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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, March 15, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

Gesink one day closer to Paris-Nice title

Robert Gesink (Rabobank) smiles as he is the new leader
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Rabobank's Robert Gesink made it one day closer to becoming the first Dutch rider since Michael Boogerd to win Paris-Nice on Friday, surviving a wickedly fast 172.5 kilometre stage from Althen-des-Paluds to Sisteron. With the help of his team, which was put under pressure by the 17-man breakaway that began to nibble into his lead when the gap crested three minutes, the 21 year-old phenom maintained the yellow jersey and his 32-second lead in the overall standings.

Stage winner Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), down 4'07" on Gesink at the start, was the best placed rider in the break, and drove the pace to move himself up on the general classification. But in the end, the Rabobank riders were given assistance from the Gerolsteiner team of Davide Rebellin, who lies second overall, to control the leaders, and there was little change to the standings with the exception of Barredo's rise to to sixth.

"My first day in yellow was a nice one," the young Dutchman explained. "But it hurt a lot! The pace was high all the time. We didn't expect it would be so high. This group away wasn't the ideal scenario for us. I've been worried but luckily it went well at the end."

Gesink's team manager Erik Dekker expressed his confidence in his young rider's ability to secure the overall on the team's website, "It is harder for the competition to take the yellow away from Robert than it is for us to defend his yellow," said Dekker, who has been consistently impressed by the abilities of the second year pro. "It is getting harder and harder to be surprised by what he shows us."

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While on the screen the Rabobank team seemed to struggle to control the breakaway, Dekker insisted that they were never in danger. "The guys were not bored," he joked. "It looked tense, but the signals I got reassured me. They said they were all right, that they had things under control But it was intense though, full throttle from start to finish."

Gesink has been the revelation of the season as best young rider in California and the now with the yellow jersey in Paris-Nice. A pure climber who bears a haunting physical resemblance to his former team-mate Michael Rasmussen, Gesink also shares Rasmussen's perfectionism when it comes to weight savings. Before the ascent to the ski station on the Mont Ventoux, he changed bikes to a lightweight machine "with light, but vulnerable, tires, a carbon seat that you cannot sit on for a very long time, cables cut down to the bare minimum, and a very short chain."

Should Gesink stroll into Nice on Sunday with the yellow jersey secured, he will surely be one of the youngest champions of the 75 year-old race. He would join such legends as his compatriot Joop Zoetemelk, Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx and Sean Kelly in the list of winners.

Rebellin and Nocentini in pursuit of the leader's jersey

By Hedwig Kröner in Sisteron

Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) limited his losses on the Ventoux
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The overall outcome of this year's Paris-Nice will be decided in the last two stages, with several riders still in contention for the final honours on the Promenade des Anglais in the Mediterranean coastal city of Nice. A new star on the horizon, 21 year-old Dutchman Robert Gesink led the general classification on Friday evening, but is closely followed by two experienced Italians, Gerolsteiner's Davide Rebellin and AG2R's Rinaldo Nocentini. Both riders were regarded as pre-race favourites, with 'Tin-Tin' Rebellin victorious in the Tour du Haut Var and Nocentini coming second, whereas the young Rabobank rider emerged rather unexpectedly.

Rebellin was happy that the dreaded Mont Ventoux did not put an end to his GC goals before the final stages to the Cote d'Azur. "Yesterday was a hard stage for me, with the final ascent being really difficult," he told Cyclingnews at the start of stage five in Provence's Althen-des-Paluds. "I passed the climb better than I had expected, so I'm happy. My form is good, but Evans and Gesink were also impressive!"

The Italian Classics specialist was full of praise for the Rabobank youngster, but also reckoned that there still were a few more riders to watch out for the top GC placings. "Gesink is very strong, but so are other riders that sit at 30 or 40 seconds [meaning Nocentini and Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) -ed.]. It's far from over: the weekend is going to be decisive," he added, hoping that his ill-fated squad will be up to the challenge. Several of his Gerolsteiner team-mates were injured in crashes during the first stages of the race, and are still suffering. Carlo Westphal and Tom Stamsnijder abandoned the race today.

The battle between him and his fellow countryman Nocentini seems open, as the AG2R rider also has the victory in sight. "With Rebellin only three seconds ahead of me, I'm going to try for second place for sure!," the likeable Italian said to Cyclingnews in his best French. "And Gesink is only at 35 seconds, that's not very far away, either. So it won't be easy [to win the race], but it's not impossible."

Rinaldo Nocentini hopes the short climbs this weekend will suit him
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Nocentini also rated Gesink as a "great climber, but for ascents more like yesterday: long climbs like the Mont Ventoux. I might be a little better than him in the shorter hills that we still have in front of us this weekend. My abilities are similar to Rebellin's – the shorter climbs suit us better." One advantage Rebellin might have in the upcoming stages is that of parcours experience, as Nocentini only raced Paris-Nice once, in his second year as a pro, eight years ago. Since then, he preferred Tirreno-Adriatico to the 'race to the sun'. "But they told me the last stage to Nice is good for me, so we'll see."

