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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Latest Cycling News, June 25, 2008

Edited by Gregor Brown

Cunego set for battle of Bergamo

Italy's Damiano Cunego (Lampre), 26, ready for tricolore battle
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Damiano Cunego, winner of the Amstel Gold Race, is prepared to take up the Italian National Championship fight thanks to a strong Team Lampre. The 26 year-old from Verona will have the support from the likes of 2007 Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Alessandro Ballan for the Bergamo battle this Sunday.

"The Bergamo parcours is adapted to Cunego's characteristics. ... It will be a very, very hard course with a two-kilometre climb repeated 13 times; also the [hot] weather will be a factor," confirmed Lampre Director Sportif Maurizio Piovani to Cyclingnews. Since turning professional in 2002 Cunego has not had an opportunity to win the tricolore jersey. This year he has the chance to ride with the top in the Tour de France, July 5 to 27, where he will be fighting for the overall victory.

"Damiano, after the fourth place in the Tour de Suisse, has good morale and is working to refine his condition for the Tour de France," Piovani continued. He noted that Cunego will be careful not to spend any extra energy than is necessary since the French Grand Tour starts only six days later.

Including Cunego and Ballan, the team will be made up of nine riders. The other Lampre riders supporting the fight will be Matteo Bono, Marco Marzano, Massimiliano Mori, Paolo Tiralongo, Paolo Bossoni and Francesco Gavazzi.

Piovani explained that Ballan will race in a similar manner to Cunego. "To have him in the finale, with Bossoni and Cunego, we can play our cards," he noted this morning.

Lampre will also be represented in the Czech Republic as new recruite Lubos Pelánek fights for his nation's title.

Caisse d'Epargne sends 14-man team to Spanish nationals

Alejandro Valverde, 28, backed by 13 men in Spanish Championships
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Team Caisse d'Epargne will send 14 men to fight for the red and yellow Spanish national championship jersey this Sunday in Talavera de la Reina, including defending champion Joaquím Rodríguez, Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Alejandro Valverde and 2006 Tour de France champion Oscar Pereiro.

Valverde finished second last year to his friend and team-mate, Rodríguez. This year's race, on the eve of the Tour de France should see the 28 year-old Spaniard on top form. "I think that it is a great opportunity for Valverde, because we will confront a very demanding climb in three times," Luis León Sánchez confirmed to Cyclingnews.

The entire team consists of Alejandro Valverde, David Arroyo, José Vicente Garcia, Iván Gutiérrez, Joan Horrach, Pablo Lastras, David López García, Alberto Losada, Daniel Moreno, Francisco Pérez, Oscar Pereiro, José Joaquín Rojas, Luis León Sánchez and Xabier Zandio.

Young sprinter Rojas, 23, admitted, "I have been dreaming of this championship for a long time." However, he added that the "heat and distance" will make the race a hard affair.

The Caisse d'Epargne team will field Gutiérrez and Sánchez for the time trial. In France, where its sponsor is based, the team will have Anthony Charteau, Arnaud Coyot, Mathieu Drujon, Fabien Patanchon, Mathieu Perget and Nicolas Portal fighting for the road race title. (GB/AS)

Riccò towards for Pantani's Alpe d'Huez stomping ground

Riccardo Riccò on the Alpe d'Huez in 2006
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Italy's Riccardo Riccò, one day after the surprise announcement that he will race the Tour de France, has indicated that he will aim for the stages of Super Besse and Alpe d'Huez. His idol Marco Pantani claimed victory twice on Alpe d'Huez – 1995 and 1997 – something that the 24 year-old Saunier Duval-Scott rider would like to repeat.

"The arrival of l'Alpe d'Huez, where Pantani won two times, attracts me in an unimaginable way," noted Riccò to La Gazzetta dello Sport. The climb, this year stage 17, has featured 25 times in the Tour de France.

Riccò said that he does not intend on riding for the overall classification and added that stage six, to Super Besse, is one that also sparks his interest. However, with two stages wins and second place overall in the recent Giro d'Italia, one spot behind Spaniard Alberto Contador, he is content with what he has already accomplished. "I will take it all very easy, what comes comes. My season has already been set. I did not hit my target, but I went very close and I am happy."

The last and only time he raced the French Grand Tour was in 2006, when he finished 97th overall riding at the side of leader Gilberto Simoni. "It was a nightmare," he recalled. "It was my first year as a professional and my first Grand Tour. It was a huge experience and an enormous satisfaction to be able to finish it because it was really hard work. ... I had a crisis and in the finale I was able to recover."

