Trek Factory Racing has started the 2014 season in fine fashion as the new WorldTour squad has won back-to-back stages at Argentina's Tour de San Luis. Wednesday's third stage was taken by 24-year-old Italian Giacomo Nizzolo in the race's first field sprint finale. While hardly a prolific winner in his career thus far, Nizzolo has nonetheless won races in each of his previous three years, all on the RadioShack squad.
2014 sees the new Trek Factory Racing team rise out of the ashes of the RadioShack-Leopard squad, and while there is plenty of experienced and accomplished star power in the team, the honour of taking the first-ever victory for the squad was earned by WorldTour debutant Julián Arredondo on Tuesday at the Tour de San Luis, one day prior to Nizzolo. The 25-year-old Colombian outsprinted Peter Stetina (BMC) to win the first mountain stage of the seven-day Argentinean race in just his second day ever on a WorldTour team.
It's no surprise that Arredondo felt at home in the mountains as he proved in 2013 when he won the queen stage of the Tour de Langkawi to the Genting Highlands en route to overall victory while on the Japanese Continental squad Team Nippo-De Rosa.
Speaking with Cyclingnews prior to the start of the stage won by Nizzolo, Arredondo related his thanks to the US-registered WorldTour squad for their faith in his abilities.
"I'm very happy with my win because the team gave me the opportunity to race at the highest level," said Arredondo. "We're going to have more victories, but I'm very happy to have the first."
Arredondo was part of a two-pronged Trek Factory Racing team assault on the Mirador del Potrero finish, with the Colombian taking the bull by the horns.
"We were very focused on the last climb and the team's option was either me or Haimar Zubeldia. I got to the front of the group on the climb and then had a good sensation all the way to the finish."
And while Arredondo's primary goal this season is the Giro d'Italia, his more immediate concern is to defend the mountains classification jersey earned from winning stage 2 on Tuesday. Two more mountain finishes still remain at the Tour de San Luis.
"The first target at the Tour de San Luis was to win a stage, but now that I have the mountains jersey I want to win that. It's very important for a Colombian climber to take this jersey."
Joaquim Rodríguez will turn 35 four days into his bid to take the Giro d’Italia title, but the Spaniard says that age is but a number and it won’t get in the way of him beating his younger counterparts on the challenging route.
“This year with Katusha, I feel like I am in my second youth,” Rodríguez told Biciciclismo at the Tour de San Luis. “I find myself tougher than in other years. Before, on summit finishes I was missing something. Now I notice that it costs less.”
Rodríguez still has another two years remaining on his contract with Katusha. He will be 36 when it runs out at the end of 2015, but he doesn’t think that it will be his last. “I see myself racing until I’m 38 or 39,” he explains.
“It is unknown, but who sets the limits? I am better than ever. Do I say, just because the calendar says I’m 37, that I quit? Then, I could have a bad 2014 and 2015 and say that it’s over.”
In May, Rodríguez will return to the Giro d’Italia, after focusing on the Tour de France last season. He came close to winning the title in 2012, but saw it slip through his fingers on the final day, and lost the maglia rosa by 16 seconds to Ryder Hesjedal.
Despite the disappointment of losing out on the victory, the Giro d’Italia was Rodríguez’s podium finish at a grand tour. Many had expected him to crumble in the final race against the clock, but he put in his best time trial performance to date. The Spaniard believes that the key to that ride came from another disappointment he suffered two years previously.
“The turning point was when I made a fool of myself in the time trial in Peñafiel, at the 2010 Vuelta,” says Rodríguez. “We had the Vuelta won, we were the best by a lot. We arrived with such a big time difference and then to leave with this disaster. It was very hard. Then I realised that I had to do things very well, as I could win big things.”
Rodríguez has almost become a modern day Raymond Poulidor, as he has come close to so many big victories but just missed out. Most recently, he was pipped to world championships victory by Rui Costa. His loss caused some controversy, as the break included two Spaniards [Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde], and it was speculated that Valverde chose not to follow Costa when he chased down Rodríguez.
