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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest News for April 22, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry

Armstrong on track after Amstel

The Amstel Gold Race has always been a favourite of Lance Armstrong's, and an important benchmark for spring fitness as he builds up for the Tour de France in July. This year was no exception, and as usual Armstrong was one of the principal figures in the decisive moments of the race. Although he didn't finish with a win (he finished 8th), Armstrong was satisfied with his form and his performance in the race.

Following the race, Cyclingnews' Jeff Jones caught up with Lance to gauge his reaction to the World Cup event, which this year comes before Liège-Bastogne-Liège, another great classic in which the American has performed well but never pulled off a win. The new uphill finish on the Cauberg didn't disappoint, although Armstrong was not as pleased with other changes to the parcours.

"I thought the finish was great, but the new course prior to that was a disappointment," he explained. "It was actually easier than other years, and [the difficulties were] pushed too far back into the race, i.e., it was only hard at 230kms. That led to negative racing. The best Amstels were the ones that finished with a loop in Belgium up the really hard climbs then the little climb near Maastricht and downhill to the finish. That was last century, though."

Despite finishing a few places down from last year, Armstrong says he felt better this year than in 2002, indicating that his preparation for the Tour de France is once again right on track. "I only need a reference (form check) in Amstel and I'm happy where I am," he said. "It's the reason I didn't contest the sprint. I hate to say it, but I'm not much interested in another second at Amstel!"

Armstrong praised Amstel winner Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom), who escaped in the final kilometres and held off the chase group on the climb of the Cauberg. "Vino was smart, had a teammate, and has a good nose for the race," Armstrong said. "I was surprised we came so close to him at the finish."

The next two objectives for the four-time Tour winner are this Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Dauphiné-Libéré. With the Tour still a little more than two months away, this may not seem like much racing, but Armstrong knows his system, and is confident the plan will work.

Boogerd disappointed with second

Rabobank's Michael Boogerd was the hot favourite to win the Amstel Gold Race, but he was beaten into second place by the powerful Telekom squad, which placed two men in the final break of ten, including winner Alexandre Vinokourov. Boogerd crossed the finish line cursing and swearing, only four seconds behind Vinokourov. "My legs were super, I won the sprint for the second place so easily," he told Het Laatste Nieuws. "That's what made me angry: I came so close to Vino, I could have won if we were only 50m closer at the foot of the Cauberg."

Boogerd was angry at himself, but also at Lance Armstrong, who was in the leading group too and closely marking Boogerd. "I got the impression Lance didn't really want me personally to lose, but the Rabobank team. I don't know why. Ask him. I don't want any quarrels."

However, Boogerd at least knows that he has good form now. "I hope next Sunday [L-B-L] I feel as good as today: I really had a super day!"

US Postal director Dirk Demol reacted, "Ridiculous, Armstrong was already happy he was there in the finale. Boogerd was disappointed, then you say things you don't really mean. Hasn't Boogerd seen that Lance also closed the gap to Casagrande on the Keutenberg? I don't think so. A past grudge? Paying off an old score? I wouldn't know which one."

Wide Open Tour de Georgia ready to roll

By Tim Maloney, European Editor, in Savannah, Georgia

It's been seven years since the Tour Du Pont folded, and ever since, American cycling has craved a top-level international stage race. Today, the prodigal son of Tour Du Pont, the first-ever Tour de Georgia will get underway in Savannah, Georgia with a technical 4.2 prologue time trial, but the rest of the week may be more than many teams in the race bargained for. On paper, the Georgia race may match up to the Du Pont race someday, but it has a major legacy to live up to. The UCI 2.3 stage race then circumnavigates the Peachtree state with 5 stages that total 989.2km. Most of the stages are on flat to rolling terrain, except the penultimate 196km Dalton-Gainesville mountain stage across the Appalachian Mountains with two tough climbs that should blow the race apart.

In fact, due to the nature of the Tour de Georgia's point-to-point stages, the average stage length is almost 200km. This means that most stages will be about 5 hours of racing; much longer than most North American teams are used to racing, especially the many new TT3 squads competing in this first Georgia tour.

Wednesday's Stage 1 from Augusta-Macon is a flat 223km race to the home town of soul singer James Brown, with three tricky finishing circuits that climbs steep Coleman Hill. Stage 2 from Macon to Columbus covers 202km and has a KOM sprint in Warm Springs after 123km before three finishing circuits in town. Friday is Stage 3, a 222km rolling ride from Pine Mountain to Rome and this long stage may have offer some surprises when GC contenders look to get some distance on other key riders. Saturday's penultimate stage offers some difficult and challenging terrain that will be the key stage in the Georgia tour.

First on the menu on Stage 4 from Dalton to Gainesville is the 13km ascent up Fort Mountain (866m) that gains 640m. after 44km of racing. Then the course traverses rolling terrain through Ellijay and climbing across the Chattahoochee National Forest for 70km, where the film Deliverance was shot. The second KOM comes after 141km after a somewhat steep 10km climb up to Woody Gap that will provide a further GC selection in the Tour de Georgia. But the Woody Gap climb comes with 55 mostly downhill kilometres to race, which should provide a possibility for a regrouping of strong riders before the finish in Gainesville.

Sunday's final stage will wrap up the Georgia tour in an anticlimactic 142km circuit race in Atlanta. But the final outcome in the Georgia race should already be decided before the final stage in Atlanta.

