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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, March 17, 2009

Edited by Greg Johnson & Les Clarke

Saxo Bank, Contador preview Monaco time trial course

By Jean-François Quénet in Monaco

A great view of the Mediterranean
Photo ©: JF Quénet
(Click for larger image)

Some of the world's top Grand Tour riders converged on Monaco the day after Paris-Nice, taking the opportunity to ride the 15 kilometre time trial course that will open the Tour de France on July 4. In addition to riders, Tour television producer Jean-Maurice Ooghe came to plan spots for cameras and lights in the tunnel sections of the harbour-side route, made famous by the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix.

An Astana team car with Alberto Contador and directeur sportif Alain Gallopin drove to the port where start and finish will take place. Contador's visit follows that by Lance Armstrong, who studied the course last week as he prepares for Milano-Sanremo.

Cyclingnews joined Saxo Bank's team car for a lap of the 15 kilometres course, which followed a group of their riders. Those from the Danish squad included Jens Voigt, Fränk Schleck, Gustav Larsson, Chris Anker Sørensen and Matt Goss.

Riders enter the Monaco tunnel made famous
Photo ©: JF Quénet
(Click for larger image)

Newly retired Bradley McGee, who is now a directeur sportif in the Danish team and has been living in Monaco for a few years, showed the course to head-coach Kim Andersen. Bobby Julich, another former CSC rider turned team technical adviser, observed the course closely during the exercise he enjoyed so much during his racing days.

The Monaco course begins with an uphill start towards the casino. After 2.5 kilometres of climbing there is a false flat section for recovery before heading uphill again, where it enters French soil over what is known as the moyenne cornice. Schleck, whose younger brother Andy couldn't join the squad due to his participation at Tirreno-Adriatico, was amazed by how difficult the course is.

"This is hard climbing," said Schleck at the top of the hill. From up there, the view over the Mediterranean is incredible.

"It's not a surprise – this course has been advised by my good friend Vincent Wathelet who is a TV producer, he has done it for the best promotion of Monaco via its most spectacular scenery," McGee said.

Fränk Schleck, Matt Goss, Gustav Larsson,
Photo ©: JF Quénet
(Click for larger image)

On the descent back into Monaco, Julich appreciated the lack of dangerous corners. "This is a perfect mix of uphill, downhill and technical course," said the American.

The Saxo Bank staff enjoyed the course's flattish end, near the tennis courts of the Monaco Country club, and the tunnels leading back to the port. They imagined Fabian Cancellara putting the hammer down on the third part of the route.

"With the form he'll have in July, Cancellara will be able to win it," McGee predicted. "It will be a big battle with hundreds of thousands of spectators watching."

The big question remains: does the Monaco time trial suit Contador or Armstrong? There's little question in McGee's mind. "Contador at his best will ride faster than Armstrong," he said.

The result of this 15-km stage will have an impact on the scenario for the three week long Tour de France like never before.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Jean-Francois Quenet

Scarponi takes Tirreno's Camerino stage, overall lead

By Gregor Brown

Michele Scarponi (Diquigiovanni-Androni) wins stage six
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Michele Scarponi (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) took victory on Tirreno-Adriatico's stage six and captured the overall race leader's jersey. The Italian finished the 235-kilometre stage from Civitanova Marche to Camerino ahead of Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas).

Scarponi now leads the general classification over Garzelli and previous race leader Andreas Klöden (Astana). The German, who won the 2007 edition, lost 1:18 minutes on the mountain stage.

"An incredible win," said Scarponi, who lives in Le Marche's Jesi. "Basso was going so strong and it was difficult. I had to hold on and it worked."

Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini) finished in fourth at 1:09 behind the winning trio. He led home the shattered group that included Klöden.

Click here to see our full coverage of stage six.

Vaughters: Vande Velde is on track

By Shane Stokes

Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Slipstream) wins
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Garmin-Slipstream's Christian Vande Velde was behind Tour de France contenders Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Alberto Contador (Astana) and Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto) in the Paris-Nice's general classification, yet, according to team CEO Jonathan Vaughters, things are bang on schedule. Vande Velde finished 25th overall in Paris-Nice, ending the event 19 minutes and 40 seconds behind winner Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne).

"I think he's right where he needs to be, fitness wise," Vaughters told Cyclingnews. "Remember, Christian does a very heavy racing program to get ready for the Tour, much more so than any of his competitors. He can't be up at the level of some of the other contenders who race much less, or he'd crack."

After eight solid days of competition, Vande Velde headed away from the French event with something very significant to show for his efforts. He took the first individual stage victory of his career on day four, soloing clear from a long-distance breakaway and hitting the line first in Saint-Étienne. In doing so, he held off a charging Alberto Contador (Astana), who had attacked on the final climb in pursuit of the American.

Up until last year's Tour de France, Vande Velde was a rider who lacked the full confidence to be a leader. Finishing fifth [fourth, subject to Bernhard Kohl's disqualification] changed him and, seven and a half months later, Vaughters is convinced that taking that stage victory will further reinforce his new self-belief.

"You can't imagine the difference it will make," he said. "Christian is a rider that needs little confidence boosters to ride well. This stage win certainly provided that."

The Garmin Slipstream team itself is also gaining in self assurance. One year ago its goal was to show well enough in early-season races to justify a place in the Tour de France; now, it is heading to these events as an equal to the biggest squads in the sport. Strong performances are no longer an aspiration, they are an expectation.

