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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News, December 18, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown & Ben Abrahams

Revamped route for Tour de Langkawi

By Shane Stokes

The route map
Photo ©: Tour de Langkawi
(Click for larger image)

The race organisers of the Tour de Langkawi have taken a brave step with the 2008 edition of the race, moving the traditional - and always decisive - stage to the summit finish of Genting Highlands to the second day of competition.

The wall-like climb normally features close to the end of the Malaysian tour, setting things up for a suspenseful finale but also potentially blunting early-race aggression by the big favourites. The aim of moving the stage far closer to the start of the race is clearly to provoke more open racing in the subsequent stages. In order to ensure that the final outcome remains unknown for as long as possible, the traditional last-day criterium has been replaced by an undulating road stage to Kuala Lumpur which includes two third category and one second category climbs.

The 1,381.5 kilometre event begins in the north of the mainland on February 9. The opening stage takes the riders along mainly flat roads from Alor Star to Kulim, venue for the second stage finish in 2007.

A bunch finish is the most likely outcome but if a sprinter holds the first yellow jersey of the race, he will know that his time at the top of the leaderboard is limited. Stage two is the shortest of the 2.HC ranked tour but arguably the hardest; the 125.4 kilometre stage begins near the guava orchards of Tapah and passes the World War II battlefield at Slim River before heading for the high mountains.

The Hors Categorie climb of Genting Highlands will be on view from a long way out and once onto the steep ramps near the bottom, the peloton will fragment into many pieces as the lightweight climbers do their thing. Time gaps at the top will be considerable, upending the general classification and ruling many out of contention for the final victory.

A number of stages then follow which seem destined for sprint finishes or, perhaps, a small breakaway. Day three is the longest, taking the riders 195 kilometres from Lanchang to Cukai and passing over some undulating terrain en route to the finish.

Stage four is the second-shortest at 128 kilometres and skirts the coastal roads in the east en route to the finish at Kuala Rompin. The roads are mainly flat and a bunch gallop is once again the most likely outcome. Day five extends further along the coast, the 185.7 kilometre route from Kuala Rompin to Bandar Penawar being the first of three located in the province of Johor, and passing tropical forest reserves en route to the finish near Singapore.

Malaysia Youth & Sports Minister,
Photo ©: Sharonjane Liau
(Click for larger image)

The 183.2 kilometre sixth stage starts in Bandar Penawar, home to one of Malaysia's elite sports schools, and later crosses a Category Four climb just before Ulu Tiram. The mixture of flat and hilly terrain will take the riders towards a finish in Johor Baru, which last appeared in the race in 2004.

The same city is also the venue for the start of stage seven, a 128 kilometre leg to Batu Pahat. This features just one category four climb but the short distance is likely to result in some very fast racing en route to the finish.

A transfer then follows to Melaka, the start venue for the penultimate stage of the race. The route crosses a second category climb during the 150 kilometre distance to the finish in Seremban, providing a springboard for attacks on the yellow jersey.

However the final day seems a tougher prospect, with two third category and one second cat climbs dotted along the 153.8 kilometre ride to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. The race will conclude with three circuits in Kuala Lumpur before the final gallop to the line at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Building in Dataran Merdeka.

A record total of 25 teams have been forecast for the 2008 tour. Five of these will be ProTour outfits, while 10 others will come from Asia. The identities of the teams and riders will be revealed closer to the race.

