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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, June 18, 2008

Edited by Greg Johnson

McEwen: I love Switzerland!

Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) pumps his fist
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
(Click for larger image)

Australia's Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) has claimed back-to-back victories at the Tour de Suisse after again sprinting to victory on Stage 4. The rider also hit back at claims he had offended the nation, pointing out that he has a lot of affection for the European country.

McEwen was reported as having unleashed a string of profanities directed at former rider Kurt Betschart. The ex-professional, who manages the post-stage finishing ceremonies at Suisse, allegedly copped the verbal spray after hurrying McEwen to get off the mobile phone so the presentation could start after his Stage 3 victory.

"A Swiss newspaper wrote that I had offended the land," acknowledged McEwen. "That is not true. I love Switzerland!"

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Cyclingnews will cover the 60th edition of the Dauphiné Libéré live as of stage 4 on Wednesday, June 10, at approximately 15:00 local Europe time (CEST)/ 23:00 Australian time (CDT)/ 9:00 (USA East).

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Race organisers provisionally decided against imposing a fine on McEwen, a move that local hero Fabian Cancellara couldn't understand. The Team CSC rider was quoted in the report by Swiss newspaper Blick, describing McEwen as an unpopular rider and noting to Cyclingnews, "if people don't know how to behave themselves, they're better off being sent home."

McEwen brushed off the controversy, instead focusing on his second victory of the season. The double sprint victory is a promising sign from the Queenslander, just weeks out from the Tour de France.

"In the finale I had Leif Hoste, Jurgen Roelandts and Greg Van Avermaet beside me, and they did it perfectly," McEwen said. "I could launch my sprint in the last turn. Now we will go drink a glass of champagne."

McEwen will be forced to fight on his own for the Tour's green sprinter's jersey this year. The team announced recently its efforts would be focused on bringing McEwen's compatriot Cadel Evans home in the yellow jersey.

Rogers out of Tour contention

Michael Rogers
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Australia's Michael Rogers will miss this year's Tour de France, as he slowly returns to racing after suffering from the Epstein Barr virus. Roger's Team High Road, which will ride the Tour as Team Columbia, will be missing two of its biggest stars. The revelation Rogers won't have recovered in time for the French race by team Sport Director Rolf Aldag follows the news that Linus Gerdemann's knee problems will also prevent him from riding.

Aldag said that the three-time World Time Trial Champion would not be in form for the Tour. "He can do well in one-day races now," Aldag told German magazine Radsport. "But we will have to wait for the difficult three-week tour."

Rogers recently finished 11th overall in the Dauphiné Libéré. Last year, Rogers was the virtual leader in the Tour when he had to drop out of the eighth stage following a crash.

Kim Kirchen, who finished seventh in last year's Tour, is expected to be Team Columbia's captain. Team manager Bob Stapleton indicated at the announcement of the team's new sponsor that sprinter Mark Cavendish is almost certain to be on the Tour team. The young Manxman recently won two stages of the Tour's Italian counterpart the Giro d'Italia.

Sauser sets sights on world title

By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy

Christoph Sauser celebrates his first win
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

Christoph Sauser has his sights set on a gold medal in the UCI Mountain Bike Worlds cross country race on Sunday in Val di Sole, Italy, after finishing second twice before in 2005 and 2006.

"After the Olympics, the worlds are the most important race to me," said the 32 year-old Swiss racer from Sigriswil. "I feel in very good shape, but everything has to come together on race day. It's always a big challenge to train, to travel and to race."

Sauser's primary challenge will come from reigning World Champion Julien Absalon. The Frenchman has won an impressive four consecutive titles from 2004 to 2007. Absalon sat out the last major round of racing at the World Cup in Fort William, Scotland, but Sauser isn't discounting him.

"It would be naive for me to think that Absalon's not in top shape," said Sauser. When asked if he thought Absalon could win yet again, he considered it possible. "He's already won four, so maybe there's less pressure on him? But look at Lance Armstrong – at the time you thought he won six, he can't win seven in a row, but he did."

