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Stinky flowers edition.

In the general way of things, we are awfully fond of Spring here at the Gossip World Headquarters.

Because Spring means bike races. We look down the calender and a smorgasbord spreads out before us. The Koppenberg. The Cauberg. Cipressa. The Mur de Huy. The Muur Kapelmuur. La Redoute. The words ring with the exploits of races past and the promise of those to come, as each generation tests itself against the climbs and courses of the Spring classics. For no one receives a free ride. The crosswinds extract their measure of suffering, the cobbles compound it, asking still more. Into every face is etched the pain of each kilometer. This, the victors and vanquished share, as pain plays no favorites.

And always the stories. Each race tells a story, its outlines confined between the lines of start and finish, its details infinite in their possibility, written by the riders who bring it to life. Settle in, my friends, it's story time.

Yes, we do like Spring.


But we don't like the flowers.

We begin today in France, where the dust still settles from Rabobank's furious race-making on Tuesday. Sylvain Chavanel called the tactics during Tuesday's stage typical of Paris-Nice. He recounted after the race that he saw Rabobank gathering their forces and was not surprised when they blew apart the race with more than 40 kilometers to ride. At first, the French rider for team Quick-Step did not expect the move to succeed, though he stayed near the front just to be sure. But when he saw just how fast Rabobank was riding and how well his team-mate Kevin Seeldrayers was going, Chavanel began to believe they had a chance. Compared to last year, Chavanel reports he has good form and more confidence in his legs and his tactical judgement. He is especially happy to have taken Tuesday's stage win. "It was not inevitable with three Rabobanks," he explained. Chavanel expects the climbers to try for revenge on Friday's stage finishing on the Mont de Lure, but he isn't ready to give the race away just yet. The average gradient is 5-7 percent on the finishing climb, and while Chavanel is not known as a climber he has finished in the top five on the Mont Ventoux. "Why not do a good climb? Everything is going well," says the Frenchman. Chavanel added that he has confidence in his team, and praised especially the Belgian Seeldrayers.

For his part, Alberto Contador, race favorite and former race leader, believes that it will be "very difficult" to win this Paris-Nice, but there are also still many kilometers to go to Nice. Contador admitted that the team "lost a little coordination" for a moment, and the other teams "profited from it." With the wind and rain, the disorganization among the team made for a "very complicated situation," he explained. "When the big move was made, I saw that I did not have a team-mate with me." Contador did not share his precise reaction to that situation. We tend to think he was not smiling just then. Though Friday's climb will suit his talents all perfectlike, Contador is not taking anything for granted. He credits Chavanel as a "good climber," and says that it will be "complicated to bring back a minute" on the French race leader. Complicated. Hopefully, he will find his missing team-mates before Friday's big day.


In totally un-related news, Rubens Bertagliati has signed on with Diquigiovanni-Androno. The Swiss rider had signed with H20-Telteck, but the team directed by Max Radoni did not receive a license from the UCI. Oops, no team. Gianni Savio has given Bertagliati a one year contract. Bertagliati will likely ride the Giro d'Italia, where Savio expects he will be "especially valuable in the team time trial." The new team-member could ride in the Diquigiovanni colors as early as the Settimana Coppi e Bartali. Professional since 2000, Bertagliati has three victories to his credit and wore the yellow jersey of the Tour de France for two days.

Also in Italy, Alessandro Ballan will return to racing on Wednesday for the start of Tirreno-Adriatico, the traditional season-opening stage race in Italy. Ballan came down with a nasty case of the flu, which prevented him from starting Saturday's Montepaschi Strade Bianche. All healed up and ready to go, Ballan will use the race to prepare for the Northern classics, where he has previously won the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Lampre-NGC will also bring former Italian national champion Enrico Gasparotto for stage wins, Angelo Furlan for the sprints, and Marzio Bruseghin for training to Tirreno-Adriatico.

