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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News, January 31, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Boonen happy with form

By Shane Stokes in Doha, Qatar

Good early season form for Tom Boonen (Quick Step) - an indicator of more victories to come?
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

One team trial triumph, two individual stage wins and second on day four of the race; Tom Boonen has shown very strong early-season condition and appears to be heading for his second overall victory in the Tour of Qatar.

The Belgian had a superb Classics campaign in 2006 and a somewhat quieter one last season; with fans and journalists alike wondering what is in store for 2008, Cyclingnews asked him how his form compared to last year's event.

"I don't know, my form is always good at this point," he answered. "But from year to the other, I never feel anything different - it [his early season form] is always good.

"I stopped earlier than before last season, it was the second week of the Tour of Spain. As a result I had more time to relax, to rest. That was necessary. Training was the same, but I had more rest [beforehand] so I think I have more reserves for the up and coming races," the Quickstep sprinter added.

Boonen will head to the US after Qatar, riding the Tour of California. Before then, he will aim to sew up victory in the race by riding well in the final two days. He has already eliminated several rivals, including Danilo Napolitano (Lampre): when the hammer went down during stage four, the Italian was caught in the second bunch and finished 8'37" back.

Slipstream Chipotle-H3O were the ones who forced the split, being then joined in the pacesetting by riders from other teams. "They began it [the move], but at that moment we had already been on the front for 50 kilometres," said Boonen. "They attacked from the left. There wasn't really a crosswind, it was a strange wind but there was just enough to split up the group. It was better for everybody once that happened, up the front we were more relaxed. Also, I think if you came to the finish line with a complete bunch it would be very dangerous."

Boonen was looking good for another stage win on Wednesday but underestimated the wind, finally losing out to Italian Alberto Loddo. "There was a curve at the end because we are travelling along the corniche," he said just before the jersey presentation. "The wind was coming from a certain angle but we changed direction as we followed the road. I waited until 500 metres to go like always, then started getting ready. I went without problems, I put it in the eleven [sprocket] but at 100 metres from the line it [the wind] was like a wall. I lost five, six kilometres per hour, all my speed was gone. Loddo was on my wheel, he waited for the right moment and then did a good sprint."

Torri defends late night tests

Ettore Torri, head of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) anti-doping section, defended the late night doping controls conducted this week on members of the Lampre team, including Damiano Cunego and Alessandro Ballan. He said that such actions were necessary to clean up the sport, and offered a specific reason for the action. "The experts tell me... at that hour the tests are more effective in detecting certain substances," he explained, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Such off-hour actions might be used again, even during races. "Nothing can be excluded," he said. The CONI in fact does not have any limitations to carrying out its anti-doping tests, contrary to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), whose regulations foresee the controls to take place between 7am and 10pm.

There were conflicting reports as to whether the Lampre riders were in their hotel rooms or out dining at a restaurant when the controllers arrived at the hotel. According to the Gazzetta, the riders could face disciplinary proceedings and suspensions up to three months for not having informed the authorities of their whereabouts that evening.

Moreover, Thursday morning at 7.30am, six riders (Ballan, Cunego, Marzano, Vila, Bruseghin and Tiralongo) were again submitted to out-of-competition testing by UCI controllers, according to tuttobiciweb. The training camp will end today.

Contador willing to testify in Italy

Alberto Contador has said that he is prepared to go to Italy and testify before the National Olympic Committee (CONI) concerning Operación Puerto. "If they should ask me to do that, then I wouldn't have any problem with appearing there to make a statement," he said at a press conference Wednesday.

CONI announced earlier this month that it intended to question non-Italian riders concerning the Spanish doping scandal. Italy's new anti-doping regulation stipulates that foreign riders can be banned from racing on Italian soil if proven to be linked to performance-enhancing activities. This season, the ban could concern the Giro d'Italia, the World Championships (in Varese) and the Tour de France, as this year's race will cross the border into Italy.

Contador's statements came in a press conference introducing the new Team Astana in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "The Tour de France is my big goal and also the Olympic Games," the 2007 Tour de France winner said according to AP. "It's a big event, one that happens only every four years. I'd like to do well in the Olympic Games. But the rest of the focus will be the same as in the past."

