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Tales from the peloton, June 27, 2007

Racin' for your nation

As the Tour de France nears, so does the majority of the world's national championships - the traditional Tour precursor. Cyclingnews' scribes have scoured the globe to provide a comprehensive guide to key national titles.

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Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole) will make his first senior title attempt
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

Four weeks after finishing his first Grand Tour, Nicolas Roche will this weekend attempt to take his first senior championship title. He will square up against defending road race champ David McCann (Colavita Sutter Home) and other strong Irish riders on Sunday and, before then, will try to take David O'Loughlin's TT title in Friday's time trial.

The chrono event is run by the Dungarvan Credit Union Cycling Club and begins at 7 pm that evening. That doesn't give a lot of time to recover before Sunday's race but that won't stop riders such as Roche, McCann, O'Loughlin, Ryan Connor (Giant Asia) and others from giving their all for honours.

The same competitors will be in the thick of the fight for the win in Sunday's road race, and there are others who should also be in the shakeup. O'Loughlin's Navigators Insurance teammate Ciarán Power will be particularly motivated as the race is being promoted by his domestic Comeragh CC club and staged in his hometown of Waterford.

Last year's under 23 champion Paídi O'Brien was in fine form when taking second overall in the recent FBD Insurance Rás and, backed by a strong Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group/M. Donnelly Sean Kelly squad, should go very close. Others on that team will also be aiming for a big result, as will rivals MyHome.ie/BDBC.

One to watch is young amateur Daniel Martin. A cousin of Roche, he has been in excellent shape of late and will spend the latter part of the season riding as a stagiare with Team Slipstream. He'd prefer a hillier course, but the three small climbs on each 21.1 kilometre lap will help his ambitions.

The Elite men and under 23 riders will cover this course eight times, while the junior men will do five circuits. Also fighting it out for national titles are the Elite women and veterans, with these to line out on Saturday. The first of these races will be a very interesting battle as it will see Louise Moriarty (Global Racing Team/Winning Solutions), Jenny Fay, Julie O'Hagan (both Rapha Condor) and defending champion Siobhan Dervan (Lotto Bodisol) go head to head. All have been racing abroad this year with their teams and should be in top form. Heather Wilson (Maryland Wheelers) and Orla Hendron (Orwell Dundrum Town Center) took the top places in round five of the national women's league on Sunday and are likely to be amongst the strongest of the domestic-based competitors. By Shane Stokes


Paolo Bettini
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The Italian national championships, La Settimana Tricolore, events are all centered around the home of navigator Cristoforo Colombo, Genova. Paolo Bettini won last year's elite men's road title, although he no longer wears the coveted jersey having claimed the world championships rainbow jersey three months later.

Following on from yesterday's Time Trial championship, today in Diano Marina the elite 'without contracts' championship (163 km). The women will then contest their road races in Varazze tomorrow, which is appropriately known as la città delle donne (city of women). The juniors will race 72.7 km and the elite 113.7 km.

Hot favourites include defending champion Marzio Bruseghin, 2005 winner Marco Pinotti and youngster Vincenzo Nibali. The latter two have used the Eindhoven Time Trial to hone their form for a chance at taking Bruseghin's jersey. All three showed well in the Giro d'Italia, Bruseghin put the Tricolore in the spotlight by winning the Oropa mountain time trail, Pinotti spent four days in the leader's Maglia Rosa and Nibali had a stint in the Maglia Bianca of best young rider.

On June 29 in Bolano the juniors will have their road race (120 km), with the under-23 in Lavagna (163.5 km) the following day with the grand finale, the men's road race, on Sunday in Genova. The elite men will contest a 260-kilometre race, including a city circuit parcours of 14.7 km.

The elite men will roll away from the Italian Riviera towards Morigallo where they will start two 40.4 km circuits, which include the stiff Passo Dei Giovi (472m). This should help form an escape of hopeful strongmen as the race heads back to the Riviera and on to Genova's closing circuits.

