News for May 14, 2000

83rd Giro d'Italia

Hruska: Vitalicio quietly confident

Although he was a little bit of a surprise winner of today's prologue, Czech Jan Hruska had the solid backing of his Vitalicio Seguros team director, Javier Mínguez. Hruska will wear the first pink jersey (Maglia Rosa) of the race tomorrow from Rome to Terracina after he averaged nearly 49 kilometres per hour around the streets of the Vatican today. In fact, so close was the margin that Paolo Savoldelli was awarded the victory before the judges realised their mistake.

Hruska has been up there though in several time trials this year, most recently placing second in the TT stage of the Giro del Trentino. The winner of that stage, Simone Borgheresi (Mercatone) could only place 54th today, although he was just 16 seconds behind Hruska.

Hruska is 25 years old and is ranked 95th on the UCI scale. This is his sixth professional victory (including time trials and criteriums) and certainly his most significant. Combined with a Czech win on the last stage of the Peace Race in Prague today, that country's cycling fans had some cause for celebration.

Cipo flies the flag

Pope Cipollini
Photo: © AFP

The shy and retiring Mario Cipollini of Saeco decided in the end to start this year's Giro - and he did in typical style, finishing fourth in the prologue with hungry eyes on the Maglia Rosa in a few days time. Just a few days after he posed nude for a publicity shot, Supermario went low key today, dressing in a Pope-like white and mauve cycling uniform adorned with the insignia of the Vatican.

As this is the Catholic Church's Jubilee 2000, the Tuscan sprinter decided to honour it in his own way by looking the part. "When I learned that the prologue of the Giro d'Italia would conclude at the Vatican, I began to wonder how I might help to celebrate the church's millennium observance," said Cipollini. "As a bicycle racer, something of this nature was the most obvious answer." Along with the special cycling jersey and shorts, Cipollini was wearing matching cycling gloves, cycling shoes, and cycling socks.combined with his color-coordinated white Cannondale bicycle.

A Jubilee or Holy Year, dates back to the Old Testament and is important for religious people. It is a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin, and a year of reconciliation between adversaries. The trumpet with which a Holy Year was announced in ancient times was a goat's horn called Yovel in Hebrew, and provides the origin for the word "jubilee." In the Catholic Church, Holy Years are decreed by the Pope and trace their origins to 1300 when the first Holy Year was established by Pope Boniface VIII.

Is Cipollini comparing himself to Pope John Paul II? "Of course not," he said. "My uniform and the insignia are signs of tribute, honor and respect for His Holiness. He is a man of God, and I am a mere bicycle racer. I am very content to be the second-most famous man in Italy."

McGee's best

Australian Bradley McGee came within a whisker of winning the prologue as well, finishing just one second behind Savoldelli and Hruska at the end of the 4.6 kilometres. McGee is certainly a specialist in this type of event, having extensive experience (and World Championship medals) on the track in the 4,000 m teams and individual pursuit. McGee is the current holder of the Australian Hour record at 50.52 km/h and has won prologues in the Tour de Normandie and the Tour de l'Avenir (both 1999).

Although third today, this would qualify as his best result on the road, and he is certainly maturing as a rider this year with his team. Could we see him in yellow in July? No, according to his schedule: he will fly back to Australia after the Giro for a short break, followed by some intensive track training before joining the AIS track program again.

Berzin out of the Giro

The irony is painful but it's true. Mobilvetta-Rossin rider, Evgueni Berzin was excluded from the Giro today after failing a hematocrit test before the Vatican prologue. A former winner of this race in 1994 when he rode for Gewiss, Berzin has since faded out of the limelight, despite promising much. He will be suspended for 15 days and his Giro is over before it started.

The hematocrit test is not indicative of EPO use, although the UCI have modified slightly this year to include a measurement of hemaglobin. Additionally, several riders have claimed irregularities in their tests, leading to false results (e.g. Dekker and Bo Larsen). Berzin claimed that he was sick on the eve of the prologue, contributing to his greater than 50 percent value.

Berzin's team director, Stefano Giuliani was reportedly mystified at the news. "Berzin said to me that he had been sick during the night. I do not know what to think," he said, and subsequently fired Berzin.

Berzin was the only one of the 180 riders to fail the test, as all were tested today. The same procedure where all riders are tested before the start applies to the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España as well.

Pantani: What next?

Marco Pantani has started his nth comeback with a 174th placing in today's Giro prologue. Never a renowned time triallist, the Pirate lost 40 seconds to eventual winner, Jan Hruska (Vitalicio), who suprised many in edging out Paolo Savoldelli (Saeco). 40 seconds is not a lot in the scheme of things, and Pantani is definitely not looking to win this tour. However, his very participation indicates that he has his sights set on the Tour de France - a race that he has won before and wouldn't mind bagging again.

He may not even finish this Giro, depending on how he feels in the first week. He has a plan B though, involving the Bizikleta Vasca, a Spanish 2.1 category race from May 24-28, should he fail here. Of course, there is also the Dauphine Libere, the Tour of Luxembourg, and the Tour de Suisse to fine tune his preparation.

Former champion Eddy Merckx said that it would be "significant" if he finished the Giro, especially as it would jump start his Tour preparation no end. The last French winner of the Giro, Laurent Fignon (1989) offered several comments as to Pantani's return. He believed that the Giro was the wrong choice for obvious reasons - he should have returned a little more low key.

"Reasonably, he can hope for nothing," said Fignon to AFP. " Whatever his level of fitness, he misses the race kilometres. Especially at this time of the season, when the others are in full form, with 20,000 kilometers behind them".

" Marco cannot be in condition for a Grand Tour, even if he were fully fit," said double Giro winner, Miguel Indurain. " If he is in difficulties, its morale can be affected even. It would have been preferable for him to start in a smaller race."

Alex Zülle managed to do it last year, after serving his suspension for admitting to drug use. He could not race until the end of April 1999, but started the Giro and pulled out halfway. However, he then placed second in the Tour.

Pantani has a plan in mind here, but it may be that he has started too high. July will reveal all.

Meanwhile in Italy...

The last round (before the World Championships in June) of the mountain bike World Cup is on today. Sarentino, in northern Italy is the place, and World Cup leaders, Alison Dunlap (GT) and Christophe Dupouey (Giant) will be looking to maintain their positions at the top before the break. The World's are scheduled for June 3-11 in Spain, so this World Cup event will see many riders vying for places in their own national teams.

This is the first time in five years that a World Cup Cross Country event has been held in Italy, although the country has hosted several category one events in the intervening years. It's expected that the 25,000 strong crowds seen at the last few races will again be present in Sarentino, as people come from nearby Austria and Germany as well to watch the spectacle.

New velodrome for Bromont

The Québec government have announced that they will invest 1.9 million dollars (US$1.5 million) into building a new international velodrome in Bromont. Although there is an existing 200 metre track there, the new 250 velodrome will be of a greater standard, allowing Québec based track riders to better prepare for the World Championships and the Olympics. Also, it will enable Bromont to host international competitions using high standard facilities. Québec representation in the Canadian track team has been poor since the late '80's when half of the team was from Québec.

The Québec Sports Minister, Gilles Baril, announced on May 12 that the investment would be made, along with an additional $25,000 (US$20,000) for a mountain bike and BMX track. The Board of directors of the Bromont National Training Center will determine later how it will dispose of the existing 200 metre track.