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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, April 21, 2008

Edited by Bjorn Haake

The Mur's madness

By Gregor Brown

Last year Rebellin repeated his 2004 victory. Can he do it again?
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Every year as La Flèche Wallonne approaches there is always one thought that springs to mind: the Mur de Huy. The climb – a 1300-metre leg-snapping ascent in the city of Huy – will once again conclude the 72nd running of the Belgian Classic when it is run this Wednesday, 199.5 kilometres in length, starting from Charleroi.

The Ardennes Classic has been run for 73 years now and it can sometimes be overlooked as it is sandwiched in between the Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège; nonetheless, it is a race that packs a punch with 10 côtes (or 'hills' in this French-speaking part of Belgium).

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The 'Wallonne Arrow' will travel eastward when it is shot off at 11:20 from Charleroi. The parcours kicks into action after the passage of Wanze, where the riders will encounter the 10 sharp and nasty côtes. The most feared ascent is the Mur de Huy – or the 'Wall of Huy' simply stated. It will be done three times, with the final ascent being the the race-ending climb, similar to the Cauberg in Amstel Gold or the Ans in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but one that is much steeper, with a 9.3 percent average gradient and some sections of 14, 19 and 25 percent.

"Last year, I bided my time, gambling it all on the final climb of the Mur de Huy," said 2007 Winner Davide Rebellin to Cyclingnews this last week. Therefore, normally, the race comes to a slow-motion battle on the final ascent in Huy. However, there are other climbs that will come into play before the final of three assents of Huy, namely in the final 104.5-kilometre loop with the côtes of Peu d'Eau, Haut-Bois, Thon, Bonneville, Bohissau and Ahin.

Read up on all the details of the mid-week race.

Ardennes precedes racing break for Spain's Freire

By Gregor Brown in Valkenburg, The Netherlands

Oscar Freire didn't have the legs in the Netherlands, but will try again in the Ardennes classics
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

Spain's Oscar Freire, three-time World Champion and winner of the recent Gent-Wevelgem, is entering the finale of his spring season with the Ardennes Classics. The 32 year-old, working as co-captain in the Netherlands-based Rabobank team, finished 19th at 56" back in Sunday's Amstel Gold and is looking ahead to the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday before taking a break.

During the Dutch one-day Classic Freire, who finished fifth in 2002, kept a low-profile until the finale. He and team-mate Robert Gesink helped Rabobank make the final selection that produced a nine-man move with one of their team leaders, Thomas Dekker. The duo maintained their position in the group that lagged just behind the leaders heading into the race-ending climb up the Cauberg.

Three days following Amstel Gold, Wednesday, Freire will line up with the team in Charleroi for the start of the Flèche Wallonne. "I will race Wednesday, Flèche Wallonne, and then also Liège-Bastogne-Liège," he confirmed to Cyclingnews.

The rider known as 'Oscarito' is one of the most versatile sprinters in the peloton, often appearing in slight uphill arrivals. Even so, he will have a hard time staying with the light-weight explosive riders on the Mur de Huy of Flèche Wallonne – his best result was fifth in 2005 – and Liège-Bastogne-Liège's arrival in Ans – 14th in 2002 and 2006.

Freire plans on relaxing back at his home-base near Mendrisio, Switzerland, before building for the second part of his season, which include the Tour de France and a role in Spain's team at the Olympics. He confirmed, "After that I will have a bit of a break because I have to do the Tour de France, and also the Vuelta a España and the Olympic Games. It ends up being a very long season for me."

Rebellin misses out, but has two more chances

Rebellin tried to get away before the Cauberg, which didn't work and Cunego, Schleck and Valverde proved to be too strong in the end
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

By Gregor Brown in Valkenburg, The Netherlands

Four years ago, Italy's Davide Rebellin dominated the three races known as the Ardennes Classics – Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege – and by finishing fourth on Sunday in the first of three, the Team Gerolsteiner rider has shown at 36 year old he is still a strong force to be reckoned with.

"I was good but not super," he confessed to Cyclingnews following his finish in the Dutch one-day Classic, the 43rd Amstel Gold Race. After 257.4 kilometres of racing, he closed the day three spots behind his fellow Veronese, Damiano Cunego.

The rider known as 'Tintin' made the winning break after the Eyserbosweg at nearly 18 kilometres remaining. Not content to stay in the group that contained Cunego, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Fränk Schleck (Team CSC), Kim Kirchen (High Road) and Thomas Dekker (Rabobank), he launched his own move eight kilometres later.

