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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, June 26, 2008

Edited by Sue George

Zabel to decide about retirement post-Tour

Erik Zabel
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

At his team's Tour de France presentation Wednesday, Milram's Erik Zabel announced that he will soon decide about whether to continue his career into 2009. His contract with Milram is set to expire in December.

"I want to concentrate on the Tour de France and after, in August, I will make my decision," said the 37 year-old German according to the AFP. He will be contesting his 14th Tour de France, where he will contend for the green sprinter leader's jersey and stage wins. He'll celebrate his 38th birthday during the July 7th stage of the Tour.

The sprinter said he is not having any trouble with motivation now. "But it may be in the first bad hotel or during the first rainy stage that I ask myself why I'm not already done."

Zabel has won the green jersey six times during his career, from 1996 to 2001. He finished second place at the World Championships in 2004 and 2006. His career continued even after admitting in the spring of 2007 to doping while racing under the team Deutsche Telekom. in 1996.

Hincapie to captain Team Columbia at Tour de France

George Hincapie (High Road)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

George Hincapie will lead Team Columbia for the 2008 Tour de France. The former Team High Road is sending nine riders from eight countries and five riders under age 25.

Hincapie, a veteran of 12 Tours, will serve as road captain and tactical leader on the bike during the race, but the team also consists of a solid lead-out group with the likes of Marcus Burghardt and Bernhard Eisel to support young sprinters Mark Cavendish and Gerald Ciolek. Cavendish has won seven major races in 2008, including two stages in the Giro d'Italia, and will make his second start at the Tour. Ciolek will make his Tour de France debut after winning three stages in the tour of Germany last year.

Support for Kim Kirchen in the mountains will come from Hincapie, Kanstantsin Siutsou, who won the overall title at the Tour de Georgia this year, and Thomas Lövkvist, who finished fifth overall in the Tour de Suisse last week.

"We plan to be competitive in every stage without losing the focus on the support for Kirchen in the general classification," said Team Director Rolf Aldag. "This team is able to exploit and dictate the tactics on some stages."

"The team has been on a big wave of success this year," said owner Bob Stapleton, "and we bring confidence, team work and good spirit into the Tour. It was difficult to select the Tour de France team because so many of riders deserved a spot."

Team Columbia for Tour de France: Kim Kirchen, George Hincapie Thomas Lövkvist, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Mark Cavendish, Gerald Ciolek, Germany, Adam Hansen, Marcus Burghardt and Bernhard Eisel.

Halfway through: A review of the ProTour teams' season to date (Part 4)

By Ben Atkins and Brecht Decaluwé

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?" In part four, the team-by-team analysis includes Astana, Silence-Lotto, Team CSC-Saxo Bank and Quick Step.


Contador gives the thumbs up
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

What went right: Under normal circumstances this would be an outstanding season for any team. 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador has won just about every race that he has entered including the Vueltas Castilla y Leon and País Vasco and the Giro d'Italia – the latter after reportedly being sat on the beach a week before. Andreas Klöden – one of the few big names left over from last year's team – has also chipped in with successes of his own: winning the Tour de Romandie and finishing second in the Tour de Suisse.

Meanwhile US champion – and last year's Tour third place – Levi Leipheimer has won the Tour of California, and only one bad day in the Dauphiné Libéré prevented him from contesting the victory there.

What went wrong: Not much has gone wrong on the road; it's off it that the team has hit problems. Despite protestations that the management and team structure has been replaced since the scandals in and after last year's Tour de France, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) refused to invite them to any of the races that they own. Apart from the Tour de France, these races include Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, all of which would have been targets for Astana riders. This boycotting of the team was preceded by a similar action from the Giro's owners RCS Sport (until that last minute invitation), costing the team its participation in Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo.

Contador's Giro victory was criticised by some for not being as stylish as his Tour victory of last year – in fact he only had assurance of victory after the final day's time trial. This is not altogether surprising though as the invitation to race only arrived at the eleventh hour and the Spaniard was on holiday at the time.

Holding out for: With no Tour de France, there is little prospect of quality competition in the coming month. Astana will probably send one of the strongest teams to the Tour of Austria, but the big stars are now looking forward to the latter part of the season: the Olympic games, the Vuelta a España and the World Championships.

Contador himself has stated recently that his own national tour is his own preferred target, which would make him only the fifth rider to have won all three tours, and the first rider since Giovanni Battaglin in 1981 to win the Giro and Vuelta in the same year (and the first ever since the Vuelta was moved to its current position in the calendar.

