Monday, January 30, 2012

Kittel: No - FC Barcelona: Yes

Following Monday’s news that the second most winning cyclist in 2011, Marcel Kittel, is being linked to doping abuse, I wanted to bring back a little comic strip the Spanish sports paper, AS, brought last year when there were doubts if some of FC Barcelona’s injured players would be fit for the Champions League match against FC København.
Guardiola: Doctor, do you think that Xavi & Puyol will be ready
to play the match against FC København today?
Doctor: To play against FCK, I don't know, but to do the Tour, of course!
The wrongly called “doping treatment” that Marcel Kittel has been undergoing (4 years ago!!)is a UV treatment. To those of you who is not familiar with this treatment, Marcel Kittel’s Project 1t4i team explains:

"Dr. Franke took a very small amount (a few cc) of blood from the body via a syringe and put this under UV lighting immediately to fight the infection in the blood. This blood was subsequently reinserted into the body. The entire treatment did not take more than a few minutes. It did not involve an infusion or transfusion."

According to WADA this is not legal. “If the treatment involves taking blood from athletes, manipulating it and then re-injecting it, then that process is prohibited under section M2.3”, WADA’s communications director Terence O’Rorke tells VeloNation.

Marcel Kittel used this treatment to get over a flu. It might seem a bit extreme just for a flu but to see it as doping it’s simply too much!

To return to the Spanish comic strip, FC Barcelona is known for using a specific plasma-treatment helping their players get fit a lot faster than normally. The doctors take out a blood sample and centrifuge it. By this they can pick out only the extra plasma-rich parts of the blood, which they inject back in the inflamed area to help the body recovery faster. This is perfectly legal in the football world. Spanish tennis star, Rafael Nadal, uses this treatment as well. Like FC Barcelona without any sanctions.

 Am I the only one finding this extremely pathetic?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Interview - Stefano Allocchio (Sport Manager, RCS)

Stefano Alloccio, Sport Manager at RCS
After knowing about the wild cards for the Giro d’Italia this year, Alberto Celani and I reached out to former Italian sprinter Stefano Allocchio who is now Sport Manager at RCS Sport, the organization in charge of the Giro.

I was hoping to hear more about the decisions behind the wild card invitations and if cycling is now more money and marketing than passion and enthusiasm, but unfortunately Stefano Allocchio didn’t want to elaborate on Michele Acquarone’s blog

That means that what could have been the more interesting part on the interview more or less got cancelled, leaving the following as the remaining part of the interview. 

Stefano, leaving the wild card questions and moving on to a sporting view of the Giro d’Italia. What do you expect of the first stages in Denmark? 
I look forward to three important stages in Denmark. I think it could be very similar to the first three stages in Holland two years go. Even the stages characteristics are similar.First a time trial and then two stages which aren’t so easy to interpret. The wind could play an important factor. I expect a lot of people along the roads and real fight for the first Maglia Rosa.

And what do you generally think of this year’s route. Who does it favor?
I think it’s a very beautiful Giro route with good possibilities for any kind of rider. I also think it’s not as easy as many journalist around the world think it is. I see it very similar to the Giro in 2010 won by Ivan Basso. He should be one of the favorite even though it’s early already to speak about this.

Which one of the stages is your own personal favorite? 
Even though I was a sprinter in my own career, I can tell you that without any doubts my favorite Giro stage in 2012 is the one to Stelvio [stage 20, edt.] with Mortirolo and the finish line at 2758 meters above sea level.

Having been a sprinter yourself, what do you think of today’s sprint finishes? Last year we saw less sprints won by a long, strong lead-out train than earlier. Is that's a new trend?
I don’t think it’s a real “trend”. On the contrary, I think every mass sprint is different from the others and also, a good sprinter has to be able to win by himself without help from anybody.

Last year got shadowed by the horrific crash and death of Wouter Weylandt. What has RCS done to improve the safety on the roads in 2012? Are you talking with riders on how to make it better? Like we have seen in Motorsport? 
What happened to Wouter Weylandt has been a tragic fatality and it has nothing to do with race safety measures. RCS Sport has always been at the top on riders safety on its races. Of course we will continue on this path in 2012 and in the coming years to be on top of the athletes safety.

Last question and another topic. Cyclocross and Track Cycling are losing appeal in Italy. Do you think RCS can play a role in the renewal of these disciplines in a country rich in tradition like Italy? Do you think it would be possible with a Cyclocross event at Parco Sempione or a track event at Vigorelli to save this monument of cycling?
I perfectly understand what you are talking about, since I has been a track rider too, but I have to admit that time wait for nobody and maybe these disciplines are in the past of a rich tradition country as Italy too. I don’t think it will be possible to renewal these disciplines. Unfortunately.

