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Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News, April 20, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

Schumacher under pressure at Amstel

By Brecht Decaluwé in Maastricht, The Netherlands

Stefan Schumacher
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Stefan Schumacher was the surprise winner of last year's Amstel Gold Race, and now as defending champion finds himself under a bit more pressure than when he came to the race as lieutenant to team-mate Davide Rebellin in 2007.

Last year the 26 year-old German arrived at the start in Maastricht with a leg injury that he sustained in País Vasco. That injury threw his chances in the Dutch Spring Classic into doubt, but perhaps that uncertainty gave him a bit of an advantage. The bald German from the Gerolsteiner team made the final selection with Rebellin, and jumped before the final ascent of the Cauberg with three kilometres to go. While the other favourites marked each other, 'Schumi' held off the chase, and won by a comfortable 21 second margin with Rebellin taking the sprint for second.

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This year, Schumacher has better condition, but also a heavier weight to carry with bib number one. "Thanks to that injury there wasn't too much pressure, which is good of course," the German recalled of last year. "This year I feel pressure, but that's normal. This is the week for which I worked all winter long; these are my races. It's the most important part of the season and for riders like me there's always pressure in these races," Schumacher explained to Cyclingnews.

Regardless of his form, Schumacher didn't want to speculate on the outcome of the race. "Sometimes you do everything perfect in the preparation, but still things go wrong in the race. Nevertheless it's not a lottery because if you're a good professional then you know how to be good. On the other hand we're still humans, so sometimes you can't keep everything under control," Schumacher said.

By winning the Amstel Gold Race again Schumacher would become one of the few riders who repeated the win on the Cauberg, but the German didn't prefer that above winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège for the first time. "A repeat win would be great, but a win in the other races would be fantastic as well. I'm not a specialist in statistics. My goal is to win one of those races."

Traditionally the riders for Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège get ready in Spain while the other riders are battling for the victory on the cobbles of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. Of course Schumacher was one of the riders in the peloton that raced in País Vasco. "I wasn't lucky in País Vasco. I had a very good feeling in the legs, but there were always small problems in the finale," he admitted. "Sometimes I had bad luck with the bike, but also in the sprint due to crashes. I didn't crash myself luckily. I'm optimistic about my condition," the 26 year-old looked back on his performance in Spain.

His time in the Basque Tour did not show him any one rider who would be his main competition for Sunday. "I've seen a lot of guys who are strong, but there was nobody who was stronger than the others," Schumacher stated. "Contador was a level above the rest, but I don't think he's riding tomorrow; he's not a man for the classics anyway. So, there's nobody I would call the big favourite," Schumacher said.

Stefan Schumacher is defending champion
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

When asked about Kim Kirchen, who won two stages in País Vasco, Schumacher didn't gave him much credit. "I don't know if Kirchen can do it. I've never seen him on the podium in a race of more than 200km, but then again I wasn't the big favourite last year either thanks to that," Schumacher realized that earlier results didn't matter too much. "You never know. Kirchen was really strong, but he won the stages that finished in a sprint and the Amstel Gold Race will not be like that."

When asked about the characteristics of the most famous Dutch one day race, Schumacher was clear. "It's up and down the whole day, there's no time to recover. Nobody's fresh if you come to the last 30 km. Some guys are dead in the finale, and the rest is not finished," Schumacher laughed. "On the Kruisberg and the Eyserbosweg the race starts and then there's not a second where you can let you attention slip away. Hopefully that [the Kruisberg] will be the moment in the race where you see me up front for the first time."

The weather conditions didn't matter too much for Schumacher, although he was worried with the rain that was pouring down on Saturday. "Three years ago I did it in the rain, but we will see. It is a little more dangerous as there are a lot of small streets, and a lot of corners. It's a very nervous race. It's somewhere between the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It's not comparable with the Tour de France. This is another discipline," Schumacher explained.

Schumacher expects to be at the front in the finale on Sunday, but just as last year, when the team had three riders in the front group before using up Fabian Wegmann, he anticipates he will not be the only Gerolsteiner rider at the head of the race. "On paper we have the strongest team. We have Davide [Rebellin] and me, but Fabian [Wegmann] will be there in the finale as well. It's always an advantage to have a lot of guys in the front. Last year we had two guys in the group of seven, so we could attack one after the other," Schumacher explained.

