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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News, May 10, 2008

Edited by Laura Weislo and Sue George

Contador says Giro win 'difficult' to achieve

By Shane Stokes in Palermo

Tour de France Champion Alberto Contador
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)
Alberto Contador and his Astana team are last-minute additions to the Giro d'Italia line-up, being granted an invitation earlier this week in place of the bitterly disappointed NGC Medical-OTC Industria Porte squad.

Cyclingnews understands that the latter team had invested a considerable sum of money in making sure they had the infrastructure in place to ride the Grand Tour, only to be told at a very late point that their invitation would be withdrawn.

Contador said that he understood the team's disappointment, while also stating that he was glad that Astana got an invitation.

As Tour de France champion, all eyes will naturally be on him to see if he can replicate the climbing form which won him cycling's toughest race. He played down his chances somewhat at a pre-race press conference on Friday, explaining his preparation is far from ideal.

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"I was on holiday at in the beach when they called me," he said. "Before that I did the Vuelta a Pays Vasco and then I had a problem with my mouth. I stopped racing and had this holiday. They called me and asked me to do this Giro, and so I started again to train. I am not in the condition I would like to be, but I did my best [to get to the race with training kilometres done] and I will do my best day by day."

He would clearly be at a higher level of form had Astana been given more notice, but said that he doesn't feel stressed by the thoughts of not being one hundred percent. "I am tranquil, because I think we have a very strong team. There are two other riders who can ride the Giro well, Klöden and Leipheimer, and so I don't have any pressure on me. I will see how I feel day by day and then I will decide what I can do."

Should the Spaniard manage to ride himself into form, he could do some serious damage later in the race. He's consequently likely to be satisfied to limit his losses early on, let his racing legs come to him, and then see what he can do.

"I think the final week will be a very difficult one," he said. "It will be a good week for me [if he has form]. I think the Giro this year is the most difficult race in the world, because the climbs are more difficult this year than the Tour of the Vuelta. The gradients are very steep.

"I hope to be in good shape, to ride well on these climbs. Then I can do well, or perhaps I will be bad. Anything could happen."

Asked straight out what his chances were of winning, he cautioned the media against talking up his prospects of holding the final Maglia Rosa. "I don't want to give false hopes," he said. "I am not in good condition and this race is a very big race, it is an important race. So let's not have illusions about me because I don't have the level now to do well. We will take it day by day. Now I can't say anything about what I will do."

The Giro begins on Saturday with a long team time trial in Palermo. Astana will have good time trialists, including Leipheimer, Klöden and Contador himself, and so many feel that the team could challenge. However, while it is strong on paper, its limited preparation may hold the squad back.

Contador has his own favourites for the test. "I think those in the running are Slipstream, CSC, and also the Italian teams because they have extra motivation. They aim for this race all year because they are at home.

"We are strong because we have good time trialists, but it doesn't mean that we will win. We don't know what our condition is."

One thing is certain; given the difficult of such a flat-out effort, each of the riders on the team will have a better idea of their form on Saturday evening.

Di Luca calm before Giro start

By Shane Stokes in Palermo

Danilo Di Luca rolling on for the final stage on the way to his 2007 Giro d'Italia win
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)
Defending champion Danilo Di Luca is at the Giro d'Italia aiming to repeat his success of 2007 and, despite some tough times in recent months over doping allegations, said that he was fully concentrated on the task at hand.

"I am very tranquil, I am at one hundred percent," he stated at a pre-race press conference. "I am fully focussed. Two or three months ago, I showed that I am very clear of mind and I prepared myself like I wanted. Then when I knew about the decision [being cleared of doping in last year's race] I was more relaxed. But everyone who knows me knows that I was very confident."

When asked who his main rivals would be for the general classification, 'the Killer' said that the two who flanked him at the press conference would be his main favourites. "I think [Alberto] Contador and [Denis] Menchov," he said, "as well as [Gilberto] Simoni. I think that Denis is in good shape. He was very good in the Tour of Romandie and I don't think he would be here if he is not ready. And as for Alberto, I am sure after ten days we will see what kind of champion he is. And if he is not on top form, I am sure he will work for [Andreas] Klöden."

Di Luca was always known as a strong Classics rider, but last year he proved that he could also climb well in the high mountains. He was asked if there was one stage in particular that was interesting for him, but he said that it was impossible to pick just one.

"It is more difficult than last year to say that," he answered. "There are a lot of good stages, very difficult ones, which can bring a lot of surprises. You can't have crisis, because if you have one, you lose."

Early on, he has two objectives. "If the team time trial was like last year, we could win," he said, speaking of the day one test. "But because it is totally flat, it will be good if we are in the first five teams, with a gap of 20 seconds to the winner.

