News shorts: Tinkoff-Saxo announce Route du Sud squad, Pozzato hoping to ride the Tour

Ulissi to lead Lampre-Merida in Slovenia, Kittel and other sprinters lock horns at Ster ZLM Toer

Tinkoff-Saxo have announced their line-up and outlined their plans for the Route du Sud, a crucial preparation race for Alberto Contador ahead of the Tour de France.

The four-day race will be the first competitive outing for Contador, and a couple of his key domestiques, since winning the Giro d’Italia. The Spaniard recently admitted to still feeling the fatigue of the Giro, and faces a challenge to sharpen his condition if he is to pull off his Giro-Tour double goal.

“It's the first race after the Giro for Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso and Michael Rogers and these three riders need to compete before the Tour," said Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Patxi Vila in a press release from the team. "The main objective for Tinkoff-Saxo is that they compete and enter into race-mode once again. After nearly three weeks of break they have to get into the mindset of a competition."

The opening two stages of the French race are suited to sprinters but the third is the queen stage with three first-category climbs, including the Port de Balès. It is there that we should see a true indication of Contador’s form.

"He will, obviously, fight to be in the front and being a very competitive athlete, we don't rule out the possibility that he might try to go for a stage win," said Vila. "However, there will be other, fresher, riders from other teams that will give their best because the GC will most probably be decided there."

Tinkoff-Saxo won the race overall last year through Nicolas Roche, who has since moved to Team Sky.

Tinkoff-Saxo for the Route du Sud – la Dépêche du Midi: Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso, Michael Rogers, Sergio Paulinho, Chris Juul-Jensen, Ivan Rovny, Jesus Hernández, and Oliver Zaugg.

Ulissi leads Lampre-Merida in Slovenia

Lampre-Merida’s Diego Ulissi and Jan Polanc are set to return to racing in the Tour of Slovenia beginning June 18th, and ending on Sunday, June 21.

The stage-winning duo from this years' Giro d'Italia will be joined by the domestiques Mattia Cattaneo and Ilia Koshevoy, followed by Chun Kai Feng, the sprinters Roberto Ferrari and Maximiliano Richeze with Manuele Mori given the freedom to look for breakaways.

Polanc, racing on home soil, will lead the squad's general classification charge while Ullisi will look to gain fitness ahead of the upcoming Italian national championships at the end of the month. Ulissi won the overall in 2011 along with stage two.

Polanc finished second on GC in the 2.1 race in 2012 and will once again enjoy the advantage of racing on familiar roads. 

Kittel and other sprinters to lock horns at Ster ZLM Toer

The Ster ZLM Toer kicks off in the Netherlands today (Wednesday) and represents an opportunity for several sprinters to stretch their legs and flex their muscles as they prepare for the rapidly approaching Tour de France.

All eyes will be on Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) over the next five days as we await to understand his real form ahead of the Tour. The German, who over the past couple of years has established himself as one of the strongest sprinters in the peloton, has clocked up just 16 race days in a 2015 season, beset by illness. He enjoyed a fruitful training camp in Sierra Nevada recently and won the bunch sprint behind the breakaway in the Rund um Koln on Sunday, which may suggest his condition may be improving.

The Ster ZLM Toer has attracted plenty of other sprint talent, with three out of the five stages looking nailed on for a bunch kick, not least the completely pan-flat stage two. The 2.1 race opens with a 6.4km prologue while stage three is the queen stage and takes in the climbs of La Redoute and La Gileppe.

Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff, and John Degenkolb, and Peter Sagan are all at the Tour de Suisse but the likes of Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) will clash in the Netherlands. Bouhanni in particular caught the eye at the Critérium du Dauphiné with two stages and another win or two here would pile on the confidence ahead of July.

Others in the hunt will be Kristian Sbaragli and Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka), Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Danny van Poppel (Trek).  

Pozzato hoping for Tour de France selection

Filippo Pozzato is part of the six-man Italian team that will ride the road race event at the first ever edition of the European Games in Azerbaijan at the weekend. After failing to be selected for the Lampre-Merida team for the Giro d’Italia, the Italian Classics rider is hoping to secure a place in the Tour de France squad and then go on to have a successful second part of the 2015 season. Pozzato has not won a race since 2013.

Pozzato will line-up alongside Elia Viviani, Manuele Boaro, Dario Cataldo, Giacomo Nizzolo and Alessandro Vanotti in Saturday’s road race in Azerbaijan. Other contenders include Belgium’s Tom Boonen, Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez, Julian Alpaphilippe of France and Wouter Wippert of the Netherlands.

Pozzato recently rode the Critérium du Dauphiné after a near two-month break from racing.

"I haven’t officially been selected for the Tour de France yet but I hope to be in the team," Pozzato told Tuttobiciweb. "After not riding the Giro d’Italia, I really want to race and if I’m not in France in July, I hope to ride in China or wherever the team sends me."

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