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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

Latest Cycling News, April 24, 2009

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

No race prior to Giro for Armstrong

By Hedwig Kröner

Lance Armstrong is reported back in competition at the Tour de Gila - but his team denies
Photo ©: AFP
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As the rumour mill continues to spin, reports of Lance Armstrong returning to competition prior to the Giro d'Italia circulated in recent days. On Friday, Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the seven-time Tour de France winner will start in the Tour of the Gila, taking place in New Mexico from April 29-May 3.

Cyclingnews checked the story with Team Astana's PR, Philippe Maertens, who denied the news.

"For the moment, no," he replied when asked if Armstrong was going to participate in a race prior to the Giro. "There are lots of rumours, but no. I even saw a website reporting this week that Armstrong was going to the Giro del Trentino - none if this is true."

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Armstrong, who is currently training in Aspen, Colorado, is recovering from a fractured collarbone that he sustained in the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Léon. Armstrong, however, started training again soon after surgery and is now fit enough for six hour training rides, as he posted on Twitter.

At the moment no race is programmed for Armstrong ahead of the Centennial Giro d'Italia, taking place from May 9-31. "I will let you know if this changes," Maertens added, which could indicate that the Astana team management is considering a last-minute race entry for the Tour de France champion before the Italian Grand Tour.

Cavendish sprint rival out of Giro

Daniele Bennati was in good shape in Milano-Sanremo, but then started having muscular problems
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Mark Cavendish will have less competition for stage wins after the Giro d'Italia lost another star sprinter, Daniele Bennati (Liquigas). The Italian from Abruzzo ruled out racing in the Italian Grand Tour, May 9 to 31, yesterday due to muscle problems in his right thigh.

"If I have an easy ride of a few hours it is not a problem, but as soon as I do specific work I feel bad," Bennati told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Bennati won three stages and the sprinters' maglia ciclamino last year in the Giro d'Italia. He was Cavendish's main rival in the sprint finishes. Cavendish won two stages and finished fourth in the sprinters' competition.

Yesterday, Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) announced he would skip the Giro d'Italia to focus on the Tour de France. Despite Hushovd and Bennati's absence, Cavendish will still have strong rivals, like Alessandro Petacchi (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini) and Robbie McEwen (Katusha).

Bennati crashed in stage two of the Tirreno-Adriatico, but went on to finish the race. He raced Milano-Sanremo (sixth) and then travelled north for De Panne and Ronde van Vlaanderen. He abandoned both races.

"It annoys me not to be at the Giro, but it is not right to show with my form uncertain. (GB)

Basso strikes fear in Trentino

Ivan Basso (Liquigas) could target the Giro del Trentino overall win
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Giro d'Italia favourite Ivan Basso struck fear into his opponents yesterday on the Alpe di Pampeago. The Liquigas rider finished second behind stage winner Przemyslaw Niemec (Miche-Silver Cross) in stage two of the Giro del Trentino.

"I believe that this is a great test after a reasonable time trial [stage one]. I can do better over longer stages with more climbs, this stage suited an explosive rider with only one climb," Basso told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Liquigas took the race under control in the finale, approaching the climb of Alpe di Pampeago. Basso led the reduced field in the final four kilometres, but had lacked a response for the explosive charge of Niemec.

Basso finished 22 seconds behind Niemec, who rides for Continental (third division) team Miche, and now is only four seconds behind overall leader Janez Brajkovic (Astana). His key Giro rivals finished further back on the stage: Gilberto Simoni (Diquigiovanni) at 45", Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) 1:49, Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini) 1:50 and Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-NGC) 3:24.

"There are still two hard stages left and I hope to be a protagonist," added Basso.

The 2006 Giro winner returned from a high-altitude training camp last weekend. He detailed the experience in his diary earlier this week. (GB)

Scarponi praises Rebellin's third Flèche win

By Gregor Brown

Michele Scarponi could be the team's wild card for Liège on Sunday
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Michele Scarponi praised the effort by Diquigiovanni team leader Davide Rebellin to capture his third victory in Flèche Wallonne Wednesday in Huy, Belgium. The Italian participated in multiple attacks to soften the competition for his teammates' win.

"It is a beautiful result for Davide, who is truly impressive at the age of 37 years old," Scarponi told Cyclingnews. "He is still the strongest around for the Mur de Huy."

Rebellin marked the move of Cadel Evans on the 1300-metre long Mur de Huy. He passed the Australian rival with Damiano Cunego and Andy Schleck and then started to accelerate free at 200 metres remaining.

His Diquigiovanni teammates made the winning attack possible. José Serpa launched a solo move over the top of Côte de Bousalle that lasted until the following climb, Côte de Ahin. Scarponi entered into action on Ahin. At the top, he rode clear with a group that contained Joaquím Rodríguez, Enrico Gasparotto and Christian Pfannberger.

"We were the igniting the race in the last 50 kilometres with Serpa and then me. I thought my move might have worked, but the others did not want to collaborate. The move did allow Davide to stay behind the other favourites and then show he is the strongest on the Mur."

Rebellin was thankful of his teammates' work and told Cyclingnews on Thursday that Scarponi would be one of the team's options for victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège this coming Sunday.

