12.27.2013

Albir reportage 4: Giacomo Nizzolo and Eugenio Alafaci

Frandy's interview is over, my schedule has been messed up so I'm not sure what's next but it should be Giacomo Nizzolo and Eugenio Alafaci. At the moment a vist to the toilet is my priority though and it's on my way that I meet Eugenio:
- Our turn, right? - he says - You want us together? -,
- Yes... -
- I'll go calling Giacomo then, he's downstairs... -
- Ok. I go to the toilet. -
I know Alafaci since 2012 in Calpe, when Leopard Continental was presented as Radio Shack Nissan development team - read about it here: http://allezandy.blogspot.it/2011/12/baffi-young-guns-calpe-reportage-3.html - we are friends on FB and I must tell he's a very good reporter of himself. I dedicated him a Yes we like.. - http://allezandy.blogspot.it/2011/12/yes-we-like-eugenio-alafaci.html - and I'm really proud to see he's now part of the World Tour team. I'm also happy that Team Leopard is going to survive - http://www.leopardtrek.lu/news/leopard-development-team-continues - because it's giving many youths a good opportunity to ride at a high level. 
Giacomo Nizzolo
When I come back, they are siting side by side by the window and Nizzolo gets up to shake hands with me. I met him many times as he's part of the team since 2011 and I did a no-interview with him during the last Giro d'Italia. That's how things went that time: I was in Napoli for the first stage, Nizzolo finished 4th, I asked an interview but Leopard Trek was in a hotel too far from the city center, I was with my son, tired and didn't feel like to take a taxi... So I arranged a 'creative' Q&A: I sent Danny (the bus driver) my questions by phone, Giacomo wrote down the answers on a paper, Danny took a picture of it and sent it back. My main question was: "What is missed?" and his answer basicly was: "Lots of things".
We start from there again:
Ilaria - You are one of the best sprinters in the bunch in my opinion -
Giacomo - Thank you... I'm not Cavendish... -
Ilaria - No but your results - http://www.cqranking.com/men/asp/gen/rider.asp?riderid=13863 - show you are very good, in add you had to do almost all by yourself so far, à la Freire, because your team wasn't really built to support you. Things should be better in the next season...
Giacomo - Yes, that's true. In the past the team used to put all the stress on big tours gc and classics so I had to help myself at the sprint trying to use others' train but I was unable to save energies so in the end I was less fresh. Next year I'm going to have more support and hopefully a better luck! I can count again on Hondo, who's always a guarantee, but also on the Van Poppel brothers... -
Ilaria - ...even if I guess Danny Van Poppel is willing to race for himself too...
Giacomo - We are going to share it: I'm working for him in some races and he for me in some others. We shouldn't have any problem. And then there is Eugenio... - 
Ilaria - You know each other since a long time, don't you?
Eugenio - Since always! we were racing together as 'giovanissimi' [the first category: 7-12] but after that we had never been again the same team so now it's great!
Ilaria - You are also good friends, so you can understand each other very well racing. That's a big advantage.
Giacomo - Yes, for sure. But I want to point out that he's not here because he's a friend of mine: he's here because he deserves to.
Ilaria - I know, I'm following him since 2012 and I know what he has been doing. I'm also proud because when I interviewed him many said: "Who the hell is Alafaci?".
Giacomo - Who doesn't know about Alafaci don't know about cycling! he has always been a strong, consistent rider, a guy you want to have in your team because he can do a fine work. 
Eugenio - Thank you mate! [laughing and patting him on the back]
Giacomo - It's just true.
Ilaria - I agree. So Giacomo what's your goal for the next year? I mean... as a sprinter 'quantity' is important but is there a race you specially target?
Giacomo - Of course: quantity. But also quality. I'd like to win some good races, a stage in the Giro but also a long hilly race, a semiclassic..
Ilaria - And you, Eugenio? you are here mainly to help him but have you got any personal goals?
Eugenio - For me to be here it's already I dream coming true. I'd like to get some good results, yes, but honestly if I must choose between to do a good placement myself or to get a victory by him I have no doubt to prefer the second one. And that shows you how close we are.
I have nothing more to ask but a longer interview so Nizzolo gives me his e-mail address. While Alafaci talks with another reporter, we remain there a little confronting opinions on a few popular subjects: safety in big tour's sprints and Milano-Sanremo's new route. 
Giacomo - The bonification points system makes everybody want to stay in front and you see gc riders mixed to sprinters in the true last meters of a race. That's dangerous. They often can't really sprint, the group is larger and sprints are already risky without that crowd... In a sprint you need a skill, an alertness, a natural feeling of all is going on around you that no-sprinters usually don't have. But that is and we must live with it.
Ilaria - And what about the new Milano-Sanremo? In my opinion classics shouldn't change.
Giacomo - It's much harder. No more for sprinters at all. They do that for the show, they want to make troubles for pure sprinters but in my opinion that race was already hard enough. It isn't a simple sprint after almost 300 km, with Cipressa and Poggio!
Ilaria - Cavendish said he isn't going to race it and also Greipel if I remember well.
Giacomo - They are right. And yes, I agree it makes no sense to change a classic's route, this one especially that was the only one just for sprinters. Can't sprinters be allowed to have a classic for themselves? in other classics a pure sprinter has no chances, in Tour of Flanders at most... 
Ilaria - You are not a pure sprinter like Cavendish though, could a hillier race suit you better?
Giacomo - Mhm... no. It's too hard.
Eugenio - [turning toward us] Nibali wins it!
Ilaria - Ok, that's all for now. Thank you guys, and see you in Roubaix at the team presentation.
PS
Eugenio Alafaci and his brother Fabio recently opened a cool clothes shop in Como, if you are curious have a look here: https://www.facebook.com/LimitedComo

