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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition News for October 27, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry

Addio, Robbie - Roberto Conti retires

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

After 17 seasons as a professional cyclist, Italian Roberto Conti rode his last race Saturday in the Firenze-Pistoia time trial. Not even a contender in the test, the soon to be 39 year old Mercatone Uno-Scanavino pro finished outside the top 10, but Conti, known as a consummate pro, was happy to finally hang up his bike on his own terms.

"Ernesto Colnago wanted me to ride for his (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) team through the Giro d'Italia next year, but if I accepted his offer, it would have worked out that I'd keep on going," Conti told La Gazzetta dello Sport. Conti, known as the gregario's gregario, would have retired already two years ago, but his passion for the sport kept him going on the bike.

Conti's former teammate Davide Cassani, RAI-TV's expert cycling color commentator, told Cyclingnews that "Roberto is one of the nicest riders in the gruppo and also one of the most expert. He's a rider who's always worked for others, a breed that's disappearing in the sport where everybody's chasing points. But he also has the satisfaction to have won on the most important climb in cycling, l'Alpe d'Huez. He will be missed." Conti always rode hard for his leaders, riders like Pantani, Argentin, Cipollini, Casagrande and Tonkov.

Starting his career on the modest Santini-Cierre-Conti-Galli team in 1986, Conti broke through the next season with a 15th place in the Giro d'Italia and Best Young Rider. In 1990, his Romagna neighbor Giancarlo Ferretti hired Conti for the Ariostea squad, where he stayed for three seasons and had one top 10 Giro finish and two top 20 Tour finishes.

Conti's best season was 1994 at Lampre-Panaria, where he won the 224.5km Stage 16 of the Tour de France from Valreas to l'Alpe d'Huez. An opportunistic Conti attacked after 13km and was joined by 12 other riders, including Marco Pantani, hard men Udo Bolts and Alberto Elli, and current US Postal Service media guy Jogi Muller. Conti took the win in 6h06'45", 2'02" ahead of runner-up Hernan Buenahora. Conti's future teammate Pantani was 8th on the stage at 5'41", and established the record for the fastest ascent ever of l'Alpe in 38'41". Conti went on to finish 6th in the '94 Tour won by Miguel Indurain, as well as 3rd in the Midi-Libre (also won by Indurain) and 19th in the Giro.

Two years later, Conti was a key teammate for Pavel Tonkov when the Russian won his first Giro d'Italia, then signed on with Pantani's new Mercatone Uno squad, where his 10th on GC superbly supported leader Pantani's 3rd place overall and two stage wins along the way. The next year, Pantani, Mercatone Uno and Conti were back and they took no prisoners, with the Giro-Tour double for Pantani.

But In 1999 it all fell apart, when Pantani was kicked out of the Giro for high haematocrit while leading the race with several stages to go. Conti saved his season with his second career win, his hometown pro race Giro di Romagna, with a powerful solo win over Alexandre Vinokourov and Francesco Casagrande. 2000 was a transition year for Conti at Vini Caldirola (16th overall in the Tour), followed by two years of virtual oblivion at Acqua e Sapone pulling the Cipo tempo train. Reunited with Pantani again at Mercatone Uno-Scanavino, Conti ended up 56th in his last career Grand Tour, the 2003 Giro, as Pantani's squad was not invited to participate in the Centenary Tour de France.

Last winter, a telephone call from his old friend Pantani kept the lanky climber from Bagni di Romagna in the pro peloton once again. "Marco called me and ask me to help him with his new team," Conti explained. "Pantani was the leader for whom I gave my best efforts. In 1997, I was almost without a contract because I got mono but he hired me for Mercatone Uno. So I was in his debt."

Conti was Pantani's key lieutenant in his 1998 Giro/Tour double, but the bad vibes after Pantani's Giro expulsion in '99 caused Conti to head for greener pastures. "My only regret in my career is that (with Pantani) we threw away some good years without any help from the people close to us."

Even Lance Armstrong pays some homage to Conti in his new book "Every Second Counts". When Armstrong bonked big-time on the Col de Joux Plane in the 2000 Tour, he relates that "Conti, a good, strong, respected rider, saw what state I was in. What happened next was a classic case of cycling sportsmanship and one I will never forget: they stayed with me and helped me to the top. Without being asked, they moved in front, shielding me from the wind, allowing me to draft on them, and sparing me untold amounts of work. It was a gesture typical in the Tour; we were competitors, but we shared a mutual compassion for extreme physical suffering."

Now that he's retired, Conti won't jump back into cycling. Instead, he'll relax at home with his wife Melania and two kids Leonardo and Lucrezia in Bagnolo di Romagna and get ready for his winter hobby: truffle hunting with his sniffer dogs in the hills of Romagna. "I'm a little sad because I'm winding up a good time in my life," explained Conti, "but I'm starting another period as I'll stay home now to be a good dad for my kids."

No transfer for Mancebo

Francisco Mancebo has decided to remain with the iBanesto team, which next year will become known as Illes Baleares. Mancebo had considered a move to either Kelme-Costa Blanca or Saunier Duval, but in the end decided to stay loyal to team manager Eusebio Unzué. Mancebo re-signed with Unzué for two years. Former iBanesto rider David Navas, who rode for Colchon Relax-Fuenlabrada in 2003, will also rejoin the team in 2004.

Pantani thinks of his future

Marco Pantani, who considers himself a retired cyclist, is still interested in the sport and is reportedly considering a new direction: team management. According to an article in La Repubblica, Pantani and his manager Manuela Ronchi have been in contact with Manolo Saiz to discuss the possibility of a management position with Saiz's new team for 2004, to be sponsored by Italian electrical company Stayer.

