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April Showers Edition.

They say it never rains in California. Whoever they are, they lie. It rains. In fact, it's raining right now.

And what could be better on a rainy day than a little Gossip? We hardly dare speculate.

We begin today in Belgium where, after his second straight win at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Stijn Devolder has big ambitions. He will ride Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. But then, his next objective is the Tour de France. Pop Quiz: Who was the last rider to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Tour de France in a single season? Right, as if I know the answer to that. Anyway, Devolder will try to reach the July grand tour with fresher legs than last year by skipping the Tour of Belgium and riding the Dauphiné instead of the Tour de Suisse. He won't ride for the classification at the Dauphiné, only for training. The former Belgian national champion is also eyeing the Worlds course in Mendrisio, which he pre-rode last year while in Varese. He likes the looks of it: "It pleases me." Devolder will ride a portion of the Vuelta to prepare for Mendrisio, but does not expect to finish the Spanish grand tour.

Patrick Lefevere, the wily directeur sportif for QuickStep, commented after the Ronde van Vlaanderen that it is good that Sylvain Chavanel was disappointed after the race. Chavanel rode in the lead group until Stijn Devolder launched his winning move on the Muur-Kapelmuur. When Manuel Quinziato could not follow Devolder, Chavanel marked the chase, but did not contribute until Devolder was well and truly away. Still, the French rider held a chance at the podium until the final kilometers, when the main field caught the Chavanel-Quinziato group. "He believed that he would touch the Grail, I understand that he sleeps badly," said Lefevere of Chavanel. At the same time, Lefevere sees motivation in disappointment. Out of disappointment will come renewed aggressiveness. "The day when they do not have that, it is necessary to stop," he said. Chavanel will ride Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel Gold Race, before taking a brief break.

Race favorite Tom Boonen finished frustrated with his shadow. This Pozzato guy, why does he follow me around all the time? Boonen commented that he didn't understand Pozzato's way of racing. "He had his tactical scheme and he would not change it," the Belgian said of Pozzato. Maybe he just wanted to borrow some hair gel. Always the generous team-mate, Boonen praised both Devolder and Chavanel. "Happily, the team could count on different riders for victory," he said. If Devolder had not succeeded with this big move on the Muur-Kapelmuur, Boonen thinks Chavanel, whose efforts he called "fabulous," could also have won. The situation with Pozzato? "Ridiculous," said the former World Champion. No doubt Boonen will try extra hard to lose his shadow this Sunday at Paris-Roubaix.


If 25 year old Martijn Maaskant had any regrets about his day at the Ronde, it was that he ran short of team-mates in the finale. At the same time, the strength of Devolder might have doomed the chase anyway, Maaskant admitted. The Dutch rider for Garmin-Slipstream finished fourth at the Ronde and will start the Hell of the North next Sunday, where he hopes to play a role in making the race.

No disappointment for Philippe Gilbert, who finished an unexpected third at the Ronde. Unexpected, because he had not planned to ride the Flemish monument. "Thanks to the panic that seized the team management after Kuurne and to the press who reinforced that sentiment. Without that, I would never have ridden the Tour of Flanders. I had always wanted to do it, I said it in December," he said. Now, the talented Wallon faces a problem. "I could win all the classics, except the Giro di Lombardia and, of course, Paris-Roubaix," he explained. Such a terrible problem to have, don't you think? In any case, Gilbert will rest this week, before heading to the Ardennes. He expects the Amstel Gold Race to suit him best.

Alberto Contador, meanwhile, will not attend the party in the Ardennes. The Spanish grand tour specialist announced earlier this week that he would not ride the Ardennes classics, preferring instead to have a brief break. Contador will then devote his full attention to preparing for the Tour de France. The Astana rider began racing at the Volta ao Algarve and has raced straight through to this week's Vuelta a País Vasco. "I do not want to risk doing too much effort," he said. All the same, he is looking forward to the final crono at the País Vasco, where he will test his form one last time, before his vacation.

In women's racing, Ina Yoko Tuetenberg of Columbia High Road won the women's edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The race came down to a sprint among eighteen riders, after they caught Marianne Vos 100 meters before the finish. Vos attacked on the Bosberg, but the chase driven by Cervélo TestTeam foiled her efforts. Kristen Wild of Cervélo TestTeam finished second followed by Emma Johansson of Red Sun. Vos still managed to finish sixth, and retains the lead in the UCI World Cup.


