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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Latest Cycling News for October 10, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

The dust settles on Eroica's le strade bianche

The Siena countryside offered a spectacular racing environment
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

The first running of the Monte Paschi Eroica revealed that Italy has a race to match some of the great pavé Classics of the north. While Alexandr Kolobnev (Team CSC) hammered towards Siena on the white gravel roads that form le strade bianche cycling enthusiasts marvelled at the dramatic race conditions on offer in Tuscany.

The 180-kilometre race was comprised of seven sectors of sterrato ('gravel'), for a total of 60 kilometres. The roads were made even more difficult as some of those sectors presented stiff climbs followed by sharp and twisty descents – ones that forced Kolobnev to gingerly handle as he soloed through the final sterrato sector.

Race organiser RCS Sport, organizer of the Giro d'Italia and Milano-Sanremo, has seemingly found an intriguing race that motivates cyclists to something beyond themselves and that will build a big following. Andrea Tafi, the only Italian to win both Northern Classics Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen, was in Siena to watch the race unfold, and was happy with what the organizers had created.

"Starting today Italy has its own Roubaix," said the retired cyclist to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "It was a spectacular show. The Eroica has become a Classic. Let's mark a date, put it at the beginning of March, like our Het Volk, leading to the [Northern] Classics." Sunday, the 41 year-old Tuscan rode the cyclo-tourist version of the event.

Piazza del Campo
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Perhaps if RCS Sport moved the race to an early March date it would draw more attention as preparation for the Northern Classics, and provide an option for those riders who don't want to travel to Belgium so early in the spring. Filippo Pozzato, this year's winner of Het Volk, missed out on the winning move in Eroica, but he was impressed with what he saw.

"There were eight of us, but only Ballan was working, the others were always in the wheels. We could not make any ground," noted 'Pippo' after the race. His group was lagging behind, and in the sixth and penultimate sector he attacked on a riser of 16%. Pozzato was joined by Alessandro Ballan and Gilberto Simoni; the latter discouraged the chase as he had two Saunier Duval-Prodir team-mates in the front in Mori and Benítez

"I liked the course a lot," Pozzato continued. "Better than Roubaix because, other than the pavé it is only flat, here there are climbs. The overall elevation gain in 180 kilometres of racing is 3000 metres; harder than Roubaix. The dust does not make a difference because you are so concentrated."

Gilberto Simoni after the dusty affair
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Two-time Giro champion Simoni used the strength he saved and his mountain bike riding skills to zap his partners as Siena's Piazza del Campo neared. He attacked to ride solo, and finish tenth. "Pozzato and Ballan were the strongest," 'Gibo' clarified after the race with a film of white dust covering his body. "I was also going well, especially on the descents. ... It is no joke, the sterrato climbs scorched the legs. The whole day was one big tremble."

Showing himself after being largely out of the limelight since riding last year's Giro d'Italia for Phonak was José Enrique Gutierrez. The Spaniard of Team LPR was part of the elite move of eight riders.

"I did not expect to arrive; I started as a team helper. However, at the end my form was very good, and I did what I could do," explained 'Bufalo' in the Siena piazza known for its bi-annual horse races – Palio di Siena.

Shortly into the race Gutierrez had a mechanical that saw him lose four minutes but, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the second team car helped him make his way beck to the leaders. The mechanic held on to his rider while he 'fixed' the rider's bike, something that happens in cycling when the race officials are not around.

In total, 113 riders started the epical journey (Fränk and Andy Schleck did not take part as planned due to a missed flight from Luxembourg), and 42 made it to the historic Piazza del Campo.

Rojas thinks of the future

By Antonio J. Salmerón

José Joaquín Rojas in Murcia
Photo ©: Caisse d'Epargne
(Click for larger image)

José Joaquín Rojas of Caisse d'Epargne is starting to make a name for himself. The 22 year-old Spaniard has only one win for the year but was in the mix in many of the big races, making himself known amongst the peloton.

It happened this year when one of cycling's patrons called him out. In Germany, Jens Voigt asked, "Eh, you, what is your age? 22! Incredible! You have a great future." "When somebody like him is interested in you, it is a huge honour," José Joaquín Rojas said today to Cyclingnews.

His late brother, Mariano, who raced for Team ONCE under the direction of Manolo Saiz like José Joaquín when he was with teams Liberty Seguros and Astana, encouraged him to take up cycling. Their personal cycling profiles are different, and this is perhaps the reason why José Joaquín eludes any comparison.

"I am fast for the arrivals, mainly if a selection has already been made," he continued. "I confront mountain stages better than the pure sprinters, but I need to someone to help me until the last 500 metres." However, the Caisse d'Epargne sprinter born in Cieza (Murcia) lacks a lead-out man. "It is like [Oscar] Freire at Rabobank, but, at least, he counts on Horrillo and Flecha."

Even so, the balance of his second season, the first with Caisse, "is very positive." He noted, "I have been very close to reaching some important victories." He finished in the top five in more than a twenty stages, and emphasized the victory gained in Torres de Cotillas of the Vuelta a Murcia, where he took the leader's maillot.

In the Spring Classics he was able to mix with the front-runners, and came away with good sensations. "I was able to verify that, in the future, I can fight for the victory... I think so."

