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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News for May 21, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry & Tim Maloney

Yellow suits Hushovd

Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)
Photo ©: AFP

With back to back stage wins and the leader's yellow jersey as a reward in the opening days of the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) is already thinking ahead to the Tour de France in July. With his confidence bolstered after a successful spring, Hushovd has not one but two jerseys on his mind for the Tour. The green points jersey remains his number one objective, but Hushovd believes he could wear yellow as well.

"I think I can do a very good prologue," Hushovd commented in l'Equipe. "I think I can get the yellow jersey, it's a real objective this year."

The fact that the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon- which picks up where the Midi Libre left off in 2002- is organised by the organisers of the Tour de France does not escape Hushovd. "It's an ASO race, it evokes the Tour de France, and it's always symbolic to wear the jersey," he said. "It gives you ideas... To be next to Armstrong, wearing the yellow jersey, I feel like the patron of the peloton."

With former teammate and fellow sprinter and green jersey contender Stuart O'Grady riding for Cofidis this season, Hushovd expects a greater leadership role at Crédit Agricole, both at the Tour and throughout the year.

"I've got six victories this season and I think I've proven they can count on me," he said. "From this point on I can truly think about having the status of leader... I have something to do in this year's Tour and I intend to have people talking about me."

US Postal makes waves

The blue train has left the station
Photo ©: AFP

Team leader Lance Armstrong and directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel continue to maintain that victory in the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon is not an objective, but the team's performance in Thursday's stage 2 no doubt made waves in the peloton as the 'blue train' went express in a pre-Tour dress rehearsal. Armstrong himself took part in the effort, along with his entire team, to shut down a breakaway and take control of the peloton as roads narrowed and the wind picked up in the finale of Thursday's race. The effort didn't go unnoticed.

"I asked myself what was going on," race leader Thor Hushovd said of the Postal power play. "Honestly, I was worried. It was as if they wanted to test everybody before the Tour, and frankly I think everyone was tested. Even Armstrong took pulls at the front... Incredible."

One team happy to join in the effort was Brioches La Boulangère, once it became clear the team's man in the break, Anthony Charteau, stood no chance against the onslaught.

"For us it was a good opportunity," said French national champion Didier Rous. "But Armstrong can't surprise anyone. He and his team don't work for nothing. It's always tough to tell whether or not he's bluffing, but it's clear he's not just here to sit in."

Rous' directeur sportif, Thierry Bricaud, confirmed the sentiment. "For someone who's here without any ambition, things are still very clear," he told l'Equipe.

For US Postal director Johan Bruyneel, it was all business, just a matter of smart tactics, to take control early. "We didn't plan anything, but once we hit the small roads and the wind got stronger, we decided to stay together at the front to avoid any problems," he said. "It's always better to take the initiative yourself."

Boonen on a roll

After overall victory and two out of four stage wins at last week's Tour de Picardie, Belgian Tom Boonen continued his winning ways Thursday at the Tour of Belgium. Boonen came close to victory on the race's opening stage, but thanks to the work of his Quick.Step-Davitamon team to prepare a bunch sprint, stage 2 was all Boonen. Thursday's victory was Boonen's ninth of season and his team's 17th thus far.

"I came here to win a stage, and that's been done," Boonen commented after his win. "Picardie was harder than expected because my I lacked a bit of freshness. I felt a bit weak on Tuesday but today (Thursday) I knew right away I had good legs. Still, it took a lot of work to get there.

"Without the pressure it might be easier to win another but I know that the last stage is too hard for me," he added. "I'm going to see what I can do on that sort of parcours and work for somebody else in the team. For two months the guys have been sacrificing themselves for me. They deserve something in return..."

Boonen has made no secret of his desire to win at least one stage at the Tour de France, where he will for the first time go head to head with the peloton's top sprinter, Alessandro Petacchi.

Tonina talks again: Pantani's mother speaks

In a frank, exclusive interview Thursday on RAI TV, reporter Alessandra DiStefano spoke to Tonina Pantani, the grieving mother of Marco Pantani.

