American would ride Giro and Vuelta for Italian team
Lampre-Merida team manager Brent Copeland has told Cyclingnews that the Italian team is close to adding Chris Horner to its roster but is awaiting approval from a key sponsor before the two sides can complete an agreement.
Horner has been searching for a new team since winning the 2013 Vuelta a Espana but has so far been left without a place for 2014. Trek refused to reach his salary demands and after months of uncertainty, Baden Cooke has stepped in and agreed to act as Horner's representative.
Horner turned 42 in October and has been injury prone in the past, but Copeland is convinced Horner could fill an important role for the team.
"We're definitely interested in Chris, and I've talked to him several times in the last few days. I don't know if Chris has other offers he's considering but we think he'd be good fit for us," Copeland told Cyclingnews.
"We're awaiting the final OK from a key sponsor. I'd hoped it would be finalised on Friday but it now looks like it will happen next week."
"He'd fill an important gap in the team and give us an extra rider to help our race roster. We want to be a more international team and Chris would be the first American rider to ride for Lampre-Merida."
Giro and Vuelta, USADA not a problem
Copeland told Cyclingnews that Horner would ride the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana if he joins the team, while world champion Rui Costa would focus on the Tour de France and other WorldTour races.
"I think the only race Chris and Rui Costa would ride together would be the Tour of the Basque Country, which isn't a problem. He would target the Giro and the Vuelta, while Rui has the Tour de France as his big objective. So there's no problem at all."
Horner has denied being implicated in the USADA Reasoned Decision following the doping investigation into Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service Team. Copeland said he has been assured that Horner is not implicated in the case.
"We've heard about it but it doesn't seen to be a problem. Cooke has assured me there's nothing to worry about."
If Horner does join Lampre-Merida, he is likely to make his first appearance for the team at the annual Merida presentation in Mallorca in early February.
Bennett, now 23-years-old, was signed for the Pro Contiental NetApp-Endura team off the back of an extremely impressive showing at the 2013 Tour of Britain where he won stage five to Caerphilly and finished second on two other stages, behind Gerard Ciolek and Mark Cavendish, respectively.
He had previously spent three years with the An Post-Chainreaction team where he made a habit of winning stages of Ireland's premier stage race, the Rás Tailteann. But he has had to deal with injuries along the way, as well as the nagging feeling that he may have missed the boat which would have brought him to the upper ecehlons of the sport a lot sooner.
Bennett flirted with moving to a professional team before when he was offered a stagiaire role with the FDJ team in 2010 when he was still only 19-years-old. But it didn't quite work out as expected.
"I was with [amateur French club] VC La Pomme Marseille back then" Bennett explained. "In December 2009 I had an accident, I was hit head on by a car out training. So I started the next season without much training done but I got form pretty quick and got a few results. Then [FDJ directeur sportif] Marc Madiot came to watch me in a prologue, I didn't know, but I did really well and he offered me the stagiaire role and said he'd like to develop me and all that."
But in the summer of 2010 it became clear that Bennett had not allowed himself sufficient time to recover from injuries sustained in the crash, which set him back even further.
"I should have taken my time but I got tendonitis and I just couldn't do the stagiaire role. Then they said 'look we don't want you when you're worrying about your knees' then that kind of fell through."
Instead, Bennett was signed by the An Post-Sean Kelly team, as they were labelled then, where he spent the next three years competing largely in low-ranked Irish and Belgian races. On reflection, having had a WorldTour team come calling, it must have felt like he had missed his chance at reaching the top level of the sport.
"Yeah, it kind of did. I know that the younger you are the easier it is to move up because teams look at your potential. The older you get, the harder it gets [to move up]. But then An Post really took me under their wing and helped developed me and got me to where I am today."
Although the records show that he was on their books in late 2010, Bennett never took part in a race for FDJ. With hindsight, the Irishman now believes this to be a blessing in disguise.
"I'm happy the way things worked out. I feel like in one way, I've earned my position here with Netapp-Endura. OK, it took a couple of years to get where I am now but I'm feeling more ready and more capable now."
He is currently away on a training camp in Mallorca with his new German-based team where he is getting used to life in the professional ranks.
