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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, March 3, 2008

Edited by Ben Abrahams

De Jongh puts Quick Step back on the podium in Belgium

By Brecht Decaluwé in Kuurne

Steven De Jongh (Quick Step)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

By beating Dutch compatriot Sebastian Langeveld in a two-man sprint, Steven De Jongh (Quick Step), the 34 year-old rider from Alkmaar, grabbed his second victory in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, a race that traditionally offers a chance of glory to the teams that did not fare so well one day earlier in the arguably more prestigious event, Omloop Het Volk.

In Belgium's big opening weekend of racing in 2008, Quick Step was left behind on Saturday as a dominant Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) took out the opening race, but it bounced back with a great team performance on Sunday. One year earlier, the team did the same with a victory from Tom Boonen in Kuurne after a lesser day in the Omloop.

The Belgian team dominated the 2008 Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne by putting seven riders – minus world champion Paolo Bettini who crashed out after 9km – deep into the finale. Domestiques Jurgen Van De Walle, Maarten Wynants, Matteo Tosatto and also De Jongh worked hard to create a selection before the local laps around Kuurne. The big guns in the group left fighting for the victory contained Tom Boonen, Belgian champion Stijn Devolder and Gert Steegmans, all with Quick Step.

All had their chances to win, especially since Devolder and Steegmans reacted to every attack, while Boonen was prepared for a bunch sprint. "I was surprised nobody attacked until the final lap," De Jongh said of the finale. "We had done a lot of work in front and were getting tired. The other guys couldn't react to every move and especially when Leif Hoste (Silence - Lotto) and Steegmans went it was close."

Eventually, it was the canny Dutchman, De Jongh who took the lucky number as he sat on Rabobank rider, Sebastian Langeveld, when the latter attacked in the last of three local laps. "I sat on his wheel," De Jongh smiled, "so what could I do but follow." Langeveld seemingly didn't mind too much and continued his strong effort off the front, and going into the final kilometre it was clear the duo would be sprinting for the victory.

To read the full KBK winner's story, click here.

Cozza continues Slipstream's strong weekend

By Gregor Brown & Brecht Decaluwé in Kuurne

Steven Cozza (Slipstream Chipotle - H30)
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

Steven Cozza continued a strong weekend of racing for Slipstream Chipotle - H30 thanks to his efforts in the escape of the day in the 61st Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. The American rider added to the team's good weekend – one day prior, Michael Friedman made the main escape group in the Omloop Het Volk.

"It was a good day, but tough," said Cozza, who hails from California, but now bases himself with team-mates in Girona, Spain. He was part of the nine-man move that formed in the closing half of the semi-classic, and eventually finished 24th for the day at just under five minutes back. "For 60 kilometres I did not have water or food," he continued. He lost his bottles during the rough ascent of the Oude Kwaremont at kilometre 110. "That was very tough. Finally, with 20 kilometres to go I pounded down three water bottles and five Clif Shots.

"It is all a good learning experience for me, I am only 22 years old, actually I turn 23 tomorrow," stated Cozza, who plans to celebrate by looking for an apartment in Girona. He won't have much time though, as the Professional Continental squad has him signed up to ride Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy from March 12-18.

"Slipstream is doing well," commented Cozza, "and I think it is only going better and better. We all knew want we wanted to do; after yesterday's performance I was pretty disappointed and I was hungry today. In the first part, I went with attacks but they all came back together, and that was pretty frustrating." He noted he is over his jet lag after travelling from the Tour of California, and looking forward to the spring. "It is always the first race in Europe that is hard for me, after that I am always good to go."

Team-mate Martyn Maaskant was in the group with Cozza for the finale, in 28th, Friedman finished 55th, Jason Donald 58th, Christophe Laurent 74th, Tyler Farrar 77th and Huub Duyn 113th.

Riders do it their own way

At the start of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Cyclingnews talked with Slipstream-Chipotle directeur sportif Johnny Weltz. The atmosphere in the team was good after the strong performance from Michael Friedman yesterday, and Weltz was understandably delighted about all the publicity the team is receiving.

