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Latest Cycling News, September 11, 2008

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

French reactions to Armstrong comeback

Prudhomme welcomes American "in principle"

By Hedwig Kr÷ner

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has no objections to Armstrong racing the 2009 event if he sticks to current anti-doping tests
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

The sensitive relationship between the seven-time Tour de France winner and the home country of the greatest bike race on earth, France, is once again put to the test with the announcement of Lance Armstrong's comeback in 2009. The American's bid to win the Grande Boucle once again after three years of retirement from the sport has triggered many reactions in the homeland of cycling; most of them not of a positive nature. Still, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said that Armstrong could participate in the race "if he complies with today's much more severe anti-doping rules."

The overall feeling within the French cycling community following the surprising news this week was one of bewilderment. Jean-RenÚ Bernaudeau, manager of Bouygues TÚlÚcom, could not understand Armstrong's decision and even cast a new shadow of doubt on the way the American was going to try to achieve his goal. "I don't know what to think of it," he told L'Equipe. "In any case, this kind of come-back does not fit into my view of the sport. Bernard Hinault would never have done this... With Armstrong, you get the impression that everything is easy: he stops for three years and then comes back as if nothing happened. That's not how cycling works. Now, we can ask ourselves what the recipe is..."

Bernard Hinault, the five time winner believed Armstrong could do it again
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

Speaking of Bernard Hinault, the five-time Tour de France winner was not as incredulous at the return of the 37 year-old champion. "Jeannie Longo is still there, and she's almost 50 years old," he commented. "Lance Armstrong has a lot of time in front of him, still. If I'm surprised at his comeback? Yes and no. Yes, because he had stopped the bike, and no, because he is not the first, nor will he be the last rider to attempt a come-back of this kind.

"Now, will he have the capacities to return to the highest level? I don't know. We shall see at Paris-Nice. Personally, I was never tempted by a come-back during my time. Instead of taking up competition once again, I think it is better not to stop in the first place."

Marc Madiot, manager of La Franšaise des Jeux was puzzled even though respectful of Armstrong's motives. "He is dedicated to the fight against cancer, that is fine," he said. "That's good news. But I don't know if taking up competition at the highest level is the best solution for it... It appears completely surrealistic to me. We will see, but right now I can't imagine him winning the Tour de France again, or else the rest of them are all worthless... But before trying to win the Tour again, Lance Armstrong has to explain himself about what happened in 1999."

Indeed, the allegations of the American achieving his first Tour win with the help of performance-enhancing drugs (See the Latest News for August 23, 2005 as well as Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the L'Equipe claims) are still very present in the collective memory of the French cycling community. Even though the accusations were never confirmed by the International Cycling Union (UCI), most of the French public tends to believe the newspaper.

This is something even Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme noted as he commented that Armstrong was "welcome in principle" at next year's race. "If his yet unknown team as well as himself comply with today's much more severe anti-doping rules, then we will accept his participation," Prudhomme told AFP, even though "Armstrong's victories have been tarnished by suspicions since 1999."

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The ASO official was mostly curious to see if Armstrong will be able to achieve an eighth Tour de France victory. "To me, this return is one of pure challenge. There are very few sportsmen who succeeded a come-back like Michael Jordan. It's a real challenge to come back after three years of retirement, even if he finished second in a mountain bike race recently. Moreover, there is his age. He will be 37 years old in one week. Now, you can always say that Raymond Poulidor came second in the Tour at the age of 38 years (in 1974), and third (in 1976) when he was 40. Still, it is now mid-September and a lot of things will be happening until the start of the next Tour de France in Monaco."

No return for Ullrich

Lance Armstrong's biggest rival, Jan Ullrich, will not follow the American's comeback comeback to pro cycling. "At the moment I can't imagine that."

In an interview with the German tabloid Bild, when asked about Lance Armstrong's return to the peloton, Ullrich said with a laugh, "If he starts, then I ought to start again, too. But I haven't thought about that. You should never say never, though."

He added, "We have different history. He left with a win, I left with a disappointment. That still hurts. I wish him lots of luck."

Ullrich said that he would return to the Tour de France only to watch his son Max (one year old) ride. "But seriously, I would never force him into the sport. He must choose his own way. I have other plans. Plus I don't miss it. I am happy with my life."

Germany's Schumacher signs with Belgian super-squad

By Gregor Brown

Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) will continue under the wing of Patrick Lefevere next year
Photo ©: Stephen McMahon
(Click for larger image)

Stefan Schumacher confirmed his signature on a two-year contract with Team Quick Step for the coming two seasons on Thursday morning. The 27 year-old German, winner of both Tour de France time trial stages, will ride for Patrick Lefevere's team for 2009 and 2010.