"I hope also that the stage near my home goes well. Two years ago I won a stage and took the pink jersey near home. It's not important for me to get the jersey so early, but they [his supporters] will all be waiting for me there and so I hope to win the stage.

Menchov will aim for win if form is good

By Shane Stokes in Palermo

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) at the 2007 Vuelta a España
Photo ©: Unipublic
(Click for larger image)
Although 2007 Vuelta a España victor Denis Menchov admitted that the Tour de France is his number one season goal, the Russian stated that victory in the Giro d'Italia was important to him if the form is there.

"As a team, we have to do two big tours," he told journalists on Friday. "I will do the Giro and Tour de France. My big goal is to be at the Tour de France with 100 percent form as it is more important for me and for the team.

"But I hope to well in the Giro. The target is to do well in the overall classification. It is not a target for me to win a stage, but rather to see what I can do on a three-week stage race in this condition."

With a blend of hard mountains and some time trialing kilometres, some see Menchov as having the characteristics necessary to take the final victory. Nominating Danilo di Luca, Andreas Klöden and Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval – Scott) as his main favourites, he said that his own chances would not depend on the course, but rather his legs. "The condition is more important. If you have good legs, you can ride well on all courses. If the form is not there, it is very hard.

"Beating Di Luca will be very difficult. You need to have more luck and to be very strong."

The Russian also gave his tips for the opening team time trial: "For tomorrow, I think Astana, LPR, Tinkoff, Caisse d'Epargne, and maybe Slipstream will be the ones to watch," he said.

Cavendish eyes stage wins, may not finish

By Shane Stokes in Palermo

Mark Cavendish (High Road) winning the prologue at the Tour de Romandie
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Still just 21 years of age, Mark Cavendish has had an excellent run of success thus far and will chase his first Grand Tour stage victory in the Giro d'Italia. The High Road sprinter lines out in the Italian race on Saturday with that goal in mind; however, as far as completing the race goes, he and his team will decide during the race.

"I'm going in with the aim of getting through it, but we will sit down mid-way and see how it is going and determine if I will finish," he told Cyclingnews. "Obviously if it is really hard and I kill myself doing the Giro, there is no point in doing the Tour. So we will analyse things halfway through and see what will happen.

"In terms of sprint finishes, they are few and far between. Realistically, I have got four chances in the whole Giro, and one is on the 17th stage. So if I get to that, I will be happy."

Cavendish has beaten the fastest sprinters in cycling and, most recently, also won the prologue time trial in the Tour of Romandie. He's relatively confident about his chances. "I'm certainly looking to do the first three stages and now that Petacchi is not riding, my chances of winning a stage are even greater, I think. For sure on paper I am the fastest guy there. However, as we saw at the Tour last year, the Grand Tours are a little bit different to everyday racing. We will just have to see how things go."

In terms of his season highlights, a good run of success on the road give him satisfaction. "It was nice to win Scheldeprijs again, that was good," he said. "Obviously to take a win in the world Championships is massive, but to take two stages of De Panne and then Scheldeprijs a couple of weeks after the worlds was important.

"I didn't have any specific road preparation done for them. I had been preparing on the track, and then to come back and take those made things quite special, I think."

Richeze out of Giro over positive drugs test

Max Richeze in the leader's jersey at the Tour de Langkawi
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

Argentinean sprinter Max Richeze will not start the Giro d'Italia after he received notification that a sample taken from him during April's Circuit de Sarthe was positive for a steroid, his team announced Friday. The CSF Group Navigare rider tested positive for stanazol after he won the final stage in Le Mans. His team will not be able to replace Richeze, and will start the Giro with eight riders.

"I've been told by the International Cycling Union that traces of the same steroid Ben Johnson was caught for, I think it's called stanazol, were found in a urine sample given by Max Richeze after he won the last stage of the Sarthe race (in France)," team manager Bruno Reverberi said Friday. "I'm really sorry that it has happened just before the start of the Giro d'Italia because we try and run a clean team."

The rider was sent home to await the analysis of his B-sample, but because the news came so close to the start of the race, the team will not be allowed to replace the rider.

Ironically, Richeze will presumably be made a dual stage winner of the 2007 Giro d'Italia after the disqualification of Alessandro Petacchi's results from last year. The Argentinean placed second to Petacchi on both stage 18 and the race's final stage in Milan last June. Petacchi lost those results after testing positive for a too-high dose of asthma medication and then losing his appeal of the suspension.

Lhotellerie quashes doping rumours

By Jeff Jones,

Clément Lhôtellerie (Skil-Shimano) in polka dots at Paris-Nice
Photo ©: Hedwig Kröner
(Click for larger image)

French rider Clement Lhotellerie (Skil-Shimano) denied allegations of a report in Algemeen Dagblad that he was on a list of 23 riders being targeted by the UCI because of abnormal patterns in tests done as part of the biological passport programme.

