Controversial Spaniard fades to fourth on final stage
In spite of a listless performance in the final time trial of the Volta ao Algarve, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) has declared himself happy with his return to competitive action. The Spaniard returned a positive test for Clenbuterol during last year’s Tour de France, but last week the Spanish Cycling Federation announced that it had decided not to sanction him.
Contador immediately set off for Portugal to take the start of the Volta ao Algarve, a race he won last season. After showing initial flashes of form earlier in the week, he was off the pace in the concluding time trial, finishing 45 seconds down in 15th, a performance that saw him slip off the podium to fourth overall.
Nonetheless, the controversial Contador was pleased simply to be back on his bike.
“The time trial didn’t turn out quite right, but just being here is already a triumph,” Contador said after the finish. “I think I had a good performance for the first race. I read in a newspaper that I’d gone 205 days without racing, and that is too much.”
Contador’s last race was the final stage of the Tour de France last July. He was informed of his positive test for Clenbuterol on August 24, but the news only entered the public domain on September 30.
Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) took the stage and the overall victory in the Algarve, and Contador acknowledged the German’s strength.
“The performance was very good, because people who were here in the time trial were specialists, like Tony Martin, who has showed that was very strong when he arrived on Friday with the climbers,” Contador said. “Those who have finished in front have been very strong”.
While last week’s announcement from the Spanish federation has cleared Contador to race for now, it is likely that the final decision on his case will be made in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the months ahead. For now, however, Contador is adamant that he is focused on racing.
“I’m on the path towards the next race,” he said.
Contador also claimed that in spite of the storm of media attention his contentious presence in the Algarve had attracted, he had approached the race itself in a relaxed manner.
"I came in thinking I had nothing to lose,” he said. “I have done it differently than in other years, when I came here with a lot of pressure to win the race.
“This year, however, I could not train so much, but this will also work out better because I always start the year very strong and then I have to measure my breaks. This year, however, I will go calm.”
Organisers of the Tour of South Africa were forced to cancel Sunday's second stage around Montecasino, near Johannesburg following a number of incidents where traffic entered the course despite rolling road closures.
A number of attacks lead to the breakaway of the day finally establishing itself at the 40 kilometre mark with Christopher Jennings (Burgos 2016), Johan van Zyl (Toyota CSA) and Clint Hendriks (Tasol-GT) creating a gap of 1min 38 seconds. As the group of three approached the finishing circuit in Sandton, the race was neutralised for the first time.
"Motorists were forcing themselves on to the route at the risk of riders, marshals and spectators," explained Barry Mocke, CEO Cycling South Africa.
Five minutes passed and two more stops in the race ensued before the race got under way again with the breakaway group allowed their 1min 38sec advantage. However, there was still more traffic on the finishing circuit in Sandton and race organisers were forced to neutralise the stage. It is believe that riders threatened to strike.
"CSA [Cycling South Africa] made the call to cancel the stage due to safety concerns, its unfortunate & disappointing but we want a safe race above all else," South African team Bonitas said via Twitter.
"The Metro Police that were on the race with us earlier have disappeared."
Mocke said in an official statement that while organisers were not happy with the outcome, "we will not lay blame anywhere."
Rapha Condor Sharp's Kristian House remains leader on general classification after he took out Saturday's opening stage in Montecasino.
The Tour of South Africa has returned to the racing calendar for the first time in a decade. The race continues tomorrow with stage three, 177 kilometres near Port Elizabeth, in the country's south.
"We will be doubling our efforts together with the local authorities to ensure that a repeat of Stage 2 will not occur," said Mocke. "In Port Elizabeth we will have 38 mobile traffic officers, 21 Tour bike marshals and 50 static marshals even though a large portion of the route occurs outside the City."
HTC-Highroad sprinter gets first season win in mass sprint
Mark Cavendish brought in his first win of the 2011 season on Sunday, winning the mass sprint finish at the final stage of the Tour of Oman. “It’s always good to get the first victory of the year, too, it didn’t work out the other day but now I’ve got it and I’m happy,” he said.
The HTC-Highroad rider was shut out in the Tour Down Under and the Tour of Qatar, with crashes in both races and the resulting injuries undermining his chances. He finished second on the first stage in Oman, before crossing the finish line as first on the sixth stage.
"This was my last chance here to win a stage. I'm glad I was able to use it,” he told the Belga news agency.
"In the last 400 metres the winds seemed to come from three different directions, really coming from everywhere. A couple of times I thought we were going to the ground, it was so hectic. In races like this it seems like everyone wants to win the sprint. Some sprints in the Tour are easier than those of today.”
The Manxman knew that, as always, he did not win alone. “I had [teammates] Hayden Roulston and Matt Goss looking after me in the finish, and they did a good job holding onto me and I did a good job holding onto them all the way through,” he said on the team's website.
“Goss went at the end, I left a gap then went for it myself. It was difficult with the wind, but it all worked perfectly.”
Moreover, it wasn't the team's only victory on the day. In the Tour of the Algarve, Tony Martin won the closing time trial to take the overall victory, with young American Tejay Van Garderen taking second overall. The team also won two stages in Portugal, as neo-pro John Degenkolb took the second stage.
