Ardennes more important than Tour de France for Lotto Belisol leader
Jelle Vandendert (Lotto Belisol) is hoping for revenge at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, but remains cautious, having missed a month of racing due to illness and also the changes to the finish line.
The Belgian finished runner-up to Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) in the thrilling finale atop the Cauberg in 2012, a result in itself which still surprises the Tour de France stage winner.
"If you had told me last year at the outset that I was going to beat Gilbert and Sagan, I would have been happy," Vanendert explained at the team’s press conference on Friday. "I'm gone before the finish line, but in the end, I was disappointed because I really came close to victory; Gasparotto surprised me."
Vanendert abandoned the Vuelta al País Vasco earlier this month with an inflamed oesophagus, forcing him to miss key lead up race Brabantse Pijl this week. Team manager Marc Sergeant maintains that "Jelle is ready for Amstel" having been treated accordingly and recovered.
"It really has not been an ideal preparation with these race days less, but I tried to compensate with efforts behind the scooter," Vanendert explained. "In training, I had a really good feeling. I hope that will be enough; I want to be there in the final. Because for me, the Ardennes is even more important than the Tour de France. "
The 28-year-old believes that with this year’s finish line 1800 metres further up the road, more riders will be in contention at the foot of the Cauberg than previously, but stated only around 10 riders can actually be in position for victory.
"It suits me less," Vanendert conceded. "Now on there will many more riders will be able to fight for victory, but the favourites remain the same: Peter Sagan and Philippe Gilbert."
Behind the scenes with the South African teams as Ciolek wins Milan-San Remo
Gerald Ciolek's stunning victory at Milan-San Remo capped off a dream start for the MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung team. It was an unexpected success for the first African team to ride WorldTour races after the team made its major race debut at Tirreno-Adriatico the week before.
The team reveals the difficulties, drama and emotions of their debut and Ciolek's Milan-San Remo win in the first of a series of stunning behind the scenes videos. The first is called “Team MTN Qhubeka: An African Bicycle Dream Episode 1.”
Standing at the start of Tirreno-Adriatico, “I thought I was dreaming,” said team principal Doug Ryder. “To see our team vehicles and our brand and the colours of our team amongst the best teams in the world ..... We had arrived. We absolutely had arrived. And then to see the confidence of our riders, and how confident they were in the races – it's time. The time is now.”
The cold European weather made things tough for the team in Italy, but Ciolek showed promise of things to come, finishing third and fourth on the first two stages in Tirreno-Adriatico. The German then went on to glory bringing in the biggest win of his career by out-sprinting none other than Peter Sagan to win in San Remo.
Cannondale ready for tactical race on new race route
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) will almost certainly end his spring campaign at the Amstel Gold Race, looking to add the only Dutch one-day Classic to his already bulging 2013 palmares.
The 23 year-old Slovakian has already this year won won Gent-Wevelgem and placed at Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke. He has also won six other races and was second at the Strade Bianche race.
Following his incredible spring and the way he beat Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) in the hills at Wednesday's Brabantse Pijl, Sagan will lead the Cannondale team, with Moreno Moser and Damiano Caruso offering alternative strategies. However Sagan is likely to go in any break and still have the strength for a sprint once over the top of the Cauberg.
"I always said that being in the thick of the action in the spring Classics was my big goal of the season. The results I've achieved, the podium places and the wins, have been great and I think I've achieved my goal. However I'm not yet satisfied and the Amstel Gold Race is an important race that I want to add to my results," Sagan said on the eve of the race.
"Winning Brabantse Pijl was good for morale. It was a test of my form and to understand my rivals' form, especially Gilbert. He, Rodriguez, Valverde, and Gerrans are the biggest threat but I expect a lot of other riders to be up there too."
"Compared to a race like the Tour of Flanders, Amstel is a lot more open kind of race. The route has also changed, and now uses the final circuit used at the world championships. It's not as hard as the old route and so favours riders who want to attack. Controlling the race in the last 30km will be vital and so will the help from the team....
Irishman agrees to raise concerns to UCI Management Committee
Pat McQuaid has confirmed he will raise a series of concerns with the UCI Management Committee regarding governance, ethics and terms of office as a consequence of securing the formal nomination for a third term as UCI president from Cycling Ireland, his national governing body.
The Irishman was under pressure and his record was under scrutiny after years of doping scandals and accusations of poor management under his tenure at the UCI. However he swung the vote with a presentation and a face-saving compromise in Dublin on Friday night.
“I am delighted and honoured that the board of Cycling Ireland has endorsed my nomination as a candidate for the Presidency of the UCI in September 2013," McQuaid said in a press release issued by the UCI on Saturday after preferring not to speak to Cyclingnews directly.
“I put myself forward to serve another term as UCI President on my record of developing the sport throughout the world and on combating the scourge of doping in cycling. I engaged thoroughly with board members on both subjects and I welcome their recognition of my achievements and their confidence in me as UCI President."
Cycling Ireland also called for "an independent review of the system of internal controls and processes at the UCI", and "engagement with Stakeholders to re-write the existing Governance Code and the Code of Ethics, as set out in the Constitution of the UCI."
