Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fuentes and his other clients

Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes during
Tuesday's hearing in Madrid.
During the Tuesday’s hearing in Madrid, Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, made it clear that he didn’t just dope cyclists but in fact “all kind of athletes - football players, tennis players, boxers…”.

So far Fuentes has only named a handful of clients by name, but according to the Spanish doctor he would be able to identify every single code name on the list, if he had too. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem likely.

It’s important to remember that this hearing is not about if Fuentes doped athletes or not - he already admitted to blood transfusions – because that wasn’t illegal in Spain until November 2006. Eufemiano Fuentes is “only” facing charges of an “offense against public health” and therefore he doesn’t need to mention any specific names.

Whistleblower and former Kelme rider, Jesus Maria Manzano, is set to witness in February but has already said that he saw several football players during his visits to Fuentes’ clinic in Madrid. French newspaper, Le Monde, made in 2006 a connection between Barcelona and Dr. Fuentes claiming they were in position of doping calendars for several Barcelona players like the ones seen for the Liberty Seguros riders. Barcelona sued Le Monde and journalist Stéphane Mandard and won. In the end Le Monde was set to pay Barcelona a fine of €15.000 for “damaging the club’s honor”.

In recent years Eufemiano Fuentes has been linked to the football world numerous times and when arrested during Operacion Galgo a cellmate of Fuentes told a Spanish a newspaper that Fuentes had said: “If I start talking, we won’t have the European Championship nor the World Cup”. Fuentes later made a written statement denying ever to have said those words.

I doubt Eufemiano Fuentes will start dropping names but at least he made it clear that it’s not only cyclists he has been taking care of. Tennis star Nova Djokovic recently said that he was sure tennis players were the most clean athletes. Djokovic also admitted he hadn’t been blood tested in more than half a year. Same story in football as UEFA claim that Barcelona only had 3 surprise anti-doping controls in the 2010/11 season. To compare it Fabian Cancellara wrote on Twitter back December 2010 that he had had 55 anti-doping tests last year.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

TDU Preview - Stage 6

Tom-Jelte Slagter did like expected on Willunga Hill and seems now sure to take the overall win. Also joker Rafa Valls put in a strong fight for the stage win, but on Australia Day Simon Gerrans showed he still had a bit of kangaroo left in the legs. Impressive rise indeed.

Now it’s time for the final stage. It’s the typical circuit in Adelaide (20 x 4,5 km) and I would expect the winner from last year - and 2008 - to make a hattrick. Andre Greipel has been on a level or two above everybody else in this race and to have Greg Henderson to lead out should almost give him the win pre-race. Greg Henderson has been leading out the winner the last three years in a row, even taking second place twice, and if Lotto-Belisol were to make it 1 and 2 again this time, I can’t imagine anyone would be surprised.

The circuit in Adelaide. 20 x 4,5 km.
It’s a high speed finish and very often the riders end the way they are placed behind the winning train on the final 500 meters. Meaning that whoever gets Andre Greipel’s wheel in the end will most likely be able to stay on it all the way to the line. Of course there is the chance of Argos-Shimano timing their train right, but against this Lotto-Belisol machine I doubt it will happen in Australia this year.

I’ve already mentioned Jonathan Cantwell among the jokers earlier and he showed his potential with a third place in the last bunch sprint. Another guy I pointed out in the first preview was Andrew Fenn.

The youngster from Quickstep came out of Tour Down Under in super shape last year, winning Trofeo Palma de Mallorca & Trofeo Migjorn but this year he was aiming at showing his talent a few weeks earlier. He came close on stage 4 and showed last year that the short fast stages suit him very well. I think it will be difficult for Fenn to take the win, but a podium spot is definitely within reach.

Winnerpick: Andre Greipel
Joker: Andrew Fenn

Friday, January 25, 2013

TDU Preview - Stage 5

It’s time to settle the general classification. As always this will come down to the bonus seconds but compared to last year, this time there are many riders with a good chance of ending on the final podium.

