News for December 29, 1998

Jose Maria Jiménez also likely to miss Tour de France

Like Marco Pantani, Spanish climber Jose Maria Jiménez is also looking like he will concentrate on th Giro d'Italia and forget about the Tour de France. This has now been confirmed by the manager of the Banesto team, Eusebio Unzué, who told the press: "It could be said that the Giro has more options than the Tour, but we still have to clarify some doubts with El Chaba. We will present the pros and cons to him and we will make a decision together".

The decision will be known in the first half of January. "It shouldn't be delayed much more, because the decision will determine Jimenez's preparation, which might have to be accelerated a bit. There is time, but...".

for Jiménez, the decision to ride the Giro will mean a different role than he would have assumed in the Tour de France. Eusebio Unzué said: "He would be the clear leader at the Giro but at the Tour most of the responsibility would fall on a more complete rider like Alex Zülle".

Business aspects don't seem to be a factor influencing the decision. Unzué: "On the contrary, a publicity success would be guaranteed with Jiménez at the Giro and could be optimized more that if he attends the Tour."

There are no problems either with Jimenez's inexperience at the Giro, which he has ridden only once. Unzué said: "We will have simple tactics. Follow Marco Pantani, become his shadow and if you separate from him, let it be only to leave him behind."

Jose Maria Jiménez is happy whichever decision is taken. "I wouldn't be upset going to the Giro d'Italia, because the route suits my characteristics. The only problem that could exist is that I also like the route of the Vuelta a España and both are very tough, so one would have to prepare for both races with a lot of sacrifice. Bodies are limited and we will have to think if it is too much or not. But other than that, I'll be fine with whatever is decided."

What the Spanish rider doesn't mind is the possibility of leading the team, without the company of the other team leader, Swiss Alex Zülle. "I know that after my last season, I need to assume bigger responsibilities and I'm not afraid. I don't feel pressured by it or oppressed by it".

Jiménez will not be alone in the big mountains in either event thanks to the arrival of Leonardo Piepoli, who is "very proud to ride in the team of Miguel Indurain". The Italian climber feels "happy to be in Spain", although he says he just "landed". Piepoli's objectives vary depending on who you ask. If you ask the management, Leonardo will be the team leader at the Giro if Jiménez doesn't go; if Jimenez goes, the challenge is to win stages. "I will fight for a win and for a better classification. Banesto has contracted me for that. And I hope not to disappoint them".

Piepoli realizes that the man to beat is Pantani, whom he has beaten previously as an amateur. "Marco has made the quality jump that the great ones chase after, that's the impulse that makes them champions. Some are left on the road and never get to that level. But Marco has done it and that's why he is now the benchmark ... it is possible to beat him. If not, I wouldn't be as convinced that Zülle and Jiménez are two riders that will bring great victories".

Teams for 1999

Abraham Olano, Alex Zülle, Michele Bartoli, Oskar Camenzind, Franck Vandenbroucke, Ivan Gotti all of them have one thing in common: they are stars from the peloton that will wear a different jersey in 1999.

Some riders will be missed, like Gianni Bugno, Johan Bruyneel, Maurizio Fondriest, Oliverio Rincón and if someone doesn't do something about it, Richard Virenque and Luc Leblanc.

Most teams have only touched up their lineups, but others have undergone major strucural rebuilding. Some for the better, some for the worse. The best example of this is Festina, which has not recontracted its big-name team leaders and Casino, which after being the leading team in victories has let go of some of their best performers like Hamburger, Massi, Elli, Durand and Jaermann. The changes have been forced on both teams because of cuts in the sponsorship budget.

Then amongst the teams that have restructured to improve, ONCE has been one of the most revolutionary. Not only because they signed Abraham Olano but they have also accompanied this with another 8 significant new contracts. They have also parted company with some illustrious veterans like Melchior Mauri, Johan Bruyneel and Herman Díaz Zabala.

Olano's place at Banesto has taken by Alex Zülle, who is under suspension until May 1 for his part in the Festina drugs scandal. Two other Festina riders are on the move - Swiss riders Laurent Dufaux and Armin Meier will cover at Saeco for the departure of Ivan Gotti (Polti) and Leonardo Piepoli (Banesto).

Number one team in the world, Mapei will maintain a team full of skill and potential even though they have lost Oskar Camenzind, Franck Vandenbroucke and Jan Svorada. These departures have been covered by the arrival of Axel Merckx and the World Cup Winner, Michele Bartoli.

Another Italian team which will be stronger next year is Cantina Tollo (which has signed Hamburger, Minali, Colombo and Sgambelluri). Marco Pantani's Mercatone team has been very modest , however, they have signed Enrico Zaina to assist the Pirate. Ullrich's Telekom, Pantani's main rival hasn't been sleeping either and has gone to Italy for reinforcements with Giuseppe Guerini and Alberto Elli signing for 1999.

In Spain some of the best domestiques have retired - Marino Alonso (the only rider who had won the five Tours with Indurain), Arsenio González, Herminio Díaz Zabala and Alberto Leanizbarrutia, Jose Rodríguez, Vicente Aparicio and Díaz de Otazu.

The most significant new addition to the teams list for 1999 will be the new Italian Lampre team, which is being directed by Giuseppe Saronni. The team will be led by World Champion Swiss rider Oskar Camenzind, together with riders of the stature of Ballerini, Svorada, Piccoli and Serpellini. The one rider that they were not able to convince to go was Russian Pavel Tonkov, who will stay with Mapei.

Italian Francesco Casagrande, who was ejected from Team Cofidis after being sanctioned for doping, has returned to his country to sign for Vini Caldirola, a team that has also being heavily reinforced. Together with Casagrande will be his brother Filippo, plus Gianluca Bortolami, Massimo Donati, Serguei Gontchar and Roman Vainsteins. Without a doubt another great team for the 1999.

Portuguese cycling is trying to make a place for themselves amongst the big nations. Benfica, which also sponsors a soccer team, has the backing of the Portuguese public television and has signed an agreement to collaborate with ONCEe. They have big plans so they have signed Catalan Melcior Mauri, who will ride with David Plaza. For now, Benfica will cover most of the Spanish calendar including the Vuelta.

Jeannie Longo to make another hour attempt

French cyclist Jeannie Longo will make another attempt to break her hour record next Monday at the Olympic velodrome in Mexico City. The 41-year old has been in Mexico riding at the velodrome for the last 5 days and is hoping for good weather. The record is was set by her on October 26, 1996 and stands at 44.159 kms.