"It's definitely something different to what I'm used to. What I find now is everything is really well organised, everything is scheduled and we have a path at the start of the week that we follow the whole way through.
"They have specific sprint training for the sprinters. They don't try and train everyone together," explains Bennett who had gotten used to more generic training at the An Post team. "We'd all do the same training [at An Post]. And I don't think the same training works for everybody because everybody's different."
Bennett proved in that Tour of Britain that he is capable in a variety of finales from flat-out bunch sprints to tougher, more selective affairs. So what sort of rider do Netapp-Endura think they've signed?
"I think they saw what type of rider I was from the Tour of Britain and some of my results last year. So they had an idea already but they did ask me about the classics and races like that, so hopefully I'll get a ride in the races I like doing. If I train for the climbs, I can get over them pretty well, but they know I want to be a sprinter and that's what they're helping me become."
Bennett has spent most of his life in Carrick-On-Suir, the same town which Sean Kelly calls home, but he was actually born in Belgium and lived there until he was four years old. The Belgian classics are something which the former Under-23 Irish Champion sees in his future.
"I'd love to be able to compete in some of the classics and get a good result in them but I think that's a little bit of time away. We'll see, I'll definitely give them a shot but I don't know how my first year as a pro is gonna turn out. If I become a really good sprinter, I'll be happy."
Upon signing for Netapp-Endura, there was a distinct possiblity that Bennett would be able to compete for bunch sprint victories in the Giro d'Italia which starts in Ireland this year. But in the proceeding months it was revealed that the team were not to be one of the four wild card teams invited to the first Grand Tour of the year. Consequently, Bennett will miss out on the once-in-a-career opportunity of racing a Grand Tour on home soil.
"The thing is whether I'd get a ride in the Giro even if we had been selected. It's something that I don't know, I'm still young and there's so many good guys on the team. So I'm going in with an open mind this season. Maybe I'll get a ride in a Grand Tour, maybe I won't. I'd absolutely love to ride one but I don't know what way it's gonna go. That's something that's out of my control so I won't worry about it if I can't do anything about it."
Something Bennett does have control of is the aggression he exudes when battling for position before a mass sprint finish, something which Sean Kelly himself has said in the past that Bennett could do with dialing up a notch.
"You can't get intimidated and pushed around," declares Bennett. "If guys start thinking 'OK, this is a guy I can push around easily,' they'll do it more and more often. When you go into the pro ranks you kinda have to put a stop to that pretty soon, pretty early, so it doesn't carry on. It's something that I won't allow happen, you don't go in thinking about it, but if it happens, I'll put a stop to it and make sure I do it as soon as possible."
Bennett is due to start his season with two back to back stage races at the Tour's of Qatar and Oman where he will have his first encounter of the season with the major sprinting stars of world cycling.
"I'd absolutely love to hit it with a bang, but you never know how you're form is gonna be until you arrive. I know I've done a good bit of work on my sprint so it's good. But sprinting is one part of it, you have to get to the finish first and get there fresh and then you have to be in the right position. So I'll see how I get on, because you're gonna have the likes of Cav and all that there so it's not gonna be easy."
Although he won't be in Belfast at the start of the Giro, later on in the year, Bennett is looking forward to racing on home soil at the national championships which is due to take place in County Westmeath at the end of June.
"For sure, the nationals, you have to do them. Everybody wants that jersey so it's gonna be a hard race regardless of who is in it," says Bennett who, conversely, will likely miss out on riding the Rás for only the second time in his career since 2009 when he became the youngest stage winner in the race's history, aged 18.
"I can't ride the Rás for Netapp-Endura. but I could ride it as part of the Irish team for Cycling Ireland. But I'd say I probably won't be there. It would be nice to do for sure, I mean I don't know what way my season's gonna go. Maybe another eight day stage race at that time might be a bit too much for me this season. So I'll have to see when it comes to it."
Christian Prudhomme pays visit to South Australia and discusses TDU's WorldTour status
A day after newly elected UCI president Brian Cookson held a press conference to discuss a myriad of topics from his first 100 days in office, including the new Cycling Independent Reform Commission, Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme graced the start of the Tour Down Under's stage four Unley to Victor Harbor on Friday.
