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First Edition Cycling News, Friday, May 6, 2011

Date published:
May 6, 2011, 09:00
  • Rodriguez is fired up for the Giro d'Italia

    Team Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez speaks in the lead-up to the Giro d'Italia
    Article published:
    May 5, 2011, 19:25
    Jean-François Quénet

    Spanish climber believes the route suits him better than ever

    Joaquim Rodriguez, the number one ranked rider by the UCI for 2010, is fired up for the Giro d'Italia, a race he has chosen as his main goal for the 2011 season. That decision came after the Team Katusha racer realized that the course suits him more than any Grand Tour he has done in the past.

    "I'm ready to challenge Contador," he told Cyclingnews in Turin. "Alberto has showed that he's very strong and he won the Giro before (in 2008), but this Giro has a very different course. This Giro is more difficult than the Tour de France. Alberto is not the only favourite, let's say he's the main favourite."

    "I'm now in the condition I wanted to have at the start of the Giro. There are so many mountains! The steeper it is, the better it is for me. These are the most difficult mountains for a Grand Tour. It's a perfect course for me, especially because of the few numbers of kilometres against the clock.

    Rodriguez said he not thinking of what might happen to Contador once the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) makes its decision - expected sometime after the Giro d'Italia - on Contador's doping case.

    Referring to Contador, Italian reporters mentioned to Rodriguez that this will be the first time the potential winner of the Giro might have his result cancelled after the race, should CAS decide to ban him. But Rodriguez, who is the captain of Katusha, insisted that it won't influence how he races.

    "I have a style, and I won't change it," Rodriguez said. "My style is to attack and to listen to my feelings. With all the time bonuses up for grabs at uphill finishes, I just have to follow my instincts anyway."

    "The only difference compared to the Vuelta a España last year is that I won't be trying to get the pink jersey at the beginning of the race. What counts is to have the pink jersey at the end."

    At the 2010 Vuelta a España, Rodriguez desperately wanted to get the red jersey for the stages in Catalunya in front of his fans at home. Racing in Italy with the same form and the same ambition as in Spain might help him race in a more calculated way, instead of riding the emotional wave that comes along with being cheered on by all the locals when racing at home.

    "I love Italy, and I've done the Giro three times before," said Rodriguez, remembering the years he had asked - albeit unsuccessfully - his directors from ONCE, Saunier Duval and Caisse d'Epargne to ride the Tour de France. 2010 was the first year he got to start the Tour de France; the opportunity came after he moved to the Katusha team.

    "Clearly, I've prepared for the Giro at 100 percent, and I want to finish at the highest possible position. I didn't start the year as I wished, I wasn't myself at Tirreno-Adriatico, but after I got a treatment for a cyst on my femur, I got a stage win at the Volta ai Pais Vasco that reset my mind and turned me back into a fighter."

    "In the team time trial on Sunday, we hope to be as close to Saxo Bank as possible. The uphill time trial favors me, and I hope the classification will be set before the closing (individual) time trial in Milan."

    Katusha's directeur sportif Serge Parsani said the team has been built around Rodriguez for the overall classification. The team is without the participation of Filippo Pozzato and Denis Galimzyanov, who would have targeted stage

  • Di Luca to support Rodriguez in Giro d'Italia

    Katusha teammates Danilo Di Luca and Joaquim Rodriguez.
    Article published:
    May 5, 2011, 21:50
    Barry Ryan

    Italian "at 80 per cent" compared with 2007

    Danilo Di Luca (Katusha) has admitted that he is only at 80 per cent of his capabilities as he rides the Giro d'Italia for the first time since his return from suspension.

    The Italian finished second in the 2009 Giro but was stripped of the result and suspended after testing positive for CERA. Di Luca was previously implicated in the "Oil for Drugs" inquiry, for which he received a three-month ban in late 2007.

    "If we want to talk in terms of percentages, we can say that when I won the Giro [in 2007] or two years ago, I was at 100 per cent and now I'm at 80 per cent," Di Luca said at Katusha's pre-race press conference in Borgaro Torinese on Thursday.

    When pressed further on that frank assessment of his form, Di Luca sought to steer the conversation away from the question of doping, and instead blamed the drop off in his performance on the fact that he had spent the 2010 season sidelined from competition.

    "It's not because I haven't trained like before or because I followed a different preparation. In my opinion, it's just physiological," Di Luca insisted. "Training by yourself without racing and then racing is very different. This Giro d'Italia will be useful to me not just for the rest of the season but for my whole career, as I will take on the effort of a three-week race again."

