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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News, April 25, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Valverde: "I am not favourite number one"

By Gregor Brown

Valverde came close, but ended up second to Danilo Di Luca in Liège last year
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Though finishing second last year and dominating the Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne in 2006, Spain's Alejandro Valverde counts himself out as a top favourite for the Liège-Bastogne-Liège this Sunday. The 28 year-old of Team Caisse d'Epargne gave his thoughts on the coming Classic and his Tour de France preparations in a press conference on Thursday evening.

"I am not favourite number one for Liège, the Tour de France and Beijing are the objectives," Valverde stated three days before the 261-kilometre Liège-Bastogne-Liège is run in Belgium's Walloon Region. He preferred to direct the attention to his team-mate, Spanish Champion Joaquím Rodríguez, who finished eighth in Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. "We have Rodríguez, and I think the real big favourites are [Fränk] Schleck and [Damiano] Cunego."

While Rodríguez filled the top spot for Team Caisse d'Epargne in Flèche Wallonne, Valverde found his legs unresponsive on the race's final, decisive climb of Mur de Huy.

"No," he responded if he was the same rider as last year, who finished second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He continued, "My preparation has been quiet. My condition is not 100 percent, because I am building for the Tour de France, Olympics and Worlds, so I have not had as many kilometres leading into this year's race. I have more motivation to race this year, so it compensates for this lack of condition. Amstel Gold Race was the best ever for me and it is clear I have some good condition.

"It will depend on the weather, if it is like Flèche Wallonne it will not be good for me. In Flèche, my legs were cut off because when I wanted to accelerate on the Mur de Huy my legs would not respond. However, I hope I will the legs in Liège."

The team reconnoitred the parcours, noting the different penultimate climb that organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) added in to spice up the finale. The Côte de la Roche aux Faucons (9.9% average gradient, 18% maximum) is new this year, inserted in place of the Côte du Sart-Tilman.

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Cyclingnews will cover the 60th edition of the Dauphiné Libéré live as of stage 4 on Wednesday, June 10, at approximately 15:00 local Europe time (CEST)/ 23:00 Australian time (CDT)/ 9:00 (USA East).

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"The Côte de Sart-Tilman used to be hard, but now it is even tougher because the new climb is even steeper and longer," Valverde explained. "At the Sart-Tilman in the last two years there were still guys that could just hang on, but now that won't be possible. So, on Saint-Nicolas there will probably only be four or five guys instead of 30."

During his time in the Ardennes, Valverde is keeping an eye on potential Tour de France contenders. "In this moment, you can see who is good here will be good at the Tour. You often see the guys who are good here are good later on, meaning they have worked hard over the winter."

He learned a few tricks in his first full Tour de France. "Last year, it was the first time I finished it, and sixth was good," stated the rider known as the 'Green Bullet' of the French Grand Tour. "The podium would have been hard for me in the first time to do all three weeks. I should not have attacked so much in the opening mountain stages, because in the Tour you pay every acceleration in cash, so in the third week I could not do a lot. In the Albi time trial I could not do anything, and my motivation was low."

Valverde will be joined by seven team-mates for Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège; in addition to Rodríguez, the team is expected to utilise José Vicente Garcia, Alberto Losada, David López García, José Joaquín Rojas, Luis León Sánchez and 2006 Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro.

Cunego and Menchov in Liège, Zabel and Petacchi out

Damiano Cunego is going into Liège-Bastogne-Liège with high ambitions, having already won the Amstel Gold Race and placing third in Flèche Wallonne. "I am calm and I feel good," the 26 year-old Lampre rider said. "The opponents will be same as in the Ardennes Classics, so the battle will be tough: I will be there."

Cunego will be supported in La Doyenne, in which he finished third in 2006, by Paolo Bossoni, Francesco Gavazzi, Daniele Righi, Mauro Santambrogio, Simon Spilak, Palo Tiralongo and Marco Marzano, who is recovering from a crash in Flèche Wallonne.

The last of the Belgian Classics will be Denis Menchov's first of the season. The Rabobank captain is flying in from Spain to ride Liège-Bastogne-Liège as a warm-up for the upcoming Giro d'Italia. He will be supported by Thomas Dekker, Robert Gesink, Oscar Freire, Laurens ten Dam and Bram Tankink, all of who rode the Amstel Gold Race and the Flèche Wallonne. Theo Eltink and Mauricio Ardila round out the roster.

