Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays

I would like to take a minute and wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

May your Holidays be enchanting and your company inspiring.

Enjoy these days and don't forget to come back to the site in the new year.

See you soon!


PS. In case you need a positive cycling story to remember this year by let me recommend you this one - this is truly an amazing project!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Exclusive Interview - Thomas Löfkvist (IAM Cycling)

Thomas Löfkvist.
Thomas Löfkvist has had an awful year on the bike in 2012 where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Now the Swedish rider, based in Switzerland, hopes that 2013 will bring more luck as he is set to lead out the new Swiss IAM Cycling team. 

Thomas, first of all, congratulation with the new contract with IAM. What made you pick IAM over the other teams interested in you?
Thanks a lot. My choice of IAM was something that evolved. I was in Geneva a couple of times to talk with the management. The important factor, which made me pick IAM in the end, was the way they wanted to build up the team and the enthusiasm Mr. Thetaz showed for the project.

You’ve just been at the first team camp in Geneva. How was your first impression of the team and your new team mates?
Yes, we were five days in Geneva to meet the team administration, to get our new bikes, new clothes and to spend some time getting to know each other. Last Friday we had a Christmas dinner with the whole IAM SA. I think it’s a great group of people and I went home with a very good “gut-feeling”.

How is IAM Cycling different from your previous teams?
IAM have a whole new structure meaning we are starting from scratch without any preconceived ideas about how things should be done. I was really surprised how open minded they are. That is especially thanks to Kjell Carlström who has brought many new ideas to the table.

Do you already know your race schedule for next year?
Well, I have received a preliminary schedule that will be focused on the one-week stage races and I’m very happy with that.

I guess Tour de Suisse and Tour de Romandie will be the two biggest goals for the team next year?
No doubts about that. With a Swiss sponsor Tour de Suisse and Romandie will be the team’s two main goals and that goes for me too. I have ambitions of showing off the IAM colors successfully in those races!

Which other races are you aiming at next year?
First of all the two Swiss stages races but also Tirreno-Adriatico in the spring. After that we will have to wait and plan the rest of the year.

What about this season? Is it best just to forget it or can you take anything positive with you from 2012?
I rather just forget this damn year. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  I managed to time my peak perfectly for Tour de Suisse [Löfkvist’s big goal of this season], but that got ruined by my knee injury. Then I came back strong in the end of the season, but got hold up behind the big crash at the World Champions and in Emilia I was in the winning group when my derailleur broke. There is really nothing positive I can take with me from this year.

Looking at the future. IAM Cycling are hoping to do the Tour within a few years. Will that be with you as their team leader?
Well, my ambition of doing Top10 in a GC is still there, so I will keep on trying every time I can.

Last one. Since it’s Christmas and everything, what is your biggest wish for 2013?
A problem free year on the bike!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Let the race begin!

Contador keeps Kreuziger behind him to take the win.
Photo from Contador on Twitter.
Alberto Contador and Team Saxo-Tinkoff were worried they wouldn’t be handed one of the 18 World Tour licenses and therefore had to live on mercy from the race organizers next year. Luckily that didn’t happened and now Contador and the rest of the Danish team can prepare for a great 2013.

One of the most important helpers for Alberto Contador next year will be Roman Kreuziger and according to the Czech climber he’s already made good friends with his new Spanish captain.  

It was easy, we have a common interest for fast cars. Alberto is crazy about them! He has about five cars at home so I guess I have to work hard to keep up with him”, Roman Kreuziger told Czech newspaper Dnes.
Contador as winner of the Go-Kart
tournament on Gran Canaria.

At their team camp on Gran Canaria last month, Team Saxo-Tinkoff also had a Go-Kart ournament arranged and according to the staff, Alberto Contador was quick to school his team on how to do it right before he later ended up on top of the podium as the overall winner.

Roman Kreuziger showed his potential too, taking second place. “It’s probably his friendship with Fernando Alonso that helped him”, Kreuziger explained.

You can watch a 9 minutes video of Team Saxo-Tinkoff's Go-Kart day on Gran Canaria by clicking here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Saxo-Tinkoff in - Katusha out

Bjarne Riis can keep smiling as his
team finally got a World Tour license.
Today The International Cycling Union (UCI) finally revealed all the 18 World Tour teams for 2013 and in the end Bjarne Riis and Team Saxo-Tinkoff managed to secure their status in the cycling elite. Instead Katusha - who ended 2nd on the UCI World Tour team ranking - was left out.

Earlier this week Roman Kreuziger explained that for him it wouldn’t really matter if Team Saxo-Tinkoff got the World Tour license or not as he was sure they would be given wild cards to all the big races anyway. “Everybody wants to have Alberto [Contador] in the their race so I’m not worried”, Kreuziger said and I’m sure the situation will be the same for Katusha.

Having Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez - winner of the individual UCI World Tour ranking for the second year in a row - plus strong riders like Dani Moreno, Denis Menchov, Alexander Kristoff etc. on the team surely counts when the race organizers are sending out invitations. I for one will be very surprised not to see Purito and Katusha in the big races in 2013…

These are the 18 World Tour teams for next year:
Astana Pro Team
BMC Racing Team
Lampre – Merida
Omega Pharma – Quick Step Cycling Team 
Sky Procycling
Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
Movistar Team
AG2R La Mondiale 
Euskaltel Euskadi
Former Rabobank
Garmin Sharp
Team Argos–Shimano 
Team Saxo – Tinkoff
Lotto Belisol

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wiggins is the big favorite for SPOTY

Last year Mark Cavendish crowned an excellent year by winning BBC Sports Personality Of The Year (SPOTY) and now it seems like cycling once again will take the prize.

Yesterday the final 12 nominees for this year’s SPOTY award were revealed and among these we find Bradley Wiggins. Wiggo has won everything he aimed at winning this year and according to the bookmakers he is now the big favorite to repeat what Cavendish accomplished last year.

