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Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News, April 21, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

Cunego successfully steps ahead in Ardennes

Italian conquers Amstel Gold's Cauberg and confident with season objectives

By Gregor Brown in Valkenburg, The Netherlands

The podium with Schleck, Cunego and Valverde
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

Damiano Cunego noted his affection for the Ardennes Classics exactly six months ago, on October 21, 2007. The Lampre rider had just taken his second win in the fall Classic Giro di Lombardia, with two wins in one of cycling's Monuments in the bag, Cunego looked ahead to the Spring Classics to round out his palmarès.

The 26 year-old Italian from Verona took an impressive win in the Dutch Classic Amstel Gold Race. He now heads into the remaining Classics as a new favourite, in particular the one other Monument which suits this diminutive rider: Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Cyclingnews listened in as he explained how he won the race that ended in Maastricht and what it means for his future, which includes riding the Tour de France this summer.

"It was my first experience in this race, but today I won," Cunego stated after arriving to the top of Valkenburg's Cauberg first after out-sprinting Luxembourg's Fränk Schleck and leaving Spain's Alejandro Valverde lagging behind.

Last fall he confirmed to Cyclingnews his springtime intentions, "I would say the Spring Classics are very important to me. I will try at Amstel [Gold], Flèche [Wallonne] and Liège [-Bastogne-Liège]. ... I think that it is possible to have a good run and get a great result, and it is an opportunity to improve my fitness. I know that I can do well in these one day races."

Cunego has little experience in the Ardennes Classics, in fact, this morning in Maastricht was his first time to line-up for Amstel Gold – a 257.4-kilometre race taking in 31 climbs.

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"My team-mates did a lot of work," he confessed. Cunego won the Giro d'Italia in 2004 and Italy's one-day Classic Giro di Lombardia two times, but lacked knowledge of the Dutch race. Fortunately his team guided him through the day. "Daniele Righi has done this race five times and [Alessandro] Ballan two or three times, so I was able to rely on them. They would tell me where there were dangerous curves. Also, the director [Fabrizio Bontempi] back in the car knows the race like the back of his hand, and he gave me good directions."

Continue to the full feature.

Lampre names six for Cunego at the Tour de France

By Jean-François Quénet in Alanya

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) will save himself for the Tour
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

While most of the teams are busy selecting their riders for the Tour of Italy starting in three weeks, Lampre has already designated most of their men for the Tour de France whose Grand Départ is scheduled in Brest on July 5.

It's confirmed that Damiano Cunego will not take part in the Giro, a race he won in 2004, but he'll focus only on the Tour de France this year. Classic star Alessandro Ballan who already came second in a stage of the Grande Boucle in Carcassonne in 2006 will once again save his strength for July, a plan that made him a winner of the Hamburg Classic last year.

Lampre will also line up their sprinter Danilo Napolitano, Marco Marzano, Daniele Righi, Paolo Tiralongo and 'Patxi' Vila. "We clearly aim at winning the overall classification of the Tour de France with Cunego this year," directeur sportif Bruno Vicino said on the start line of the 7th stage of the Presidential Tour of Turkey in Antalya. Two other Lampre riders have yet to be chosen.

Schleck falls slightly short of Amstel repeat

By Gregor Brown in Valkenburg, The Netherlands

Fränk Schleck with his CSC colleagues
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

Luxembourg's Fränk Schleck fell slightly short of repeating in the Amstel Gold Race, the Dutch one-day Classic that helped put his name in the spot light back in 2006. The Team CSC rider, who turned 28 years old last week, was the first to begin his sprint in the last five-hundred metres, but could not shake Italy's Damiano Cunego, who came around in the final 150 metres for the win.

"I know that I don't have the punch like Damiano or [Alejandro] Valverde, so I could not wait for the last 200 metres," confessed Schleck following his ride in the 43rd Amstel Gold. He watched Cunego pass him, but was able to hold of Spain's Valverde for second spot.

"It was my only chance to get away, to try to drop the guys before the final sprint," the winner of the 2006 race and the 2006 Tour de France stage of Alpe d'Huez continued. His move did not come from the gut, in fact, it was the order from the team car that got him moving. "I did not want to do it, but I heard Kim Andersen and Bjarne Riis yelling in my earpiece, telling me I should just try it. That is what I did and it almost tuned out to be a win."

Schleck praised his competitor, Cunego; "Damiano knew he had to keep my wheel, and he did, he did everything right."

Even though the win did not materialise, he came the closest he has to a win all year, and it bodes well for the coming two Ardennes Classics: the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. "I am happy I followed the orders of Kim Andersen and Bjarne Riis, I was able to finish second. ... I will take the start of Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège; I won't tell you that I will win the races, but I will do my best to win them."

CSC played its cards well in the finale, and was one of two teams along with Caisse d'Epargne to make the winning move with more than one rider. Schleck was able to benefit from the company of team-mate Karsten Kroon while vying for the win.

"We could not work with Caisse, we tried to do our own race and play it out," Schleck clarified of any possible accord with the Spanish team. "There are so many different teams and that is what makes the races exiting.