There will be no time for a dish of trofiette al pesto with riders like Riccardo Riccò, Danilo Di Luca and Damiano Cunego all gunning for the winner's trophy. They will have to dethrone two-time Italian champ Bettini on the 10 laps of the 14.7 km closing circuit in Genova. Each loop takes in the wall leading to Piazza Carignano (km 6) and the lighter rise of Via Albaro (km 10.2).

"The one race I would like to win is Sunday, July 1, in Genova," noted 25 year-old Cunego last week to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

The final kilometre to Piazza XX Settembre is a light rise of 12 metres and will prevent a bunch sprint like that which brought Enrico Gasparotto glory in 2005. 'Gaspa' will be back this year but with two years of experience under his belt, including a stint in the Maglia Rosa at this year's Giro. Roman Alessandro Proni will bring good form as well as confidence from his Tour de Suisse Stage 3 win. The young outsider could steal the show if he's involved in a small break.

Daniele Bennati and Alessandro Ballan will team up as they did in the Spring Classics. The circuits would be a great place for Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Ballan to make a bid for victory in the final 40 km but if the race stays in a small group then it will be a chance for Bennati to turn a string of second places in Switzerland to an important sprint win.

Experienced campaigners to watch will be Gilberto Simoni and Stefano Garzelli. The latter won two stages of the 2007 Giro by attacking in demanding finales, including the solo win into Lienz. His big motor and sprint should see him as a contender.

Bettini will be very tough to displace, as these types of circuit parcours seem fit for his attacking style. Earlier this month he sent out a warning shot, stating: "I will do everything to be at the start of the Italian Championships and honour the race and the Maglia Tricolore." By Gregor Brown


Lars Petter Nordhaug (Team Maxbo Bianchi)
Photo ©: Fabrice Lambert
(Click for larger image)

After starting with the junior titles last weekend Norway's attention now turns to the Elite men and women races this weekend. The road, criterium and time trial raced will be held in Brumunddal, the largest town in the Hedmark region of Norway, a few kilometers north of Hamar, where Graeme Obree broke the world hour record in his controversial tuck position in 1993.

Maxbo Bianchi dominated the U23 road race, which has already been run, filling the first six places. It was eventually won by Frederik Wilmann, with Stian Sommerseth in second and new T-Mobile signing Edvald Boasson Hagen filling out the podium.

The favourite for Sunday's elite men's race will definitely be Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) who recently expressed his desire to win the jersey he claimed in 2004. Other notable names to watch out for are Kurt Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Boasson Hagen and defending champion Lars Petter Nordhaug (Maxbo Bianchi).

Although the climbs on this year's course are not particularly steep the six long 21.8 km and seven short 12.7 km laps, of the 220km event will certainly take its toll on the riders. By Paul Verkuylen


Spain's national championships will start on Friday 29 in Cuenca. It will be the first national titles since 2005 after riders boycotted last year's professional event due to the Operacion Puerto investigation. Cuenca is a city where people are used to watch cycling in its peculiar streets and where the Vuelta a España has travelled many times.

The competition will start with the Time Trials on Friday. The first will be the elite women race (20.4-kilometre parcours). Defending champion Eneritz Iturriaga won't take part so Maribel Moreno, Gema Pascual and Marta Vilajosana are the favourites to take the national title. In the 36 km men's Under 23 event, defending champion Javier Chacon, Javier Iriarte, Jose Manuel Ballesta, Pedro Palou and Hector Gonzalez are the favourite riders for the triumph. Imanol Erviti, Luis Leon Sanchez and Jose Ivan Gutierrez are the big names to contest the 46.6 km elite men's TT while reigning champion Toni Tauler won't return to defend his title.

Saturday morning will see the women's road race run over 108 kms, starting in Villanueva de la Jara. The Under 23 route will be contested that afternoon, starting in Villamayor.

