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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, March 18, 2009

Edited by Bjorn Haake

Odds against Astana in the Classics?

By Kirsten Robbins

Lance Armstrong knows how to toast for Grand Tours, but Astana looks less sharp for the Classics
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
Click for larger image

Lance Armstrong will line up to start his first European race in his comeback season at the 100th edition of Milano-Sanremo on Saturday, March 21. The seven-time Tour de France winner was previously known for being a heavy hitter amongst the top one-day race contenders during the '90s. According to Johan Bruyneel, Astana directeur, even with Armstrong his team ranks weak against the Classic specialists.

"We're not that strong for the Classics," Bruyneel said about his team built for Grand Tour success. "I think it is one of our weak points but at the same time when you focus on stage races, you can't be good everywhere. It's not necessarily a disadvantage, we can't have leaders for the tours and leader for the Classics because it is not only about the leaders, you have to build a team around them."

Glancing back in the history books, Armstrong became the youngest cyclist to win the world road championships in 1993 held in Oslo, Norway. He won the Clasica San Sebastian in 1995, Flèche Wallonne in 1996 and finished on the podium in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He scored victories in America's Thrift Drug Triple Crown Classic and USPRO championships earlier in his career. According to Bruyneel, Armstrong's previous feats will be tough to re-create after a three-year retirement.

"There are so many uncertainties throughout the year and we are constantly discovering, we really don't know," Bruyneel said about Armstrong's unpredictable form heading into the Classics and his main focus on the Giro d'Italia. "We're discovering certain feelings in the mountains, on the descents and in the time trials. I don't think we are going to know how far he can go yet."

Astana's Classic hopefuls include Lithuania's Tomas Vaitkus and Switzerland's Grégory Rast to contend the one-day races. "We have some good riders, especially for the Northern Classics," Bruyneel said. "In my opinion they will be able to be in the final of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. There is a lot less stress there because we don't have to deliver or always be at the front. Some times it works out better for us because we don't have the added stress."

Rast, a former Swiss national champion, placed 13th in last year's Tour of Flanders. His teammate Vaitkus was even better in sixth in 2007 and is remembered for his stage win at the Giro d'Italia. "In my opinion Rast was the second strongest guy in the Tour of Flanders last year, not based on the result but his performance. Maybe one day we could win a big race with a guy like that. But I have to admit that we are not the strongest team in the Classics," Bruyneel said.

Astana's Milano-Sanremo team will include Armstrong, Rast and Vaitkus along with Assan Bazayev, Maxim Iglinskiy, Dmitriy Muravyev, Yaroslav Popovych and Michael Schär.

You can discuss more about Armstrong, Astana and quests to win Grand Tours in our cycling forum.

Bennati heads Liquigas in Milano-Sanremo

Daniele Bennati of Team Liquigas wants to get that winning feeling on Saturday
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Liquigas is preparing for the upcoming Milano-Sanremo on Saturday as well as the Giro d'Italia in May. For Saturday the team announced it would make Daniele Bennati the captain. Ivan Basso and Franco Pellizotti will do reconnaissance rides of some of the Giro stages, ahead of their domestiques role in Milano-Sanremo.

Team Manager Roberto Amadio explained Liquigas's tactics for the 298-kilometre monument Milano-Sanremo. "Daniele will be supported by seven teammates throughout. Aleksandr Kuschynski and Alessandro Vanotti will be responsible for setting a good rhythm and reel in the early breakaways."

In the second phase of the race, starting with the climb up to Manie, the super domestiques will come to the front. "Ivan Basso, Vincenzo Nibali and Franco Pellizotti are our men to lead that part of the race."

Amadio has all confidence in Bennati. "He can withstand the surges on the short climbs. In the end we hope that we can stop the breaks from the puncheurs and for Murilo Fischer and Fabio Sabatini to support Daniele in the sprint."

Basso and Pozzato to Vesuvio

Basso and Pozzato will prepare for their helper role by scouting out two key stages of the Giro d'Italia, rather than the Poggio. The two captains for the three-week stage race (May 9-30) will ride the last 80 kilometres of stage 16 to Monte Petrano on Wednesday. On Thursday the duo will ride up the Mount Vesuvio, the final big climb of the 92nd Giro d'Italia.