It’s clear that right now Geraint Thomas and Tom-Jelte Slagter are the two big favorites for the overall win, especially since Thomas dropped everybody else on the steepest part of Corkscrew Road and Slagter has turned out to be the fastest among the climbers. Still it would be foolish to count out anybody from Top13 just yet.

Last year the two strongest riders on Willunga Hill were Javier Moreno and Tiago Machado and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these two took the win this time. Machado attacked very early last year and was caught with 1 km to go and I think he will be eager to take revenge. Radioshack have a super strong team for this stage with George Bennet, Ben Hermans and Tiago Machado all in the Top10 overall plus they have Jens Voigt and Jesse Sergent to set the tempo on the flat part. And hey, don’t forget Andy Schleck is here too. If he was to show his face at any point in this race, now would be the time to do it in order to help his team mates.

I know Tiago Machado is very motivated and that he believes he can win both the stage and race on Willunga Hill, but he still needs to shake of the rest of the great climbers. Last year Javier Moreno absolutely murdered the rest of the favorites’ intentions of attacking when the set a furious pace for team leader Alejandro Valverde and now it’s Moreno’s turn to get paced by a strong team. Eros Capecchi, José Herrada, Giovanni Visconti and Andrey Amador will all be ready to pull uphill on for the Andalusian climber while José Joaquin Rojas and José Ivan Gutierrez can control the peloton on the flat part like they did last year.

Team Sky will probably try to control the race as much as they can but near the coast it won’t be easy in the cross wind. Edvald Boasson Hagen hasn’t been on top of his game yet in this race, but he needs to do at least as well as last year on Willunga Hill to help Thomas get the overall win.

Personally I think this stage is perfect for Tom-Jelte Slagter if his Blanco team can manage to keep it together until the final kilometers. He has another young and strong climber, Wilco Kelderman by his side to help out and the average gradient of 7,6% on Willunga Hill should be in his favor. Furthermore Slagter showed in Stirling that he is the fastest man uphill right now, so if Machado, Thomas and others don’t drop him before the line he could very well end up winning both the stage and the race.

With the bonus seconds being so important I doubt the peloton will let a breakaway steal the win. Well, Team Sky would probably like to, but Blanco, Radioshack and Movistar will all work hard to prevent it. Therefore it’s also difficult to point out a joker who hasn’t shown much yet. Still I think Spanish climber, Rafael Valls will be a good pick for a top result on Willunga Hill. He’s currently sitting 15th overall - 31 seconds after Geraint  Thomas - but so far the finishes haven’t been in his favor. Valls is a real climber and he needs an uphill finish to show his talent. He’s seems to be getting better and better every day and I think he will be among the first on the top of Willunga Hill.

What about Phillipe Gilbert and Simon Gerrans, you might ask. Well, Gerrans doesn't seem to have the same  legs as last year and I honestly think Gilbert will lack a little explosivity on Willunga Hill when the real climbers go for the GC.
Winnerpicks: Tom-Jelte Slagter / Tiago Machado
Joker: Rafael Valls

Thursday, January 24, 2013

TDU Preview - Stage 4

My joker for the overall win, Tom-Jelte Slagter, put in an amazing finish in Stirling when he opened up early and kept Matt Goss and Phillipe Gilbert behind him. On the final meters Slagter didn’t go full gas in order to celebrate which probably cost him an extra second in the overall classification. Let’s hope he won’t lose the race because of that.

Stage 4 is a typical sprint stage. Some of the sprinters - like Kittel and Guardini - haven't even seen a bunch sprint so far in the race, so for those guys it will be an important stage in order to get some valuable WT points for their teams.

The big favorite is of course Andre Greipel. The extra added laps in Stirling proved to be too much for the German, but on fast flat finish he’s the man to beat. Lotto-Belisol will be eager to set up their impressive leadout-train once again and unless Argos-Shimano finally get it right and take the lead, nobody should be able to pass Greipel before the line.

