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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, May 14, 2009

Edited by Sue George and Peter Hymas

Menchov scores Rabobank's first-ever Giro win

By Jean-François Quénet in Alpe di Siusi, Italy

Stage winner Denis Menchov
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
Denis Menchov came to the Giro d'Italia late in his career, but he fell in love with it when he raced it for the first time last year.

"I enjoyed it a lot, and I wanted to come back with better preparation for better results," he said after winning stage five this year. Wednesday's win moved him into the prestigious ranks of riders who have won stages in all three Grand Tours. At the Alpe di Siusi, Menchov reproduced a style of finishing that he once deployed to beat Floyd Landis in Pla de Beret during the 2006 Tour de France.

Menchov was fifth last year at the Giro, when he used the Italian event as preparation for the Tour de France, a race he did not win although he did get to wear the maillot jaune in the absence of some of the top favourites. Apart from skipping Liège-Bastogne-Liège this year, Menchov has adopted the same program as in 2008. He has done the Tour of Andalucia, won the Tour of Murcia, finished fifth in the Tour of Castilla y Leon and finished 11th in the Tour of Romandie prior to lining up in Venice. "But I trained harder for the Giro this year," he admitted.

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"I proved last year that it's possible to ride both Giro and Tour at a high level. I know I can be good at this one and at the other one as well. But this year the competition is high at the Giro than at the Tour."

Menchov was so serious about the Giro this year that he went to reconnoitre the course of the Sestri Levante time trial with his Italian agent Raimondo Scimone. "It's not a course for pure specialists but for all around riders," he said, including himself in the second category.

Therefore, stage 12 is Menchov's next goal. "My interest is to stay in the bunch until the time trial, when time differences might be important because the race will last between one and half hour to one hour and 45 minutes," he said.

At the age of 31, his style is unlikely to change. The calculating Menchov is not expected to take any further risks between now and stage 12.

Di Luca is "The Killer" again

By Jean-François Quénet in Alpe di Siusi, Italy

Danili Di Luca (LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
Danilo Di Luca was racing as a young rider back when current Silence-Lotto directeur sportif Roberto Damiani, who was then serving as national coach for the Italian U23 team, nicknamed him "The Killer". Di Luca explained why: "It was because I always won the races that I announced I'd win."

It seems as if nothing has changed for the 33-year-old Di Luca of team LPR Brakes - Farnese Vini. "I've arrived at the end of stage five according to my plan: with a stage win and wearing the pink jersey," said "The Killer" atop Alpe di Siusi.

More great rides could be coming from Di Luca. "I have the condition I had when I won the Giro d'Italia in 2007," he warned. "With how I feel, let me repeat, I can win whatever bike race."

Di Luca pointed out that his prognostics had already proved largely correct. "Except for Simoni, all the riders that I had expected to be there were there today," he said. "I told you (Carlos) Sastre would be the man to watch." Di Luca was among those responding to the Spaniard's acceleration with 600 metres to go, but stage five winner Denis Menchov was faster to the line.

"I wanted to get a time bonus to take the pink jersey," he said. "The maglia rosa is always worth an effort. Now we have very long stages to come. It will be suitable for long breakaways. Of course, if someone who is only two minutes down on GC goes away, our team will chase and defend the jersey."

Di Luca doesn't expect any major changes to occur within the GC until the 60km time trial in Sestri Levante, stage 12 on May 21. "I can see on the results sheet that the best long distance time trialists are in second, third, fourth and fifth in the GC, but I already have a good advantage," said a hopeful Di Luca, who is running another sort of campaign on the Italian roads.

Just as Lance Armstrong is riding to promote the fight against cancer, Di Luca is raising funds with the sale of pink bands showing support for victims of an earthquake in his region of Abruzzo. The bands have "Abbruziamo" written on them.

Wearing pink, Lövkvist is born a champion

By Jean-François Quénet in Alpe di Siusi

Thomas Lövkvist (Team Columbia - Highroad)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
New race leader Danilo Di Luca was full of praise for the young man who preceded him in the maglia rosa, Swedish talent Thomas Lövkvist.

"He defended himself very well," said Di Luca. "I knew he was good because he had showed his qualities before but I didn't think he'd arrive there with us in the top three. I've been very impressed. We'll see how he goes in the time trial."

