"I don’t know all the details," Evans told limited media sources including Cyclingnews. "The only thing it appears to me is that [cycling] must be the only profession in the world where looking after your health and trying to be healthy can ruin your career and all but ruin your life."
Ballan’s lawyers assert that he had undergone ozone therapy to treat cytomegalovirus, a genus of the herpes virus, but not a performance-enhancing blood transfusion. "As far as I understand he was trying to treat his health," said Evans, who has battled his own health issues over the past two years. “Having had a virus, I understand. You have to be healthy and that’s not whether you are a bike rider or not, it’s us as humans. The most important thing in our life is our health."
Evans, who after a solid second-place showing at the Australian men’s National Road Race Championship earlier in the month, looks to be in the best form since his 2011 win at the Tour, says that rest is what helped him turn his condition around.
Ballan, the 2008 UCI world road champion, was found guilty of violating article 2.2 of the WADA code and is banned until 16 January, 2016. The 34-year-old’s doping infractions were committed during the spring of 2009 while riding under contract with the Lampre squad.
In addition to his two-year ban, Ballan is also faces criminal proceedings along with 28 other riders, trainers, pharmacists and directeurs sportifs. The trial is set to resume on January 24.
Having placed eight in the People's Choice Classic, Jonathan Cantwell is looking to end the Tour Down Under with at least one stage win. With riders also capable of marking a mark in the overall on his Drapac team, Cantwell told Cyclingnews that the Pro-Continental outfit was out to show the peloton that they have earned their wild card entry to the race.
"One of the most satisfying things is the Australian support here. The fans are really absorbing us, which is what we want. With the Drapac team we are going to shock some guys here this week. I can guarantee you that," Cantwell said.
"We have some guys here who can finish high up in contention for the overall and if I can get some stages, we'll be a happy team."
Cantwell was caught up in the crash that ended the Tour Down Under for Giovanni Visconti and also Chris ‘CJ' Sutton as he ended the race on a spare bike. "Unfortunately just in that last corner before the finish there were a couple of nasty crashes there actually. With 15 laps to go, I got caught in a crash. I didn't go down to hard but some guys ploughed into me from behind.
"I broke my bar and did a little bit of damage to the top of my foot so now I have a lot of haematobia damage at the moment which made me a bit hesitant for those corners as it took away the nerves that I normally have. It was a little bit difficult to get maximum performance out of myself and my leg was already inflamed and swollen."
Despite the inclusion of Menglers Hill on Stage 1, Cantwell is optimistic for his chances to come away with a good result. "I did the stage last year and actually finished third. I'm a little bit lighter, I've had a few training camps and I'm actually feeling better than I was last year. Fingers crossed I can go for a stage win tomorrow," Cantwell explained to Cyclingnews.
Having raced the Tour Down previously, Cantwell has been buoyed by the reception Drapac have received so far and is set for a big week. "The preparation we've had with a couple of training camps, my training has been really on song at the moment. I'm doing good number for my weight so my power to weight ratio is really good. The preparation up till now has given me the self-confidence that I can match these guys.
"Eighth last night wasn't a win, it wasn't a podium but proves to myself and my teammates that I'm there to be in contention for some wins."
German sprinter says Tour Down Under is perfect race to start season
German sprinter Marcel Kittel narrowly took out round one against compatriot Andre Greipe at the People's Choice Classic in what is certain to be the first of many showdowns during the 2014 UCI WorldTour season. The People’s Choice Classic, a 25-lap, 50-kilomtere criterium to open the weeklong Tour Down Under in Adelaide, South Australia was just another notch on Kittel's proverbial belt. The 25-year-old from Arnstadt is quickly gaining a reputation of slaying giants.
Last year, Kittel garnered global attention and admiration by winning four stages at the Tour de France and ending Mark Cavendish’s stranglehold over the Champs-Élysées. Kittel’s victory squashed the Manx Missiles’ chances of a fifth-straight win in Paris. On Sunday, Kittel squared off against the Tour Down Under’s winningest stage rider and came out on top, and told Cyclingnews that he owes it all to the efforts of his team – Giant-Shimano.
"I am really proud of how it all worked out for the team," he said. "After a few laps I knew directly that I had a good feeling for the course, and that the team was dialled in. In the end it was really great teamwork."
Kittel says that while Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol squad has undoubtedly developed one of the peloton’s best lead-out trains, arguably on par with Cavendish’s 2012 Sky Pro Cycling team and his HTC squads from 2008-2011, he believes his Giant-Shimano is quickly becoming one of the cycling’s most dangerous sprint trains.
