By Andrew Hood
Just like last year, Michele Bartoli (Fassa Bortolo) won Saturday’s Giro di Lombardia, the final major European race of the 2003 racing season.
Just like last year, Bartoli was left off the Italian road world’s team and came into the “Race of the Falling Leaves” with something to prove. Unlike last year, this time he won the hilly Lombardia with a forceful solo attack with less than 20km to go. Cofidis rider Angelo Lopeboselli was the only rider who stood up to the challenge, but the cagey Bartoli held off the young gun to sprint to victory.
Saturday’s 97th running of Lombardia started with intrigue worthy of a season-ending finale. British rider Charly Wegelius (De Nardi-Colpack) failed a pre-race blood test (see below) while newly crowned world champion Igor Astarloa (Saeco) kissed and made up with about-to-be crowned World Cup champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step). The two have been exchanging words (and lawsuit threats) since Astarloa claimed Bettini offered him money to throw the world championships last week in Canada.
Astarloa said it was all a misunderstanding, and Bettini evidently believes him. The pair spoke at length before the start of the race, and Bettini later withdrew his threat of a legal action against the Spanish rider.
It was Astarloa’s first race appearance since startling the favorites last weekend in Hamilton. Team Saeco wrapped up the World Cup team-classification standings Saturday, and Astarloa finished in the main bunch in his first and last race with Saeco wearing the rainbow jersey. He joins Cofidis for the 2004 season in a contract that was already drawn up before the world championships.
In another weekend of repeats, Bettini won the overall World Cup title for the second year running. Last year, he still needed a strong showing to hold off Johan Museeuw and claim his first World Cup title. This time around, three-round winner Bettini had the title sewed up even before the start in Cantu, and he abandoned before arriving in Bergamo. Happily, Bartoli gave the race, one of cycling’s “monuments,” a worthy ending.
The race was animated from the start, with riders taking their shots against the big guns. The lead group was whittled down to about 40 riders when Andrea Peron (CSC) and others attacked going over the Berbenno summit, the day’s penultimate climb.
Rabobank and Fassa Bortolo drove hard to bring back the move on the descent, and everyone was holding their breath for the day’s final climb, the short but steep Colle Aperto heading into Bergamo.
Bartoli surprised everyone with an attack with just under 20km to go. Lopeboselli was the only who took up the challenge, and the rest of the bunch were marked by Cofidis and Fassa Bortolo.
Bartoli tried to shake Lopeboselli up the final climb, but the Cofidis rider wouldn’t buckle. Finally, Bartoli got on his rival’s wheel and easily came around to take a huge win as he leaves Fassa Bortolo for Team CSC for the next two seasons.
Dario Frigo came through third at 1:31 back to give Fassa Bortolo a nice podium presence. Beat Zberg (Rabobank) won the bunch sprint at 1:47 back to take fourth.
British rider fails blood test
British rider Charly Wegelius (De Nardi Colpack) failed a blood test Saturday and was not allowed to start the Giro di Lombardia, Reuters reported.
Wegelius was tested a few hours before the start of the race and was found to have a hematocrit level above the 50 percent limit allowed. Under UCI regulations he was declared unfit to race and suspended from racing for 15 days.
There will be no other sanctions for the 25-year-old, the UCI said.
Wegelius was a member of the British team that took part in the world road racing championships in Hamilton in Canada last Sunday. He did not finish the race due to illness.
Elevated red blood cell levels can occur naturally under certain circumstances, but can also indicate the use of EPO (erythropoietin) — a banned artificial hormone that increases an athlete’s aerobic ability.
Wegelius said he has never taken EPO. “I don’t want to say anything because it will only make things worse,” Wegelius told Reuters. “Ask Aldo Sassi (Wegelius’s former coach when he rode for the Mapei team). He knows I’ve never done EPO.”
In a press release the De Nardi Colpack team said Wegelius’s hematocrit value fluctuates as a consequence of the removal of his spleen following a motorbike accident in 1998.
The team said Wegelius will go to the UCI headquarters in Switzerland on Monday to undergo a series of tests.
Paolo Bettini fact box
Born: April 1, 1974 in Cecina, Italy
Turned professional: 1997
Team: Quick-Step Davitmon (formerly Mapei Quick-Step) since 1999, previously Asics-CGA and MG Technogym
1998: Won the fourth stage of the Tour of Romandie and was seventh overall in the Giro d’Italia
1999: Won a stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico race.
2000: Won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege World Cup race and the ninth stage of the Tour de France. Finished fourth overall in the World Cup standings.
2001: Fifth in the Milan-San Remo World Cup race and won the Championship of Zurich to finish fourth in the overall standings again.
2002: Won the second stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico. Also took the Liège-Bastogne-Liège race for the second time and finished second in the Championship of Zurich on the way to winning the World Cup. Finished third in the UCI rankings.
2003: Began the defense of his World Cup crown with victory in the Milan-San Remo Classic. Then won the HEW Cyclassics Cup, the San Sebastian Classic and finished third in the Championship of Zurich which meant he retained his title. – Reuters
Results from the 97th edition of the Tour of Lombardy, the 10th and final race of the World Cup, on Saturday:
1. Michele Bartoli (I), Fassa Bortolo, 249km in 6:29:41
2. Angelo Lopeboselli (I), at 0:02
3. Dario Frigo (I), at 1:35
4. Beat Zberg (Swi), at 1:47
5. Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Sp), s.t.
6. Cedric Vasseur (F), s.t.
7. Serhiy Honchar (Ukr), s.t.
8. Patrik Sinkewitz (G), s.t.
9. Guido Trentin (I), s.t.
10. Michael Boogerd (Ned), s.t.
11. Peter Luttenberger (A), s.t.
12. Aitor Garmendia (Sp), s.t.
13. Leonardo Piepoli (I), s.t.
14. Felix Garcia Casas (Sp), s.t.
15. Matthias Kessler (G), 1:58
16. Angel Vicioso (Sp), s.t.
17. Frank Schleck (Lux), s.t.
18. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sp), s.t.
19. David Moncoutie (F), s.t.
20. Andrea Peron (I), s.t.
21. Marcos Serrano (Sp), s.t.
22. Carlos Sastre (Sp), s.t.
23. Alessandro Bertolini (I), at 3:08
24. Markus Zberg (Swi), s.t.
25. Gerrit Glomser (A), s.t.