The two rivals have taken turns being faster than each other all spring so far. "In Houffalize, I had technical problems on the first lap and in Offenburg, Absalon was faster," said the racer nicknamed "Susi." "In Andorra, I was stronger [Sauser won that World Cup round. - ed]."

Sauser is excited about Sunday's race after he pre-rode the course. "I really like the course," he said smiling. "The rain made it perfect, and technical. There are a lot of lines to choose from. There is not just one."

Sunday's race is also important because it will finalise the selection of the Swiss Olympic team. Sauser's place is almost guaranteed, given his performances during the last year and given that Switzerland will send three men to Beijing.

The elite men will likely complete seven laps of the 6.2 km course on race day, but officials may alter the length up until the day before the race, depending on how course conditions evolve the rest of the week.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for complete coverage, including live coverage of Sunday's cross country events.

US Olympic track team coming into focus

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

Taylor Phinney placed 8th
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

Last week the top contenders for the few spots on the United States of America Olympic track cycling team met in Carson, California at the ADT Center to make their final case for selection and try to circumvent the process by earning automatic nominations. While Taylor Phinney and Jennie Reed had already secured spots for August's Olympic Games in China with earlier performances, Taylor at the third UCI Track World Cup event and Reed with a bronze at the World Championships, the rest of the spots were to be chosen with a series of timed events.

The Madison and points race used two 3000 metre mass starts over two days, with a minimum time standard to earn an automatic spot. After three met the standard, the fastest would be an automatic selection while the other spot would be chosen from the remainder. Bobby Lea set the fastest time with a flying first 500 metre time of 29.525 seconds and finishing with a 3000-meter time of 3:17.648, earning the spot.

Of the other three – Michael Friedman, Brad Huff and Colby Pearce – both Friedman and Huff met the standard. Friedman rode a 30.359/3:24.229, while Huff rode a 30.466/3:21.740 to eclipse the time standards and remain in contention for the final spot.

In the sprint events, the men rode both a 250 metre standing time trial and a 200 metre flying sprint. Michael Blatchford recorded the fastest 250 metres at 17.973 seconds, beating the 18.01 standard. Giddeon Massie and Adam Duvendeck missed the minimum. Blatchford, Massie, Duvendeck as well as Lea contested the flying 200 metre sprint for an automatic nomination to contest the match sprint and keirin, however none met the 10.38 mark.

While already on the team, both Phinney and Reed attempted world record marks at the selection camp. Phinney set a new junior world record in the 3000 metre individual pursuit with a time of 3:16.589. The record attempt was part of Phinney's training program leading into next month's UCI Junior Road and Track World Championships in South Africa. Reed rode the flying 200 and 500 metre time trials, but did not set world records, though she came within .007 seconds in the 500 metres and did set a new national record. Both her times bested the automatic selection time, despite already having a ticket punched for Beijing.

USA Cycling director of athletics Pat McDonough said that the camp was an illustration of the progress the track program has made since the previous Olympics. "The performances by our athletes over the course of these last couple of days are a good sign of things to come," said McDonough. "The determination and intensity of the competition this week is indicative of how far our track program has come since 2004. To have five athletes meet demanding time standards less than two months from the Olympics means everyone is raising their game for when it matters the most."

Ziliute at Grande Boucle for one last time

By Bjorn Haake in Gent

1999 winner Diana Ziliute
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

Diana Ziliute is contesting the La Grande Boucle féminine for one final time before retiring at the end of this year and started the event with a sprint victory on the 73.2 kilometre Stage 1. The Lithuanian has been a part of the professional women's peloton since the late 1990's and scored one of her biggest successes winning the race's 1999 edition.

The race was different then. "We did 15 stages and lots of climbing," she said. "It was more like the last couple of stages this year. It was a lot harder!"