13th Tour de Langkawi (2.HC), Malaysia, February 9-17, 2008

Stage 1 - February 9: Alor Star - Kulim, 132.4 km
Stage 2 - February 10: Tapah - Genting Highlands, 125.4km
Stage 3 - February 11: Lanchang - Cukai, 195 km
Stage 4 - February 12: Kuantan - Kuala Rompin, 128 km
Stage 5 - February 13: Kuala Rompin - Bandar Penawar, 185.7 km
Stage 6 - February 14: Bandar Penawar - Johor Baru, 183.2 km
Stage 7 - February 15: Johor Baru - Batu Pahat, 128 km
Stage 8 - February 16: Melaka - Seremban, 150 km
Stage 9 - February 17: Seremban - Kuala Lumpur, 153.8 km

Klöden one of Astana's 'cards to play'

By Susan Westemeyer

Andreas Klöden will be one of Astana's "cards to play" in 2008
Photo ©: Andrea Hübner
(Click for larger image)

Team Astana will go into the 2008 season and the Tour de France with a three-pronged attack, featuring defending Tour champion Alberto Contador and two podium finishers - Andreas Klöden and Levi Leipheimer - who would be ready to step into the breach if needed. "Yes, the team is built around Contador, but we have other cards to play," incoming Team Manager Johan Bruyneel told Cyclingnews on Monday afternoon.

When Klöden announced earlier this month that he would ride for Astana again in 2008, he said that if his form is right, "then I feel able to reach the podium at the Tour." He has finished second in the Tour in 2004 and 2006. His new team-mates for the coming season, Contador and Leipheimer, finished first and third in this year's Tour.

Contador is not concerned about the potential rivals on his team. "There is no problem with Leipheimer, he has already worked for me in many races," he told the Spanish website "I don't know Klöden, but I have seen how he has put himself in the service of other riders like Ullrich or Vinokourov."

Horner in hospital

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Kansas City, Kansas

Chris Horner, who is racing this cyclo-cross season for the Indiana University Medical Center, was scheduled to race in the elite national cyclo-cross championships in Kansas City on Sunday, but was noticeably absent from the starting grid. The American that recently signed to race with Astana on the road for the 2008 season was rushed to a local hospital after it was determined he needed an emergency appendectomy.

Horner told Cyclingnews that all went well with the procedure and he is expected to make a full recovery. "[I'm] feeling much better today," he said. "Hope to be back on the bike in 10 days or two weeks."

Horner was not the only top rider visiting hospital instead of the finish line on Sunday, as defending champion Ryan Trebon collided with an out-of-control rider during the elite race, causing him to lose consciousness momentarily.

Riccò already reconnoitred all decisive 2008 Giro d'Italia stages

By Gregor Brown

Riccardo Riccò confident in his knowledge of the 2008 Giro d'Italia
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Italian Riccardo Riccò has already reconnoitred all of the decisive stages of the 2008 Giro d'Italia. The 24 year-old, winner of this year's stage to Tre Cima di Lavaredo, attended the recent presentation of the 38th Nove Colli Gran Fondo where he noted his familiarity with the Italian Grand Tour.

"I have already evaluated with attention the route of the next Giro d'Italia," said Riccò. 'The Cobra' (Riccò's nickname in Italy) and neo-pro Ermanno Capelli tested the 228-kilometre stage 19 on December 8. "I already went and tried the never before used stage of Monte Pora, in the Brescia-Bergamo zone.

"The last week will be very demanding with the queen mountain stage [stage 20] and the time trial into Milano [the Giro's final stage] – and maybe it will be on the very last day that the Giro is played out."

Riccò lives in Sassuolo (eastern Emilia-Romagna), an area that will host a key portion of the 2008 parcours. The Terra Romagnola will be visited for three days: following the Giro's first rest day in Pesaro, there will an individual time trial run on Tuesday, May 20, to Urbino, and a mountainous run to the hometown of Marco Pantani, Cesena. "There will be the crono of Urbino and the stage to Cesena with the climbs of Carpegna, Perticara and Sorrivoli," said Riccò. "The stage – another never before used – is very demanding and not to be undervalued. You will need to be very attentive. For my part, I am at a little bit of an advantage with respect to the others because I know the zone well. I will try to make a good impression in front of my tifosi Romagnoli..."

Riccò looks forward to his third professional season as the leader of Saunier Duval. "I will start the Giro d'Italia as a captain, and with [Leonardo] Piepoli we will lead the team in the fight for the classification," he said.

