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First Edition Cycling News, Saturday, June 8, 2013

Date published:
June 8, 2013, 10:00
  • Hesjedal renews with Garmin-Sharp through 2015

    Returning champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp)
    Article published:
    June 7, 2013, 13:44
    By:
    Cycling News

    I'm very happy here, says 2012 Giro d'Italia champion

    US WorldTour squad Garmin-Sharp announced today thay Ryder Hesjedal has re-signed with the team through 2015.

    "I am very excited to continue with Garmin-Sharp for another two years," said the 32-year-old Canadian. "I have had the biggest results of my career riding for this team and I'm very happy here.

    "From my teammates to everyone involved with the organization, especially our sponsors and partners, everyone works exceptionally hard for the success of Garmin-Sharp and I want to continue to be a part of that."

    Hesjedal became Garmin-Sharp's first-ever Grand Tour winner in 2012 at the Giro d'Italia, and the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour. He joined the team in 2008 and his palmares include 6th overall at the 2010 Tour de France, 2nd at the 2010 Amstel Gold, stage wins at the 2009 Vuelta a Espana and the 2010 Tour of California and a member of the squad which won the team classification title at the 2011 Tour de France. Hesjedal has also been a part of three team time trial victories in Grand Tours: Giro d'Italia (2008, 2012) and Tour de France (2011).

    "Ryder is an important part of the team, not just because of his great results and exceptional talent but also because of who he is," said Jonathan Vaughters, Garmin-Sharp general manager. "We have seen his talent grow over his years with us, something we know will continue. He is a Grand Tour champion and an important part of the fabric of Garmin-Sharp. We are thrilled that he will continue with us."

    Hesjedal was unable to defend his Giro d'Italia title this May due to the effects of an upper respiratory infection which forced him out of the Italian Grand Tour after 12 stages. After a period of recovery and training, Hesjedal will return to racing at the Tour de Suisse this weekend followed by the Tour de France, with a podium finish the goal at the French Grand Tour.

  • Makarov responds to McQuaid's insinuations

    Igor Makarov
    Article published:
    June 7, 2013, 14:40
    By:
    Stephen Farrand

    Russian oligarch hits back as the presidential battle heats up

    Igor Makarov, the President of Cycling Federation of Russia and owner of the Itera company that sponsors the Katusha team, has hit back at insinuations by Pat McQuaid about his support of rival presidential candidate Brian Cookson and his funding of the European Cycling Union.

    In a statement issued by his press service, Makarov has called on the UCI Ethics Committee to review how McQuaid used Makarov's name in an attempt to discredit Cookson and his presidential bid.

    In a letter to the national federation presidents which was leaked on Monday, McQuaid stated, "I fear Mr Cookson may be a pawn in a larger game. Mr Makarov, owner of Katusha, has expressed his anger on a number of occasions that the UCI Licence Commission denied his team a place in the 2013 WorldTour for 'ethical reasons'. The independence and impartiality of the Licence Commission is exactly the sort of positive step forward that the UCI has taken in the past decade."

    In the carefully worded statement issued by the Itera Group, Russian Global Cycling Project, Makarov refuted those claims.

    He confirmed that he had held talks in Moscow with Cookson, and pointed out that sponsorship from European Cycling Union by his Itera company has been active for three years without McQuaid raising concerns.

    Highlighting the growing tension in the UCI Presidency battle and the power struggle for control of cycling's international federation, the Russian oligarch also reminded McQuaid that the Katusha team had secured its WorldTour licence 'by the most democratic way possible – through an Arbitration Court of Sports'.

    In December the UCI Licence Commission had refused to give the Katusha team a WorldTour licence, citing ethical reasons. This verdict was over turned by CAS forcing the UCI to allow 19 WorldTour team in the peloton this year.

    The full letter reads:

    In response to the media published letter of Pat McQuaid, current President of International Cycling Union (UCI), to the heads on (sic) national cycling federations on Mr. McQuaid’s participation in the upcoming UCI presidential election, press-service of Mr. Igor Makarov is issuing the following statement:

    Using the name of Mr. Igor Makarov, current President of Cycling Federation of Russia, Head of the Russian Cycling Development Project and a Member of UCI Management Committee in relations to UCI presidential race is unethical and hopes that UCI Ethics Committee will consider reviewing Mr. McQuaid’s actions and the nature of his letter in accordance to the UCI Code of Ethics.

