Vacansoleil-DCM's investigation into José Rujano will not affect the team's search for a sponsor, according to the squad's management.
The team launched an investigation into its diminutive climber after it was alleged that he was part of Operazione Amateur, an inquiry about the trafficking of doping products such as EPO, CERA and Retacrit in Italy. Rujano denied any involvement almost immediately but team manager Dan Luijkx travelled to Spain to meet with the Venezuelan.
Perhaps of greater importance to the team is the search for a new sponsor. Vacansoleil's contract ends this season and the company has announced that it will make a final decision over their future in the coming months. Luijkx had a meeting with Vacansoleil's board on Tuesday and told Cyclingnews that he had contact with several international parties should Vacansoleil decide to walk away from their five-year relationship.
"We are busy with the investigation and we'll wait for all the results and then we'll make a statement. I don't know how long it will take but it could take weeks," Luijkx told Cyclingnews.
Meanwhile, Rujano is free to race, with only an indirect allegation currently at his feet.
"I think he's telling the truth but I want to see results before I make a conclusion. At this moment there are no reasons to not believe Rujano because the investigation when we hired him was good. We checked all the blood results and as I've said already there was no use of cortisones. There are no reasons not to believe him but we want to check everything."
Luijkx is still hopeful that Vacansoleil will decide to sign on for a further period with the team now safely established in the...
It all comes down to this. Sky has entered the 2013 cobbled classics with a grand tour mentality and preparation to match, with Geraint Thomas, in particular, spearheading hopes for the Tour of Flanders this Sunday.
Chris 'CJ' Sutton has been there with Thomas for the most part since December 30, as the pair began their pre-season together in the Sutton’s native Australia ahead of the Tour Down Under.
"G's trained really hard over summer," Sutton confirmed. "He came out early and I was training with him early in Adelaide and we really put in the hard work there so it's paying off. We're all going to die for each other and do the best that we can. Who knows? Hopefully we can pull off a big one in Flanders or Roubaix or both."
For Sutton, the build-up to this classics campaign has been part of a long and often painful road back from inflamed vertebrae, an injury that significantly disrupted the better part of six months last season. So bad was his condition that Sutton considered packing in the bike. Back in Australia over summer, recovery and injury maintenance required two weekly sessions with a chiropractor, one with a physiotherapist, and another with massage.
"Every day, twice a day I still have to keep up my rehab exercises so it's not going to go away overnight," Sutton told Cyclingnews.
"I've moved right along, a few of the simple exercises I couldn't even do in August last year and now I can do them with so much ease."
While the bulk of Sky's classics squad travelled to Tenerife in early March for a training camp at altitude in the vein of last year's Tour de France squad, Sutton did not attend, choosing instead to stay at his Girona base in Spain.
"With altitude, for me and what I wanted to do, it...
Kristin Wild has put her name forward as a prime candidate for glory at this weekend’s Women’s Tour of Flanders after taking victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem in the past week.
Amidst the great results Wild has remained pragmatic about her chances. “With a rival like Marianne Vos it is hard to say that I will go for the win, but of course I want to go for the win,” she told Cyclingnews HD. “We have to take all the tricks we have and all the tactics we can make and have a go.”
The Argos-Shimano sprinter has never won Ronde van Vlaanderen, and her best result came in 2009, when she finished second, while last season she was outsprinted to the podium by Joelle Numainville. Approaching this year’s race, she looks to be in her best form for some time. Wild says she hasn’t made any plans for race tactics yet: “Vlaanderen is such a difficult race. You always have to save, save, save. It is hard to say what you can do now. It will be a decision I have to make in the race.”
Wild knows one thing and that is that she won’t make the mistake of putting all her focus on her fellow Dutchwoman Vos. “Marianne isn’t the only rider,” she said. “I’ve seen Ellen van Dijk recently and she is in very good form. I think she will be good for this race, but they have more riders in that team [Specialized-Lululemon] who can do well, like Trixi Worrack and Evelyn Stevens. I also think Annemiek [van Vleuten – 2011 winner] is good for Vlaanderen. Yeah, there are a lot of strong riders and I mustn’t forget Emma Johansson.”
Wild has hardly put a foot wrong this season with five wins from a possible seven. She took all but one stage at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, along with the general classification for the third time and the points classification for the fourth...
After taking a narrow second place on the opening stage of the Three Days of De Panne, Frenchman Arnaud Démare rode himself into the race lead on stage 2 after Peter Sagan (Cannondale) lost contact in the finale.
Although the FDJ rider was pleased to don the white leader's jersey, he remains doubtful he can hold onto it through to the finish in tomorrow's final stage.
"Time trialing is not my specialty," Démare said to Het Nieuwsblad. "If I finish in the top 50 tomorrow, it will be good."
"The race lead is so difficult to defend. I would rather try to get the morning stage win."