Bradley Wiggins trades right now at odds 1.40 to win BBC Sports Personality Of The Year meaning that you will only win €4 Euros if you bet €10. Second favorite, according to the bookies, is Mo Farah who became the only seventh man in history to win both the 5000 meters and 10.000 meters at the Olympic Games. Third favorite is Andy Murray who won the Olympic tennis tournament and US Open this year. Farah and Murray are trading at odds 6 and 11 to win.

The winner of BBC Sports Personality Of The Year 2012 will be revealed on Sunday 16 December.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Exclusive Interview - Gianni Savio (Team Manager, Androni Giocattoli - Venezuela)

Gianni Savio.
Androni Giocattoli - Venezuela managed to win the Italian Team Championship for the second year in a row and by that secure a spot in next year’s Giro d’Italia. All in all Gianni Savio’s team won 17 races this season so naturally the Italian team manager was very satisfied with how 2012 turned out.

Gianni, first of all congratulations on winning the championship.
Thank you! It was very important to us. First of all because it’s an honor to win the Italian Championship and secondly because we now have a wild card for the Giro d’Italia next year. It’s good that we can start the next season without any stress.

I take it you are quite satisfied with this season?
Indeed! I’m very, very satisfied with this year and to be honest it will be more than difficult to repeat it next year. But of course we will try. We always have the same passion and determination, but... It will not be easy to do as well as this year.

What has been the best moment for the team this year?
I would like you point out three moments. The first one is the Giro d’Italia stage we won with Miguel Angel Rubiano. It was a fantastic day and he was even virtual maglia rosa in the last kilometer. The second moment was when Franco Pellizotti won the Italian Championship. We signed him in May just before the Giro after he had come back from a very difficult time and for him to win the Italian Champions was unbelievable, not only for his career but also for himself as a person. The last one was in Giro dell'Emilia where we secured the Italian Team Championship. There was a ‘sporting war’ going on between Androni and Colnago and luckily for us Pellizotti [ending 3rd] managed to keep Pozzovivo [ending 4th] behind him. Don’t forget that if Pozzovivo had won this race, Colnago would have won the Championship!

What about the worst moment of the season?
Hmm… Maybe the beginning of Giro di Padania. Colnago won the TTT and the day after Modolo won a stage. It really didn’t look good for our team [thinking of the Italian Championship], but we managed to finish in a very strong way. We showed a lot of character and determination by putting two riders [Chiarini & Pellizotti] on the final podium behind Nibali.

Looking ahead. How do you see your team next year?
I think we still have a very competitive team. We managed to keep most of our important riders, so next year we will be able to count on Pellizotti, Sella, Felline, Chiarini and Rubiano. I think we have a good team. Furthermore I have signed some very promising young riders such as Matteo Di Serafino and Diego Rosa who is an incredible climber. I would have liked to keep both Ferrari, Serpa and De Marchi but they all got some very good offers from the ProTour teams and with our budget we simply couldn’t match that. My philosophy has always been to be able to pay everybody on the team; riders, mechanics, soigneurs etc. etc. and therefore we couldn’t afford to keep those riders.

And a quick comment about Rujano?
Well… This year Rujano did nothing. Nothing at all. He didn’t finish the Giro and generally he didn’t do well this season. Not only on a sporting level but also on a moral level. 

In the past you have been the only manager able to get results from Rujano. Do you think he will succeed at Vacansoleil-DCM?
It’s impossible to say if he will manage to do well with his new team. Rujano is a very special person with a mind of his own and only - only, only, only - Rujano knows what Rujano will be able to do.

You have one the brightest talents in Fabio Felline on your team. What can we expect from him in 2013?
Felline is still very young and it’s important not to put any pressure on him. That being said, I still think he will have a very good season next year and I think he will be a protagonist in the classics and in the Giro d’Italia. There are many good stages for him in the Giro. In the U23 World Champions he was one of the favorites, but I don’t think the Italian team rode like a team. When I give directions to my riders before a race everybody knows their role, but in the U23 race the Italian team seemed confused. Felline was alone in the final and he had already spent too much energy on attacking. I think that with another strategy it could have turned out differently for him.

Androni Giocattoli - Venezuela just had their first team meeting of the season in Rivarolo Canavese where they were presented with the prize of winning the Italian Team Championship. The team will get together again in the middle of December [9-16] before starting the new season in Argentina with Tour de San Luis.

Even though 2012 has been a huge success for the team, Gianni Savio hasn’t given up on the idea of joining the world’s elite and upgrade to the UCI WorldTour. You can read all about this by clicking here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

EXCLUSIVE - Gianni Savio wants to go ProTour

Gianni Savio at the Giro d'Italia 2012.
Team Manager of Androni Giocattoli, Gianni Savio, is no longer satisfied with his Italian team only being in cycling’s second division as a Pro-Continental team. The charismatic Italian plans to do what Mauro Gianetti and Joxean ‘Matxin’ Fernandez failed to accomplish last year when they went to Venezuela in order to save the crumbling GEOX team after the shoe company cancelled its sponsorship.

In the beginning of 2012, Gianni Savio -  who also acts as national coach for the Venezuelan cycling team - secured a deal with the South American government which meant the official team name in 2012 has been Androni Giocattoli - Venezuela. Building the team for 2013, Gianni Savio had to let go of three of his star riders when he couldn’t match the ProTour teams’ offers for Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) and José Serpa and Roberto Ferrari (both Lampre) due to a small budget but if everything goes according to plan this won’t be a problem in the future.

Right now I’m negotiating with the Venezuelan government about  the chances of upgrading the team to ProTour status. We talked about it at the Olympics this summer and in January I will fly to Caracas (the Venezuelan capital) to have another meeting about the project”, Gianni Savio tells C-Cycling and adds that it will probably take a couple of years until the ProTour team will be up and running.

I think it will be difficult to have it all ready for 2014, but I hope that in 2015 it will be possible”.