Gilberto Simoni has been racing in Mexico this past week. No, Cassani did not see him in the Dolomiti. He was in fact in Mexico. Proof? He won a stage of the Vuelta a Mexico and wore the leader's jersey for two days. At the post-race press conference he said nice things about the race and said that he might return to Mexico to ride the Vuelta Internacional a Chihuahua later this season. Simoni also anounced that he would donate his prize money from the stage win to a humanitarian organization who provides assistance to children in Mexico. Telmex, the principal sponsor for the race, responded to Simoni's announcement by doubling Simoni's prime. Love all around. Venezuelan Jackson Rodriguez of Diquigiovanni, meanwhile, won the general classification and gave the team with too many vowels its 15th win of the season.

In other Diquigiovanni-related news (because, really, I want to type that team name as many times as possible), the team has received a wildcard invitation to the Amstel Gold Race. Davide Rebellin will lead the team at the April classic, which won during a sweep of the three race Ardennes week. Rebellin will no doubt be among the favorites come April in the Netherlands.

Less happy is John Gadret, whose season is not off to the best of starts. The French climber, who rides for AG2R-La Mondiale, travelled to California only to abandon the race due to tendonitis in his knee. A very long trip for nothing, right there. The former cyclocross specialist returned to France and paid the doctor a visit. It turned out Gadret has a cyst and a torn meniscus in his right knee, which will require surgery. It is not yet known when the 29 year old will be able to return to racing. We wish Gardet a speedy recovery!


The Arbitration Court has confirmed their preliminary decision in the case of Fuji-Servetto v. Race Organizers. The Court upheld the ASO's exclusion of the team, because the ASO claimed that Fuji-Servetto, the successor team to the scandalous Saunier Duval, would damage the image of their races. The Arbritrators allowed that the ASO's argument provided legimitate grounds for exclusion. Race organizers may exclude teams that they view as potentially damaging to their races, according to this decision. At the same time, the Arbitraters struck down the RCS's argument in Italy that the organizers could exclude teams on their own discretion. As a consequence of these decisions, Fuji-Servetto may now ride Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-San Remo, but not Paris-Nice. Confused? We are. We do know that the team is currently chillin' in a hotel in Pisa in preparation for Tirreno-Adriatico, which leads us to believe that they will in fact start the Italian race.

Speaking of Fuji-Servetto, the team now has a website. Complete with Flash. Because everyone hearts Flash. It's also very blue. Like the team kits. Coincidence? I think not. Anywho, pay them a visit for all the Fuji-Servetto team news you need. Sadly, page hit numbers will experience a vertiginous drop here at Podium Cafe, once the Googler finds the new team site. Until now, Google has sent Fuji-Servetto searches to us. Fickle, that Googler.

It's been busy over at CAS lately. The Arbritation Court held a hearing in the case of Ivan Stevic on 26 February 2009. Stevic is challenging the lifetime ban that CONI imposed due to his alleged involvement in the Oil for Drugs case. According to evidence assembled by Italian investigators, Stevic worked with Dr. Santuccione and served as a dealer for doping products. No word yet on what CAS will decide.

On the subject of courts, CONI currently deliberates on the Valverde case. Valverde's lawyers submitted a brief challenging CONI's jurisdiction over the case. They claim that CONI does not have authority to sanction Valverde, who carries a Spanish license. According to Italian journalist Eugene Capodacqua, the Valverde team is not likely to succeed with this line of argument. CONI signed on to the WADA code in 2004, granting it authority to enforce WADA's rules in Italy. The Italian government also granted CONI legal authority beginning in 2004 to punish sports doping within Italian borders. Valverde raced in Italy during the period between 2004 and 2006 when he allegedly used the services of Dr. Fuentes. Capodacqua concludes that CONI does have the authority to sanction him and the journalist, who tends to be in the know on such things, expects CONI to ban the Spanish rider for two years. We wait impatiently for confirmation from CONI. No doubt an appeal to CAS will follow immediately, if not sooner. No rest for the weary there in Lausanne.