Rebellin's solo move did not pan out and afterwards he remained at the back of the group, leading to the race-ending climb up Cauberg. "We worked together well in the group," he explained. "There was a lot of stress, but in the end I was in the front group."

"The attack... I knew that on the Cauberg that I could make a difference. I was going well, but I was not super. Cunego went really strong today and so he deserved this win."

Rebellin will be back for the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday – a race he won last year – and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. "There are two races left and I hope to win one of them."

Team time trial adding twist to Georgia

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Savannah, Georgia

Dave Zabriskie is the US time trial champion and hoping to continue with Slipstream as he did with CSC, here seen as they won the Eindhoven time trial
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

The opening press conference for the 2008 Tour de Georgia had the usual pomp and circumstance, with the local dignitaries and officials talking about their communities – and an assortment of top riders faced with the usual questions, such as 'Is racing here in Georgia like racing in Europe?' But the biggest difference to this year's race, the replacement of the individual time trial with a team time trial, brought out some different responses, showing that most of the riders are looking to stage four as a pivotal point in the race.

"The team time trial is going to be a great change of pace," said Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer (Astana). "It's definitely something we've needed in U.S. racing for a while."

Compatriot George Hincapie also pitched in. "The team time trial will definitely be one of the prettiest stages to watch, with the venue," said the High Road rider about racing on the auto racing course Road Atlanta. "It's a really technical course and a lot of stress for the riders, but it will be good for the fans to watch."

Health Net-Maxxis' GC rider Rory Sutherland said that the TTT might be a chance for the domestic teams to run with the big boys from across the pond. "It will be interesting to see what happens and maybe an opportunity for the domestic squads to go head-to-head with the ProTour teams." He also said that it will be fun to suffer along with his team-mates. "I typically only do time trials OK, and I'm in the same boat as everyone else, since nobody actually likes them!"

One team that could benefit from the TTT format is Slipstream-Chipotle, with time trial specialists Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde, last year's runner-up and recent winner of the time trial at Circuit Cycliste Sarthe. Vande Velde stated that "We have a lot of good cards to play with Tom, Trent, Dave and myself – but first and foremost we have to do a good team time trial to put ourselves in good position. We do like our chances for the team time trial, but it's going to be a different animal because we have to ride road bikes as opposed to time trial bikes. And it's relatively short, so it will be interesting to see what the results are. I'm not sure who is going to do well, but I think there will be some surprises."

Leipheimer mentioned about the TTT that "It's difficult to say now before we've done it. Looking at the [whole] race now, on paper, it looks easier than in the past. I don't think they have chosen the terrain they could have and the Brasstown stage looks kind of short. But that is just looking ahead before we get there, and at the finish it might look like something else."

When asked if anyone has scouted the team time trial course at Road Atlanta, Vande Velde offered his team's secret training weapon. "[I've seen it] on PlayStation. We have one on our bus and we've been practicing every morning before our rides!"

Tune into Cyclingnews every day this week for live, up-to-the-minute coverage of the Tour de Georgia.

Francisco Pérez ready for Giro

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Francisco Pérez is on target with his preparation for the Giro d'Italia (May 10 - June 1). The Caisse d'Epargne rider returned home for a short period of rest, after taking in some of the French races, like the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and Paris-Camembert. He was accompanied by Óscar Pereiro in Sarthe, while being on the side of Alejandro Valverde when the latter took out the cheese. After his rest period, he will tackle the Vuelta Ciclista a la Rioja on April 25, before heading over to Italy.

"I am feeling well, and that makes me believe that I will be in optimal condition to tackle the Giro with a certain guarantee," said the rider who missed the last Giro. "When [General Manager Eusebio] Unzúe and I planned this season, we agreed it would be better for me to ride the Giro and try my luck ... we said that this will be an objective that we set out right from the beginning. I am preparing for it with great optimism, but with the consciousness that it is a very tough race and the participation is demanding.

"To be in contention for the overall classification carries a great wear and tear, that doesn't serve anything later – in addition you have to completely exhaust yourself in order to be up front, in a way that to me it appears more feasible to try to win a stage," Pérez commented to Cyclingnews.

