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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for April 20, 2006

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

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Cyclingnews will cover the 60th edition of the Dauphiné Libéré live as of stage 4 on Wednesday, June 10, at approximately 15:00 local Europe time (CEST)/ 23:00 Australian time (CDT)/ 9:00 (USA East).

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Flèche Wallonne wrap-up: Valverde impresses on Mur

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) has taken his biggest career win by sprinting to the top of the Mur de Huy ahead of compatriot Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Karsten Kroon (CSC). As usual, the race was decided on the murderously steep climb, with a medium sized group of riders coming to the bottom of it together. Björn Leukemans (Davitamon-Lotto) had a small lead with 1 km to go, but was passed by Koldo Gil (Saunier Duval) and former winner Igor Astarloa (Barloworld). But the steepness took its toll and in the end, Valverde was too strong for Sanchez and Kroon, with Amstel Gold Race winner Frank Schleck ending fourth, just ahead of Patrik Sinkewitz and last year's winner Danilo Di Luca.

The race was run in fine conditions and saw a two man breakaway consisting of Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) and Frederic Finot (Française des Jeux) form after approximately 30 km, gaining a maximum of 7'35 on the second passage of the Mur de Huy after 95 km. But the gap came down quite quickly once the pace upped behind, and with 78 km to go, the peloton was together. The next breakaway of note came from Alexandre Moos (Phonak) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank), who went away with 63 km to go and gained 1'31 with 31 km left before the attacks started behind. Thanks to some hard work by Liquigas and Quick.Step, the pair were caught on the Côte de Ahin with 12 km to go, and the finale began.

A group of 15-20 riders containing most of the big names formed over the top of the second last climb, and grew before the Mur. Björn Leukemans (Davitamon-Lotto) tried to gain and advantage with 2 km to go, but it was not enough once the climb began to bite. After Gil and Astarloa failed, it was Valverde with the strongest finish.

Also see: Full results, report & photos, Live report and Photos.

Women's Flèche: Welsh wunderkind takes victory #3

By Anthony Tan in Huy

Nicole Cooke
Photo ©: Mitch Friedman
(Click for larger image)

It's one thing to meet expectations, but another to exceed them. Before today's ninth edition of the women's Flèche Wallonne, Nicole Cooke had already claimed two victories in this race, and all eyes were on this Welsh wonder to do it all again, despite her team appearing to have considerably less firepower than the might of Nürnberger and T-Mobile.

But today atop the Mur de Huy, this recently-turned 23 year-old did what she set out to accomplish, and it had plenty to do with the unity displayed her Univega team of women, who bonded together to give her every possible chance of victory, with Cooke arising from the climb's savage slopes a comfortable winner over Judith Arndt (T-Mobile) and Trixi Worrack (Nürnberger).

"Well, I was confident I would be up at the front, challenging for the podium, but you can never be sure because there's so many strong riders and you can never tell," said Cooke to Cyclingnews, minutes after crossing the line and still puffing and panting from her explosive effort she's both renowned and feared for.

Asked what her team plan was at the start of the day, she exclaimed with a smile: "To try and get me to win somehow!

Also see: Full results, report & photos and Photos.

ProTour lead unchanged

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) still leads the ProTour individual rankings after Belgian Classic Flèche Wallonne, even though the Belgian did not participate. Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) is also still in second position, while the Spaniards Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Flèche winner Alejandro Valverde have moved up six and twelve spots respectively.

ProTour rankings as of April 19, 2006

1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step - Innergetic                         129 pts 
2 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                          105 
3 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                 89 
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse D'Epargne-Illes Balears  86 
5 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                                      85 
6 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC                                  84 
7 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Team Milram                             72 
8 Antonio Colom Mas (Spa) Caisse D'Epargne-Illes Balears            71 
9 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step - Innergetic                     70 
10 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) T-Mobile Team                             60 
1 Team CSC                                                         132 pts 
2 T-Mobile Team                                                    117 
3 Rabobank                                                         116 
4 Gerolsteiner                                                     113 
5 Lampre-Fondital                                                  109 
6 Quick Step - Innergetic                                          109 
7 Davitamon-Lotto                                                  106 
8 Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                               105 
9 Phonak Hearing Systems                                            98 
10 Caisse D'epargne-Illes Balears                                   95 
Full rankings: Individuals, Teams, Nations 

T-Mobile still waiting for victory

German T-Mobile team is still hoping for its first victory on European ground this current season. The magenta squad has scored two stage wins in the Tour of California earlier in the year - both achieved by sprinter Olaf Pollack - but hasn't yet made that breakthrough win on "home" turf it is looking for. Similar to last year, where the outfit also had to wait until Liége-Bastogne-Liège for one of its riders, namely Alexandre Vinokourov, to represent T-Mobile on podium spot #1, the German squad is longing for a morale boost.

