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First Edition Cycling News, Saturday, September 19, 2009

Date published:
September 19, 15:00
  • Vuelta victory dream over for Gesink

    Rober Gesink (Rabobank) had a tough day dealing with his injuries.
    Article published:
    September 18, 20:03
    Shane Stokes

    Dutchman drops to sixth overall

    Dutch hope Robert Gesink indisputably has been one of the best climbers in this year's Vuelta a España, but his chance of taking the final victory - and even a place on the podium - evaporated on the last mountain stage on Friday.

    The Rabobank rider crashed hard two days ago on the stage to Talavera de la Reina and he suffered various injuries, including a deep wound to his knee. He was in difficulty for awhile yesterday but finished with the main contenders; however, today he was dropped on the penultimate climb of the Puerto de la Morcuera and was in difficulty once more on the second ascent of the Puerto de la Navacerrada.

    His squad rallied around him but with teams like Caisse d'Epargne, Euskaldel Euskadi and Silence Lotto mercilessly driving the pace, he eventually lost four minutes 44 seconds to stage winner Juan José Cobo (Fuji Servetto). This saw him drop to sixth overall, five minutes and 30 seconds back.

    "Yesterday was already a very bad day," said directeur sportif Eric Breukink. "Today he was a little bit better, he was feeling better in the morning than yesterday. But when the race started, he quickly had problems and he couldn't follow the rest.

    "His knee is one problem, but also after the crash his riding completely changed. He was in super form, but after the crash it was finished."

    Breukink said the team is left thinking about what might have been. Gesink is just 23 years of age and has had a superb early career, as was detailed recently. He crashed out of this year's Tour de France but seemed set to make amends in the Spanish race. "I think he had a good chance to finish second or third overall," said Breukink. "In the mountains he was one of the best riders here in the Vuelta. We don't forget that, but you don't want to finish without something. For him, it is worse - he is very disappointed."

    However, it's clear that the ability is there to have a big career. "We have to take out the positive things, he is still very young and he showed he is already capable of riding for the podium in Grand Tours."

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  • Caisse d'Epargne quietly confident

    Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) climbs
    Article published:
    September 18, 20:49
    Shane Stokes

    Valverde almost certain to win Vuelta

    Prior to the start of stage nineteen, Caisse d'Epargne directeur sportif Alfonso Galilea told Cyclingnews that if Alejandro Valverde preserved the same time gaps over his rivals by the end of the day, the team would be satisfied. Things worked out better than that, with closest rival Robert Gesink dropping to sixth overall and the Spaniard nabbing a 16-second time bonus for second on the stage.

    As was expected, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi) launched an attack going over the top of the final climb, seeking to get clear of Valverde and then open up a big gap on the sodden descent. The move was unsuccessful, however, and while the Olympic champion ended the day second overall, he is now one minute and 26 seconds back and has an almost impossible task ahead of him.

    Third-placed Ivan Basso is a further 19 seconds back and will be preoccupied tomorrow with trying to fend off Cadel Evans. The Australian is just 14 seconds behind the Liquigas rider and having beaten him by three times that much in the Valencia time trial, would appear to have a good chance of finishing third overall.

    Barring a shock turnaround, though, the win appears to be Valverde's. "For tomorrow the closest rider, Samuel Sanchez, is one minute 26 and seconds back," said a smiling Galilea. "He needs to take back three seconds per kilometre. Normally that gap should be enough not to have any problems.

    "In cycling, you can't say anything until you have arrived at the finish line. At this moment, though, we are in a very good position. If we don't have a crash or any mechanical problems, we think that we are close to winning the general classification."

    Valverde is also starting to think of the final maillot oro, and what would be the first Grand Tour win of his career. "It is too early yet to celebrate because one very important stage is left to race but if I said yesterday that 70% of the job was done, today I can say that only 10% is left."

