Schleck goes down swinging in Suisse battle

Fränk Schleck went down with his guns blazing in the Tour de Suisse on Sunday. He failed to upset Rui Costa (Movistar) and take the lead, but stood strong ahead of the Tour de France.

He leads team RadioShack-Nissan this year since a fractured pelvis forced out brother Andy Schleck. Last year, he placed third behind his brother in second. He placed second on two other occasions, wore the yellow jersey and won the Alpe d’Huez stage.

“His attack worried me,” said Costa, “even if I knew the number of flat kilometres between the mountains would work against him.”

Schleck attacked solo 45 kilometres out in the race’s final leg though the Swiss Alps. He gained around a minute, but nothing more. Behind, Alejandro Valverde helped Costa fight back and limit his loses.

Frank Schleck during stage 9 of Tour de Suisse

Costa won the stage to Super Besse ahead of Philippe Gilbert and Cadel Evans last year. This year, he’ll turn the tables to help Valverde.

In a team press release, Schleck said that he was very satisfied and had no regrets. He added, “We only had one option and we played it. It was the only point in the race where we had a chance to win it, so I was all in.”

He placed second overall behind Costa at 14 seconds and ahead of Levi Leipheimer (OmegaPharma-Quick Step), but knows he passed an important test ahead of the Tour de France.

Tour de France odds:
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 7:5
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) 12:5
Denis Menchov (Katusha) 22:1
Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) 25:1
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 28:1
Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) 30:1

RadioShack’s Armstrong ties may be too strong for the Tour

Team RadioShack could be banned from the Tour de France next month as the team’s manager, Johan Bruyneel, and a team doctor have been implicated in a doping investigation. Bruyneel made his mark with Lance Armstrong, helping him win the Tour seven times and, according to a US investigation, helping him dope.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) opened a “formal action” against Bruyneel as part of its claims that Armstrong doped from 1996 to 2010. It said that Bruyneel possessed banned substances, trafficked them, administered them, and encouraged and aided his riders to use them.

Lance Armstrong during stage 6 of the 2011 Tour Down Under

France’s RMC Sport radio said that the Tour organiser, ASO could ban RadioShack or at least Bruyneel from its race due to ethical violations.

“Management does not comment on the pending case since, at present, this is just the opening of an investigation, we have been told,” Tour Director Christian Prudhomme told RMC Sport. “If a decision should be made, it would be under the auspices and under the rules of the UCI.”

Bruyneel denies the anti-doping agency’s claims.

“I shall of course cooperate fully with the investigation, although I have no doubt the end result will be the same as all the other investigations over the years,” Bruyneel said in a statement.

“I have never participated in any doping activity and I am innocent of all charges.”

It’s unlikely the Tour organiser will block the entire team, including stars Fabian Cancellara and Fränk Schleck, from competing, but it may put pressure on Bruyneel and doctor Pedro Celaya.

US cyclists stand down ahead of Olympics

US cyclists George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie requested not to be considered for the Olympic road team. USA Cycling didn’t say so, but the move seems to be linked to the Lance Armstrong investigation.

On Saturday it said, “USA Cycling will not speculate on the reasoning behind their requests and will not have further comment on this topic.”

The cyclists all raced with Armstrong in their careers and are said to have testified in the initial investigation led by Jeff Novitzky of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The US Anti-doping agency said it has more than 10 cyclists who’ve cooperated in its new investigation.

“USADA sought to give the riders an opportunity to be a part of the solution in moving cycling forward by being truthful and honest regarding their past experiences with doping in cycling,” USADA’s letter to Armstrong read.

“With the exception of Mr Armstrong, every other US rider contacted by the USADA regarding doping in cycling agreed to meet with the USADA and to truthfully and fully describe their involvement in doping and all doping by others of which they were aware. … However, Mr Armstrong declined USADA’s offer.”

On Friday, USA Cycling nominated five cyclists for the Olympics: Tim Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan), Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing).

Pozzato also linked to Ferrari

Italy’s Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini) is in hot water after details emerged of his relationship with Lance Armstrong’s trainer, Michele Ferrari. Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper published records of his telephone calls in 2009 about working with Ferrari, who is banned from practicing in Italy.

Flippo Pazzoti in Horsens (Denmark) prior to the start of stage 3 during the 2012 Giro d'Italia

Italian prosecutor Benedetto Roberti worked with US prosecutor Jeff Novitzky in late 2010 and early 2011 to help track Ferrari’s bank records. His search allegedly linked the American star, but also several other cyclists. Michele Scarponi, Leonardo Bertagnolli, Giovanni Visconti and several team Katusha cyclists had their belongings searched by Italy’s anti-narcotics police in April last year in relation to Roberti’s investigation.

The courts cleared Michele Ferrari in 2006 of criminal charges accusing him of distributing doping products, but the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) banned him from working with UCI-licensed cyclists in Italy. Cyclists may risk a ban of up to six months for being linked with Ferrari.

