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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, March 16, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo

Yellow jersey race goes downhill

Yellow jersey Robert Gesink
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The race for the yellow jersey is frequently decided on the slopes of France's daunting peaks, but rarely is it lost on the downhill side. Nevertheless, Saturday's stage of Paris-Nice saw race leader Robert Gesink lose the overall on the descent of the col de Tanneron. The Rabobank rider who flew up to the finish of Thursday's stage on the Mont Ventoux demonstrated that his climbing skills far outpace his ability to ride downhill quickly.

An attack by the second placed Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) on the final climb of the day distanced the 21-year-old, and opened a gap he could not close on the technical descent. At the end of the stage, Gesink would hand his yellow tunic over to the Italian. "Right at the top of the Tanneron, Rebellin went so fast that I couldn't stay on his wheel. The few meters I lost there made the downhill terrible," Gesink admitted.

White-knuckled on the steep, twisty roads, Gesink quickly found out that an intimate familiarity with the local roads and years of experience, which Rebellin and his breakaway companions Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) all possessed, make a huge difference when it comes to descending. "When I saw Fränk Schleck crashing in front of me, I was even more afraid and I could see the gap between Thor Hushovd's group and myself going bigger and bigger."

Davide Rebellin took yellow with his mad skills.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

The young Dutchman lost more than a minute by the finish in Cannes, and was devastated. "I'm very disappointed to lose Paris-Nice downhill," he concluded. "I don't know how much I can do in the final stage but my chances are very small now."

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Rabobank director Erik Dekker was sympathetic to his young charge's misery. "He has to be disappointed. Obviously, it is very tough to lose your jersey in the final descent of the second to last stage. There are people who experience bad nights of sleep because of things that are less worse."

The rest of the Rabobank riders were nowhere near their leader when he had his moment of failure, but Dekker explained that they had done all they could. "We basically did not make a lot of mistakes," he said on the team's web site "Nobody could have helped him during the descent. It is a terrible descent; I can tell that from my own experience. Robert stood no chance after they had found each other in the front ranks on the flat roads."

Additional reporting Jean-François Quénet in Cannes

Chavanel: 'Free your mind, and the rest will follow'

By Hedwig Kröner in Cannes

Chavanel attacks!
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

"I'm always good in this stage to Cannes. I'd like to be in front again today, so we'll see..." said a more-relaxed-than-ever Sylvain Chavanel in the morning of the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice to Cyclingnews. The Frenchman had been close to victory in this part of the race in the last few years, so motivation was high at the start in Sisteron. And a few hours later, while we talked to his Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer in a Café at the finish in Cannes, Chavanel made his dream come true and pulled out of the breakaway to be the first to cross the line on the Boulevard du Midi.

These last few seasons, Chavanel was rated as a huge talent in French cycling, but someone who always failed to break through. So, for this year, Boyer decided to approach the season differently. "We completely took the pressure off him, and also changed his racing programme," the team manager explained. "And it seems to bear fruit! Maybe he needed that freedom to finally gain the confidence it takes to win."

Chavanel, who already opened his 2008 palmares with the fifth stage of the Tour Méditerranéen, also took the leader's jersey in Paris-Nice a few days ago. Even though he lost it again on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux, the Frenchman wasn't disappointed at all – which speaks for his newly-gained assurance. "Even if I would have had good legs, I would have finished 6th or 7th on GC; now, I'm 11th [Chavanel moved up to ninth after his win in Cannes – ed.]. I lost 3'40", as I didn't feel well at all, compared to maybe 1'30" if it had been a good day," he explained. "So I have no regrets! Really, none whatsoever."

After his victory in Cannes, Chavanel was of course on cloud nine. "It's a great emotion, a great pleasure. This has been my best Paris-Nice and to top it by a stage victory is great for me. The yellow jersey was a first reward, this is another one," he said.

"I have a different programme this year, so it's true that it motivates me more. This is my ninth year as a pro, and there was too much routine in always having the same race schedule. It's good to do something new, something different!" Chavanel will head up to the Flemish Spring Classics in Belgium this year, instead of doing the races in the Ardennes. With his current form, we might see more of Chavanel in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen soon. He wasn't even afraid of the bad weather: "I like the rain and the cold – remember in the first stages of Paris-Nice, I was in front..."

Rathbone nearly throws Austral victory away

By Mal Sawford in Melbourne

Jackson-Leigh Rathbone celebrates before the line
Photo ©: CJ Farquharson
(Click for larger image)

20 year-old New South Wales rider Jackson-Leigh Rathbone may have won the 110th edition of the Austral Wheelrace in Melbourne, Victoria on Saturday, but he came within an inch of having a much bigger burden than the impressive trophy to weigh down his trip home.

