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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, June 9, 2008

Edited by Paul Verkuylen & Ben Abrahams

Leipheimer: Better than I thought

By Hedwig Kröner in Avignon

Levi Leipheimer powers along
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

American Levi Leipheimer made a strong statement about his current form on Sunday afternoon by winning the prologue of the Dauphiné Libéré in Avignon, Provence. The Astana rider got the better of short-distance specialist Thor Hushovd on the 5.6-kilometre parcours and will be wearing the overall leader's jersey on stage one on Monday.

Even before tackling the course, Leipheimer felt confident about his abilities, one week after helping team-mate Alberto Contador to victory in the Giro d'Italia. "I'm surprised, I feel okay – a little tired, but I recovered better than I thought," the winner of the 2006 Dauphiné told Cyclingnews in Le Pontet on the outskirts of the Papal city of Avignon.

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"The Giro was hard. I never did it before, but every day was important and it always a bit stressful. Then, we had a lot of transfers and bad weather," the 34 year-old explained. But he was sure that the three weeks of Grand Tour racing had some effect on his fitness.

"I think my form is better than when I went into the Giro," Leipheimer continued. "I hadn't really raced much before that, so more than anything it was training for me."

Now, Leipheimer counts amongst the favourites for the overall victory, a feat he already achieved two years ago. "I love the Dauphiné, I've always really liked it ever since the first time I did it in 2003," he said. "In 2005, I came close to winning – I should have won – but because of a stupid mistake made by myself and my team, we lost the race. We were a bit overwhelmed, we tried to get clever, but ended up losing everything. The next year, I really wanted to win, I came back and I finally did it. I'd love to do well again this year."

Although Leipheimer leads the general classification after the prologue, he is only a few seconds away from other contenders such as Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and knows a hard week-long race has only just begun. "We'll have to wait a couple of days, ride into the race and watch the other riders – but it'll be clear who's the strongest. That's one of the great things about this race: you can be sure that the strongest rider wins," he added.

Asked who he thought would be his toughest opponents, the American replied: "The usual suspects: Cadel, Valverde... and Gesink from Rabobank will be strong. He's a big talent, and he will improve with age. The time trial is his weak point at the moment, but he's got a lot of time to figure it out."

Continue to Cyclingnews' complete coverage here.

Breschel's patience pays off in hot sprint

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Matti Breschel (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The expected sizzling temperatures forecast for today's Philadelphia International Championship did not disappoint, as the mercury rose from the low 80s (30 Celsius) in the beginning of the race to 98 degrees (36 Celsius) by the finish more than six hours and 156 miles (251km) later. This resulted in one of the slowest races in the 24 year history and seemed to doom any breakaway from surviving.

Back in the peloton the CSC team kept their cool – both literally and figuratively – making sure their riders were topped off with fluids and not working too hard, gambling that it would be a field sprint. And the plan worked, as the young Matti Breschel was set-up ideally coming into the long final straightaway. The 23 year-old Danish rider held-off his sprint until the perfect moment, keeping Kirk O'Bee (Health Net-Maxxis) and Freddie Rodriguez (Rock Racing) from coming around him on the line.

"We only had six riders and not such a strong team," said Breschel about his team's strategy for the day. "We know this distance from racing in Europe and we know to take care of ourselves – and wait, wait, wait the whole time. In the end we put one guy in front to pull with the other teams but otherwise everybody took in easy.

"It's a really hard sprint, and it's not my style to wait the whole day," Breschel continued. "I tried it out a couple of times on the wall but I knew when we went on the three last laps it was coming down to a sprint, so I took it easy and prepared myself. I was by myself on the last lap and I didn't have a good position over Lemon Hill, so I struggled to get a good position before the roundabout. I got a good position on the right side and took it easy for a few meters."

From there it was only Health Net-Maxxis able to have any organised effort with John Murphy leading-out the US criterium champion Kirk O'Bee. "Going into the last kilo I saw him [in front] but he was on the left and I was on the right," Murphy told Cyclingnews. But as soon as we hit the fountain he got to the outside and I said, 'Let's go!' It was awesome, I don't know if he saw me or what, because as soon as we connected I took him all the way."