Gilberto Simoni, Riccò's former team leader, left Saunier Duval this winter to join Gianni Savio's Diquigiovanni-Selle Italia team, but the two-time Giro champion continues to rank his former protégé as a true threat. "He is the person who can create the most fear," said Simoni today to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Because he's a madcap and has the courage to attack."

Riccò was impressed with the parcours of the cyclo-tourists' Gran Fondo that will be run on May 19. Though he has ridden the climbs, he has never done them all in one day. "I prepare for the Giro using the climbs – they are hard - and it is true, it will not be for everyone. Honestly, I have never done the entire route in one day only."

For more read Riccardo Riccò: too much like Pantani?.

Basso rides for Intervita

By Gregor Brown

Ivan Basso looks ahead
©: Roberto Bettini
Click for larger image

Ivan Basso, who was banned until 24 October, 2008 for his involvement in Operación Puerto, continues to ride and maintain some of the form that saw him win the 2006 Giro d'Italia. He has formed an alliance with Intervita, a non-governmental organisation formed to benefit disadvantaged children in the southern hemisphere, and will wear its colours when he partakes in various charity rides.

The 30 year-old took part in the Pedala con i Campioni last week in his home zone of Varese. Basso has directed his efforts towards a baby girl in India, where Intervita has been present since 1999 in the region of Maharashtra.

"I will be happy to help the association in its work," said Basso. "It is a solid gesture of helping the unfortunate to construct a better future for themselves and their communities." He will continue to take part in charity rides with the Granfondo del Deserto, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, January 29 to February 5.

"I have returned to ride in the group," said the ex-Discovery Channel rider on his website, "I have never stopped training. ... Everyday I effectively ride three to four hours. ... I also am in the gym, to complete my winter preparations."

The rider, known as 'Birillo' in the documents related Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in Madrid, had denied any involvement in Operación Puerto before finally confessing that he had blood extractions. Fuentes' offices were searched in May 2006, revealing around 100 blood bags, some of which belonged to Basso.

Boonen named Belgian Sportsman of the Year

By Susan Westemeyer

Tom Boonen was named Belgium's Sportsman of the Year for 2007 on Sunday evening, narrowly beating cyclo-cross ace Sven Nys. "I am very happy with this trophy," Boonen told the Belga press agency. "I must admit I was nervous. I thought Sven Nys would take it. He has done a lot of great things, and we are friends."

Boonen, who also won the prize in 2005, had 595 points and Nys had 573. Third was basketball player Axel Hervelle with 334 points.

"I didn't win any of the big Classics this year," Boonen noted. "Because of that, some people thought I had a bad season, but I do not think so. I had 11 wins this season, including two Tour stages, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne and the E3 Prijs in Harelbeke. And I was the first Belgian since Eddy Planckaert in 1989, who was able to win the green jersey in the Tour."

"I dedicate this trophy to my mother and father," he continued. "Personally it was not an easy year for me, and they are the two people who have helped me. Thanks, mom and dad!

"This prize comes at a really good time," added the 27 year-old. "It is the motivation for next year." He is already preparing for that next year, as he flew back for the presentation from a Quick.Step-Innergetic team training camp in Tuscany, Italy.

Nys had previously won the Kristallen Fiets as best Belgian cyclist. He attributed his second place finish to Belgian regional differences. Since he had won the earlier prize, he would have expected to win this award too, he said. "But 'cross riding is not popular in Wallonia, and I knew that it would be difficult. I am happy for Tom Boonen."

Lampre and Liquigas granted ProTour extensions

The UCI's Licenses Commission has decided to renew the ProTour licenses for Italian teams Lampre and Liquigas. The Lampre team's license was due to finish at the end of 2007, but has now been extended to cover the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Liquigas has been granted a two-year extension to its current license, which now runs until the end of 2010.