12.26.2013

Cyclocross: Lars van der Haar wins solo in Zolder

Boring race in Zolder but an exciting finish. Warm and dry, fast. A muddy climb, a muddy descent but no technical enough to make a selection. Form puts out of contention Kevin Pauwels and Sven Nys, bad luck  for Niels Albert instead, who got a mechanical problem at the start and spent the race chasing.
In front, a large group including van der Haar, Bina, Peeters, Walsleben, Stybar, Vantornout. Stybar was racing on the attack showing power and guts but couldn't really get a gap. Bina did a wonderful race and for his first time got a spot on a WC podium. On the top step, Lars van der Haar.
A fast start for him, a perfect race: alsways in front but almost never pulling, a perfect finish, attacking on the climb, speeding up in the descent, sprinting toward the finish and crossing the line solo. The decisive move: heavy legs for everybody in the last climb, a superb running by van der Haar, bike on his shoulder, no fear, full focus and down the hill. Amazing!
Albert's crash just at the start


Lars after the race Pib by Marc Jespers
RESULTS
ZOLDER
1 Lars van der Haar (Ned) Rabobank Development Team 1:02:41
2 Martin Bina (Cze) Kwadro-Stannah Cycling Team 0:00:01
3 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 0:00:02
4 Philipp Walsleben (Ger) BKCP-Powerplus 0:00:03
5 Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 0:00:04
6 Sven Nys (Bel) Crelan KDL Cycling Team
7 Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team 0:00:05
8 Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team 0:00:07
9 Thijs van Amerongen (Ned) AA Drink Cycling Team 0:00:10
10 Bart Aernouts (Bel) AA Drink Cycling Team 0:00:12
11 Jim Aernouts (Bel) Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team 0:00:15
12 Michael Wildhaber (Swi) Scott Swisspower MTB Racing Team 0:00:27
13 Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus Cycling Team 0:00:29
14 Wietse Bosmans (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus Cycling Team 0:00:49
15 Julien Taramarcaz (Swi) BMC Mountainbike Racing Team 0:01:12
16 Thijs Al (Ned) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 0:01:13
17 Eddy van IJzendoorn (Ned) Team Natubalans-Apex 0:01:17
18 Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 0:01:21
19 Marcel Meisen (Ger) Kwadro-Stannah Cycling Team 0:01:22
20 Arnaud Grand (Swi) BMC Development Team 0:01:23
21 Niels Wubben (Ned) Rabobank Development Team 0:01:24
22 Simon Zahner (Swi) EKZ Racing Team 0:01:26
23 Enrico Franzoi (Ita) Selle Italia-Guerciotti 0:01:31
24 Ondrej Bambula (Cze) CEZ Cyklo Team Tabor 0:01:32
25 Martin Haring (Svk) CK Banska Bystrica 0:01:34
26 Steve Chainel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
27 Twan van den Brand (Ned) Orange Babies Cycling Team 0:01:51
28 Mariusz Gil (Pol) Kwadro-Stannah Cycling Team 0:02:06
29 Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga Ibanez (Spa) MMR Spiuk 0:02:18
30 Aitor Hernandez Gutierrez (Spa) Specialized-Garmar 0:02:33
31 Micki Van Empel (Ned) Crelan KDL Cycling Team 0:02:48
32 Patrick van Leeuwen (Ned) Orange Babies Cycling Team 0:03:03
33 Ian Field (GBr) Hargroves Cycles-Specialized 0:03:15
34 Robert Gavenda (Svk) Dukla Trencin Trek 0:03:29
35 Jonathan Page (USA) Fuji-Spy-Competitive Cyclist 0:03:30
36 Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Cyclingteam De Rijke-Shanks 0:03:44
37 Michael Schweizer (Ger) Stevens Racing Team
38 Vladimir Kyzivat (Cze) Johnsons Controls AS Mlada Boleslav 0:04:00
39 Kenneth Hansen (Den) Cannondale-Haderslev 0:04:54
40 Sascha Weber (Ger) Team Differdange-Losch 0:05:07
41 Lubomir Petrus (Cze) BKCP-Powerplus Cycling Team 0:05:09
42 Agustin Navarro Vidal (Spa) Ciudad de Oviedo-Nesta 0:05:15
43 Aaron Schooler (Can) Team H&R Block 0:05:47
44 Jeremy Durrin (USA) Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies 0:06:08
45 Yannick Mayer (Ger) Team Baier Landshut 0:06:10
46 Zach McDonald (USA) Rapha-Focus 0:06:12
47 Max Walsleben (Ger) Nutrixxion Abus 0:06:34
48 Joachim Parbo (Den) Cielo-Challenge-Bicyclista 0:06:36
49 Christoph Ambroziak (Ger) Gunsha Racing Team 0:06:45
50 Robert Glajza (Svk) CK Banska Bystrica 0:07:36
51 Jose Antonio Diez Arriola (Spa)  -1lap
52 Angus Edmond (NZl) Stevens-Malteni
53 Alexander Revell (NZl) PNP Cycling Club  -3laps
54 Michel Vuelta Izquierdo (Spa) Nestor Martin  -5laps
DNF Radomir Simunek (Cze) Kwadro-Stannah Cycling Team
DNF Corne Van Kessel (Ned) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team
DNF Ivan Jovanovic (Srb) DNCS-Pro 2012 Cycling Team
 GC
1 Lars van der Haar (Ned) Rabobank Development Team 337 pts
2 Philipp Walsleben (Ger) BKCP-Powerplus 304
3 Klaas Vantornout (Bel) Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team 279
4 Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team 275
