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The Gossip Page

Hello Sunshine Edition.

Confusion abounded here today at the Gossip World Headquarters. No water fell from the sky. A bright shining object radiating heat appeared above us. When we looked at it, our eyes hurt.

Despite our giddiness, we did not forget our weighty responsibilities. Here, my friends, some Gossip.

The Amstel Gold Race has released a new and improved edition of the invited wild card teams for this year's race. The revisions come after the UCI announced the official wild card teams for the season. The new list of invited teams in addition to the 18 pro tour teams is: Vacansoleil, Skil-Shimano, Topsport Vlaanderen, Cervélo TestTeam, and Landbouwkrediet-Colnago. Left out of the party are LPR-Farnese led by Danilo Diluca and Diquigiovanni Androni led by Davide Rebellin.

Belgian rider Roy Sentjens of Silence-Lotto narrowly escaped spending the weekend in a Mallorca jail. While on his way back to the hotel after training, Sentjens came upon a closed road. There, workers did some maintenance. Sentjens said he rode slowly and cautiously through the construction site. But he could not escape the eagle eye of the workmen, who stopped him and demanded a 10,000 euro fine. Since the Belgian did not happen to be carrying 10,000 euros in his jersey pocket while out training, they called the police, who carted Sentjens off to jail, confiscating his cell phone and bike along the way. Because the judge does not work over the weekend, it appeared that Sentjens had a long weekend ahead of him in jail with nothing but his team kit for company. Fortunately, a friend's lawyer had not yet left work for the weekend, and managed to secure the Belgian's release. Memo to self: When riding in Spain, do not ride through the construction zones. Or, carry large amounts of currency in jersey pocket.

Meanwhile in France, David Moncoutié of Cofidis won the queen stage of the Tour Méditerranéen, finishing on Mont Faron. This is his second win on the climb, his first came in 2003. Moncoutié said he rode the Tour Méditerranéen only for the Mont Faron stage. The climb actually started badly for the French climber, as his team-mate Amaël Moinard got a flat tire, while riding directly in front of him. Moncoutié only achieved the winning gap in the final meters, after chasing down the Barloworld riders, Mauricio Soler and Christopher Fromme. Spanish rider Luis Leon Sanchez of Caisse d'Épargne won the overall classification, giving notice of his ambitions for Paris-Nice. With Caisse d'Épargne team leader Alejandro Valverde wholly focused on this year's Tour de France, Sanchez will lead the team at Paris-Nice, which should suit him quite excellently. Clearly, he's done his winter homework. Dan Martin of Team Garmin won the Best Young Rider classification and finished third in the general classification. The 22 year old climber from Ireland spent Friday's stage in a long breakaway, then finished 13th on the Mont Faron climb. Martin, in his second year as professional, won the Route du Sud last year, and is quickly showing his ability to go up. And fast.

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On the other side of the planet, José Rodolfo Serpa of Diquigiovanni-Androni won the general classification at the Tour de Langkawi. The "lion de Bucaramanga" as Serpa is apparently known, has "awakened." Explained Gianni Savio, "Last year, the lion slept during the season and was not in the escapes, this year, the lion has awakened." Serpa secured the leader's jersey after a solo break lasting 102 kilometers during stage 5. Australian Jai Crawford finished second, Jackson Rodriguez of Venezuela third.

Française des Jeux has a woman bus driver. Lynda Cossard is one of the three drivers for the team bus, and is the first woman to drive a team bus in the history of the sport. Really, some girls get all the luck.

Quote of the week: Lloyd Mondory of AG2R-La Mondiale, when asked about the return of Lance Armstrong, "We talk about him so much that I feel like I am sleeping with him."

Most Environmental Rider? The Tour Méditerranéen awarded a daily prize for the best eco-citizen. The winning rider received a green number for the day. Amaël Moinard, Dan Martin, Fumi Beppu, Oscar Pereiro and Jérémy Roy were the winners of this classification. It's not entirely clear what these lucky riders did to receive their award. Packed out all their trash?