Basso has already used Tirreno-Adriatico as preparation for the Giro. "I made a big leap forward with regards to the Giro. The goal was to bring Nibali to victory and in the stage to Camerino we came close. Vincenzo is one of the young ones with the most prospects and, with a bit more experience, could have gotten the victory."

Nibali attacked the four-man lead group, with Michele Scarponi (Serramenti PVC) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) besides the two Liquigas riders, before the final climb to Camerino, but was caught with less than ten kilometres remaining.

Basso was happy to see his form improving. "I was working for the team and I think I have shown that I can return to the top. I wanted to rekindle the passion for the fans through brave riding." Basso was very pleased with his week at Tirreno-Adriatico. "And now, Sanremo!" he said.

Arroyo eyes general classifications

David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) wants to improve on time trialing
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

David Arroyo came in 20th at Tirreno-Adriatico and was the second best Spaniard, behind Caisse d'Epargne teammate Joaquím Rodríguez. Arroyo already is making preparations for the Giro d'Italia in May, knowing he needs to improve his time trialing for a better GC result.

"I am satisfied with my performance at Tirreno, although I still haven't found my optimal form. The gaps in the mountain stages weren't much, but I still need to improve."

He admitted that time trialing was different. "I didn't lose much to riders of my characteristics, like [Danilo] Di Luca or [Gilberto] Simoni, but with respect to the specialists I am still lagging. I am working a lot on this discipline and I have used the [Tirreno] time trial to make a few changes, both my position and some components. The results were satisfying. This is the area where I can improve the most for better placings in the overall classifications."

Arroyo checked out the Giro's 61.7-kilometre time trial from Sestri Levante to Riomaggiore before Tirreno and was surprised with its difficulty. There are 1,500m to climb. "For me personally I like the toughness of the time trial, I think it will benefit me."

Arroyo will take advantage of being in Italy by checking out two mountain stages, before returning home on Thursday.

Caisse for Sanremo

Spanish team Caisse d'Epargne will send Rui Costa, Arnaud Coyot, Imanol Erviti, Vasil Kiryienka, Oscar Pereiro, Joaquím Rodríguez, José Joaquín Rojas and Paris-Nice winner Luis León Sánchez to Milano-Sanremo. Directeur sportif is Neil Stephens.

On Sunday, the team participates at the Cholet-Pays de Loire with Anthony Charteau, Mathieu Drujon, Arnold Jeannesson, David López, Ángel Madrazo, Mathieu Perget, Nicolas Portal and Xabier Zandio. Yvon Ledanois is the directeur sportif.

Seeldraeyers, the little Cunego

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

Quick Step's Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step) has shown very good form in Paris-Nice, where he won the young rider classification. His form in the mountains has especially been noted, with his power on the uphills.

"I'd say he is a little Cunego," Quick Step Directeur Sportif Rik Verbrugghe told Belgian paper La Dernière Heure. Verbrugghe doesn't question that Seeldraeyers can crack the top 10 in a Grand Tour. "The parcours in Paris-Nice, with the climbs at six to seven percent, wasn't even the best for him. He is better when it is steeper," said Verbrugghe.

Verbrugghe was not surprised with Seeldraeyers's good racing. "I have seen him in a mountain stage in the Dauphiné two years ago and last year he rode in support of Paolo Bettini and Giovanni Visconti at the Giro."

The Quick Step managers also know the dangers of overracing the 22-year-old. "We don't want to burn him out," said Verbrugghe and explained that Seeldraeyers will neither race Flèche Wallonne nor Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Austria Tour race director confident

By Susan Westemeyer

The Austrian Cycling Federation is apparently still not sure whether the 2009 Tour of Austria will be run, but Tour Director Ursula Riha is confident that the riders will take to the Alpine republic's roads again this summer.

