By Andrew Hood
Tim Johnson (Saunier Duval) gets back into action this week with two races in Spain. The American was hoping to earn a start in the Giro d’Italia, but flu then a rotten stomach in March delayed his preparation by nearly a month.
“Having a bad month in the lead-up like that set me back. To start a grand tour when you’re not exactly as strong as you need to be is almost worse,” Johnson told VeloNews. “I wish I were doing it, but I almost know enough to be smart. Going when you’re not ready it could screw up your whole season.”
Instead, he’ll be racing at the Subida al Naranco on Tuesday and the Vuelta a Asturias starting Wednesday. It’s not the Giro, but Johnson said what’s more important is that he’s healthy again.
“I’ve never been sick or injured before, so it took me by surprise,” said Johnson, who’s racing in the first of a two-year contact with Saunier Duval. “Right now I’m just happy to work for the team. I want to show them I’m a good rider.”
After racing the Tour de Georgia, Johnson quickly returned to Spain where he raced the Vuelta a Castilla y León in late April. Although he pulled out of the final stage on a circuit course after doing some early work for the team, he said he’s starting to get comfortable in the European peloton
“That was the best I felt all year. I’m really psyched,” he said. “I’m totally happy with how I’m riding. I feel like I’ve turned the corner. I feel like I can start racing instead of just hanging on for dear life.”
Johnson will return to the United States in June where he’ll be a team captain for the Philadelphia races.
McGee says prologue a model victory
Giro d’Italia prologue-winner Brad McGee (FDJeux.com) said his victory is a strong message that clean riders can be successful in the peloton.
Although the Aussie lost the maglia rosa in Sunday’s first stage, McGee insisted his victory on the technical 6.9km course in Genova on Saturday shows cycling remains exciting despite recent doping scandals that have threatened to overwhelm the sport.
“I think my win is a clear sign that you can win races and even do it in spectacular fashion,” McGee said after winning. “I performed really well today and to the people who say taking doping out of the sport will make it boring, I just say look what I did today. I think in the long run everyone wins: the riders are healthier, you have to be more professional because you have to do everything right to win, and the public can have the confidence to watch at a race and just see a human performance.”
Earlier this year, McGee posted an article on his web page defending clean cyclists. A former Olympic medalist on the track, McGee won last year’s Tour de France prologue and took victory in the Tour de Romandie prologue last month.
Postal happy with Devolder
U.S. Postal Service is more than pleased with the progress of young Belgian Stijn Devolder, who delivered a big win in Saturday’s difficult stage of the Four Days of Dunkirk.
The 24-year-old is in his third year as a pro and joined U.S. Postal after two seasons with the modest Division Two team Vlaanderen-T Interim. His first victory as a pro for Devolder gives him even more motivation.
“One victory is nice, but now I have tasted it I want more because I’m convinced there is more in me. With the ‘espoirs’ I had to wait for awhile on my first success as well, but once I took my first victory things went smoothly,” he said in an interview sent out by the team. “I take Tom Boonen as a kind of example. He had to wait till the E3-Prijs for his first success, but after that won time and again, because the stress was far less.”
Devolder was brought to U.S. Postal along with Jürgen Van den Broeck by assistant sport director Dirk Demol, who coached them when they were amateurs.
“I know Dirk from the time I raced in the youngest category, before I went to ‘Groeninge Spurters,’” Stijn says. “This can hardly come as a surprise, knowing Dirk and I live so close by one another. I don’t exaggerate in saying Dirk knows me through and through and thus knows how to handle me. One thing he tries to ‘modify’ in me is that I always go for it, tactics that not always pay off, certainly not among the professionals. He tries to show me an alternative way, which is sometimes necessary with me.”
Devolder knows he won’t be going to the Tour de France, but that’s fine with the young Belgian. He said he’s comfortable on the American team and is working to find his place.
“I feel very good in the team,” he said. “I like that no-nonsense, American approach and appreciate one gets a lot more periods of rest than in European teams. What I like especially is the fact that young riders like myself get a lot of chances, but that we get time off from time to time. In the past, it was no exception to have more than 70 race days by the end of May, which means you can’t perform to the best of your abilities. It’s clear a more quiet schedule pays off.”
Mayo finds early form
Tour de France contender Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) found some good early season form with a dominant victory in the Clasica a Alcobendas (SPA 2.3) going up against some of the top Spanish riders.
Mayo won two stages in Spain’s version of Criterium International — with a road stage, a time trial and a summit finish – to claim the overall title. A winner last year at Alpe d’Huez, Mayo said he’s building his form slower this year.
“I don’t know how I would be during these dates because I am going slower in my preparation compared to a year ago,” Mayo told El Diario Vasco. “Last year I was strong at the Dauphiné and it lasted until the Alpe d’Huez stage of the Tour. The idea is this year to arrive stronger in the final week of the Tour, which is going to be very important.”
Mayo’s win pushes him into the crowd of Tour contenders who have scored early season wins, including five-time champion Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service), a winner at Tour de Georgia, and Tour de Romandie winner Tyler Hamilton (Phonak).
“The win gives a lot of motivation, because it demonstrates that the preparation is going well. This victory reveals that the work I am doing is right and I have to stay on this course,” he said. “You could say the same thing about Hamilton and Armstrong, who are also winning. More or less, we’re all about the same level now.”
Chavanel takes win in France
Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel (La Boulangère) wrapped up the 50th Four Days of Dunkirk (FRA 2.1) on Sunday after finishing safely in the bunch behind stage-winner Max Van Heeswijk (U.S. Postal). Chavanel won the general classification of the five-day, six-stage race by an advantage of 31 seconds over compatriot Laurent Brochard. Fellow Frenchman Didier Rous finished third at 37 seconds.
Gerolsteiner’s Olaf Pollack will see his maglia rosa under pressure in the 184km Stage 2 of the 87th Giro d’Italia from Novi Ligure to Pontremoli. The stage hits two challenging climbs that could serve up an early breakaway to threaten the sprinters. The course hits the Category 3 Passo del Bocco at 117km and the shorter, but steeper Cat. 2 Passo del Brattello about 20km before the quick finish. … Sprinters are expected to fight for the spoils in the 144km Stage 3 of the Peace Race (CZE 2.2) on a largely flat course from Hemmingen to Halberstadt. Lars Wackernagel (Wiesenhof) holds the jersey while Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) is anxious to score a victory in his first appearance in the Peace Race in a decade.