Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) may not have performed at Milan-San Remo since his second place to Mark Cavendish in 2009 but that hasn’t stopped the Australian from talking up his chance ahead of Sunday’s La Primavera.
Haussler will line-up on Sunday as IAM Cycling’s undisputed leader and with the squad hoping to propel him back into Classics contention. It’s been a difficult few years for the 29-year-old who has struggled to reach his 2009 form after a number of injuries and setbacks.
“In the next two or three weeks I’ll be at my top level,” Haussler told Cyclingnews.
“I’m here to win. That’s for sure. It might sound cocky and a bit overrated but I‘ve not shown anyone how strong I am this year. The next five races are the most important but I’m going to have to use my head and have a bit of luck on the day.”
“I’ve not won anything and I’ve not really shone but now I’ve just been building up for the races coming up. This year I’ve been saving myself so I can peak at the right moment.”
Haussler comes into the Classics after a decent but unspectacular opening segment to the season with three top tens in the Tour of Oman followed by two in Paris-Nice. He said that he generates between 100 and 150 less watts in sprints than a few seasons ago but that his overall strength on climbs has improved.
“Paris-Nice was solid, hard training. I was always there, but there was just something missing in the finals but I was always there with the last 30-40. Climbing-wise I’ve never been this good before.”
While his form gives little indication that he may be able to live with the likes of Peter Sagan and Vincenzo Nibali on the Cipressa or Poggio, Haussler points to the weather as perhaps his greatest ally.
The forecasters have predicted cold conditions with rain throughout the race, elements that Haussler has thrived on in the past.
“The weather is going to be perfect for me and shit for a lot of other guys. I think we’ll see a small group get to the finish.”
“This year I don’t see it being a sprint. The only guy I’m really worried about is Sagan but it’s going to be a good race for guys like Goss, Hushovd, riders who like the shitty weather and the cold. It’s 6 or 7 degrees with rain, that’s almost freezing and that’s really hard. Do that for 6 or 7 hours and half the peloton will be blocked in the head and a lot of other guys won’t be able to move their legs.”
“If you’re going to wait for a sprint you’ll be waiting until next year. Once they light it up at Le Manie there’s only going to be 70 guys left and with the downhill on the wet it’s going to be so dangerous. In 2011 it was just a little wet and there were crashes and by the time we met the main road there were only 40 riders. I hope they light things up on the climbs. My climbing has improved and it means we’ll get rid of some of the sprinters.”
Team admits its captain is still in a "difficult period"
RadioShack-Leopard sport director and Andy Schleck confidant Kim Andersen has denied allegations of Schleck's drunkenness at a Munich airport hotel airport earlier this week. The team admits though that the Luxembourger is going through a “difficult period” at the moment,and team owner Flavio Becca indicated that he is losing patience with his rider.
A French politician posted earlier this week on Facebook that he saw Schleck at an airport hotel in Munich on the night after he had abandoned Tirreno-Adriatico Schleck has not been available for comment.
“The story is untrue,” Andersen told the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet. “Andy was indeed at the hotel, but it is simply not true that he behaved that way. That is what Andy told me and I have no reason to doubt it.
“I'm tired of the fact that such a ridiculous story can run around the world.”
The politician, Pierre-Yves Le Borgn, apologized to Schleck. “I am sorry to have written these lines. I have admired Andy Schleck for years. I didn't know what my Facebook entry would do. Now it is clear to me that it was awkward and naïve.”
The team is taking the matter seriously, though. “We can't be happy with what we have heard,” Becca told Het Nieuwsblad. "We first want Andy's side of the story. Andy is our captain and we will do all that we can so that he can lead the team in the classics and the Tour."
However, Becca spoke more harshly to Gazzetta della Sport. “Often I have told Andy that I'm not happy with how he behaves. Now I hope you have the courage to make an honest statement, to clarify things right, and start being a serious athlete trying to pursue success.”
"Andy is going through a difficult period," sport director Dirk Demol told Het Nieuwsblad. “We thought he was on the right track, but after Tirreno we must conclude that he still has a lot of doubts.”