The way I see it only two guys have the kick to make an upset on this stage. Arnaud Démare - joker for the first stage taking 2nd place - and Andrea Guardini. With his impressive finish on stage 1 I guess I can’t justify picking Démare as a ‘joker’ again, seeing how  he’s now one of the best pick for a top3 spot on the stage, so instead I’ll go with Guardini.

Nicknamed “Flash” because of his fast finish on the final meters, Guardini is yet to show his talent on the World Tour. Last year he won 10 races for Farnese-Vini, including the fastest stage in the Giro where he took Cavendish by surprise, and with only one climb on the menu - and that’s done with 100 km to go - Andre Guardini should be in the mix for sprint. Normally Guardini doesn’t need a leadout, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have in-form Simone Ponzi to keep him in front. As said, I think it will be very difficult to beat Andre Greipel, but if Lotto-Belisol don’t time it right, Guardini won’t hesitate to take his chance.

Winnerpick: Andre Greipel
Joker: Andrea Guardini

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

TDU Preview - Stage 3

I always look forward to this stage. In the past it was the only one not suited for all the sprinters and now it’s an important stage for the overall classification due to the bonus seconds on the line.

Yesterday my favorite Phillipe Gilbert attacked early but crashed on the descent - probably without a chance of winning the stage anyway at that point - but at least my three mentioned jokers; Javier Moreno, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Tim Wellens all did well, as expected. Geraint Thomas surprised me a little by getting away that “easily” on the steep part and to be honest, it will be very difficult to rip the leading jersey of his shoulders now. I can’t imagine it being done in Stirling, that’s for sure.

Team Sky have a very strong team in Tour Down Under and if Thomas is able to break away from the rest on 15% and still have enough energy to smash it in the sprint, how are they going to drop him in Stirling? A lot of riders hit the deck yesterday and I would expect many of these - out of the GC already - to try to get in the morning break. Last year the early break made it all way to the line and seeing how the race organizers have added two more laps, it will be a very tough stage to control.

I think Team Sky would be happy to let riders out of the GC get up the road early and for their sake battle out the stage win between them. The problem for Team Sky is that so many other teams still want to keep it together. BMC will be eager to set Phillipe Gilbert up for a win on a finish that suits him perfectly and the same goes for GreenEdge with Simon Gerrans, Simon Clarke and Matthew Goss. Lampre have in-form Daniele Pietropolli to count on should it come down to a sprint while Movistar have José Joaquin Rojas to play.

And don’t forget about Andre Greipel. Many would probably say this stage is too hard for fast German, but in the past Greipel have shown he can stay up front in Stirling when he’s on top of his game. In 2011 Greipel took second after Michael Matthews thanks to a powerful finish and with the shape he’s been showing lately, it would be a mistake to count him out already.

Edvald Boasson Hagen could be an obvious candidate to the win, but if Team Sky manage to keep it together for a sprint, I think it would be foolish not to give Thomas a chance to gain few extra bonus seconds. Having EBH leading him out, Thomas would be in an excellent position to increase his lead before the decisive stage on Willunga Hill.

Anyway. To sum it all up. A break will have good chances since it will be difficult to control it on this undulating route, but if the peloton starts working together it should come down to a sprint in a reduced group. My favorite, as said in my first preview, is Phillipe Gilbert. It’s difficult to say how much of an impact the crash will have on him, but if he’s in the front, he will be very difficult to beat. One of the few who could do it is Andre Greipel, but again it won’t be easy for the German Gorilla to stay up front.

For the jokers I would like to point out Luke Durbridge. GreenEdge is out of the GC now and that means Luke Durbridge will have green light to seek an early break. Just like he did in the national championships when he won the road race (after already having won the time trial). The Australian wonderkid seems to be in the shape of his life already and he knows how to suffer on the hills as well. Another guy who knows how to win from a break is Thomas De Gendt. The Vacansoleil captain came to Australia with GC ambitions, but was among those who crashed yesterday. He’s 2:44 min after Geraint Thomas in the classification and even though that’s not a lot, De Gendt may not be the first rider the peloton will start chasing down.

