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Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest News for February 28, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry

Gonzalez clear to join Fassa Bortolo

The UCI's Professional Cycling Council (PCC) announced today that Aitor Gonzalez has been cleared to join Fassa Bortolo, effective immediately, following a lengthy contract dispute between Fassa Bortolo and Domane Vacanze-Elitron over the 2002 Vuelta winner's signature.

Domane Vacanze-Elitron manager Vincenzo Santoni still maintains that he never signed the release for Gonzalez to join Fassa Bortolo, and indeed the UCI's arbitrator in the case had been unable to verify just whose signature is on that release. The dispute over the release from the original contract with Santoni will likely be pursued by further legal action, which would not affect the UCI's decision to allow Gonzalez to join Fassa Bortolo.

Armstrong more motivated than ever

In an interview with Spanish newspaper Marca, US Postal director Johan Bruyneel affirmed that Lance Armstrong is hard at work, preparing for a possible fifth consecutive Tour de France title. Although this could be a record-tying year for Armstrong, Bruyneel noted that the pressure on his star rider and the team is not necessarily greater this year, because each year Lance 'starts from zero' in his build up to the Tour. "Just because you have won four Tours, you are not automatically going to win five," said Bruyneel.

Armstrong makes his 2003 debut at the Vuelta a Murcia next week, but the team's focus will be on building fitness. "Lance is going well because he has trained a lot, but I don't believe he'll be among the best, and in fact I would prefer he not be at his best," Bruyneel explained. "But I repeat, Lance has trained hard this winter."

Armstrong will race the Setmana Catalana and Circuit de la Sarthe stage races, before he makes another run at his favourite spring classic, the Amstel Gold Race. A calendar change this year means Amstel will come a week before Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which Armstrong will likely ride, along with the Flèche Wallonne. Another scheduling change for 2003 is the shift from spring to fall for the Ride for the Roses, meaning Lance will not have to travel to the United States in the middle of the classics season.

Does Bruyneel see Armstrong riding beyond 2004? "I don't know, but it's possible," he said. "I wouldn't say yes for sure, but nor would I count it out; I think he is more motivated than ever."

On the subject of Armstrong's separation from his wife Kristen, Bruyneel noted at Thursday's team presentation with Berry Floor in Belgium, "the same thing happened to me in 1992, and I had a good year that year!"

Zülle to retire this season

Thirty four year old Alex Zülle (Team Coast) has indicated that he will retire at the end of the season, according to an SID report. Speaking during the Vuelta Valenciana, where he is in third overall, the Swiss rider said he hopes to ride the Tour de France one more time. "Eleven years ago I got my first yellow jersey on my birthday," he explained. "The prologue of the Tour is again on my birthday this year. I hope that I can take the jersey once more."

Zülle started his career in 1991 with ONCE, where he rode for for seven years and won the Vuelta España twice. He joined Festina in 1998 and was embroiled in the doping affair during the Tour de France. After his suspension, he came back in 1999 and 2000 with Banesto, before moving to Team Coast in 2001.

Pantani still on ice

Although Marco Pantani is impatiently waiting the decision of the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport), the embattled Italian is biding his time by training intensively with some outings up to eight hours a day. Pantani is in Spain, where he's training with faithful teammate Daniel Clavero. Reports are that Pantani is in great shape, looking to ride well once he returns. The question remains whether or not he will even be able to race until May. Pantani had hoped to come back either at Sunday's Clasica de Almeria, or next week at the Vuelta a Murcia, but it looks unlikely he'll line up for either race. At this point, the decision is expected to come next week.

Bad luck for Scheirlinckx rider Bert Scheirlinckx will not ride in Saturday's opening Belgian classic, Het Volk, after suffering a couple of recent setbacks. He was run over while in Italy and received bruises on his upper calf. He was also sick last week and has thus been placed on the reserve list for the race. The squad for Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne will be Ronny Assez, Bjorn Cornelissen, Jamie Drew, Scott Guyton, Jurgen Landrie, Thierry Masschelein, David McKenzie and Staf Scheirlinckx. Frans Assez and Franky Van Haesebroucke will direct the squad.

Wauters out of Het Volk

Following substitutions for three riders suffering from Bronchitis, Rabobank has made yet another change for its Het Volk roster. Belgian Marc Wauters, suffering from the flu, will be replaced by Maarten den Bakker.

Irizar looks to Armstrong for inspiration

Seven months ago, 23 yea old Spanish elite rider Markel Irizar was diagnosed with the same disease that had changed the life of his idol Lance Armstrong. Fate can be a strange path. In 1997, as a teenager, Markel wrote a letter of support to Armstrong. Little did he know that a common bond might bring the two riders together in 2003.

