- Article published:
- July 19, 2012, 08:14
- Mark Robinson
Team Sky on the brink of history after stage 16
Team Sky boss David Brailsford once again hailed the team ethic of his riders following a brutal 16th stage at the 2012 Tour de France, which saw the positions of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome remain unaltered at the head of the general classification as they search for a first British win in the race.
Yet he was also outspoken in his belief that the job they came to do isn't complete and the history that they are trying to make hasn't quite been written. With four stages left there is plenty of talk here that this Tour de France is all over - many are claiming that they have already heard the fat lady start to sing, but Brailsford isn't one of them.
"We'll wake up tomorrow morning and we'll race as if it's the first day of the Tour de France," Brailsford told reporters at the finish of the gruelling 197km Pyrenean stage from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon – a war of attrition that had featured four lung-bursting climbs in temperatures that reached over 30 degrees Celsius.
"The danger is that as you get closer people start jumping to conclusions about the result and it's probably our biggest threat – to allow that to happen. We need vigilance and to take every kilometre as it comes tomorrow and to keep on racing hard like the guys have done."
In recent days many have tried to breach the protective wall that Brailsford and his staff have built around his team over the last few months – questioning the unity of the team following Froome's interview with a British newspaper last weekend in which he hinted at his frustration at being limited to a domestique role for race leader Wiggins and questioned whether or not he would be able to achieve his ambitions at Sky. But Brailsford pointed to today's performance on the road as proof of the togetherness of his squad.
"It was a big stage and with the amount of climbing energy and hydration was always going to be a big factor," he said. "But the boys came through it with flying colours. Christian [Knees] was outstanding, Bernie Eisel was outstanding then Eddy [Boasson Hagen] took it up. Richie [Porte] and Mick [Rogers] then did some fantastic work and then Froomey Bradley never looked under any pressure to be honest.
"[The unity of the squad] was there for all to see. People like to speculate and make more of the team dynamics than there actually is. I think they proved again today that when they race they race as a team and as a unit and that's what this team's all about."
- Article published:
- July 19, 2012, 09:13
- Cycling News
Belgian ready to extend with Vacansoleil-DCM through 2015
Thomas De Gendt, who finished third in the Giro d'Italia, is on the verge of extending his contract with Vacansoleil-DCM for an additional two years. The Belgian also has his eye firmly on the 2013 Tour de France.
Appearing on the television show “Vive le Velo”, he said that “the contract is not yet signed, but apart from a few periods and commas, agreement has been reached. I will stay with Vacansoleil until 2015.” His current contract runs through 2013.
De Gendt catapulted into prominence at the Giro by winning the penultimate stage, the race's queen stage which ended atop the Stelvio. That moved him up to fourth overall, and in the closing time trial, a fifth place finish was enough to move him up to third overall and the podium.
The 25-year-old did not ride the Tour this year, partially due to the fact that his wedding was held on Saturday, June 30, the day the Tour opened. While he may well ride the Vuelta a Espana later this year, he has made clear that he plans to ride the Tour in 2013.
“Normally I will put everything on the Tour,” he said. “I think it's wise to plan my winter programme completely around the Tour.”
His teammate Johnny Hoogerland has predicted a top five finish for De Gendt, who of course agrees. “It all goes well, that should happen.”
He is not asking to be the sole captain, noting that “with Wout Poels we have someone who is good in the race. Why not go with a duo? After two weeks we can see who is the best and who you turn to.”
Poels was one of the most severely injured riders in the Tour de France 2012 stage six crash, suffering a ruptured spleen and kidney, a bruise lung and three broken ribs.
- Article published:
- July 19, 2012, 11:18
- Cycling News
Expects to clear his own name in USADA case
Johan Bruyneel received the “phone call every sports director hates to receive,” and he subsequently had to inform Fränk Schleck of his positive test. The RadioShack-Nissan sport director says that while he believes in Schleck's declaration of innocence, “at the moment there's really nothing more to say on Frank's situation.”
In his personal blog, Bruyneel said that Schleck's, “voice said it all - shocked, devastated, angry and confused. And while no director or any other person can fully monitor, control and watch over any one individual athlete - I believe Frank when he declared his innocence. The kind of substance and low quantity justifies the presumption of innocence.”
Still, it was necessary to pull him from the Tour de France: “To give Fränk every opportunity to concentrate on proving his innocence; To keep the focus of the team on the race itself; And last but not least - To respect the Tour de France, where all attention should be on the competition and battles taking place every day on the road.”
Looking to the rest of the team still at the race, Bruyneel, who is not at the Tour, said that he was proud of his riders, and especially Jens Voigt. “It's amazing what he continues to do at almost 41 years of age (not going to use the word "old"). And not to mention how he contributes to the overall atmosphere in the bus and at the dinner table.”
