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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News, April 25, 2008

Edited by Ben Abrahams & Sue George

Basso signs with Liquigas

Ivan Basso during his hearings last summer
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

After serving out his two-year suspension, Ivan Basso will return to professional racing with Liquigas for the 2009 season. The Italian signed a two-year contract that will have the 30 year-old wearing green and blue next spring.

The President of Liquigas Sport, Paolo Dal Lago, said, "This was a challenging yet conscious decision... The sports judiciary system handled his case more severely than most and, despite the fact that he has been harshly punished, Ivan has still maintained a responsible and calm attitude, he has applied some healthy self-criticism and taken this seriously throughout. This has earned him the public's respect, as well as the respect of those who work in the industry."

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In May of 2007, Basso resigned from the Discovery Channel team and admitted to attempted doping. Linked to the Operación Puerto scandal, the man identified as "Birillo" said he had withdrawn blood he intended to re-inject at the 2006 Tour de France. He was suspended for 24 months by the Italian cycling federation (FCI) disciplinary commission for his involvement with Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, and will be allowed to resume racing effective October 24, 2008.

Calling Basso "Italy's most talented cyclist," Dal Lago noted, "We will help him to regain his form as we firmly believe that we can help him to achieve the standards of excellence of which he is capable. We love a good challenge and we know that Ivan and ourselves share the spirit: we are delighted to welcome him to our group."

Team manager Roberto Amadio said Basso's arrival will not change the team setup. "Liquigas already has a well-defined technical profile which is completely compatible with this recently announced addition. With Basso's input, we will aim for absolute leadership amongst the top teams on the professional circuit in 2009 and in 2010."

No further details of Basso's new contract were revealed.

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'

May 18, 2009 - Valverde to start Catalunya
May 15, 2009 - Valverde not welcome in Denmark
May 14, 2009 - Spanish federation wants proof in Valverde case
May 13, 2009 - Spanish Olympic Committee defends Valverde
May 12, 2009 - Valverde responds to sanction
May 11, 2009 - Italian tribunal delivers Valverde two-year suspension
May 8, 2009 - Valverde case: Italian Olympic Committee defends Torri
May 7, 2009 - Valverde to take legal action against CONI prosecutor
May 5, 2009 - WADA and Spanish federation join CONI and UCI on Valverde
May 1, 2009 - International Cycling Union joins in on Valverde's hearing in Italy

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of Operación Puerto

Liège-Bastogne-Liège – the cream of the crop

By Gregor Brown in Belgium

Italy's Damiano Cunego, 26 years-old of Team Lampre, should be heading the winning charge in Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the cream of the Ardennes Classics and the 261-kilometre race will be the final battle for supremacy amongst the likes of Damiano Cunego, Kim Kirchen and Davide Rebellin when held this Sunday in Belgium's Walloon Region. No holds will be barred in this oldest of Monuments as riders grapple for the right to have their name listed in the race's annals, which began in 1892 and include the likes of Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Moreno Argentin.

This year's 94th edition of La Doyenne ('The Grand Old Lady') will tackle 12 côtes (small climbs) on its way from Liège to Bastogne and back north, finishing on the climb to Ans. It was hallowed ground for Italy's Danilo Di Luca 12 months ago, when he served up pain pudding to Spain's Alejandro Valverde and Luxembourg's Fränk Schleck. However, the plate has gone cold for Di Luca as he and his LPR Brakes team have not been invited this year, leaving other warriors to fight for the victory.

Starting at 10:00 outside Place Saint-Lambert, the loudest battle cries are typically heard on the final climbs of La Redoute and Saint-Nicolas, but the first 110-kilometre romp to Bastogne and two côtes – Ny and Roche-en-Ardenne – will provide room for escapes and sub-plots.

The côtes:
km 57.5, Côte de Ny (1.8km, 5.7%)
km 82.0, Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne (2.8km, 4.9%)
km 128.0, Côte de Saint Roch (0.8km, 12%)
km 172.0, Côte de Wanne (2.7km, 7%)
km 178.5, Côte de Stockeu (1.1km, 10.5%)
km 184.0, Côte de la Haute-Levée (3.4km, 6%)
km 196.5, Côte du Rosier (4.0km, 5.9%)
km 209.0, Côte de la Vecquée (3.1km, 5.9%)
km 226.5, Côte de la Redoute (2.1km, 8.4%)
km 232.0, Côte de Sprimont (1.4km, 4.7%)
km 241.5, Côte de la Roche aux Faucons (1.5km, 9.9%)
km 255.5, Côte de Saint-Nicolas (1.0km, 11.1%)

On the northbound journey to Ans, expect the favourites' henchmen to move to the fore and command the group and any advantage gained by escapees. One of the toughest battles will be waged on the 2.1-kilometre La Redoute, coming at kilometre 226 and 35 kilometres from the finish. So often a pivotal point in years past, La Redoute will be an indicator of how the race will continue to unfold over the three following côtes of Sprimont (-29km), Roche aux Faucons (-19.5km) and Saint-Nicolas (-5.5km).