Katyusha en fuego. Or, at least the team's sprinters are. Gert Steegmans won Tuesday's stage of the Vuelta Andalucia ahead of his team-mate Danilo Napolitano. Napolitano won Monday's stage. That's two in a row, for those of you keeping score at home. Nothing like a little early season publicity. Filippo Pozzato sadly failed on Wednesday to make it three in a row for the new Russian team. Pozzato finished second to Davide Rebellin of Diquigiovanni-Androni, the team with far, far too many letters. Rebellin reportedly spends part of each year in the area, and had local knowledge on his side. Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto finished third. A group of twenty reached the finish together including, Leemoos Gerdemann, Michele Scarponi, Martin Velits, and Sebastan Langeveld. Sprinter Gert Steegmans took his toys and went home. Joost Posthuma of Rabobank leads the general classification by 2 seconds ahead of Xavier Tondo of Andalucia. Martin Velits is in third at 5 seconds. The Vuelta Andalucia runs until Thursday 19 February. The race organizers have provided some nice photos. The weather looks fabulous, by the way. A bit like California. Oh, wait...

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On the subject of Milram, Markus Fothen has embraced the role of support rider to the team's captains Leenoos and Gerald Ciolek. The 27 year old explained, "It is clear that the two captains Linus Gerdemann and Gerald Ciolek must have all our support. If Linus wants to ride at the front, I will be at his side." Fothen finished second behind Damiano Cunego in the young rider's classification in the 2006 Tour de France. A strong time trialist and climber, Fothen was widely touted as a possible future grand tour rider. In 2008, Fothen won a stage of the Tour de Suisse and a stage of the Regio Tour. He was also 5th in the general classification at the Tour de Suisse and fourth at Tirreno-Adriatico. Look for him to ride for results in the shorter stage races, when not supporting Milram's captains.

Cervélo TestTeam won their second sprint in as many days Wednesday at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal. On Tuesday, Thor Hushovd won stage 3 of the Tour of California, thanks to a fab lead-out from Dominique Rollin and the rest of the team. The Cervélo's dueled with Quick-Step in the final kilometer and came out on top. On Wednesday, Heinrich Haussler won Stage 1 of the Volta ao Algarve. The 24 year old German beat out Dennis van Winden of Rabobank Continental and Koldo Fernandez of Euskaltel-Euskadi. A happy Haussler said "Today was so good!" "It is nice to have won a stage again after I have so often been second or third," he explained. Haussler does not expect to hold the leader's jersey for long, though. For tomorrow begins the climbs. "There I am not so strong," he admitted. Haussler comes to Cervélo TestTeam from Gerolsteiner. He finished 2nd overall at the Tour of Qatar, and three-times made the podium for his stage finishes.

Trackie-turned-road sprinter Theo Bos of Rabobank did not make the sprint on Wednesday and finished 2.51 behind Haussler. Bos won his first race on the road, an amateur race in Portugal. Wednesday marked his first day out with the pros. "It was the hardest day of my life," he said, and he struggled to make it over the few climbs on the course. The transition from road to track, so not easy.

Alberto Contado is also in Portugal, and riding his first race of the season. He finished in the field on stage 1. The Spanish Tour winnner reports that he is in better form than in past years at this point. The difference is the result of better training sessions over the winter. "I am surprised by the way my body is responding." Who does he consider his principle rivals for the Yellow Jersey in July? Contador named Armstrong, the Schleck brothers, Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans, but demurred, "I could not name them all." On better form than previous seasons? Be afraid. Be very very afraid. Contador also said that he would start the Tour on "equal footing" with team-mate Lance Armstrong. "After what I have accomplished over the past two seasons, I deserve to be a team leader at Astana," he asserted. If you keep saying it, it might be true. Damiano Cunego, meanwhile, confided the Italian press that he and Contador had enjoyed a chat on the road during stage 1. "He told me he had good sensations," said Cunego. Contador also told the Italian that he would be on vacation thinking of the Tour by the time of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where Cunego hopes to stand on the top step of the podium. Cunego predicts that Contador will try something on the Volta's third stage which finishes on a climb, Alto do Malhao. For his own part, Cunego says he's just training.