But it is already well under way, as shown by recent results in the Spring Classics. The team always ends up placing one or several riders on the podium or in the top ten of the classification, which would indicate that a victory is just a question of time. In Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne, three T-Mobile riders made a strong showing: Patrik Sinkewitz came in fifth on the Mur de Huy and Russian teammate Sergey Ivanov placed ninth, followed by Matthias Kessler.

Sports director Valerio Piva was satisfied with the result. "Just like at Amstel Gold Race, it was our goal to ride offensively and aggressively from the very beginning to bring our top riders in a prospective position in the finale," Piva said. "We achieved this. It was a great performance of the team."

In the final ascent in Huy, Patrick Sinkewitz managed to hold onto the leading riders the longest. "We tried to attack all the time to get in a good position," said Sinkewitz, who changed from Quick.Step to T-Mobile this year. "It wasn't quite sufficient for a victory, but we can still be satisfied with our performance."

Ullrich motorpacing

Germany's Jan Ullrich is back to training at full intensity after a minor knee problem had forced the T-Mobile rider to cool down in his preparation for the Tour de France. Ullrich is currently in Tuscany, where he underwent a "satisfying" performance test on Wednesday.

"I'll compete in my first race this season as of next Tuesday, at the Tour de Romandie," Ullrich wrote on his personal website. "After a short handicap because of my knee irritation I'm completely back on track now." The 1997 Tour de France winner said that his irritated right knee has healed well.

"I can completely strain my knee again," he continued. "Even after speed training, where I pace behind a motorbike at full speed, I don't have any problems anymore. I'm on the saddle for up to six hours every day. I'll be increasing the intensity further next week so that I can hold on to the race in Switzerland."

It is not yet known whether Ullrich will indeed be at the start of the Giro d'Italia as was the plan since the beginning of the season.

2008 Grand Départ in Brest?

After Strasbourg close to the German border this year and British capital London next season, the "Grand Départ" (Big Start) of the Tour de France could be staged in Britanny's coastal town of Brest in 2008. At least, so it has been reported by French newspaper Ouest France.

The Regional Council and the mayor of Brest have started discussions with the Tour organisers ASO. While race director Christian Prudhomme cannot reveal the start of the 2008 Grande Boucle until autumn 2006, the paper said that the hosting of a prologue in Brest on July 5, 2008, as well as a first stage in the Finistère department on the next day was the subject of current negotiations.

The Tour de France hasn't started in Brittany since 1995, when the 'Grand Départ' was given in Saint-Brieuc. The town of Brest has already organised a prologue back in 1974, won by the cannibal Eddy Merckx.

Contre la montre pour le coeur

For the third time, the 'Contre la montre pour le coeur' (Time trial for the heart) will held in Liège, Belgium on Friday, April 21. It is a charity event for the 'Centre de recherche en cardiologie pédiatrique', a medical institute researching child heart problems. The event is a two-rider time trial held over 1600 metres around Place Saint-Lambert, with a number of pro riders forming pairs with journalists and amateur riders.

Last year, Axel and Eddy Merckx, Constantino Zaballa, David Etxebarria, Nico Sijmens, Filippo Pozzato, Frederico Reino, Francisco Mancebo, José Vicente Garcia Acosta, Stanley Scott, Koen de Kort, Angel Vicioso, Nico Mattan, Cadel Evans, Davide Bramati, Sébastien Rosseleer, Philippe Gilbert, Christophe Brandt, Thierry Marichal, Rick Verbrugghe, Christophe Detilloux and many more were all present.

The riders will participate again this year: Gilberto Simoni already promised his attendance. The event will be held in the same place as the start of Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège.The race director of ASO, Jean-Francois Pescheux, Jean-Marie Leblanc and the new general director of ASO, Christian Prudhomme will also be present.

Time trial testing for Euskaltel

Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi has been doing some special time trialling tests for the first time this year, reported Spanish Marca. Under the guidance of new technical director Igor González de Galdeano, a time trial specialist formerly at Liberty Seguros/Once, the whole team has undergone the testing in a velodrome, recorded by TV cameras. Looking for perfect positioning, pedal stroke and so on, Euskaltel is looking to improve its capacities against the clock by optimising aerodynamics.

AG2R for upcoming races

French ProTeam AG2R has announced its rider line-ups for the Grand Prix de Villers-Cotterêts (April 22) and the Tour de Romandie from April 25-30, 2006. At the French one day race, directeur sportif Gilles Mas will guide Renaud Dion, Julien Loubet, Laurent Mangel, Lloyd Mondory, Jean Patrick Nazon, Erki Putsep and Christophe Riblon.

At the ProTour stage race in Switzerland, AG2R will be represented by José-Luis Arrieta, Sylvain Calzati, Cyril Dessel, John Gadret, Stéphane Goubert, Francisco Mancebo, Christophe Moreau and Ludovic Turpin. Tour de France hope Mancebo is already in good shape, finishing 34 seconds down on Flèche Wallonne winner Alejandro Valverde on Wednesday.

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