The Corsa Rosa continues to have a route that includes dizzying mountains, that, in the opinion of Pérez, "doesn't favour a great spectacle, because one has to measure his strengths very much, which blocks the race in a certain way, although the Giro always offers battles without end." There are two consecutive mountain top finishes, at Alpe di Pampeago (stage 14) and the Passo Fedaia (stage 15). These are followed by a mountain time trial of almost 14 kilometres, up to the Plan de Corones, with an average gradient of 7.9 percent and a maximum of up to 24 percent.

Other aspects that preoccupy the Caisse d'Epargne rider are the increase of time trial kilometres. The first stage offers again a team time trial, which this year is 28.5 kilometres. In addition, there are two flat time trials of 36 kilometres (stage 10) and 23.5 kilometres (final stage into Milano), as well as the individual ride up to the Plan de Corones.

The Spaniard showed promise in the short prologue in the 2006 Giro, the last time he participated in the Giro, finishing in sixth place, just 16 seconds behind the winner. "And that happened after I was injured by a follow car, which came out of a curve in a very narrow stretch of road, on a descent, very close to the finish," the Murcian rider recalled.

The fight against the clock in the mountains also comes one day after the Queen stage, with the final on the Passo Fedaia. It is one of the ranges of the mythical Marmolada. "That stage is bestial, too hard; you have to really household with your power, because there will be a lot of battling going on." The climb up the Marmolada has about 13 kilometres of uphill, with an average 0f 7.9 percent and a maximum gradient of 18 percent. Still, there is another uphill battle on stage 19, on the Monte Pora, that promises to be even more decisive of the race's outcome than the final 23.5-kilometre time trial into Milano.

Dekker and Rabobank more or less satisfied

Thomas Dekker rolls in in fifth, his best ever classics result
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

Team Rabobank had mixed reactions to its performance in the Amstel Gold Race. It was happy with Thomas Dekker's fifth place, which was his first top five ranking in a classic, and it was happy with its overall performance. But it had hoped for more.

"We are not walking around all smiles; that is clear," said Directeur Sportif Erik Breukink on the team's website, "I, however, cannot blame the team. None of them. Neither can I blame Thomas. He made the best of it. The group with which he rode to the finish consisted of world-class riders. Men who can dream of arrivals such as these and who are very explosive. Plus, Thomas had reached his absolute limits. This really was the highest feasible result."

The 23 year-old Dekker was disappointed to a certain extent, but also satisfied. "With this group of riders, this was just the maximum result on the Cauberg; one must be fair and honest about that." He added, "I don't think we made any mistakes. The team rode a strong, alert and dominant race."

He thanked his team-mates for their help, notably Juan Antonio Flecha and Robert Gesink, while questioning whether former World Champion Oscar Freire could have played a bigger role. "All the compliments for the team. A shame that Oscar could not re-claim his position after the Keuteberg? Yes, even though I question whether he could have played a role on the Cauberg. After all, there was a reason for why he had fallen behind," Dekker said. "The picture was clear to me after the Keuteberg. I had to finish it off for the team, but some men just had more power and energy left."

De Goede to defend leader's jersey in Flèche Wallonne

Suzanne de Goede of Equipe Nürnberger will look to defend her lead in the World Cup ranking this week in the Flèche Wallonne. The 24 year-old Netherlander currently leads with 128 points ahead of High Road's Judith Arndt (82 points) and Chantal Beltman (81 points).

She will be supported in the race by Trixi Worrack, Claudia Häusler, Eva Lutz, Edita Pucinskaite and Modesta Vzesniauskaite. Lutz finished second in the Ronde van Gelderland on Saturday.

Vzesniauskaite, who missed a year's worth of racing due to a virus, finished second in the recent Grand Prix Rollers Chambery le Vieux.

Third consecutive victory for Mapei-Heizomat

Team Mapei-Heizomat got the third consecutive victory in Landshut, where Robert Retschke, who was racing for Wiesenhof-Felt last season, won a tough road race with a solo escape.

The Elite A and B racers had to first make up the handicap to category C, which was four minutes. After the category C riders were caught, the peloton began to shrink consistently on the tough circuit. Mapei-Heizomat still had seven riders in the mix for a long time and used the numbers to its advantage.

With two laps to go, Retschke went after a small leading group. Once he made contact, he attacked them and soloed in for the victory, after 142.2 kilometres. Helmut Trettwer (RSV Traunstein) and Martin Boubal (Ratisbona Regensburg) raced to places two and three, respectively. The lead group had completely splintered in the finale.

"This was a really strong performance from our team," directeur sportif Markus Schleicher smiled at the finish of a race that was held in ideal conditions.

(Additional reporting and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)

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