You might ask yourself why Gianni Savio should be able to do what Gianneti and Matxin couldn’t. According to Savio, the answer is simple: “I know Venezuela. I know what is possible and what is not possible. They [Gianetti and Matxin] presented a project that simply wasn’t possible. I’m more realistic and that is also why I say 2015 and not 2014”.

Right now, Androni Giocattoli - Venezuela have 17 riders on contract for the next season and according to Gianni Savio the team will see a couple a new faces in the beginning of next year. “I think I will sign two or maybe three young Venezuelan riders in January. I think we have space for that”, he reveals.

In addition to the ProTour plan Gianni Savio will already lead a Venezuelan team with young riders from South America - helped out by a couple of his own riders - next year. “The Venezuelan government wants to invest in cycling and it would be good for the riders to come and try to race in Europe. I hope and think that this team will be ready next year.”, Gianni Savio explains.

A full interview with Gianni Savio will be online here on C-Cycling in the weekend. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 9, 2012

UCI letter: New anti-doping hotline

Today UCI President, Pat McQuaid, sent out a letter to all the professional riders urging them to use a new "confidential hotline" should the rider witness any doping abuse.

"We need to do more to ensure that the UCI is as accessible as possible, and in particular to you the riders, should you wish to discuss issues or concerns relating to doping", Pat McQuaid writes in the letter.

In the past I've talk with many riders stating they would never 'rat out' any team mates if they saw them using illegal drugs but hopefully things have really changed now. Cycling is once again being seen as the 'dope sport' by the public, but according to Pat McQuaid we can all "be assured that cycling will find a new path forward". I hope that he (for once) is right.

You can read the whole letter from Pat McQuaid here:

Friday, November 2, 2012

De la Fuente is running out of options

David de la Fuente wearing the polka
dot jersey in the Tour de France 2008.
David de la Fuente was one of the many riders without a team for 2012 when GEOX decided to stop their sponsorship last year and one year after de la Fuente finds himself in the same situation again.

Last year the Spanish climber managed to secure a contract with Caja Rural for this season but miscommunication and broken promises have put an end to that partnership. 

"As of today I have no team for next year", David de la Fuente tells 
C-Cycling and continues: "I have been talking with some teams but they are all already filled up for next year. The only thing I can say for sure is that I won't continue with Caja Rural. I was told I could prolong my contract, they gave me their word, but they didn't keep it and now I have to find another team."

David de la Fuente knows it won’t be easy to find a new
team but he hopes can manage as he feels that he still has something left in the tank.

"My situation is very complicated and things are generally not easy in today’s cycling but I hope there is a team who will give me a chance because I still feel I have a lot left in my legs", he assures. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Garzelli to decide his future within two weeks

Update 23/12-2012: Italian newspaper La Gazzetta reports that Stefano Garzelli will sign with Vini Fantini for 2013. Garzelli has his eyes on winning the KOM jersey in the Giro for the third time in his career.

Stefano Garzelli.
Last year Stefano Garzelli was close to sign a contract with Bjarne Riis and Team Saxo Bank, but decided to stay with Acqua e Sapone in order to finish his career with the Italian team after Giro d’Italia. Unfortunately RCS Sport didn’t want to give Garzelli the opportunity to do so as they left out Acqua e Sapone when they handed out the wild cards.

Missing out on the Giro was probably also the reason why Acqua e Sapone decided not to continue their sponsorship in 2013 and therefore Stefano Garzelli now needs to find out if he won’t to continue his career elsewhere or let this be his last season in the peloton.

It’s no secret that Garzelli’s wish always has been to end his career after the Giro, which he won in 2000, but his brother and agent Marco Garzelli, tells me that the current situation with the UCI point system makes it difficult to find a team guaranteed a spot in the Giro next year.

Stefano had a lot of problems this year and therefore he doesn’t have many points. It’s all very complicated right now. We will know within the next two weeks”, Marco Garzelli tells C-Cycling.

Stefano Garzelli wasn’t present at the Giro d’Italia presentation last month as he the night before was in the middle of “one of the most horrible situation” of his life. The extreme flood in southern Spain had Garzelli and his wife and kids fear for their life as tried to escape the water in the middle of the night. I was supposed to be riding Giro di Lombardia, but my injury had me to relaxing on the couch instead. I can’t even imagine what would have happened if my wife had been home alone with the kids. This made me once again realize that missing out on races aren’t that important after all”, Garzelli said after the incident.

Gianni Savio and his Androni team are known for giving riders a last chance and after saying good bye to José Rujano and being sure of a Giro invitation next year, maybe this could be a place for Garzelli to end his career? Time will tell… 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cycling Broke My Heart

Earlier this year I got a custom made t-shirt made for the Giro d’Italia with the text ”Cycling Broke My Heart” printed on the front.  Since then I’ve got a lot of requests of where to get the shirt and now it’s finally possible to order it online.

Cycling has been my passion for decades and it breaks my heart to see what has been going and what’s still going on. 
I believe cycling has a future and I for one will continue to support it every day, but that doesn’t change the fact that “Cycling Broke My Heart”.

If you feel the same way or if you just want to support you can get your own shirt right here!

Furthermore if you order your shirt tomorrow - Sunday 28th of October 2012 – and use the promo code “SAVEDAY2012” the delivery will be free.

Spread the word and support cycling!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tour de France 2013 - The first look

Tour de France 2013
Click for larger view!
Yesterday the route for the next year’s Tour de France was revealed and at first glance it seems to be a very interesting race. Bradley Wiggins was quick to say he won’t be trying to defend his title from this year and that means we should be in for quite a show when Chris Froome takes on Alberto Contador.