5 Niels Albert (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus Cycling Team 273
6 Bart Aernouts (Bel) AA Drink Cycling Team 227
7 Thijs van Amerongen (Ned) AA Drink Cycling Team 219
8 Francis Mourey (Fra) FDJ.fr 210
9 Sven Nys (Bel) Crelan KDL Cycling Team 199
10 Rob Peeters (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 198
11 Enrico Franzoi (Ita) Selle Italia-Guerciotti 184
12 Tom Meeusen (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 183
13 Martin Bina (Cze) Kwadro-Stannah Cycling Team 182
14 Julien Taramarcaz (Swi) BMC Mountainbike Racing Team 170
15 Thijs Al (Ned) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 167
16 Niels Wubben (Ned) Rabobank Development Team 167
17 Corne Van Kessel (Ned) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 165
18 Marcel Meisen (Ger) Kwadro-Stannah Cycling Team 163
19 Michael Wildhaber (Swi) Scott Swisspower MTB Racing Team 157
20 Lubomir Petrus (Cze) BKCP-Powerplus Cycling Team 142
21 Martin Haring (Svk) CK Banska Bystrica 134
22 Twan van den Brand (Ned) Orange Babies Cycling Team 128
23 Ian Field (GBr) Hargroves Cycles-Specialized 127
24 Wietse Bosmans (Bel) BKCP-Powerplus Cycling Team 124
25 Mariusz Gil (Pol) Kwadro-Stannah Cycling Team 118
26 Patrick van Leeuwen (Ned) Orange Babies Cycling Team 109
27 Jonathan Page (USA) Fuji-Spy-Competitive Cyclist 108
28 Ondrej Bambula (Cze) CEZ Cyklo Team Tabor 107
29 Bart Wellens (Bel) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 106
30 Fabien Canal (Fra) ASPTT Definitive Tec 97
31 Simon Zahner (Swi) EKZ Racing Team 97
32 Sascha Weber (Ger) Team Differdange-Losch 85
33 Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga Ibanez (Spa) MMR Spiuk 81
34 Micki Van Empel (Ned) Crelan KDL Cycling Team 80
35 Vladimir Kyzivat (Cze) Johnsons Controls AS Mlada Boleslav 79
36 Egoitz Murgoitio (Spa) Grupo Hirumet Taldea 76
37 Marco Ponta (Ita) Centro Sportivo Esercito 68
38 Eddy van IJzendoorn (Ned) Team Natubalans-Apex 66
39 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-QuickStep 65
40 Robert Gavenda (Svk) Dukla Trencin Trek 63
41 Kenneth Hansen (Den) Cannondale-Haderslev 63
42 Arnaud Grand (Swi) BMC Development Team 55
43 Aitor Hernandez Gutierrez (Spa) Specialized-Garmar 44
44 Jim Aernouts (Bel) Sunweb-Napoleon Games Cycling Team 40
45 Arnaud Jouffroy (Fra) Telenet-Fidea Cycling Team 35
46 Lukas Winterberg (Swi) MG Cycling Team 34
47 Radomir Simunek (Cze) Kwadro-Stannah Cycling Team 32
48 Yannick Mayer (Ger) Team Baier Landshut 32
49 Vaclav Metlicka (Svk) Johnsons Controls AS Mlada Boleslav 30
50 Magnus Darvell (Swe) Team Kalas Merida 29
51 Steve Chainel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 25
52 Nicolas Bazin (Fra) BigMat-Auber 93 25
53 Ole Quast (Ger) Stevens Racing Team 25
54 Michal Malik (Cze) KC Kooperativa SG Jablonec 23
55 Andreas Moser (Swi) Zaunteam Mittelland 22
56 Milan Barenyi (Svk) Trek KCK Oslany 22
57 Jordy Luisman (Ned) Team Lemelerveld 18
58 Inigo Gomez Elorriaga (Spa) Bioracer-Caravanos Erandio 18
59 Joachim Parbo (Den) Cielo-Challenge-Bicyclista 17
60 Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Cyclingteam De Rijke-Shanks 15
61 Michael Schweizer (Ger) Stevens Racing Team 14
62 Ludovic Renard (Fra) VS Chartrain 14
63 Marco Bianco (Ita) Carraro Team Trentino 14
64 Agustin Navarro Vidal (Spa) Ciudad de Oviedo-Nesta 11
65 Aaron Schooler (Can) Team H&R Block 11
66 Christian Helmig (Lux) Team Differdange-Losch 11
67 Jon Gomez Elorriaga (Spa) Bioracer-Caravanos Erandio 10
68 Angus Edmond (NZl) Stevens-Malteni 10
69 Guillaume Perrot (Fra) EC St Etienne-Loire 9
70 Christoph Ambroziak (Ger) Gunsha Racing Team 9
71 Yu Takenouchi (Jpn) Colba-Superano Ham 8
72 Jeremy Durrin (USA) Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies 7
73 Emil Hekele (Cze) 7
74 Jan Nesvadba (Cze) Madeta Fitness-Specialized 7
75 Filip Adel (Cze) KC Hlinsko 6
76 Zach McDonald (USA) Rapha-Focus 5
77 Johannes Sickmueller (Ger) Stevens Racing Team 5
78 Max Walsleben (Ger) Nutrixxion Abus 4
79 Fredrik Edin (Swe) Cykloteket Racing Team 4
80 Lukas Batora (Svk) CK Banska Bystrica 2
81 Robert Glajza (Svk) CK Banska Bystrica 1
82 Luc Lutsen (Fra) VC Toucy 1
83 Michel Vuelta Izquierdo (Spa) Nestor Martin


12.24.2013

A Special Night

Tonight is Christmas night, but my special night has been yesterday: after almost one month, with you again... 
Things I liked: sharing the cheesecake, walking in the Xmas lights, the first kiss after so long, all kisses, talking about cycling, your eyes, my small hand in your large hand, your smell, you resting next to me, you saying I come back. 
 Things I didn't like: your no-s, my no-s, time passing, you leaving again, you saying 'I don't know'. 
 I don't know exactly what I feel, but is that important? 

