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Holiday Cheer Edition.

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The news lies sparsely on the ground at the moment, like snow on a California Christmas. ...Munch Munch... Here at the Gossip we have a confession to make: ...Munch... We have already eaten far, far too many Christmas cookies. Is this wrong? ...Munch Munch Munch... In between bites, we've managed to track down some Gossip to brighten your winter day.

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Happy Reading!

Whatever happened to... CONI has requested a two year suspension for Leonardo Piepoli. Leonardo who? Uh, tall, skinny, hung out with Riccardo Riccò a lot. You know, that guy. Anyway, the case will now go to the Italian Anti-doping court who will either confirm or alter the sanction. Piepoli has not shown any inclination to contest the findings. He skipped an October hearing date, and showed up to Thursday's hearing without his lawyer. The hearing lasted a mere 20 minutes. Piepoli tested positive for CERA during the Tour de France on two occasions, 4 and 15 July, and the B samples confirmed both results. Perhaps he recognized that there was nothing left to say.

Riccardo Riccò meanwhile had a Friday meet and greet with the AFLD in France. The French anti-doping authorities also called Bernhard Kohl and Moises Dueñas for a visit. Riccò sent his lawyer, the others declined to acknowledge the summons. The AFLD may impose a sanction on those riders who tested positive during the 2008 Tour de France, banning them from racing in France. Penalties run anywhere from two to six years. You can go ahead and sell that French phrase book, Ricci. You won't be needing it anytime soon.

Unlike Piepoli, Stefan Schumacher is going the distance. Schumacher has launched two legal battles. In France, he has filed suit against the AFLD in an effort to sue the French anti-doping agency for libel. According to a statement from his lawyer, the results of the doping controls carried out by the AFLD are "uncertain." The lawyer also suggested that the possibility for contamination and "other factors" existed to raise questions about the test results. Memo to Schumacher: Landis lost. Schumacher is also embroiled in a legal battle in Germany over his firing from team Gerolsteiner. According to his claims, the team acted illegally by firing him immediately and owes him salary and damages. Do they have windmills in Germany? If not, perhaps Schumi can borrow one from the Dutch. You're tilting, Stefan, you're tilting.

The German press reports that Patrik Sinkewitz named Andreas Klöden in his testimony about the doping practices at the former T-Mobile. This story has surfaced before. Now, it appears that other riders have also given evidence to the German authorities which confirms the Sinkewitz story. Klöden allegedly took part in the pilgrimage to the University Freiburg prior to the 2006 Tour de France. According to available evidence, participating T-Mobile riders travelled to Freiburg to top-off their blood levels before embarking on their ride around France. In 2007, Klöden joined Astana, where Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin tested positive for blood doping. Klöden has never failed a drug test. Wolfgang Meier, who is assembling the case investigating the University Clinic in Freiburg, told the press that new information will be available on the case in early February. Sinkewitz, meanwhile, has denied giving Klöden's name to the authorities. In a press statement, he said that he had spoken only about his own activities.

On the subject of German doping scandals past, Jörg Jaksche will return to racing this season. Jaksche signed a one year contrace with the Italian Continental team, Cinelli-OPD. The 32 year old will begin his comeback at the Tour of the Mediteranean, after serving a one year doping suspension. The suspension ended this Summer, and since then, the former CSC and Liberty-Seguros rider has struggled to find a team. In a recent interview, Jaksche said he was happy to be returning to racing. He will join Belgian problem child Frank Vandenbrouke at Cinelli-OPD. Really, will anyone notice the former Paris-Nice winner in such company? Probably not, which should suit Jaksche just fine after his lengthy time in the doping headllines. Jaksche will ride for one euro per month in salary.

Doping, more doping. Could the season start already? Johan Museeuw received a suspended 10 month prison sentence for his involvement in the 2003 Landuyt Case. The court also imposed a 15,000 euro fine. Museeuw was convicted of possession of banned substances after a police raid found Aranesp, EPO and Dexomethasone. Mario De Clercq, Joe Planckaert, and Chris Peers also received penalties in the case.

The roster for Fuji-Servetto added two last riders this week to bring the total to the UCI minimum of 23 for a pro tour team. The team signed Hilton Clarke, the Australian sprinter from Toyota-United, at the request of Ivan Dominguez. Boris Shpilevsky comes from Preti Mangimi and will also ride for Fuji-Servetto beginning next season. Clarke, professional since 2001, will begin his season at the Tour Down Under. Shpilevsky celebrated wins at Firenze-Pistoia and the Tour de Hainan last season. William Walker, who last year rode for Rabobank and rumor connected with Rock Racing, will also ride for Fuji-Servetto next season. David Martin Velasco and Aaron Kemps take the places of Dominguez and Walker at Rock Racing.

Nothing but silence lately has emanated from media whores Rock Racing. Last week, the interwebs spun into a dither over the rumor that the Rock Racing team intended to close down immediately. What would we talk about without them? The team issued a statement confirming that the team would race in 2009. The statement also said that "more important information about the team's plans" would follow. Which promptly sent the Speculation Meter around the bend. Perhaps hoping to quell the excitement "M. Ball" showed up at NorCal Cycling News with the pithy statement: "Rock Racing is here to stay. End of story." Was this the real M. Ball? Really, I don't know. I'm too busy being jealous. I mean, what's NorCal got that I don't? Meanwhile, no further information has in fact followed the original press release. All foreplay, no climax.

