News Shorts – Feb 29, 2012

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Last week’s headlines in Pro Cycling news and what’s coming up…

‘Cav’ – c’était écrit; Het Nieuwsblad Surprise; GreenEDGE Wins Het Nieuwsblad; Bling in Almería; Italian Cycling Revival?; Evans Takes Son to First Race; Armstrong’s team Crashes; Hushovd Tests Roubaix’s pavé; Modolo Shot in Training; Lapthorne Leads Langkawi; Gilbert Returns to Defend Strade Bianche Title; Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico Start; Saxo Bank Risks Losing WorldTour Licence

‘Cav’ – c’était écrit

Cavendish’s win in the Belgian classic, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, came as no surprise given the 26-year-old’s record: 20 Tour stage wins, Milano-Sanremo, and last year, the world championships. In fact, the French newspaper L’Equipe headlined its piece ‘Cav’ – c’était écrit or Cavendish, it was written.

Without his Sky team and tactical play, Cavendish would’ve been empty handed. He wisely sat behind in the group as rival team Lotto-Belisol pulled for André Greipel because his team-mates were in an escape. After that escape ended, Sky took charge similar to how Great Britain did for him in the world championships. With 46 kilometres to race, six team-mates lined the front for him.

Mark Cavendish taking out his first win in Belgium of 2012 in the rainbow jersey during the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

“We just stayed there, riding, riding, riding until the finish. I’m just so proud,” Cavendish said. “Everybody knew what they had to do. It’s so nice that it’s just gelled together so well.”

Sky’s Chris Sutton sat behind for a while because Cavendish was unsure after feeling sick earlier in the race.

“After we finished the cobbled climbs, I spoke to CJ. I said, ‘You may need to prepare to sprint because I don’t feel so good,'” explained Cavendish. “Fortunately, it worked out well. When we got to the final corner, I knew we’d win.”

Sutton became the first Australian to win the race last year. This year, he did the final lead-out after Ian Stannard and Mat Hayman led into the last kilometre. Cavendish did the rest, becoming the first Brit to win Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Het Nieuwsblad surprise

Mat Hayman and his team-mate Juan Antonio Flecha were also at the front the day before in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The team Sky duo, however, couldn’t stop Sep Vanmarcke of team Garmin-Barracuda winning in Gent, Belgium.

“It’s unbelievable,” said the Belgian, winning just a short drive from home. “You start off as a boy, admiring the guys who win the classics and now, I’m here winning my first classic.”

Out-numbered, Vanmarcke attacked with 20 kilometres remaining to drop Hayman and Tom Boonen’s OmegaPharma team-mate, Dries Devenyns on the Lange Munte cobbled sector. He followed Flecha’s attack at 2.2 kilometres to race and out-sprinted Boonen.

Sep Vanmarcke winning his first race of 2012 from a three man breakaway.

“Mathew had a really good day too but couldn’t quite stay with them when Vanmarcke attacked,” said Sky’s sports director, Steven de Jongh.

“Vanmarcke was riding well,” added Flecha. “He was one of the guys you could see was riding strong last year in the classics.”

Vanmarcke, 23, joined Garmin from Topsport in 2010. He placed second in Gent-Wevelgem that year and fourth in E3 Prijs Vlaanderen last year. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was his first and breakthrough win.

The Tour of Flanders is his dream race, but he said that it’s “for later” in his career. Anything is possible, though, ahead of the spring classics. He added, “I don’t know where this will lead to next.”

Flanders runs April 1 this year.

GreenEDGE wins Het Nieuwsblad

GreenEDGE won the women’s Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday with Loes Gunnewijk. The rider from The Netherlands said in a press release, “We were the only team to have three in the breakaway.”

Loes Gunnewijk celebrates her victory - Ellen van Dijk crosses the finish line as second - pictured during the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad women edition 2012. Image Cor Vos

She used the team’s advantage and attacked on the final cobbled sector. She rode clear with Ellen Van Dijk (Specialized) and won the two-up sprint finish.

“It’s really special for me to take my first win and for us to win the first European race of the season to continue our winning streak.”

GreenEDGE won the Tour of Qatar two weeks ago and stages in the Tour of New Zealand this week.

Bling in Almería

Mike Matthews’ win in the Clásica de Almería on Sunday may have gone unnoticed with the busy weekend in Belgium. The 21-year-old became the first Australian to win the Spanish one-day race and gave his Rabobank team its first win of the year.

“It’s fantastic to be able to help with the first win of the season for the second year in a row,” said Matthews in a press release. “I felt strong and the team rode fantastically. It was nigh-on perfection.”

Matthews won the Under 23 Worlds road title in Geelong in 2010. Last year, he took his first win in the Tour Down Under’s Stirling stage.