12.23.2013

Albir reportage 3. Luca Guercilena

- Ilaria, do you want to talk with me? We can do it now. -
It was supposed to be later and shared, instead I have the opportunity to interview Trek Factory's Team Manager earlier and solo because RTL messed up also his schedule. We sit face to face on these black sofas, in the middle of the bar hall, and I think it's strange: I have never talked with Luca Guercilena, he's the team boss and I didn't dare to call him when I was at the bus in the last Tour de France, but now he's here, approachable and kind. 
I met Bruyneel in Calpe two years ago and even had a personal talk with him, he was kind too but you could feel the distance. Luca Guercilena is a completely differente person. In the last years I have been around Andy's team a lot and I have developed a deep respect for this man. As a Sport Director first and then as Team Manager he has always comunicated confidence, calmness and professionalism. Once Andy said the big difference between Bjarne Riis and Kim Andersen was that Kim used to share every moments with the team, training and races, while Riis just used to come at the start of a Tour, in some special stages, in formal events. Guercilena is always there.
He's a technician of cycling. He comes from Centro Mapei, where he collaborated with a legend like Aldo Sassi, collecting a number of victories and prestigious results as trainer of top athletes and DS. You can read more here: http://www.lgcycling.com/cycling-trainer.asp As a consequence his approach his different: more pratical, more scentific but also more personal, closer to consider each rider as whole, not just a pawn on the chessboard of a race.
- First of all - I say - I'm happy to have the opportunity to interview you. I follow this team since the start, Andy since 2008, we have met often but we have never talked. I sent you a message last year, do you remember...? and you were so kind to answer. It was a bit desperate... -
He nods. That was when Andy couldn't finish a race and I was too worried to keep it for myself. At that time Guercilena let me understand he was absolutely realistic about Andy's condition and determinated to do all he can to get him back. In the last Tour de France his work paied out.
Ilaria - About Trek Factory... How much this team is new and how much it's old?
Luca - The structure is the same [as Leopard Trek's] but there is a generational change. Trek is in for a medium term project at least, so to invest in young riders. The team focus remains on Classics and Tour, we have lost some high level athletes but others came, like Vandevalle - who's very strong in TT - and Felline... It's a well balanced team, with a solid core in Cancellara and the Schlecks and a good milieu for to grow young talents.
Ilaria - In that contest Chris Horner would have hardly fit...
Luca - Yes... -  he looks sorry for a moment - Reason have been the most economic in that case. I understand that you win a big tour and you want to monetize it by a rich contract. Unfortunately the market changed dramatically since 2012 to 2013: budgets fell, resources are limitated. Several teams closed down, many good riders are unemployed so UCI points don't have anymore all that value...
Ilaria - Wow! all that difference in just one year?
Luca - There is a global crisis and we are a part of it. Cycling isn't a separated world. It arrived later but it arrived.
Ilaria - In my opinion Horner was better to retire and be happy to end his career with such a beautiful victory...
Luca - Eh... yep: it would have been a cleaver move. But I understand him.
I read how Trek Factory was born - http://trekbikes.typepad.com/rec_and_fitness/2013/11/46-days-and-counting.html - and it's clear they wanted something very different from Leopard, the Luxembourgish Cycling Project conceived by Flavio Becca in 2011 to realize Nygaard and Andersen's idea of a new top team. At that time I noticed this 'national' project didn't have the support of the Luxembourgish Federation, unlike Team Sky or Green Edge that are backed by British Cycling and Cycling Australia.
Luca - Trek is an international brand so it wants to invest in an international team. Considering riders and staff... -
Ilaria ... 20 nationalities are represented in the team! - I know because Danny In T Ven (bus driver)  corrected it on Luca's fb: he had written 17. Alafaci, Felline and Nizzolo are Italians, Didier, Jungels and the two Schleck(s) are Luxembourgish, Roulston and Sergent are from  New Zealand, Watson is Australians, Cancellara and Rast are Swiss, Hondo and Voigt are German, the two Van Poppel are Dutch, Devolder and Vandewalle are Belgian, Zubeldia and Irizar are Spanish (or better Basque), Arredondo Moreno is Colombian, Beppu is Japanese, Busche is American, Kiserlovski is Croat, Popovich is Ukrainian, Silvestre is Portuguese, Zoidle is Austrian. 8 of these  riders are new (Felline, Watson, Vandewalle, Arredondo, Beppu and Zoidle), the rest was already racing forLeopard Trek and 12 were already there in 2012. Only 5 are there since the start in 2011: Andy and Frank Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Giacomo Nizzolo and Jens Voigt. The staff is almost the same and in my opinion one of the best in cycling.
Luca - It's a good group used to work together. 
Ilaria - Talking about the team: you are not an ex rider like many DS but a technician of sport and here riders worked with external trainers like TRX. That's a trend in cycling: training is no more only riding or doing some workout but includes more specific exercises and a more scientific evaluation...
Luca - Yes, there is a more technical and scientific approach. That allows to objectify many aspects that used to be just 'feelings'. Here we tried to work on biomechanic, nutrition, data analysis. Trainers are now specialists, there is no more a person doing everything.
Ilaria - Fortunately!
Luca - But I'm not saying experience is to neglet. There are components in sport that you can't reduce tu numbers and still they are important, more important sometimes. A good training should consider that all.
Ilaria - Team Sky is a bit a model of this trend. They seem even obsessive...
Luca - Of course in this moment Sky is a model. They have also a big budget and are well supported by British Cycling. 
Ilaria - It seems they put a lot of pressure on riders and staff...
Luca - Pressure can be good or bad, it depends. Pressure as an end to itself  makes no sense and is  counter-productive. A team is like your second family, you spend there a lot of time so you must feel good, if the atmosphere is stressing you can't really stand it in the long term. Here I try to create... - he ponders his words - ...a happy mood. A friendly, unformal atmosphere where everyone can feel at ease. That doesn't mean we are not serious or even strict. But on the basis of this good mutual relationship, a rider understands it's serious when I or a DS are hard on him. 
Ilaria - You know I'm Andy's blogger so I'm interested in the team but I care especially about him. How is he doing? In the Tour I think he was quite good, considering his form earlier in the season, but after it... nothing. It has been told problems were also on a mental level: have you worked on that? are they over?
Luca In 2012 Andy had to face a very high level of stess. As a consequence of his crash and injury, his concetration and motivation fell. That situation protracted itself also during the winter and affected his preparation. In 2013 he started the re-building work and managed to arrive to the Tour in a decent shape. It has been a very intense work. After the Tour he was very tired.
Ilaria - Somebody in the media has been very drastic about him, saying he's finished and talking about end of career... That seems exagerated to me but it's true that Andy didn't get any result since 2011. You have got more elements to talk, what can you say?
Luca - We are talking about a top level athlete, for Andy it's about to see if he can still compete to win a big tour. It's early to say and maybe he will not. That doesn't mean he can't keep racing by bike! 
Ilaria - But do you think Andy can play a different role in a team?
Luca - The career of an athlete, you know, it's like a parabola and it can be very short for a rider who started racing when he was so young. It's too early to say if Andy will be back at his previous level, we will see after the next season.
Time passed without I noticed it and Ard (the press officer) comes to say the interview is finished. I'm sorry because it was very nice to talk with Luca and very interesting. He's off to RTL videocamera now and I to Benidorm.