Prudhomme was quick to offer support for the Tour Down Under's WorldTour status on the heels of Cookson acknowledging that a review of the event's status on the WorldTour calendar that could involve potential date changes to make to it more amenable with the following WorldTour races starting with Paris-Nice in France from March 9-16.
"[Tour Down Under] is very comparable to stages in the Tour de France," Prudhomme said. "It is comparable to the most important races in Europe."
Cookson, making his first visit to the Tour Down Under, told media that a calendar review would analyse the "whole structure of professional men's road cycling" which would also include a review of the Tour Down Under's role in the UCI WorldTour, a license that ends in 2015.
"It is very important for cycling to have the president here for the first WorldTour race of the season and that means something," said Prudhomme. "I think it's good for him to be here and for cycling."
Prudhomme also shared his thoughts about a potential date move, which has been proposed as late as February to avoid conflict with the increasingly popular lower-ranked (category 2.1) Tour de San Luis in Argentina, and provide a shorter gap between early season WorldTour events.
"There are many, many meetings now and we have to wait to see what happens," he said. "Huge crowds are very, very important. The Tour Down Under will need to keep huge crowds.
"For me the Tour Down Under is a great race and most important are the huge crowds and enthusiasm," Prudhomme continued. "We must take into account these huge crowds."
The Tour de France figurehead praised the level of competition with the likes of recent stage winners Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), both two-time race winner and national champion, as well as a yellow jersey holder from last year's Tour de France, and former world champion and Australia's only Tour de France victor Cadel Evans.
"It's a great race, with great winners," he said. "Simon Gerrans, Cadel Evans, and even Marcel Kittel during the opening criterium on Sunday is very, very important."
When asked his thoughts on the dominating performance over the notorious Corkscrew Hill on stage three the day before by Evans, who will not race the Tour this year to focus on the Giro d'Italia in May, Prudhomme said: "I was telling myself it was July."
Making his third visit to Australia and second visit to the Tour Down Under, Prudhomme praised South Australia's support and enthusiasm for the event, but sited one main point of difference between Australia's highest profiled professional bike race and the iconic Tour de France.
"One of the differences in the Tour de France is that there are many, many people coming to the race on their bikes and that is very important," said Prudhomme, who was has served as Tour race director since 2007. "Our very important challenge today is to make the link from the all the people who ride their bikes with the champions of the world of cycling."
Bonus seconds could decide overall victory at the Tour Down Under
Having started the day 11 seconds behind race leader Cadel Evans (BMC), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) improved his overall position by winning five precious bonus seconds. On tomorrow’s Stage 5 Willunga Hill is sure to test both riders and the sport directors for both teams suggested that the race may only be decided on Sunday’s criterium around the city streets of Adelaide.
A mechanical problem at the second intermediate sprint point today hindered Evans’ chances of limiting his losses as Gerrans took the prize of five bonus seconds. Matt White explained after the race the team was targeting the time bonuses to help Gerrans move up in the overall. "We were always going to focus on the first one [intermediate sprint], but we saw an opportunity to go for the second one. We're in a lot better situation than where we were 24-hours ago, that's for sure," White said.
Speaking with the experience of what has happened in the last two years on Willunga, White knows that tomorrow’s stage will be decisive in deciding who wins the race overall.
In 2012 Gerrans lost the sprint to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) but went on to the win the overall. Last year Gerrans won the stage ahead of Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco) who went on to win the Ochre jersey as the Australian finished the race outside the top ten.
"At the end of the day, you still have to beat Cadel tomorrow on Willunga, but I think that's doable. It will come down to speed, it will be good for us. The hardest part of Willunga is at the bottom, but I wouldn't be surprised to see all those top guys come together to the line, or at least very close.
"The priority tomorrow is to win the stage. Simon is more focused on winning the stage. We're a long from finished with this race. We're on a mission, that's for sure."
Out to stop the mission will be BMC and their sport director Allan Peiper who suggested that intermediate sprint time bonus may be just as crucial as the hill top finish.
"Every second does count. We conceded a bit of time today. We still have seven seconds, in a bit of a buffer going into Willunga. With time bonuses atop Willunga at 10, 6 and 4, it's pretty much wide open. I think a lot of it will come down to intermediate sprints on the road, today and Sunday," Peiper said.