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Alejandro Valverde will visit CONI Thursday to chat about his alleged involvement in the Puerto case. Already the Spanish courts have tried to stop the CONI investigation. But Etorre Torri, he's determined, and CONI will continue the case, despite the statement from the Judge Serrano in Spain declaring the Italian action "null and void." We do not think that word means what you think it means, Your Honor. Valverde, meanwhile, found himself a new lawyer, Frederico Cecconi, for the occasion. The Italian lawyer based in Milano specializes in doping cases and has represented Dario Frigo, Danilo Diluca, Ivan Gotti and a number of the riders caught up in the 2001 Giro blitz (which is like so ancient history now.) No word yet on what either Valverde or Cecconi will wear to the party in Rome.

In other doping news, the UCI has issued a statement clarifying the situation in the case of Manuel Beltran. According to a previous report in the Spanish press, Beltran had received a racing license and had signed a contract for the coming season. All this, despite the positive doping control for CERA at the 2008 Tour de France. UCI rules require that a suspension handed down by one national federation be respected by all, and by the UCI itself. The AFLD in France formalized Beltran's suspension in November. The UCI says that it did not receive the official notification from France until 9 February. Perhaps the AFLD sent it by carrier pigeon. In any case, the UCI has now confirmed that Beltrain is suspended not only in France, but also everywhere else that matters. Beltran is suspended for two years. Currently 37 years of age, he is unlikely to return to racing. Hasta la Vista baby.

Injury update from the Tour of California: Teddy King of Cervélo TestTeam crashed in the neutral section of Tuesday's stage. He is out with a broken left arm. Omer Kem of Team Bissell crashed on the descent off Sierra Road. Early reports suggested he had broken his femur. Turns out he has a broken pelvis, which fortunately did not require surgery. No word on when he can return to training, though he did attend the start of stage 4 in support of his team-mates. Ian MacGregor of Team Type 1 hit a parked car on Sierra Road. In a stroke of luck, he received only minor injuries. Today's stage 4 claimed two more victims. Kim Kirchen of Team Columbia-High Road and Oscar Freire of Rabobank both went to hospital after a crash. Early reports suggested a broken collarbone for Kirchen and broken ribs for Freire, but no confirmation has yet appeared. Here at the Gossip World Headquarters we continue to hit refresh on our Twitter. Best wishes to all the injured riders. And to all, a speedy return to racing.

On to happier things. How about a Daniele Bennati shout-out? Benna last weekend won the Giro della Provincia Grosseto in Italy in a sprint. Right, thanks Gav, as if Benna would win on a climb. Well, you never can tell with Benna. Maybe he has super powers. Anyway, Bennati out-sprinted Denis Galimzyanov (can I confess I so totally cut/pasted that name?) of Katyusha and Michele Merlo of Barloworld for the win. Alessandro Petacchi met with misfortune with five kilometers to go, suffering a caduta. Petacchi went off to hospital, but had no serious injuries. The LPR Brakes sprinter will hope for better luck next time.

On the subject of Italian race, the semi-classic Trofeo Laigueglia takes place this weekend. World Champion Alessandro Ballan of Lampre-Fondital has RSVP'd and will attend. Ballan will try to repeat his 2006 victory. His sprinter team-mate Enrico Gasparotto will also try his chances.

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Alas, that is all the Gossip for this time around. If it wasn't enough for you, feel free to read the whole thing again. That should help tide you over until our next meeting. Let's do it again soon, shall we?

Lates!