    Pertaining to Mr. McQuaid’s questions, expressed in the letter, we wanted to mention that for the last three years Itera, a company headed by Mr. Makarov, has been an official sponsor of the European Cycling Union and this fact has never raised any concerns in the past.

    One of democracy’s main principal is a freedom of choice. And because of that principal, Mr. Cookson’s candidacy, just as anyone else’s for that matter, cannot be considered as “odd”. Mr. Cookson has utilized his right, nothing more. And concerning the meeting of Mr. Makarov and Mr. Cookson – it was not “secretive” and took place within the scope of cooperation between national cycling federations. Corresponding press release was published on the official site of Russian Cycling Federation on May 15, 2013 (http://fvsr.ru/federation-news/1344--c-.html). Moreover, being President of Cycling Federation of Russia and a Member of UCI Management Committee, Igor Makarov is repeatedly meeting with the representatives of other national federations and the UCI.

    Concerning the license that was striped from the World Tour team Katusha, it was reinstated by the most democratic way possible – through an Arbitrary Court of Sports (CAS) that has fully confirmed the illegitimacy of the UCI Licensing Committee actions.

    In conclusion, the press-service of Igor Makarov would like to wish good luck and fair competition to all participants of UCI presidential race and a well-deserved victory to the best one.
     

  • Orica GreenEdge to announce decision on Matt White

    GreenEdge's Shayne Bannan
    Article published:
    June 7, 2013, 16:40
    By:
    Daniel Benson

    Bannan says announcement coming next week

    GreenEdge general manager Shayne Bannan has told Cyclingnews that an announcement over Matt White's future should be made next week.

    White stepped down from his directing duties at the team last year after his name was published in the USADA Reasoned Decision. He admitted to doping during his career and cooperated fully with ASADA in their efforts to fight for a cleaner sport.

    He was issued with a six-month suspension which ended in May. He told Cyclingnews that he would welcome to the chance to work at Orica GreenEdge again, saying, "That's definitely the place where I'd prefer to end up. I put a lot into the team and I have lot of close friends there. I've definitely got a passion for that team more than any other."

    Those dreams had to be put on hold until the Nicki Vance report was released. The publication of which last month, recommended that White be reinstated.

    "Consistent with the advised general approach to past doping offences/admissions and the conditions already outlined it is recommended that Matt White have his position with OGE reinstated once any ASADA-imposed sanction is completed," read the report.

    At the Criterium du Dauphine on Wednesday Bannan would not confirm the team's plans but stated that a release would be forthcoming.

    "We're getting pretty close to a decision and I'd say we'd have something to announce next week. I'm not saying what the announcement is but we'll have an announcement to make based on the Nikki Vance report, next week."

    "I think what we've taken out of the report are some new, fresh, ideas to look at our policies. I think it's been quite beneficial."

    "We'll make an announcement next week. We've had plenty of time to look through the Vance Report, to go through it as thoroughly as we can and we'll announce something next week on the direction we're taking."

    The Vance report also recommended that Neil Stephens, in accordance with the general recommendations for past doping offences should receive no penalty or suspension from the team given the dates of his apparent use of EPO – which he claimed he did so unknowingly. The difference between White and Stephens' case is essentially due to the former Festina rider unknowingly using a banned substance prior to 1 July 2005 – in which "no suspension or workplace penalty be imposed".

  • Cancellara, Horner will not contest 2013 Tour de France

    Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack) showed he was back to full form after his troubled 2012 season
    Article published:
    June 7, 2013, 17:34
    By:
    Cycling News

    RadioShack Leopard without two key riders

    RadioShack Leopard will be without two key riders for the upcoming Tour de France as both Fabian Cancellara and Chris Horner today revealed they would not be part of the team's roster when the French Grand Tour kicks off on Saturday, June 29 on Corsica.

    Horner has been sidelined for much of the season by an injury in his left knee, iliotibial band friction syndrome, which was sustained near the conclusion of Tirreno-Adriatico in March, where Horner finished sixth overall. Six days later Horner started the Volta a Catalunya but only rode the opening stage on March 18 and withdrew the following day. The 41-year-old American has not competed since as his injury has repeatedly flared up in training following periods of recovery. After he was ruled out of the Amgen Tour of California Horner underwent knee surgery in the United States two weeks ago.

    "It all hurts as I was so good in the early season," said Horner prior to the Tour of California. "In Tirreno-Adriatico I was as good as the best riders in the world."

    Horner now hopes to salvage his season with a start at the Tour of Utah (August 6-11) followed by the Vuelta a España, which begins on August 24.

