Latest Cycling News for February 19, 2004
Edited by Chris Henry
Pantani mystery deepens
Prosecutor seeks Mr. X, refuses to rule out suicide, overdose in case
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
In Italian, a mystery story is call "un giallo" and today in Rimini, five days after the tragic death of the former champion cyclist, the giallo surrounding Marco Pantani deepened. PM Franco Battaglino, chief prosecutor of Rimini, and his investigators are currently seeking a Mister X, who may have provided Marco Pantani with cocaine, although the chemical analysis of white powder found on a nightstand in his room has not yet been confirmed as cocaine at press time.
"In the last five days, Pantani met up with someone who may have provided him with drugs and we want to speak to him", explained Battaglino.
Battaglino went on to postulate to the media today his frank opinion that "a suicide or an overdose won't be a suprise in the death of Marco Pantani, because he was certainly a person with major problems. That's plausable, but on the other hand, it's said that (Pantani) was a strong person who wanted to live. So even the hypothesis of suicide must be confirmed. However, if Pantani's death did result from drug use, unfortunately suicide may not be a suprise."
Armstrong settles in at Algarve
With his 2004 season underway at Portugal's Volta ao Algarve stage race, Lance Armstrong has formally begun his bid for a sixth consecutive title at the Tour de France in July. Plenty of training is already behind the American, but his racing debut comes earlier than usual this year, largely a result of his plan to spend April in the United States.
For Armstrong the Volta ao Algarve is the perfect start, providing a more relaxed racing atmosphere than the more competitive season openers in France or Spain.
"I needed to get some days in competition, but races like the Tour Méditerranéen or the Ruta del Sol are still too hard and too intense for me," Armstrong said, quoted in l'Equipe. "I hope that it will be more laid back here, and usually the weather is good.
"I'm not in great shape, it's true, and I'll certainly be suffering in the next few days," Armstrong said. "It's OK. I know myself perfectly, and I won't be alarmed if I'm not able to keep pace."
As Armstrong and directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel have indicated, another attraction of the Algarve race is the inclusion of an individual time trial. The Tour de France may be some four months away, but the two know that every time trial in competition is an important opportunity to gauge fitness, test equipment, and keep tabs on rivals.
"Last year we didn't do enough time trials," Armstrong explained. "This time we've decided to choose more races that have a time trial on the program, because in this discipline nothing is better than competition."
Armstrong's verdict for the Algarve introduction? "It was hard and fairly nervous, but that's normal for the first day of racing."
Critérium International keeps its home
The Critérium International, a two day, three stage 'mini Tour de France', will keep its home in the Ardennes hills for the next three years. With a Saturday road race for the sprinters, a hilly road race Sunday morning, and a short time trial Sunday afternoon, the Critérium International is a short, intense race for riders who excel in all disciplines.
The race currently has been based in recent years around the northeast French town of Charleville-Mézières, near the Belgian border. Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc has signed a three year agreement with the town to continue hosting the event, which this year is scheduled for March 27-28. The upcoming edition could feature an all star cast including Lance Armstrong, Joseba Beloki, and Alexandre Vinokourov, among others. The 2003 Critérium was won by Laurent Brochard.
Stage 1 - March 27: Rethel - Charleville-Mézières, 190.5km
Chocolade Jacques nervous?
Depending on who you ask, the newly created Chocolade Jacques team in Belgium is off to a good start, or in need of a kick start to make the Tour de France organisers take notice. With wildcard selections for the Tour de France due in less than two weeks, team director Jef Braeckevelt appears nervous that his team has not made a big enough impression in the opening weeks of the season.
Fellow director Johan Capiot, on the other hand, is encouraged by the performance of Dave Bruylandts in the Tour de Langkawi (Bruylandts finished third overall), and remains realistic about the team's goals this year.
"Dave is already in great shape," Capiot told La Dernière Heure. "It's a good sign for Paris-Nice and the classics. I also saw that Jurgen Van de Walle is showing himself to be a good climber.
"I think since last autumn, when the team was created, we set several objectives," Capiot continued. "First, to create a first division team. That's been done, but it took a lot of work. Next, we need to have a team that can succeed in a full season, from the beginning of the year to the end. For me, that starts with Het Volk. Finally, there's selection for the Tour. That would be the icing on the cake."
Nonetheless, Capiot recognises that Braeckevelt is more concerned with selection for the Tour, adding pressure to the early weeks of the 2004 season.
"I'm going to talk with Jef, because he's panicking a bit," Capiot said. "He's worried we won't be invited to the Tour, and that makes him nervous, which in turn makes the riders nervous."
Problems for Museeuw
Johan Museeuw (Quick.Step-Davitamon) is having problems with diarrhoea in the Ruta del Sol, which finishes today. "I think I can finish here," he was quoted on VRT Teletekst. Then when I can recuperate, I should come up well again. I will not be at my best in Het Volk, but I want to be going well from Dwars door Vlaanderen."
RAGT Grits its teeth
It's been a somewhat slow start to the season for the new RAGT Semences-MG Rover team, but nobody is too worried. Based on the former Jean Delatour team, RAGT counts only 17 riders on its relatively young roster. As a result, the team's depth is not is great as other Division I teams in the early season.
"Like everybody else, I'm gritting my teeth right now," explains young pro Frédéric Finot. "At this time of year, the differences between the larger and smaller teams can be felt. Some of the strong teams have three distinct groups, one for the beginning of the season, another for the Tour and a third for the end of the calendar of events. Since we don't have the advantage of this kind of firepower, we mainly work with one group."
Finot is a rider poised to progress to the next level after several strong performances in 2003. Although he doesn't see himself as a team leader, he hopes to shine when the moment presents itself.
"[Paris-Nice] will be an opportunity to prove myself with a tough climb," Finot added. "I think I'm capable of assuming a leadership role if the chance comes up."
Directeur sportif Jean-Luc Jonrond remains upbeat about the team's prospects for the season, noting a difficult period of preparation for the new year.
"We are paying a little for not having worked really intensively during our training due to bad weather," Jonrond admits. "There's no reason to worry so are remaining positive."
Smaller budget for Lotto-Domo
The Belgian Lotto-Domo team will have to cope with a smaller budget this year, as the national lottery is only putting in €2.5 million - some €500,000 less than last year. The national lottery will also impose a monthly budget on the team.
Mattozza to Flanders
Sébastien Mattozza, who last year rode with the Marlux team, will join the Division III Flanders-Afin.com team this year.
18 Teams for Bayern Rundfahrt
Organisers of the Bayern-Rundfahrt stage race in Germany have announced that 18 teams will take part in the event, scheduled this year for May 19-23. Heading the list will be top German sprinter Erik Zabel (T-Mobile), along with Team CSC's Jens Voigt and defending champion Michael Rich (Gerolsteiner).
Stage 1 - May 19: Selb - Roth
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)