Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Real cyclists eat honey

In a week where we learned that Cadel Evans and his wife have decided to adopt an Ethiopian boy I thought it might interest a few to know what honey can do to a cyclist.

New Iranian studies shows that men who ate honey before training had lower levels of free radicals (which may indicate cell damage) in their semen after 8 weeks. 39 men aged 18-28 years participated in this study where half of them were given 70 g of honey 1½ hours before training.

According to the author of the study Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki, M.Sc.; “it may be possible that the honey supplementation following long-term intensive cycling training would be effective in attenuating the probable aggravating effects of intensive cycling training on spermatogenesis and fertility capacity in the road cyclists”.

On a site note, I can add that Alberto Contador will be given his own weight in honey on January 7 next year for winning the Spanish award "Su Peso en Miel”. And not only that, Contador will also be weighted with the six bikes on which he won his biggest victories.

The Spanish Giro, Tour and Vuelta-winner got married about a month ago but according to Contador he is not thinking about starting a family just yet. “Right now I don’t think about kids, I just concentrate on riding my bike”, he told me at the team presentation in November.

Well, at least he shouldn’t have any problems when he changes his mind if the “honey effect” really works…

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

I just want to take the time and wish everybody reading this blog a Very Merry Christmas! I truely appreciate your support and I promise to make an effort in making every article better than the last one.

Enjoy Christmas with your friends and family.

See you soon...


Friday, December 23, 2011

$30.000 for 4th place - Zero for the victory

Lance Armstrong on his way to 4th place and $30.000.
Yesterday ESPN wrote this article about the details of U.S. Postal’s sponsorship deal with Lance Armstrong’s team. Here it says that Lance Armstrong got paid $1,47 million in bonuses for his stage wins, yellow jerseys and overall victory in the Tour de France 2001.

On the statement showing how the $1,47 million are divided we can see that Lance Armstrong got $75.000 for each stage win and then $15.000 for keeping the yellow jersey after every stage. What I like to point out though is that Lance Armstrong apparently got $30.000 from U.S. Postal for taking 4th place on stage to Luz Ardiden. $30.000 and he didn’t even entered the top3.

May I remind you that in 2001 the American Dollar was higher than the Euro has even been...

The stage was won by Roberto Laiseka, first Tour de France stage win in the history of the Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi team, and how much do you think Laiseka got paid in bonuses for this historical stage win?

The answer is zero. No bonus but the glory.

 Laiseka wins on Luz Ardiden.
“At Euskaltel-Euskadi there are no bonuses for winning stages. The riders have their regular payments and that’s what they earn. Of course such a win can be used when negotiating a new contract, but for the stage win itself there is no bonus” , press officer of Euskalte-Euskaldi, Jesus Aizkorbe, explains to me.

You can argue that for Roberto Laiseka winning on Luz Ardiden in Basque territory in the orange colors of Euskaltel-Euskadi no bonus could probably top that feeling, but I’m sure he would have appreciated having a deal just giving him half of what Lance Armstrong got for taking 4th place on the very same stage.

Update - After reading this article Roberto Laiseka sent me the following message on Twitter:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

CAV4SPOTY - The odds are on his side

UPDATE 22/12 @ 23:00 - Mark Cavendish won!

Tonight it’s time for the BBC Sports Personality 2011 show and the big favorite for the award is no other than cycling’s very own Mark Cavendish. Winning two stages in the Giro, five in the Tour plus the green jersey and taking the World Champion title in September, Mark Cavendish finally seems to be rewarded for his amazing talent.

At the world’s biggest betting community, Betfair, Mark Cavendish is the number one favorite for the Spoty award at odds 1,40. In fact Mark Cavendish is such a big favorite that Betfair has made an extra market called “winner without Cavendish”. So far €700.000 has been matched on the BBC Sports Personality 2011 market - €280.000 of these on Mark Cavendish to win and that makes Cavendish check up on his rivals.

"He [Cavendish] is regularly checking the odds for him to win Sports Personality of the Year with the bookies and looking at what his main rivals are up to", Bradley Wiggins told cyclingnews last week.

On Twitter the CAV4SPOTY campaign has been going on for a long time and it seems like it will happen tonight. I sure hope he wins - wouldn’t it be great to end the year with some positive cycling news?...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jakob Fuglsang ready to fly solo

Jakob Fuglsang now finally seems ready to lead his team in one of the three Grand Tours. Giro d’Italia next year starts in Denmark and after spending the last couple of years working for other riders Jakob Fuglsang now wants to be the sole team leader in the Italian GT.

Fuglsang did get the chance as captain in the Vuelta last year, but after his injury in the Tour a month earlier he didn’t managed to stay with the best riders on the steep parts in the mountains, despite getting the Red jersey right from the beginning of the race. The Danish climber admits he didn’t have the best preparation but that will change next year with the Giro on the menu.

“I’m sure that if I do what is needed and I do it down to the smallest detail, I will be able to be right up there with the best rider”, Fulgsang explained about a month ago.

One of the things Jakob Fuglsang needs to get under control is his weight. According to his Danish manager Kim Andersen; “he must lose two per cent of body fat. Otherwise he can’t make it all the way up the steep mountains. If he loses the weight and is in good shape, then he can be right up there," Andersen told Danish television TV2.

Another important thing for Jakob Fuglsang is the change of mentality. As I said he has been supporting team leaders the last couple of years, simply because he needed experience in the races and wasn’t ready yet. Frank and Andy Schleck have been very grateful for that support, but now it looks like they won’t have their Danish sidekick to help them in the Tour de France next year. Something has changed.

Fuglsang leading the Vuelta 2011.
“After the Giro I want to focus on the Olympics, the Vuelta and the World Champions. The World Champions route is definitely not bad for me. I rather want the opportunity to get some results myself instead just helping other riders in the Tour”, Fuglsang told feltet.dk.

Earlier Jakob Fuglsang has been happy to help his two good friends, but it sure seems like the Dane is now ready to fly solo. Of course the Giro-start in Denmark is an extra motivation and if he could take the jersey while the race is still on Danish ground it would be an amazing start for him. The ambitions are definitely there and even though he is up against riders like Ivan Basso, José Rujano, Roman Kreuziger and Michele Scarponi he believes the podium is within his reach.

“I aim for the podium and I think that’s realistic. It's obviously a possibility to grab the pink jersey in Denmark and I will do everything I can to do it”.

I personally don’t believe Jakob Fuglsang can win the Giro d’Italia but I do think top5 is possible and hopefully even more. If he gets that weight a bit down he can do better in the steep selective parts and that will be crucial for stepping on the podium in Milano. I think he will end 3-5 in the GC.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bookmakers to sponsor cycling teams? First reaction

Last week I wrote a piece about new possible sponsors for the cycling teams. First up was the betting industry, which I claimed was likely to be a new sponsor for a WorldTour team in a couple a years. Unfortunately one of the biggest operators on the market right now, Betfair, won’t be one of them.

I talked with Betfair’s Head of Northern Europe, Jacob Weinreich, and he made it very clear that Betfair has no intentions on moving in on the cycling market.

”My personal opinion is that cycling can be a tough sell to the gaming market. As an operator you have to be in the awareness game to enter into cycling sponsorships. For a market place like Betfair you need a high number of punters to get attractive markets going. Cycling is a small sport with few high profile races hence you don’t have many hard core punters following it”, he tells me.

As I wrote in my earlier piece, one of the main reasons why the bookmakers could end up staying away is the limited in-play action compared to football and tennis. Jacob Weinreich explains:

“The nature of gaming and bookmakers is that the more events the better. Football and tennis are great examples of this where you have more or less constant action around the calendar year. You can bet in-play and the odds are changing every second. In cycling it takes 5-6 hours from the stage starts till it ends and you can make a profit. That’s too much waiting without any - or very limited – action”.

Unfortunately that leaves us with only a few reasons why a bookmaker would step in to the cycling world.

