- Article published:
- March 5, 2012, 11:03
- Cycling News
Italian takes aim at Valverde and Ardennes Classics
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) has said that he is still a month away from top form but the Italian remains determined to test himself on some of the uphill finishes at Paris-Nice this week.
“I’m not bad, but I feel like I still need another month of work to be at my best,” Cunego told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’m missing a bit of rhythm and I’m not yet at my sharpest on the climbs. Besides, because of the races that have been cancelled in Italy [the Giro di Sardegna and Giro del Friuli – ed.], I have seven fewer days of racing in my legs.”
Second at the GP Lugano last week, Cunego has earmarked three stages in particular at Paris-Nice: stage 4 to Lac de Vassiviere, stage 5 to Mende and the concluding time trial on the Col d’Eze. The 2004 Giro d’Italia winner believes they will offer firm indications of his form.
“I came to this race because I’m motivated by those three finishes. I know Mende and Col d’Eze. I don’t know Lac de Vassiviere, but they’ve explained it to me. It seems quite hard. Mende intrigues me, I’m curious to see where I am compared to the others.”
In spite o the fine showing of Bradley Wiggins (Sky) in the opening time trial, Cunego remains convinced that Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will be the man to beat. Valverde is riding Paris-Nice for the first time since his return from suspension for his links with blood doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Cunego finished 57 seconds down in Sunday's time trial, while Valverde surrendered just half a minute.
“I think Valverde, who has already won the Tour Down Under and Ruta del Sol, will be the man to beat for the general classification. [Richie] Porte is going strongly too, and who knows what Tony Martin will be able to do on the climbs.”
While Cunego is likely to ride the Tour de France rather than the Giro d’Italia this season – “I haven’t decided everything, but at the moment, the Giro isn’t in my plans” – he admitted that he is unsure if he will be chasing stage wins or a high overall finish in July. A resurgent sixth overall last year, the 2012 route features too much time trialling for Cunego’s liking.
“I’d like to have tried to do a good GC, but for this I’d have preferred more kilometres of mountains and fewer of time trials,” he said. “Along with the team, we’ll have to study closely how to interpret this Tour.”
There are no doubts about Cunego’s objectives in April, however. After tackling the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour of the Basque Country, he will aim to arrive at the Ardennes Classics on top of his game. Winner of Amstel Gold Race in 2008, Cunego is looking to inscribe another line to his palmares in late April.
“I should come out of the Tour of the Basque Country at 100 per cent for the Ardennes Classics. I want to win at least one out of Amstel, Flèche and Liège.”
- Article published:
- March 5, 2012, 12:18
- Jane Aubrey
2010 maglia verde winner relaxed about grand tour return
Matthew Lloyd (Lampre-ISD) doesn't have a vibrant recollection of the last time he rode Paris-Nice. Incidentally, it was in 2009 when he was racing for Silence-Lotto.
"I've only done it once before I think," he told Cyclingnews on the eve of this year's race. "I'm not really sure if it's a common theme with the race but from what I can remember it was really, really cold.
"I wasn't exactly in the best condition and it wasn't a really friendly encounter. But nonetheless, coming into it this time because the other one was so bad, I've erased it from my memory."
Lloyd then went on to tell Cyclingnews that: "This one's like opening a new book," but the bottom line for the climber is that he's aiming to use the eight-stage race as a stepping stone to his return to the Giro d'Italia in May. Stages 5 (Onet-le-Chateau - Mende 178km) and 7 (Sisteron - Nice 220km) should be to Lloyd's liking despite the fact that there is a question mark as to whether they're tough enough. What Lloyd likes about this edition of Paris-Nice is the unknown.
"There are plenty of opportunities to physically violate yourself and break a sweat," he told Cyclingnews. "It's going to be interesting. It's a course that encompasses a range of challenges without having any epic mountain passes. From a racing aspect that means that's it's always going to be antagonistic because guys don't have to really plan ahead too much to try and limit their losses over huge mountains. It could be a very explosive race."
The benefit in that from Lloyd is that the race will act as a litmus test for how much work the 28-year-old will need to do over the next month given his program will not feature the classics, something he doesn't feel he benefits from.
