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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News, March 1, 2008

Edited by Sue George and Laura Weislo

Boonen and Bettini ready for spring campaign

By Gregor Brown in Kortrijk

Boonen is confident his team can win
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

Quick Step will undoubtedly be the team to watch in the 63rd Omloop Het Volk with mega-stars Tom Boonen and World Champion Paolo Bettini. The 199-kilometre semi-classic officially opens the season of spring one-day races for the powerful duo, both of whom returned to Europe last week after racing the Tour of California.

The team has won the race twice in recent years, but never with the Belgian nor the Italian. In 2003, it was Johan Museeuw who took the win with Bettini playing good team-mate in third, while two more Quick Step riders, Franck Vandenbrouke and Boonen, rounded out the top five well ahead of the field. In 2005, Nick Nuyens made a name for himself by holding onto a courageous solo attack while Boonen won the sprint for second.

For Boonen, the semi-classic is an empty space on his trophy shelf. "It is the only race I have not won from the spring classics, all the other ones I have already won one time or more," noted 27 year-old Tom Boonen to Cyclingnews Friday evening, February 29, at the Kennedy Hotel in Kortrijk.

As rain started to fall outside, the rider from Mol rated the race as important, but noted that his peak is set for the end of March and early April. "It is a pretty important race; it is the first race of the season on Flemish soil. I am not really 100 percent condition-wise and I am also little bit jet lagged from the Tour of California; however, I think if everything goes well it is still possible to win the race. I don't know how my legs will feel tomorrow; it is possible they will be good."

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The race returns to its roots with the arrival in Gent after a 13-year hiatus, adding an element of uncertainty for the riders. "It is a little bit harder – more nervous, and narrow roads between the climbs," explained Boonen. "It will be better for strong riders with a strong team. I don't know I am going to be good enough to make the race on my own, but we have other riders who are able to do it."

The Belgian ProTour team has Stijn Devolder, Gert Steegmans and Steven De Jongh if Boonen or Bettini should fail. "We have a lot of cards to play, it is not only me." Outside of his own team, he rates the favourites as Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O'Grady (both Team CSC).

Boonen – winner of two editions of Ronde van Vlaanderen and the 2005 Paris-Roubaix – will expect his best form will arrive later in March. "My peak form will be in the period from Sanremo to Roubaix, and everything I win in that period is great. If I win one [race] it is good, if I win two it is better, if I win three great!"

Even though he is racing Tirreno-Adriatico, Boonen clarified to Cyclingnews he is not racing the Monte Paschi Eroica, the new event which is trying to make a name for itself as a 'hard man's race' in Italy. "Are you making me do it?" he asked, laughing. "I heard some stories about it. It is on dirt roads? In Italy, [a hard-man's race]?! That is not possible?" he joked.

Read the complete feature.

Teams to request amendment to ASO agreement

The International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP) said Friday after a three-hour meeting that it is going to propose amendments to its contracts with Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), the organizers of the Paris Nice race scheduled for March 9-16. A key topic of discussion was the participation of teams in the season's major events, if not run under UCI rules.

Earlier this week, ASO decided to take Paris-Nice off the international calendar and to run it instead with the French federation. UCI President Pat McQuaid had urged teams to boycott the event in response, but the AIGCP decided in favor of participating. However, the teams are following up on one of McQuaid's chief concerns - without UCI rules specifying participation, the organizers are able to dictate what teams can ride major events, including immediate expulsion of riders or teams if ASO perceived a threat of image damage for its organization or the event.

On the eve of Het Volk, AIGCP's directing committee studied the ASO agreement in detail for the French race. According to the AFP, AIGCP President Eric Boyer wanted to make sure the team's legitimate concerns were heard. "We'd like to make conditions for starting [events] common," said Boyer, who suggested each team make sure it had assurance of participation in the form of appropriate guaranteeing language in all contracts.

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

Merckx calls for cycling to "regain its dignity"

Eddy Merckx
Photo ©: Greg Johnson
(Click for larger image)

In the midst of the ongoing battle between Grand Tour organizers and the UCI, cycling legend Eddy Merckx has called for an end to hostilities that are hurting the sport.

"It's bad to see the confrontation between the UCI and the organisers of the big races," said Merckx according to Reuters. "They have to work to restore cycling's image and not get involved in such conflicts. I really hope they'll reach an agreement because the sport has to get out of this crisis," added Merckx. "They have to set an example to the new generation, to make cycling attractive for young riders."

