Saxo Bank-SunGard won the first two editions of the Montepaschi Strade Bianchi but it won't have a chance to win in 2011. The Danish team was not amongst those receiving an invitation to the fifth running of the race over the gravel roads in Tuscany.
“We accept the decision,” team spokesman Anders Damgaard told sporten.tv2.dk. “They had to select seven of the 18 ProTeams and unfortunately there was no room for us. We must simply accept it.
The team has lost most of its big names of the previous years, however, and it is not yet known whether new signing Alberto Contador will ride this year or be suspended. But Damgaard didn't think that the team changes had anything to do wit the lack of an invitation.
“No, I don't see that,” he said. “The organisers had to pick seven teams, and unfortunately we were not among the seven,”
He added that Team Sky, “also not a bad team”, was also not selected.
Cadel Evans has remembered his long-time coach and friend Aldo Sassi, who passed away mid-December. The Italian cycling expert, a renowned anti-doping advocate, lost the fight against brain cancer. Evans, who worked with Sassi since 2002, has now honoured his former coach.
"An incredible knowledge of nutrition, physiology and cycling in general," the Australian former World champion said about Sassi on his personal homepage. "In 25 years of working with riders from Francesco Moser, the entire Mapei team to the present day's World Championship and Grand Tour winning group, he had learned a lot. His capacity of predicting performance in cyclists particularly - in any race - was remarkable."
Evans admitted it hasn't been easy to deal with the loss. "To see someone's health go downhill so quickly is one thing, to see a man of amazing character and intelligence be brought down is something else again. I can only hope now that his family can recover from their suffering, and Aldo can rest in peace," he commented.
"Even in rest, I would not be surprised if he still watching over us calculating climber's outputs, Vo2max results, and insisting I need even greater volumes of threshold work. I am very grateful to have been able to work with Aldo, but more so, for his contributions, along with the Mapei company to the clean side of cycling, and all of those who believe in it. There are only very few people who realise just how much he did for his quest to win the big races drug free."
Evans is now looking to the upcoming season and preparing his next charge on the Spring Classics and the Tour de France, which did not go to plan last year. Albeit highly motivated to perform better in 2011, the BMC leader also admitted that his "average" results of last season led to a quieter off-season, which he has enjoyed.
"I have a more traditional start to the season than in past years," he said. "Actually having time to get ready for the season is something I am happily getting used to. The past years have often seemed to begin before the last season has been rested out of the legs and head. So it will be interesting to see how things fair up for me come the more important time of a seemingly ever-lengthening season."
Welcoming his new team-mates Ivan Santoromita, Manuel Quinziato, Amael Moinard, Greg Van Avermaet and Tim Roe, Evans looked forward to racing with all of them. "I have been watching the results of the others at TDU, while training away at our first BMC training camp for 2011. The new guys all seem very happy to be here chez BMC, as are the 'old' guys. I will of course be interested to hear from the Tour Down Under participants when they arrive here with us in a few days. Until then, we'll just keep working away at it..."
Leopard Trek's first training camp couldn't have gone better. “Everything was simply perfect,” said Kim Andersen. To add to the positive mood, the weather co-operated and co-captain Fränk Schleck underwent successful surgery last week, removing a metal plate from his shoulder.
“The training camp followed seamlessly to our first gathering in Crans-Montana in December. But I hadn't expected anything else,” Andersen told Tageblatt.lu.
“No one was there who disappointed me in any way in Palma. Not even concerning the training.”
The riders put in about 1,500 kilometres training at the camp, more than expected. “Normally in January you have a few rainy days in Mallorca, which you have to count on. But we were lucky, the conditions were perfect. We profited from that.”
Voigt volleys in
Among those at the camp was veteran Jens Voigt who joined a few days after the birth of his sixth child. The German was in vibrant mood and spoke to Cyclingnews about the vibe in the camp:
Schleck goes under the knife
Fränk Schleck, who last week had the plate and screws removed from the collarbone he broke in the Tour de France, will open his season at the Mallorca Challenge, which starts February 6 with the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca.
"I think we can do something” in the race, the Dane said. “At any rate the team is strong enough.”
Andersen won't be with the team, though. “I travel to Qatar on February 3,” he disclosed. He will lead the team in its debut at the Tour of Qatar, February 6-11, with a team around Fabian Cancellara.