Lloyd is coming into Paris-Nice having had no racing since January where he took silver in the Australian National Road Championship behind Simon Gerrans, and then did the Tour Down Under. Greeted back in Italy by the cold-snap which hit the European continent, the Lampre-ISD team training camp at Mt. Etna was extended from 10 days to 15. It was a chance for Lloyd to further develop the relationship with his new teammates and also take in the surrounding environment.
"The area that we were able to train in was quite amazing – the flora and the fauna was always nice to check out," he said. "It's kind of strange when you're when you're staying half on top of an active volcano. The topography was quite interesting. It was a good experience."
Cyclingnews had not taken Lloyd for a geology buff but was quickly countered.
"From time to time I think every cyclist has to take in where they're situated," Lloyd explained. "If they don't they're missing out on a whole lot. Sicily is always throwing different things around, there were packs of stray dogs roaming the streets and we had to be careful of them."
Giro back on the agenda
With his well-publicised fall-out with Omega Pharma-Lotto in mid-April of last year, Lloyd was unable to defend his green jersey from the 2010 Giro d'Italia. Lloyd now faces a delicate balancing act between wanting to return to the Italian grand tour, and wanting to return to the Italian grand tour at a level that would be detrimental to any ambitions he may have.
"Generally when you do have an objective like that if you take it too seriously it tends to be overwhelming for anyone, so I'm pretty relaxed about it," he explained. "There's no festering, deep-seeded thing in the back of my mind wanting to smash everything to pieces mainly because I know that it's relatively useless when it comes to riding your bike. I prefer to exploit the fact the race has a lot of climbs."
- Article published:
- March 5, 2012, 13:34
- Cycling News
Project 1t4i teammate Degenkolb to Milano-Sanremo
German sprinter Marcel Kittel will be looking to win at least one stage at this week's Paris-Nice, which is the rider's "first real objective" of this season. The 23-year-old Project 1t4i rider has already added three additional victories to his stunning palmarès of 17 wins in his first season as a pro last year, and is looking forward to testing himself more against the world elite of sprinting throughout this season.
Having beaten Mark Cavendish (Sky) and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) at the Tour of Oman, Kittel now knows that he has arrived at the very top. "My two victories in Oman have given me a lot of confidence," he told Velochrono. "It's a good sign for the next races. To win against the best sprinters has made me very happy and proud. I was also perfectly supported by my team - I think that step by step, we have built one of the best sprinters' teams."
Kittel, who started out as a professional only last year, still keeps cool about his success. "Of course, everybody looks at me differently now. I'm not a nobody anymore. But I'm not the kind to put pressure on myself now, telling myself 'I absolutely need to win' or that kind of thing. It's surely an advantage. I just tell myself that what really matters is to do my best at the races, and not have any regrets at the finish - whatever the outcome.
"Of course, I want to go as high as possible. It's a big objective for me, but like I said, I don't put myself under pressure. I take things one at a time."
The German explained that while Paris-Nice was his first goal this year, his fellow countryman John Degenkolb would probably be the team's leader at Milano-Sanremo on March 17. "We have a lot of good riders for this race and I think it will probably be John Degenkolb who will be there as team leader," he continued. "Normally I should be racing the Volta a Catalunya, but it's possible that I do the Three Days of De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem instead. And my big objective this season is the Tour de France, if we get invited."
While it appears that his link to Dr. Andreas Franke, currently under investigation in Germany, is not interfering with his ability for success, Kittel said that he "still thought about it. It wasn't easy. But I was able to prove straight away that I had nothing to do with it, as I haven't seen this doctor since 2008. I saw him then because it was compulsory [Franke was the official doctor of several sports federations - ed.]. He was highly recommendable at the time, he was approved by the Olympic Committee, so why shouldn't I have trusted him? Now, they say that he doped some people..."
- Article published:
- March 5, 2012, 17:29
- Cycling News
Belgian squad has announced its line-up for Italian stage race
Omega Pharma-Quick Step has announced the team that will participate in Tirreno-Adriatico scheduled later this week, from March 7-13. The Belgian outfit will be headed by Peter Velits, who recently won the Tour of Oman, with Dario Cataldo, Gerald Ciolek, Bert Grabsch, Serge Pauwels, Jerome Pineau, Gert Steegman and Niki Terpstra supporting the Slovakian.