The announcement was inevitable after the Exergy Women's Tour lost the services of technical directors Medalist Sports, but today's cancellation of the only North American UCI stage race for women is bitter news for the American women's peloton. The only UCI races remaining in North America are the Grand Prix cycliste de Gatineau and Chrono Gatineau in Canada, giving the women of the USA only one option to garner points towards qualifying for the World Championships: leave.
Exergy Development Group's women's tour was the most ambitious race to grace the shores of the USA since the HP Women's Challenge. With a dedicated, big-money backer in the renewable energy company, and the most experienced technical directors behind it, the race put women in the same spotlight as the men's Tour of California, USA Pro Cycling Challenge and Tour of Utah - Medalists Sports' other events.
The race attracted the world's top talent, allowing the USA to gain enough points to maximize its team for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and gaining the attention of the mainstream media.
"After a highly successful inaugural year, it is with our sincerest regret that Exergy Development Group announces that we will begin initiating the cancellation of the 2013 Exergy Tour by the end of March," the company's press release stated last night. "After a tumultuous year, it was our hope that appropriate co-sponsors would assist financially in order to help advance the mission and the event."
The announcement comes on the heels of the demise of the Ster Zeeuwsche Eilanden, a Dutch UCI 2.2 stage race scheduled for June, and the near collapse of the most prestigious remaining women's stage race, the Giro Donne.
It is a blow for the UCI's new 2.HC designation, which had been applied to three races: Exergy Tour, the Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen and the Premondiale Giro Toscana Int. Femminile, but the German race was downgraded to 2.1, leaving just the Giro Toscana with this new rank.
Is women's cycling in crisis?
There has been much discussion over the past few years about the state of women's professional cycling. Marianne Vos's emotional victory after an exciting, attack-laden road race at the London Olympics served to pique the interest of the world's cycling fans, but there is an impression that the sport has stagnated.
Despite the small bits of progress, Bronzini's assessment that the women's side of cycling has stagnated is backed up in the numbers. Few new fans will be aware that there was once a women's Milan-San Remo - the race met its end in 2006. There was a women's Tour de France, but a combination of mis-management, conflict with the ASO and lack of funds meant the race never gained the kind of prominence of its male counterpart.
In recent years other high-profile events have emerged: the Ladies Tour of Qatar, which happens the week before the men's race, the women's Tour of Flanders and Fleche Wallonne - both taking place on the same day, finishing just prior to the men - are fixtures on the World Cup calendar.
However, the television coverage of the women's events is often relegated to mere seconds - hardly enough exposure to bring in the sponsorship dollars. It is a point raised by former world champion Emma Pooley, who also asked for more support from the UCI.
By the numbers
Contrary to the impression given by the loss of high-profile events, the absolute number of UCI-registered women's races has been on an upward trend. Although bouncing up and down based on the Olympic cycle - countries often add one-off races in order to help their riders gain points toward Olympic qualifications - the number of races in 2013 is rather healthy based on recent years.
In 2005, there were 57 women's races registered with the UCI. That number went up to 64 in 2006, 70 in 2007, 84 in 2008, then back down after the Beijing Olympics. In 2009 there were 72, in 2010 only 59 registered, but then the number rebounded to 73 in 2011 and peaked at 88 in 2012 for London.
This year's 78 events doesn't look too bad, considering, but the growth has come mainly in the lowest-ranked one-day events, the UCI 1.2, and most of the increases have come in Belgium and the Netherlands. In 2006, there were only 13 1.2-ranked races, but this peaked at 29 last year, and stands at 24 for this season.
The number of stage races for women has stagnated: in 2006 there were 24, in 2013 there are 25: in the meantime, the number reached a low in 2010 at only 17, but only peaked at 27 back in 2008.
For North America, the stagnation has been apparent, if only because the starting point was so low: the most UCI events the continent has had was six in 2008, when the USA had the Tour de Leelanau, Liberty Classic and Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, and Canada still hosted the World Cup in Montreal as well as the Tour du Grand Montreal and Tour de PEI. Since then, the stage races have either died off or been held without UCI sanctioning, and the one-day races have slowly vanished from the calendar.