    Apart from his rivals, he also had to beat the day's conditions. Temperatures were reportedly close to zero on top of the climbs, and the riders were all visibly frozen at the finish. The rain also made the descents treacherous, and the GC contenders were very cautious dropping down towards the line.

    "We started the day under the sun, but once it started raining the weather turned absolutely terrible," he said. "Nevertheless today, like every other day in the Vuelta, I have been very attentive despite of the fact that I was rather nervous. I believe this is due to maturity and also to what I learned from the mistakes I made in the past."

    Caisse d'Epargne and the other teams had a near-two hour transfer this evening to Segovia, where the penultimate stage time trial will take place tomorrow afternoon. Valverde will start at 17.06 Spanish time and will be chasing Sanchez, who will begin two minutes earlier.

    Valverde beat his rival by six seconds in the prologue, but lost 18 seconds in the stage seven time trial in Valencia. Even so, the gap is not big enough to cause Galilea any concern.

    "We think that Alejandro has a big enough difference, using the reference of the last time trial in Valencia," he said. "There it was 30 kilometres and completely flat. This one is 27 kilometres, and there are some little climbs. So it is better for Alejandro's characteristics. If we look at the previous time trial, we are in a very good position."

    If the win is nearly certain, though, the ultimate outcome is less so. Valverde is the subject of two procedures with the Court of Arbitration in Sport. If the UCI/WADA appeal over alleged Operacion Puerto links is successful, it remains to be seen if any victory would stay credited to him.

    That judicial outcome is still weeks - or even months - away, though. The Vuelta verdict should be known tomorrow evening.

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  • Breschel looking forward to Worlds

    Matti Breschel (Team Saxo Bank) approaches the podium to receive the white jersey for best placed U25 rider on GC.
    Article published:
    September 19, 11:07
    Shane Stokes

    Dane Matti Breschel wants to repeat 2008 Worlds showing

    Twelve months ago, Matti Breschel surprised with a third place in the World Championships. The Danish rider sprinted in as part of a small group which crossed the line three seconds behind winner Alessandro Ballan (Italy).

    "If I can find the legs of last year, it should be good," he told Cyclingnews. "I hope to go for a medal again, otherwise Jacob Fuglsang is showing he is ready and we have Chris Anker [Sørensen] as well."

    It was the best result of his career and one which has acted as a motivation for him in the run up to this year's race in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

    This year has been a good one for Breschel, with victories in stages of the Tour of Denmark, Tour de Luxembourg and Tour de Suisse and Volta a Catalunya. He also won the Danish road race championships, netted sixth in the Tour of Flanders and 10th in Paris-Roubaix.

    His plan has been to build on that consistent form by riding the Tour of Ireland, where he was third overall, and then the Vuelta a España.

    Breschel won the final stage of last year's Vuelta in Madrid and will be motivated to try again this year. He was on the attack two days ago on the stage to Ávila but couldn't match the pace of Philip Deignan (Cervélo Test Team) and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) on the climbs.

    "Normally the parcours should have been okay for me but I was sick with a cough for a couple of days and I had a crash two days ago," he said on Friday.

    "Hopefully one week is enough to rest and then I'll be 100% for the Worlds."

  • Xacobeo releases team doctor with Liberty Seguros ties

    The Xacobeo Galicia crew was kept busy in the terrible weather.
    Article published:
    September 19, 11:53
    Susan Westemeyer

    Team Xacobeo-Galicia releases Doctor Beltrán as 'preventative measure'

    Team Xacobeo-Galicia released one of its team doctors, Alberto Beltrán. He previously worked with team Liberty Seguros, a team which had three of its riders test positive for blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO) yesterday.

    Beltrán was a team doctor at Liberty Seguros until this summer. Xacobeo hired him September 2 because it was short of team doctors at the Vuelta a España. With the International Cycling Union's permission, it hired Beltrán and he started when the Vuelta transferred to Spain for stage five.

    Xacobeo terminated its contract with Beltrán immediately after hearing about the three positives at Liberty Seguros. It was "simple preventative measure and without making any value judgements," said the team.