He was visibly upset on the podium, but says that while the relationship with his compatriot is good, all isn’t forgiven. “There are no problems,” Rodríguez said. “That’s the truth. I am very angry with him, of course, and he will think that I was wrong and that he could have become champion. I can understand what he says, but I do not share it.”
“I’ve said it a thousand times, if Alejandro had gone with Rui, he or I could have won.”
Although Cadel Evans’ solo win means that the Dutchman is now further away from the overall lead – he now lies 29 seconds off the ochre jersey – Gesink remains upbeat about his chances of landing a significant result in his first race of the 2014 season.
"It's looking good for now," Gesink told De Telegraaf. "I feel good and I’m in the mix. There are still things possible.”
The finale of Wednesday’s stage saw the Tour Down Under peloton hit the first major obstacle of the race, the stiff climb of Corkscrew Hill. Gesink praised his Belkin teammates for helping to guide him towards the business end of the peloton at the base of the climb.
"It was very hectic towards the start of the Corkscrew Road. That long lead-out up to the foot of the climb was very dangerous but in the end we were there,” Gesink said. “The team is doing a great job for me here. They did everything to get me in the right place at the right time."
In spite of that positioning, however, Gesink admitted that he was simply unable to match the rhythm imposed by his Australian rivals of the climb proper. When Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), Richie Porte (Sky) and eventual winner Cadel Evans forced the issue on Corkscrew Hill, Gesink opted not to follow and instead maintained his own tempo.
“My heart rate was very high at point and when Gerrans attacked again, it was too much. The guys rode a very high pace on the climb and I just couldn't follow,” Gesink said.
Gesink finished the stage in the chase group, 15 seconds behind Evans, and he now lies 29 seconds down on the Australian in fifth place overall. The high temperatures around Adelaide have already taken their toll on the Tour Down Under peloton, and Gesink believes that there could yet be a significant shake-up of the general classification picture on the race’s lone summit finish, at Willunga Hill on the penultimate day.
"I feel okay but it was very hot again today. It was a tough stage but we are one stage further again now. I am fifth in the overall now and I think there are still a lot of things possible,” Gesink said.
“Willunga Hill is another day and I am well-positioned at the moment. An uphill finish is always something different so I am curious to see what happens. It's a very high quality field and I am very happy with the way I’m riding here. A podium place is still my goal for this race."
Tom Boonen’s run of Classics success in 2012 was prefigured by an impressive showing at the Tour de San Luis, and the Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider is looking to repeat the feat at this year’s race.
After an injury-afflicted 2013 campaign, Boonen began his winter training earlier than normal this time around. His fine early condition was confirmed by Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s tactical approach on stage 3, where no less a figure than Mark Cavendish led out Boonen in the sprint.
Although Boonen slightly mistimed his effort on the drag to the finish line, and could only manage third place in the sprint behind winner Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek), he was nonetheless pleased with the state of his form at this point in the season.
“Going into the sprint, I think everything went perfectly, but I think I wanted it too much. I think I went a bit too early,” Boonen said afterwards. “Cavendish gave me a good lead-out and he still wasn't finished, but I saw the sign and I thought it was a headwind with a three to four percent uphill. I had the sensation that we weren't going fast enough so I just went.
“My legs just blew in the last five seconds. I'm already happy to be there, but if you're doing all those big efforts you want to do something more than 3rd place. But still it's a good sign.”
Building towards the classics
Boonen’s 2012 campaign began with a stage victory at the Tour de San Luis, and the Belgian proceeded to keep winning in the months that followed, ending the spring with victories at the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. By contrast, his 2013 campaign started late due to an infected elbow wound, and he never hit his stride before a crash at the Tour of Flanders ended his Classics challenge prematurely.
With that in mind, Boonen stressed the importance of beginning the year on the right foot. “I like to start my seasons well. More precisely, I need to feel strong. That allows me to work calmly towards the Classics,” he told L’Équipe.