Team Milram will have to do without captain Erik Zabel in the race, as the team has been hit by a wave of injuries and illness. Zabel and Martin Velits were both injured in a mass crash during Flèche Wallonne, with the sprinter suffering severe bruising to a knee and elbow, which prevent him from all but very light training. Velits fell on his previously injured hand. In addition, Classics specialist Ralf Grabsch is out with an infected knee cap. Milram will send to the race Andrey Grivko, Artur Gajek, Christian Knees, Dominik Roels, Igor Astarloa, Peter Velits, Matej Jurco and Sebastian Schwager.

The team's other star sprinter is also out of action. Alessandro Petacchi has the flu and is taking his third break since Milano-Sanremo. "Alessandro was already suffering in the Classicissima, it didn't get better in Mergelland and things just got worse in the Tour of Turkey," said team manager Gerry van Gerwen. "He has to take antibiotics again and take a break. That is of course very unfortunate in light of the Giro."

Slipstream sets up key players

By Kirsten Robbins in Braselton, Georgia

Tom Danielson leading the Slipstream train
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Solidifying a victory in the Tour de Georgia stage four's team time trial also placed four of Slipstream's potential overall race leaders into promising positions on the general classification heading into the hills. All four riders are tied to third place on GC, 15 seconds adrift of race leader Greg Henderson (High Road). Furthermore, while stage five's Dahlonega finish has typically shown an epic outcome, the race is just two stages away from Brasstown Bald's five-kilometre GC decider. According to Slipstream director, Jonathan Vaughters, his riders are in a good tactical position being four seconds ahead of the race favourite from Astana, Levi Leipheimer.

"We were really hoping for a stage win today and then we will see how Trent Lowe and Tom Danielson do on Brasstown Bald," Vaughters told Cyclingnews regarding his potential GC options. "I don't know whether they can go as fast as Levi or not, but to win the stage was a really big honour and our guys rode really well today."

According to the 2005 Tour de Georgia winner, Tom Danielson, Slipstream riders are in a good position to play their tactical cards in pursuit of the race lead. "The four of us that rode in first on the time trial are capable of being in a tactical contention, not just on Brasstown Bald but in stage five, too," said Danielson, who would like to use the Tour de Georgia to make a comeback into cycling after a difficult off season.

"When we were racing well in 2005-2006 with the Discovery Channel team, we did such a great job of making that team work all day in Dahlonega. Tomorrow, any one of our four top guys, and even the guys who came in not too far behind in the team time trial, can go up the road because it would be a threat. All our riders are in great condition and we have a lot of cards to play now."

It is fair to say that the expected team to beat was Astana; but according to Danielson the argyle clad team used their depth to reiterate why they are achieving so much early success. "The race went awesome for us," said Danielson after the team time trial. "Having guys like Zabriskie and Vandevelde who were so experienced coming from a team like CSC which truly dominated the sport has been a big factor in our success. Obviously we have a very strong team here. Having guys who can race strong and laugh the whole time is amazing."

Slipstream will have a strong contingency of cards to throw down to inch closer to the overall lead. With the likes of climbers Trent Lowe and Tom Danielson, Astana's Levi Leipheimer believes it would take a lot of race experience to match his seasoned GC expertise. "I didn't see Slipstreams race, but they beat us, and I think it proves that they did their homework. They went fast today, so that's all I can say," commented Leipheimer after the stage. "Trent is a good rider, too, but cycling is a long process and you have to take it step by step. For him to really challenge would be a big step."

Potential team leader from Slipstream, Trent Lowe emphasized Brasstown Bald's five kilometre drag race-style ascent to the finish line, alluding to a case of whom ever has the best legs on that day will win the overall. "We can probably feed off each other a bit," said Lowe regarding his three teammates who are tied for third on GC after the team time trial. "We have a pretty good team here but Levi is going to be tough to beat, and Chris Horner is looking pretty fit as well."

Stapleton happy with High Road roll

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Braselton, Georgia

George Hincapie, Thomas Lövkvist and team-mates check out the TT course
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The near-winning performance in Thursday's team time trial at the Tour de Georgia gave High Road boss Bob Stapleton just one more thing to smile about, along with team sprinter Greg Henderson retaining the overall lead. "The team has just been on a real roll," he told Cyclingnews after the stage. "We got a big performance in Flèche Wallonne and have been consistently competitive."

Even though the team's captain George Hincapie is on a down slope after a strong spring classics campaign, Stapleton is grateful for his role in Georgia. "I think George is still pretty tired, but he has a huge leadership role on the team. But anything can still happen!"

