Belgian fully recovered from illness, reconned critical Ronde climbs
On Friday afternoon Tom Boonen (Quick Step) spoke one last time with the media in Kortrijk's Kennedy hotel before taking part in the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. For the first time in years Boonen is not topping most of the favourites' lists. After being dropped by Fabian Cancellara on the Muur in Geraardsbergen in last year's Tour of Flanders coupled with the Swiss rider's tour de force performance in the E3 Harelbeke last Saturday, Boonen is forced into a new role of minor favourite.
"It doesn't change a lot. I approached the race the same way like other years. It's also something you have to think about during the race and not to do all the attacking on the climbs and save some energy. Maybe it's a more relaxed way for me to race and it takes some pressure away from the team which is good because we already have a few losses," Boonen said.
With teammates Nikolas Maes, Kevin De Weert and now Niki Terpstra all unable to compete, it means that Boonen will be joined by four Ronde debutants on Sunday. "Of course it's better to have an experienced team but we have to adapt with young, talented riders. It's good for them to do it now as it well help them in the future," Boonen said.
For now Boonen still leads the Quick Step troops in Flanders and he considers himself to be one of the main contenders, together with Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). "Obviously there's one big favourite and there's a few of us right behind him," Boonen said. "Things are looking good for me, not perfect but good. The form is coming but I would prefer that it was already there. We'll have...
While Quick Step, Leopard Trek and Garmin-Cervelo all organised media press conferences, Italy’s two biggest teams took to the parcours for some last-minute preparation and training.
Liquigas-Cannondale will line-up with one of the strongest teams in the race and with Peter Sagan the team will have a legitimate shot for the podium. The 21-year-old Slovak is riding his first Classics campaign but showed in Gent-Wevelgem that he is here for more than experience, forming the most dangerous move of the race and almost holding off the peloton with his escape companions.
Lampre-ISD, on the other hand, will have one eye on the Ardennes later this month where they’ll be led by Damiano Cunego and Michele Scarponi in La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Swiss favourite looks forward to Sunday's "dessert"
Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) has returned to Belgium ahead of the Tour of Flanders after spending the week fine-tuning his preparation at home in Switzerland. The defending champion is the overwhelming favourite for Sunday’s race after his imposing win at the E3 Prijs in Harelbeke last weekend, and he is confident that he can handle the burden of expectation.
“People may want to put everything on my shoulders, but I have large, wide shoulders,” Cancellara smiled at Leopard Trek’s pre-race press conference in Kortrijk.
“To come here as strong as I’m feeling and to be defending champion and number one favourite has not always happened, but I’m ready for that. The world knows I’m strong and the world knows I’m ready, so why should I step back.”
While some of his rivals have sought to pile on the pressure during the week by emphasising his favourite’s status in the wake of his exhibition at E3, Cancellara responded to such claims with a psychological game of his own, wondering aloud if he had indeed reached the peak of his form on the road to Harelbeke.
“It’s too easy to put all this pressure to my side,” he said. “I think they’re putting the pressure on by talking in this way because they’ve seen the race on Saturday and I take it as a compliment, but I know where I want to be on Sunday, and this is the biggest question mark – was I 100% last Saturday or not? And only I know that and no-one else, except for the team.
Although Cancellara is likely to be heavily marked at De Ronde, he was optimistic that the circumstances of the race would not eliminate him from contention and he did not believe that his rivals would allow...
Race organisers and teams collaborate to bring viewers live race radio action
This weekend's Tour of Flanders will see teams and riders brought even closer to fans and viewers at home when Leopard Trek, Quick Step, Omega Pharma-Lotto and Garmin-Cervélo will transmit interactions between team cars and riders during the race. Team cars will be equipped with cameras but in a bid to showcase race radio importance, viewers will be able to listen in live as the riders and team managers talk from within the bunch and the cars.
The team cars will be equipped with two cameras and images and sound will be continuously registered and redirected via an airplane to the finish in Meerbeke. The images will be cut into the live broadcast on Belgium's S Television so that viewers are able to witness the very core of the race.
The measure is a collaboration between the race organisers and the teams involved as a showcase for how cycling can benefit from race technology and communication.
"By using this new technology, the teams would like to give a positive signal in the discussion about the radios," the organisers said in a press release. "They are still convinced that modern means of communication, when used properly, can make cycling more attractive."
Wouter Vandenhaute of Flanders Classics, the organiser of the Tour of Flanders, emphasizes the importance of a close collaboration with the teams.
"Until now, organizers and teams did not see each other as partners," said Vandenhaute. "As a new organizer I would like to use a totally different approach. I am convinced we have to work closely together in order to contribute to a great future for cycling."
