By Andrew Hood

Photo: AFP

Three-straight Tour de France podium appearances gives Joseba Beloki quiet confidence going into the 2003 Tour.

Often criticized for simply following rather than attacking, Beloki believes his time has come. The ONCE rider says he’s feeling better than ever and promises to give reigning champion Lance Armstrong a run for his money.

“I feel better than other years,” Beloki told the Spanish sports daily AS in an interview. “I will go to win. I believe it’s time. You have to try to force Armstrong’s decline instead of just waiting for it and I believe this is a good year for that to happen.”

Although ONCE strongman Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano won’t be racing at the Tour, Beloki believes his ONCE team can give Armstrong’s Postal squad some problems, especially in the mountains. Despite a team that includes Roberto Heras and the recently added mountain goat Manuel Beltran, Beloki said he sees a Postal team weaker than previous years. “I believe the U.S. Postal Service team is weak in the mountains. More than Armstrong, his own team can fail. That’s when have to be ready. Not to yield even one meter, not let him dominate you or put you in a nervous position,” Beloki said. “Riding in the style of (Iban) Mayo can put Armstrong in difficulties.”

Beloki went on to say that he had no problems with his relations with Armstrong and that he’s not particularly bothered that when people talk of favorites, names such as Tyler Hamilton and Jan Ullrich come up, not Joseba Beloki.

The million dollar question: Will Beloki attack Armstrong?

“We’ll see. We are talking about someone who can maintain an average speed of 53 kph for an hour in a time trial. The others, we’re more or less equal, but he’s ahead. In stage 14, it’s like he’s riding in stage three,” Beloki said. “When this guy attacks, all you can do is watch. But someday he will fail.”

Tormented Pantani pleads for privacy
The 1998 Tour de France and Tour of Italy winner Marco Pantani on Wednesday made a heartfelt plea for privacy following his admission to a clinic which specializes in nervous disorders, drug addiction and alcoholism.

The Italian cyclist, due in court on September 19 after high hematocrit levels were found in his blood during the 1999 Tour of Italy – an indicator but not proof that a rider may be using EPO – checked into the Villa Parco dei Tigli private hospital near Padova earlier this week.

Roberto Conti, a close friend of the flamboyant Italian, told La Stampa newspaper on Monday that Pantani – who during the recent Tour of Italy showed glimpses of his former self – was suffering from stress.

“I want to get my message across to everyone in this letter and bring an end to the speculation about my state of health,” Pantani said in a statement on Wednesday.

“I confirm that I have begun my recovery program at the Parco dei Tigli in accordance with my doctor. I am asking everyone to end their continual visits and requests for information as a mark of respect for my privacy which I deserve, and above all for the privacy of the other patients in the clinic and their families, who have been made to feel awkward in the past few days. And for that I apologize.

“For everything that has been said and in order to reassure the fans – who over the last few days have shown me great affection, support and most of all respect – I have authorized the doctors here to issue bulletins about my progress.”

Pantani has already served a six-month ban for his failed drugs test but now faces prosecution charges as doping in Italy is a criminal offence.The Italian also hit the headlines in relation to a syringe, containing insulin, that was found in his bedroom during last year’s Tour of Italy.

For that offence he was initially banned for eight months in June 2002 by the Italian Cycling Federation, but later won an appeal due to an absence of proof.

Cycling’s world ruling body the Union Cycliste Internationale failed to convince the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reinstate the ban, allowing Pantani to get back on his bike in March of this year.
(Copyright AFP2003)

Millar, Moncoutie lead Cofidis
The French Cofidis team will bank on David Millar and David Moncoutié to lead its nine-man roster for the Tour de France.

Millar is hoping to grab the yellow jersey in the opening prologue in Paris and hunt for stages while Moncoutié, 13th overall last year, wants to finish in the top-5. Cofidis has had a lackluster season, with the spring marred by the death of Andrei Kivilev at Paris-Nice. The only wins have come with Millar winning at the Tour of Picardie and Moncoutié scoring a stage-win at Route du Sud.

Cofidis for the Tour
David Moncoutié (F)
Cédric Vasseur (F)
Médéric Clain (F)
Philippe Gaumont (F)
David Millar (GB)
Guido Trentin (I)
Massimiliano Lelli (I)
Iñigo Cuesta (Sp)
Luis Perez (Sp)

No Sevilla, Kelme goes in hoping
With Spanish star Oscar Sevilla on the sidelines recovering from a groin injury, Kelme presented their Tour de France lineup Tuesday without a clear leader.

Team manager Joan Mas told AFP that the team, which includes four newcomers, was selected for the fighting spirit but they were still unsure of the participation of sprinter Isaac Galvez, who may be replaced by Julian Usano. Galvez is suffering from tendonitis and might not be able to start.

Mas said they were counting on Jesus Manzano, Jose Enrique Gutierrez and David Latasa to do the best they can in the overall, while Javier Pascual Llorente and Ivan Parra could produce something in the mountains and Galvez over the sprints.

“We’d like to do well also in the team standings,” Mas said. Kelme for the Tour
Jesus Manzano (Sp)
Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Sp)
Ignacio Gutierrez (Sp)
David Latasa (Sp)
Javier Pascual Llorente (Sp)
David Munoz (Sp)
Antonio Tauler (Sp)
Isaac Galvez (Sp)
Ivan Parra (Col).

Mondoni wins Italian TT title
Giampaolo Mondoni (Domina Vacanze) won the Italian national time trial championships, easily besting a small field. Mondoni, who rode for U.S. Postal Service in 2002 before being let go for his role in the San Remo raids of the 2001 Giro, joined Domina Vacanze earlier this season.

Mondoni covered the 41km course in 55 minutes, 27 seconds for an average speed of 44.364 kph, finishing more than a minute faster than Manuel Quinziato (Lampre) and Andrea Rossi (De Nardi), who came in third at 1:58 slower.