By Andrew Hood
Britain’s Mark Cavendish claimed his biggest road race win to date by outsprinting Australian ace Robbie McEwen into Schoten, Belgium, in the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen semi-classic on Wednesday.
T-Mobile’s Cavendish thus succeeds Belgium’s former world champion TomBoonen as the Scheldeprijs champion on the 100th anniversary of the Flemish semi-classic.
The 21-year-old from the Isle of Man, who won Commonwealth Games track gold in the men’s scratch race in Melbourne last year, inched past McEwen in the closing meters of the largely flat 197km race to seal a surprise victory.
McEwen, who rides for the Predictor-Lotto team, had to settle for second ahead of some other notable sprinters such as Belgian Gert Steegmans, Australians Graeme Brown and Baden Cooke and German great Erik Zabel. Cavendish’s last notable victory on the road came in last year’s Tour of Britain, where he won the points competition and sealed his contract with the German team.
It is the second major victory inside a week for T-Mobile’s promising bunch of young guns, after Marcus Burghardt won Ghent-Wevelgem last Wednesday ahead of British teammate Roger Hammond. The Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen UCI’s Europe Tour, which is one level down from the ProTour. The race, nonetheless, attracts most of Europe’s big name sprinters. As well as being won twice by Boonen, it has also been won by the likes of Zabel, Mario Cipollini, Eddy Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck.
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Cruz savoring Euro return
One American rider not back racing on home roads this week at the Tour de Georgia is Tony Cruz, and he couldn’t be happier for it.
After racing domestically with Toyota-United last season, Cruz is happy to be back in the bigs with a return to Discovery. He just finished a successful week on the cobblestones racing in the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.
“I’m glad to be back racing in Europe. These are the races that inspire me,” Cruz told VeloNews. “It was nice last year to be home, to be closer to the family and friends, but the racing in Europe is at another level. These are the biggest races in the world and if you want to compete against the best, this is where you want to be.”
Cruz, 35, raced last season with Toyota United Pro and won the Tour de Nez and took third at the U.S. pro criterium championships. But a chance to rejoin Discovery Channel, where he raced from 200105, was too good to pass up.
He’s settled back in the European home base for many U.S. pros in Girona, Spain and has had a busy spring, capped by another run through the northern classics.
Cruz said he had some bad luck, especially at Ghent-Wevelgem when he was among more than 20 riders who crashed on the treacherous Kemmelberg cobblestone descent.
“I just felt super but I got caught behind the second wave of crashes,” said Cruz, before adding his voice to calls to remove the dangerous cobbled descent. “There’s no reason to have it in the race. It’s too much of a hazard. You have no control on it, in the wet or the dry. All it takes is one guy going down and then everything gets stacked up behind.”Cruz will take a break to recover from an active spring before returning to competition for the Volta a Catalunya in May.
With three starts in the Vuelta a España and one in the Giro d’Italia, Cruz is hoping he can earn a berth on Discovery’s nine-man Tour de France team. After many years of loyal service, he deserves it.
Whispers were flying in the Spanish peloton last week that controversial doctor Eufemiano Fuentes – the alleged ringleader of the blood doping ring at the center of the Operación Puerto investigation – could be back in circulation.
According to reports in the Belgian sports daily Sportwereld, UCI president Pat McQuaid contacted Spanish sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky to communicate that some sources believe that Fuentes is back in business.
Several teams and riders reportedly complained to the UCI about abnormally high speeds at the recent Tour of the Basque Country. Others say the Fuentes is shopping around a new form of the banned blood booster EPO that not detectable under current anti-doping controls, the report said.
Fuentes was the center of the Puerto investigation last year that allegedly blew the lid open on a sophisticated blood doping ring that included nearly 60 professional riders. Police raids on apartments owned by Fuentes in Madrid last May discovered nearly 200 bags of blood and plasma that were allegedly stored until they were re-injected into the rider ahead of competition.
A Spanish court last month dropped all charges against Fuentes for a lack of evidence.
A new, stricter Spanish law enacted in February makes it a criminal charge to administer, deal or inject performance-enhancing drugs.
Cunego scouts Giro stages ahead of Ardennes
A confident Damiano Cunego rolls into the Ardennes targeting victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.Despite some solid results, the Lampre-Fondital captain has yet to win this season. He’s hoping to change that with a dramatic gesture in Belgium’s hilly Ardennes classics.
“I am going there to win,” Cunego told the Italian wires. Cunego was third last year in the “Doyenne” and is aiming at Liège as his first major goal of the 2007 season.
Fresh off finishing fourth at the Vuelta al País Vasco, Cunego took the chance scout some of the decisive climbing stages for next month’s Giro d’Italia.
The 2004 Giro champion previewed the 15th and 17th stages, including the Monte Zoncolan climb.
Reduced schedule for Euskal Bizikleta
Spain’s Euskal Bizikleta will reduce its program from five to three days this year in an effort to save the race. With the Spanish continental race squeezed between the end of the Giro d’Italia and the start of the Dauphiné Libéré, organizers were having a hard time convincing the big ProTour teams to commit to the stage race in Spain’s Basque Country.
Organizers said they have the commitment from local television as well as the verbal agreement from “seven or eight” ProTour teams to commit to the shortened version. The race hopes to recuperate its traditional five-day schedule for 2008.