"The race was a lot better than last year," Vaughters said. "This year we came in with the goal of winning the prologue, winning a stage, and getting David [Millar] in the top 10 in the general classification.

"We almost got two out of those," he said, referring to Bradley Wiggins' second place in the day one time trial.

The team also scooped an important victory in recent days when Tyler Farrar out-sprinted Mark Cavendish plus former Tour de France green jersey winners Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Robbie McEwen (Silence Lotto) and Thor Hushovd (Cervélo Test Team) to win stage three of Tirreno Adriatico. That kind of speed should give the squad yet another weapon in the big stage races to come later this year.

Astana, Saxo Bank at odds over Nice tactics

By Jean-François Quénet

Alberto Contador (Astana) in the breakaway
Photo ©: Florian & Susanne Schaaf
(Click for larger image)

Tactics to modify the overall classification or defend position on Paris-Nice's final stage has caused a stir between teams, namely Astana and Saxo Bank. During Eurosport's live commentary Astana's directeur sportif Alain Gallopin was critical over Saxo Bank's choice to chase hard alongside race leader Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) behind Alberto Contador's breakaway.

The winner of three Grand Tours was the virtual race leader at one point on the final stage, with his three-man break taking a 2.30 minute advantage. The gap was eventually reduced to 17 seconds at the end on the Promenade des Anglais.

"It's Saxo Bank's defeat today," Gallopin repeated after the race. "I went up to [Saxo Bank's directeur sportif] Kim Andersen and I told him that finishing second, third or fourth was the same thing. Had they waited for the gap to be bigger, they would have counter-attacked Sánchez and Fränk Schleck could have won Paris-Nice."

Saxo Bank's defensive tactic earned Schleck second place overall behind Sanchez. Saxo Bank's second directeur sportif Bradley McGee found it easy to answer Gallopin's allegations.

"I'm a fan of Gallopin as a directeur sportif," said McGee, who rode under Gallopin at Française des Jeux in the early part of his professional career. "But it seems they made a tactical error in attacking from so far out. He should have done it later at a more appropriate time where the other teams couldn't get organised to chase.

"They have made mistakes during the whole week of Paris-Nice, so did everyone including ourselves. But one shouldn't blame others for their own mistakes, and ultimately the results of the race were correct."

Rojas to return in Sanremo

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Caisse d'Epargne's José Joaquín Rojas will return to competition this weekend at Milano-Sanremo, having endured a recent setback and subsequent recovery. Rojas is a rider suited to the punchy parcours on offer in Italy's beloved Classic.

A deviation of the patella in his left leg and an overload on the right kneecap – a result of two falls in the Challenge de Mallorca in February – had put him out of competition. The talented Spanish sprinter, who picked up third overall and the best young rider classification at the Tour Down Under in January, looked to be in great condition and in a position to challenge for further honours following his success in Australia.

Rojas has suffered a number of complications as a result of his injuries, including episodes of vertigo, all of which have prevented him training as normal.

"It seems that I'm back to normal, though the dizziness is not completely gone," Rojas told Cyclingnews. "I asked Unzué to be in the squad [for Sanremo] because I feel a sense of responsibility [as the team's sprinter] and because I believe I am ready to continue with my schedule of races.

"I could not ride Tirreno-Adriatico, but being in Milano-Sanremo will help me speed up my preparation for the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix."

Two days after Sanremo, Rojas will ride the Vuelta a Castilla y León. "There's always mountainous terrain in this race, but I think I may have a couple of opportunities to sprint. There's supposed to be a bit of competition in Castilla and Leon, and I often ride good mountains."

The 23-year-old also aspires to ride the centennial Giro d'Italia in May. "I debuted in a Grand Tour when I rode the 2007 Giro, but unlike then, now my intention is to go as far as possible, as long as I'm in a position we thought was possible when designing my calendar for 2009. That may be in doubt now though, after stopping competition for some time.

"Still, I think I did a very good job preparing for winter as I showed in the Tour Down Under and the Challenge de Mallorca, where due to the aftermath of the fall I couldn't defend my leadership of the race. But the large base of work is there, and now I'm seeking a recovery of my best form again."

O'Shea battling illness ahead of worlds

By Les Clarke

With the UCI Track World Championships just over a week away, Australian rider Glenn O'Shea finds himself in a race against time to be ready for the titles in Poland thanks to a case of chickenpox. After securing a second Bendigo Madison title earlier this month with fellow Victorian Leigh Howard, the talented 19-year-old will try to shake the virus before riding the Madison with Howard in Pruskow.

Howard told Cyclingnews on Saturday that O'Shea, with whom he has ridden at World Cup, UIV Cup and professional Six-Day level this season, had just been diagnosed with chickenpox. Howard was confident that time was on their side and he should be able to ride the Madison at the world titles.

The pair has impressed this season, delivering on the promise both riders have shown over the past three years. In addition to the second consecutive Bendigo title they took out UIV Cup events and finished fourth in the Lotto Six-Day in Hasselt against the likes of Danny Stam, Franco Marvulli and Bruno Risi.

Despite this setback, Howard and O'Shea have made it into medal calculations for the world titles with their performances this season. It's a boost to Australia's Madison stocks, with the nation not qualifying for the event in last year's Beijing Olympic Games.

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