Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fränk Schleck to follow Contador and Nibali?

Can Fränk Schleck do what
Contador & Nibali have done?
With the big Danish podium hope for the Giro d’Italia, Jakob Fulgsang, having to stay home, RadioShack-Trek now needs a new captain for the Italian Grand Tour.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport that captain will be no other than Fränk Schleck.

The rumors have been there already since last year, but with Jakob Fuglsang as the team leader, Fränk Schleck didn’t really need to be in the Giro as well. Now he does though and it will be interesting to see if Schleck can do what Contador and Nibali have done before him.

In 2008 Alberto Contador had no intentions of riding the Giro d’Italia, but thanks to a late invitation from the Giro organization, Contador went from playing beach volley on his vacation in Cadiz to win the Giro d’Italia within a few weeks.

Vincenzo Nibali working for
Ivan Basso in the Giro 2010.
I 2010 Vincenzo Nibali almost did the same. Originally Nibali wasn’t featured in the Liquigas squad for the Giro, but after Franco Pellizotti got sidelined accused of doping abuse, Nibali got called up just one week prior to the start of race. Team mate Ivan Basso won the Giro d’Italia that year, but not without outstanding help from Vincenzo Nibali who managed to take 3rd place in the overall classification. Like Alberto Contador, Nibali had no idea he would be riding the Giro until a week before the start.

Now it seems like Fränk Schleck will have the change to do the same. Jakob Fuglsang was determined to change the series of bad luck for Radioshack-Trek but instead he ended up being a part of it. Looking at his results in the Ardennes Classics, Fränk Schleck has had a very similar start of the year to what Nibali had in 2010, so don’t be surprised if the Luxembourg rider storms to glory in the Giro d’Italia – starting in one week.

UPDATE: Radioshack-Trek has now officially named Fränk Schleck as team leader for the Giro d'Italia.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

100 days to go for Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador can soon see the light
at the end of the tunnel. 100 days to go.
The headline says it all. Today there are (only) 100 days left before Alberto Contador can return from his ban.

Those of you who think that the Spaniard has been taking it easy during his suspensions couldn't be more wrong.

According to Alberto Contador he has been training harder than ever, even beating his own records on the training climbs, and now he has made a Spanish TV-commercial for Flex to show his fans that he is still going strong.

Earlier this year Contador had a special cycling jersey made with a lot of encouragements from the fans printed on and in the video he says that he never feels alone. He continues to fight.

"If you thought that I would stay in bed - it's because you don't know me at all" 

Watch the full video here:

For all the non-Spanish speaking visitors, you can find an English transcript of the whole video right here - courtesy of @FranReyesF.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Liege-Bastogne-Liege Favorites

It’s time for the last Spring Classic of the season and just like last year, there is one guy everybody talks about; Philippe Gilbert.

In 2011 it was because of his outstanding shape and three wins in a row, while it this time is because he now finally seems to be back among the favorites again.

Last year he won Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallone before he took his career’s first Liege-Bastogne-Liege victory. This year Gilbert ended 12th in Brabantse Pijl, 6th in Amstel Gold Race and 3rd in Fleche Wallone. As Gilbert points out you can’t really divide 3 with 2 in the same way as mentioned above -that would be a 1,5 place. Not the win, but very close. Actually a pretty solid guess for how Liege-Bastogne-Liege will be for Gilbert tomorrow.

I have no doubts that he will be among the best riders, but does he and the BMC team really have what it takes to control the race, follow the attacks and then beat everyone in the final? Gilbert is the favorite, yes – but I think a certain Italian rider could end up surprising quite a few.

Vincenzo Nibali

I have picked out Nibali as favorite a couple of times already this season (Tour of Oman, Milano-San Remo and Tirreno-Adriatico) and every time he has ended in the top3 (2nd in Oman, 3rd in MSR and 1st in Tirreno), so don’t be surprised if it continues in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Nibali attacking.
Last winter Vincenzo Nibai said he wanted to focus more on the Ardennes Classics again and after a pretty anonymous Amstel Gold Race (104th) he showed good legs in Fleche Wallone last Wednesday (8th). I’m sure Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the one of the three Ardennes races most suitable for Nibali and “The Shark” himself also sounds very optimistic about his chances.

