By Andrew Hood
Alexandre Vinokourov and his cadre of Astana riders will race this weekend’s Clásica San Sebastián as the team picks up the pieces in the wake of the “Operación Puerto” investigation left the squad at the edge of implosion.
Vinokourov wraps up the Tour of Germany on Wednesday – his first stage race since the Dauphiné Libéré in early June – and will race in Spain’s one-day classic as final preparation for the Vuelta a España.
“I can feel a lack of rhythm of competition,” Vinokourov told El Diario Vasco. “The Tour of Germany has been perfect to return to racing, because I haven’t race since the Dauphiné and that’s a lot of time.”
The team has been given a tentative green light to complete the remainder of the season with riders not implicated in the ongoing doping investigation in Spain. Five riders were cleared of allegations by Spanish courts, leaving 18 of the 30 original riders intact to finish up the 2006 season. There’s still the messy issue of the team’s ProTour license to be resolved, but in the meantime, the team can race.
Instead of racing the Tour – his team was forced out of the race because it couldn’t meet the six-rider minimum to start after five of its riders were kicked out ahead of the race – Vinokourov trained in Saint Moritz with teammates Andrey Kashechkin, Sergey Yakovlev and Luis León Sánchez.
Looking ahead of the Clásica – set for Saturday’s in Spain’s hilly Basque Country – Vinokourov said he cannot expect too much against riders in peak form ahead of the summer classic.
“I’ve raced there two time and I like the final with the Jaizkibel climb that permits an important selection,” he said. “The problems begin with this climb and in my case, I don’t know in what conditions I will arrive. It’s normal that after the Tour of Germany I feel much better and the Clásica can turn into a goal. I still can’t make a lot of plans. I have to go with how I feel.”
The Clásica will be a stepping-stone toward much more important goals at the Vuelta a España and the world championships.
“I will start the Vuelta with the idea of fighting, but I also arrive without a lot of pressure,” he said. “If things go well, I will fight for the overall, if no, I will try to win some stages. I also won’t be disappointed if things don’t go my way. I will focus on preparing for the world’s in Austria, which is selective enough. It will depend on a lot of things.” Sastre to race Vuelta
It appears that Spanish star Carlos Sastre will race the Vuelta a España after all, marking his third grand tour of the 2006 season.
Fourth overall at the Tour de France, Sastre also raced hard at the Giro d’Italia to help spring Team CSC teammate Ivan Basso to overall victory.
Team CSC sport director Kim Andersen has confirmed that Sastre will start the Vuelta. Other confirmed starters include Iñigo Cuesta and Fabian Cancellara.
Last year, Sastre finished third to Roberto Heras, but was bounced up to second after Heras failed anti-doping controls for EPO. It seems Sastre is destined to move up to the Tour de France podium into third if Floyd Landis cannot prove his innocence against failed doping tests for unusual levels of testosterone in his urine. Dekker to become sport director
Erik Dekker (Rabobank) will swap his racing cleats for a seat behind a steering wheel after announcing he’ll retire early to become a sport director.
The oft-injured Dutchman crashed hard in stage four of the 2006 Tour de France and won’t be able to complete the remainder of the season as hoped. His last race is a Dutch criterium this week, then he’ll move into a new role on the Rabobank team.
“Besides the obvious physical injuries I sustained, it mainly became a mental struggle,” Dekker said in a press conference Monday. “I could not find the strength and will to continue on for just a couple more months. Whatever I do, I always want to give hundred percent, but my motivation was gone. There was nothing inside me that told me to continue.”
Dekker, 36 on Aug. 21, enjoyed his best seasons in 2000-01, a two-year span that included four Tour stage-wins, two classic victories and an overall World Cup title. He broke his hip in a crash at Milan-San Remo the following spring and struggled since then to regain his dominating form.
Kohl headed to Gerolsteiner
Austrian rider Bernhard Kohl has decided to leave T-Mobile signing a two-year contract with the Gerolsteiner team, sporting director Hans Michael Holczer revealed Tuesday.
“There are not many riders of his age that are so strong in the mountains,” Holczer told AFP. “Bernhard’s performances at the Dauphine Libere this year were impressive and showed his great potential.”
The 24-year-old Kohl, a creditable third at the Dauphine Libere, was also delighted with the move and believes it will help him further his development.
“It is a great opportunity for me to continue to develop,” Kohl said. “I am impressed how youth gets a chance here and I am convinced that I will fit in with this young team.”
Agence France Presse
Paco back for more
Spain’s most successful national coach will be back to lead the troops in the Salzburg world championships. According to the Spanish cycling federation, the 42-year-old Paco Antequera will return to his post after differences between the two parties were resolved.
Antequera became Spain’s national coach in 1997 and lead the selection through a remarkable run, with three world titles with Oscar Freire and another with Igor Astarloa.
Antequera is currently attending the Vuelta a Burgos this week to get a feel for which riders are looking strong. Freire is expected to be back after missing last year’s world’s while two-time runner-up Alejandro Valverde will provide a second base for the always-strong Spanish team. German world’s nominees
The national German team has already nominated 21 candidates to make the national team for the Salzburg world championships, set for Sept. 19-24. Nine will start the road race and two will be selected for the time trial.Nominated riders by trade team associationGerolsteiner Robert Förster, Markus Fothen, David Kopp, Sebastian Lang, Michael Rich, Ronny Scholz, Stefan Schumacher, Fabian WegmannT-Mobile Linus Gerdemann, Matthias Kessler, Andreas Klier, Andreas Klöden, Olaf Pollack, Stephan Schreck, Patrik SinkewitzMilram Christian Knees, Björn Schröder, Erik ZabelWiesenhof Marcel SiebergCSC Jens VoigtPhonak Bert Grabsch