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Latest Cycling News for March 11, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Julich's Paris-Nice: "This is the year"

By Chris Henry

Julich returns
Photo ©: Cyclingnews

Sitting in third place overall at the start of the fifth stage of Paris-Nice, with teammates Jörg Jaksche and Jens Voigt in the yellow and green jerseys, respectively, American Bobby Julich has found himself in perfect position. After joining CSC for 2004 and rediscovering his own motivation throughout the team's training camps in Italy, Julich is already seeing his fresh start pay off.

Speaking to Cyclingnews the night before the race's opening time trial, Julich displayed a clear understanding of how the race might play out, and thus far things have gone very much in CSC's favour.

"I wouldn't be disappointed if we didn't win Paris-Nice, but I would be surprised," Julich said of his team's chances. "I think we're going to have a very successful race."

As Jaksche won Sunday's 13 kilometre time trial, Julich took 7th spot and Voigt added another top ten result. Julich knew the time trial would be a stage in which the race wouldn't be won, but it could definitely be lost. As it turned out, the first road stage on Monday offered CSC a chance to test its strength and ultimately knock several team leaders out of competition with an aggressive all out attack on the windy plains south of Paris.

"We'll need to make a selection early and we need to have all eight guys well placed in the time trial to have more cards to play," Julich explained. By the end of day two, CSC had indeed placed its entire team in a select group of 36 riders, putting some five minutes (or more) into the rest of the field. The following stage saw a long break go clear as Julich and company adopted a more defensive position to guard Jaksche's jersey. Cold, damp conditions didn't make the racing any easier, and Wednesday's stage 4 was ultimately cancelled due to snow and sub-freezing temperatures.

"Friday and Saturday will be tough," Julich said, thinking of the likely challenges in this year's race. "It will depend on the weather. It'll be a little easier to control if it's good weather, but in bad weather you risk making mistakes."

No mistakes yet for CSC, but plenty of racing remains and the toughest days of racing are still to come. Nonetheless, Julich is clearly a rider reborn and whether it's in defense of Jaksche's jersey or taking his own chances, this year's Paris-Nice is an important chance to rediscover his form from seasons past.

"I did Paris-Nice as a neo-pro in 1995, and I remember saying to myself that this was a race I wanted to win," Julich said with a smile. "Is hasn't worked out, but I was never as physically fit as I am now. If there's ever a year I'm going to be competitive, this is the year."

Early days for the sprinters

Thus far in their head to head battles, Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) has the edge over Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) in the bunch sprints. Petacchi took his first wins over Cipollini in the opening stages of the Giro della Provincia di Lucca, and continued the pattern in Wednesday's first stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. Cipollini isn't too concerned, looking ahead to bigger races, not least of which the Tour de France.

"He felt bad enough [Wednesday] that we decided not to make the team work," explained Cipollini's director Antonio Salutini. Cipollini didn't persist with his sprint against Petacchi, sitting up in the final metres, insisting later that he hopes to use Tirreno-Adriatico to build his form.

"Right now, I'm only thinking of Milan-San Remo," Cipollini said, quoted in Thursday's l'Equipe. "And it's at the Giro and the Tour that the real showdown will come, when we're both at our top condition."

Petacchi also offered up some modesty despite his quick return to the fore among sprinters. "What do you want me to say, Cipollini's finished and he's not as strong?" Petacchi asked aloud after the stage. "I would say that if I believed it, but I don't. Right now I'm able to beat him but that could change. Besides, I'm not only sprinting against Mario. I also have to worry about Freire and Zabel."

McEwen out of Paris-Nice

Australian Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) has decided not to start the fifth stage of Paris-Nice Thursday, suffering from a sinus infection for the past week. No decision has yet been made on McEwen's next race, though barring complications he will plan on Milan-San Remo, the opening round of the World Cup on March 20.

"Robbie has been on antibiotics," said directeur sportif Claude Criquielion. "The cold weather hasn't helped anything..."

Debate over soigneur's role continues

Paris-Nice this year brought an important change for the way teams operate, as the French ministry of sport mandated that only licensed physical therapists are authorised to administer massage on cyclists*. Traditionally the role of the 'soigneur', massage is a critical component of a cyclist's daily recover, but it is not the only task performed by the soigneurs, also referred to as technical assistants. With the sudden change in attitude, teams have now been required to hire physical therapists, while at the same time keeping the staff assistants, both out of necessity and out of loyalty.

For Paris-Nice, race organiser ASO hired two physical therapists to fill the void for French teams which have not yet been able to engage their own staff under the new regulation. In the early days of the race, it hasn't been enough, and not all riders have been able to receive a massage. For team managers and riders alike, the new rules pose a challenge and represent an affront to one of the fundamentals of the sport.

"To begin again the next day, it's invaluable," French national champion said of his daily massage in a l'Equipe article. "My masseur is also my confidant. I pass the most time with him, relaxed on the table. He reassures me, and he knows my legs. Just my touching them he knows whether I'm going well or not."

For Rous, and many others, switching to a physical therapist is not an attractive alternative.

"A therapist doesn't know how to give a massage," Rous insisted. "To me, a therapist is good for a case of tendinitis, or a dislocation... for therapy after an accident, but not for a massage after a race. They don't have the touch. It takes real physical force for a massage.

"If I can't get massaged like that, I'll go home," Rous insisted. "I'll pay my masseur myself if I have to. I don't want anyone to do anything improper, and I don't want to put my team in an awkward situation, but I have a right to do what I want with my legs."

The additional challenge for teams is an obvious one: the financial challenge. No French team is eager to fire their current technical assistants, particularly since massage has been just one of many crucial duties, including driving vehicles, preparing water bottles and feed bags, etc.

"According to our information, a therapist costs €160 a day without tax, or €2,880 for Paris-Nice," explained RAGT Semences-MG Rover directeur sportif Jean-Luc Jonrond. "To do that for every race adds up. In fact we've been negotiating with our sponsors for an additional budget, because this comes at a price."

* For the moment this rule applies only to French teams and foreign teams have been allowed to function with their usual soigneurs performing massage.

Beloki puts on brave face

Sidelined in the early season by nagging tendinitis, Joseba Beloki (Brioches la Boulangère) continues to put on a brave face, hoping to return to competition within the month. Beloki has already been forced to delay planned entry into racing several times, suffering from pain in his leg after several consecutive days of hard training. His number one goal remains the Tour de France, and he insists he still has time, even if his top rivals Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich have begun racing.

"That doesn't worry me, I have enough to worry about for myself," Beloki said in a Marca interview, referring to his competition's early start. "More than worrying about the others, I just need to focus on getting to the Tour like last year."

Beloki insists that he has fully recovered from his season-ending crash last year in the Tour de France. Referring to his injured leg, he joked "the only problem is that it weights 150 grams more," noting the presence of a titanium plate and five screws inserted to repair the damage.

"I still have to build a bit more muscle," he added, "so I have to keep working hard, and that's why I haven't wanted to rush my starting date."

Monument for Pantani

A monument will be placed on the climb of the Colle Fauniera near Cuneese, Italy to honour deceased Tour de France and Giro d'Italia champion Marco Pantani. It was on this climb that Pantani claimed the maglia rosa in dramatic fashion during the 1999 Giro d'Italia, before before eventually being ejected from the race due to an elevated hematocrit level. A black marble bust will provide a memorial to Pantani on the slopes of the climb, an image of which will be presented before the Giro's first road stage this year.

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