“The only way I can see a bookmaker sponsor a cycling team is if they really want to create some awareness around themselves and show they cover all types of sports. Or if they want to make an impact on a specific market, ex. the Spanish market, and then go in and sponsor one of the teams in the Vuelta. You have seen this in the past with Unibet coming into cycling. Unibet had at this time a significant interest in France and the sponsorship could possibly be justified this way”, Jacob Weinreich says.

As you can imagine this was not exactly the scenario I was hoping for, still I totally understand Betfair’s point of view. I just hope that other bookmakers, like Unibet, want to move in on ex. the Spanish, French or Italian market now when the gambling monopolies are coming to an end. Time will tell…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Possible new cycling sponsors - part I

In the light of HTC’s and GEOX’ goodbye to cycling and the fusion between Radioshack and Leopard, I’ve taken a look at some new potential sponsors who all bring a big bag of money to the table.

Two of the most sold jerseys worldwide, sponsored by Bwin.
First up is the betting industry. Bookmakers all over the world are making tons of money every day on poker, casino and sports betting and are all looking for potential sports to sponsor. Bwin has been sponsoring the entire best Portuguese football league for years and are currently on the chest of worldwide known players like Ronaldo and Kaka. The financial details of the Portuguese league sponsorship haven’t been disclosed, but we do know that that the price for the coveted sponsor deal with Real Madrid gives the Spanish club €20 million a year. And this is only a visual deal. Have you ever mentioned Bwin when you are talking about Real Madrid? I know I haven’t… Imagine if they put just half of that amount into a cycling team where they will get the rights to the entire team name. €10 million is more or less the budget Team Sky (Bradley Wiggins & Mark Cavendish) and Liquigas (Ivan Basso & Vincenzo Nibali) have and a few millions more than Team Saxo Bank (Alberto Contador) and Lampre (Alessandro Petacchi & Damiano Cunego) have.

Team? Unibet weren't allowed shown on the tricot.
It’s a known fact that the bookmakers have plenty of money to spend on marketing so why aren’t any of them throwing their love (and money) at cycling? Well, as you might remember; Swedish bookmaker Unibet tried just that back in 2006. Unibet paid €6-8 million a year for their ProTour team sponsorship but ended up abandoning the sport again after only two years. The different countries’ gambling monopoly prevented Unibet to take part in any of the three Grand Tours and therefore they decided to leave. ”It's too bad that cycling has been troubling a sponsor that invests no less than €25,000,000 in the sport”, team manager Hilaire Van der Schueren said in 2007.

So why should the bookmakers come back and spend €8-10 million on a WorldTour team sponsorship? First of all, it’s important to remember that the very same gambling monopolies that ended up killing Team Unibet now are about to disappear thanks to the EU-wide legalizations on the gambling markets. Denmark, France, Spain etc. will all legalize gambling and public sports betting advertizing in 2012 and that means that the fear of being excluded from ex. the Tour de France due to a bookmaker sponsor is now gone.

Denmark was the first country to legalize gambling and that has had an immediate effect on the best football league which, in 2012, will be co-sponsored by the Scandinavian bookmaker Betsafe while the 2nd division will be renamed to “The Betsafe League”. According to my information Betsafe pays around €1 million for this sponsorship. The thing is that Betsafe is already a well known brand in Denmark. Wouldn’t it be great if they decided to spend their money on the Danish Team Saxo Bank and help securing one of those big names (Thor Husvhod, Tony Martin etc.) that Bjarne Riis didn’t have the money for as well?

Odds on the Tour de France 2012 at Betsafe.
There is one big bridge to cross though and that is the fact that cycling still is an absolute niche sport for the bookmakers. Most bookmakers are making red numbers on their cycling bets and the amount of money placed on the cycling markets are microscopically small compared to big sports like football and tennis. Still we must remember that despite this fact Unibet did think it was a good idea to sponsor a cycling team in the best league.

It might look like a dead end, but personally I believe that we will see bookmakers entering top cycling within the next couple of years. It might be too early – after the end of the gambling monopolies – in 2012 already, but I feel quite confident saying that the Tour de France 2014 will have a least one team sponsored by an online bookmaker on the start list, except for Lotto and FDJ of course.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rumor killer - Vacansoleil-DCM denies ties with Cobo

Vuelta España winner Juanjo Cobo
After former Team GEOX boss Mauro Gianetti gave Juanjo Cobo ‘carte blanche’ to leave the team and a find a new one for 2012 different rumors have been going on about the future of the recent Vuelta España winner. One rumor sends Cobo to Vacansoleil-DCM since it seems like the Dutch WorldTour team will have some extra money left in case Ezequiel Mosquera gets the expected 2 years ban.

But after getting burned by first Mosquera and later thrown into the fire by Riccardo Riccò, Vacansoleil-DCM now wants stay clear of any suspicious riders. Juanjo Cobo was a part of the Saunier Duval team who had to withdraw from the Tour de France in 2008 due to doping violations by its riders Leonardo Piepoli and Riccardo Riccò and Vacansoleil-DCM can’t afford to have that happening again.

“We can’t be the team to sign a rider like him after what happened to us with Mosquera and Riccò. We can’t afford to do that again to ourselves and therefore we have never been interested in signing him. I have great respect for the rider and I regret to talk about a rider who is never tested positive in this way, but unfortunately this is how cycling is at the moment”, press officer Ard Bierens explains to me.

As I wrote earlier on this site it is expected that Juanjo Cobo will continue his career at one of the WorldTour licensed teams, but it will for sure not be at Vacansoleil-DCM.

EXCLUSIVE - No new sponsors to save Gianetti & Matxin

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Mauro Gianetti had at least two concrete offers on the table to save the former Team GEOX. One of these was the deal with President Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan government while the other was with ‘regular’ international company. At the time it seemed like it was only a matter of time before a new sponsor deal would be signed but now the optimism is gone. I just got off the phone with Mauro Gianetti.

“The situation isn’t easy. Right now we are still waiting for a decision from the Venezuelan government. It’s a big, long term project and of course you can’t just rush to a decision, I understand that. I’m in touch with them every day though, but I don’t think it will be possible to continue on the level we would like to next year. Maybe we can make a deal for 2012 to carry on with a smaller budget, but I don’t know. To be honest it’s very complicated right now”, Gianetti explains.

Last Friday the UCI gave Gianetti & Matxin another week to find a new sponsor, but according to Gianetti that’s not enough time.

“Ever since GEOX announced the end of their sponsorship, I have been doing everything I could to secure a new deal. But now we just have to face the reality of modern cycling. It’s extremely difficult to find a new sponsor and if you look around there are really no new sponsors among the big teams. Not even Highroad managed to find a new sponsor. Due to the low economy it’s just not possible right now and we have to face that. Maybe we can sign a deal in one or two months, because I’m really talking with a lot of companies. The opportunity is there but the time isn’t”.

Denis Menchov has already been rumored to Katusha for several months and according to Mauro Gianetti that would indeed be the best solution. “I hope he sign the deal soon. Denis is a good rider and a good person and I think that Katusha should have the best Russian rider on their team”.

Also Juanjo Cobo, who has been faithful to Gianetti & Matxin in this difficult time, is now ‘free to leave’. “He has been approached by some teams. I can’t say which ones, but of course he is not going to stay now, I mean he is the winner of the Vuelta”, Gianetti says. According to my information Cobo will most likely continue on one of the World Tour licensed teams next year.

So unfortunately it really seems like the former GEOX team won’t continue next year and if they do, only on a level much lower than before. Such a shame for cycling!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Interview - Caroline Wozniacki talks cycling & anti-doping tests

Caroline Wozniacki - Number 1 in the world.
Caroline Wozniacki is the number one female tennis player in the world and knows what it takes to get to the top. I thought it would be interesting to get another view on cycling from an outstanding athlete of another sport. Therefore I made this quick, little interview with the Danish tennis darling.

