- Article published:
- January 16, 2012, 18:14
- Barry Ryan
Belgian hails new approach at Omega Pharma-Quick Step
There may be a new sponsor and a renewed emphasis on stage racing, but it was business as usual for Tom Boonen as the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team was launched in Vilvoorde on Friday. No sooner had the curtain fallen on the presentation than the local media swept past Tony Martin, Sylvain Chavanel et al and descended upon their man, eager to talk classics.
Following that lengthy Flemish inquisition, Boonen then had to repeat the ordeal for the foreign press. After shaking hands with his new batch of interviewers, the amiable Belgian explained that at this stage he is well used to the vagaries of living in the spotlight in one of cycling’s true heartlands, even if that has hardly made the criticism he has faced in recent seasons any more palatable.
“I’m not a guy that really reads the Belgian press. I think I’m pretty experienced in that regard, but if I read it, it still hurts me, so I don’t read it,” Boonen said. “I know my weaknesses and I know my strengths and I don’t have to read it because it still hurts me. Everybody has to earn a living and the Belgian press is sometimes pretty critical. The Belgian public is pretty critical too, but I think it’s up to me right now for myself to be back on the level I was before. I mean, I’m only 31, so I think I have a few good years left.”
Although Boonen captured Gent-Wevelgem last season, it’s no secret that he has fallen short of his usual standards in the Classics over the past two years, as he suffered from the effects of a persistent knee injury. In theory, surgery at the end of 2010 ought to have put the problem to rights, but in practice, Boonen needed another year to build the muscles in his leg back up again.
“The problem was that last winter I was still recovering from the injury, I was doing a lot of efforts to get back on the same strength of the legs,” he said. “You’re not really training to be in shape for the season, you’re just trying to get back to a level that sees you get your fitness back. So in a way, you miss an entire winter.”
Boonen surprised himself by beginning his campaign with a sprint victory at the Tour of Qatar but his progress was stalled by illness at Tirreno-Adriatico. That victory at Gent-Wevelgem notwithstanding, Boonen was still short of his best form by the time the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix rolled around. “The Classics weren’t really that bad, but I was just missing that little bit, the details,” he said.
Worse was to follow in the summer. “I was just unlucky in the second part of the season – I crashed badly at the Tour, I crashed at the Tour of Spain, so I hope now to get my mojo back,” Boonen said.
If the local media’s interest on Boonen remains unabated, then so too does the rider’s ambition. Once again, the success or failure of his entire season will hinge on two Sundays in April and he is adamant that he can add to his tally of Monuments.
“Last year I was not on my top level at the Tour of Flanders, but if I was a little bit smarter, I would have won, so I learned that you don’t have to be the strongest guy in the race to win,” he said. “I spent a lot of energy when Sylvain was in front, trying to protect the breakaway. But I learned in the final that I could have won the race almost easily, without being the best guy in the race.
“Now that everything is going ok and I’m in better shape than last year, it’s not a question – I’m sure I can win a classic.”
Facing up to the BMC challenge
Fabian Cancellara have may have proved the biggest individual obstacle to Boonen's hopes of Classics success in recent seasons, but in 2012 he must now also face the collective challenge of BMC. The team's high-profile acquisition of Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd has buttressed an already solid line-up, but Boonen believes BMC must first prove itself on the road: “It’s only possible to talk about a super team when you have results.”
After vying for leadership of the Quick Step team with Johan Museeuw and Paolo Bettini earlier in his career, Boonen is well-versed in the practicalities of riding in a squad of galacticos, and he reckons that BMC can make it work.
“We had it a few times, we were in the Classics with five, six guys able to win and I was pretty used to it,” he said. “Especially because I was a young guy I had to find my own way and fight those guys a little bit. They’re still your teammates, but you still have to find your way and make yourself as important as possible.
“Still, it’s always better to have the talent. If you have one leader and something happens, the race is over. If you four leaders and something happens you can still make a gamble with someone else and BMC have a lot of talent in their ranks.”
Of course, Boonen is himself planning to benefit from an injection of quality into the Omega Pharma-Quick Step ranks. While leadership at the Classics will again fall on his shoulders, the addition of Tony Martin and Levi Leipheimer should ensure that he no longer carries the sole burden of being the squad’s principal supplier of WorldTour points. Indeed, Boonen feels that the team’s more wide-ranging approach to the season is indicative of broader changes to its philosophy. Now facing into his 10th campaign in the set-up, he admitted that things had become stale in recent years.