His team, AG2R-La Mondiale, was also unlucky in the first part of the race, with several of his team-mates crashing. Still, Nocentini felt very-well supported. "I'm very happy with my team – they all ride for me and do a great job. It was important in the first stages with all the wind, and still is now."

Asked to rate his form compared to Rebellin's, Nocentini diplomatically concluded, "I think we are on the same level at the moment. Three seconds is not much...."

Sánchez vows revenge

By Hedwig Kröner in Sisteron

Sánchez won a stage in 2007 and wants to at least repeat that.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

One of the riders who has not met his goals in this year's Paris-Nice is Spain's Luis León Sánchez. The Caisse d'Epargne rider, who finished third last year behind winner Alberto Contador and runner-up Davide Rebellin, had the French race on top of his to-do list for this season, but lost out on the 'Giant of Provence', the Mont Ventoux.

"I had some difficulties yesterday, climbing the Mont Ventoux [He lost 2'18" on GC - ed.]. Now, all I have left is try to win a stage... and try to get closer again to the leaders," a disappointed Sánchez told Cyclingnews on Friday morning. He is now in seventh place on the overall classification, 2'06" minutes back.

As to the reasons for his difficulties, Sánchez could not say what exactly went wrong. "I came here from Murcia, where the weather had been nice, and the first stages were all cold, wet and windy," he said. "So that might be one explanation for why I had this crisis on the climb. I'm not happy about it. I came here to win Paris-Nice, and these hopes kind of vanished yesterday, so even wearing the best young rider jersey [for race leader Robert Gesink - ed.] is not a consolation..." Last year, the young Spaniard won the penultimate stage to Cannes, so there might yet be an opportunity or two for him to make amends.

Lhôtellerie: France's next climbing sensation

By Jean-François Quénet in Sisteron

Clément Lhôtellerie (Skil-Shimano)
Photo ©: JF Quénet
(Click for larger image)

At the start of stage five of Paris-Nice to Sisteron, polka-dot jersey holder Clément Lhôtellerie made no mystery about his tactics. "I'm too well placed on GC now," the Frenchman said. "My team will try and control the race until the first King of the Mountain prize at km 30." Skil-Shimano did the job and the polka dot jersey of Paris-Nice took first at the top of the climb, securing a comfortable lead with 41 points ahead of Kjell Carlström with 19.

Lhôtellerie first came into the picture when he broke clear with Bradley McGee and the Finnish rider Kjell Carlström Liquigas who out-sprinted him in Saint-Etienne after doing less work along the way. "I have no regret about that," the Frenchman explained. "I had to attack anyway. Even if Carlström had collaborated, he would have beaten me in the sprint. But I don't think about that anymore."

On the other hand, Lhôtellerie easily admits his mistake when he attacked five kilometres away to the top of the Mont Ventoux stage on Thursday. "I lost quite a lot after that," he said. "Before the stage, I didn't know if I had recovered from the day before but I did and I felt very good when we started climbing up the Ventoux." This is a climb he was to use to train on when he was racing as a junior and U23 with VC La Pomme Marseille.

He hails from Charleville-Mézières in the French Ardennes but he learned his job in the famous club of the south of France. He was a mountain-biker and a cyclo-cross rider before switching to the road. "Because of that, I was a climber straight away," the former stagiaire at Crédit Agricole underlined. "I wanted to turn pro as soon as possible but it was my choice not to do it in a ProTour team. I thought an intermediate step was a smart move. When I heard that Skil-Shimano was looking for some young French riders for the 2007 season, I contacted them. I think I've made the right choice. With them I have a good program."

He'll do the Criterium International in his home town and Paris-Roubaix, which isn't new to him. "This race has always made me dream, I like the pavés as much as the climbs," he stated. Last year he finished second to last but he was proud to finish after taking part in the morning breakaway. "I think you need a lot of experience to perform in this race."

Lhôtellerie is a smart man who turned 22 the day of the prologue of Paris-Nice. A former student in physiotherapy, which he did for two years after college, he speaks a fluent English and puts no limit to his cycling ambitions. "Now I wear the polka dot jersey in Paris-Nice but in the future I want this same jersey but in July in a race that lasts for three weeks," he smiled. "I enjoy long breakaways like Richard Virenque did. I'm not afraid of going clear with 200 kilometres to go. I'm not afraid of the mountains. I hope to become one of the world's best climbers."

Considering the current context of professional cycling and the performances of Lhôtellerie and Thierry Hupond at Paris-Nice, the Skil-Shimano Dutch registered team might get an invitation to the Tour de France already in 2008. "Why not?," Lhôtellerie reacted. "Our team doesn't have the structure for that standard of racing yet but everything is possible." The young Frenchman is contracted with Skil-Shimano until the end of 2009 with an option for him to leave at the end of the current season. As France's new climbing sensation, he might be courted by bigger teams pretty soon.

Schleck still in pain

By Hedwig Kröner in Sisteron

Fränk Schleck (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

CSC's Fränk Schleck is quietly preparing his season's first objectives, the Spring Classics. After finishing tenth in the Tour du Haut-Var, the 2006 Amstel Gold Race winner had been wanting to show more of his rising form in Paris-Nice, but it was not to be. The rider from Luxembourg crashed right on the first stage of the race, which prevented him from living up to his role as a race favourite.

