Thursday, February 28, 2008

Basso Gives Back With Intervita In India

Ivan Basso, who was banned until 24 October, 2008 for his involvement in Operación Puerto, continues to ride and maintain some of the form that saw him win the 2006 Giro d'Italia. He has formed an alliance with Intervita, a non-governmental organisation formed to benefit disadvantaged children in the southern hemisphere, and will wear its colours when he partakes in various charity rides.

Basso has directed his efforts towards a baby girl in India, where Intervita has been present since 1999 in the region of Maharashtra. "I will be happy to help the association in its work," said Basso. "It is a solid gesture of helping the unfortunate to construct a better future for themselves and their communities."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Laurent Jalabert To Race At Ironman France

Ironman France will take place on 22 June 2008 and could be one of the largest Ironman events in history with 2,700 registered athletes. Former cycling star Laurent Jalabert is included in the field, competing in his third Ironman.

"I am of course happy to participate in Ironman France," Jalabert says. "Very happy, actually, and also very motivated for this new challenge." He competed at Ironman Switzerland last year and qualified for the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona in October.

Jalabert is the most decorated cyclist to ever give the Ironman challenge a try. He has won Paris-Nice three times, four stages of the Tour de France, three stages at the Giro d’Italia and 18 stages at the Vuelta – plus the World Time Trial Championships in 1997.

He will profit from the experience gained at his two former Ironman events. He finished 41st in Switzerland with a final time of 9:24:29, which included a 12-minute penalty. He improved his time in Kona, finishing in 76th position with 9:19:58! He exited the water in 1143rd position, then rode to a 4 hours and 37 minutes cycling split. He had the fastest cycling time in his age group, the 26th best of the day, and passed more than 1,000 competitors during the bike leg of the race.

In Nice it is expected that he will progress even more. He has already proven that he has the capacities to handle the volume of an Ironman triathlon. And with the support from the locals, who know him well having won the Paris – Nice cycling race three times, Jalabert has the potential to do a brilliant race.

In only three years Ironman France succeeded in attracting a record number of athletes. The entries had to be closed five months ahead of the race. With an expected 2,500 triathletes on the starting line on race day, no other race in Europe welcomes more athletes than Ironman France.

Tour of Valencia Stage 2 - Contador Sits In 5th

With five climbs on tap in the second stage of the 66th Tour of Valencia, 134 riders took to the roads under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-70sF. With a fast start many early breaks tried to get away and eventually a group of three got clear and included Tim Duggan (Slipstream) and Gustavo Cesar (Karpin-Galicia). The trio stayed away and built a maximum gap of just over four minutes. Led by race leader Iván Gutiérrez' team Caisse d'Epargne the escapees were caught within 8km of the finish.

After missing yesterday's opportunity to sprint to the line, the teams of the sprinters took full control of the race and moved to the front, increasing the speeds to ward off further attacks as they rolled toward the line. Following his lead-out train and taking the stage win by almost a bike length was 37-year old veteran sprint specialist Erik Zabel (Milram) in front of Micro Lorenzetto (Lampre) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis). There was no change at the top of the leader board with Gutiérrez retaining the leader's jersey for another day. Team Astana's Alberto Contador sits in 5th place just nine seconds back, followed by teammate Toni Colom at 10 seconds off the front.

Thursday's stage offers more mountain-fun with three Cat. 2 and one Cat. 3 climb which could prove a launching pad for the climbers who hope to move up on GC.

According to Team Astana's DS Alain Gallopin, "On the first stage the team was very good and we prepared the attack of Alberto in the last climb. He put in the attack but didn't continue because he had five Bouygues Telecom riders just behind him and it was still 25 km to go to the finish. But it was good training and the guys showed good team work." He continued, "Today was an easy day for us. Caisse d'Epargne and sprinters' team took the control. All of the team came in with the first group. Thursday will be very difficult on the second half of the stage so we'll see how it goes."

General Classification after stage 2
1 Iván Gutiérrez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 8.18.11
2 Rubén Plaza (Spa) Benfica 0.04
3 Gorka Verdugo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0.06
4 Xavier Florencio (Spa) Bouygues Telecom
5 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana 0.09

Cipollini & Ball's Relationship On The Rocks

The relationship that was started last fall in a Las Vegas discotheque could come to an end if Mario Cipollini does not get his say in the management of Rock Racing. The Italian, who came out of retirement at the age of 40 to race in the Tour of California last week, and his lawyer met with the owner of the team, Mike Ball, yesterday to discuss the coming season.

"We need to sit at the table and make clear who is in command," said Mario Cipollini in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport's Luigi Perna. The Italian from Lucca and lawyer Giuseppe Napoleone were scheduled to meet with Ball later in the day.

"The boss is Ball, but after him it is me. Therefore I want to manage the squad starting now. I can organise the participation in [Milano-] Sanremo. To find men to race is not a problem. ... If Ball does well it will continue, otherwise goodbye. I now understand that the name Cipollini still has value, in the United States and elsewhere."

Cipollini was happy with his return, but not with the fiasco surrounding the team and Ball's backing of Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero. The riders, all allegedly linked with Operación Puerto, were barred from racing by the organiser, but continued along daily by riding behind the race caravan and signing autographs for fans at the stage villages.

"For a week I had an infinite amount of patience ... Maybe it was my great desire to return to racing with an important project. However, we can't go forward like this. We are not able to continue to pull along this heavy weight that ruins our image, and now Ball also understands this. It is not enough to advertise and show off models."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Alberto's friends and fans in Spain have started a petition to protest his exclusion from the Tour de France.

The petition is intended for fans of Alberto and Astana all over the world. Nearly 16,000 people have signed so far.

MARCA reported on Thursday that the campaign, called Contador al Tour (, was initiated by Contador's friend and former teammate, Carlos Abellán.

The campaign hopes to harness the passion of fans, who can be, by speaking out, a "superpower."

"This is why this initiative has been started, so that you can support Alberto Contador after seeing the Astana team excluded from the Tour de France 2008."

