Astana leader shows he is ready for Tirreno-Adriatico
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) rode aggressively at the Roma Maxima race on Sunday but yet again came away empty handed, with Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) taking the biggest win of his career after a day of grace.
The Astana team leader had led the chase of the Frenchman but despite working well with four other riders, Kadri stayed away to win alone. Nibali and the chasers were caught by the peloton, with the Sicilian finishing 40th at 48 seconds. His lack of a sprint finish means he has to go on the attack if he wants to win but it often forces him into all or nothing situations. He gets the praise for racing aggressively but other riders get the glory of victory.
"We tried to catch him, we went hard but he did a great ride," Nibali said.
"We worked together pretty well and we were going at 55km/h but it was a fast run-in to the finish and he held us off. In the end we knew we were riding for second place and that's when we started messing around and got caught.
"It's pity because we rode a good race as a team. Agnoli is from around here and so wanted to have a go. When he was caught, I had a go on the Campi di Annibale climb as we went over the top. It was a long way from the finish but I was hoping a few other strong riders would come with us. There were five of us but it wasn't enough."
Nibali headed to Tuscany after Roma Maxima to rest up and train before the start of Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday. He won the week-long stage race last year, defeating Chris Horner to lift the special trident trophy and pull on the race winner's blue jersey.
Despite becoming the protected team leader at Astana this year and now in his prime as a stage race rider, Nibali knows he faces much tough opposition this year, with Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff), Chris Froome (Team Sky), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) all riding the race of the two seas.
"There are some big-name riders coming to Italy. I'll try and race well and take them on and we'll see what happens," he said.
"I'm not afraid of them but I respect them. I'll race Tirreno-Adriatico wearing number one. That means something and is a good start."
“I was expecting a better time as it was a nice course for me but clearly I didn’t want to take too many risks on the corners,” Gilbert said shortly after crossing the line. “I didn’t want to fall with so many big races coming up in the next few weeks.”
In spite of a solid start to the season, Gilbert is still searching for his first victory in the rainbow jersey of world champion. While the rolling terrain later in the week at Paris-Nice should provide him with a number of opportunities to open his account, the Belgian explained that he is in France primarily to prepare for the classics and help teammate Tejay van Garderen.
“It’s a very important week and a very nice race with some stages to try and win, but my main role is to help van Garderen for the general classification,” Gilbert said. “This race is a passage obligé for the classics, along with Tirreno-Adriatico – you have to do one or the other. You take on an enormous workload over the course of the week and you go better when you come out the other side.”
While Gilbert soft-pedalled back towards the BMC hotel in nearby Montesson, his teammate Tejay van Garderen was launching his bid to become the third American to win Paris-Nice.
Fifth overall last year, van Garderen lines up as one of the principal favourites this time around, although he came away disappointed with his prologue. The American yielded ten seconds and finished a lowly 59th, although he pointed out that the gaps would be somewhat more significant come Montagne de Lure and Col d’Èze.
“Prologues are a funny thing – sometimes you do a good one, sometimes you do a bad one,” van Garderen said. “I’m glad it wasn’t a complete disaster but I would have liked to have done a bit better. There’s a long way until we get to Nice. This is only a handful of seconds; some big time will be lost in the upcoming stages.”
Cancer charity affected by Armstrong doping scandal
The consequences of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal continue, as the Livestrong Foundation, the cancer charity he founded, is suffering from the case.
“It's been a difficult year,” Livestrong president Andy Miller told the group's annual convention last week, according to the Reuters news agency. The scandal has created “headwinds that were not only stiff but heartbreaking,” although he also said that the foundation is “bigger than its founder.”
“We were deeply disappointed when we learned along with the rest of the world that we had been misled," Miller admitted.
Armstrong established the Livestrong Foundation in 1997 after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He resigned from the Board of Directors last fall, after the details of his doping usage had been made public and he had received a lifetime ban from cycling.
Miller remained optimistic, though. “Will the Livestrong Foundation survive? Yes. Absolutely yes. Hell yes. Our work is too meaningful, our role too unique, the need too great to stand for any other answer."
The affair has also not financially hurt the group. “We ended 2012 with an impressive revenue number, exactly in line with our peers in the philanthropic community despite a tough economic environment," Miller said.
Lack of medical authorization for Fuentes’ blood transfusions
Operación Puerto entered its sixth week today (Monday) with a declaration by one of Eufemianio Fuentes’ defence witnesses, a former deputy director of a Spanish blood bank, that the blood stored in Fuentes’ laboratory was not kept in conditions that complied with Spanish health security requirements.
