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IT FACTORY CEASES PRODUCTION

Bjarne Riis is not the most loveable character in cycling, but even I don?t envy him the job of replacing his secondary sponsor in such tough economic times.

IT Factory, a Danish company that had stepped in to join Saxo Bank as replacement sponsors following CSC?s withdrawal, fieled for bankruptcy on Monday amid allegations that the company?s director, Stein Bagger, is being investigated for embezzling £57million.

Bagger has been missing since he travelled to Dubai for a business meeting. The news broke on Monday, just as the riders had assembled for the team?s official launch.

The collapse of the company leaves a ?5m hole in the team?s funding over the next three years and Saxo Bank is said to be unwilling to plug the gap.

Riis says the team?s future is secure but that he must get out there and find a new sponsor.

Given the current economic situation, that won?t be straightforward. Cycling is not an easy sell at the moment. We?ve seen several big, established teams fold this year. And although there are sponsors coming in, they are coming in with smaller cheques.

BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE

At the end of last week, I spent a couple of days in Manchester watching coaches coach and riders ride.

It was a fascinating couple of days as a mixture of senior riders and those from the academy were put through their paces on the track on Thursday afternoon and on the road on Friday morning.

On the velodrome, coach Rod Ellingworth who five years ago played a key role in setting up the academy, before building it into a youth set-up to rival the best in the world, donned the crash hat and mounted the motorbike for some endurance Keirin races.

Rob Hayles, Ed Clancy, Pete Kennaugh, Geraint Thomas and Steven Burke took each other on in a series of races that were every bit as competitive as you?d expect to see at a World Cup meeting.

The endurance riders and sprinters took turns on the track, with the sprinters practicing their starts and the young endurance riders riding in team pursuit formation.

It was all organised with a calm precision and it was interesting to see the endurance and track sprinters all training together at the same time. It wasn?t long ago that the two groups would use the track at separate times, but such is the sense of team spirit these days the lines between one set of riders and the other has been erased.

On Friday morning, Ellingworth, Matt Parker, Darren Tudor and Heiko Salzwedel headed out in the cars with a group of 14 riders for a specific training session on the road. You can read more about that in next week?s magazine.

It must be a fairly familiar sight in Cheshire these days, as groups of riders in Great Britain jerseys take to the roads.

In the main, the car drivers were extremely respectful and at one point we spotted a man in an Audi who had pulled over on the side of the road to watch the riders pass.

The one thing that struck me throughout the two days (other than Rob Hayles?s late-Eighties Oakley Factory Pilots) was how professional everything was.

Perhaps I shouldn?t have been surprised, but I?ve been to some training camps, including some for the biggest teams in the world, where things happen in a sort of controlled chaos. No one seems to know what?s happen or when or why.

Ellingworth and the rest of the coaches explained what was expected of the riders and, more importantly, why they were doing it.

It?s not that the sessions were held in a dry, dull, super-serious atmosphere, but there was no messing around. It was clear the riders were enjoying the work, but there was sense that there was a job to be done.

I went away with a renewed sense of the unseen work that goes on in and around Manchester. It?s easy to arrive at the races and watch the medals pour in, but days like this in the freezing cold are where the results are hewn.

See next week?s Cycling Weekly on sale on December 11 for details of some exciting plans afoot at British Cycling.

LANCE ARMSTRONG INTERVIEW

You can now read Edward Pickering?s superb interview with Lance Armstrong on this website.

The interview first appeared in last week?s issue of Cycling Weekly and those who read it in the magazine will agree that Edward certainly didn?t pull any punches.

We have presented it in a question and answer format so that the reader can judge and interpret the ebb and flow of the interview. It makes very interesting reading, although it poses as many questions as it answers.

For example, the first question regards whether or not Armstrong will ride the Tour de France. We?ve been of the opinion since he announced his comeback that there is no way he?d go to all the effort without making a date with the biggest race in the world. In the interview, conducted on November 17, he said he had no idea whether he would be on the start line in Monaco next July.

Fifteen days later, he announces on his Twitter feed [a Twitter feed is like a cross between a blog and a text message] that he will ride. What a surprise!

So what?s happened in the meantime? There are plenty of things that don?t add up, and it?s difficult to work out whether it?s just an attempt to play mind games with the media and his rivals or whether he genuinely had no idea.

Edward put it to Armstrong that he must have done some tests to determine whether he could be competitive. He said he hadn?t. ?I don’t have any climbs in the US that I’ve tested on before. And I’ve not been to Europe yet. I’m not bullshitting you, I don’t know. Ask me in Nice. On my roads,? he said.

Since then, he?s been to Nice, en route to Tenerife. So, do we take it that he?s ridden the Col de la Madone and liked the numbers?

There are some answers that stretch the boundaries of credibility. Are we really to expect that a man who has a reputation for precision, a man who weighs his pasta, does not know his VO2 Max?

Whether you love him or loathe him, this Armstrong interview is unmissable.

SPORTS CONTROVERSY OF THE YEAR

It wasn?t as if we didn?t know we?d be opening a can of worms when we suggested Cycling Weekly readers vote for Chris Hoy in the BBC?s Sports Personality of the Year poll.

