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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for March 20, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Bettini begins World Cup defense

Paolo Bettini
Photo ©: Sirotti

A day before Milan-San Remo, defending champion Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Davitamon) was as calm and collected as ever, ready to begin his quest for a third consecutive World Cup title and a repeat on the Via Roma in San Remo. The Italian national champion is counting on the good form which took him to victory in last week's Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won two stages and the overall classification.

"This year I'm really relaxed," Bettini told Cyclingnews Friday. "So far I've started the year off right. Sure, I'll be marked at Milan-San Remo, but I'll give it my all because I really want to see what kind of form I have."

Bettini, who won three rounds of the World Cup last year, will once again start Milan-San Remo in the series leader's jersey, and also plans to roll out a bike specially painted for the occasion in the World Cup colour scheme. He will be supported by a strong Quick.Step team, but knows who to watch over the nearly 300 kilometre parcours.

"For me the main competition is going to be Petacchi, Freire and Cipollini," Bettini explained. "Freire is certainly the best climber of the three. Petacchi's team is really strong, and Cipollini... You can never underestimate him.

"It will be very hard to beat Petacchi if it comes down to a sprint," he admitted.

A double winner of another tough classic, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Bettini is not afraid to play the role of favourite.

"I'll be making my attacks and hope the others will come along," he said, referring to other aggressive riders like Alexandre Vinokourov, Danilo Di Luca, and Giuliano Figueras.

"As in the last few years, the Cipressa will make the first selection," he predicted. "Then it seems between the Cipressa and the Poggio a break always goes, like last year when there were about ten of us in a break. We almost got away but Cipollini used his team and we were caught before the Poggio.

"One thing about Milan-San Remo is that after 280 kilometres the race always gets nervous," he added, referring to the stretch between the two finishing climbs.

Bettini has also used the occasion of the first major Italian classic of the season to launch his new biography entitled "Paolo Bettini: Cosi Sono Diventato Campione," or 'How I Became a Champion'. The book features stories of Bettini's career and plenty of photos, but thus far is available only in Italian.

Cipollini: "It's more than a race"

As Mario Cipollini lines up for Milan-San Remo Saturday, he will no doubt have many thoughts running through his mind. The focus of media attention following a luckluster performance at Tirreno-Adriatico, Cipollini maintains that winning La Primavera one more time ranks among his biggest objectives before eventually deciding to retire from professional cycling. In an extensive interview with l'Equipe's Philippe Brunel, Cipollini explained the significance of the Italian classic which for so long eluded him until he finally emerged victorious in 2002.

"For me it's more than a race, it's a message," Cipollini has said in the past. "It's a message that I address to my father, who once took me to the [Passo del] Turchino to watch my brother Cesare pass. [Editor's note: Mario's older brother Cesare was also a professional cyclist] I can still see him keeping me under the flaps of his overcoat in front of this little bar that's now closed, where we had stopped in the snow to give hot tea to Cesare."

It's this memory of standing by the road with his father, watching his brother race on the same roads he would one day conquer, that keeps Cipollini's love of Italian cycling alive.

"I can let myself get dropped on the climbs at Tirreno no problem," Cipo said. "But I would rather die or risk a heart attack than get dropped on the Cipressa. It's a part of my life, my culture. Milan-San Remo to me is still a mythical race."

For Cipollini, the race is also highly symbolic in its passage, beginning in the working capital of Milan and making its way to the sea where the rich go on holiday in the winter. It's a race from working class to elite, from cold to warm...

"Then when he arrives on the Via Roma, the rider passes from the sun into the shadows, between the big buildings, which creates a feeling of total obscurity just before the finish line, which sits in the sunshine," Cipollini explained. "Only those who have raced can understand the emotion it creates."

Cipollini's objective? Plain and simple, to win once more.

"I hope to win one more time in San Remo," he said. "Then, if that happens, maybe I'll be able to decide on retirement."