At least that is the hope of Euskaltel-Euskadi manager Miguel Madariaga, who has found the ideal messenger in Armstrong's teammate, Roberto Heras. Irizar is not likely to become another Armstrong, but surely Markel has the same inner will that allowed the four time Tour winner to return to the sport stronger than ever.

Whatever Irizar's future in the sport, it will certainly be less painful than the cancer, the sacrifice of a testicle, and undergoing chemotherapy. "People try to encourage you, saying you're a tough guy," Irizar told the Basque paper El Correo, "and you find yourself a lot much tougher than they think you are."

The first thing that Armstrong did after he underwent surgery, and after the few first chemotherapy sessions, was ride a bike again. So did Irizar, despite his weakness and the loss of muscular tissue. The Orbea-Olarra-Consultec rider is training with rides up to 60km, thinking of an eventual return to racing. "The day I compete again [possibly next July], I want to be back for good," said an enthusiastic Irizar. "I expect the difficulty will be trying to recover my past level, but I believe I can do that."

Irizar had come close to signing a professional deal with Euskaltel-Euskadi team. That opportunity has been delayed, but team manager Miguel Madariaga announced at his team's presentation this year his intention to keep the door open for Markel in case of a future full recovery.

Courtesy of João Cravo

McCauley signs with Giant Asia Racing

Only two weeks after announcing his retirement from International racing, New Zealand Road Champion Gordon McCauley has announced that he has signed with a new Asian-based team. McCauley has signed with Giant Asia Racing, a new Division III team of about ten riders, including three Australians.

The team will focus on Asian racing and on the program are the Tours of Japan, Hokkaido, Taiwan and Malaysia. McCauley also said that the team will leave for Europe on 5 March for a few months racing before returning to racing in Asia. "The main reason for joining the team and going back to International racing is that I haven’t ridden an Olympics yet," said McCauley.

Courtesy of Alan Messenger

GP Erik Breukink

The GP Erik Breukink, a three stage race in the Netherlands and Belgium, will take place March 14-16. Twenty three teams are confirmed for the event, lining up with eight riders each. Breukink describes the race as a course for younger riders, and those who are building up for the classics the next month, but not ready to over extend themselves in bigger events such as Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico.


March 14 - Stage 1: Bladel (Netherlands) - Riemst (Belgium) - Bladel, 213 km
March 15 - Stage 2: Riemst - Malmédy - Riemst, 207.5 km
March 16 - Stage 3: Bladel (Netherlands) ITT, 18.7 km


Ag2R-Prévoyance (Agnolutto, Aus)
Alessio (S. Casagranda, Casarotto, Furlan)
Axa Cycling Team
Brioches la Boulangère (Magnien, D. Nazon)
Team Coast (Radochla, Wilhelms)
Cofidis (Farazijn, Gaumont, Peers)
CCCPolsat (Baranowski, Brozyna, Tonkov)
Crédit Agricole
Team fakta (Bäckstedt, Sunderland) (Casper, Durand, McGee)
Jean Delatour (D. Lefèvre)
Landbouwkrediet-Colnago (Steels, Capelle)
Mercatone Uno, Index (Sgambelluri)
Quickstep-Davitamon (Muraviyev)
Rabobank (Den Bakker, De Groot, Wielinga)
Van Hemert Groep
Van Vliet-Gazelle
Vlaanderen T-interim (Kleynen)
Team Wiesenhof

South Africa set for Tri-Nations track

South African cyclist Garth Thomas is confident for the Tri-Nations International Track Challenge, to be held at the Bellville Velodrome on Friday, March 14. Thomas, 20, will represent South Africa in the madison, points and elimination races, along with JP van Zyl, Shawn Lynch, Charl Jubber, and Morne Blignaut, and Robbie Dale.

"I am proud to represent Team SA and a few good rides could well keep me on the national selectors shortlist for World Cup action later this year," said Thomas.

Eager to compete on home soil, the full Team SA lineup is as follows:

Team SA elite: JP van Zyl, Shawn Lynch, Charl Jubber, Garren Bloch, Garth Thomas, Morne Blignaut Robbie Dale

SA Junior team: Raynold Smith, Nolan Hoffman, Stefan Geldenhuys, Dean Hopf, Gurswin Daniels, Pierre Mouton, Derwin Benjamin

SA Federation team: Wikus Esterhuizen, Mario Nell, Oscar Cloete, Liam da Roche, Ashley Kulsen, Emile Steenkamp, Avron Idas

SA Development team: Brinley Hector, Stefan Lombard, George du Toit, Leroy Thomas, Lucian Adonis, Jason Berry, Glynn Moolman



(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)