MORE TO COME!

12.22.2013

Cyclocross: Lars van der Haar Legend in Namur

I'm still excited and almost unable to sit here at my desk. I wrote him: "Lars you are a legend! what you did today is more than a victory! I'm amazed!" And I AM! what a race in Namur! 
That's probably my favourite cross: location is splendid, breathtaking, up and down the ancient fortress and in the beautiful forest. The weather at the start was good but the finish was in the pourring rain. A muddy, hard route without a rest. 
Mourey deserved this victory, not only because today he was very strong but also for his determination and consistence during all the season. Some riders are to name for their great performance: Taramarkaz and van Amerongen especially. Some riders looked good at the start but spent probably too much in a race where no mistake were allowed, and I'm thinking of Kevin Pauwels (who had won yesterday in Essen) and moreover Walsleben. The young German was just two points down to Lars van der Haar in the WC GC, virtual leader for a while, finally joined, passed and dropped by the Dutch.
But it has been an incredible race for Lars van der Haar: he didn't start too fast, managed himself very well and he was in the front group when unfortunately he fell. It has been a big crash down a nasty descent and it took a long time to van der Haar to get back on bike. He was immediately standing, the bike a bit damaged. Unlucky as well, Sven Nys had got a flat tyre at the start. Those two showed all their class chasing hard, coming back, fighting for a podium spot.
Lars' bike
At the first passage on the line after the crash  van der Haar wasn't even in the top 15, covered on mud, head down, he was riding in a group at the back. I thought his race was over, that he was going to lose the jersey at least. But no: lap after lap he was coming back to the front. But I think the decisive moment has been when Sven Nys has reached him, just behind the chasing group. They attacked together, each one on his own, it didn't look as if they were colaborating, but probably to be there side by side, both beated by the bad luck and both fighting, must have been a boost. They both joined the front group and if Sven Nys missed the podium for few seconds, van der Haar dropped his direct opponent Walsleben and kept the WC leadership.
He was in such a great shape today that really you can't say what he could have done without that crash. No matter. That's pure class, that's the true strength of a champion: in the head before than in the legs. Respect!

Results

Source http://videosdecyclisme.fr/coupe-du-monde-namur-2013-classements-complets/

Namur

1. Francis Mourey 01:00:50
2. Klaas Vantornout +24″
3. Niels Albert +30″
4. Sven Nys +35″
5. Lars Van der Haar +36″
6. Tom Meeusen +41″
7. Thijs Van Amerongen +52″
8. Lubomir Petrus +54″
9. Philipp Walsleben +54″
10. Julien Taramarcaz +59″



GC

1. Lars van der Haar 257 points
2. Philipp Walsleben 244
3. Niels Albert 235
4. Klaas Vantornout 231
5. Kevin Pauwels 229
6. Francis Mourey 210
7. Bart Aernouts 185
8. Thijs Van Amerongen 175
9. Corne Van Kessel 165
10. Enrico Franzoi 156

