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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest News for May 19, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

Tour selection leaves Cipollini in the cold

Domina Vacanze's reaction: "Difficult to understand"

By Jeff Jones and Tim Maloney

The non-selection of Mario Cipollini's Domina Vacanze team for the Centenary Tour de France has amazed cycling fans, who are wondering why one of the world's most popular riders and the current World Champion deserves to be left out of the world's biggest race. Three out of the four wild cards were given to French teams: Ag2r, Brioches la Boulangère and Jean Delatour, while the fourth went to popular Spanish squad Euskaltel-Euskadi.

Jean Delatour scraped in after a poor start to the season, and lamented before the wild cards were announced that not being selected for the Tour could mean the end of the team. They were given a reprieve, after good performances in the Tour of Romandie and the Four Days of Dunkirk. In addition, Patrice Halgand won a stage in last year's Tour.

For Domina Vacanze, the decision came as a disappointment, especially after the high of Mario Cipollini's Binda-equalling stage win yesterday in the Giro. The last time that Cipollini raced the Tour was in 1999, when he won four stages. Since then he has been overlooked by the Tour de France, more due to his performances off the bike than on it and the Tour's dislike of his seeming lack of respect for the race.

When informed of the decision, Domina Vacanze's team director Giuseppe Petito told Cyclingnews, "Well we're stunned. It's really difficult to understand the decision. We think you want to put the best riders in the race and Cipollini is the World Champion, the best rider in the world. It's kind of an embarrassment for us but also for the people who made the decision. But we hope there still might be a chance because there's a team that has a spot that may not be able to ride. We're still hopeful."

Mario Cipollini couldn't believe it either. "This is completely absurd," he said in an interview with Bloomberg News. "This piece of news leaves us completely puzzled. I don't understand this unrelenting attack on my reputation, considering I am wearing an important jersey. They will be remembered for being the first ones not to invite the World Champion to their race. At this point, we're absolutely speechless."

In further comments to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the World Champion added, "I feel like being sick, but I have to be diplomatic and controlled."

For his part, Tour de France race director Jean-Marie Leblanc repeated the same reason that he has used in the past to rule out Cipollini, namely that the Italian star has never finished the three week race. "Cipollini is a great champion, a great sprinter and a real star, but we weren't convinced he deserved our total confidence for a Tour de France that will hit the mountains after just one week," said Leblanc to Bloomberg. "I have of lot admiration for Mario but we weren't convinced. The Tour de France is a competition not a show."

Past history not good

Although Leblanc cited Cipo's inability to finish the race as the primary reason for leaving him out, it must be noted that Cipollini is certainly capable of riding over the mountains - he has shown that in the Giro on a number of occasions by finishing in Milan. Also, it's difficult for him to finish the Tour when he doesn't get invited to the start.

Perhaps the ASO haven't forgotten what happened before Paris-Roubaix last year, when Cipollini, as the wearer of the World Cup jersey, announced that he would like to take part in the race. The organisers obtained special dispensation from the UCI to allow a 26th team to start, but then Cipollini decided he didn't want to race after all.

Cipollini went on to have one of his best ever seasons, starting with his victory in Milan-San Remo and following that with Gent-Wevelgem, six stages in the Giro, three stages in the Vuelta, and then the World Championships in Zolder. Despite this, his team didn't gain status as a "Top 10 Club", thereby not being guaranteed starts in all the major tours in 2003.

Once again, Cipollini had to rely on being given a wild card in order to be selected for the Tour, and earlier this year there seemed to be a reconciliation of sorts between the champion Italian and the Société du Tour de France. Race director Jean-Marie Leblanc said in January this year that "We are favourably prejudiced towards Cipollini. But it is necessary to see how his team, which has not raced yet, performs. If this is the Cipollini of the past season, he has a good chance to be invited back."

Now that seems highly improbable, although there is a vacant 22nd team spot which is currently being held for Jan Ullrich's Team Coast, which is being reorganised as Team Bianchi. In a statement today, the ASO said "The Coast team is currently suspended; the organisers of the Tour de France will decide upon its eventual replacement once the International Cycling Union (UCI) has definitely taken its stand on the question."