Caroline, to start off, how much cycling do you watch?
Do be honest I don’t watch that much, but I do watch some of the stages of the Tour de France when it’s on. I think that the riders’ endurance is incredible and what they manage to do during the Tour is simply outstanding.

Do you have a favorite rider?
I remember I cheered for Bjarne Riis when he was in the Tour de France, but now I just support the Danish team [Team Saxo Bank].

Any specific cycling moments you remember?
Well, not a specific moment, more all of the things Lance Armstrong did in his career.

As number one in the world, you are used to the enormous pressure on your shoulders. How do you cope with that and do you see any parallels between tennis and cycling in that direction?
First of all you have to be mentally very strong to reach the top. It requires a lot mentally to be able to keep on pushing yourself in the difficult times. For what concerns me, I try to take it easy now. I know that I have already achieved a lot of great things, so I just try to enjoy every second of it. I have already achieved more than I have ever dreamed of! Now I just try to improve every day and see where it takes me.

To change the subject a little. It’s no secret that cycling is the sport with the most anti-doping tests per year. A rider like Fabian Cancellara had almost 60 tests last year. How many anti-doping tests did you have this season?
Actually I think it’s more than 30. So even though it’s not as many as in cycling, I still think that we are getting tested a lot. I don’t think it’s easier to cheat here since we are getting tested in every tournament we participate in.

Thanks to Caroline Wozniacki for taking time. I think it’s very interesting to notice the amount of anti-doping tests that Caroline, as number one in the world, had this season. People usually claims that big money sports like tennis and football don’t have the same amount of tests as cycling, and even though the number isn’t 60 like in the extreme case with Cancellara, I must say that 30 is a lot higher than I expected. Glad to be proven wrong. What concerns football, well, nothing has changed. According to UEFA, Barcelona had only 3 unexpected anti-doping controls last season.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Team Saxo Bank presentation: ”We will have a different focus in 2012”

New logo, new faces, new objectives but the same values. Team Saxo Bank presented today their team for 2012 in Copenhagen with a smiling and laughing Alberto Contador as front figure. From the moment he stepped on the stage, applauded by the audience, Contador was smiling and cracking jokes – a totally different scenario from just a week ago when he was defending himself against the doping charges in CAS.

So what’s new? Well all of you who followed my live tweets (and thanks for that!) already knows about the new logo, which I personally think looks good. Glad to see the eagle back in center again. In the beginning of his welcome speech Bjarne Riis put a lot of effort into explaining that the team would have some new objectives next year. Supposedly it’s not just about Alberto Contador winning the Tour. “We will have a different focus in 2012. We have a young Polish guy (Majka I guess) who we will see how far we can take in the Giro and then we want to build a lead out train for JJ. Haedo”, Bjarne Riis said.

Alberto Contador & Bjarne Riis
The different objectives also reflects in the activities for the up-coming training camp in Israel. “It will be a different program this time”, Riis continues. “We will stay there (in Israel) for two weeks where we will build a cycling school for kids with 2 classes. One Jewish and one Arabic. The plan is that the whole team (riders, managers, staff etc.) will be building this school within 2 days. Later on we will have a Criterium in the heart of Jerusalem. I have convinced the mayor and the police director to close down the center of Jerusalem so I’m really looking forward to seeing that”.

Personally I’m very excited about new idea about building a lead out train around Juan José Haedo. An idea that not even Haedo himself knew about for sure until today. “Actually I heard about it at the same time as you did. We have talked about it, but I didn’t know for sure until Bjarne said it at the presentation”, Haedo confesses and continues; “But of course I’m looking forward to it. It’s a new challenge for me, a step forward in my career. It gives me more confidence but we will have to practice a lot in order to take on the big teams. It’s going to be very interesting”.

Takashi Miyazawa
Another guy I’m looking forward to seeing in 2012 is newcomer Takashi Miyazawa. The Japanese puncheur knows that he is there to help his teammates but he is also a very aggressive type of rider who can both attack and sprint. So don’t be surprised to see him in the front when he gets the chance. You can follow Miyazawa on twitter at @Bravotakashi and I hope my mission on making him tweet in English and Italian will succeed! So far it has only been in Japanese… “Because I’m very famous back in Japan, but now I will try to be more international”, Miyazawa tells.

Biggest Danish name on the team this year is once again Chris Anker Sørensen, whose primary goal next year is “to win races”. As he explains: “I didn’t win anything this year and the Tour didn’t work out as we had hoped for either, so I really hope 2012 will be better. It would be amazing for me to take Alberto all the way to the Tour win on Champs-Élysées but of course I also want to win my own races. This year Christopher Froome ended 2nd in the Vuelta and he is rider on my level, so I just have to be ready to take the chance when it’s there”.

Well, that’s basically it for the team presentation. No breaking news or anything near that, but without a doubt a lot of hope for 2012 and for the training camp in Israel. Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pat McQuaid or Plexico Burrews?

Less than a week after the Contador CAS hearing, UCI president Pat McQuaid now confirms to Cyclingnews that his organization is close to open a handful of anti-doping cases based on information from the biologic passport.

My question is then; "Why is Pat McQuaid telling this now?". In a time when cycling once again is struggling with cases against its top riders, how can it possible be a good idea to say that there are more cases coming, without being able to name any implicated riders? Instead of focusing on the next season, suddenly everybody and their neigh bough now starts to think “who are those riders?”, “I’m sure it’s him, he was just too good this year” etc. etc.

I may be blind here, but please Pat McQuaid; explain to me why you are leaking this information now and not just stay quiet until the cases are opened? It sure seems like UCI is shooting their own feet here…

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dice the sentence

There is something seriously wrong with the cycling system and I doubt many will argue with that fact. Alexander Kolobnev seems likely to slip through with a small fine, Alex Rasmussen and Jeannie Longo go free despite 3 missed anti-doping tests while the Ezequiel Mosquera and Alberto Contador cases drag out. Everybody knows how long the Contador case has been going for now and apparently the UCI didn’t even send their case against Mosquera to the Spanish federation until the end of April even though his positive test occurred during the Vuelta in September.

How come it has to take this long to determine if a rider is guilty or not and why are the end results so far from each other? Sometimes it really looks like the cycling organs deciding these things just end up throwing dices to decide…

I wouldn’t be surprised if the UCI, WADA and all the national federations have this site on the top of the bookmark list.

The system needs to get fixed - same rules for everybody, ya!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

EXCLUSIVE - New sponsor just around the corner for Gianetti and Matxin

Gianetti & Matxin in Venezuela...
Mauro Gianetti and Josean Fernández Matxin have been working very hard to secure a new sponsor deal since GEOX announced the end of their sponsorship a month ago. Right now they have 2 “concrete deals” to choose between.

Last week Gianetti and Matxin went to Venezuela in order to set up a deal with the Venezuelan government, more specifically the tourism board, under the name of “Venezuela - País de sueño”. The two stayed in South America for three days where they managed put together a pretty good plan. Very much like Katusha and Astana the idea is to set up a big national cycling project, bankrolled by the Hugo Chavez government enrolling the pro.-team (what’s left of Team GEOX), a track team, mountain bike etc. etc. “A very interesting project”, as Mauro Gianetti describes it. All there is left now is for President Hugo Chavez to green light to the project.

Should the Venezuelan project fall apart, Mauro Gianetti has yet another Ace up his sleeve.

“We have two concrete deals right now. One of them is the one with the Venezuelan government, the other one is more a regular one with a big international company as the main sponsor”, Mauro Gianetti tells me. “We have not signed anything yet, but we hope to close the deal very soon. It could be any day now. For me it doesn’t matter which deal we end up taking. The Venezuelan one is a very interesting project with the government and the other one is with a good, serious company that we know very well. We will see”.

