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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Tuesday, March 10, 2015

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Today's Racing

We've got two stage races running today: the Tour de Langkawi and Paris-Nice. For those of you in the Western Hemisphere, I try (with daylight savings time here, it's a bit more difficult) to have the Langkawi results posted in the evening the day before, because it's already tomorrow in Malaysia.

UCI Drug Report Turns Out to Be Really Big Deal

Imagine my surprise when I found a half-page story about the UCI drug report in my newspaper, Portland's Oregonian. Granted, Oregon has a serious cycling culture, but this was still quite unexpected.

While I'm at it, since the paper presented a good explanation of the UCI report and the present situation, I'll summarize it:

The 227 page UCI report explained cycling's long-standing culture of drug use and the UCI's mismanagement of the problem. The UCI knew doping was a huge problem and that road cycling was "infested" with the blood booster EPO. Furthermore, the UCI had "inadequate" anti-doping policies and treated doping as a serious problem only when the riders' health was endangered.

Lance Armstrong was one of the commission's 174 witnesses. During Armstrong's career the two UCI presidents, Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid, repeatedly "defended or protected" Armstrong despite strong reasons to believe he was doping. UCI leadership believed "going after the cheaters was perceived as a witch-hunt that would be detrimental to cycling."

Lance Armstronf and Raul Alcala

Lance Armstrong in his world champion's rainbow jersey with teammate Raul Alcala at the 1994 Tirreno-Adriatico

Armstrong was positive for a corticosteroid he was not permitted to use during the 1999 Tour de France, but the UCI accepted a back-dated prescription.

The CIRC panel believes doping is still rife in elite cycling, and one witness testified that he believed 90 percent of the riders are doping. Many are said to be taking micro doses to keep the drug level in their systems below detectable levels. Furthermore, there are "doping doctors" who are working outside the teams' official structure and have learned how to drug riders in ways that are beyond detection.

The panel made a series of recommendations including working closer with law-enforcement, better intelligence operations, creating a whistle blower desk and start taking blood samples in the evening, when riders are micro dosing for the following day's race.

None of these proposals seem to me to have any high probability of success.

Tom Boonen to Miss Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix

Tom Boonen crashed late in Paris-Nice stage one, dislocating his left shoulder. It's going to take three to six weeks for him to recover. He'll miss the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.At this point team doctors don't know if the three-time Paris-Roubaix winner will need surgery.

Tom Boonen

Tom Boonen riding to victory in the 2012 Paris-Roubaix

Tour de Langkawi News

Stage Two of the Tour de Langkawi was Monday.

This release came from Tinkoff-Saxo:

Stage 2 at Tour of Langkawi ended in a bunch sprint decision, where Tinkoff-Saxo’s Nikolay Trusov finished 7th behind Andrea Guardini, who took the stage win for the second day in a row. Edward Beltran was involved in a fast crash with one kilometer to go but the Co-captain will be able to continue ahead of the more hilly stages of the race.

“Today was another classic sprinter’s stage, where a small breakaway went early and was caught before the final sprint. Nikolay Trusov was our guy for the sprint today and he finished within the top-10, which is an approved result”, says Tristan Hoffman and adds:

“Unfortunately, we were involved in a tumble with 1k to go, where Beltran was brought down by a crash. He escaped fairly unharmed but his equipment took a beating, which shows that it happened at high speeds”.

Stage 2 from Alor Setar to Sungai Petani presented the riders with 185km of undulating terrain. However, it was not enough to sort out the sprinters, who approached the finale at the front of the peloton ready to battle for the stage win. For the second day in a row, it was Andrea Guardini (Astana) who drew the longest straw beating Caleb Ewan (Orica-Green Edge), while Tinkoff-Saxo’s Nikolay Trusov finished 7th.

Stage  finish

Tour de Langkawi stage 2 finish

Earlier, it was announced that the finishing climb on the queen stage to Genting Highlands had been scrapped and replaced with the less steep and shorter climb to Fraser’s Hill due to safety reasons. Tristan Hoffman reckons that the alteration won’t affect Tinkoff-Saxo’s overall approach.

“It has been decided that the condition of the road to Genting Highlands on stage 7 isn’t good enough due to construction work. So we’re going to tackle Fraser’s Hill instead. Since the team is already set, we see no reason to alter our ambitions. We’re going to try our best on the flat stages, get riders in the breakaways and then support Beltran and Hansen on Fraser’s Hill”, comments Tristan Hoffman.

“It’s not as steep and hard as the climb to Genting Highlands, but the stage is still going to be difficult. We might pay more attention to the breakaways and then we’ll have to wait and see if Fraser’s Hill can create any time gaps. We simply don’t know this yet”.

