The Jelly Belly presented by Kenda riders surprised themselves with an impressive team performance in the opening prologue at the Redlands Bicycle Classic held on Thursday, March 25. The eight-man roster placed two riders on the podium and a third rider inside the top ten.
"I anticipated a good result but I didn't anticipate three guys in the top ten," said Directeur Sportif Danny Van Haute. "It's awesome and a great start the season for the Jelly Belly-Kenda cycling team. It's a tough stage race and there are three more days but we are going to do our best to nab Fly V off the top podium."
Ben Day (Fly V Australia) finished the five-kilometre uphill time trial with the fastest time of the day at 9:19, only two seconds faster than Carter Jones and four seconds faster than Kiel Reijnen, both from Jelly Belly. Their teammate Will Routely rolled in 18 seconds later in seventh place.
"There are a lot of good teams and guys here and today was just a prologue, there are still three more stages," Van Haute said. "We are satisfied with the results and we are going to be going home with happy faces."
Jones and Reijnen are students at the University of Colorado in Boulder and both are currently on spring break while competing at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. The pair of student-pro bike racers are eager to maintain their places in the overall classification over the following three stages.
"It was our goal here to do well as a team," Reijnen said. "We definitely surprised ourselves after today but we have a great new roster and sponsors. I think a combination of those things lead to a stellar result and lifted the moral of the team."
The Redlands Bicycle Classic roster includes Jones, Reijnen and Routely along with Brad Huff, Jacob Rathe, Sean Mazich, Jonathan Chodroff and Mike Friedman.
"Whatever we can win whether it's a team classification, a stage or the whole GC is a big plus for us this year," Van Haute said. "We don't want to be second, or third or tenth. This is a year that I want our team to win stages, win races. The characters that we have on the team this year are capable of winning and I think we partly showed that today with three guys in the top ten."
The Redlands Bicycle Classic kicked off the National Racing Calendar (NRC) series yet most teams already have had several weekends of racing in their legs. The team will next compete at the Tour of Thailand and the Tour of Korea.
"We are rested," Van Haute said. "Every team has a different program and we elected not to do San Dimas. I really like taking good care of my staff and riders. We would have done three stage races in a row, San Dimas, Redlands and Tour of Thailand and ten days later is the Tour of Korea. Not the same guys are doing all those races but the staff is. I don't want to burn out my staff until June. We decided to put 110 percent into the Redlands Bicycle Classic and so far it's paying off."
US rider John Murphy believes BMC Racing Team can support a strong Classics roster, in spite of the team's glut of potential leaders. The 25-year-old will continue his debut at the Spring Classics this weekend when he forms part of BMC's strong line-up for E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem.
BMC's roster will carry a number of experienced Classic contenders, including George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan, Karsten Kroon and Marcus Burghardt, but Murphy dismissed any suggestion that there is a risk of tension between the team's leadership group.
"It seems like everyone wants to do their best for BMC," Murphy told Cyclingnews in Kortrijk, Belgium. "The priority is just to get one of our bikes across the line first and no-one's putting their own personal ambitions ahead of any other."
Murphy will race E3 Prijs and Gent-Wevelgem for the first time this weekend, but the two events also form part of final preparation for what is likely to be a key support role the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"The team told me from the beginning that I needed to be good for this period; this is the main section of my season. It's crucial for the team with the Classics guys we have," he said.
"For me the first goal is to get through them and then to help our team goals, which is to give one of our guys a result. I don't think you can approach these races for the first time with any personal goals in front of them. I don't know what to expect, I'm not sure how I'll cope with the workload, but I think I can do my best and be there to help in the end."
The 25-year-old's confidence has been buoyed by a sixth place finish at last week's Nokere Koerske. It was his first top-ten result as a professional on European soil and a confirmation of the direction he hopes his career to take. "It was definitely a confidence boost and showed me that I can and should be there.
"I think these Classics races are the sort I can do well at. Whether that means me personally getting a result, or helping guys like George [Hincapie], Marcus [Burghardt], [Alessandro] Ballan or [Karsten] Kroon, who are proven winners. If I can do it myself, I can help them do it and I think that's the way they look at it too; they each know they can do it, but they put their faith in their teammates as well."
Murphy has known the Classics would form the crux of his 2010 season since he signed with BMC last September. The team had already confirmed the signatures of Hincapie and Ballan, and Murphy's appointment came as part of a push to bolster support for the spring.
"I came on late but I knew straight away that my role was going to be to help these guys in the Classics. In my first year it's just a case of working out what I can do and I'm only just now starting the big ones so I'm really excited and motivated."
While Murphy is racing is first full professional season in Europe, he had made earlier forays into Belgium as part of the US National Team's development programme, with whom he finished 20th at the espoirs Paris-Roubaix in 2006. The experience was enough to convince him of where he wished to eventually ply his trade, but his passage across the Atlantic was delayed by a conscious decision to remain stateside with top domestic team Health Net.
