Rodríguez on rampage in Spain

Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) is edging closer to his first overall win in a Grand Tour at the Vuelta a España. Starting the last phase today, he leads by a slender 28 seconds over Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).
 
After two more mountain days, the race ends Sunday in Madrid.


 
Rodríguez nearly bagged a Grand Tour in the past. In May, he held the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia on off, including going into the last day. However, he lost time and the overall to Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) in the Milan time trial. In 2010, he placed fourth overall at the Vuelta a España, which considered third after Ezequiel Mosquera’s positive anti-doping test.
 
While most of us are enjoy group rides with our friends, Rodríguez is on a rampage in the Iberian Peninsula. He has won two medium-mountain stages and a big one to Los Ancares. Along the way, he narrowed the Vuelta down to a two-horse race with Contador.
 
“I don’t know where I am going to end up,” said pre-race favourite and Tour de France runner-up, Chris Froome (Sky). “I’m going to try to give my maximum and I’ll be happy with that.”
 
The overall podium now looks like it could be a Spanish sweep. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) sits third overall at 2-04 minutes after Froome slipped to fourth at 4-52 minutes on Monday. Rodríguez seems to have the Vuelta in the bag with only two mountain stages remain, Fuente Dé today and Bola del Mundo on Saturday.
 
“You can’t say this Vuelta is already won,” explained Rodríguez. Contador will fight to the final metre on the Bola del Mundo. I’ll have to keep my guard up and concentrated.”
 

Is Contador missing his edge?

 
Contador returned from a six-month doping suspension. The ban saw him stripped of several wins, including his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro titles.
 
Despite the loss, he still holds four Grand Tour titles, including the 2007 and 2009 Tour de France. He hopes this experience will help him catch Rodríguez sleeping at the wheel.
 
“What I’ve seen at the Vuelta and other races is that [Rodríguez] has off days,” Liquigas team manager, Roberto Amadio told Cycling Weekly in May. In order to beat Rodríguez, he added, you have to “try to profit from those days.”


 
Contador launched a string of attacks on Monday in the stage finish up the Lagos de Covadonga climb. He ditched Froome, but was unable to dislodge Rodríguez. A half-dozen times, going through Spain’s Picos de Europa, he jetted up the narrow and twisty road only to find he had company.
 
His attacks were once enough to ride clear of rivals. He delivered them in 2011 to Michele Scarponi and Nibali in the Giro, to Fränk and Andy Schleck in the 2010 Tour and to Cadel Evans in 2009. His attacks still sting, Froome will attest to that, but they are not enough.
 
“Maybe I’m missing that little edge. I am not angry, not at all. I’m enjoying the fight,” Contador explained. “Maybe I won’t win this Vuelta, but I’ll fight all the way to Madrid.”
 
Saxo Bank backed Contador in his ban and in fact, renewed his contract through the 2015 season. The Vuelta, if not won, will serve as experience going into next season when Contador will face greater competition.
 
Read Contador Is Back, But What’s It Worth?
 

Nibali excited to lead Italy’s youthful Worlds team

 
Nibali secured the 2010 Vuelta win on the same Bola del Mundo climb that will end this year’s race. Instead of the Vuelta, the Sicilian raced the Tour of Colorado after placing third in the Tour.
 
The Italian federation on Saturday named Nibali as its leader for the World Championships in Holland at the end of this month. The 27-year-old leads a youthful team, with an average age of 27.
 
“The idea of a young national team, with me as the leader, is exciting,” Nibali told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “I have a couple years more experience [than the others], but – in regards to spirit and to enthusiasm – I feel young.”
 
The Worlds finishes over the Cauberg climb that is used to conclude the Amstel Gold Race every year. This year in the Ardennes Week, Nibali missed out in the Amstel Gold and but a week later in Liège-Bastogne-Liège nearly rode to a solo win, placing third.
 

Bettini selects a clean team

 
For the second year, Italy’s head coach Paolo Bettini is selecting only riders without a doping record. The selection process decision eliminates Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi, Franco Pellizotti, Danilo Di Luca and any rider who served a suspension of six months or more.
 
