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By Andrew Hood
Team CSC has won the ProTour team title three years running, but team boss Bjarne Riis is wondering if it’s worth taking aim for a fourth title in the wake of major changes in store for the season-long series for 2008.
With all the major grand tours and several important one-day classics removed from the ProTour as part of a major restructuring of the European racing calendar, Riis is skeptical about how much the series title would mean.
“Without the grand tours and the other important races, you don’t have to be very clever to see that the ProTour isn’t the same,” Riis told VeloNews. “We don’t know what the ProTour will be like. It depends on what they can bring together, but should it be an ambition to win less?”
Following years of resistance against the ProTour from the major tour organizations, the UCI unveiled a 2008 racing calendar that eliminates such “rebel races” as the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix from the season-long series and introduces new events such as the Tour Down Under and a season-closing finals.
Led by the powerful Amaury Sports Organization, which runs the Tour, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix, the three grand tours banded together to resist the program that guaranteed start positions for all 20 teams in all events in the ProTour calendar.
In the backdrop of the power struggle, Team CSC led the way with three consecutive team titles. In fact, Team CSC is the only team to win the classification since the ProTour was introduced in 2005.
Riis said winning the ProTour title was one of the team’s top goals, but said a watered-down version that doesn’t include the three grand tours nor such classics as Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia won’t hold much weight.
“Why should we aim for less?” he said. “If the ProTour is devaluated, if the value is less than it has been, maybe we have to set our own goals. We’ll aim for the same races we always do, regardless if they’re part of the ProTour or not.”
Eisel eyes cobblestone comeback
Bernhard Eisel will step aside in the sprints next year to make room for T-Mobile’s rising star Mark Cavendish and instead take new aim at the spring classics during the 2008 campaign.
With teammate Cavendish winning more than 10 races in his rookie year and with rising German star Gerald Ciolek hogging his fair share of the sprint spotlight, Eisel said in an interview on the team’s web page that he will refocus on the cobbles.
“The Tour means a lot to everybody, including me, because it is the biggest thing in cycling. But next season I will concentrate on the classics. I have set big targets and I won’t let any setbacks throw me off course,” he said. “Mark took 11 race wins this season. That’s even one win more than Robbie McEwen managed in his first pro year. You have got to take your hat off to Mark, and that’s why I had no qualms about preparing the sprints for him in the first week of the Tour de France last July.”
The 26-year-old Austrian was hoping for more in 2007 after switching to T-Mobile following four seasons at FDJeux, where his stock rose steadily with solid results that included a stage win in the 2005 Tour de Suisse and fifth in the 2006 Paris-Roubaix.
Eisel struggled this year in the northern classics and couldn’t find his kick to effectively challenge for the sprints in the major events later in the season.
“(Last year), I was sick in the (classics) build up, maybe that had something to do with it, or maybe my training was too focused on sprinting? I don’t really know, and I don’t want to look for excuses,” Eisel said.
Eisel notched three wins in 2007, but he sees the writing on the wall at T-Mobile, especially with the likes of Cavendish and Ciolek demanding more chances, along with the arrival of Norwegian promise, Edvald Boasson Hagen, for 2008.
Paris-Nice starting with TT
Paris-Nice is also ditching the opening prologue for 2008, but race organizers are replacing it with a longer, individual time trial rather than a switch to a road stage as with the 2008 Tour de France.
ASO – the same organizers of the Tour and Paris-Nice – announced that next year’s “Race to the Sun” will kick off March 9 in Amilly with a 9.3km individual time trial.
The remainder of the season’s first major stage race won’t be revealed until a later date, but ASO revealed that Amilly will host the opening TT as well as the first road stage on March 10. The race will end with its traditional arrival in Nice on March 16.