No matter what deal Mauro Gianetti and and Josean Fernández Matxin end up taking, the leader of the team next year will still be Vuelta España winner Juanjo Cobo who, not like Menchov, Duarte, Felline, Ardila etc., has chosen to stay with the team in this difficult time. Also Rafael Valls and David de la Fuente are expected to stay.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Most interesting signings for 2012

I’m sorry I’ve been M.I.A. for a while now, but I had some personal things to sort out. Anyway now I’m back and I think it’s time to take a look at the transfer-window and see which teams made the best deals for 2012.

It’s easy to point out BMC’s aggressive strategy (BuyMoreCaptains) with riders like Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd, Marco Pinotti and Tejay Van Garderen signing on for 2012, but instead of that I rather want to look at some of the scoops for next year.

Manuel Belletti
First of all, we have Ag2r. Despite having promising French sprinters like Lloyd Mondory and Anthony Ravard, team boss Vincent Lavenu still felt the need to grab three new fast guys. French veteran Jimmy Casper, Italian up-and-coming Manuel Belletti and Russian 12-wins-so-far-this-season Boris Shiplevski. The name to remember here is of course Manuel Belletti. He has been stuck in the Italian calendar for some years now and I’m really looking forward to see what he can do in the big races, especially in the Grand Tours where he doesn’t have to share the sprinter-role with Sacha Modolo anymore. Look out for Belletti, he will be taking home many podium places in 2012! Great transfer!

Angel Vicioso
What seemed like a Russian revolution in the Tour this year, has now been changed quite a bit at Team Katusha. A lot of new, international personalities are now to find at the team, who once again managed to sign some very interesting riders! It would be too easy to say Oscar Freire, so instead let’s focus on another Spaniard, Angel Vicioso. Together with Freire, he will be a key player in the one-day-races, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he snatched a win in of the spring classics. Great transfer!

Next up is Lampre. On one hand it seems like they want to back Alessandro Petacchi even more than this season with lead-out signings like Viganò, Paolini and Ongarato, but on the other hand they have also signed two of my favorite younguns in, future GC star, Mattia Cattaneo and Davide Cimolai who is planned to take over from Petacchi when he can’t win anymore, probably already this year. Two young Italians with huge potential  good transfers!

Giovanni Visconti
Without BMC, I would say Movistar has been making the best deals for next year. Youngsters like Castroviejo, Herrada, Quintana together with already established Karpets and Visconti, well that's just impressive. Especially Giovanni Visconti who I think finally will get his big break through on the international scene, meaning winning big races – not “just” those on the Italian calendar (no offense). And by the way, don’t forget Movistar also gets Alejandro Valverde back in 2012. Outstanding transfers!

Astana has also been quite aggressive, signing Brajkovic, Seeldrayers, Bozic etc for 2012. It’s no secret that I've already pointed out Janez Brajkovic as one of my top candidates for the Giro d’Italia next year, but let’s look at another new name at the Kazakh team instead. Francesco Gavazzi. Gavazzi has been riding in the shadows at Lampre his whole career and even though he has been able to shine a few times, like when he won a stage in the Vuelta España this year, I expect him to show his full potential in 2012. Gavazzi is a rider who should be named among the candidates for races like Milano-San Remo and Amstel Gold Race and without any other hilly sprinters at Astana, I think Gavazzi will turn out to be a really important signing for Team Vinokourov. Great transfer!

Mark Renshaw
With Oscar Freire and Graeme Brown leaving Rabobank, Matti Brechel focusing on the classics and Theo Bos far from consistent I think new-signing Mark Renshaw could be quite a scoop. Renshaw has been the world’s best lead out man for a while now but has also always delivered when given the chance. Mark Cavendish was upset to see his best man leave, and it will be very interesting to see the two going on head-2-head (get it…) in the mass sprints next year. Great transfer!

Last team for now is Team Sky. Everybody expected Mark Cavendish to sign on and of course he did just that. Cavendish is a guarantee for victories and that is exactly what Team Sky needs. Therefore Cavendish is the most important transfer of the season, no doubt. Still I would like to focus on little less known Salvatore Puccio. The young Italian won the U-23 version of Ronde van Vlaanderen this year and is a rider much like his hero Oscar Freire. Puccio is still very young and has a lot to learn, but I think we will already see some of his enormous talent next year. Great transfer!

Well that’s it for now. These are the signings I see as the most interesting for 2012. Please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree.

For my view on Team Saxo Bank’s transfer situation please read my piece “Explanation - Why Saxo Bank hasn’t signed a new star to help Contador” by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Explanation - Why Saxo Bank haven't signed a new star to help Contador

Contador really needs a strong climber - but who?
As everybody who read my interview with Jesus Hernandez knows, Alberto Contador really wants one more strong climber to help him in the mountains next year. Many could argue that Jesus Hernandez himself or team mate Dani Navarro should be that rider, but as shown during the 2011-season, that’s just not the case. And when Richie Porte decided to leave the team together with Gustav Larsson, it seemed clear Bjarne Riis had to get some reinforcements.

So far the newcomers who can help in the uphill sections are the two Portuguese riders, Bruno Pires and Sergio Paulinho. Even though they are both solid climbers, they are nowhere near the level requested by Contador. So how about a rider like Juanjo Cobo who has just won the Vuelta España and right now is without a team for next year after GEOX had pulled the plug on their sponsor deal or the other former GEOX-captain Denis Menchov? Well, the answer is simple: Riis has neither the money nor the desire to do so.

Let me explain:

First of all, it’s a common mistake to think that just because Saxo Bank boss Lars Seier Christensen said the Danish bank is willing to pump more money into the team if they come up with the right name, Bjarne Riis has a blank check waiting for him. “There is a clause in the contract saying that we will release more money for the team if Bjarne finds the right rider”, it was said at the press conference back in July this year.

Therefore, the real question is, what exactly does “the right rider” mean? Does it mean Bjarne Riis can just pick any available rider on the market and then turn to Saxo Bank for extra money? Or does it mean that if Riis manages to find the rider he is looking for Saxo Bank will help out with the salary? I back the latter…

Riis wanted Hushovd to join Contador
Think about it. During this year’s Tour de France, Bjarne Riis made no effort in hiding how interested he was in signing Thor Hushovd for 2012. Normally, the team may not have the necessary means but with Saxo Bank’s additional financial support this may change. Unfortunately for Riis, the BMC team had a lot more capital to operate with and Hushovd therefore chose to sign with them instead.

In fact it seems like Thor Hushovd wasn’t the only one Riis was chasing. At the 2012 Tour presentation he said: “There have been some riders I would have liked to sign, but financial problems and other stuff got in the way”.

It’s understandable that Bjarne Riis doesn’t have the same capital as a team like BMC but if Saxo Bank really was ready to pump more money into the team in order to get another ‘name’ on the roster, how can it be that a rider like Juanjo Cobo (who signed a €800.000 contract with GEOX just before the sponsor left) isn’t an option? Well, remember what I said about desire?... the same applies for Denis Menchov. Rumor has it he requests €1.80 million a year - not exactly desirable taking into account Saxo Bank already pays Alberto Contador around €5,00 million a year.

I talked with Team Saxo Bank’s press officer Anders Damgaard about it but unfortunately he couldn’t elaborate further since “that specific deal between the cycling team and Saxo Bank is confidential”.

Martin remains an opponent for Contador
Still it doesn’t take a genius to see that if Saxo Bank was willing to pay for the right rider, and Bjarne Riis has been chasing specific riders since July, well then the Dane’s mission hasn’t really been very successful, has it?

Tony Martin is another rider Bjarne Riis had hoped to get on the team with the extra bag of money from Saxo Bank but, like Hushovd, Martin decided elsewise.