"Not every rider is good at doing a lead out, he said. "You need a certain mentality and experience. You need an eye for where you have to be and how the race works. Every year we are taking very important steps and improving our lead-out train, and I think the highlight was definitely last year in Tour de France where we proved we belong among the world’s best."
With the criterium now behind him, Kittel understands that more encounters with Greipel await, but has intently targeted stages four and six as potential opportunities to podium.
"I am especially looking forward to the sprint stage to Victor Harbour on stage four Friday," said Kittel of the 148.5km race that ends with a 20km finale off the descent from Myponga on Reservoir Road. "The criterium on stage six also suits me."
With stage one being given the green light to proceed by race director Mike Turtur on Monday afternoon after being in doubt due to an outbreak of bushfires, Kittel will now do his best to survive Menglers Hill and race in support of teammate Simon Geschke whom he believes gives Giant-Shimano its best hopes for victory.
"If Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Gerrans attacks on Menglers Hill, I will be in serious trouble," said Kittel of the 2.6km climb at the 123km mark in which the first KOM points of 2014 will be awarded. "We have other riders, like Simon Geschke, that can follow him and still do good at the finish."
Once the dust settles at the Tour Down Under, Kittel will set his sights on the Tour de France with hopes of taking two opening stages – and thus the yellow jersey – in back to back years.
"I have big goals this year, especially with the Tour de France," he said. "I have an opportunity to take the yellow jersey on the opening stage for the second year in a row. I don’t know if that has ever been done before and that is motivation enough."
While no team at the Tour de San Luis has as many new riders making their debut as Garmin-Sharp, with four of their six starters racing the first time for the US-based WorldTour squad, that in no way equates to any diminished expectations for the team in Argentina.
Garmin-Sharp is anchored at the Tour de San Luis by two team veterans, Tom Danielson and Tyler Farrar, with the quartet of Janier Acevedo, Ben King, Phillip Gaimon and Nathan Brown each making their team debut. King, the US pro road champion in 2010, arrives at Garmin-Sharp with two years of WorldTour team experience at RadioShack, while Acevedo, Brown and Gaimon are each making their WorldTour team debut as well having only raced for Continental teams previously.
Acevedo's WorldTour team debut has been eagerly anticipated as the Colombian had a breakthrough season last year in the USA while racing for the Jamis-Hagens Berman team. Acevedo went head-to-head with WorldTour talent to finish on the final podium at two of the USA's trio of premier stage races - Tour of California and the Tour of Utah - and narrowly missed a hat trick of final podiums with fourth overall at Colorado's USA Pro Challenge. Acevedo also won stages in both California and Colorado and spent a stint in the leader's jersey in California as well.
Garmin-Sharp team director Chann McRae expects Acevedo to pick up where he left off in 2013 as the squad enters the Tour de San Luis with a two-pronged GC threat in Acevedo and Danielson. With three mountain finishes and a 19.2km time trial on tap during the seven-day Argentinean race, it provides a stern early season general classification test.
"We definitely don't want to go away from here without either Janier or Tommy D on the podium," McRae told Cyclingnews prior to the team presentation.
The team's experienced sprinter, Tyler Farrar, too, is expected to make his presence felt in the remaining three stages which should yield bunch sprint finales.
"Tyler's probably sprinting the best he's ever sprinted in terms of power files so we're confident he's going to pull something off," said McRae. "He has the team behind him.
"We want to get our young guys through the race," continued McRae. "Some of them, for Phillip Gaimon and Nate Brown, it's their first race with the team, so we'll see how they go but I'm sure they'll be good."
The 2014 edition of the Tour de San Luis marks Garmin-Sharp's first participation in the Argentinean race, with only Acevedo having ever contested the event before. The Colombian put in a solid performance in last year's edition while on Jamis-Hagens Berman, finishing 8th overall.
During the team's pre-race stint in Argentina they've become well acquainted with the route of one of the mountain finish stages.
"We reconned stage two like crazy because it's close to the hotel and we know those roads," said McRae. "It's going to be a really hard 15-minute climb in the final, so you just have to be in really good position going into that."
And competing with a cap of six riders per team is nothing new for McRae, who had plenty of experience while directing Garmin-Sharp's development team.
"We always had to handle racing in the espoir races with only six guys so I'm used to that."
Report: WorldTour leader may switch week-long stage races for altitude training
Spanish website Biciciclismo has reported that Katusha leader and 2013 WorldTour winner Joaquim Rodriguez may well skip Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country this year and spend more time training at altitude on the Canary Islands instead.
