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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, August 8, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Jim Ochowicz: US team ready to repeat

Jim Ochowicz led the US team to a good medal count in Athens and tries to do the same in Beijing
Photo ©: Epic Images
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With a gold, a silver and a bronze medal at Athens in 2004, America enjoyed its finest showing ever in the road events in a non-boycotted Olympics. The 2008 men's and women's road teams appear even stronger than in Athens. Bruce Hildenbrand talked with USA's men's road team manager Jim Ochowicz to get his uptake on the team, the competition, the course and the environment.

The Olympics are unique in that most professional races allow teams of up to nine riders which gives a director a lot of options when it comes to strategy and tactics. But at the Games the squads are relatively small with a maximum of five riders in the men's road race.

"You can do a lot more with nine riders than you can do with five over the same distance. In the World Championships a team like Italy typically spends a lot of time controlling the race. It is not so easy at the Olympic Games with only five riders per team. You can't put all five guys on the front so you are limited with your head count in terms of how you use them and strategically it becomes a little bit more challenging," noted US manager Ochowicz.

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George Hincapie is making his fifth appearance in the Olympic Games dating all the way back to 1992 in Barcelona. "George is a natural selection. He has been there. He has done it all. He has been on four previous Olympic teams. He has a good sense of how that five-man roster works. And for him, when to use his power and when not to," noted Ochowicz.

"George's performances have always been consistent and he is always a threat to win particularly at the end in a small group or even going away maybe alone because the guy can time trial. George is certainly a wild card so we will let him have a lot of flexibility. And if it comes down to the last lap and he is there he is the best sprinter we got," added the founder and director of America's first professional team, 7-Eleven.

To read the full feature, click here.

Valverde fears Schumacher and Bettini

Alejandro Valverde, victorious in San Sebastian, now hopes for an Olympic medal
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
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Alejandro Valverde, who is part of the Spanish contingent in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said that apart from his team-mates, the biggest favourites for the victory in Saturday's road race were Germany's Stefan Schumacher and Italy's Paolo Bettini.

Speaking to after his win in the Clasica San Sebastian last week-end, Valverde reckoned that his own team was one of the strongest in the line-up for the men's road race event. "Indeed, I think that our team will be one of the most dangerous," he said. "Alberto Contador has already won this year and he is capable of doing this in any race again. Carlos Sastre just won the Tour, and Oscar Freire and Samuel Sanchez also rode an excellent Tour. I think that all the five of us can hope for a medal in Beijing."

Still, some strong rivals exist. "Personally, I think that Stefan Schumacher is most dangerous, when you think of his state of form during the Tour. We also have to count on Paolo Bettini, the defending Olympic champion, and there will certainly be a lot of other well-prepared riders in the event."

Valverde arrived on Monday in Beijing, but has had a look at the 245km road race course profile around the Great Wall of China even before getting a feel for the real thing. "The course suits my abilities well. There are a first 80 flat kilometres to race before tackling a very difficult circuit for a total of seven laps, with 12 kilometres of climbing and another 12 of descending. Coming out of the Tour de France, "I don't risk lacking endurance. I think the parcours suits me well."

In any case, the Spaniard agreed with many riders when he said that, "I think we will see a very hard Olympics. The humidity, pollution and heat may cause dehydration, which could greatly influence how the race unfolds."

Bettini believes in Spanish-Italian match

Olympic champ Paolo Bettini used the Clasica San Sebastian as a final test for Beijing
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
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Defending Olympic champion Paolo Bettini is also looking forward to the Olympic road race on Saturday. Italian national coach Franco Ballerini was certain that the last kilometres of the event were "perfect" for the double world champion, who has another Classics specialist, Davide Rebellin, at his side.

"Especially the light uphill finish is good for me," said Bettini to HLN. "Valverde will certainly be a dangerous rival. It could very well end up in a Spanish-Italian match once again."

Still, 'Il Grillo' didn't count out a number of possibilities for the race. "There is no race course as unpredictable as this one," he continued. "There could be a thousand attacks, and the race will be very hard to control. Besides the Spaniards, there are also the Luxembourgers with the Schleck brothers and Kim Kirchen, the Germans with Schumacher and Voigt."