So to answer the headline’s question, ‘why hasn’t Saxo Bank signed a new star to help Contador’. There are three reasons:

1. The extra money from Saxo Bank isn't just for 'any rider'.
2. Bjarne Riis hasn’t managed to close the deal with the riders he wanted to use the extra money for.
3. No ‘desirable’ riders are left on the market.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Entrevista - Mikel Nieve (Rider, Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Mikel, enhorabuena por la impresionante temporada. ¿Como la describirias?
Ha sido una temporada muy buena tanto para el equipo como para mi. Hemos conseguido ganar en las tres grandes vueltas y la gente joven ha dado un pasito más. Para un equipo con nuestra filosofía, ganar en Arrate, Zoncolan, Gardeccia, Luz Ardiden y Bilbao es maravilloso. Individualmente, estoy muy satisfecho porque pienso que he dado un paso más como ciclistas. Ganar en Gardeccia fue especial, fue un etapón tremendo y la alegría fue increible. He sido muy regular toda la temporada, acabé 11º el Giro y 10º la Vuelta. Pienso que esa regularidad y el triunfo en Gardeccia son un gran balance.

¿Cual ha sido el mejor recuerdo de la temporada?
A nivel individual, el mejor recuerdo es la victoria en Gardeccia. Después de que Igor ganase en Zoncolan, repetir al día siguiente fue espectacular. Fue un Giro durísimo y aquel día sufrí lo impensable. Pero conseguí la victoria y conforme pasa el tiempo, lo valoro más.

Undécimo en la clasificación general en el Giro y décimo en la Vuelta, cuál de las dos ha sido la mejor experiencia?
Las dos experiencias han sido bonitas. El recorrido del Giro fue más exigente que el de la Vuelta. La última semana del Giro estuve enfermo y se me escapó el top ten. Me fastidió un poco, pero ya no queda vuelta de hoja. En cuanto a la Vuelta, llegué con la misión de ayudar a Igor a disputar la general de la Vuelta y luego tuve que disputarla yo. Tuve que cambiar mi papel y al final conseguimos entrar en el top ten. La etapa de Ancares fue clave, el ataque que hicimos como equipo me metió en la pelea por el top ten y finalmente conseguimos entrar. Estoy satisfecho de ambas clasificaciones porque son dos de las mejores carreras del mundo y en ambas estuve competitivo.

Igor Antón éra el gran favorito para ganar la Vuelta, pero no tuvo piernas en las primeras dos semanas. ¿Tuvo que ser un comienzo muy duro para el equipo?
Fue dificil para el equipo, por supuesto, pero de estas situaciones hay que aprender, no estar lamentándose de lo que pudo haber sido y no fue. Me quedo con que el equipo no se vino abajo y seguimo trabajando, cambiamos los objetivos y la mentalización en marcha, algo que es muy dificil, y logramos tanto acabar entre los 10 primeros de la general como ganar una etapa, encima la de Bilbao. Me quedo con que ante las adversidades, aún nos unimos más y le dimos la vuelta a la tortilla.

El año pasado ganaste una etapa en la Vuelta y este año otra etapa en el Giro. Para el año que viene ¿una etapa en el Tour?
Si fuese por mi, lo firmaba. Trato de mejorar cada temporada, poco a poco. Tengo unas características determinadas y tengo que aprovecharlas. Ganar en Cotobello fue espectacular, y Gardeccia no fue menos. Pronto tendremos una concentración y se empezarán a definir los puntos calientes de la temporada 2012. Si el año que viene voy al Tour, mi papel será el de apoyar a nuestro líder, Samuel Sánchez. Ha sido cuarto y sexto en la general, ha ganado en Luz Ardiden, la montaña del Tour… Si voy a Francia, la misión será estar junto a Samuel en la montaña y aprender. Eso sí, si surge la oportunidad, no frenaré. Es muy difícil, pero hay que estar preparado.

¿Sabes ya cuáles de las grandes vueltas vas a correr en 2012?
En la cocnentración que hagamos a finales de noviembre se hablará de ese tema.

¿Y cuáles son tus expectativas para el año que viene?
Seguir mejorando. Será mi cuarto año en Euskaltel Euskadi y espero dar un pasito más. Si mantengo la progresión, los objetivos se irán cumpliendo.

Parece que Euskaltel va a retirar el patrocinio tras la próxima temporada. ¿Crees que habrá una presión extra sobre los corredores en 2012?
Desde el equipo nos han dicho que estemos tranquilos y que seamos tan profesionales como lo hemos sido siempre. Seguiremos entrenando con ganas y en competición nos esforzaremos al máximo, como siempre. Es algo que hacemos desde siempre, por nosotros mismos y por el equipo.

Y si el equipo no pudiese encontrar un nuevo patrocinador, ¿que significaria esto para el ciclismo vasco?
Esta pregunta aún no tiene respuesta. Confío en lo que me han dicho desde el equipo, que sigamos trabajando como siempre y los frutos ya llegarán.

Bueno, para finalizar. Tres preguntas rápidas.
¿Quien es tu mejor amigo en el equipo?
Tenemos muy buen ambiente en el equipo. Con el que más horas paso, Juanjo Oroz, es un excelente compañero y amigo.
¿Quien es el corredor más divertido del equipo?
Tenemos unos cuantos, pero con Pierre Cazaux me lo paso muy bien.
¿Y cuál es tu carrera favorita?
Giro d'Italia o Vuelta a España, ambas me han gustado.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Interview - Giorgia Bronzini

Giorgia Bronzini winning in Copenhagen
Giorgia Bronzini showed to be the strongest of all the Italian riders (including the men) at the World Champions in Copenhagen last month, giving Italy their only medal at the Champions and herself a second gold medal in a row!

Giorgia, first of all, congratulation with your gold medal! Can you describe the feeling when you crossed the line?
Thank you very much. I was incredible; I really didn’t think that I could win again this year. I gave everything I had to complete the excellent team work, especially the one made by my wife Monia Baccaille. When I crossed the line I couldn’t believe it.

How does this gold medal feels compared to the one you won last year in Australia?
Well, I think that the gold medal I won in Geelong may have been a surprise, because we [the Italian team] only decide that I should have a go in the sprint in the very end of the race. Now, I will say that this medal is a confirmation for me.

Take me through the last couple of kilometers. What was the Italian tactic in the final?
In the last kilometers, the final three, I was behind Monia [Baccaille]. She made a great job! In the end I managed to do, what was probably my best sprint in the whole season. To be honest the Italian team wasn’t the strongest one, we were not as strong as Germany and Netherland, but we worked together and that is our strength.

You got a perfect lead out by Monia, when did you know that you would win?
I believed a lot in myself and as soon as I started my sprint I knew that I could win. It was a difficult arrival, but very suitable for me.

Any words for Marianne Vos? 2nd for the 5th time in a row...
To me, Marianne is number one. She is a very strong athlete who knows how to win and she has been demonstrating this during the whole season. At the Worlds her team just didn’t manage to make the perfect lead out train for her in the sprint.

What do you think about the Italian men’s tactic in the race?
I don’t think they did anything wrong. It’s a young team and not very easy for them to work together in the big races just yet. Still I think the Italian federation made the right choice in believing in the youth and in time that will pay off.

How about your plans for next year?
I only have one word; London. This is all I think about.

And one word to describe your 2011 season as well?
Humility, I didn’t start out very well, but I finished in a perfect way. I made some mistakes and I know that, so now I won’t make the same ones in the future.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Interview - Alexander Kristoff (Rider, BMC)

Alexander Kristoff is yet another future top rider coming out of Norway these years. His speed and characteristics gives him the perfect opportunities to become the next Norwegian top sprinter in the peloton. Coming from Joker - Bianchi to BMC this season, he will now join forces with Denis Galimzyanov at Katusha next year as a very strong and fast duo for the mass sprints.

Alexander. To start out, how will you describe your season this year?
I had an OK season. I was hoping to win some races this year and I only won 1 race (Nationals) so if you look at it that way it was not that successful. But feel I have grown as a rider since last year. I finished my first Grand Tour and got better results than last year with more top 5 results through the year.