Currently racing at the Tour of San Luis in Argentina, Rodriguez has said on several occasions that his three key objectives this season will be Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which he finished second last year, the Giro d’Italia, in which he was runner-up in 2012 and the Vuelta a España, where he finished third and fourth in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Rodriguez has been a regular participant at Tirreno-Adriatico, too, with some notable successes. Last year he won a stage and finished fifth, and previously he has had two wins on the Monte Lupone summit finish, often the hardest single day in the 'Race of Two Seas'. He has not featured quite so prominently in the Tour of the Basque Country, not racing last year for example, but he has been a big factor in the past. He finished second overall and won two stages in 2012, and also won stages in 2011 and 2010.
Should Biciciclismo’s report be confirmed, Rodriguez’s only race between the Tour of Oman and the Ardennes Classics will now be the Volta a Catalunya, his home race and with two long training camps on Mount Teide either side of Catalunya, he will start the Giro d’Italia with just 27 days of racing in his legs.
The other effect of a shorter race program is that it would be more difficult for Rodriguez to defend his WorldTour title. Last year, when he did not race Pais Vasco, either, Rodriguez secured 58 points of his final total of 607 at Tirreno-Adriatico, which proved crucial overall given that he only beat Chris Froome (Team Sky) by 20 points. And in 2012, when he finished with 692 WorldTour points he secured a total of 142 from the two week-long races he is now, apparently, set to miss in 2014.
Garmin-Sharp rider still aiming for Tour Down Under win
When Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) hit the deck at the 13-kilometre mark in the individual time trial at the Australian National Championships, months of hard work crashed with him. The 23-year-old found himself on the ground still in the tucked position and with hands still firmly planted on the aero bars after a rogue wind sideswiped the Adelaide native and ended his bid for a time trial national championship.
The injuries sustained in the crash left Dennis battered and bruised, and they were a deciding factor in his withdrawal on lap 12 of the men’s national road race four days later.
“It was just so out of the blue,” Dennis told Cyclingnews. “I was very disappointed. I was in a very good position to take that gold and knew I had the form to make that happen. After something like that you start questioning ‘Why me?’”
Dennis believes in hindsight that perhaps the best option following the fall would have been to withdraw from the road race completely to focus on recovery and the start of the 2014 season.
“In retrospect I should have pulled out before the race,” he said. “I was feeling really good for the first three or four laps, but from then it was pretty much downhill. I was doing my body more harm than good and my body said ‘no more’ so I called it quits.
“There is no reward for the hardest person out here, and finishing with no skin,” he continued. “So I decided to pack it up, go home and try to recover for the TDU.”
Now more than a week since the crash and still showing the signs of the fall, Dennis is slowly putting the mental anguish behind him. With the physical pain subsiding, he is quietly taking aim at the Tour Down Under’s general classification.
“I think the teams will be still wary of me,” said Dennis, who grabbed international headlines after taking the young rider classification and eighth overall at the Criterium du Dauphiné in 2013. “Teams will sort of see how I’m going after having the big crash at Nationals. I think they may just keep an eye on me and not let me do anything, and if do decide to do something, they will know my legs are good. So I have to weigh the risks over the rewards, but I will pick my opportunity and you can count on that.”
Dutch team reveals its goals during team presentation
The Belkin team held its official presentation in the Netherlands, broadcast live online, on Monday morning, confirming that the Tour de France, the cobbled Classics and the Tour of California will again be the Dutch team's major goals in 2014.
The riders showed off the team's green and black jersey and answered questions from online viewers on stage, with Robert Gesink and the other riders in Australia for the Tour Down Under linking up with the presentation via internet.
Belkin won 39 races in 2013 and impressed at the Tour de France, with Bauke Mollema and Laurens ten Dam shining at the Tour de France. Mollema went onto finish sixth overall after taking second at the Tour de Suisse.
The team has added three riders to its roster for 2014, with Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke again the leaders for the cobbled Classics. Team manager Richard Plugge reaffirmed the team's goals for 2014 and laid out plans for growth and development after securing Belkin as a title sponsor in time for last year's Tour de France. The team will ride Bianchi bikes in 2014, with Santini on board as the new clothing sponsor.
"2013 it was a year of mixed emotions. In the early season, without a sponsor, we were down more or less in the gutter, but then Belkin came along in the summer and we were flying high," Plugge explained.
"It was a breakthrough moment. We presented a sponsor from outside the sport and the bright lights of that good moment gave us momentum for the Tour de France. We had a lot of highlights during the season; we had good team energy, got good results with 39 wins and we created a platform for growth, as a team and as a company.
"We will focus on the WorldTour [in 2014], it's the most important; we'll focus the Spring Classics with Lars (Boom) and Sep (Vanmarcke). Bauke (Mollema), Robert (Gesink), Wilco (Kelderman) and Laurens (Ten Dam) will be the team leaders for the Grand Tours and the hilly Classics. We also want to show ourselves at the Tour of California too. It's the backyard of (Belkin owner) Chet Pipkin and is where Belkin is based.
