Gerro ready, CSC with local hopes at TDU; Bellotti aims higher in Langkawi

Simon Gerrans is looking forward to defending his Tour Down Under title, as Ellis Bacon reports for

Simon Gerrans is looking forward to defending his Tour Down Under title, as Ellis Bacon reports for
PIC BY LETOURMEDITERRANEEN Gerrans back for another TDU tilt Ag2r's Simon Gerrans is ready to defend his Tour Down Under crown. A day before battle commences with the Down Under Classic, the 26 year-old met the press at the Hilton in Adelaide on Monday. "It's been my focus for the last few weeks, but otherwise my preparation has been the same as last year," Gerrans said. "I'm feeling right on track - or maybe even a little ahead." The Australian will again be joined by Cyril Dessel, like last year, although this time around the Frenchman's profile is that much higher after his spell in the yellow jersey and seventh place overall at the Tour de France. "Dessel rode his butt off for me here last year, with me returning the favour later on in the season, so that will be the plan again," said Gerrans, who would like nothing better than to take a second straight crown. "A lot of my teammates were here last year, too, while a couple are here for the first time for the Down Under experience." The Down Under Classic takes place on Tuesday evening in Adelaide's East End, with 25 laps of a 2km circuit, but won't count towards the overall results of the Tour Down Under. The five-stage race kicks off with a 155km stage on Wednesday morning, finishing with another criterium, based on a circuit around North Adelaide, on Sunday. CSC kicks off in Adelaide The CSC will commence its 2007 season in Adelaide, Australia this week with the Tour Down Under. The team's motivation for a good result in the race is high as the state of South Australia is home to both O'Grady and his teammate Luke Roberts. "Of course both Stuart and I would like to do well here and our goal is to get at least one guy on the podium. With this being our backyard I'm kinda hoping it'll be one of us," said Luke Roberts. Like O'Grady and Matthew Goss, Roberts didn't participate in the Australian Championships, which took place on the weekend. "Tour Down Under means more to us, so we've chosen to focus on our training with the team instead in order to get a break with travelling back and forth. Instead Stuart and I did the States Championship in South Australia, where we came first and second and I think the form is there," added Roberts, whose best overall result in Tour Down Under is a ninth place in 2004. He did win a stage in 2001 as well. The Australian race is also Matthew Goss' debut for the Danish team. "I'm really excited about this race," said Goss. "I know I'll be feeling extremely proud standing at the start line wearing my Team CSC jersey. I was here last year as well, but I wasn't very far in my preparations at the time, because most of my other races were later in the season. "It'll be exciting to see how it works out for me, but first of all I'm meant to help Stuart. But normally what happens is that a group is allowed to escape for about 10 or 12 minutes during the first or second stage, and if that turns out to be the case our tactics will probably depend on who we have in that break." Matti Breschel should be in good shape despite injuring himself in a crash a couple of weeks ago. "I'm feeling ok. I can still feel my injury, but it hasn't kept me from training according to plan except from the day after the crash, so I don't think it's set me back really. I feel it most, when I do long distances and I might feel it, when we hit some of the bigger climbs as well, but up until now I've just been training on flat stretches in Denmark. I actually feel stronger this winter, so I have high expectations for this season." Team CSC's best result in Tour Down Under so far is Lennie Kristensen's overall second place in 2003 - just ahead of O'Grady. Also Nikolaj Bo Larsen won a stage in 1999, when the team was called Team home Jack & Jones - the same year as O'Grady won two stages. Bellotti wants to go one better in Langkawi Nobody, they say, remembers the guy who finishes second, and Francesco Bellotti remembers how he came closest to winning his first race as a professional when he was denied the top finish by South Africa's David George in last year's Le Tour de Langkawi. Thus, the 26-year old Italian dreams of making it just one step up to the top of the podium when he starts his second campaign in the 12th edition of Le Tour de Langkawi on February 2-11. He has a stronger Credit Agricole outfit that includes Hungarian national champion Laszlo Bodrogi and sprinter Julian Dean of New Zealand. "I have a great memory of Malaysia from last year's race because it was my best ever result as a professional. So, I had no hesitations in putting my hands up when the opportunity to race in Malaysia came by again," said Bellotti, speaking from his home in Pescantina near Verona. Despite his near win in Malaysia last year, Bellotti isn't a big name in cycling and is known as one of the numerous hard workers who love their job, having turned professional under the wings of the legendary Italian Marco Pantani in the Mercatone Uno team in 2003 and then joined the Barloworld outfit in 2004, before moving into the Pro Tour ranks with Credit Agricole in 2005. And the down-to-earth Bellotti realises his capacity. "I wasn't born a champion. Even in the young categories, I never won many races," said Bellotti. "All of what I've done, it's been with a lot of suffering but I've had the satisfaction of reaching a few goals and every year I improve, that's very important for me." He wasn't designated as Crdit Agricole's team captain for the 2006 Le Tour de Langkawi. The time he lost on George came from his dedication as a team player when he favoured his partner Saul Raisin to go for the stage win in the Cameron Highlands. His deficit of two minutes was impossible to get back considering the great condition and tactical skills of the whole South African team. "Now I have the advantage of knowing the race and my only target will be to move one place ahead on general classification at the end of the event. Le Tour de Langkawi has become a very important race for the whole world of cycling. It comes early in the season, but it's crucial to begin well. "Many times I've seen riders taking it easy at the beginning because of later goals but they never found the right rhythm. We have an expression in Italian: 'Who begins well is already half way into the opera'. "I like racing in the heat. In Europe, it's impossible to find this kind of climate nowadays until May, that's why I'm excited to go to Malaysia in February." French outfit Crdit Agricole is the world's longest running professional cycling set ups, since it's the continuation of the prestigious Peugeot team from the '60s, '70s and '80s and was later called Z (with Tour de France winner Greg LeMond) and Gan (with world hour record man Chris Boardman). It has chosen an interesting line up for the Tour de Langkawi. "In fact, we have a complete team," Bellotti said. Watch out for up and coming Frenchman Anthony Charteau and another good climber called Benot Poilvet, New Zealand sprinter Julian Dean and his lead out man William Bonnet, and if there's work to be done on the flat roads, Bodrogi, who won both the Hungarian time trial and road championships last year, will be the man. The Crdit Agricole line up for Le Tour de Langkawi: Francesco Bellotti (Ita), Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun), William Bonnet (Fra), Anthony Charteau (Fra), Julian Dean (NZl), Benot Poilvet (Fra). Got a comment? Discuss this in the Procycling forum. What else is new? 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