Obviously, Lövkvist was also happy with his ride. "That was a very good one," he told Cyclingnews after the stage. "I didn't think I'd be able to do that, I had to go deep. Not so many riders were up there at the end. I believe I've taken on a new dimension with this pink jersey on my shoulders. It would have been nice to keep it. From a personal point of view, I'd have liked to wear it longer for the team, but I understand it would have been difficult."

The 25-year-old is only five seconds down on GC and Michael Rogers' third position at 36 seconds gives Team Columbia-Highroad a comfortable situation. "This gives me more ambition for sure," Lövkvist said. "Now I know that I can stay up there with the best guys and I will as long as I can."

Lövkvist's also aware that he's now part of the history of the Giro d'Italia where his compatriots have shone in the past. "I've heard it from Tommy Prim who was my directeur sportif at Bianchi-Scandinavia when I was 19 years old," Lövkvist said. Prim was the last Swede to have worn the maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia before Lövkvist - that occurred after stage one in 1983 following the win of Prim's Bianchi team in the team time trial, way before the famous Italian bike manufacturer was purchased by Swedish investors.

Lövkvist's talent was noticed by Prim when he finished fourth and sixth at the junior World Championships in Lisbon for the time trial and road race with very little experience. Lövkvist caught the attention of the Madiot brothers who signed him for Française des Jeux after he wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de l'Avenir at the age of 19.

Five days after celebrating his 20th birthday, Lövkvist won the Circuit de la Sarthe for Française des Jeux, a race that had revealed at the same age no less than Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond. Lance Armstrong got to know this hopeful young climber at the Dauphiné that same year in 2004 as Lövkvist made the front group a few times in the hills.

For different reasons, Lövkvist wasn't a frequent winner in the past five seasons. His win at the time trial of the 2007 Criterium International was an exception. "I've started well this year winning the Eroica," Lövkvist said. "Now at the Giro everything is possible."

Lövkvist came to the Giro d'Italia in support of Michael Rogers with the aim of preparing for the Tour de France where he might be Team Columbia-Highroad's captain. At the Giro and the Tour there's a still a lot more to be seen from the talented Swede.

Sastre shows his form in mountainous Giro stage

Carlos Sastre changes into dry clothes after a tough day on the bike
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
With about 600m to go, Carlos Sastre (Cervelo TestTeam) launched an attack toward the finish line of stage five of the Giro d'Italia ending atop Alpe di Suisi. It was enough for the win, but it showed the Spaniard is riding with good form.

"In the final straight, I thought that the last 400 metres were going to be flatter and I gave it a go," said Sastre, "but Denis Menchov (Rabobank) rode past me in top form, accompanied by (Danilo) Di Luca, and I just didn't have the strength to keep up. I lost a few seconds but I hope that they won't be too important considering the hard stages that remain in this year's Giro d'Italia."

Sastre was not surprised with how stage five turned out. "As we all expected, the fifth stage of this year's Giro has been a decisive stage, which we knew would give us more pointers on what we could expect to happen overall.

"A natural selection of a large group took place yesterday, and today we have probably seen the riders that are looking for a victory in this race. I think that this group has been narrowed down to around seven riders and perhaps we can look at this group for the final results of the race."

Sastre also complimented the efforts of the Liquigas team of favorite Ivan Basso. "It was a fast stage and the last stretch had a 25-kilometre climb that was ridden at a lightning pace. The Liquigas team has carried out a tough job to support Ivan Basso, and although I didn't feel at my best, I didn't feel bad either and that allowed me to stay among the best riders."

Armstrong looks to Giro's second half after tough Dolomite days

By Gregor Brown in Siusi, Italy

Lance Armstrong arrives in Alpe di Siusi.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
Lance Armstrong faced his first big loss in the mountains since he lost two minutes on the Col de Joux-Plane in the 2000 Tour de France, but the Giro d'Italia's stage to Alpe di Siusi Wednesday was not so bad for the 37-year-old American who faces his first Grand Tour in nearly four years.

"I did not come here with big hopes," said Team Astana's Armstrong.

Armstrong's aspirations were confirmed with on the second mountaintop stage of the Giro d'Italia in northern Italy, he finished 2:58 down on winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank). He is now 22nd overall, 3:34 behind race leader Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini).

