The countdown to the 2013 Giro d'Italia is underway, and with less than a month until the race begins in Naples, the list of favorites to win the overall classification has narrowed. In this video, defending Giro d'Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal, 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, 2010 Vuelta a Espana winner Vincenzo Nibali, two-time Giro winner Ivan Basso and Samuel Sanchez give their impressions on the course, their competitors and point at who could win the overall in Brescia come May 26.
Find out from the biggest names in the Giro who they think can win, what stages will be key and what their goals are in this video, courtesy of race organisers RCS Sport.
The Costa Rican Cycling Federation (FECOCI) issued an official statement that confirms four “Adverse Analytical Findings” following the anti-doping controls taken during the 48th edition of the Vuelta Ciclista Internacional a Costa Rica, a UCI 2.1 road cycling tour held last December.
“We are just messengers”, said FECOCI’s President Hernán Solano to local newspapers. “The UCI asked us to verify that the four riders were correctly notified and now it is a process between the riders and the UCI."
Even though the names and details haven’t been revealed yet, a local journalist has cited “an unidentified official source” saying all four cases - Costa Rican riders - came out with the same adverse result for GW-501516.
The doping substance which was recently identified by the World Anti-doping Agency is a weight-loss drug that was never approved by the pharmaceutical company, Glaxo, which produced it because of toxicity detected during the pre-clinical tests.
WADA issued a serious warning in March that revealed the presence of the substance on the black market and confirmed several AAFs on athletes who had access to and used it as a performance enhancement.
The press release from the Costa Rica Cycling Federation reminded that the possible penalties might vary from a minimum two-year ban for a first-time cheater to a lifetime ban if the person already served a sanction in the past.
The cyclists involved may now ask to for “B” sample analysis, or accept the initial result, in which case, the Costa Rican Cycling Anti-doping Commission will determine the penalties.
Dekker hopes sunny skies will turn around team's fortunes
Team Blanco may have rescued their Flemish Classics last week at Paris-Roubaix with Sep Vanmarcke's runner-up placing to Fabian Cancellara, but directeur sportif Erik Dekker thinks that there are now many similarities now to what the squad was facing leading into the Tour of Flanders.
The Dutch team heads into the biggest race of the year on home turf, Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, with a line-up spearheaded by Bauke Mollema and young-gun Tom-Jelte Slagter.
Prior to Flanders, Blanco's best showings at Gent - Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke netted the team 23rd with Lars Boom and 49th with Maarten Tjallingii respectively. It was a change of fortunes for a team that took wins from the Tour Down Under, Tour Méditerranéen, Volta ao Algarve, Tour du Haut Var, Tour de Langkawi to Clasica de Almeria before their momentum slowed.
"Cycling is never easy. There are too many competitors for that but the start of the season was impressive, yes," Dekker conceded to Cyclingnews on the eve of Amstel Gold in Maastricht.
"Before Flanders we were not too good in preparation at Gent-Wevelgem and Harelbeke," the event's 2001 winner over Lance Armstrong continued. "And we didn't do too good at Pais Vasco last week. But the team is good. The guys are fit, they are full of morale, of course - the sunny weather and the home country - but it looks a lot better than last week. It's a different race of course. We had also two really sick guys but they are fit now again. But we are looking forward to tomorrow and are curious as to how it turns out."
A lot of that curiosity stems from the fortunes of Slagter who will be making his debut. This year's surprise Tour Down Under victor has not been as standout as he was in January, but there is no doubt that the course suits him, if he can handle the distance. It's a similar outlook that the team had leading into Milan-San Remo last month but Dekker where said that: "the cold changed everything for him," and Slagter finished with a DNF. Amstel Gold Race at 251km under sunny 21 degree skies, may yet prove to be a different story.
"In the future for sure because the climbs really suit him," said Dekker. "But the distance at this level, we don't know.
"It's the first time he's raced here so it will be an adventure for him."
Given Dekker's own history with the Amstel Gold Race, he has a unique perspective on just what winning on Sunday could mean for the team which is looking for a new sponsor, following the collapse of the long-term partnership with Rabobank. Dekker's name too has cropped up more than once with the cleansing process continuing within the Dutch Federation, but he said that proving that Blanco was part of the new era of Dutch cycling was more than about crossing the finish line first.
"The final result is important but also the road to that success is important," he explained. "For tomorrow I think we have 250km to show ourselves to the Dutch audience and to the world."
The Belgian race runs concurrently against the Giro d'Italia and the Bayern Rundfahrt. Organizers hope that not only Cancellara but also Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) will choose their race over the Giro.
In addition to RadioShack-Leopard and Omega Pharma-QuickStep, the WorldTour will be represented by Lotto-Belisol, Blanco, Katusha, BMC, Vacansoleil-DCM, Argos Shimano and Astana. Six Professional Continental and five Continental teams will also be named to participate.
"We are hard at work lobbying team RadioShack-Leopard for the possibility that Fabian Cancellara comes to the big race," said organiser Rob Discart at a press conference, according to Het Laatste Nieuws. "Of course he is not only a great candidate for our list of participants. We would also like, from the same team, to have Stijn Devolder at the start.” Devolder won the race in 2008 and 2010.
