News

Friday’s Euro-file: Catalan – Zabel scores another, Frigo takes overall

German sprint ace Erik Zabel added one more to his palmares in the rain in Spain on Friday while Dario Frigo wrapped up the overall title at the Setmana Catalana. Zabel’s faced criticism all spring that he’s lost his touch. His first win didn’t come until Tour of Murcia, then he finished sixth at Milan-San Remo before losing his top-spot in the world rankings. Zabel, however, stayed quiet and simply let his legs – and his professionalism - do the talking. On Friday, he took his second win of the week by charging to an easy victory in the 176km fifth and final stage of Catalana week. Rain

Navigators do well at Coppi

By Andrew Hood

Don't write him off yet

Don’t write him off yet

Photo: AFP

German sprint ace Erik Zabel added one more to his palmares in the rain in Spain on Friday while Dario Frigo wrapped up the overall title at the Setmana Catalana.

Zabel’s faced criticism all spring that he’s lost his touch. His first win didn’t come until Tour of Murcia, then he finished sixth at Milan-San Remo before losing his top-spot in the world rankings.

Zabel, however, stayed quiet and simply let his legs – and his professionalism – do the talking. On Friday, he took his second win of the week by charging to an easy victory in the 176km fifth and final stage of Catalana week.

Rain and cold welcomed the riders in Spain’s Cataluyna region for the final stage and a break went away early but was reeled in with about 25km to go. Three others tried to slip the grip from the sprinters, but Telekom, Lampre and Rabobank drove the group home.

U.S. Postal’s Viatcheslav Ekimov started the sprint from the left side and Zabel grabbed his wheel. With 200 meters to go, Zabel accelerated, charged past the tiring Russian well ahead of the line for the easy win. Beat Zberg (Rabobank) slipped past Italian Salvatore Commesso (Saeco) to take second.

Frigo finished safely in the lead group to secure the overall title and his second stage-race victory in Spain this spring. Frigo won the Tour of Valencia earlier this month, but was forced to abandon Paris-Nice while leading after a sudden attack of gastroenteritis.

Frigo won Thursday’s decisive stage to Pal, which finished on a long, 19km grinding climb through snow and rain. Frigo was quick to applaud Lance Armstrong, who raced with strength in just his second race of the season.

“He made a sensational race with just a few days of competition in his legs. He’s been one of the most-watched riders, especially on the climb to Pal, which is normal,” Frigo said. “Maybe the climb was less explosive than he expected.”

Armstrong finished 23rd overall at 1:11 back and seemed satisfied with his performance.

“It was a long, hard climb (19 km) so you do what you can,” Armstrong said on his web page. “So many riders, especially here in Spain, are focused on these races and they are strong at the moment, very strong. We know our true time comes later so we’re content to ride here and do our best.”

Fellow American Levi Leipheimer also rode very well, finishing 19th at 58 seconds back. Leipheimer was climbing well throughout the race and, like Armstrong, eased up when Frigo accelerated in the final hump to Pal. Bobby Julich (Telekom) finished 53rd at 9:14 back.

Stage 5, Baga to Vic
1. Erik Zabel (G-Telekom) 176.5km in 4:30:53
2. Beat Zberg (Ned-Rabobank)
3. Salvatore Commesso (I-Saeco)
4. Isaac Galvez (Sp-Kelme)
5. Angel Castresana (Sp-ONCE) – all same time40th Setmana Catalana, final overall standings
1. Dario Frigo (I-Fassa Bortolo), 20h15:51
2. Jose Jufre (Sp-Relax) at 0:09
3. David Latasa (Sp-Kelme) at 0:13
4. Leonardo Piepoli (I-iBanesto.com) at 0:13
5. Iban Mayo (Sp-Euskaltel) at 0:23
6. Santiago Perez (Sp-Phonak) at 0:25
7. Michael Rasmussen (Den-Rabobank) at 0:25
8. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp-ONCE) at 0:27
9. Jose Azevedo (P-ONCE) at 0:31
10. Marcos Serrano (Sp-ONCE) at 0:31

Celestino takes over Coppi e Bartali
Navs finish impressively

Ivan Quaranta won a bunch sprint in Friday’s 146km third stage into Nonantola while teammate Mirko Celestino remtained the overall lead. Quaranta powered ahead of Alberto Loddo and Uros Murn to win in 3 hours, 14 minutes, 17 seconds. The race concludes Sunday.

Russian Oleg Grichkine finished fifth for the Navigators, who are on their second European swing this spring. Teammate Ciaran Power of Ireland came across sixth.

Stage three, Nonantola-Nonantola
1. Ivan Quaranta (I-Saeco), 146km in 3:14:17
2. Alberto Loddo (I-Lampre)
3. Uros Murn (Slo-Formaggi Pinzolo)
4. Guillermo Bongiorno (I-Panaria)
5. Oleg Grichkine (Rus-Navigators) – all same time.Overall standings after three stages
1. Mirko Celestino (I-Saeco) 11:53:30
2. Francesco Casagrande (I-Lampre) at 0:04s
3. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus-Domina Vacanze) at 0:08
4. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr-Landbouwkrediet) — same time
5. Franco Pellizotti (I-Alessio) at 0:12

Zabirova wins again, takes overall at Castilla y Leon
Russian Zabirova (Prato) won her second straight stage and took the overall title at the Castilla y Leon stage race in northern Spain on Friday. Zabirova, who won Saturday’s Primavera Rosa and yesterday’s second stage, finished nine seconds ahead of Erika Vilunaite (Ausra) and took enough time to claim the overall victory.