“It’s not as if building around young riders is risky,” Bettini told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Team Italy has always been a reference point for its results, now it needs to be one for its ethics.”
 
In addition to those who’ve served suspensions, riders who are under investigation are not considered. Damiano Cunego, Mauro Santambrogio and others involved in the Mantova investigation were overlooked.
 
Italian federation president, Renato Di Rocco “was brave to do what he did,” Bettini added. “He had the balls to call each of those riders and explain to them the situation.”
 
Italy’s likely team: Vincenzo Nibali 27, Rinaldo Nocentini 34, Luca Paolini 35, Moreno Moser 21, Diego Ulissi 23, Oscar Gatto 27, Elia Favilli 23, Eros Capecchi 26 and Dario Cataldo 27.
 

Cavendish to leave Sky

 
World Champion Mark Cavendish will terminate his contract early and leave team Sky at the end of the year if you are to believe current rumours. He may join BMC Racing, Katusha or OmegaPharma-Quick Step.
 
OmegaPharma may be the best match as it took on many of Cavendish’s former team-mates from HTC-Highroad last year, including DS Brian Holm.

 

Cavendish joined Britain’s team Sky at the end of last year when HTC disbanded. It was seemingly a perfect match as he linked up with many of those who helped him through the British Academy, including Rod Ellingworth. However, Brad Wiggins’ rise and stage race domination has left little space for a sprint train. This year, Cavendish won three stages of the Tour compared to five or six as he had in the past.
 
OmegaPharma or another team, though, would need to find money and tell many of its stars to put their ambitions aside if it was to sign the Cavendish.
 

Armstrong’s case worsens with positive doping tests

 
The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), according to a French TV, possesses blood tests from Lance Armstrong that result in doping positives.
 
France 2 reported in its weekly show Stade 2 that the agency essentially has a smoking gun. Blood samples from earlier in Armstrong’s career, it reported, have come back positive for doping after USADA’s re-testing.
 
The agency banned Armstrong for life and stripped him of all his results from August 1, 1998 – including his seven Tour wins – on August 24. It charged him with possession, trafficking and administering banned drugs and methods. Its case was built on evidence more than 10 cyclists, but according to France 2, it had something else.
 
It already emerged that the USADA has in its possession 38 blood samples, collected in surprise and race controls, from October 16, 2008, to April 30, 2012. The Union Cycliste International (UCI) never handed over tests from the years of his seven victories, 1999 to 2005.
 
The international federation has 14 days to respond to the agency’s decision. The federation or Armstrong may appeal the case to the sport’s high court, the CAS.
 
“If ultimately the UCI has to sanction, we will have no problems. We’ve sanctioned many good riders in the past, we’ve put them out of the sport and we’re not afraid to do it with anybody,” federation president, Pat McQuaid said on Sunday.
 
“It’s a great pity. There are so many positive things happening, the whole Olympic Games was great for cycling, not just in Britain but around the World.”
 

Hamilton delivers second punch

 
Tyler Hamilton helped put his Armstrong’s back against the wall last May when he alleged his former team-mate doped. After participating in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USADA investigations, he announced his new book – a second punch to the Texan who used to ride high in cycling.


 
In The Secret Race, released today in the USA, Hamilton said that Armstrong’s team was “two years ahead of what everybody else was doing” in terms of doping, according to The Guardian newspaper.
 
Hamilton raced with Armstrong’s US Postal team from 1998 to 2001, when Armstrong won his first three Tours. He alleged that in the 1999 Tour, Armstrong’s gardener, Phillipe, followed the riders on a motorbike carrying blood booster Erythropoietin (EPO).
 
“When we needed Edgar [Allan Poe, code name for EPO], Phillipe would zip through the Tour’s traffic and make a drop-off,” Hamilton wrote.
 
