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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, March 21, 2009

Edited by Sue George

King Armstrong holds court in Milan's Castello Sforzesco

By Gregor Brown

Armstrong spoke to the press on the eve of Milano-Sanremo
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Lance Armstrong is on the eve of his return to racing in Europe. The American from Texas arrived at Milan's Castello Sforzesco Friday to hold a press conference one day before the 298-kilometre Milano-Sanremo, three years and eight months since he ended his career at the 2005 Tour de France.

The team Astana rider, 37, started his comeback journey in the fall of 2008 with some local races, but he pinned on his race number for the first time at the Tour Down Under in January. In February, he continued his racing programme in the Tour of California, but the Milano-Sanremo is the first time he is racing in an event that is so much a part of cycling's history.

Armstrong retired from the sport immediately after his seventh Tour de France victory. In his post-cancer career he excelled in stage races, not one-day races, although he did race a few of them. His last one was the 2005 Ronde van Vlaanderen, and his last appearance at Milano-Sanremo was in 2002.

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"My first Milano-Sanremo was in 1993, with Motorola," said Armstrong. "I remember it well, even if I was not a factor because I was there to work for Max Sciandri."

"I think it is my sixth or seventh time here [at Milano-Sanremo]. For me it represents a lot of the history and beauty in cycling. It has a certain mystique. Unfortunately, I could not do the Tour of Flanders because of scheduling, but I wanted to do more Classics."

"It is good for training as well. It is hard to go out and do 300 kilometres in training."

What follows are some of the questions asked by members of the press attending the conference and Armstrong's replies.

The Texan signed autographs for the tifosi
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

What is your main ambition?

Lance Armstrong: I want to have a good and safe day. We know this race can be dangerous. If there are 30 or 40 guys in the end, I hope I am there with them. This race was never my strong suit, but I hope to be somewhat involved.

Did you test the new Le Mànie climb [94 kilometres before finish] this morning?

LA: I wanted to see it, to understand the run-in. I know how the finale of this race is dangerous and nervous.

I also wanted to ride the climb to see how difficult it is. The turn before it is narrow, so it will be fight to be in position. I also noted the wind: if it is the same as it was today, it won't be an easy start. It was a strong crosswind out there.

What do you remember of your race in 2002? [He finished 44th. - ed.]

LA: I don't remember it well, I am not young, and I forget a lot! If you look at Eddy Merckx's seven victories, he attacked in nearly the same place during all seven years. It has become, faster and more dangerous. It is beautiful, starting here, down to the coast and then winding down to Sanremo.

What will you do if you have a chance at victory?

LA: I am a racer, and if I had a chance to win, I would not pass it up. I don't know if I am there [in form] yet, there are guys who will be looking to attack in those key points where Merckx went. However, once a racer, always a racer.

Read the complete feature.

Swiss world champ confirmed for Pietermaritzburg MTB World Cup opener

World Champion Christoph Sauser in South Africa
Photo ©:
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Switzerland's reigning men's cross country mountain bike world champion, Christoph Sauser, confirmed Friday that he will be on the start line of the first round of the 2009 UCI World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, next month.

His confirmation follows that of women's cross country world champion, Margarita Fullana, of Spain, who tops the women's entry list in what will be the most prestigious international cycling event ever held in South Africa.

Sauser has won world championship titles in both the marathon (2007) and cross country (2008) disciplines and been a dominant podium topper at the highest level of the sport for more than a decade. The 32-year-old has among his achievements 14 World Cup victories and two overall World Cup Series titles.

"South Africa is my second home, so for me to be able to race a World Cup here is very special," said Sauser as he completed final preparations for the Cape Epic stage race, which starts in Cape Town on Saturday.

"I have many friends and fans in South Africa, and it will be good to be able to race a cross country World Cup in front of them. Cross country is my priority. Even though I am racing the Cape Epic stage race, all my preparation this year has been for the World Cup," he said.

Sauser has finished second in the World Cup series three times, has three silver World Championship medals and a bronze medal each from the World Championships and an Olympic Games.

