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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

World Championship Cycling News, September 25, 2008

Edited by Sue George

Neben crowns career with TT win

By Hedwig Kröner in Varese

American Amber Neben produced a winning ride
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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American cyclist Amber Neben consecrated her professional career Wednesday with the victory of the gold medal in the elite women's time trial of the World Championships in Varese, Italy. A dream came true for the 33 year-old, two-time winner of the Tour de l'Aude, as she scored the best time on the difficult course around the North Italian town: Neben raced the 25.15km-course in 33'51 minutes, averaging 44.57 km/h.

"I don't have any words - I am so excited, so happy. I can't speak right now, I don't know what to say. It's a dream come true," an overjoyed Neben said at the post-race press conference, not used to the media bustle.

Neben admitted that her main focus at the end of this season had been on the Worlds time trial, and that she prepared thoroughly for it. "After the Olympics, I went home, took a little bit of a break while still continuing to ride," she explained. "I worked on some base fitness, with the whole focus being on this race. I knew I still had a lot of motivation left in me, even though it's late in the season."

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She proved a strong fitness in the Tour de l'Ardèche, taking the overall victory - a first reward for her focus. "I came over to Europe and did an eight-day racing block in Italy and France: two time trials and the Tour de l'Ardèche in France, which I won. I used it to get my confidence and fitness back," she continued, also praising the efforts of her trainer, Dave Jordaan.

"My coach designed a really structured build-up for me, and I have to give him a lot of credit. He did a good job getting me ready. Everything has to be perfect on the day - your preparation, your head, your body. It all comes together. It's a fantastic feeling right now."

The race itself unfolded perfectly for Neben. "The course was very beautiful, and very challenging," she said. "You had to stay on the gas the whole time, keeping the power on, keeping it steady. It was really heavy, so it was hard all the way round, and you had to had to be thinking the whole time about what you were going to do, how you were going to take on the corners, hit the different climbs and manage the pacing efforts. I just tried to stay focused the best that I could, and it turned out well."

Judith Arndt gave it all in Italy
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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But Neben had started the race as the 29th of 43 riders in total, so she had to wait quite some time to get her victory confirmed. "There were 13 riders still behind me. Obviously, the only chance to win a medal was to have the best time when I finished - this was the first positive step. But then, I was sitting in the hot chair... there was no TV there, and I didn't have a good feeling as to what was happening in the race and what the time splits were at the other points in the race. I knew who still was to come so I didn't get too excited until those riders came through. I was praying, waiting, hoping..."

Shortly after, Germany's Judith Arndt joined her for second place, but no other rival could compete with her exceptional time - not even her team-mates Christine Thorburn, bronze medallist from the 2006 Worlds in Salzburg, and Kristin Armstrong, 2006 Worlds and Olympic champion, who finished "only" fifth.

Asked how the American team worked as a group, with three of them being favourites in the time trials, Neben said, "We have a good group - we know how each of us are and where the boundaries are. We have a genuine respect for each other, and we genuinely care about each other and want each other to do well. We also want to see the sport to grow in the States, so any of us getting a good result means good news for the sport in the States. Of course there's competition, but it's a time trial as well, so you focus on your own day, your own race and just try to get it done."

Thorburn's final act

By Gregor Brown in Varese

Christine Thorburn (USA)
Photo ©: CJ Farquharson
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Christine Thorburn is enjoying her final act in professional cycling at the World Championships in Varese, Italy. The American rider from Paolo Alto, California, watched her teammate Amber Neben accept the gold medal in the women's time trial and left the event satisfied with her 12th place result.

"I did not have any pressure on myself coming here. It was one last try, with Kristin [Armstrong] being Olympic Champion we had two other spots," said Thorburn, 39, to Cyclingnews. The bronze medallist from 2006 finished the 25.15-kilometre run with a time of 35:08, 1:17 back from teammate Neben.

Thorburn represented Team USA at the Olympics in Beijing with a fifth place, 1:02 behind teammate and winner Armstrong. She took a well-earned rest before travelling to Varese for her last professional race.

"After the Olympics, I went back to work for three weeks and took a honeymoon I never had a chance to take three years ago," she said.