Italy's Davide Rebellin, 36, has the know-how to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The Côte de la Roche aux Faucons (9.9% average gradient, 18% maximum) is new this year, inserted by organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) in place of the Côte du Sart-Tilman. Race director Christian Prudhomme stated that he sought to refine the race and offer the opportunity for different scenarios. The race will continue to close with the Saint-Nicolas and the unofficial côte to Ans; it was precisely in between these two summits that the race winning shot was fired in 2007.

Il Piccolo Principe, Damiano Cunego of Team Lampre is Cyclingnews' top pick based on his race-winning smarts in Amstel Gold and staying power in the finale of the Flèche Wallonne. The Italian is closing out the first a successful period of his season before recharging in view of the Tour de France. "I feel I can express myself better on the longer races, like Liège-Bastogne-Liège," noted the 26 year-old after finishing third on Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne.

Davide Rebellin of Team Gerolsteiner will be firing loudly on the roads to Ans, if not conquering on the home straight of Rue Jean-Jaurès. Fourth in Amstel Gold and sixth in Flèche Wallonne, not to mention being the 2004 Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner, the Italian can't be overlooked. "Liège is maybe the most important and the hardest of the three... It is long and the race evolves via natural selection," said Rebellin, who can count on team support from Stefan Schumacher and Fabian Wegmann.

Read the complete preview.

Georgia important to Astana

By Kirsten Robbins in Road Atlanta Braselton, Georgia

Astana blew apart on the technical course, but still finished second.
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

Thursday marked the halfway point of the Tour de Georgia, a race that Team Astana has been hoping to win. In the first three days, the invited mixture of both domestic and ProTour teams saw flat to rolling stages that ended in riveting field sprints with the yellow jersey passing off on one sprinter's back and onto another, weighing heavily on the accumulation of time bonuses.

But the flat stages made way for the team time trial held Thursday afternoon. Astana has been relatively quiet in terms of podium appearances thus far this tour, but they've been working steadily to keep the race in check and the field together to protect the chances of their favourite rider, Levi Leipheimer.

"So far so good," Astana's directeur sportif Viatcheslav Ekimov told Cyclingnews regarding the team's interests prior to the team time trial, where the squad was hoping to excel. Despite losing several riders over the duration of the event, the team finished second just two seconds behind the stage four winners, Slipstream Chipotle.

"We've done three stages and everything seems under control. There have been some moves and some different interests amongst the other teams but at the end of the day the bunch has come to the finish line and that has been perfect for us. It is normal that we have been pulling breaks back because the peloton is relying on our shoulders, feeling in advance that we are the potential leaders of this race and we have our GC interests approaching."

Ekimov carried high hopes into the 16km time trial stage. He had been looking for even the slightest advantage before heading into the hills. "Today [Thursday] was a big day," said Ekimov. "It is the first day where there will be little gaps on GC. But we are definitely looking to Saturday's stage in Brasstown Bald because it has the king climb on it and that will be our goal because it is a good stage for Levi."

Astana is no stranger to team time trialling and went into the race relying on its experience. "It doesn't depend on the course but on the tactics the team uses in the particular event. Its all about the length of the pulls, they can't be too long or too short, they have to be somewhere in the middle," said Ekimov of the tactical event. "In this team time trial the most important issue is to not lose the overall speed, it has to be a steady effort and if you manage to do that you'll fly." No matter what happened, Ekimov knew there would not be big time gaps, "but every second counts for the GC riders here."

Astana is focused on an overall victory in this year's Tour de Georgia because of its need to reiterate to the cycling world its hopes of being added to the ASO's roster for this summer's Tour de France. "We try to come here with the maximum motivation for every single race," said Ekimov. "Because we need to send a message to the cycling world and the cycling authorities that our team cannot be treated the way we are being treated now. This is one of our opportunities to do that, it is a big event for us. However, I don't think they are going to change their minds. I know these guys and they pretty tough to take a decision but once they do they don't change."