Tomorrow’s stage 3 will see the riders climbing to 1006m before returning to the lowlands for what is expected to end in another sprint finish.

Tirreno-Adriatico News

The World-Tour-ranked Tirrenco-Adriatico stage race runs March 11 - 17. Several teams sent me releases regarding their plans for this important race. In addition, Fotoreporter Sirotti will be covering this important competition, so we'll have lots of terrific same-day photos of the race.

This unfortunate news regarding the race came from Giant-Alpecin:

Despite having been announced as one of the main sprint protagonists for next week's Tirreno-Adriatico, Marcel Kittel (GER) will unfortunately not take to the start of the seven-day race. It's a blow for both the team and for Kittel himself who was very keen to get stuck into the sprint opportunities against a quality field in this prestigious Italian race.

Marcel Kittel

Marcel Kittel at the 2015 Berlin team presentation

"After the Tour Down Under I was hit with a virus and I actually never 100% recovered afterwards,” explained Kittel. “I felt good enough to start the Tour of Qatar but during the race I started to feel worse and worse so with the team’s guidance we decided to step off the bike for a while. It was a very busy preparation time for me towards the first races and together with the virus and overreaching I am forced to rest now. I should be back on the bike again soon but at the moment I still have to take it easy; the next step is to start building the training again and work towards my next goals this season. Of course I am disappointed, but my health and getting back into shape is the first priority now. There's still a long season ahead of us.”

Team physician Anko Boelens (NED) explained: "Marcel has never fully recovered from the virus that he picked up in the midst of a busy pre-season, and since then he has not been able to reach his normal performance level. Marcel was extensively examined and thankfully no major underlying health issues were discovered.”

It is a disappointment for both the team and Kittel as aiming for victory in the sprint stages at Tirreno was the first real target of his programme. For now, Kittel will work closely with the team’s medical and performance staff to ensure a slow but gradual return to normal training.

Here's Lotto-Soudal's news about Tirreno-Adriatico:

The Italian WorldTour stage race Tirreno-Adriatico starts on Wednesday 11th March and ends on Tuesday 17th March. Last year’s winner, Alberto Contador, is one of the favourites again.

For the fifth year in a row, the ‘Race of the two seas’ starts with a team time trial. The teams will ride 22.7 kilometres along the coast of Lido di Camaiore. Stages two and three, with finish lines in Cascina and Arezzo, should be bunch sprints. The fourth stage contains four climbs, from which the last one tops at six kilometres from the finish line. The favourites should create the first differences there.

Nevertheless, the big differences will be made the day after. The queen stage on day five contains four climbs and ends at the Terminillo. It’s a sixteen kilometres long climb with an average gradient of 7.3% and sections of 12%. The next day the peloton covers rather flat roads from Rieti to the coast of Porto Sant’Elpidio. The Tirreno-Adriatico ends with a ten kilometres long individual time trial along the coast line of San Benedetto del Tronto.

Last year Jurgen Van den Broeck had to combine his rehabilitation with his preparation for the season. This year, the rider from the Kempen, had a normal off-season. Van den Broeck knows that the competition in the Tirreno is very strong, but also knows the ins and outs of the WorldTour.

Jurgen Van den Broeck: “In races like the Ruta del Sol the results are not that important, but especially the feeling of the race is important. Because of my crash in the first stage I lost a lot of time, but I could ride relaxed in the other stages. I was three times second in the Ruta, but that wasn’t important. This is different in the Tirreno, it’s a serious test. It’s also a WorldTour race where there are a lot of points to gain and I set myself the goal to be good here for the first time in the season. It’s true that this is one of the races with the best riders at the start, but it’s not clear what their ambitions are.”

“I have tried to work towards this race as good as possible. Before the Ruta I did a high-altitude training camp for two weeks. Afterwards I rested for three days followed by a hilly training in Spain to improve my shape. Of course I would like to go for a top ten spot in the overall standings, it’s also the goal of the team. The route isn’t that selective, but with a team time trial, a finish uphill, a finish after a descent, and a finish at the top of a small climb there are enough possibilities to make time differences.”

Apart from Jurgen Van den Broeck seven other Lotto Soudal riders will start in Tirreno-Adriatico as well. Sports director Bart Leysen talks about the team’s ambitions.

Jurgen Van den Broeck

Jurgen Van den Broeck racing in stage 20 of the 2014 Tour de France

Bart Leysen, sports director: “This year, we want to win a stage but also go for a good GC. Pim Ligthart, who commenced his season very well, and Belgian champion Jens Debusschere will strive for a stage win. In normal conditions, Jens would be our leading man, but we won’t put him under too much pressure. Pim can have a go as well.”

