By Andrew Hood
Levi Leipheimer has signed a two-year contract to join the German squad Gerolsteiner for the 2005-06 seasons. After two top-10 finishes in three Tour de France starts, the 30-year-old American will join rising star Georg Totschnig as team leader going into the ProTour inaugural next season.
“This is a major coup,” said team manager Hans Michael Holczer on the team’s web page. “We’ll have a strong reinforcement for the grand tours, secondly he will be able to share leadership duties with Totschnig and finally his strong experience can help young riders on our team.”
Leipheimer couldn’t be reached by VeloNews by Friday afternoon in Europe, but said on the team’s web page he’s excited about the opportunity to join the German team, currently ranked third in the world team rankings.
“Gerolsteiner is a team with enormous potential,” Leipheimer said on the team’s web page. “I had a few offers to consider, but I wanted to be here. This team has incredible team spirit. I look forward to attacking together with Georg in the Tour.”
Leipheimer had been linked to possibly rejoining U.S. Postal Service in its new kit for the 2005 with Discovery Channel, either riding as a support rider for six-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong or leading the team at such races the Giro d’Italia. But the chance to secure a position to fortify his role as a team leader for the Tour was important to the Montana native.
The German based team, sponsored by Germany’s largest mineral water producer Gerolsteiner, entered the peloton in 1998 but has never shined in the grand tours instead focusing on German national races and the World Cup series led by current leader Davide Rebellin.
This year the team made steady progress with Totschnig finishing seventh overall. With Leipheimer in the fold, the team will have two podium contenders going into next year’s Tour.
Based in Gerona, Spain, Leipheimer enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2001 when he became the only American finish on the Vuelta a España podium with third place. He joined Rabobank in 2002 and finished eighth in his Tour debut, but crashed out in the first stage of the 2003 Tour. This year, he won a climbing stage at Setmana Catalana in Spain and finished ninth in 2004 Tour.
Leipheimer will continue to race for Rabobank through the end of the 2004 season and is scheduled to race the San Francisco Grand Prix on Sept. 12, this first time he’s raced in the United States for four years. Leipheimer might be riding the road worlds in Italy next month.
Discovery signs Savoldelli
Discovery Channel has penned 2002 Giro d’Italia champion Paolo Savoldellito a two-year deal, bringing yet another big-name to the ream’s rosterin a run up for the ProTour in 2005.According to reports on the German wires, Savoldelli is hoping to leavebehind two years of bad luck with injuries and illness during his stinton the T-Mobile team. The 30-year-old Italian crashed hard in trainingat the start of the 2003 season and this year has been hampered with moreinjuries that have kept him out of all three grand tours.“I’m very lucky and very pleased to be joining Armstrong’s team,” Savoldellitold the German news wire dpa. “I wanted to join a new team with a newapproach. I am very excited about the coming season.”Savoldelli joins Yaroslav Popovych and Roger Hammond as some of thenew additions to the Discovery Channel fold for the coming season. Savoldellireportedly refused a counter-offer from T-Mobile to join the American team.Another fine ride by Farrar
American Tyler Farrar posted his second consecutive top 5 finish inthe Tour de l’Avenir, finishing fifth in the mass sprint won by Frenchstar Sylvain Chavanel (La Boulangere) in the 153km second stage from Cayeux-sur-Merto Fort-Mahon-Plage.Farrar, fourth in Thursday’s opening day time trial, remains fourthoverall behind race leader Thomas Dekker (Rabobank) after the main bunchcame in for sprint finish. Early in the race, five riders peeled away just6km into the rolling stage in northern France. Credit Agricole took controlof the chase with about 40km to go and quickly chewed into the leadingquintet’s lead. The breakaway held out until the final three kilometers,when Chavanel’s experience paid off and the Frenchman claimed his thirdAvenir tour stage win.
