Although he led Astana to a top ten place in last year’s Tour de FranceJakob Fuglsang says he is fully behind Vincenzo Nibali’s challenge for overall honours in this year’s race.
The Italian won a superb Giro d’Italia in 2013 and returns to the Tour after a year-long absence. His last result in the Tour came in 2012, when he finished a distant third behind Team Sky’s duo of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
This season Fuglsang will target more individual stages, rather than three-week Tours, but he is likely to be one of Nibali’s most important riders in the mountains should the Italian go toe-to-toe with the Tour’s defending champion Chris Froome.
In this exclusive video for Cyclingnews Fuglsang outlines his aims for the season and his predictions for the Tour.
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The Colombian won the classification at last year’s Giro d'Italia, but has been working hard as he aims to wear the same colour on the podium on the Champs Élysées.
"My main objective is the Tour de France,” he told the website El Colombiano. "I have been carefully lowering my weight, improving my pace and building the kilometres. I want to fight for the young rider’s title at the Tour."
Last year's winner was Betancur’s compatriot Nairo Quintana, who will be riding the Giro this year. Betancur is one of several Colombians to have jumped into the top level of cycling with gusto. He made his WorldTour debut last season with AG2R-La Mondiale and immediately began to find success.
At the classics he outsprinted Dan Martin to take the podium at Flèche Wallonne. Four days later he was pipped to the podium at Liège-Bastogne-Liège by Alejandro Valverde. His Classics form carried into the Giro, where he came close to a stage win. Radio confusion meant he incorrectly believed he had claimed glory on stage nine, unaware that Maxim Belkov had crossed the line 44 seconds earlier. The embarrassment was dulled slightly by the winning of the young rider's classification
Betancur began his 2014 season at the Tour de San Luis in January, finishing in a lowly 111th. Things improved at the Tour Méditerranéen, where he helped his teammate Jean-Christophe Peraud to victory on the race’s final stage.
The Colombian will assume the leader's role at the Tour Haut-Var later this week. He is pleased with how his season has progressed, but says some over indulgence during the winter means his season hasn’t started with the bang of last year’s.
"I have been quite quiet," he said. "I put on a bit of weight at the end of the year, so my preparation was a little slower. [San Luis] helped to regain my rhythm and return to competition."
After his racing stint on French soil, Betancur will have a break before riding the Vuelta al País Vasco. He then hopes to repeat the successes of 2013 at the Ardennes Classics.
“We will review my calendar a little bit,” he told the Italian radio show Ulitmo Chilometro. “I hope to return to the peloton in late March. At this point I do not know if I can take part in the Giro, partly because Movistar wants to win with (Nairo) Quintana and the team has to be in top form.”
The Italian was one of two Movistar riders forced to leave Australia early. José Joaquin Rojas broke his wrist on the opening stage of the Tour Down Under. Visconti had to undergo surgery after his crash, spending a week in hospital as he recovered. He says that the hardest part was making it back to Europe with his swollen leg.
Visconti has suffered mentally with the setbacks that cycling has handed him. In 2012 he was caught up in an investigation into Dr Michele Ferrari and was later banned for his links with the notorious doctor. The investigation seemed to take it’s toll on the Italian, as he struggled with his demons.
“The victories in the Tour of Italy last year unlocked mentally, even if after the Giro I have not had much luck. Let's say that I was always at the wrong place at the wrong time, but my mind is always full of stimuli, are ready to do good, I feel really motivated to come back in a better condition than before."
As he works towards his return to racing, there are many unknowns for Visconti. There is one certain fact and that is his desire to win the Italian National Championships again. Visconti has already won the title three times (in ’07, ’10 & ’11). If he were to win it again, it would put him in the bracket of Italian cycling legends Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali and Alfredo Binda.
“For sure I will try to regain the tricolore jersey. I've marked in red the date of the Italian championship, which is the race that I love the most."
Sky rider hoping to be back to training in two weeks
Philip Deignan (Sky) will have to delay his return to racing in Europe for a little while longer after he broke his right collarbone in a training crash, in Monaco.