12.21.2013

Albir reportage 2: Andy and Frank Schleck

RTL messed up our schedule so we are all together in a circle in front of a window and two empty seats. Out the window there is the swimmingpool. Playa Hotel looks slightly less delux compared with the one RadioShack Nissan was staying in Calpe two years ago, but has got more personality. Albir itself is a cosier place. Again we are in a large bar hall, soft sofas scattered around. Light is horrible, directly in front of us. But Andy comes and sits directly in front of me so I have nothing more to ask.
As usual I'm the only one holding a penn and some papers while serious jurnos have already put their recorders on the low table provided by Tim and Ard. Friendly and exact, Trek Fractory's press officers are doing a great job. I know Tim Vanderjeugd since 2011, when Team Leopard was lauched in Luxembourg. Ard Bierens has worked as press officer for Vacansoleil - DCM since 2011 till 2013 and I has always apreciated his press releases, we have got friends after the end of the team.
I remember in Calpe the atmosphere was electric: the new Team Manager Johan Bruyneel was a controversial man and many was there to ask him polemical questions. In add we knew that some riders, included Fabian Cancellara, weren't happy with the merger. Now things are completely different. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal, the most of the people siting in circle are interested in the Schleck(s)comeback and quite positive about them.  
With one exception. As I said in my first post, Cyclingnews, Procycling, PezCycling, a new Belgian magazine and Velochrono are present, in add the fans site http://www.schleck.nl and I. For Cyclingnews there is Berry Ryan but I think he's after Cancellara. Here it's Daniel Benson insistently asking about Frank's bann, the brutal end of his conctract, supposed troubles with Becca and Bruyneel. Talking about Trek Factory roster and riders not confirmed he also made Horner's name trying to introduce that subject. He sounds forced.
The general tone of the interview it's friendly and it starts with an unavoidable:
Q: - How are you?
Frank is the Schleck talking more. He's more talkactive than Andy and now willing to take again his place on stage.
Frank - I'm happy to be here. In Luxembourg it's cold, here we can ride in the sun. I was looking forward to be with the team again - a positive test during the Tour de France 2012 costed him 1 year bann - I have kept training - he explains - but to ride in the peloton is different.
Questions  - by Cyclingnews especially - insist on that topic:
Q. - It must have been hard for you...
Frank - Yes, of course it has been hard, I have got a lot of negative feelings. But the UCI stated I'm not a doper and that's the important thing. Now all my focus is on the bike.
Q. - How do you feel now? did what happened give you more motivation? are you seeking revange?
Frank seems annoyed by this trend of questions as if they are out of contest and far from his way to be.
Frank - We are not not the type who seeks revange - he answers - but it's true that anger gives you even more motivation.
Q.- How do you explain it? how did it happen?
Frank - I don't mean to talk again about that story. It's all in the sentence and that is on the internet, I think that to read it is a part of your job.
Questions finally switch to present:
Q. - What are your goals for the next year?
Frank - My goals for the next year are still the same: to win a big race.
Q. - Do you think you can? do you feel you are still competitive face to the new strong riders?
Frank looks surprised. Journos talk as if a very long time had passed and things were very different in the peloton since when the Schleck(s) were at the top of the game. Frank doesn't agree.
Frank - Yes, of course, I think I can do that. I have been in the top ten every year so far. And now we are back racing together: that really makes a difference.
Many ask about  that point, voices overlie. In the past many said that racing together wasn't an advantage, especially for Andy, but they have no doubt.
Frank - We don't try to sell it, it's just like that. We have a special relationship, Andy and me.
Andy has been in silence so far, listening to Frank in agreement, adding some words now and then. Very often it's hard to report separately what each one said: the Schleck(s) use to talk almost at once, completing or correcting each others. This time Andy is giving Frank much more room. You can read on his face all the joy to be reunited.
Andy - Together it's better. - he says - We showed it in the past. -
Q - So do you have the same schedule?
Andy - We do the main races together, not necessarily all races.
Season 2012 has been disrupted by a serious crash in the Dauphiné and it took Andy a long time to heal the resulting pelvis fracture. Lack of results since 2011 made media talk about demotivation, depression and even a possible end of career. Also in 2013 Andy wasn't at the expected level, collecting a series of DNF. It has been very hard: both for the intense work - Andy had never raced so much! - and for the mental stress. Journos think that like his brother - but for a different reason - also the youngest Schleck should be angry and seeking revange, so highly motivated.
Andy - I have motivation: no need to find it. - What many missed is he has never thought about to give up and his expectations were way more realistic.- Last year I had one goal: to get fit again. Last season was only about that and I think I can be satisfied. This year I'll see the level I can reach. I have high ambitions, I'm going to ride Liège, the Tour... and ok I want to win. But I don't know if I will. I can ride pain free, that's something. 
Q. - What are your goals?
Andy - Ardennes and Tour.
Frank - Mine too. - Journos sound somehow sceptical about Frank's chances but he's very selfconfident.- Yes, sure I consider myself a contender in the next Tour de France.
I rise a hand like in school to ask my question and Andy looks at me:
Ilaria - After your injury and your comeback you had changed your position on the bike. Are you back to the old one now?