Race organiser happy with the event's "huge success"
The organiser of the Santos Tour Down Under, Mike Turtur, has announced record-breaking figures in terms of spectators for this year's eight-day event. Preliminary crowd figures have revealed that the race attracted 772,000 spectators, compared with 770,500 in 2010.
"I want to thank the thousands of spectators who embraced the event, many of them travelling from interstate and around the world to attend the Santos Tour Down Under," said Turtur, who is already planning next year's Tour to take place from January 15-22, 2012.
"It was an honour to welcome such a high calibre of cyclists to South Australia and to see the next generation of Australian superstars, including this year's winner, Cameron Meyer, in action," he added, moreover honouring the presence of Lance Armstrong who certainly drew international attention to the event.
"It was also wonderful Lance Armstrong chose the Santos Tour Down Under to be his last race on international soil. While we are sorry that it was his last ride we are looking forward to welcoming him and his family back to South Australia in a different capacity."
The race was also a huge success for regional South Australia, with councils organising a host of activities in the start and finish towns as part of the Santos Festival of Cycling. Events South Australia General Manager Hitaf Rasheed says a record 20 councils have expressed interest in hosting a stage of next year's Tour.
"This year's Tour has again been a huge success and work has already begun on the 2012 event and the exciting challenge of making it bigger and better again next year," she said.
Scientists continue debate on how to separate doping from meat contamination
With the cycling world awaiting the verdict of the Spanish cycling federation concerning Alberto Contador's positive test result for clenbuterol, anti-doping scientists are continuing to debate over the best way to separate intentional doping with the substance and innocent meat contamination.
Several recent clenbuterol positives have been based on infinitely small amounts of the drug in the athletes' urine, suggesting a possible contamination with clenbuterol-treated meat. And because there is no threshold for the muscle booster, innocent athletes who did not dope could be unfairly punished.
German table tennis player Dimitrij Ovtcharov, who tested positive for the drug in August 2010, was cleared by his national federation in October because he provided his hair to be tested, further supporting his claim that the positive came from ingested meat.
"Clenbuterol sticks at least 20 times better to dark hair than to blonde," Detlef Thieme, director of Germany's WADA-accredited lab in Kreischa, told AP. After Ovtcharov's hair test was negative, it offered additional evidence that he didn't cheat. Had Ovtcharov been blonde, that result would have been "rather vague," added Thieme, whose lab performed the test.
However, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has since appealed the acquittal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) - a move it is likely to repeat should the Spanish cycling federation decide to clear the 2010 Tour de France winner Contador.
But within the scientific world, anti-doping experts point out that WADA's zero-tolerance policy for clenbuterol should be re-examined. Zhao Jian, deputy director-general of China's Anti-Doping Agency, said that the absence of a threshold for the substance is "not fair" because of a great possibility of punishing innocent athletes.
Still, Zhao warned that dopers could use a threshold to escape punishment, as long as they tested below the limit. "It could give a green light to those who deliberately use," he said.
Germany's Thieme suggested loosening the rules temporarily, while scientists pinpoint the risk of meat contamination with greater certainty. "That would be smart," he said.
At the moment, "in order to protect the integrity of the ongoing proceedings", WADA is not commenting on the scientific investigation of clenbuterol positives, or whether it would be willing to introduce a threshold.
Another rider waiting for the outcome of Contador's case is Li Fuyu, who used to ride for RadioShack but was released after testing positive for clenbuterol in March 2010. Like Contador, the clenbuterol traces found in Li's urine were infinitely small, and the Chinese rider also blamed contaminated meat for the positive.
Officially, Li has been banned for two years by his federation, but if Contador is cleared, the Chinese cycling federation could shorten his supension. "Since his case is the same as that of Contador, he has to wait for the outcome of Contador," said a Chinese cycling official by the surname of Niu. "If Contador is acquitted, it’s possible that an adjustment will be made in (Li's) punishment."
The Spanish cycling federation is expected to provide a sentence on Contador by February 15.
Thomas Dekker doesn't have a team for the 2011 season, but he has set himself goals: the Tours of Austria and Spain. “I feel like a cyclist now. When I'm cycling, I feel happy,” he said.
The 26-year-old is still serving a two-year ban for EPO, and will be eligible to ride again this summer. “Later on we will be looking for a team, but right now I am open to everything. I am not in a position to make demands,” he said in an interview with the AD Sportwereld.
“On July 1, I can race again. It would be nice if I could ride the Tour of Austria. And then later is the Vuelta a Espana, which is the ideal scenario.”
