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89th Tour de France - Grand Tour
France, July 6-28, 2002
Tour de France news for July 3, 2002
Edited by Jeff Jones
Tom Steels has his sights on the Tour
Recently crowned Belgian champion Tom Steels (Mapei-Quick Step) has his eyes firmly fixed on the Tour de France, where he will surely be a protagonist in the bunch sprints. His win on Sunday after 248 kilometres of classic Belgian kermesse racing confounded the other teams such as Lotto-Adecco, Domo-Farm Frites and Palmans-Collstrop who had the numerical strength to completely dictate the race. In the last 500 metres it all came together for a bunch sprint, and Steels made no mistake in winning it, his third Belgian championship.
"I am eagerly anticipating the sprints in the Tour," said Steels in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad. "The National Jersey has given me a lot of confidence; if needed I'll even ride at the front a bit more. I can do it."
He demonstrated that in Maldegem on Sunday by riding in the breakaway from the second lap, contributing his share of work and staying in the leading group for the rest of the day. Although he was certainly the best sprinter in the pack, it's not easy to beat riders such as Van Petegem, Mattan, Verbrugghe, Baguet, Aerts, Merckx, Museeuw and a motivated Ludovic Capelle for that coveted tri-coloured jersey.
Steels also had to come to terms with a two year battle against Glandular Fever (Mononucleosis), which in addition to its physically debilitating effects, severely affected his confidence. Fortunately, his team had faith in him and that is starting to be repaid, with hopefully more to come in the Tour. Steels is Mapei's most successful rider, with 56 victories to his credit since he started riding with them in 1996. Rominger won 48 races for them, while Museeuw and Vandenbroucke won 39.
"After the victory in the Four Days of Dunkirk I sort of sunk away a bit again. In the Tour of Belgium I didn't feel good, I wasn't good in Germany either. The week after I won in Catalonia, my wife Leen and our daughter Lobke came down with a virus. I thought: No, not again! But I stayed calm, and look, it's been a long time since my legs felt this good."
"The doubts will stick with me for a while longer though. What else to expect? Two years of doing it tough don't disappear within two weeks. I can feel that especially in the days before a race. Am I going to make it?"
Steels could feel his legs coming back, but he found it hard to translate that into wins. "On top of that, I didn't get much mental rest during the last few months. My team-mate and friend Fabien De Waele first didn't get selected for the Tour, then Lobke had serious health problems...it all threatened to get on top of me. Luckily I have learned to empty my mind of worries during the race."
Now he hopes to make a good show of things in the Tour, so that "...we can convince Belgian sponsor Quick Step to look after the Belgian side of the Mapei Squad in first instance. This is a very good group; the riders, the personnel, the team director, we have a lot of fun together...there aren't many of us, but we can still make a fist!"
Lampre-Daikin for the Tour
Lampre-Daikin managers Giuseppe Saronni and Pietro Algeri have selected a well-balanced team for the Tour de France. Raimondas Rumsas, in his first participation in the Tour, has been designated as captain. Ludo Dierckxsens and Jan Svorada will be aiming at stage wins, and the Czech sprinter dreams about repeating last year's triumph in the final stage on the Champs Elysées.
Dierckxsens and Svorada will be accompanied by promising young riders such as Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvian road champion) and Brazilian fast man Luciano Pagliarini. The remainder of the team is Rubens Bertogliati, Alessandro Cortinovis, Marco Pinotti and Marco Serpellini.
Pietro Algeri is fully confident in Raimondas Rumsas as captain: "The Lithuanian rider, although debuting in the Grande Boucle, can finish in the first ten positions of the final ranking; I expect to see him among the protagonists both on the mountains and in the time trials."
No love lost between Leblanc and Cipollini
The feud between super sprinter Mario Cipollini and Tour de France boss Jean-Marie Leblanc continues, with Leblanc calling him "More than a champion, he is a star" in response to Cipollini's comment that Leblanc was a "dictator".
"I admire him for his performances, for his perseverance, but I know that in addition to being a champion he is above all a star of show-business who gives provocative comments to the media and the public. Those who know me know that the head of the Tour is not a dictator....If it was so the selector of a soccer team would be a dictator when he chooses the 11 players to go on the field. In '89, I introduced a rational criteria to choose the teams, based on the UCI ranking. Our personal choices only represent four or five teams."