The race continues Saturday with the 203km third stage from Mers-les-Bainsto Fontaine-au-Pire.41st Tour de l’Avenir (FRA 2.5)
Stage 2, Cayeux-sur-Mer to Fort-Mahon-Plage, 153km
1. Sébastien Chavanel (Fra), Brioches La Boulangere 3hours, 41 minutes, 9 seconds
2. Aldo Ino Ilesic (Slo), Perutnina Ptuj
3. Steven Caethoven (Bel), Vlaanderen-T Interim
4. Koldo Fernandez (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi
5. Tyler Farrar (USA), USA National Team — all same time>>Other Americans
88. Timothy Duggan
90. Saul Raisin
108. Kevin Bouchard Hall
117. Patrick McCarty — all same timeOverall after two stages
1. Thomas Dekker (Ned), Rabobank 3:55:25
2. Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Spa), Relax-Bodysol +0:25
3. Christian Muller (Ger), German national team +0:28
4. Tyler Farrar (USA), USA national team +0:29
5. Eelke Van Der Wal (Ned), Bankgiroloterij +0:30Other Americans
32. Patrick McCarty +1:03
43. Timothy Duggan +1:07
71. Kevin Bouchard Hall +1:23
79. Saul Raisin +1:26 Boonen scores again in England
Quick Step’s Tom Boonen, a winner of two stages at the 2004 Tour deFrance, held off Paride Grillo (Panaria) and Julian Dean (CréditAgricole) to win the 192-kilometer third stage of the Tour of Britain onFriday.The largely flat stage featured a four-man breakaway that tried theirluck against the sprinters. Just 15 kilometers into the stage, BenjaminNoval (U.S. Postal Service), Philip Deignan (Team Ireland), Andrei Kashechkin(Credit Agricole) and Victor Rapinski (Navigators Insurance) pulled clear.Noval was the last to be reeled in, getting caught with less than 10kmto go.The hectic run into Nottingham caused the peloton to split in the finalcharge to the line. Mauricio Ardila (Chocolade Jacques) retained his overalllead, but got caught up in a second group that came through five secondsslower. Eric Leblacher (Crédit Agricole) moved into a tie with theColombian after finishing in the first group and erasing the five-secondgap.The Tour of Britain continues Saturday with the more difficult 161-kilometerstage from Velodrome Newport to Celtic Manor Resort.Tour of Britain (ENG 2.3)
Stage 3, Bakewell to Nottingham, 197 kilometers
1. Tom Boonen (Bel), Quick Step 4 hours, 30 minutes, 55 seconds
2. Paride Grillo (Ita), Panaria
3. Julian Dean (NZl), Crédit Agricole
4. Roger Hammond (GBr), Mr. Bookmaker
5. Jeremy Hunt (GBr), Mr. Bookmaker all same timeOverall standings after three stages
1. Mauricio Ardila (Col), Chocolade Jacques 13 hours, 58 minutes, 39seconds
2. Eric Leblacher (Fra), Crédit Agricole same time
3. Nick Nuyens (Bel), Quick Step +0:05
4. Paolo Savoldelli (Ita), T-Mobile +0:07
5. Julian Dean (NZl), Crédit Agricole +0:09Lang in Germany
Sebastian Lang (Germany) won the third stage of the Hessen Rundfahrtrace in Germany, taking a bunch sprint ahead of compatriot Stefan Schumacher.Racing leader Jerome Pineau (La Boulangère) came through third,one place ahead of Jörg Ludewig, good enough to retain a one-secondlead over the German.23rd Hessen Rundfahrt (GER 2.3)
Stage 3, Wiesbaden – Lich, 185 km
1. Sebastian Lang (Ger), Gerolsteiner 4:31:17
2. Stefan Schumacher (Ger), Lamonta
3. Jerome Pineau (Fra), Brioches la Boulangère
4. Jörg Ludewig (Ger), Mix Action – ATI / Saeco
5. Rene Weissinger (Ger), Volksbank-Ideal-Leingruber — all same timeAu revoir to Languedoc-Roussillon
Sponsors of the Languedoc-Roussillon race in southwest France are pullingthe plug after just one year in the racing business. The regional governmentcovered most of the race’s $1.3 million euro budget, but said it wantsto invest the money in other ways to promote the region. The race was meantto be a replacement for the GP Midi Libre, which ended after the 2002 edition.Winning this year’s race was Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) with LanceArmstrong (U.S. Postal Service) taking a stage.
