Leopard and RadioShack riders together at Spanish training camp
Silent season in Calpe. In high summer, the Spanish resort is noisily overrun by sunburnt northern European tourists, but in winter it is the preserve of professional cyclists, who descend rather more discreetly upon the coastal town they forgot to shut down, in search of warm weather training miles on the rolling hills that lie inland.
Leading this year’s throng of pilgrims to one of the holy places of pre-season preparation is the new RadioShack-Nissan-Trek outfit, formed following the merger of the RadioShack and Leopard Trek squads. The honeymoon suite for their hastily arranged nuptials is at the Diamante Beach Hotel, tucked discreetly back from the seafront.
Just days into the relationship, the smiles are broad as riders click-clack from the lobby and into the parking lot ahead of the morning’s training ride, and multi-lingual banter soon fills the still December air. Andreas Klöden jokes with Fränk Schleck, Chris Horner makes small talk with Daniele Bennati, while Jakob Fuglsang is locked in conversation with his new directeur sportif Alain Gallopin.
Shortly after ten o’clock, the Schleck brothers lead the first wave of riders away from the hotel, in the company of Klöden, Horner and Oliver Zaugg, with all riders in their 2011 kit but aboard Trek bikes in Leopard livery. A second peloton including American champion Matt Busche and Hayden Roulston follows a little while later, before the Leopard Trek Continental team sets off after a short briefing from manager Adriano Baffi.
The only absentee from the day's session is Fabian Cancellara, stricken by flu and confined to his hotel room after a weekend visit to London to reconnoitre the Olympic time trial and road courses in the company of manager Johan Bruyneel.
“We ride in three groups because otherwise it’s just too big on the road, and we change the groups every day,” Andy Schleck explains later on. “Most of the guys I knew before, but now you really get time at the table in the evening to know the others better.”
Even at this reserve from the madding crowds of summer, Schleck remains a man in perennial demand. When he pauses to speak with Bruyneel shortly before the morning's ride, the loose string of photographers suddenly tightens around them to capture the moment for posterity, the meeting of the would-be Eternal Second with the man who says he might as well win. Time will tell what kind of dividend their union pays.
For a full gallery from the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek training camp, click here.
A report by Swiss magazine L'Illustre has accused former Astana rider Alexandre Vinokourov of buying his 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory.
Vinokourov flatly denied the claim saying: "I never did that in my career - I always fought to win."
The article claims that Vinokourov allegedly paid eventual runner-up Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) 100,000 Euro to ensure his position in the run to the finish line. The pair led the race working together to hold off the pursuit by Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and then-world champion Cadel Evans (BMC). An attack from Vinokourov within the final kilometre finally dropped Kolobnev in the uphill dash.
"I couldn't follow him," Kolobnev said about Vinokourov's attack in the final kilometre. "We knew that if we would arrive together I could beat him. He was afraid of me but I was afraid of his attacks, too. When he had attacked earlier on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas I was already on my limit. Anyway, it's a nice podium with Vinokourov and Valverde there."
Citing an email exchange between the pair the day after the race, L'Illustre alleges that Kolobnev passed on account details for a bank located in the Swiss city of Locarno to which a payment was deposited.
Queried on the transaction, Vinokourov said there was nothing sinister in it.
"It's my private life," the Kazakhstani said before adding - "It's another story to blacken my name. I often loan money left and right."
Vinokourov’s win at the time was somewhat controversial, with pockets of the press suggesting that his was a remarkable comeback, following a two-year suspension for blood doping at the Tour de France in 2007. In retort, Vinokourov wrote an open letter saying:
"Ironically, my victory in Liège seems to revive old jealousies for which I am not responsible. The media comments contrast with the hundreds of congratulatory messages from fans that I keep getting on my website and my facebook page. I don’t understand this discrepancy.
"As if I had to be forbidden of success on my bike to leave everyone with a clear conscience. In which sport are we allowed to be at the start of a competition without the right to win."
Prior to the report in L'Illustre was published, Vinokourov launched an attack on what he views as the "gutter press" and claimed that his email account had been hacked – information which now appears to have stemmed from his interview with the Swiss magazine.
"I do not understand why some people are always looking to find some stories about me," Vinokourov said. "I am a cyclist, and there is no place in our sport for the gutter press. I don't ever allow myself to attack anyone personally. I wish to finish my career quietly even though obviously it bothers some people that I'm still on a bike."