“Jens and Pim can count on the support of Jürgen Roelandts for the bunch sprints. After his flu during the Flemish opening weekend, he will resume his season here. It’s important to regain his good shape from before and to survive these seven days. The team time trial on the first day isn’t important for our sprinters. Both Jurgen Van den Broeck and Maxime Monfort will have to lead the team there. Hopefully they can set a pretty good time.”

“With Froome, Contador, Quintana and Nibali starting it won’t be easy to go for a win in the harder stages. Although I expect Jelle Vanendert to strive for the victory in stages four and five. Jurgen Van den Broeck and Maxime Monfort are two riders who can go for a good GC. It’s important for them to lose as little time as possible in the fifth stage. In the Ruta del Sol Froome and Contandor showed that they’re almost untouchable, that goes for Nibali too. A top five spot in the overall standings would be great.”

Selection Lotto Soudal: Stig Broeckx, Jens Debusschere, Pim Ligthart, Maxime Monfort, Jürgen Roelandts, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Dennis Vanendert and Jelle Vanendert.

Sports directors: Bart Leysen and Mario Aerts.

Stages

Here's Lampre-Merida's news about Tirreno-Adriatico:

Tirreno-Adriatico 2015 will give opportunities to a large range of riders: time trialists, sprinters, climbers and attackers will have their chances to be protagonist.

Considering the characteristics of the course of the Two Seas Race (11-17 March), the sport directors Maini and Scirea selected these riders for Lampre-Merida: Tsgabu Grmay, Sacha Modolo, Manuele Mori, Przemyslaw Niemiec, Luka Pibernik, Filippo Pozzato, Maximiliano Richeze and Josè Serpa.

Przemyslaw Niemiec

Lampre rider Prezemyslaw Niemiec racing in stage 20 of the 2014 Vuelta a Espana

Six Nations will be represented in the blue-fuchsia-green team (Argentina, Colombia, Ethiopia, Italy, Poland and Slovenia) and three continents (Africa, Europe and South America).

In the team's staff there will be the doctor Beltemacchi, the masseurs Capelli, Della Torre and Del Gallo and the mechanics Pengo, Romanò and Viganò.

"The top quality riders who will be in our selection will grant us to be protagonist all along the race - sport director Maini explained - In the first stage, the team time trial in Lido di Camaiore, we'll check the results of the trainings we made under the direction of Mario Scirea.

Our aim is to be in the main breakaways and, in the more demanding stages, to support Niemiec, who'll try to be as close as possible with the top climbers: Grmay and Serpa will give him the necessary help. Modolo will receive the support from Richeze and Pozzato for the sprint and Pozzato will check his shape in the arrivals of Arezzo and Castelraimondo".

Tinkoff-Saxo sent this regarding Alberto Contador's Tirreno-Adriatico Ambitions:

On Wednesday, Tinkoff-Saxo's captain, Alberto Contador, embarks on his second race of the season with optimism and a desire to continue improving his preparation towards the Giro d'Italia, his first big goal of the year. According to Contador, the Tirreno-Adriatico “is a race of which I have very fond memories, especially from last year, when I was at a very good form.”

“The Tirreno-Adriatico is a very important race for me, when considering the first goal of the season, the Giro d'Italia”, continues Alberto Contador. “Both the Tirreno and the Volta a Catalunya will be the races that will give me a point of speed to be in top condition at the Giro d'Italia.”

In what regards his physical condition, Contador said he felt “a little better than I was in Andalusia, though I hope to keep improving, and we'll see how I find myself day by day”.

Over the race course of this year, Alberto believes it is “pretty similar to other editions, although I have my doubts about the Terminillo, because it's a mountain pass I don't know and don't know exactly how hard it is to break the race that day. We have to be attentive to all stages.”

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador racing the 2014 Vuelta a Espana

Concerning the rivals he will face in this edition of the race, especially referring to Nibali and Quintana, the leader of Tinkoff-Saxo thinks it's “really good to be with the major riders in the same race, as in this case happens with Grand Tour specialists. This is good for the show, for fans and for the interest of cycling in general. Of course, right now each of us is in a different form as we each have our own goals in mind, but I am convinced that when we face each other, we'll try to do our best. One thing is sure, we'll see a nice race.”

Finally, Alberto Contador commented on the team that will support him in the Tirreno-Adriatico. “We have a really powerful and very balanced team, at a level one would expect from Tinkoff-Saxo. I'm really happy and motivated with the group we have here, because many of my teammates will share a big part of the season.”

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