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First Edition Cycling News for April 15, 2007

Edited by Hedwig Kröner, Susan Westemeyer and Laura Weislo

Riders confident as Roubaix nears

By Brecht Decaluwé, in Compičgne, France

With just a number of hours remaining before today's 259 kilometre Paris-Roubaix gets underway, Cyclingnews spoke to some of the key players to get their thoughts on the gruelling Spring Classic and the forecast of good weather. Last year's winner Fabian Cancellara is again the favourite heading into the day's race, but instead of feeling the pressure the Team CSC rider is taking a relaxed approach to the race.

"Last year was a demonstration, it was extra-ordinary," noted the Swiss rider. "There is pressure to perform well again and I don't want to disappoint the people but I realize I need to stay calm.

"Compared to some others I'm lucky to have won this monument already so I have nothing to lose, although I do want to win of course," Cancellara added. "The sun will make it a great day, especially as many fans will be lined up. The most important thing is that I remain calm, whatever happens."

The surprise winner of the 2001 Paris-Roubaix was Servais Knaven. After many years under the wings of Patrick Lefevre the 36 year-old Dutchman has moved to T-Mobile this season.

"This weather is exceptional but I guess the forest of Arenberg will be the selective zone again. When Museeuw won the first time and when Peter Van Petegem won it was also about 16 degrees," Knaven reflected. "On Wednesday I crashed hard during Gent-Wevelgem and I'm still suffering from that. During the reconnaissance it was alright but it's annoying to suffer a constant pain."

The T-Mobile team once again proves to be one of the stronger teams in the race, highlighted by the squad's one-two in the Belgian Gent-Wevelgem. "With this team we can again be in the front with many guys," added Knaven. "My teammate [Marcus] Burghardt will go strong again I expect."

Thor Hushovd hasn't been going well throughout the first part of the season but Paris-Roubaix is a race that suits him, and he has already claimed a U23 title at the race. "Cancellara is the big favourite to me," noted the Crédit Agricole rider. "It will be a fast race so you need to be in front all the time. I haven't enough races in my legs so I don't know how far I can get. It should be a lot of fun!"

Rabobank's Juan Antonio Flecha was spotted smiling again and we asked the Spaniard if it was the sun that made him happy. "I don't care but I do wonder if this is the Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix," Flecha joked. "I did a reconnaissance of the complete course, but not everything on the bike, of course, we did most of it in the car. Anyway, I'm always good in the Hell!"

Klöden: Sarthe "satisfying"

Klöden happy with his victory
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

Andreas Klöden last rode the Circuit de la Sarthe ten years ago, but he remembered it well: "A nice stage race, well organised, and not too long for my preparations. So it was exactly right to help bring me in form for the Tour de France."

He took advantage of all that to bring about his overall victory, for which he lay the basis by being the fastest in the 8.8 kilometre time trial. Moreover, the race against the clock served a s a technical check-up. "I was able to use the short time trial to test various things on my time trial bike under competitive conditions," Klöden wrote on his personal website. "And the fact that I was able to beat the newly-crowned track world champion in the 40000m pursuit, Bradley Wiggins, was also very satisfying."

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Nevertheless, the overall victory was not a piece of cake. "But it's not enough to win a time trial, in order to get the overall win," he noted. "The work really started for my team and me over the two last stages. Both stages were over 180 km long, and since the teams here were only six riders, instead of the usual eight, the work for my team wasn't any easier."

Klöden praised his squad for its support, saying, "It was really a very strong performance by the complete team." The next few days, the German will do some light training to recuperate, before seriously preparing for the Flčche Wallonne.

New teams for Jaksche and Beloki?

Two more riders named in the Operación Puerto affair have apparently found new teams. German Jörg Jaksche has signed for two years with Team Tinkoff, according to various news outlets.

The other rider is Spaniard Joseba Beloki, who, according to AS, has agreed to terms with Team Astana. The one-year contract has not yet been signed, but it is reported "almost definite." The 33 year-old would not be expected to ride the Tour de France this year, but would be available for the Vuelta a Espana.

Niermann's "horror day"

Grischa Niermann (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
(Click for larger image)

Some 60 riders didn't finish Friday's stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, but Rabobank's Grischa Niermann made it to the finish line, and was "a little proud that I forced myself through.

"That was really a horror day, in addition to the countless mountains we had rain," he wrote on his personal website. "For someone like me, who isn't among the best in the mountains and would rather brake more often on the descents than fall on my nose, that's a problem.

"Almost the whole day I rode in small or large groups behind the field, and every time that I could join a group, another climb appeared, or the next descent. My only consolation was that the peloton no longer consisted of 120 riders but of only 60."

The torture finally came to an end. "Together with about 30 other 'survivors' I simply tried to make it to the finish line, which I was finally able to do about half an hour down."

Airport strike holds up flights to Georgia

A wildcat strike by fire-fighters and security personnel at the Brussels airport on Friday caused about 50 riders and staff members of Predictor-Lotto, QuickStep-Innergetic, Discovery Channel and Team CSC to miss their flight to the Tour of Georgia. They joined other stranded travellers at the airport Friday morning, reported Sportwereld. The bikes were taken away and packed in containers for the flight, but later returned. Eventually, the group was taken to the airport in Amsterdam by bus, from where they will all eventually fly out.