Freire races with his head

Oscar Freire, counted firmly among the favourites for Milan-San Remo, is ready to tackle La Primavera with strong legs and a clear head. The two-time world champion showed some of his best form at last week's Tirreno-Adriatico, sprinting and climbing with the best, including top rival Paolo Bettini.

"Up until now, I've always lacked a little something to win at San Remo," Freire told La Dernière Heure. "A little luck, but sometimes a little lucidity as well. I feel as though I'm riding more with my head now, and who knows, maybe this will make the difference."

Freire also has started the season well thanks to his continued assimilation into the Dutch Rabobank team which he joined in 2003. English is the common denominator within the team, and Freire has a stronger grasp on the language now, and by extension a better understanding of team tactics and communication during the critical moments of a race.

"And quite simply I know the group better," he added. "At the end of a race everyone knows his role and the systems are working better."

With fellow team leader Michael Boogerd opting out of Milan-San Remo, Freire can count on a team dedicated to delivering him to the line on the Via Roma. As far as he's concerned, it will remain a question of mind over matter.

"The Poggio isn't hard," Freire said. "I handled obstacles much harder than that at Tirreno. I just need to make the right decisions in the finale."

Cyclingnews Milan-San Remo coverage

Main page & preview
Start List
Waiting for Sanremo

Cyclingnews will have full live coverage of Milan-San Remo, beginning at 9:30 CET on Saturday morning (19:30 AEDT/03:30 EST/00:30 PST).

Armstrong definitely out

Despite leaving the door open for a (remotely) possible start, Lance Armstrong has definitively decided against taking part in Milan-San Remo. Victim of a touch of bronchitis, Armstrong is not keen on compromising his Tour de France preparation. He will return to racing next weekend in France at the Critérium International.

Bertolini sick

Alessio-Bianchi will start Milan-San Remo with only seven riders, after Alessandro Bertolini pulled out sick. The team will still concentrate on placing Fabio Baldato and Franco Pellizotti in good positions for the finale.

Piil injured, Michaelsen back in

Team CSC has put Lars Michaelsen back in the roster for Milan-San Remo, replacing Jakob Piil who continues to suffer from a knee injury sustained in Paris-Nice. Michaelsen was pulled from the line up in favour of Frank Høj, but now is back in for La Primavera.

"Unfortunately there's no progress," Piil said on his website. "My knee is still sore, so in the next few days I'll have it scanned to know the extent of the injury."

Ernesto Colnago on Eddy Merckx

Ernesto Colnago & Eddy Merckx
Eddy's World Hour Record bike
Photo ©: Colnago archives
The only rider to win seven editions of Milan-San Remo was Eddy Merckx, who is generally regarded as the greatest cyclist ever. The Belgian won the first in 1966, and went on to dominate that race until 1976, when he won his seventh and final Milan-San Remo.

One man who was heavily involved with Merckx throughout his career was Italian frame builder Ernesto Colnago, who first met him a few days before his first Milan-San Remo win. As he recalled in an extensive interview with Cyclingnews, Colnago gave Merckx a pair of special wheels and pedals to race on. "The next day, Merckx won Milano-San Remo on our wheels, beating Gianni Motta, who was riding my bike. So that's how I became friends with Eddy Merckx," said Colnago.

"As a rider, as a man, he was one who didn't say a lot. If it was raining or sunny, cold or hot, he was the same. That was Merckx. I remember the Wednesday before he won the World Championships in Mendrisio, he did a training ride of 380km! He rode from the Abetone Pass in Tuscany all the way to Cambiago! It was hot there so Merckx left at 5am with his soigneur Isaia and a Molteni team car behind. I told him 'if you're tired and are still 50km away, just stop. You have to keep going as long as you can and don't stop. Always allez!'"

