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Latest Cycling News, February 13, 2008

Edited by Bjorn Haake

Loddo wants more in Langkawi

By Greg Johnson in Bandar Penawar, Malaysia

Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff Credit Systems) is back to winning in Malaysia.
Photo ©: Kurt Jambretz
(Click for larger image)

Italy’s Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff Credit Systems) is aiming at more victories in this year’s Tour de Langkawi, after finally claiming his much-awaited first victory of the 13th edition on today’s Stage 5. Loddo entered the event as the top sprinter, however his Professional Continental team had gone winless until the 139.9-kilometre stage to Bandar Penawar.

“I truly hope that tomorrow there will be another bunch sprint, and I will win again,” said Loddo. “It always depends on whether there is a sprint or not at the end. Every day we have worked for a bunch sprint but today we haven’t as we had someone in the break.”

Loddo was the dominating sprinter at last year’s race, with the Italian equalling Graeme Brown’s (Rabobank) record of five stage victories while riding for Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Selle Italia. The 29 year-old entered the event as top-rated sprinter in the event’s strongest team, with the Italian claiming a stage victory at last month’s Tour of Qatar.

In addition to Loddo, the Tinkoff Credit Systems squad has 2007 stage winner Pavel Brutt and strongman Nikolay Trusov on this year’s roster for the Malaysian event. Despite the strong lineup, which includes Loddo’s Selle Italia team-mate from 2007 Walter Pedraza, the outfit has struggled to control the race in the opening stages, and lost the first bunch sprint of this year’s edition yesterday to Danilo Hondo (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli)

Loddo believes his victory in Langkawi was harder to claim than that which he took against the world’s top sprinter Tom Boonen (Quick Step) at the Tour of Qatar.

“It’s actually harder to win here because there hasn’t been many bunch sprints,” he noted. “The difference between a sprint in Langkawi and a sprint in Qatar is that Tom Boonen’s team Quick Step pulls the sprint at 65 kilometres an hour and here there are many people who take risks for being a part of the sprint, so it’s always hard to get position.

“For winning here there’s need for strength and luck,” he added.

While Loddo said his 24th career victory against Boonen in Qatar was satisfying, what he’s really hoping for is to carry his form into the European season this year.

“I have beaten Boonen in Qatar and that was a nice satisfaction in my career,” he said. I hope I have made an improvement this year for winning in Europe after repeating in Malaysia what I did last year.”

The Tour de Langkawi continues tomorrow with a 182.8-kilometre stage from Bandar Penawar - Kuala Rompin.

Change of schedule for Danielson

By Shane Stokes

Danielson switched from Discovery Channel to Slipstream and will start the season with an American race.
Photo ©: Jon Devich
Click for larger image

Team Slipstream Chipotle-H3O will start the Tour of the Mediterranean this week minus Tom Danielson, with the American rider now being scheduled to ride the Tour of California instead.

Team manager Jonathan Vaughters' original plan was for Danielson to ride early season French races such as the Etoile de Bessèges and the Tour of the Mediterranean, competing in Europe rather than in the Tour of California in order to improve his positioning in the bunch. Danielson has long been regarded as a strong climber and time trialist but has, by his own admission, used up important energy in the past due to his positioning within the peloton.

Contacted by Cyclingnews about Danielson’s absence from the Tour of the Mediterranean roster, Vaughters confirmed the change in plans. “We revamped Tom's schedule as we did get the Giro invite, but did not get the Dauphiné invite,” he said. “He'll be doing three weeks worth of fighting for the front in Italy, anyway!

“There are some big races on his schedule so we needed to lighten up the early year a bit. That's why we kept Tom at home to do the Tour of California instead.”

2008 marks a big step up in quality for the team. A number of big name riders have arrived, a Giro start has been confirmed and Slipstream are strongly tipped to get a wildcard slot in the Tour de France. Vaughters is happy with things thus far.

“We're off to a good start, both [with] the new "stars" we hired, and the young guys we've been working with for a few years,” he stated. “It’s very gratifying to see the young guys step up and gel with the established riders. We'll see how we really are as we hit the first real objectives of the year, like Tour of California, Paris-Nice, and Criterium International.”

