News for January 21, 1999

Johan Museeuw talks about his comeback

Johan Museeuw has won many great victories in his cycling career. Last year he was struck by bad luck. A bad fall during Paris-Roubaix led to some medical errors which caused him major problems. An infection kept him out for 6 months and ailing. Now Museeuw is back, at least in a small way. He said: "I will not be the rider that I was."

He is also clear that he wants to continue. It is his craft. Museeuw, almost 33, has won everything and it would have been a great career if he had have retired. But he thinks differently. "When I stop I want it to be clear and my decision. Not because of medical errors." He was speaking at the presentation of the Mapei-Quick Step in the Belgian town of Tielt.

The accident happened in the Forest of Wallers, on a small cobbled section during Paris-Roubaix. It was nearly 9 months ago. He broke his patella and spent two months of suffering then a further 6 months rehabilitation. A bacteria found its way into the wound. He came down with gangrene in the knee and had to take morphine to control the pain and was taking antibiotics for 6 months.

He said: "It was a very troublesome period. I hope this will never be repeated. I was at the limit and had to use morphine. The pain was terrible."

Interestingly, he talked of retirement before he won the World Championship in 1996 in Lugano. "It would have been very easy then to retire. I had a good excuse and basis to leave the sport. But I love bike racing and so I went on.

According to his teammates he is very fit. Museeuw tempers their enthusiasm. "I have trained the whole winter. It is logical that I would be ahead of them at this stage."

His left knee is still 20 percent stronger than the right. He cannot do any more training on his bike without pain. He commented: "I will not be the rider that I was. That is clear. I shall be working a lot for others now. I am not the top man anymore. The public shall perhaps have to get used to that. That is bad, but I will be aiming to reach new goals myself. The fact that I am able to race again is perhaps my greatest victory."

Van Heeswijk happy at Mapei

In 1997, Max van Heeswijk won a stage in the Tour of Spain and felt that his hard work was producing results. But then in 1998 the Rabobank team over-looked him for a place in the Tour de France team. The Limburger was upset and he became immediately interested in the approaches of Patrick Lefevere, the team manager of the successful Mapei team. They met and it was done. On Tuesday, in Tielt (Belgium), Mapei presented the new look Italian/Belgian team to the public.

Max van Heeswijk, who is a cheerful person, was happy to be there. At the presentation, he sat next to former world champion Johan Museeuw, who is coming back from a bad knee injury, and the current world cup champion, Italian Michel Bartoli, who was signed from Asics. Top sprinter Tom Steels gave him a friendly tap on the shoulder. Axel Merckx, another newcomer to Mapei, shook him by the hand.

The Mapei-Quick Step-team, formerley Mapei-Bricobi, remains the best team in the world. It has lost some top riders like Vandenbroucke, Camenzind and Ballerini but it has also recruited well. Lefevere said: "We have renewed ourselves, with young talent and we are not weakened by these departures."

All his team will be ready for Milan-San Remo, Luik-Bastenaken-Luik and the Tour. For the last stage races he is counting on the Russian rider Rus Pavel Tonkov. Lefevere said: "He is 29 now and for him it is now or never."

Max van Heeswijk knows that feeling. The 25-year old rider was hoping to sefer Rabobank well at the 1998 Tour. He said: "I was sure I would do well at the Tour. I could not believe their decision. They took young riders to the Tour who were certainly not better than me. And they hardly said a word to me about it."

All they told him was that they were resting him and the Tour would not be good for him. Van Heeswijk said: "I was not always in agreement with my racing program with Rabobank. I didn't want to ride a lot of the races they put me in. Sometimes I should have been resting and I was forced to race. In the Tour of Switzerland I had to endure two really bad days when I should have been resting. It affected the way they looked at me for the Tour."

It was a week later that he was ommitted from the Tour team and he met with Lefevere to discuss his future. They already knew each other. The team boss had earlier tried to lure him to Mapei from Motorola in 1996. Van Heeswijk went to Rabobnak and in his first season with the team won a stage of the Tour of Spain. In 1998 he was expecting to make a big jump into the top ranks of the peloton but instead came to a sudden standstill. Van Heeswijk is not bitter though. He said: "Clearly, I think I was mismanaged at Rabobank. But my departure was more to do with not being able to get a good racing program. This year I will have a new start. I will not ride the Tour but will be concentrating on the Giro. It is the race for me. The Tour is for Steels. He is the best sprinter in the team. I will be the sprinter in other races."

Van Heeswijk will get his chance early in the season to make his name. Last year he won a stage in the Ruta del Sol. "From April I will be peaking. Perhaps not in the World Cup races but in the other races. I shall work for Tom Steels too. That is no problem for me. I know also that Tom will help me in some races. With myself and the Belgian, the team has outstanding sprinting opportunities."

Pantani to race Spanish openers

Marco Pantani, will start in the 20th edition of the Ronde van Valencia which will be staged between February 23-27. The tour organiser Antonio Gomar said that the parcourse suited Pantani. Gomar also said during the presentation of the tour that Swiss world champion Oskar Camenzind will start. The tour is over 5 stages with the last split into two parts. There are two time trials - a prologue over 13.6 kms and another 85 kms trial between Calpe and Benidorm. The third stage is the so-called Queen Stage - running the 165 kms from Sagunto to the mountain top finish at Alto de Pla de les Llomes

The Ronde van Valencia is follows the traditional opening of the Spanish season - the Trofee Luis Puig. The 19th edition of this race will be held on February 21 and runs between Benidorm and Valencia over 185 kms.


Rabobank will have 5 new riders in 1999. The team was presented on Wednesday at the main office of the Bank in Utrecht. They have signed the Swiss riders Niki Aebersold and Markus Zberg, who were two revelations in the World Championships in Valkenburg last year, the German rider Grischa Niermann, and the Dutch neo-professionals Karsten Kroon and Matthé Pronk. Team leader Theo de Rooy was happy with the additions to the team. Rabobank has not rehired Austrian Peter Luttenberger, who rode with them for two years. Other riders to leave are Johan Bruinsma, Max van Heeswijk, Jans Koerts and the Danish rider Danny Jonasson.

Team Manager: Jan Raas
Team Leader: Theo de Rooy
Assistant Team Leaders: Adri van Houwelingen and Joop Zoetemelk.

Riders: Niki Aebersold (Swi), Maarten den Bakker, Leon van Bon, Michael Boogerd, Jan Boven, Erik Dekker, Richard Groenendaal, Bert Hiemstra, Patrick Jonker, Karsten Kroon, Marc Lotz, Robbie McEwen (Aus), Koos Moerenhout, Grischa Niermann (Ger), Sven Nijs (Bel), Adri van der Poel, Matthé Pronk, Rolf Sörensen (Den), Aart Vierhouten, Marc Wauters (Bel), Beat Zberg (Swi), Markus Zberg (Swi).

Rabobank also announced that it has a contract with the team until 2003. The team will now have the long-term planning security.