Overall: As stated above, this would have been a fantastic season under normal circumstances. Astana has won virtually every major race where the team has been invited, but the non-invitation to ASO's races (and those owned by RCS Sport at the beginning of the season) has left a huge gap in the team's schedule and for a team of this size to not be invited to the Tour is a disaster.

No matter how much they try to distance themselves from it, the spectre of Alexandre Vinokourov still hangs over this team. Despite the door being firmly shut to him, it's difficult to escape the fact that the team was originally set up as a vehicle for the former Kazakh champion and the sponsors may yet start to make demands. The team can only hope that time will distance them from the 2007 disaster.


Cadel Evans takes second in the Dauphiné
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

What went right: With Cadel Evans, the Belgian team has the odds-on favourite for the upcoming Tour de France. Evans even started to win races in an unusually aggressive fashion – taking an uphill sprint in the Ruta del Sol and the Ventoux stage in Paris- Nice, an unusual feat for a rider who normally focuses on following on the climbs.

Recently Robbie McEwen started winning bunch sprints again and his three victories in Switzerland made up for a rather poor showing earlier this year. The Australian contingent in the team was responsible for nine of the team's eleven victories.

Young ace Greg Van Avermaet showed that he can become the team's future leader in the Spring Classics; the Belgian gave an impressive performance in the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and then went onto a gutsy stage win in the Tour of Belgium. For now Van Avermaet can use his fast legs to become the perfect lead-out man for Robbie McEwen in the Tour de France, like Gert Steegmans did two years ago.

In the Giro d'Italia Jurgen Van Den Broeck captured a seventh place, which is the best result for a Belgian in a Grand Tour since Rik Verbrugghe in the Giro of 2002. The 25 year-old was considered to be a talent after his junior world champion title, but things started to improve fast for the new 'VDB' after he moved to Italy to train in the mountains instead of flat Flanders. By extending the contract of 'VDB' until 2010, the team is assured of a good GC-rider aside Evans for the next couple of years.

Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

What went wrong: Directeur Sportif Marc Sergeant drew the conclusion himself after the Spring Classics. "The team was able to show itself in the Spring Classics, but once again they missed the icing on the cake. If a book would be written about our Spring Classics it would contain a lot of pages, but would it sell? I don't think so, because you need victories for that."

Leif Hoste was the team's leader in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, which are extremely important races as they are held on, or near home soil. The triple runner-up in Flanders couldn't live up to the expectations. Partly due to bad luck, but also because other riders proved to be stronger than him. It's always a gamble to aim solely on these two races. It was Cadel Evans' second place in La Flèche Wallonne which rescued the team's Spring campaign.

Holding out for: The yellow jersey in Paris! Cadel Evans is the top favourite for the Tour de France and Silence-Lotto did everything they could to build a strong team around the Australian. By bringing on Yaroslav Popovych the team should have a man who can work for Evans in the high mountains. All the other riders, except for compatriot Robbie McEwen are in the team to work for Evans. It's Evans' race to lose.

Overall: The team relies almost solely on their Australian riders for victories, while the Belgians proved to be without winning legs in their Spring Classics. Luckily for them the Belgian team made a switch of focus last year, from the Spring Classics to the Grand Tours. For many years the team was fighting against all-mighty Quick Step in the Spring Classics, being left behind as Belgian's number two in most occasions. Nowadays they gained more publicity than ever as they are holding one of the most respected GC-riders around. All will depend on the performance from Cadel Evans in the Tour de France for a better mark at the end of the year.

Read the complete news feature.

AFLD delayed in pre-Tour de France doping controls

Due to the ongoing dispute between the UCI and race organizers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the Tour de France will not benefit from the biological passport program for riders run by the International Cycling Union (UCI). Instead, it has been attempting to enhance a passport programme run by the French Anti-doping Agency (AFLD) to support anti-doping testing throughout the three-week race.

AFLD president Pierre Bordry indicated that traditional Tour de France controls will still be analyzed by the laboratory in Lausanne, also charged with analyzing UCI passport controls, by the same method. "The results of these pre-Tour tests will be added to a blood passport," he said to the AFP.

The AFLD has been faced with some challenges in acquiring the pre-competition data it needs to perform the passport controls during the competition. The agency said Wednesday that it had completed 30 controls of anticipated starters or half the pre-competition tests it envisioned leading.

"All the riders are located," said Bordry of the obligation of riders to furnish location information per the contract signed by ASO and the 20 invited teams. Some riders have been controlled multiple times.

Without access to the UCI's passport program data, AFLD has to get its own data, including controls that must be performed both inside and outside of its territory. "In order to control foreign [non-French - ed.] teams, we are working with national agencies and WADA."