“When I looked Quick Step 10 years ago and then looked at Quick Step last year, almost nothing had changed,” he said. “But when I look at Omega Pharma-Quick Step now, a lot of things have changed. It was time to be on track again and be modern – a time to try to lead and be an example for other teams instead of just following other teams.
“It’s not only about the riders, it’s about everyone. The job of the team and the managers is to motivate and push the riders to get their maximum level, and it was a little bit gone the last few years.”
Boonen, too, is looking to draw on the harsh lessons of the past number of seasons as he faces into his latest campaign, which gets underway at the Tour de San Luis on January 23. “When you’re winning races, you don’t really think about why you’re winning races,” he said. “I think I’ve learned more about myself in the last year and a half than in all those years that I was at the top level.”
- Article published:
- January 16, 2012, 19:50
- Cycling News
National coach De Bie snubs Nys' teammate Vanthourenhout
The Belgian cycling federation has released the names of the seven riders that will represent the country at the upcoming UCI Cyclo-Cross Worlds in Koksijde, on January 29. National coach Rudy De Bie selected Sven Nys, Niels Albert, Kevin Pauwels, Klaas Vantornout, Rob Peeters, Bart Aernouts and Tom Meeusen.
Sven Vanthourenhout, Nys' teammate at Landbouwkrediet, was not selected even though Nys had explicitly asked for his integration in the Worlds team. "At the Worlds, less competitive riders will be dropped anyway as soon as the favourites accelerate,' De Bie told Sportwereld. "Rob Peeters has proved at the most recent races that he deserves to be in the selection."
Peeters finished third-placed at the Belgian Championships where Nys reclaimed his title, and teammate Vanthourenhout got fourth.
- Article published:
- January 16, 2012, 21:07
- Cycling News
Russian team training in Mallorca
"We're like a new team," declared Denis Galimzyanov as he sat down with Cyclingnews on a rare rest day at the Team Katusha camp in Mallorca, Spain.
The powerhouse sprinter may well have a point. After three years Katusha's Andre Tchmil handed over the reins to German school teacher Hans-Michael Holczer, the man who led Gerolsteiner until their demise. Holczer has drafted in new blood both on the athlete side as well as the management, handing picking a number of former colleagues as well as cherry picking the likes of Michael Rich and Torsten Schmidt. Valerio Piva, from HTC, was added earlier by Tchmil and the new structure has apparently improved spirits within the Russian team.
Galimzyanov was keen to stress that Tchmil had done much for his career, but pointed to elements of organisation and equipment that had let the team down in previous years. Holczer refrained from pointing holes in the previous system but told Cyclingnews that he had overseen an overhaul of the old structure, and brought in a number of new elements, including a long-term partnership with Canyon.
See a photo gallery from the team training camp.
- Article published:
- January 16, 2012, 21:48
- Cycling News
Belgain ProContinental team adds name co-sponsor
Team Landbouwkrediet will be known as Landbouwkrediet-Euphony as of this year. The team announced the Belgian telecommunications and energy firm,w hich already sponsors teams in other sports, as its co-title partner today.
With Landbouwkrediet planning to gradually phase out of sponsorship after 12 years, “it was necessary to find a new partner interested in investing in the world of cycling,” the team said on its website.
The new name co-sponsor “now allows to ensure the continuity of the Professional Continental team in 2013 and even a glimpse of longer horizons.”
Euphony already sponsors Racing Genk, the current Belgian football champion, and Euphony Asse-Zellik volleyball team.
"The collaboration with Landbouwkrediet is an opportunity to broaden our horizons," Frank Van de Wege, Managing Director at Euphony, told Sportwereld. "Landbouwkrediet is a team with great ambition and potential, focusing on the Benelux, as does Euphony. The presence of the team on the road and in cyclo-cross is a perfect combination for us. We are confident that this collaboration will be a successful trip. "
- Article published:
- January 16, 2012, 22:30
- Alex Hinds
Race director Turtur says challenges lie ahead for Oceania calendar
The Tour Down Under has grown over the past 14 years from a small regional race to a steadfast part of the WorldTour calendar, race director Mike Turtur can’t help but be pleased to reflect on the event’s history.
Over the last three editions, an association with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong helped to increase the race's popularity, and even after Armstrong's retirement, Turtur still sees value in the still undisclosed investment in his appearance fees.