    Di Luca was initially handed a two-year suspension after his positive test for CERA, but that sanction was reduced after he collaborated with CONI investigators by explaining doping methods. He returned to action with Katusha ahead of the 2011 season. While Di Luca says that he remains the same man as before, he insisted that he had learned from his mistakes.

    "It's not that I'm so different to before as a man – I'm still me," he said. "Naturally, during the course of your life, you make mistakes. The important thing is to understand what those mistakes were and go forward looking to improve on where you went wrong. For the rest, I'm still me, the man you know."

    Riding for Rodriguez

    A big fish in a small pond at Cantina Tollo, and subsequently a Giro winner with Liquigas and a contender with LPR, Di Luca finds himself in uncharted territory as a domestique deluxe at this year's corsa rosa. With Joaquim Rodriguez set to lead Katusha's assault on the overall classification, Di Luca will have to content himself with a role as the team's road captain.

    "I'll ride the Giro completely in support of Joaquim," Di Luca said. "With my experience, we can do a lot of things together. Joaquim is here to win the Giro and I'm here to help him. I can stay close to him in the fundamental stages and not just them and I can help organise the team and influence our race strategy during the race.

    "Working for Joaquim is not a burden, it's not something I'm doing involuntarily. I would even have done it a few years ago too if I'd had a teammate who was capable of winning the Giro."

    A peculiarity of Di Luca's role as team captain is that he will be the only Katusha rider not wearing a radio earpiece. "He prefers direct contact," his directeur sportif Serge Parsani joked. "He'll be doing kilometers up and down the road to come and talk to the car. Perhaps he'd do less with an earpiece."

    Di Luca also admitted that in spite of his responsibilities to the team and the less than impressive form he has exhibited all spring, he will look to win a stage should the opportunity arise.

    "If a day comes where I can do well in a stage, I will certainly look to take that chance," he said. "But it wouldn't be on a stage that was important for the overall, but rather on an intermediate stage where the classification wouldn't change."

    Nonetheless, Di Luca reiterated that he arrives at this Giro with his personal expectations firmly in check, a far cry from his last, tarnished appearance in 2009.

    "Of course I know I'm not at my best and I can't fight to win the Giro, but I'm fortunate that I have Joaquim beside me who can win it," he said. "For me, staying close to him and maybe bringing him to Milan in the pink jersey would be a great satisfaction."

  • Keisse to serve out remainder of doping ban

    Gent's Iljo Keisse.
    Article published:
    May 5, 2011, 22:10
    Cycling News

    Quick Step rider must make up six months in Belgium

    The Brussels Court of Appeal today dismissed the argument of Iljo Keisse, who challenged his two-year ban which was imposed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). 

    The Belgian who rides with the Quick Step team must now serve out the balance of his suspension from competition. His ban will end on two dates: August 6 outside Belgium, and January 27, 2012 in his own country.

    Keisse tested positive for two substances in November, 2008 but successfully argued that he was not responsible for the drugs, Cathine and HCT, being in his system.

    The Belgian cycling federation did not take disciplinary action against him, but the UCI and World Anti-doping Agency appealed to CAS and won in July, 2010. The effective date of his suspension took into account 11 months already spent out of competition awaiting the verdict of the Belgian federation, and his ban was to end August 6, 2011.

    Keisse then argued to the appeals court in Brussels that the CAS did not have the jurisdiction to deny him his right to work. The court suspended his ban on November 10, 2010.

    In the interim, the UCI informed Keisse that the court's deliberations only allowed him to continue racing in his own country, keeping him out of competition in several overseas track events in the winter. Keisse has raced on the road with Quick Step only in Belgium this year.

    The court today refused to debate whether or not the CAS had jurisdiction in the matter because the end of Keisse's suspension was coming so soon, leaving no victory for Keisse.

    The UCI announced today that because his ban was interrupted, it would extend the date of his suspension in Belgium until January 27, 2012.

  • Sastre content with Giro d’Italia preparation

    Sastre and Menchov give Geox-TMC two strong cards to play
    Article published:
    May 5, 2011, 23:15
    Barry Ryan

    Spaniard foresees early shake-up at Montevergine and Etna

    Carlos Sastre is adamant that his preparation for the Giro d’Italia has been unaffected by the uncertainty that surrounded his Geox-TMC team’s racing programme earlier in the season. Although the squad failed to secure an invitation to the Tour de France, Sastre explained that a Giro d’Italia was always in his sights and so his early season plans were not disrupted.