Winnerpicks: Phillipe Gilbert / Andre Greipel
Jokers: Luke Durbridge / Thomas De Gendt

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

TDU Preview - Stage 2

As predicted nobody could touch Andre Greipel on stage 1, but Arnaud Démare sure was the strongest of the rest, taking 2nd place after an impressive kick in the final. Now it’s time to switch focus from the sprinters to the puncheurs as Tour Down Under takes on the first real struggles for the GC contenders.

Corkscrew Road is a steep one to get over this early in the season and despite it only being 2,4 km the average gradient of 9,5% will make a huge impact on the final classification. Every team with GC ambitions will try to deliver their guy in front and with a  super fast descent towards the climb and a narrow turn as it starts, we are in for a hectic - and probably very chaotic – final kilometers before it goes uphill.

Looking at the climb the steepest part is at beginning with sections of 20% as the riders later struggle through 4 hairpins before it evens out (about 5%) near the top. The Australian National Team have been training on these roads many times, so you can use all the local riders will be eager to try their luck. Especially Simon Gerrans who seemed very happy with taking 3 bonus seconds on stage 1. So did Phillipe Gilbert and I think it will be a fight between these two and a handful of other riders for the win in Rostrevor.

It will be a fast finish as the last 7 kilometers from the top of Corkscrew Road are downhill towards the finishing line and according to the race organizers, riders are set to reach a speed of almost 100 km/h on their way to the line. Still the wind can be an issue as a head wind will in the valley will make it difficult for a small group to keep the peloton at bay.

Except for the Australian riders you have to keep an eye on the Movistar team. My pre-pick for the final podium - and a strong contender for the this stage - Eros Capecchi, stroke out on Stage 1 (lost 1:19 min after preparing the sprint for JJ Rojas) so I’m not sure what to make of him, even though the finish is perfect for his characteristics. He could be man for a morning break, but with the bonus seconds being so important it will be very difficult for an early breakaway to make it. Guys like Javier Moreno, José Herrada and Giovanni Visconti all have what it takes to attack in this terrain, but again, it won’t be easy to drop Gerrans and Gilbert.

Edvald Boasson Hagen must be mentioned among the big favorites for the stage too, but he needs to stay with the explosive riders on the steep parts of Corkscrew Road. One could argue that he's strong enough on the descent to catch up, but don't forget that Gilbert too is very good on the downhill sections. Another chance for EBH is if ends up in a sprint, but unless there's a head wind on the final kilometers I doubt it will come down to that.

Thomas De Gendt showed he wants to challenge the favorites in the GC as he took bonus seconds on stage 1 as well and being stronger than normally this early in the season, he could be a dangerous outsider for the stage and for the overall classification. In my “Favorites”-piece I’ve put down Tom-Jelte Slagter for a top5 spot in the GC and I think he will try to attack on Corkscrew Road. He’s strong on the steep parts and actually fast on the line too. If anyone was to drop Gerrans and Gilbert on Corkscrew Road my money would be on Slagter or Moreno.

If you are looking for a super joker, try Tim Wellens. The young Belgian is a great climber and fast on the line as well. Lotto-Belisol have been in Australia for a while, getting ready for Tour Down Under and I wouldn't be surprise to see Wellens mingle with the best on Corkscrew Road. 

Winnerpicks: Phillipe Gilbert / Simon Gerrans
Jokers: Javier Moreno / Tom-Jelte Slagter

Monday, January 21, 2013

TDU Preview - Stage 1

The first stage of Tour Down Under is a typical sprint stage. It’s only 135 km and that means we are in for another fast and furious finish. There is a few bumps on the profile, but only one categorized climb (Checker Hill Road, 4 km / 5% avg.) and from the top there’s still about 90 km to go.

The riders will get to know the finish line as the cross it twice before it counts and with the last kilometers on a straight, flat out road it will surely be a fight between Lotto-Belisol and Argos-Shimano to get their leadout-trains in order.

Argos-Shimano seemed to have timed it perfectly in People’s Choice Classic but on the last lap the team fell apart and Marcel Kittel was left alone without a chance to battle against Lotto-Belisol. Argos-Shimano have always been focusing on making the perfect leadout-train and I think they are very eager to make up for their mistake in their first season on the World Tour.