Sutton fired up by team performance

By Shane Stokes in Doha, Qatar

Team Slipstream - a force to be reckoned with for 2008
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

Chris Sutton was pleased at the end of stage four of the Tour of Qatar, even though he finished sixth in the sprint and thus did not take any bonus seconds back from young rider leader Greg Van Avermaet. The reason for the Australian's satisfaction was the work done by his Slipstream Chipotle-H3O team, which sparked off a major split in the peloton.

Shortly after the 60 kilometre point, the Argyle-clad riders hit the front and broke the main bunch into three pieces. Other teams combined with them to preserve the gaps and those left behind didn't see the first portion until after the finish. Over half the field lost between 3'16" and 8'37".

"The boys were unbelievable today. I have never seen a team ride like they did today," Sutton enthused. "Everyone was pulling. I saw a spot [to go for it]... Quick Step were controlling the race, I said ‘boys, we are going to have to do something here to split it up.' We just put it in the gutter and the boys just swapped off hard. It made my job a lot easier. I was pulling some turns as well. We had Magnus, Dave, Killian, Huub, Martijn, pretty much the whole team up there.

"Once we put it in the gutter, Quick Step could see what we were doing and so too did Liquigas. I spoke to Boonen after we did it and the group was down to about 20 or 30 riders. Tom said that they were just getting ready to do the same thing, so he said that it was great that we actually initiated the move."

After the finish, the Slipstream riders congratulated each other on their performance. David Millar, Magnus Backstedt and the others were all buzzing after showing committed work as a unit, and underlined that they were more than justified in being invited to Qatar.

"We have shown that we are one of the strongest teams out there... I think that was proved today," Sutton continued. "We tried to get the sprint finish down perfect today but it wasn't to be - I think that everyone was a bit heavy from swapping off. But it was worth a try. We hit the front and JD [Julian Dean] took me to about 150 to go... I tried to kick but ran out of legs a little bit. It was no-one's fault but my own. But the boys rode excellent today, hats off to them."

Having been already granted a ride in the Giro d'Italia, Slipstream are chasing a place in the Tour de France. Riding well in the Tour of Qatar - an ASO organised race - is important for them, and Sutton believes that their showing this week will help their case. "We are not here to mess around. I think a lot of teams can see that we are serious now, we are not a joke of a team. We are vying for a wildcard slot at the Tour de France... If we can show ASO and Christian Prudhomme that we are actually a force to be reckoned with, then for sure I couldn't see why we would not get a wild card."

Slipstream were chasing victory in the team time trial at the start of the race, but finished just behind Quick Step. Sutton still believed that the champagne will be sprayed sooner rather than later. "We will get a stage win, I am sure of it. Even if it is not here, it is definitely going to be at the Tour of the Med.

"I am feeling really good on the bike, the sensations are good, and I have got a lot of strength in the legs. That is something that my coach Shane Sutton, myself and the new director Matt White have been working on over the winter. I was doing specific training, core stability work and all that. I have built a bit of strength and obviously it is working, because I am staying up there in the sprints."

Spirits were high, and the team was set for a fun evening on Wednesday. "We have Magnus' birthday tonight," he said, just before heading back to the hotel. "I am sure we might have a glass of wine to mark the occasion. I would buy the guys wine because they worked their arses off today and they deserve it."

Sánchez follows Indurain's footsteps

By Jean-François Quénet in Adelaide, Australia

Luis Sánchez (Caisse D'Epargne) "prepared for Paris-Nice" in stage five of the Tour Down Under
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)

A former winner of the Tour Down Under - and the only one to have done so while he was still Under 23 in 2005 - Spain's Luis León Sánchez concluded his trip to Adelaide on a high note with a strong counter-attack in Willunga Hill (stage five), lacking only the cooperation from Cofidis' David Moncoutié, and a final breakaway during the Adelaide criterium on the final stage. Together with his team-mate from Caisse d'Épargne Nicolas Portal, he rode so hard in the last five-man group of escapees that he forced Allan Davis' partners from UniSA to a terribly difficult chase, fighting for the overall victory.

"Oh, that was just a preparation for Paris-Nice!" Sánchez laughed afterwards. He didn't exactly intend to create such a trouble inside the sprinters' teams. He added: "I also wanted to see how I had recovered from my efforts on Saturday. It was a very positive test indeed. I have half of the kilometres of training I had last year in my legs at the same time but I feel very good."

