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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest Cycling News for May 19, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones & Anthony Tan

McGee in the Maglia Rosa - again?

Happy times at the 2004 Giro for Bradley McGee
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

While the race is yet to hit the high mountains of the Dolomiti - the final variable that will decide the ultimate winner of the 2004 Giro d'Italia - prologue winner Bradley McGee (FdJeux.com) could well find himself in the maglia rosa once more after Stage 13's time trial beginning in Trieste four days from now.

"It's something we've talked about... It's a possibility," said the amicable Australian in an interview with Cyclingnews' Chris Henry on the tour's first rest day in Porto Sant'Elpidio. "That would be pretty exciting, coming so late in the Giro, to be back in the fight for the jersey. The major climbs come later in the tour, which leaves me still in the fight for now."

Having already exceeded his own expectations for the first week of the Giro, McGee makes no secret of his desire to finish the race well. Lying 13th overall, 1'49 behind Italian revelation Damiano Cunego of Team Saeco, the Sydneysider believes his current form to be perhaps his best ever: "At this point I feel better than I ever have in a grand tour," said McGee.

"It's been more than I hoped for or expected. Second on the [Stage 7] hill climb opened up a whole big bag of worms as far as my future goes... It's coming at the right time and I'm ready to take advantage of it."

Click here to read the full interview.

Tonina shouts out: Pantani's Mother accuses all

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

In an emotional, almost hysterical telephone interview yesterday with RAI-TV's Alessandra Di Stefano, Tonina Pantani, the mother of late Marco Pantani, accused the Giro d'Italia riders of being responsible for her son's death. "Above all, I want to understand why my son was sent home, because I'm not convinced that he was excluded from the Giro for doping (in 1999 at Madonna di Campiglio). Since then, well, I something inside that I can't express...now, besides the bitterness and pain I have, I still can't understand this! (becomes agitated) I wish someone would help me understand it!

"Since then, when Marco came back home (after Madonna di Campiglio) it became...I don't know how to define it...something horrible for us, for Paolo and for Marco. We spent four years that way. Now the Giro d'Italia comes along this year. Marco is always evident, even more than ever. But I don't have him anymore, he's not here anymore and he wasn't a drug addict. It's not just his mother talking. I knew his problems well. It's like everyone (at the Giro) killed Marco."

Prior to her TV interview, Mrs Pantani told her local newspaper Voce di Romagna yesterday, that "the real killers of my son weren't the four dealers that were just arrested, but you have to go higher up to find the people who were really responsible for his death. Marco didn't die in February, but in '99 at (Madonna di) Campiglio, when he was thrown out of the Giro.

"My son died in '99, not in that apartment. (Thursday) at the Cesena stage, I'll name names...the people responsible (for Marco's death) are all at the Giro d'Italia. They are trying to sit still, but they know that their conscience isn't clear. My son lost his life for the bicycle, that was his love for twenty years. A life made from sacrifices and sweat and finally when his accomplishments could have brought (Marco) some satisfaction, life dealt him an ugly joke.

"Marco wasn't doped (at Madonna di Campiglio), his blood values were completely normal. My son was just an easy scapegoat. The basis for all of this was money, big money. Values don't count anymore in sport, it's just about the money. In the name of God, money can even kill people, like it did to my son."

Mrs Pantani concluded by saying, "Other (riders) have been found with drugs in their cars and nothing happened - maybe because they were protected. Marco was a simple Romagnolo boy, the son of sandwich makers who had no big names behind him, but many people wished (Marco) well."

At the end of her RAI-TV interview, Di Stefano asked Mrs Pantani did she really believe her statement that everyone at the Giro d'Italia killed Marco. "Yes" she replied, "for me, it's yes. Because Marco asked 'Dad, what's left for me if I can't ride my bike anymore?'" Di Stefano then asked the overwrought mother of Pantani what would give her some peace and she repeated, "To know why and who sent Marco home in 1999...that's what still bothers me so much."

Besides the many thousands of banners and signs honouring Pantani evident alongside the roadside this year at this year's Giro d'Italia from his still numerous tifosi, Marco Pantani will be honoured on Stage 19 by a special prize atop the Passo Mortirolo called Montagna Pantani. From 2004 on, the summit of the hardest climb at the Giro d'Italia will honour the deceased Giro champion.

Related story: Pantani's teammate confirms plot rumours

Simoni throws down the gauntlet again

Last year, Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) talked the talk about challenging Lance Armstrong at the Tour De France, but reduced from his tough Giro d'Italia battle with Stefano Garzelli, the tired Simoni couldn't walk the walk. Yesterday at Saeco's rest day press conference in Porto Sant' Elipido, Simoni looked ahead to the Tour de France. "I want to win the Giro and also be a protagonist at the Tour de France. To win my third Giro is very important, but also to race well in France. I've used less energy then last year at the Giro and it seems like my season has hardly started. Last year at the Tour, I made the mistake of taking things for granted. I won't do it again."

