News Shorts – Jan 25, 2012

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I never want to chase the news but I always enjoy talking about the news. From this Wednesday onwards a mystery journalist who will go by the name of “Le Grimpeur” will be reporting on selected news snippets of the week to keep you abreast of what’s happening in pro cycling.

Gerrans Reflects on the Willunga Nail-biter

Simon Gerrans won the Tour Down Under on Sunday thanks to some careful calculations and a strong Willunga performance. He explained that he knew the race could come down to a close fight, which is why he concerned himself with placing highly every day.

“I knew about the rule,” Gerrans said. “I don’t think the others did.”

Since Gerrans (GreenEDGE) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) tied on general classification time after the Willunga stage on Saturday, judges had to add up their placings from the week. They awarded Gerrans the jersey since he had the lowest aggregated placings. (If a stage race includes time trials, judges use fractions of a second.)

The Melburnian said that he enjoyed the atmosphere of the finish up Willunga Hill and that it has a place of its own in cycling.

Valverde pips Gerro by half a wheel on Old Willunga Hill on Stage 5. Photo: Veeral Patel

“I’m not sure how it compares to the climbs we go up in Europe. The first couple of kilometres the gradients fairly steep, but the last kilometre it flattens out,” explained Gerrans.

“I was isolated in the last lap and that’s why you really have to pin-point your race around one guy that you know who has a lot of support. I knew that if I stuck with Valverde he was going to be pretty close to the mark because it was pretty obvious [Movistar] were riding for him.”

Gerrans will leave soon for Monaco. He starts his European season in the Giro di Sardegna, February 21 to 25.

Paris-Roubaix’s Arenberg Forest in Danger

Paris-Roubaix’s known as Sunday in Hell, but it risks one of its most hellish cobblestone sections being excluded from this year’s edition.

“Nature’s re-taking its space, mud had covered the road,” race director, Jean-François Pescheux told French newspaper, L’Equipe yesterday. “Without a proper cleaning, we cannot pass through the forest during Roubaix.”

Paris Roubaix's decisive Arenberg Forest

The race skipped one of its most famed sections in 2005 for similar safety reasons. The Arenberg Forest has been back since, including in 2007 when Stuart O’Grady took Australia’s first win in Paris-Roubaix.

Stuey on his way to winning the 2007 Paris-Roubaix (photo not on Arenberg forest). Photo: Cor Vos

Thankfully, Paris-Roubaix’s Thierry Gouvenou said that if conditions were dry, there will not be a problem and the race will be identical to last year’s. He warned, though, that “if it rains too much the risks will become too much.”

Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervélo) won last year with an escape in the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector. Following his solo win in the velodrome, he celebrated by proposing to his wife.

Paris-Roubaix is one of cycling’s five monuments along with Milano-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro di Lombardia.

Tour de France Down Under

Tour de France race director, Christian Prudhomme visited Australia last week while his co-workers were inspecting cobbles in northern France.

“After Cadel Evans won the Tour,” he said, “I had to visit the Tour Down Under.”

It was only his third visit Down Under. He first came in 1997 for the Davis Cup and again in 2000 for the Sydney Olympics. “Australia got the better of France in the Davis Cup,” Prudhomme added. “Three – nil!”

Prudhomme’s visit is part of a new partnership between the Tour de France’s organiser, ASO and the Tour Down Under. ASO is helping distribute the Tour Down Under outside of Australia so that the World can see what everyone is cheering about.

Christian Prudhomme lapping up the sunshine at the Tour Down Under

“We can work for many races, we don’t want to buy the races, we are just there to work with them. We want to help the Tour Down Under put pictures around the world.”

He watched the stage in Sterling and was impressed.

“It was exactly like during the Tour in France, but that many people are coming on their bikes, many people here in lycra,” he said.

“Thirty years ago, the first Australian in the yellow jersey with Phil Anderson and now the first Australian Tour winner. I don’t think we’ll have to wait for 30 years for the next. You now have a well organised race with the Tour Down Under and classic winners with Matt Goss or Stuart O’Grady, and now a high-level cycling team.”

Evans Trains in Spain

Australia’s number one, Cadel Evans is training in Denia, Spain, this week with his BMC team-mates. The meeting is important as its part of the foundation for a repeat Tour de France win.

“There’s not too much room for improvement given my age,” Evans said with a laugh. “It’s important that the team functions well together, and that starts here at the team camp. It’s important to be able to take on [RadioShack] Trek-Nissan.”

RadioShack will fight for the win the Luxembourg duo, Andy and Fränk Schleck. The two finished behind Evans last year, Andy second, brother Fränk third.

Evans will officially end his off-season and start racing in the Mallorca Challenge. He will return to defend his title at the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in March and will race the Ardennes Classics to help new team-mate, Philippe Gilbert.

“It was a busy off-season, but it wasn’t the most unproductive off-season I had. I trained well. My activities get publicised, my training doesn’t,” Evans explained. “This time of the year, it’s going well. I had a few interruptions, but I’m ahead of my progress towards the Tour, I am close too where I was last year.”

San Luis Kicks Off

Alberto Contador began his season Monday at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina with a handful of other top cyclists.

Italian Francesco Chicchi (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) won the opening stage ahead of Juan José Haedo (Saxo Bank). The stage was a mix of rain and sun. The riders had to stop and take shelter for a few minutes to avoid a pounding from the hail.

The peloton try to find some protection agains the weather on stage 1 of San Luis

“We came here for the sun and heat, and we found this,” Contador told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “At one point, the hail was larger than marbles.”

The Tour de San Luis has been going on for a few years, attracting attention by inviting some of cycling’s stars. Vincenzo Nibali won the race two years ago prior to going on to win the Vuelta a España in the same year. Levi Leipheimer, Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel and Filippo Pozzato join Nibali and Contador this year.

Contador beginning his 2012 season in San Luis while awaiting a lengthy delay with his CAS verdict expected at the end of January

The stages this year:

23/01, Stage 1: San Luis – Villa Mercedes (188 km)
24/01, Stage 2: Fraga – Juana Koslay (147 km)
25/01, Stage 3: Estancia Grande – Mirador del Potrero (165 km)
26/01, Stage 4: San Luis – San Luis I.T.T. (19.5 km)
27/01, Stage 5: La Toma – Mirador del Sol (160 km)
28/01, Stage 6: Lujan – Quines (197 km)
29/01, Stage 7: San Luis – San Luis (167 km)

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