"I always wanted to come to a pro team Europe, but when Health Net came along I thought 'I want to learn how to win.,'" he said. "No matter which race we entered [at Health Net] we always had a set plan of how we wanted to win and I wanted to play a role in that. To set goals and get wins before I made the step over to Europe."
Born in 1997, the Cofidis team will exist at least until the end of the 2012 season as the credit company decided to extend its sponsorship for two more years.
"We remain in cycling because we haven't found anything better in sport to promote our brand," said Thierry Vittu, the director of Cofidis Competition.
Member of the UCI Pro Tour since 2005, Cofidis was relegated to the Pro Continental ranks at the end of last season due to their poor results in 2009 and the short term commitment of the sponsor whose current contract expired after the 2010 season.
The downgrade seems to have been an interesting boost for the riders in red and white colours as they have already won 11 times during the first two months of racing this year.
The revelation of Belgian rookie Jens Keukeleire who collected four wins and the panache of Amaël Moinard who claimed the last stage of Paris-Nice with the polka dot jersey on his shoulders have highlighted the early part of the 2010 season.
"Of course we are very happy that Cofidis has renewed its confidence in our work. What makes me the most happy is that we can now continue the work we have started this season, which started to bear fruit. This team is building up soul, and we do a good job. I feel assured now, but we won't sit back. We'll remain concentrated to continue to produce results at the highest level," said team manager Eric Boyer.
"It's a great news for us to learn that our sponsor wants to continue", directeur sportif Francis Vanlondersele commented with a large smile in Porto-Vecchio prior to the Criterium International where David Moncoutié will captain the Cofidis team.
Vanlondersele and Moncoutié have been the core of the squad since the creation fourteen years ago. Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer led the protest against the UCI Pro Tour during the 2008 season, a move that is rumoured to have been one of the reasons for the exclusion from the highest rank of the cycling teams.
"Our ambition is very clear: we want to come back in the Pro Tour", Vittu announced.
Scott Sunderland brings confident squad to Belgium
Team Sky head into this weekend’s Belgian races with a strong squad including Het Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
The team are based in Kortrijk, Belgium for this season’s spring Classics and Cyclingnews paid them a quick visit before the weekend’s double header of E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem.
“We’ll be very active and part of the race on both days,” said Sky senior director sportif Scott Sunderland. “I’d like to see us on the podium on both days or one of the days. If we get a win great if we don’t… as long as we’re up there giving our best…”
Tour director Prudhomme delays “difficult choice” of wildcard invitations
Skil-Shimano and Vacansoleil still don't know whether they will receive wild-card invitations to the Tour de France. The Tour, which starts in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on July 3, is scheduled to announce the final team line-up sometime this month, but while Tour director Christian Prudhomme visited the Dutch city this week, he still did not make any announcement.
"It is a difficult choice,” he said on Thursday, exactly 100 days before the start of the Tour. “Which 22 teams will be at the start will soon be announced.''
The two Dutch Professional Continental teams have already heard that they are not invited to the Giro d'Italia, which starts in Amsterdam. This week the Amaury Sport Organisation, which also is responsible for the Tour de France, said that they are not invited to the Flèche Wallonne and Liège - Bastogne - Liège, which are
Skil-Shimano rode the Tour last year, and Vacansoleil was in the Vuelta a Espana, which started n Assen, the Netherlands.
"The choice is difficult,'', said Prudhomme. “Sixteen teams are set. For the remaining six places, we are considering ten to twelve teams.” Those teams include Sky, Radio Shack, BMC and Cervelo, all of which would required a wild card.
Adding any more teams than 22 does not come into question, according to Prudhomme. “Two additional teams are not possible because of security'', he said. "It is really a difficult choice, with many issues involved.”
Spaniard taking the race as serious preparation for the Tour de France
Alberto Contador has taken the challenge of riding the Criterium International very seriously as he flew to Corsica two days before the start of the two-day event.
The Spaniard didn't come just for the beauty of the landscapes around Porto-Vecchio in the south of the native island of legendary Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, but said will be in it to gain form to seek his third title in the Tour de France
"The climate here is usually good," Contador told the reporters on site. "On Thursday I went to reconnoitre the final climb of the Ospedale. It was foggy, a little bit rainy as well and it was almost night time when I went up there. The climb isn't excessively hard but it's going to be a hard stage on Saturday because of the hills preceding the last one. I've also seen Sunday's time trial and I like the course. I don't think stage 1 will create big differences but the small differences will be very significant for the final result."
Contador insisted that as much as he'll try and win the Criterium International like any another race he takes part in, his first aim to improve his condition in the lead-up to the Tour de France.
Asked by Cyclingnews whether he took this event as a game or a job, the Spaniard firmly answered: "It's not a game, it's a competition. I'm here to maintain the rhythm of the competition towards the month of July. Every time I'm racing, I'm focused. I only think of what I have to do."
Contador emphasized the presence on his side of Astana's team manager Yvon Sanquer was a sign of a team "fully committed behind me" a difference from last year when Johan Bruyneel went missing at the press conferences during the Tour de France.