Deignan was set to ride at the Ruta del Sol, which starts on Wednesday, but has had to pull out. The 30-year-old has left his base in Monaco to head to Ireland while he recovers.
"The medical team have taken a good look at it and we've decided not to have surgery, so I'm back home in Donegal now getting ready to go again," Deignan told the Team Sky website.
This is the second time in five months that he has suffered from a broken collarbone. At last year's Tour of Britain, he fell and injured his left side. Despite the setback, Deignan remains positive that he can be back to racing soon enough. "My collarbone's a lot more mobile than the last time this happened so I'm hoping I’ll be back on the bike sooner rather than later," he explained.
It is expected that the Irishman will be able to use the home trainer in the next couple of weeks.
"It's frustrating more than anything else when something like this happens. I was happy with the way things went at the Tour Down Under and I was looking to continue building my form at the Ruta del Sol. It's not the end of the world though, it could have been a lot worse, so I'm trying to look at it in a positive way."
Deignan returned to the WorldTour with team Sky this year after two years of racing in America with the UnitedHealthcare. During his time at the team Deignan suffered from a number of health issues, which was put down to a reoccurring viral infection. He managed to conquer the infection and put in some strong performances last season, including top 10 placings at the Tour of California and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Xabier Zandio will replace Deignan in the Ruta del Sol line-up. Zandio rode at the Mallorca Challenge last week.
Giant downhiller Oscar Saiz drills road riders on technique
Giant-Shimano WorldTour and development team riders recently spent two days working on their technique and skills with Giant's downhill expert Oscar Saiz.
Team trainer Adriaan Helmantel, who was on hand for the practice sessions, spoke about what went on. "Oscar came to train with the team at our new training base in Cambrills, Spain to work on the riders' descending and cornering skills. Even though some of our riders are already very good at this, they all found it to be a very helpful and interesting few days, doing some different training than what they are used to."
Cambrills proved perfect for the team's training, with a good mixture of quiet, flat, hilly and mountainous roads, good strength and conditioning facilities and comfortable weather.
"The first day, the riders did some easy cornering exercises that Oscar assessed in order to see what level each of the riders was at," said Helmantel. "In the evening, Oscar then gave a presentation to the riders highlighting exactly the benefits of being better at descending were - saving time and energy being the key, but also reducing stress."
The following day, the riders went out onto the road to work on some practical drills. "Oscar got the guys to come down a 1km descent with several corners and hairpin bents, and coached them through how best to attack the descent - what lines to take, where to brake and where to let the bike take you," said Helmantel. "Some guys did some one-on-one training here with Oscar talking them through the descent through an ear piece. The experienced gained by the riders is invaluable and will only serve to help them in race situations and this kind of technical training is something we will regularly integrate into our training."
Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin, one of the participating riders, said, "It's always good to learn from someone like Oscar with the experience he has. He made everything specific to how we can get better out on the road and it's great that the team are looking for new ways of making us better riders."
Slovenian Luka Mezgec shared his experience. "The technique training was really efficient. Oscar is a professional guy and he knows what he's doing on a tricky, fast descent. We all got a lot of benefit out of the training, and I can already feel the difference on today's ride. I can't wait for the races to start now."
Chris Froome's hugely successful 2013 season began with an impressive victory at the Tour of Oman and he appeared lean and keen to challenge for a second successful victory when he sat down with the media on the eve of the race.
Froome will wear dossard number one when the Tour of Oman kicks of on Tuesday. Last year the six-day race marked the start of his meticulous development for the Tour de France. This year he starts as the Tour winner with far less pressure on his shoulders and far more experience of racing and winning important stage races.
He faced questions about his form, his rivals, the pressures of being a Tour de France winner, and also about doping, the Cycling Independent Reform Commission investigation. The questions would have irritated many riders and some of his Team Sky teammates but Froome answered them all with his usual aplomb.
"Its different this year in the sense that I don't have the same pressure that I had last year. I'm not here feeling that I have to win this as build up to the Tour," he explained calmly.