However McQuaid's sway over the powerful Management Committee means these requests could fall on deaf ears and will only affect future presidential elections. McQuaid is unlikely to stand for...
“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," the RadioShack-Nissan rider said, insisting he will work his way back up to the top, however long it may take.
Schleck broke his pelvis at last year's Criterium du Dauphine, and subsequently missed both the Tour de France and Olympics. He has been slowly making progress during a troubled his comeback, with reports indicating he was lacking the discipline and motivation to train and race.
“Slowly, I am making progress,” he told the Luxembourg newspaper Le Quotidien. "I think I'm back on the right track. I don't know when I'll be back in good form. Maybe this year, maybe next year. I realize now that it was impossible to go from scratch to a high level, and that in just six months."
So far this year Schleck has started but not finished the Tour Down Under, Tour of the Basque Country, the Tour de Mediterranean and Tirreno-Adriatico.
While the Luxembourger is not yet aiming for the podium at the Amstel Gold Race, it is important for him to take part.
"Even though I can't fight for the win, I want to show that I am there. Then I'll ride the Tour of California, the Tour of Switzerland, the national championship and of course the Tour de France," he said.
Katusha director: Rodríguez will have more options in Liège than Amstel
If Joaquim Rodríguez has insisted on staying in room 11 of his Katusha director Valerio Piva's hotel near Liège this year, that could be understandable. Known as "the lucky room", room 11 of Piva's hotel is the one Mario Cipollini used before winning the 2003 Worlds, that Michele Bartoli stayed in twice before winning Liège - Bastogne - Liège in the 1990s, where Moreno Argentin slept every time before winning here between 1985 and 1991, and which both Flèche Wallonne winners Kim Kirchen and Rodriguez himself used, too, in 2008 and 2012. (For the record, Rodríguez is rooming with Dani Moreno this week.)am
Rodríguez describes the Ardennes week as his favourite of the year. So far his track record of top three places in the Ardennes Classics is a first place and two seconds in Flèche Wallonne, second in Amstel in 2011 and second in Liège - Bastogne - Liège in 2009.
Partly thanks to the change to the Amstel Gold Race finale, with its longer, flat section after the Cauberg, Piva says that he thinks Liège - Bastogne - Liège could well suit 'Purito' better than the Dutch Classic. But he's still confident that the 2012 Lombardia winner will be a contender on Sunday.
"They got rid of a hard climb [Cote de Roche Aux Faucons] in Liège, but the climbs are that much longer, so it's still a better option for him than Amstel."
"On top of that, having what was basically a summit finish in Amstel was better for him, now it's going to be much more wide open, people can get back on after the Cauberg. It's a more open race."
In Rodriguez's favour at Amstel though, is that "you've got to look at it as a whole, not just the last couple of kilometres after the...
Injury updates on riders with training crash injuries
Thomas Lövkvist of IAM Cycling has joined the list of riders injured whilst training. The Swedish rider underwent surgery for a fractured finger and will be out about six weeks. But there was good news for one injured rider, as Vacansoleil's Johnny Hoogerland is expected to return to racing at the Tour de Romandie the end of this month.
Lövkvist ran into a car door and suffered an open fracture of the left index finger, the team announced. He underwent surgery Thursday evening in Geneva. The injury knocks him out of the remaining Spring Classics, as well as Romandie.
“Though both he and the IAM Cycling team will be sorry he will not be able to contribute to these races, Löfkvist will be able to begin rehabilitation and rebuilding his form soon. He is expected to be able to continue with his provisional racing schedule,” the team press release said.
He was not expected to return to racing until May, but things are going so well he can return earlier. “His recovery is going well and so Hoogerland one of the eight designated riders Romandie," a spokesman told De Telegraaf. The Tour de Romandie is held from April 23-28.
World Champion hits Ardennes week with rising form
A little more than six months after taking his world title in Valkenburg with a spectacular attack on the Cauberg, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is looking to win again on the same course and add a third Amstel Gold Race to his palmares.
Belgian riders have won the Amstel Gold Race 11 times, the Netherlands being unsurprisingly, the record holders with 17 victories. Gilbert has provided two of Belgium's haul, in 2010 and 2011. He was sixth last year after a difficult spring and was also fourth in 2009.
Second to Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in Wednesday's Brabantse Pijl was indicative of Gilbert's rising form and on paper, the change in the Amstel route to a finish identical to the one in the 2012 World’s should favour Gilbert.
He told Belgian media on Friday that “what was interesting was that I was up there [on Wednesday] at the end with Greg [Van Avermaet - BMC] and we did a good team race.”
“This Sunday, it shouldn’t be up to us to have the greatest responsibility in the race, but I don’t like riding defensively. I’m going to be watching and waiting.”
Gilbert warned that the opposition will be far stronger than at Brabantse Pijl, with riders like Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 2008 Amstel winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) and Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) all present on Sunday.
“The other good news is the weather, which will be a lot sunnier than in previous weeks. In any case, I’ll know a lot more by Sunday evening” - about his rivals' condition and his own - “because often those who are up there in Amstel are also up there in Liege,” Gilbert predicted.
Although the Cauberg holds no secrets for Gilbert, even Amstel rookies will have ample time to get it to know it well, given that the race goes up the emblematic climb four times,...