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Latest Cycling News for August 22, 2007

Edited by Gregor Brown

José Joaquín Rojas pushes for national team spot

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Rojas in March
Photo ©: Caisse d'Epargne
(Click for larger image)

José Joaquín Rojas has always been present in the lower categories of the Spanish national teams as a leader. The last time was in the 2005 World Championships in Madrid and that was also was the last season as an U23 rider on the Würth squad. Rojas realized that, taking into account National DS Paco Antequera could have better riders, such as Oscar Freire and Alejandro Valverde, he would have to wait a few years time to be summoned by Antequera. Nevertheless, his name had already been sounded for the World Championships in Salzburg, last year, when the 21 year-old made his professional debut.

"Too much too soon for a cyclist still to be polished, but one with a great future," Antequera justified the rider's 2006 absence. But, the comment of U23 National Directeur Sportif Juan Carlos Martin, who assured that "Rojas rides in a similar style as Freire," had a great repercussion through the Spanish Federation.

Now, after seeing him in the fight with the best sprinters in some of the most important races, like the recent Deutschland Tour, with the cleverness and ability, the name of Rojas appears again. He could be the perfect 'hidden' rider that could take advantage of the attention that will focused on the trident of Freire, Valverde and Samuel Sánchez. "It would be wonderful. It would be like a dream come true that would overwhelm me with happiness," Rojas noted to Cyclingnews.

"I have demonstrated my abilities to confront big races, but also it is clear that some of them [Freire, Valverde and Sánchez] deserve respect, as much by quality as by maturity, so it would not matter to me to act as an outsider. Another thing is that, a hypothetical possibility [of winning] allows to me to play my tricks," Rojas continued with composed optimism.

The fact that the Caisse d'Epargne will not field him in the Vuelta a España and that Antequera usually grants priority to those who dispute it would seem to hamper his chances of making the national team. "I have an alternative calendar until October," Rojas indicated on his focused drive towards Stuttgart. "I can be very optimistic because this season has not yet finished."

Ballan fearless for Worlds

Ballan indicates he is ready
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Alessandro Ballan has proved his stature this year by taking two important wins; he out-gunned Leif Hoste in April's Ronde van Vlaanderen and foiled the sprinters in last weekend's Hamburg Cyclassics. The experience of such victories has rendered the 27 year-old from Castelfranco, Veneto, fearless and he is ready to face the World Championships, using this week's Eneco Tour to build his form.

"For the national team I think I have demonstrated to go strong," said Ballan to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I have passed some wonderful moments and, from here, I can also manage myself at the Worlds. I have already talked with Directeur Sportif Franco Ballerini at the Trofeo Matteotti, who has made guarantees that a spot will arrive [on the national team] like last year at Salzburg." Ballan had the 2006 Worlds in one long line on the last two laps and his actions paved the way for team-mate Paolo Bettini to claim the rainbow jersey.

"I don't consider myself amongst the captains, because men like Bettini, Di Luca and Rebellin have more experience. However, I have shown that I don't have fear in the important races and I would like to have a role, maybe in the form of a long escape."

Today the eight-day Eneco Tour starts in Hasselt, Belgium, near the location where Ballan scored his monumental win in De Ronde. In the next few days it is speculated that Lampre-Fondital will renew his contract that ends with 2007.

Tenax dominates rain-soaked Tre Valli with Murro

Christian Murro and his Pro-Continental Tenax-Salmilano team dominated the 87th Tre Valli Varesine in a day that seemed more like late October than mid-August. Heavy rains hammered the Lombardia roads and spirits of the riders but a group of 19 prevailed while the rest of the gruppo said 'ciao' to the humbling weather.

In the group with Murro was team-mate Gabriele Bosisio, who is in excellent form and has proved so by winning the Giro del Lazio and the Olympic tester in Beijing. The Lecchese hammered on the front to help set up the eventually race winning attack by Murro around 12 kilometres remaining. "I repaid the favour with pleasure," explained Bosisio to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "If it was not for him passing me his bicycle I would have never won the Giro del Lazio. Only after arriving at the finish did I feel a little tired."