"If you want another chance to enjoy the attack cycling that we saw in the 2007 Tour, and if you think the Tour de France must invite Alberto and his team, leave your signature on this web page so that ALL TOGETHER we can try to convince the Tour to change its mind."

The independent project is the work of fans devoted to the health of the sport. It is not affilitated with any team or association.

"We don't want to cause controversy, but simply want to show our support for Alberto Contador and his team."

click on the title link to vote!

Rock Racing Registers Solid Performaces At TOC

Pasadena, Calif. (Feb. 24, 2008) — Michael Creed’s extraordinary ride Sunday capped an impressive performance for Rock Racing at the Amgen Tour of California.

Attacking from the start of the 93-mile (150 km) stage, Creed played an instrumental role in a pair of breakaways that stayed clear of the peloton on a rain-soaked, bone-chilling ride from Santa Clarita to Pasadena. Aggressive to the end, Rock Racing nearly scored its second podium finish of the race when Creed attacked inside the final mile and finished fourth in a five-up sprint in front of the Rose Bowl.

“It was the last day and I didn’t want to end the week without having done anything,” Creed said. “At the very end, it was like throwing a ‘Hail Mary’ to try and pull out the win.”

In all, Rock Racing scored seven top 10 finishes during the race, including Mario Cipollini’s third place finish in Sacramento on Stage 2. Even more impressive was the fortitude of Rock Racing in an event that saw only 77 riders of 132 starters finish the 650-mile race.

Rock Racing was one of only three teams – and the only non-ProTour team to complete the race with its full squad. But unlike the CSC and Rabobank squads, Rock Racing began the race with only five riders (instead of eight) after race organizer AEG declared that three of its riders– American Tyler Hamilton, Colombian Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla – would not be able to start.

“These guys came together in such adverse conditions that just them surviving day-to-day from a mental perspective is something to be commended,” Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball said. “This team is a real team. These guys are truly friends who work with each other and who just want to go out there and race and compete. The fact that they didn’t let every member of the team compete here is a tragedy.”

Victor Hugo Peña was Rock Racing’s best overall finisher, placing 12th overall, 3:17 behind winner Levin Leipheimer (Astana). Doug Ollerenshaw was 37th, Mario Cipollini 58th, Freddie Rodriguez was 69th while Creed earned “lanterne rouge” honors as the race’s final finisher, in 77th place.

Rodriguez’s finish was particularly impressive considering he was badly hurt in a crash during the final miles of Saturday’s stage. He needed crutches just to walk from the team car to his bicycle to start Sunday.

“Basically, I could ride a bike, but I couldn’t walk,” Rodriguez said. “As the race went on, things started loosening up and I felt a little better. Then the weather came and I crashed again. I thought that was it at that point. But even though my morale was down, I pressed on and it basically become a battle of survival."

– RRC –

Images Of Al Sultan Wining Ironman Malaysia

Monday, February 25, 2008

Alberto Contador Racing Valencia Tour

Tour de France champion Alberto Contador will look to continue venting his frustration on the bike when he saddles up for the five-day Tour of the Valencia Community on Tuesday.

The Spaniard and his Astana team are still digesting the bitter pill of being left out of the Tour de France, and the Giro d'Italia due to controversial decisions by the respective race organizers.

Astana, which has new management and a new anti-doping philosophy nine months after its eviction from the Tour after Alexander Vinokourov's positive blood doping test, is determined to show it deserves to feature in the world's biggest bike race.

However, Contador already seems resigned to missing out on trying to defend his yellow jersey this year, and is looking ahead to 2009.

"I'm really optimistic and I'm sure they will change their mind. We (Astana) are a model team and have nothing to do with last year's team," the Spaniard told EFE radio.

"I am not talking about this year, because that situation is still too complicated, but next year."

Contador's rivals are likely to witness a strong performance from the Spanish climber during this week's five stages, beginning with the two-climb, 157km stretch from Sagunto to Port de Sagunto on Tuesday.

Contador will be joined in the race by fellow Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, who was crowned the 2006 Tour de France champion last year after American Floyd Landis was finally disqualified for doping.

Lampre's former Giro winner Damiano Cunego will also be in attendance, while Milram will be hoping its star speedsters, Italian Alessandro Petacchi and German Erik Zabel, can take out some sprints.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Levi Leipheimer Wins His Second ATOC

Astana's Levi Leipheimer secured his second consecutive California overall title, wrapping up the often-soggy 8-day race that he anchored with a savvy second-place finish in Wednesday's mountainous stage 3 and a brilliant effort Friday in the Solvang time trial. The victory earned Leipheimer’s Astana team a much-needed morale boost, after the team learned this month that it would not be invited to the 2008 Tour de France.

“The theme of this year’s Tour of California has been the caliber of riders who showed up to race,” Leipheimer said. “For me to win the race is unbelievable. The reason this win is so special to me is because the competitors are so great.”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mario Cipollini On His American Future

By: Kirsten Robbins

Former world champion Mario Cipollini returned to the peloton in the Tour of California after negotiating a lengthy contract to race with the American based team Rock Racing. While the Tuscan sprinter has no plans of relocating from his Monaco home to the USA, he confirmed that his commitment to Rock Racing is long term.

"I hope to visit for some weekends or weeks in the USA," said Cipollini regarding the Rock Racing headquarters in Los Angeles, California. "Malibu is not bad and California is an incredibly beautiful place."

Though it is unclear of the number of years Cipollini is obliged to the American squad based on his contract, he confirmed that his role on the team will start out in competition and progress onward to directing and management in the future. "To be riding now is all based around being a manager and director," said Cipollini. "The reason I am a cyclist now is also for launching the Rock and Republic brand/sponsor in a very particular way - through bike racing."

Cipollini retired from professional bike racing in 2005 prior to the Giro d' Italia and surprised the cycling world when he signed contract with the American team. The 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games was the first time Cipollini raced on US soil, with the Italian national team. As a professional rider for Damina Vacance, Cipollini competed in the 2004 Tour de Georgia. After the Tour of California, the patriarch sprinter has agreed to compete in the Tour de Georgia and Tour of Missouri along with 14 one day races and criteriums throughout the USA racing calendar.