    Cancellara's absence from the Tour will be a heavy blow for RadioShack Leopard. The Swiss powerhouse was the shining light in last year's Tour for RadioShack after he won the prologue time trial in Liège, Belgium and held the maillot jaune through the stage 7 where Bradley Wiggins took over the overall lead.

    "So from now on it is officially that i will not riding the #TourdeFrance13 i will take other option and set up different races," Cancellara wrote on Twitter today, ending earlier speculation which arose during the recent Tour of Belgium about his participation in the Tour.

    “My ambitions now are for later in the season, for the World championships," he said later in a press release. "Because of this I won’t be part of the Tour de France this time. I will have another program. That’s why I can now follow other goals. You have to go to races 100% motivated and that’s why I’m looking forward to the Tour of Austria, Poland, the Vuelta and to be 100% fresh for worlds."

    While there's no prologue time trial at the 2013 Tour, there is a key test against the clock early in the Tour with a 25km team time trial in Nice on stage 4. Lacking Cancellara's time trial prowess, RadioShack Leopard's GC aspirations may take an early hit without his presence in the line-up.

  • First teams named for Tour of Alberta

    Riders who take part in both the USA Pro Challenge and the Canadian WorldTour races, such as the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal, will have the six-day Tour of Alberta to fill the gap next year between the events.
    Article published:
    June 7, 2013, 18:15
    By:
    Cycling News

    BMC, Cannondale, Argos-Shimano, Blanco join Garmin-Sharp

    The Tour of Alberta named the first nine teams invited to the inaugural event, which will take place September 3-8, 2013: joining the already announced Garmin-Sharp team from the WorldTour are BMC, Cannondale, Argos-Shimano and Blanco.

    Also invited from the Professional Continental ranks is the Champion System team and Continental squads Equipe Garneau-Quebecor, SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis and Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies.

    Most of the teams announced today have Canadian connections: Garmin-Sharp will likely bring 2012 Giro d'Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal, Quebecois riders Guillaume Boivin (Cannondale) and François Parisien (Argos-Shimano) are two of seven Canadians in the WorldTour, while Champion System employs three Canadians: Zach Bell, Ryan Roth and Ryan Anderson. (It remains to be seen if the Orica-GreenEdge team of Svein Tuft and Christian Meier will be included). Garneau is one of only two Canadian professional teams this season, and Optum has two riders from the country, Sebastian Salas and Marsh Cooper. SmartStop has Canadian crit champion Ben Chaddock amongst its ranks, and is managed by Alberta native Jamie Bennett. The team will bring one aspiring professional from the province to the event.

    Blanco has had success in Canada before, with Robert Gesink winning the first edition of the GP de Montréal in 2010, and has courted North American technology company Belkin as a sponsor. 

    The race organisers are pleased with the quality of the selections so far.

    "The initial teams, especially the five Pro Tour teams and Canadian cycling hero Ryder Hesjedal's Garmin-Sharp team, bode well for a first-year event," said Duane Vienneau, the Tour of Alberta's Executive Director. "We are aiming high and believe we have achieved our initial goals with the first teams announced. There will be more great teams announced within the next couple weeks."

    The organisation expects to name six more teams in the coming weeks.

    The Tour of Alberta will start in Edmonton, Alberta with a prologue. Stage 1 travels east and south of Edmonton metro from Strathcona County to Camrose. Stage 2 routes on to the plains from Devon to the Red Deer. Stage 3 travels from Strathmore to Drumheller near the Dinosaur monuments. Stage 4 races from Black Diamond into the Rocky Mountains and Canmore. The final day, Stage 5, starts in Okotoks and routes into Calgary and a circuit finish.

    The event forms a bridge on the North American calendar between the UCI 2.1-ranked Tour of Utah, the 2.HC USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado and the World Tour races, the GP de Montréal and GP de Quebec.

    "The field is very strong already for a first-year event, which demonstrates the relevance of the inaugural Tour of Alberta," said Chris Aronhalt of Medalist Sports, the race's technical directors. "Cycling is growing tremendously on this continent and Canada, and specifically Alberta, will see some of the world's best athletes coming to its corridors in September 2013."

  • Van Garderen aiming high at Tour de Suisse

    Tejay van Garderen (BMC) nears the finish of his first big stage race win.
    Article published:
    June 7, 2013, 19:15
    By:
    Cycling News

    American coy about ambitions, but Gilbert says team is backing him to win

    After his early promise in stage races and a series of ambitious pronouncements, BMC's Tejay van Garderen has backed down from declaring himself as his team's undisputed leader in recent years, but according to his teammate, world champion Philippe Gilbert, the team's Tour de Suisse leadership belongs to him.