Stage 3 results
1. Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus), Prato Marathon Bike, 2 hours, 18 minutes, 40 seconds
2. Erika Vilunaite (Ltu), Ausra, at 9 seconds
3. Anita Valen (N), Powerplate, at 17 seconds
4. Mirjam Melchers (Ned), Farm Frites
5. Rochelle Gilmore (Aus), Ausra, same timeFinal overall standings
1. Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus), Prato Marathon Bike, 7 hours, 26 minutes, 34 seconds
2. Mirjam Melchers (Ned), Farm Frites, at 11 seconds
3. Susanne Ljungskog (Swe), Catalunya
4. Nicole Cooke (GBr), Ausra
5. Judith Arndt (G,) Nurnberger – all same time

Leblanc: Cipo’ likely, Marco no, Lampre probably not
Tour de France boss Jean-Marie Leblanc gave some hints on which teams will be among the final four “wild card” invitations, but left no doubt where he stands about Marco Pantani’s Mercatone Uno team.

Cipo' has a new outfit he wants to bring to the Tour

Cipo’ has a new outfit he wants to bring to the Tour

Photo: Graham Watson (file photo)

“We only invited Division 1 teams and he’s part of a Division 2 team, so for Pantani, the case is closed,” Leblanc said in an interview with L’Equipe.

Leblanc will issue the final invitations May 19 and said world champion Mario Cipollini’s Domina Vacanze team is among the favorites.

“I spoke with him a few months ago and he told he’d like to win a stage of the Tour wearing the rainbow jersey. Things are going well. He’s winning races and his teammates as well,” Leblanc said. “There’s no reason to think Cipollini won’t be at the Tour de France.”

Other teams hoping for an invite include the French Ag2r, Jean Delatour and Brioches La Boulangere teams, the Spanish Euskaltel-Euskadi team, the Swiss Phonak team and the Portuguese Milaneza-MSS team.

Leblanc sounded pessimistic about the chances of Lampre, the team of last year’s third-place finisher Raimondas Rumsas. “His actions in 2002 discredited the finish of the Tour. I read that Rusmas believes that Leblanc and the Tour are not going to select his team. We hadn’t thought about that, but now that sounds like a good idea.”

Pantani still facing charges
Marco Pantani might be back racing in this week’s Coppi & Bartali for the first time since the 2002 Giro d’Italia, but he still faces troubles in Italian courts. The Pirate will have to appear before a judge in Tione, near Trento in northern Italy, on April 4 to face charges of “sporting fraud” for his actions in the 1999 Giro.

Pantani’s name figures as part of a lengthy investigation after he was ejected from the race while wearing the race leader’s jersey in Madonna di Campiglio because he failed a blood test. The double winner of the 1998 Tour and Giro returned to racing Wednesday after serving a six-month doping ban dating back to the 2001 Giro, when police found a syringe laced with insulin in Pantani’s hotel room.

Armstrong speaks
There have been plenty of Lance Armstrong quotes floating around recently. Armstrong set the record straight with a Q&A published on his official web page Friday. Here are some excerpts:

Question: Regarding the war and some recent quotes from Spain: Don’t you really – as an American, and a high profile one at that – represent the USA? Were you trying to differentiate sports from the war? This quote seemed out of character for someone who has said, I support the President and our troops 100 percent.

Lance Armstrong: Exactly. In my opinion it’s not really the place of an athlete to take a position here. And I do think there should be a strong delineation from sports, war, diplomacy, and politics. I am getting asked this question repeatedly over here because,
a) I’m an American like the President,
b) I’m a Texan like the President, and
c) I am a friend of the President’s.

The war seems to be very unpopular here (lots and lots of protests) and it’s normal that the press tries to get a quote regarding this. What I will say, and have said many times, is that nobody wants a war. Not me. Not President Bush. Not Tony Blair. No one… but sometimes it may be unavoidable. I absolutely support the President and absolutely support our troops. Enough on this….

Q: The TdF management has said that they might consider increasing security because you expressed concerns about Team USPS’s security. True? What’s the background, and if so, what would you like to see done?

LA: I only asked that they consider the security of everyone on the Tour. Not just me, but all teams, staff, sponsors, media and spectators. Is that too much to ask?

Q: Moving on to cycling topics, Roberto didn’t start Setmana and we heard he had the flu – is he OK? Also, what’s the latest on George and Floyd?

LA: I think Robbie’s fine now. He had a high fever the day before, so starting here was out of the question. George is doing better and back on the bike as is Floyd. Both of those guys will be fine and strong for the Tour.