    "My plan in November was to do the Giro d’Italia, so for that reason nothing changed in my programme," Sastre told Cyclingnews in Borgaro Torinese on Thursday. "The beginning of the season was not easy, but finally I am here at the Giro d’Italia. My condition is not bad. I feel quite happy with how I am in this moment, so now I will see how my body reacts and how my condition is."

    Sastre is joined in Italy by Denis Menchov, who returns to the Giro for the first time since his victory in the centenary edition of 2009, and the co-leaders will form an intriguing double act on the race. Both hugely experienced riders, Sastre is confident that their talents will dovetail in the best interests of the team.

    "I think that we know each other very well and we can work without any problems," Sastre said. "We have a really hard Giro d’Italia in front of us, and sometimes it is better to play two cards rather than only one.

    "If you have two riders who can hope to win the Giro then it’s much better than only one. We have our two cards and you can look to play those cards at the right moment."

    Sastre cited Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) as the biggest obstacles facing the Geox-TMC tandem at the Giro. Although Contador’s sporting fate is yet to be decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Sastre believes that his fellow countryman can block out the ongoing ruminations over his Clebuterol positive at last year’s Tour de France and focus on the task in hand.

    "I think he’s started the season well," Sastre said. "In this way, he’s shown that he can think in the present and I think he will be 100 percent focused at the Giro."

    The 2011 Giro showcases one of the toughest Grand Tour routes of recent years, and its gruelling final week promises to offer a particularly sharp sting in the tail. Faced with such an exacting course, some riders might seek to conserve their energy in the opening two weeks, but Sastre was not overly concerned by how his rivals might approach the Giro and is instead focused on his own race.

    "I don’t know, it’s going to be difficult if I start to think about what everyone else is going to do," he told Cyclingnews. "I think it’s enough to know what we want to do. We’re here because the Giro d’Italia is really important for us, and we’re going to try everything here."

    The Giro gruppo will begin climbing as soon as the first week, however, and Sastre reckons that the summit finishes on stage 7 and 9 will offer some early indications of who can and cannot wear the pink jersey in Milan.

    "At Montevergine after seven days, some important rider is going to try something, that’s for sure," Sastre pointed out. "Then after almost 10 days, it’s going to be a hard climb at Etna. After ten hard days, and coming before the rest day, we’re going to have some surprises."

  • HTC-Highroad ready to get Pinotti in pink after team time trial

    Marco Pinotti (HTC - Highroad), the Italian time trial champion, rides to a sixth place finish in stage 7.
    Article published:
    May 6, 2011, 00:22
    Jean-François Quénet

    American team prepared to repeat the success of 2009

    A duel between American teams HTC-Highroad and Garmin-Cervélo is expected for Saturday's inaugural team time trial at the Giro d'Italia starting from Turin to celebrate the 150 years of the unity of Italy. "This duel is nothing new," HTC-Highroad's directeur sportif Valerio Piva told Cyclingnews in Piedmont.

    The 2008 Giro started in Palermo with a team time trial and the win of Slipstream (now renamed Garmin-Cervélo) led on the line by Christian Vande Velde while a year later, stage 1 in Lido di Venezia was dominated by Columbia-Highroad (now known as HTC-Highroad) and Mark Cavendish took the honour of crossing the line first to put on his first leader's jersey at a Grand Tour.

    "Two years ago, Cavendish was an up and coming rider and it was a team's decision to promote him," Piva remembered. "Now the situation is different. Should we win the team time trial on Saturday, Mark will have other possibilities to get the pink jersey again, but he's now at a point of his career where it wouldn't change anything if he was the race leader after the team time trial or not."

    HTC-Highroad yet has to have a meeting to determine which one of the riders will cross the line first but Piva didn't hide that Italian time trial champion Marco Pinotti will be the one. "In theory, yes, it'll be Pinotti," the DS said. "It was already the decision taken at Tirreno-Adriatico. It would be a homage to his great contribution to the team and to the Giro that honours the tri-colours this year."

    HTC-Highroad will have two distinctive jerseys in the race on Saturday with Frantisek Rabon wearing the one of the Czech Republic. But there are more time trial specialists in their ranks with Lars Bak being a former Danish champion and Alex Rasmussen a probable future Danish champion.