    The International Cycling Union (UCI) announced yesterday that Nuno Ribeiro, Isidro Nozal and Hector Guerra tested positive for third generation EPO, CERA. The riders have the right to request counter-analysis for confirmation.

    "I am innocent and I have never doped," Guerra, 31, said yesterday. The three riders' positive controls came from the Volta a Portugal, which Ribeiro won.

    UCI anti-doping controllers tested the riders two days before the race started, August 3. "I have nothing to hide from them or anyone else, since I have never needed to take a banned product," continued Guerra.

    The positive control also spelt the end for Guerra's planned appearance at the World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland, next week. Spain removed him from the time trial team and nominated Juan José Cobo (Fuji-Servetto), who won yesterday's Vuelta a España stage 19.

  • Astana faces long process to keep ProTour licence

    Alexander Vinokourov managing Astana would create problems, says UCI
    Article published:
    September 19, 12:58
    Shane Stokes

    Vinokourov management would ruin Astana's chances of ProTour status

    Alberto Contador said yesterday that he is hoping for a swift decision regarding Astana's 2010 ProTour status.  However, the winner of the Tour de France could face a wait of several weeks before the International Cycling Union (UCI) decides if Astana's ProTour licence is renewed.

    The Kazakh-sponsored team currently holds a licence valid until the end of next year, but this has been under review due to financial shortcomings during the 2009 season. While the financial side of things appear to have been resolved, there are other issues that need to be assessed and verified by the UCI before the team is certain of remaining part of cycling's top league.

    "Some weeks ago we sent the Kazakh federation a series of deadlines that they have to meet in order to retain the ProTour licence," UCI president Pat McQuaid told Cyclingnews. "The first deadline was at the beginning of September when they had to pay the registration fee, which has been done.

    Johan Bruyneel ran the team for the past two seasons, but he is leaving at the end of the season and will manage Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team. He took over from Marc Biver, who helped set up the team but who left following a series of positive tests in 2007.

    Once cause for concern are rumours that Alexander Vinokourov, who recently returned to racing following a two year ban for blood doping, might retire and take over the running of the team. The UCI is concerned enough to request details of who exactly will be in charge.

    "When I hear rumours of Vinokourov being the manager of the team, then it is certainly not going to be the case that they would keep the licence," said McQuaid.

    "The UCI is very concerned by one rumour [of Vinokourov managing the team]," said UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf. "We have asked them confirm what will be the composition of the team for next year, who will run it, whether it will meet all the required ProTour standards, including ethics."

    The UCI currently lacks specific rules barring those who have served suspensions from running teams, according to Rumpf.  However, he said the broad guidelines about the ethical requirements for a licence would cover this scenario.

    Series of requirements

    McQuaid points to Astana's past as the reason why it needs a proper structure. "We won't accept any old management team," he said. "This is a team that has had difficulties over years, so it is one that needs tight and strict control."

    The UCI provided a list of requirements for the licence holders to fulfil before it gives the final green light for 2010. All teams holding a ProTour licence are required to show compliance on an annual basis.

    Astana's financial shortfalls earlier this year and the uncertainty about who is in control will bring the team under extra scrutiny.

    Contador said yesterday that he needs to be sure that things are rock solid and that he won't miss out on any important races as a result. "I missed the 2008 Tour de France with this team and that is something that I don't want repeated.

    "We don't know who is leading Astana, that's why I have some doubts. That's my main problem."

    While the Spaniard wants a quick resolution, it appears that he is going to have to be patient while the UCI goes through the verification steps with Astana. "If they miss some of the deadlines in the interim, then immediately we will start to process a procedure to remove the licence," said McQuaid.

    Contador's dilemma, Wiggins' wait

    The difficulty for Contador, just over three months before the start of a new year, he is unsure about where he will ride in 2010. His brother and agent Francisco confirmed to Cyclingnews that many teams have shown an interest, including Caisse d'Epargne, Garmin-Slipstream and Quick Step. However, he still has a year left under his Astana contract and, aware that his presence is a likely ticket for entry to major races, Astana are unwilling to let him go.