Ernesto Colnago wanted to give Merckx three different bikes to test before the World's, but found it was hard to catch Merckx before he went training. "We took him to a hotel not too far from here in Cannonica Lambro, Albergo Forsati, and I said 'Eddy, think about which bike you want to use Sunday.' Because each bike had a different seat-tube angle, so I suggested that he get up tomorrow morning and try the three bikes. When Isaia went to wake up Merckx at 8am, he was already gone! He asked in the reception and they told him 'Oh, Merckx left at 7am to ride the Ghisallo.' The day before he had done 380km and the next day he was out on the bike again. So Isaia jumped in the car and by the time he caught up with him, Merckx was already in Lecco, halfway to Ghisallo. That was Merckx..."

The rest of the interview with Ernesto Colnago discussing the Merckx/Saronni years is posted as parts IV, V and VI of our ongoing feature with Colnago, who on Friday afternoon launched a new version of his company's website,

Dauphiné parcours unveiled

Organisers of the Dauphiné Libéré unveiled Friday the parcours for the 56th edition of the race. Scheduled for June 6-13, the Dauphiné will once more serve as one of the final tests for the challengers in the Tour de France the following month. Although he originally opted to skip the Dauphiné this year, defending champion Lance Armstrong (US Postal Service), who calls the event the finest race after the Tour, decided to put it back on his schedule when the organisers confirmed the addition of an uphill time trial.

This year's course begins with a 5.6 kilometre prologue time trial in Megève and follows with six road stages and the uphill time trial on the fabled slopes of the Mont Ventoux. The Dauphiné concludes Sunday, June 13 with a 200 kilometre road race based around Grenoble.

Besides Armstrong, other Tour contenders expected to contest the Dauphiné include fellow American (and former race winner) Tyler Hamilton, Iban Mayo, Ivan Basso, and Christophe Moreau.


Prologue - June 6: Megève ITT, 5.6 km
Stage 1 - June 7: Megève-Bron, 231 km
Stage 2 - June 8: Bron-Saint Etienne, 167 km
Stage 3 - June 9: Saint Etienne-Aubenas, 173 km
Stage 4 - June 10: Bédoin-Mont Ventoux ITT, 21.8 km
Stage 5 - June 11: Bollène-Sisteron, 149 km
Stage 6 - June 12: Gap-Grenoble, 148 km
Stage 7 - June 13: Grenoble-Grenoble, 200 km

Conconi acquitted after five year trial

Judge calls Italian professor "morally guilty"

The five year trial of Italian professor Francesco Conconi has wrapped up in Ferrara, Italy. Conconi and two colleagues, Ilario Casoni and Giovanni Grazzi, were acquitted of charges of sporting fraud which revolved around the alleged provision of EPO to a number of top cyclists. In a parting shot, the apparently frustrated judge Franca Oliva told the three defendants that they were "morally guilty" of promoting doping among the riders with whom they worked.

The primary concern of judge Oliva's were the medical records of a number of top cyclists in the early 1990s, and blood tests revealing substantial fluctuations in hematocrit levels, according to a recent report in La Gazzetta dello Sport. Among the 33 athletes involved with Conconi were cyclists Marco Pantani, Claudio Chiappucci, Evgeni Berzin, Ivan Gotti, Gianni Bugno, Bruno Cenghialta, Stephen Roche, and Piotr Ugrumov. Oliva noted that many had exhibited not only elevated hematocrit levels, but also spikes of up to 20% which he felt was indicative of the use of EPO.

Ultimately, Conconi was cleared because there was insufficient evidence to link his involvement with the riders to any deliberate drug use, as hematocrit values alone are not conclusive proof of the use of EPO.

Gaizka Lejarreta in coma

Spanish cyclist Gaizka Lejarreta (Alfus Tedes) remains in a coma after a serious crash in the Trofeo Iberdrola. Lejarreta, 25, fell heavily on his head after he had to brake suddenly and lost control of his bike. He was taken immediately to the Virgen de la Concha de Zamora hospital, later transferred to the Virgen de la Vega de Salamanca hospital for further neurological examination.

Alfus Tedes team director Carlos Canales commented only that doctors said the hours following intensive care would prove decisive in determining Lejarreta's prognosis.

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