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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Latest News for April 23, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry

Bartoli ready to complete comeback

The 2003 season didn't start as planned for Michele Bartoli (Fassa Bortolo), who crashed in training and fractured his pelvis. The talented Tuscan nonetheless began to rebuild slowly this spring, accumulating enough kilometres in training to be able to participate in Milan-San Remo, even if being competitive was not in the cards.

Now that the spring classics have come, it's time for Bartoli to return to his winning ways, and last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race was perhaps a sign of things to come. Although he missed the key move in the finale, and used much of his team's horsepower chasing the early breaks, Bartoli was nevertheless in fighting shape at Amstel and is now eager to perform at either Flèche Wallonne today, or Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Bartoli has already won them both.

"I was better [at Amstel Gold] than I was last year at the same time," Bartoli told Reuters. "And that didn't stop me from winning the following Sunday. I think very soon I'll feel completely ready. Maybe in Flèche Wallonne, where I won four years ago, or maybe at the Doyenne on Sunday."

As Bartoli explained, the motivation to win has never been lacking. "I take the start of every race to win," he said. "In my head it's always like that, but sometimes the legs don't agree."

Merckx still optimistic

Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo) hasn't had the best of luck so far this spring. Sickness in Paris-Nice, bad legs in the Critérium International, and a Tour de Pays Basque not to be remembered have put a damper on his early season, but the former Belgian champion is still hoping to turn things around. "I have had difficulties getting started," said one of Belgium's favourite cycling sons. "I have been ill a few times. It was the plan that I would find form a bit later this season, but right now, I would have liked to be fitter."

Merckx is normally a man for the Ardennes classics, and he'll be looking for some promising results at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. "I have to remain optimistic, otherwise it's no use to start here," he told Het Nieuwsblad. "I am glad to be in Belgium with my family. At the moment the weather is better here than it is [at home] in Monaco. The form is not bad and is improving step by step. In Amstel I came short still, but that are the type of races I need to have in the legs for later this season."

Merckx is also the type of rider to take his chances when they come, and not focus too heavily on one particular race. "To put everything on Liège-Bastogne-Liège is annoying," he confided. "On the road to Huy I will have to see how I feel. Maybe, with a bit of luck, I'll end up in the decisive break, just like last year when I finished 6th. Although, that final climb is not my cup of tea." "I was so very happy with Peter Van Petegem's wins, for the team that was excellent!" he continued. "But, I do like to win myself too. If another rider from the team would score once more, our spring season would be a complete success."

Verbrugghe anxious too

After the double World Cup success by Lotto-Domo's Peter Van Petegem, his teammates are eager to show their form and carry on the team's winning ways. "After the names of the explicit favourites for the Flèche Wallonne- Vandenbroucke, Celestino, Di Luca and Aerts- there are five or six riders to be added, and among those I put my own name," said Belgian Rik Verbrugghe in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad. "With my current form, I am capable of winning races, but only if I do the least possible work and tackle things in a smart way. It's true that Peter Van Petegem doesn't make mistakes when he's racing. But that's something that I do pretty much ok too."

Going into the Ardennes classics, Verbrugghe struggled a bit with tendonitis, but feels ready to test himself against the favourites. "The form is not on the highest possible level as yet, but I'm getting close to having the best legs possible," he explained. "I was slowed down in my preparation by tendonitis of the achilles. Those problems started in the Tour du Pays Basque. Luckily everything is better now."

"I am capable of doing what I said: podium place in the Giro and the Top ten in the Tour de France," he continued. "The Flèche Wallonne is a race that I won before, so if I had the choice, I'd pick Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. But if I can finish things of on the Mur de Huy, I won't hesitate. I will wait until the finale and will try to be at the front at that time. If that is not possible, I am not going to pull any crazy stunts to finish in tenth position."

Aerts has his own motivation

Defending Flèche Wallonne champion Mario Aerts (Telekom) has his own motivation for winning again atop the Mur de Huy. Team orders which may limit his ambitions Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. As Aerts said in Het Nieuwsblad, "It may be possible for me also in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but I understand that my teammate Vinokourov wants the flowers on Sunday."

In fact, it's not just Mario who would like to see himself win in the Ardennes hills. "If I win in Huy or in Liège, then I will marry Annelies, who I've been living with the past few years. I promised it to her last year in the Tour, but I didn't get any further than two second places."

Ullrich: "I do what I feel like doing again"

Jan Ullrich reached an early and important milestone this week when he won the Rund um Köln race in Germany, his first victory since the World Time Trial Championships in Lisbon, 2001. Ullrich was thrilled with the win, but also knows that bigger tests await, and he's eager to carry on building up to more important races.

"Of course the victory in Köln was nice, but it's not comparable to the Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège," he told Belgian paper Het Volk. "There, the world's top riders are present and I will know how good my form really is. But that I still have potential, that I know for sure."

With comeback well under way, Ullrich is keen to reaffirm his faith in his move from Telekom to Team Coast, and wants to look to the future. "Those few days that I have wondered whether I'd go on cycling, those were the hardest," he explained. "All sorts of questions were going through my head: What do I want to do with my life? What have I done? What do I still want to achieve? Those are the type of questions when you don't ask yourself if you haven't made mistakes."