Despite his confidence in his captain, Stapleton said two riders are tapped for the next two deciding mountain stages. "I think we are going to look to [Siutsou] and Lövkvist, we brought them both here to be ready for Brasstown. They are good GC guys, and that is who we are going to look to in the hills."

As for yellow jersey holder Henderson, Stapleton is optimistic that the hard-nosed Kiwi can pull himself over the climbs to keep the jersey for one more day, and without having to even ask. "He'll do it himself! That is a motivated, hard-working guy. I think getting a chance to ride for himself - he's been a selfless teammate all year - it's a big motivation for him. I think we can hold on on Friday and keep the jersey and then have two good players."

Toyota-United and BMC satisfied, too

Toyota United crests the last hill.
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

American team Toyota-United, as well as Continental Pro team BMC are satisfied with the outcome of their team time trials on stage four of the Tour de Georgia. While Toyota-United achieved fifth place and best domestic performance, BMC finished a respectable sixth.

"I'm really proud of the way the team is riding this Tour," said Toyota-United team owner Sean Tucker. "To only be beat by arguably three of the top four teams in the world and by a mere 23 seconds is a true testament to how determined and strong our team is."

Team Director Len Pettyjohn mused that his riders could have achieved an even better placing, had it not been for bad luck. "We were the only team today to run negative splits on all four laps with our last lap being the fastest. Had Ben Day not crashed [in stage three] and hurt his back, I think we would have claimed third place ahead of Team CSC since they were only 10 seconds faster than us. But then again, that's bike racing," he added.

American team BMC finished 55 seconds behind the day's winning team Slipstream. "Overall, I am really very pleased with how the guys rode," team manager Gavin Chilcott said after all the teams had completed their rides.

BMC breaks over the top of
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

"The laps unfolded as planned, and though we may have been able to go 10 seconds faster due to little 1-2 second mistakes here and there, there were no technical mistakes and everyone was riding strongly. We had consistent lap times and the rotation worked well. At one point near the end of the race, Danilo had just made his final pull, but realized a gap was forming and quickly closed it down. That easily saved us 10 seconds, so I was very happy to see his heads-up attentiveness come into play yet again."

Sports director John Lelangue agreed with the positive assessment. "The guys rode amazingly well," Lelangue enthused. "They reacted well to each situation, and when you see the teams that finished in front of us are all specialists at time trial situations, we can feel very confident with our performance."

The plan for the team at the outset revolved around protecting the GC chances of its two leaders, Scott Nydam and Darren Lill. "Scott, Darren, Taylor and John were our four finishers," Chilcott confirmed. "So we are very pleased to have protected our GC guys while also putting in a very respectable performance."

Looking ahead to the next two days of racing, BMC's strategy is to protect its GC contenders Nydam and Lill. "[Stage five] has three significant climbs, so we will definitely have to keep Darren and Scott in a good position," Chilcott continued. "It will not be a stage that will really eat up the field, but more a day of conserving our resources and managing our costs to keep ourselves competitive for the Brasstown Bald climb Saturday."

Darren Lill agreed with this view. "The guys are feeling strong, and though I have never done Brasstown before," he said, "I certainly have every hope that I will enjoy it and be able to make use of my strengths on the climb."

Duggan update

Slipstream's Timmy Duggan, who crashed on stage is having increased swelling and bleeding in his brain, according to good friend Ian MacGregor of Team Type 1. "Nothing to be too worried about, but they will continue to keep a close eye on him."

Thursday morning he reported that Duggan was awake for a while and that his short-term memory is slowly returning. "Apparently, he kept waking up and asking how he crashed during his ski race, but it's been six or seven years since his last ski race," MacGregor wrote on the website he shares with Duggan,

Meanwhile, Slipstream won the team time trial in the Tour de Georgia. Team manager Jonathan Vaughters said that he had picked Duggan for the race because of his excellent time trial abilities. "So when he wasn't able to compete today, the whole team was a bit demoralized. But sometimes good things come out of bad. I think the guys really did something extra today to give Timmy a little something special to help in his recovery," he said.

Vaughters concluded, "Usually, this team is all about the team, and not about the individual. We proved that today. But today, we'll make an exception. Today was all about Timmy!"