But Bettini remained confident in his abilities. "I am really happy with my form and with the team that surrounds me. All things necessary for success on this really hard circuit are here."

Germans hope for rain

After his Tour de France victories, Schumacher hopes to shine again in Beijing
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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The German team for the Olympic Games' road race is feeling the side-effects of the Beijing weather and smog conditions. "Everyone has sort of a pressure on the lungs," Stefan Schumacher told the sid news agency after his training rides. "We rode four and a half hours on Wednesday, but it felt like seven or eight hours."

What looks to be the most difficult Olympic road race ever will be, according to the Gerolsteiner rider, "an extreme race, a race of attrition." Still, the German is "highly motivated. I have trained well."

Nevertheless, Schumacher is not a friend of the high temperatures currently felt in the Chinese capital. But according to the weather forecast, the road race beginning at 11am local time (5am CET) may be carried out under rainy skies.

"I expect the riders that were at the front in Liège-Bastogne-Liège first in the finish here, too," said Germany's team director Hans-Michael Holczer. But the climatic conditions are not the same as in Belgium. "These are the Olympic Games with the highest air humidity," said the German team doctor Prof. Wilfried Kindermann. "Together with the heat, that is similar to the conditions in Athens, Atlanta or Los Angeles, it will be the toughest that you can expect of the athletes."

11 Olympic teams tested

Eleven national teams have been asked by the International Cycling Union (ICU) to submit anti-doping blood samples in Beijing in Friday. One day prior to the men's road race event, a total of 43 riders have been tested from the following countries: Germany, Australia, Austria, Colombia, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Russia and Switzerland.

According to Spanish newspaper AS, the Spanish team of Alejandro Valverde, Carlos Sastre, Oscar Freire and Samuel Sanchez has already been tested twice by anti-doping controllers since their arrival in Beijing five days ago. Alberto Contador is expected to arrive on Friday.

Discovering a talented Spaniard

Spain's Alberto Contador will ride for Spain
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From one of many promising young riders, Alberto Contador has turned into a dual Grand Tour winner in the space of just 12 months. On the eve of the Spaniard's Olympic Games debut, Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez tracked down three people from his early years that knew, and still know, the Spaniard with the aim of colouring in the Contador canvas.

His directeur sportif places him in the same league as Lance Armstrong. He has been compared to Spain's greatest ever cyclist, Miguel Indurain. Alberto Contador is a double Grand Tour winner and he's quite possibly the best rider of his generation. Yet outside of his sleepy hometown of Pinto, Spain, not much is known about this shy and unassuming rider's roots, nor his pre-professional days and the early stages of his fledging career.

Luis Maria Malo Lopez met a young, gangly Contador when he started competing for the Real Velo-Club Portillo cycling club. The Madrid-based club has always placed a strong emphasis on its riders developing friendships with each other, while the club mantra - that was no doubt passed on to Contador - has always been, "if you want something, you have to work to achieve".

"He arrived as a teenager when we had a very youngster-orientated team," said Malo Lopez, who was the club's president. "A man called Javier Fernandez Alba, who was at the time our youngster sport director, took him under his wing.

"I remember Alberto starting with us in 2000," he added. "He was only with us for one year but we won everything in the calendar that year. So much of this was down to him. We had many good riders, and he was one of the best."

Malo Lopez was also the manager of Velo-Club Portillo in 2000. "One of his coaches at that time was Carlos Rosado. But when the coach was absent, I had to take his position when we competed at races," Lopez smiled. "We competed at the Vuelta a la Sierra Norte, to Ruta del Vino, and also in Santander in the circuit of Cantabria."

Rosado once told Spain's El Pais newspaper about a crash Contador had in a race in Zamora. He cut his lips and dislodged a tooth. However the junior didn't cry because of his injuries but because of his damaged bicycle, which he'd written off. That was the only bike he had.

To read the full feature, click here.

Holczer losing hope

Hans-Michael Holczer has little hope left for the future of his team
Photo ©: Patrick Reed
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Team manager Hans-Michael Holczer is slowly losing hope of finding a new sponsor to replace Gerolsteiner at the end of this season. "There's not much happening right now. I'm not exactly optimistic," he told the sid press agency. He has set a deadline of the end of August. "By then we have to know what is up. Otherwise we can just close up shop."