Quick facts
7 flat stages
5 hilly stages
6 mountain stages / 4 summit finishes
2 individual time trial stages
1 team time trial stage
2 rest days

The stages
All the stage profiles are yet to be released but here is my first preview of the Tour de France 2013:

Stage 1 - Porto-Vecchio > Bastia 212 km 

The Tour starts on the French island Corsica and along the seaside this could turn into a very tricky first stage if it’s windy. Since 1967 the Tour has only started with a regular stage twice (in 2008 & 2011) and both times with an uphill finish. This time it seems to end in a sprint - despite the little bump on the profile in the end. Mark Cavendish has worn a lot of different leader’s jerseys in his time, but not the yellow jersey in Tour. The Cannonball will be difficult to beat in Bastia.

Winner pick: Mark Cavendish

Stage 2 - Bastia > Ajaccio 154 km

If Cavendish manages to get the jersey on stage 1 he most likely will have to give up already. This stage is up and down all day long and even though there is a long descent after Col de la Serra (5,2 km / 6,9%) and Col de Vizzavona (4,6 km / 6,5%), Côte du Salario should be too tough for the sprinters. Placed only 11 km from the line and with an average gradient of 7,2% over 2,5 km, Côte du Salario is a good place for puncheurs like Philippe Gilbert to attack and reduce the group. Peter Sagan could very well take over the yellow jersey if he doesn’t already wear it after stage 1.

Winner pick: Peter Sagan

Stage 3 - Ajaccio > Calvi 145 km

This is the last stage on Corsica and once again we have quite some hills on the menu. Why only two of them have been categorized only ASO know, but nevertheless it will be another tough day on the island. It’s another short stage - only 145 km - and with a climb right in the beginning it will set for a fast and hard day in the hills. A break will probably get away within the first 50 kilometers but I doubt they will ever get a big gap. The last climb, Col de Marsolino is very hard (8,1% over 3,3 km) and with only 12 km to the line from the top all the GC contenders need to be in the very front in order not to lose any time. Samuel Sanchez crashed out of the Tour in 2012 and if he’s ready this time he could be a good pick thanks to his excellent downhill skills and fast finish in a reduced group.

Winner pick: Samuel Sanchez

On Day 4 the it’s time for first time trial in the Tour. A short team time trial around Nice. It’s only 25 km and that means we won’t see big differences already. Team Sky will most likely be able to gain some times on their rivals but don’t expect time gaps of more than 1 minutes between the big favorites.

We don’t have much info on the following three stages but according to ASO at least two of them should be tailor-made for the sprinters. After this it’s time for the first big mountains as the peloton reaches the Pyrenees.

Stage 8 - Castres > Ax 3 Domaines 194 km

Thanks to the hilly stages on Corsica and the team time trial in Nice we should already have an idea about who’s ready to fight for the overall win. Still a lot can be changed on this stage. It’s the first big mountain stage and with 140 km flat terrain before the final a lot of riders will be anxious to see how their legs will respond to the 15,3 km Col de Pailhères (8% avg.) climb before the final ascent up Ax 3 Domaines (7,8 km / 8,2 %). I would expect Team Sky to carry the yellow jersey after the TTT and knowing how much work is it, I wouldn’t be surprised if they let a break get a good gap early on. Riders aiming at the polka dot jersey, and riders already set back in the GC, will be eager to get away while the favorites are saving thee energy for later.

Winner pick: Johnny Hoogerland

Stage 9 - Saint-Girons > Bagnères-de-Bigorre 165 km

In case you missed the break away the day before, this is really a stage you need to get up front if you aim at the polka dot jersey. With no less than five categorized climbs on the menu and a long descent to the finish line this stage has Thomas Voeckler and Luis Leon Sanchez written all over it. Both are great on the climbs and excellent on the downhill sections and if none of them are any threat in the GC they won’t have any troubles staying clear. I would imagine Voeckler taking the KOM points and Sanchez the stage.

Winner pick: Luis Leon Sanchez

*** Rest Day ***

After the rest day it seems to be another day for the sprinters before the GC guys once again have to be ready. Stage 11 is the first individual time trial in the race and despite it only being 33 km, specialists like Wiggins and Froome should be able to distance climbers like Andy Schleck, Purito Rodriguez and Pierre Rolland with a couple of minutes. The following two stages are made for the sprinters while stage 14 presents an opportunity for the puncheurs as the sprinters will have troubles getting over the short, steep climbs in Lyon.

Stage 15 - Givors > Mont Ventoux 242 km

Ever since the rumors about Mont Ventoux returning to the Tour started, I’ve been looking forward to this stage. For me Mont Ventoux is one the ‘best’ climbs in the Tour and this time I hope the favorites finally will fight for the win again. It’s a long stage and with Ventoux as the only climb a break has a good chance of getting a huge gap before the final ascent. It’s the 14th of July, Bastille Day, and that means we will see a lot of French riders trying to get away. Young gun Thibaut Pinot showed in 2012 that he is a man for the future and if he can improve even more during 2013, he could give France a brilliant stage win on the national holiday.

Winner pick: Thibaut Pinot

*** Rest Day ***

First stage after the last rest day seems to be one for a breakaway to make it as the favorites will hope to save energy for the time trial the following day. Once again the distance is only 33 km, but compared to the first ITT, this one is much more mountainous. The pure climbers won’t lose as much time as before and with the Alps coming up next they will be eager to hang on to their position in the GC.

Stage 18 - Gap > Alpe-d'Huez  168 km

This is without a doubt the Queen Stage of the Tour de France 2013. Alpe d’Huez is on the menu, not just once but TWICE! It’s a stage where the polka dot hunters will have to attack early but I doubt they will make it all the way to the line. Pierre Rolland won the last time on Alpe d’Huez, but this time I think it will be one of the big riders taking the win. Alberto Contador got denied the win in 2011 when he was caught a few hundred meters from the line and I think he will take revenge a get his win on this mythical climb.