But the infamous finish stretch in Philly is deceivingly long and with a stiff headwind Health Net was one rider too few, and with 200 meters to go Murphy's thermostat redlined. "We were going and I think [Kirk] was waiting but I started to die. The CSC guy jumped us and then [Kirk] went, but I was tunnel-vision at that point!"

Despite coming up just a few meters too short, O'Bee was all praises for his team's efforts. "I was in the totally wrong position until 1km to go. I was just sitting at the back conserving [at 3km] but luckily Frank [Pipp] was back there with. Frank took me up Lemon Hill all the way into the roundabout. Then Murphy was behind me and gave me a perfect lead-out! He was a little bit short by like 50 meters but the CSC jumped with a strong jump, so what can you do?"

In third was former winner Freddie Rodriguez. The veteran champ got an easy ride early in the race with team-mate Tyler Hamilton in the first break. But coming into the final time up Manayunk and into the finish, he knew from experience he had to be clever on the front. "With 2km to go over Lemon Hill we got a gap with about five guys and I had to make sure I was there. I did that and then coming into the last kilo it is always a little sketchy, but once you hit the corner it always is smoother."

Continue to Cyclingnews' complete coverage here.

Bruyneel would have preferred Dauphiné Libéré with Contador

Contador with his Giro trophy
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel has admitted that he would have preferred to have won the Dauphiné Libéré with Alberto Contador than the Giro, in order to spite Tour de France organisers, ASO.

"I must confess that I would have preferred to win the Dauphiné Libéré with my 2007 Tour winner," Bruyneel told Belgian newspaper HLN. "Less than a month before the start of the Tour I would have liked to rubbed it into to those guys in Paris. The Giro unfortunately decided otherwise. Contador had gone to Italy for a week to race because organiser Angelo Zomegnan requested his presence.

"For the Giro, we had Andreas Klöden and Levi Leipheimer. But after a week and after the first time trial it was clear to everyone that Contador could win the Giro. If you must choose between a Giro or Dauphiné Libéré win, the choice is made quickly.

"After Alberto's Italian victory he was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm in Madrid. I am no longer keeping the discussions going [with the ASO]. I've put a lot of energy into it but I don't want to put my health on the line. In France, they have lost all reasonableness, the UCI has become a powerless body and the teams don't dare oppose the Tour organisers. Why should I get myself worked up about that," Bruyneel concluded.

Posthuma takes second stage race of the year

For the second time this season, Joost Posthuma (Rabobank) has taken the overall win in a stage race. After taking the lead in the Tour of Luxembourg on the third stage by a slender one second, the Dutchman was able to hold onto the jersey on the final stage into the capital, Luxembourg, a tough stage which saw the race splinter into many smaller groups. His final victory margin remained one second over Michael Albasini (Liquigas). Italy's Salvatore Commesso (Preti Mangimi) won the final stage ahead of Sergey Rudaskov (Cycle Collstrop) and Dana Andonov Petrov (Benfica).

Rabobank's sport director for the race, Erik Dekker, was happy with the way their depleted team of just six riders handled the final stage. "We never had any stress," he explained on Rabobank's website,

"My greatest fear was that [Fränk] Schleck would attack in the final, but that never happened," Dekker said. "We just rode the final three local laps and that was it. Albasini also never tried anything. We always had the race under control. A good day's racing."

Even with just six riders, Rabobank not only took the final overall classification but also the teams classification.

The stage's beginning was marked by a series of break-aways, the first of which was controlled by Rabobank's Laurens Ten Dam and contained Andy Schleck. That group had up to a three-minute lead, which gave Ten Dams the virtual race lead. However, Crédit Agricole led the chase to capture the group. "It was a remarkable situation," said Dekker. "Without having to do any lead work, everyone came back together, after which the fourteen broke away. Perhaps Fränk Schleck was the best in this Tour, but the best rider does not always win," he concluded.

Posthuma's other stage race victory this year was the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde run from April 1-3 in Belgium.

Mondory takes first professional victory

Frenchman Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) took his first professional victory when he won the 1.HC GP Kanton Aargau in Switzerland.

"I felt good over the past fortnight. I was really strong," Mondory explained. "I'm really happy with this victory. It's been a long time since I turned professional and then to win here by taking initiatives and going with the break. It may also be a good time to make my selection for the Tour. My place is not gained but I will do everything for it that is my goal."

