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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest News for May 7, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones & Tim Maloney

Pantani takes in a soccer match

Marco Pantani
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

Mercatone Uno captain Marco Pantani went to Madrid's Stadio Bernabeu to see the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Juventus prior to departing for Lecce today for the Giro d'Italia. Tomorrow he will be at the Giro's medical check-in in Castello Carlo V, after having spent the past few weeks training in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain with his faithful teammate Dani Clavero.

"I'm feeling good now and really feeling calm about riding the Giro," said Pantani to La Gazzetta dello Sport today. "I've really done a lot of hard training to get ready for the race. I'll be seeing what happens in the first part of the race because I believe the second part will be the decisive phase of the Giro. For me the most important stage will be the final mountain top finish at Cascata del Toce. I think the key rivals will be Simoni and Gonzalez, as well as Frigo, Garzelli and Casagrande."

Pantani still has ambitions to ride the Tour de France, even though his team is in the second division. "I think if I come in among the first teams in the Giro, Armstrong should be worried, because at that point I ought to go to the Tour de France," he said. "I'm convinced that if I do a good Giro, that will open the doors for me for the Tour. The 100 year Tour has a parcours I like, but that's another story. Now we've got the Giro in front of us."

Pantani is still a little 'overweight' by his standards. "I weigh 57 kilos now. It's close to my ideal weight. I've done a lot of specific work in the mountains recently and I think I'll continue to refine my form in the first part of the Giro."

Sunderland wants a stage win

By Jeff Jones

Scott Sunderland
Photo: © Frank Rud Jensen
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After his crash in the Amstel Gold Race in 1998, Scott Sunderland didn't think that he would ever ride another three week tour. The damage and the pain that it caused his body was so great, and the constant work that he has had to do to keep himself going put the thought of racing over 3000 kilometres in three weeks out of his mind. Now, five years on, Sunderland is one of the nine members of the fakta team that will be on the start line in Lecce on Saturday.

Scott spoke to Cyclingnews today before he headed off to Italy for the Giro, where he hopes that his gradual form build-up will ripen and bear fruit during the race. "I didn't think I'd ever be riding a three week tour again but now I'm quite looking forward to it," he said. "The head is good, the morale is high, my body feels strong and I've come into form late."

His main ambition will be to win a stage. "That's what I'm going to be gunning for. I've got the form but there's a certain amount of luck involved. The circumstances have to be right. If the sprinters teams are all riding, then it's difficult. Then if it's a classement sort of a day, it's also not easy. All the pegs have to go in the right holes and then you still have to be able to finish it off right. It's difficult to do, but I'm confident."

Sunderland is coming off a second place in the 1.2 ranked CSC Classic last weekend in Denmark, where he was beaten by Jakob Piil after being in the break all day. However, he states that there is still some more to come. "The results didn't really reflect that much on my form but it helps mentally. There's still a little improvement to come, but now I've got five days where I can get into it. We've got Magnus Bäckstedt, Frank Høj, Lars Bak, and Julian Winn who'll be going for it in the first five days to a week. Then in the second week there'll be myself, Jørgen Bo Petersen and Kurt Asle-Arvesen."

Frank and Magnus
Photo: © Frank Rud Jensen
Click for larger image

"Magnus and Frank are really motivated to take it up to the sprinters. On the weekend they were the two dominant riders in Herning [Høj was 1st and Magnus was 3rd in the GP SATS]. These guys are strong and fast and both are dangerous in the sprint or a solo attack."

"We've got Werner Riebenbauer for the sprints, and you never know how it goes in a sprint sometimes. It's possible for him to get in the top three. He's finding his way too: last year he placed two or three times in the first three in the Tour of Germany. Maybe this year he can repeat that. Lars Bak is in good form as well. The first week is going to be good for him and gives the rest of us a chance to get into it."

"Kurt Arvesen has got the best chance of doing a good classement because he places himself well in the peloton, he listens to his body and knows himself. He is climbing well and he can time trial well. It's going to be his first three week tour. He's motivated, he knows Italy, having raced with a few Italian teams. I'd say he's a good chance of 15-20th place."

"From the perspective of a good classement I'll see what happens," said Sunderland of his own overall ambitions. "Because the time trials are so late that's going to be hard. I'll try to minimize the losses as much as possible. I'm just not sure how I'll go. In 1996 in the Tour, I came out feeling really good."

For the first time in nearly a year [since the Tour of Austria], he will face climbs of 15-20 kilometres in length, but he says that it doesn't bother him. "I actually like the long climbs. I probably prefer the climbs in Italy than France. The only hills I've done this year were in Niedersachsen, which were 4-5 km climbs. On the other hand I'm a lot stronger on the flat."

"I'm optimistic but not stupid. I'll go with a positive attitude, and see what I can achieve. I don't see the three weeks being a problem. When you've got good condition, you can ride yourself into these things. It's important to know your limits and listening to what you're doing. On one day you could try to hang on a bit more with the group over a climb, but for that few minutes, the next day you could lose 10-15. It's the straw that breaks the camel's back."

Overall, Scott says that he's looking forward to it. "Three and a half weeks of eating pasta, it should be good weather, but the suitcase is half summer gear and half winter gear," he warns, realising how things can change in the mountains.

With the first five stages all being road stages (not time trials), the Giro will take on a different shape in the first week. "It's quite a different approach because there's no prologue. Usually you're messing with your time trial bike, checking out the prologue parcours two days before. It's pretty intense and there's a lot of nerves. This time it's like turning up for a one dayer. It's just more or less follow Cipo's train around and keep out of trouble."

As favourites, Scott is picking Casagrande, Simoni and Garzelli. "These three are the three. They've got the runs on the board. But someone may pop out of the woodwork."