"I've had better days," Schleck told Cyclingnews at the start of stage five in Althen-des-Paluds, even though the Provence sun raised temperatures to almost 20 degrees Celsius. But the 28 year-old still felt the pain from his crash under the rain a few days ago. "Now, I just have to get over these last few days. Yesterday [on the stage to Mont Ventoux, where he finished an impressive fifth - ed.], I felt quite good, even though I was still in pain. But it was good for my head, as I know have to get over this mentally, too."

Fortunately, his injuries will not keep him from performing for a long time, and he he will be back to a 100 percent of his abilities in short-term. Schleck was confident that "it's going to heal fairly well. The problems are only muscular. There is nothing broken or torn." But the early crash made him lose a lot of time on the general classification, and shattered his initial ambitions for Paris-Nice.

"If I hadn't crashed, things would have been quite different," he explained. "I don't say that I would have won this race, but I could have raced [for] the podium."

Irish women riders unhappy over grant criteria inequality

By Shane Stokes

Louise Moriarty raced the Tasmanian carnivals last year.
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)

A planned appeal by three international women riders who were not awarded funding through the carding scheme has been dismissed by Cycling Ireland, with the governing body refusing to sign off on the bid to reapply for funding.

At a meeting held last Saturday, the Women's Commission met the Cycling Ireland board to discuss the carding issue and to outline the inequalities in funding criteria which exist. Despite outlining several discrepancies, they were told that the appeals would not be considered as CI feels that Siobhan Dervan, Jenny Fay and Louise Moriarty fall short of what is required under the CI/Irish Sports Council criteria.

Clear inequalities are in place under the current Irish grant system, including the provision to award male riders with the top 18 teams [known as ProTour squads] International funding of €12,000, while simultaneously dismissing Dervan's submission that she is at an equivalent level. She is due to compete with the Italian pro squad Fenixs in 2008, a team that was ranked seventh in the world at the end of last season.

At the meeting the Women's Commission says it was told that Cycling Ireland consider the men's ProTour level to be a higher standard than the women racing in World Cups, even though this is the top level in that wing of the sport.

Currently, women with pro squads can apply under the team contract criteria for development funding only, and are subject to an age constraint of 27 years or under. No age limit exists for men on ProTour teams.

"Our main gripe was under equal opportunities," Valerie Considine of the Women's Commission said. "There aren't the same opportunities in place for the women as there are for the men. With a specific track programme or the Sean Kelly squad some [male] riders qualify for carding; however, no such programmes exist for the women. Therefore the opportunities are not the same."

The women's commission were told that there are plans to fund a women's track squad at some point in the future. However with the season already underway and nothing in place in terms of plans or funding, Dervan – Ireland's most talented female rider – is considering her future in the sport. Fay and Moriarty are also under financial pressure.

Out of a total of €215,000 allocated under the carding scheme, only €12,000 was given to female riders this year. This was for two riders riding in Paralympic competition, while those in the mainstream branch of the sport will receive nothing.

One small consolation is that the Women's Commission will have a greater input into setting carding criteria in the future, as well as having a say in the selection process for international teams.

Richmond Pro Cycling supports non-profits

Richmond Pro Cycling fuelled by Natures Path (RPC) has announced several bold 2008 initiatives focusing on community development and sponsor relations. The squad will be working with People Cycle, a local non-profit, as well as the I Have a Dream Foundation and to support underprivileged children. They will also support the two local development teams, Endorphin Fitness Junior Development and the Carytown Bicycles Collegiate Development.

The team is backed by a contingent of local contributors, including Ellwood Thompsons Local Market, Seawall, Primrose Schools, Palani Drive, Stellina (Alan Bicycles), Carytown Bicycles, Endorphin Fitness, & Tradewind Sports with Fernando Carvalho Custom Clothing, and was recently invited to the prestigious Air Force Classic Pro race May 4th. The RPC team kicks off its season on March 22 at Palani Drive Café. For more information, visit

Braveheart gets new mentor

Former Scottish national cycling coach Graeme Herd has taken on a new role with the Braveheart Cycling Fund where he will serve as a mentor and coordinate special projects including the organization of foreign training camps and racing trips for the fund’s riders.

"It's a great opportunity to get involved in a very worthwhile initiative," said Herd. "Although no longer national coach, I remain involved in the sport at the highest level through coaching athletes, and I'm delighted to extend that involvement through the Braveheart Fund. There are some talented young riders emerging in Scotland, and it's great that the fund can help them try to fulfil their ambitions."

Brian Smith, who established the fund in 2003, welcomed Herd's appointment. "Having Graeme involved on a more formal basis is a great boost, because his knowledge of Scottish cycling and cyclists is second to none. He is particularly good at working with young athletes, who can only benefit from Graeme's knowledge and experience."

The Braveheart Fund was set up in 2003 to help Scottish riders with racing and training costs. Since then, it has raised over £100K and will support 13 riders this season. For more information, visit

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