"The rest of the races in my contract are very flexible and they are all one day races," confirmed Cipollini on his negotiated calendar with Rock Racing. "The reason I am only doing 14 races is because I still having some problems with my knee injury I got from hitting a tree in a ski accident."

While Cipollini's race palmers tallies up to nearly 200 career wins including over 50 victories in the Giro d' Italia, he acknowledged that criteirum racing in America is a whole different ball game and one that his is up for the challenge. "The criteriums are very difficult and risky and something that American's are very good at," said Cipollini, who experienced his first American criterium in the 2007 US criteirum finals held in Las Vegas. "The other side is that for me they are fun. It's a different style of racing that requires a different style of sprinter. It should be very fun to try this style of racing, but I'm sure it will also be risky too."

According to Cipollini the future of bike racing is in America, where the passion for cycling is growing strong. "When I raced in Georgia in 2004, I saw how much passion there was for cycling and I think that the future of cycling is right here," said Cipollini. "I like it a lot and I can see there are very good organizations with the budget they have and they can only grow bigger. It is wonderful, the Tour of California, because the rider travel along some spectacular country side, mountains and the ocean so it is very stunning and cycling here can only grow."

Let Levi Ride!

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Classic Cipo

Rock Racing Gives Back With - Rock The Cure

As part of the day's events in Solvang, Rock the Cure presented a $10,000 check on behalf of Rock Racing to Deputy Director Charlie Uhrig of the Sheriff's Activity League of Santa Barbara County. Presented by Team Owner Michael Ball, the check will benefit underprivileged children and after school programs in the Solvang area. Rock the Cure is the philanthropic division of Rock & Republic and the realization of a charitable giving model that can make a genuine difference.

As part of Rock the Cure‘s involvement Friday, Rock Racing rider Rahsaan Bahati helped children experience the excitement of the Amgen Tour of California by hosting a VIP tour for a dozen children from the Sheriff's Athletic League. He spoke about how cycling changed his life for the better and the children received exclusive Rock Racing and Rock the Cure products and apparel.

Tomorrow, the team will race in Stage 6 of the Tour, riding 105.4 miles from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita. The Rock Racing team remains the only squad in the race with a less than eight-rider roster following the decision by race organizers to exclude 2004 Olympic time trial gold medalist Tyler Hamilton, past world time trial champion Santiago Botero and former Tour de France “best young ride” winner Oscar Sevilla. The team currently ranks 12th overall after five stages of the Tour.

Faris Proves He's The One To Beat In 2008

Faris Al-Sultan didn't have the race he'd hoped for at the Frankfurter Sparkasse Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt last year. At least he got to race there, though - a stomach bug kept him from even being able to start the race in Kona.

Which left the usually easy-going and relaxed German feeling a bit of pressure coming into this race here in Malaysia. Despite his prohibitive favorite status, he was all-too-aware that this is a race that isn’t necessarily won by the fastest athlete - the winner here is often the one who can endure the brutal conditions better than their competition.

Al-Sultan did all that and more in Langkawi today. He was second out of the water, then simply rode and ran away from the rest of the field. He made it look much easier than it should have been. The other Ironman champions in the field either succumbed to the extreme heat (Chris McDonald) or failed to pose a real challenge (Byunghoon Park and Petr Vabrousek).

In the end the only person Faris Al-Sultan had to worry about today was himself. It was his race to lose he said afterwards. He simply never let that be an option today, proving both to himself (because the rest of the world knows full well) that he remains one of the world’s premier Ironman athletes.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rock Racing's Peña Rockets Into Top 10 Overall - Surly At Full Strength They Would Have Been The Team To Beat In 2008?

Rock Racing’s Victor Hugo Peña sent a clear message Wednesday that he is a threat to contend for a strong overall finish at the Amgen Tour of California.

Peña was one of only five riders in the lead group as the race crossed its highest point, the 4,100-foot summit of Mount Hamilton, midway through Stage 3. The Colombian would go on to finish among a group of 15 riders who were 19 seconds behind stage winner Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and runner-up Levi Leipheimer (Astana).

Peña’s impressive performance in 102.7-mile (165.3 km) race from Modesto to San Jose moved him up 23 places in the overall standings to 10th place, 31 seconds behind Leipheimer, the new overall race leader and defending champion of the Tour of California.

Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball said seeing Peña race wheel-to-wheel with the best at the head of the peloton – on the toughest stage to date – was both satisfying and a disappointment.

“We came here to make the moves and win stages,” Ball said. “Like Mario Cipollini’s podium finish yesterday, Victor’s ride today proved that Rock Racing has top talent,” Ball said. “At the same time, this stage played to the strengths of our three riders who were not allowed to compete in this race: Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla.”

Peña, whose impressive credentials include wearing the yellow leader’s jersey for three stages of the 2003 Tour de France and winning an individual time trial stage in the Giro d’Italia, agreed with Ball’s assessment of the talented trio who are unable to compete in the most prestigious race in the United States.

“The only thing I can say is that at training camp, they were better than me,” Peña said. “Santiago and Oscar were much better than me. Tyler was always with me. So I think those three guys would have been good contenders for Levi.”

On a stage when only 16 of 120 riders in the race finished within four minutes of the winner, Peña said he felt comfortable on the day’s five categorized climbs. His performance, he said, made him recall the years he spent shepherding Lance Armstrong to several Tour de France victories when both were riding on the U.S. Postal Service team.

“Mt. Hamilton was a steep climb,” he said. “It reminded me of some of the steeper climbs in Colombia. In Colombia, we have long climbs, but not so steep as Hamilton.”

— RRC —

Thursday, February 21, 2008

How Cool Is Cipo?

Nobody is as cool as Mario Cipollini. Say what you will, but if you were 40, had his Euro good looks and fitness you'd be stoked. Wouldn't you? Here Mario does a sweet send-off.