Cyclingnews will be featuring a regular Giro diary from Scott and his fakta teammates as they travel around Italy in search of Giro glory.

Savoldelli picks Simoni and Gonzalez

Last year's Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli will not be racing this year, after Telekom re prioritised its racing program to concentrate on the Tour de France. "I'm sorry I'm not going to be at the start of the Giro this year," said Savoldelli to La Gazzetta. "When Ullrich went to Coast it was official that Telekom decided not to do the Giro."

"Nonetheless I still wouldn't have recovered from my crash in time, had I decided to do it," continued Savoldelli. "At this point I still have some pain in my shoulder and I'm not breathing well in my right nasal passage because there are so many stitches in there. However a second operation won't be possible until the end of the season."

"For me, Simoni is the favourite with Aitor Gonzalez. Right behind those two is Garzelli. I think that the Giro will be decided in the mountains which means that Simoni will be ahead of everybody. The decisive stage will be to Chianali with the climb to Fauniera [stage 18]. It's a climb that can really make the difference."

Two hematocrit tests before the Giro

In an attempt to implement tighter anti-doping controls at this year's Giro d'Italia, which starts on Saturday in Lecce, the organisers have specified two hematocrit tests for each rider over the next few days leading up to the start. The first test will be carried out as part of the overall medical check up which takes place on Thursday. If any rider is found to be over the 50 percent limit, their team has the option of replacing them. The second test will be done on Saturday morning before the start of stage 1, and any rider that fails this will not be able to be substituted by his team.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of the second half of each stage of the Giro d'Italia, commencing approximately 14:30 local time (08:30 EDT/05:30 PDT/22:30 AEST).

Giro d'Italia coverage on Cyclingnews

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Tour of Japan Canceled

By Miwako Sasaki, Japanese Cycle Sports

Following yesterday's announcement of the cancellation of the Eagle Tour of Malaysia, one of biggest races in Asia, the Tour of Japan, has also been cancelled due to fear of SARS. The race, scheduled from May 18 to 25, had already selected five international TT3 teams (Giant Asia Racing Team, Axa Cycling Team, Saeco-Romers-Wetzikon, Jet Fuel Coffee, Team Endurasport.com-Principia), four local TT3 teams (Shimano Racing, Nippon Hodo, Team Bridgestone Anchor, Team Orbea-EtxeOnde), three national teams (New Zealand, Hong Kong, China) and some local teams. The organisers said they couldn't fully guarantee that the teams would be safe from SARS while racing in Japan.

Although there are no SARS cases in Japan at the moment, all Asian races have experienced problems. The Track World Championships in China have had to be moved, the Tour of Japan was downgraded last year from 2.3 to 2.5 due to financial troubles, and now SARS has forced the race to stop. The cancellation is bad for Japan, because the Tour of Japan is one of only five UCI races in Japan, and Japanese riders want to gain UCI points at this race to qualify for the Athens Olympic Games next year, which is selected by UCI nations rankings at the end of the season.

Steels remains optimistic

Landbouwkrediet-Colnago's sprinter Tom Steels is still optimistic about his comeback, although he still hasn't achieved any outstanding results. "I'm taking my time to see how far I am," he said in an interview with Het Laatste Nieuws. "I am 30 percent better than last year. There are still good and bad days, but I get through them better than I did before. The next step will be a victory!"

Steels is starting in the Four Days of Dunkirk today, his first race after a short break. "I've been out of racing for 10 days, but when I went for a long training ride on Saturday, I felt a lot of power in my legs. I won the last stage of the Four Days of Dunkirk last year and that's always good for the morale," he said.

The contest between the French teams for one of the last Tour de France wild cards could also be an advantage for Steels. "The French teams are very competitive. That will keep the peloton together. The first stage will be a hard day for me, suffering a lot, but if I survive this one, I can make it."

"I'm satisfied with my performance so far," added Steels. "Of course, that's not enough, but it is like how I expected it. After Dunkirk, I'll try to do my very best in the Ronde van België (May 21-25) and then I'll peak for the Belgian championship (June 29 in Vilvoorde). If everything keeps evolving like this and if I get through my next winter without sickness, then the real Steels will be back in 2004 - I'm 100 percent sure of that."

Quick.Step Division III team doing well

The Quick.Step-Davitamon-Latexco division III squad is perhaps even more dominant in the lower ranks that its big brother in division I. The team directed by Herman Frison has been nearly unbeatable in Belgium, and has had several good performances abroad. Quick.Step-Davitamon-Latexco is currently in Slovenia for the 2.5 ranked Tour of Slovenia, which finishes on Sunday.

Quick.Step-Davitamon team director Patrick Lefevere indicated at the beginning of the season that he wanted solid results from the younger team abroad, and Frison has not let him down. "In February we had Van den Broeck, Rosseler and De Vocht three times on the podium in Croatia," he told Gazet van Antwerpen. "Muravyev won the Ruban Granitier Breton, Van Hecke won a stage in the Tour of Normandy, where Muravyev missed out winning overall by just 20 hundredths of a second. Jurgen Van den Broeck was second in the 1.3 GP Krka in Slovenia on Saturday...And in the meantime Vansummeren won Liege-Bastogne-Liege ahead of Van den Broeck and De Vocht was first in the Ronde van Vlaanderen."

Johan Vansummeren, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Preben Van Hecke, Ben Thaens, Johnny Hoogerland and Dmitri Muravyev will all ride the Tour of Slovenia, followed by a three week rest and then the Tour of Navarra between May 27 and June 1. Thus they will miss the two Belgian races Hasselt-Spa-Hasselt and the Ronde van Limburg, "But the time out is just as important as the races," said Frison.

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