Fabian Cancellara has announced that he will attend the centenary Giro d'Italia next May. Perhaps the lengthy 61 kilometer crono enticed him. Not so for Danilo Diluca, who called the stage 12 test between Sestri Levante and Riomaggiore "too long and too hard." Diluca fears that the stage will determine the outcome of the Giro and suggested that the organizers had given Lance Armstrong a gift. "Was it designed for him?" A rhetorical question, no doubt from the Italian. The course includes a 17 kilometer climb, the Passo del Bracco, which has an average gradient of 2.8%. The remainder of the course which follows the coastline is a lumpy bumpy affair with little rest for the weary. Cancellara should enjoy it. The Italian climbers, not so much.

Cadel Evans does not want to ride the Giro. His team management announced on the eve of the Giro presentation that Evans would ride. Then, Evans denied it, claiming that the Giro organizers had used him to gain publicity for the race. Confusion followed. Now, it turns out that Silence-Lotto still very much wants Evans to ride the Giro. DS Roberto Damiani told the Belgian newspaper het Laatste Nieuwes that he will revisit the matter with Evans in January. "There is a long time trial and the climbs are not too hard," said Damiani. The Giro would be excellent preparation for the Tour de France, which Evans has declared as his principle objective for next season.

Also uncertain for the Giro d'Italia is Carlos Sastre. Sastre also intends to make the Tour de France his main objective and consequently may skip the centenary party in Italy. The Cervélo TestTeam rider told the Spanish press that the Giro is "a possibility." "The Giro is an idea in my head that build little by little," he explained. Sastre expects to decide at the "last moment" if he will ride. The Tour de France, where he will wear dossard #1, remains his main goal for the season. "To depart with the number one at the Tour de France, that is something that is allowed to very few riders in the world and that is for me a dream." In the meantime, last year's Tour winner will try to arrive at the grand tours in the best possible condition. He still has plenty of time to decide where he will ride.

Confirmed as no-shows for the Giro are Euskaltel-Euskadi and Cofidis. The two pro tour teams will opt out of the Giro to focus their energies on the remaining grand tours of the season. Both teams are carrying smaller rosters than previous seasons and as a result, neither felt it could race all three grand tours.

Damiano Cunego and Alessandro Ballan no-showed the Giro presentation. The decision came as a result of DS Giuseppe Saronni's irritation with the attention devoted by Gazzetta dello Sport to Lance Armstrong and Ivan Basso, at the expense of his own team Lampre riders. Will Cunego and Ballan skip the Giro altogether? A team spokesperson told the press last week that only Marzio Bruseghin is certain to ride the Italian grand tour next year, as of now. Cunego and Ballan will decide after the Spring classics whether they will attend. Perhaps this means we will be treated to a showdown in the Ardennes between Cunego and Spanish classics ace Alejandro Valverde. A Girl can hope, right?

Vincenzo Nibali has set his program for the season. He will begin the season at the GP Costa degli Estruchi, then head to the Tour of California, where he will join Liquigas team leader, Ivan Basso. Upon returning to Europe, Nibali will ride Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-San Remo, as he builds his form for the Ardennes classics. Though he will ride both Amstel Gold Race and Flèche-Wallone, Nibali wants a result at Liège-Bastogne-Liège most of all. After the Ardennes, Nibali will skip the Giro d'Italia and prepare for the Tour de France, with a stop at the Tour de Suisse along the way. Asked if conflict existed between team-mate Roman Kreuziger and him, Nibali said no. In fact, the two young riders are great friends and train often together. Kreuziger will ride the Tour de France next season. Nibali also said that the press criticism of his performance at last year's Giro definitely left its mark. The press was less than complimentary after Nibali failed to achieve a high finish at last year's race. One writer suggested he would be better off growing vegetables.

Spain loves its climbers. Next year's Vuelta a España includes five mountain-top finishes. That should leave a mark. It also includes only 70 kilometers total of time trials. Contrast that with the 61 kilometer monster in Italy, and it's easy to see why everyone is calling the Vuelta a race for the climbers. And why the Italian climbers are crying in their espressos. Alberto Contador called it a "beautiful course with hard stages that could create a selection." The Vuelta will begin in the Netherlands, this year, and include a stage along the Ardennes classics. Alejandro Valverde also likes next year's course with its many mountains in the second and third weeks and its very short time trials. Chatting with the press at the Vuelta presentation, Valverde noted that 2008 was a fabulous year for Spanish cycling, and said that it would be difficult to equal it this time around. Here at the Gossip we hesitate to make any overly bold predictions, but we feel quite confident that we will see plenty of Spanish riders on the podium next season.

That's all for this week! The Gossip will return after the holidays, unless something absolutely shocking occurs and an Emergency Gossip Column is required.

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Best wishes for the New Year from all of us here at the Gossip World Headquarters!

Gav will be posting random blabbage in the meantime, natch. In between feeding the cats and stuff.

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