“If you were careful and paid attention, you could dope and be 99% certain that you would not get caught. They’ve got their doctors, and we’ve got ours, and ours are better. Better paid, for sure.”
 

Has Liggett lost it?

 
Veteran cycling commentator, Phil Liggett alleged last week that the USADA paid of cyclists for testimony in its case against Lance Armstrong. The 69 years old’s comments appeared to be nothing but defence, and a weak one, for a cyclist who helped build his commentating career.


 
“It is blatantly false information from someone who has never had the courtesy to contact USADA,” said the agency’s media relations manager, Annie Skinner.
 
Former UCI biological passport panel member, Dr. Michael Ashenden wrote Liggett an open letter and said his claims were ignorant.
 
“Courts don’t like hearsay evidence Phil – in fact even a newbie defence lawyer would have hearsay booted out of court in an instant,” he wrote on NY Velocity’s website. “In contrast, USADA pointed out that their evidence was derived from eyewitness statements containing firsthand knowledge of the conduct.”
 

World Ports Classic a success

 
The World Ports Classics couldn’t have asked for a better start, two of cycling’s top stars winning on home turf. Tom Boonen (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) won the first stage into Antwerp, just miles away from his home. Theo Bos (Rabobank) won the next day, on Saturday, in the return leg to Rotterdam.


 
The Tour organiser, ASO, introduced the race this year in an attempt to support cycling in Europe. The two stages were marked by cross winds and robust classics riders.
 
Boonen placed third in Rotterdam and won the overall. “It was a special race with a lot of wind,” he said in a press release. “If you talk with some guys in the peloton, they can tell you that [the leg to Antwerp] was the hardest race of their life because of the wind and the high speed.”
 
 

Rapha teams with Sky

 
Team Sky just became cooler, announcing on Thursday that it will race with Rapha kit for the next four years, through 2016.
 
“Team Sky has achieved this year’s level of success because of a strong and steady vision to find improvement at every level to help our riders win,” said team manager, Dave Brailsford in a press release. “I see Rapha joining us next year as another step in that direction.”
 
Check out the collection for yourself starting in January 2013 on Rapha’s website: www.rapha.cc

Gallagher Smashes World Record and Wins Gold

(via CCCC) Congratulations to CCCC‘s Michael Gallagher for defending his 4000m individual pursuit title at the London Paralympics overnight. Michael blitzed the field to smash the world record by 5 seconds in qualifying, recording a sensational time of 4:30.012, and went onto a comfortable win in the final against British rider Jon-Allan Butterworth.

Michael will also compete in the road cycling events later in  the paralympics, as will paralympic debutant Carol Cooke.

Jayco Herald Sun Tour Rescheduled For January

The Jayco Herald Sun Tour has traditionally been held in October and signifies the end of many professional’s season. This year however it has been rescheduled to January 3rd to 6th in what’s being called a “Summer of Cycling” combined with the Bay Crits. It’s been classified with a UCI 2.1 status and will be run as an Australian National Event. A prologue will begin on the evening of January 3rd in Williamstown after the final stage of the Bay Crits. The grand finale will be an evening stage on January 6th which will finish on Arthur’s Seat. More details can be found on page 86 of the Herald Sun.

The new dates:

Bay Cycling Classic

· Stage 1, Tuesday 1st January Ritchie Blvd, Geelong

· Stage 2, Wednesday 2nd January Portarlington

· Stage 3, Thursday 3rd January Williamstown

The last day of the Bay Crits and the first day of the Herald Sun Tour are run on the same day in Williamstown.

Herald Sun Tour

· Prologue ITT, Thursday 3rd January Williamstown

· Stage 1, Friday 4th January Melbourne (Sunbury) to Bendigo

· Stage 2, Saturday 5th January Mitchelton Winery (Nagambie) to Healesville

· Stage 3, Sunday 6th January Cape Schanck to Arthurs Seat

The Australian Nationals will be held on January 9-13 and the Tour Down under from January 20-27. What a summer of cycling!

Danny MacAskill versus San Francisco

For your viewing pleasure….