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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, February 20, 2008

Edited by Greg Johnson & Paul Verkuylen

RCS gives Astana the cold shoulder

Andreas Klöden won't be able to defend his Tirreno-Adriatico title
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

ProTour team Astana has been dealt another blow with major cycling race organiser RCS Sport not inviting the squad to this year's Tirreno-Adriatico or Milano-Sanremo, according to The news comes exactly one week after fellow major cycling race organiser ASO, which operates the Tour de France, announced the Johan Bruyneel-led squad wouldn't be invited to any of its races in 2008.

RCS Sport, who organises the Giro d'Italia, yesterday announced the squads for its first two major events of the season, with Astana left off the two invite lists. Astana's absence at Tirreno-Adriatico means Andreas Klöden is unable to defend his 2007 title at the event.

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"It's a very unfortunate situation for not only our riders, but also the sport of cycling," said team director Johan Bruyneel. "It appears that only a few powerful race organisers do not recognize that we are an entirely different team from 2007 and should be allowed to compete in the world's biggest races.

"The decisions handed down by the organisers are inconsistent. RCS originally told us that our Giro d'Italia squad was not to their competitive expectations," he continued. "Now RCS has not invited us to Milano-Sanremo and Tirreno-Adriatico, where team leader Andreas Klöden was prepared to defend his 2007 title. It's very hard to understand these decisions when there are no rational and consistent reasons behind them. We continually attempt to reach RCS for further explanation and wait for proper justification as we still hope to participate in future RCS events."

Also among the list of non-starters at Tirreno-Adriatico are Crédit Agricole and Bouygues Telecom, the two French teams that were also not selected for the Giro. Both teams have however reportedly been granted a start in the first Classic of the year, Milano-Sanremo.

Tirreno-Adriatico takes place from March 12-18 and the 99th edition of Milano-Sanremo is scheduled for March 22.

ASO invites gets political attention

Spanish politician Mariano Rajoy has called on French president Nicolas Sarkozy to pressure Tour de France organiser ASO into inviting 2007 winner Alberto Contador and his Astana team in this year's Tour according to Dutch newspaper The Telegraaf. ASO announced last week that Astana wouldn't be invited to contest any of its events this year, including the famed French Grand Tour, which starts in Brest on July 5.

"You can't not take a 25 year-old rider, who only has a short time to ride at a professional level, to a race of that calibre," said Rajoy.

ASO's decision not to invite Astana was met with dissatisfaction by Rajoy, the leader of the Spanish Peoples' Party, who believes the decision to be a blunder on the behalf of the French authorities.

Tour looks towards Le Grand Départ cities for 2010

Tour de France organiser ASO has announced the candidates for the start of the race's 2010 edition. Dutch cities Rotterdam and Utrecht are both on the list of possible candidates, as is German city Düsseldorf. If Rotterdam is selected for the start, Belgian city, Antwerpen will hold the stage finish, according to Belgian newspaper, The Gazet van Antwerpen.

Both Rotterdam and Utrecht were candidates for the 2009 start, but were beaten by Monaco for the title of Le Grand Départ.

"It is really nice that we have made it to the final three cities and have a chance of becoming the start city for the 2010 Tour," Rotterdam's Mayor's spokesperson said. "We will wait for the decision to come from the Tour organisers and hope that it is in favour of Rotterdam."

Utrecht's sports minister, Harm Janssen, has praised the possible route of the Tour prologue in his nominated city. "We have a fantastic route through the inner city with a great road surface, precisely what the Tour organisers want to see," he said.

Utrecht Mayor Aleid Wolfsen will head to this year's Tour to meet again with race director Christian Prudhomme, according to Janssen.

Both Dutch cities have a famous rider as ambassador; Rini Wagtmans is lobbying for Rotterdam and Jan Janssen for Utrecht. "It's great that Utrecht is on course for the Tour start," reacted Janssen, who became the first Dutchman to win the Tour, 40 years ago.

The last time the Tour visited Antwerpen was in 2001. At the time Belgian Marc Wauters won in front of a huge crowd, with the win bringing him the famed yellow jersey as a prize for his efforts. After the governor of Antwerpen, Camille Paulus, first heard of the interest from Rotterdam to host the start of the Tour, he contacted the city to offer his support for the prologue and a stage from Rotterdam to Antwerpen.

Den Bosch was the last Dutch city to host the Tour start back in 1996. While Germany has to look back to Berlin in 1987 for the last time that the race started within its borders. Düsseldorf will have to overcome the negative sentiment of the German public towards cycling in the nation if they are to successfully lure the Tour to start in its city.

Menchov won't defend Vuelta title

Menchov took home the Vuelta's trophy last year.
Photo ©: AFP
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Rabobank's Denis Menchov won't defend his 2007 Vuelta a España title this year, opting instead to concentrate on his Giro d'Italia and Tour de France campaigns. Defending his title at the Spanish Grand Tour is not as high a priority to the Russian as the sport's other two major crowns.

"I want to win the Tour," he declared to "The Giro is a perfect build-up for the Tour, that's why I am not riding the Vuelta."

Rabobank dominated the Spanish Grand Tour last year, with Menchov riding to a brilliant Stage 10 victory and winning the combination and mountains classifications in addition to his overall victory. The 30 year-old also won the points classification at last year's Volta a Catalunya.

"With Rabobank we are capable of competing in all types of races," he explained. "We have riders for Tours, sprinters like Oscar Freire and with Juan Antonio Flecha we have some fire power in the one day classics."