He looks back at his break between the Giro d'Italia, which ended on June 1, and the start of the Tour de France as a good experience, even if he did not make it to vacation in Sardegna. He joked that his preparation for the Tour de France is similar to how Contador spent his days before arriving at the Giro d'Italia, "I went to Rimini and Riccione, seeing is how the beach did Contador well..."

Halfway through: A review of the ProTour teams' season to date (Part 3)

Oscar Freire keeps Rabobank's victories account
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

What was the first half of the 2008 season like for the 18 ProTour teams? Who can be satisfied with their performance and who needs improvement? Or, as the Cyclingnews staff asked, 'What went right and what went wrong?'

Team Rabobank

By Susan Westemeyer

What went right: Oscar Freire continues to show his stuff to advantage in the orange and blue jersey of Dutch team Rabobank. The Spaniard won the opening stage of the Tour de Suisse to take the first leader's jersey, just as he did in Tirreno-Adriatico, where he also won two stages. And he showed his versatility by winning Gent-Wevelgem. Joost Posthuma has been a surprise in the plus category, winning two smaller stage races, the Tour of Luxembourg and the Driedaagse De Panne. The young Robert Gesink continues to shine. He started well in California with a stage win. He had fourth places in the overall in the Dauphiné Libéré and in Flèche Wallone. He finished in the same spot in Paris-Nice, after his inexperiene saw him lose the race lead on the last descent of the week long race. Frequently takes young rider classifications.

What went wrong: Youngster Thomas Dekker has never gotten on track all season. He has no wins but a number of top ten finishes in, for example, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. His inconsistency seems to hang together with health problems. A poor performance in the Tour de Suisse knocked him off the Tour de France squad. Sprinter Graeme Brown brought in one win so far, in Murcia, and came in for some rather pointed criticism from team management in the Giro d'Italia. In addition, the team is awaiting a ruling on Michael Rasmussen's wrongful dismissal suit, with the grapevine saying a finding in favour of the Dane would cause the team to shut down.

Read the entire teams review (part three, or part one and part two).

Milram leads Tour with Knees and Zabel

Team Milram will send Erik Zabel and Christian Knees as co-captains to the Tour de France, it announced today at a press conference in Dortmund. The German ProTour team will look to help Zabel get his seventh green jersey for the best sprinter, but will look to Knees for stage wins and the general classification.

"The new role in the team is a special honour for me," said Knees, who won the Bayern Rundfahrt last month and finished ninth overall in the Tour de Suisse. "I thank the team for the trust that it has shown in me and I want to pay this back with a good performance." According to Zabel, "The new structure is very important to our team. The entire responsibility no longer rests all on my shoulders." It will be Knees' third Tour de France, but the 14th for sprinter Zabel, who will celebrate his 38th birthday on July 7.

The two captains will be supported by youngsters Niki Terpstra and U-23 World Champion Peter Velits, both making their Tour de France debut, and all-rounders Björn Schröder, Ralf Grabsch and Martin Müller. Brett Lancaster and Marco Velo will prepare the sprints for Zabel.

Meanwhile, Team Manager Gerry van Gerwen is looking to other changes for the team in the future. Having fired its star, Alessandro Petacchi, after the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld doping charges against him, the team has been forced to re-invent itself. He stated to the Kölner Stadt Anzeiger that "everything must change now."

Milram will start working with trainer and sports scientist Achim Schmidt of Cologne, who will take over the team's training. In addition, today's press conference was also the grand opening of the team's new base in Dortmund. The Dutch team manager wants all of the riders to move to that area, to make training and preparations easier.

The team is riding under a German license this year, and has a majority of German riders, a trend which van Gerwen wants to continue. "We want to become as German as possible." To that end, he is looking for available German riders, and has his eye particularly on Team High Road's Linus Gerdemann and Gerald Ciolek. "When their contracts expire and they are available, then I will be interested," he said. (SW)

Burghardt sponsors junior team

There will be a new junior team in Germany as of July 1, the Marcus Burghardt Junior Team. The Team High Road professional will sponsor the team based in Chemnitz with 10 riders between the ages of nine and 20, and escort them on their first training ride that day. "I am very happy that this team exists. As always, I am thinking of the future and of clean cycling and want to do my part."

The team will be associated with the RSV Venusberg, the cycling club which Burghardt not only rode for when he was younger, but with which he is still associated. "Marcus is a strong-willed, achievement-oriented type and is the role model for many young riders here in Saxony. The motivation for these young riders will surely rise with this new team which bears his name," said Kalus Fischer, Venusberg team manager.

Burghardt, 24, is providing material to the team in the form of jerseys, helmets and sunglasses, and is also providing financial assistance, as well as bonuses and material prizes. (SW)

(Editorial assistance and research provided by Susan Westemeyer and Antonio J. Salmerón)

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