By Andrew Hood
Juan Fernandez, the sport director of Team Coast, is optimistic that Jan Ullrich will be able to come back to challenge Lance Armstrong in the 2003 Tour de France.
Speaking to journalists during the Ruta del Sol, Fernandez says Ullrich is eyeing to come back to competition in late March, when his current suspension is set to expire.
“I believe that he will comeback to be one of the strongest in the peloton,” Fernandez said. “He’s overcome his problems from last year and he has the motivation to be back on top.”
Fernandez, of course, is putting the best face forward for the team’s new and expensive star.
Ullrich hasn’t raced since the 2002 Tour of Qatar and has had lingering knee problems, not to mention his doping sanction for testing positive for amphetamines after he took the party drug Ecstacy at a nightclub last summer. Ullrich, 29, could return to racing as early as Setmana Catalana, March 24-28.
“There are a lot of options,” Fernandez said. “It will all depend on his form at the moment.”
Saiz hopes for competitive Tour
ONCE team manager Manolo Saiz is hoping for something big in the 2003 Tour de France. Saiz, speaking with the Spanish sports daily MARCA, said the team is focusing on the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana as the season’s top goals.
Saiz, who’s led the yellow and black ONCE team since 1989, said Lance Armstrong is the favorite to win his fifth Tour, but adds he hopes something will shake up the race, particularly his ONCE team.
“I hope and desire this is our year to win the Tour,” Saiz said. “We deserve it. Armstrong and Indurain have demonstrated that the great riders win, but there are years when the Tour has been won in certain circumstances. I believe ONCE has the capacity to do it.”
Saiz said he believes Armstrong will win the fifth Tour de France title, but hopes that someone else can upset the Texan.
“He’s capable of winning, but what I hope happens, for the good of cycling, is that someone else wins. We have to create new expectations and a new sense of competition. In all these years that Armstrong has won, we haven’t seen the level of competition,” he said. “If the 2003 Tour can produce a more open race, it would be great to see even if Armstrong wins again.”
Lopes, Chausson take Red Bull
American Brian Lopes (GT-Fox) and Anne-Caroline Chausson (Commencal) won the Red Bull Race Down to the Middle of the Earth dual event Saturday under the lights in Sondershausen, Germany.
Staged underground in an old salt mine, the $10,000 invitational attracted a total of 24 of the world’s best dual specialists. In the men’s heat, Lopes held off Cedric Gracia (Siemens-Cannondale) while third place went to Greg Minnaar (Haro), who edged Steve Peat (Orange). Chausson edged American Marla Streb to take the victory while Mariele Saner beat Fionna Griffiths in the women’s heat.
Liguria route unveiled
The first stage-race on the Italian race calendar – Giro della Lugaria — is set to begin Wednesday along the Italian Riviera region along the Mediterranean Sea. The race is set to run Feb. 19-22 featuring five stages over four days, with a split-stage Friday. The race is the Italian first stage-race until Tirreno-Adriatico (March 13-19), typically the final tune-up before Milan-San Remo, this year on March 22. The183-km Trofeo Laigueglia precedes the race Tuesday where Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), fresh off his victory at Tour Mediterranean, hopes to continue in his winning form. The U.S. Postal and the Navigators squads will be among the teams starting.
Giro della Liguria (UCI 2.3)
Stage 1, Feb. 19, Arenzano to Diano Marina, 141 km
Stage 2, Feb. 20, Pietra Ligure to Andro, 150km
Stage 3-A, Feb 21, Alassio-Alassio, 71 km;
Stage 3-B, Feb 21, Varazze to Alpicella, individual time trial, 11.6km
Stage 4, Feb. 22, Andora to Savona, 154 km
Giro della LiguriaTeams
U.S. Postal Service