The 91st Giro d'Italia will run from May 10 to June 1, while the 95th Tour de France will run from July 5 - 27.

Lastras takes Andalucía lead

Pablo Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne) has taken over the general classification lead at the 54th Vuelta a Andalucía (Ruta Ciclista del Sol), after finishing Stage 3 in the lead group of 25 riders. Lastras entered the stage 51 seconds behind Clément L'Hottelerie (Skil-Shimano), but the lead group containing the Spaniard finished 1.39 minutes ahead of the Frenchman on stage four.

"Third the first day, second after the second stage and the first today," noted Lastras of his rise up the general classification. "It is true that I feel very well and that I can count on a very strong team, which supports me since the first day."

The Spaniard finished sixth on the 174.5 kilometre stage to Jaén, with Alessandro Petacchi (Team Milram) out pacing Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) for the stage victory in a small bunch sprint.

Lastras explained that the group of 25 attacked on the day's final climb, the category three climb up Alto de la Guardia. "The ascent was very hard and we went very quickly," he said. "I believe that L'Hottelerie paid for the efforts he did the previous days and that he was therefore not able to follow our rhythm, which enabled me to climb on the podium and receive the red jersey."

Lastras, who is in his fifth year with the Spanish ProTour team, won the Eneco Tour's sixth stage in 2007. The 32 year-old thanked his team-mates' for their efforts in helping him take over the leader's jersey heading into today's penultimate stage.

"I am very happy, because I like this race and hoped to achieve something nice here," he said. "I particularly want to stress my team-mates' spectacular work, and in particular David Arroyo, Alberto Losada, Luis Pasamontes and Joaquím Rodríguez, who gave it all in the final of the stage to increase the gap and to give me this possibility to lead the overall classification.

"It will not be easy to maintain this position 'till Cordoba where the race will finish on Thursday, but I hope that we will find allies of circumstance with the teams of the sprinters and that the team Caisse d'Epargne will be able to celebrate a new triumph," he concluded.

The event continues today with the 173.5 kilometre stage from La Guardia de Jaén to Écija before concluding the following day with a 155.2 kilometre stage from Antequera to Córdoba.

Tour of California women race a hit

By Kirsten Robbins in California, USA

The pack snakes down the road
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

The inaugural Tour of California women's criterium proved to be a success as thousands of fans gathered two hours in advance of the men's stage two finish to get glimpses of the women's peloton fly through their Santa Rosa street. The women competed on a one and half mile circuit, sprinting to the same finish line as the men's race.

According to AEG Sports president, Andrew Messick, the women's criterium is just the start of what's to come in future years, where plans are being drawn to incorporate a three day event for the women's field. "It was important for us to bring women's racing into the Amgen Tour of California," said Messick. "There are just as many women involved in this sport as there are men and the women who race commit themselves, they work hard and they sacrifice like everyone else and they deserve an opportunity to perform on this stage.

"There are world champions and Olympic medallists in this field and just watching this race was outstanding," he added.

The only glitch in the coordination of a women's stage race is that the women's Australian Geelong Tour is held on the same week and according to Messick, AEG Sports does not want to interfere with the current women's UCI schedule. "I think our next step is to make it more like a three-day race with leveraging the infrastructure that we have for the men's race," said Messick. "We thought very carefully about trying to do that this year and we were a little bit late in the organisation and we didn't want to compete with the UCI event in Geelong, Australia.

"We are going to work next year, in 2009 to try to coordinate the calendars a little bit more," he said. "But we would really like there to be at least three stages."

Budget for the women's criterium was extracted directly out of the budget for the men's stage race, however Messick acknowledged that with the success of the single-day event this year he expects funding come from new sponsors. "Right now we have not asked for any additional support to run the women's criterium but I think there will be a time when we can do that but for now we are prepared to do it within our existing budget," said Messick.

Azevedo to retire at season's end

By Monika Prell

Jose Azevedo (Discovery Channel)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Portuguese rider José Azevedo (Benfica) has announced at a press conference that 2008 will be his last season, no matter what results he achieves during the year. The 34 year-old, who was born in Vila do Conde, has been a professional for 15 years.

"I decided to hold a press conference because [everyone] deserves my highest respect and so, I think that the most appropriate is to announce this communiqué to everybody at the same time, and not in an individual form," started Azevedo. "I called this conference to announce that this will be my last year as professional rider.

"At the end of 2008 I will close my cycling career," he repeated. "It's a personal decision, because I always wanted to be the one who decides the moment of the end of my career."

The former ONCE and US Postal rider is one of the stars of the Portuguese cycling. Azevedo finished fifth and sixth in the Tour de France, and was instrumental in Lance Armstrong's victories at the Tour de France.

"Independently of the obtained results, I announce my decision at the beginning of the season to avoid any possible speculation at the end of the season, and to confirm that my decision has been taken independently of the results I will obtain," he said.

Azevedo went on to outline his aims and dedication to the season ahead. "This year, the Volta a Portugal will be my big objective because this will be my last chance to win it, but I will always have the interests of the team as priority," he explained. "As this will be my last year as professional cyclist, I will try to enjoy at a maximum the joy of being a cyclist, always with professionalism, honesty and respect, values I always respected in my cycling career."

Azevedo finished the 2004 Giro d'Italia in fifth place and in 1996 was the Portuguese time trial champion.

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