The former U23 world champion has been racking up promising results in Belgium: in 2012, a fourth place in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne preceded a win in Le Samyn, which he then followed with a stage win and ninth overall in De Panne.
A 12th place in this year's Gent-Wevelgem combined with his results in De Panne will put Démare, who was fourth in the U23 Paris-Roubaix in 2011 and second as a junior in 2009, among the dark horse candidates for this year's Hell of the North.
Orica GreenEdge and Lotto Belisol revved up their lead-outs from 20km to go on the 204.2km stage and with no sign of Tuesday's winner, Peter Sagan (Cannondale), at the front, Tom Boonen rallied his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammates to set up Cavendish for the win. It was a circumstance that nearly didn't happen though, as the Manxman revealed in the post-race press conference.
"I didn't feel that great actually earlier on in the day," Cavendish admitted. "We talked this morning about doing what we can to dig in for a bunch sprint. Halfway through I was like, 'I don't know if I can do it today.' I didn't feel great, but as the finish grew near we just kind of got to the front. It wasn't even spoken about. We were just doing it, like we were going for the sprint."
With Stijn Vandenbergh, Gert Steegmans, Iljo Keisse and Niki Terpstra gritting their teeth, their effort evident on their faces, Cavendish tucked in behind the Dutch champion, and was perfectly placed coming into the final right-hand bend when Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol) took over. It looked like a perfectly executed plan but in fact, the ordering may not have been what had been stipulated before the race.
"With the guys we've got here, I think we can pretty much swap the guys around where ever we want," Cavendish explained. "It worked out. If we'd written on paper what we were going to do it was probably the reverse."
With temperatures at a low not seen in half a century in Europe this Classics season, packing and wearing the right gear for a race is unlikely to be as important all year. Durbridge got a taste of the brutal conditions at E3 Harelbeke last Wednesday and is about to take on De Panne, where he made his European debut last year, finishing seventh overall.
Orica GreenEdge’s team for De Panne is centred on in-form sprinter Leigh Howard with Durbridge a crucial member of the lead out before unleashing his considerable talents against the clock in the final stage time trial on Thursday.
Two stage wins, GC runner-up for US Conti team in Portugal
The US-based Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies Continental team enjoyed a successful start to its early season European campaign at Portugal's Volta ao Alentejo, highlighted by a pair of stage wins plus a second place overall general classification finish at the UCI 2.2-rated stage race.
Chad Haga, in his first foray into Europe, finished runner-up on stages 2 and 5 en route to a second place in the general classification, 10 seconds behind overall winner Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager Cycling Team). The 24-year-old American, now in his second season as a professional, confirmed the promise he showed in his debut season, which unfortunately was hampered by sickness and injury.
"Chad was going really well, he's had a great winter and is coming out strong," Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies directeur sportif Jonas Carney told Cyclingnews. "It was pretty apparent from the first day, it was an uphill finish and he was attacking near the finish. He's got great form right now and the guys were excited to rally around him and help him try to win the overall."
The five-day stage race was the first UCI event of the season for the US Continental squad, and in addition to the final podium position the team won back-to-back stages courtesy of US criterium champion Ken Hanson on stage 3 followed by Tom Zirbel on stage 4, a day in which teammate Scott Zwizanski finished second for a 1-2 stage result.
"The Volta ao Alentejo is a flat race without a lot of climbing so it was challenging to break the race open, so we were also looking for stage wins," said Carney. "Tom Zirbel and Scott Zwizanski had a great day to win stage 4 and then of course Hanson is sprinting really well and had a great stage 3. The guys are just really confident, racing aggressively and taking some risks to win those stages."
Kittel came down with the flu after Paris-Nice and was forced to spend eight days off the bike. His comeback in de Panne - a race in which he won a stage before winning Scheldeprijs last year - has seen him finish behind the leaders in the first two stages.
"I'm totally fucked. I only got on the bike after Paris-Nice last Monday so I went eight days without the bike. I was only able to do an hour each day and in the end I only had three days of normal training. It's just not been enough," he told Cyclingnews at the finish in Koksijde. He finished the second stage, over nine minutes down on the winner Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma QuickStep) who is one of the favourites for Scheldeprijs next week.
"The virus really took it out of me and I was advised not to train because it's dangerous if you get back into things and the virus is still there. It's a real pity," Kittel said.
"These are really hard races, with the wind, and the climbs yesterday. The other guys, they're really in shape and that just means that it's really hard to hang on."
On the positive side Kittle is making the most of De Panne and gaining valuable miles ahead of next week's objective.
"For me it's only about getting kilometres in my legs. I really need them. It's amazing how much shape you can lose in eight days."
Asked what his chances were of a title defence in Scheldeprijs, he said, "I have to see but I don't see myself as a favourite there. I'll hope for good legs and see what I can do but at...