The race runs 730.1 kilometers over five stages from Wednesday, May 22 to Sunday, May 26. It starts with 194.2 kilometers from Lochristi-Knokke Heist, with the finish atop the 'De Wandelaar' climb.
Stage two has more climbs, running 181 kilometers from Knokke Heist to Ninove Meerbeke, and featuring a “spicy finale” with Parikeberg, Bosberg and Congoberg. The third stage gives the time trialists a chance, with 15 kilometers around Beveren-Waas.
The first three stages are in Flanders, and the final two in Walloon. Stage four takes the peloton 164.3 kilometers with start and finish in Lacs de l'Eau d'Heure. The race ends Sunday with the queen stage, starting and ending in Banneux (175.6 kilometers), in what organizers call a a mini-Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Sataylst-Giant rider uses home course advantage on Zig Zag climb
Coming up one spot short wasn't a disappointment for Adam Semple who finished in second-place to Nathan Earle (Huon Salmon-Genesys) on Stage 3 at the Woodside Tour de Perth. The former Drapac Professional Cycling rider found a home at the Perth-based Satalyst-Giant squad for 2013 after injury ruined his 2012 campaign and if anything the result was confirmation that he is past the worst of his concerns and can now focus on returning to his form of old.
The former AIS recruit believes that if he continues to progress like he has in training, there's no reason why he shouldn't aim to win the overall classification at a number of Subaru National Road Series races this year. The hillier the better, according to the 23-year-old.
"I don't know the details of all the tours but Toowoomba and Adelaide are meant to be quite 'bergy' so I'm definitely looking to go to those firing," Semple told Cyclingnews.
"Each race you do you just move up one step, one gear higher so hopefully I'll get that effect from this tour and the gents will as well and we'll just keep on pressing for the next races."
The day had gone more or less to script but it wasn't just Huon Salmon-Genesys, who retained the lead of Joe Cooper and won the stage with Earle that had reason to sleep easy last night. Semple, was unsure how his legs would cope after spending months away from racing due to a form of "obscure arthritis" but with a lap remaining of the 140km race and still feeling good, he marshalled his teammates - most who are coming off the six-stage Tour de Taiwan - to the front.
"When I started to feel quite good on the last lap I just marshalled the gents and said 'let's get up there with 30k to go and just hammer it all the way to the finish so I can hit out'.
"They have always done a course around there [Kalamunda] but never that exact one, I knew all the roads like the back of my hand; the descents and everything. That was a huge advantage for the team and we used that on one specific descent that is about 8k long. We got on the front every lap and just drilled it!
"We were able to put everyone under pressure at one of the most dangerous places, it also kept us out of danger [being at the front."
Semple had wanted to go earlier than what eventuated but even with a huge amount of course knowledge the bunch were unwilling to allow the mulitiple-time Tour de Taiwan stage winner and 2011 Tour of Bright victor too much breathing space.
"I wanted to get away earlier. I'd planned to go up the climb through Mundaring, with about 30k's to go and then try and ride solo to the finish. I had a dig and opened the bunch up a bit but no one really wanted a bar of it," Semple told Cyclingnews.
"I hit out with about 5k to go and Earle came across to me. That was sort of the plan but because I haven't raced in so long I didn't know how my legs would be. It was just about monitoring how my legs were feeling and then try to capitalise on that.
"I hit out with about 500 to go and cramped up big time. He got on my wheel as I was recovering from rigor mortis and then he pumped me in the sprint. He rode like a machine because he also rode the final 2k on the front."
The general classification is not an objective for Semple at Perth but with plenty of racing to come in the 2013 NRS season, he believes it won't be long before he can compete for the overall classification once again.
"I'm definitely still on the up. I'm in the middle of a building phase so hopefully I'll be up there by the time the next NRS races come around.
"Every week my form is jumping up a large junk in training so if I was going to be completely brash about it I'd say I'm going to Toowoomba and Adelaide to win them, the overall. I'd like to anyway."
A silver medallist in the World Championships last year on a course which used the same finish - and with the same 21 kilometer final lap - Sky sports director Nicolas Portal confirmed to Cyclingnews that Boasson Hagen "finally is racing," and that the former Gent-Wevelgem winner could, like teammate Vasil Kiryenka, be up for a longer breakaway move.
"Both of them are here to help and they could do something in the last 60 kilometres if there's a attack there with dangerous riders, and we need somebody to follow in that move," Portal said.
"It's a finish that suits [Boasson Hagen], but the great thing is that we've got a lot of other riders who did the Worlds last year," - Urán, Henao, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, Vasil Kiryenka and Boasson Hagen - "so we know the course and we can play a lot of different options. It will be very difficult to get away and stay away on the Cauberg now, although Gilbert proved it was just possible, but the complexity of the finish means it's not just about strength, you have to think very fast in order to be able win."