Tour Méditerranéen kicks off

The Tour Méditerranéen will get underway today. Defending champion Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d'Epargne) will be at the start line in hopes of winning once again in the south of France. The 35th edition of the race runs through Sunday and as every year the climb of the Mont Faron, just outside Toulon, will once again be a decisive stage. This time, the hilltop finish is smack in the middle of the race – stage three out of five. The narrow road leads to the top at 508 metres, over a distance of 5.5 kilometres. It offers spectacular views over the Mediterranean – if you are not racing, that is.

The total distance of the race is 664 kilometres and visits four of the country's 100 departments (Var, Bouches-du-Rhône, Hérault and Aude).

Other teams and riders that Gutiérrez will have to battle include Tinkoff Credit Systems with last year's runner-up, Ricardo Serrano, and Mikhaïl Ignatiev, who won a stage in 2007. Crédit Agricole will be banking on Russian Alexandre Botcharov, but also hoping for stage wins through Thor Hushovd, should a bunch sprint arise. The winner of the 2006 Tour de France, Oscar Pereiro will be there as well, but that early in the season is likely to be more of a help for team-mate Gutiérrez than to go for glory.

French hopefuls include 2006 champion Cyril Dessel (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), who finished best Frenchman in 2007 and the Cofidis riders Sylvain Chavanel and David Moncoutié.

The stages:

Stage 1 - February 13: La Crau - Hyères, 120km
Stage 2 - February 14: La Londe - La Garde, 135km
Stage 3 - February 15: Rousset - Toulon Mont Faron, 100km
Stage 4 - February 16: St Cannat - Marignane, 150km
Stage 5 - February 17: Sauvian - Gruissan, 115km

The teams taking part in the race include Caisse d'Epargne, Ag2r-La Mondiale, Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Crédit Agricole, Française des Jeux, Liquigas, Slipstream Chipotle - H30, Tinkoff Credit Systems, Agritubel, Bretagne-Armor Lux, Elk Haus-Simplon, Mitsubishi-Jartazi, Miche-Silver Cross, Pedaltech.

Luis León Sánchez gets ready for Paris-Nice

Luis León Sánchez targets Paris-Nice for the first part of the season.
Photo ©: AbarcaSports
(Click for larger image)

Spaniard Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) will use the Tour Méditerranéen, which starts today, as a preparation for Paris-Nice (March 9-16). It is his first important objective of the 2008 season. After racing in the Australian Tour Down Under and participating in the first stage of the Challenge of Mallorca, the rider from Murcia will prepare himself in the south of France. It will be an important race in order to get ready for the "race to the sun."

Sánchez was "very pleased to go to Australia one more time because in the past I get some good results over there." While this time the team did not win anything, the Caisse d'Epargne rider still believes that "this journey has been an excellent preparation for the first part of the season." Sánchez, who "did not train too hard" since returning to his native Spain, preferred to concentrate on base mileage the last few days. Nonetheless, at the first stage of the Trofeo Mallorca he "felt much better than I would have thought, and that is a good forecast for Paris-Nice."

As for his ambitions in the Mediterranean Tour, the rider acknowledged that "my condition is good, but it is a fact that I still have to improve." While proclaiming the race as preparation, he will "nevertheless try to be ahead, in particular in the stage of the Mont Faron." The climb outside Toulon is often the decision maker for the overall classification and the Spaniard confirms that "I believe that if I am well in this stage, then it is not impossible to go for the general classification." He cautions, though, that "there are other riders in the team which are able to do something great, particularly Iván Gutiérrez, who won the race in 2007 and who is used to do very well in this race."

Sánchez said that "last year I didn't prepare as well as this year, and things worked out well." This year he prepared better for his first objective of the season, but stated that "we know how cycling is. You can never predict what will be happening in a race. What is sure is that I am very motivated and I hope I can contest the overall, or, at the least, win a stage, like I did in 2007.

Bernard Hinault back to racing

Contribution by Miwako Sasaki

Bernard Hinault made no excuses in Japan and raced despite cold weather.
Photo ©: Miwako Sasaki
(Click for larger image)

Five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault returned to the peloton, as a Tokyo rider for the second Meiji Jingu Gaien Criterium on Monday in Japan.