Contador and his new entourage decided to switch from Tour of Catalunya to Criterium International after the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice because Corsica was more suitable for the double winner of the Tour de France this time around. "Paris-Nice was a very hard race, so after that I preferred to go for two days of competition instead of seven," Contador explained. "The course here is very good for me at the difference of the Tour of Catalunya that isn't very hilly this year."
He outlined the quality of the field at the Criterium International. His arch-rival Lance Armstrong is on the start line despite suffering gastroenteritis that left him aside for Milan-San Remo, but there are also world champion Cadel Evans, Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, on-form David Millar and Simon Gerrans as well motivated Frenchmen Thomas Voeckler, David Moncoutié, Benoît Vaugrenard, Jérôme Coppel and Brice Feillu.
"I don't like to make names before a race because I'm afraid to forget somebody important," Contador said. "Many riders here are strong but one who is really strong is Cadel Evans. He just came out of Tirreno-Adriatico with good results (3rd overall)."
HTC-Columbia’s women’s squad will contest its first race in Europe for the 2010 season at this weekend’s UCI Women’s World Cup opener: Trofeo Alfredo Binda. While the team has contested races in the Middle East, and individually the riders have been racing at their respective homes, the lack of racing kilometres against major rivals has left the riders uncertain of their form according to manager Ronny Lauke.
"Coming so early in the European calendar, nobody's really sure of their form or their rivals' form, so it can make for a very tense, hard-fought race and it's always very unpredictable, too," said Lauke. "All of our team here are great climbers, though, and that's ideal on this kind of terrain.
“We're taking the World Cup on a race-by-race basis, but getting a good result in Alfredo Binda would be the ideal way to kick off our European season," he added.
Included in HTC-Columbia’s squad for the race is Judith Arndt, who has been racing in the Australian summer where she finished on the national championships podium and even won a mountain bike race. Likewise Linda Villumsen contested the Women’s Tour of New Zealand with the BikeNZ squad after becoming a citizen of the country in January.
"It's the first race we've done in Europe this year and the riders are really keen to finally get going," Lauke said. "For Noemi, too, Alfredo Binda is near her home town in Italy and she's extra motivated as a result.
“There are a lot of World Cups rounds coming up in very quick succession,” he added. “Four in Europe in less than a month, then one in China, so this is the start of one of our most intense periods of racing. It's good to get the waiting over."
Norwegian Champion puts injury woes behind him as Flanders, Roubaix loom
As one of the most experienced riders on Sky's roster, Kurt-Asle Arvesen says he is ready to play a key role in the British team's first spring Classics campaign. Arvesen's credentials as a Classics rider were consolidated throughout his six season tenure at Saxo Bank.
Himself a winner of E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke in 2008, he was also a part of the team that helped Fabian Cancellara reach the top step of the Paris-Roubaix podium in 2006. He his hopeful he can play a similar supporting role at Sky this spring.
"For me, it's more or less the same role [as I had at Saxo Bank]," Arvesen told Cyclingnews at Sky's hotel in Kortrijk, Belgium. "We have riders like [Juan Antonio] Flecha and Edvald [Boasson Hagen], who, when they are good, are our leaders. My role is to back up them and try to keep the team together."
Arvesen got his first taste of Belgian roads for this year on Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen, where he played an active role in Sky's efforts to control the peloton late in the race. It was a positive signal for the Norwegian, having made his return from broken collarbone just a fortnight earlier at Tirreno-Adriatico.
"I knew what I had to do, it was still pretty fresh in my memory after last year," said Arvesen, who exited the 2009 Tour de France with the same injury. "I wanted to come back as fast as possible, I love these Classics.
"Of course, when it was raining and snowing on the first days of Tirreno I was a bit nervous, but that was also because I was coming back to such a big race, where the other guys in the peloton have 10 to 15 races in their legs and I had just the seven kilometres I did in Qatar," he added.
Arvesen will start for Sky at Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but will first contest the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke on Saturday. His victory at the latter race in 2008 was followed by a seventh place finish at the Tour of Flanders. It's a record that would see him installed as leader at many other teams, however, Arvesen holds no illusions about what will be expected of him this year.
"My form is not as good as it was in 2008, my ambition is to help the young guys," he said. "That's my main role, but we also have other guys with loads of experience. Especially Mathew Hayman, he knows these roads better than anyone else and he's a good road captain. Juan Antonio, he has so much experience too, and he's in good shape; he'll be ready for the big ones."
Arvesen is cautious about raising expectation of Sky emerging victorious at the monuments of Flanders and Roubaix. He pointed to established Classic squads, including his former-teammates, as those that ought to bear the banner of favouritism.
"It's not going to be easy to win Flanders or Roubaix, but we have guys who could do it on a really good day," he said. "But we need to look at the start list, we have some really good competitors. Teams like Quick Step and Saxo Bank are really strong now. Matti [Breschel] and Fabian [Cancellara] will be up there. [Tom] Boonen, obviously, and Stijn Devolder will be ready for Flanders. He's [Devolder] just been cruising around, but he is ready".