Where is the competition?

The Tour de France will remain as the biggest bicycle race in the world, but it risks losing status if it continually ignores the best riders. This year's Centenary Tour is looking more and more like a cakewalk for Lance Armstrong, who would be the first to admit that competition is good for the race. With the absence of Jan Ullrich, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and Raimondas Rumsas, Armstrong will not face three of his biggest rivals. Someone may step in to fill those shoes, but there are no guarantees at the moment.

The sprinting competition should still be strong, but the absence of Mario Cipollini once again will take away some of the spectacle of the race, which is seen by many as much more than a competition on two wheels.

The 21 teams that will ride the Centenary Tour are as follows:

Brioches La Boulangère
Crédit Agricole
Fassa Bortolo
Jean Delatour
Quick Step-Davitamon
Team CSC
US Postal - Berry Floor

86th Giro d'Italia news

Cipollini's "most beautiful win"

After equalling the 70 year old stage win record of Alfredo Binda yesterday, Mario Cipollini's morale reached a whole new level, after a relatively poor first week of the Giro where he couldn't win a stage. Cipo even received a call from Lance Armstrong last night to congratulate him on his victory, which was his third this season and the 184th in his career.

"It was the most beautiful win of my career," Cipollini was quoted in La Gazzetta dello Sport today. "Zolder and San Remo were one thing. But this one, with all the difficulty I had before was really something big. At the start in Lecce, I was the centre of attention. A week later, they were writing that I was finished. They said I was old."

"It was a really good sprint and in the last 100m I was head to head with Petacchi and McEwen. I went beyond anything to win. The last eight days has been an eternity. I really suffered. I was just closed inside myself. I tried to stay close to the people who were most dear to me."

"I never thought I would reach this record," added Re Leone. "But I feel very humbled when I compare my feats to those of Binda, who should be spoken more of as a major champion."

Cipollini also gave his thoughts on possible Tour selection, which was made at midday on Monday [see separate story]. "There's no guarantee that we're going to the Tour," he said. "Our participation doesn't depend on the win today but we do think that the World Champion deserves to be there."

Pantani disappointed in team

Marco Pantani had some less than favourable comments about his Mercatone Uno team after the first mountain stage to Terminillo. In today's Gazzetta dello Sport, Pantani said that he was disappointed at only having one teammate with him on the climb. "There are some problems in the team," he said. "Right now it's better that they stay private but I'll explain in the next few days. But there was a lack of professionalism in the team that really got me nervous. I started the stage really stressed but the fact that I lost that time had nothing to do with that. At the end, I could only ride a defensive race on the climb.

Stage 9 - May 19: Arezzo-Montecatini Terme 160km

From the beautiful city of Petrarch and Piero della Francesca to the hoity-toity spa town of Montecatini Terme, Stage 9 heads into the heart of bike-mad Tuscany. After 40km, the percorso enters the vineyards of Chianti, crosses the famous wine region, then travels along the Greve River valley with a flat final 70km. Both Mario Cipollini and Alessandro Petacchi are from the region and both proud Toscanacci want to take the honours in Montecatini Terme, where the sprint is a tricky one - a slight uphill with a right turn with 300m to go.

Click here for Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 9 of the Giro d'Italia.

Broken forearm for Bouyer

Brioches la Boulangère rider Franck Bouyer has broken his forearm after crashing in the final stage of the Tour de Picardie, a 5.5 kilometre time trial which was held in wet conditions. Bouyer broke his arm in two places and will be out for a number of weeks.

Broken elbow for Van de Vijver

Belgian cyclist Heidi Van De Vijver's unlucky season continued when she crashed during training on Saturday, May 17 and broke her elbow. The cause of the crash was a couple of cats who were chasing each other, one of them going through Van der Vijver's front wheel.

She was taken to a hospital in Diest and later transferred to a hospital in her birthplace of Bornem, where she was operated on that evening. Doctors told her that she will be out for two to three months, which will severely impact the rest of her season. Van de Vijver has hardly raced at all this year after crashing in La Primavera Rosa in March. Had it not been for that, she would have been racing the Tour de l'Aude at the moment.

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