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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for February 28, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Belda confident for Tour invite

Although nothing is certain, Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme has a place waiting for it in the Tour de France. Tour organisers announced just 21 invited teams Friday, leaving a place in reserve for the embattled Kelme team, which this winter suffered a demotion to Division II due to inadequate financial guarantees. The team remains highly competitive, evidenced by rising star Alejandro Valverde's back to back stage wins at the Vuelta a Valenciana this week. Kelme manager Vicente Belda remains confident that the team, the oldest in the professional peloton, will earn its place in the 2004 Tour.

"The problem is not a sporting problem, and doesn't concern the presence or absence of Alejandro Valverde," Belda commented, alluding to the fact that Valverde wouldn't necessarily ride the Tour. "It's a bureaucratic issue, and has to do with certain of my riders' licenses with the UCI. It's possible that this could all be resolved as early as today."

Valverde, for his part, has geared his season toward early results in Valenciana, and objectives later in the season, notably the Olympics, the Vuelta a España, and the World Championships.

Cipollini's happy

He's back!
Photo ©: Olympia

For the first time since 1999, when he won four stages, Mario Cipollini will ride the Tour de France this year. Despite its drop to Division II status this season, Cipollini's Domina Vacanze team was given the nod by Jean-Marie Leblanc and the Société du Tour de France, selected as one of seven wildcards Friday afternoon. For Cipollini, who on more than one occasion has appealed personally to Leblanc for an invitation, the opportunity comes as he embarks on what will likely be his final season as a professional.

"It's the best news I've received in many months," Cipollini, who will turn 37 before the Tour, commented after the team selections were announced. "At my age I need big challenges. I was hopeful because I knew that [team owner] Mr. Preatoni had worked very hard with Leblanc. When important people get together, a solution is always possible."

Leblanc glad to have Cipo back

Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc, who was criticised in 2003 for not having invited then world champion Mario Cipollini and Domina Vacanze to the Tour, insisted after this Friday's team selection announcement that Cipo is welcome and that no effort had been made to exclude him personally.

"Cipollini's team wasn't selected in 2003 because there was very strong competition," Leblanc explained in an AFP interview. "This year, the team seems better to us, and the competition was not quite as strong. Cipollini gets the attention, but there is also Michele Scarponi, who had an excellent 2003 season."

"Cipollini called me ten days ago to say 'I really want to do the Tour, and I promise to get through everything.'," Leblanc noted. "The other difference from last year is that the mountains come a little bit later. Cipollini has more to work with this year. He's a rider who brings a lot to the Tour with his explosive sprints, like Petacchi last year."

According to Leblanc, the reason for allowing the Division II Domina Vacanze team in, as well as holding a place for Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme, is the fact that the two teams were dropped to Division II because of administrative shortcomings, not for any lack of talent. Although the Tour has traditionally been reserved for Division I teams, Leblanc felt that the two teams remain top-notch teams. In Kelme's case, demonstration that additional sponsorship can be secured, as well as securing racing licenses for several riders, should allow the team to receive the 22nd spot in the Tour.

Tour selections: Reactions from the chosen few

Vincenzo Santoni (Manager, Domina Vacanze)

"It's very satisfying and we have to thank Jean-Marie Leblanc, who has finally understood," Santoni told l'Equipe. "The world champion's jersey didn't bring us a lot of happiness. This season we're more relaxed. I think that Mario Cipollini can go all the way. I'm also thinking of Michele Scarponi. We had decided to bet everything on the Giro d'Italia, but at this point, we'll be making some changes.

Jean-Luc Jonrond (Directeur sportif, RAGT Semences-MG Rover)

"We're relieved. We were hopeful, but we were also a bit nervous since the team has been a bit slow getting started in the first three weeks of the season. This selection gives added motivation for the team and also for our sponsor. It gives the incentive to take things farther."

Andy Rihs (President, Phonak Hearing Systems)

"I knew that this time it would happen. Given the way we've strengthened our team, it wasn't possible to ignore us any longer. In every area, I expect a lot from Tyler Hamilton. He won't let us down. He has a fighting spirit and never gives up. He himself is talking about victory in the general classification. We also have Oscar Sevilla to count on."