Of his agency's efforts, Bordry said, "This is not a gift to the UCI but is for the good of cycling." The agency is operating without information from the UCI's program, including the names of the 23 cyclists with questionable results

As reported in L'Equipe last Friday, the population of controls collected during the Tour will be split. Some will be sent to Lausanne for testing for human growth hormone, a substance believed to have been used by some athletes during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The lab in Châtenay-Malabry does not have the technique for such testing.

The 2007 Tour de France was marked by many doping scandals including that of Dane Michael Rasmussen, who was excluded from the race while wearing the yellow leader's jersey after it was discovered that he failed to disclose truthful information about his whereabouts as required for anti-doping controls. The entire Astana team also withdrew from the race after positive doping tests by Alexander Vinokourov.

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

Elmiger extends with AG2R

Martin Elmiger
Photo ©: Florian & Susanne Schaaf
(Click for larger image)

Swiss professional Martin Elmiger extended his contract for a year with the AG2R La Mondiale team.

Beginning with two wins in his first season with the team in 2007 (at the Tour Down Under and GP d'Isbergues), Elmiger made himself an important place in the squad, particularly for the Classics. This year so far, he won a stage of the Tour de Picardie and finished third in the GC. He also finished second at the Tour du Canton d'Argovie, second in a stage of the Tour de Suisse and seventh in the Grand Prix de Waregem.

The 29 year-old has previously ridden for the Post Swiss Team (2001) and Phonak (2002-2006) and counts eight total professional victories.

Wynants renews and Kvist joins Team Quick Step

Maarten Wynants renewed his contract with Team Quick Step for an additional two years through 2010. Wynants won his team's continued support after classics like Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Amstel Gold Race. The young Belgian has been with Team Quick Step since 2006

"I'm very happy with the opportunity and faith the team has given me," said the 26 year-old Belgian. "My goal is to further grow and mature, to be worthy of the faith the team has bestowed on me."

Neo-pro Thomas Kvist will also join the squad beginning August 1 with a contract that will run through the end of 2010. The 20 year-old Danish racer, drew notice after he won a stage and the overall at the Gran Prix de Nations in Canada, an important international U23 race. He also was having a good race at the Giro delle Regioni in April – at least until he had to withdraw due to a fractured clavicle.

"He's a rider we've been following for a while and who already integrated with the team last winter, participating in the two team retreats," said Team Manager Patrick Lefevere. "Now he'll have the time to grow and mature gradually as part of the team."

French Olympic mountain bike team named

The French Cycling Federation announced its Olympic Mountain Bike Team just two days after the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. According to Technical Director Patrick Cluzaud, the men's team will include 2004 Olympic champion Julien Absalon, Jean-Christophe Péraud, and Cédric Ravanel while Laurence Leboucher will serve as the sole female French representative.

CONI drops interrogation threats for foreign riders allegedly implicated in Puerto

The Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) has reportedly dropped intentions of interrogations of non-Italian racers allegedly involved in Operación Puerto, saying it no longer has hope of help needed from the Spanish judicial system.

"It's clear that we cannot take care of this problem and that is no longer possible to get the necessary information to question sportsmen of other countries in Italy," an unnamed source at CONI said according to AFP. However, a CONI spokesperson noted to Cyclingnews that the organisation has made no such release.

In January, CONI's anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri had announced intentions to question allegedly implicated riders, including Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador. Since then Contador won the Giro d'Italia. The agency hoped to guarantee that foreign nationals involved in competitions in Italy had not broken anti-doping regulations

"Contador poses no problems and has not been mentioned by national or international sporting organizations," noted the source. The news means that riders like Alejandro Valverde and all others are free to compete in Italy without fear of being detained for questioning related to Operación Puerto, an investigation that now dates back two years, just prior to the 2006 Tour de France.

Related to the Puerto investigation, Italian racer Ivan Basso previously admitted "attempted doping." He was suspended and is scheduled to return to the professional peloton after completing the serving of his current sanction.

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'

May 18, 2009 - Valverde to start Catalunya
May 15, 2009 - Valverde not welcome in Denmark
May 14, 2009 - Spanish federation wants proof in Valverde case
May 13, 2009 - Spanish Olympic Committee defends Valverde
May 12, 2009 - Valverde responds to sanction
May 11, 2009 - Italian tribunal delivers Valverde two-year suspension
May 8, 2009 - Valverde case: Italian Olympic Committee defends Torri
May 7, 2009 - Valverde to take legal action against CONI prosecutor
May 5, 2009 - WADA and Spanish federation join CONI and UCI on Valverde
May 1, 2009 - International Cycling Union joins in on Valverde's hearing in Italy

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of Operación Puerto

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