That being said it won’t be easy against Andre Greipel who’s computer showed a max speed of 73,8 km/t  towards the finishing line in People’s Choice Classic. It’s clear that if Lotto-Belisol get the lead on the last kilometer with Greg Henderson as the last man before Greipel, nobody will be able to pass him. These days the leadout-trains are more important than ever, keeping the speed extra high and even though guys like Andrea Guardini and Arnaud Demare have an impressive kick I doubt they will be able to pass Greipel with a perfect leadout.

With the long straight out finish I can’t imagine Argos-Shimano or Lotto-Belisol not taking the lead and if so the way is made for Kittel and Greipel. Still I do believe Demare will have his saying too. He’s has been doing a little bit of cyclo-cross before heading to Australia and FDJ really worked hard to put him in a good position last Sunday. So despite being attacked by a koala, I still think he’ll be the best pick if the two big favorites strike out.

Winnerpick: Andre Greipel / Marcel Kittel
Joker: Arnaud Demare

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Favorites for Tour Down Under

As usual the new cycling season kicks off Down Under in Australia and even though it looks like a sprinter's delight the winner will be found among those who can climb.

Last year Alejandro Valverde handed the victory to Simon Gerrans when he stopped pedaling on the final meters in Stirling. Valverde later won the uphill finish on Willunga Hill in front of Gerrans, but because of the lost bonus seconds in Stirling, the comeback Spaniard had to see home soil favorite Gerrans take the overall win.

This year Simon Gerrans is back to defend the title, but Alejandro Valverde is missing and to be honest I doubt Gerrans will be able to make a double. Last year GreenEDGE had to win overall as an Australian team on home soil in their first season, but this time around they have other goals during the season. Of course Simon Gerrans will be eager to repeat what he did last year, but I see at least a handful of other riders ready to challenge Gerrans on Corkscrew Road and Willunga Hill.

First up is Phillipe Gilbert. Showing off his rainbow jersey for the first time this season I expect him to win at least one stage during the week. Gilbert says he’s very motivated and eager to get going and according the World Champion himself, the steep climb on Corkscrew Road shouldn’t be enough to drop him. As always the bonus seconds will be very important for the overall classification and if Gilbert can take a stage win (probably in Stirling) and stay in the front on Willunga Hill and Corkscrew Road, I think he will be very tough to beat.

My other personal favorite for the final podium is Eros Capecchi. I’ve had a good eye for Capecchi for many years now, so far without him showing his full potential, but I have a feeling 2013 will be his year. This is his first season with Movistar and according to Capecchi he aims to start out this year in a strong way. It’s true that Movistar have many cards to play in this race (Visconti, Moreno, Amador, Rojas & Herrada all capable of taking a stage win) but being fast on the line, strong uphill and great on the descents I think Capecchi will be one to watch for the overall classification.

Among the other GC contenders I would like to point out Tom-Jelte Slagter, Matt Lloyd, Peter Velits and of course Edvald Boasson Hagen. While the three first riders all have their strength in the uphill sections, Eddy has the advantage of being in the mix in the three predicted sprint finishes and thereby take some valuable bonus seconds. Last year he wasn’t really on top of his game in Tour Down Under, but having trained very hard towards the Classic season, I think he’ll be able to stay near the front when the more explosive riders make their moves.

For the mass sprints I think it’s clear to everybody that Andre Greipel is the man to beat. Lotto-Belisol did everything right in the People’s Choice Classic race and unless Argos-Shimano manage to take the front and lead out Marcel Kittel the same way, it won’t be a problem for the German Gorilla to take a couple of stage wins.

Personally I’m looking forward to seeing how youngster Andrew Fenn will do against the big sprinters. Same goes for Steele Von Hoff and Jonathan Cantwell. I have a feeling Cantwell will surprise you in this race with some good sprints. Team Saxo-Tinkoff sure seem eager to put him in the right position.