Sarkozy to decorate Belgian cycling legend on December 15
Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx will receive another French Legion of Honour distinction on December 15 at the Elysée Palace in Paris. According to Belgian news agency belga, French president Nicolas Sarkozy will award the badge of Commander to the 66-year-old, who already received the title of Knight in 1975, at the start of the Tour de France in Charleroi, Belgium.
The Order is the highest decoration in France and is divided into various degrees. It was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to honour "eminent merit" for the country of France. Foreigners are not excluded and can be decorated exceptionally.
The only other cyclist to have received Legion of Honour distinction is Jeannie Longo. She, too, was elevated to the rank of Commander in the beginning of the year.
Just the idea of turbo training can strike fear and trepidation into even the most keen road cyclist. Overcoming boredom and finding motivation to simulate an outdoor ride are two of the bigger obstacles to tackle, which is where the guys from 3LC come in.
Isle of Man based company Three Legs Cycling have produced a range of five DVDs which aim to jump start your winter of indoor training. All aspects of road cycling are covered; road racing (including women's specific racing), sprinting, time trialling and climbing each get their own DVD.
Each session is around an hour in duration and designed to keep things as simple as possible. Think you need heart rate monitors and power meters to make your indoor training effective? As much as they will help, they come at huge expense, so 3LC have tried to cut all that out. All you need is your bike, a turbo and preferably something to measure cadence. This means that while there is only one workout on each DVD, you can work to a different goal each time by adjusting resistance.
Each DVD sees a group of riders from the local Isle of Man cycling scene line up like you would in a spin class. And these aren't just any cyclists - World Champion Mark Cavendish shows up in the road racing and sprinting workouts, offering pointers from the sidelines in the road racing session before breaking out the Lycra and showing who's boss for the sprinting DVD. It was quite reassuring to see the reigning Tour de France green jersey holder suffering as much as the others.
3LC Director Steve Williams, a good friend of Cavendish and keen cyclist himself, told BikeRadar he came up with idea after becoming "bored to tears" with some of his previous indoor training. After getting the initial idea, he roped in his brother David, who had experience in television production, to put the films together. To capture a fly on the wall-type experience, 19 cameras were used for each session.
One of the biggest hurdles they needed to jump was getting a number of elite cyclists, including Peter Kennaugh Jr and Jonny Bellis, into the studio at the same time. They eventually settled on shooting between Christmas and New Year in 2010, which you might think was a wrench for a superstar like Cavendish. That couldn't be further from the truth, says Williams. "He's an absolute gentleman and as soon as he knew all his Manx mates would be involved, he couldn't wait to get involved. We couldn't get rid of him in the end - he was the last man on the studio set! You can't believe the banter and camaraderie that exists on the Isle of Man. Mark is the biggest joker of all but also our biggest ambassador. More importantly he is just one of the lads."
There was little chance of him taking it easy either, even though the Christmas period will be one of his only opportunities to put his feet up. "You can see why he's World Champion - he was like a red rag to a bull once we got started," he added.
3LC are an Isle of Man-based company headed by Peter Kennaugh Snr, father of Kennaugh Jr. Despite having a population of around 80,000, the island has produced its fair share of elite cyclists and is a real hotbed for amateur racing. Apart from Cav, Kennaugh Jnr and Bellis, other Manx professionals popping up in the DVDs include Tim Kennaugh, Mark Christian and Chris Whorral. Milk Race stage winner Rob Holden and former British National Champion Steve Joughlin both acted as session motivators.
Renshaw, Gesink and a first look at the women's team
Rabobank unveiled their squads for the 2012 season in Utrecht on Tuesday. The mens' pro team, the Continental team, and the Off-Road team were joined by the new womens' team built around Marianne Vos. All attended the event and in the first of these three videos the team show off the strength of their new women's team.
New recruit Mark Renshaw is also interviewed about his hopes for the 2012 season, while Tour de France leader Robert Gesink discusses his race schedule. For a photo gallery of yesterday's presentation, click here.
The Swiss magazine claims that Vinokourov paid Kolobnev 100,000 Euros to allow him to win the race. The duo were alone in an attack at the finish, and Kolobnev did not sprint.