The team will continue to support Haimar Zubeldia. “Currently sitting in fifth place overall, we're setting him up nicely for his fourth career top ten overall finish in the Tour. Not many have that on their palmares!”
The team ranking is also still a goal, he said. With four stage to go, RadioShack leads the team classification by more than 17 minutes.
While he is currently enjoying watching the Tour and spending time with his family, Bruyneel also has other concerns. “I remain determined to contest the USADA allegations. I expect to see my name cleared, as it has been every single time in the past.”
- Article published:
- July 19, 2012, 14:33
- Alasdair Fotheringham
Hand-biker en route from Madrid to London Olympics links up with Tour de France
A Spanish handbiker paralysed from the chest down who is seeking to raise awareness for the disabled by riding from Madrid to the 2012 London Olympics crossed paths with the Tour de France in Pau.
A keen athlete and bike rider before and after he was hit by a car in Kansas during the Race Across America endurance event in 2010 and partially paralysed, Diego Ballesteros, a 38-year-old from Barbastro, Aragon, has always relished such long-distance challenges - such as from Zaragoza, Spain, to Beijing’s Olympic Games in 2008 in 100 days.
“My aim then was to link the biggest event in Spain” - the Universal Expo exhibition in Zaragoza - “heading down the Marco Polo silk route with the biggest sporting event in the world,” Ballesteros told Cyclingnews.
“I’ve always enjoyed riding as something self-sufficent and a way in which you can get to see other parts of the world.
“This, though, is part of a personal challenge called 'Cycling To Conquer Disability', my objective is to ride from Madrid to London’s Olympic Games.
“My first aim to show that a disability doesn’t have to hold us back from fulfilling our dreams - and the same goes for anybody who goes through tough moments right now can overcome them.”
After spending the night in Pau with his back-up team who are travelling and sleeping overnight in a specially adapted support vehicle (in which he will return from London to Madrid), Ballesteros rode with the Movistar team when they went out training on their rest day before continuing on his 90 kilometre leg for the day up through France towards Roquefort. Covering between 60 and 100 kilometres a day, he hopes to reach London in a total of 25 days, crossing the Channel by ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven.
“I should get there on July 29th, reaching London on the 30th or 31st. In the last part of that ride to Beijing I was joined by an English guy called Mike, who’s a very good friend now, and he’ll be cycling with me in England for the last part of this ride, too.”
“My dream is to reach the Olympic stadiums, but I don’t know if I will be allowed to do that,” Ballesteros said. “It would be the ideal finish, though.”
He had a difficult time in Madrid’s Sierras and when passing round the northern foothills of the Pyrenees, and suffered badly on both mountain ranges because of arm muscle overload and the extreme heat. Having taken 11 days to cover the approximately 650 kilometres from the Spanish capital to Pau, Ballesteros is on target for London, another 700 kilometres away which he expects to take another 14 days. And he’s had some of the biggest names in the sport come out to encourage him.
Pedro Delgado in Madrid and Miguel Indurain in Navarre have ridden part of the way alongside him in Spain, whilst Alberto Contador has sent him a message of support and wishing him good luck - “Alberto and me share the same motto: if you want to do something, you can [querer es poder in Spanish]” - and in Pau, he has linked up with Movistar.
“I’ve had some very tough times so far, but I’m feeling good right now and I’m confident I should get there.”
Those wishing to follow Ballesteros' progress through France can follow him at the following blog: www.nohayretoimposible.blogspot.com
- Article published:
- July 19, 2012, 15:50
- Cycling News
Luxembourg media exposes details of financial squabbles
Andy and Fränk Schleck are said to have signed for next season with Team Astana, according to Luxembourg media – assuming, of course, that Fränk is not banned for doping. Financial details remain to be worked out, according to lessential.lu, which also disclosed details of the Schlecks' contracts with Leopard SA, which runs the RadioShack-Nissan team.
At the Tour de France, it was rumoured that Fränk Schleck was scheduled to meet with Astana on the rest day – a day which ended with him leaving the race with a positive doping test.
The brothers have a contract with Leopard SA, which runs RadioShack-Nissan, through the 2013 season, but the Luxembourg website says that their departure is “assured.” The question at this point, “is whether Leopard SA allows the two Luxembourg pros to go voluntarily or if it will demand a transfer fee,” according to L'essentiel.
Relations between the Schlecks and Flavio Becca, the team owner and head of Leopard, have gone downhill this summer. The latest financial problems deal with image rights, which have apparently not been paid.