However, he said the main Sky challenge if the race stays together could well come from Colombians Rigoberto Uran, who did not ride Amstel in 2012, and Sergio Henao, who finished 21st in Amstel last year. Uran has nonetheless performed well in the recent Volta a Catalunya, whilst Henao was third in the Vuelta al País Vasco after winning on the tough summit finish of stage three and leading the race for three days.
Portal confirmed the absence of Bradley Wiggins in Liège - Bastogne - Liège, saying "Liège suits him, [but] it's his and the team trainer's decision. He'll be building up his Giro form in the Tour of Trentin with a lot of Sky's Giro riders and then go straight on [to the Giro d'Italia] from there."
Tuscan rider part of the new generation of Italian riders
Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) is part of a new generation of riders that is hoping to finally end Italy's drought of success in the Classics during the Ardennes week.
The 23-year-old Tuscan is a former double junior world road race champion and has shown his class with a stage victory at the Giro d'Italia and overall victory at the recent Coppi & Bartali stage race. He and Damiano Cunego lead Lampre-Merida's hopes for the hilly Classics after Filippo Pozzato's disappointing cobbled Classics campaign. Italian cycling is also hopeful that Moreno Moser (Cannondale) can show his talent for the hilly Classics in the next seven days.
"There are some good young riders but nobody should expect miracles. But we're up there along with riders like Sagan and Gilbert, or not far behind them," Ulissi told Gazzetta dello Sport as he prepared for the Amstel Gold Race and the Ardennes week.
"A rider like Sagan comes along every 50 years. He came through the Italian system but unfortunately he was born in Slovakia. Otherwise we'd be talking about a golden age for Italian cycling."
Ulissi has a fast finish and can climb well but admits the Amstel Gold Race is not his preferred Ardennes Classic.
"Fleche-Wallonne suits me a lot better even if I'm intrigued by Liege-Bastogne-Liege. There's a natural selection in both races, something that doesn't happen at the Amstel Gold Race," he said.
"It's my third Amstel Gold Race. I crashed out in 2011 and was dropped in 2012 but I finished. It's not my favourite Ardennes Classic, you need to ride it a lot to know the secrets and memorise the route. Saving energy and holding position is an art with all the twists and turns. It is also a big factor for success."
"I'll be important to save energy for 200km by being well positioned in the peloton, and then you have to be at the front for the last 50km, even if it's stressful. My form is pretty good. I went deep on two stages at the Tour of the Basque Country, finishing fifth and eighth. I'm looking for a podium place in at least one of the Ardennes races."
Thinking of the world championships
Ulissi won't ride the Giro d'Italia or the Tour de France, opting to focus on the world championships in Florence, just an hour from his home on the Tuscan coast. He lives close to Italian national coach Paolo Bettini and seems a perfect rider for the hilly course and selective finale.
"I'm riding the Tour of Switzerland and the Vuelta. It hurts to miss the Giro but you've got to make some tough choices sometimes," he explained.
"I've had a heavy spring of racing and the second part of the season will be busy too. I've already seen the course for the worlds. It's tough but it's good for attacks. I already know the last short climb near the finish by heart…"
A visibly exhausted but satisfied Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) pulled off a breakaway that totalled 241 kilometres of the 251 that made up the Amstel Gold Race. First part of a seven rider move, then alone 50 kilometres from the finish, Astarloza was only reeled in with nine kilometres to go before dropping back in the final seven.
Having hugely livened up what was not one of the most exciting editions of Amstel Gold, Astarloza told Cyclingnews he was “very pleased even if I’m really exhausted.”
“I decided to try it from a long way off because I knew I wouldn’t have much chance if I left it for the finale. The break was good, we worked together well, but there came a point when I had to strike out alone.” Asked if he thought he could possibly win it, he said “hope is the last thing you lose but with 40 kilometres to go I only had one and a half minutes gap, so I just went for it as much as I could.”
“Then when the breakaway caught me, I decided I’d hold on for as long as possible, and see what happened.”
Going up the Cauberg at the head of the field on the second to last lap is something that no-one will be able to take away from him, though, “and it’s great that I was able to do it. It’s a world-famous climb and I’m delighted about that. I’ve done some long breaks, it’s the big changes of rhythm that aren’t my strong point, and on a race like this which is one short, punchy climb after another, I prefer to go at my own pace on each one.” His next objective will be Flèche Wallonne, “a race I like a lot,” followed by Liège - Bastogne - Liège, “but the first thing I have to do is rest.”
A bizarre series of decisions had Astarloza spun around in confusion: first told he would not be receiving the ‘Most combative rider’ award, then apparently awarded it, he ultimately failed to receive it in the end.
Astarloza asked at the finish if he had any “podium duty”, was told that he would not be needed, and headed to the Euskaltel-Euskadi bus for a well-earned shower. However, race organisation then turned up and informed the Basque team management he would be needed.
Having got out of the shower and dressed in team kit again and climbed off the team bus, by this stage the organisation appeared to have changed its mind again and told him he would not be needed. Astarloza, understandably angry, then headed back into the bus.