He co-captained the Almería team with Theo Bos, who won the race two years ago ahead of Cavendish. This year, Bos lost contact from the group on the climb, but ahead, Matthews succeeded and prepared for the sprint.

“Luis León [Sánchez] got us up to speed excellently, and Graeme [Brown] took over at 400 metres out,” added Matthews. “Being set up like that makes it much easier for a sprinter, though you still of course have to win. But it worked. This win is of course great for morale. It’s not only that you win, but how you win.”

He will race the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race next while one of the team’s other sprinters, Mark Renshaw, will race Paris-Nice.

Italian cycling revival?

The Italian press is heralding a new era thanks in part to Eros Capecchi’s win Sunday in the GP Lugano.

“Italy’s rebirth coming from the water of Lake Lugano,” read the first line of La Gazzetta dello Sport’s piece Monday. Capecchi, 25, won with Enrico Battaglin, 22, third. “Two of the youngest riders of our movement.” Damiano Cunego, 30, in second “is the oldest, but a reference point.”

Eros Capecchi winning Stage 18 of the 2011 Giro d'Italia in San Pellegrino.

Besides Capecchi, Elia Viviani won four times this year, Andrea Guardini three times and Moreno Moser last weekend at the Trofeo Laigueglia. Maybe “the wind has changed direction,” as La Gazzetta wrote. They are young, the oldest is Viviani at 23.

“Cycling has changed a lot,” Capecchi of team Liquigas said. “If it hadn’t changed, there won’t be bread for riders like me who approach it honestly and seriously.”

Italy suffered greatly in recent years due to doping cases involving Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi, Riccardo Riccò, Danilo Di Luca. Stronger controls have forced riders to race clean and allowed an equal playing field for riders like Capecchi. Unlike Great Britain and Australia, Italy lacks a strong national foundation. Instead of national programmes, like track racing, most riders come through the numerous amateur teams. Some of the team managers have yet to notice the changing wind direction.

The national team coach, Paolo Bettini is trying to form a foundation by holding several camps. This week, junior and under 23 level riders are meeting and training with riders such as Marco Pinotti and Filippo Pozzato. He and the national federation also created a rule that prohibits any dopers who served six or more months of suspensions from competition in the national championships, the worlds or the Olympics.

Evans takes son to first race

Cadel Evans and his wife, Chiara brought their new baby boy, Robel to his first race at the GP Lugano on Sunday.

“I took advantage of the nice day [to] watch Cadel racing in Lugano, bringing my friends with me and, special guest and entertainer, our little boy!” Chiara wrote in her online diary. “He was very happy to see Papy.”

They adopted the one-year-old Ethiopian in December and brought him home to their home in Stabio, Switzerland, just down the road from Lugano. “Papy” is using the race to prepare for Strade Bianche on Saturday and the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race.

Chiara said of Cadel, “The last few km’s were full of crashes, so I’m glad my big boy took it easy.”

Armstrong’s team crashes

Lance Armstrong saw more than half of his Bontrager-Livestrong team crash during a training ride on Friday in Ojai, California. Six riders went down, four of which needed to visit the hospital for treatment.

“Had a good (and bad) ride with the @BontragerLS team today. Was going great til a massive pile up after 4 hrs. Carnage,” Armstrong wrote on Twitter. “Lucky to miss the wreckage.”

Hushovd tests Roubaix’s pavé

Thor Hushovd tested Paris-Roubaix equipment on Sunday and Monday with his BMC Racing. In a press release, the team reported he tested different equipment from Easton wheels, Continental tyres and “other key components.”

BMC’s sports director, John Lelangue explained, “It’s good to do it now in good weather conditions because it was dry and it’s February so we have a little bit of time to fix everything and be confident about the materials. It was also good to see the roads we will do in reconnaissance on the Thursday and Friday before Paris-Roubaix.”

Hushovd has four top ten finishes, placing second in 2010 behind Fabian Cancellara.

Modolo shot in training

A driver with an air gun shot Sacha Modolo while training in north-eastern Italy on Friday.

“It didn’t do any harm, I felt only a strong hit,” Modolo told La Gazzetta dello Sport. Two of his training partners, though, “were left with marks on their knees. What if they were hit in the eye? Whoever did this is mad.”

The Colnago-CSF rider or his training partners were unable to identify the driver of the grey Alfa GT car. He used hard plastic balls in his gun, according to the riders.

In 2009, a similar incident happened at the Tour de France. Oscar Freire and Julian Dean were both hit with pellets during the 13th leg to Colmar.

