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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News, February 13, 2008

Edited by Paul Verkuylen

Hondo makes successful return

By Ben Abrahams in Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Hondo wins in one of his first races back from doping suspension.
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

His last win was over 16 months ago, but Danilo Hondo appears to have lost little of the speed that carried him to 64 professional victories, including two Giro d'Italia stages, adding win number 65 at the Tour de Langkawi this Tuesday afternoon in Batu Pahat. Banned for a total of two years after testing positive for dietary supplement Carphedon in 2005, the 34 year-old served two separate suspensions after a complicated legal process, but has clearly managed to maintain solid base fitness without the benefit of competitive racing.

Looking as lean as ever, the German sprinter took his place at the post-race press conference on Stage 4 of Le Tour de Langkawi, explaining that his motivation had never dwindled during time away from the peloton. "The motivation was not only a question of my comeback race, but of my passion for cycling," he said. "You like to do this to win - sometimes or maybe many times - and in the end you have a lot of races but few possibilities to win."

Quizzed about the training that facilitated such a swift return to winning ways, beating the likes of Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and Mauro Richeze (CSF Group Navigare) in today's sprint, Hondo replied: "Actually, I never stopped training because my head was always clear and I knew the day would come. I trained together with all the riders last season so my level was always high.

"Before [this race] I didn't have a lot of intensive training, but I know after 35 years what I have to do to retain a good base."

Without an established hierarchy in the Langkawi peloton, Hondo explained that the bunch sprints here have been somewhat chaotic affairs compared to their European equivalents. "In Europe the fight for the position is pretty hard because you have normally 10, 12, 14 sprinters and all the teams try and get the best position for the finale," he said. "Here it's already a bit confused in the finale because the teams work before and there's not one or two teams that can make a very fast speed to make one line, so it's different trying to find a good position.

"The speed was very high in the stage and also in the finale, so it's a good test for all the sprinters here in Malaysia. When we come back to Europe I think we'll have a good base."

For Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni team manager Gianno Savio, Hondo's signing has provided a rapid return of investment. His return was originally slated for the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, but switched for a race where Savio's teams have a proven track record. "I like very much the Tour de Langkawi and Malaysia," said Savio. "This is the ninth year we come with our team and we've always won a stage.

"For Danilo, his problems are in the past," added the Italian. "We studied very well the question and the documentation of the UCI's letter of anti-doping. For this reason we signed Danilo because he was not responsible for this question. Danilo is not only a good rider, he's a good person. Myself and Marco Bellini, my assistant, always try to find good athletes but also good people."

After Langkawi, the team will return to Italy with eyes on Milan - San Remo and the Giro d'Italia where Savio is hoping Hondo can go one better than his second place in 2005 while riding for Gerolsteiner. "We want to work for him in the Tour de Langkawi but afterwards in Milan - San Remo and the Giro d'Italia. Normally we prepare well for all the races in which we participate. We are known as a team that always honours the race."

Sprick boosted by Langkawi win and French sponsors' confidence

By Jean-François Quénet in Banting, Malaysia

Matthieu Sprick (Bouygues Telecom) waves to the crowd
Photo ©: Kurt Jambretz
(Click for larger image)

The current leader of the Tour de Langkawi with the German sounding name, Frenchman Mathieu Sprick (Bouygues Telecom), shares many of same traits as his compatriot, Thomas Voeckler, not least his passion for riding in yellow. Hailing from the Alsace region but now living in Molsheim near Strasbourg, Sprick, much like the hero of the 2004 Tour de France, defines himself as "average everywhere, super nowhere". It sounds very much like something Voeckler would say but Sprick needed a win to boost his confidence as he was improving quite a lot since his first win at the Tour du Doubs during his first pro season. His second came after he surprised his breakaway companions on Saturday on the way to Kepala Batas at Le Tour de Langkawi.