"There's less pressure because I'm not here to gain experience as a leader. I did already last year. It was critical last year but this year I feel more relaxed but I'm still motivated."
"I've done some really good training and the race will tell how good that has been. I feel like I'm in good condition. I'm looking forward to racing again now. I've done a lot of training and its good to put it to use now."
Froome travelled directly from South Africa to Oman and acknowledged that he has the advantage of having trained in the heat in recent weeks. He has clocked up some intense workout under the watchful eye of coach Tim Kerrison and with teammate Kanstantsin Siutsou but is unsure how his form will compare to the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who have raced both the Tour of San Luis and the Dubai Tour.
"I don't quite know where I am but I'd love to see where I'm at. I'd love a victory but I'm not sure where I am compared to the other guys. We'll see," he said, explaining his reasons for a warm-weather season debut in Oman.
"This time of year I prefer to do warmer races where good weather is guaranteed. Having spent most of my off-season in South Africa, it's easy to come here and start racing. I'm acclimatized already to the heat; there's a mountaintop finish and a few very lumpy stages in between. I think it's just a good race to kick thing off and take it from there."
Landing an early psychological blow
Froome landed his first psychological blow against Alberto Contador in Oman last year and is keen to compare his form with his 2014 Grand Tour rivals. Contador has shied away from another early season confrontation but Nibali, Rodriguez, Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Robert Gesink (Belkin), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), Thibaut Pinot (Fdj.fr) Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) plus Andy and Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) are all at the Tour of Oman.
"There are always good riders coming here and it's good to compare to where you are after winter. For the Tour de France I don't think it's here or there at this point. There's a lot of time between now and the Tour and a lot can happen. Riders can gain form, lose form, get injured, so it's too early to say anything about the Tour. But whoever does win here is going to come out with a mental advantage over the other guys for sure."
No Milan-San Remo without the Pompeiana, no early taste of Le Tour cobbles
Froome confirmed his race and altitude programme for 2014, revealing he will skip Milan-San Remo if the Pompeiana climb is taken out of the race.
"I don't think I'm going to be doing Milan-San Remo. I think the new climb has been taken out, so it's not quite 100% a climbers race as it would have been. I plan doing the Volta a Catalunya, which starts the day after San Remo and so unless it's 100% a climber's race, I'll rule it out of my programme"
"I'll be riding Tirreno-Adriatico as far as I can see, then after Catalunya, I'll ride Romandie and the Dauphine. Like always, I'll try to do at least two blocks of two weeks up in Teide."
Froome clarified that he won't ride Paris-Roubaix or another cobbled Classic to get a taste of the pave that will feature on stage five. Though he will study and train on the sections of pave that feature in the nerve-wracking stage.
"From what I can understand, the cobbles are very different in a one-day race than in a Grand Tour. I'd personally prefer not to take the risk in a race on the cobbles. I'd like to go and train on cobbles a lot to prep for that cobbled-stage in the Tour.
"I've done Paris-Roubaix and so I know what to expect. I pulled out at the second feed, after giving a wheel to my then teammate Baden Cooke. It was fine as a neo-pro. I was quite happy to make it to 200km."
Not avoiding the doping questions
Froome never ducked away from doping questions during 2013 and faced several more while talking to the media at the Tour of Oman.
He reiterated his belief that cycling has moved on since the widespread doping of the past.
"I can only speak from my personal point of view but I know where I'm at and if I'm able to get the results that I get, that tells me that cycling is in a very good place," he said.
"I think it's just going to take a little more time for other people to have the same confidence"
Asked for opinion on the recently created Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC), which will investigate the years of widespread doping in professional, Froome admitted he did not know the details of how the Commission will work but backed the idea of the investigation.
"I can't say I'm up to date on what's been happening there. If that is going to happen (lesser bans for people who confess), there's going to be some really interesting things coming out," he said.
"For sure there are a lot of riders who are still riding at the moment who were riding in that era and haven't had any kind of penalty. Not to say they're guilty but I'll follow that very closely."