"It's going to be an exciting for the race. All in all, we got through the stage fine. There was quite of bit of work for his teammates to try to control the stage, but Willunga is going to be the critical day. A steeper climb would be better for Cadel, I don't know who it favours. It will be a showdown at the top of Willunga."
After two years with the RadioShack team, Ben King is riding his first race in Garmin-Sharp colours.
The American moved to the team, after team manager Jonathan Vaughters expressed interest in him. With little information coming from RadioShack, he says it was an easy choice.
“Vaughters contacted me earlier in the year and there weren’t a lot of answers coming from Trek about the team and if they would continue,” said King.
“I have a lot of friends on Garmin-Sharp. It’s a young team and a new environment. I think a change can be stimulating. There were a lot of good reasons to come to the team.”
King hopes that riding for Garmin will give him the opportunity to ride in some bigger races this year. There is the possibility of riding one of the three grand tours, although, his calendar is still up in the air.
“The team is trying to build a more cohesive team around certain riders, to give them the support that they deserve. I think that I’m a part of that.
“I go from here to Mallorca, and then Catalunya and we’ll see how it goes from there. I definitely hope to get on a grand tour team this year, and I don’t think it will be the Giro.”
To subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel click here
Orica-GreenEdge captain claws back five seconds on windy stage
In cycling, time is precious, and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) wasted very little time in stealing back five critical seconds from two bonuses along stage four of the Tour Down Under – a stage won by Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), who holds the all-time record for stage victories at the race.
Gerrans took a three-second time bonus at the first intermediate sprint, before adding two more seconds after finishing second to fellow Australian Nathan Haas, who is running fourth overall, at the second – and final – intermediate sprint on Inman Valley Road in Yankalilla at the 116.6-kilometre mark.
"Yes, it would have been great to get a few more bonus seconds on the finish line today, but unfortunately I finished in fourth place so just outside the bonuses," said Gerrans, a two-time overall winner and the reigning Australian national champion. "In saying that, we got a couple of seconds out on the road to tighten things up just a little bit more and as I've said time and time again, this race is won by seconds. I'm going to take every opportunity."
When asked about his level of confidence after Friday's stage, Gerrans quickly responded by saying: "Put it this way - I'm feeling five seconds more confident after today's stage than I was beforehand."
Evans, who nearly came off his bike after having what appeared to be gear issues, which later forced a bike change, was unable to respond to Gerrans' attack and thus hold on to valuable seconds.
"It’s been a nervous day with the wind and Orica really took control of the race by putting the whole team [on the front] for the intermediate sprints," said Evans, who is riding the Tour Down Under for the first time since 2010. "The first one didn’t go favourably for me and the second one was even worse."
Evans says that looking at the numbers, the Orica-GreenEdge team has four stages ideally suited to their strengths on this year's route, while he has only two. "Numbers-wise it’s not in my advantage," he said while wearing the ochre leader’s jersey for the second day in a row. "But of course Willunga [on the penultimate stage] will be important."
Orica-GreenEdge team director Matt White told Cyclingnews that "this race is far from over. We were on a mission to get bonuses. We identified the first one quite easy and pulled the string and won that one. The second one was a bit tricky and caught the bunch napping and drove 25km to bring the break back and put Simon in position to win [valuable time]."
With the bonuses, Gerrans now trails Evans by seven seconds and is within striking distance of the lead ahead of stage five and its infamous Willunga Hill finale.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if it is decided on Sunday," said White. "But at the end of the day, if we are going to win the [race], Simon has to beat Cadel on Willunga tomorrow."
Gerrans shared White’s sentiments about Sunday’s stage six potentially being the deciding factor, but claims the outcome of Willunga will be critical to the overall result.
"It can definitely be lost on Willunga Hill, but not necessarily won," Gerrans said. "It could definitely come down to the final stage on Sunday.
"Cadel really has to get rid of me tomorrow," added Gerrans, who won Willunga’s uphill finish last year and finished second in 2012. "I don't think he's going to want to go into the final stage with only a seven-second advantage."