According to Predictor team manager Jose De Cauwer, his team was to take a flight on Saturday morning, along with five people from Discovery. But it looked like some of the team's personnel would not be able to fly until Sunday. The Tour of Georgia starts Monday afternoon.

Rains brings Sea Otter action to a halt

By Sue George

After two days of beautiful, sunny weather, the skies opened up on Saturday afternoon in Monterey, California. The severe downpours brought the Sea Otter Classic's road, short track, BMX, and dual slalom racing to halt as racers and spectators simultaneously scrambled to find shelter.

Perhaps the most unfortunate victims of circumstance were the pro women, who were in the middle of their National Racing Calendar (NRC) series event when the deluge began. After several laps of racing in the rain, officials decided to suspend racing action due to dangerous volumes of running water and some mud on the Laguna-Seca International raceway course. The women's race was cancelled.

The pro male road racers were more fortunate - their race was delayed for a few hours, but run under partly cloudy skies and on a partially dried track.

Meanwhile, the semi-pro men's short track mountain bike race was postponed several hours, so the pro men and women could still race at their scheduled times when the deluge had mostly subsided. Both races were held on a muddy course reminiscent of, but not nearly as bad as conditions last year, when racers regularly encountered hub-deep mud holes. The afternoon's race conditions were slick and muddy, but still quite fast in light of what has been relatively dry weather locally leading up to the four days of on and off-road racing and riding that constitute the Sea Otter Classic.

Finals in the dual slalom were pushed back by several hours, and the BMX race scheduled for the day was postponed by a day, meaning both BMX events are now scheduled for Sunday.

Racing action wraps up Sunday with the elite downhill and cross country mountain bike races and BMX.

Estonian team aiming for RAS glory

By Shane Stokes

The third in what promises to be a strong line-up of overseas teams has been announced for this year’s FBD Insurance RÁS.

Two years after Sigvard Kukk took three top ten placings en route to 11th overall, the Estonia-Kalev Chocolate team are heading back to Ireland for the world-ranked race.

Kukk is no longer with the team, but 26 year old Mart Ojavee is likely to lead the squad. He was part of the 2005 line-up, taking 13th on stage four, and together with Andrei Mustonen will benefit from the experience of competing here in the past. Five man teams plus very aggressive racing means that the FBD Insurance Rás requires different tactics to other international events. This makes it difficult for first-time teams to win.

The squad will be completed by Alo Jakin, Silvar Kibur and Markku Ainsalu. "As Estonia’s only pro team, Kalev Chocolate should be a real threat," said race director Dermot Dignam this week. "They have the pick of the best riders in the country and with their previous experience of the FBD RÁS, which is a big advantage, are certainly coming here with the intention of leaving their mark on the race."

Estonia Kalev Chocolate now join the Germany - Thuringer Energie and Czech Republic - AC Sparta Praha squads as continental teams confirmed as heading to Ireland for the UCI 2.2 ranked event. Several more will be announced in the weeks ahead, making it likely that this year’s race will be a very competitive one.

The 2007 FBD Insurance RÁS will get underway on Sunday May 20th with a 157 kilometre stage from Naas to Templemore. The riders will cover almost 1200 kilometres of flat-out racing as they travel anticlockwise around the country, taking in additional stage finishes at Loughrea, Sligo, Dungloe, Buncrana, Derry, Newcastle and Skerries.

British Premier Calendar moves south for Archer GP

By Gerry McManus

The British Cycling Premier Calendar moves down to Buckinghamshire for the Archer Grand Prix on Sunday 15th April. 100 Elite riders will line up for the 115-mile race which is the fourth counting event in the series currently being led by Chris Newton (Recycling.co.uk).

This year’s Archer race is on two circuits with the first taking the riders on the scenic route in the Chiltern Hills to ascend Longdown and Whiteleaf five times. Whiteleaf has proved to be the killer climb and you can be sure that a group will be clear by the time the peloton travels back past the HQ at Hazelmere to move onto the Penn Street finishing circuit. The route severity, combined with the race distance, will ensure the crowds at the finish in Winchmore Hill will see a worthy winner cross the finishing line first after around five hours of racing.

Three previous Archer winners are on the start sheet. John Tanner (Planet X) 1997 & 2005, Chris Newton (Recycling) 1995 and Gordon McCauley (Plowman Craven) 2001 & 2002. Newton leads the Premier Series after three events having secured victory in the Bikeline 2-day in March and finished second Girvan 3-day over the Easter weekend. Newton has been battling with Ian Wilkinson (SIS), Dean Downing (Rapha), Rob Sharman (KFS Special Vehicles) and McCauley and the five guys will know each others strengths and weaknesses well by now.

Wilkinson has come to the fore this year and overall victory in the Girvan will have given him even more confidence. McCauley’s reputation as the tough guy for tough races will see him as one of the favourites for Sunday’s gruelling race and whilst team mate Tony Gibb is expected to be there or thereabouts at the finish it remains to be seen if the remainder of his team can help to shape the result for the New Zealander.

For the full feature of the Archer GP and the start list, click here.

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