L'essentiel said that Andy Schleck earns 2 million Euro per year, and Fränk 1.8 million, not including bonuses. In addition, it cited paperjam.lu as saying each has an additional contract for their image rights, both of which pay 600,000 Euro per year. Andy's is paid into a firm called Cyclan and Frank's into Winfrank, and the these companies “are amongst others financially connected to such exotic destinations as Panama and Singapore.”
Leopard has publicly said that it has stopped these image right payments because of “suspicion of money laundering.” Both Schlecks and Fabian Cancellara have filed complaints with the UCI concerning non-payment of monies due.
The Luxembourg connection
The cycling world is small and Luxembourg is a small country, and the two have close connections. Astana operates under a Kazakh licence, but its operation company is based in Luxembourg City. The team cars at the Tour de France are registered in Luxembourg.
Astana's general manager in 2008 and 2009 was Johan Bruyneel, who is now manager at RadioShack-Nissan.
The Schlecks' attorney and financial advisor, Albert Widgen, was dismissed from the Leopard board of directors in December 2011, and has since publicly quarreled with Leopard founder Flavio Becca. Becca himself is under investigation by Luxembourg authorities for financial irregularities.
- Article published:
- July 19, 2012, 17:15
- Hedwig Kröner
Garmin sprinter recovering from injuries
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) had a terrible start to his Tour de France this year, but the American sprinter is slowly healing from his injuries and now hoping that he can return to being competitive on the final day of the race, the legendary run into the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Even though he did not suffer any fractures, the bruises and scrapes Farrar sustained from his four crashes in the first week of racing affected his riding substantially.
"It was a horrible first week," the 28-year-old told Cyclingnews on the race's second rest in Pau. "But I didn't want to stop unless I just physically had to. There was a day when it just about happened, stage seven to La Planche des Belles Filles. It was right after the worst crash, and my back was quite messed up. I got through the stage just barely, it was stop and go."
After the finish, Farrar went straight to the hospital and got a CT scan, which fortunately revealed that there was no fracture.
"Luckily, the issues I had were purely muscular. So I continued, hoping it gets better, and it has - slowly it's improved. It's hard for your body to heal in the middle of the Tour, as it's just such a hard race. I would have healed a lot faster if I was sitting on my couch at home! But the Tour is not something you quit lightly. So if there's any way to go on, you do..."
Needless to say, the mountainous stages of the Alps and now the Pyrenees have not been easy to overcome, but Farrar has been able to hang onto the gruppetto with the objective of perhaps being in the mix again in the last two flat stages: Stage 18 to Brive-La-Gaillarde and the final day into Paris. However, of the two stages, only one is practically certain to end in a sprint royal.
"Stage 18 could be a sprint, but it's 50/50," Farrar said. "It could also evolve like the stage to Pau, with a breakaway getting through. It's a long stage, and even though there are no mountains, it's not flat either. It's rolling hills all day. That really wears on a team to try and control the race. The question is if teams are going to be willing to ride all day for a sprint - we'll see.
"And then of course there's the goal of Paris," he continued. "I have no idea how well I'll be able to do there after the Tour I've had, but I'll be really happy even just to try and feel like I'm in the race again!"
But Farrar has his eyes not only set on arriving in Paris this Sunday, he also wants to recover all of his capacities in time for the London Olympics road race, in which he will be leading the American line-up.
Asked how he rated his chances for the Olympics, which should also end in a sprint, he said, "It all depends on how I recover from the Tour. Most of us sprinters are in the same boat. Probably 85 percent of the big riders contesting the Olympics are here in the Tour. It hasn't been the greatest Tour for me, but I do feel like I'm healing and getting healthier as the Tour goes on, I hope I can carry that to the Olympics and hope to have better luck there than I've had here."
- Article published:
- July 19, 2012, 18:37
- Cycling News
Best young rider's jersey nearly a lock for American
With another gutsy ride in the Pyrenees, the best young rider in the Tour de France, BMC's Tejay van Garderen, held fast to the white jersey despite losing 32 seconds to FDJ-Big Mat's Thibaut Pinot.
The competition has been a two-horse race since stage 11 when Rein Taaramae lost 25 minues. Van Garderen is now holding a lead of 3:16 over the Frenchman, while the next best young rider, Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) is over an hour behind.
In the final kick to the line on stage 17 to Peyragudes, Van Garderen lost contact with the overall race leader Bradley Wiggins and Pinot, but was not disappointed with his performance on the stage. "I was actually pretty happy with how I was riding out there," he said in a post-stage interview with NBC. "The leaders were far above everyone else, they've shown that throughout the entire Tour."
"To be honest, I'm thrilled with how I've been riding, and I really couldn't ask for more."