Andy - Yes, I had changed it. - he confirms. He used to set his sadle very hight and his handlebar very down, in fact his steam was very long and with a big negative inclination. After the crash that position was painful and he had adsumed a more high one. - Here we did a lot of work about position fitting - he explains - also about the shoes... so it changed again and maybe it's like the old one. I don't know. 
Ilaria - We'll check! - I joke.
Journos want to know about Frank's contract with RSNT, its resolution, rumors of a fight with Becca, of talking with other teams... Frank isn't happy to talk about that but answers.
Frank - About my contract: yes, I was free to race this year. Then my contract has been terminated. That has nothing to do with Mr Becca. We don't have any problem with Mr Becca, our relationships are good. But we turned that page and we focus on the future. I'm happy with the actual management and happy to be part of this project.
Questions switch again to present.
Q. - What's your schedule? do you do Tour Down Under?
Frank - Yes I do Tour Down Under. I do all races! - There is an eager smile in his eyes.
Q. - And what about you, Andy?
Andy - No, I don't go with him. I stay in Europe and start later. Paris-Nice will be my first important race but it isn't a goal, just a first step to check my condition. 
Q. - You don't do Tirreno...
Andy - No. I used to race Tirreno but in the end they are almost the same: Paris-Nice is cold but Tirreno is more rainy. I'm going to become a daddy, you know, and Paris-Nice is closer to home, also the dates are better according to when it should be. It will be together [with Frank]. We'll do the main races together, not all races.
Frank - Andt it isn't true that we didn't accept what Bruyneel said about that. We are profesional, we do what the team ask us to do. Bruyneel wanted us racing separately, he thought it was better. Ok. He was the Team Manager and it was our duty to do what he wanted by us. 
Journos want to know better about their schedule - in spite it was on the internet already one month ago...
Andy - Our schedule include Paris-Nice, the Ardennes Classics, Romandie, Suisse and the Tour. No Giro. Maybe the Vuleta, we can't tell now. Maybe Frank will win the Tour and I'll start in the Vuelta. It's early to say. 
Next Worlds are here in Spain, in Ponferrada. The UCI just unveiled the route:
Q. - Have you seen it? Are you going to start?
Andy - Yes, I have seen it. It's a typical Worlds route and yes... [smile] if the Luxembourgish Federation selects us we will race it. The route is nice...
Frank - It's all up and down, up and down. Short climbs but steep. It's similar to Stutgard so it could suit me well.
Q. - And the Tour? do you think it suits you?
We already know the answer but I'm curious to know why because I don't agree.
Andy - Yes, it's my main goal and I think it's a good Tour for me. The first week will be very open. There are cobbles. We had them in 2010 and my memories are good. Ok, Frank's memories are less good... [smile] There are mountains and they are well mixed with the flat. There is  few TT [big smile]. Of course it would be great to have Fabian, his help could make the difference with other teams. 
Talking about the Tour's main contenders and others teams it's obvious to ask about Chris Froome and Team Sky.
Andy - In the last Tour Sky has been impressive but Wiggins... ehm... Froome wasn't so strong. It's the team. There is a lot of science, a lot of specific training there.
Frank - And you see there is a big competition in that team. Froome wants to be better than Wiggins, Porte wants to be stronger than Froome... Competition in the team is a good thing in my opinion. We don't have to 'copy' Sky but we must take good things, yes.
Andy - They have a big budget too, a big stuff. But I think we are good compared with other teams. We have a lot of potential here. It's true that some riders left but others came and they are very strong. 
Trek Factory's structure is almost the same as Leopard Trek, built around Fabian Cancellara and the Schleck(s), but the roster is different and some changes look like a loss.
Frank - That's the market, you know: people come and people go. Maxime [Monfort] has gone, we are sorry but it's normal. We remained because we wanted to be in this project, we believe in it, and we are happy with the change in the management. - These unfortunate worlds start a new series of questions about Bruyneel, Becca and the old management but Frank is quick to stop it: - I mean: we are happy with the actual management. - he says. Some journalists seems more interested in polemics than in listening to what riders have to tell... By the other side, at this point of the season they have to tell few...
Andy and Frank wait, the interview is at the end. Velochrono's reporter asks them a few questions in French. He's about the Tour: new talented riders are now in the lightspot while the Schleck(s) don't get results since a quite long time... But they are unimpressed:
Andy - There is a new generation coming up in cycling. Of course. There are always new riders coming. But we are still there and we are going to be competitive. Wiggins...ehm...Froome isn't so strong. In the last Tour de France Sky's dominance was also dued to the fact that nobody attacked it. Teams weren't racing against Sky, they attacked Contador, not Froome. Things could have been different...
The last question sounds shocking and they listen with round eyes:
Q. - Have you thought about the end of your career? how long are you racing? what are you doing after?
Andy - End of career?! no! we don't think of that! We are still young!
Frank - I could race till 40, like Jens! 
Q. - Do you still have goals in a long term? 
Frank - Yes, sure. A medal in Rio maybe. 
They look each other.
Q. - And when you decide to retire, is it going to be together?
Andy - Yes, we are going to retire together. But it's early to talk about, we don't think of that!
The interview is over. It doesn't add anything to what we already know, but that we knew since before it started. You don't go to training camp to find out important news. I don't know about the others but I go there to meet riders, to see their faces, to feel the mood in the team: that's harder at races. 