For the third time in four years, Sánchez started his season in South Australia. "This is what I prefer to do," he said. "I came here one week before the race. I rode four, five or six hours every day. It's a much more efficient training than in Europe and the Tour Down Under is very profitable for building up my condition. It's worth coming so far. It's also a different atmosphere from what we are used to in Europe. I'd say the enthusiasm is higher in Australia. People cheer at us more than European fans do."

After the Tour Down Under, Sánchez will ride the Tour of Mediterranean and the Tour of Valencia prior to Paris-Nice, which is his main goal for the early part of the 2008 season. He made no mystery about it: "I want to win this race."

Paris-Nice was an historical turning point for Spanish cycling last year when Alberto Contador won the overall classification, which put him on the ramp towards the yellow jersey at the Tour de France. In fact, he overshadowed Sánchez and there was even a bit of a controversy when the two of them agreed to a pact on their way to Cannes in stage six, but Sánchez attacked for the stage win under the instruction of his directeur sportif, while Contador had to wait for the last day for taking the lead off Davide Rebellin.

Sánchez posts it at the 2007 Paris-Nice
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

"There was no problem between Alberto and myself after that," Sánchez clarified. "We spoke that night and we had another chat in August. Our girlfriends also speak to each other regularly. We have spent five years together in the same team (Liberty Seguros) and now we have parted ways but we remain good friends."

The two jewels last produced by Manolo Saiz before he got arrested in the Operacion Puerto doping scandal have had very different careers since one of them moved to Discovery Channel and the other one went to Caisse d'Épargne. Sánchez was affected by a virus last year and he didn't get selected for the Tour de France.

"The approach of our career plans by our respective directors is totally opposed," Sánchez explained. "Contador went to a team where there was a gap to be filled up after the Lance Armstrong era. They pushed him to become a great rider straight away. I am with people who have a different philosophy. This is the former Banesto team. The directors keep telling me I have to work hard before getting results on a long term. I had done the Tour de France when I was 20 years old with Liberty Seguros, but that was for the experience only. [Caisse d'Épargne's directeur sportif] Eusebio [Unzué] thought I was too young for doing it last year. Now if everything goes well, I'll ride it again this year. But at the end of the day, the directors chose who's got the best form at the right time. There are nine spots for a group of 13 or 14 riders. I know I'm in one of the best teams in the world for the Tour de France with Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro."

Sánchez is also aware that he rides for a French sponsor. "That's fine for me because most of the best races in the world are in France," he said. "I have a much bigger attraction for the Tour de France than for the Vuelta. I also like Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné quite a lot. And I'll do Paris-Roubaix as well this year."

Luis León Sánchez - a future Grand Tour winner?
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner/Cyclingnews
(Click for larger image)

Although he keeps saying he has to work hard before talking about his ambitions, Sánchez is formatted for winning the Tour de France one day but he has no problem going for the Flemish classics as well. "I don't necessarily have a great memory of the Tour of Flanders since I broke my scaphoid there in 2005, but I'll do it again and also Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix in support to my big friend Joaquin Rojas, who loves these races. We are always together. We both come from Murcia. Spanish riders are no longer allergic to the classics. We follow the examples of Oscar Freire and Juan Antonio Flecha and we go for it as well."

Aged 24, the gifted climber and time triallist is the Spanish rider the most similar to Miguel Indurain since the five-times winner of the Tour de France retired eleven years ago. The two got to know each other during the Tour Down Under where Indurain was the guest of honour. "He still impresses me a lot," Sánchez said with great respect. "I was 10 or 12 years old when I watched him winning the Tour on TV. I had met him twice briefly before the Tour Down Under. We spoke more here but he didn't exactly give me any advice apart from learning my job before becoming a champion. But I have listened very well to his interviews and I learn from what he says. I'm not like him, I still have to discover everything."

Basically, Sánchez is on the same career plan as Indurain at Caisse d'Épargne, where the staff hasn't changed much over the years after the sponsorship from Banesto under the management of José Miguel Echavarri. These directors like to take their time for breeding a champion. Contador might have taken the post-Armstrong quick opportunity, but Sánchez hasn't said his last word inside Spain's new generation of Tour de France contenders.