Only a 222.5km transitional stage from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde and the lengthy individual time trial from Bonneval to Chartres, 53.5km in length, stands between the American and the parade into Paris where he may be crowned as one of the brightest Grand Tour promises ever to come out of the USA.
"I have great form and I'm going to empty the tank and give it everything I have in the TT," he said, adding that it was impossible to move onto the podium considering he is six minutes behind Vincenzo Nibali, who is third.
However, Van Garderen is set to post the best American Tour finish since Christian Vande Velde took fourth in 2008 (after the disqualification of third-placed Bernhard Kohl for doping).
"I was happy to see Zubeldia got dropped, that moved me up a place on GC," he continued with a smile. Now fifth overall, Van Garderen and his team captain Cadel Evans each moved up one spot ahead of RadioShack-Nissan's Spaniard.
Van Garderen came into the Tour as a support rider for Evans, but after the Australian's 'jour sans' on stage 16, he was given free rein to keep fighting for the best young rider classification, but he showed his respect for Evans after today's stage.
"[Cadel is] a tough guy, he's a fighter. He never gives up. Even today, he had a bad day yesterday, it's easy to get demoralized and fall back to the gruppetto, but he fought. He definitely bounced back today, had much a better day today."
- Tour de France
- Article published:
- July 19, 2012, 19:30
- Hedwig Kröner
Movistar team strategy pays off for Spanish climber
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) could not hold back the tears after crossing the finish line on the mountaintop of Peyragudes on Thursday afternoon. Following a two-year suspension for his implication in Operación Puerto, the Spaniard has made his come-back to the very top of the sport complete by achieving his fourth Tour de France stage victory.
Valverde was part of the stage's initial breakaway, and with the help of two of his teammates, the Movistar rider was able to go on a solo move on the day's third of five categorised climbs, with 36 kilometres left to race. He held off the chasers until the very end, despite a dangerously fast race for the yellow jersey unfolding behind him on the last ascent.
"I was just overwhelmed with the emotion," the 32-year-old said about his outburst of joy and relief in the finish. "It's been such a difficult Tour for me, for the team. Looking back, already my first victory this season at the Tour Down Under was very emotional, but a great victory like this one today triggers even greater emotions."
Certainly, the weight of mishaps that Valverde experienced at this Tour and the need for his team to win a stage fell off his shoulders once he crossed the line. Due to several crashes in the first week of the race, as well as a puncture just before the final climb on stage 7 to La Planche des Belles Filles, the team leader who was initially eying the overall classification had lost too much time on GC to live up to this goal.
"It's been a really hard Tour for me as I had a lot of bad luck with crashes and punctures, and lost too much time on the overall classification to be able to come back," he continued. "The only objective left was a stage win, and that was going to be really hard, but with the help of my team, in the end, I was able to take it."
Valverde spent the day in front, at first in a breakaway of eight riders, which later grew to 17 men, including two of his teammates Rui Costa and Ruben Plaza. The group was able to convince overall contender Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) to drop back in order to obtain more freedom. "At first, the peloton did not give us too much time. We all knew that if Nibali stayed with us, it would be very difficult to truly get the break up the road. Finally, he renounced and I have to thank him," Valverde conceded.
In the penultimate climb of Port de Bales, the breakaway disintegrated under the pressure of various Spanish-led attacks, amongst which Valverde's teammates. As the peloton still loomed near, a little over two minutes behind, the Spaniard bridged up to his teammate Costa and then went on a solo raid.
"In the break, nobody really wanted to collaborate, everyone was keeping a little energy back," he recalled. "But I had my teammates Costa and Plaza with me, who helped me a lot, and I have to thank them and the whole team for this win."
As the fight for the yellow jersey unleashed behind him, Valverde drove hard in the hope to make it to the finish before the likes of overall leader Bradley Wiggins and his Sky teammate Chris Froome, as well as the other top GC contenders. "I was very scared that they would come back to me from behind, as I know these are very strong riders, so I gave everything I possibly had. With 500 metres to go, I understood that I had won, I was very, very happy. Thanks again to my teammates, who did a great job for me today."
The victory was especially important in view of Valverde's recent past. "I have served my time, and I spent two years training hard without racing. This year, I obtained five important victories and I'm very happy to be back at the Tour de France and win here again. It makes up for everything, it's a great personal emotion and the consecration of all the work I've done," he stated, however failing to make a strong anti-doping statement at the post-race press conference such as David Millar's after his stage win on stage 12.
"What can I say on the fight against doping? I think it has to continue for the sake of cycling, which is such a beautiful sport. We have to go forward," was all he wanted to concede to the journailsts on the issue.
- Tour de France