Froome agreed that it is time for cycling to draw a line under cycling murky past and look to the future. He is ready to play his part, so his Tour de France victories are never called into doubt.
"We definitely need to draw a line in the sand to say: 'Ok. Listen. This is where the sport is now. That's what happened back then and it's not a secret anymore, we know about that.' And then we can move on from there. I do believe that it could be important," he said.
"Certainly. It's something that is still damaging us today and its something we're going to have to live with. It's up to us now to change that image."
"I think it's going to take a few consecutive Tour wins that aren't ruined by doping cases. Personally that's what I'd like to see. The only way for me to guarantee that is for me to win. I'd love to see that. I genuinely would."
Tinkoff-Saxo leader changes up start to season, launches U23 team
Waiting for a plane to take him to his first race of the season, as he talks to Cyclingnews it emerges that Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has one major goal in 2014: to add victories to consistency. And if he could take one win from the early part of the season, that would be Tirreno-Adriatico.
His racing season starts in the Volta ao Algarve on Wednesday, which he has won in 2009 and 2010, and continues with Tirreno-Adriatico, the Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta al País Vasco. "If you asked me which one I preferred to win, I would have to say Tirreno-Adriatico, because it's not in my palmares yet," Contador, third in the 'Race of Two Seas' last year, comments. "The other three are already there."
"You work for wins, and I hope this year is better than the last. I am very motivated and very keen to get going. I've been able to prepare my season better than in 2013, getting a good base and I hope that works out on the road, too."
As the Madrid-born rider says, there have already been two changes for Contador in 2014 : starting later and starting closer to home. Contador has missed out on the Tour of San Luis in January, a race he rode in 2013 and 2012. And rather than repeat his journey to the Tour of Oman, where he finished second in 2013, he has gone back to his roots, as it were, by making his season debut in the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal.
As the 31-year-old says, "the Algarve is a race I know well. The individual time trial [which tends to decide the race] is shorter than other years and it won't produce enormous differences, and the summit finish is not that tough. Combine the two, and that means more riders have more possibilities."
Can he win it? "It's a race I've always done well in, but maybe back then there weren't so many early season races as there are now, like Dubai or San Luis. So there are people out there who have already got some racing under their belt. Finally what I have to do is get going and see what my form is like."
As for further ahead, "If you look at how I did in 2013, I was up there in pretty much all of my races, in the top five of a lot of them," Contador says. "But that's not enough, it’s winning that’s my objective, and that’s what 2014 is about."
"So I've reduced the number of race days, and I've delayed my season start, with the aim of getting better results when I do race."
The Flex-Junior team kicked off in 2013 and this year the new Specialized-U23 squad has now taken shape, bringing the total number of riders involved in the project to 28. The teams are run by former Spanish national coach Jose Luis de Santos, with ex-pros Felix Garcia Casas and Rafa Díaz Justo as seconds-in-command.
Contador believes that sponsorship in Spanish cycling is experiencing a major crisis, and that particularly at base level "there are not that many teams, so I'm trying to help turn things around."
"It's difficult because you need a lot of different factors to get ahead in this sport, but I'm sure there'll be a lot of top names coming out of these squads in a very short period of time." He points to the example of Alvaro Cuadros, a member of the Contador Foundation junior team who signed with the Omega Pharma Continental squad Etixx-iHNed last October.
"It's important to do things well, because that's how the results come through, although the results are not the most important thing. These teams are about giving the riders the right kind of formation and allowing them to get to know cycling better as a sport." Contador reflects.
In our occasional series on "what is in the suitcase" of our professional cyclists, Cyclingnews corners Garmin-Sharp's Alex Howes to rifle through his bag and see what secrets it might hold.
The American brings a few comfort items from home, including chewing gum (because Spain does not have "very nice gum"), and important personal care items ("because cleanliness is next to godliness") and an envelope ("in case I need to mail something to somebody who is not here").
Find out what Howes has on his belt, why he won a silver trophy (which he now must fit in the suitcase), and a bonus installment of "what's in your thermos".