Velits' twin brother Martin will not race the event "as a measure of precaution," according to the team. He was involved in a crash in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and took a blow to his right knee. After a few days of rest Martin Velits has resumed his training on the road but in the meantime Serge Pauwels will take his place in Tirreno-Adriatico.
"It's going to be a very challenging race," explained sports director Davide Bramati. "The opening team time trial and the concluding individual time trial will be spectacular but the race will be decided in the fifth stage with the finish at Prato di Tivo. The final climb is 14 kilometers long with an average gradient of 7 percent and stretches as steep as 12 percent.
"As far as the general classification, the team will be built around Peter Velits, the winner of the Tour of Oman. Peter will have a balanced team at his side, with riders who can support him both in the climbs as well as on the flatter stages. In the stages for sprinters we can count on Gert Steegmans and Gerald Ciolek who are both enjoying a period of top form; for the time trials we have the skills of Bert Grabsch."
- Article published:
- March 5, 2012, 18:20
- Peter Cossins
Sabadell Guipuzcoano provide two-year sponsorship deal for Tour of Basque Country and San Sebastián Classic
One of Spanish biggest banking groups has stepped in to secure the immediate future of two of the country’s leading races thanks to an eleventh-hour deal. The Basque-based Sababell Guipuzcoano bank has agreed to back the Tour of the Basque Country and the San Sebastián Classic for the next two seasons, staving off the threatened suspension of both events.
Jaime Ugarte, president of Organizaciones Ciclistas Euskadi, which organises both races, had said that neither race would take place this year unless someone could fill a €150,000 hole in the OCE’s budget by today [Monday]. Announcing the deal with the Basque enterprise that is part of Spain’s sixth-biggest banking group, Ugarte said: “I wouldn’t wish what we have experienced over the last month and a half on anyone.
“We’ve experienced growing trepidation and physical and mental exhaustion, as we’ve been to meetings, done interviews and put out press releases. We will attempt to put all that behind us now as we start to focus on our real task which is to organise the Tour of the Basque Country on April 2-7 and the San Sebastián Classic on August 14.”
Ugarte also paid fulsome tribute to the many offers of support and encouragement his team have received over recent weeks. He also thanked Sabadell-Guipuzcoano for “their positive response to our request for help in this last crucial moment.”
The OCE’s president explained that all the necessary documentation required for the staging of both races has been sent to the UCI this afternoon, adding that it had been received “with great happiness.”
- Article published:
- March 5, 2012, 19:15
- Laura Weislo
Domination in Merced time trial shows form is back
Defending Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong has big ambitions: nothing short of winning another gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London will do, but her 2011 season raised questions about her return to form following the birth of her first child.
Despite a strong start to the season last year, her third place at the national championships and a lack of international racing caused her to be omitted from the world championships.
After a winter of hard work, the 38-year-old seems to be back on track with time trial victories in the Women's Tour of New Zealand and this weekend's Merco Cycling Classic.
Armstrong retired from racing after winning the 2009 world time trial championship in order to start a family, but she never gave up riding, and headed out on her mountain bike just days before her son Lucas was born in September, 2010.
After a year of watching her former competitors from the sidelines, she realized her competitive urges had not gone away, and quickly got back to work preparing for the 2012 Olympic Games just one month later.
It took hindsight to see that her body needed more than five months to recover from creating a new life to return to peak competitive form, and it is clear that her psyche has recovered from the disappointment of being removed from the USA's team for the 2011 world championships.
"I knew that, competing five months after giving birth, I had to give my body time to get back to normal," Armstrong told Cyclingnews after sealing the overall victory at the Merco Cycling Classic. "I needed to have patience. Now I've had a perfect off-season and I am back to myself again."
Unlike other Olympic contenders, who can relocate to warmer climates for off-season training, Armstrong needed to remain in Idaho with her family for the winter, and that meant long hours on the indoor trainer. The tedium paid off with a solid victory in New Zealand over compatriot Evelyn Stevens, and with another crushing blow in the 19-mile Merced time trial, Armstrong is back on track.
With just over three months of racing to prove herself to the national team selectors before the June 15 deadline, Armstrong is taking every race very seriously.
"There's no time to mess around. There aren't any races after May 31, so it's now or never."
