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By Andrew Hood
Editor’s Note:VeloNews’s European correspondent Andrew Hood has landed back at his home base in Spain, just in time for the kick-off of the World Cup season.Once he gets his feet on the ground, Hood will be heading to Milan, for this weekend’s Milan-San Remo, the first of the major Spring Classics.Throughout the coming months, Hood will be sending back daily reports on what’s happening in the European peloton.Italy’s Danilo Di Luca got some revenge a day after losingthe overall lead of the 37th Tirreno-Adriatico, winning the 150-km5th stage from Rieto to Torricella Sicura. The Saeco rider was leadingthe so-called “Race of Two Seas” until he faded in Sunday´s timetrial, which Rabobank´s Erik Dekker won to take the overall lead.Di Luca bounced back to win Monday´s bunch sprint, finishing aheadof Germany´s Erik Zabel (Telekom). Dekker finished safely in thelead group to retain the overall lead. Two more stages remain until Wednesday´sfinish.Estonian sprinter Jaan Kirsipuu (AG2R) will be out for at leastsix weeks after crashing hard Friday in a training accident near Chambery,France, said team director Vincent Lavenu.Kirsipuu, who wore the yellow jersey for several days before Lance Armstrongwon his first Tour de France in 1999, crashed into a car while descendingat 60 kmh and injured his knee. Lavenu said Kirsipuu, already a winnerof the Classic Haribo and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne earlier this year, willbe forced to skip most of the spring classics, including Paris-Roubaixin April.World champion Oscar Freire enters the World Cup opener at Milan-SanRemo on March 23 with high hopes. The Mapei rider suffered through muchof the 2001 season with back problems but bounced back with a unified Spanishteam at the worlds in Portugal to win his second rainbow jersey in threeyears.Freire says his problems are behind him and hopes to become the firstSpanish rider to win a classic since Miguel Poblet in the 1950s. “I wouldrather win a classic than two stages in the Tour de France,” Freire toldthe Spanish daily El Pais Spain has long produced excellent climbers andstage-race contenders, but few riders capable of enduring the punishingspeeds of the one-day classics. Freire leads a new crop of Spanish ridershoping to challenge in the 10-race World Cup circuit.”It´s building a cycling culture in Spain that´s never existedbefore,” Freire said. “A classics rider is someone with strong characterand personality, someone not willing to hold back, which is what you haveto do in a stage race. And, above all, you have to like the classics becauseif you don´t, forget it.”Joining Freire in the classics hunt will be David Etxebarria, the smallBasque rider, second two years ago at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and third in2001. ibanesto.com has high hopes for Juan Antonio Flecha and Eladio Jimenezto ride aggressively in the cold northern classics.Whether the sun-splashed Spanish riders can shine in the “Hell of theNorth” remains to be seen.Here is a round-up of how the American racers did over the weekend:Bobby Julich (Telekom) finished 79th overall at the 60th Paris-Nicestage-race, 48 minutes, 20 seconds back.Several Americans are competing in 39th Tirreno-Adriatico, which endsWednesday:David Clinger and Christian Vande Velde and Floyd Landis,all with U.S. Postal Service, join Fred Rodriguez (Domo-Farm Frites)and Jonathan Vaughters (Credit Agricole) to round out the Americancontingent.Landis showed some early season form to finish third in Sunday´stime trial. Through Sunday, Vande Velde was the best-placed at 12th overallat 39 seconds back. Clinger was 50th at 4:05 back, Landis at 54th at 4:17back, Rodriguez 91st at 10:43 back and Vaughters at 98th at 11:49 back.Lance Armstrong is scheduled to race at Milan-San Remo on March23, his first European race since Tour of Murcia. Armstrong plans a heavyClassics schedule to support teammate George Hincapie and to buildhis fitness to defend his Tour de France title for a fourth time, withscheduled starts at Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem andAmstel Gold.Hincapie, who skipped Tirreno-Adriatico after being hit by a flu-bug,will be among the favorites at Milan-San Remo following his second-placefinish at the Classic Haribo in February.Tyler Hamilton (CSC-Tiscali) will also be at Milan-San Remo,his first race since the Tour of Valencia. Kevin Livingston (Telekom)will skip Milan-San Remo and instead race at the Setmana Catalan de Cyclisme, March 25-29. Chann McRae (U.S. Postal Service), currently at Redlands, will be back to Europe to race in the Criterium International, March 29-30.