Gerrans said that Evans will not be the only rider going for a stage win. If Evans does attack, Gerrans knows that he will have to try to get by him on the line and grab more bonus time.
"I have every faith in my guys, I have a lot of confidence in Orica-GreenEdge that they'll be able to do the job," Gerrans said of Willunga Hill. "I've never raced it against a guy of Cadel's caliber. But I'm confident I'm going to give it 100 per cent and if that's not good enough tomorrow, it's not good enough. But we are going to throw everything we have at it."
Italian unconcerned by losing 16 minutes on summit finish
Vincenzo Nibali declared himself unconcerned after losing over 16 minutes on the summit finish at Alto del Amago on stage 4 of the Tour de San Luis, but the Astana man is aiming for a significantly stronger showing in Friday’s individual time trial.
The 9.4 kilometre climb of Alto del Amago was the first major test of the Tour de San Luis, and saw Nairo Quintana (Movistar) solo to an impressive victory and move to within four seconds of Phil Gaimon’s overall lead. Nibali, however, opted to sit up once the climb began to bite, citing both the extreme heat and his unwillingness to push himself too far this early in the season.
Indeed, only four riders finished within two minutes of the dominant Quintana, and Nibali was by no means the only rider to ease up in the finale – Michele Scarponi lost 5:54, Jurgen Van Den Broeck lost 7:26 and Joaquim Rodriguez came in almost 20 minutes down.
“I sat up as soon as the climb began and I took it really easy. I’m not in the best condition for the mountains right now and to go into the red at this point is only counter-productive,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I worked to bring [teammate Mikel] Landa to the foot of the climb and then at the first corner I sat up and went up at my own pace.”
Nibali’s primary goal for 2014 is the Tour de France, and he is aware of the bearing that the penultimate day time trial to Périguex will have on the final reckoning in July. To that end, stage 5 of the Tour de San Luis, a 19.2km time trial, is a useful early-season test site.
“It will be a real and very important test. It’ll be good for me, too, as a reference to years gone by,” said Nibali.
A medallist in both the junior and under-23 time trial world championships, Nibali has not always succeeded in reproducing that form in the discipline since joining the professional ranks. He made huge strides against the watch during his first season at Astana, however, as demonstrated by his resounding victory in the hilly Polsa time trial at last year’s Giro d’Italia.
With Taylor Phinney (BMC) among his rivals in Argentina, Nibali acknowledged that claiming an early stage victory would be difficult. “It won’t be easy, but I recover well and I’m really keen to do well in this test,” he said.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Di Luca has carried out a carefully calculated strategy since testing positive for EPO during the 2013 Giro d'Italia.
On Wednesday, he gave an interview to the satirical Italian current affairs show, Le Iene, making wide-sweeping accusations about doping, suggesting that 90 per cent of the riders in the Giro d'Italia dope, and that if 10 per cent are not, they are the "10 percent [who] don't care about the Giro d'Italia, they are preparing for other races and therefore not doping."
Gazzetta reports that the UCI asked Di Luca to give details of what he knew about doping last June, but he refused to talk. Di Luca was handed a lifetime ban in December, and according to the full verdict - a copy of which was obtained by Gazzetta - Di Luca offered to reveal what he knows about his own and other cases of doping to the Italian Olympic Committee's investigators. However, he then back-tracked on the idea and gave his interview on Italian television.
Gazzetta also suggests that Di Luca is involved in the Padua investigation into Dr Michele Ferrari and Lance Armstrong, another investigation in Turin and possibly another again in his home town of Pescara after his positive for EPO because doping is illegal in Italy.
The Italian newspaper asks if Di Luca gave his interview as a kind of vendetta or to help take advantage of his case, and claimed that he is working on the idea of writing a book, perhaps revealing what he did during his long career with the Cantina Tollo, Saeco, Liquigas, LPR Brakes, Katusha, Acqua & Sapone and Vini Fantini teams.
"Does he want a high-profile trial with shocking revelations? And if he speaks and names people?" Gazzetta asks. "Di Luca like Tyler Hamilton? Attention, because this could become the Armstrong affair of Italy, considering the level of the person (Di Luca)."
Di Luca refused to comment about the reports in Gazzetta dello Sport when contacted by Cyclingnews on Friday.