contador went to a team where there was a gap to be filled up after the Lance Armstrong era," Sánchez told Cyclingnews. "At Discovery Channel, they have pushed him to become a great rider and a Tour de France winner straight away. I am with people who have a different philosophy. This is the former Banesto team of Miguel Indurain. The directors keep telling me I have to work hard before getting results on a long term."

Indurain won Paris-Nice at the age of 25. Sánchez is 25 now. Indurain won his first Tour de France at the age of 27. Nobody at Caisse d'Epargne believes it will be too late for Sánchez to win the Tour de France in 2011, should they have to wait for two more years. Sánchez definitely has the Indurain format.

"I cannot say Paris-Nice is won until I cross the finishing line," he said in Fayence. He knows what to expect because he won that exact same stage last year. "I'm not afraid of anybody and I'm very confident in my team. If I get only half of the luck I had today, I should be able to win Paris-Nice and this is the race I've wanted to win in the past three years. It was always my main goal for the first part of the season."

Contador miscalculates

By Jean-François Quénet in Fayence

Alberto Contador (Astana) was shattered
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Alberto Contador waved goodbye to his yellow jersey and realistically, his chances of a second overall victory in Nice tomorrow when he fell victim to the dreaded hunger flat in the final kilometres of the stage. He acknowledged post-race that he made a big mistake in letting his friend Luis León Sánchez escape, adding that he never expected to lose nearly three minutes by the end of the stage.

.The Astana rider felt no animosity toward his compatriot. "I congratulate him, we're good friends," Contador commented. "In the breakaway, we spoke and he said he'd try to win the stage. I agreed with this idea because I was convinced I could let him go and keep the gap to the minimum. He wouldn't threaten my lead. When he attacked with 15 kilometres to go, I had no sign yet of the coming hunger flat."

Looking back at stage seven, Contador realized where he had gone wrong. "I had to work since the first kilometres of the stage. From the beginning it was a very fast race and I forgot to eat and drink as much as I should have done. Therefore, in the final 10 kilometres, I was left with no strength. I was totally empty."

The Spaniard wasn't devastated. "I'm not even disappointed. These kind of things are part of cycling. In sport, we can't always win." Contador had not lost any single stage race since the Tour of Murcia one year ago. Since then he added the Tour of Castilla y Leon, the Tour of the Basque country, the Tour of Italy, the Tour of Spain and the Tour of Algarve to his palmarés. Saturday was the first time Contador has appeared to be beatable, but the Spaniard isn't panicking.

"I remain happy with my Paris-Nice," he said calmly. "I've managed to undergo two very positive tests, one in time trial, the other one in the mountain. I'm fine. My preparation for the Tour de France can go on." Contador is not the kind of rider to give a win away but he's experienced enough to understand that losing Paris-Nice is not the end of the world for a rider of his caliber.

Rodríguez king of the wall

By Gregor Brown

Spaniard Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne), 29, wins Tirreno-Adriatico's Montelupone at the end of stage four
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

For the second consecutive year, Caisse d'Epargne's Joaquím Rodríguez emerged victorious atop the 21 percent gradients of the Montelupone in Tirreno-Adriatico, taking the race lead from Julien El Farès (Cofidis) as a result.

The Spaniard crested the 1.75-kilometre wall ahead of Davide Rebellin (Diquigiovanni-Androni) and Thomas Lövkvist (Columbia-Highroad) at the end of the 171km stage and now holds the leader's jersey by six seconds.

The Frenchman, who had held the overall leadsince day one, is now second overall. It was Rodriguez's day however, and said after the finish, "This type of climb was just perfect for me. I felt great today and I knew I had the legs to win. It's great to win, but tomorrow I know it's almost impossible for me to keep the jersey."

Sunday's 30km stage five time trial will most likely spell the end of Rodríguez' reign at the top of the general classification, considering he lost 2:43 in last year's 26km test. "Tomorrow after the time trial it would be a miracle if I was still the leader, so I want to enjoy this important win today!"

Continue to the full report, results and photos from stage four of Tirreno-Adriatico.

Prudhomme full of praise for aggressive riders

By Jean-François Quénet in Fayence

Since succeeding Jean-Marie Leblanc as director of the Tour de France in 2006, Christian Prudhomme has insisted on the necessity to draw up unexpected courses for most of the ASO-organised races. At Paris-Nice, he asked his collaborators to find something new. Former Z and Gan professional rider François Lemarchand was the man on a mission for this year's "race to the sun". He came up with the Montagne de Lure and today's stage to Fayence, which provided a thrilling undulating route which resulted in exciting racing from start to finish.

"The organiser proposes and the riders dispose," Prudhomme always says. "This week, we've spoken the same language. The teams have really taken the opportunities provided by Lemarchand's route. We all like to see them riding offensively."