Asked directly by a lawyer for the prosecution if Fuentes blood storage system fulfilled those conditions, Antonio Rico Revuelta - present at the defence’s request - stated simply: "no".
The proscution lawyer went through Spain’s laws governing transfusions point by point, laws which state clearly that transfusions can only be carried out in authorised centres and under prescription, as well as that analysis has to be carried out to determine blood groups and possible viral infections.
According to the news agency EFE, Rico Revuelta started by saying that Fuentes ‘blood bank’ had complied with medical conditions, but then ended up admitting that that was not the case for most of them.
Rico Revuelta recognised that the blood group of the donor was not checked, nor were tests carried out for infectious diseases and that there were no documents where the athletes gave a signed agreement for transfusions. He also said that he could not find anywhere in the Operacion Puerto case documenting Fuentes’s precise medical reasons for carrying out the transfusions.
Perhaps one of the few points where Fuentes practice remained unquestioned was when the question of having codes for different ‘clients’ came up. This was not a major point, Rico Revuelta said, in the conservation of the bags in themselves.
Rico Revuelta’s statement could shed an important light on the case, given that Fuentes is on trial for offences against public health - such as not keeping the blood bags in secure conditions or being authorised to do so - rather than any kind of doping offence, not considered a legal offence in Spain in 2006.
On the first day that the trial actually got underway back in late January, Fuentes said he “did physical and medical tests to guarantee their [the athletes who were his ‘clients’] health was not harmed by the rigours of competition.” This process involved blood transfusions and also - he said - acted as a guarantee that athletes, if they then fell ill in the future, would be able to have access to ‘healthy’ bags of their own blood.
Fuentes also admitted that some tranfusions took place in hotel rooms, with Tyler Hamilton later saying that Fuentes’ assistant, Alberto León - an MTBer with no medical training and who committed suicide in 2011 - had carried out one transfusion. Hamilton also claimed that a blood transfusion with blood from somebody else could have been responsible for his falling ill in the summer of 2008 and said no checks on his health status or written advice about risks. Fuentes said he sometimes used cold cans of soft drinks to keep the blood bags colder inside ‘cool bags’ when transporting them over short distances.
Earlier in the trial, Fuentes theories that an athlete could need a blood transfusion to stay healthy rather than improve performance had already been severely lambasted by an expert from Spain’s National Institute of Technology.
But more relevant, perhaps, to the final outcome of Puerto, is how well Fuentes treated the blood bags in his possession, something which became clearer today.
First African Pro Continental team lines up at Tirreno-Adriatico
MTN-Qhubeka will become the first African-registered team to compete in the WorldTour when it lines up at Tirreno-Adriatico, which gets underway in San Vincenzo on Wednesday.
The team will be led by Gerald Ciolek, and MTN-Qhubeka’s roster in Italy will primarily be composed of European riders, although South African champion Jay Thomson and his fellow countryman Jaco Venter also feature.
“The 2013 Tirreno–Adriatico will see the first African-registered Pro Continental Team take the start in a WorldTour event,” said team principal Doug Ryder. “I want to thank RCS Sport for having a great vision of globalising world cycling and for giving our team the opportunity to participate and race against the best cyclists in the world.”
Ciolek has enjoyed a solid start to the 2013 season and will use Tirreno-Adriatico as preparation for Milan-San Remo. The German showcased his form with 5th place at the Trofeo Laiguegla and a strong display at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on successive weekends, and he has since claimed his first win of the season at the Three Days of West Flanders.
MTN-Qhubeka’s general classification challenge will be led by Sergio Pardilla, who finished third overall at the Tour de Langkawi last week.
“The appearance at Tirreno-Adriatico is our first big highlight,” said sport director Jens Zemke. “In Italy we want to justify our invitation to our first WorldTour race with a good performance. We will look to Gerald Ciolek in the sprint arrivals, and in the mountains, Sergio Pardilla will be our man.”
MTN-Qhubeka for Tirreno-Adriatico: Gerald Ciolek, Ignatas Konovalovas, Andreas Stauff, Martin Reimer, Jay Thomson, Kristian Sbaragli, Jaco Venter and Sergio Pardilla.
In the build-up to the 100th edition of the Tour de France, organisers ASO have produced a high-octane trailer celebrating the scenery and glory of past champions, including Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon, Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx.
But Lance Armstrong, the Texan who admitted to doping and has been stripped of the seven titles he won between 1999 and 2005, has been omitted from the video record.
The race starts in Corsica on June 29, 2013. It will visit some of France’s most spectacular landmarks, and many of the Pyrenean and Alpine climbs that have brought the event legendary status, such as Alpe d'Huez and Mont Ventoux.