Popovych bides his time

Yaroslav Popovych (Colnago-Landbouwkrediet) has been riding very, very quietly at this years Giro so far, but after the Giro d'Italia jury added 0'09 on to his overall time after the stage at Carovigno, where Popo got on the wrong side of the splits on the finishing circuits due to wind and crashes, the talented young Ukrainian is still in fourth place on GC, and optimistic about his chances going forward. "For me, the Giro hasn't really started yet", he explained after a rest day ride with his teammates. "It all starts with Saturday's time trial in Trieste. From there on in, the GC positions are important. I still have a good chance to take the Maglia Rosa in Trieste despite those nine seconds."

When asked about his competition for the 52km TT on Saturday, Popo admitted that his countryman Serguei Gontchar (De Nardi) was a key adversary. "Sure, in the TT, specialists like Gontchar are better than me...but no matter what happens in the TT, I'll go better than (Gontchar) in the last week. It will be much harder to beat Simoni and Cunego because their Saeco team is the strongest. Simoni is still my favourite. But watch out for Garzelli, who up until now has been hidden. Until the climb of the Mortirolo (on Saturday May 29th's Stage 19), we won't know who will win this Giro d'Italia. I'm stronger than last year. I know I can get stronger still. I'm 24 years old and I can't hide anymore. I don't want to go around with the label of 'eternal promise' any more."

Strazzer out of the Giro

After his hard crash on Stage 9, it was looking extremely likely that Intergiro leader Massimo Strazzer (Saunier Duval-Prodir) would have to abandon with a possible broken right collarbone, and the experienced sprinter from Venice will not be at today's Stage 10 start in Porto Sant' Elipido.

Pietro Algeri, SDV team director explained that although, "Strazzer's MRI didn't show any breaks, tendon or ligament damage, his (right) shoulder is out of alignment." Strazzer woke up this morning in a lot of pain and took the decision together with the team not to start. That means Crescenzo d'Amore (Acqua e Sapone) will take over the Intergiro leadership in Stage 10.

Ale-Jet sizes up the competition

Alessandro Petacchi is still upset with his spoiled sprint in Carovigno on Stage 9. "When I saw the TV replay, especially the helicopter shots, I realized how I lost...now my challenge is to improve." As for the sprint competition at this year's Giro d'Italia, Petacchi evaluated his adversaries by saying "Pollack has been very good...he's new at this level of sprinting. Then there's (Robbie) McEwen. We knew he didn't start the Giro in the best condition, but he knows how to use his head, and sometimes even his hands. And Rodriguez was good too...among the Italian sprinters, (Rodriguez's Acqua e Sapone) teammate D'Amore has been good."

Petacchi explained that "I think I'm stronger this year than last year...I'm not tired and I'm able to hang on longer on the climbs. Nonetheless, I'm not going to say I'm the number one (sprinter) in the world. I might think that, but I won't say it."

Ale-Jet has another winning tactic in mind for this year's Giro: to become Ale-Breakaway. "My first pro win (Tour of Langkawi 1998) was in a break of three which had been away for 179 km. So I'd like to win a stage when I was on the attack, from a small group of riders. I realize that if I did get in a break, the other guys might not want to work with me, but if that happened it would be a great job."

Bruyneel clarifies sponsor comments

Languedoc-Roussillon "Day by Day"

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Reached by Cyclingnews before the start of Stage 1 of Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, USPS-Berry Floor sports director Johan Bruyneel wanted to clarify his comments as quoted by Reuters yesterday. "Regarding my comments yesterday, I stated that I'm confident that we're are going to have a team in the future and for the moment I'm not worried about going on with the same team. Bill Stapleton and Bart Knaggs at Capital Sports & Entertainment are working hard to finalize everything for 2005. But there is no sponsor in the bag yet."

CSE's Stapleton is now listed on USPS-Berry Floor's UCI team list as team manager and his Austin, Texas based sports marketing firm recently assumed the marketing efforts towards securing a new sponsor for Lance Armstrong's team going forward. As when we spoke to him at the Dodge Tour de Georgia last month, Bruyneel declined to say when a new sponsor might be announced, explaining again that "it's out of my hands", but conventional wisdom is that before he races down the start ramp at the 2004 Tour de France's prologue in Liege, Lance Armstrong will know who's jersey he'll be wearing in 2005.

As for the Languedoc-Roussillon race this week, formerly the Midi-Libre, Bruyneel told Cyclingnews that "it's a good race, but a small race team-participation wise. With no, TT and the fact that the first three days are not that hard, you never know what can happen here. (USPS-Berry Floor) are not here to dominate this race at all; it's part of out Tour preparation and all 8 of the riders are potential Tour riders. I feel like our team has performed well all spring and we've gotten good results. Here we'll take it day by day."

Speaking of five-time Tour de France champion Armstrong and his quest for an unprecedented sixth consecutive Tour this year, Bruyneel explained that. "Yes, Lance is in good condition and (speaking of USPS-Berry Floor's recent reconnaissance of l'Alpe d'Huez) I like what I saw in the Alps. We've seen the TTT course and the final TT in Besançon too. That will be hard, it's not flat at all, especially in the first half. Next we'll see some stages in the Pyrenees and then it's the Dauphiné Libéré."

