- Article published:
- July 2, 2011, 13:45
- Barry Ryan
Belgian admits it will be difficult to drop the sprinters
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has predicted that the opening stage of the Tour de France atop the Mont des Alouettes climb will finish with an uphill sprint finish. The Belgian lines up as the favourite to take the first yellow jersey of the race but he acknowledged that it might be difficult to distance the pure sprinters on the haul to the finish.
"I think they'll be up there and they'll be difficult to drop,” Gilbert said as he went to sign on in La Barre-de-Monts before the start of stage one on Saturday morning. "It's up to us to make the race as hard as possible. It will be very fast at the foot of the climb."
Ensconced in the tricolour jersey as Belgian champion and sporting a bleached blonde hairstyle to match his yellow ambitions in this Tour, all eyes were on Gilbert before the start. While some directeurs sportif predicted that a rider of Gilbert's quality would be able to jump clear on the final climb, the man himself was more circumspect about his chances of taking a solo victory.
"I did the reconnaissance yesterday, I checked out the difficulties in the finale but it will be different doing it flat out," Gilbert warned.
Widely expected to replicate his Ardennes classics dominating form on at least one of the uphill finishes in the Tour's opening week, Gilbert pointed out that there were a number of other riders who would have a say on Saturday.
"I'm not the only favourite for the stage. There are others like Thor Hushovd, Matt Goss and Boasson Hagen. There's also Voeckler. He's riding in front of the home crowd so he's very motivated and he knows how to anticipate the sprint. He's shown that he can do it in the past," he said.
Nonetheless, Gilbert recognised that his sumptuous 2011 season means that he is expected to deliver on the Tour de France’s opening stage. When pushed to predict the top three on the day, he included his name along with those of Hushovd and Alessandro Petacchi.
Another possible factor in the tactical make-up of stage one is the positioning of the sole intermediate sprint after 87km of racing. Gilbert was unsure of what impact it would have on the way the stage plays out, but he expected his teammate André Greipel to contest the sprint if the bunch approached it together.
"I still have to get my head around the new rules," Gilbert admitted. "We have a pure sprinter in the team. With this new rule that might be useful, but we'll have to see."
With that, Gilbert pedalled off, glad to get his Tour de France underway after a trying week for his Omega Pharma-Lotto squad that saw former rider Wim Vansevenant accused of importing doping products from Australia.
"The Vansevenant affair hasn't affected me mentally," Gilbert said at his squad's final press conference on Friday afternoon. "My supporters can have 100 per cent confidence in me."
- Article published:
- July 2, 2011, 14:32
- Daniel Benson
Leopard Trek boss confident of taking on Contador
Team Leopard Trek boss Brian Nygaard arrived at the team's inaugural Tour de France full of confidence and with the belief that Andy Schleck is in better condition than last year, when he finished just 39 seconds behind Alberto Contador.
The Luxembourg rider used the Amgen Tour of California and Tour de Suisse as his preparation races for the Tour but only showed flashes of his class in between losing time in some of the most demanding stages and time trials of both races. Despite those fluctuations in form, Nygaard told Cyclingnews at the start of stage one that his team leader was ready for the anticipated battle with Alberto Contador for the yellow jersey.
The Leopard Trek comes into the event with a strong squad and the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Jakob Fuglsang squarely placed to support Andy Schleck. However Nygaard admitted that while Andy is the team leader, older brother Fränk could also play a part in the final destination of the yellow jersey.
Nygaard also commented on the booing Alberto Contador received at the teams' presentation on Saturday, stating that the Spaniard had every right to be the race.
- Article published:
- July 2, 2011, 15:05
- Barry Ryan
Italian happy to wait for first bunch sprint on Monday
Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) was the winner of the opening stage of the Tour de France twelve months ago but believes that the uphill finish, and his lack of racing miles in recent weeks, will rule him out of the equation at Mont des Alouettes.
The veteran Italian sprinter was able to tap into a startlingly rich vein of climbing form during the Giro d'Italia in May and came close to winning the sharp uphill finish at Fiuggi in the opening week, ultimately giving best to Francisco Ventoso (Movistar). He won two stages at the 2010 Tour de France and the green points jersey but on the eve of this year's Tour, Petacchi played down his chances of a repeat performance in the Vendée.