Winner pick: Alberto Contador

Stage 19 - Bourg-d'Oisans / Le Grand-Bornand 204 km

This is where the polka dot jersey will be won. Once again we have five categorized climbs on the menu and once again it’s a good stage for riders like Thomas Voeckler and Luis Leon Sanchez. Some of the pre-favorites losing out in the GC could have a go on this stage but if Thomas Voeckler hasn’t won a stage yet I think this will be where he will do so.

Winner pick: Thomas Voeckler

Stage 20 - Annecy / Annecy > Semnoz 125 km

Last time to shake up the GC before entering Paris. It’s another short stage, only 125 km, but with two tough climbs it won’t be easy. Mont Revard should make a selection with its 16 km but not as much as the final climb up to Annecy-Semnoz (10,7 km /  8,5%). Unless the leading rider has over two minutes to his nearest rivals everything can still happen and I expect the leaders to fight for the stage win. I think Alberto Contador will be leading the race by this time and therefore only  having his eyee on number two (and three) in the GC. That means that a pure climber like Nairo Quintana will have a change of getting a stage win as he probably won’t be a threat overall.

Winner pick: Nairo Quintana

The last stage ends as always on Champs-Élysées but this time in the evening with an expected finish time around 21:00! It will make for a spectacular finish and with a full team supporting him I think Mark Cavendish will give his new Quickstep team something to cheer for in Paris and finish the Tour the way he started it - with a win!

All in all this seems to be a great route for the fans with a good mix of mountains and time trial kilometers. 

Overall Classification
It’s still very early but this is how I think the final podium will be:

1.       Alberto Contador
2.       Chris Froome
3.       Purito Rodriguez

Friday, October 19, 2012

From Africa to the Tour de France

Team MTN-Qhubeka - ©

One of the most interesting projects on the cycling scene right now is the African Team MTN-Qhubeka. After a strong season lead by super talent Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (14 wins this year), Team MTN-Qhubeka topped the UCI Africa Tour ranking while Janse van Rensburg ended 9th on the Europe Tour ranking.

The African team have big plans for the coming years and now it’s the time to take the next step. If everything goes according to the plan the team will be racing a dual program next year. One team in Europe as a Pro-Continental team and another one in the races on other continents as an African feeder team with the intention of raising the awareness of cycling on the African continent.

Sponsor upgrade
Earlier this year MTN (a South Africa-based telecommunication company) announced that they would increase their investment in the cycling team in order to lead the first African team all the way to the Tour de France. A goal the team aim to reach by 2015. “Our vision is to see an African rider wearing the yellow jersey”, Chief Marketing Officer at MTN SA, Serame Taukobong tells.

In order for this to happen the team need to gear up on many levels. First of all becoming a Pro Continental team - the first African one ever seen - and to help its case Team MTN-Qhubeka have already signed strong riders like time trial specialist Ignatas Konovalovas (stage winner in the Giro d’italia), sprinter Gerald Ciolek (former U23 World Champion and stage winner in the Vuelta España) and climber Sergio Pardilla (former runner up in Tour of Austria, Volta a Portugal and Tour de l'Ain and Top20 in the Giro d’Italia) for the upcoming season.

Team MTN-Qhubeka
Powered by Samsung
What’s important to notice here is that this isn’t just another “big company" sponsored cycling team as we know them. Qhubeka (meaning ‘to progress‘ and ‘to move forward’) is a charity giving bicycles to children in rural areas across Africa and the whole idea behind the project is to raise awareness of cycling and inspire young people to start cycling.

Some of the riders on the team turning professional now grew up without electricity and running water and that it’s possible to get where they are now is the story the team want to tell. A positive story the cycling world really needs these days.

That’s also why it’s so important to keep Qhubeka in the team name despite the lack of financial aids. To make sure that Qhubeka will stay, the team is right now negotiating with a big multinational company. So far this new moneysponsor remains unknown but looking at the latest donation from Qhubeka (see picture above) it seems like it’s the South Korean electronics giant Samsung who will help the team become Pro Continental next year.

Saying goodbye to the star
Unfortunately season star rider Reinardt Janse van Rensburg won’t be a part of the team next year. Being the fourth most winning rider of all this season, only surpassed by Andre Greipel (19 wins), Peter Sagan (16) and Mark Cavendish (15), Janse van Rensburg was naturally a high priority for many big team teams wanting to boost their points and keep their status. Team MTN-Qhubeka encouraged Reinardt Janse van Rensburg to wait before signing with another team, but never seeing a project like this in African ever before, Janse van Rensburg couldn’t take the chance of waiting and decided to go elsewhere.

Losing him is a huge loss to the team. It’s very sad to see a rider leaving after 3 years of development, especially since our teams focus is the development of African cycling”,  Team Principal of Team MTN-Qhubeka, Doug Ryder  tells C-Cycling and adds “we are hoping that Reinardt will integrate into the team again in the coming years”.

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg hasn’t officially announced his team for next year, but Argos-Shimano seems to be his pick.

Future in Europe
Next year Team MTN-Qhubeka will be based in Lucca, Italy and for many of the team’s African riders it will be their first time living in Europe. Therefore the team is right now in process of establishing a service course and a team house in order to make the riders’ transition to Europe as smooth and easy as possible. 

Brent Copeland & Doug Ryder
Picture from Twitter
The riders need to live in the environment and conditions of Europe and get used to the European races for the team to achieve its objectives of developing world class African riders. It is important for our team and riders to be close to each other for training and support and close to the service course where all the team race decisions will be made. Most of the riders have not been away from home for that amount of time so they will support each other when times are tough”, Doug Ryder explains.

To help out with the language and to make sure they integrate well in Europe the riders will be able to count on the support of former Lampre DS Brent Copeland who will act as European Manager for the team. South African Copeland has lived 10 years in Italy and according to Doug Ryder; “The riders are looking forward to this new adventure and the lifestyle in Tuscany”.

Success criteria
As a new team on the Pro-Continental scene you can’t really expect Team MTN-Qhubeka to achieve great results right away. This year the African team had 24 victories (being the 9th most winning team in 2012) and knowing Pro-Continental is a big step forward, Team Principal Doug Ryder points out that less than half of the wins in 2012 will make for a successful season next year. 