Holczer is currently in Beijing as directeur sportif for the German road cycling team. He was disappointed that no sponsor has appeared after the team's successful Tour de France, where Stefan Schumacher won both time trials and wore the yellow jersey for two days. "There was one inquiry that sounded quite good. But then a lot of problems came up. That really hurt," he said.

Meanwhile, Holczer has told his riders that they are free to look around for a new team, with rival German team Milram said to be the most interested. "But so far nobody has signed somewhere else," Holczer told the dpa agency. The contracts with most of the riders only ran through this year, with a few exceptions, such as Stefan Schumacher, going through 2009.

Olympics mean trouble for Columbia

Team Columbia is sending a total of 18 riders from 12 different nations to the Olympic Games this week-end. But what is said to be a "remarkable" international line-up actually caused problems to the team. "To have so many riders representing their countries at the Olympics, a showcase event, is truly exceptional for Team Columbia. It's actually made it a little tricky finding riders for all the usual competitions," said team owner Bob Stapleton.

Starting this Saturday with the men's road-race, riders from veteran George Hincapie of the USA to young Gerald Ciolek from Germany will be on participating in the greatest sporting event on the planet. Some such as Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain and Judith Arndt of Germany are already medal winners in the Olympics, others like Michael Barry - a participant in the 1996 Games in Atlanta - will be racing in their third Olympics in 12 years, whilst yet others like Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway are taking part in the Games for the first time.

Of the eighteen Columbia riders, there will be three each racing for Australia, Great Britain and Germany, with the other nine representing Belarus, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the USA respectively.

The 2008 Olympic Games team Columbia riders are:

Australia: Michael Rogers (Road), Kate Bates (Road), Oenone Wood (Road)
Belarus: Kanstantsin Siutsou (Road)
Canada: Michael Barry (Road)
Denmark: Linda Villumsen (Road)
Germany: Gerald Ciolek (Road), Bert Grabsch (Road), Judith Arndt (Road)
Great Britain: Mark Cavendish (Track), Roger Hammond (Road), Bradley Wiggins (Track)
Luxembourg: Kim Kirchen (Road)
Netherlands: Chantal Beltman (Road)
New Zealand: Greg Henderson (Track)
Norway: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Road)
Sweden: Thomas Lövkvist (Road)
USA: George Hincapie (Road)

Tough beginnings for women in Beijing

The Austrian women didn't even have time to unpack their suitcases before they had to undergo doping controls, with not so pleasant results for Christiane Soeder. The 33 year-old is suffering from intestinal problems and nausea.

Soeder and team-mate Monika Schachl were requested to come to the doping controls shortly after they arrived in the Olympic Village on Thursday. "It went so fast, that we didn't even have time to unpack," Schachl told the APA press agency. "We were so dehydrated from the flight that we had to drink liters of cold water first, because in the first tests the pH values were too low." She speculated that the large quantities of cold water caused Soeder's problems.

Soeder was unable to go out on Thursday's training ride, but was expected to be able to train on Friday. Both women are scheduled to ride in Sunday's road race, with Soeder also riding in the time trial on Wednesday.

Things were even worse for another of the women's bike racing contingent. Spanish cyclist Maribel Moreno, who was scheduled to compete in the women's road race on Saturday, has decided to return home after what has been described in the Spanish media as an anxiety attack. The technical director of the Spanish cycling federation, Mikel Zabala, confirmed that Moreno's decision was a "personal" one.

Moreno, who finished fifth in the last Grande Boucle Féminine, was one of Spain's greatest hopes on the difficult courses of the road race as well as the time trial in Beijing.

2009 Grande Boucle Féminine starts in Britain

The first details of the 2009 Grande Boucle Féminine have been released. Next year's race, scheduled to take place from June 14-21, will start and spend a full three days in southern Great Britain. Judging from the map released on, the race is set to take off somewhere in Cornwall or Devon.

After crossing the Channel, cyclists will head south through the French regions of Basse-Normandie, Bretagne, Pays-de-la-Loire, Centre, Poitou-Charentes, Limousin and Aquitaine. The final stage will see the riders arrive in the Spanish Basque Country in the Pyrenees.

Moreover, since the race made its come-back in 2005, struggling to extend over five or six stages, it will next year last a full eight days.

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