In a joint statement, the teams said: “We believe cycling fans want to 'live' the race drama, strategy and excitement from the inside. Technology should help them get even more out of our shared passion for the sport."
South African succumbs to bruising suffered at De Panne
Robbie Hunter's injury misfortunes have given rise to youngster Michal Kwiatkowski for the Tour of Flanders.
Team RadioShack announced via statement that Hunter had not recovered in time for Sunday's race, having crashed on the first part of the final stage of the Three Days De Panne on Thursday. The South African is suffering bruised floating ribs and paravertebral muscles.
Twenty-year-old Kwiatkowski from Poland, who finished third at De Panne to teammate Sebastian Rosseler, will now take Hunter's place.
Kwiatkowski joined Team RadioShack at the beginning of the 2011 season having previously ridden for the Spanish continental Caja Rural team. In 2008 he was world junior time trial champion over Jakob Steigmiller and Taylor Phinney.
Team RadioShack line-up for the Tour of Flanders: Fumiyuki Beppu, Manuel Cardoso, Michal Kwiatkowski, Geoffroy Lequatre, Robbie McEwen, Dmitriy Muravyev, Gregory Rast, Sébastien Rosseler
Australian and Leopard Trek ready to support Cancellara at De Ronde
Stuart O’Grady is confident that his Leopard Trek team have reached form just in time for their biggest objectives of the early season, theTour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The Australian has been Flanders favourite Fabian Cancellara’s key lieutenant in recent weeks, and he is set to reprise that role on Sunday.
“I think coming into this year, we’ve ridden very hard together as a team since Qatar and Oman, but the ideas have been on this Sunday and next Sunday,” O’Grady said at Leopard Trek’s pre-race press conference in Kortrijk on Friday. “We’ve done a lot of hard work and we come here quietly confident, looking to stay calm and keep out of trouble and then let the Swiss machine do the rest.”
On the past two weekends, O’Grady has given ample demonstration of his mettle in support of Cancellara. Two weeks ago, he was part of an escape on the descent of the Cipressa at Milan-San Remo, while last Saturday E3 Prijs, he dropped back from the break to help pace his leader to the front of the race. At Flanders, he will have a large say in deciding the squad’s tactics on the road in his role as captain.
“My goal is just to make sure that we’re ready for the strategy and the plan that we have on morning or the night before the race, and that each rider is prepared to do his job 100 percent,” O’Grady said. “Anything and everything can happen out on the road, and you just have to be ready to make split-second decisions. Sometimes they can be very critical decisions, so you’ve got to hope it’s the right one.
“Everyone’s got a job to do. We’re just hoping the job isn’t too hard. Obviously keeping Fabian at the front and out of trouble is the first and foremost, and after that the rider with the...
Patrik Sınkewitz continues to deny that he used Human Growth Hormone, and now has claimed that the International Cycling Union falsely told him that “a substance” had been found in his body, when that was not the case.
The UCI announced on March 18 that there was “an Adverse Analytical Finding of Recombinant Human Growth Hormone in a blood sample collected from him at an in-competition test carried out by Antidoping Switzerland, authorized by the UCI, at the GP di Lugano on 27 February 2011. “
On his personal website, Sinkewitz said that the UCI informed him of “a substance” which had been found. “This is not the truth. Instead, a blood value is being investigated.”
The 30-year-old said that “after the first shock, I have started my own investigations with the help of experts.” He hoped that the situation would be cleared up and “my innocence proved.”
Sinkewitz was the first cyclist to be suspended after returning an adverse analytical finding for HGH. He is facing a lifetime ban if found guilty, as he previously was banned for having used testosterone.
Haussler, Hushovd and Farrar lead three-man attack
Garmin-Cervelo will head into Sunday’s Tour of Flanders with a three-pronged attack consisting of Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler. Despite strength in numbers they are well aware that the man to beat will Fabian Cancellara, but Farrar, who finished fourth last year, is confident that the team can play all their cards in a bid to not just stop Cancellara, but also win the team’s first Classic.
“I feel really good. The racing has gone well the last few weeks with Tirreno, and I had decent results in Waregem and Gent-Wevelgem so the legs are there and I’ve had really good feelings in recon. I hope I’m ready. We have a lot of cards to play, we might as well use them.”
Farrar’s best chance of winning will come down to following wheels and how much the race splinters on the climbs before the finish.
“I think Thor and Heinrich are more leaders for Sunday than I am. They’re riders that can go in moves and that can follow guys like Cancellara when he goes on climbs. For me it’s more a matter of hanging on and if things come back together and it’s a group sprinting for a result, then we’ll see but I think it’s more of a race for those two, ” he said.