For more TOC video's click on title link to go to Road Magazine

Rock Racing's Ball stirs up conservative cycling world

By: Sal Ruibal, USA TODAY

The typical owner of a professional cycling team is a skinny former pro rider who wears fleece vests, drives a sensible European station wagon with bike racks and speaks three languages.

Michael Ball, owner of upstart Team Rock Racing, arrived at Sunday's start of the Tour of California in a black chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce Phantom with a Day-Glo green skull logo painted on the side. An entourage of a Cadillac Escalade and a team bus decorated with more green skulls accompanied Ball with the thumps of hard rock music.

Last week race organizers barred three Rock Racing riders from competing because of their alleged involvement in a Spanish doping scandal. While Ball's antics on and off the race course have riled the cycling establishment, fans have embraced the team. "Bike races are usually really nerdy," says Mindy Lim, 23, of Cupertino, Calif. "This is more like a rock concert."
Ball, 44, is a former racer who excelled in the rough-and-tumble world of street criteriums and track racing.

Former Mercury team director and pro racer John Wordin remembers Ball as "tough and tenacious."

A Mexican-American kid from Los Angeles, Ball says "cycling saved my life." He took his racing attitude to the competitive fashion world with his company Rock & Republic, known for its designer jeans.

"I thought fashion was mean and political," Ball says, "But pro cycling is even tougher."

Unlike most teams, which depend on sponsor money to fund their programs, Rock Racing sells team gear at races and online. In the team's second year of competition, Ball expects to bring in $1 million from sales at the Tour of California. Rock Racing, a UCI continental team, isn't expected to contend with the top Pro Tour teams. Rock Racing has five riders in the field, three fewer than the standard team roster.

Ball supports a strong riders' union and has embraced riders he believes have been treated unfairly by anti-doping agencies, such as Americans Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.

Hamilton, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in road racing, recently completed a two-year suspension for doping. Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla were not allowed to start because the race's new rules say any rider with an "open file" for doping will be barred from competing.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity," says Hamilton, who was out signing autographs at Sunday's prologue. "We really want to win for him."

Ball says, "We have a moment right now to change this sport. If it means giving these guys amnesty, do it. Stop digging up graves. This sport is going to wither on the vine and die if this continues."

Bob Stapleton, owner of Team High Road, says Ball makes good points. "I just think he could go about it in a better manner."

Images Of Rock Racing From TOC 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

UCI Backs Contador For Tour de France

The International Cycling Union (UCI) will do all it can to ensure that defending Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain will take part in this year's edition of the cycle race, its president said Wednesday in a newspaper interview.

The tour's organisers, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), ruled on February 13th that Contador's Astana team would be barred from competing in this year's race as a result of doping scandals over the past two years.

"We will do everything that is possible to ensure that Contador takes part in the Tour. It would be a tragedy if Contador could not defend his title," UCI president Pat McQuaid told El Pais.

"It's unjust and unjustifiable. Its a decision taken by people who don't understand this sport," he added.

Tour organisers said they had decided to prevent Astana from competing in any of their races because of "the damage caused by this team to the Tour de France and cycling in general, as much in 2006 as 2007."

The Luxembourg-registered Kazakh team were forced to withdraw from the 2007 Tour de France and were snubbed by the Spanish Vuelta in September after a string of doping scandals. The team's former leader Alexandre Vinokourov was fired after testing positive for a blood transfusion during the Tour, while riders Andrei Kashechkin and Matthias Kessler also failed doping tests.

Since their drug-tainted 2007 season, Astana have undergone a makeover, and promised to clean up their act. A new team of riders, including Contador and Leipheimer, have come on board along with their manager, Johan Bruyneel, from the now defunct Discovery Channel team.

Bruyneel helped Lance Armstrong to seven consecutive Tour wins, and led Contador to his first yellow jersey last year. Contador joined Astana in a two-year deal in October.

Astana have also been left out of a list of 21 teams due to compete in this year's Giro d'Italia.

The Return Of The Lion King

By: Kirsten Robbins

Conquering several obstacles that had to do with contracts and licenses finally allowed 2002 World Champion Mario Cipollini the passage to stand on the start line of the 2008 Tour of California. Three years into his retirement, the cycling world thought that the opportunity to watch a sprint involving the flashy Italian demolishing his competitors by several bike lengths was over. While he did not beat his rivals Tom Boonen or Heinrich Haussler, taking third place against the world's fastest young talents was considered a victory in its own right.

Cipollini's nearly two hundred race wins caught the attention of Rock and Republic owner, Michael Ball, and the pair entered into negotiations at a Las Vegas disco during Interbike in the fall of 2007. Conversation became official with paper work prior to the start of the Tour of California. According to Cipollini, he and Ball agreed that he would compete in the top ranked criteriums that the US is so recognised for. However, one thing led to another and the team asked that he start the Tour of California.

"I thought he [Ball] was just another crazy person like all the others that I have met in my career," joked Cipollini regarding their initial informal discussions in Las Vegas. "At the time in the club there were a lot of beautiful women and I was more interested in them than in what Michael Ball had to say.

"But Michael was putting on more pressure on me and we decided to meet again," continued Cipollini, who took interest in Ball's team upon realizing the offer was a serious one. "Everything started from that point and everything was based on the idea that Michael Ball was going to create a high profile team by using my experience.

"I'm forty-one years old so basically it is not a profession for me anymore, it's just my passion," said Cipollini in a post-race press conference. "Just sprinting here with riders that could by my kids is a victory – I'm very proud. I like to challenge myself with something that is almost impossible to accomplish. It is just a challenge against myself. Although it makes me sad to take away the space for the young riders, from an egotistical point of view, I like the challenge and for me it is very good."

According to the 'Lion King' his winter seems to be paying off and even if the jetlag from arriving two days before the start of the race is still sitting in his legs now, he plans on improving his performance from third to first place in a bunch sprint in time for the Pasadena finale.