The link may lead to a ban for Pozzato or at least put him in bad standing ahead of the Olympics and World Championships. Pozzato had a great spring campaign, when he placed second to Tom Boonen in the Tour of Flanders. He hopes to lead the national team, but the federation will want to avoid any sort of incident like 2008. Davide Rebellin won the silver medal in the Beijing Olympics but had to return it after tests later revealed he doped with EPO-CERA.

Dombrowski conquers Gavia and Baby Giro

Joe Dombrowski became the first American winner of the Under 27 Giro d’Italia or the GiroBio on Sunday. He celebrated one day after fighting his way to victory on the Passo Gavia, where he re-gained the leader’s maglia rosa with a brave, solo attack.

The time gained, 43 seconds on Italian Fabio Aru and nearly three minutes on the rest of the field made up for the time lost over Tuscany’s white gravel roads four days earlier.

“I came to this race with a clear goal, to win the overall. I knew going into today that it was going to take a big effort to make up the three minutes I had lost on the Strade Bianche,” 21-year-old Dombrowski told Italian media. He attacked with 12 kilometres remaining to the pass at 2621 metres. He gained an advantage and held it. “It was good enough for the stage win and the pink jersey. I would consider the hardest day of racing I have ever done. Well worth it.”

Dombrowski’s win on the Gavia recalls Andy Hampsten’s ride over the same pass in the 1988 Giro. He climbed through rain and snow to gain an advantage that saw him take the lead. He held on and became the only American winner the pro Giro has celebrated.

The Under 27 version has mainly has celebrated Italian and Russian winners in its 39 years. Giancarlo Bellini won the first edition in 1970. Francesco Moser, Giovanni Battaglin, Marco Pantani, Gilberto Simoni and Danilo Di Luca each won the race as amateurs and continued to win the pro version.

Watch Dombrowski’s Gavia win (try around the 47-minute mark):

Cavendish celebrates first stage race victory

Mark Cavendish (Sky) has enjoyed wins in the Tour de France, Milano-Sanremo and the World Championships, and on Sunday, took his first overall win in a stage race. The Brit won the four-day Ster ZLM tour in Holland ahead of Lars Boom (Rabobank) and Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol).

He placed third on the opening day behind winner Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) and second behind André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) on day two. However, on day three to Belgium, he escaped with Boom and others to gain the race lead. Kittel won again on Sunday, but Cavendish defended his race lead.

Mark Cavendish (Sky) pictured during the third stage of the Ster ZLM Toer 2012

Coming away with loses against Greipel and Kittel puts doubts on Cavendish’s sprint ahead of the Tour de France. However, his strength over the short and sharp climbs on Saturday shows his climbing has improved for the Olympics, which takes in the Box Hill in its circuits. Ahead of the Olympic Games, Cavendish will race the Tour de France with the goal of defending his green jersey and winning more stages.

“I’m training really well. I wanted to be in my best form and definitely am so I’m looking forward to France now and hopefully Team Sky getting the green and yellow jerseys,” Cavendish said in a press release.

“It’s pretty much about relaxing now and really looking after myself these next two weeks. You’ve got to start the Tour de France as fresh as possible – especially so this year with the Olympics so soon after.”

Festina to return?

Festina watches may return as a title sponsor in cycling by funding Basque team Euskadi-Euskaltel, according to France’s L’Equipe newspaper.

Pictured here is Richard Virenque during the 1995 Tour de France. He joined Festina in 1993.

In April, the team confirmed to the staff and riders that it’d continue, but likely with a reduced budget and in the second division. The team is based in the Basque country and since its start 20 years ago, signs only Basque riders. The team’s top rider Samuel Sánchez is the only exception and is rumoured to be leaving.

Festina could keep the team in the first division and perhaps give enough money to convince Sánchez to stay. The French watchmaker left the sport in disgrace after its team was exposed in 1998 in one of cycling’s biggest doping scandals, dubbed The Festina Affair.

Italian heroes Santambrogio and Ronconi die

Italian cyclists Giacinto Santambrogio and Aldo Ronconi, both Tour de France stage winners, died in the last week.

Santambrogio, 67, dedicated his pro career from 1969 to 1979 to leaders Eddy Merckx and Felice Gimondi. However, he also was able to win, taking two stages in the Giro d’Italia and two in the Tour de France.

Ronconi, 93, helped Gino Bartali, but had his share of success. He won stages in the Giro and in the Tour, where he also wore the yellow jersey.

In the 1947 Tour, he won the seventh stage and took the leader’s yellow jersey for two days. He remained in contention, placing fourth overall behind Frenchman Jean Robic.

Have a laugh…

Marcus Burghardt (BMC Racing) shows up late for the Tour de Suisse time trial…