As for the contenders, the inaugural Tour de Georgia looks to be wide-open. Although Saturn has dominated American racing this spring, the car boys now have to play in the big-leagues and go head to head with some top European teams like Rabobank and Vini Caldirola-Sidermec. Saturn has Chris Horner, Aussie Nathan O'Neill and climber Tom Danielson, with speedster Charlie Dionne looking for stage wins. Rabobank has brought old pro Maarten Den Bakker for the GC, supported by young sprinter Bobbie Traksel and stage seekers Wielinga, Niermann and Veneberg. Vini Caldirola-Sidermec will be led by two-time American USPRO champ Fred Rodriguez, who has been seeking the right form all season. Look for his teammates fast Gabrielle Balducci and hardman Mauro Raedelli to grab a stage win if the opportunity presents.

The Navigators team has just returned from its European campaign that mostly focused on single-day races. Although the always dangerous and in-form Aussie Henk Vogels and powerhouse Russian Oleg Grishkine will be in the hunt for stage laurels, it's hard to believe that their top rider Davidenko can have any hope of winning the overall title.

Italian squad Formaggio Pinzolo Fiave' has an interesting blend of experience and youth. Both Massimiliano Mori and Slovenian Uros Murn can win stages, along with neo-pro climber Rizzi and experienced sprinter Moreno Di Biase.

Prime Alliance's Jonathan Vaughters has the experience to contend for GC honours in Georgia; it remains to be seen if his team can go head to head with the more experienced squads here. As for the US Postal Service squad on hand in Georgia, it's hard to see where they fit in. With potential winner Floyd Landis coming back from hip surgery and mountain biker and superb climber Roland Green guest starring, USPS also has tough Tony Cruz in the hunt for stage wins.

Otherwise, the Tour de Georgia has teams like 7-Up Maxxis, Jelly Belly, USPRO Champ Chann McRae's Schroeder Iron squad, and Sierra Nevada-Clif Bar that will be looking for any good news that might present itself. At the bottom of the food chain in the Tour de Georgia are smaller TT3 teams that just may be able to hang in there in such a difficult race as the Tour De Georgia.

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The stages

April 22 - Prologue: Savannah, ITT 4.2 km
April 23 - Stage 1: Augusta-Macon, 223 km
April 24 - Stage 2: Macon-Columbus, 202 km
April 25 - Stage 3: Pine Mountain-Rome, 222 km
April 26 - Stage 4: Dalton-Gainesville, 196 km
April 27 - Stage 5: Atlanta circuit race, 142 km

Evans to miss LBL due to broken collarbone

By Gerard Knapp

Evans
Photo: © Tom Balks
Click for larger image

Team Telekom's Cadel Evans (seen here at the Tour Down Under) is currently in Germany having further X-rays on his left shoulder following an accident in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. Evans went down in a tangle of bikes with Gabriele Balducci and Roger Beuchat as the peloton threaded its way through a speed-hump at top of the Bemelerberg with 60km to go in the World Cup Classic.

Following the accident, Evans quickly remounted and was able to continue, even after a quick examination by the race ambulance a few kilometres down the road. However, after discussions with team management he abandoned and was immediately taken to hospital.

The diagnosis shows a displaced lateral fracture of his left collarbone near the shoulder - "not a really good place to have a break", he said. The immediate impact is that the Australian will miss this week's major races, the Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a Classic which suits his climbing ability. Evans said he was in good form leading into what were "my first major goals for the season; Amstel and Liege".

At Amstel the team plan was for Evans to ride in support of eventual race winner and team-mate Alexandre Vinokourov, while LBL was the race that Evans had targeted. "That's my main disappointment," he said. "I was really looking forward to it (LBL)."

Overall, he said he "will probably miss five to 10 days off the road", but is still able to ride the wind trainer. He said the break would not have much impact on his preparation for the Tour de France, his primary goal for the season.

(Additional reporting by Rob Arnold, editor of Ride Cycling Review)

Brochard ready for Liège

Laurent Brochard's Ag2R-Prévoyance team was not selected to race at Amstel Gold, nor at tomorrow's Flèche Wallonne, but the French strongman is looking forward to Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Brochard chose to race the Vuelta a Aragon, where he has focused on getting kilometres in his legs.

"We're dependent on invitations," Brochard told l'Equipe, "and I have to accept that, even if I would have liked to race the three classics."

Brochard will use today's Paris-Camembert as an occasion to ride at a high intensity in preparation for Liège.

Museeuw stuck at 200

Johan Museeuw (Quick.Step-Davitamon) seems to still be struggling to recover from some early season illness, which struck just before the Tour of Flanders. The length and difficulty of the World Cup events are posing a problem to the Belgian veteran, who was not able to live up to his own expectations in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

"I feel like my counter is stuck at 200," he said in La Dernière Heure. "At the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and at the Amstel Gold Race, I found myself without energy once we passed the 200km mark. I'm guessing this comes from the illness I had just before the Tour of Flanders."

Museeuw has vowed to carry on for the remainder of the season, although he has indicated with a bit more certainty than usual that he has ridden his last Paris-Roubaix. "When you compete at the highest level of sport, the consequences are even bigger," he said of his difficulty in recovering fully from illness.

Dekker out again

Erik Dekker (Rabobank) will not ride the Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Dekker missed much of the early season after banging his knee against a door. Now, the Dutchman will be forced to take another break, suffering from an inflammation in his right leg. The problem is not considered too serious, however after being forced to abandon at the Amstel Gold Race, Dekker has opted to sit out the next two classics and take a break of 10-12 days.

Pichon fractures collarbone

Mickaël Pichon (FDJeux.com) has been diagnosed with a fractured collarbone. Pichon crashed in Sunday's Tour de Vendée, along with teammate Bradley McGee. Pichon was the unlucky of the two, as McGee suffered only minor bruising and will be on the start at today's Paris-Camembert. The same crash claimed a number of victims, including Guido Trentin (Cofidis), who required two stitches.

(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)