Cipollini's sprint technique historically required an entourage style of lead-out train, delivering him to the two hundred metres to go mark. While racing in the USA may not require the extensive congregation to team-mates lined up at the front of the peloton, events like the Tour of California have attracted some of the fastest sprinters in the world, backed up by the horse power of their ProTour team-mates. "The big challenge right now is not having a team that can help me in the finish," said Cipollini regarding his under-manned lead-out train. "So I have to do things on my own and invent a new way to win. I believe that the technique of having a train is very important in a sprint."

Stage two winner and also former world champion, Belgian Tom Boonen, paid respect to the return of the patriarch sprinter, complimenting his tactical expertise and athleticism that has not changed since his retirement in mid-2005. "Cipo is a good rider," said Boonen. "If you look at him he's a good athlete, he always was, so why shouldn't he be good now? He has a lot of experience and he doesn't need to be the best guy to win a sprint, and he's compatible to win a sprint here and right now. Everything has to be going fine because he doesn't have the big legs from the best days, but I'm sure it's possible for him to win a stage.

"I would be honoured to lose to him," continued Boonen with respect to Cipollini's age. "It doesn't change anything that he is forty-one years old. Age is only what you make of it. He's a well-trained athlete and he is still Mario Cipollini. I know the first time I beat him I was very proud of myself and then the day after he beat me again. So, just because you beat him once doesn't mean you are going to beat him everyday. He's been doing this a long time and he has way more experience than I do."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cipollini Blasts Back After Three Years

Mario Cipollini is back after three years of retirement – the 40 year-old Italian left cycling after the 2005 Milano-Sanremo, but showed he still has a kick when he returned to professional racing yesterday in the 3.4-kilometre prologue of Tour of California. While Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) won the day, 'Super Mario' finished 44th, six seconds faster than World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and eight seconds faster than Oscar Freire (Rabobank).

"The size of the crowd was amazing and caught me off guard," Cipollini said. "It was great to hear so many people cheering my name and shouting encouragement. I was very pleased with my form today."

The rider from Lucca (Toscana) will face his first sprint in years today with the 156-kilometre run from Sausalito to Santa Rosa. Cipollini will be up against the likes of Freire, Bettini and Tom Boonen (Quick Step), and it remains to be seen if 'Super Mario' has that same sprinters' lust that he once possessed.

"I can't wait to feel the competitive spirit," he confirmed to La Gazzetta dello Sport's Luigi Perna. "It is important to me to give my maximum no matter what. I have nothing to prove, this return is only the beginning, to be able to build a future in my team. I have the curiosity to refind the atmosphere of the gruppo."

Any sort of lead-out train like the days of old will be limited because Team Rock Racing only started with five riders. The team was not able to start with Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla or Santiago Botero due to their links with cycling's Operación Puerto.

"I had said to [Team Owner Michael] Ball three months ago that cycling has taken a new direction," Cipollini continued on the exiled riders. "Now, he has the proof. He is a young go-getter that would like to turn the world upside down. ... You are not able to put yourself against the UCI [International Cycling Union] and the rules. I can say that I agree with the fact that those who make a mistake deserve a second chance, but the reality is this."

For the sprint Cipollini will be able to rely on Fred Rodriguez, a stage winner in the 2004 Giro d'Italia.

Rock Racing Banned Trio In Special Kits

Rock Racing issued a visual statement at the start of the Tour of California prologue, sporting the overnight manufactured 'crucifixion' kits designed to counter AEG Sports' exclusion of its three riders: Santiago Botero, Oscar Sevilla and Tyler Hamilton.

Team owner Michael Ball commented on the barbed wire design rendition of the original 2008 kit -- coloured black and red -- in honour of its three riders not being permitted to start due to their reported involvement in Operación Puerto investigation. "Tyler, Santiago and Oscar are wearing these kits today [Sunday - ed.] because of what has happened to status with in this race," said Ball. "We had them printed up for the whole team to wear in support of its team-mates who are not able to race this week."

According to Ball his 'crucified' trio will continue its training regimen in the mornings and visit the expo events at the stage finishes to meet the public. "They are still a part of the team here this week," said Ball. "We keep our heads up high and focus on our training for the next race. Unfortunately, it's not the way we wanted to start the season.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rebekah Keat Takes On Hammer Nutrition

GOLD Coast triathlete Rebekah Keat's $60,000 fight to officially clear her name has begun.

The 29-year-old yesterday filed a lawsuit against Hammer Nutrition in California, alleging her positive drug test in 2004 was caused by the use of the company's supplements which were contaminated with the steroid precursor norandrostenedione.

It comes after the former junior triathlon and duathlon world champion was suspended from her sport for two years after failing a drug test following her win in the 2004 Ironman Western Australia.

Although she returned to competition last year and was crowned Australian ironman triathlon champion, Keat said the legal action was part of the vindication process and not about the money.

"The pain of being labelled a drug cheat and not being able to clear my name was soul destroying and something I would not wish upon my worst enemy," said Keat, who is being represented by Californian-based law firm Howard L. Jacobs.

"All it's about is me clearing my name.

"I wouldn't care if I don't get anything as long as I can name this company and not have any other athlete going through what I went through.

"It's cost me an arm and a leg. I still owe over $60,000 in legal bills that I'm paying back so if I can get them paid at least, I'd be happy"

Despite an appeal hearing where the Court Arbitration for Sport accepted Keat's positive drug test was due to supplement contamination, she was still determined to clear her name and pursue legal action.

Keat's identical twin Simone assisted with the legal process to help her sister prove her innocence and even postponed plans to return overseas to commit herself to the cause.

After two years of global searching, a WADA laboratory agreed to test the Endurolyte supplements Keat had been given by her sponsor for steroids or steroid precursors.

The laboratory later reported that the testing had revealed they were in fact contaminated with norandrostenedione in an amount that was consistent with Keat's positive drug test.

Keat revealed how emotionally drained she had been and said without her sister's help she would never have been able to attempt to clear her name.