"For me, as a Classics rider, it is a perfect team," said Schumacher to Cyclingnews this morning. "I am hot for the Spring Classics and Ardennes Classics, and I will have the best team for these races."

Schumacher leaves Team Gerolsteiner after its manager, Hans-Michael Holczer, was unable to find a replacement sponsor for the upcoming season. The move from a German to a Belgian team will help Schumacher take the next career step after three years with Gerolsteiner.

"There will be more pressure for these races because it is a Belgian team - they are more important for them and there is more publicity. I want to do it; I am ready for this step. I am really happy to be in this team."

Schumacher blossomed at Gerolsteiner, starting with his win in the 2006 Giro d'Italia. Other highlights include wins in the 2006 Eneco Tour, Tour de Pologne, 2007 Amstel Gold Race, third in the 2007 World Championships and a two-day spell in the maillot jaune at this year's Tour de France.

"I had good memories; it was my chance to break through, to win my first big races. The first big victory was the stage and jersey the Giro d'Italia - in Namur. Then I won the Amstel Gold Race; I really wanted to win one of those Classics. Then, at the last Tour we had a lot of fun - rooming with [Bernhard] Kohl. It is a pity the team can't go on."

Lefevere announced in a press release, "Over the past years he has proved to be an excellent all-round athlete able to stand out in the time trials and uphill climbs during both one-day races and the great stage races."

Lefevere has Paolo Bettini, a two-time World Champion, currently in his ranks. The Italian, who specialises in the Ardennes Classics, has not renewed his contract with Quick Step and is waiting until after the Worlds to decide if he will remain with the team or go elsewhere.

Garmin-Chipotle hones in on the time trial

By Kirsten Robbins in Branson, Missouri

Hard work paid off for Vande Velde in Missouri
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

Christian Vande Velde of the Garmin-Chipotle squad clocked in with the fastest time of the day in the Tour of Missouri's stage three time trial, taking the victory in Branson. The result placed him more than twenty seconds ahead of three-time world champion Mick Rogers (Team Columbia) and bested the mark set by last year's winner Levi Leipheimer by a few seconds.

The American admitted that focusing on the individual discipline was an addition to his training regimen this year. The specialty helped him capture the pink jersey in the opening of the Giro d'Italia and a fifth place in the Tour de France. His team is built around talented time trialists that fine-tune their ability with the latest training and technology.

"I've been working on my time trial position a lot this winter, I've been in the wind tunnel, and my team has put a lot of effort into that," said Vande Velde who admitted that this was his first year training specifically on his time trial bike at home.

"This team doesn't mess around when it comes to warming up, time trial equipment, wattage and Team Columbia is the same," he continued, complimenting Mick Rogers sat beside him in the post race press conference. "So it's no surprise when you see our two teams, Garmin-Chipotle and Columbia so dominant in the this event."

According to Jonathan Vaughters, time trialing is an area the team will continue to hone in on in the future. "We put a lot of effort into our time trailing," he said while watching Vande Velde cross the finish line with a large lead over riders like Rogers, Svein Tuft and George Hincapie. "I like time trialing, I think it's a fun game. Moreoverm, the technology aspect of it is something that we are passionate about."

Garmin-Chipotle recently added to their array of top-notch soloists when they signed Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins. The prologue specialist is a three-time World Champion in the pursuit and the Madison along with double gold medals at the Olympic Games. The signing forced the cycling industry to wonder why a team already stacked with good time trialists would add another.

"Our team is what it is and oppose to trying to be second or third best at climbing or sprinting, we figure we will reinforce what we can win at - time trialing."

Caldwell breaks hip, collarbone in Missouri

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

Blake Caldwell (Garmin-Chipotle)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

Garmin-Chipotle's Blake Caldwell, runner-up at the recent US professional road championships, crashed during the individual time trial of the Tour of Missouri. The 23 year-old from Boulder, Colorado suffered numerous injuries, including a broken hip (illiac crest) collarbone and a lacerated lung, team director Jonathan Vaughters told Cyclingnews.

Caldwell also injured his head in the crash with reports that he lost consciousness for a moment. But he was alert and responsive when medical attention quickly arrived on the scene, and transported him by ambulance to nearby St. John's Hospital in Branson.