    "Mark Renshaw and Cavendish have proven in the past that they are the engines of the team for a short team time trial. Patrick Gretsch is a young German talent for time trial. Craig Lewis isn't a specialist but he always contributed greatly in team time trials. Maybe the less adapted to this kind of effort is Kosta Sivtsou but he still does well. On paper, we have a team for winning on Saturday even though we don't have a Cancellara who can make the difference by himself but we have a homogenous group.

    "It's a pity that we cannot experiment the course before Saturday morning," Piva continued. "The race used some one-way streets, so it makes it difficult if not impossible to see it. Two years ago some teams did it in the early morning and some incidents occurred. There's no way we'll risk a crash by doing that, so we'll wait for Saturday morning and the course to be closed to traffic. We've studied it on Google Maps but it's a different thing to do it on the bike. Some tactical choices are impossible to be made at the last moment."

    It's evident that HTC-Highroad went for technical choices favouring the team time trial and the lead out for Cavendish in the first twelve days of the Giro, rather than having riders to go for GC.

    "Being an American team, we also had to put together a competitive line up for the Tour of California," Piva admitted.


  • Menchov to go for two or three more years

    Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) sets the pace in the lead group.
    Article published:
    May 6, 2011, 04:40
    Jean-François Quénet

    Russian star ready for the Giro after Geox Tour de France omission

    Two years after winning one of the less mountainous editions of the Giro d'Italia (the centennial), Denis Menchov is back for a totally different type of racing with a lot of hard climbs on the menu, but the Russian from Geox is also more motivated because he won't get a chance to ride the Tour de France for the first time since 2001.

    It's no secret that he wasn't pleased with the decision of Rabobank to not let him defend his crown at the Giro last year.

    "But it was in the interest of the team to have me in the best condition for the Tour de France," said the man who came third behind Alberto Contador and Fränk Schleck in July 2010.

    "Physically, I'm well," warned Menchov who chose to only take part in the Tour de Romandie (he finished 14th) in the past five weeks. "What I've done in Switzerland last week was good enough. I think my training has been good."

    The Giro is a little bit special this year," he continued. "The second part is really hard. In a Grand Tour, what counts is the condition anyway, not the number of hills or how hard they are. It's not going to be everyone against Contador. He is the most difficult to beat of all our rivals but other riders also look very well before the start of the Giro. Five or six riders can win it. Nibali is probably the other hot favourite, now that he has won a Grand Tour at last year's Vuelta. Whoever has won a Grand Tour is a more serious contender than anyone who hasn't yet. Experience counts so much on three weeks of racing."

    Geox team manager Mauro Gianetti stated that the disappointment of not riding the Tour de France despite having former winner Carlos Sastre in addition to Menchov is now behind them. "We've transformed it in an advantage to prepare for the Giro the best we could," said the Swiss.

    "I hope to be back at the Tour de France next year," the 33-year-old told Cyclingnews. "I keep my line of trying to win Grand Tours as I've done in the past with the Vuelta and the Giro. But mostly, I'm still here to enjoy cycling. I want to do it for two or three more years."

  • Porte: This time it's all about Contador

    Richie Porte was the relevation of the 2010 edition, managing to wear pink for a few stages.
    Article published:
    May 6, 2011, 06:35
    Jane Aubrey

    2010's Giro sensation on selection, regret and the Tour

    Richie Porte was the revelation of the 2010 Giro d'Italia. He wore the maglia rosa for three days and went home as winner of the young rider classification but perhaps most impressively, he was in the general classification top 10 for the entire duration of the race. On the eve of this year's Giro, it's a very different Porte staring down the barrel of the next three weeks.

    "This time last year there was no pressure whatsoever," he told Cyclingnews. "I had a good race – it turned out pretty well."

    The Australian has only known that he needed to join the Saxo Bank team in Turin for a week. The result is a relaxed rider who hasn't really had the chance to think about the arduous task ahead.

    "I haven't had the stress of thinking about it for months and reading about how it's the hardest this and that," Porte explained. "When you look at the parcours it is probably something that a lot of guys would be losing sleep over. I don't think there're many Grand Tours that have been so hard. Everybody has to go up them [mountains] so everybody's in the same boat."

    Given his exploits in 2010, there is some pressure but it's all about doing the job for team leader Alberto Contador. It might be a bit sad in some ways, riding along and being an hour down knowing that it was only twelve months ago he was in a fight for the overall, but that's the reality of the job.