The 26 year-old won the final sprint ahead of his team-mate and one of the favourites for the race, Martin Elmiger. A group of 14 riders escaped the peloton in the final 40km of racing. Four of those riders were unable to maintain the pace of the break on the tough circuit in the Swiss Alps which lead to a ten man sprint for first.

Sweden's Thomas Lövkvist (Team High Road) placed third.

Dauphiné will decide Rogers' participation in the Tour

By Jean-François Quénet in Avignon

Thirty-first position on the results sheet of the Dauphiné prologue is not the first place to look for a triple world time trial champion. But Michael Rogers is still in the process of rebuilding his condition after being forced to stop racing due to glandular fever.

"I'm getting fitness," he said with satisfaction after his ride in Avignon. "Hopefully by the end of the week I'll get a result here. I'm not at the Dauphiné for the overall but I'd like to test myself twice, maybe at the time trial on Wednesday and during one of the mountain stages. I'm feeling pretty good but only the competition will tell. This is only my second race after the Tour of Catalunya."

A participation in the Tour de France hasn't yet been decided for the Australian at High Road. "It's premature to talk about it," he said. "A decision will be taken after the Dauphiné, depending on how I go in this race."

Gesink aiming for a good overall classification

Rabobank started the Dauphiné Libéré with three riders in mind to ride a strong race. Team leader Robert Gesink wants to finish as high up on the classification as possible and with a 19th place in the opening time trial, just 16 seconds behind winner, Levi Leipheimer he has started the race in a strong position.

"Robert has indeed come here with ambitions for the final classification," explained Rabobank's sports director Adri van Houwelingen. "Which? He wants to finish as high up the classification as possible. We are not putting any pressure on him, but will see where he ends up. The field here is an extremely strong one."

Gesink will approach the next two stages with the intention of remaining as close to the leaders as possible before the time trial and following four mountain stages. We know that Robert will surrender a lot compared to the guys who are aiming for a good general classification at the Tour de France, but he is still trying to discover himself, and may surprise us. I am curious to see where this will lead."

Van Houwelingen believes that the second to last stage will be the toughest of the race. During the stage they will face the Col de la Croix de Fer before finishing atop the La Toussuire. "And that is a small 230 kilos long," he said.

Nys impressive in Fort William

Sven Nys made a big impression on the mountain bike world on Saturday, finishing an impressive sixth in a world class field at the Fort William round of the World Cup. "I confirmed my progression. That gave me a good feeling."

Nys started the race way back in 51st position, leaving a lot of work to be done in order to get close to the front. "It costs a lot of power to work your way to the front," he explained to Sporza Radio.

"This sixth place was the best that I though was possible before the race, and I am very happy. If I can start closer to the front, then I think that I could be riding for a podium position.

"My advantage is that due to my cyclo-cross and road racing I am much more explosive," Nys explained.

Nys hopes to move up around 25 places in the start order for the next round in Italy. "Then I would start around the 30th to 35th place, but we will have to wait and see.

"If the course suits me, a lot is possible," Nys said of the next round. "It would be good if there are some tough climbs, but the descents need to be rideable. If they are too technical then they will suit a more experienced mountain biker."

Nys is hoping to do well in Beijing and will forgo the World Cup rounds in Canada in July and August to best prepare for the Olympic race.

Walker back in business

By Jean-François Quénet in Avignon

William Walker (Rabobank) is back in action
Photo ©: JF Quénet
(Click for larger image)

William Walker is back in the saddle with a respectable ride for 47th spot at the prologue of the Dauphiné, in what is only the early part of the season for him. "I've disappeared for a while," he said with a smile. The Australian from Rabobank has been out for two months after suffering from Bell's Palsy, a virus that prevented any movement in one half of his face. "I couldn't ride at all," he recalled.

Two months ago when he resumed training near Melbourne, he was hit by a camper van and ended up in hospital. "I still feel some pain on long climbs but I'm okay now and the condition is pretty good," he said after completing the Tour of Catalunya and the Tour of Belgium. "I hope to come out of the Dauphiné with a very good condition. I have the Tour of Austria and the Vuelta in mind."

He looks more muscular after his break, too. "It's the first time I've given my body a period of recovery," he said. "It might be good for my future, we're only half way into the season."

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