Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Garzelli to decide his future within two weeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cycling Broke My Heart

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

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

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

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

Spread the word and support cycling!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tour de France 2013 - The first look

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

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

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

Stage 1 - Porto-Vecchio > Bastia 212 km 

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

Winner pick: Mark Cavendish

Stage 2 - Bastia > Ajaccio 154 km

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

Winner pick: Peter Sagan

Stage 3 - Ajaccio > Calvi 145 km

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

Winner pick: Samuel Sanchez

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

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

Stage 8 - Castres > Ax 3 Domaines 194 km

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

Winner pick: Johnny Hoogerland

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

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

Winner pick: Luis Leon Sanchez

*** Rest Day ***

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

Stage 15 - Givors > Mont Ventoux 242 km

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

Winner pick: Thibaut Pinot

*** Rest Day ***

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

Stage 18 - Gap > Alpe-d'Huez  168 km

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

Winner pick: Alberto Contador

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

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

Winner pick: Thomas Voeckler

Stage 20 - Annecy / Annecy > Semnoz 125 km

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

Winner pick: Nairo Quintana

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

From Africa to the Tour de France

Team MTN-Qhubeka - ©

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The team’s success criteria for 2013 are:

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

From heaven to hell for Kreuziger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bravo Marcato

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 1, 2012

Rujano on his way to Vacansoleil-DCM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giro d’Italia 2013 - One for Wiggins?

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

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

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

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