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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News for September 4, 2006

Edited by Hedwig Kröner, with assistance from Susan Westemeyer

Rest Day wrap-up:

Green Bullet wrapped in gold

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

After nine days of hot and mountainous racing, the Vuelta riders will surely enjoy their first rest day. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-IB) is in possession of the first maillot oro of his career as the overall leader and the rest of the overall contenders have sorted themselves into a rough finishing order. Carlos Sastre (CSC), Andrey Kashechkin (Astana) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) look like the men with the best chance to depose Valverde. John Kenny reviews the first nine stages.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-IB) lost a small amount of time on stage 5, the Vuelta's first mountain stage. However, it looks like he has worked the rustiness out of his legs after his enforced lay-off caused by a broken collar bone sustained at the Tour. His display of power on stage 7 to overhaul Alexandre Vinokourov on the steepest part of the Alto de El Morredero climb underscored his return to form. He'll face a fight all the way to Madrid from Carlos Sastre (CSC), currently sitting in third place, and Vinokourov, as well as some of the dark horses of this Vuelta.

Vinokourov has won the previous two stages prior to the rest day and may be one of the few riders rueing the timing of the rest. His enforced absence from the Tour seems to have done him the power of good.

To read the full Vuelta rest day wrap-up, click here.

Vino vs. Valverde: the showdown

Vino and Valverde
Photo ©: Unipublic
(Click for larger image)

"As of today, the two Kazakhs are my biggest rivals," said Vuelta a España leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) after stage 9 on Sunday. "I chased them down on the last kilometre, but Vinokourov was out of reach. That was the hardest stage I've ever ridden." Indeed, Astana's Andrey Kashechkin and Alexandre Vinokourov put some pressure on their pedals on the way up the Alto de La Cobertoria, and were rewarded by a second stage win for Vinokourov.

But initially, the plan had been a little different. "We wanted to win the stage and take over the leader's jersey," said 'Vino', who had his younger teammate in tow as he powered towards the stage finish. But Kashechkin lacked endurance in the finale, and is now 27 seconds behind Valverde on General Classification.

"I have been trying to get the 'amarillo' jersey for years," continued the determined Spaniard. "Now, I finally succeeded. It's really special to me and I will do everything in my power to defend it."

T-Mobile's black Sunday

Bernhard Kohl (T-Mobile)
Photo ©: Unipublic
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Berni Kohl is leaving T-Mobile at the end of this season, and he had hoped to go out with a top ten finish in the Vuelta a España. However, a crash on a descent Sunday put an end to all such hopes.

On the descent of the Puerto de San Lorenzo, he fell and went over the barrier, tumbling down the slope. "Bernhard must have steered wrong in a curve and so came off the road," said directeur sportif Frans van Looy. "We were only informed about somewhat later, because nobody noticed the crash, not even the race jury."

Kohl was taken to the local hospital. "It looks like Bernhard didn't suffer any serious injuries. That is the most important thing But it is all the more disappointing in light of his great performance up until now." The young Austrian had gone into the stage as eighth overall, only one and a half minutes down on then-race leader Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel).

According to his website, Kohl was released from the hospital late Sunday night. "Berni didn't have any broken bones, but he has severe back pains."

T-Mobile lost two other riders during the stage, as Thomas Ziegler and Andre Greipel quit the race. The team is now down to five riders, as Andre Korff dropped out of the fifth stage with stomach problems.

Grupetto peer pressure made Förster hang on

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Gerolsteiner sprinter Robert Förster learned on Sunday that the hardest thing about a race is not the rivals or the course itself, but "the fight against yourself." And he won that fight yesterday, telling proudly, "We all survived! A great feeling."

After only 15 or 20 km, he was ready to throw in the towel and "get in the plane, go home." Directeur sportif Raimund Dietzen persuaded him to try it a little longer. As they started up the first Cat. 1 climb, it was teammate and roommate Marcel Strauss who helped him along, saying, "Just ride, Frösi, don't even think about it."

Eventually he caught up with teammates Markus Fothen and Heinrich Haussler, and the trio made plans to drop out at the feed zone. But before that, they joined the Petacchi group, and realized they weren't the only ones who wanted to take the easy way out. "It's just that, in this kind of a situation, no one wants to be the first to give up. If you drop out and the other 14 make the finish, then you can't look at yourself in the mirror. The others are torturing themselves just like you are. So you keep on going."

Things got better on the next to last climb. Förster felt that his only chance to survive was to ride at his own rhythm, which just happened to be a little faster than that of the grupetto. So he, Haussler and Staf Scheirlinckx of Cofidis took off together. Once they hit the top, they went for all-or-nothing, riding "80 or 90 km/h in the curves, even if you don't know what's there. Heinrich and I are both good descenders. Some colleagues say we're crazy. I'm not afraid, I find it fun," he said, but conceded, "But it is dangerous, you have to admit that."