She balances training with working 40 hours a week as a rheumatic physician. Her focus will shift away from cycling on Saturday after the women's road race, her last race. "I am very excited and ready for it," she remarked.

"Originally, I thought might finish my season at the Olympics, but I was able to come and do the time trial and the road race. I still have some form, it is just not peak."

The mood was bittersweet in the USA camp immediately after the time trial. Thorburn applauded Neben, but consoled teammate Armstrong, who finished seven seconds out of the medals.

"She is such a good competitor and she wants to win all the time. She has been a little bit racked by being Olympic Champion, and people are putting a lot of pressure on her and demands on her time. ... [2008 Men's Olympic Time Trial winner] Cancellara did not even bother coming. You have to give Kristin credit for going for it."

Thorburn will join her teammates tomorrow for a preview of the 138.4-kilometre parcours and of her last race.

Samplonius accomplishes end-of-season goal

By Gregor Brown in Varese

Anne Samplonius (Canada)
Photo ©: WomensCycling.net
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Canada's Anne Samplonius ended her season on target with an 11th place finish in the women's time trial at the World Championships on Wednesday. Samplonius, 40, finished 1:07 behind gold medallist Amber Neben on the 25.15-kilometre parcours around Varese, Italy.

"I finished 15th last year and my goal was to improve on that this year," said Samplonius to Cyclingnews after being bumped out of the medal running. She held on to top spot for forty minutes with her time of 34:59 until Germany's Charlotte Becker posted four seconds faster.

Samplonius was ready for the "power course" around Varese. "I rode it two days a go and then I did it right before the espoir men yesterday, and then one more time in warm up – I was prepared for it."

The following women dashed her medal hopes, but the rider from Montreal held on to better last year's 15th spot in Stuttgart, Germany. She finished 1:46 off of the podium.

"There were just way too many good riders to follow," Samplonius said. "I knew I would not be in the hot seat for ever. When you start fourth rider off..."

Samplonius races for trade team Cheerwine during the season and posted wins in the national time trial championships, the Tour de Leelanau and the Ronde van Gelderland this year.

"Mission double" for Chavanel

By Hedwig Kröner in Varese

Sylvain Chavanel at the Vuelta a España
Photo ©: AFP
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2008 Tour de France stage winner Sylvain Chavanel will be heading the French national team at the Worlds in Varese this year. Moreover, being the French national time trial champion, he is doubling up the task, taking pride in representing his home colours as well as he can in the race against the clock on Thursday as well as the road race on Sunday.

Chavanel, who also wore the maillot oro in the Vuelta a España after finishing second in the race's first time trial, left the event after stage 16 to prepare for the Worlds. The 29 year-old said his lead-up could not have been better.

"I quit the Vuelta early in order to be in top form here in Varese," said the Frenchman. "I think that racing the Vuelta was the best possible preparation; those riders that were in front in the Vuelta will also be there in the road race. Personally, my feelings were very good in Spain, so I don't see why they should disappear within a week. The riders who come here from the Tour of Poland, on the other hand, will have a hard time as the weather there was really bad."

The Cofidis rider was surprised to discover the time trial course was not as difficult as he thought. "It's very rolling; not as hilly as I thought," he said after reconnoitring the Varese parcours on Wednesday morning. "There will be an average speed of over 50 km/h, especially if there's no wind. The pace will be very high. The last 10 kilometres will really break your legs because they're on a false flat uphill, which is going to be hard in the end. Overall, the course is too flat to my taste, but I'll still give it everything I have to get the best possible result."

Chavanel will contest the road race as the leader of his French squad. After a very successful 2008 season, which revealed his qualities both as a strong Classics contender and attacking race finisher, totalling six victories this year, the future Quick Step rider has a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders - but this doesn't bother him.

"I have no problem with that," he said, "to the contrary. I think it's a great opportunity. I opted out of the Vuelta to take some time to prepare properly for the Worlds, and I come here feeling pretty fresh. I haven't seen the road race course yet but I'm told it's hard, so it could be good for me. Looking at the profile, it could be better for me than the time trial. I want to do a good road race, too, that's for sure."