Longer term he would like to race the Tour de France in 2012. “But I don't want to read anywhere that I am going to win the Tour.”
His comeback preparations received a blow last fall when a knee problem developed. Dekker injured a meniscus, not by cycling but by overdoing the running. “The operation was difficult, especially mentally,” Dekker admitted.
Shortly before the problem started, he had not only been training hard but had also done very well in tests with Dutch coach Adrie van Deimen. Now he is recovered enough to take the tests again.
"Those tests are the key,” Dekker added. “People need to know where I stand. They shouldn't think that after I spent half a year in the gutter, that I just jumped in the sun bank three times and that I'm full of drugs.”
For a year now, the Dutchman has had help getting his life and career back together. Martijn and Eelco Berkhout took over his management, moving him from Italy to Belgium, and setting up his training plans.
After Dekker's “half a year in the gutter”, it was slow going to get back in shape. But his rehabilitation has dealt with issues more important than riding.
“I know that I can come back with my head held high. That makes me feel stronger. I made a mistake and have paid for it.
“And of course there are people around me who could have advised me better. I don't resent it. But we will see who ultimately has the better life.”
The Australian was sacked after it emerged that he sent former Garmin rider Trent Lowe to the former US Postal team physician Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral at the Sports Institute of Valencia. The incident took place in April 2009 but team management only learnt of the visit after a contract dispute between the rider and team during the final stages of 2010. Using external medical staff contravened the team’s strict anti-doping and medical referral rules.
“It’s good that the team show that there’s no exceptions and we’re showing a hard line, especially with the way the team is growing . It’s just unfortunate but I’ve got confidence in Jonathan Vaughters and the board. We all trust them and we stand by them,” Martin told Cyclingnews.
Riders told via conference call
Vaughters travelled to Adelaide, Australia where the team were racing under White at the Santos Tour Down Under several days ago. He dismissed White immediately after the race was won by Garmin’s Cameron Meyer. He then met with the riders who were in Australia to give them the news.
The riders and staff based in Europe were told of the decision via a telephone conference call at a location in Girona, Spain, where the team hold their European base. Those that could not attend, like Christian Vande Velde, were informed by Vaughters separately.
“We were just at home watching the boys do a fantastic job down under with Cam winning and we got an email on Saturday night calling us to a mandatory meeting on Sunday morning and that’s when we were called on conference call,” Martin revealed.
The riders were then given the news of White’s actions and reminded that the team had a zero tolerance policy with working with external medical staff.
“It was shocked really and it was totally unexpected. Whitey has been an important part of the team had has helped the team grown from one of the smallest teams in the peloton, when he came in 2008, to where we are now, wining the first big race of the year,” Martin said.
“He’s been part of the team since the start of my career and his race first race as a directeur at my first race as a pro. He’s played a big part in my development too.”
While Martin believes that the team made the correct decision, he concedes that it was certainly tough for the team.
“Luckily it’s not me who makes the decisions as it’s a massive one with a lot of responsibility but we’ve got confidence in what the board said and the decisions they’ve made. We’ve just got to move on and we’ll stick together and I don’t think anyone is irreplaceable in the organisation.”
Meyer, 23, won the fourth stage of the Tour Down Under and then he and his team defended a final stage assault from HTC-Highroad's Matthew Goss, who was also second in the UCI rankings. Ben Swift of Team Sky finished third in the race and takes third in the rankings. Meyer scored a total of 106 UCI World Tour points for his stage victory and overall success. Goss has 93 points and Swift has a total of 82 points.
Thanks to Michael Matthews' stage win and consistent team results, Rabobank took the top spot in the team ranking with a total of 124 points. Garmin-Cervelo is second with 107 points and HTC-Highroad is third with 93.
Australia took the lead in the nations ranking thanks to Meyer and Goss finishing one-two in the rider rankings. Australia has an overwhelming lead with 286 points, ahead of Great Britain with 82 points and the Netherlands with 52.
The next races which will give WorldTour points are Paris-Nice (March 6-13) and Tirreno-Adriatico (March 9-15).
UCI World Tour Individual Rankings
Cameron Meyer (Aus) Team Garmin-Cervelo
Matthew Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad
Ben Swift (Gbr) Sky Procycling
Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank Cycling Team
Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Movistar Team
André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto
Biel Kadri (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale
Allan Davis (Aus) Pro Team Astana
Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Radioshack
Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
Greg Henderson (Nzl) Sky Procycling
Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank Cycling Team
Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team