"I always have my bike with me, but one can forget about the professional cyclist Pantani," the Italian said last weekend.

Armstrong follows Ullrich's progress

In a l'Equipe interview last Thursday, Lance Armstrong revealed the extent to which watching one's rivals can figure into preparations for the Tour de France. Discussing his bid for an unprecedented sixth Tour de France victory in 2004, Armstrong noted that his key rival, Jan Ullrich, had one weakness: race tactics. Does Armstrong keep tabs on what the 1997 Tour winner Ullrich does in the months prior to the Tour?

"Of course!" Armstrong insisted. "One night while he was sleeping we secretly implanted a GPS unit, and that way we can follow all of his actions. For example, I know where he is right now on vacation... No, I'm kidding!"

It seems Ullrich was right to note that the one of the American's big strengths is indeed his incredible tactical sense.

"But seriously, we follow him via the Internet and we talk with other teams who watch him race," Armstrong added. "Nothing special; in any case nothing more than what his entourage does with us. Keeping track of one's rivals is part of the job. If I didn't do that, it would be a professional mistake."

Astarloa and Valverde honoured in Valencia

Two on the podium
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

World champion Igor Astarloa (Saeco) and silver medallist Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) were honoured by the president of the Delegation of Valencia, Spain, Fernando Giner. The delegation has been a sponsor of the Spanish Cycling Federation since 1998. Valverde himself praised the Spanish national team, saying its members "did everything so that [Valverde and I] could rise to the podium."

Astarloa also thanked the delegation of Valencia for its sponsorship of the Spanish federation, noting that what Spain lacks in cycling is sufficient financial support from additional sponsors. World time trial champion Joane Somarriba was also to be honoured but was unable to attend the event due to personal commitments.

USA Team for Okinawa

USA Cycling has announced its team for the 2003 Tour de Okinawa. The race, the longest in Japan at over 200km, is a UCI 1.5 event scheduled for November 9. U.S. national road champion Mark McCormack will lead the way in the elite men’s race along with Saul Raisin, Oliver Stiler-Cote, Adam Bergman, Dane Jankowiak, and Trevor Irons.

T-Mobile’s Lara Kroepsch will be the sole representative in the 50km women's race, while David Nelson and Chad Beyer will contest the 120km junior men's race.

Rotorua begins World's preparations

Representatives from Bike NZ, Mountain Bike NZ, the Rotorua Mountain Bike Club, the Rotorua District Council, Events Promotions and Tourism & Marketing met to begin the process of structuring the organisation that will run the 2006 UCI World Mountain Bike Championships to be held on Mount Ngongotaha, New Zealand.

Dave Donaldson, who headed up the successful bid for the 2006 World's, was unanimously confirmed as Chairperson of the Organising Committee at a recent meeting in Rotorua. Arthur Klap, who was Event Director of the 1997 Mountain Bike World Cup Cross Country in Wellington and who has also been involved in the Rotorua bid, was appointed Event Director.

While a management company will be set up with a small board of directors to oversee the running of the event, the Rotorua Organising Committee will do the nuts and bolts planning, preparation and running of the Championships. The management company, board and committee will be in place by early 2004.

At the meeting it was also decided to pursue a bid for the 2006 UCI World Marathon Mountain Biking Championships. Donaldson rode in the inaugural World Championship Marathon in Lugano, Switzerland this year in a field of over 1,000 riders. If the bid is successful the Marathon will be run a fortnight before the World's.

2004 American Mountain Bike Challenge

The schedule for the 2004 American Mountain Bike Challenge (AMBC) series has been announced by USA Cycling. The 2004 AMBC series will begin in North Miami, Florida on January 18, 2004 with the Oleta Fat Tire Festival and run throughout the year, culminating with the Florida State Championship Series on November 21, also in North Miami.

During the ten months in between, the AMBC will visit 18 different states, welcoming 12 new events to the calendar for the coming season.

In addition to the senior, master, and professional races, some AMBC events also host the Alison Dunlap Junior Olympic Mountain Bike Series (ADJO-MTB) and the Shimano Youth Series classes. The AJDO-MTB offers riders age 10-18, the chance to test their skills against competitors of the same age. The Shimano Youth Series provides a first-time racing experience for kids 12 and under.

All AMBC events offer cross-country racing, with some events also including downhill, dual slalom, mountain cross, short-track cross-country, and/or observed trials competitions. The AMBC has also expanded in the past few seasons with a competitive 50-miler and two stage races.

The full calendar can be found at

Banned substance watch for Greek customs

Beginning January 1, 2004 inspections will be heightened at the Greek borders, with customs agents on the lookout for banned substances as the country enters the final months of preparation for the summer Olympics in Athens. Customs agents will be provided with banned substance lists from the International Olympic Committee, and any athletes found with these substances in their luggage could be automatically disqualified from the games.

CrossLogic Cyclocross Challenge

The 3rd Annual CrossLogic Cyclocross Challenge will take place Sunday, November 2 at historic English Landing Park in Parkville, Missouri. Event highlights include the Pee-Wee Cross event. Kids 10 & under will get to compete on the same course as the grown-ups, only smaller. All Pee-Wee Cross participants receive awards. A team relay race has also been added.

Course highlights include two sand pits, a boat ramp excursion, high-speed gravel trail, chicanes, plenty of pavement, and "a few surprises". Registration begins at 10:45am and the first event begins at 11:30am. Professional men and women will race at 1:30pm, followed by the team relay at 2:30pm.

For more info visit see, call Chris Locke at (816) 926.4424, or email

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