"Kroon had good legs, and we could use each other. I tried to attack many times, I did not have a chance to wait for the sprint. If Karsten Kroon is ready, he is fast for the sprint as well."

For more on Fränk Schleck read Motivation running strong.

Garcia Dapena a late bloomer in Turkey

By Jean-François Quénet in Alanya, Turkey

Overall winner David Garcia Dapena
Photo ©: Tour of Turkey
(Click for larger image)

When he took the yellow jersey of the Presidential Tour of Turkey in Marmaris at the end of stage three, David Garcia Dapena from Karpin-Galicia was prompt to suggest that he'd be the winner of a national Tour, should he keep the lead till the end. He maintained his position with a lot of self-control, something he has learned in his previous life as a domestique.

In Turkey, at the age of 30, he took only the second win of his professional after the Tour of the Future in Portugal the year after he started his career in this country with LA Pecol in 1999. For the first time last year, he joined a Spanish team. At Karpin-Galicia, he was a very esteemed helper for Ezequiel Mosquera who came fifth in the 2007 Vuelta a España. Despite his devotion to his captain, Garcia Dapena managed to finish the Spanish Grand Tour in 23rd.

"I enjoy riding for my team-mates but this week has been great as I was able to work for myself with a dedicated team around me," he said. "In the final two stages, we've received the help of the sprinters' teams and that has made our life easier, but until the end I've been afraid of crashing."

He was so enthusiastic that he appeared in the middle of the train made for the sprinters with one kilometer to go in the final stage. "I'm not a pure sprinter but I was close to compete against them," he recalled.

"This win will give me the serenity for the coming races," he continued. "Back home in Spain, I'll take part in the Subida al Naranco, then at the Vuelta Asturias and at the Volta Catalunya. Maybe with less pressure, I'll win more. For the second part of the season, I'll prepare for the Vuelta a España again. It's our team's main goal for the year."

Garcia Dapena is a world traveler now. He started his 2008 season in Malaysia at Le Tour de Langkawi. "The Tour of Turkey is my second holiday destination this year," he noted. "Malaysia was also great and I took 100 pictures there but here in Turkey, I didn't have any time for that. I was totally focused on the result."

The Tour of Turkey gave Garcia Dapena the feeling that it's never too late to win, even after almost ten years of surviving in Portuguese teams.

Clever Ivanov stymied by cramps on Cauberg

By Brecht Decaluwé in Valkenburg, The Netherlands

Ivanov started the decisive attack
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

The Astana team might not be able to participate in all the big races this year, but they've made sure to put on a show on the events which will have them. The team was not invited to any of the races of Tour de France organiser ASO, including Paris-Roubaix and the upcoming Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but in the Amstel Gold ProTour race, they made a strong bid for victory with Russian veteran Sergey Ivanov. The 33 year-old is the team's man for all the Spring Classics and after a decent performance in the Ronde van Vlaanderen he showed once again that his cleverness can bring him close to the victory in a tough race like the Amstel Gold Race.

Before the race the friendly Russian confided to Cyclingnews that he had his plan ready to chase the victory. "I have a chance. I'm not in better form than other years, but I'm more fresh," Ivanov said and reminded us of the non-selection of his team for Paris-Roubaix. "I'll try to sneak away before the big guns are firing," Ivanov realized it was the only chance he had to finally claim a win in a Spring Classics, although one shouldn't forget about his win in the E3-prijs Harelbeke back in 2000.

Back in 2002, Ivanov finished as runner-up in the Amstel Gold Race behind his Fassa Bortolo team-mate Michele Bartoli. That second place was the result of a four-man sprint which also included Michael Boogerd and Lance Armstrong. Back then the finish wasn't yet on the Cauberg, so it was a flat sprint. This year the Russian arrived at the last kilometre in a group of nine with an uphill sprint on the Cauberg ahead of him. The Russian was no match for the lighter, punchier riders around him, and he had to settle for seventh place 18 seconds behind winner Damiano Cunego.

"I had some cramps in the finale, and I couldn't pull the pedals like it should be on the climbs. That's why I tried to get away [before the climb]," Ivanov explained. He attacked right after the steep Eyserbosweg where nobody from the favourites managed to get away. The Russian was quickly joined by Christian Pfannenberger and the duo created a small gap on the peloton.

"I was in a very good position with Pfannenberger," Ivanov realized. The duo was then joined by seven strong riders and they headed for the ultimate ascent of the Cauberg, in Valkenburg. "I was without a chance in the sprint," the 33-year-old Russian commented, "I gave my best and I'm happy with my performance; clearly I'm in top condition. It's too bad there are no races left for me anymore," Ivanov lamented. "So, I'm forced to take a break due to those problems. I'm going to Russia to spend a vacation with my family."