A few days ago the Liquigas riders were out training on the course and on Cote de Saint-Nicolas, a great tactical place to attack in the final, Vincenzo Nibali opened up for all engines and rode full speed to test the legs. I won’t be surprised if he does that again tomorrow when it really counts. It would also make sense to try an attack on the descent of La Roche-aux-Faucons. Leaving the rest of the favorites looking at each other. Nibali shouldn’t have any problems staying with the favorites and if he gets away in the final he will be very difficult to catch again!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Contador wants to stay with Riis

Contador says he wants to continue working with Bjarne Riis
Honestly...would you be able to resist those eyes?
Alberto Contador confirmed yesterday that he wishes to continue with Bjarne Riis and Team Saxo Bank when his ban ends later this year.

In an interview with Spanish Radio, Cadena COPE, he says: "Six teams, among them Movistar, have contacted my brother (Fran Contador who is also Alberto's agent) but I prefer to stay with Team Saxo Bank. They have helped me unconditionally at all time during this difficult time and you can't put a price on that. Therefore they are my first choice".

For Bjarne Riis this is very good news, but let's wait and see what happens in the end. It wouldn't be the first time things didn't go according to plan for the Danish team.

You can read the full transcript of the interview with Alberto Contador (in Spanish) right here thanks to Fran Reyes and the guys over at Revolutio.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Favorites for Amstel Gold Race

Purito's stage win in Vuelta Pais Vasco
on a steep final like Cauberg with 15%.
Every single one of you reading this site should know who my favorite is for Amstel Gold Race this Sunday. A lot of things can happen but I think it will end up with a reduced group fighting for the win on Cauberg and that means a certain Spanish rider must be the mega favorite.

Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez
Give this guy a steep part over 15% and he gets wings. Purito has been an expect of these “rampas” his whole career and the last couple of years he has had few if any real equals at all. Last year Purito had some injury problems leading up to the Ardennes Classics but he still managed to rip the front group apart on the steep part of Cauberg with only Gilbert able to follow him. Given state of shape Gilbert was in last year, of course he won the race against Purito who still wasn’t 100%. This year Gilbert doesn’t seem to be near the same condition and while Purito recently showed off his excellent shape in Vuelta Pais Vasco I can’t see anyone beating the little Spaniard if it’s all together when they start on Cauberg.

Samu winning in Arrate
for the 3rd time in a row.
Samuel Sanchez
Yet another Spanish rider. If Purito showed he was ready in Vuelta Pais Vasco, Samuel Sanchez showed he was super ready. Euskaltel Euskadi finally got their win on home territory and if Samu can manage to refocus on the Ardennes after that performance he should have very good chances of a podium spot.

I doubt he will try to attack before the final and since I can’t see him follow Purito, I don’t think he will win, but he is definitely a strong contender for the podium. Team mate Mikel Landa recently said that Samuel Sanchez had one of the three Ardennes Classics red-circled and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the one.

Cunego winning Amstel
on Cauberg back in 2008.
Damiano Cunego
First one of my favorites who has actually won the race earlier. Damiano Cunego won on Cauberg back in 2008 when he outsprinted Fränk Schleck and Alejandro Valverde. Ever since Cunego has been among the best riders in the race taking 5th in 2009, 6th in 2010 and 15th last year. This year Cunego has ambitions on the World Champion course in Limburg and since that one is very similar to the Amstel Gold Race course, Cunego wants to show he should be the Italian captain in September. In Vuelta Pais Vasco he ended off very strong with an impressive 5th place on the final time trial and without Michele Scarponi to share the leader role with, I think Damiano Cunego has good chances of taking yet another top spot on Cauberg. 

No favorites without any jokers. Even though Katusha and other teams should be strong enough to keep it together for a final show down on Cauberg, the chance of a successful attack is always there. One of the riders who has the strength to do it is Vincenzo Nibali. His showed in Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-San Remo that his tactical sense is improving and if he can keep his head cool this time he should be able to put in a strong attack in the final.

Nordhaug wins Trofeo Deia
after going solo in the final.
Another rider who has shown to be very strong these days is Lars-Petter Nordhaug from Team Sky. Nordhaug ended 4th overall in Criterium International and 6th in the GC in Vuelta Pais Vasco and according to the Norwegian he was even holding back to be ready for the Ardennes Classics. Team Sky also have Sergio Luis Henao on the team and since the Columbian is more explosive in the final I think Lars-Petter Nordhaug will have to attack from a far if he wants a chance to surprise the favorites.