    "It's clear we will go for the GC win with Tejay and I will help him as far as I can," Gilbert said in a pre-race chat. "If I can go for a stage win on a certain day I can try, because I need it. It's time to win now. The form is good, and I'm healthy. I feel very good and it's time to make a nice win."

    Van Garderen, fresh off his first overall stage race win as a WorldTour rider at the Tour of California, would only say he is aiming for a high placing. "I definitely would like to get a good result here. It would be a nice race to pick up a result or even a win, but it's also kind of final preparation for the Tour de France," he said. "I haven't looked at the start list, but there's going to be some good riders here."

    Having already broken his stage race duck, van Garderen said there is less pressure on himself and the team to perform, but that the win hasn't changed much for him. "You have to move past the win and start focusing on the next race because it comes up quickly."

    Gilbert expressed confidence in his young American teammate, emphasizing that he enjoys riding in service of him. "He's really relaxed, he knows how to race, how to manage the stress and to focus on the race. He's just very focused on the most important things, resting and being in a good spot at the right moment. He never loses energy for nothing, he's a smart rider and he's a fighter. I like to race for a guy like this because I know he'll give everything and he's smart, I know he doesn't make big mistakes, so at the end of the day you don't ride for nothing. It's always nice to ride for a guy like this."

    While he hopes to get a high placing in the overall classification, van Garderen said he can still try for the best young rider's jersey, but that getting a win for BMC was the priority over all - and if that means working for someone else, he will do it.

    "It's obviously more important if we can have someone from BMC win the race than to get a couple high places on GC. If it comes down to me helping Cadel [Evans] in the mountains, then I'm happy with that."

    There is still much discussion over which BMC rider will lead the team in the Tour de France amongst the pundits, and van Garderen plans to be ready for any eventuality.

    "I'm going to show up to the Tour with the best form possible - you can never predict what's going to happen on the road. Cadel could get the legs he had in 2011 back, and if he has that, I'm more than happy to help him win. If he shows that he's tired from the Giro or his illness resurfaces, I think BMC are happy to maybe have another card to play with me," he said.

    "The team shows a lot of long-term interest in me, they've extended my contract through 2016," he continued. "The team wants me to win the Tour eventually. I don't know if I'm ready to do that this year, but hopefully I will get the opportunity to fight for a high GC placing."

    Having two riders high up in the standings is, after all, a tried and true method to gain a tactical advantage in cycling. "You saw that in 2011 when the Schlecks were trying to beat Cadel, Andy went up the road and Frank was sitting on Cadel's wheel, and Cadel was forced to chase. We could try a tactic like that. It would be a little easier to play with tactics if you have two rather than one."
     

  • UnitedHealthcare a dominant force on USA Cycling National Criterium Calendar

    United Healthcare sweeps the podium at the 2013 Tour of Somerville (L-R): Karl Menzies, Hilton Clarke and Carlos Alzate
    Article published:
    June 7, 2013, 21:45
    By:
    Pat Malach

    Continental squad SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis out to "slay the dragon"

    In just its second year on the US schedule, the National Criterium Calendar (NCC) has become a personal playground for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, whose vaunted Blue Train has steamed through nearly every stop of the USA Cycling National Criterium Calendar so far this year. In an unparalleled display of dominance, the UCI Pro Continental team has taken 15 of a possible 17 wins on its way to stacking four riders in the top five of the overall standings.

    The team has swept the podium clean three times and taken two of the top-three spots nine times. In all, UnitedHealthcare has claimed 32 of a possible 51 NCC podium spots so far this year. In the team standings, UnitedHealthcare leads SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis by more than 1,000 points. Third-placed Jamis-Hagens Berman is nearly 2,500 point in arrears.

    But for team general manager and director Mike Tamayo, the nearly complete NCC dominance is almost incidental to the team's very simple goal.

    "I know it seems like we're just pursuing the series or trying to maximize our overall points, but the truth is we're just trying to win bike races," Tamayo told Cyclingnews while en route to this weekend's NCC events in Virginia.

    As a second-division team, UnitedHealthcare is restricted to UCI races and national championship events. That means aside from the marquee stage races in California, Utah and Colorado, the team's US schedule is limited to US Pro, Tour of the Gila, Philly Cycling Classic and all of the NCC events.