On a side not Stefano Allocchio also put an end to the rumors that the epic finale on Montelupone will return in this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico. Something that Purito, among others, had hoped it would. “It will return in the future though”, Allocchio assures.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Team Saxo Bank - Ghost Team

Team boss Bjarne Riis.
Ever since Alberto Contador's case started a large amount of great riders have been signing contracts with Team Saxo Bank as his replacement or as luxury gregario in the mountains. At least in the press. Fact is that Team Saxo Bank hasn't signed a single one of all these riders.

Some riders they didn't have the funds to sign while other riders never were more than just a rumor. I thought it could be interesting to take a look at some of the riders who turned out to be nothing but ghosts.

Tony Martin (signed with Omega Pharma-Quickstep)
Bjarne Riis was very interested in signing Tony Martin when Team Highroad closed, but even though Saxo Bank had a an extra bag of money ready, the German rider decided to go elsewhere.

Thor Hushovd (signed with BMC)
It was very obvious during last year's Tour de France that Bjarne Riis would have loved to secure Thor Hushovd as Saxo Bank rider in 2012, but when Thor Hushovd saw the amount of zeros BMC could put on his paycheck he chose to join Phillipe Gilbert.

Denis Menchov (signed with Katusha)
Like last time Denis Menchov needed a new team, the press was fast to link the Russian rider with Bjarne Riis. According to the rumors Menchov had already had several conversations with Riis about a contract, but with an annual payment of €1.8 Euros, Riis didn't have the money (nor the desire?) to sign Menchov on for 2012.

Juanjo Cobo (signed with Movistar)
After winning the Vuelta España Juanjo Cobo signed a €800.000 contract with GEOX just to see the shoe company withdraw their sponsorship a few days later. Rumors had it that Cobo would head to Team Saxo Bank instead, but I think everyone 'involved' in that knew that would never happen.

Stefano Garzelli (re-signed with Acqua e Sapone)
Recently Stefano Garzelli was linked to Team Saxo Bank after his Italian team Acqua e Sapone didn't get invited to the Giro d'Italia where Garzelli had planned to end his career. After La Gazzetta bought the story, Garzelli himself said that it in fact was last summer he was negotiating with Team Saxo Bank, but ended up staying at Acqua e Sapone anyway. For what reason I don't know, but I guess he owed the team that much and of course thought they would be invited to the Giro.

Vladimir Karpets (signed with Movistar)
After a disappointing time with his fellow countrymen at Katusha, Vladimir Karpets felt the time was ready for a change. According to a recent interview with French site Velochrono, Karpets was very tempted to sign a contract with Bjarne Riis and Team Saxo Bank but decided to go to Movistar and his old boss Eusebio Unzué. "If I hadn't sign the contract with Movistar I would been going to Saxo Bank", he says. Karpets would have been a great help for Contador, plus a good rider for the one week stage races. Shame Bjarne Riis couldn't convince him.

Damiano Cunego (re-signed with Lampre)
Before the beginning of the 2011 season Damiano Cunego had a chance to change team for the first time in his career but decided to stay loyal to Lampre. The former Giro d'Italia rider had an offer from Bjarne Riis on the table but like all the riders above the ink never touched the paper - at least not the paper saying Team Saxo Bank at the top.

Other riders linked to Bjarne Riis and Team Saxo Bank are Chris FroomeAlejandro Valverde, Christopher Horner & Jakob Fulgsang (likely to sign next year) just to name a few. It's true that if Alberto Contador is a superior this year as he was in the Giro d'Italia last year, he doesn't need that one last man in the mountains, but it sure wouldn't have made his chances of success any smaller if just one of the mentioned riders was there to help him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Team Saxo Bank can't sign Garzelli

Today's story in Gazzetta
Wednesday morning has been all about the possible signing of Stefano Garzelli by Team Saxo Bank. The Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport bought the story in their paper edition today, but they seem to forget one very important aspect. How will Saxo Bank be able to sign Garzelli, when their roster is already filled up?

I will be the first to support the signing of one of my own personal riders, but looking at the UCI rules it simply doesn't seem possible. Right now Team Saxo Bank have 29 riders on contract, one of these being neo-pro Christopher Juul Jensen and according to UCI rule 2.15.110 a UCI ProTeam is only allowed to have 30 riders on contract if at least two of these are neo-pro riders. Stefano Garzelli is turning 39 years in 2012 so you can't hardly sign him as a neo-pro.

The only way Team Saxo Bank can sign Stefano Garzelli is if one of their riders suddenly retire (...Astana) and that seems very unlikely to happen.

It's a shame, but I can't see how Stefano Garzelli will be able to share the blue color with Alberto Contador and co. in 2012.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Favorites for Tour Down Under 2012

The cycling season is finally about to start with Santos Tour Down Under and to celebrate that I’ve made a little list with my three personal favorites for the overall classification. I will most likely give tips to selected stages during the race so don't forget to check back soon!