Ziliute thought the race started changing in 2003 or 2004, but she has no idea what the reason was. "I am just thinking about pedaling, not why the Tour de France changed."

Ziliute admitted, however, that she didn't agree with the change. "For the men, it is still the same course as before," she said. "To me, the Tour de France signifies the top, the toughest there is."

The event's stature certainly has changed for the women, with La Grande Boucle féminine only a 2.2 race on the UCI calendar these days. The race has been shortened to just six days, and the first few stages are considerably flatter than years gone by, with the biggest obstacles being the infamous Belgian cobble stones.

Further cuts in the event's budget have ensured that the treacherous pavé sections weren't even mentioned in the road book. "I don't know how many kilometres of pavés there are or where they are," said Ziliute. "I don't know anything. It will be a surprise!"

Despite the fall in the event's status and budget in recent years, Ziliute thinks the women's cycling is lucky just to have the event. "It is good that the Grande Boucle is returning," she emphasised. "In the past, it wasn't always held [the race was canceled in 2004 - ed.]. I hope that things are improving and that next year it will be even better."

Even if the event does progress in years to come, Ziliute won't be able to profit from it as a professional rider. Ziliute will retire from the sport at the end of 2008. "This is my last year as a racer," she confirmed. "I hope to finish it well."

The Lithuanian would like to win a few stages in her final Grande Boucle and started in fine form with a victory on yesterday's opening stage. While she lamented the loss of more challenging stages, the rider hasn't targeted the last couple of stages of this year's event, which are rather hilly.

"I am not in the same shape as I was in 1999," she smiled.

Is Pierre Rolland France's next big thing?

France's Pierre Rolland, 21, takes mountains competition of the Dauphiné Libéré.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

One year after France's Rémy Di Gregorio won the climbers' classification at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, another great French hope – Crédit Agricole's Pierre Rolland – sat down with Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet to talk about his dreams for the future and his decision not ride the 2008 Tour de France.

It was touching to see Pierre Rolland kissing his polka dot jersey at the end of this month's Dauphiné. After getting to know him through his team manager Roger Legeay it's been clear for some time that he was definitely a promising rider, and with his win in the Dauphiné he joins an illustrious list of previous polka dot winners, such as, Charly Gaul (1953), Federico Bahamontès (1963 and 1964), Luis Ocaña (1971, 1972 and 1973), Bernard Hinault (1979, 1981 and 1984) and Richard Virenque (1995 and 1996).

He certainly had to win the jersey the hard way. On the last day towards Grenoble, the 21 year-old fought tooth and nail to counter-attack Bouygues Telecom's Yuriy Trofimov, who had escaped earlier in the stage. It was a fantastic battle with Rolland's team-mate Dmitriy Fofonov, who was the eventual stage winner beating the young Russian at the top of the two first climbs in defence to the young Frenchman's jersey. "Do I have it?" Rolland questioned Legeay after crossing the line.

He was equal on points with Trofimov but having led over the hors catégorie col de la Croix-de-Fer, he'd taken the jersey. Getting a positive answer from Legeay, who had taken him to the start in his personal car as he is the new, enfant prodige of French cycling, the relief was clear to see.

"This jersey is a big symbol," he quietly explained after the stage. "I like climbing and I would like to wear the polka dot jersey at the Tour de France one day as well, but I don't know yet what kind of rider I really am." In the youth categories, Rolland has won races in flat areas like the Loire-Atlantique Espoirs near Nantes but he's never been identified as a pure climber.

After being one of the promising, but not headlining French juniors in 2004, he moved from his home town of Orléans – 100 kilometres south of Paris – to Brittany in order to learn his trade with the Super Sport 35 amateur club run by three former French professionals: Stéphane Heulot, Xavier Jan and Lylian Lebreton.

To read the full feature, click here.

(Editorial assistance and research provided by Susan Westemeyer)

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