MORE TO COME! including some nice pictures :)

12.18.2013

Albir reportage 1. Impossible says I'm possible

Thx Ard for the picture!
"U star" a friend of mine said and I must admit I'm proud. "U mad" was my mother's sharper comment. My school boss instead had let me understand she understood but I couldn't fail or I was out. Not fired - she can't fire me: it's a public school - but in a situation you don't want to be in because, simply and plain, a teacher can't be abroad when she's supposed to take part in a meeting to assign grades. You can't skip it unless you are dieing. Full stop. In add: you can't have another job and for every professional activity - even for free - you must get authorization. "So you'll be back in time, just a little late" she had summarized. 
My schedule was: Saturday 12/14 5.45 waking up, 6.12 am bus, 7 train to Bologna, then bus to the airport. 10.30 am flight to Valencia, 2 pm bus to Benidorm. Sunday 12/15 3pm-7pm interviews at Trek Factory's training camp in Albir (taxi). Monday 12/16 6 am waking up, 7.15 am bus to Valencia, 1 pm flight to Bologna, Camilla drives me like hell to the train station, 3.43 pm train to Firenze, I drive my car like hell to school, 4.30 pm meeting starts. And I did that. I'm a star. I'm proud. And I'm definitely mad. My friend Camilla simply rocks. Life is good.
Consider it for one second: if just one single passage had gone wrong, I would have been fucked. But all went well: I did my interviews and my school boss found me at the meeting when she came to check. It has been stressful and I'm very tired: the meeting ends after 7, at 8 am I was at school again the next morning and after that I had the first training session with my coach, then tons of students' papers to correct and today school again. No time to write so far, few time to edit my pictures - but I did and some are good - and a permanent feeling of blessing.
Benidorm
Why did I do all that? because I like! It has been great to meet Andy again, to interview Frank, Giacomo Nizzolo, Eugenio Alafaci and the team manager Luca Guercilena. I have a lot to tell, just give me the time. And I have to thank Tim and Ard, Trek Factory's press officials, who made all smooth and nice.
I love traveling. The night was still out when I walked to the bar at the corner to get a coffee. It wasn't cold. The moon was shining - fat, almost full - in a clean dark sky. I wasn't sleepy in spite I had barely slept: I was excited. I'm the organizer type so delighted to execute my planns. Florence in the early morning is a better place, it even looks quite and clean. The few people you meet are hurrying up to work or tourists. It's strange to come from the deserted streets to the crowded rail station and it always struck me how beautiful is that place: the modern building of the station, a line of green pines, the ancient church of Santa Maria Novella... Michelucci - who was a brilliant architect - used for his station the same stone used for the church so they are of the same color: a soft brown that turns rosy at dawn. Here started my travel once again.
The sun was shining in Bologna but it was very cold. In Valencia it was sunny, warm and gay. Colours looks more vivid in Spain, contrasts are sharper. On my bus to Alicante I thought - as I always do - that Spain is large, so large that all those big buildings and cities and factories seem small and temporary, something placed there, like lego stuff. In spite of towers and skyscrapers Spain still looks horizontal, covered in orange fields and brown bald mountains similar to those you make by pleated papers for the crèche. 
Benidorm
Skyscrapers and towers define the skyline in Benidorm. I met there a purple sunset and fair lights by the seaside. Locals, restaurants, bars, hotels and residences, villas as far as the eye can see. Aged couples in holydays, young people out for the week-end, families with children. A number of Britts, Dutches, Germans... a few Italians. And for them all food and drink all day long, dinner since 5 pm and dedicated menus. On Sunday I had tea with milk for breakfast in a place called The Union Jack. "Do you fancy the newspaper?", "Thanks, yes" and it was The Sun. Now you know. No risk to miss one single match of the British football champioship in Benidorm. It's more complicated when complicated people like me pretend to eat a Spanish (and good) dinner. Fortunately Josue Aran Garcia - Trek Factory's masseur - lives no far from here and suggested me to look in the Gambo area, in the 'old' center of the city, and I didn't get disappointed. For a good Italian pizza anyway Pizzeria Duetto is fine.
I didn't like Benidorm. Not my kind of place. Albir is definitely better: smaller, quiter, in a beautiful bay. I spent the Sunday morning there, on the gravel beach, enjoying the sun and the silence, the delicate blue of the sea, the soft natural noises of birds and waves. I had carried a book but I didn't read it. I needed to let that empty space in my busy soul.
The Hotel Playa is at the edge of the town, big but not huge. When I arrived there was already a small media crowd and I sat ouside to 'paparazzi' Bob Jungels and Laurent Didier interviewed by RTL. Because of them my schedule got messed up but in the end it has been good because I could interview Luca Guercilena way earlier and at 7 pm my legs were already under the table of a good Spanish restaurant in Benidorm (thanks Josue). 
Benidorm
Waiting for the interviews, I interviewed the interviewers: there were jurnos and photographers from Cyclingnews, Procycling, PezCycling and from a new Belgian magazine, a French guy and also my 'collegues' from http://www.schleck.nl When finally RTL finished and we could start, Tim and Ard told us we were going to talk all together with the Schleck(s) because there was no time left for individual interviews. 
No matter, even better. We sat near the window - in a horrible light so excuse my pictures - and questions started. "How many people!" Frank said arriving. He looked fit, excited and happy to be back to the office. Andy looked radiant. Questions were directed to one of them but as usual they often answered together. As usual those questions weren't original... and it was impossible to expect an original answer. It's always the same: it makes no sense to ask now about the Tour de France but still we have to so we end writing banalities or nonsenses. Few to say so many questions for Frank about his forced break and he was right to reply: "It's on the internet, you should know. Read the sentence. It's a part of your job." It's also on my blog. But questions and answers will be the main course of my next post.After that I went to Andy and gave him a wrapped box: "That is for you" I said "No, it isn't. Don't open it till your baby's birth". "I have to wait for long!" he was "Yep". 
Albir
Then I went looking for Eugenio Alafaci and sent him looking for his pal Giacomo Nizzolo. These two are very talented young Italian guys, I had already interviewed Alafaci for a Yes we like... and asked Nizzolo a few informal questions during the last Giro. More of course in the next post. 
Finally I interviewed the team manager Luca Guercilena and that has been a special moment for me because I had never talked with him in person in spite we had met often at races, but I had sent a message once last year and he had been so kind to reply. In Albir he treated me as a friend and I must thank him for that. I'm really happy that Andy is now working with him since a few years: I consider him one of the best and most prepared technicians in cycling. 
Andy and Frank doing an interview by phone
Eventually I went back to Andy. He was still siting by the window with Frank, doing an interview by phone, while Josue, back from a running race where he finished 8th, had just joined. I asked him about the Spanish restaurant, then said Andy: "I go" and he gave me his hand: "Good bye", "Hey! do you say me bye like that?" I joked "come and tell me good bye in a decent way!" We were all laughing, we exchanged some kisses on the cheek and I left. But in that cheerful, friendly good bye I also extorted Andy a promise: "Is it possible once in my life to have a written interview with you? with some more elaborated questions?", "Ok" he went, as if that was the most normal thing in the universe. "Mhm! I don't believe you! The last time you said ok and then you didn't answer" We were still joking but I was pretending to be angry. "This time I'll do. It's a promise. Josue, you listen!", "Ok, I have a witness!". That was amusing and be sure my questions are ready. Stay tuned! Ard took us a nice picture and looking at it I can't avoid to think: 1. How short I am! 2. ...... you can imagine.

MORE IN THE NEXT DAYS