"At the time I didn't really think life was worth living," said Keat.

"She (Simone) moved back to Australia and basically mothered me for the first year when I was really struggling and trying to find an answer.

"She did all the research and got it all sorted for me and supported me all the way through it.

"She's always been my best friend. She's stuck by me and told me to keep plugging away and we'd get an answer."

Simone said her sister was the first Australian athlete to obtain evidence that their supplements had been contaminated. However, there have been similar cases internationally.

Joining Keat in the lawsuit against Hammer Nutrition are US cyclist Amber Neben and Canadian triathlete Mike Vine, who are all alleging the company's supplements had contained norandrostendedione.

Keat said she hoped she could now focus on her sport.

"Being innocent I never gave up. I knew I had to have faith that the truth would one day unfold," said Keat.

"Nothing can give me back my two years, but my self worth and soul are slowly rebuilding.

"I just want to focus 100 per cent on what I love, triathlon, and strive to achieve my dream of winning Hawaii Ironman."

Michael Ball - "Let Rock Race"!

Prologue: Cancellara wins Amgen opener

What more fitting an opening to the Tour of California than the best racers in the world flying down asphalt between rows of palm trees, and who a more fitting winner than current world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC)? The Swiss rider turned a time of 3:51.211 to handily beat second-place rider Bradley Wiggins (High Road) by nearly six seconds over the 2.1-mile course.

“With my beautiful rainbow jersey, to win here in Palo Alto, it is really good,” Cancellara said.

American Tyler Farrar (Slipstream-Chipotle) set the best time midway through the 132-man field, posting a 3:56 that was good enough for third on the day.

“I’m certainly pleasantly surprised of course,” Farrar said. “I knew that the form was good, and the course was good for me. It’s an honor to be on the podium with Brad and Fabian, they’re the best in the world. It’s a fantastic way to start the week.”

Defending champion Levi Leipheimer (Astana) finished just off the podium in fourth, crossing in 3:57, followed by Norwegian time trial champion and now best young rider of the race, Edvald Boasson Hagen (High Road).

Starting in a crowd-lined downtown Palo Alto, riders faced a dead flat start. After two quick left-hand turns, the riders beelined for the Stanford University campus, where Palm Avenue took them straight to the Stanford Oval, a wide, grassy loop packed with fans.

Tour of California press conference

Jens Voigt (CSC): "Every year we put our best on the start line; we are really trying to go for it. We've had a second and a third place so far and we want to take that one more step up to reach the highest point on the podium. For me personally, I was in good shape until a little crash I had in training the other day. But I have enough other colleagues who can take over so they don't really need me to win here; there is more than one capable. It's always a great way to start the season with big wide roads, which I always like."

Fred Rodriguez (Rock Racing): "I've always enjoyed racing in the US, especially in California and where I grew up in Los Angeles. Now I live down in Emoryville, Berkley, and this race will cross my zone, so I'm really excited. The more competition the better for me because the race really opens up when everyone is watching each other. Rock's a great team and I think we have some tough sprinters on our team that are going to really do their best."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Operation Puerto 'shattered me', admits shamed Basso

Italian Ivan Basso, the sole cyclist to have been sanctioned in the initial stages of the Operation Puerto blood-doping affair, said the inquiry had left him "shattered."

Speaking after Thursday's reopening of Operation Puerto, Basso told El Pais newspaper in Madrid that the two-year ban he received had left him marooned.

"I'm in a sort of hell at the moment: alone, abandoned by everyone and working on in silence," the 30-year-old said. "I made an error, I must pay for that and come back with my head held high," he said, adding that he would try to continue cycling professionally until he was 36 or 37.

The 2006 Tour of Italy winner was suspended for two years in June 2007 by the Italian Cycling Federation for his involvement in the Puerto affair.

Dozens of other cyclists - including Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Tour de France winner Alberto Contador - have in the past been linked to the controversy.

Operation Puerto initially erupted in May 2006 after a raid on the Madrid laboratory of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes uncovered doping products, bags of blood and codenames which appeared to link top athletes to a highly-organised system of doping via blood transfusions. But the case was closed in March 2007 because there did not exist in Spain a law which punished behaviour related to doping.

Since then, this gap in the legal system has been filled by a new law dated November 21 last year designed to protect health and fight against doping in sport.

A source linked to the Spanish government told AFP on Thursday that Madrid prosecutors claimed there could be new evidence on possible discrepancies concerning the obtaining, transport, preservation and identification of bags of blood seized during the inquiry.

Tour of California Pre-Rides @ Morgan Hill

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Alberto Contador Rages In Mallorca

News of the ASO's snub reached the 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador during stage four of the Volta a Mallorca. Charged with emotion, Contador attacked the peloton, catching the two-man breakaway of Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Jesús del Nero (Saunier Duval) which had been away for much of the stage, and charged away solo up the category two final climb. Clearly angry, he yelled to the television camera, "Astana in the Tour!". Ultimately, his effort was reeled in by the sprint-hungry bunch, but after the race, the 25-year-old Spaniard was close to tears describing his dashed hopes for a second Tour victory.

"My objectives for this year were to win the Tour again," Contador said. "The Tour is a race that I've always dreamed about, that I've always hoped to do before and again in the future. My objectives this year were to win it again, but I may not be given the possibility. This isn't a good moment to speak about this."

The Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme made it clear that the decision was made not as a personal slight against Contador, but as a reflection on the Astana team's past history. "If Contador changes teams, then he can take part," Prudhomme said. "This decision was not made against him."

The Spaniard expressed concern for the Astana team's Kazakh sponsors now that the Tour de France invitation had not been secured. "I thank our sponsor who stays behind us, but I'm afraid other sponsors can leave cycling because of what happened today. It is a sad day for cycling."

The Vuelta a España director Victor Cordero told Marca he felt the ASO's decision was excessive but justifiable, and that the team would be welcome to race in the Vuelta. Last year, Astana did not race the Vuelta after the doping positives of Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin, but Cordero said he has confidence that the team has changed.