"I don't know the finish very well but it's quite difficult and I'd reckon it's better suited to a rider with Gilbert’s characteristics, so we have to see," Petacchi told Cyclingnews.
"If I have the legs I had in Fiuggi then maybe it would be doable, but I think I'll need a couple of stages to get into my rhythm. I had some problems that kept me off the bike and I lost a few days of training, so I need to get a little racing in first."
Petacchi joined the mass exodus of sprinters from the Giro after the final flat stage to Ravenna at the end of week two and his only competitive outing since was the Tour of Slovenia, where he could only manage third behind Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) in the race's sole sprint finish.
While many of the sprinters on the Passage du Gois on Saturday morning were disappointed by the difficult nature of the Tour's opening weekend, Petacchi admitted that he would be glad to get a couple of stages under his belt before tackling the race's first pure bunch finish, expected on day three on Monday.
"From my point of view, doing the hard first stage and the team time trial before the first real bunch finish might help me get back my race sharpness," he mused. "Having to do well straight away in the first stage, the way that I am now, would be more difficult."
Petacchi's Giro d'Italia preparation included lengthy spells of training on Mount Etna in the company of Michele Scarponi, and he returned to Sicily as part of his build-up to the Tour. Although he acknowledged that his top-end speed dropped as his resistance on the climbs improved, he pointed out that Lampre-ISD's goals at the Giro and Tour are very different.
"Maybe I was a bit stronger on the climbs in the Giro and maybe in the sprints I had lost a little bit but the Giro was a bit of a parenthesis," Petacchi explained. "The team had a very precise aim and that was to do a good team time trial and then do a good Giro with Scarponi, and in the end we succeeded in getting second.”
"At this Tour I don't think Damiano [Cunego] wants to go for the general classification so we have a different outlook, we'll be on the hunt for stage wins."
Taking on Cavendish
In spite of his apparent drop in speed, Petacchi still managed to win the Giro's opening road stage by cannily anticipating Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) in the sprint in Parma. The Italian is one of the few fast men in this Tour to have beaten the Manxman in head-to-head grand Tour sprints, but he pointed out that guile alone is not sufficient in a high-speed finale.
"Well, to anticipate someone in the sprint you need to have the legs," he said. "You can't win with the head alone. Certainly you try and study your rivals to find the right formula to beat them, but when it comes down to it, you still need to have the legs."
Following the Italian Federation's recent decision to bar riders who have served doping suspensions from competing for the national team, Petacchi has been linked with a potential switch to Kazakhstan in order to line up at the Worlds in Copenhagen. He was suspended for a positive test for asthma drug Salbutamol in 2007, while he was also placed under investigation as part of the Padova doping inquiry last year.
Petacchi confirmed to Cyclingnews that he was examining the feasibility of riding for another country in September. "We'll see. If there's a possibility, I'll do it."
While Danilo Di Luca has led opposition to the new regulation, which also eliminated a string of the biggest names in Italian cycling from the national championships last weekend, Petacchi did not believe that there was anything the riders could do about it.
"I don't think so," he said, shaking his head. "In Italy, I don't think so."
- Article published:
- July 2, 2011, 19:04
- Daniel Benson
Omega Pharma-Lotto boss celebrates a great day for the Belgian team
Back in October 2010 when this year's Tour de France route was unveiled, Omega Pharma-Lotto team manager Marc Sergeant pinpointed today's first stage as a target for Philippe Gilbert and on the day, the Belgian has delivered in imperious style claming the stage and yellow jersey.
Gilbert stamped his authority on the race on the final rise, bridging across to Fabian Cancellara and then accelerating away on the final ramps of the Mont des Alouettes climb.
Sergeant may well lose Gilbert at the end of the season but was in an understandably joyous mood at the finish, praising not just Gilbert but also his teammates for the amount of work they put in the build up.
Gilbert now leads Cadel Evans by three seconds with a host of other favourites a further three seconds back. Lotto have precious time to celebrate today's success though and must turn their attention to tomorrow's team time trial around Cholet with more than Gilbert's lead a matter of concern. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who performed so well last year, is just six seconds back but with three Lotto riders crashing during today's stage the Belgian outfit will have to ride out of the skins to keep Gilbert in yellow and hold Van Den Broeck's current position of 5th.