The women are still racing: the number of teams has followed a similar trend to the number of races: there are 34 UCI women's teams in 2013, the third highest number in the past decade. The number of teams peaked before Beijing with 42 licensed in 2007. there were 37 in each 2012 and 2008, and between 26 and 28 the other years.
UCI clarifies it requested evidence along with WADA
The final arguments were heard in the Operación Puerto trial, where five defendants including doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes face two years in prison for crimes against public health. The state prosecutor Lucia Pedrero systematically dismantled the defence of Fuentes, pointing out 12 "contradictions and lies" in the case, according to Europa Press.
Fuentes, his sister Yolanda, former sports directors Manolo Saiz and Vicente Belda and trainer José Ignacio Labarta are facing charges stemming from the 2006 Operación Puerto investigation that unearthed 224 blood bags, coded documents and other doping paraphernalia in Fuentes' clinic in Madrid.
According to the prosecution, the 12 lies laid out by the defense are: that Fuentes never endangered the health of his athletes; that analyses were done before and after extractions; that the blood was only taken out if hematocrit was too high; that the blood was kept to have in case of an accident; that the athletes were informed of the risks, that he did not perform transfusions on athletes in competition; that Jesus Manzano and Isidro Nozal were not his clients; that the refrigerated storage units had security systems; that he did not know that glycerol was for exclusive use in a hospital; that he used the codes for fear of the press; that his associate knew the identity of all the clients; and that the blood bags were damaged by the Civil Guard during the raid.
The defense hinges on Fuentes team proving that there were no violations of standard health practices. Fuentes argued that "The law only demands that the locations are hygienic," and said the locations the transfusions were performed "met the minimum requirements laid out by the law".
The prosecutions experts disagreed, in particular after hearing testimony from Tyler Hamilton - who spoke of his urine turning black after a botched transfusion - or from Jesus Manzano, who claimed to be near death after a similar experience.
"That Hamilton did not die was a miracle, when they put the blood of who only knows in him by mistake," Pedrero said.
Pedrero stated that the practices performed by Fuentes and his associates had no medical basis: "None, they only wanted to cheat at sport".
The World Anti-Doping Agency has called for the Spanish court to share its evidence in order for it to identify athletes and give sporting suspensions. It had previously been reported by Cyclingnews that the UCI had not joined in this request, as had also been stated in the Spanish press. However, the UCI clarified today that it has requested the evidence.
"Concerning reported allegations that during the trial of the Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes the UCI opted not to support the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) request to release details of names on blood bags, the UCI clarifies that this allegation is unfounded. WADA and UCI have both asked for this release. The request was done orally during the hearing and also by writing at the request of the Judge," a UCI press release stated.
Pre-race favourite relaxed ahead of La Classicissima
There is nothing quite like a dash of polemica to heighten the sense of anticipation on the eve of Milan-San Remo, and when the media gathered to hear Peter Sagan's pre-race thoughts on Friday afternoon, it was no surprise that Fabian Cancellara's recent criticism of the Slovak's style was top of the agenda.
Cancellara, it should be noted, has previously spoken in this regard. In 2011, frustrated by the queue of riders lined up on his wheel at the Tour of Flanders, he famously warned his rivals that they would need "to fasten their seatbelts" ahead of Paris-Roubaix the following weekend.
It is the first time, however, that Cancellara has trained his inner Alex Ferguson squarely on Sagan, and – perhaps even more than bookmakers' short odds – that is an indication in itself of the expectations on Sagan's shoulders this spring as he chases his first classic victory.
Sagan seemed unperturbed by Cancellara's words when they were put to him at Cannondale's pre-race press conference in Milan, and while reluctant to fan the flames, he couldn't resist a gentle dig of his own at his rival's psyche.
"This year if I'm in front with Cancellara, the risk for him is that if we get pulled back, then he won't win the bunch sprint whereas I can still try and win in a group sprint," Sagan said. "I have two chances. So if he doesn't work on the front, maybe I'll just wait for the group with him, I don't know.