Obligatory Armstrong mention: Tuttosport in Italy reports that the RCS, who organizes the Giro d'Italia, offered Lance Armstrong €2 million to ride the race. The RCS hopes that increased revenues from the sale of television rights will provide a return on their investment. Versus has reportedly found the asking price too high, and has announced no plans to show the race. A recent twitter campaign sought to change the management's mind, but so far, Versus does not appear to have changed its mind. In other Armstrong-related news, the American returned to light training last week after undergoing surgery for his broken collarbone. For €2 million, he'd best get fit.

The Italian anti-doping tribunal, meanwhile, will hold a hearing to decide the case of Alejandro Valverde on 11 May in Rome. The Tribunal will rule on the request from CONI to sanction the Spanish rider for two years on the basis of evidence collected in the Puerto investigation. The hearing falls on the second day of the Giro d'Italia. A criminal inquiry against Valverde is also in its early stages in Italy under the supervision of the District Attorney in Rome. If the Tribunal ratifies the sanction, the case will pass to the UCI, who must determine whether the sanction applies worldwide. No doubt the Arbitration Court in Lausanne is the ultimate destination for the case. In the meantime, the Spanish authorities have declared their intention to ignore the Italian sanction. Valverde remains free to race, and will head to the Ardennes next week.

Some good news at last for Kurt Hovelijnck and his family and friends. The QuickStep rider suffered head injuries in a serious training crash a few weeks ago. He remained until Tuesday in intensive care in the Gent hospital in a drug-induced coma. According to a brief statement issued by the team, doctors have allowed the young rider to awaken and have transfered him out of intensive care. Still, his recovery is expected to be a lengthy process. We wish him all the best.

More good news on the injury front, Mirco Lorenzetto of Lampre-NGC who suffered a bad crash in the feed zone at the Ronde van Vlaanderen should be able to return home to Italy on Thursday. Lorenzetto smacked planet while removing a jersey, which promptly and inconsiderately entangled itself in his front wheel. He suffered head and facial injuries, but they have proven less severe than initially believed. Lorenzetto received a visit from his team-mates on Monday at the hospital in Zottegem. No word yet on when he is expected to be fully recovered.

Daniele Bennati returned to Italy Tuesday, abandoning his hopes for Gent-Wevelgem. The Italian sprinter has suffered inflamation in his right hip flexors since crashing at Tirreno-Adriatico. Since then, he has had more bad days than good, suffering badly in the finale of Milano-Sanremo and at Driedaagse de Panne. Determined to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the team doctors acceded to his wishes, though with some misgivings. Unfortunately, the pain forced Bennati to abandon after 100 kilometers on Sunday. He has now returned to Italy where he will rest completely for five days, before beginning a program of physical therapy. Benna will hope to recover both health and form in time for the Giro d'Italia, his next major objective. Forza Daniele!


Speaking of the Giro, and really, do we need an excuse? Team LPR Brakes Farnese Vini tested out the eighth stage of this year's Giro d'Italia. The stage fruns from Morbegno to Bergamo and covers 209 kilometers. The verdict? Perfect hunting grounds for a breakaway. After 60 kilometers, the course hits a surprisingly difficult climb. Sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, at least, was surprised. "No one expected such a difficult climb," he said after riding the course. Petacchi also called the climb "extremely technical." Memo to Basso. The course then climbs twice more, Solto Collina and the Colle Gallo, before a final climb into the Old City of Bergamo. LPR sports director Giovanni Fidanza believes that the finishing climb offers a good chance for a break to survive to the finish. No stage for the sprinters, then, it appears, but LPR will nonetheless be on the watch. Not only are they looking for stage wins with Petacchi, but they also have Danilo Diluca's hopes for the general classification to protect.

Mickaël Buffaz of Cofidis recently celebrated the birth of his first child. A cause for joy, though not necessarily at night. Buffaz told that he hasn't had much sleep lately. Indeed, the Cofidis rider happily left home to ride the Vuelta a País Vasco, where he expects at last to get some sleep. Hopefully, Mickaël will stay awake long enough to finish the race.

Just three weeks after breaking his collarbone at Paris-Nice, Thomas Voeckler has returned to racing at the Circuit de la Sarthe - Pays de Loire. He was not expected to race until 14 April at Paris-Camembert, but felt ready a week early. When Yohann Gène withdrew due to illness, a spot opened up for Voeckler. The team does not expect a huge performance from Voeckler just yet in his first start. Good thing, because Voeckler finished 6.07 down on the main field during Tuesday's stage. Enrico Rossi of Ceramica Flaminia won the stage after more than 150 kilometers off the front. The Italian won solo by just two seconds ahead of the oncoming field.


That's all for this week's edition! Back soon with more Gossipy goodness.