Armstrong ready to challenge in the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon

Out of the ashes of the Grand Prix du Midi Libre, which stopped two years ago for financial reasons, comes the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, a five day stage race in southeastern France that is essentially the same as its predecessor. Run by Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the TdLR is also part of Lance Armstrong's Tour build up, and the US Postal-Berry Floor champion will be ready for the challenge.

The race is held over five stages between May 19-23 and does not include a time trial. However the generally hilly parcours contains two uphill finishes and should prove to be a worthy successor to the Midi Libre. Saturday's 161 km fourth stage from Pont du Gard to Mende finishes atop the Côte de la Croix-Neuve, a 1040m Cat. 1 climb, but there are also the Cat. 1 climbs of Col de la Croix de Berthel (1088m) and Cote de Molinès-Balsiège (1010m) preceding it. Sunday's 203 km stage from Florac to Sète finishes with two ascents of Mont Saint-Clair, which is only at 172m altitude but is rated as a Cat. 1 climb due to its proximity to the end of the race.

While Lance Armstrong is certainly the top favourite to "defend" his Midi Libre win of two years ago, attention should also be paid to David Millar (Cofidis), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Laurent Brochard (Ag2r), Thomas Lövkvist (FDJeux.com), Christophe Moreau and Alexandre Botcharov (Credit Agricole).

The Stages

Stage 1 - May 19: Maury - Port-Vendres, 167 km
Stage 2 - May 20: Port-Leucate - Narbonne, 188 km
Stage 3 - May 21: Ganges - Aigues-Mortes, 162 km
Stage 4 - May 22: Pont du Gard - Mende (Côte de la Croix-Neuve), 161 km
Stage 5 - May 23: Florac - Sète (Mont Saint-Clair), 203 km

Tour de l'Aude heats up

The Stage 5 podium
Photo: © Olivia Gollan
Click for larger image

Despite the fifth stage of the women's Tour de l'Aude finishing in a bunch sprint, the 120 kilometre stage around Castelnaudary was not without incident. As Australian National Team rider Olivia Gollan explained in her diary on Cyclingnews, "Our big aim for the day was for me to take the mountains jersey off German National Team rider Theresa Senff.

"In the first of two Cat 2 climbs, a French rider attacked and forced me to chase because I needed maximum points. I managed to hold off Theresa on the line, putting us on equal points. The group came back together and Nurnberger was caught napping - Lyne Bessette took a chance and went with French rider [Edwige Pitel] who once again had put in a solid attack. A great move and Trixi [Worrack] looked worried. With two riders off the front, it only left Theresa and I sprinting for third in the GPM and I missed it - she holds the jersey for another day."

At one point, the leading duo's advantage hovered at around two minutes, and it took the full strength of Nürnberger and some of the German National team to bring the break back, with Bessette and Pitel caught with just one kilometre remaining. Stage winner Ghita Beltman (@Home Cycling Team) and Gollan made the most of their first and third placings respectively, Beltman moving from fifth to second overall and Gollan jumping six places to 12th overall.

Second last chance for Aussies to make Olympic selection

Taking place in the same town today, Stage 6 - a 31.5 kilometre individual time trial in Castelnaudary - is significant not just for those aiming high on the overall classification, but also for the Australian riders who are fighting for one of just two berths to compete in the road time trial event at the Athens Olympic Games.

Although not riding the Tour de l'Aude, World Cup leader Oenone Wood is virtually guaranteed a spot after winning the first two selection races, those being the Australian road time trial championship and the Souvenir Magali Pache. The battle for the second spot is less assured, however, with Kathy Watt finishing two places ahead of Margaret Hemsley at the Nationals but Hemsley just ahead of Watt on points after finishing third in the Magali Pache.

So far in the race, Hemsley has shown better form out of the two and is currently lying in 17th place overall among 30 or so other riders who are between 1'54 and 3'07 behind race leader Trixi Worrack (Nurnberger Versicherung); Watt is in 77th place overall, 41'44 behind Worrack. The final selection race is the Coppa Nazione on June 12 in Italy, and the two woman selection will be determined from the best three rides in the four events.

Van der Kooij starts well

24 year old Dutch rider Vincent van der Kooij (BankGiroLoterij) rode his first race after coming back from Hogkin's Disease in Puivelde, Belgium on Monday. As expected, Van der Kooij didn't play much of a role in the finale of the race and finished in the peloton, which was pulled out by the organisers when the leaders got too far in front.

"I could race for the first two hours," Van der Kooij told ANP. "My endurance is in order but I still need racing kilometres. I still can't jump away in a break twenty times. I did the 130 kilometres at an average of 44 km/h. I wasn't dropped."

Van der Kooij will ride in the Tour of Luxembourg at the end of May as his first big race.

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