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Cycling is edging its way into the classics season with the Trofeo Laigueglia last weekend and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this Saturday in Belgium. Smaller stage races still occupied the calendar, where Aussies and Brits are controlling affairs.
The SKY is the limit
Team Sky was the punch line of several jokes throughout its debut season in 2010, but the British team turned it around last year. This year is going just as well.
Richie Porte led the team’s charge in Portugal over the last week. He won the Volta ao Algarve stage race on Sunday after winning the mountain stage to Alto do Malhao.
“It wasn’t hard” with Sky’s support, Porte said of the stage win. “They were incredible.”
His team-mate, Edvald Boasson Hagen set the stage by winning the day before. Boasson Hagen won two stages in the Tour de France last year. Porte also received help from the team’s star, Bradley Wiggins going up the final climb and won the stage by enough time to take the leader’s jersey.
Porte jumped into cycling’s spotlight two years ago when he wore the pink leader’s jersey at the Giro d’Italia. He went on to win the young riders’ classification. Earlier in that race, Wiggins won the opening time trial in Amsterdam. Last year, Wiggins finished on the podium at the Vuelta a España.
“You don’t really want to single out one person,” Porte said of the team’s work. “They were all incredible.”
They helped him maintain his lead the next day and Porte did the rest in the final time trial. To make the race sweeter for Sky, Wiggins won the final time trial.
“You couldn’t have asked for more to be honest,” sports director, Sean Yates said. “We’ve dominated the race.”
Porte lives in Monaco now. In fact, he went to Portugal to hone his form for the upcoming Paris-Nice stage race, which finishes just down the French Riviera from his adopted home.
“To come away with the stage win and the overall, I’m really happy,” Porte explained after winning his first stage race overall on Sunday. He finished third in the final time trial, behind Wiggins and World Champion Tony Martin.
Porte said of the win, “It’s a nice way to start my time with a new team.”
The 27-year-old Tasmanian joined team Sky at the start of the season after finishing his first pro contact, two years at team Saxo Bank. Last year, he made his debut in the Tour de France working for Alberto Contador. This year, he will likely be helping Wiggins in the high mountains.
Australia versus Great Britain
As Algarve finished, Australia and Great Britain were going head-to-head to test the London velodrome prior to the Olympics. The Brits got the most medals, eight, and Australia came in second with seven.
Australia won the team pursuit. Its four-man team set the fastest Australian time and the third fastest time, 3:54.615.
“It’s the quickest we’ve ever gone before,” said Jack Bobridge in a press release. “It’s a massive stepping stone for the whole team.”
Bobridge teamed with Rohan Dennis, Michael Hepburn and Alex Edmondson. They finished nearly two seconds ahead of their rivals, with Steven Burke, Edward Clancy, Peter Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas.
Both teams are honing their skills prior to the London event on August 3.
“You can only control what you can control,” said GB’s performance director, David Brailsford. He added the team made “big strides” and “they are going to continue to get better” prior to London.
GB won the pursuit at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 with a world record time of 3:53.314.
“We’re never going to give them an inch,” Bobridge added. “I think come the Games we are going to see around the 3:51, 3:50 mark. We are getting quicker every time we get on the boards.”
Young men in Oman
Young cyclists dominated the final days of the Tour of Oman last week. Peter Velits (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) won the overall and 2010 Vuelta a España winner, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) won the key mountain stage.
“It’s a great day,” Velits said, “One of the best in my career.”
The 26-year-old is a twin brother with team-mate Martin Velits. It was his first stage race win, taken by one second over Nibali.
Nibali went winless last year and has not won since Vuelta.
“It wasn’t easy to swallow that year without a win,” 27-year-old explained. “I was never able to relax.”
As with Porte, he used the race to prepare for a bigger race in March. He will go to the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race to win, but admits it will be hard given the usual cold weather. Nibali is one of the few Italian professionals from Sicily.
Nibali’s 22-year-old team-mate, Peter Sagan led team Liquigas last year by winning 15 times. On stage two to Wadi Dayqah Dam, he took his first win of 2012 ahead of Baden Cooke (GreenEDGE).
“Even if that stage was for sprinters, I won,” Sagan said of his first win. “I broke the ice.”
Velits had the biggest smile by race end. He said that he just wants to “celebrate the overall win,” but is preparing to face Nibali again from March 7 to 13 in Tirreno-Adriatico.
Cadel Evans won Tirreno-Adriatico last year. He continues racing this weekend in Switzerland.
A classics double
The Belgian one-day classics season begins this weekend with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. The races leave just over a month to the big classics, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but are proper stepping-stones.