Hinault is visiting Japan with his wife Martine, from February 10 to 16. He followed an invitation by Sata Foundation, the organizer of the cyclo-sportive "Courir Pour La Paix"(Ride for the Peace). That event is held in Chailly, near Dijon in France. Hinault is a godfather of this event and he also participated in it last summer. The symbol of the ride is "Madonna of Nagasaki", a head of a wooden statue that miraculously survived the atomic bomb attack in the second world war in Nagasaki, Japan. It's also the symbol for the peace and humanism. Hinault came to Japan to see "Madonna of Nagasaki" and also to visit Hiroshima, site of another nuclear attack.

Hinault started his trip by visiting the capital, Tokyo, to participate in the Meiji Jingu Gaien Criterium. Initially he was slated to only start the Open Ride, an opening exhibition cycling event. But at his own request he also wanted to return to racing and try the Master's Criterium over a distance of twelve 12 kilometres. The 53 year-old former World Champion, however, did not have a rider's license, but managed to register with the Tokyo Cycling Federation for the race.

28 Japanese riders started with Hinault for the Master's Criterium in crisp, but sunny conditions. "I have been training two or three times a week now, but I'll ride this race to just enjoy it," Hinault made clear he had not much ambition to put the hurt on his competitors as he did when he was racing as a professional. Le Blaireau (the Badger, his nickname) finished the race in tenth place.

Before returning to Brittany, Hinault will also visit Kyoto on Friday. He will participate in another cycling event for his Japanese fans.

Retschke to Mapei-Heizomat

By Susan Westemeyer

Robert Retschke's problems started last year when his German Professional Continental Team Wiesenhof-Felt announced that it would stop as of the end of the year. He was supposed to ride for the Italian Professional Continental Team NGC Medical this year, but that fell through at the last minute, and now he has ended up at the Continental Team Mapei Heizomat.

Retschke, 27, had signed with NGC Medical, along with fellow German Konstantin Schubert, and was looking forward to riding the Giro d'Italia this season. But a deal between the team and the German bike manufacturer Storck fell through, and without the German sponsor, the team no longer wanted the two German riders. "I couldn't believe it, when I heard that," Retschke told I was absolutely sure that I would ride for this team, and then suddenly I was standing there empty-handed, in the middle of January. There was nothing I could do, despite a signed contract. The Italians would simply never have used me in a race the whole season."

He applied to the ProTour Team Milram and the Continental Team Sparkasse, but without success. The beginning of February, however, he signed with Mapei Heizomat, which is led by his former Wiesenhof Directeur Sportif Markus Schleicher. Retschke is looking forward to his new start. "I will be very motivated and am convinced that I can bring in some good results again in 2008" – even if his season highlight will be the Bayern Rundfahrt instead of the Giro d'Italia

First win in Europe for Team Barloworld

Team Barloworld has won its third race of the season. After Robert Hunter won two consecutive races in his native South Africa, the team has now a win in Europe to its credit as well, thanks to Steve Cummings. Cummings won the second stage of the Giro della Provincia di Calabria and took over the race lead, with one day remaining. The tactics were supposed to be centered around sprinter Baden Cooke, but directeur sportif Valerio Tebaldi decided to tell Cummings to take the break, as he knew the Brit would be capable of finishing stronger due to the uphill nature of the finish.

Cummings, in his first win as a professional, could also bank on the help of team-mate Paolo Longo Borghini, who was in the 15-man break as well. Cummings said that “Being given the opportunity to ride for a professional team like Team Barloworld is a privilege – when my team-mates told me to go for the win, I knew it was possible and I owed it to them.”

Macchi prepares for Paralympics

Fabrizio Macchi among the group "Fabbrica Italiana Atleti."
Photo ©: Salvatore Miceli
(Click for larger image)

Fabrizio Macchi of Italy is busy preparing for the Paralympics in Beijing later this year. The successful rider, who has won gold medals at the Panamerican Games as well as European Championships, is now eyeing the Games, where he wants to improve on his performance in Athens. In Greece, he won the bronze medal in the pursuit. In 2001 he also broke the Hour World record, with a distance of 45.870 metres.

For his dream to come true, he now has chosen his material to be used in China. After numerous tests, including in the wind tunnel, he decided to go with FSA and VISION.

Macchi forms part of a ten-rider group, called "Fabbrica Italiana Atleti." This mix of high-level athletes have the economic support of Fiat. With the financial and technical support taken care of, the rider hopes to have a successful Paralympics.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Salvatore Miceli

Images by Miwako Sasaki

Images by AbarcaSports

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