Gerdemann doesn't believe in Tour return this year

Linus Gerdemann will hit the road again for the first time this week since suffering a double left leg fracture and torn knee ligaments in Stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico in March. The 26 year-old German, who won Stage 7 of the 2007 Tour de France and held the yellow jersey for a day, doesn't believe he will be fit in time for this year's Tour.

"Naturally I will try all I can, but more realistic is a start in the Olympic Games in Beijing," Gerdemann told the dpa press agency."The breaks have healed well without surgery, but in the injured leg I also tore a ligament in my knee, and that is still causing problems."

So far he has been able to do a little work on the home trainer, but hopes to be back on the road in the coming days. "The doctor gave me the green light to get back on the road in the next few days, when the knee pain allows it – and I will do that," he said.

After his success in 2007, Gerdemann had been slated for a co-captain's role with High Road at this year's Tour, along with Michael Rogers, whose participation is also in doubt due to a recurrence of the Epstein-Barr virus.

Wegmann disappointed but 'did everything right'

By Susan Westemeyer

Wegmann in pain on the Mur de Huy
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Fabian Wegmann gave his all in the finale of La Flèche Wallonne, escaping with two other riders at 10 km to go and suffering alone on the dreaded Mur de Huy in the pouring rain, only to be overtaken by the favourites with 500 metres to go and finish down in 30th place.

The 27 year-old was very disappointed that his hard work wasn't rewarded, but a day later was able to look at it more objectively. "This attack came at just the right time," he told Cyclingnews Thursday morning. "The race was harder than usual because of the weather and the teams which had to work all day weren't so fresh any more. With Larsson and Efimkin I had exactly the right people with me – they can really go fast. I think if the three of us had gone into the last kilometre with 30 seconds, we could have made it."

However, Larsson crashed on a left-hand hairpin curve, holding up Efimkin who was behind him and who was then unable to catch up again with the leading Wegmann on the Mur. "That was just bad luck," he added. "I had really good legs, in a normal sprint it would probably have been good enough for a top-10 finish. But today, after a good night's sleep, I find that I did everything right. The race is a good one for me. I'll just have to keep on trying."

Gerolsteiner directeur sportif Christian Henn praised the German champion, whose white kit was no longer white as he suffered his way up the Mur de Huy. "Even if it didn't work out, Fabian can be proud of himself," said Henn. "Some day he will be rewarded for his aggressive riding style, will have the luck he deserves and will win one of these things."

Leukemans to keep on appealing

Björn Leukemans will continue to appeal his two-year suspension for testosterone use. The disciplinary council of the Vlaamse Gemeenschap (Flemish Community) this week upheld the suspension it had issued in January, but the former Predictor-Lotto rider insisted that he "didn't have any choice" but to appeal the verdict to a higher authority.

"If I don't do anything, then it is over and out anyway," he told belga. "The new hearings will probably cost a lot of money. But what is money? I only want to prove my honesty and to get a pronouncement to that effect. If I don't succeed with the Council of State, then perhaps I will have a chance with the European Court. I know that I am doing the right thing, otherwise I would not continue to proceed."

The 30 year-old tested positive for synthetic testosterone in an out-of-competition control shortly before the World Championships last September. He claimed that the positive test was due to a medication given to him by a team doctor.

Totschnig out with shattered collarbone

Team Elk Haus' Harald Totschnig will be out of action with a shattered collarbone for at least two months, the team announced Thursday. The 33 year-old suffered the injury in a crash in the second stage of the Giro del Trentino.

"I started an attack with two other riders," he said. "My front wheel slipped away in an oil puddle and I landed with my shoulder on the pavement." The Austrian flew home Wednesday and was operated on the same night, with a metal plate being inserted. "The care in Italy was really bad. Fortunately the operation in Austria went fine," said Elk Haus team manager Bernhard Rassinger.

"He is not expected to return to racing until the middle of July at the earliest. That means Harald won't be able to ride the Tour of Austria," Rassinger said. "That is major bad luck for him and for the team, which will have to do without one of its most important riders. I am very sorry for Harald. He was really motivated this year and already had very good form."

Caisse d'Epargne for Tour of Romandie

Caisse d'Epargne announced its roster for the upcoming Tour of Romandie to be held April 29 to May 5. The team will include Vicente García Acosta, David López, Alberto Losada, Dani Moreno, Oscar Pereiro, Mathieu Perget, Rigoberto Uran and Xabier Zandio under the directorship of José Luis Jaimerena.

(Additional reporting and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)

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