"We want to inspire people in the Tour de France but also in other races. We want to bringing cycling back to the hearts and minds of people and I promise we will do that with Team Belkin in 2014."
Mollema wants more in 2014
Bauke Mollema said he was ready to repeat his impressive 2013 season and would again target the Tour de France.
"I think I'm still the same as a person but there's more media attention and more fans interested in me, who are hoping for something from me. It's nice and shows what we did as a team in the Tour," he said.
"Last winter I did a lot more intensive work and I did the same in the last months. I'll start racing in February, two weeks later than last year but my programme is similar to last year and I'm looking forward to getting racing."
Las Boom will share team leadership in the Classics with Sep Vanmarcke.
"For Sep (Vanmarcke) maybe Flanders is the big one but for me it's Paris-Roubaix and I think it suits me the best," Boom said. "It's only one race a year and so it is special. I hope this year it will rain a lot and so it will be even more special."
"The Tour de France was really special for the team and we did a great team effort with Bauke. With the cobbled stages (this year), it'll be good for me. It's important to be there."
Vanmarcke crashed at Tirreno-Adriatico last year but fought back to finish second at Paris-Roubaix. He hopes for better fortune this year and went training on the new route of the Tour of Flanders at the weekend.
"I had a big crash in Tirreno and all training work was for nothing. The only goal left was Roubaix and being second was really good, a dream come true, but I was disappointed because I was so close to winning," he said.
Former track sprinter Theo Bos will again hope to provide a double-digit number of victories in the sprints, while Wilco Kelderman will lead the team in the Giro d'Italia along with Steven Kruijswijk, who is back on form after a series of injuries.
New signings include Frenchman Jonathan Hivert, young sprinter Barry Markus, plus talented young Dutchman Nick Van der Lijke.
Following the presentation, the riders gave further interviews and the riders went out for a mass ride with fans organised via Twitter.
The team will makes its WorldTour debut at the Santos Tour Down Under on Tuesday. Robert Gesink, Jack Bobridge and Graeme Brown lead the squad in Australia.
Natnael Berhane (Europcar) became the first African rider to win the Tropicale Amissa Bongo stage race when he edged out Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural-RGA Seguros) on the final stage in Libreville on Sunday.
The Eritrean entered the final day in third place overall, four seconds down on Sanchez, but with three intermediate sprints on the menu, the race was delicately poised as it reached its endgame. The Europcar squad managed to keep the peloton intact for two of the three sprints, while Berhane did the rest, picking up six bonus seconds to Sanchez’s one. While Fréderique Robert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) won the stage, Berhane took overall honours, just one second ahead of the experienced Sanchez.
“It’s a real joy. I found it hard to believe that it would be possible to beat a rider like Luis Leon Sanchez, who has such a great palmarès. But in the end, I got there, and that means that I’m starting to make a place for myself with the pros,” Berhane said afterwards.
Berhane is part of a talented generation of Eritrean riders that also includes Daniel Teklehaimanot, formerly of Orica-GreenEdge and now at MTN-Qhubeka. African road champion in 2011 and 2012, Berhane made the move to Europe last season with Jean-René Bernaudeau’s Europcar squad.
The highlight of Berhane’s year came at the Tour of Turkey, where he won a stage and finished second overall behind Mustafa Sayar, a result that may yet be upgraded to first place due Sayar’s positive test for EPO at last season’s Tour of Algeria.
“I want to thank my teammates who did enormous work for me today,” Berhane told RFI.fr. “I worked a lot, thinking every day about this win. I dedicate this victory to Eritrea. I’m so happy that I don’t know what to say.”
Berhane’s Tropicale Amissa Bongo victory is the fifth in succession by a rider from Jean-René Bernaudeau’s team in the race in Gabon, but the first by an African rider in the event’s nine-year history.
“The Tropicale is the true barometer of cycling in Africa,” Bernaudeau told RFI.fr. “A few years ago, African riders were struggling, but now we’re discovering some talented riders.”
Bernaudeau paid tribute to Berhane’s victory and said that he believes the 23-year-old can beat a trail on the world stage for other African riders to follow. “I’ve discovered a fine African rider who will be, I hope, the ambassador for the African continent,” he said. “Sport is also about discovering talent. I’m emotional because I am the first one to place his confidence in a rider of great talent without looking at his colour.”
Berhane’s next target will be the Tour de Langkawi (February 27-March 8), where he will lead Europcar’s general classification challenge.