Liberty signs Etxebarria, Vicioso to miss Vuelta
Tour de France stage-winner David Etxebarria has agreed to a one-year contract to Liberty Seguros for the 2005 season, according to reports in the Spanish press. Team manager Manolo Saiz confirmed the news to Basque daily Gara, but a contract has yet to be signed.
Liberty Seguros, meanwhile, won’t be counting on Angel Vicioso during the Vuelta a España who wasn’t able to recover from a crash that forced him to abandon the Tour de France in July.
Vicioso, a strong climber and important helper to team captain Roberto Heras, will instead race the Tour of Poland (Sept. 6-12). Vicioso crashed in stage 5 of the Tour and suffered tendonitis in his right knee that forced to abandon before reaching the Pyrénées.
Heras, Beloki want to forget recent past
Two of Spain’s biggest stars are hoping to forget some recent bad tidings going into Saturday’s start of the Vuelta, which kicks off with a team time trial around León in northern Spain.
Roberto Heras will be starting with the No. 1 bib as defending champion, but will be racing with hopes of forgetting his disappointment at the Tour de France which saw the star rider abandon in the Alps without being a major factor in the race. “The Tour is now gone and forgotten,” Heras told sports daily MARCA. “These things happen and you have no choice but to learn from the bad times and look ahead to the future. It was my worst Tour to date without a doubt.”
Heras had been expected to challenge former boss Lance Armstrong. Instead, Heras limped through the Pyrénées and never found the form to be able to stay with the leaders in the steep mountain stages.
“I wasn’t able to recover properly and when we reached the mountains I just got worse and worse. The best thing to do was to quit and get ready for the Vuelta instead,” Heras said. “The Tour may be more prestigious, but I’ve got a special love for the Vuelta and right now I feel in very good shape.”
Another rider hoping for a strong Vuelta is three-time Tour podium man Joseba Beloki. He’s hoping to recover from serious injuries suffered in a dramatic fall in the 2003 Tour. He didn’t start this year’s Tour because of problems with allergies and problems with the La Boulangère team, but is hoping for a fresh start with Saunier Duval.
“My objective is to fight for one of the top places in the overall standings,” the 31-year-old told sports daily AS. “I’ve not got many kilometers under my belt, but my aim is to get back to being the rider I was before the crash in 2003.”
Belda wants another Vuelta
Vicente Belda, sport director of Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme, has another ace in the hole with Alejandro Valverde and hopes to score his third Vuelta win since 2000.
“We haven’t been able to race a grand tour this year so we’re very excited about this race,” Belda told Spanish journalists. “I am confident in Valverde, who’s won 14 races this year and is ranked third in the world. I assume the responsibility to be a favorite and I can’t think about anything else but winning the Vuelta.”
Despite a season of setbacks for the modest Spanish team — with star rider Angel Casero unable to ride because of problems securing his UCI license and the team’s elimination from the Giro and Tour because of doping allegations made by former rider Jesus Manzano — Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme will be among the favorites for victory.
Belda has an enviable track record at the Vuelta, winning with Heras in 2000 and Aitor Gonzalez in 2002 and finished second with Oscar Sevilla in 2001 and third with Valverde in 2003.
Beltrán hoping for top 10
Manuel Beltrán will be sharing leadership duties with Floyd Landis at U.S. Postal Service and is hoping for a top 10 finish in the Vuelta. The 33-year-old veteran is the only Spanish rider starting for the Posties, which come into the Vuelta without a clear leader.
“We’re here without any kind of pressure,” Beltrán said. “We did our job and won a sixth Tour for Lance Armstrong. Here, without Lance, we don’t have a clear lead and for this I will have the chance to put pressure in the summit finishes.”
Beltrán has already confirmed he’ll race one more season with the team as it morphs into Discovery Channel going into the 2005 season.