Scarponi, from Le Marche, won a stage and the overall of the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in March.

Gasparotto key in Lampre Ardennes charge

By Gregor Brown

Enrico Gasparotto (Lampre) attacked for his captain Damiano Cunego
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Lampre's new signing Enrico Gasparotto proved to be vital in for teammate Damiano Cunego's push to victory at Flèche Wallonne Wednesday in Belgium. He expects the tables will turn for a victory in the last of three Ardennes Classics Sunday, Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

"I am looking forward to Liège, the conditions are very hard and the true value of the riders will show," he said to Cyclingnews.

Just like in the opening Ardennes Classics, Amstel Gold, Gasparotto was active in the closing moments of Flèche Wallonne. He led on Côte de Bonneville to help form a short-lived move of 17 men.

'Gaspa' lifted the pace again on the Côte de Ahin, the race's penultimate climb. The action formed an escape with Michele Scarponi (Diquigiovanni), Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne) and Christian Pfannberger (Katusha). The breakaway lasted until the base of the final climb, the Mur de Huy.

"The team did a great job, at the top of Ahin I was à bloc. I was in the move, but I know it is impossible for the escape to last to the finish and it was simply to help Cunego stay protected in the main group."

Cunego won Amstel Gold last year, but he has never won Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the most prestigious of the three and will offer the last chance for Gasparotto to propel his captain to Ardennes victory.

Gesink clear to race

Robert Gesink of Team Rabobank has recovered from his knee problems and will ride Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.

Gesink, who finished third in last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, developed pain in his right knee after the race. The gifted climber stopped riding for several days, but started again on Thursday.

He gave himself a serious four-hour test on Thursday, with some intensive testing for the knee. Since there was no more pain, team doctor Dion van Bammal said that the 22-year-old was clear to ride on Sunday.

Rabobank will be represented in Liège-Bastogne-Liège with Gesink, Oscar Freire, Juan Manual Garate, Paul Martens, Bram Tankink, Mauricio Ardila, Pieter Weening, and Koos Moerenhout. (SW)

Suspended prison sentence for Frigo

Former pro rider Dario Frigo has been sentenced to three months imprisonment on suspension by a Chambéry, France, appeal court. The Italian had been taken into custody on July 13, 2005, after police officers found large quantities of doping products in his wife's car during the Tour de France that year. His wife, Susanna, was given the same jail term by the French court late Thursday.

A first sentence by an Albertville court sentenced the couple a six-month suspended prison term, but the pair appealed. In its defense, Frigo had said being "the victim of a system" and pointed to "organised doping within the team" Fassa Bortolo, according to French AFP news agency.

BMC ready for Romandie

Jeff Louder, overall winner of the Redlands Bicycle Classic, will be one of BMC's leaders in the Tour de Romandie
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
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With the start of the Tour of Romandie just days away, the BMC Racing Team is getting ready for their first ProTour stage race of the season. This will be the second year in a row that they will take the start of the Swiss stage race, and the team has serious ambitions: placing riders in the top 10 of individual stages as well as in the overall general classification.

"We believe that we have put together a roster which is stronger than what we had last year, and consequently we expect to figure more prominently in the top 10 of the event," directeur sportif John Lelangue explained. "We are bringing Jeff Louder and Alex Moos who have the experience and talent to be in the top 10 of this race, and we also have two young guys in Ian McKissick and Mathias Frank who have some room to learn, but also a lot of potential for a race of this caliber."

Louder's recent successes at Redlands and Circuit de la Sarthe, and Moos' ride at Paris-Roubaix indicate that both leaders are in the sort of form needed to lead the squad at Romandie. "We will start the race with an eye to protecting all four of these riders, and then see how the race unfolds to decide which one or two of them will have the best opportunity to be highly placed come Geneva," Lelangue continued.

Moreover, BMC will have the current Swiss national champion racing for the team in the Swiss event. "Markus Zberg will be one of the guys we will depend on to be well-placed at the sprint finishes," Lelangue said. "We will also have Danilo Wyss there, who has completely recovered from the sprained finger he suffered at Paris-Roubaix."

Both Zberg and Wyss will also be expected to find their ways into prime breakaway opportunities, together with teammates Brent Bookwalter and Steve Bovay. "Brent Bookwalter and Steve Bovay are riding very strongly now and we will be looking to them to get into breaks and help the GC leaders on the team," Lelangue said. "Judging by how well he has been riding lately, Steve should be a huge help to the leaders in the mountains."

Aside from a short prologue time trial, each day of the Tour of Romandie could act as a decisive stage for the overall victory. "Every stage is tough at Romandie," Lelangue explained. "It is always aggressive and the route is always challenging; every day is the trickiest day."

An unusual addition for the 2009 event will be a team time trial instead of the usual individual race against the clock. "Team time trials are a risky business because everyone on the team is in the same boat," Lelangue said. "If things go well then we will have a better chance of limiting our losses to the real TT specialists, however if something goes wrong, then everyone suffers the same time deficit."

One of Lelangue's greatest concerns for this event was to get together a cohesive group that would be able to work seamlessly in the team effort against the clock. "We have brought the strongest possible group for this discipline," Lelangue revealed. "We can be very confident and happy that we can bring the mix of guys that we have here."

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