Alessandra DiStefano-RAI TV: What happened to Marco (Pantani)?
Tonina Pantani: He lost the will to live…

ADS: When they sent Marco home in 1999 from Madonna di Campiglio?
TP: Yes…it knocked him for a loop. That's why he started taking (prescription anti-depressants) because (the doctors) told him it would make him feel better. But (Marco) then found himself in the 'tunnel' (of depression) and he couldn't get out of it. He wanted to go back, but he couldn't. And I also find cycling responsible, since every time I see a race on TV or (the media) talks about doping, they talk about Marco. These people are there, happy and blessed, with their work finished for the day, but no one ever found Marco doped. They treated him like a dog with all these inquests and prosecutors for four years. That's how he lost the will to live.

Above all, I want the dignity of my son back. My son won't bother anyone anymore.

ADS: Four people were just arrested in Marco's case.
TP: Those four people aren't the reason. Yes, they are important to catch other people (drug traffickers), but that's not the reason for Marco's death. Marco died in 1999 when they sent him home from the Giro, Marco was finished there. He came home, he closed himself up in his house and his girlfriend said "take this, it will help you feel better", his friends said "take this, it will help you forget", until he got hooked .

He spent four years closed up in the dark. I remember that I would go to his house in the middle of the night, at 3:30am, and I was startled. He would be sitting at the table in the dark and he was just looking out into space. That's how he passed the last four years, Marco.

Because people are mean, because people talk and they don't know. Because not even my daughter, who we told almost everything about Marco, knew how bad he was. Only my husband and I knew, and what we went through with Marco.

ADS: Some people even accused you and your husband…
TP: Certainly! The said we threw him out of our house but we didn't. It was his house anyway. We all wanted the best for Marco. And when we read in the newspapers that 'we didn't want to help Marco', it makes me feel even worse.

Marco loved his bicycle. He would bring it in his bedroom, even when he was a kid. How many times did he go on hard training rides? How many times did he come all wet from training in the rain? He would bring his wet bike in the house, clean it up and then bring it in his bedroom. He loved cycling.

ADS: What about the interviews with Cristina (Jonsson, Pantani's longtime girlfriend) about Marco?
TP: It killed me again to read what she said about Marco, because I'm ashamed that she lived in my house for eight years. I was looking at some of the notes yesterday that Marco left with Manuela (Ronchi, Pantani's manager) and that she wrote him, and I felt like bringing them to the authorities since (Cristina) was giving Marco (stuff).

Well, I say my son was wrong (to take drugs), but if it's really true as it was written in these notes... maybe these things should be published.

I miss Marco so much. I really, really miss him. Sometimes I go around his house and look for him. 'Marco, where are you?' But I can't even go in there anymore.

After what I've told you, what more can I say? I'm angry. I'm angry because I've realized that there are so many phony people around. In the last few days, I've had so many phone calls from people at the Giro. Everyone wishes him well... now.

ADS: Who really wished Marco well?
TP: His family, his mother, his father, his sisterdon'.

Young riders remember Marco

After Thursday's emotional Giro d'Italia stage to Cesena, with 100,000 of Pantani's tifosi on hand, young riders like Maglia Rosa Damiano Cunego, Yaroslav Popovych and Emanuele Sella were moved to speak about their perceptions of the late champion.

Of Pantani, Cunego said "I'm happy to see all of the affection for Marco today. He was one of us and I have to dedicate my Maglia Rosa to him today. I remember him well, as a simple, nice guy."

Ukrainian rider Popovych, who came to Italy five years ago, said "For young riders like us, it was special today in Cesena, because Marco was an example for us and for cycling around the world. It was good that a young guy like Sella won the stage because it shows that young riders can help cycling grow."

Stage winner Sella said that "I wanted to win here in Cesena because it's an important place for cycling, the land of Marco (Pantani)."

Manzano case sent to courts

The Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) will turn over its report on the Jesus Manzano doping case to a court in Madrid as well as the High Council of Sport, deferring judgment on the ongoing case to the legal authorities. Manzano, who rocked Spanish cycling with accusations of systematic doping within his former Kelme team, has provided testimony to the Spanish federation though to date he has not faced any disciplinary action for his own admissions of doping.

"We're not acting against Manzano, we're simply providing a judge with his testimony and the facts available in order to facilitate a formal procedure," said Eugenio Bermúdez, secretary general of the federation. Others involved in the case include professionals Alberto Gadeo, Pedro Diaz Lobato, Kelme director Vicente Belda, and several team doctors. Concerning any possible sanctions, the RFEC passed the Manzano case to its disciplinary committee for further review.

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