Armstrong pulls out early as Dekker pads World Cup lead
By Andrew Hood
Jan Ullrich is becoming cycling’s second-place hero. The 28-year-old German finished second behind Paolo Bettini of Mapei in a four-up sprint in Sunday’s Championship of Zurich, giving the Telekom rider his third second-place finish in this World Cup race.
“I am very angry I finished second again,” Ullrich said after losing by a bike length to an ecstatic Bettini. “This race is tailor-made for me. Some day I will come back here to win.”
The bitter disappointment for Ullrich comes just weeks after finishing second to Lance Armstrong in the 2001 Tour de France, where he’s finished second four times. Ullrich’s last major victory, and it was a good one, was the gold medal in the 2000 Olympic road race.
Last year, Ullrich lost in Zurich to Laurent Dufaux by inches. Ullrich, who’s never won a World Cup race, finished second to Davide Rebellin in 1997. This year, Ullrich simply wasn’t the fastest man in the sprint.
Ullrich and Bettini came into the finish with Fernando Escartin (Coast) and Francesco Casagrande (Fassa Bortolo). The quartet snuck away from the lead group on Pfannenstiel, the major climb on the 248km circuit course. Bettini and Mercatone Uno’s Cristian Moreni followed U.S. Postal’s George Hincapie, who attacked off a lead group of 19 riders about 10 kilometers into the last of six 41km laps.
Moreni and Bettini dropped Hincapie on the Pfannenstiel climb midway through the final circuit. Ullrich attacked hard off the front of the lead group on the climb and Casagrande and Escartin followed and quickly caught Moreni and Bettini. Ullrich attacked again on the final climb of the race, dropping Moreni, but not Bettini, Casagrande and Escartin.
Coming into the finish, Escartin led out the sprint, with Ullrich, Bettini and Casagrande on his wheel. Bettini came around Ullrich’s left shoulder to score the victory. Escartin finished third.
“I knew I wanted to be on Ullrich’s wheel. It was a hard sprint, but I knew Ullrich would be the man to beat,” Bettini said. “It’s a beautiful victory. This year I’ve been close to victory many times, so it’s nice to win.”
Rabobank’s Erik Dekker finished fifth at 21 seconds back and takes firm control of the 10-round World Cup series with only two races left. Dekker attacked hard off the lead group in the closing kilometers to earn as many points as he could as he tries to become the first Dutch rider to win the World Cup title.
“Now Zabel can’t catch me,” Dekker said with a smile after widening his gap to 105 points over second-place Erik Zabel. “This was the race that I was most worried about, but I’ve shown that I can ride on every type of course.”
Armstrong made what will be his last European race this year. The three-time Tour champion was in a buoyant mood before the race, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
“My form is way off from the Tour. I’m not in the same shape. I don’t want to be an optimist. Somebody else will win today. I’d like to finish. It’s a beautiful race,” said Armstrong before the race. “Hopefully, if there’s 30 to 40 guys left, I can make it that far. In a circuit race, it’s tempting. The showers are right there if I feel bad.”
Armstrong obviously wasn’t feeling good and pulled out of the race on the second lap. In total, 129 riders out of 185 starters abandoned the hot, difficult race.
Hincapie hung on to finish 10th at 1:20 behind Bettini’s winning time of 6 hours, 17 minutes, 48 seconds. Richard Virenque, back from his doping suspension, finished 16th at 3:52 back while Bobby Julich was 23rd and Tyler Hamilton was 36th. The Zurich race marked the final European race in the U.S. Postal jersey for Hamilton, who is joining CSC-Tiscali at the end of the season.
Meisterschaft von Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, Aug. 26;
1. Paolo Bettini (I), Mapei, 6:17.48 (39.449 kph); 2. Jan Ullrich (G), Telekom, same time; 3. Fernando Escartin (Sp), Coast, s.t.; 4. Francesco Casagrande (I), Fassa Bortolo, s.t.; 5. Erik Dekker (Nl), Rabobank, at 21 seconds; 6. Cristian Moreni (I), Mercatone Uno, s.t.; 7. Marco Serpellini (I), Lampre, at 1:04; 8. Niki Aebersold (Sui), Coast, at 1:09; 9. Mario Aerts (B), Lotto, at 1:12; 10. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal Service, at 1:20;
OTHERS:; 23. Bobby Julich (USA), Credit Agricole, at 3:52; 36. Tyler Hamilton (USA), U.S. Postal Service, at 6:40; 49. Benoit Joachim (B), U.S. Postal Service, at 12:35;129 abandons, including Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service), Antonio Cruz (U.S. Postal Service), Fred Rodriguez (Domo), Kevin Livingston (Telekom);
World Cup standings, eight out of 10 races;
1. Erik Dekker, 305; 2. Erik Zabel, 200; 3. Romans Vainsteins, 197; 4. Paolo Bettini, 195; 5. Davide Rebellin, 170; 6. Francesco Casagrande, 153; 7. Oscar Carmenzind, 141; 8. Gianluca Bortolami, 130; 9. Johan Museeuw, 116; 10. Servais Knaven, 100; OTHERS:; 12. George Hincapie, 89; 45. Bobby Julich, 10.