I will be posting previews for all the stages the evening (CET) before the stage starts so instead of talking much more about the route, I will leave you with my Top10 for the overall classification.

1.       Phillipe Gilbert
2.       Eros Capecchi
3.       Simon Gerrans
4.       Edvald Boasson Hagen
5.       Tom-Jelte Slagter
6.       Matt Lloyd
7.       Peter Velits
8.       Javier Moreno
9.       Chris-Anker Sørensen
10.     Gorka Izagirre

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lance Armstrong Interview Part 2 - Full video

For those who missed part two of Oprah's interview with Lance Armstrong, here is your chance to watch it:

And if you want the full transcript of the interview, click here.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Watch Armstrong's doping confession - Full video

In case you missed Lance Armstrong's doping confession on Oprah last night, you now have a chance to see it for the first time or to re-watch it from YouTube right here:

Oprah: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?
Lance: Yes

Oprah: Was one of those EPO?
Lance: Yes

Oprah: Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions?
Lance: Yes

Oprah: In all seven of your Tour de France wins did you ever take banned substances or blood doping?
Lance: Yes

Oprah: Was it humanly possible to win the Tour de France without doping seven times in a row?
Lance: Not in my opinion.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Giro d’Italia wild cards - Garzelli is back

According to RCS member Stefano Diciatteo this is how the
'Giro wild cards vote' ended. / Picture from Twitter.
Today RCS revealed the final three wild cards for this year’s Giro d’Italia and not surprisingly Colombia - Coldeportes, Vini Fantini & Bardiani-CSF all made the cut.

Inviting Vini Fantini also means that RCS are giving Stefano Garzelli a chance to ride his last Giro d’Italia after he was left out last year (read more about that here). Garzelli has already won the KOM jersey twice in the Giro and in his last race he wishes to make it three despite hard competition from some of the other wild card teams. Especially Colombia - Coldeportes will have their saying in that competition as they are set to bring pure climbers like John Darwin Atapuma, Fabio Duarte and Esteban Chavez to the race.  

Bardiani-CSF won’t have Domenico Pozzovivo and Gianluca Brambilla to back this year, but Sacha Modolo will be interesting to follow in the sprint finishes while Enrico Battaglin, Stefano Pirazzi and youngun Francesco Manuel Bongiorno will get a chance to shine in the mountains.

It’s clear to see that RCS, with these wild cards, are giving Italian cycling a helping hand after what happened last year with Team NetApp. New swiss team IAM Cycling and Kastusha were both left out, despite very strong riders on the team, and even though Kastusha still have a chance (depending on the CAS hearing) to ride the Giro, IAM Cycling must feel a bit overlooked by RCS.

What do you think? Did RCS invited the right teams? Leave you comment below!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Contador set to start out strong?

Contador in San Luis.
Alberto Contador was sidelined the first half of the season last year before comming back winning the Vuelta España and it seems like the Saxo-Tinkoff captain wants to start out 2013 the way he ended 2012.

First race of the new year is Tour San Luis (21st-27th of January). Despite not showing up on the official race results, Alberto Contador had a great time in Argentina last year where he won the two big mountain stages and originally ended 2nd overall. This year’s edition of the Argentinean race features the two very same mountain top finishes and as Alberto Contador always tries to add as many stage race wins to his palmarés as possible, it will be a surprise if he’s not among the riders fighting for the overall win.

The second - and so far only other known race on Contador’s 2013 calendar – is (according to Biciciclismo) Tour of Oman. The ASO-organized race will take place from the 11th to the 16th of February and like the last two years, the steep mountain top finish on Green Mountain (10% avg.) is set to make a decisive impact on the final GC. Robert Gesink won the stage in 2011 and took the overall win while Vincenzo Nibali won on Green Mountain last year and ended 2nd overall. Alberto Contador has never before taking part in Tour of Oman and if he finishes Tour San Luis in good shape I won’t hesitate to put him down as the big favorite for the overall win in Oman.

What do you think? Will Alberto Contador start out 2013 winning in Argentina and Oman? Leave your comments below.