    Contador lacks a buy-out clause in his contract and it locks him into the team. While not speaking specifically about Contador, the McQuaid said that such agreements are binding.

    "We will allow a contract to be dissolved provided that the old team and the new team can come to an agreement on the transfer of the rider. In that case we will accept it," said McQuaid. "But if a rider breaks a contract and then thinks he can go to a new team, we won't allow that."

    The same principle would also apply to Bradley Wiggins, who media links with the new Sky team despite another year in his contract with Garmin-Slipstream. Some British media reported yesterday that the transfer was a done deal, but his Garmin-Slipstream manager Jonathan Vaughters has denied it.

    As the Briton is currently the team's top classification rider, it is obvious that Garmin-Slipstream will do what it can to keep him. That could change if Contador decided to move to the US ProTour squad.

    McQuaid told Cyclingnews yesterday that if Astana loses its ProTour licence, it is likely that the team would stop. In theory, this could facilitate Contador's move. But, under the current time scale discussed by the UCI, it could be several weeks before that ProTour licence is either confirmed or withdrawn.

    In the meantime Contador will have to watch and wait before he knows exactly where he will be racing in 2010.

  • Valverde: Mendrisio is Spain's course

    Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, 29, pleased with 'selective' Mendrisio Worlds circuit
    Article published:
    September 19, 13:05
    Gregor Brown

    Spaniard Alejandro Valverde pleased with 'selective' Mendrisio Worlds circuit

    Spain will have one of its best chances of winning the World Championships next Sunday, according to its captain Alejandro Valverde. He considers the Mendrisio, Switzerland, Worlds course suited to Spain's strengths.

    "It is very selective and that is exactly what we like," Valverde told Cyclingnews. "To win it will be important to ride with our head and be very united against the other teams."

    The 13.8-kilometre Mendrisio circuit travels south of the city and features two climbs, Acqua Fresca and Novazzano. It's repeated 19 times for 262.2 kilometres and 4655 metres of climbing.

    "The course of Mendrisio is definitely harder than the one of Hamilton."

    Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) will preview the circuit for the first time after the Vuelta ends Sunday in Madrid. He leads the Vuelta by 1:26 over Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) ahead of today's time trial in Toledo.

    Valverde has finished on the Worlds podium three times: second in Hamilton (2002), second in Madrid (2005) and third in Salzburg (2006). He finished 36th in Varese last year, a course similar to Mendrisio's but with less climbing.

    Mendrisio, with 4655 metres of climbing, has more climbing than one-day Classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Valverde has won in Liège two times and believes that there is one element missing for him to take his first Worlds title.

    "You have to have a very good day and be lucky. Luck is very important in a one day race," he said.

    Italy has had luck and talent on its side for the last three years. National director Franco Ballerini led Paolo Bettini to his wins in 2006 and 2007, and Alessandro Ballan last year. Italy is the favourite this year with Damiano Cunego, second last year and winner of two stages in the Vuelta a España.

    "It is very important to have a good director," continued Valverde. One "who perfectly knows the race and the tactic to adopt in such a particular race like the World Championships, but without a champion's legs it is impossible to do anything."

    Cunego is the number one favourite, according to Valverde. Andy Schleck, Kim Kirchen, Alessandro Ballan are his other rivals and "will be dangerous".

    Spain's Worlds team: Oscar Freire, Juan Manuel Gárate, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquím Rodríguez, Daniel Moreno, Samuel Sánchez, Juan José Cobo, Carlos Barredo and Rubén Plaza

  • Deignan fights for best Irish Grand Tour place in 17 years

    Philip Deignan (Cervélo TestTeam) celebrates his win.
    Article published:
    September 19, 14:24
    Shane Stokes

    Ireland's Philip Deignan waits for time trial performance to equal Stephen Roche's ninth

    Philip Deignan's chance of equalling the highest Irish Grand Tour finish since Stephen Roche placed ninth in the 1993 Giro d'Italia will come down to a 27.8 kilometre race against the clock today. Deignan (Cervélo TestTeam) fought hard to preserve his ninth place overall yesterday's final mountain stage of the race, having started two minutes and 57 seconds ahead of Juan José Cobo (Fuji Servetto) in the overall standings.