By having the number one and two of last year it might become some sort of a problem when they are clearly the strongest riders again in the 2008 edition. For now, it's uncertain who is the team leader at the German Gerolsteiner squad. Last year it seemed like Schumacher was annoyed by comments in the press that he owed the victory to Rebellin. "I have a good relationship with Davide, but last year I think I was the strongest rider and I felt like I could win the race in the sprint on the Cauberg as well.

"It was an impressive victory and I'm really proud of it," he said firmly. "Then I don't want to hear shit from the German press who feel that I didn't earn the win because I had my team-mate who covered my attack. Davide did a good job, but I did a good job as well," Schumacher clarified that both riders respect each other.

Rebellin arrives calm for a nervous Amstel Gold

By Gregor Brown in Maastricht

Finally, yellow for Rebellin!
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Italy's Davide Rebellin arrived as calm as he possibly ever has for the start of the Ardennes week thanks to his win in the Paris-Nice last month. The 36-year-old of Gerolsteiner – known as 'Tintin' among fans and in the peloton – looks to strike on the Cauberg where he last won in 2004 and where he helped his team-mate, Stefan Schumacher, win last year.

"I arrived here last night," confirmed Rebellin to Cyclingnews from the team's hotel in Belgium, just across the border from Maastricht and the start of Sunday's 43rd Amstel Gold Race. The rider from Veneto, who now lives in Monaco, won the race in 2004 on his way to become the only rider to win all three Ardennes Classics; Amstel, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, in the same year.

"My memories with this area really started in 1999 [sic, 2000 -ed.] – I was third at Liège. Then I had the second place in 2001 and I won in 2004," he continued. However, even with his successes, Rebellin is at ease going into the 257.4-kilometre Dutch Classic.

"I did two and a quarter hours today [Saturday], with the last part behind the car to get the rhythm right; this will get my legs at the right place for tomorrow. Normally, I try to arrive in good form for these races because they suit my style and I am able to win these. So, every year I prefer to have this schedule. These small climbs are good for me, and if it is a long classic, over 150 kilometres, I go well."

His tranquility is helped by the win in the prestigious French stage race, Paris-Nice, where he overcame his rivals on the final two stages near his home base in Monte Carlo. This win last March reassured him his training schedule is on track for the Ardennes, even if there was some doubt about his form coming on a little too early. "I was a little bit worried, but my programme was how it was in the other years," confirmed Rebellin. "Maybe my condition arrived so soon because this year I did not have any physical problems, nor did I come down with a cold."

In 2007, Rebellin came away with the runner-up spot to his team-mate, German Stefan Schumacher, before going on to win La Flèche Wallonne three days later and finishing fifth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège the following Sunday. "I will try to win one again this year, for sure," he assured. "Liège is maybe the most important and the hardest of the three; if I had the chance and selecting it would be Liège, but I would really take any of them."

Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner)
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

The help will come from his younger team-mate, a force that is welcomed by Rebellin. "It is good that the team has Schumacher to help play the role of dual leadership. Last year, he was still a little unknown and was able to play his cards in the right way. This year, it will be different because he is better known and the race will be following him, like for me. Therefore, we have to be attentive when and where we go – move in the right moments. ... I know that having someone like Schumacher in the team is very helpful."

He added that they can decide who will win if the are both still in the mix at the race's final climb. "If we arrive on the Cauberg tougher, then it will be up to us to decide who is the strongest to win the race."

The Italian has intimate knowledge of the course, which, with all of its twist and turns, seems to suit a home rider. "Amstel is very hard," stated Rebellin. "There are always climbs and descents, a lot of turns – it is nervous. All of these at the end add up; is a heavy burden and it takes its toll on the head. The Cauberg, which we do three times, is tough. The arrival will usually have 15 or 20 riders, and the strongest will win."

Van Goolen out, Arvesen in Amstel

Team CSC's Jurgen Van Goolen will not take the start of Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. The 27-year-old Belgian has been suffering from stomach problems and will be replaced by Kurt-Asle Arvesen in the Dutch classic.

"I've been suffering these really bad pains in my stomach for a while, but we've discovered the cause of the problem and I'm now receiving the proper treatment," Van Goolen said in a team statement. "It turns out I have an infection in my small intestine and I've had trouble digesting certain types of food," he explained. "I think I'll only need a couple of weeks brake from races, but I'm OK to train normally, so my form shouldn't suffer too much." Van Goolen traveled to Lanaken to meet with team manager Bjarne Riis about his goals for the rest of the season.