Rathbone showed an impressive finishing burst on the final lap of the wheelrace final, and looked unbeatable when he unleashed his kick for home. He was two lengths clear when he swung into the home straight, and thrust his right arm skyward half way down the straight to celebrate his win, only to see an orange blur fly past at the top of the track as he hit the line.

That orange blur was Malaysian sprinter Azizul Awang, who had launched himself clear of the chasing bunch in the back straight to come from nowhere to catch Rathbone at the line. Awang, and the near capacity crowd, thought his desperate lunge for the line had been enough to snatch the win, and the Malaysian celebrated briefly before the photo finish revealed Rathbone had hung on by the barest of margins.

While the judges deliberated, a sheepish Rathbone told the race caller simply, "I feel very silly."

After the presentation ceremony, Rathbone was frank is his assessment of his overconfidence. "I was feeling very confident. I knew I was on the right gear, it was the right temperature. I just let it get away a bit in my head I guess." Watching Awang celebrate, and asked what went through his mind, Rathbone revealed that "I had an essay full of thoughts in my head after the finish line. I wanted to find the deepest hole I could, pretty much."

"I took it as a lesson learned, but fortunately someone was looking after me upstairs and I came away number one. I was just too cocky basically. A very big lesson, and to learn it here and not pay any penalty, I almost felt guilty."

"I wouldn't say it's my nature to be cocky. It was quite devastating to think he had got over [me]. It's not a one man race, that's the other thing. You've got other people sacrificing their own chances and towing you around, putting a lot of faith and effort in, and losing would have scarred then as well."

See the full report, results and photos from Australia's oldest race.

French federation president asks UCI board to resign

By Jean-François Quénet in Cannes

The president of the French Cycling Federation (FFC) Jean Pitallier attended stage six of Paris-Nice, and made a show in Sisteron on the starting podium calling for a rebellion like the leaders of the French Revolution did prior to their assault to the Bastille jail back in 1789. The target of the UCI's wrath for sanctioning the race outside the control of the UCI, Pitallier singled out the executive board of the UCI, not naming names, but said, "At this stage, they'd better resign." The executive board consists of President Pat McQuaid, and Vice President Ray Godkin and Hein Verbruggen.

Singling out Verbruggen, Pitallier criticized the ProTour inventor. "His ambition is to be the Bernie Ecclestone of cycling," Pitallier stated. "He wants to make cycling a private company." Pitallier this week appealed for support from the five allied cycling federations from Austria, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Luxembourg in a letter.

The same federations together informed the UCI of their plans to sanction the events of the three Grand Tour organisers, ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic in January. After meeting with McQuaid at the World Cyclo-cross championships in Treviso in January, they swung back over to the side of the UCI and agreed with placing the races in question on a special calendar of monuments. The French federation went back on that agreement, siding with the ASO and moving forward with holding Paris-Nice under its aegis. The federations now wish the UCI to stop any disciplinary procedure against the French federation after it allowed Paris-Nice to be held without the cooperation and the regulations of the UCI.

"Legally, I couldn't fail to give my approval to let Paris-Nice be held," Pitallier said. This confirmed the words of French secretary of Sports Bernard Laporte on the Mont Ventoux on Thursday. The FFC's agreement to help ASO organize Paris-Nice was an instruction by the French government.

The FFC has been threatened with suspension by the UCI for its part in the Paris-Nice organisation. "But I haven't received anything from the UCI about that," Pitallier explained. "At least we should be informed other than via the media. To threaten the riders is an irresponsible attitude by the UCI."

It was suggested that French riders wouldn't be able to contest the track World's in Manchester (March 27-30) after McQuaid placed ineligibility for the World Championships and Olympics on the list of sanctions. "I'll personally go to Manchester," Pitallier warned. "They would need to put up chains to prevent the French riders from competing. Our strategy is to inform the other national federations of what the UCI is doing. They are in the process of killing cycling. When cycling will be dead, it will be too late."

UCI suspends contact with teams organisation

Following the decision of the International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP) to recommend that teams participate in Paris-Nice even though it was being held under sanctioning by the French Cycling Federation, the sport's governing body has suspended its relationship with the organisation.

UCI president Pat McQuaid reportedly sent a letter to the team directors announcing it has suspended any official contact with the AIGCP, but said, "I hope that this situation will only be temporary. Meanwhile, the UCI will continue its work by inviting directly managers and sports managers as observers at its meetings."