Despite a stellar performance in winning the mountains jersey in Paris-Nice, Lhotellerie barely raced since then, pulling out of the Criterium International at the end of March and only returning this week for the Four Days of Dunkirk, where he is currently lying second overall. He insisted that his absence had nothing to do with falling foul of the anti-doping authorities.

"The fact that I didn't race for five weeks was simply because of knee tendonitis, and not because I was suspended by the UCI during that period," he told L'Equipe. "I first heard a rumour that I had been suspended for fifteen days by the French Cycling Federation. This is totally false!"

The French federation confirmed that there were no proceedings against Lhotellerie.

"Next, there was a second rumour in Holland, surely started by people who bear a grudge against my team but not especially against me, saying that I was one of the 23 riders targeted by the UCI as part of the biological passport. This is also false for the very good reason that I have not undergone any tests directly linked to this passport since the start of the year. Besides, my team asked the UCI, who replied that there was no problem concerning me."

The UCI spokesman assured AFP that the list of riders with abnormal values was and would remain confidential. "The list of targeted riders has not and will not be communicated to the teams and, obviously, the media," said Enrico Carpani. "A targeted rider is not necessarily a suspect rider," he continued, explaining that the anomalies could well have natural causes for some riders.

Irish rider Deignan hoping for solid showing in Giro

By Shane Stokes in Palermo

So far, so very good
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
Click for larger image
AG2R La Mondiale professional Philip Deignan is lining up in the Giro d'Italia this weekend aiming for a decent performance in the overall classification. He showed solid form in the recent Giro del Trentino, finishing 20th on the 178.6 kilometre mountain leg to Peio Terme and placing 26th overall there.

"I'd love to go for a top 30 in the general classification," he told Cyclingnews on Friday. "I will find out pretty soon…if that is not possible, I am not going to ride flat out every day just to finish 40th or 50th overall. If I can't finish in the top 30, I will try to go for a stage win."

Deignan missed out on a lot of racing last year due to injury but bounced back to place tenth, twelfth and sixteenth on mountain stages of the Tour of Spain, his Grand Tour debut. Now 24 years of age, he's come into decent form after a slow start to the season.

"I think I might have over-done it over the winter," he said, when asked why the early races proved so tough. "That is really the only explanation I have for it. I did a good winter, looking after myself, but I just felt really tired all the time when it came to the races. It just felt like I had nothing my legs.

"Then I got sick with a vomiting bug in Paris-Nice. I was dead for a week, lying on the couch, and then I was sent straight to a stage race in Italy. I wasn't really ready to do that, and then the team sent me straight from there to Pays-Basques. In those races, if you are not 100% you don’t have a chance.

"Anyway, I had a good break after the Tour of Pays Basques and felt like I was coming around a little bit. In Trentino I was going a lot better, so hopefully I should be better again for the Giro.

Astana swaps out ailing Noval on Giro roster

Spaniard Benjamin Noval has been pulled from the Astana team's Giro d'Italia roster just one day before the race's start. Noval, who has been suffering from stomach problems since Wednesday night, will be replaced by Swiss rider Steve Morabito. Noval had been called up to replace Dmitry Muravyev earlier in the week, but feel ill and has been unable to eat.

Team director Sean Yates made the call to replace the rider, who would have been at a serious disadvantage starting a demanding three-week tour without the proper reserves. "We waited as long as possible to take a decision", Yates explained. "Friday 10:00 am was our deadline. We then had to register the team.

"It is not safe to let him be part of the team," he continued, expressing concern that Morabito is able to arrive in Sicily on time for Saturday's team time trial. "Steve has the right condition. He proved that already in the Tour de Romandie, where he was one of the best helpers for overall winner Andreas Klöden."

Astana for the Giro d'Italia: Assan Bazayev, Antonio Colom, Alberto Contador, Vladimir Gusev, Maxim Iglinskiy, Andreas Klöden, Levi Leipheimer, Andrej Mizurov and Steve Morabito.

Blaudzun to retire at season's end

Michael Blaudzun (CSC) at the 2007 Tour de Georgia
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

After 14 years as a professional rider, Danish racer Michael Blaudzun will bring an end to his career. The 35 year-old had no trouble making his decision and will say goodbye at the end of the 2008 season.

"I'm both happy and proud with what I've accomplished in my career as a professional rider, but I have no doubt that this will be my final season," said Blaudzun to on the day before he lines up with CSC for the Giro d'Italia team time trial. "I want to quit while I still feel able to be part of the action and at the same time I also feel that there are other things more important in my life now."

"There's no doubt that the thought of seeing my family more appeals to me a great deal and embarking on a new life with them outside of the sport," he said. "But that said I still feel 100% as a rider and I'm going to do everything in my power to end my career in style - for myself but also for my team."