"It was the deal of a lifetime," said Turtur to Cyclingnews. "There’s speculation about fees and everything else, but the fees were nowhere near what was being reported.
"The value we got out of having him was amazing. He wasn’t just here for the race; he had a lot of involvement throughout the South Australian community."
And whatever the allegations that have dogged Armstrong – particularly in the last 12 months with respect to his FDA investigation there is no doubt that the American boosted the race’s profile in the community. Last year the estimated economic impact was over $43 million, and record crowds attended the events six stages. The big question was whether without Armstrong the race could retain its current status. Turtur is adamant that it has.
"I think the best early gauge is the registrations for the Bupa Challenge Tour, and though we expected those to fall this year, the numbers have in fact remained steady.”
Turtur puts that down to the race’s new race route which he argues has given a wider range of riders the chance to compete for overall honours. Combine that with the increasing focus on WorldTour points and you have arguably the best field the race has seen it’s now 14 year history.
"I think when the list started to come in it was clear pretty early that there was no shortage of quality. Guys like Freire, Bennati, Petacchi – I think it came as recognition of the balance that the route now gives, favouring more all-round riders. We’re happy with that."
Wearing two hats
While Turtur is the race director of the Tour Down Under, since 2008 he has also acted as the Oceania representative on the UCI board. For some, this has prompted suggestions of a conflict of interests in simultaneous promoting a race within Oceania, and at the same time looking after the broader calendar as a whole.
Turtur however rejects this reasoning.
"It’s no different to what Pat McQuaid previously did with the Tour of Langkawi," said Turtur. “I think I have enough personal integrity to be able to make decisions that are in the interests of the sport, and the region as a whole.
"I would never make a decision that would be of the benefit of this race – I’m always acting my role with the UCI in the interests of Oceania."
Turtur also added that there were serious challenges still ahead for the region as a whole, which he said were on the brink of being tackled, because of a resurgence in the "depth and quality of the Oceania region."
See the full video interview with race director Mike Turtur below.
- sport politics
- Article published:
- January 16, 2012, 23:00
- Cycling News
Each day a chance to win a pair of Bont's top of the range Vapour Shoes
Tune into Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Santos Tour Down Under for a chance to win a pair of Bont's top of the range Vapour Shoes.
All you have to do is follow our live coverage during each stage. We’ll post a question during the stage and you can answer it on Twitter with the hashtag #cyclingnewstdu and we’ll pick a winner at random.
The winner will be able to customise their colours too. Still here? Head over to our live coverage now to be in with a chance of wining.
Live coverage for stage 1 of the Tour Down Under begins at 11 AM local time in Adelaide.
- Article published:
- January 16, 2012, 23:35
- Laura Weislo
Steady growth could yield Vuelta start
The UnitedHealthcare team has been dubbed "the blue train" by race announcers for its well-drilled lead-outs, but the locomotive analogy holds true in a number of other ways, as Cyclingnews found out at the squad's 2012 "sponsor summit" and team camp in Palm Springs, California last week.
While the riders lined up in front of sprinters like Jake Keough and Robert Förster on the last lap of a criterium may be likened to high speed rail, the team's business model as described by general manager Mike Tamayo is more like a fully loaded freighter - slow, steady and careful.
"We're the steady team - we will be for the next three years," Tamayo told Cyclingnews. "We're the team that's going to continue to grow year after year, and we like to do things methodically. We'll take our time and conquer our current level, and then tackle the next."
While other Professional Continental squads battle for invitations to the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, Tamayo is more cautions in his approach to attaining Grand Tour status, aiming at the Vuelta a España for UnitedHealthcare's first experience at that level.
"I think the Vuelta is a race that suits us well. Individually we've had riders who have had success there - who have been top 10 and won stages, we have riders who can sprint and climb at that level and race at the GC level. Now it's a matter of giving them the support and tools to do it again."
With newcomers Jason McCartney and Philip Deignan in addition to Förster, the squad now has three riders who have won stages at the Vuelta, and Deignan placed ninth overall there in 2009 when racing for the Cervélo TestTeam. UHC has also added WorldTour experience in the form of Jeff Louder (BMC), Marc De Maar (QuickStep) and Kai Reus (formerly of Rabobank) and beefed up its climbing team with Australian Ben Day and South African Jay Thomson.
