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Giro d'Italia

McCartney, Saxo Bank biding time at Giro

One team that’s been uncharacteristically quiet so far through this Giro d’Italia is Saxo Bank. The former CSC squad is usually at the sharp end of the Giro peloton, riding to victory with Ivan Basso in 2006 and second with Andy Schleck in 2007. This year, however, the team came without a strong GC candidate and is taking a different approach to the season’s first grand tour.

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By Andrew Hood

McCartney says Saxo Bank will jump back into the headlines next week.

McCartney says Saxo Bank will jump back into the headlines next week.

Photo: Andrew Hood

One team that’s been uncharacteristically quiet so far through this Giro d’Italia is Saxo Bank.

The former CSC squad is usually at the sharp end of the Giro peloton, riding to victory with Ivan Basso in 2006 and second with Andy Schleck in 2007.

This year, however, the team came without a strong GC candidate and is taking a different approach to the season’s first grand tour.

Jason McCartney ? an American in his second season with Saxo Bank ? said the Bjarne Riis-led squad will jump back into the headlines next week, when the overall classification becomes more settled and the race opens up.

“We really don’t have a GC rider, so there isn’t much for us to do until things get sorted out,” McCartney said before Sunday’s start. “The GC riders are still jockeying around, until that happens, there aren’t much chances to go. You really haven’t seen the breaks go, so the next couple of days, next week, it will start changing.”

McCartney, 35, is competing in his fourth career Giro and promises to join the head-bangers in the breakaways in the second half of the race. The ultimate goal is to win a stage.

“I feel good, really fresh, light. I have to wait until I get an opportunity,” he said. “For me, it needs to be hillier because it gets rid of a lot of guys who can get away in the flats. I tried to get away the other day, but it was too flat in the valley. It made sense and they brought it back for the sprint. That’s the idea, to get a stage if I can.”

That strategy worked like a charm for McCartney in 2007 when he won a hilly, four-climb stage in the final week of the Vuelta a España.

With 10km to go, he soloed away from an 11-man group that included some impressive firepower, dropping the likes of Thomas Lovkvist, Christian Vande Velde and Haimar Zubeldia to secure the breakthrough win.

So far through this Giro, Saxo Bank has put riders into some promising moves, including Kasper Klostergaard into the Giro’s lone successful breakaway that Michele Scarponi (Diquigiovanni) ended up winning into Mayrhofen in stage.

Jens Voigt also attacked in stage 4 and Fabian Cancellara tried to surprise the sprinters with a trademark late surge in stage 2. Aussie sprinter Matt Goss has collected a handful of top 5s in the bunch sprints, so McCartney says it’s only a matter of time before something sticks for the team.

“We’ve had some good rides. Gossie (Matt Goss) is going good, JJ (Haedo) is coming up. Fabian (Cancellara) is getting ready for the time trial. Jens really wants a stage,” he said. “I think it’s going to be exciting here in the second half.”

McCartney said because the team is racing without the added responsibility of protecting a GC contender, it’s opening up more room for riders to win a stage as well as ride into shape for the Tour de France in July.

The veteran all-rounder said he’s on the team’s Tour candidate list, but said it’s too early to say if he’ll be racing in France come July.

“We’ve got a good team. I am on the list, but we’ve got 30 awesome riders, and we only take nine,” he said. “No real idea yet. I don’t know for certain, we’ll see what happens after this.”

Among the favorites, McCartney said he’s impressed with how former teammate Carlos Sastre is riding. Denis Menchov is also a contender, but McCartney said he’s hoping to see compatriot Levi Leipheimer win the Giro.

“If Levi won, that would be great for U.S. cycling,” he said. “That’s what I’d love to see.”

And his former teammate Lance Armstrong? McCartney joined for the Discovery Channel team in 2005, Armstrong’s final year of racing before his comeback in 2009.

“This is the big show. Lance is here, there’s a lot of attention on the race,” he said. “It’s great having him in the race. It’s exciting. It’s going to be very exciting in July.”

McCartney is hopeful he’ll be there with a front-row seat. A Giro stage win would promote his candidacy nicely.