1. Simon Gerrans
The GreenEDGE-captain has already won the race (back in 2006) and seems to be as strong as ever this early in the season. His impressive win in the Australian championships showed that Gerrans has the right punch in his legs right now and with the finishes in Stirling (stage2) and on Willunga Hill (stage5) this year’s route really seems to fit the little Aussie. Not to metion that Simon Gerrans must be more motivated than ever riding in the colors of the new GreenEDGE team on home soil.

2. Michael Rogers
Next rider up is another Aussie. Michael Rogers lost his 2011-season to injuries but is now back in shape and ready to win. Like Simon Gerrans, Rogers also showed great legs in the national championships, on the time trial, where he ended 3rd only 16 seconds behind U-23 World Champion Luke Durbridge. One could argue that Team Sky already have Edvald Boasson Hagen for the overall classification, but according to the Norwegian it is Michael Rogers who is the captain. Rogers wants to win and I have no doubts his team will back him. Remember Rogers isn’t that slow in a sprint in a smaller group either. Look out for him on Willunga Hill.

3. Alejandro Valverde
After being out for two years Alejandro Valverde is now right back in the peloton and according to his teammates he is extremely motivated to show he still has got what it takes to win races. Normally Valverde would be the main favorite a race like this year’s Tour Down Under, but after being out for two years it’s difficult to predict. I think Valverde will be ready, but it might take a couple of months before he’s got his old race rhythm back. Stages like the one in Sterling and on Willunga Hill will show just how good the Spaniard is already.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Unstoppable Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador aka El Pistolero.
Alberto Contador has been levels way above his opponents for last 3 years but according to Bjarne Riis and Contador's trainers there is still a lot to improve on the Spaniards performances. Not a little - A LOT, they say...

One of these improvements is Alberto Contador's time trial abilities. Contador has already won short as well as and long time trials in the Grand Tours, beating Fabian Cancellara in the Tour de France back in 2009, so imagine the machine he will become if he even has room for improvement in this discipline. One of the things Contador and his staff are working on is the position on the saddle, where an adjustment of only a couple of centimeters should be able to give Contador a better aerodynamic position and thereby win extra seconds.

Bjarne Riis has always been a perfectionist down to the smallest detail and helping Alberto Contador to a better position on the bike seems to open new doors for El Pistolero. I talk about the Olympics, where Contador already has pointed out he wants to aim at the time trial. With guys like Fabian Cancellara, Bradley Wiggins & Tony Martin you would expect Alberto Contador to pass on the challenge so close after the end of the Tour, but according to Contador himself he aims big on the Olympic time trial. It's going to be very interesting to see how that ends up...

Contador was unable to shake off
Rasmussen in the Tour 2007.
May I remind you that only one rider ever has been able to follow - and beat - Alberto Contador in the mountains, when Contador is on top of his game, and that was Michael Rasmussen back in 2007. Since that only Andy Schleck came close in 2010, but without a solid time trial performance Andy Schleck will never win the Tour. In 2012 there is almost 100 km of time trialing on the Tour-menu and when Alberto Contador is close to unbeatable in the mountains and takes time on all his main rivals (Wiggins and Martin don't stand a chance in the high mountains in my opinion) in the ITTs - who is going to beat him?

Last year Alberto Contador didn't start out preparing for the Tour, only the Giro, and see what happened. I too hope for a close run in the Tour de France this year, but I must be honest and say that I have absolutely no doubts that Alberto Contador, without crashes and incidents, will win his 4th Tour title in July this year.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

More spectacular 'rampas' in the Vuelta

On next Wednesday, the 11th of January, this year's Vuelta España route will be presented in Pamplona but before knowing everything we have already at least two stages to look forward to. The last couple of years stage finishes like the one in Valdepeñas de Jaén - and especially last year's found in San Lorenzo El Escorial - have given us great drama on the final kilometers and that seems to continue in 2012.

The finish in El Escorial last year -28% !
I'm talking about stage 6 (to el Fuerte de Rapitán in Huesca) and stage 12 (to el Mirador de Ézaro in A Coruña). Especially the stage in Galicia to el Mirador de Ézaro looks frightening with 'rampas' up to 30% and 12,7% in average on the last 2 km - 14% on the final kilometer. A lot like what we saw in El Escorial last year I suppose.

The finish on stage 6 to el Fuerte Rapitán is 2,8 km long with 7,5% in average and comes right after the Cat3 climb Puerto de Oroel, which according to former top climber Fernando Escartin, isn't very difficult, but has a very fast downhill with a lot of corners. "Therefore it's very important to be positioned in the front already on Puerto de Oroel if you want to have a chance to win the stage", Escartin points out in today's AS.

We will know a lot more about these two stages and the rest of the Vuelta course next Wednesday, but it sure seems like we - and riders like Purito, Valverde, Antón & Gilbert - have a lot to look forward to!