We knew some readers would feel strongly about supporting one of the other candidates and even accepted that if we urged people to vote for Hoy some would instinctively vote for someone else.

And that, of course, is absolutely fine. That?s democracy.

But having seen four cyclists named on the shortlist of ten on Monday, there is a very strong chance that the vote will be split and Lewis Hamilton will win the award.

The worst case scenario is that a cyclist does not even make the top three, which would be a travesty considering the year they have had.

When we decided to champion Hoy, we did not do so because of any bias against Nicole Cooke or Bradley Wiggins or any of the other potential candidates. We did so because the Sports Personality of the Year award is voted for by a wider sports-watching public.

A friend of mine works for BBC Sport and I asked him which of the cyclists he thought had the best chance of winning. His answer: ?Hoy, no question.?

We checked out the odds offered by the major online bookmakers, knowing that they would offer a pretty accurate taste of public opinion because there?s nothing bookies like less than losing money.

At the time ? as now ? F1?s Lewis Hamilton led the way, with swimmer Rebecca Adlington the second favourite. Hoy was third, hanging onto their coat-tails, and by some considerable margin the most likely cyclist to win.

So, given that Cycling Weekly?s motivation was purely and simply to support the case for a cyclist, any cyclist, to win the prize. How good would that be?

It is common in cycling to sacrifice your own ambitions for the sake of a team-mate and, seeing as there can only be one winner, what?s the problem with uniting behind one candidate?

In the office we all have different opinions. Some, myself included, feel that Mark Cavendish should be in contention, but he didn?t even make the shortlist.

We shall see what happens on December 14. I really hope a cyclist wins but with four nominated, it?d be a terrible shame if they didn?t get a place in the top three.

Boxer Joe Calzaghe won last year with 177,000 votes. It would be very unfortunate if, when adding together all the votes for the four cyclists, it transpired that had the majority combined behind one candidate it would have been enough to win.

THE LATEST BETTING

www.bluesq.comHamilton 8/13

Adlington 11/4

Hoy 4/1

Murray 50/1

Calzaghe 50/1

Ohuruogu 66/1

Cooke 100/1

Romero 100/1

Ainslie 100/1

Wiggins 100/1

www.coral.co.uk

Hamilton 8/15

Adlington 11/4

Hoy 4/1

Calzaghe 40/1

Murray 66/1

Ainslie 125/1

Ohuruogu 125/1

Cooke 125/1

Wiggins 150/1

Romero 150/1

www.ladbrokes.com

Hamilton ½

Adlington 11/4

Hoy 5/1

Murray 50/1

Calzaghe 66/1

Ainslie 100/1

Wiggins 150/1

Ohuruogu 150/1

Cooke 150/1

Romero 150/1

www.paddypower.com

Hamilton 8/13

Adlington 11/4

Hoy 7/2

Calzaghe 33/1

Murray 66/1

Cooke 125/1

Ainslie 125/1

CHRISTMAS IS COMING?

?Christmas is coming, Jan Ullrich?s getting fat,? as we used to joke every December between 1997 and 2005.

Well, what makes people feel more Christmassy than an advent calendar?

Every day until Christmas Eve, www.cyclingweekly.com will be counting down the Top 50 British Riders of the Year.

We kicked off our online advent calendar on Monday by revealing the riders in 50th and 49th positions. Today [Wednesday] we?re up to number 45.

On Christmas Eve we?ll reach 11th place and the top 10 will be revealed in the issue of Cycling Weekly dated December 25, which will be on sale before and after Christmas.

It was great fun looking back over a remarkable year and reviewing not only the outstanding British performances we?ll remember for a lifetime, but also some of the hidden gems from up-and-coming riders.

Our list is bound to generate a bit of controversy because when you come to rank 50 riders everyone is going to have a different opinion. In fact, the debate got a bit heated in the office at times.

PREVIOUS WEDNESDAY COMMENTS

November 26 ? British pros branching out

November 19 ? Lance, the televised crits and the British boom

November 12 ? Revolution: The future for the Six-Days?

November 5 ? Why it?s ludicrous to blame British Cycling for domination

October 29 ? The BBC?s Sky dilemma and too much Lance?

Bonus comment: Assessing the 2009 Tour de France route

October 22 ? Is the Tour coming back to London in 2011?

October 15 ? How to pick a winner

October 8 ? UCI bends the rules for Lance

October 1 ? Armstrong again?

September 24 ? Why Contador must leave Astana for his own self-respect

September 17 ? Let?s leave the dirty generation in the past

September 10 ? The Armstrong Edition

September 10 ? The Armstrong-free Edition

Bonus comment ? Why Sevilla, Botero and Hamilton must not start Tour of Britain

September 3 ? Want to be national TT champ and ride the Tour of Britain? Tough, you can?t

August 27 ? Defending Great Britain

August 20 – Gold, gold, glorious gold

August 13 ? Gold rush starts

August 6 ? Team LPR in the Tour of Britain

July 30 ? Assessing the Tour

The Tuesday Comment – January to July 2008

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