"I have never taken on so much rain in my life," said the day's winner. The 29 year-old came to the line in head-to-head sprint against Alessandro Bertolini (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Selle Italia) in rain-darkened conditions. "It is a huge pleasure to think that my name is on the list of winners for this important race." Past winners include Garzelli, Di Luca, Rebellin, Saronni, Moser, Merckx and Coppi.

He is in search of a contract for 2008 and the win in Varese will surely help him find a job.

"My first thought was for my dad who has not been around for years. His death was very destabilizing for me. I had stopped riding my bike to help my mom and my brother." Is he dreaming of the World Championships' Squadra Azzurra team? "The maglia azzurra requires consistency. More realistically, I hope to ride the next Giro d'Italia. It means everything for our small squad."

Damiano Cunego was one of the riders to DNF the day and reckoned it was for good reason. "It did not make sense to continue. I want to prepare well for the Vuelta [a España]. I am heading there with the desire to win a stage. In Germany [the Deutschland Tour - ed.] I searched for a stage win and I scored. So..."

Confusion over Kashechkin's blood samples

The Kazakh cycling federation claims that Andrey Kashechkin's blood has been tested and come back negative. Team Astana has denied that it was the official B-sample from his positive test.

The Kazakh rider tested positive for blood doping at an out-of-competition test the beginning of the month, and, subsequently, he has denied any wrongdoing.

In an interview in sports.kz, vice president of the national federation Nikolai Proskurin said that "one of the independent French laboratories" did "repeated analyses" which did not reveal any abnormalities in Kashechkin's blood. He said that the rider "promised to prove his innocence and show that the first test was erroneous." Kashechkin "is currently occupied with preparing the necessary documents for court," as his trial and that of former teammate Alexander Vinokourov "will begin in about a month. Right now they are training together to maintain their condition."

According to HLN.be, Proskurin also said that "Andrey has always claimed to be innocent and we will now go to the Sports Court in Lausanne. He needs justice. The first test was full of errors, which he wants to show." Proskurin apparently did not say exactly what lab had done the most recent tests nor did he explain what the rider or the federation would ask the court to do.

Corinne Druey, Astana spokesperson, denied that the B-sample was used. "The B-sample hasn't been tested yet," she said to Cyclingnews. "So it would be strange to have its result already."

Astana to the Vuelta?

Proskurin also denied that Andreas Klöden would be leaving the Astana team. "This is complete nonsense! Andreas never intended to leave the team. Right now he is training in Switzerland and is preparing for the Vuelta. We have an invitation to that race and Andreas will be co-captain there along with the Spanish rider Jose Antonio Redondo."

Proskurin's statement contradicts that of the Vuelta organizer Unipublic. The organizer announced earlier this month that it was withdrawing its invitation to Team Astana in light of the doping cases involving Vinokourov, Kashechkin and Matthias Kessler. The team said at that time that it "deeply regrets this decision but respects it."

T-Mobile happy with its young sprinters

Ciolek wins in Germany
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

T-Mobile Team is lucky enough to have the top two young sprinters in its ranks: 20 year-old Gerald Ciolek and 22 year-old Mark Cavendish. Both youngsters have seven season victories, giving the pair over half of the team's total of 26 season wins. But Sport Director Rolf Aldag isn't worried about rivalry between the two, and he sees them developing in different directions.

In an interview on t-mobile-team.com, he noted that Cavendish "is a classical sprinter, the kind of rider who can make his way alone through the field and can take the win. But when his form isn't right, then he won't even make it over the smallest hill. But that's OK, he is a sprinter and should remain one, and not lose his speed."

Ciolek, on the other hand, "is also very fast, but he is the better all-rounder. He can handle climbs of three or four kilometres. We saw that in the [Tour of Austria] stage to Sonthofen with the 1400-metre high Riedbergpass, where all the sprinters other than him and Zabel got hung up. He is the type of sprinter who has the potential to win a Classic."

