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Tour de France Cycling News for July 8, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

Pozzato Pronto: Filippo for Le Tour

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in London

'Pippo' and the Liquigas team
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Liquigas star Filippo Pozzato is ready to rock at this year's Tour de France. The talented 25 year-old from Sandrigo, Italy started 2007 with a bang courtesy of his win in Het Volk on March 1, but then he had a disappointing spring campaign due to sickness. Cyclingnews spoke to the classy Classics man in London after he had his medical check at the race headquarters in ExCel Centre.

"I'm feeling good right now and I've prepared really well for the Tour," a smiling Pippo explained. "[Liquigas] has a strong squad of mostly one day riders at the Tour and I really want to do something special... like another Tour stage win."

Pozzato was looking for a possible Maglia Tricolore at the recent Italian championships in Genoa, but he didn't succeed. "I kind of threw the race away that day," grimaced Pozzato. "Liquigas had a big team but we didn't ride well that day."

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Pozzato is rider member of the Association of Italian professional riders (ACCPI) and had been outspoken about the current toxic climate in the sport. We asked him if he signed the obligatory UCI riders' health declaration to ride the Tour de France and the lean Italian smiled sardonically as he said "yes I signed it but only because I had to. I don't think that this kind of thing is a way to solve the problem in cycling. Something like this should have been done much sooner, like when we have our team meetings in December. There are so many controls already, which are no problem, but to have this agreement forced on us at the last moment is just wrong."

Boonen aiming for good prologue ride

By Shane Stokes in London

Tom Boonen
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Tom Boonen held yellow in last year's Tour de France and with the race heading to Belgium on Monday, he wants to get the maillot jaune back this year.

To do that, he has to finish close to the winning time in the prologue and then chase bonus seconds on Sunday's stage to Canterbury. He knows that the first of these two could be a tough ask due to the distance, but said this week that he has been planning towards this.

"I think the prologue is long; one of four or five or maybe six kilometres is good for me, but eight kilometres is quite long. I will try my best, though. I did some work on my prologue, perhaps not as much as the main specialists, but I think I can do something."

The course is flat and that should favour the big Belgian. If he manages to post a good time, he will go all guns blazing in the sprints. "The day after the prologue there will be bonuses and I can try to take some time back. The next day [Monday] finishes in Gent and to be in yellow there would be great. I'll do what I can to achieve that."

Freire will start, but no guarantees as to Tour prospects

By Shane Stokes in London

Oscar Freire at the presentation
Photo ©: David Reinhardt
(Click for larger image)

On Saturday morning, the Rabobank team spent some time riding hard on home trainers set up outside the team hotel beside London's ExCel centre. Denis Menchov, Michael Rasmussen and Thomas Dekker were some of those spinning out their legs before the afternoon prologue. However, one rider was missing; triple World Champion Oscar Freire.

As reported earlier this week, Freire has been suffering from a reoccurrence of the groin cyst, which plagued his 2005 season. He is the designated sprinter on the team and should be a contender for the green jersey, but was uncertain as to how far he would go in the race.

Rabobank's Theo de Rooy said that he is under pressure, but that he will ride the prologue. "Oscar will start, yes," he stated. "It is improving a bit. After the rides, it is at him again and then by the next day it is better, so it is improving. We will see how it goes."

Of course, there is a difference between training and racing, and so it is a very real possibility that the condition could deteriorate further once the race starts. He and the team will keep their fingers crossed that the affected area will heal. De Rooy said that Freire is very frustrated. "I think it is a little bit because of the responsibility and also the fear of maybe having to abandon after a few days or a week. It is a big burden to have."

Smells like team spirit; CSC Ready for Tour challenge

By Shane Stokes in London

Carlos Sastre (CSC)
Photo ©: David Reinhardt
(Click for larger image)

Carlos Sastre and his eight teammates were presented to the media in London Excel Centre on Friday. Teamwork and solidarity has long been cited as one of the defining philosophies of the CSC team and that was underlined at the presentation. Many of the conferences held thus far have seen just one or two key players sitting down for the Q&A sessions, thus sparing the other riders, but the Danish team turned up en masse to give their thoughts on the three weeks ahead.