New ProTour race for Russia from 2009

By Shane Stokes

The UCI has confirmed that from next season, the Grand Prix of Sochi will be elevated to ProTour status and thus becomes Russia's first-ever race at that level.

This year's event began on Saturday and runs until Tuesday, and will be the last held under the current 2.2 format.

The jump in status is a very considerable one, but has come about after lengthy talks between the UCI, the Russian Federation and the Government itself. It is the latest development in the UCI's push to both globalise the sport and to redevelop the ProTour concept.

"It will be a stage race of probably five or six days," UCI President Pat McQuaid told Cyclingnews on Saturday," adding that the race is penciled in for next May. The actual date won't be finalised until the world championships this year.

"I have mentioned before that we would hope to have races in Russia and China in 2009. Russia certainly is moving on; the UCI has been over there in the past week or so, defining a potential route and planning the event with the Russian government and the Russian Cycling Federation."

According to the Irishman, the race will be in the region of five to six days in length and held over varying terrain. It will be run in this format for the foreseeable future. "There are no initial plans to grow it, to run anything longer than that, but we will see how it develops and how the Russian government wants to develop it with us."

The original aim of the ProTour was to have the best riders and the best teams at the best races. The withdrawal of many key events by organisers ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic has necessitated a change in focus; instead of featuring all the historical flagship events from the traditional countries, the series will now seek to develop some existing events plus introduce some new ones outside Europe.

Further globalisation for ProTour v2.0

This year, the Tour Down Under became the first event to move up via this format. 2009 will see more, with the Grand Prix of Sochi and possibly other events doing the same. "The race in China could also happen next year," said McQuaid. "It is not as far advanced as Russia because there is a lot more to the bureaucratic processes there. It takes a lot longer to get things moving in China when compared to Russia. But we are looking for it [for 2009], it is hoped that it would be up and running next year as a legacy event for the Olympic Games."

While the big teams are now no longer guaranteed automatic access to events such as the Tour de France, he reiterates that the re-jigged ProTour will bring new benefits, including the possible introduction of a whole new range of team sponsors.

"This expansion is very important for the teams because they need new markets, and there are good commercial opportunities in places like Russia and so forth," he said. "The globalisation is important in the development of the sport and also in the development of new commercial markets."

The Tour Down Under paved the way as the first event in ProTour version two, but Australia had already a very strong cycling tradition. The Grand Prix of Sochi will be an important barometer in seeing how successful running such events will be in countries with a smaller current awareness of the sport. However, given that Russia has the ninth-largest population in the world with 142 million citizens, the potential benefits are considerable.

Ball happy with Georgia entry

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

Rock Racing's owner Michael Ball
Photo ©: Emory Ball
(Click for larger image)

Rock Racing's owner Michael Ball spoke with reporters on Friday about his team's eleventh hour inclusion into the Tour de Georgia, which begins Monday. Ball said that while it was unfortunate to be racing as a replacement for Saunier Duval-Scott, he is happy that the team – specifically his riders Santiago Botero, Tyler Hamilton and Oscar Sevilla – will be given the opportunity to race.

"The intention was for [Botero, Hamilton and Sevilla] to compete in the Tour of California, and I feel very confident that these guys will do it," Ball said about his full team racing. "I'm so excited to finally find out how these guys compete. I think they have a fantastic opportunity to win some stages and to win this race. If Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer come over I think it would be a mano-a-mano with Sevilla and Botero."

The inclusion in the Tour de Georgia was offered during a court hearing regarding an injunction that Rock Racing had filed against Medalist Sports and the Tour de Georgia Foundation, co-organizers of the race, for what Rock said was a breach of a verbal agreement made between the parties during the Tour of California to include the team in the race. Ball said that all litigation had been dropped following the offer of the race to have Rock replace Saunier Duval-Scott.

Cyclingnews spoke with Rock Racing's attorney in Georgia Michael Weinstock, who said that the hearing was mostly spent ironing out details about Rock & Republic becoming a sponsor of the Tour de Georgia. Ball said that the sponsorship was not in any way a condition by Medalist for racing. "I know it could appear that way," Ball said. "There are no other conditions... they asked if we can conduct ourselves in a way that doesn't freak [Medalist] out! They are not used to the Hollywood style."

