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Armstrong gives this one a miss
By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong is still feeling the effects of his post-Tour de France jet-setting and is skipping Saturday’s Clasica San Sebastian, the traditional kick off to the second half of the World Cup racing season.
Armstrong returned to Europe this week after celebrating his third consecutive Tour victory with a whirlwind American visit and had been expected to race here. But U.S. Postal Service director Johan Bruyneel said Armstrong barely rode his bike during his U.S. tour and decided he didn’t have to legs to compete at the highest level in the gruelling 227-km (137-mile) race through Spain’s Basque region.
Armstrong, the winner here in 1995, is tentatively scheduled to return to racing in the Tour of Burgos, August 20-24.
Armstrong is not the only major name missing from the start list for the 21st running of the race. Telekom’s Jan Ullrich and defending World Cup champion Erik Zabel are both also missing the Clasica.
Marco Pantani, who recently completed his first race since abandoning the Giro d’Italia in June with the Tour of Castilla-Leon in Spain, will miss the sixth leg of the 10-race World Cup series. Pantani is also slated to start at the Burgos race in northern Spain.
In all, 193 riders from 25 teams are pencilled in to start.
Erik Dekker, a Dutch rider on the Rabobank team, returns to the Clasica as defending champion and is the points leader midway through the 2001 World Cup series. A winner at Amstel Gold on April 28 and second at the Tour of Flanders on April 8, Dekker holds a 78-point lead over Gianluca Bortolami, the winner at Flanders.
American George Hincapie, fresh off helping drive Armstrong to Tour victory, will lead the U.S. Postal Service team. Hincapie sits 10th in World Cup standings and will share leadership duties with Levi Leipheimer, who finished second overall in the Tour of Castilla-Leon, which ended Thursday.
Other Americans racing here include Bobby Julich of Credit Agricole, Antonio Cruz and David Zabriskie at U.S. Postal and Chann McRae with Mercury and Justin Spinelli (Saeco).
Pre-race favorites include Dekker, ONCE’s Joseba Beloki, Lampre’s Oscar Carmenzind, a winner this year at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the two former Clasica winners racing in this edition, Liquigas’ Davide Rebellin and Fassa Bortolo’s Francisco Casagrande. CSC’s Laurent Jalabert and Romans Vainsteins ( Domo-Farm Frites), will be in the hunt as well.
The Clasica is one of the most exciting races in the second half of the season. Former winners include Miguel Indurain, Marino Lejarreta, Claudio Chiappucci, Udo Bolts and Gianni Bugno. The winner is awarded a distinctive regional hat called a “txapela” to wear on the podium.
Along with the Vuelta a Pais Vasco, the Clasica is the most important race in cycling crazed Basque Country. The generous and warm Basque people are among the most avid cycling fans in Europe. Tens of thousands of Basque fans lined the Pyrenean mountain stages in this year’s Tour de France and San Sebastian hosted the world cycling championships in 1997.
The race starts and ends in San Sebastian, a cosmopolitan seaside resort just west of the Spanish-French border. The race is typically held on the opening weekend of “Semana Grande,” a raucous weeklong fiesta held each summer.
The course features six rated climbs as it winds through the heart of Basque Country, including the category-two Alto de Udana at 101 kms and the category-one Alto de Jaizkibel at 200 kms.
Race organizers this year added the category-three Alto Gurutze, a short, punchy climb with 5 percent grades just 13 kilometers from the finish, to bring more fireworks closer to the finale. Many considered the steeper, longer Jaizkibel to be too far away from the finish to make the final selection.
World Cup standings through five events:1. Erik Dekker (Nl), Rabobank, 199 points; 2. Gianluca Bortolami (I), Tacconi Sport, 121; 3. Johan Museeuw (B), Domo, 116; 4. Romans Vainstains (Lat), Domo, 116; 5. Oscar Carmenzind (Swi), Lampre-Daikin, 112; 6. Servais Knaven (Nl), Domo, 101; 7. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom, 100; 8. Davide Rebellin (I), Liquigas, 94; 9. Marcus Zberg (Swi), Rabobank, 88; 10. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 73.