Alberto Contador and Samuel Sanchez were the stars of the Euskaltel-Euskadi Annual Bike-Fiesta on Sunday, in which 3,000 fans of all ages rode alongside members of the team and the two Spanish stars.

Participants could take part in different events: the hardest was 41.2 kilometres long, another 12.2 kilometres on an MTB circuit and the last- for the youngest riders – just seven kilometres long.

Contador confirmed that he will not be taking part in the Tour of Italy next year, although both the Tour de France and (possibly) the Tour of Spain remain on the program.

Asked about the Tour 2009, Contador said it was ?far too sweeping a generalisation to say that the route would definitely suit me. You never know what will be most beneficial.

?There?s a lot less time trialling, but then again, there are fewer opportunities to open up the race in the mountains as well.?

?There are fewer summit finishes, and I?ll have to exploit those on offer to the maximum. Cycling is much more equally-matched than it used to be.?

2009 Giro Route Details Emerge

The route of next year?s centenary edition of the Giro d?Italia will only be officially unveiled in December but leaks and rumours are already indicating the race will start in Venice and end in Rome with an individual time trial.

According to a local newspaper in the Veneto region and La Stampa a newspaper based in Turin, the 2009 Giro will start on May 9 with a 21km team time trial on Venice Lido, the same strip of beach where Mario Cipollini won the first stage of the 1997 Giro.

 The corsa rosa will then head north and east for a stage in Austria before heading west towards the Italian Alps to recreate the legendary Cuneo-Sestriere stage won by Fausto Coppi. A second time trial will be on stage 12 between Sestre Levante and Lerici in the Cinque Terre area, before finishes in Florence, Bologna and Rimini.

The final mountain stages will be in central and southern Italy with a tough finish on the Block Haus and a climb up the Monte Vesuvio volcano before the time trial to Rome on May 31.

2009 GIRO D’ITALIA STAGES (from La Stampa newspaper)

Stage one: LIDO DI VENEZIA (team time trial)

Stage two: JESOLO – TRIESTE

Stage three: GRADO – CONEGLIANO

Stage four: PADOVA – SAN MARTINO DI CASTROZZA

Stage five: SAN MARTINO DI CASTROZZA – ALPE DI SIUSI

Stage six: CASTELROTTO – MAYRHOFEN (Austria)

Stage seven: INNBRUCK (Austria) – CHIAVENNA

Stage eight: MORBEGNO – COMO

Stage nine: MILANO – TORINO

Stage 10: CUNEO ? SESTRIERE

Stage 11:  PINEROLO – GENOVA

Stage 12:  SESTRI LEVANTE – LERICI (time trial)

Stage 13:  LIDO DI CAMAIORE ? FIRENZE

Stage 14: CAMPI BISENZIO – BOLOGNA/SAN LUCA

Stage 15: BOLOGNA – RIMINI

Stage 16: PERGOLA – MONTE PETRANO

Stage 17: CHIETI – BLOCK HAUS

Stage 18: SULMONA – BENEVENTO

Stage 19: AVELLINO – NAPOLI/VESUVIO

Stage 20: NAPOLI – ANAGNI

Stage 21: ROMA (individual time trial)

Milram sign ex-Gerolsteiner sprinter Forster

Milram continue to sign up German riders from the soon-to-be-defunct Gerolsteiner squad in large numbers -the total is now eight – with sprinter Robert Forster and domestique Ronny Scholz the latest additions.

Both riders are – curiously enough – 30 years old, and both have spent the bulk of their careers in Gerolsteiner.

Forster has won stages in the Tour of Italy, Tour of Spain and Tour of Germany as well as the Dutch Food Valley Classic (formerly Veenendaal – Veenendaal) whilst Scholz has won a string of minor events in Germany.

?I?ve been with Gerolsteiner for eight years and I can?t wait to see how I wll make the change from water to milk,? commented Scholz in the Milram press release announcing the signing. Clearly having a keen sense of humour was not a priority for Germany?s last remaining ProTour team when it comes to signing new riders.

Merckx sells up

Eddy Merckx is to sell his bike business. Aged 63 and alleging a lack of successor – son Axel is set to work with Lance Armstrong – Merckx will retain some shares in the business he set up in 1980, but the bulk will go to Sobradis, a Belgian holding company.

Basso back – and talking even more

Back after a two-year-ban for doping, Ivan Basso?s third place in the Japan Cup has given the 2006 Tour of Italy winner yet more opportunities to explain to the press how he is truly back on the straight and narrow.

For the record, Basso explained in an interview with French newspaper L?Equpe that he had to come back to professional cycling ?because I couldn?t leave the sport at the end of such a sad chapter [of my life. I would have lacked dignity.?

?I didn?t think of committing suicide [after he was barred from starting the 2006 Tour] but I was very close.?

Basso said that his determination to come back had pushed him to ride 50,000 kilometres over the last two years and by way of self-punishment he had ridden up a climb he didn?t like, the Cuvignone, some three hundred times, sometimes as many as five times a day.

Giving his comeback the usual mystical and dramatic overtones he seems to like so much, Basso argued in a previous interview that ?If I acheive the same results that I got before the ban, then [my implication in] Operacion Puerto will be [buried] under a rock.? – meaning, presumably, that Puerto will be forgotten.

?People will think I made a mistake, but that I want to come back and be stronger than I was before.?

?If that doesn?t happen, then the rock will fall on me and that wil be the end. Finished. I?ll take my suitcase and my bike and I?ll say good-bye.?

Grivko wins last European road-race of season

Andrey Grivko brought down the curtain on the European road season this weekend with victory in the Florence-Pistoia time trial. The Ukrainian national champion finished the 13 seconds ahead of another national champion, Italian Marco Pinotti (Columbia). Dario Cioni of Silence-Lotto – born in Reading but also an Italian national – took third.

Ex-World Champ signs with Amica Chips

Remember Igor Astarloa, the World road-race Champion back in 2003?

Booted out of Milram mid-season last year for allegedly failing an internal health check, the 32-year-old Basque has now signed with tiny Italian squad Amica Chips-Knauf.

After turning pro with Mercatone in 2000, Astarloa?s big year was in 2003, when he won both Fleche Wallone and the World Championships.

Having signed for Cofidis then quit when the team suspended its racing program during the doping scandals of 2004, Astarloa rode successively for Lampre, Barloworld and Milram.

He has taken Milram to court over his sacking and meantime will be racing in Amica, whose other big signing is 2007 San Sebastian winner Leonardo Bertagnolli (ex-Liquigas).

RELATED LINKS

2009 Tour de France route announced