Aussie champ outrun by roller-coaster peloton

By Brecht Decaluwé in Valkenburg, The Netherlands

Matthew Lloyd (Silence-Lotto)
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)

The Australian champion's jersey of Matthew Lloyd was spotted in a prominent position several times during the Amstel Gold Race. The Silence-Lotto rider was well placed close to the finale, but caught the attention of the cameras on two separate occasions when he ran into difficulty. The first time was with about 50 kilometres to go, when Lloyd was caught behind some indecision at a traffic island and had to come to a stand-still.

Despite the high pace at the front of the peloton, the 24 year-old climber still managed to come back and re-position himself near the front as the series of 31 short hills were being tackled. After the ascent of the Eyserbosweg, where the decisive attack usually is made, there was still no real selection done and Lloyd did all he could to hang on with the favourites.

However, things do not always go according to plan, and one false move dashed any hopes of a high finish for the man from Melbourne. "I was very unfortunate. I was feeling very good and we had Johan Vansummeren and Mario Aerts in the front as well. Just after the second last climb [Eyserbosweg] I was coming back down on the descent and unfortunately – as everybody was so desperate – I flew off the road," Lloyd described his misjudgment on a left hand corner.

"It's quite fitting for a race like this, because it is like being in a video game. Constantly you've got to watch out for corners, there are climbs and descents and it is just crazy," Lloyd described the experience he enjoyed in the Netherlands. "It is good training for the Giro [d'Italia] and this week was going to be tough anyway, so crashing is just part of it," the Australian champion explained that his crash wasn't ruining his mood too much.

To get ready for these races Lloyd didn't race in Belgium, but lined up in Spain. "I've been racing in the Vuelta a Pais Vasco. That was good and I had a few close calls in the finishes there," the Silence-Lotto rider recalled. Lloyd finished fifth in the fourth stage towards Vitoria-Gasteiz that was won in a group sprint by Kim Kirchen. "The form is coming but it's nothing you can rush in races like this. It takes a long time," the Australian champion explained.

The Ardennes Classics continue with the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this week, and the former ice-hockey champion looked forward to those races. "Last year Flèche sort of panned out similarly compared to this race. A group gets away and the teams with the guys who want to win the race obviously chase it down. There's nothing crazy about the weather this week and hopefully it goes positively again. For the Belgian teams you got races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the end of the week, which is just massive. It runs exciting, and for me this week is just another step in the development. Obviously you want results, but you've got to keep the bigger picture in mind," Lloyd pointed out he is still a very young rider that has time enough to chase great results in the Spring Classics.

Volksbank's mixed bag at Giro d'Oro

Team Volksbank had mixed feelings after the Giro d'Oro on Sunday. Its three Swiss riders shone in the Italian race, as Florian Stalder was in a three-man escape group for over 70 km, Andreas Dietziker finished 11th, and Elias Schmäh won the sprint ranking. But the bad news was that allrounder Harald Morscher broke his collarbone in a crash on a descent after 100 km.

"The rider in front of me wanted to avoid a puddle and swerved left, so I had to brake," the 35-year-old said. "The front wheel slid directly away and I went shoulder first into a stony cliff." He is scheduled to undergo surgery Monday and wants to be back on his bike as quickly as possible.

"We're running out of riders," said team manager Thomas Kofler. "After Hungerbuhler, Harry is the second loss in a short time. I hope that he will be fit again for the Österreich Rundfahrt, which is main goal this season." Hungerbuhler broke a bone in his foot in the second stage of the Driedaagse De Panne - Koksijde and will be out for several weeks. (SW)

Aldag, D'Hont, Ullrich and Swiss Cycling

Rolf Aldag, a former Team Telekom rider and now directeur sportif for Team High Road, isn't worried about claims that former soigneur Jef d'Hont is going to write about him in his new book, "I am very, very relaxed about this," Aldag told sid. "He can write all the books he wants to, as far as I am concerned. It is fascinating to see how someone can say I only told half the truth. He doesn't know anything about the protocol of the 17 hour-long questioning with the Bundeskriminalamt (German federal police), the public prosecutors in Freiburg and the anti-doping agency."

D'Hont's first book last spring sparked off a series of doping confessions by former Telekom riders. He has said his next book, which will appear in November, will contain further details about doping on the team in the 1990s.

The Belgian also indicated that he would go to court against Jan Ullrich. He claimed last May that he had given the German rider at least one shot of EPO, a statement for which Ullrich sued him. D'Hont has now said that he will counter-sue and ask to have his costs covered as well as ask for payment for damage to his reputation, according to the German news magazine Focus.

In other Ullrich news, the head of the Swiss cycling federation clarified the situation of the Swiss investigation the German, who rode under a Swiss license. Bernhard Welton of Swiss Olympic, which handles doping investigations for the Swiss sports federations, said that he would forward his recommendations to the disciplinary committee this summer.

However, Swiss Cycling's technical director, Roland Richner, caused confusion when he told the German web site,"We can't and won't undertake anything." Viktor Andermatt, head of Swiss Cycling, told Cyclingnews, "The investigation is not being conducted by Swiss Cycling. At this time we cannot give you any definite information. The Taggespiegel printed merely the opinion of the responsible person, although because he is not in the country, the statement cannot be confirmed." (SW)

(Additional reporting and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)

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