GreenEDGE is racing with last year’s winner, Dutchman Sebastian Langeveld. He’ll be supported by Brett Lancaster, Matthew Wilson, Baden Cooke, Jens Keukeleire, Travis Meyer, Jens Mouris and Tomas Vaitkus.
Here are the highlights from last year:
Pozzato races with broken collarbone
With an eye on the classics, Filippo Pozzato rushed to return to racing after fracturing his collarbone in the Tour of Qatar. He started and rode 130 kilometres of the Trofeo Laigueglia on Saturday, only nine days after his crash and six days after surgery.
“I was dropped and it wasn’t perfect,” he said, “but given the week I’ve had, it’s very good.”
The Italian of team Farnese Vini hopes to race Milano-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders, but will have to gauge his recovery. He’s yet to announce his next race.
Moser wins again?
Moser won the Trofeo Laigueglia one-day classic on Saturday, but it was not Francesco – 1977 World Champion and 1984 Giro winner – rather his nephew Moreno.
“If you would’ve asked me to bet on myself to win at the start, I wouldn’t have done it,” said the first-year pro. “The truth is I wouldn’t have even done so two metres from the line. I only knew I won when I was able to cross the line with my hands in the air.”
Moreno is the son of Diego Moser, who also raced pro with some his 11 siblings. Last year, he won two stages of the amateur Giro d’Italia. His wins gathered attention from teams Sky and Lampre, but he signed for two years with Liquigas-Cannondale. Had he raced with Lampre, he would have had to answer to uncle Francesco, who was archrival with the team’s general manager, Beppe Saronni.
Moreno’s brothers Leonardo and Matteo also raced. Diego told Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport that they “seemed to be better than Moreno, who was often left behind when he was a boy.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won in Spain’s stage race, the Vuelta a Andalucía overnight, the first since the Tour Down Under and serving a doping suspension. He took the Tour Down Under’s only hilltop finish to Willunga Hill.
He showed yesterday that he’s on target for the Ardennes Classics and a possible run at the Tour de France in July. Spanish newspaper El País marked the win with the headline “Un killer es un killer.” It interviewed the team’s doctor Jesús Hoyos, who said, “When have you not seen Alejandro dispute a race? A killer is a killer, and never fails to be. He’s just hungry.”
Valverde sit out for a year and a half, part of a two-year ban that stripped his wins, including the Tour de Romandie overall title. His blood was linked to blood bags found in the Operación Puerto investigation in 2006. Transfusions are against the World Anti-Doping Agency’s codes and considered doping.
Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi and recently, Jan Ullrich were banned for the same Puerto links.
He won the mountain stage to Araceli de Lucena sanctuary in a group with Denis Menchov (Katusha), Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) and Fränk Schleck (RadioShack), and took the overall lead. Only two days remain, including a mountain stage on Thursday, the final day, and Valverde will celebrate his first overall stage race win since Puerto.
Prologue, 19 February, San Fernando ITT, 6.0km
Stage 1, 20 February, Zahara de los Atunes – Benalmádena, 197.9km
Stage 2, 21 February, Málaga – Alto Santuario ntra. sra. De Araceli, 150.7km
Stage 3, 22 February, Montemayor – Las Gabias, 157.1km
Stage 4, 23 February, Jaén – La Guardia de Jaén, 135.7km
Pellizotti linked with four teams
Pellizotti said that four Italian teams are negotiating to sign him, and hopefully in time to race the Giro d’Italia on May 5. The 34-year-old Italian will return from a two-year doping ban due to blood irregularities.
Italian strong teams, Lampre and Liquigas are interested, he said. “I’d love to be at the Giro.”
His race bans ends the day before the three-week race begins. Racing with Liquigas in 2009, he placed second overall in the Giro d’Italia and won of the mountains competition in the Tour de France – those results were annulled due to his ban.
Italian second division teams, Farnese Vini and Acqua & Sapone are also interested according to his agent. Acqua & Sapone is the only one of the four teams without an invitation to race the Giro d’Italia.
Tour of Lankawi begins this week
The Tour de Langkawi is a ten day west-to-east traverse of Peninsular Malaysia, covering 1,413.3km over 10 stages beginning this Friday, Feb 24 and ending on March 4.
The race’s management committee hasn’t been shy about their intent to convert the Tour of Lankawi into a WorldTour event. The committee’s Chairman, Dato’ Mohid Mohamed, effectively used his introductory message to lobby the UCI:
“Le Tour de Langkawi in 2012 will be one that showcases the race’s readiness to become part of the UCI World Tour series. With a proven track record, the race is ready to move further forward. We will be preparing for a new chapter by welcoming more top tier UCI Pro Teams, reinstating this race as the foremost cycling event in Asia.”
Teams and startlist
For a preview of the stages and a unique perspective on daily coverage, check out CyclingIQ over the coming week.