Among other riders for the expected “sprint” on Cauberg it would be foolish not to mention Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans but to be honest I have more faith in the three pointed out above. For break aways look out for Giovanni Visconti and home favorite Robert Gesink.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bjarne Riis' Giro-sensation up in smoke

Rafal Majka, Saxo Bank
At the team presentation last winter, Bjarne Riis revealed that Team Saxo Bank would back young Rafal Majka in the Giro d'Italia in order to end high up in the general classification.

Last time Bjarne Riis had a similar plan, Andy Schleck took 2nd place overall in the Italian Grand Tour so they were high hopes for Polish young-gun.

Unfortunately the bad luck for Team Saxo Bank never seems to end. With less than a month to the start of the Giro d'Italia, Rafal Majka has thrown in the towel. Majka crashed in Tirreno-Adriatico and had to withdraw from Volta Catalunya during stage 3. On Thursday it was confirmed that he has a fracture in his knee and has to be out for an unknown amount of time.

"It's even difficult for me to walk up the stairs. I don't know when I will be back", Rafal Majka told onet.

This means that Team Saxo Bank once again needs to change their plans and with the Giro d'Italia starting in Denmark, they can't just send any team. They need a strong rider for the GC, but who will it be? Argentinean sprinter Juan José Haedo will be ready to fight for stage wins in the mass sprints, but is that enough for Bjarne Riis in a race that starts out in his home town?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Interview - Thomas Löfkvist (Team Sky)

Thomas Löfkvist, Team Sky
Thomas Löfkvist is no stranger for readers of this site. During the Tour de France last summer he was one of the 4 expert tipsters and this isn’t the first C-Cycling interview with him either. Let’s get started.

Thomas, first of all, how would you describe your season so far? 
All together I think it has been fine. The feeling on the bike has definitely been a lot better than the last two years.

After getting sick during Tirreno-Adriatico, you did very well in Criterium International getting 8th in the GC.
Tirreno was one of my big goals this season, so it was a big disappointment for me to get sick there. I really came to the race in good shape. Criterium International wasn’t really a planned goal for me, but I was still in good shape and the course really suited me.

So what is your next big aim of the season?
First I will do the Ardennes Classics and then Tour de Suisse, which is a big goal for me.

In 2010 you ended 16th overall in the Tour de France. Do you feel you still have the chance to improve that result or don’t you focus on the GC in the Tour anymore with Bradley Wiggins on the team?
On a personal level I would like to do Top10 in the Tour and I also think I have the capacity to do so. In 2012 it will be difficult since the team hopes to take both the Green [Cavendish] and the Yellow [Wiggins] jersey. That means I will be working in front on the flat parts and in the mountains, so it will be very difficult to get a good result for myself.

Do you still feel you get enough chances to prove yourself? 
We have a lot of strong riders this year, but I still get my chances. I had Tirreno-Adriatico earlier and Tour de Suisse next where I can go for a result. I like being with Team Sky, but my contract ends after this season, so we will see what happens.

Does that put any extra pressure on you to perform better this season? 
Well, the pressure is always there, but this year it’s a lot more important for my future.

You had some of your best years the last time you rode with Mark Cavendish. Now you two are back together. Did you miss him?
I have been missing him. Mark is a great guy to have on the team. He spreads a lot of positive energy and he is very nice to work with. Plus, when you work for him it often leads to victory, which brings good momentum to the team.

Another interesting rider on the team is Norwegian Lars-Petter Nordhaug. You know him well. How far do you think he can go? 
Yes I have known Lars-Petter since the junior years when we were battling each other on Mountainbikes in the forest. Lars-Petter is a huge talent who should be able to make it to the top. I think he can do well in the three week stage races, but he needs a little bit more experience first.

Last summer you became a father for the first time. How did that change your life? Does it make it more difficult being so much away from home?
To get a kid was a big thing. Life really gets a new meaning when you’re not only responsible for yourself. Sometimes it can be difficult to be away, but with Skype it works out fine. Now and then I find myself smiling on bike when I think about him. It really motivates me.

Looking ahead. Your next races are going to be the Ardennes Classics. Will you get your own chance there?
I will get my shot at Fleche Wallone. I did well there in 2009 (6th place) and I would like to top that. It’s been many years since I did Amstel, so we will see what happens. In Liege it’s all about who has the best legs, so I hope mine will be good!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Interview - Laura Meseguer (cycling journalist)

Laura Meseguer.
The last couple of months this site has been getting a lot of visitors searching for "Laura Meseguer" on Google and other search engines. It seems like Laura is everywhere these days, so to sum what is happening, I made the following interview with her today.