After a stunning performance in the individual time trial on stage five, Robert Gesink (Rabobank) only had to stay out of trouble in the final stage to secure the overall honours at the Tour of Oman.
With a flat stage on the cards it was the last chance for the sprinters to shine and Mark Cavendish, who has had a crash-heavy start to the season, picked himself up to take his first win of the season.
In this exclusive video for Cyclingnews, catch up on the stage six highlights as well as a post race chit-chat with Gesink.
Anthony Charteau has had to abandon the Tour of South Africa on stage one after a bad crash. The Frenchman, winner of the 2010 Tour de France KOM title, dislocated his collarbone when he hit the ground hard with 50 kilometres remaining in the stage that started in Pretoria.
The Team Europcar rider came to fall in no particular race situation and admitted it was entirely his fault. "I looked behind to see where my teammates were and I touched a rear wheel. The crash was inevitable," said the race favourite, who won the Tropicale Amissa Bongo three weeks ago.
The 31-year-old was disappointed as the injury means a setback to his good form. "I have to get an MRI scan back in France to define the degree of the dislocation. Generally, this sort of injury means ten days off the bike. I'm bummed - this injury is definitely annoying. I had made the Tour of South Africa and Cholet Pays-de-Loire my objectives, and I am very disappointed."
Charteau will still be able to race Cholet, the second round of the French Cup on March 20, but perhaps not on the same level. But all in all, he hoped to be back to his current form in one month.
"As regards the rest of the season, it won't change much. At the Critérium International (March 26-27), I will have recovered a great part of my fitness. I could target the stage on Sunday morning..."
Markus and Thomas Fothen have signed with the German Continental-ranked Team NSP. The brothers had last ridden for the now-defunct Team Milram, and will ride with former Milram teammate Markus Eichler at NSP.
The team will go into its first season with 16 riders, all German.
The team management “convinced us with their concept,” Markus Fothen, 29, said. “NSP has ambitious goals, and we do too. The mixture in the team is good and Thomas and I can bring a lot of experience and knowledge.”
Younger brother Thomas, 27, was impressed by the team's schedule. “For a new team, the race calendar is really strong. There are some real highlights there.”
Sport director Lars Wackernagel, who ended his pro career at the end of the 2010 season, was enthusiastic about the team's last two signings. “Markus will surely help us enormously with his time trial abilities and as an experienced stage race specialist,” he said. He also looks to Thomas to do well in one-day races. “Thomas can do more than he has shown in the past.”
Markus Fothen first came to notice when he won the U23 World time trial title in 2003. He rode for Team Gerolsteiner in 2004, and transferred to Milram in 2009. He finished 12th in the Giro d'Italia in 2005 and 15th in the Tour de France the next year, but was unable to repeat those results. In 2008 he won stages at the Tour de Suisse and the Regio-Tour.
Thomas Fothen turned pro in 2005 with Sparkasse, and rode for Gerolsteiner and Milram.
Merckx tips Rabobank rider to win the Tour de France
Robert Gesink won the first stage race of his pro career on Sunday, taking the overall title in the Tour of Oman. The Rabobank rider won two consecutive stages to cement the victory, stage four's mountaintop finish and the penultimate stage time trial. His performance was impressive enough that none other than cycling legend Eddy Merckx said that the Dutchman could one day win the Tour de France.
“I rode strongly and wasn't in trouble all day,” he told the Telegraaf newspaper. “All in all a great victory.”
“I came to Oman to try something in those two stages. That I took the final victory makes its perfect,” Gesink said.
“With the team, we took four stages and the final win. This success creates a very good atmosphere on the team and takes the pressure off the riders. It is always important if you can win early in the season.”
Rabobank Sport Director Nico Verhoeven was in awe of his captain. “Robert has demonstrated this week that he is back stronger. I wonder sometimes where it will all end. He is getting better and more complete,” he said on the team's website.
Merckx, who was race director in Oman, called it, “A perfect performance. I did not expect to find Gesink in this form so early in the season. I think he has made another step up.
“In my view, Gesink is a candidate to win the Tour. And that will happen sooner than most people think. The Tour de France this year is tailored to him.”
The Dutch ProTeam dominated the race in Oman, winning four stages as well as the final title. Both Gesink and sprinter Theo Bos won two stages each.
Matti Breschel's knee problems may stop him from competing in the upcoming Spring Classics. The 26-year-old Dane signed with Rabobank this season to lead the Dutch ProTeam in those cobblestone Classics, but the races are now in jeopardy.
"Realistically, I can only dream about participation as a reserve rider, if I ride at all," he wrote on his blog, according to spn.dk.
Breschel underwent surgery on his left knee last November, knowing it could knock him out of the Classics. His recovery went so well, however, that he returned to racing early. Unfortunately, the pain returned and he had to abandon only six kilometres into the third stage of the Tour of Algarve on Friday.
"Right now I'm feeling damned low. Things brightened a bit with the first race and I felt that I had made a good start," he said.
Rabobank spokesman Luuc Eisenga confirmed to Cyclingnews that Breschel will be examined tomorrow, “and then we will see”.
"Can I only train, but not take the stress of racing for several more weeks or should I once again go under the knife? In both cases it is 'good bye Classics',” Breschel noted.