Riders react to Basso signing

At the Giro del Trentino, Italy's last preparation race before the Giro d'Italia, the top of the field riders heard of Ivan Basso's signing for the Liquigas team in 2009. After stage three, won by Vincenzo Nibali of the green-blue team, Cyclingnews' reporter Rudy Gaddo collected some reactions to the come-back of arguably one of the greatest names in Italian cycling, who is currently suspended for intended blood doping.

Former Liquigas rider Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes), who also sat out a doping suspension for his involvement in the 'Oil for Drug' affair, said, "I am happy for Basso and Liquigas, but now there are two things: remove the ethics codes or they [Liquigas] are out of the ProTour."

World champion Paolo Bettini (Quickstep) was also "happy" for Basso, but veteran racer Gilberto Simoni, usually known for his outspoken ways, preferred not to comment. "I don't say anything about that, or it will be a disaster," the former Giro d'Italia winner said.

Dauphiné parcours and teams announced

Stunning views and hopefully beautiful weather await the riders in the Alps this June
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The 60th Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré was announced in Lyon, France, this week. The organisers of the race, the Dauphiné Libéré newspaper, invited all 18 ProTour teams, including Astana, but snubbed French Professional Continental team Agritubel, even though defending champion Christophe Moreau joined the squad this winter. The event, which will be held from June 8-15, will see the riders line up for a prologue on the outskirts of Avignon, Provence, and finish eight days later in the pre-Alpine town of Grenoble.

The Astana team has planned to include 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, as well as the 2006 Dauphiné winner, American Levi Leipheimer. Other hot favourites will be Australian Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), runner-up to Contador last year in both the Tour and the Dauphiné, as well as Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).

After the 5.7km-prologue in Le Pontet (Avignon), the peloton will embark on the journey taking them through the Alps, of which the four last stages as well as the 31km-time trial in Saint-Paul-en-Jarez will be the decisive ones. The first, rather flat stages might see Tom Boone (Quickstep) battle it out against Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole).

In stage four from Vienne to Annemasse, the riders will climb the Salève mountain from its steepest side, and the next day has the Col de Joux-Plane on the menu. Stage six will see the only mountain top finish of the race in La Toussuire, after the Col de la Croix-de-Fer. On the last day of the race, the riders will tackle the Cols du Granier, du Cucheron and de Porte.

Besides the favourites, other big names expected to race include: Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto), Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Juan Cobo, Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale), David Moncoutié, Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Philippe Gilbert, Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), Bradley Wiggins, Michael Rogers (High Road), Robert Gesink as well as Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank).

The stages of the 60th Dauphiné Libéré outline as follows:

Prologue - June 8: Le Pontet - Avignon, 5,7 km
Stage 1 - June 9: Avignon - Privas, 194 km
Stage 2 - June 10: Bourg-Saint-Andéol - Vienne, 184 km
Stage 3 - June 11: Saint-Paul-en-Jarez, 31 km (ITT)
Stage 4 - June 12: Vienne - Annemasse, 193 km
Stage 5 - June 13: Ville-la-Grand - Morzine, 125 km
Stage 6 - June 14: Morzine - La Toussuire, 233 km
Stage 7 - June 15: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - Grenoble, 127 km

New race series to come in 2009?

At the presentation of the Henninger Turm one-day race in Frankfurt, scheduled for May 1, Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Michael Holczer spoke to the attending German media about the rift between the Grand Tour organisers and the International Cycling Union (UCI), detailing his supposition that Tour de France organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) is seeking to create a new race series for the coming season.

The race organisers and UCI have been at odds over the ProTour for four years now, and with ASO as well as its Italian counterpart RCS Sport selecting team participation independently this year, the conflict has come to a point of no return. Holczer suspected that the Grand Tours, together with such 'monuments' as Milano-Sanremo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro di Lombardia, will be forming a new circuit parallel to the ProTour in 2009.

"This proposal will come," said the Gerolsteiner manager to Radsportnews. "I assume that there will be a distinct calendar soon." However, Holczer did not think that the race organisers were seeking to create a new federation. "Nobody wants a state like in boxing! That would be the end of cycling," he added.

The key to an end of the conflict, according to Holczer, would be the integration of representatives of the race organisers, but also of the teams, into the independent license commission of the UCI. This would ensure a balance of power in the decision-making process on which teams are allowed to which races, a "mixed system" according to Holczer, who hoped that a solution satisfying all shareholders will soon be found.

"The conflict between UCI and ASO even sidelined the doping issue amongst us, team managers," the German said. "We are really fearing for the future."

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

(Additional reporting and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)

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