"I have been so angry at myself and I know that a lot of people have been disappointed in me," he admitted. "But, I didn't have much to lose and I decided to go on. A certain number of decisions have helped me get on the right road again. For example to move from Merdingen to Schertzingen. In Germany I couldn't find peace and quiet any more, I did find that in Switzerland. It's a central place and the Alps are nearby so my training is ideal there."

Ullrich received some criticism for leaving the nest at Telekom, particularly given the shaky foundation at the house of Team Coast. "The decision to leave Telekom was an obvious move," he insisted. "The fact that I am still surrounded by the same people? Well, I'd rather say that I have kept what's good around me. Look, the difference with earlier days is that I didn't start races when I didn't feel that I could win. That is among other things the reason that I only have ridden races like the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège a few times. Now, I have a different attitude: why shouldn't I ride? With this team everything is so much more relaxed for me; I do what pleases me again."

The German's good showing in his first races after over a year out of competition have raised expectations for this summer, but Ullrich is also realistic about his short term goals. "People expect that I will challenge Lance Armstrong once again in the Tour," he said. "But I don't feel the need to excel in this year's Tour. I will be very happy in case I perform well in the World Cup and other races."

That's not to say he will be without ambition come July. "The idea of winning the Tour stage on the day that Gabi might be giving birth to our first baby, on the 14th of July, is a dream; a very nice one."

Heras stays in Spain

US Postal Service's Roberto Heras will miss the Flèche Wallonne today, preferring to return to Spain to visit his father, who has been ill for several months. Heras should return for Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.

Brochard keeps riding

Not long after claiming victory at Tuesday's semi-classic Paris-Camembert, Laurent Brochard (Ag2R-Prévoyance) climbed back on his bike to put in some more time training. Brochard won his second Paris-Camembert in three years with a solo victory in the 200km event. However, anticipating a tough fight to come at Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Brochard knew he needed some more kilometres in the legs. Thus, he decided to ride the 60km from the finish to his home in Le Mans.

"Laurent has a pain threshold and capacity to surpass himself that is not seen so much these days in cycling," Ag2R directeur sportif Gilles Mas told Darren Tulett of Bloomberg News. "He's an old-style rider. He'll keep going all year."

Brochard has found plenty of inspiration at Paris-Camembert, a race he used to watch on the roadside as a young child. "I would watch them all whiz by and dream one day of being among them," he said.

Vendée crash claims another

Ludovic Turpin (Ag2R-Prévoyance) has joined the ranks of those injured in a mass pileup at the Tour de Vendée. Turpin began to feel pain after the race, and initial x-rays revealed a fracture of the scaphoid. He will miss Liège-Bastogne-Liège and faces a possible month off the bike.

"We'll only be seven at Liège," team manager Vincent Lavenu told l'Equipe. "We have 19 riders and at the moment it's a bit stretched. Kirsipuu and Flickinger are taking a break, and Nicolas Inaudi who has tendonitis, still needs three weeks of rest."

McGee takes short break

Meanwhile,'s Bradley McGee, whose injuries from the crash at first seemed inconsequential. has been sidelined by pain in his leg. McGee did not ride Paris-Camembert as planned. "I fell heavily on my left hip, but most of all I have a lot of pain in my thigh. I can push on the pedals but not pull."

"I already had this kind of problem when I was a young track rider," the Australian told l'Equipe, "and after two days of rest everything was back in order."

McGee, scheduled to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège, hopes to be on the start line in Belgium this Sunday.

Swift Post backs Elliott to deliver on time

By Tommy Campbell, Irish Independent/Evening Herald/Sunday Independent

Recognised as one of the top events in Ireland for many years, the Shay Elliott Memorial has retained its status on the UCl calendar, and will proceed on Sunday with the financial backing of Swift Post. It is recognised as a UCI 1.5 event with points awarded based on the UCI scale.

In general there has been an excellent response and entries closed over a week ago with 120 listed. Not only will the promoters- Bray Wheelers CC has domestic competitors- but there is also a good number of foreign entrants. This will cause a bit of a stir in the peloton and should equally serve up good competition.

Last year's winner, Mark Lovatt from England will be an absentee as will the winner of the last weekend's Credit Union Ras Mumhan, Kevin Dawson. The other notable name missing will be John Tanner. Naturally, this leaves a yawning gap, but according to Life Repair team manager, Philip Leigh, "we were caught off guard. The trio were all set to come, but unfortunately circumstances beyond our control has forced to excuse ourselves. We do intend putting in a team, which will hopefully do us justice. Some of the boys were in Ireland for Ras Mumhan. They got on well and I don't see why we will not be there or thereabouts on Sunday evening," said Philip.

The race starts from the seaside town of Bray at 10:30am, not mid-day as listed in various publications. The competitors will tackle a tough 15km course through the "Garden County" of Wicklow. The route takes in the two climbs of the Old Wicklow Gap and the famous climb of Glenmalure where there is a monument erected by the Bray Wheelers Cycling Club in memory of Shay Elliott. The race finishes in Bray around 14:30.

Past winners of the race include Ciaran Power, who is now a professional with Team Navigators in the USA, ex-pro Peter Crinnion, and Sean Kelly, who won the race twice and is the only rider to win the race as a junior. Another interesting winner was Pat McQuaid, now a leading light in the hierarchy of the UCI.

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