"It is very good for mountain biking in South Africa and also Africa to host a World Cup. The Cape Epic took mountain bike racing in South Africa to a new level, and I think the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg is a product of that. I think the World Cup will take the sport even further. I look forward to being a part of that."

Sauser will pair up with South African star Burry Stander on the Mr Price Specialized team to tackle the eight-day, 685km Cape Epic, in which the pair are among the favourites to capture the overall win.

The World Cup, which incorporates the cross country, downhill and 4X disciplines, will take place in Pietermaritzburg from April 10-12.

Austrian cyclist arrested for dealing in doping products

An Austrian cyclist has become the first athlete to be arrested in the country for dealing in doping products. The case is said to involve EPO and testosterone.

The name of the rider was not released, but according to the Kurier newspaper, it is a 32-year-old who rides on the national level, in which he is highly ranked.

Public prosecutor Gerhard Jarosch confirmed to the Kurier that "the gentleman is in custody". He added that the rider is suspected of obtaining doping material from a pharmacist and passing it on to others, over an extended period of time. If found guilty, he could face up to five years imprisonment.

According to, the case concerns extensive dealing with EPO and testosterone. The website quotes Jarosch as saying, "This isn't just about a few pills, but a lot more."

The pharmacist was also arrested, but according to, the two arrests "are just the tip of the iceberg", with "numerous athletes from many sports" involved.

Otto Flum, the president of the Österreichischer Radsport Verband (ÖRV, national federation), noted that the arrest did not stem from a doping control "but in an action by the Kriminalpolizei (federal police)," and the ÖRV is not in any way involved.

"Apparently we still have in our ranks incorrigible, stupid athletes, who continue to throw us back in our fight against doping," Flum continued. "This case surely does not help our sport, and especially the races, the teams and everyone involved."

Cunego to lead Lampre-NGC at Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali

Italian Damiano Cunego previews 2009 Giro d'Italia stages
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
Damiano Cunego will return to racing at the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali from March 24 to 28. The Lampre-NGC rider will be there with the teammates who accompanied him during his recent training on Tenerife Island: Marco Marzano, Mauro Santambrogio and Paolo Tiralongo. Pietro Caucchioli, Francesco Gavazzi, Andrea Grendene and Volodymyr Zagorodniy will also be racing.

"Coppi e Bartali will be interesting for us form many reasons," said Assistant Manager Brent Copeland.

"First of all, we'll evaluate how the team works together with an eye toward the Ardennes Classics coming up, and we'll check our form in the time trial."

"As for Cunego, it will be important to see his fitness after his recent high altitude training - something Damiano has never done before."

CSF Group-Navigare back in the saddle for Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali

CSF Group-Navigare riders will race the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali starting on March 24 and running through March 28. The UCI 2.1-ranked stage race will take place in the areas of Rimini, Ravenna, Bologna, Reggio Emilia and Modena. The team will be extra motivated as the race passes through the region where some of its sponsors are located and also where director sportif Roberto Reverberi's family lives.

Abel Richeze and Tiziano Dall'Antonia are looking forward to possible sprint finishes, while Domenico Pozzovivo, Mauro Finetto and Fortunato Baliani are aiming for strong GC results with the hilly stages like the ones ending in Faenza and Sassuolo. The finish in Serramazzoni may see a breakaway succeed, so riders like Marco Frapporti, Federico Canuti and Alan Marangoni will be ready to take advantage of any such opportunities.

CSF Group-Navigare for Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali: Domenico Pozzovivo, Fortunato Baliani, Federico Canuti, Tiziano Dall'Antonia, Alan Marangoni, Mauro Abel Richeze, Marco Frapporti, Mauro Finetto under directors Roberto Reverberi and Giuseppe Lanzoni

Lastras off for two weeks                 

Caisse d'Epargne's Pablo Lastras will have to rest for the next 15 days before he can resume riding again on his home trainer. X-rays taken at a hospital in Madrid confirmed that Lastras, a victim of a crash during the fourth stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, suffered a fracture of his second, upper right rib.