During the off-season, Boonen also began working with Sam Verslegers, formerly the physical trainer of Belgian tennis player Kim Clijsters. Under Verslegers’ guidance, Boonen has paid special attention to building his core strength during the winter.
“It’s important to work with people from outside of cycling, where ideas can end up going around in circles,” Boonen said. “We’ve worked on core strength, the strength in the upper body that we have the tendency to neglect in cycling. It brings gains in your stability on the bike, and your ability to accelerate gently but for a long time.”
Asked if he felt a need for revenge after his ill-starred 2013, Boonen said that he simply felt highly motivated. “To be honest, revenge isn't the right term. Motivated would be more correct. I’m in a phase of rebuilding,” he told L’Équipe. “Slowly, with training, you feel your body respond more and more as you would like, and the more that happens, the more you feel your motivation grow. It’s a feeling that grows and grows, to the point that pinning on your first dossard becomes an urgent need.”
Italian celebrates 30 years after beating Merckx's record
Exactly 30 years ago, Francesco Moser set a new Hour Record of 51.151km/h at altitude in Mexico City, marking a new era of sports science and bike technology that would revolutionise professional cycling.
Moser was 32 at the time and seemed in the final chapter of his career. Yet using disc wheels and an aerodynamic time trial bike, with coaching and preparation by Francesco Conconi, he smashed Eddy Merckx's seemingly unbeatable record of 49.431km. Moser first set a new record of 50.808km on January 19 and then extended the record even further to 51.151km on January 23.
The UCI changed the rules on the bike design allowed for the Hour Record in 1997, enforcing strict rules on the use of traditional bike designs and relegating any times set after Merckx's record as Best Hour Performance.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) could be the next rider to attempt the Hour Record, perhaps as soon as the spring, after his Classics campaign.
"We realised it was possible"
Moser compares to his Hour Record success to that of famed Italian mountain climber Reinhold Messner, who also hails from the Italian Dolomites. Messner was one of greatest mountaineers in history, setting numerous records for the highest peaks in the world.
"It was the idea of Paolo Sorbini, the founder of Enervit, he loved a challenge. In the summer of 1983 we held a meeting at my home with my team sponsor Gis, my team and the Enervit team. We then did some tests on the track and they fitted me with a machine on my chest, a heart rate monitor," Moser recalled in an interview in today's Gazzetta dello Sport.
"We realised it was possible. I was 32 but was good at time trials. We created a good group for the project, with specialists for the bike, for the training, for my diet and my clothing."
"I went for Merckx's 5, 10, and 20km record on January 19 and we agreed I'd go for the Hour if I felt good. I did and so I went for it. I did 50.808, almost 1.4km better than Merckx."
"The second attempt was even better: 51.151, another 350 metres. People invaded the track after that ride and we celebrated in style."
In the Gazzetta dello Sport interview, Moser denies using blood transfusions yet is reported to have admitted to using the performance technique in an interview in l'Equipe in 1999. At the time of Moser's record attempts, blood transfusions were not illegal. He worked closely with Conconi, who used his aerobic threshold measurements to gauge Moser's training and performance. Young coaches Michele Ferrari and Aldo Sassi were also part of the team that helped Moser.
"Conconi was in charge and Ferrari his support, and they exchanged their work. Conconi translated the times and values into performance and prepared the tables. There wasn't any blood transfusions, before the first or second attempt. The benefits of altitude were enough," Moser told Gazzetta dello Sport.
That is in contrast to what he reportedly told L'Equipe.
"I was not the only one nor the first who used blood transfusions to improve my performance. I was told that Jacques Anquetil had done it and that was well before my time," he is quoted as saying in a 1999 interview.
"The method was being used everywhere. Sportspeople are always open to scrutiny but we should take a look at what normal people have in their medicine chest. It was my own blood. And I was not the only rider doing it. With EPO that is a whole new thing. It is dangerous and unnatural."
Moser recently went back on those words speaking to Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 ore.