The trio stayed together for the final climb and made the finish 32 minutes down. "I don't know why we ride such stages. Sure, those in the lead like Vino or Valverde put in great performances. But I think that someone like my teammate Strauss accomplished even more than they did. He rode 205 km behind everyone else, never saw more than an 8-man group. You need a lot of morale in order to get through that. In those six hours you age a few years. It is not only the physical stress, but also the mental, the fight against yourself."

McQuaid wants Basso DNA test

The head of the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the president of the Italian cycling federation, Renato Di Rocco, saw their relationship disturbed last week: Francesco Moser, head of the association of professional cyclists (CPA) told Italian TV his point of view on the discussion about doping in the sport. "If all riders can be brought to the same level then we should stick with doping controls. If not, then for the professionals perhaps the solution is [total legalisation]," said Moser, who topped Eddy Merckx' hour record in Mexico City in 1984.

His audacious comments meanwhile led McQuaid to criticise the way in which the Italian federation has been dealing with the Basso case. "When you see the stance the German federation is taking, and the president of the Italian federation openly supporting Basso, they are two opposite ones," he told AFP. "I support the German proposals based on solutions."

At a meeting of the European Cycling Union, the continental confederation of the UCI, in Milan on September 2, McQuaid and Di Rocco could explain themselves. "Let's not confuse the Italian federation with liberalisation," Di Rocco told Gazzetta dello Sport. "The person who declared certain things [Moser] should respond. We have done so much against doping: We delegated the controls to the CONI (Italian Olympic Committee) in accordance with the UCI and WADA, and bought three new Sysmex instruments to be on UCI level. The Basso case is in the hands of the CONI now, and I as president cannot put any pressure on them. There is maximum transparence, and we are also for zero tolerance."

McQuaid, meanwhile, believes that if the riders implicated in Operation Puerto want to prove their innocence, they should do it by DNA testing. "(The Basso case) is not a doping case where there is a positive result, to be confirmed by the counter-analysis," he noted. "It is being examined by a magistracy, where there can be quibbles and shortcuts. The only way to clearly demonstrate his innocence would be a blood DNA test: all the implicated riders should ask for it."

Lloyd signs with Davitamon-Lotto

South rider, Matt Lloyd, has signed a two year contract to ride with Davitamon-Lotto. The 23 year-old Victorian has been one of the most consistent performers of the team in 2006, highlighted by his third place overall in the U26 Tour of Italy and fifth overall in the Tour of Japan.

"Matt only began cycling competitively three years ago but has quickly developed into a very talented climber," said team director Brian Stephens. The team was launched this year as part of the Cycling Australia-AIS high performance program with the aim of preparing young riders for the challenges of a professional cycling career.

León Sánchez and Gutiérrez selected for World's TT

By Antonio J. Salmerón

It wasn't necessary to wait for the Vuelta to finish for Francisco Antequera, the Spanish national team selector, to decide that Astana rider Luis León Sánchez will accompany José Ivan Gutiérrez (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) in the race against the clock of the World Championships in Salzburg. León Sánchez was pleasingly surprised when he got the news Sunday night: "For me it is a big surprise that overwhelms me with satisfaction, mainly because they trust me for a test like the World Championships, but, really, for me, this season is excessively extended, and I don't how I will do."

Unlike Jose Iván Gutiérrez, who sacrificed his participation in the Vuelta to prepare for the individual time trial at the World's, León Sánchez is currently riding the Grand Tour, where he is among the main specialists against the chronometer. "He is a young specialist with great possibilities, and, in this sense, we want León Sánchez to acquire enough experience for his promising future," Francisco Antequera told Cyclingnews. In addition, Antequera was also satisfied with Oscar Freire back to competition in Poland: "I had doubts on Freire because of his ongoing health problems, but he has assured me that they have been solved."

DFL happy with Tour of Britain outcome

After the Tour of Britain ended its final loop around the city of London, Team DFL-Cyclingnews expressed its satisfaction with the outcome of the race, certainly the most important in the season of the small continental team. "It was very fast today," said the team's sprinter, Russell Downing. "It was always going to be hard against Mark (Cavendish), he's a great sprinter. Of course it's a little disappointing not to take the Green Jersey home but it's been a great experience being on the podium this week with such big stars and the team have been great."

Team manager Nick Collins was also delighted. "What a race! I'm over the moon," he added. "We came here in order to see if we could match last year's excellent performance and we've exceeded all expectations: Green Jersey leadership, highest placed British rider again and plenty of positive coverage. This is the perfect way to show that as we are moving up to Pro Continental in 2007, we are ready."

Ullrich marries

Jan Ullrich and Sara Steinhauser got married over the weekend. According to Bild magazine, the two were married in a civil ceremony, with only the immediate family and close friends in attendance. They will also have a church ceremony and reception next week, which is to be held "in a secret location in the Alps. The location is so secret that the nearly 100 guests don't know yet, where they will celebrate with Sara and Jan. They will learn it only two days before."

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