"I thought that I would lose a couple of minutes to the best riders today, but it was closer to three. The key is to stay within your own limits and to try to keep the losses as small as possible."

The losses may not be too bad considering it is the first time Armstrong – a seven-time Tour de France winner – is racing the Italian equivalent of the French Grand Tour and he recently recovered from a collarbone fracture. To make matters worse, the high mountains appear in the first week instead of the third.

"It was my first time in the Dolomite Mountains; they seemed similar to the Tour climbs. But I have not raced mountains like this in a couple of years. Even before I retired, I was not racing that hard at this point in the year: it was usually some training camps, the Midi-Libéré and then the Dauphiné [Libéré]. I was never fantastic in the Dauphiné, so I can't expect to be in the top at this time in May, especially after the crash."

The second half of May (and the Giro) may turn in Armstrong's favour thanks to a 60.6-kilometre time trial in stage twelve and several mid-mountain stages. Team Astana could push for an Armstrong win in these stages while keeping team leader Levi Leipheimer protected. Leipheimer is 43 seconds back in the overall after five days of racing.

"I knew the first half was not going to be my half, I did not expect to be in the front. I will try to be better in the second half. The next important thing is the time trial. We will see what happens there."

The Cinque Terre is the longest time trial in the Giro d'Italia since 1996 and suits Armstrong. He based his seven Tour de France victories on his time trial wins.

A time trial also features on the race's final day in Rome, May 31. The centennial Giro d'Italia ends with a 14.4-kilometre stage past many of the city's famous sites.

Basso and Liquigas team cause destruction

By Gregor Brown in Siusi, Italy

Liquigas' Sylvester Szmyd set such an infernal pace
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
Ivan Basso and his Liquigas team produced some devastating results over the finale of the fifth day of the Giro d'Italia on Wednesday in the Dolomites: Lance Armstrong lost 2:53 to his Italian rival, Damiano Cunego 2:34, Gilberto Simoni lost 42 seconds and Michael Rogers lost 17 seconds.

Basso finished fourth, five seconds behind stage winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and is now 1:06 behind new race leader Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini).

"Some riders don't handle such short stages well. Honestly, I was worried going into it. After the first pass there was a long descent and immediately the ascent to Siusi," the 2006 Giro d'Italia winner Basso told Cyclingnews

The 24.9-kilometre Alpe di Siusi climb ended a day that started an 8.2-kilometre Passo Rolle. The first climb produced the stage's escape, but the finale on Siusi allowed Liquigas to blow out their rivals.

"You saw in the last four kilometres, I was always puling hard. It is hard to make a big difference on such a short stages, though. It really is a strange Giro, we are in the fifth day and it is difficult to manage such a climb so soon."

Liquigas managed the stage with five men at the start of Siusi. Kjell Carlström and Vladimir Miholjevic drove before handing the pace making over to Sylvester Szmyd and Franco Pellizotti. Szmyd's pull from seven to three kilometres remaining was the most impressive.

"Szmyd and all of the team showed themselves well. Pellizotti, you have to ask him. I think he was going well but lacked a little bit to stay with the first riders."

Basso warned that there are still some dangerous days in this first week– tomorrow and the stage to Bergamo on Saturday – but the next show down will be the Cinque Terre time trial, stage 12. He has previewed the 60.6-kilometre stage more times than his rivals and is well positioned to take the race leader's maglia rosa, his first since 2006.

Teutenberg on the hunt for stage wins in Tour de L'Aude

Ina Teutenberg (Columbia-Highroad)
Photo ©: Davide Tricarico
(Click for larger image)
Columbia-Highroad's women's team will be starting the Tour de L'Aude in France on Friday, with Ina-Yoko Teutenberg gunning for her 13th win of the 2009 season.

"My form's as good as it usually is at this time of year, so I'll definitely be going for stage wins there," Teutenberg said. "The Tour de L'Aude's a special race. It's got a very tricky, hilly, windy route, and on top of that it's the first long stage race of the season. A lot of it is held on narrow country lanes, which makes it a nervous race for the overall leader. They have to be very attentive because the attacks can go at any moment."