Compared to last year, what has changed this year? Can you feel the improvement?
Generally, I feel stronger. I know a little bit more about how to work as a professional and how I can prepare myself better before the races.

In your opinion, what has been your best race this year?
It is always a good feeling to win so I have to say that my National Championship victory is the best this year. I also had a good period after my summer training with a 2nd and 3rd place in Tour de Wallonie followed by a 2nd place in Tour de Pologne.

You came very close to top3 spot on the Giro stage Gatto won, when Petacchi overtook you with a few centimeters. How will you describe your first Grand Tour experience?
It was a good experience when I look back. When I was there in the middle of all the mountains it was not very pleasant though. It was incredible hard! One day I had a total of 9 hours ride time with neutral and riding back to the bus. But I got some okay results in my first Grand Tour like that 4th place. You can always hope for more and if I had had a little bit of luck, maybe I would have ended 2nd on that stage, but that’s cycling.

When BMC announced the signing of Thor Hushovd, it only took you 10 days to announce your move to Katusha. Did the signing of Hushovd, as sprinter, have anything to do with your change of team?
No. I got the message from BMC, that I had to look for another team, right after the Giro, before I knew that Thor was coming to the team. It was nice of BMC to give me this message so early. That gave me the opportunity to start looking for other teams early on, and then it wasn’t a problem to find a new one. It would have been worse if I thought I could stay and then got the same message in September.

At BMC you were the main sprinter, but at Katusha they already have Galimzyanov. What will your role be at the Russian team?
I will have a meeting with Katusha in some days to figure out my calendar for next season. But I want to do one Grand Tour and some classics like Milano - San Remo. I will of course have to work with Galimzyanov and I look forward to help him in sprints - I think I can learn a lot from him. I also got signals from Katusha that they want to work with me as a sprinter and I will probably get my chances in other races where Galimzyanov is not racing or if he’s not in shape.

Is there a specific race on the 2012 calendar that you dream of winning?
When I was a kid I was dreaming about winning a stage in Tour de France, but to be more realistic I hope of winning more than one race next year. Maybe I can win a race like Vattenfall Classic, I have done this race 2 years now and I always felt good there. I will try to work hard this winter and be more prepared for the season opening, since I normally have a little bit of troubles getting started.

Despite only having a handful of riders in the peloton, Norway seems to produce one top sprinter after the other. What do you think the secret of this impressive tendency is?
Maybe, it’s how we are build or how we train. I am not sure, but it’s a fact that we have fast guys. This year we where 6 pro-riders and 3 of them are “sprinters” even though I have to say that Thor and Edvald are more than sprinters, they win many types of races.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A few outsiders to win Lombardia

Let’s face it; there is one name and one name only when you talk about favorites for the hilly classics these years. Philippe Gilbert. Thing is that every rider in the peloton already knows that and it wouldn’t surprise me if we got an outsider on top of the podium in Lombardia to close a spectacular season.

Let’s take a look at a few outsiders who could ruin ‘the perfect’ season for Gilbert.

Rigoberto Uran, Team Sky.
Rigoberto Uran was very close to his big breakthrough in the Tour when he seemed sure to win the White Jersey before going under on the stage to Alpe d’huez. After that he regained his energy with a strong performance in San Sebastian before taking third place in GP de Quebec and latest another third place in Giro dell’Emilia. After Emilia he saved his energy for Lombardia where he will be the sole captain for a very strong Team Sky with Thomas Löfkvist showing great shape.

Uran is strong on the small steep climbs and very fast in a sprint, so don’t be surprised if he takes another top3 spot on Saturday - if not the win…

Pablo Lastras, Movistar.
It’s been a long and very successful season for Pablo Lastras and even though he had a long journey from the heavy smog in Beijing he should still be able to put down a good fight in Lombardia. It’s one of Lastras’ favorite races and last year he took third place after Gilbert & Scarponi showing great motivation for a good result despite the victory being out of reach for him. To help Lastras in the best possible way, Movistar sends strong riders like Rui Costa (who could be an outsider himself), Beñat Intxausti, Angel Madrazo, Ruben Plaza etc.

As said Pablo Lastras has had an amazing season so far and I think - and hope - that he can end it with style in Lombardia.

Daniel Moreno, Katusha.
I know. This is maybe too easy after he won in Piemonte last Thursday, but Dani Moreno is in fact a pretty good pick for an outsider to win Lombardia this year. Like Lastras, Moreno is finally back at this former level, probably even a lot better than ever before, and with Purito and Paolini the Katusha team really have a strong trio. Purito will probably be the leader, but like in Piemonte, Moreno can take advantage of this and try his own luck.

Most of you know that Dani Moreno is one of my favorite riders in the peloton, but no matter what, you all have to agree that if you can win in Piemonte two days before, you can definitely do great things in Lombardia as well!

Prezemyslav Niemiec, Lampre.
Damiano Cunego is without any doubts the leader at Lampre for Lombardia, having practically owned it earlier, but look out for this Polish guy as well. Niemiec is well known for his climber skills and after spending the whole season working his ass for his leaders, especially Michele Scarponi, this could be his big chance for a result for himself. Ending 5th in Emilia and 6th in Piemonte, Niemiec is certainly on the top of his game right now and if the long journey from Beijing shows to be too much for Cunego, he could end up surprising a lot of people with a strong ride in Lombardia!

If you are a gambler and you want to find the best winner bets for Lombardia, I suggest you read my article "Follow the money" at this site.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Follow the money

Who is going to win the race today? Maybe you need to update your manager team, maybe you are planning to put down a little money on the race or maybe you are just generally interesting in cycling. Whatever your reasons are to ask this question, the answer is very simple; follow the money - and then you will see.

Some people like to follow the expert’s picks – as you have been doing at this very site during the Tour and the Vuelta – while some prefers to follow their favorite tipster. You can get good picks this way, but if you want the great tips, you have to pay close attention to the bookmakers. Not on who the bookmakers think will win – let’s face it, they don’t really know more than you anyway – but pay attention to the riders whose odds suddenly start to drop heavily. It takes some time see it, but when you get the hang of it, it’s easy to see who the real favorites are.

Let me show you a couple of examples.

Giro d’Italia, stage 17 - May 25th.
On paper a typical breakaway stage. One of those stages where half of the peloton wants to give a shot and see what happens. As those of you who follow cycling closely know, this stage had names like Giovanni Visconti & Pablo Lastras written all over it and just like that both riders managed to get into the right breakaway. A coincident? No. These riders are experts in hitting the right breaks and therefore the odds on Visconti & Lastras aren’t very high at the start of the stage (around odds 10-20). The odds on a guy like Diego Ulissi are on the other hand much, much higher. Starting in around 200 or 300.

So, you might ask, how are you supposed to know that Ulissi is a good pick for this specific stage when the odds are so much higher on him than on ‘favorites’ like Visconti and Lastras? Well, this is where my thesis from before comes in handy – follow the money! It’s no secret that most bets on the cycling are placed in the final hours before the race starts. Therefore it’s a good idea to keep an open eye on the odds at this time. If you did back then, you would have had witness something very interesting. Suddenly the odds on Ulissi started to drop, from 300 to 200. From 200 to 100 and from 100 down to 40. It’s true that odds 40 still is a very high odds, but with the money placed on Ulissi it was easy to see that someone knew he was on fire that day.

6 hours later Diego Ulissi had won the stage. It’s true that he won because Visconti got disqualified in the sprint, but if you had bought Ulissi at odds 300 (or just 100) you would have been able to lay him on betting exchanges such as Betfair at odds 2 during the stage. In other words you would have been able to make a huge profit no matter what would have happen in the final sprint if you had followed the money and placed a bet on Ulissi when the odds on him started to drop.