Ball continued saying that the team will not have the same "entourage" that it did in California. "Will there be the entourage that we had in Tour of California? No. Will there be a camera crew, yes, I am documenting this whole thing." He also added that there will be no special podium girls due to the fact that it takes weeks of casting to pull that off.

Questions were also asked about Ball's choice to include on the roster the three riders with alleged connections to Operación Puerto, as well as American Kayle Leogrande, who has accusations surrounding alleged drug use from last year from former team staff. "I don't want to get into the questionable past, there are a lot of guys in the peloton with a questionable past. [The peloton] is cleaner today and will continue to be cleaner. You just can't vilify these guys for what may or may not happed in the past."

Changing from preparing for one race to another in less than a week is a tough task, both for riders and staff, but Ball said his team is funded to be able to split squads, with another team racing at Sea Otter this weekend. "We set our goals for the year and continued training," he said. "We are using the preparation from one race to get to the next." He also added that the team is racing stage races in Colombia and Mexico in the coming weeks. "I hope the Medalists of the world understand what we are doing."

USADA launches pilot program

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has begun a new program to incorporate a new strategy into its campaign to ensure athletes are clean in advance of the Beijing Olympics, it was reported Saturday. The program has not been officially announced by the anti-doping agency, but was brought to the attention of the press by athletes at a US Olympic Committee news conference in Chicago.

Dubbed "Project Believe", the program is a voluntary battery of tests performed on the blood and urine of the 12 participating athletes throughout the year, and is similar to the 'biological passports' introduced by the UCI this year. The Associated Press received confirmation from USADA CEO Travis Tygart that a longitudinal testing program is being developed, but said a formal announcement would be forthcoming. The tests are in addition to normal anti-doping controls.

Track and field athletes Bryan Clay and Allyson Felix announced that they were part of the project, which could help repair the reputation of American athletics which has been hammered by the imprisonment of multiple Olympic champion Marion Jones for her part in the BALCO drugs scandal. Jones was stripped of her five Olympic medals last November after she admitted to taking a designer steroid. She was sentenced to prison for lying to federal investigators.

Longitudinal testing is the theory behind the 'biological passport' as well as the anti-doping programs pioneered by Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard for Team CSC and by the Agency for Cycling Ethics for Team Slipstream.

Team Type 1 on the hunt for Georgia stages

Team Type 1 will get its first taste of hors categorie racing in the USA in the Tour de Georgia presented by AT&T which beings on Monday. The squad will line up with a diverse roster aimed at delivering a stage victory either in the bunch sprints on the flat roads of the early stages, or in the mountains which come later in the week.

The first few stages will be the domain of sprinter Emile Abraham or breakaway artists Moises Aldape, Ian MacGregor, Fabio Calabria or Valeriy Kobzarenko, while Australians Glen Chadwick and Matt Wilson and American Chris Jones will aim for the hills.

"I think it's a really solid squad as long as everyone stays healthy," said team director Ed Beamon. "We should able to contribute to an aggressive race and put on a good show and hunt for some stages."

The team tasted success earlier this year in Asia, where Shawn Milne took second place overall at the Tour de Taiwan and second on the team classification at the Tour of Langkawi. Unfortunately, Milne could not race the Tour de Georgia due to a broken thumb sustained at the Redlands Bicycle Classic two weeks ago. Also sidelined by injury is Team Type 1 co-founder Phil Southerland, who would have been competing in his "home" state (he lives in Atlanta), Jesse Anthony (Achilles tendon) and Daniel Holt (broken wrist).

"We've had injury after injury and after injury," Beamon said. Two riders on the squad will toe the line after recent recoveries from illness and injury. Wilson will see his first racing action since breaking his wrist in a training crash on March 19 and Glen Chadwick has recovered from a bout with Epstein-Barr Virus following the Tour of Langkawi in February.

Team Type 1 is also inviting fans to visit the team's sponsor booth Sunday, April 26, at Centennial Park in Atlanta. Part of the Health & Wellness expo, the booth will feature Team Type 1 sponsors Dex 4, Nuun, OmniPod and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Tour de Cure. Product samples, information and the chance to win prizes will precede a free autograph session by members of Team Type 1 following that day's race.

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