- Article published:
- July 2, 2011, 20:24
- Daniel Benson
Spaniard hopes for a better day in team time trial
Defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) has begun the Tour de France with a hefty handicap after losing a crucial 1:20 to his main rivals on the first stage of the race.
The three time Tour winner was cruising close the front of the bunch inside the final 10 kilometers when Maxim Iglinskiy (Team Astana) clipped a fan at the side of the road and fell, causing a mass pile up in the peloton. Only 30 riders avoided it but these included several of Contador's overall rivals.
Despite a frantic chase lead by Saxo Bank-SunGard and Euskaltel-Euskadi - who had Samuel Sanchez caught up in the melee too - Contador lost 1:20 to Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek), Cadel Evans (BMC), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and others at the finish.
Contador quickly understood the significance of the lost time but tried to stay as upbeat as possible.
"It was a difficult day," Contador conceded. "There was a lot of tension and we kept going forward. But at the time of the crash I was misplaced, the road wasn't very wide and there were a lot of riders. "
"I was very close to the head of the race but other riders fell in front of me and although I managed to stop in time, I had to go over their bikes as best I could. When we got going again the group had a good gap. I only initially had the help of one teammate and then another but we lost a fair bit of time.
"That's cycling. The race goes on and I jut have to look to the rest of the race. Today it was my turn for bad luck, tomorrow it could be someone else's. I'm going to stay optimistic and motivated, that's the most important thing. Unfortunately in today's cycling, races are lost and won by 1:15 and the time I've lost to my rivals will be hard to recover. "
Contador hopes for a better day in Sunday's team time trial.
"There are other teams that might be better prepared than us, but I hope that the differences are not too big because otherwise, together with those of today, things will get complicated," he said.
Despite the bad first day, team boss Bjarne Riis tried to stay philosophical at the finish.
"It's one of these unfortunate accidents that often occur in the beginning of the Tour de France. Alberto (Contador) is simply unlucky now to be behind some of his opponents for the overall victory but the Tour has just begun and luckily, there's a long way to Paris from here," he said.
Riis's optimistic view might well be tempered by the fact that Schleck lost over 30 seconds to Contador in the opening stage of last year's race and went on to lose the Tour by 39 seconds. However with such a demanding three weeks of racing to come, Contador remains the man to beat. His dominant performance at the Giro d'Italia in May coupled with his record of having never lost a grand tour will have his rivals in buoyant mood, but his teammate Brian Vandborg is convinced that the Tour is far from over.
"When an accident strikes, minutes can easily be lost. But I have faith in Alberto and I believe that he will be back showing what he's best at in the mountains. Last year, he lost some time on the stage to Roubaix but he fought his way back and won the race. There are still 20 demanding stages to go and anything can happen."
- Article published:
- July 2, 2011, 20:44
- Daniel Friebe
First maillot jaune promises more fireworks on Mûr de Bretagne
Three years ago, on a similar first stage finish to today’s on the Mont des Alouettes, Spain's Alejandro Valverde took the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France and in doing so reminded everyone why he was nicknamed “El Imbatido” or the “Unbeaten One”.
In Valverde’s case it was just a nickname that was eventually defeated by the Italian anti-doping investigators. For Philippe Gilbert the same sobriquet is fast becoming a statement of fact. As the Belgian pointed out in his winner’s press conference in Les Herbiers on Saturday evening: “I’ve won every race I’ve done since Fleche Brabançonne in April. I suppose it’s a kind of record.”
Gilbert’s boast contained the only mistake he made all day: of the eight races he has started since April 13, he has won 'only' seven. A second-place in the Belgian national time trial championship in June is the sole blemish of his record season.
“It’s true that it's hard to take in what I’m doing,” Gilbert said of his 'annus mirabilis', which featured a clean sweep of the Ardennes Classics in April. “It’s definitely been better than I could ever have hoped for. Not only have I won a lot of races and a lot of great races, but I’ve also won them back-to-back. It’s been very special.”