Another example is from Paris-Tours last Sunday.
Usually the markets on cycling are very low at this point of the season. Meaning that the list of 20+ bookmakers with odds on the Tour de France is reduced to only a very few for Paris-Tours. One of these bookmakers is Betfair, but as always with these late season races, the liquidity is very low. That means that when the total amount of euro placed isn’t higher than a few thousands (many, many, many times lower than during the Tour) and then suddenly a rider at odds 100+ starting to get 20% of money it raises a few eyebrows. Or at least it should do!

The rider I’m talking about is Marco Marcato from Vacansoleil-DCM. Marcato sure seemed to be in the shape of his life, doing top10 in both of the Canadian races and winning Tour de Vendée just a week before, but to drop all the way down to odds 30 did seem a little off. Riders like Philippe Gilbert, Oscar Freire, Robbie McEwen, Sylvain Chavanel and the new World Champion Mark Cavendish were all to be considered as the big favorites for the race, and therefore it stands out when the few money on the race suddenly go to Marcato at such a high odds.

But just as the case with Diego Ulissi, Marco Marcato turned out to be the smart bet ending 2nd in the race behind Greg Van Avermaet. Starting at odds 100+ to win and odds 25 for a top3 spot, the Italian Vacansoleil-DCM rider sure made a few punters go to sleep happy that Sunday.

I could give a lot of examples like these two, but I think you got the basic idea now. So remember, if you want to get best picks for a race, always follow the money!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Giro start without crashes...?

I know it sounds almost impossible, but for once the organizers of the Giro d’Italia have actually tried to reduce the many inevitable crashes occurring during the first stages. The Giro starts in Denmark, and race-planner (and former pro.-rider) Alex Pedersen tells that first 3 stages have been planned to avoid as many round abouts, traffic islands, speed bumps etc as possible.

Compared to earlier, the favorite’s teams are now more likely to take control early in the race in order to keep their leaders up front at all time, and after studying the race start in Holland in 2010, Alex Pedersen knew something had to be changed.

“It’s going to be some very nervous stages in Denmark when everybody fears to lose time so early in the race. Therefore we have tried to find a route as safe as possible for the riders”, he says.

For sure we will see crashes in Denmark during the first couple of stages, but hopefully not as many as previously. Let’s get more big, bike races to Denmark! ;)

See the profiles of the 3 stages in Denmark below:

Stage 1 - 8,7 km ITT

Stage 2 - 206 km
Stage 3 - 190 km

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Interview - Gianni Savio (Team Manager Androni Giocattoli - C.I.P.I)

After being the national coach for first Columbia (2001-2005) and then Venezuela (until last year) Gianni Savio has now decided to concentrate fully on managing his Androni Giocattoli - C.I.P.I team. A team who had a very good season starting out winning 3 stages in San Luis, 1 stage in Langkawi plus the overall win, Giro del Friuli, 2 stages plus the overall in Settimana Coppi e Bartali and then two stages in the Giro with Rujano finishing 7th in the overall classification.

The biggest signing of this year was the re-signing of José Rujano, 5 years after he quit the team during the 2006 season. Rujano never managed to get back to his former level, but with Gianni Savio he once again raised and won the big mountain stage to Grossglockner in the Giro.

Gianni, how will you describe the season for your team this year?
I think we had a very good season. We started very well. My philosophy is that it’s always very important to start out well. So we had a good preparation during the winter and we got some very good results in the first part of the season. It’s how we do, we always start out strong and then we defend our position in the second part of the season. It’s important to remember that there is an agreement between the Italian federation and the organizers of the Giro, saying that the best Italian team from the year before will get an invitation to the Giro, so that is what we are trying to obtain.

In the second part of the season there were a lot of rumors about Rujano changing team again in order to do the Vuelta. What was all that about?
No no, that was just rumors. Somebody starts talking about Rujano might want to change team to do the Vuelta, but that was never going to happen. Naturally we had no interest in letting him go, and Rujano never talk with me about it either.

Well it seems like it was the smart move for Rujano as well, since he has never managed to function in any other teams than yours…
Yes that’s true. I was the one discovering him when he was very young in a little village in the Venezuelan hills on the border to Columbia. Then he came to Italy and he had a lot of progress. We actually waited for him for 3 years to progress, without putting any pressure on him. Then he came to the Giro and he finished third. After that I think that he made some mistakes. It’s important to know that Rujano has very particular personality. I think it’s necessary to know him well, follow him and also be able to tell him “No” if it’s needed. I think that in some of the teams he went to the people around him always told him “yes, yes, yes” and made him believe he was the new God of cycling. And also, in the big teams he wasn’t being followed as well as he should have been by the team management. Somebody told him he was a champion, but the problem is that he was not a champion. He had the possibility to be one, but at that time he wasn’t a champion. Then when he came back to us and you saw what happened.

And how did you get him back?
Well, back in November last year, just when we had finished our team budget for our 16 riders, I received a phone call from Hernán Alemán [Politician, in the Venezuelan parliament] a friend of mine who is also the owner of the team Gobernación del Zulia [where Rujano was riding in the second part of the 2010 season]. He told me that he thought it was a shame that Rujano was wasting his talent only riding in Venezuela and that we should take him back to Italy to ride with the bests. I told him that I had to talk with Rujano first myself, because even though we always had a good relationship, the way we parted ways with the team wasn’t good at all. So I talked with Rujano three times and to me his mentality seemed to be changed. After that I talked with Alemán again and told him “okay” and we made a contract with Rujano for 2 years, with a significant payment increase if his results this year were good – which they turned out to be.

And next year, I suppose Rujano once again has the Giro as his big target?
Sure. He is the leader of the team and the plan for him is to prepare well for the Giro and if possible to return to podium.

About the team next year. You re-signed all of the great riders for 2011, but you still need four more riders…
Right now we have 12 riders and I think we will sign two other riders next week [this week]. One Italian rider and the other one right now is a South American. The plan is to end up with 16 riders, but our main goal was to re-sign all of our important riders first. To me it would have been crazy to lose our own riders and bring in new ones from other teams.

There was some talk about Davide Rebellin would return to your team as well…
Well, Davide was one of my riders 3 years ago and I am very sorry for how it turned out for him. It is true I have been talking with him. I tried to present him with the realism of his situation, telling him that no matter what he says then this [the positive test] is the result. So I told him to explain his situation to everybody, make a press release to let the Media know what happened. It’s not good the way he did. You can’t just disappear…

Is there any chance of seeing Davide back at Androni?
I talked with Davide and I told him that if he, right now, came forward and explained his situation and what exactly had happened, there was a possibility [to sign a contract with Androni]. But as the things are right now, it’s not possible.

Did you also fear that bringing Davide back to the team would jeopardize the chances of an invitation for the Giro?
No, that has never been in my consideration. Also the anti doping policy is very strict. UCI works very, very well against doping with the biologic passport which makes it possible for me to follow my riders. In the past that wasn’t possible. I live in Turin and I have riders all over the world, one in Florence Italy, one in Bogota Columbia, one in Caracas in Venezuela and what can I do? How I am supposed to follow every one of them? It was impossible.

What about a rider like Emmanuelle Sella. Do you think he can return to his former level?
Well, to be honest. For him to return to the same level as in 2008, I think it is very, very difficult [read between the lines…]. But he is good rider and I think he will return to a very good position again. Not to win three mountain stages, the jersey and end 5 in the GC, but sure he can return and do great things.

And does Sella know this? Because I read an interview with him before the Giro, when he was talking about aiming for the podium already…
He knows. This season was important for Sella in his way back and to prepare himself for next year as well. I think that he will make a lot better results next season, even though his year wasn’t bad for him at all. The problem with Sella is his mentality. He is very fragile. In the Giro he was too nervous all the time and for that reason he couldn’t make any better results than he did, but I hope it will be better next year.