L'Aude is certainly a race which suits Teutenberg: she won two stages last year, one from a sprint and one from a break. One of her earliest victories, back in 1997, was a stage in the French 10-day race. "I didn't go to the Tour of Berne [World Cup race last Sunday] because you can't do everything, but my condition is good and I'll be on the lookout to see what I can do in the breaks and the sprints. After L'Aude, I don't race for two weeks, but the idea is that I'll keep going right the way through to the women's Giro d'Italia in early July."

"With Ina's current condition and after what she has done so far this season, for sure she'll be up there in the time trials and on the road stages," said team sports director Ronny Lauke. "We're very confident we'll be getting some great results there, from all our riders."

The following teammates will join Teutenberg at the Tour de L'Aude: Kate Bates, Chantal Beltman, Emilia Fahlin, Luise Keller, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, Linda Villumsen.

Cassidy to get second chance at Rás

Mark Cassidy (An Post - Sean Kelly team) on the approach
Photo ©: Stephen McCarthy
(Click for larger image)
Mark Cassidy won his battle to reach peak race fitness in advance of next week's FBD Insurance Rás and has taken the last spot on the An Post-Sean Kelly team for the Irish stage race taking place May 17-24

Cassidy looked destined for success early in last year's Rás, taking the yellow jersey after stage three, 25 years after his father - double Rás champion Phillip Cassidy - took his own first yellow jersey. Unfortunately, Cassidy crashed out only 24 hours later after a nasty fall left him with a badly bruised arm.

"It was very disappointing, crashing out like that last year; I was enjoying fighting for the jersey, defending it that way. But it was good to have had the jersey for a day," said Cassidy. "It gives me the appetite to ride hard and achieve more of the same this year."

Following last year's strong showing by Irish riders - three Irish riders held the yellow jersey - there are huge expectations on An Post-Sean Kelly's three Irishmen going into this year's edition of the Rás.

Cassidy joins fellow Irish riders Páidí O'Brien and David O'Loughlin on An Post-Sean Kelly's Rás roster. O'Loughlin, in his first season with An Post-Sean Kelly, won the final stage of last year's Rás, and shared the podium with his current teammate, Stephen Gallagher, the 2008 Rás winner.

An Post-Sean Kelly Team roster for the FBD Insurance Rás: David O'Loughlin, Páidí O Brien, Nico Eeckhout, Benny De Schrooder and Mark Cassidy.

Armstrong backs junior women's development

Kristin Armstrong (Cervelo Test Team)
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)
Olympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong (Cervélo Pro Cycling TestTeam) and USA Cycling are combining forces to back the Kristin Armstrong Cycling Academy, a junior development camp this summer for women of racing ages 15 to 18. Sponsored by USA Cycling, the camp will be held in Boise, Idaho, from July 14–19, and will provide licensed riders with the additional opportunity to race alongside Armstrong before a crowd of thousands at the 23rd Annual Twilight Criterium in downtown Boise.

The new camp was developed for women who have some racing experience and are looking to improve their skills. It offers an opportunity to discover what it means to be a professional cyclist.

"In the United States, during the year you turn 19, you go from racing with your 15 to 18-year-old peers to racing with 19 to 35-year-old pros. It can be a shock, and if not prepared, young riders feel like they've been thrown to the wolves. US Cycling loses a lot of promising female riders in this process," said Armstrong.

"My coaches and I want to have a hand in helping young women really advance through a more focused training program, like the one that helped me realize my Olympic dream. My goal, and I think it's realistic, is to see a graduate of the Kristin Armstrong Cycling Academy bring home the gold for US Cycling."

"The Kristin Armstrong Academy is an ideal program that will guide aspiring young women as they attempt to make the transition from a successful junior career to the elite ranks," said USA Cycling director of athletics and Armstrong's coach Jim Miller." As an Olympic champion, Kristin will inspire, educate and support dozens of future world-class athletes with these efforts as part of a tremendously valuable initiative designed to ensure the future success of American women."

Armstrong has worked with youth since she was in her mid-20s, and says she's uniquely qualified to help girls bridge the gap from junior to senior racing.

The camp will offer a mix of classroom sessions, racing clinics, and off-the-bike lifestyle tips tailored to young women. The registration fee of US$1,250 will include lodging, meals, daily instruction and social opportunities. Twilight Criterium race entry is not included.

For more information, visit All riders must hold a valid 2009 USA Cycling annual license to participate.

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