The team’s success criteria for 2013 are:

- Making Top20 on the UCI Europe Tour ranking
- Making Top15 in the World Champions Team Time Trial
- 10 UCI race wins

Team roster
Despite losing Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Team MTN-Qhubeka are still able to show a strong line up on their team roster. Right now the team are still negotiating with riders for the coming season but as of today the roster looks like this:

Gerald Ciolek (GER)
Ignatus Konovalovas (LTU)
Sergio Pardilla (SPA)
Jay Thomson (RSA)
Louis Meintjes (RSA)
Johann van Zyl (RSA)
Andreas Stauff (GER)
Youcef Reguigui (ALG)
Kristian Sbaragli (ITA)
Frekalsi Debesay (ERI)
Tsgabu Grmay (ETH)
Adrien Niyonshuti (RWA)
Meron Russom (ERI)
Jani Tewelde (ERI)
Songezo Jim (RSA)
Bradl ey Potgieter (RSA)
Dennis van Niekerk (RSA)
Jacques Janse van Rensburg (RSA)
Jaco Venter (RSA)
Martin Wesemann (RSA)
In a time where cycling seems to be bleeding more than ever Team MTN-Qhubeka sure is one bright story that deserves to be told.

Friday, October 12, 2012

From heaven to hell for Kreuziger?

Roman Kreuziger from his time with Liquigas.
About four weeks ago Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank finally made the signing of Roman Kreuziger official and last Friday Kreuziger got married in Italy. Kreuziger missed out in the Giro d’Italia this year due to a couple of off days in the mountains and after being benched for the Vuelta by Astana (knowing he wouldn’t stay with the team) he has already been looking forward to joining Alberto Contador next year for quite some time.

When signing Kreuziger, Bjarne Riis said that: “Roman is a rider that I actually wanted to have on the team some years back. So that we have now been able to seal deal is something I'm extremely happy about”.  

According to the recent USADA dossier though, Bjarne Riis should be happy he didn’t sign Kreuziger in the past. In his witness statement, Leonardo Bertagnolli claims that most of the Liquigas team (that he was a part of in 2007) was using the doping doctor Michele Ferrari. Bertagnolli names Roman Kreuziger by name in his statement plus Enrico Gasparatto who also attended Roman Kreuziger’s wedding last week.

Along with Leonardo Bertagnolli former Discovery Channel rider, Volodymyr Bileka also claims to have seen Roman Kreuziger - among other riders - in his past dealings with Michele Ferrari around 2006-2007.

In 2008 Team Liquigas put in, as the first team ever to do so, a clause in the riders contract stating that they were no longer allowed to use trainers or doctors outside of the team. If so they would be suspended immediately. “There has only been one exception since 2008 and this was granted to Ivan Basso, who is followed by Aldo Sassi and by the Mapei Center”, the team write in a press release sent out last night.

It’s important to state that up until Leonardo Bertagnolli’s and Velodymyr Bileka’s statements to the Italian law enforcement, Roman Kreuziger has never been linked to any doping abuse.

Roman Kreuziger has yet to make an official comment on the statements from Bertagnolli and Bileka. It’s really a shame his honey moon should start like this.

On a side note, Alberto Contador earlier said that he recommended Bjarne Riis to sign the Czech star rider.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bravo Marcato

Marco Marcato.
After being beaten on the line last year by fellow escapee Greg van Avermaet, Marco Marcato finally got a big win when he outsprinted Laurens De Vreese & Niki Terpstra in the last classic of the season, Paris-Tours.

Last year second place may have seemed acceptable for the strong Italian but after learning how to prepare the sprint, Marcato only had his eyes on the win this time and he took it. “This is by far the greatest victory in my career”, he said afterwards.

As you know I normally don’t write these pre-race reports so let me just explain why I decided to write this - and no, it’s not just because I picked Marcato to win. It’s based on Marco Marcato’s courageous attack last week in Giro di Lombardia. After an incredible hard race in the pouring rain, Marcato was the first rider to attack on the final climb. Vacansoleil-DCM started the race in a special light blue jersey honoring Fausto Coppi, but until this point (due to late TV-coverage as well) you hadn’t really seen the Dutch team. 
Marco Marcato attacking on the final
climb in Giro di Lombardia last week.

My light was almost out. I knew I didn’t have the legs to stay with the best in the final, so I decided to honor our sponsor and show off the new jersey”, Marcato explained. After a few kilometers the Italian was caught again, but I think it shows a lot of character  the way Marcato made the light blue jersey be seen in the final.

In Paris-Tours the Vacansoleil-DCM riders were once again wearing their normal colors but that didn’t stop Marco Marcato from putting in another strong performance and taking the biggest win of his career. Bravo! 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Rujano on his way to Vacansoleil-DCM

Update 03/10 - José Rujano has now confirmed he will in fact join Vacansoleil-DCM next year. 

José Rujano at the start of the Giro 2012.
Next year it will be for Vacansoleil-DCM.
José Rujano seems to get yet another chance at the highest level in cycling as four World Tour teams right now are battling to sign the Venezuelan climber for 2013.

Last year Rujano said he wanted to extend his contract with Androni Giocattoli, but after this year’s Giro d’Italia it was clear to everyone that that would never happen.

After a disappointing Giro, José Rujano left the race through the back door claiming mononucleosis was the reason for his abandonment, but according to the team boss Gianni Savio that wasn’t true. Given the nature of Rujano’s exit and the weak excuse, Savio publicly said that Rujano didn’t have a future on the team anymore and by the end of August Rujano’s contract with Androni Giocattoli ran out.

Since then it’s been very quiet around José Rujano but within the last couple of weeks his name has been mentioned again and again. Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank, Euskaltel-Euskadi & Vacansoleil-DCM are all being named among the four teams interested in signing José Rujano and according to my South American sources it will be Vacansoleil-DCM who end up with the Venezuelan rider.