"Contador deserves to be in all the races and for me he is a model for the future," Cordero said. "But what his team did in the past has led to this ban."

Contador went on to say that he may focus instead on his home tour, the Vuelta a España as well as the Olympic Games. "I hope that this is going to animate the Spanish people so that they enjoy my return to the Vuelta a España," he said at the post-race press conference. He later told Marca, "Although I would like to race the Tour, I have a plan B if I cannot race the Tour. I can still do a lot of preparation for the Olympic Games... and the Vuelta is my home tour."

Astana Barred From 2008 Tour

The Astana team of reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador have been barred from competing in this year's race as a result of doping scandals over the past two years, organisers confirmed on Wednesday.

ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) said that given "the damage caused by this team to the Tour de France and cycling in general, as much in 2006 as 2007" they had decided to prevent Astana from competing in any of their races.

"The Astana team in effect last year betrayed the confidence of organisers who even then invited them on trust of an overhaul presented by their leaders," ASO said in a statement.

As well as Spaniard Contador the decision also effects American Levi Leipheimer, who finished third last year, and Germany's Andreas Kloden, widely considered as one of the race favourites.

ASO's decision is likely to come up against International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid who slammed the decision of the Tour of Italy organisers similarly not to invite Astana to compete in this year's race.

The Luxembourg-registered Kazakh team were forced to withdraw from the 2007 Tour de France and were snubbed by the Spanish Vuelta in September after a string of doping scandals.The team's former leader Alexandre Vinokourov was fired after testing positive for a blood transfusion during the Tour, while riders Andrej Kashechkin and Matthias Kessler also failed doping tests.

Since their drug-tainted 2007 season, Astana have undergone a makeover, and promised to clean up their act. A new team of riders, including Contador and Leipheimer, have come on board along with their manager, Johan Bruyneel, from the now defunct Discovery Channel team.

Bruyneel helped Lance Armstrong to seven consecutive Tour wins, and led Contador to his first yellow jersey last year.ASO added: "As the team has once again changed, ASO will remain vigilent to Astana's efforts to put in place for a 2008 season without scandals and suspicion and could so consider an eventual bid for future events."

Cycling's top tier of Pro Tour teams were supposed to be automatically invited to the major races of the season, however major race organisers, including RCS (Tour of Italy) and ASO (Tour de France) are now no longer part of the Pro Tour calendar following a protracted dispute with the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Chris Horner @ The Wind Tunnel With Steve Hed

Monday, February 11, 2008

Jani Brajkovic At The SD Wind Tunnel

- by Jani Brajkovic

Greetings, all - Gusev, Andrey Mizurov and I arrived in San Diego Thursday evening for some important TT testing while our teammate Chris Horner would come in to meet us the next day. We met Steve Hed and Dino at the hotel and had our schedules set for Friday in the low speed wind tunnel at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

I was the first to be tuned by speed specialist Hed and his team at 8AM. After a few shots taken by photographer Dave Wrolstad it was time to get down to some serious work.

After a few runs Steve and company managed to fine-tune my position, resulting in a savings of one minute in a 50km time trial! We lowered my position by 1.5cm and made my elbows sit in very close to the body, making me in a very narrow position. It was amazing to see how much less drag I produced with that position! The only thing we need to test now is to see if I can actually produce the same power output. We will test that soon.

Next up was Gusev. Again the experts in the wind tunnel managed to solve some aerodynamic issues right away for Gusev. He actually gained a massive 150 seconds over previous testing in 2006! Next was Horner and then Mizurov and again we saw big improvements through working with Steve.

At the end of the day we were all pretty tired but extremely happy and thankful to Steve Hed and his team who did an amazing job with us once again. It was just awesome to see him and listen to his ideas and watch the results of his work as drag numbers dropped from one run to another.

Thanks again to the San Diego wind tunnel team, Steve Hed and company for an amazing experience!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Contador: No 'Plan B' — he wants the Tour

By: Andrew Hood

Alberto Contador never dreamed he would win the Tour de France last year. But he did, thanks in part to Michael Rasmussen’s tangle of lies, and now the Spanish climber is intent on proving to the world that he’s a worthy champion.

But there are dark clouds on the horizon in Contador’s otherwise-sunny post-Tour world — the possibility that Tour organizers might follow the lead taken by the Giro d’Italia and leave Astana sitting on the sidelines.

Contador, 25, simply says that he cannot imagine being left out of the Tour.

Doing his best to disarm the doubters, Contador faced the Spanish press Sunday evening ahead of his season debut in the Mallorca Challenge. Here are excerpts from the press conference:

Question: How do you face the prospect that you might not go to the Tour?

Alberto Contador: I don’t want to consider this option. The Tour is the race that defined me as a racer. I want to go back and I don’t even want to think about not going.

Q: Before people were asking about how many Tours you might win; now people are wondering if you will even be allowed to race this year. Does that rattle you?

AC: Cycling is living some crazy days right now. It’s what I do for a living and I must live with it right now. As I said, I am not considering any other option. All my season is focusing on the Tour. I want to try to win again. I am an attacking rider. I want to race the Tour like last year, attacking on the mountains and taking back time against the time-trial specialists. This is what I am focusing on.

Q: Can you accept the idea that you might not go to the Tour?

AC: No – at the moment I cannot imagine not going to the Tour. The (Astana) team is completely new – new staff, new directors, new riders – the only thing that has stayed the same is the sponsor. It was bad that we were left out of the Giro because a lot of riders (on Astana) were preparing to make the race. The Giro is very important for the team.

Q: One concern about the Tour is that it dips into Italy and that CONI might disrupt the race to make questions about Operación Puerto. Are you concerned about this?

AC: I’ve had no sort of notification. Like I said before, I am always at the disposition to help the authorities in any way I can. If they want to make any type of questions, they can contact me at any time.

Q: Did you consider the risk that Astana might have problems when you signed with the team last fall?