Aldag further notes that there is another powerful young sprinter on the squad, André Greipel. The 25 year-old has only two wins this season, the first two stages of the Sachsen Rundfahrt, but, according to Aldag, "he is unbelievably fast and also has the class to do great things. He sacrificed his own opportunities in the Deutschland Tour to work for Ciolek. I know that he has a lot of plans for the rest of the season," including, he hopes, a stage win the Vuelta a España."

Baguet and Marichal to stop

Serge Baguet in 2005
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
Click for larger image

Two more veterans have announced their upcoming retirement from the pro-cycling peloton – Serge Baguet of Quick.Step-Innergetic and Thierry Marichel of La Française des Jeux.

They join others such as Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile) and Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) who have announced that they are ending their careers at the end of the season.

Quick.Step announced Baguet's retirement "with great respect, gratitude and a little bit of emotion." It said "Serge is a rider that has left his mark on an important part of the history of pro cycling and our team's recent past."

The 38 year-old turned pro in 1991 and rode for Lotto through 1995. He then rode for a year with Vlaanderen 2002-Eddy Merckx. Disappointed by his lack of results, he left the pro peloton and worked as roofer for three years, before returning to Lotto for the 2000 season. He joined Quick.Step in 2006. He had 16 wins in his career, including a stage win in the 2001 Tour de France and the Belgian National Championship in 2005.

Baguet will ride three more races this year; the GP Poeske Scherens on September 2, a derny criterium on September 3 and the GP Briek Schoote on September 11. He cited continuing back problems as a ground for his retirement.

Marichal decided to stop riding after being told he would not be offered a new contract by his French team, according to HLN.be. "In the current economic situation, with all those sponsors who are stopping, I would prefer to stop, too," he said. "After 12 years I still had the feeling that I could ride at the highest level for another year, but I do not want to ride for a smaller team. I want to stop with a big team."

The 34 year-old turned pro in 1996 with Cedico, and moved to Lotto in 1998. He rode for Cofidis in 2005 and 2006 before signing with Française de Jeux this year.

ProTour leader Team CSC heads to Eneco Tour

Team CSC has increased the overall lead in the ProTour rankings to 54 point after having completed two ProTour races this weekend but, today, it faces a new challenge in the 3rd Eneco Tour. Its sports director Scott Sunderland looks towards Lars Bak and Luke Roberts as the best bets for a good overall result for Team CSC.

"Lars Bak is looking strong right now. He suffered a flat at an inopportune moment in Vattenfall Cyclassics, but I think it was obvious that he's in great shape," said Sunderland via the team's website, team-csc.com. "The same goes for Luke Roberts, who was in a break for 200 kilometres this Sunday in Hamburg. The prologue and the final time trial are crucial in Eneco Tour and they should both be able to do well in those. Especially Luke is keen on the five-kilometre prologue."

"As far as sprinters go we have both Juan José Haedo and Matthew Goss, while Anders Lund, Allan Johansen, Martin Pedersen and Kasper Klostergård are all capable in long breaks. I think we've come up with a nice uniform team here for Eneco Tour. We should be able to get good results in both the individual stages and overall. The first stage is the toughest so it'll probably be quite decisive along with the time trials."

The team won the first ever Eneco Tour in 2005 with American Bobby Julich.

Van Impe fears early season end

Kevin van Impe of Team Quick.Step-Innergetic thinks he may have to put an early stop to his season because of knee problems. He injured this right knee in a training crash in Spain two months ago.

He tried to ride on Tuesday, he told Het Nieuwsblad. "I held it out for 20 minutes on the rollers," he said. "After 10 minutes the pain started. The knee is still infected.

"It would be fantastic if I could start in some races but I fear the worst. I'm afraid my season is already over," van Impe noted. "The doctor said I have to rest and have therapy on the knee. But in the meantime, the muscles in my right leg have become much smaller. It can make you crazy."

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2007)

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