Lapthorne leads Langkawi

Darren Lapthorne of Drapac Cycling took the lead of the Tour of Langkawi yesterday ahead of today’s key stage to Genting Highlands. He finished second on the fifth leg behind José Serpa (Androni) and took the lead from David Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda). The video and results of the stage 5 can be found here.

“I’m surprised as I didn’t think Zabriskie would fall back today,” said Lapthorne at a press conference. “When I heard that during the race that my team-mate [Adam Phelan] and Zabriskie were off the back, it gave me extra motivation, I thought there was chance that maybe I would become race leader tonight.”

Zabriskie lost 19 minutes on the stage. Lapthorne now leads by only 37 seconds over former winner, Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda).

Serpa won the Genting Highlands stage and the race overall in 2009. Danielson won the race in 2003 after finishing second on the stage. The 1679-metre climb will likely force the 28-year-old, former Aussie champ out of the lead.

The race finishes on Sunday.

Gilbert returns to defend Strade Bianche title

Philippe Gilbert will return to defend his Strade Bianche title on Saturday with BMC Racing team-mate Cadel Evans. Gilbert battled over the Tuscany’s white gravel roads last year to win ahead of Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego.

Gilbert joined BMC Racing over the winter to race with Evans and Ballan. Evans won the stage to Montalcino in the 2010 Giro d’Italia over similar roads, which were then muddy from hours of rain.

Last year during Stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia, the race went over the infamous white gravel before finishing in Orvieto.

Other favourites include past winners Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) and Maxim Iglinsky (Astana), Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Vansummeren and Garmin team-mate Ryder Hesjedal, Peter Sagan and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar).

The race began in 2007 and this year, will be broadcasted live for the first time. Fans can also follow on the race’s website. It’s due to finish at 16:00 local time in Siena’s Piazza del Campo.

Last year’s race re-cap:

Last year’s results can be found here.

Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico start

France’s and Italy’s biggest stage races behind their national tours, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, start in the coming week. Sprinters usually use the latter as a tune-up race for Milano-Sanremo, though, Matt Goss raced Paris-Nice last year prior to winning in Sanremo.

He will lead GreenEDGE at Tirreno-Adriatico this year and face off with Mark Cavendish (Sky).

“I go to Tirreno, lose some weight there, and then Milano-Sanremo,” Cavendish explained. Sanremo is “a big goal, when I won in 2009, I said I want to return to win it in the world championships jersey.”

Evans will race for the overall Tirreno title, having won last year. Richie Porte will race to win Paris-Nice with team-mate Brad Wiggins. He won the Volta ao Algarve just over a week ago and is enjoying good form.

Paris-Nice stages:
Stage 1, 4 March, Dampierre-en-Yvelines – Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse ITT, 9.2km
Stage 2, 5 March, Mantes-la-Jolie – Orléans, 185.0km
Stage 3, 6 March, Vierzon – Vassivière, 194.0km
Stage 4, 7 March, Brive-la-Gaillard – Rodez, 183.0km
Stage 5, 8 March, Onet-le-Château – Mende, 178.0km
Stage 6, 9 March, Suze-la-Rousse – Sisteron, 176.5km
Stage 7, 10 March, Sisteron – Nice, 220.0km
Stage 8, 11 March, Nice – Col d’Eze ITT, 9.6km

Tirreno-Adriatico stages:
Stage 1, 7 March, San Vincenzo – Donoratico TTT, 16.9km
Stage 2, 8 March, San Vincenzo – Indicatore (Arezzo), 230.0km
Stage 3, 9 March, Indicatore (Arezzo) – Terni, 178.0km
Stage 4, 10 March, Amelia – Chieti, 252.0km
Stage 5, 11 March, Martinsicuro – Prati di Tivo, 196.0km
Stage 6, 12 March, Offida, 181.0km
Stage 7, 13 March, San Benedetto del Tronto ITT, 9.3km

Saxo Bank risks losing WorldTour licence

The UCI’s licence commission will announce today if team Saxo Bank will lose its WorldTour racing licence following Alberto Contador’s doping suspension.

The sports high court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in favour of the UCI’s appeal and banned Contador for two years on February 6. He also was stripped of his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro titles.

Following the ruling, the UCI said in a press release it “will ask its licence commission to issue a ruling.” It explained that Contador’s points account for 68 per cent of Saxo Bank’s points and if they are disregarded then Saxo Bank “would no longer be considered to fulfil the sporting criterion” for a WorldTour licence.

The Danish team of Bjarne Riis dropped considerably down the UCI’s rankings without Contador points from 2010 and 2011. His suspension began retroactively on January 25, 2011, and continues through August 5 this year, and stripped him of 12 wins and many placings.

Team Europcar may take Saxo Bank’s spot in the first division, WorldTour.

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