Gilbert, like everyone else, is running out of superlatives. Famously modest, even he admitted that there may only be one man in the world who can currently compete with him on an uphill finish like the one to Mont des Alouettes: 21-year-old Peter Sagan -still judged too young to tackle the Tour by his Liquigas team.
“I think he can beat me on a finish like this,” Gilbert conceded. “I think he’s the only one who can compete with me on a course like this.”
More time in yellow than green
With Sagan sidelined, it would be unwise to discount Gilbert’s chances of winning again and perhaps even reclaiming the race lead on the Mûr de Bretagne on Tuesday. Omega-Pharma-Lotto’s record in team time trials is less than stellar, and their leader admitted tonight that his first reign in yellow would “probably” end with tomorrow’s 23km test around Les Essarts.
As for the green jersey, which will be worn by Cadel Evans on Sunday, Gilbert was cagey about whether the points competition figures among his long-term aims. The Liège-Bastogne-Liège champion also hinted that he is lukewarm about the rule change which now sees 20 points awarded to the winner of each intermediate sprint.
“It’s true that I don’t really understand the rule change. It’s all a bit confused. Let’s see how it goes. The whole Tour could be blocked because of this rule. We saw the way [Tyler] Farrar’s team worked before the intermediate sprint today.
“The green jersey is not in my head,” Gilbert added. “It’s not an objective at the moment, although it could become one. My team manager Marc Sergeant and I were talking about this the other day. He told me that when Robbie McEwen was in his team, McEwen would only think about winning stages, then see how he was placed in the green competition later. That way there was no pressure or stress. Maybe it’ll be like that for me. But we’ll see later on.”
For the moment, Gilbert is happy to savour his first ever 'maillot jaune' And the Tour de France enjoyed its new “Imbatido” or, “Imbattu”.
- Article published:
- July 2, 2011, 21:33
- Cycling News
The Rihs question, CAS delay defence, Madiot on Contador, Basso's App
Our often irreverent look at the Tour de France news you may have missed
BMC boss shuns the big question
Since part-time BMC soigneur Sven Schoutteten was arrested last week after customs officers intercepted a package containing doping products, the US team have closed ranks and refused to go comment. As was the case with Alessandro Ballan’s involvement in a police investigation in Italy, the team have opened their own enquiry.
Yet at the team’s pre-race press conference, team owner Andy Rihs refused to be drawn on the matter, instead deciding to attack the media for daring to ask why one of his staff was in jail. Here is Cyclingnews editor Daniel Benson’s exchange with the wealthy Swiss businessman.
Rihs: Forget that one. I don’t discuss it. It’s just ridiculous.
Rihs: You bring up things that are totally ridiculous. It’s a media flop. I’m not involved in it. I don’t know anything. I will not comment on it. I talk about cycling but not that thing. I talk about cycling and I think cycling should talk about cycling. I look at the degrading work of you… the scandal and I think the advice to Cyclingnews is stop the bull and go back to cycling.
CN: But you’re having an investigation into it, so it must be something?
Rihs: Like I told you this is not my job. Talk with some people. I’m so far away from it. Cyclingnews should really talk on a serious level, not making assumptions all the time it’s ridiculous. I will not give you any interview.
CN: Okay. I understand that I’m not making an assumption. I’m asking you a question.
Madiot defends the French public’s criticism of Contador
FDJ team manager Marc Madiot has defended the French public’s right to boo and whistle Alberto Contador, suggesting it should be a wake up call for the sport.
Contador was the last big name to be introduced at the team presentation on Thursday afternoon and felt the wrath of the French crowd, many of who booed and whistled him. Some said people should be critical of the slow process that has allowed Contador to ride this year’s Tour de France, rather Contador himself. Madiot –as ever, outspoken- told l'Equipe that he sees the debate from another angle.
“Rather than criticise the public, I think we should switch the question: what should be done so that there is no more whistling?” he asked.
“The public has a right to speak, it’s even healthy. The teams and the media are all here thanks to the public. The audience whistling is part of cycling, where ever you go. How they feel is a wake-up call, not just to Contador, because we are all in this together."
CAS chief defends Contador case delays
Mattieu Reeb, the general secretary of the Court of Arbitration for Sport has defended the tribunal's delay in reaching a verdict on Alberto Contador's clenbuterol case.