"Lots of people have tried to dirty my effort but nobody broke the rules," the Italian business newspapers quotes him as saying.
"Blood transfusions weren't banned then. Did I do them? I've never said, other made insinuations that I did. But that doesn't make sense. It's like dirtying the wins by Bartali and Coppi, saying they took stuff that was later banned. The real innovations were the training, the use of a heart rate monitor, the climbing intervals, the bike and the aero bars...."
30th anniversary celebrations
Moser was the individual pursuit world champion in 1976 and went on to win Paris-Roubaix for three consecutive years in 1978, 1979 and 1980. He won over 200 races during his career and used what was learnt during his Hour Record attempts to revive his road career. He beat Laurent Fignon to win the 1984 Giro d'Italia and Milan-San Remo. Moser later attacked the sea level hour record on the Milan Vigorelli track in 1986 and returned to Mexico in 1994 to set a distance of 51.840 using Obree's tucked position.
Moser and many of the people involved in the success of the Hour Record attempt will gather in the Moser home in the Dolomites to remember and celebrate the 30th anniversary of he Hour Record on Saturday. Ercole Baldini, Vittorio Adorni, Maurizio Fondriest, Davide Cassani and Francesco Conconi are expected to attend.
This special photo gallery includes images of Moser's career and special images courtesy of Enervit, who sponsored Moser's Hour Record attempt.
US teams looking for success in the final stages in Argentina
With Phil Gaimon and his Garmin-Sharp team controlling the overall classification at the Tour de San Luis, the other teams are turning their focus more towards stage victories and using the early season racing to perfect their sprint lead-out trains and work on their form.
In these two video interviews, Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman) Luke Keough (UnitedHealthcare) talk to Cyclingnews reporter Peter Hymas about their team strategies and objectives.
Jacques-Maynes talks about sprinter JJ Haedo in the sprints and young rider Robbie Squires' hopes in the upcoming mountain stages.
Keough talked about the Jamis-Hagens Berman team's sprinting technique and the GC hopes of Marc de Maar after his strong ride in the breakaway and crash on stage one.
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American must contact commission himself, says UCI president
UCI President Brian Cookson has said that he will have no say in whether Lance Armstrong’s life ban will be reduced if he provides testimony to the Cycling Independent Reform Commission. The commission has been established to investigate doping in cycling and examine allegations that the UCI was complicit in covering up doping activity in the past.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to the Tour Down Under in Australia, Cookson acknowledged that there “will be the possibility of a reduction” of Armstrong’s ban if he provides evidence to the commission, but he said that the decision is not the UCI’s to make.
“It all depends on what information Lance has and what he's able to reveal," Cookson said, according to the Associated Press. "Actually that's not going to be in my hands. He's been sanctioned by USADA.
“They would have to agree to any reduction in his sanction based on the validity and strength of the information that he provided. If they're happy, if WADA are happy, then I will be happy."
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life in October 2012 following the publication of USADA’s report into the doping culture at his former US Postal service team. He confessed to doping in a television interview in January of last year.
Cookson stressed that the newly-established commission would be entirely independent of the UCI, and that said that the sport’s governing body would not involve itself in encouraging Armstrong to come forward and provide evidence.
''He won't get a phone call from me,'' Cookson said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. ''I am deliberately not speaking to anyone about what [people] may or may not contribute to the commission. That's the job of the commission. It's independent. It's impartial.”
The UCI’s previous attempt at establishing an independent commission collapsed in January of last year, when Pat McQuaid was still president of the body. The make-up of the new commission was announced earlier this month, with the UCI naming Swiss politician Dick Marty, CAS arbitrator Ulrich Haas and former Australian military officer Peter Nicholson to the three-man panel.
According to a statement issued on January 8, the commission was said to have started preparatory work and would “soon be given complete access to the files of the UCI and all the electronic data.”
''They will open up for business as soon as they can get all the administration sorted,” Cookson said on Wednesday. “And Lance will be able to contact them just the same as everybody else.”