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News feature, April 8, 2007

Spring Classics more important than ever for CSC

CSC is going for victory on Boonen's home soil. One day before things get going for the Ronde van Vlaanderen in Bruges, the CSC team welcomed the press in their hotel in Kortrijk, and Cyclingnews' Brecht DecaluwÚ was there.

The three team captains for Flanders:
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
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Press officer Brian Nygaard couldn't express it better way when he got the press meeting going. "It looks like there are about five times more people than last year, there must be a reason for that," Nygaard said.

For sure there was a reason, namely a bigger chance on the win in Ronde van Vlaanderen. CSC made it clear when introducing the team that they should be able to compete with the favourites from Quickstep. Team leaders Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O'Grady, and Karsten Kroon will be supported by five strong men: Matti Breschel, Marcus Ljungqvist, Allan Johansen, debutant Kasper Klostergaard, and retiring Lars Michaelsen. Team manager Scott Sunderland explained that these guys all have what it takes to battle the cobbles and the hills throughout Flanders on Easter Sunday.

"You need to have some sort of passion for these races, otherwise you can't make it to the finish," Sunderland said. The team really wants to do well during the Spring Classics and Sunderland pointed out how important these races are for the team. "We have more people here to support the boys than in the Tour de France."

Who else than the retiring Lars Michaelsen could comment on the team's strength? "I've been riding for many strong teams like TVM but within this team, there are six to seven guys who're able to ride the finale in Flanders," Michaelsen said.

While 18,000 amateurs are doing their reconnaissance of the course on Saturday, the CSC guys threw a light on the changed course that is without the infamous Koppenberg and has fewer big roads. "It's justified to remove the Koppenberg from the course because this race doesn't need something like that. You have to be an artist to go up there, and I know we're artists, but that's a little over the top. The new part of the course will give a new dimension to the race anyway; by skipping the big roads, the race development will be different, " Michaelsen said.

His team manager Sunderland agreed, "everybody could recuperate after the first section before the Oude Kwaremont but now some riders will be isolated as it won't be possible to come back; that's when numbers start to count. We'll have an exciting finale," Sunderland said.

Fabian Cancellara
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
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If Fabian Cancellara sets a goal, he seldom fails to reach it. Remember his wins in the world championship time trial and his impressive win in Paris-Roubaix last year? "My main advantage is that the only pressure I feel is to finish the race, then we have next week," Cancellara said that for him, Paris-Roubaix is all-important. The Swiss rider has become one of the favourites for the win in Flanders after finishing second to Boonen in Harelbeke.

"That was the first time I ever reached the podium in a Flanders-like race. I was nearly beating Boonen in Flanders a week before the Tour of Flanders! From then on, I started believing I can win the Tour of Flanders and that's just what we're doing tomorrow: we start to win the race," Cancellara said.

His main rival Tom Boonen knows that he's the man to beat on Sunday but he doesn't mind being the favourite. We wondered if there is some kind of admiration from Cancellara for Boonen."We know each other since 1998," Cancellara said. "He does big things for cycling and we get along like working colleagues do but in the race, we're rivals." The best Swiss cyclist around also talked about a new role he discovered. "I have the impression that the Belgian people want to see Boonen winning, but I'm also sensing they want to see some new faces standing up," Cancellara is obviously volunteering for that role.

Stuart O'Grady
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Within the CSC team, there's another man who volunteered for the leadership. Stuart O'Grady was on the podium back in 2003, but he wants more than a podium spot. "I'm in the form of my life, and I feel the stars are in my favour. The team isn't putting any pressure on me, and I like it like that; the only pressure I feel is the pressure that comes from myself and that's because I know I can do it," O'Grady said to Cyclingnews.

After racing for French teams since turning professional in 1995, Stuey joined the Danish CSC team. "When I came here, I told Riis that I wanted to go for the classics. This team has the potential to get the best out of me over here. Before I was isolated when the race still was 100km away from the finish, then there's no way you can do it," O'Grady said.

"I've always liked the classics because they're the ones that are remembered when you're old, and not some stage win in a sh***y race somewhere in France," O'Grady couldn't help expressing his displeasure at competing in some smaller stage races. Cyclingnews asked the Adelaide born 33 year-old about the ideal scenario, when there are only 40km to go in the Tour of Flanders. "There's a dream scenario where I am in a small group, with two teammates," O'Grady said. "As few people in the group as possible and one teammate would be good...two would be better."

Karsten Kroon
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
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Besides Cancellara and O'Grady, CSC has a third iron to throw into the fire in Flanders. Karsten Kroon has been performing very strong in the Tour of Flanders during the previous two editions. Last year, Kroon almost joined Boonen and Hoste after their attack on the Valkenberg; when Boonen noticed the Dutchman was coming, he took a massive pull and Kroon was blown away. "Two years ago, I finished 11th and last year eighth, so I hope to improve myself and finish at least with the best ten riders," Kroon said to Cyclingnews. There are few people believing that there's a chance to fight to almighty Boonen on his home soil. "I realize that I have a much smaller chance to win than Tom Boonen but you never know how a cow catches a rabbit," Kroon said using a Dutch idiom. "Many guys will be riding against Boonen, so I hope and think that it will be a tactical race; Boonen will need his domestique riders," Kroon predicted.

Veteran Lars Michaelsen explained about his feelings towards his last Tour of Flanders. "I'm not focusing on a last this, and a last that... I'm focusing on the races that are coming. Hopefully when I'm older I'll have time to look back," Michaelsen explained.

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