Merckx lamented the doping-related problems that have plagued cycling and commented on the decision of Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) to exclude Team Astana from the Tour de France - a decision which will prevent last year's winner Alberto Contador from defending his title.

"I don't think it would be normal for last year's Tour winner Alberto Contador to miss the race this year," said the five-time Tour winner Merckx. What Merckx is asking is for those involved in the conflicts "to help cycling regain its dignity".

Armstrong takes over in New Zealand

Kristin Armstrong leads in New Zealand
Photo ©:
(Click for larger image)

34-year-old American Kristin Armstrong (Cervélo-Lifeforce Pro Cycling Team) won the queen stage of the Women's Tour of New Zealand on Friday on her way to overtaking the overall ranking which she now leads by 21 seconds ahead of Australian Oenone Wood (Team High Road).

The women covered 125km from Masterton to Admiral Hill in stage three, including six mountains along the way and a final seven kilometer climb where Armstrong showed her strength and finished 27 seconds ahead of Ruth Corset (Tabak Team International). Former GC leader Wood finished third for the day and dropped to second in the overall.

The Women's Tour continues through Sunday with one stage Saturday and two on the final day. Armstrong will defend her lead in the fourth stage Saturday on the Miramar Circuit.

Iranian team confirmed for FBD Insurance Rás

By Shane Stokes

Last year Iran made the headlines immediately prior to the start of the FBD Insurance Rás, but it was for all the wrong reasons. A group of individuals posing as the national team travelled to Ireland but then went missing, their visa application for the race enabling the scam to be committed.

This time round, race organiser Dermot Dignam has confirmed that a bona fide Iranian selection will line out in the 2.2-ranked event, with five good international riders competing for the UCI Continental Azad University cycling team.

"It's probably true to say we were a little annoyed with ourselves for been taken in by the scammers last year," said Dignam this week. "We felt we had to make amends by having a legitimate team in this year's race. We appreciate the assistance received from the Iranian Embassy and are absolutely delighted with the quality of the team selected to come to Ireland."

Amir Zargari, Abbas Saeiditanha, Mehdi Sohrabi, Hassan Maleki Mizan and Mehdi Faridi will line out for the Continental-level Iran ­ Azad University team, and have enough individual and collective strength to make a big impression on the race.

Mehdi Sohrabi is on paper the strongest rider on the team. The 26 year-old won the Asian Games road race in 2006 and has also taken the Iranian national road race and time trial titles. Last season he won the overall classification in the Jelajah Malaysia, three stages in the Tour of Milad du Nour, two stages in Kerman Tour and one apiece in the Tour of East Java and the Tour de Hokkaido.

Amir Zargari has won stages in the Tour of Milad du Nour, the Tour of Azerbaijan, the Tour of East Java and the Kerman Tour. Team-mate Abbas Saeiditanha has also landed a stage of the Tour of Azerbaijan and, like Zargari, has taken silver and bronze track medals in the Asian Games.

Hassan Maleki Mizan was second on a stage of the prestigious Tour de Langkawi this season and in the past has won a stage in the Kerman Tour plus two stages of the Tour of Egypt. The fifth member of the team, Mehdi Faridi, was bronze medallist in last year's Iranian road race championships. They will all travel prior to the FBD Insurance Rás start in Navan on May 18 .

Mitsubishi-Jartazi given "wild card" status

The UCI's License Commission granted "wild card" status to the Mitsubishi-Jartazi team on Friday after receiving further information from the team according to the UCI's website. After meeting the UCI's technical performance, legal, administrative and ethical criteria, the Estonian professional continental team will now be eligible to receive invitations to compete in races on the UCI ProTour calendar.

Michaelsen to debut as DS

Lars Michaelsen (Team CSC)
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

Former Danish road professional Lars Michaelsen will make his debut as a rookie sports director with Team CSC at the Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne this weekend. Michaelsen is taking over for an ailing fellow director, Scott Sunderland.

"We need to focus on using these two races as preparation for later ones like Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen," said Michaelsen according to "I don't mean that we wouldn't like to win here, because we would always attempt to do so of course, but the main focus is definitely on getting started on the cobble stones."

Cobbles-riding expert Michaelsen last rode for CSC and is known for helping team-mates Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O'Grady win the Paris-Roubaix the past two years. Michaelsen has plenty of experience to share with his riders after logging stage wins at Danmark Rundt, 4 Jours de Dunkerque, Hessen Rundfahrt, Tour of Qatar, Tour de Georgia and the Vuelta a España.