The boss was amazed by Contador's hunger flat. "I read a few comments in the press saying that he didn't have a very strong team, it seems to have been the case," Prudhomme underlined. "After the Montagne de Lure, we all thought Contador would stay in yellow till the end. Considering his domination uphill, it looked like the race was over for GC. What happened to him was a considerable surprise. It shows that nothing is written in advance and that's interesting for our sport."

Prudhomme has designed the coming Tour de France with the aim that no winner will be decided before the finish atop Mont Ventoux on the penultimate day.

White pleased with Garmin's charge

By Gregor Brown

Matt White, Garmin-Slipstream directeur sportif, is pleased with his team's winning charge for the start of the 2009 season. The Australian guided the team to its latest win Tirreno-Adriatico Friday in Santa Croce sull'Arno, Italy.

"Last year, we had a lot of close calls," White said to Cyclingnews. "We made a point at the training camp this winter to turn those placings into wins. We are on the right track, also with [Thomas] Peterson in California and [Christian] Vande Velde in Paris-Nice. Now, we got Tyler Farrar's biggest win ever."

At this point last year the USA-based team of Jonathan Vaughters only had one victory, Julian Dean's national championship win. The team, with the team time trial in the Tour of Qatar, has four wins so far in 2009. The latest was Farrar's impressive win over the world's best sprinters in Tirreno-Adriatico.

"We wanted someone in the break, which we had thanks to William Frischkorn, but it was always going to come back together with all of the sprinters here in the race. It was a finish that suited Tyler, super fast."

The team is protecting Ryder Hesjedal for the overall of Tirreno-Adriatico, which ends Tuesday. The Canadian finished seventh on Montelupone Saturday and is now seventh overall, 31 seconds behind Caisse d'Epargne's Joaquim Rodriguez.

The team's next race is Milano-Sanremo, March 21.

Seeldrayers clings to maillot blanc

Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step)
Photo ©: Florian & Susanne Schaaf
(Click for larger image)

Quick Step's Kevin Seeldrayers held onto his lead in the best young rider classification of Paris-Nice with a tenacious ride on stage seven on Saturday. He finished in the main chase group behind the breakaway in Fayence. The 22-year-old Belgian is hoping to hold on for one more day to his 28-second lead over Frenchman Jonathan Hivert (Skil-Shimano).

"I will do everything to keep the white jersey," Seeldrayers told La Dernière Heure. He has battled through the beginnings of a cold and attacks by Hivert en route to achieving his goal. On Friday, he made the mistake of trying to help his teammate, yellow jersey Sylvain Chavanel, and lost 16 seconds to Hivert.

"I thought I was busy making a good move for the white jersey and I started leading the group to return to Sylvain to help. What I did not realize was Hivert was on my wheel. Suddenly he attacked me and I could not follow. ... It was completely stupid!"

The pair finished on the same time on Saturday, setting up a battle for the white jersey on the finale into Nice.

Vorarlbert-Corratec: small team with big hopes

Team Vorarlberg-Corractec is going into the season with a small squad and a small budget, but big hopes. The Austrian Professional Continental Team presented its 2009 line-up Friday evening in Rankweil, Austria.

The most prominent newcomers are Wim Van Huffel of Belgium, Sebastian Siedler of Germany and Austria's own Rene Haselbacher.

"The team structure is perfect, we have both Indians and Chiefs," said team manager Thomas Kofler. "Everyone is aware how serious the situation is and wants to get the best for himself and for the team."

The team lost its long-time sponsor Volksbank at the end of last season. Not only does the team have a smaller budget, it has higher expenditures. It participates in the UCI biological passport programme and is a member of the Movement for Credible Cycling – the only Austrian team to participate in those two programmes.

"This will be a super season," Kofler proclaimed. The team has UCI wildcard status, and already has invitations to the Tour de Suisse and the Vattenfall Cyclassics. It will become the first Austrian team ever to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen. As always, the Tour of Austria will be the team's highlight, but it is still negotiating for other top races and thinks it has good chances to get a bid to the Vuelta a España.

One prominent name is no longer associated with the team. Gerrit Glomser, who has been with the team since 2005, had a contract with the team only through February 28. No reason was given. The 34-year-old said that he was not ending his career and would announce his plans in a few weeks.

Team Vorarlberg-Corratec for 2009: Silvere Ackermann, Josef Benetseder, Andrea Capelli, Andreas Dietziker, Alexander Egger, Alexander Gufler, Rene Hasaelbacher, Reto Hollenstein, Pascal Hungerbühler, Philipp Ludescher, Harald Morscher, Daniel Musiol, Peter Presslauer, Elias Schmäh, Sebastian Siedler, Christoph Sokol, Matic Strgar, and Wim Van Huffel. (SW)

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