AC: I spoke with my family and friends and I believed that Astana was the best option for me. Last year is last year. I am optimistic about the Tour. In terms of what team was best for me to prepare for the Tour, Astana was the best option.

Q: It was reported that you have a “Plan B” if you don’t get invited to the Tour?

AC: I do not have a “Plan B.” The only plan I have is is my “Plan A,” and that’s to go to the Tour de France.

Q: How has the Tour win changed your life?

AC: It’s different for me now. Before no one knew me when I was walking around. Now when I walk down the street, people recognize me and call out my name. What’s most beautiful is that the people of my city are really in love with cycling now.

Q: Did you dream that you would win the Tour last year when you began the 2007 season?

AC: No. I dreamed about winning the Tour in 2008, not last year.

Q: Does cycling’s bad ambiance sour your Tour victory in any way?

AC: No. For me, the Tour victory is still the greatest thing. It is very good for me right now. Cycling is living a crazy moment right now and that’s just the way it is. Some say it was better 10 years ago or when Merckx was riding, I can’t say. What’s important is that I won the Tour.

Q: Do you feel like a legitimate winner after what happened to Rasmussen?

Of course I do, yes. I have never thought otherwise.

Q: Have you had any contact with Michael Rasmussen? Do you know what he’s doing?

AC: I haven’t. I don’t know what he’s doing.

Q: What’s your view of the biological passport?

AC: I am in favor of these steps. If it’s something that can help with the image of cycling, then I am all for it. We can only hope that they respect the riders.

Q: Do you feel like you are a spokesman to help cycling move into the future?

AC: I am conscious that we are entering a new era. I have to give all that I can. If my image can help change the idea of what cycling is, then that’s great. I don’t know if that role specifically corresponds to me. I am aware of this responsibility.

Q: How do you feel that cycling is seemingly constantly under attack?

AC: It’s a pity. It seems that every time they speak of cycling, there is bad news. It’s always being attacked. It’s sad that they do not speak more about the sporting aspects.

Q: Do you feel persecuted?

AC: No.

Q: What motivates you most this season?

AC: What gives me motivation is the Tour. I don’t feel like I have to prove anything, but I want to win again. They say in cycling that confirming the victory is important. That’s what I want to do, but it’s not because I have to prove anything to anyone. I am here to win the Tour again.

Q: The team is working with (anti-doping expert) Rasmus Damsgaard with internal testing for surprise anti-doping controls. What do you think about this and how many times have you been tested?

AC: I have had three controls already. I’m in favor of this effort. This, along with the biological passport, are important steps for cycling. This will help with the credibility of the sport. This is also another example of how the team has changed from last year. We are totally at the disposal of the controllers. They can test us whenever they want. This will help clear up the idea that the team is different.

Q: How has your perspective toward racing changed from last year?

AC: At this point last year, I was new to Discovery Channel. I was just finding my place on the team. I was very excited to be racing again. I had immediate, short-term goals, like Paris-Nice. The idea that the Tour was there was another big goal, but the short-term goals were more pressing at this time last year. This year, everything is about the Tour.

Q: Considering your schedule, will you have pressure to win early?

AC: I am in no obligation to win any of my early season races, but of course I want to do well. My personal preference is always to try to race to win. That’s the way I’ve always been. I cannot see that changing too much. What will change, of course, is that the Tour is the season focus and I will aim to reach my peak in July.

Q: How are things on the team?

AC: It’s great. There are a lot of familiar faces from last year. I feel like I am at home. I am very content. It’s more or less the same team, just the name on the jersey has changed.

Q: Are you worried about the team hierarchy with yourself, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden all on the same team?

AC: People have been asking this a lot. Last year with Levi, he was third and we never had a problem in the 21 days of the race. I cannot imagine there will be a problem with Klöden. We are all professional and we will all be working toward the same goal. We will work together and then band together behind the strongest one. We communicate in English.

Q: Any contact with Lance Armstrong?

AC: None whatsoever.

Q: Who do you work with in preparation?

AC: The same as last year. I am working with the trainer on the team (Pepe Martí) and now I am working closely with Alain Gallopin.

Q: What kind of changes have you made in training?

AC: I am working very hard on the time trial. Another thing I learned last year is that I have to become more consistent in the higher cols. I’ve been working very hard to improve my depth of strength and, from rides this year, I can already notice the difference.

Q: How important is it to improve in the time trial?

AC: I am optimistic at improving my time trial, maybe a little too optimistic. Last year I think I made important strides in improving on the time trial and this year I will demonstrate my new improvements on the road. I am working on improving my position, especially with the handlebars, to become more efficient on the bike, to become more aerodynamic. Improving my resistance is also key.

Q: Will you try to go to the Olympics?

AC: If I go, I will go with the idea of trying to win a medal. I understand it’s a very difficult course and it could suit me. I go with the idea of winning, because if not, I should just stay home.

Q: What’s your racing schedule for the year?

AC: Just about the same as last year: Mallorca, Valencia, Paris-Nice, Castilla y León, Circuit de la Sarthe, Fleche-Liège, Dauphiné and the Tour.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Team CSC Hard at Work in California

At the moment Team CSC is working hard at the traditional yearly training camp in California to get the riders in the best possible shape for the spring season, which is approaching rapidly.

"It looks like the entire team is in pretty fair shape. We've had a good camp so far with lots of training – tough training that is," comments Jens Voigt.

During the winter his wife gave birth to another baby, but it's not the first time by far so it hasn't had any influence on his preparations for the new season:

"I think I've gotten through the winter break ok. I'm looking forward to doing Tour of California – this race means a lot to all of us it being this close to our American sponsor's head offices. I hope to do my bit to land us another victory again this year. Last year we won three stages in this race and it would be fantastic to make a repeat performance in 2008," says Voigt.

The Californian training camp runs from January 31 to February 15 and after that some of the riders move on to Tour of California, which begins on February 17, while the rest of the team travels to Europe, where Trofeo Laigueglia takes place in Italy on February 23 and the day after it's Tour du Haut Var in France followed by Het Volk in Belgium on March 1.