Q: How did the team approach Setmana Catalana’s Stage 4 today? Was there a conscious decision not to contest it too hard?

LA: No, it’s a long, hard climb (19 km) so you do what you can. So many riders, especially here in Spain, are focused on these races and they are strong at the moment – very strong. We know our true time comes later so we’re content to ride here and do our best.

Q: Amstel Gold is reported to have an uphill finish this year – with two 2nds, and a 4th placing last year – is winning here up on the priority list for 2003?

LA: The Amstel is always special. I’ll do whatever I can to finally win one there, but I have to stress that my only real priority of the year is the Tour, so another second in Amstel and a win in the Tour – well, that’s just fine with me.

Frigo will race Vuelta
Fassa Bortolo’s Dario Frigo said he will race in the 2003 Vuelta a España, according to the Spanish sports daily AS. Frigo, winner of Thursday’s climbing stage in the Setmana Catalana, said he will race in the Tour of Basque Country in early April and then defend his title at Tour of Romandie in May before racing in the Giro d’Italia. Frigo said he would then come back for the Vuelta to prepare for the world championships in October.

Tafi likes new Flanders route
Defending Tour of Flanders champion Andre Tafi said he likes the course changes introduced to the April 6 classic. This year, the second leg of the World Cup has been shortened by 14km, but three new climbs have been added for a record 19 climbs. The climbs were added with the hope that the race will become even more selective.

Tafi rode the course with CSC teammates after the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne race in early March and said on the team’s web page the new climbs will likely prove decisive.

There will not be many riders left in the finale. In previous years, the front group has been quite large after the Bosberg, but we probably will not see that this year. In all likelihood the domestiques will already be out of the picture before the Kapelmuur, Tafi said. It would not surprise me to see a surprise attack on the Foreest climb around 50 km before the finish. It is one of the toughest of the new climbs and we will definitely see some action on that stretch of road.

Zabirova wins second stage at Castilla y Leon
Zoulfia Zabirova (Prato Marathon) continued on her winning ways, taking the second stage Thursday of the Vuelta Ciclista Internacional a Castilla y León. Just days after her dramatic victory in Primavera Rosa, Zabirova put down a solo attack with 11km to go and came across the line 47 seconds ahead of a group of 10 chasers. Zinaida Stahurskaya finished with the chase group and overook the overall lead from German Regina Schleicher. The third and final stage is Friday, a 93km circuit course in Aranda de Duero.

Stage 2, Vuelta a Castilla y Leon
1. Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus), Prato, 2:35:12s
2. Zinaida Stahurskaya (Blr), USC, at 0:47
3. Susanne Ljungskog (Swe), Catalunya
4. Nicole Cooke (GBr), Ausra
5. Svetlana Boubnenkova (Rus), Prato.all same timeOverall after two stages
Zinaida Stahurskaya (Blr), USC, 5:07:48
2. Svetlana Boubnenkova (Rus), Prato
3. Susanne Ljungskog (Swe), Catalunya
4. Mirjam Melchers (Ned), Farm Frites
5. Judith Arndt (G), Nurnberger – all same time

Teams for Criterium International
Criterium International is so-called mini Tour de France because it’s tailored for an all-rounder with one flat stage, one climbing stage and one time trial over two days of racing. For the third year running, CI will be held in French Ardennes. Saturday’s 187km stage from Charleville to Merzieres favors the sprinters, while nine climbs break up the 98.5km morning sector from Les Mazures to Montherme of Sunday’s double-stage finale. The winner is usually decided in the afternoon time trial, this year 8.3km from Charleville to Mezieres.

Last year, Euskaltel’s Alberto Martinez pipped Lance Armstrong by less than a second. Team CSC’s Tyler Hamilton, coming off a strong Paris-Nice where he won the KOM jersey, will be among the favorites. The official start list has not been released, but here’s a list of the teams and favorites: • AG2R Prévoyance
Alexandre Botcharov
Laurent Brochard
Bigmat-Auber 93
Felix Garcia Casas
Brioches la Boulangère
Sylvain Chavanel
Didier Rous
Coast
(lineup not yet determined)
Cofidis Crédit par téléphone
David Millar
David Moncoutié
Crédit Agricole
Christophe Moreau
Jens Voigt
Euskatel-Euskadi
José Alberto Martinez
Fdjeux.com
Sandy Casar
Baden Cooke
Nicolas Vogondy
Geroslsteiner
Uwe Peschel
Davide Rebellin
Ibanesto.com
Francisco Mancebo
Denis Menchov
Jean Delatour
Patrice Halgand
Kelme Cosat Blanca
Francisco Cabello
Lotto Domo
Axel Merckx
Rik Verbrugghe
Marlux Wincor Nixdorf
Mauricio Ardila
MBK Oktos
Christophe Rinero
Milanezza MSS
Fabian Jeker
David Bernabeu
ONCE Eroski
Joseba Beloki
Jorg Jaksche
Phonak Hearing System
Miguel Martinez
Quickstep Davitamon
Richard Virenque
Team CSC
Tyler Hamilton
Team Telekom
Erik Zabel
Alexandre Vinokourov

Photo Gallery