Laura, first of all. For those people who have been sleeping the last couple of months, can you just quickly tell who you are?
Sure. I'm a Spanish cycling journalist who works for the magazine Pedalier Pro. I also work for the cycling micro site of Festina and for the cycling tourist race Mallorca 312. This is my 5th year working with cycling and I’m still learning everyday.

You seem to be everywhere these days. What is happening?
I don't know! I'm just doing my job behind the computer and at the races. A Belgian cycling magazine, CycloSprint, showed interest in interview with me a few weeks ago and of course I agreed to do that. I'm a bit surprised about it, because I really don't think my life can be interesting for an interview like that, but I feel very pleased with the attention.

Laura Meseguer (right) in the studio for Giro d'Italia
broadcasting last year for Spanish television.
Last year you were on Spanish TV, co-commentating one of the Giro d'Italia stages. Do you think that started this whole thing?
I don't think so. I think that the social networks are responsible for connecting persons all over the world. Especially the communicators. The truth is that when I write or tweet something I don't truly realize the amount of people who is reading it. In these years of social networking you are much more aware of how many people actually read your stuff and the response is almost immediately which makes it more demanding. It amazes me to see how many people that read what I write and it makes me more responsible as a journalist.

If we look at some of your work. In your opinion what is the best interview you have done so far?
I learned a lot when I interviewed Jens Voigt recently. It will be in the next edition of Pedalier Pro. I enjoyed that interview very much. Voigt is a great person and I took many of the things he said as an learning experience. I can't reveal much since it's not published yet, but I can say that I learned a lot of ‘sayings’ talking with Voigt.

To be honest, I enjoy all that I write for Pedalier Pro. It is a magazine where my way of writing and my view on cycling unite perfectly. To mention one article, I like the one I wrote about the Track Cycling World Champions; "Reyes de la Pista, príncipes de la carretera" [Kings of the track, princes of the road]. Another one is "El show debe continuar?" [The show must continue?]. It was a piece I wrote for my personal blog and I got a lot of positive feedback on that one. Of course, first of all, I write to inform, no to please, but I was very touched by the riders commenting on the article with such kind words.

The cover of CycloSprint.
As you said, Belgian cycling magazine, CycloSprint, made a big interview with you this month. Did you expect it to be on the front cover with Fabian Cancellara?
Never! I think Fabian Cancellera deserves to be there a lot more than me. If you ask me, I don't think that the any journalist should be on the front cover.

Recently you even found an article about yourself in the Belgian newspapers Net Nieuwsblad, you are famous now...
That was a surprise. I really didn't expect that! I was a little scared about it, also because I don't understand the language. Though, my Belgian colleagues have told me that the article was positive and respectful and didn't lack a sense of humor, so I can only be grateful.

The article about Laura in
Net Nieuwsblad recently.
How have the feedback been the last couple of months? 
It's always positive, which is the most important for me. Still, I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea. I have spent many years preparing to be a good journalist or communicator. I don't want to be a part of what is very popular in Spain these years with "young female sport journalists". I think I started to work with cycling a long time before this new fashion. I want to be professional in my way of working and I don't want to be anywhere thanks to anything but that.

So what do you tell those who compare you to Sara Carbonero [TV-reporter and girl friend of Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas]?
That is exactly what I'm referring to. I don't think the two of us have anything in common at all. I think she made a mistake of converting herself into a product on an TV-station who really knows how to "sell products". It’s problem when you act like a product and still want to be taking serious as a journalist. I don't feel I belong on TV but if so it should be on a serious network that doesn't sell the women as entertainment products but as the real reporters we are.

Do you have any plans of doing TV in the near future?
Not right now, but you never know what will happen in the future. For example I never thought I would end up working with cycling either! In any case it would be something serious in the area of reporting or interviewing, which I like to do so much.

So what is next? Where are we going to see Laura Meseguer pop up next time?
I'll be at some stages of Vuelta a Castilla y León then Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Mallorca312 and maybe Giro d' Italia. After that I'll have a break and rest, like the riders, before I'll start again with the Tour de France, Vuelta a Burgos, Vuelta a España and the World Champions. I don't know about the Olympics yet. We will see.

In case you didn't do it already, you can follow Laura Meseguer on Twitter via @Laura_Meseguer

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Paris-Roubaix: Pozzato wins!

Get ready to see Filippo Pozzato rock those
cobblestones on Sunday the 8th of April!
As you can see I’ve once gain changed the set-up. Instead of listing a couple of my favorites, I rather want to explain why I think Filippo Pozzato will win this year’s Paris-Roubaix.