Blaudzun is trying to make the Danish Olympic team, Blaudzun. "Apart from that my main goal for the remainder of the season is to finish off with a victory and being there for my team in general in the exact same way I feel, I have been for all those years with Team CSC."

Blaudzun won 13 pro races thus far during his career, including two Danish national road titles (1994, 2004) and three Danish national time trial titles (2001, 2003, 2005).

Ascani banned for two years

The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) upheld the two-year ban of Luca Ascani, the rider who won the Italian national championship time trial and subsequently tested positive for EPO in the post-race doping control.

Ascani beat Marco Pinotti in the 42.8 kilometre event, but then traces of EPO were found in his A-sample. He was suspended on August 2, 2007, and after his B-sample confirmed the result his title was handed to Pinotti.

Ascani denied ever using the blood boosting hormone, and appealed his suspension.

Charges recommended in fatal California crash

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

There are new developments in the tragic incident in Northern California last March that claimed the lives of two cyclists and injured another when a sheriff's police vehicle crossed the center line and struck the group, who were on a training ride. The California Highway Patrol concluded its month-long investigation and filed its to the local district attorney's office that charges be filed against the driver, Sheriff's deputy James Council.

Both Kristy Gough, 30, and Matt Peterson, 29, were killed as a result of the crash, while a third rider, Christopher Knapp, 20, of Germany escaped with non-life threatening injuries.

Nick Muyo, a spokesperson for the Santa Clara County district attorney's office, confirmed with Cyclingnews that the office has the report which would contain any recommendation for charges. The San Jose Mercury News reported that internal sources said the recommendation was for two misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges against the 27-year-old Council. This could result in a maximum of a two-year prison sentence. The Associated Press reported CHP investigators did not find any evidence of drunken driving, which would carry much more severe penalties.

Multiple news reports revealed that Council had been convicted of a misdemeanor charge involving high-speed street racing in Los Angeles when he was 20. That conviction stemmed from plea bargain in which two drunken-driving counts - driving while intoxicated and having a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.08 percent - were dropped for pleading to the lesser charge. Santa Clara County Sheriff's spokesperson Sgt. Don Morrissey said that one blemish was not enough to disqualify hiring Council.

"He has had that one incident," Morrissey told the Mercury News. "There weren't any other incidents. We look at that as being young and making a mistake, adapting and learning from that mistake and becoming a viable candidate."

While no exact timeline was given on when or if Council would be charged, the process is expected to conclude in the coming weeks. "We are continuing our review of the case, but hope to have something in a week or two," Muyo said.

The Cupertino City Council has approved plans for a memorial plaque to be placed on the accident scene.

Toyota-United to help paralyzed former Mexican national champion

Fausto Munoz (right) on the podium at the 2006 Univest Grand Prix
Photo ©: FJ Hughes
(Click for larger image)

In a high-speed crash in the final stage of the Tour of Gila in Silver City, New Mexico last weekend, Fausto Muñoz Esparza suffered serious, life-altering injuries. The former Mexican National Champion is in critical, but stable condition in the intensive care unit of El Paso's Thomason Hospital in Texas with a broken back which has left him paralyzed from the waist down.

"He is very depressed and not sure what to make of this terrible situation. His wife, three children and parents have all come to El Paso to be by his side for the next three weeks until he gets out of the hospital" said Jose Manuel "Chepe" Garcia, a Toyota-United rider and personal friend of the 33 year-old Esparza.

The Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team announced Friday that its riders and staff have donated US$5,000 in cash to help Muñoz Esparza. In addition, the team will auction off a team jersey signed by all 14 riders on eBay beginning Monday, May 12 in order to provide the general public with an opportunity to show their support for Fausto and his family.

"When I first heard how bad his accident was from Scott Moninger, (Assistant Team Director for Toyota-United), I immediately sprung into action and called Chepe who is a friend of Fausto's to see what was up," said Team Owner Sean Tucker. "I could hear in his voice how upset he was and how Fausto is very depressed and makes his living racing a bike, which is no longer the case."

"Being the Team Owner watching my riders risk everything each week… I then spoke with our riders and staff and we all agreed to do something for Fausto no matter how small…but we want to start the ball rolling in hopes that other teams and fans will follow suit to help Fausto in his time of need," said Tucker.

Private donations are also welcome and may be submitted to Wells Fargo Bank, Attn: Fausto Muñoz Esparza Donation Fund, 1201 N. Pope Street, Silver City, NM 88061 USA. Letters of support may be sent to C/O Thomason Hospital, Patient: Fausto Esparza, ICU/12, 4815 Alameda Avenue, El Paso, TX 79905 USA.

For more information on the auction, visit

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