The Dutch team have a good record of giving riders another chance when others didn’t believe in them, Johnny Hoogerland as the best example, and even though José Rujano hasn’t been able to perform without Gianni Savio at his side in the past, he seems to be given a new chance by Vacansoleil-DCM.

So far Vacansoleil-DCM have been focusing on rearming their Classic team with riders like Juan Antonio Flecha and Grega Bole but it would appear that they felt the need to sign another strong climber as Stefan Denifl and Matteo Carrera are leaving the team. 

What do you think? Will Rujano be able to shine again in the colors of the Dutch team? Leave your comment below.

Giro d’Italia 2013 - One for Wiggins?

Wiggins in Maglia Rosa in 2010 - Will he try to win it next year?
A few days ago British Cycling coach Shane Sutton said that he would like Bradley Wiggins to aim at winning all three Grand Tours, meaning targeting Giro d’Italia and Vuelta España instead of Tour de France in the near future. Yesterday the route for next year’s Giro d’Italia was revealed and here we saw a 55,5 km individualtime trial on the menu.

Bradley Wiggins showed in the Vuelta last year that he can stay close to the best climbers on the steep parts in the mountains and the way Team Sky are rearming for the new season, they will be very difficult to beat - as if they weren’t already…

Earlier this year Chris Froome told me that he “would be disappointed not to be allowed to at least try and win the Tour de France next year” and knowing Froome very well could turn out to be the strongest rider in the Tour once again, I think Wiggins might be happy aiming at the Giro instead. It sure would make things a lot easier for Team Sky and with three stages against the clock (55,5 km time trial, 19,4 km mountain time trial and a 17,4 km team time trial) in the Giro d’Italia next year, I think it would be wise for Wiggins to follow Shane Sutton’s advice and try to put another Grand Tour on his palmares. 

You can see all the stages for next year's Giro d'Italia right here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Preview of Giro di Lombardia

After a long and very interesting season it’s now time for the last big race in 2012; Giro di Lombardia. It’s “the race of the falling leaves” but despite it being the end of the season we still have a lot of great riders ready to fight for the last big win and important WorldTour points. Last year Oliver Zaugg took his first professional win ever when he soloed to victory in Lecco, but something tells me that we will see one of the favorites taking the win this time.
Muro di Sormano.
Click for larger view!

There is no way around it. The way he won the World Champions last Sunday, Philippe Gilbert is the big favorite for a wonderful double to end off the season. Gilbert has already won the race twice in the past (2009 and 2010) and the way he has been building up his shape towards the World Champions, I’m sure he wil be ready to take his third Lombardia win. It’s true that the added “Muro di Sormano” probably will make a selection a lot earlier than normally, but with a strong team around him and about 100 km to go from the top, Gilbert shouldn’t have any problems staying in front. 

BMC sports director Rik Verbrugghe told Sporza that 2012 had been an “off-year” for Gilbert and you know you’re talking about a real champion when two Vuelta stages and a World Champion title still is being looked at as an off-year. Gilbert will be eager to end this season with another win and the way I see only a few riders can do anything against that.

One of them is Damiano Cunego. Starting the Vuelta España six weeks ago Cunego’s aim was - like Gilbert -to ride the Vuelta in order to be in the best shape possible for the World Champions. Unfortunately for Cunego, halfway through the race the Italian federation implied their new “clean policy” leaving Cunego out of the roster for Limburg. Cunego kept on trying to hit the right breakaway though - being one of the most aggressive riders in the beginning of the stages - but without any luck. Now it’s time for revenge. Missing out on the World Champions on a route that suited him perfectly, Cunego really wants to show what he can do in Giro di Lombardia, a race he has won three times already. Last year he came to Lombardia just a few days after Tour of Beijing and without jetlag this time I will very surprised if he and in-form and team mate Diego Ulissi won’t have their saying in the final on Saturday afternoon.

Villa Vergano - 7,4% avg.
9,5 km to go from the top.
Another strong candidate for the win is Alberto Contador. I must admit I didn’t put Contador down as one of the favorites before his win in Milano-Torino, but now it would be stupid not to. Despite the scale showing 2,4 kg more than in the end of the Vuelta España, Alberto Contador still managed to drop everyone when he attack on the last kilometer and soloed to his first one-day-race victory ever. Last year Oliver Zaugg managed to go solo on the last climb (Villa Vergano) and keep his lead all the way to the line. Contador knows he doesn’t stand a chance in a sprint against riders like Gilbert, Cunego and Purito, but if he can put in another attack like the one in Milano-Torino on Villa Vergano he will be very difficult to catch.

Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez is also a good pick for the win and together with team mates Dani Moreno and Alexander Kolobnev, Katusha have one of the strongest teams in the race. Last year Purito attacked too late on Villa Vergano and had to settle with third place. This year he finally won his first Classic in Fleche Wallone and being so close to the overall win in both the Giro and the Vuelta I’m sure he will do anything in this power to end this year with a win and a good taste in his mouth. Another thing to boost Purito’s morale is that a top place in Lombardia most likely will give him another overall World Tour win as Bradley Wiggins seems to be out of shape right now.

As always this late in the season it’s all about who has most left in the tank and that means we often see outsiders shine. I find many good jokers on the start list but as said, I think it will be one of the favorites taking the win. Still, I would like point out guys like Lars Petter Nordhaug and Carlos Betancur. Both riders are changing team next year (Nordhaug to Rabobank and Betancur to Ag2r) but that fact hasn’t benched them for this classic. Nordhaug showed at the World Champions that he’s in great shape when he was with Edvald Boasson Hagen on Cauberg in the final. Nordhaug was just about to bridge the gap to the chasing trio, a move that probably could have given EBH the rainbow jersey, but missed out in the end. With his win in GP Montréal earlier this month there is no doubt though that Lars Petter Nordhaug is in great shape right now and being a disappointed in Team Sky for not fighting to keep him on the team I could imagine he is eager to show them they made the wrong call when they let him go to Rabobank.