Tinkoff to race at Almeria and Lugano

Tinkoff Credit Systems will be at the races Almeria in Spain and the GP Lugano in Switzerland this weekend.

"The riders at Almeria are in an optimal condition, and with Evgueni Petrov's seasonal debut, we are interested in his performance, and his feedback regarding his condition," said Sports Director Orlando Maini.

At the GP Lugano, Tinkoff is aiming for the top step of the podium. "Our objective is to win," said director Claudio Cozzi.

Tinkoff for Almeria: Sergey Klimov, Alexander Serov, Ricardo Serrano, Walter Pedraza, Alexander Khatuntsev, Nikolai Trusov, Vasil Kiryenka, and Evgueni Petrov under directors Orlando Maini and Dimitri Konishev.

Tinkoff for GP Lugano: Luca Mazzanti, Daniele Contrini, Yuahen Sobal, Nikita Eskov, Alexander Gottfried, Ilya Chernetsky, Pavel Brutt and Ivan Rovny under Claudio Cozzi.

Liquigas readies for busy weekend

The Omloop Het Volk, scheduled on next Saturday 1 March, will be the hors d’oeuvres of North Classics. A lot of walls, with an incline from 4 to 20 per cent, and the sections in pavè will constitute a very good test bed for those who want to be in the mix in a month, at the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

The Liquigas Team is getting ready to partake of the Omloop Het Volk on Saturday, a sort of hors d'oeuvres of northern semi-classics. Though the race will be without 2007 winner Filippo Pozzato, Liquigas will field Enrico Franzoi as he gets ready for Paris-Roubaix. On Sunday the team heads to Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.

On Sunday, a different Liquigas team of eight riders will play their cards looking for success at the GP Lugano.

Liquigas for Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne: Enrico Franzoi, Alberto Curtolo, Mauro Da Dalto, Murilo Fischer, Aliaksandr Kuchynski, Roberto Petito, Manuel Quinziato and Frederik Willems under Mario Scirea

Liquigas for GP Lugano: Michael Albasini, Leonardo Bertagnolli, Kjell CarlstrÖm, Andrea Noè, Franco Pellizotti, Ivan Santaromita, Alessandro Vanotti and Charles Wegelius under Dario Mariuzzo.

Fort Collins boasts new team

US national amateur endurance mountain bike champion Brad Cole, 2007 collegiate national criterium champion Phil Mann, the National Collegiate Criterium Champion and Colorado state time trial champion Patrick McGlynn will head up Team Legacy Energy, a Fort Collins-based team that is emphasizing a drug-free approach to racing.

The newly formed grassroots team was formed with two goals in mind: first, to develop young, talented riders into seasoned, veteran riders who will one day go professional and second, to achieve this first goal without using performance enhancing drugs. The team will partner with Colorado State University to create a health profile of each rider that is monitored throughout the season, much like is done by many professional teams.

Team Director Andy Clark picked Fort Collins as the team's base for its bike friendly environs. The team intends to act as the cycling ambassador for Fort Collins as it travels the countryside from race to race. Part of its activities will including hosting monthly easy-going community rides to teach group riding skills and meet the locals.

Norcal League season kicks off

The NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League kicks off its eighth annual season Sunday with the Central Coast Invitational at Fort Ord in Monterey and runs for six races through May 18, when it will close with the state championships at Bogg's Mountain, north of Calistoga.

This season, 40 registered teams will bring 450 racers, along with 200 coaches to each race. Traci Kroll (Berkeley High) will return as the top ranked returning varsity rider where she will be joined by Christine Weir (Nevada Union) who last season dominated in the girls Freshman/Sophomore category and Laney Aldridge (Harbor High) last year's top ranked junior varsity girl.

In the varsity boys' category is top ranked Daniel Boyes (Marin Academy), along with Tylor Brandt (Drake High). Nate Byrom (Nevada Union) will be another varsity rider to watch out for, as last year he had a strong showing as one of the first sophomores competing in varsity. Also keep a close eye on top ranked Jon Bennett (El Cerrito High) who will be making his varsity debut in this field of 50 riders. Last year's three "Freshman phenoms" Will Curtis, Jeremy Blalock, and Davis Bentley will also be in the mix after outstanding junior varsity results in 2007.

This season, the league's racers will be racing without caffeine after a recent ban on the use of the substance during League events.

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