    "UnitedHealthcare is an American company, and they want to see us compete in the US as much as we can and be successful there," Tamayo said. "So obviously we try and perform for them by winning Tour of the Gila and Philly; being on the podium at California; and with our stage wins at Utah and Colorado last year. But those are far and few. There's only a handful of those races. That leaves us with 27 other events in the season, and those 27 events are criteriums."

    Since graduating from the Continental ranks to the second division in 2011, UnitedHealthcare has built an experienced juggernaut for the US criterium circuit. With a budget that allows a 22-rider roster, the team can send one squad to a stage race in Europe and still maintain two separate outfits for the criteriums.

    It's a big advantage over Continental teams that have smaller budgets and smaller rosters. And now that criteriums have been removed from the National Race Calendar (NRC), many of the Continental teams choose to forgo them almost completely and focus on stage racing.

    SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis tries to slay the dragon

    The notable exception to that trend is SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis, which has enthusiastically taken on the underdog role in this evolving David-and-Goliath tale. The fourth-year Continental team is the only squad to crack the top five in the NCC individual rankings this year, with Shane Kline sneaking into third behind leader Carlos Alzate and runner-up Hilton Clarke. The SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis rider sits just ahead of UnitedHealthcare's Karl Menzies and Luke Keough.

    Kline has consistently finished near the top of each race and won the Dana Point Grand Prix in UnitedHealthcare's absence. Kevin Mullervy is the only other non-UnitedHealthcare rider to hit the podium's top step this year. Mullervy (Champion System-Stan's No Tubes) used a tactically savvy effort to cruise to a solo victory at Athens, Georgia's Terrapin Twilight Criterium from a three-rider group that also included Alzate and SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis sprinter Frank Travieso. But the Blue Train has won every other race it's showed up for.

    Adam Myerson, SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis' veteran rider and on-the-road director, said it's hard to ignore UnitedHealthcare's larger budget when trying to explain the team's dominance. SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis, which dropped to amateur status for 2011 before rejoining the Continental ranks last year, finished second to UnitedHealthcare in the 2012 NCC overall standings with Luke Keough leading the charge. Keough won the separate 2012 USA CRITS series for SmartStop, which took the overall team title for the fifth consecutive time. Then he joined his older brother Jake on UnitedHealthcare in the off-season.

    "The budget allows them to hire the talent, and it's about the talent," Myerson said. "They've got a team full of guys who could be the lead sprinter on most other teams. And then they've got some of the best lead out guys like [Adrian] Hegyvary, Brad White and Karl Menzies – I mean to think of Menzies as a lead-out guy is an incredible thing."

    One of the goals behind creating the NCC was to encourage teams to focus on criterium racing and build teams around it, Myerson said, and UnitedHealthcare has done a great job of building its criterium squad.

    "It's not like we didn't tool-up also," said Myerson, whose squad grew from 11 riders in 2012 to 15 this year. The team added powerful veterans like Bobby Lea, Jackie Simes and Travieso as lead-out riders for Kline, and it also added fast-finishers Isaac Howe and Canadian crit champion Ben Chaddock.

    "We looked at the team that [United Healthcare] had last year, and we knew what we needed to be competitive to win races," Myerson said. "We went to a 15-rider roster so that would always have six strong guys who were capable of winning. We knew we weren't as deep as them, but we knew that at six we could be competitive."

    But UnitedHealthcare also tooled-up in the off-season, signing the younger Keough and adding Alzate after Team Exergy abruptly fell apart.

    "It's been a little bit hard to take, you could say, because we are better than we were last year," Myerson said. "We really thought we put together the team we needed to be able win. But unfortunately, so did UHC. We both went up a little, but the gap is the same.

    "Alzate falling into their lap was really bad for us and really good for them," Myerson added. "The addition of Alzate to their squad was huge. His performances are incredible. He's been incredible in the races. And then to lose Luke, to have our top guy move over to them and then have to race against him, is obviously a big challenge."

    While admitting his deep roster and larger budget are huge assets, Tamayo said there's more to the team's success than raw talent. UnitedHealthcare also has longevity on its side. The team is the latest incarnation of the Momentum Sports outfits that have been around since the early 2000s. Menzies has been with the program for "six or seven years," Tamayo said, while Clarke is in his fifth season. Lead-out men White and Hegyvary have each been with the squad four years, and all the team's riders have had their racing teeth sharpened with a steady diet of European events.

    "When you come back from living and racing in Europe for two years, and you come back to do criterium racing, you've got a new level of fitness under you, and you can do a lot more in a criterium now than you could have three or four years ago before you went to Europe," Tamayo said.