Carlos Betancur showed great he is ready for Lombardia when he took 5th place in Milano-Torino, arriving with Purito after a strong finish, and despite having Danilo Di Luca on the team, I think Betancur is Acqua e Sapone’s best chance of a good result this Saturday. Betancur won the hard stage to Frabosa Soprana in Giro di Padania a couple of weeks ago and taking 9th place in Lombardia last year, he sure knows what it takes to be there in the final. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

World Champions Preview - Road Race

Ever since this course was revealed, one rider has been everybody’s big time favorite; Philippe Gilbert. He was unbeatable last season and with the finishing line like just a few kilometers after Cauberg, I too couldn’t really see any other rider taking the rainbow jersey. That was last year though. This season Gilbert has struggled to perform and if it hadn’t been for his two stage wins in Vuelta España I think many would have only counted Gilbert as a dark horse for this Sunday. Now he’s suddenly the big favorite again and even though I must admit it’s hard not to take him as my winner pick, I honestly see a handful of riders able to challenge him.

The fact that the finish line is located 1,7 km after the top of Cauberg means that riders like Peter Sagan, Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde will have a good chance of coming back if Gilbert should manage to drop them. And yes, I think it all will come down to Cauberg. The Belgian team and the Spanish team are simply too strong and with a course like this one they can’t afford not to work hard in order to keep it together in the end. Furthermore they will have Slovakia (6 riders) and probably Australia (9 riders) to help out as well. Simon Gerrans may not want to go up mano a mano with Gilbert and Sagan but he sure doesn’t want to attack 50 kilometers out either. He has been showing great shape lately and Australia need to make sure he gets delivered in a perfect position. This means we have at least four teams to control the peloton and even though opportunistic riders like Thomas Voeckler, Vincenzo Nibali and Alexander Kolobnev want to have a say too, I think this World Champion (like last year) will be won by one of the big favorites.

For quite some time I’ve been naming Alejandro Valverde as my personal favorite for the rainbow jersey and I won’t change that. Despite a hard Tour de France it seems like Valverde came out of the Vuelta as one of the strongest riders and even though Spain have 9 guys who can win this race, I think it will be a mistake not to aim to win with Valverde. Oscar Freire, Dani Moreno, Samuel Sanchez and Purito are all excellent riders for this type of course but in a sprint right after Cauberg none of them can match Valverde’s finish - not even Freire! Alejandro Valverde has a very rare killer instinct when he sees the finish line, like Danilo Di Luca, and if he’s in the front when the approaching Cauberg for the last time, I think  he will be more than difficult to beat. The way I see it, this will be a fight between Valverde, Gilbert and Sagan - probably in that order too as Sagan doesn’t seem as fast right now as earlier this year.

As always I have a couple of jokers too and this being the World Champions one of these is Matti Breschel. I’m not just been patriotic, I actually think Matti has a solid chance of another medal. He should have won in Australia two years ago and after two years full of bad luck it’s now time to take revenge. He showed in Vuelta a Burgos that his shape is good when he won Stage 3 and again in the Vuelta when he tried to anticipate Gilbert’s winning move in La Lastrilla. According to himself he’s not among the favorites and that’s true. He’s not a favorite, but he is one of the outsiders. Matti Breschel is an excellent championship rider who always performs on the big scenes and if he has one of his great days he should do top10 for sure and why not podium again…

Another joker is Moreno Moser. The young Italian has been outstanding in this first year as professional with many great wins and together with Vincenzo Nibali and Oscar Gatto, Moser is probably the best Italian pick for a medal. For the first time in many years the Italian team isn’t build around one rider and that means Azzurri will have to attack, attack and attack if they want to win. Nibali has never been afraid of attacking from afar and even though he often lack some tactical sense you’ve got to admire his way of riding. Like Nibali, Moreno Moser also knows how to take the peloton by surprise. Despite his young age I would say we already know his signature move - a late attack within the final kilometers. Moser has an outstanding engine and if he manages to get up over Cauberg among the first 10-20 riders, I will say it’s almost certain he will try with a solo move on the last 1,7 kilometers. Portuguese Rui Costa is also a rider to look out for this Sunday. Same goes for Michael Albasini and Tour of Britain winner Jonathan Tiernan-Locke.

Winner pick: Alejandro Valverde
Jokers: Matti Breschel & Moreno Moser

During the Vuelta España I had a daily winner pick duel with Eurosport blogger Blazin' Saddles. Surprisingly enough it all ended in a draw after 21 stages, so to settle the score I'll go head-2-head against Felix at the World Champions. You have my winner pick and two jokers already, here are his:

Winner pick: Philippe Gilbert
Joker: Simon Gerrans & Rui Costa

Explanation: The Belgian is coming into form after a terrible season. Two Vuelta stage wins has turned things round for Gilbert, who won the Amstel Gold Race in successive years over these roads. He knows what it's like to win on the Cauberg, plus he has the sprint to take it after the flat 1.7km run over the summit. Peter Sagan has been quiet recently, suggesting his best form came back during his hat-trick of wins during the Tour, while Alejandro Valverde will be exhausted from his final-week exertions during the Vuelta. The flat run-in won't help the Spaniard either. That said, if Sagan is in touch with the leaders over the top of the 10th and final ascent of the Cauberg, then he'll be near-impossible to beat. For my joker, I was tempted by Rui Costa, the in-form Portuguese, and also by Thomas Voeckler, who has the whole French squad behind him on what seems to be a tailor-made course. But I'll go for Simon Gerrans instead. The Australian has ordered his season with the Worlds in mind; he's in form after his win in Quebec and he's podiumed in the Amstel Gold before. If anyone can cause an upset, it's Gerrans.