The plate underneath Friedman's saddle
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

Friedman's team bike had a mini car plate fixed under his seat bearing his nickname 'Meatball', surely not the best idea from an aerodynamics point of view? "He has a big arse and actually the aerodynamics should benefit him, I calculated a little on that," Weltz laughed. "It's true that Friedman could've finished a little closer yesterday, but he gave all he had all day long. He started his sprint a little too early, especially after such a race. But it shows our spirit: we're not here to hide away. Freedman shouldn't be unhappy about the lost sprint for a top-10 result, because this is just the beginning."

Besides Friedman's car plate, Steven Cozza's moustache has attracted some attention in Belgium, but the Danish directeur sportif said the unusual facial hair wouldn't extend to team management. "I'm not joining them, but again, it shows the philosophy in the team. We're not in the army and the guys have some liberty as long as they know what the main goal is," Weltz explained.

"I remember a story when I rode for Fagor," said Weltz, the former winner of stages in the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España rode for the French team in 1988, together with Stephen Roche, Robert Millar, Sean Yates and Malcom Elliott. "One of our French riders, Marc Gomez, who was a former winner of Milano-Sanremo [1982], showed up at the Dauphiné Liberé with a beard. Our directeur sportif went mad and ordered him to get shaved. Gomez was stubborn and didn't want to do it, as a result he was sent home. In our team it's up to the riders to decide on those matters."

Rabobank's second place good enough for Flecha

By Brecht Decaluwé in Kuurne

Going into the final lap of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne it was Rabobank's Juan Antonio Flecha who launched the first of many attacks against Quick Step's dominance in the breakaway group. The Spanish Classics specialist didn't get far, but paved the way for his young team-mate Sebastian Langeveld to escape in the final kilometres, together with eventual winner Steven De Jongh.

Cyclingnews asked the Spaniard after the finish if he was disappointed to not claim a win in the early season race. "Disappointed? No, not at all," Flecha replied in fluent English. "Second place is good when you're fighting against a Quick Step team with seven riders in the front group. We had to try something and we both took turns in the attack.

"I was a little sick last week, and yesterday [at the Omloop Het Volk] I wasn't good," he added. "With this performance the team can build confidence for the upcoming weeks."

Flecha is clearly at home with Rabobank and has even picked up a Dutch nickname from his team-mates. They didn't make it too hard and came up with a literal translation: Jan Anton Pijl, or for Cyclingnews readers: John Anthony Arrow.

No Nokere for Eichler, but finally ProTour races

By Brecht Decaluwé in Kuurne

In the hippodrome in Kuurne Cyclingnews talked with Milram's Markus Eichler. The German talent joined the team after a short spell at the troubled Swedish squad Unibet during the 2007 season. "It's a shame what happened with the Unibet team," Eichler said. "I had a contract for three years with Unibet and the future was looking bright. It wasn't too be, and we all had to search for another team this year. I'm happy that I found a team," Eichler expressed his relief. "I've got a contract for one year, so hopefully I can have a good season to ensure my future in cycling."

The German rider is used to riding in the Flemish races and especially the Nokere Koerse one-day event held mid March, a race that suits him very well. "Not this year though, it's not in our program," Eichler said. "But with Paris-Nice, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and so on I can't complain about my program, it looks great." It will be the first year that Eichler will be able to ride in the biggest races after the invitation problems Unibet encountered last year.

On Saturday, Eichler rode to 14th place in Het Volk and was the first rider behind the main group that battled for victory. He rode away from the peloton in the final stretches into Gent. "Better wasn't possible. I have a cold, and even if I would've made it into the breakaway I would've had a chance," Eichler admitted. "My form is good though and I'm looking forward to the upcoming races."

In Kuurne, Eichler had a rough day in the wind and eventually claimed 32nd spot, finishing in the first peloton behind the breakaway group that sprinted for 22th place.

Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne injury report

Somewhere in there is the World Champion
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

As expected, the opening weekend of Belgian racing produced its fair share of thrills, but also a few spills with several riders hitting the deck early on in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. World champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) fell victim to a crash after just nine kilometres and was taken to hospital.

