World champ Valverde eyes maiden Tour of Lombardy triumph

Newly-crowned world champion Alejandro Valverde headlines the season-finale Tour of Lombardy on Saturday looking for his first win in a race where he has twice finished runner-up.

World champ Valverde eyes maiden Tour of Lombardy triumph
Alejandro Valverde celebrates after winning the Men's Elite road race of the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria on September 30, 2018. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

The fifth and final Monument of the season – the 'Race of the Falling Leaves' – will be fought over 241km through the Alps-region between Bergamo and Como in northern Italy.

Movistar rider Valverde will be challenged by the same rivals who were beaten for the world championships road race crown in Innsbruck last month, including France's Romain Bardet who finished second and third-placed Canadian Michael Woods.

“Being world champion is important for whoever it might be,” said Valverde.

“It's also a race that I like a lot and which I've always nearly won.” 

Valverde finished second in the Tour of Lombardy in 2013 and 2014.

The 38-year-old warmed up by finishing third in the Milan-Turin semi-classic on Wednesday, which was won by French rider Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), who will be among the favourites this weekend.

Valverde, who was banned for two years following Spanish doping probe Operacion Puerto, this week defended his record since returning in 2012.

“That's water under the bridge, and I don't even want to talk about it. I believe I've sufficiently demonstrated who I am since then.”

READ ALSO: Cyclists gear up for Tour of Lombardy race 

Italian Vincenzo Nibali will be defending his title, over a route that is virtually identical to last year's apart from a final three kilometre drop to the finish line at Como.

Nibali, of the Bahrain-Merida team, also won the race in 2015, and is one of two former winners competing along with 2014 champion Daniel Martin of Ireland.

The 33-year-old Nibali, who has won all the Grand Tours including the Tour de France in 2014, but has struggled for form this season.

Race favourites include French duo Pinto, and Romain Barden, Italian Gianni Moscon and Colombians Rigoberto Uran and Miguel Angleo Lopez.

“With the form I'm now showing I'm getting more and more convinced of continuing the positive streak until Saturday in Lombardy,” said Pinot after winning the Milan-Turin.

British Sky riders Chris Froome, winner of the Giro d'Italia, and Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, will not be competing.

The Mitchelton-Scott team are led by 2018 Vuelta champion Simon Yates and his twin brother Adam.

The route features iconic climbs up Madonna del Ghisallo and Muro di Sormano, with the final hill, a 1.7km ascent to Monte Olimpino with a five percent gradient.



Italian athletes are the world’s worst doping cheats: figures

Italian athletes topped the rankings of drug cases in 2016, the World Anti-Doping Agency revealed on Thursday in its annual report.

Italian athletes are the world's worst doping cheats: figures
Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali - who is not accused of doping - takes a drug test during the Tour de France. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

The international doping watchdog said Italian athletes accounted for 147 anti-doping rule violations in 2016, the most recent year for which full figures are available.

French athletes accounted for the next highest number on the list with 86 cases, while the United States was third with 76. Australia were fourth with 75 and Belgium fifth with 73. Russia and India were next with 69 cases each.

Athletics had more cases than any other individual sport with 205, ahead of bodybuilding with 183.

Cycling was third with 165 cases while the drug-tainted sport of weightlifting was fourth with 116. Football moved up to fifth in the rankings with 79 cases, though the total number of cases was smaller than 2015, when they reported 108 cases.


In total, WADA dealt with 1,595 doping rule violations across 112 sports in 2016, down from 1,929 cases in 2015.

A total of 1,326 rule violations arose from positive drug tests, while the remainder were derived from investigations and evidence-based intelligence, increasingly seen as a key weapon in the war on dope cheats.

“We are continuing to see the impact of intelligence-based testing, an area of increasing focus for the agency as we strengthen our investigations and intelligence-gathering capacity,” WADA President Craig Reedie said in a statement.

“While in- and out-of-competition testing remains critical to detecting doping, recent events have shown that investigative work is becoming ever more important as we look to protect clean athletes' rights worldwide,” he added.