Unhappy Moreau argues "solutions possible"

Christophe Moreau (Ag2r Prévoyance) won the 2007 Dauphiné
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

One day after the news that the Dauphiné Libéré stage race in Southern France might only invite ProTour teams to its 2008 edition, last year's winner and Pro Conti team Agritubel leader Christophe Moreau has criticised the decision. Race organisers said that because of growing expenses for anti-doping programmes, they did not have the budget to invite further teams than the 18 ProTour squads.

"If the problem is in fact a financial one and concerns [the fight against doping], it should be possible to find a solution. I just hope it's not a personal problem with me," Moreau told L'Equipe on Thursday. "Can you really exclude a team like Agritubel, which is very transparent about its anti-doping policy, and moreover French, from a race so important as the Dauphiné?"

Moreau meanwhile did not think so much about his own participation in the event, where he would like to defend his title, but also about his team-mates. "Personally, I don't care whether it's the 12th or 13th Dauphiné of my career," he continued. "They are not taking anything away from me. But this would certainly harm younger talents like Romain Feillu, who would miss out on a great race and will not be able to prepare the Tour de France in the best possible way."

BMC Racing Team set for first season

Prior to participating in the first race of its first Pro Continental season, the Tour of Qatar, the BMC Racing Team gathered for a ten-day training camp in California. The team roster of 16 riders from the United States, South Africa and Switzerland joined together in Palo Alto near San Francisco.

Team leaders Gavin Chilcott (General Manager), Charlie Livermore (former US National Mountain Bike Coach, now Training Consultant) and John Lelangue (former General Team Manager of the Phonak Cycling Team, now Directeur Sportif) picked nine new members to the squad, while seven remained from the 2007 team. With the average age being 25 years, the mixture of seasoned pro and eager youngster should be winning results while building for the future at the same time. The most prominent figure of the new riders is the experienced US-American Tony Cruz, formerly with Discovery Channel (see Cyclingnews' teams database for the full roster of the BMC Racing team).

Nevertheless, there is no designated leader of the pack. "Even if we have professional team-mates like Mike Sayers, Alex Moos or Tony Cruz, who could become leaders, we have chosen not to have a team leader. We rely on the group," said General Manager Gavin Chilcott, himself a former pro.

The BMC Racing Team also announced its anti-doping programme in collaboration with the independent Agency for Cycling Ethics (ACE), an international California-based agency, which already counts the teams Slipstream and High Road amongst its clients, will carry out blood and urine tests throughout the entire year. Any deviation in a rider's values will result in the severest consequences. "We have a zero tolerance for doping. We believe in clean sport and will do everything on our side to set a credible example," added Chilcott.

As the year has thus far been scheduled, the BMC Racing Team will compete in about 30 single-day and multi-day races on three continents in its first Pro Continental season. Beside the American tours in California, Georgia, Utah and Missouri, there will be other highlights such as the Tour of Qatar, the Critérium International and the Tour de Wallonie. The American-Swiss Team also would like to participate in the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de Suisse, and so will be working toward winning a wild card from the race organisers and the UCI during the early races of the '08 season. If the team is admitted to the Swiss tours, the four Swiss riders Moos, Bovay, Wyss and Kohler will certainly like to show off the team colours on their home country's roads.

Broken collarbone for Bovay

For Swiss rider Steve Bovay, the excitement of beginning his first year as a professional racer has nevertheless been tempered by some ill-luck he had on the third stage at the Tour of Qatar. About eight kilometres from the finish, a group of riders crashed, bringing down the BMC neo-pro who ended up in hospital with a broken collarbone.

"We were only eight kilometres from the finish so things were going pretty fast," explained Bovay. "I had no intention of contesting the sprint as I am not a sprinter. I was sitting a bit far back in the field and trying to stay out of trouble, but six riders crashed right in front of me. I couldn't do anything. My shoulder was quite painful, but I was so close to the finish that I decided to ride to the finish line in case I could start the next day."

The 24 year-old will fly home to Switzerland today (Thursday) and undergo surgery to repair the broken bone. "We hope that within five to seven days I can begin training again, but I won't be able to race for one to one and a half months. I wasn't scheduled to race in February, but I want to race Belgian events in March. By then I should be healed enough, but we'll have to see what my fitness level will be and whether I can still keep to the schedule."

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