Fortunately, the Italian was not seriously injured, suffering only a bruise to his left knee, back pains and various other scrapes and bruises. He was not required to stay long in hospital and is expected to resume training on Monday. "I was very scared," Bettini said of the incident. "But fortunately I was able to hit the brakes and avoid the worst of it."

The news for Silence-Lotto's Bart Dockx was not so good, as he broke his hip. High Road's Adam Hansen was also involved in the crash as was Team CSC's Stuart O'Grady. Hansen was taken to the hospital with facial wounds according to team spokesman Stefan Wagner, while O'Grady hurt his knee and abandoned at the feed zone.

Boonen and Bettini reflect on trip to California

By Gregor Brown in Kuurne

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) was largely positive about his experience in California
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Quick Step's Tom Boonen and Paolo Bettini were very enthusiastic about their trip to the Tour of California last month when they spoke with Cyclingnews on the eve of the classics season. Despite some bad weather on the US's west coast and having to deal with jet lag from a 10 hour flight, the duo remained positive about the early season trip.

"The weather was not so good, but we were there a week before and the weather was superb and we got a lot of good training rides in," noted 27 year-old Boonen. "The race is well organised and it is something that I think will grow in the future."

Many of the Europeans suffered jet lag during the long flight over the Atlantic. However, the race's length and a lack of sufficiently competitive alternatives made it worth the days needed to recover after travelling.

"It is very hard to find a race in Europe with that amount of good racers and that amount of kilometres so early in the year," continued Boonen. He was even impressed with the level of domestic teams that took part in the eight-day race. "They were good. Racing in the States, everybody thinks it is easy, but it's not. I did my first races there in 1999, and even then it was very hard. It is not always that the European races are better than the US races, otherwise we would not have had an American win the Tour seven times – he wasn't that bad," added Boonen with a smile.

'Tommeke' also had a chance to meet 'The Terminator' during his stint in the Golden State. "I know he is the Governor of California. He did not know who was I was, but I did not ask him at any rate," said Boonen of California's Governor, former actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Boonen joked with his team-mate, World Champion Paolo Bettini, about their trip to the US and the little bit of trouble they had recovering from jet lag. Nevertheless, Bettini confirmed the overall positive experience. "For me it was the second participation," said the 33 year-old Italian. "It is a good tour – organised well."

Still, he was not impressed with the final 150-kilometre stage, that included the climb to Millcreek Summit. "This year, the last stage was not favoured [by the riders]. It was not necessary that we had to do that climb, because for a tour of eight days in February it is not needed to do a climb of 1500 metres, and then with the possibly of raining on that given descent. And, even in America, there was a tunnel without lights!"

Final stage aside, the duo were happy with the warm-up event and are ready to put the kilometres in their legs to good use as the Spring Classics season gets underway.

BMC Racing to Tour de Romandie

American registered Professional Continental team BMC Racing has been awarded a wildcard spot at this year's Tour de Romandie, the team announced this weekend. With four Swiss riders on its roster and Swiss bicycle manufacturer BMC as its title sponsor, the team has a prominent Swiss influence and was selected from 15 Pro Continental squads originally given a wildcard nomination by race organisers.

"This will be our first ProTour race," said team manager Gavin Chillcot. "So we will be very motivated to perform well and learn a lot."

Directeur sportif John Lelangue added: "Romandie is a perfect race for us: it is a ProTour stage race which will have a very high level. We are a American-Swiss team so our Swiss riders will be very motivated to show the jersey off to a home crowd, and the American racers will be interested in building on the successes from [The Tour of] California."

The team was given special recognition in California for its aggressive riding when the organisers handed over a 'Most Aggressive Team' award after the final stage to Pasadena. Racing amongst ProTour competition in April will undoubtedly be step up from California, though, and Lelangue has realistic ambitions for his men when the race gets underway in Geneva on April 29.

"We don't have final podium ambitions," he said, "but we will surely ride aggressively, show off the jersey and do our best to make our presence felt."

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