Caldwell lost control in a turn at the bottom of a fast descent of the 18-mile course, possibly from a tire puncture or related malfunction.

Agony in Asturias: Alto del Angliru

Roberto Heras (USPS) driving through the rain
Photo ©:
(Click for larger image)

They either hate it or detest it. No sane cyclist - professional or otherwise - would climb the Alto del Angliru for fun. But for all those whose sentiments for the hardest climb in the world are the polar opposite of affection, no one will argue that whoever wins this stage of the Vuelta a España will become a legend.

Used just three times in the past, the list of winners on Alto del Angliru is a who’s who of the most explosive and exciting climbers in recent history. But what makes the climb, first used in 1999, so exciting for the fans is that they get to see their heroes suffer like mere mortals.

"We’re not animals and this is inhuman," David Millar cursed while refusing to cross the line in 2002.

Having crashed descending the Cordal and gone down again when hit by a team car, Millar rode to the finish, tore off his number, and told the bedraggled press corps exactly what he thought of the stage.

"Half the field was wiped out the previous year - and there are other and safer ways in. But in the wet they sent us over again, and loads crashed," Millar explained. "I had already had a heavy crash, and then got hit by the car. That was what I was protesting about. I was dripping with blood, and they were treating us like performing bears on bikes.

"The police held back the crowds, and then fenced them off so there was no pushing allowed," he added. "Everyone had talked about a protest, it just happened to be me that did it."

Legend in the making

Although it is the most mountainous country in Western Europe after Austria, Spain has relatively few legendary climbs considering it hosts one of the sport’s three major Tours.

The introduction of the huge ascent to the Sierra Nevada ski station in 1979 went a little way towards rectifying this aberration, but Spain’s mountainous reputation was given a tremendous boost when what had recently been no more than a goat track was introduced to the race in 1999.

The Alto del Angliru was infamous even before that year's race started as reports flooded in of its ridiculously steep slopes. "Nothing like this has been seen before," two-time Vuelta winner Pedro Delgado declared after returning from a reconnaissance trip of the climb which has an average gradient of over 10 percent for 12.6 kilometres.

"Some riders will be getting off their bikes here," he rightfully predicted, no doubt referring to the section of the climb which reaches 23 percent.

Read the full feature on the Angliru climb here.

Boogerd next on comeback trail?

Afetr Lance Armstrong, Michael Boogerd is the next retired cyclist to consider making a comeback. The Dutchman would consider a return to the peloton if he can find a team, he told De Telegraaf newspaper.

"This option has gone through my head a couple of times in recent days," he said. "I have trained a lot the last few weeks and am only one kilo over my riding weight. Plus there is a bitter aftertaste about the way I had to stop."

Boogerd, 36, had planned to retire last season after the Giro di Lombardia, but suffered a knee injury in a training crash in early October.

Most recently, the Dutchman announced that he was leaving his communications job at sponsor Rabobank. and would look to "orient myself in other directions." He is also said to go through a difficult phase on a personal level.

Sinkewitz looks to ride again in 2009

There is a "99 percent chance" that Patrik Sinkewitz will return to the professional peloton in the coming season. The German rider was suspended for the use of testosterone after an out-of-competition test before the 2007 Tour de France.

According to Radsportnews, the 27 year-old is currently in "close contact" with three Professional Continental teams and one ProTour team.

Sinkewitz cooperated with authorities after his positive doping control and was therefore given only a one-year suspension, which ended in July 2008. He allegedly told German authorities that during the 2006 Tour de France he and other team T-Mobile members went to the University of Freiburg Clinic for illegal blood transfusions.

Milram to NŘrnberg

Team Milram will start in Rund um die NŘrnberger Altstadt on Sunday, September 14, with four members of its Tour de France team. "Rund um die NŘrnberger Altstadt is always a great race with lots of fans and guaranteed good mood," said Jochen Hahn, Team Milram's directeur sportif.

"Races like this are important for the young riders, since Germany's youngsters don't have a lot of chances to race against the big names in the scene," Hahn continued. "We will be at the start with a strong team and clearly want ride for the win."

Milram will have two young riders, stagiaire Arne Hassink, and U23 World Champion Peter Velits. The team will be led by Christian Knees, who won the Bayern Rundfahrt in May, and Bj÷rn Schr÷der, who won the Rothaus Regio Tour last month. The squad will be completed by Markus Eichler and Ralf Grabsch. Knees, Schr÷der, Grabsch and Velits all rode the Tour de France this year.

(Additional editorial assistance provided by Susan Westemeyer.)

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