"The Tour of Austria is not just a monument in Austrian sport, but it is absolutely necessary for the continuation of cycling in the country!" she told Cyclingnews.. "The financing of the Tour looks to be set, but right now we are holding discussions about the times of the television broadcasts, which many sponsors will orient themselves on."

Riha announced in early February that the race was 80 percent financed. However, at its meeting the end of February, the Austrian Cycling Federation did not reach a definite decision as to whether the race would be held.

Brenes debuts in Europe

The winner of the 2008 Vuelta a Costa Rica, Gregory Brenes, has made the jump to Europe. He will be racing for the Luxembourg-registered Continental team Differdange. His season starts this weekend.

Brenes will begin with a double header, racing the 1.2 Classic Loire Atlantique on Friday and the 1.1 Cholet - Pays de Loire on Sunday. The Cholet - Pays de Loire is the first race of the French Cup, with ProTour teams like Saxo Bank, Cofidis, Caisse d'Epargne, Française des Jeux, AG2R La Mondiale or Bouygues Telecom also at the start line.

Brenes will continue to race in Europe throughout the spring. He will do the Hel van het Mergelland in the Netherlands (April 4), before doing a few stage races in France. April 10-12 he participates in the Circuit des Ardennes and from April 16 to 19 the Rhône-Alpes Isere Tour is on his programme.

His big hope is to race with his team in the Tour of Luxembourg, June 3-7.

Ride with Frankie Andreu and Marcel Wüst

Frankie Andreu said he'll have to train for the "Giants of the Alps" holiday
Photo ©: Toyota United Pro
(Click for larger image)

Former Tour de France, Giro and Vuelta stage-winner Marcel Wüst and ex-US Postal pro Frankie Andreu, who rode on two Tour de France-winning teams, will be among the special guests joining bike fans and staff from Procycling magazine on their week-long "Giants of the Alps" holiday in mid-June.

Places are still available for the trip, which is being run in conjunction with renowned holiday company, Thomson Bike Tours. Starting in Turin on Jun 14 and finishing in the Italian city on June 20, the "Giants of the Alps" trip includes some of the biggest and most spectacular climbs in the French and Italian Alps, including the stunning Bonette-Restefond, Lombarde and Agnel passes that featured during the final week of last year's Tour de France, and the climb to resort of Sestrières, which features on this year's itinerary.

Wüst, winner of no fewer than 14 stages in the three major tours, and former Postal super-domestique Andreu will be joining the group for a number of days, and both admit they are excited by the challenge ahead. "I would have to train for that stuff. It looks like fun, I've done many of the climbs before and I think it would be a great trip," said Andreu.

For more details on the trip and how to sign up for the chance to ride some of the most legendary climbs in the sport alongside Marcel and Frankie, visit the "Giants of the Alps" page on the Thomson Bike Tours website.

David McCall Cycling Foundation gets good support

The members of the steering committee
Photo ©: David McCall Cycling Foundation
(Click for larger image)

The David McCall Cycling Foundation was set up five months ago, following the death of David McCall (Maryland Wheelers) last August. The aim of the Foundation is to support cycling in Ulster at grass roots level.

The affairs of the Foundation are managed by a steering committee of nominated representatives from Maryland CC, Phoenix CC, Cycling Ulster and David McCall's family.

Hamilton Topping, speaking on behalf of the Foundation, was thankful for the support the Foundation has received. "We are delighted with the generosity of the many people who have contributed to this project so far. Donations have come in from cycling clubs and individuals not just from Ulster but also from further afield. We want to thank all those who have made the David McCall Cycling Foundation a reality."

A number of projects were highlighted, satisfying the aims of the Foundation. "We will make an announcement regarding the first of these shortly. We are re-launching our campaign to ensure that the Foundation remains a viable concern for many years and that the name of David McCall lives on."

Speaking on behalf of the family, Emma McCall was delighted to be a part of the Foundation. "I hope to be able to actively help out in our new fund raising programme. It is wonderful to know that cycling in Ulster will benefit from this Foundation especially since cycling was such a big part of my dad's life. I am really grateful to everyone who has contributed to the Foundation. I would also like to thank Lisburn City Council for all the help and support they have given us over the past few months."

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