Court orders Dedecker to pay token damages

A Belgian court has ordered politician Jean-Marie Dedecker to pay damages to the management companies of Quick.Step-Innergetic team manager Patrick Lefevere and Tom Boonen, but for a total of one euro. The politician had claimed on television that three of the country's top cyclists travelled to Italy in February 2006 to undertake illicit doping practices, and Lefevere sued for damages. No riders' names were mentioned, but Lefevere felt the comments were directed at him since virtually all the top Belgian riders race for his Quick.Step-Innergetic team.

Esperanza bvba (Lefevere's management company), the IPCT (International Professional Cycling Teams) and Celio Sport & Image (Tom Boonen's management company) filed suit against Dedecker for damages of 25,000 euros each. Dedecker in turn filed a countersuit, claiming that the suit against him was reckless and provocative. He has said that he will appeal Monday's ruling against him.

In ordering the token payment, the judge ruled that the complainants had not proved that they had suffered damage from the comments, and added that recent doping cases have caused more damage to cycling than Dedecker's comments.

The politician claimed that the point of the lawsuit was to force him to keep quiet. The judge did not agree, saying that Dedecker had been imprudent in making the remarks. The law of freedom of speech does not allow someone to make accusations without proof, the judge ruled.

Lefevere felt vindicated with his token victory. "I don't care about the one euro, but I find it important that the right thing has been done," he told Sporza radio. "It surprises me that Dedecker is lodging an appeal. He is a poor loser."

Santuccione banned for life

The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has handed a life ban to controversial doctor Carlo Santuccione, preventing him from any future involvement in sport. Santuccione, who was previously banned from the Italian cycling federation from 1995-2000, was accused of supplying doping products to athletes as part of the Oil for Drugs investigation.

CONI released a statement on its website Monday, stating that the full reasons behind the ruling would not be released until a later date. Santuccione has publicly denied any wrongdoing in the Italian media, saying that other riders became jealous when his cyclists started winning races.

Giro d'Italia champion Danilo Di Luca was among Santuccione's most high profile clients, and is currently serving a three-month suspension for his involvement with the doctor, dating back to 2004. In June this year, Italy's Anti-Narcotics Group (NAS) produced a 572-page document detailing audio and video recordings of DI Luca, Eddy Mazzoleni and others meeting with Santuccione to inject Erythropoietin (r-EPO) in March 2004.

For more details on the Oil for Drugs investigation, read NAS blitz nets nada and NAS raid Giro again from 2004.

Davide Santuccione follows professional contract dream

By Gregor Brown

Davide Santuccione is pushing to live out his dream of becoming a professional cyclist despite being known as the son of Carlo, the doctor at the centre of the 2004 Oil for Drugs investigation. "I know that ahead of me awaits a good challenge," he commented in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"I will defend him, but maybe it has little value since I am his son," continued the 23 year-old from a training camp in Cecina (Livorno) with Team Acqua & Sapone, the team in which he should turn professional. His younger brother, Simone, also races and desires to become a professional.

"My dad wishes that I complete my studies [in motor science]. Even this year, he asked me to take a course to try to enter into the field of medicine. I did not do it because if I passed I would have to bid farewell to the bike."

Logic would have it that if DI Luca and others have been suspended for frequenting the doctor then Davide and Simone should also be suspended. "You're kidding," was his response when posed the question in the interview. "But this is something that many have said. I hope that they leave me to follow my dream, which is to be a racer. I don't have fear of all the anti-doping controls that I will have to do."

Podlesch hit by car while training

Carsten Podlesch, the last ever Stayer World Champion, was hit head-on by a car on Monday in Berlin while training for the Dortmunder Weihnachtspreis. He crashed heavily and suffered injuries to his head, chest, shoulder and ankle. The German was being treated in hospital on Monday evening, but no further information was immediately available.

Stayer racing (high speed derny racing) was dropped from the World Track Championships in 1994 after Podlesch became the last man to win the event that year. The discipline remains popular in Germany and is a regular feature of Six Day track events.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Future Publishing (Overseas) Limited 2007)