The 189.4 km elite men's road race is scheduled for Sunday morning, commencing in Cuenca. The starting list is full of big names including Oscar Pereiro, Alejandro Valverde, Francisco Mancebo (2004 champion), Iban Mayo, Koldo Gil, David Arroyo and Jose Manuel Garate, who is the 'defending champion' having won the event in 2005. By Hernan Alvarez


Sweden's fourth largest city, Uppsala, 70km north or the nation's capital of Stockholm, will play host to this year's race. The sprinters circuit places Thomas Lövkvist (Française des Jeux) as the definitive favourite, who is the defending champion. Unibet riders Gustav Erik Larsson and Jonas Ljungblad will also be looking to ride strongly, with the hope of possibly being able to display the jersey in some ProTour events later in the year. By Paul Verkuylen


Steffen Wesemann now rides the Swiss championships
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Steffen Wesemann (Wiesenhof Felt) has converted to Swiss nationality and will contest this year's title. Alexandre Moos, on the other hand, has moved away and is currently racing for BMC in the United States. The Zberg brothers, Markus and Beat, both riding for Gerolsteiner, are expected to be there and always can use their family bond for some nice race tactics.

Steve Zampieri (Cofidis) had a strong Tour of Switzerland and will also try to win, but you can just never count out the surprise winner in the form of a continental rider. In the women's race look out for Nicole Brändli (Bigla).

Gregory Rast is the current Swiss champion, but this could change on a challenging loop that includes an elevation of over 300 metres. The men will ride the course 12 times for a total of 205 kilometres while the women do exactly half of that.

The event will be held in Brugg, where it was supposed to be last year but had to be canceled. This year's course makes up for any disappointment in having to wait an extra year. The Swiss always have to worry about rail road crossings with their fabulous public transit system, so the community had to work around the public requirements to come up with a very challenging 17 kilometre loop. By Bjorn Haake

United States of America

Kristin Armstrong (Team Lipton)
Photo ©: Matthew Moses
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Unlike the majority of Europe, the USA will not crown its elite men's national champion in June. Because many of the top US professionals are in Europe at this time of year, the title race will be held at the beginning of September. Current road and TT champions, George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) and David Zabriskie (Team CSC) will instead spend this week gearing up for the Tour de France.

July's US elite national championships will award titles in the road race and time trial for elite, junior and U23 men and women as well as junior and U23 criterium titles. The men's and women's elite and US Pro criterium titles will be decided in Downer's Grove in August.

The defending elite women's road race and time trial champion, Kristin Armstrong, will be back to defend both titles. After winning the Nature Valley Grand Prix and the Queen of the Mountains prize at the Liberty Classic, the TEAm Lipton rider looks to be an unbeatable force. However, there are several dark horses that could take her stripes away: Athens Twilight and Joe Martin winner Katharine Carroll and 2005 champion Katheryn Curi (Webcor) will fight for the road race title, while 2004 Time Trial champion Christine Thorburn will try to regain that title again this year.

Defending men's elite champions Matt Cooke (road race) and Ian McKissick (time trial) have gone pro with the Navigators and BMC teams, respectively, and are therefore ineligible to race in this championship. The men's races should be a wide-open affair, with the Abercrombie & Fitch team of USA Crits series leader Mark Hekman, who won three jerseys - for the sprint, mountains and overall leader - at the recent Tour of Ohio, could be the team and rider to beat.

In the U23 men's race, defending champion Craig Lewis will have the support of six members of the TIAA-CREF squad. Lewis will have Steven Cozza, Tom Peterson, and Taylor Tolleson at his side - three riders who raced the Tour of California with Team Slipstream and will be a formidable threat. They'll have to contend with no fewer than 12 members of the VMG racing team - the squad of 'cross standout Bjorn Sealander, Collegiate Champion Alex Boyd, and multiple Junior National champion Tejay Van Garderen among others - along with U23 'cross champion Jesse Anthony and his Priority Health team. By Laura Weislo

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