The Roches in Romandie

Nicolas Roche has had a solid season so far which has seen him rise to 40th in the UCI rider rankings. He’s had eleven top 10 finishes which include stages which finished in a bunch sprint and much more mountainous stages. He is proving his ability on a wide range of terrain. He placed 8th, 6th, 4th and 3rd on stages in Paris-Nice back in March, he also finished 9th, 8th, 6th and 3rd on stages in the hilly Volta a Catalunya where he also finished 5th overall. In addition, he took a 3rd place at the Swiss one day race, the GP dell’Insubria. But, unlike his compatriots Martin and Deignan he is still missing a big win on his palmarés.

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Vino: It’s like he was never away

Alexandre Vinokourov celebrating as the oldest ever winner of Liége-Bastogne-Liége

I like dopers to be repentant. I like dopers to be apologetic. I like when dopers decide to retire. I would like dopers to sod off! But when they choose not to, when they serve their two year suspensions and return to cycling, I like when they maintain a low profile and not perform at any where the level they were before their suspension, thereby proving to me that they are not as good as they were when they were doping which may result in a belief that they are in fact riding clean now. Alexandre Vinokourov has done none of these things.

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Rainbow Evans and Tactical Failures

World Champion Cadel Evans celebrates winning Fléche Wallonne, his first ever classics victory.

He launched a winning solo attack on the final lap of a testing World Road Race circuit, his rivals all looked at each other, one half wondering whether they could summon the energy required to chase him down, while the other half were left watching the race winning move wondering whether their eyes were deceiving them. He launched another solo break on Stage 5 of the Tour Down Under, he was eventually caught and accompanied to the finish line by Luis Léon Sanchez, Alejandro Valverde and Peter Sagan, but on what remains one of the most exciting days of racing this season, it was his attack that sparked the race into life. He has now just won the first classic of his career at Fléche Wallonne beating Joaquim Rodriguez and Alberto Contador in an uphill battle to the top of the Mur de Huy. At age 33, Cadel Evans is in danger of becoming one of the most exciting riders in the peloton.

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Drugs Week in the Ardennes

Davide Rebellin winning Amstel Gold in 2004. He went on to win all three Ardennes classics that year, the only rider ever to do so. He is currently serving a doping ban.

Looking back over the recent results of the Ardennes classics it’s understandable that cycling fans would become disgruntled by the names that constantly crop up. Well known journalist Lionel Birnie jokingly referred to this week on the cycling calendar as ‘drugs week’. This is due to the number of riders who have put in great performances at these races only to have been subsequently banned for taking drugs. Recent winners of the Amstel Gold race include Alexandre Vinokourov, Davide Rebellin, Danilo Di Luca and Stefan Schumacher. The Kazakh has recently returned from a racing ban while the latter three riders are all banned currently after testing positive for CERA. Damiano Cunego, the winner in 2008, despite being an ambassador for the ‘I’m doping free’ campaign has landed himself in the middle of the ongoing Mantova investiagtion into his Lampre team. Michael Boogerd a winner of Amstel Gold in 1999, now retired, has recently been implicated in the HumanPlasma doping investigation being carried out in Austria.

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The Irish in the Ardennes

Deignan

Coming up this Sunday is the first of the Ardennes classics, the Amstel Gold Race. Although it doesn’t quite take place in the Ardennes region of Belgium, it is still considered to be one of the Ardennes classics along with Fléche Wallonne and Liége-Bastogne-Liége. Amstel Gold is a hilly race with a total of 31 climbs to get over before the finish. The finish line itself is atop the Cauberg which has a leg aching average gradient of 12%.

The classics that have been raced already this year are usually the domain of sprinters, rouleurs and the so-called classics specialists. While there are also classics specialists present at the Ardennes races, due to their hilly nature, they also attract plenty of Grand Tour contenders. For instance, previous winners of Amstel Gold include Damiano Cunego, Frank Schleck, Danilo Di Luca and Bjarne Riis. In fact Riis is the last rider to have won a classic as reigning Tour champion (although he has since admitted to EPO use during this period). Even Lance Armstrong, notorious for focusing solely on the Tour de France, used to try and win the Amstel Gold race. During the first few years of his Tour reign, the Texan managed to finish 8th, 4th and 2nd twice.

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Teams still sniffing around for Tour place

On March 30th the organisers of the Tour de France announced the teams which will take part in this year’s edition of the race. According to an agreement that was reached with the UCI in 2008, ASO were obliged to invite 16 teams to the Tour this year. These teams are:

AG2R La Mondiale
Astana
Bbox Bouygues Telecom
Caisse d’Epargne
Cofidis
Euskaltel-Euskadi
Francaise des Jeux
Footon-Servetto
HTC- Columbia
Lampre
Liquigas
Milram
Quick Step
Rabobank
Saxo Bank
Omega Pharma-Lotto

This left the participation of six teams to the discretion of race organisers ASO. They chose to give three of these six wildcard slots to American teams Radio Shack, Garmin-Transitions and BMC, also invited were Team Sky, Cervelo and Katusha. The fact that the Tour is due to start in the Netherlands it seemed a tad harsh that both Pro Continental Dutch squads Vacansoleil and Skil-Shimano were snubbed. Although with G.C. riders like Armstrong, Vande Velde, Evans, Wiggins, Sastre and Kirchen at the disposal of the six teams that were given wildcards, it’s hard to see the ASO not extending an invite to any one of them (even though I trumpeted the cause of the teams that eventually weren’t picked).

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