Vinokourov reassured the Russian that “You have done everything properly, do not worry”, after Kolobnev expressed concerns that "my balls may be cut off" if it came out that he was receiving payment.
“You remember that, for me it was a great chance. I do not know if I was right to do what I did,” wrote Kolobnev shortly after the race.
According to the magazine, Kolobnev admits to having let him win, “not so much because of our agreement, but mostly because of my feelings towards you and towards your situation.
"Even my wife was not too uneasy by the fact that I was second, because you were the first,” he continued.
If he had been up against someone else, “I would have gone for the victory, glory and bonus (in my contract that I have for these classics). That day I felt stronger than ever. Now it only remains for me to wait patiently to see if all this was not vain. My only comfort is that you won and not one of the natives (Belgian riders, ed.)
“Here is a copy of all my bank information and clear it from your mail box, or my balls may be cut off.”
Vinokourov did not reply until nearly two weeks later, saying he was busy with family and preparations for the Giro. “You have done everything properly, do not worry. As you say, the Earth is round and God sees everything ... So, again thank you. You, this year you will win the championship finally, I believe. Do not worry about the agreement, I will do it.”
Kolobnev did not respond to the magazine's request for a comment, but they spoke to Vinokourov, who is attending a training camp in Spain with Team Astana. He flatly denied the charges, saying, “No, there was no cheating at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In my career, I've never done that, I have always fought to win.”
He did speak with Kolobnev during the race, “but in a breakaway, it's normal, it is not forbidden, is it?”
When asked if he would confirm sending money to Kolobnev, he responded, “It's my private life, I am not talking with the police, it has nothing to do with it. This is another story to damage me. Thank God, I am still alive for the public, for the children, for my fans. I won because it was I who went the fastest.
“I often make payments left and right, sometimes I lend money, but I never offered to buy the win from Kolobnev.”
Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union, told the magazine that “Yes, there are rules about that. It is clear, if there is evidence, there could be penalties after an investigation on our part.”
He would not comment on this specific case and declined to read the documents involved. “It is not necessary, it must be given to our legal department. It is not for me to study it, it's not my role.”
UPDATE: In a statement released Wednesday by Team Astana, Vinokourov said that he would take legal action against L'Illustre. "I can’t accept that gossiping about me," he said. "Behind this case, there are certainly people who want my skin. It's weird that it happened few days after the announcement of my candidacy in the upcoming elections in my country.
"It is a violation of my privacy, how can we explain that emails arrive as if by chance on the desktop of a journalist without knowledge of their origin? My lawyers will also prosecute anyone who infringes on my integrity."
At the Radioshack-Nissan training camp in Calpe, Spain, team boss Johan Bruyneel sat down with Cyclingnews to discuss the future growth and governance of the sport of cycling.
The Belgian has been involved in cycling since an early age, rode as a professional and has been in management since the late 1990s.
In these three exclusive videos for Cyclingnews, the Belgian plays down the topic of a breakaway league yet his sentiments echo the blueprints of such a project as he calls for reform in the sport and for a number of initiatives to be created in order to grow the sport.
In a similar stance to that of Zdenek Bakala of Quick Step, Bruyneel believes that there should be revenue shares through television rights, and that teams should have more power in deciding the future of the sport. Bruyneel, who clashed with the UCI earlier this year over a proposed breakaway league, goes as far as criticising the UCI for dictating how the sport is run.
The management of Geox-TMC has given up hope of finding a sponsor for the coming season and is now concentrating on helping its riders find new teams, a Spanish newspaper has reported.
Sport director Josean Matxin told El Correo that he had on Monday been informed by the International Cycling Union that the deadline for submission of documentation for a licence had passed, and that he would receive no further extensions.
They have now turned their attention to helping the riders, including Juan Jose Cobo, who won this year's Vuelta a Espana. He is said to have turned down offers of up to a million Euros a year in order to sign with the team another two years.
Cobo, however, is likely to find a new team, as is Denis Menchov, said to be on the verge of signing with Katusha. Other riders have already moved to new teams: Mauricio Ardila and Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes), Fabio Felline (Androni Giocattoli), Matteo Pelucchi (Europcar), Daniele Ratto (Liquigas), Xavier Florencio (Katusha), Daniele Colli (Team Type 1), and Matthias Brändle (Team NetApp). Carlos Sastre has announced his retirement.