Roberto Ferrari made a name for himself this season, what can we expect of him next year?
Roberto is a very good rider, but he was stopped by mononucleosis. He managed to finish the Giro, probably the only sprinter who did so, and then afterwards he found out he had mononucleosis. Something he had had since the third week of the race. So after the Giro he stopped and now he is preparing for the next season. He is a good sprinter and even though I hope he can beat Cavendish, I must also be realistic. We have to keep our feet on the ground. We will see…

Monday, September 26, 2011


Boooooom! That's how it's done kiddos! Text book win by Great Britain and Mark Cavendish. Put the best team possible together, control the pack at all time and finish it off with a gold medal.

No idea in wasting guys in breakaways without a chance to win. Bradley Winnins said, during the Vuelta, that he had preferred only to do the time trial but since he already had promised Cav to help him win the World Champs, he would do the road race as well and damn he did that race!

On the press conference afterwards, Cav said that he knew right away that he would win when he kicked in the final. That guy is simply amazing...

I know I picked Sagan to win, but it seems like he got out in the wind way too early. Still I would like to point out that I had 2 out of 4 names in the top4 and my top10 ended up looking pretty good as well ;)

So, that's all for this time...Interview with Gianni Savio will be online Monday or Tuesday - stay tuned!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cavendish, Cavendish, Cavendish…Sagan!

It can be a long day in front of the tv - or alongside the road - tomorrow, so to spare you a lot of time, here is how the World Champions 2011 is going down…

Starting out with a classic ‘few men breakaway’, peloton chasing quietly with the help of a some small nation riders who need a new contract. Around half way through the race the big nations send out a 3rd and 4th card player to test the bunch, nothing serious, you all know how it is. Within the last 4-5 laps the real guns start blazing. Spain sends out Lastras or Barredo, Italy tries with Visconti, while Gerrans represents Australia. Belgium misses the move and chase hard with UK and Germany. On the last lap Gilbert gives a go on the small hill with 10 km to go but never gets off and decides to stop and go back to prepare the sprint...

In the last corner UK has the front. Wiggins, who has been leading the peloton for a couple of kilometers putting everybody on their limit, leaves the front to Gerraint Thomas with Cavendish on his wheel. Thomas does this thing with 50+ km/h while everybody fighting to be on Cavendish’ wheel. On the final 350 meters Greipel tries to get a jump on Cavendish who reacts quickly and get back and pass the German. Cavendish seems to take the win but on the last 50-100 meters Peter Sagan shows up. The Slovakian has been hiding all day long but now he is there, right where he needs to be. He passes Cavendish and win with a couple of meters while Italian joker Viviani takes the bronze medal thanks to a powerful finish.

That leaves us with a top10 looking a little bit like this:
1. Peter Sagan
2. Mark Cavendish
3. Elia Viviani
4. Andre Greipel
5. Oscar Freire
6. Roman Feillu
7. Philippe Gilbert
8. Heinrich Haussler
9. Tyler Farrar
10. Grega Bole

I know there are a million of different scenarios, but to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if it all turned out something like the above.

What do you all think? Who is your favorite?

And hey, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/mrconde) for live updates, comments and pictures!

Enjoy the race!

Interview - Jesus Hernandez (Team Saxo Bank)

Sitting in the grass in one of the spectators’ tents, watching the Women’s Road Race, not an eye on him. Alberto Contador’s best friend, team mate and right hand in the mountains; Jesus Hernandez seems to be able to walk around completely unnoticed. Somehow I guess it would be very different had Contador been here too. With a flat course like the one in Copenhagen, naturally Jesus has not been picked for the Spanish team, which is why the reason for his presence has to be found in the Women’s Road Race, where his girlfriend Anna Sanchis is participating.

About the World Championships

Jesus, how do you see the course? Is it a good one for the Spanish team?
Yes, I think so. I have just talked with the Spanish coach and he told me that Freire is very, very motivated and really wants to win this.

Sounds good. Who is your favorite for tomorrow? A lot of good riders…
Yes, indeed. There are many riders to choose between and I don’t see one super favorite. The thing is that the course is not flat, but not very hard either. Freire could win it on a good day, but also Hushovd, Cavendish and of course Gilbert who is looking very strong. The question is; who is going to control the race? It’s going to be a very nervous race with so many riders in the peloton, especially in the corners and you have to be careful not to crash.

Yesterday [Friday] both of the road races ended in a bunch sprint. If we say that won’t happen tomorrow, who is your favorite then?
Well Gilbert, no doubt about that. He has had an incredible year so far and with an uphill finish like this, he is the best man in the world.

And what about Rojas?
Rojas could be a rider for the podium, but he has nothing on Gilbert. The only riders who can beat Gilbert areFreire, Hushovd and maybe Cavendish. It’s hard to say anything about Cavendish because he has never been in the final in the World Champions, but if he is there at the end, of course he is good bet. Still, I will say it’s a better course for riders like Hushovd and Gilbert.

About Giro-Tour double, Team Saxo Bank & the future:

Okay. Let’s talk about next year. What is going on right now. The whole situation with Alberto must be very frustrating?
Well, right now Alberto is still a rider with Team Saxo Bank for the next season. I think the first hearing is in November but right now, we just think about the Tour next year. We can’t really do anything else. What happens, happens. If it’s good, great. If not, then we take it from there. Right now we take it easy and only think about winning the Tour.

Winning the Tour. Something that many thought Alberto would do this year as well. Was the Giro-Tour double too much for him?
Well, it’s important to know that when we planned this season, we didn’t even think about going to the Tour and therefore we only focused on preparing for the Giro in the best way possible. The Tour was not on the menu since we didn’t know what would happen with Alberto in July. So, because of that we just did everything for the Giro and then in May we got the word that Alberto could do the Tour and then, well…we were a little bit too tired after such a hard Giro.

And next year? Only the Tour?
Yes, next year the plan is only to do the Tour and then after that we will see about the Vuelta. If Alberto wins the Tour and still feels good, well of course we will go the Vuelta as well, but if Alberto wins the Tour and feels tired afterwards, or there are any problems, then we won’t go.

Looking at the team as it is right now. Is it strong enough?
I think that we have a very strong team. Still, I think that we need one very, very strong rider who can stay with Alberto in the mountains. We have a lot strong guys, who all work very hard, but I really think we need that one more rider who can be with Alberto at the end.

If you could pick, who would it be?
Puff… [laughing] I don’t know. They all seem to have contracts now. We just got Paulinho who is very good rider in all aspects; time trialing, on the flat, in the mountains and he moves around in the peloton very well. He is very clever and definitely a good rider for our team, especially since Richie Porte leaves us for Team Sky. We have good riders to work, but as I said, we really need a rider who can be with Alberto at the end.

Team Saxo Bank has always had a very strong team spirit, letting every rider has his chance to shine. Now, with Alberto in the team, it seems like the whole team is focused aroudn him. Like Mercatone Uno with Pantani.
Well yes, that’s true. Still, in the team we don’t have any other riders at Alberto's level. Nobody has that. So, I think it’s only normal. I mean look at how it was with Lance and Indurain, who had the whole team build up around them. Right now, the team supports Alberto and with all his wins I think it’s only to be expected. If he someday stops winning, well, then we will work for somebody else [laughing].

How about your own ambitions for the next year?
My primary goal is to arrive at the Tour with Alberto in the best shape possible. Then, in the Vuelta, if Alberto is ready, I will help him again. If he is not there, I will have the chance to fight for a stage win the mountains.

And you will ‘only’ be in races where Alberto participates?
Right now, I don’t know, but normally yes. For example in the Tour, it’s very important for us that we know each other very well. So, it will probably be like that all year. And hey, that suits me perfectly. To be riding with my best friend, well… great!

Last question. You have one more year left on your contract with Bjarne Riis and the team. What are your plans?

Well as you know, I’m staying with Alberto so if he goes so do I, but I can say that right now Alberto is very, very happy with Riis, and I’m happy with the team. If nothing happens we will stay here many, many years.