The young, promising rider lasted until the last kilometres in Paris-Roubaix, finishing 26th. "That was a beastly experience due to the extreme hardness of the pavé sections, which I already raced in 2006 during my debut. However, it exceeded expectations. ... It takes you a couple of days just to recover."

Rojas also fared well in his first Grand Tour. In the Giro d'Italia he rode strongly until the tenth stage, where he left the race "as it was predicted." He believed in the possibilities of being in the Vuelta a España later in the year. "Not to be there was sort of a deception for me. ... I had demonstrated to be very strong.

"Then I fixed my objectives on a victory in the alternative calendar that was planned for me," he continued. He finished second in two stages of the Tour of Poland.

Not to be in the World Championships in Stuttgart was another small let down. "You always aspire to be at the Worlds, and especially after making the national teams in non-elite categories. I do not know where I could have finished because I was not there. ... It is necessary to continue aspiring."

Ascani heard in mid-October

Luca Ascani, who tested positive after taking top spot in the Italian National Time Trial Championships, has been summonsed by the anti-doping prosecutor of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) for October 15, 12:30. The 24 year-old tested positive for EPO (Erythropoietin) following the event in Novi Ligure on June 26, and faces up to a two-year ban.

Giro del Piemonte lacks sponsorship

Peloton rolls through Piemonte
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The 94th Giro del Piemonte, scheduled for October 18, is annulled for 2007 due to lack of funding. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the organizer stated that the withdrawal of sponsors as the reason for not holding the event this fall. The 2006 edition was won by Daniele Bennati of Lampre-Fondital.

The race in northwestern Italy is one of the country's oldest. 2006 was the 100th year of Piemonte; starting in 1906, the race was won by Italian Gerbi. In 1943 and 1944 the race was skipped due to war, in 1968 due to bad weather, in 1975 and 1976 for organizational reasons and in 2000 because of road construction.

German Continental team to fold

By Hedwig Kröner

Another German team will very probably come to an end after this season. Continental squad Heinz von Heiden might be the third team to cease its activities this year after Team Notebooksbilliger and Wiesenhof, were also unable to find a sponsor to continue.

"That is very bitter," commented team director Roman Jördens to Radsportnews. "With our young and talented team, we had built up a good reputation throughout Germany." Jördens was still in negotiations with some possible sponsors, but didn't have too much hope as cycling has been in the line of fire in Germany all year because of various doping affairs and confessions.

Cyclo-cross youngster Philipp Walsleben earned the team its greatest victories this season by becoming German U23 champion and Worlds bronze medallist in the discipline this year. Former Team Coast pros Malte Urban and Christoph von Kleinsorgen are also part of the team's roster, but now have to look for another home. "The riders would like to stay, but some of them already have offers from other teams," said Jördens.

Tonkov main actor in Tour movie

By Hedwig Kröner

Pavel Tonkov on the Giro podium in 2004
Photo ©: Sirotti

Film director Pablo Sereno-De La Viña has an ambitious project for 2008: make a movie about the Tour de France with former pro and 1996 Giro d'Italia winner Pavel Tonkov playing the main part. According to velo101, the feature film will be entitled July act III, and is scheduled to be shot over an eight-week period, starting on August 1, 2008, in various locations throughout France, but also in Spain.

Nevertheless, the project still lacks financing. The directors hope to raise the estimated budget of €660,000 by selling the movie on DVD prior to the shoot, and will send out letters to cycling clubs in France and Spain advertising the film. The DVD will cost €12 and feature three hours of material including bonus scenes. It will be available in November 2008 if everything goes as planned.

Barloworld for three weekend races

Robert Hunter will lead Team Barloworld in Paris-Tours, the ProTour race to be held this coming weekend. The 256-kilometre race is mostly flat, with a sprint finish expected. The team notes that Hunter "is one of the favourites after his sprint success in the Tour de France in July."

The team is also sending Enrico Degano, Fabrizio Guidi, Giosuè Bonomi, Diego Caccia, Paolo Longo Borghini, James Perry and Hugo Sabido.

The team will have another squad in Italy for two races over the weekend. Saturday is the Giro dell'Emilia, a 198-kilometre race with a "tough uphill finish." That is followed Sunday by the GP Beghelli, which is "definitely a lot easier," since the final 100 kilometres feature only a few short climbs.

Those two races will see Pedro Arreitunandia, Félix Rafael Cárdenas, Giampaolo Cheula, Alexander Efimkin, Kanstantsin Siutsou and stagiaire rider Ben Swift.

The Six Days of Burnaby

As the little velodrome of Burnaby, Canada, has grown over the past decade so its Six Day race. This year's race, scheduled for December 31 to January 5, is expected to be bigger than any of its previous editions. Organizers will have more of the same but on a grander scale, including an international Sprint and Keirin competition featuring some of the top riders in North America.

The main showcase in 2006 was the professional men's Madison Teams. Organizers had a strong list of riders: the Canadian National team, the Canadian Champion team, the Symmetrics Pro team, ProTour rider Tyler Farrar paired with Kenny Williams for the Cofidis team, the US National Team, the USA U23 and Hungarian U23 Champions paired together and local Symmetrics professional paired with local junior Cody Campbell.

More details are expected as the Six Day draws nearer.

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