"Three years without a single win is a long time", he admitted. "We are competitors. Not winning is frustrating although I've had other satisfactions acting as a domestique. Now I'm happy to see that the work done this winter pays off. One of the reasons why I haven't won much in the past two years is that I've had a program made of 70 to 80% of ProTour races, including the Tour de France where I've realized how much we have to push our limits in a three weeks race. No win is easy to get but it's still easier at Le Tour de Langkawi than at the Tour of the Basque country for example."

It's a complete different story for Bouygues Telecom this year than in 2007 when they had to wait for the end of April before they welcomed a first victory by Saïd Haddou at the Tro Bro Leon. "As we already collected five wins so far, the spirit in the team is better", Sprick explained in Setiawan at the start of stage 3 of Le Tour de Langkawi. "There's more serenity. Everybody has put himself in question during the off-season. Here are the results now."

The announcement of Bouygues Telecom extending its sponsorship for two more years might also have liberated Jean-René Bernaudeau's riders from the pressure they had before. "We were worried, that's right", Sprick said. "We didn't know our sponsor and also the others would react to the different scandals in cycling. It's good to feel the confidence that our sponsor has put in us again."

Cofidis, Française des Jeux and Bouygues Telecom, respectively have announced that they would keep backing their team beyond 2008. "I believe the sponsors have understood the good work done in the French teams against doping and that have given them the will to continue with us. That's a good feeling", Sprick added.

Antonio Cruz: Team captain at last

Tony Cruz is confident for a successful 2008 season.
Photo ©: Sarah Bamberger
(Click for larger image)

Since Antonio Cruz turned professional in 1999, he has raced for the most dominant US teams, starting with Saturn and more recently with Discovery Channel. Although he is entering into his tenth year of professional racing, 2008 will offer Cruz some new opportunities with the BMC Racing Team. Sarah Bamberger met up with Cruz in Santa Rosa, California, on the last day of BMC's training camp to check in on the transition to his new team, his thoughts on the Tour of California and what happens when training with former team-mate, Levi Leipheimer.

On the last day of the BMC Racing Team training camp, Tony Cruz had a chance to ride with his former team-mate and area local, Levi Leipheimer, who led the team on a ride that included a very technical descent. Although Leipheimer knew the road well, Cruz wanted to push the limits of his new BMC rig and see how fast he could go around a blind curve. Tucking down and diving into the turn, he passed the Astana rider, caught air over a cattle guard and then flew down the descent with utter fearlessness. It might have been a playful rivalry, but Cruz' calm, yet serious and assertive manner will perfectly suit his role as captain of his new team.

Cruz has been a fixture in the US racing scene for nearly a decade, but his role in the European peloton has been mainly that of a domestique. After being put out of work when the Discovery Channel team folded, he found a new home with the BMC Racing Team, which upped its level to the Professional Continental status. Now one of the senior members of the team, Cruz will be tasked with passing on his knowledge while trying to win some races.

To leave a ProTour team for a Pro Conti team is an adjustment for Cruz, but he has faith that the team will grow and bring itself to the highest status in the near future, and he has signed a two-year contract. Confident that he will race major European races with a new team, sponsor, management, and, most saliently, a new role, Cruz looks to his past experiences for guidance.

Continue to the full feature on Antonio Cruz.

Evans and Menchov face off in Vuelta a Andalucia

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Australian Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Italians Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and Dario Cioni (Silence-Lotto) and Spaniard Jose Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) make up the roster of favourites for the 54th Vuelta a Andalucia-Ruta del Sol, which starts Monday February 17 in Benahavis and finishes the following Saturday in Cordoba.

While Evans and Menchov look like obvious rivals, their longer-term plans for the season might mean they will be taking it a little easier at this time of year. That leaves things open for Cioni, who last year battled Spaniard Oscar Freire in Andaliucia, and Petacchi, who will be looking to add more stage wins to his collection of 129 victories.

Teams that have confirmed their participation are: Silence-Lotto (Belgium), Milram (Italy), Rabobank (Netherlands), Skil Shimano (Netherlands), Cycle Collstrop (Sweden), Quick Step (Belgium), Katyusha (Russia) and Spanish squads Euskaltel Euskadi, Galician Karpin, Grupo Deportivo Murcia, Saunier Duval Scott, Caisse d'Epargne, Cajasur Andalusia and Extremadura.