"I will respect this period of inactivity which is very important so that the mending of the rib happen perfectly and not compromise my participation in the 100th Giro d'Italia, which is the main goal of my season," Lastras said Friday.

New Zealand mountain bikers aim for the top at Oceania Championships

A 25 strong team of New Zealand's elite and junior mountain bike athletes are in Thredbo, Australia, this weekend competing at the 2009 Oceania Mountain Bike Championships. The team comprises 18 cross country and seven downhill athletes, with competition scheduled for Saturday for the cross country and Sunday for the downhill at the popular, chairlift-serviced resort in New South Wale's Kosciuszko National Park.

At stake in the Oceania Championships are spots for the New Zealand National Team for the 2009 UCI World Championships. As extra motivation, any athlete who wins a title in their category automatically qualifies themselves as an additional position for their country at the World Championships.

Lower Hutt's Stu Houltham, fresh from winning his sixth New Zealand National Championship elite cross country title, will renew his rivalry with Mangakino's Mike Northcott in Thredbo. Houltham and Northcott have traded wins all summer during the New Zealand Cup and will be looking to not only gain the upper hand over each other but will also work together to counter some of Australia's best cross country racers.

A strong elite women's field will also be on course Saturday with Christchurch athletes Sara Taylor and Jeanette Gerrie, Hokitika's Cathy Hamer and Dunedin's Sara MacDonald all seeking a top performance.

2009 Under 23 New Zealand cross country National Champion Ashley Hough will be well supported by Rotorua's Scott Green, with first year Under 23 athlete and 2008 World Champs representative Samara Sheppard looking for a win on Australian soil after an up and down domestic, summer season. Three Under 19 athletes will take on Oceania's best on Saturday; Adrian Retief is going into this event with high hopes and confidence, after a very solid third place at the Australian National Championships at the end of January.

The downhill component of the team carries a strong development aspect in the form of the Under 19 athletes. Elite athlete Wyn Masters leads the team as the newly signed Ancilotti professional on his way to his World Cup team's Italian base. Masters was a regular top-30 World Cup athlete in 2008. Claiming an Oceania elite title on his way to Europe would boost his confidence and prospects no end. Of the four Under 19 athletes, 2008 National Champion Richard Leacock carries NZ's best hopes of a win and will be suited to the long Thredbo race course, good for those with a high level of fitness and strength.

Cross country
Elite men: Gavin McCarthy, Tim Madgwick, Stu Houltham, Mike Northcott, Jon Richardson
Elite women: Jeannette Gerrie, Sara MacDonald, Nicole Swain, Sara Taylor, Cathy Hamer
U23 men: Ash Hough, Scott Green
U23 women: Michelle Bellamy, Samara Sheppard
U19 men: Connor Corbett, Locky MacArthur, Adrian Retief
U19 women: Sasha Smith

Elite men: Wyn Masters
Elite women Amy Laird
U19 men: Tom Matthews , Bryn Dickerson, Richard Leacock, Daniel Heads, Cam Johnson

Ireland gets RAAM-like event

Ireland is getting its own Race Across America-like ultra-endurance race in September with the inaugural 1,350 mile Race Around Ireland Challenge. The non-stop event will loop around the country past some of Ireland's most famous landmarks and cross the country's highest mountains with 23,000m of lung-busting climbs.

"This is designed to be one of the most gruelling cycling challenges in the world," read a statement from organizers.

The course will not be closed to traffic and will have no aid stations. Racers will have to arrange their own support. It will start and finish in Navan, Co. Meath and travel through no less than 22 counties. Some of the highlights of the course include Newgrange, Giants Causeway, Malin Head, Connemara, The Burren, Ring of Kerry, Mizen Head, Carrick on Suir and the Wicklow Mountains.

The race is sanctioned by the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association (UMCA), which has placed the event on its International World Cup Series. It is the second longest event in its calendar after the legendary Race Across America.

Solo, four-person and eight-person teams may compete, and solo racers will be required to ride at least 22 hours per day for four days. World number one ranked cyclist Caroline van den Bulk of Canada has already signed up.

The race is being organized in association with Navan Road Club and the Irish Sports Academy. For more information, visit

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