    The team also puts a hyper-focus on teamwork and strategy, spending hours in post-race debriefing sessions even after a win.

    "We race in a very tactical way where we use everybody's strengths and abilities, and everybody is willing to drop on the sword," Tamayo said. "Every single one of my riders will drop on the sword for one another."

    An experienced roster of tactically minded foot soldiers ready to sacrifice for one another makes for a formidable foe, but Myerson said the SmartStop crew will not be intimidated or back away from the fight. Short of having more Continental teams show up for the races on a regular basis to change the dynamics, SmartStop will keep taking its best shots at what Myerson calls "slaying the dragon."

    "We were coming by them at one point," Myerson said, recalling a race where SmartStop came over the top of the Blue Train in a finalè. "And Hilton kind of chopped me and was saying something – normal bike racing stuff, Hilton and I are on good terms – and I just shouted back, 'Do you think we're just going to roll over for you?'"

    "For us at this point we have to at least go down swinging and race with some pride," Myerson said. "That's really all we can do at this point and hope we can turn that into some victories. But if we aren't going to win, we have to at least go down swinging."

    Tamayo, who believes his team's presence in the criterium peloton has caused everyone involved to raise the level of their own games, said his team appreciates and respects the underdog opponent's tenacity.

    "We're going to bump heads and throw a few elbows – during the race these guys are really trying to win and to beat each other," he said. "But it's at the end of the race when you see a handshake come across and you realize everybody gave their all, and that's what's important. The camaraderie is still there."

    All of the NCC competitors will have five more chances to slay the dragon this weekend, starting Friday evening with the St. Francis Tulsa Tough in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The three-day criterium festival in the heart of Tulsa culminates with the notoriously rowdy River Parks Criterium and its multiple ascents of "Cry Baby Hill." For those not in Tulsa, the Air Force Cycling Classic in Arlington, Virginia, offers two days of fast-paced racing. Saturday's Clarendon Cup serves up a technical five-corner circuit. The Crystal Cup takes place on a seven-corner course the next day.

    UnitedHealthcare will split its criterium roster into two squads this weekend, sending Alzate, Hilton Clarke, Hegyvary, Luke Keough, Menzies and White to Tulsa, while Jonny Clarke, Robert Förster, Davide Frattini, Aldo Ilesic, Danny Summerhill and Jake Keough head to Virginia.

  • Greipel extends contract with Lotto Belisol

    Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) makes his way through the Arenberg forest.
    Article published:
    June 8, 2013, 08:37
    By:
    Cycling News

    Two more years for German sprinter and Marcel Sieberg

    André Greipel is set to continue his stay with Lotto Belisol for at least another two years after he signed a contract extension with the Belgian squad. He arrived at Lotto from the defunct HTC-Highroad ahead of the 2011 season and has enjoyed a very successful spell at the team.

    Greipel, who has won 44 races in his spell at Lotto including four stages of the Tour de France, has been able to rely on one of the best-drilled lead-out trains in the peloton. His fellow countryman Marcel Sieberg, who also joined Lotto from Highroad in 2011, has also re-signed with the team for a further two seasons.

    “For me there's no better team than Lotto Belisol. Not many teams focus on the sprint,” Greipel said on the team website. “I find it important that the guys from my train stay as well, like Marcel Sieberg with whom I'm already riding together for many years and who's a good friend. I don't see him in another team than me. Like the team, I wanted to sign the agreement as soon as possible, now we can fully focus on the Tour."

    Although Lotto’s sponsorship is devoted largely to the development of Belgian riders, team manager Marc Sergeant underlined the importance of Greipel to the project in hand, describing him as “an indispensable part of the Lotto Belisol puzzle.”

    “The vision of our team is to be a Belgian team, completed with foreign riders who give an added value and let us play a role on the highest level. The number of top sprinters is limited and in Belgium there are no sprinters of his calibre, so for me it was never an option that André would leave the team,” Sergeant said.

    Greipel continues his Tour de France preparation at the Garmin ProRace Berlin on Sunday, a race he won last year. “I have trained a lot the past week, so possibly I'm not that explosive,” Greipel warned. “We start with only six riders, that means we'll have to work together with other teams to catch escapees.”

    "The next race is in Berlin. I have trained much the past week, so possibly I'm not that explosive. We start with only six riders, that means we'll have to work together with other teams to catch escapees. It's a beautiful race in my home country. There is much history in this city and the race passes much monuments and finishes at the Brandenburger Tor."