Would you have picked Pozzato to take second place in Ronde Van Vlaanderen less than 2 months after he broke his collarbone? Well, I was impressed! And I think he has another top performance ready for us this Sunday.

Ever since Milano-San Remo this year Filippo Pozzato has consistently been among the best riders in all the races he has participated in. 6th in Milano-San Remo, 6th in Dwars door Vlaanderen, 9th in Gent-Wevelgem and 2nd in Ronde van Vlaanderen last weekend. Especially last Sunday he showed how strong he is right now, when he dropped Boonen on the last part of Paterberg. In the end it seemed like Pozzato had a too much faith in his own sprint but I doubt he will make this mistake again. If the Italian Playboy wants to win Paris-Roubaix he needs to get rid of Tom Boonen before the Velodrome and even though that may seem as an impossible task, I think he can do it. And what is more important, so do Pozzato.
Filippo Pozzato broke his collarbone
less than two months ago.

Like every year Pozzato is super motivated for Paris-Roubaix and with his 2nd place from 2009 and 7th from 2010 he sure knows how to handle himself on the cobblestones. Last year he was right up there with the best after Forest of Arenberg, but unfortunately Pozzato had bike problems and since his team car had punctured earlier on, there was no one left to help the Italian.

The way I see it, Filippo Pozzato is the second strongest rider right now. As predicted in December, Tom Boonen is back, and only a fool wouldn’t pick him out a the biggest favorite for Paris-Roubaix. So why don’t I think he will win it again? Well, the truth is that I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Boonen has the strongest team of all with Chavanel and Terpstra to play out in the final, but without Fabian Cancellara in the race, everyone now looks at Quickstep to take control – and that’s why I think Pozzato has a good chance of winning. Everyone wants to attack Tom Boonen and if he uses up his team mates too early, since ‘why should anybody else take control of the race?’, it will open up for a hectic finale. Ballan, Flecha, Van Summeren, Vanmarcke, Boom, Oss, Paolini, Devolder etc etc are all strong riders who aren’t afraid of attacking and why would any other team want to chase down a breakaway just to see Tom Boonen outsprint them in the final? (To put it simple).

Pozzato's gesture to Ballerini
who died in car accident in 2010.
I think Filippo Pozzato will stay in the wheel of Tom Boonen for most of the race but in the end I think he will give a go. And if Pozzato first gets a good gap he just showed it takes one of the strongest riders in the world to catch him.

Another aspect is Franco Ballerini. In 2010 Pozzato crossed the finish line, as Italian champion, showing a picture of the late Ballerini and this year he wants to do more. “I want to win Paris-Roubaix for Franco”, Pozzato recently told La Gazzetta and that’s the same spirit we find at the Farnese Vini team. DS Luca Scinto rode, like Pozzato, with Ballerini at Mapei back in the days and Scinto is sure the team will get extra strength on Sunday. “That day we will be racing in nine, instead of eight”, he told velonews after Ronde van Vlaanderen. So there it is. My pick for Paris-Roubaix: Filippo Pozzato! If I had to mention a few outsiders I would tell you all to look out for Lars Boom (Rabobank), Bernhard Eisel (Team Sky) and Italian sprinter Danielle Bennati (Radioshack).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Déjà-vu finish called off

If you were watching today’s final kilometers in Vuelta Pais Vasco, I could imagine you were having the same thoughts as me when Daryl Impey attack and team mate Allan Davis started his sprint. “Would Davis do like Kim Kirchen in 2008?” – For a long time I thought he would, but luckily for Daryl Impey he managed to do what Morris Possini couldn’t do 4 years ago and ended up winning the stage.

Kim Kirchen passing Possoni on the final
meters and takes the stage win in 2008.
For those (few, I hope) who don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain. The last time Vuelta Pais Vasco had a stage finish in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Morris Possoni had been in a long breakaway the whole stage and looked like he would take the stage even though the peloton got very close on the final few hundred meters. With just 25 meters to go the young Italian seemed to have secured the stage win, but on the final meters the peloton caught the breakaway and team mate Kim Kirchen passed Possoni and snatched the stage win.

Today Allan Davis was just about to do the same, but this time history didn’t repeat itself and Daryl Impey took his first victory this season.

Tomorrow we have the traditional stage finish on Arrate. Overall favorite Samuel Sanchez has won this stage the last two years in a row and is once again the big favorite. Will he manage to make a hat-trick?