Seeldraeyers withdraws following stage, Kristoff questionable for stage 2
A nervous peloton in the first WorldTour race on European soil coupled with crosswinds and the usual assortment of road furniture was the root of several crashes in today's opening road stage at Paris-Nice. Crashes forced two riders to abandon during the stage, Rui Costa (Movistar) and Jure Kocjan (Euskaltel-Euskadi), while several others finished battered and bruised and may be questionable to start on Tuesday. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ), a teammate of stage 1 winner Nacer Bouhanni, also abandoned early on the day, but a bout of the flu was the culprit, not any incident out on the road.
Costa, winner of the 2012 Tour de Suisse and one of the pre-race favourites for a general classification podium spot at Paris-Nice, was arguably the biggest casualty of the day. The Portuguese rider fell with approximately 70km remaining in the stage and was transported to a local hospital to evaluate his injuries, particularly the pain in his left wrist.
"The Portuguese rider, who initially attempted to get back to the group with pain and bruises all over his body, was eventually moved to a medical center in Fontainebleau, where the medical checks ruled out any fractures in his left hand - a broken wrist was feared - having received several stitches on the crash's site," said Costa's Movistar team. "Costa was back in the hotel with his teammates at around 6pm today and will return to Portugal in the next few hours."
Costa's teammate Imanol Erviti also went down in the same crash, but managed to finish the stage in the large second group which crossed the line 1:53 behind Bouhanni.
Kevin Seeldraeyers (Astana) crashed during the stage but was able to finish in an eight-man group 8:23 off the pace. Following treatment for his injuries, however, the 26-year-old Belgian has withdrawn from the race and faces eight days off the bike for recovery.
"I crashed hard and got a cut below my left knee that is very deep and needs stitches," said Seeldraeyers. "I can move the knee and bend it, but if I move and bend it a lot the stitches can come out, and then I have to go back to the doctor. I'm off the bike for eight days until it can heal enough to pedal."
The loss of Seeldraeyers is a blow for his Astana team's overall ambitions as they've lost a key domestique for leader Jakob Fuglsang in the mountain stages to come.
Katusha's Alexander Kristoff, bronze medalist in the 2012 Olympic Games road race, crashed heavily with 53km to the finish, but managed to re-mount and cross the line as the stage's final finisher, 17:15 off the pace. It remains to be seen whether the Norwegian starts on Tuesday.
"Alexander Kristoff received haematoma in the area of sacrum, multiple abrasions and bruises of his back as well as of his left shoulder, leg and thigh. Also, he hit his head. Initial medical examination did not reveal any fractures," said the Katusha Team in a statement. "The decision on further participation of Alexander Kristoff in the race will be taken tomorrow morning."
Stage two of Paris-Nice will take the peloton 200.5km from Vimory to Cérilly on Tuesday.
More athletes to be included in biological passport
The South African Institute for Drug-free Sport (SAIDS) said that athlete testing will increase, with more cyclists subject to a biological passport program in the wake of the results from retroactive testing of 50 cyclists from events in 2012.
The samples were taken from both mountain bike and road events following the two-year-ban of South African David George in December. George, a former US Postal rider and last-up winner of the Cape Pioneer Trek, returned the positive doping control in an out-of-competition test at the end of August. According to AP, he was targeted after his biological passport "showed suspicious activity."
SAIDS CEO Khalid Galant explained that it was important that athletes be aware that his organisation was serious about cleaning up the sport.
"Our aggressive testing strategy will hopefully serve as a deterrent to those that have been engaging in doping practices and to those who believe they can still beat the doping control system," he said.
"More cyclists will be included in the Athlete Biological Passport programme that involves the monitoring and interpretation of selected biological parameters over time that may reveal the effects of doping, rather than attempting to detect the doping substance itself," Galant continued.
The samples, which had been stored in a laboratory in Bloemfontein before being sent to another in Austria for confirmation analyses returned a number of "suspicious" results however none were conclusive enough for the athletes to be subject to anti-doping violation procedures. The events ranged over a four-month period - MTN Series #7, 23 September; Crater Cruise, 13 October; Amashovashova, 14 October; Momentum 94,7fm Race, 18 November; National Track Championships, 25 November; MTN Qubekha Track Competition, 1 December; and the Die Burger Cycle Race, 4 December.
"The lesson learnt from the Armstrong affair is that cyclists who micro-dose with EPO are often able to beat the anti-doping authorities," said Galant.
"It is, however, much more difficult to beat the system when blood samples are analysed over a series of tests."