AIGCP president Eric Boyer, who is also the general manager of the French Cofidis squad, is the target of disciplinary proceedings by the UCI for his part in the decision to have teams race in Paris-Nice. He called the UCI's announcement "a demonstration of authoritarianism."

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

Drug testers impose on funeral arrangements

Belgian cyclist Kevin van Impe raised strong objections to being visited by anti-doping controllers while he was making arrangements for the funeral of his infant son this week. The Quick Step rider was at a crematorium in Lochristi, Belgium when a drug tester showed up demanding the rider provide a sample, and warned that he would face a two-year suspension if he refused.

The rider, whose son Jayden had been born prematurely and died shortly after birth, asked for the tester to come back later, but, he told, "It was either do it right on the spot or it would be taken as if I had refused."

The Flemish minister for sport Bert Anciaux regretted the incident, and said he would look for ways to arrange for random tests while avoiding such circumstances..

"The law is the law, but you must take a human perspective," Anciaux told belga. "I can well understand the rider had other things on his mind at the time of the test."

CONI asks for more 'Oil for drugs' bans

Seven cyclists and former cyclists were named by the Italian Olympic Committee's Anti-doping Court as part of the 'Oil for drugs' investigation, CONI announced Friday. Former cyclist Dino Buffoni is facing a two and a half year ban from holding office or any position within the sport, a ban on visiting stadiums in Italy, and on participating in national sports events".

Two year suspension were requested for former cyclists Giovanni Renosto, Fabrizio Guidi, Daniele Di Nucci, Stefano Ciramini and Stefano Bonuccelli. For Davide Bonuccelli, a current member of Ceramica Flaminia, a two year suspension was requested. No further details on the offenses of these riders were offered.

2007 Giro d'Italia champion Danilo Di Luca served a three-month suspension for his involvement in the affair.

Sunny King announces teams

Alabama's premier National Calendar event, The Sunny King Criterium announced the list of Professional men's and women's teams that will race in the May 3rd event in Anniston

The men's teams will include the Bissell Pro Cycling Team, Colavita Olive Oil/Sutter Home, DLP Racing, Health Net, Jittery Joe's, Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast, Rite Aid, Rock Racing, Successfulliving, TIME, Team Type 1 and Toyota United Pro Teams

The women's field will see the Aaron's, Cheerwine, Colavita Olive Oil/Suttter Home/Cooking Light, Udderly Smooth and ValueAct Capital teams, among others.

The event is produced by the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Club and benefits Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society fund-raiser, by donating racer entry fees to this cause. $30,000 has been donated over the past three years. Visit

Taylor receives Amy Gillett schorlarship

The Amy Gillett Foundation (AGF) in partnership with Cycling Australia/AIS High Performance Program today announced 18-year-old South Australia-based Carlee Taylor as the recipient of the 2008 Amy Gillett Scholarship. 2008 saw the most applicants ever apply for the annual scholarship, and Carlee Taylor was successful against some of Australia's most talented rising stars from all parts of the country, including Junior World Champions and World Record holders.

The Scholarship provides outstanding financial and in-kind support for the recipient. AGF General Manager, Melinda Jacobsen explained, "Each year we look to support a well-rounded female athlete who is not only determined and capable of excelling in the sport of cycling, but who acknowledges the importance of continued further education and life off the bike," said Jacobsen. "We are thrilled with the phenomenal response from Australian women cyclists," she added.

Taylor was ecstatic with the news, "You're joking, that's fantastic. Thank you so much" ,she said when told of her selection. The Amy Gillett Scholarship, now in its third year, is well-established as an important avenue for developing women cyclists to get their chance to compete at the highest levels of the sport. The dual emphasis on work and learning reflects the qualities successfully pursued by elite cyclist Amy Gillett before she was killed whilst on a training ride in Germany.

The scholarship honours the memory of Amy by supporting young female cyclists who share in her similar sporting and life goals.

Living and training in South Australia, Taylor started her competitive cycling career in 2007 after crossing over from triathlon competition. Since taking up cycling, her impressive achievements include the 2008 U23 Australian Women's Road Championship, fourth place in the 2008 U23 Australian Women's Time Trial Championship, a win in the U19 National Road Series (2007), and selection in the Australian Junior Road Team (May 2007).

The Scholarship provides a mixture of financial and in-kind incentives to the annual recipient including assistance with travel, accommodation and expenses whilst competing overseas with the AIS Women's team; a Giant road bike for training and competition, courtesy of Giant Bicycles; eye wear products courtesy of Oakley, airfares courtesy of Flight Centre and access to AIS clinical services during training camps at the AIS.

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