However, the leap from one-week long 2.HC races like the Amgen Tour of California to a Grand Tour is a big one, and even if a Vuelta nod doesn't happen this year, Tamayo will use this season's stage races to prepare both the riders and the organisation for a three-week tour by pushing for perfection in the shorter races.
"You want the mechanics to make absolutely no mistakes, you want the massage therapists to be dialled in. You want your infrastructure to be solid, and you want your athletes to get through a one week race unscathed and realize they will be able to hold that standard for another two weeks."
The slow, steady growth model touted by Tamayo is by no means easy: the team's camp included hours of intensive meetings between riders and sponsors, between team management and sponsors as well as business wheeling and dealing between the companies which support the squad. It's all part of making sure the sponsors get something more out of supporting the team than the satisfaction of seeing them win bike races.
"The business of running a cycling team is truly becoming a business more and more every year. It used to be you'd have a cycling fanatic who was working in a company or ran a company and put money into a cycling program, but now with the economic climate, you have to validate all your expenditures. So you're seeing a lot of companies looking at what value a team brings.
"We've always done a good job of giving a return on investment, so it's made it easier for us because we were already operating under that standard. We show our sponsors our value - we do the hospital visits, the YMCA visits, the extra VIP events, and we help broker sponsor-to-sponsor business transactions.
"It goes to the team spirit - not just with the riders but the sponsors. A huge percentage of our other sponsors have their employees' health insurance through Unitedhealthcare now. That's a business transaction that helps all of us. It is about more than just running a cycling team."
That business sense translates to the team's racing schedule, which includes an all-out sprint to show itself in the first few months of the season in order to ensure the team's reputation for the later-season invitations.
"It's important to be competitive at the Tours of California, Utah and Colorado. We've built a schedule that prepares our riders with that in mind. The next level is doing races where the team can continue to grow in stature and recognition. That's where Tours de San Luis and Algarve come into play. Being able to do those early season races where we can be seen as being competitive amongst the best in the world, that is going to earn us a little more respect from other race organisers and other teams, and in turn, more potential invitations."
Growing the team from within
With the mergers of RadioShack and Leopard Trek and the loss of HTC-Highroad, recruiting for 2012 gave Tamayo ample opportunity to hire some amazing riders, but it was important to him and the riders to maintain the same cooperative environment he's fostered over the past few years and keep some of the focus on developing existing talent rather than revamping the team.
"It was easy to look and see all those good guys out there, and think you can reinvent the team, but then you lose the team spirit and that family atmosphere that we've developed over the years. I'm big into putting effort into giving athletes and opportunity to realize their potential.
"Whether it's Johnny Clarke or Adrian Hegyvary - who nobody's ever heard of winning a bike race because they're always slaying themselves for their teammates - those guys will continue to develop in a program like ours, and we'll continue to give them a position to do so.
"The talent we brought in above them like Jason McCartney and Jeff Louder, they've been part of the team before. That was easy because they know how we work - and they bring back what they've learned from BMC or RadioShack, and that helps all of us. Their experience is something they can apply to everyone else on the team, and that's important."
By all indications, the chemistry on the team is as strong as it has ever been, and the UnitedHealthcare train is ready to leave the station. The first race of the year will be the Tour de San Luis, the team for the Argentinean race will be Jonny Clarke, Ben Day, Robert Förster, Adrian Hegyvary, Jake Keough, Jeff Louder, Jason McCartney and Jay Thomson.
- Article published:
- January 17, 2012, 04:06
- Alex Hinds
Plan to miss Tour Down Under "better" for rider's long term future
Tim Roe (BMC) is sitting out this year's Tour Down Under in the hope that he'll be fully recovered from a hip injury that plagued his 2011 season. The Australian rode his first year in the prestigious WorldTour with the team last season but struggled to adjust to the higher level of racing.
"You go from being one of the best climbers at the under 23 level to one of the first guys to get dropped," said Roe. "It’s all a lot harder, and I think I’ve learned that lesson now. Hopefully I can just concentrate on riding the bike now."
Despite the injury, Roe also insists that he's feeling considerably stronger this year, and hopes to be competing again in the near future.
"I definitely feel a lot stronger now, you adapt to the competition, your body adjusts and you improve," said Roe.
"When I wasn’t making the progress I wanted to be making in December I told the guys maybe it’s better that I don’t do the Tour Down Under. I know a lot of riders say that riding the Tour Down Under can be hard."
Roe next heads to Europe for a training camp with his BMC teammates.
For the full interview see below.