"I can't accept that the responsibility for the inertia is blamed on the sporting justice system and especially the CAS," he told L'Equipe.
"Alberto Contador's lawyers asked for a delay so that they could obtain new scientific evidence but I can't blame them the parties then agreed to delay the hearing. It happens quite often and three months isn't a lot to reach a decision."
"It's important to respect the process and do things right considering the complexities of the case. Other wise there is the risk that one of the parties later complains of a violation of their rights and demand that the procedure is annulled to the Swiss court. That would mean starting from zero all over again."
Ten Dam's close shave
The most tense moment of the pre-Tour media trail? No, not Paul Kimmage's quizzing of Alberto Contador, but a sidewinder lobbed in Laurens Ten Dam's direction during Rabobank's press conference on Friday afternoon.
With the questions for Robert Gesink petering out, one wag piped up from the back of the room: "Laurens, you shaved your legs so why didn't you shave your face?"
Cue a moment of icy silence from the hirsute Dutchman before a broad grin broke out across his hairy face. "I just felt like a new look," he said sheepishly, while Grischa Niermann fell about laughing beside him.
Basso's got an app for that
Not content with conquering the twittersphere with tales of his sleeping and breakfasting habits, Ivan Basso continued his push for social media dominance on the eve of the Tour by launching the "Ride with Ivan Basso" smart phone app, available at
The app will allow users to pore over Basso's blood values and training tables from the Mapei Centre, as well as view his pictures and even sample some of his ipod playlist. Very helpfully, there's also a link to purchase his newly published autobiography, Climbing Against the Wind.
"I wanted something innovative that could offer my fans a simple and fast way to follow me," Basso said, who admitted that the app forms part of his attempts to prove his transparency, which began in 2008 following his return from suspension for his links to Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
"As well giving useful advice, it offers an additional guarantee as to my standing as an athlete," he said. "The first test will be nothing less than the Tour itself: follow me and you'll be able to understand our daily hardships."
- Article published:
- July 2, 2011, 23:00
- Barry Ryan
Australian content with second place on day one
Cadel Evans (BMC) may have lost the battle atop the Mont des Alouettes at the end of the stage one of the Tour de France, but he declared himself pleased with his opening salvos in the war for the yellow jersey in Paris.
Hemmed in at the right-hand side of the road when Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) launched his winning move with 700 metres to go, Evans was unable to respond to the Belgian's move immediately. Once Evans managed to free himself, he ripped clear of the peloton but was still three seconds down on the rampant Gilbert at the line.
"First would have been better, but second was not too bad. It was a good start, a pleasant surprise," he said after stage 1.
In front of the BMC bus beyond the finish line, an upbeat Evans talked a cluster of reporters through the stage's frantic finale. There was great uncertainty ahead of the stage as to the true difficulty of the final climb to the finish, and Evans revealed that the wind had led him to play his cards conservatively in the final kilometre.
"I was well positioned and I had a chance to go early but I thought it might have been too early as there was a bit of wind today and I got a bit closed in," Evans said.
The blue touch paper was lit with 900 metres to go, but Evans was unable to find the space to respond immediately. For his part, Gilbert was present and correct, and countered when Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) got a gap on the climb.
"Gilbert went across to him and then hit him again and by the time it opened up and I went, Gilbert had already got a good gap," Evans said. "I was closing in at the finish but by then he had it pretty much run and won, so there wasn't much I could do there. But then you never know what could have happened in the last 100 metres."
Although the stage victory eluded Evans, his Tour is built around longer-term goals, and his morale will have received a considerable boost from the time he gained over Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard). The Spaniard came in 1:20 down after being caught behind a crash in the closing stages, Evans could scarcely hide his delight with the unexpected bonus received on the race's opening day.
While Leopard Trek's management sought to downplay the significance of the advantage their man Andy Schleck now carries over Contador, Evans could speak from bitter experience of the value of seconds won and lost on the Tour's seemingly less vital junctures, after losing out on the 2007 and 2008 races by less than a minute on each occasion.
When asked if the 1:17 buffer over Contador would be important come Paris, Evans smiled ruefully. "I think so. You're talking to a guy who lost the Tour de France by 23 seconds."