Organized by Deportinter, this edition has a budget similar to last year, about 1,200,000 euros, and has as main sponsors to the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Sports of the Government of Andalusia (which has contributed about 350,000 euros of the budget), Cruzcampo, and Eurocar Ibercaja.

Sean Kelly pushes harder for 2008

No passengers on Irish great’s team

By Gerard Cromwell

Come on you boys in green:
Photo ©: Stephen McMahon
(Click for larger image)

There will be no room for dreamers and riders content to just warm a saddle on the An Post / M. Donnelly / Grant Thornton / Sean Kelly Cycling Team this year, team mentor Sean Kelly said at the team’s launch at the GPO Dublin Tuesday.

The Irish-registered team, now in its third year, has more of an international flavour in 2008. There are six Irish riders in the squad - two of them first-year pros - four Belgians, two British and one each from Sweden and Germany.

Kelly is positive about the team’s future. Ireland’s greatest ever road cyclist, with a record that includes Tour de France green jerseys and seven consecutive wins in Paris-Nice, believes the new signings will strengthen the squad and spur on the Irish riders. That’s despite a general feeling that Ireland’s booming economy of recent years has made Irish domestic riders ‘soft’.

"I was fierce hungry," laughed Kelly as he was asked the difference between his generation and today's young stars. "I came from a farming background. I had to get up early in the cold and wet and go out and milk cows.

"When I was in a line-out in the gutter in a race in Belgium or somewhere like that in the early days, I just had to think about going back to the farm and i found myself hanging on that little bit longer.

"Nowadays of course, it's much easier. Lifestyles have changed, and that's only natural.

Read more on the Sean Kelly Cycling Team launch here.

Rojas signs with Caisse d'Epargne until 2010

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Promising young Spanish sprinter, José Joaquin Rojas has re-signed with Spanish outfit Caisse d'Epargne for the next two seasons, which sees him racing in the red and black colors until the end of the 2010 season. The 22 year-old won the third stage of the Challenge de Mallorca, yesterday, his second win of the tour.

Joaquin Rojas first rode for the Spanish squad in 2007 after two years with the now disbanded Liberty-Würth squad.

"I fell very happy here [at Caisse d'Epargne]. I know all the people and they are also very satisfied with my work and with my good results. They treat me well, I can't ask for more. I already had a contract for this season, but I decided to sign for two more, that is, until 2010", Rojas told Cyclingnews.

Last year, Rojas was impressive in some of the most important races on the international calendar. Winning the first stage of the Vuelta a Murcia, where he also donned the yellow leader's jersey, which he held until the third stage. Rojas explains that he is aiming to well at the spring classics, such as Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de Flanders, after which he will refocus his aims at a possible berth in the team for the Tour de France or the Vuelta a Espana.

Next on the Spaniards agenda is the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana before heading to France for Paris-Nice. "I want to be strong for the Paris-Nice, but mainly for the April classics," he concluded.

Region demands changes in Regio Tour

By Susan Westemeyer

The regional German stage races have been hit hard by the doping problems of the last few years, and yet another one seems to have fallen victim. A number of sponsors and start/finish towns in southern Germany have demanded that the Regio Tour in 2009 be changed to an amateur race.

"For a continued partnership as of the year 2009, it is a requirement that the organiser, the Regio-Tour GmbH, conduct a stage race for riders who do not have a professional license," according to a press release issued jointly by the communities and cities of Sexau, Hietersheim, Müllheim, Neuenburg, Schopfheim, Vogtsburg and Wehr, as well as sponsors Rothaus and Badenova.

"With this decision, the previous partners of the Rothaus RegioTour are making a definite statement against doping in road cycling," the press release continued. "At the same time, they continue to believe that a clean cycling sport still has a big future."

The Niedersachsen Rundfahrt and the 3-Länder Tour have recently announced their cancellations for this year.

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