The number of places awarded to the various nations for the Olympic Games time trial was already decided on the results of the 2011 world championships, with the USA netting two spots. However, there are three women: Armstrong, Stevens and Amber Neben vying for those two positions, so Armstrong is keen to do all she can to prove to the selectors that she is worthy of one of them.
She will compete for UCI points with a focus on the Energiewacht Tour in April, which has a 15km time trial and team time trial, the Chrono Gatineau in May and her home-state Exergy Tour among other races. However, the national championships, which take place after the selection is decided, will take a lesser priority.
"I will have to come down after May so I can rest and then ramp up for the Olympics, so nationals are definitely on the calendar, but they have no bearing on the selection so it won't be a focus."
- Article published:
- March 5, 2012, 19:55
- Cycling News
Sky leader says he’s in the shape of his life
Bradley Wiggins march to the Tour de France took another step in the right direction with a convincing display on stage two of Paris-Nice. The Sky leader escaped in the main break of the day and along with teammate Geraint Thomas helped to shake the likes of Tony Martin and Ivan Basso from GC contention.
Wiggins was also able to grab two seconds at an intermediate sprint before Tom Boonen capped the stage with a trademark sprint. After two stages Wiggins leads Levi Leipheimer by six seconds, and states that he has never been in better form.
"I’m in the shape of my life at the moment and that’s thanks to the coaching team behind me who have pushed me hard all winter. They’ve never let up and the goal is the Tour in July which is what we are working towards. But this is a big early-season target, it's a big race in its own right and we're here to win it,” he said on the team’s website.
In 2010 Wiggins targeted the Tour de France and admitted that he’d focused too much of his attention on July, ignoring many of the other possibilities of glory throughout the season. In 2011 and now in 2012 he’s still geared towards the Tour but has targeted a number of other events in the calendar.
Tuesday’s stage to Orléans was expected to come down to a bunch sprint but conditions and aggressive racing saw one of the most exciting days of racing so far this season take place.
"It’s probably going to be much the same tomorrow – it will be a bit of a free-for-all but it does help having the jersey and we can hopefully control the race a bit more. We’re in a good position to do that and looking forward to the rest of the race.
"This obviously gives a lot of confidence now to the rest of the team,” added team director sportif, Sean Yates.
“It gives added purpose and direction to every individual. Obviously the goal was to help Bradley win and now he’s leading so the job is even more obvious."
- Article published:
- March 5, 2012, 20:59
- Cycling News
First WorldTour win for new Omega Pharma-Quickstep superteam
The second stage of Paris-Nice yielded several triumphs for the Omega Pharma-Quickstep team: not only was it Tom Boonen's 100th career victory, excluding criteriums and team time trials, but also the first WorldTour win for the revamped Belgian squad. In addition, American Levi Leipheimer is now poised for a top result overall, sitting just six seconds behind race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky Procycling).
Boonen's other victories include a world road race title from 2005, three wins in Paris-Nice, two in Tour of Flanders, two in Gent-Wevelgem, six stages of the Tour de France and one green jersey (2007) and two stages of the Vuelta a España.
"I'm really not interested in stats. But on the other hand I'm happy," Boonen said in a team press release. "Not a lot of riders can reach this goal. The race was also important for the GC. Levi and Sylvain [Chavanel] made a good step ahead and we are really motivated for the next stages."
The team had to go on the defensive when the peloton split in the crosswinds at the feed zone just halfway through the stage, and worked to successfully regain the front of the race as other contenders like Andy Schleck (Radioshack-Nissan), Richie Porte (Sky) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) all missed the split. They then had the numbers in the front group, and drove the pace to the finish, putting 2:29 into the next group on the road.
"To be honest we had to suffer to enter in the breakaway. We were a little bit behind because of a roundabout," Boonen said. "I had to pass two groups before entering in the first group. Then the race was really hard. Everybody was interested in riding and taking some time from the GC. It was also cold and windy and in the last kilometers it began raining. I really couldn't feel my hands."
The only downside for the team was the absence of defending Paris-Nice champion Tony Martin from the lead group, but directeur sportif Brian Holm said it won't change the team's tactics.
"It's still a bit of the same," Holm said. "It will be a bit more hilly tomorrow at the finish, but Tom is still pretty good there. Chavanel will be close in the GC without an accident or crash, and Leipheimer is looking pretty confident also. We are a strong team, everybody knows that."