    Cobo won the stage and reduced his deficit to Deignan to one minute and three seconds. The rides face a time trial stage in Toledo today and the final, sprinters' stage in Madrid tomorrow.

    "I found it really hard to get going on the mountain but then I got a rhythm going," said Deignan after the stage yesterday. "I went so deep [winning stage 18] that I knew it was going to be really hard to follow the first five or ten guys today.

    "I didn't want to take too many risks on the last descent. It was cold, wet and slippy. Really dangerous. I was just glad to get down in one piece and to hold onto ninth in the GC [general classification], that was the main goal."

    Cobo beat Deignan in the Valencia time trial last week, but by only 19 seconds in the 30-kilometre distance. Even so, Deignan is unsure as to how things will go. "I don't know how it will go as regards ninth," he said. "Cobo is obviously pretty strong."

    Directeur sportif Alex Sans Vega is more confident that he can hold on. "I think it's possible," he said. "The last time trial in a Grand Tour needs power. Whether or not you are a specialist is not as important in a big Tour. I think he has it, he still has the power to do a good time trial tomorrow. That should be enough to keep his place."

    Deignan moved to the team after four years with AG2R La Mondiale. He has had a much more solid season than in years past, when illness and injury disrupted his racing. Knee problems and mononucleosis had stopped him reaching his full potential but he seems to be back on track now, taking the first Irish Grand Tour stage victory in seventeen years.

    "The stage to Avila was a great performance," said Sans Vega. "I think it was time for him to do a performance like that. We always thought he is a talented rider, but probably because of injuries and bad luck in the past he could not show it. We have been working all year with him to help him get confidence. The goal here was to see how far he can go in the Vuelta a España, and he's done very well."

    Barring accident, Deignan looks guaranteed of at least tenth place overall after today's time trial, but will fight hard to match Roche's 1993 Giro ride.

  • Swift's win tops season's progression, says Tchmil

    Ben Swift (Katusha) wins stage seven of the Tour of Britain.
    Article published:
    September 19, 15:54
    Gregor Brown

    Swift and Pozzato give Tchmil's Katusha team one-two in Tour of Britain

    Ben Swift's win yesterday in Yeovil at the Tour of Britain is the first of many more to come, said Katusha team manager Andrei Tchmil.

    "He's deserved it for some time," Tchmil told Cyclingnews. "He's had some great placings in País Vasco and a third in the Giro d'Italia. I am very content for him and how the team worked in yesterday's Britain stage."

    Experienced teammate and Italian Champion Filippo Pozzato led the way for Swift, 21. The duo worked to beat Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia-HTC), winner of the last four stages and current race leader.

    "Pozzato sacrificed his chances for Swift, a rider racing in his home country," continued Tchmil. "There are not many chances for the Brits to win at home. Pozzato is paid to win, but also to help his teammates win."

    The Tour of Britain finishes today with a 92.5-kilometre stage in London. Swift and Pozzato will try again to out-sprint Boasson Hagen, who should win the race's overall classification.

    Swift has a contract through 2010 with Katusha, and Tchmil is excited to see Swift progress further.

    "I hope that Swift has a great career, both on a personal and professional level. He needs to enjoy this good form and confirm his capacity to win races. He will have plenty more chances to win in 2010."

    Swift first rode professionally with Barloworld as a trainee in the fall of 2007. His first full season as a professional started this year at the Tour of Qatar.

    The Tour of Britain is in its sixth year. This year the race started in Scunthorpe and consisted of eight stages.