Italy's Ballerini eyes crono competition

By Gregor Brown in Varese

Pinotti took the final time trial at the Giro d'Italia
Photo ©: AFP
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Italian Directeur Sportif Franco Ballerini sees the competition stacked high against his two time trial two men, Manuel Quinziato and Marco Pinotti, in Friday's World Championship. Ballerini will oversee the national team on the 43.7-kilometre test around Varese, Italy.

"Fabian Cancellara is not here, it will be tough. Michael Rogers looks to be in form. At the Olympics he finished eighth. There is also Levi Leipheimer," Ballerini said in a press conference Wednesday.

Quinziato finished third in the Vuelta a España stage five time trial and Pinotti won the Giro d'Italia time trial in Milano and the country's championships, but neither is considered a medal hopeful for the time trial. Nonetheless, the performance of Adriano Malori has encouraged Ballerini, and he believes it is a positive sign for the elite men's future.

"Malori gave the team a morale boost; he has passion and likes the time trial," he said of Malori, who won the Under 23 gold medal on Tuesday. "He has a lot of hope for the future. The Italian team always had this handicap in the time trial. We did not have any results since the nineties. Cancellara taught us that when you are good in the time trial you can win other races, too. He proved that Milano-Sanremo."

On Thursday afternoon, Quinziato will start his run at 14:10 and Pinotti will start 26 minutes later, at 14:36.

Whitelaw happy with World Championships debut performance

Vicki Whitelaw (Australia)
Photo ©: Riccardo Scanferla
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Australia's best performance in the elite women's time trial came from Canberra's Vicki Whitelaw in 16th at the UCI Road Cycling World Championships in Varese, Italy.

Whitelaw, 31, posted a time of 35'27.58 minutes for the 25.15km course. She was one minute and 36.23 seconds off the pace of the newly crowned World Champion Amber Neben (United States of America).

"I gave 100 percent, the best I could do for where I'm at so I'm really happy," said Whitelaw after the race. "I couldn't have done any better and it gives me a lot of incentive to be up here with the best girls in the world and see where I can improve and where I can go from here."

Whitelaw, who is an exercise scientist and soft tissue therapist, won the Australian National Road Series in 2006 and 2007 and claimed the Oceania Time Trial title last year as well. She was selected for the Australian team for the 2007 World Championships but had to pull out due to illness. This year racing with the Australian team in Europe she collected a win in the time trial stage of the women's Tour of Italy, the Giro d'Italia Femminile.

"This is my first 'world champs' and my first year riding overseas and consistently performing well and to finish off like this and culminate in the World Championships and finish in the top half (of the field) I'm really happy," Whitelaw said.

The Varese course is literally down the road from the Cycling Australia-AIS High Performance Program's European base and Whitelaw said knowing the course certainly helped her Wednesday.

"For me I broke the course down into four sections so in the hill section I was trying to get under 12 minutes and the ones on the podium were really fastest over that section," she explained. "The descent which is winding and quite technical but not too bad and not wet so we could really dig into that .

"Then the back section with the cobbles and then the home run where yesterday we saw through the tunnels a couple of the boys crashed so I was playing it a bit carefully there and then the final little rise over," she said. "I had it in my head broken down to make it more manageable."

Australian team-mate Bridie O'Donnell, 34, finished 23rd while Alexis Rhodes, 23, finished 24th. On Thursday, Australia's men will get their turn. Michael Rogers and Adam Hansen will start the elite 43.7km time trial.

Irish team get championships campaign off to a solid start

Olivia Dillon and Heather Wilson kicked off the Irish campaign at the UCI Road World Championships in Italy on Wednesday with solid results in the elite women's time trial. Irish champion Dillon covered the 25.15km course in a time of 38'16 minutes to finish with an average speed of nearly 40km/h, and Irish 25-mile record holder Wilson finished in 39'13 minutes.

"They were tough conditions out there today," said Dillon. "“It was good to get the experience and now we know what we have to work on for the next time around. I started off really hard and suffered in the middle section but came round again towards the end. There a number of things I know I can improve on as I hadn't raced on a course like this before.

"It was a tough course against the best women in the world. It must have been hard for Kristin Armstrong to come back from Beijing as Olympic champion and to only get fourth today," she said sympathetically.

Wilson and Dillon will double up and also contest the road race on Saturday, with both supporting Irish champion Siobhan Dervan.

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