"If he's talking like that about me, saying that he wouldn't do turns with me on the front, then maybe he is a bit afraid and that's to my advantage, no?"
Cancellara's other grievance against Sagan appears to be his colourful collection of victory celebrations, but the man in question seemed unconvinced. "I don't think that's what he said, I know how journalists work," he dead-panned. "Fabian already spoke to me about this at the Tour de France. I said then, and I've always said it, that I didn't celebrate like that out of a lack of respect – I respect everybody – I just wanted to bring a bit of spettacolo to the races that I won. Some people like it, others don't, but everybody is different."
Some are more different than others, of course, and it is Sagan's rare ability to win either in a bunch sprint or going on the attack has marked him out as the five-star favourite for Milan-San Remo, yet such versatility is perhaps not always an advantage in a race as tactically complex as La Classicissima. While Sagan talks happily of his options, that abundance of choice could just as easily become a dilemma on Sunday afternoon – should he follow the moves on the Poggio or hold his fire for a bunch finish?
Sagan was giving little away. "We'll see if the difference is made on the Poggio," he said. "I think I'm in good condition, and I'll try and hold on there and then see how many teammates we have after that. It's very tactical and it's hard to make a prediction.
"In the two years that I've done Milan-San Remo, it's been won and lost on the Cipressa and the Poggio, so if you're still up there at that point, you're already on the way to doing well."
Sagan's similarly precocious teammate Moreno Moser could prove a very useful foil in the finale, although Cannondale will be mindful that they didn't manage to make their numbers count twelve months ago, when Vincenzo Nibali followed the winning move on the Poggio and finished 3rd, while Sagan swept up 4th place in the bunch sprint behind.
"I always look to live in the present," Sagan said when asked about last year, and he was similarly unmoved by the grim prognosis for the weather. "It can be a advantage or a disadvantage, but it's the same for everyone," he shrugged.
And it goes without saying that Sagan was equally nonplussed by his status as favourite. "If everyone rides against me, then they risk losing themselves," he said.
"I went out and did three hours with the boys today around Tuscany," Phinney said from his Italian home on Thursday. "So that felt pretty good."
Phinney gained international acclaim Monday when he toughed out the 209km stage after all of the other riders in his gruppetto quit the race. Phinney was hoping to go for a stage win on the final 9.2km time trial the following day, but instead found himself riding solo in icy cold rain only to finish outside the time limit. After the stage, the race organizer apologized for the route's extreme difficulty, and Phinney, who said the effort was partially a tribute to his father Davis, admitted breaking down on the massage table.
But that was days ago, and now the first Monument of 2013 is up for grabs in the country Phinney considers his adopted home. Phinney lived in Italy with his family for three years until he was 15, speaks fluent Italian and has developed a following there; it's more than enough motivation to put the Tirreno disappointment behind him and look forward to Sunday.
"I've always loved Milan-San Remo," Phinney said. "It's always an unpredictable race. You look at the profile, and there's nothing super special, but it's always a really exciting race to watch, and it makes it a more exciting race to actually [compete] in knowing that you're giving the fans some good entertainment.
"I love how long it is, just everything about it," Phinney continued. "It's one of the only classics where the name really means something – it actually runs from Milan to Sanremo – so that's kind of special. And it's one of those courses that has remained unique throughout the history of the sport."
Sunday will mark the 22-year-old American's second try at La Primavera after finishing 113th last year, and he's looking to play a bigger role for BMC, whether that be as a support rider for teammates like Thor Hushovd, Phillipe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet, or if he's given a freer hand to play.
"I come into it in a lot better place physically," he said. "I'm just mentally more confident going into it than I was last year, and we have a very strong group of guys with some strong leaders.
"Thor was up there on that really hard stage in Tirreno, which is a good sign going into Milam-San Remo," Phinney said. "Phil [Gilbert] was in the front group most days at Paris-Nice, so that's another good sign. Greg Van Avermaet has been going really well for quite awhile, so those guys are going to be our main leaders, and the rest of us will see what we can do to help them or see what kind of role we can have."