The UCI and the AFLD, until recently sworn enemies, have decided to place nice. The two organizations will collaborate to carry out the doping controls on riders during this year's Paris-Nice. "There was a strong desire by the two parties to work together," declared Pat McQuaid. Pierre Bordry of the AFLD said he is "very satisfied" with the agreement. The UCI will drive the anti-doping process, while the AFLD provides analysis services. The current agreement is expected to lay the foundations for an agreement covering this year's Tour de France. Last year, the AFLD ran the anti-doping program at the Tour independently and found seven doping violations. Over/under on how many the UCI will find?


Basta with these legal things. Vincenzo Nibali of Team Liquigas is off to Tirreno-Adriatico for some training. Last seen off the front of the Tour of California, the Sicilian is building house on his way to his first major objective of the season in the Ardennes. He will use the Pais-Vasco stage race to put the final touches on his preparation. Last year, Nibali finished tenth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and he is hoping to better that result. The Italian will also ride the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche-Wallon. In a recent interview he praised the atmosphere at Team Liquigas, saying that there are no conflicts among the riders and that the team management looks after everyone well. Nibali rode the Tour of California, and enjoyed the chance to see some of his potential adversaries for the Ardennes races. Nibali reports that he talked a great deal with Robert Gesink, a rider he describes as "very interesting" and who rides very well. Nibali had never seen Lance Armstrong in person before, and was struck by how muscular the American is. "He is a big star, that's for sure," said Nibali. About team-mate Ivan Basso, Nibali said he has "grinta." "A rider like him, one can learn from him," Nibali concluded. Look for Nibali at the front come the Ardennes in April.

Fabian Cancellara will also take the start at Tirreno-Adriatico, but he is worried. The flu cut short his race at the Tour of California, then, upon returning to Europe, the Swiss time trial and classics star suffered a shoulder injury in a training crash. He hasn't taken the start since California, and is hoping that Tirreno-Adriatico will allow him to recover his race rhythm. "It would be a disappointment for sure, because the classics are where I have built my reputation," Cancellara said of the possiblity that he may not find form in time for the upcoming cobbled classics. He remains cautiously optimistic that he may still be able to ride well, despite his lack of racing. He will likely find it difficult to repeat his success at Milano-San Remo, which will again use the same tricky finish that served Cancellara so well last year.

Introducing Cobbled Classics Barbie! Comes complete with blonde highlight job and tanning bed glow. Dig into Barbie's jewelry box and choose chic accessories for some podium bling. Stylish red and black team kit completes Barbie's race day look. Other team kits sold separately. Coming Soon! Barbie's friends Filippo Pozzato and Thomas Dekker. Collect them all! Heinrich Haussler... Are you sure you aren't Italian? Haussler, who always appears coiffed and accessorized, has the nickname "Barbie" in the bunch. Other Haussler fun facts? The sprinter carries dual citizenship with Germany and Australia, but his heart reportedly lies with his country of birth, Australia. He has turned down offers to ride for the German national team at the Beijing Olympic games and the Varese World Championships, in the hope of receiving an invite from Australia.

The most expensive bike in the pro field belongs to Team Columbia. The Dura Ace-equipped Scott Addict comes in at €11,000.00, or approximately $14,000.00. The cost also includes carbon wheels and SRM power meters. Maxime Monfort, for one, was surprised to hear the cost of his team bike, saying that he really doesn't ever think about the parts or their cost. Must be nice. Here at the Gossip World Headquarters, we admit to some envy for this carefree attitude.

Sick bay. Jose Angel Gomez Marchante of Cervélo TestTeam broke his arm during the second stage of Paris-Nice. He is expected to miss up to six weeks of training due to the injury. Dan Martin of Team Garmin and Joost Posthuma of Rabobank are also out of Paris-Nice with the flu. Rémi Pauriol of Cofidis will miss up to eight weeks of racing with a broken collarbone and rib. He will undergo surgey for the collarbone in Paris this week. Levi Leipheimer is back on the bike after a fracture he picked up at the Tour of California. The injury prevented him from starting Paris-Nice this week. In women's racing news, Judith Arndt, last year's World Cup winner, broke her collarbone in a training accident, when she was doored. The Columbia-High Road rider is expected to miss six weeks. Best wishes for a speedy recovery to all!


That's all for this episode of the Gossip. More soon!