Marc Sergeant (Manager, Lotto-Domo)

"I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the news. For our sponsors, the Tour de France is very important, but also for our riders since it's a prestigious event. We had always hoped we'd be invited, but we didn't know for sure."

Weather forces parcours change

The snow in Belgium has forced the organisers to (at the very least) change the parcours of Het Volk, removing the Côte the Trieu completely and probably also the Kanarieberg. "With the exception of a few sticking points, the whole parcours is snow free," said organiser Wim Van Herreweghe. "On the short pieces of Walloon roads there are still problems. Nothing had been done on the Côte de Trieu and also the Kanarieberg looks pretty bad."

The race will bypass these hills and run over an alternative parcours. However, the organisers will wait until Saturday morning before deciding to run the race or not. There is a similar problem for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and the decision whether to race will not be made until 11:00am Sunday morning.

Bettini: All for Museeuw in Flanders

Despite the immense capacities in the single day races which took him to victory in three rounds of the 2003 World Cup and the overall series title, Italy's Paolo Bettini knows that in the classics of Flanders, Quick.Step-Davitamon teammate Johan Museeuw remains the king. Museeuw will retire at the end of the spring classics season this year, but not before he tackles another round of his favourite events, including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, each of which he was won on three occasions.

"In our team, things are very clear: Johan Museeuw will be our leader for the Flandrian classics, which start this weekend," Bettini told La Dernière Heure on the eve of Het Volk, the traditional Belgian season opener. Although Bettini himself is more than capable of winning events like Het Volk or the Tour of Flanders, he has no problem working for Museeuw, just as Museeuw has worked for Bettini throughout the rest of the season.

"For his last assault on the bergs of Flanders, it's logical that each of us should put himself in Museeuw's service," Bettini continued. "We're all going to help Johan take out another Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix."

Sastre emerges after tough winter

Team CSC's Carlos Sastre, stage winner and ninth overall in the 2003 Tour de France, continues to prepare for this year's Tour after a difficult winter of personal struggles and injury. Sastre's off-season was marked by the death of his brother-in-law, José Maria Jimenez in early December, and followed by injury in training.

"My family and I obviously had a tough time," Sastre commented on the team's website. "Actually, I think there's a connection between Jimenez' death and my injury, because when I started training hard, my body wasn't ready for it and that probably led to the inflammation in the lower part of my back."

Although not as far along as he'd like to be in training, Sastre has time before he begins racing at the Setmana Catalana at the end of March. This year, the Tour de France remains Sastre's top goal.

"The Tour de France is the most important race," he said. "Last year Tyler Hamilton and I worked together very well, and I'm sure it will be the same with [Ivan] Basso this year. Last year Basso was seventh and I won a stage and finished ninth. For me the entire race schedule is more or less preparation for the Tour de France."

Lefèvre on the road

Frenchman Laurent Lefèvre (Brioches La Boulangère), injured in a crash in the Tour Méditerranéen, has started training once more. Lefèvre injured a vertebrae in the accident, and has been kept from training on the road until this week, when he began with some three hour rides to regain his form. He is expected to race again at Tirreno-Adriatico in March.

Pacific Racing launch

Photo ©: Pacific Racing

Surrey, England-based Pacific Racing launched its season on Thursday at Fanny’s Farm Shop in Merstham, a regular tea stop for Surrey Riders. Pacific Racing is built around ex-continental professional rider John Ibbotson and Under 24 world triathlon champion Stephen Bayliss. Other riders include Nigel Carpenter (Dorking), Kevin Davey (Dorking), Tony Kelly (Purley) Michael Ladbrook (Cheam), and Steve Charrington (Smallfield).

Pacific Racing’s first race will be on the 7th March at the Wally Gimber Memorial Race, which is the first round of the South East Championship Series. The team will also be racing for a place in the top three in the Surrey League, which is the largest racing league in England. Pacific Racing will also be taking part in other races around the country, as well as international races in France and Belgium.

Pacific Racing 2004 roster:

Stephen Bayliss
Nigel Carpenter
Steve Charrington
Kevin Davey
John Ibbotson
Tony Kelly
Michael Ladbrook

Team manager: Jim Chisman

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