Milan-San Remo also marks the start of the most important four weeks of the early season for Phinney, who has targeted Paris-Roubaix as his top objective. He won the U23 version of the race twice as a development rider and was the top American finisher in the World Tour race last year in 15th.
"It's what I've been preparing for and gunning for since November of last year," he said. "I've really focused on these four weeks, so with Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem, hopefully Flanders and then Roubaix, it's a big four weeks, and I end with my biggest objective of the early season."
After Roubaix, Phinney will take a brief break before tackling either Trentino or Romandie to bring his body "back up to speed" for the Giro d'Italia, where he won the prologue last year and wore the leader's jersey through four stages.
"The Giro is kind of a long way to go, starting in February and then going pretty much full gas all the way until the Giro," Phinney said. "But I was able to do it last year, and it worked out well for me, so I think doing it again this year is going to be fine."
Phinney admitted that he is also eager to jump into the Tour de France, but he doesn't know if that will be in the cards for him this year with BMC having a fairly stacked roster for the Grand Tours.
"We have a bit of a complicated Tour de France team with a lot of really big names," he said. "I'd love to do the Tour sooner versus later, but I respect the decision of the guys in the management who know the team best and can make the best decision there."
Italian cycling legend Felice Gimondi was inducted into the Giro d’Italia Hall of Fame in a ceremony held at the Sala Montanelli in the offices of Il Corriere della Sera and La Gazzetta dello Sport on Friday. Gimondi becomes the second rider to enter the Hall of Fame after Eddy Merckx, who was elected in 2012.
Gimondi won three editions of the Giro d’Italia, and stood on the 9 times. Gimondi was also a great classics champion, winning Il Lombardia in 1966 and 1973, Milan-San Remo in 1974, and the title of World Champion in 1973.
Nicknamed "The Phoenix" he became the second ever rider to win all three grand tours after Frenchman Jacques Anquetil.
“I’ve deeply moved by this important tribute, even if I have arrived second behind Merckx yet again! Joking apart, it is a great pleasure for me and it makes me even happier to receive this beautiful trophy in the company of my team-mates and fellow adventurers in the fabulous world of cycling.
Gimondo was joined at the event by a number of ex-teammates and rivals, including Eddy Merckx,1965 Giro d’Italia Winner Vittorio Adorni and three-time Giro d’Italia runner-up Italo Zilioli.
“Each one of them deserves a small part of this trophy: Vittorio, who welcomed me into his home when I was still a young rider; Italo, from whom I learned a great deal, especially his humility and approach to things.
“I would also like to thank La Gazzetta dello Sport and RCS Sport for honouring me in this way. It is an unforgettable day for me.”
It may only be mid-March but Team Blanco are already feeling the strain as they look to assemble a competitive squad for next week’s Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. Injury and illness to key team members in recent weeks has seen the Dutch squad stumble towards the Spanish stage race with doubts over the health of team leader Robert Gesink, who abandoned last week’s Paris-Nice.
Despite uncertainly over Gesink's form the team has enjoyed a strong start to the season with 10 wins in total.
The team has already named its squad for Catalunya with Stef Clement, Robert Wagner, Laurens ten Dam, Steven Kruijswijk, Jetse Bol, Jack Bobridge, and Moreno Hofland joining Gesink.
Both Bobridge and Hofland have been drafted in to replace Juan Manuel Gárate and Marc Goos, with the Spaniard recovering from flu and Goos finding his feet after surgery on a broken collar bone.
“With Robert, the big question is how well he has recovered from Paris-Nice as he had to abandon the race there. The same goes for Steven who took a spill. Laurens was in preparation for the Tour of the Basque Country and the classics and did not ride for three weeks. In the meantime, he has also been sick,” said team director Merijn Zeeman.
“As usual, we’re aiming for a good finish in the final standings, but in this case, we have to take a wait and see approach. Sunday, we’ll see how fit the guys are and what expectations are therefore realistic”.
A Dutch rider has only won the race once, with Ariel den Hartog topping the standings in 1966.
The race begins on Monday with a 159.3km stage in Calella.