Kitted out in black, red and white Descente tracksuits, the squad was relaxed and spoke for approximately half an hour before moving off to do its pre-Tour medical exam. As was the case in 2006, Carlos Sastre is once again the designated team leader but this time round he has been given a green light to prepare for the race as he wished. His route to the Tour was a little different to twelve months ago; instead of riding the Giro [which he did in support of Ivan Basso], he instead trained more, raced less and fine-tuned his form in the recent Tour de Suisse. He is hoping that this will see him arrive at the race with greater reserves than before and thus perform strongly in the tough final week.

Sastre took fourth last year. If Floyd Landis is disqualified, he will move up to third place and on that basis, and the fact that he was the most consistent climber last July, he should be one of the big danger men in the race. When asked whom he considered his main rivals he declined to name names, saying that their identities will be revealed soon enough.

"I have respect for all of them because I think they are here like me," he said, "in the best shape that they could be. I have spent a lot of energy to arrive in the Tour de France in the best condition. As soon as we start the race we will see who is good and who is not so good.

"For me the Tour of Suisse was some hard training, some specific training. I tried to help the team as much as I could there. After that race, I took two days slowly, that acting as a small rest, and then I continued with my training. Everything was okay and I feel ready now."

"I have confidence in my team, I have confidence in myself. Tomorrow [the prologue] we have a nice test. Tomorrow we start the Tour de France and we hope that we can start by riding well."

Stuart O'Grady (CSC)
Photo ©: David Reinhardt
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The Spaniard's likely right hand man in the mountains will be Tour de Suisse stage winner Fränk Schleck. He's been touted as one for the future and certainly has the ability to figure prominently during the race. The Luxembourg rider knows that the opposition will be formidable, but said that he will do everything he can to ensure that his team leader will be in the running.

"Right now we know that Carlos is in great shape. I don't know how good I will be but I just know that I will give 100 percent to Carlos. On the hard days, it will be up to me to help as much as possible. I will sacrifice myself for him."

He revealed that his brother's unexpected second place overall in the Giro d'Italia has acted as an additional motivating factor. "Before [the Giro] it was always 'Andy, the brother of Fränk'. People say now that Fränk is the brother of Andy. Of course, if he does win, it is like a result is for me, it is like myself winning something.

"It gave me a lot of energy and motivation. I will try to restore the hierarchy in the family; his performances give me motivation to also do well."

Aggressive Strategy

Fränk Schleck (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Directeur Sportif Kim Andersen said that the team is very strong and would be certain to leave their mark on the race. "I think that if you look around the table, you can see that it is a strong team. It is a team who has a leader for the general classification. We have riders who will be good in the crono and we have riders to be in the breakaway. We have nine strong riders who are here, who are present to do a good race. I hope that you will see us win overall."

He says it will take some time for clear indications of the true contenders to emerge. "I think we will need to wait for the first mountains in the Alps," he stated. "After that, there will be a break until we get to the Pyrénées. We will also have very hard stages with the two cronos [time trials]. I think the final outcome will be determined quite late."

Of course, Today's prologue will give a rough guide as to who is flying and who is floundering. Fabian Cancellara is by no means an overall contender, but he could well be wearing the first yellow jersey after the 7.9 kilometre test. That would get the team off to a very motivated start.

He was in a focussed mood at the conference. "I think my results in last few races have shown I am in good shape," he stated. "I know what I am here for. I want to win tomorrow. Now the pressure is surely on my shoulders. I have the world championship jersey and in the prologue tomorrow, I am sure that everyone will look at me.

"The good thing is that in Paris-Roubaix this year I learned about working with pressure. I feel more confident about handling that now. I know that when I go fast in races it is hard for people to beat me."

His teammate Dave Zabriskie is another who can do a scorching race against the clock. According to Saunier Duval's David Millar, the fact that the prologue course is relatively non-technical means that the American could be right up there at the end.

"I have not seen the course yet, but I will see it tomorrow," he stated. "Fabian is the big favourite but I will also go 100 percent tomorrow, I think that everyone on the team will. We will see what happens."

Stuart O'Grady also has the power and speed to finish prominently. "I am feeling pretty good at the moment," the Paris-Roubaix winner said. "I have had good preparation, I had a good break after Classics. I have also done a lot of racing in the build-up to the Tour. My form is about where I wanted it to be, about where I expected it to be.

"We have got a fantastic squad here so we will be playing a team role [for Sastre]."

Team presentation photography

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by David Reinhardt

Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net

  • Liquigas is up at the presentation
  • Bjarne Riis decided to not function as official team manager this time.
  • The Dane enjoyed the opening ceremony nonetheless.

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