    Riding the Giro for a cause

    Porte's selection for the Giro raised a few eyebrows, especially given his recent health struggles with some pesky allergies that dogged him. Some even questioned whether the team had Porte's best interests in mind. It left the 26-year-old feeling annoyed to say the least.

    "The team know where I'm at and what I'm capable of and I don't think they're going to put me into a race which is just going to ruin the rest of my season," explained an adamant Porte. "I'm here to gain experience and I'll still ride the Tour.

    "Some of the good guys last messed up their Tour by doing this race. It was just two years ago that Wiggo [Bradley Wiggins] surprised everybody by doing such a good preparation in the Giro and then he had the Tour of his life, so fingers crossed that's how I can come out of it as well."

    The relations ship between directeur sportif Brad McGee and Porte is one of mutual respect and that's perhaps what has riled him the most. Sure it's "weird" that the Tasmanian used to sit up until the early hours of the morning watching McGee, along with the likes of Robbie McEwen, Stuart O'Grady, and Baden Cooke stamp their authority on the Tour de France on television while eating pistachios – but the pair have become close in their time at Saxo Bank.

    "We have our little differences but I think we're the same bike rider in a lot of ways," Porte admits. "He can see all my little faults on and off the bike. The other thing is we've been in the hot seat three times this year in time trials – it's quite a tense moment. He's a great guy and he's an inspiration for a young Aussie time trialist."

    McGee says that this edition of the Giro is all about experience. No Australian has ever won a Grand Tour and for Porte to be the one, he needs a lot more three-week slogs under his belt.

    Porte warns that he won't be one of the first guys over the Zoncolan – despite the fact that it's the stage he's most looking forward to – but his most important work for the team will be done in the lead up to some of the climbs.

    "There's pressure in a different way – but I'm looking forward to it."

    His big incentive, is to make it to Milan in good enough shape to be competitive in the final stage time trial where last year, he finished 11th.

    Next stop, Vendée

    There is no doubt that it's a big ask for Porte to race both the Giro and the Tour de France but for the rider himself it's a case of "Why not?"

    He had been scheduled to start in the Dauphine, but it's a race now off the agenda with the immediate focus now on managing Porte's recovery post-Giro.

    "Maybe the Tour de Suisse but we'll see," he said. "Otherwise I'll be going to altitude as a relax-and-recovery thing. It's exciting the options I have after it to try and get myself back."

    Regrets? Maybe a few...

    Looking back to Porte's Grand Tour baptism of fire one year ago, it's hard for an outsider to see how he could possibly find room for disappointment.

    "In all honesty I would have liked to have held the pink for a little bit longer," he said. "It was a horrible and stressful time. It really was. Wearing the pink jersey, everybody wanted to finish you off."

    The enormity of Porte's achievements took a while, and "a few beers" to sink in but despite the fact that the three weeks rushed by in a whirlwind of pain, he realises that he was a part of Australian cycling history.

    "There aren't that many Aussies to have won a jersey at a Grand Tour. Whenever you go to sign on at a race in Europe they always mention it. It's a nice one to have."


  • Boom extends Rabobank contract until the end of 2014

    Lars Boom (Rabobank) gives it a go
    Article published:
    May 6, 2011, 08:00
    Cycling News

    Big week of signings for Dutch team

    Rabobank has announced that Lars Boom will continue to ride for the ProTour team until the end of 2014 following an extension of the Dutchman's contract.

    "In recent years, we have built up something beautiful," said Boom from the United States where he is currently preparing to take part in the Tour of California. "The cooperation is very good, and a three year contract is a vote of confidence. I feel great to face the future with Rabobank."

    The news follows the announcement earlier this week that Tom Leezer has extended his contract until the end of 2013, while 20-year old Dutch climbing talent Wilco Kelderman will join the senior Rabobank Team as of next year, having proved himself in the continental development team over the last few seasons.

    The team's technical director Erik Breukink explained he has great confidence in Boom's future.

    "Lars has made another step this spring," he explained. "He comes ever-closer to the top of the field. The confidence that he can compete for results in the future is great. Lars is one of the better Dutch riders with huge potential in some areas. Flanders and Roubaix are races that he will have a major impact in in the future. Furthermore, we believe that he can continue to develop in the smaller stage races."

    Boom's results in the Classics this season were impressive and there is no doubt Rabobank will be hoping it's just a sign of things to come. The former cyclo-cross world champion finished 9th at Gent-Wevelgem, 37th at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and 12th at Paris-Roubaix. He started the year by winning the opening stage of the Tour of Oman.