By Andrew Hood
It looks like Jan Ullrich will at least have a team after a new sponsor stepped forward Friday to take over the cash-strapped Team Coast. Whether he starts the Tour de France now depends on race organizers.
According to an agreement taken Friday by the Council of Professional Cycling, Bianchi will take over the sponsorship from Team Coast, which was suspended last week by the UCI for not paying riders’ salaries in April, L’Equipe reported. Sport director Rudy Pevenage is reportedly working on a deal to hire the entire Team Coast staff, from the racers on down.
The professional body awarded the Italian bike manufacturer a racing license and a place in cycling’s Division 1 ranks, but it couldn’t cede the automatic bid for the Tour de France. Race officials are scheduled to announce the final four wild-card teams Monday and could add the new Bianchi team as a fifth team to take Team Coast’s place.
On Thursday, UCI president Hein Verbruggen said riders who haven’t been paid by the team were free to sign with other teams. The UCI banned Team Coast last week for the second time of the 2003 season, and Team Coast owner Günther Dahms was struggling to find money to keep the team afloat just weeks before the start of the Tour.
Former Team Coast rider Manuel Beltran signed for the remainder of the 2003 season with the U.S. Postal Service, the team announced Thursday.
Peace Race: Julich second in stage 8
American Bobby Julich finished second in Friday’s difficult climbing stage of the Peace Race while Czech rider Tomas Konecny bounced ahead to take the win.
A break went away early in the stage and the peloton broke up over three passes over a Category 1 climb on the finishing circuit. Julich was first over the Category 1 climb at 162km and second to Konecny over the next two passes, falling just short in what would have been his first win since the 2000 season.
Race leader Steffen Wesemann (Telekom) finished third and widened his lead over second-place Ondrej Sosenka (CCC-Polsat) to 26 seconds going into Saturday’s final stage.
Stage 8, Peace Race, Freyburg to Klingenthal:
1. Tomas Konecny, Ed’System Zvvz, 187km in 4 hours, 46 minutes, 19 seconds; 2. Bobby Julich, Telekom, at 0:08; 3. Steffen Wesemann, Telekom, at 0:44; 4. Jakob Piil, Team CSC, same time; 5. Manuel Calvente, Team CSC, at 0:56
Overall standings after eight stages:
1. Steffen Wesemann, Telekom, 35 hours, 15 minutes, 44 seconds; 2. Ondrej Sosenka, CCC-Polsat, at 0:26; 3. Tomas Konecny, Ed’System Zvvz, at 6:29; 4. Jakob Piil, Team Coast, at 7:19; 5. Enrico Poitschke, Wiesenhof, at 7:27
Jekker claims stage, overall at Asturias
Swiss rider Fabian Jekker motored away from three leading riders with 3km to go in the monster summit finish in Friday’s 180km fourth stage to take control of the Tour of Asturias in northern Spain.
Jekker’s win is yet another for the Milaneza-MSS team, which has been among the most dominant teams this spring. Jekker dropped iBanesto.com’s Juan Miguel Mercado on a steep corner on the long, punishing climb to the Santuario del Acebo in the lush mountains along Spain’s northern coast.
Telekom’s Santiago Botero attacked with 3km to go from the lead chase group in a strong display to take fourth at 1:15 back. It’s obvious the world time trial champion’s preparation in Colombia has done him some good in the mountains.
Jekker takes a solid 27-second lead going into Saturday’s 164km finale from Cangas del Narcea to Oviedo.
Tour of Asturias, Stage 4, Cafes Toscaf to Santuario del Acebo:
1. Fabian Jekker (Swi), Milaneza-MSS, 180km in 4 hours, 41 minutes, 45 seconds; 2. Juan Miguel Mercado (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 23 seconds; 3. Hernan Buenahora (Col), O5 Orbitel, at 0:35; 4. Santiago Botero (Col), Telekom, at 1:15; 5. David Arroyo (Sp), ONCE at 1:23
Overall standings after 4 stages:
1. Fabian Jekker (Swi), Milaneza-MSS, 16 hours, 45 minutes, 55 seconds; 2. Juan Miguel Mercado (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 27 seconds; 3. Hernan Buenahora (Col), O5 Orbitel, at 0:40; 4. Santiago Botero (Col), Telekom, at 1:25; 5. David Arroyo (Sp), ONCE at 1:33
Picardie: Clerc delivers for Quick Step
Swiss rider Aurelien Clerc delivered a win in a bunch sprint for Quick Step in Friday’s opening stage of the Tour of Picardie. Clerc grabs the overall lead after dashing ahead in the 157km stage from Beauvais to Cayeux-sur-Mer in northern France.
Giro news: Riders want longer neutral zone
Stefano Garzelli (Caldirola-Sidermec) is among a growing chorus of riders who want to extend the neutral zone at stage finishes in cases when mechanical problems or crashes break up the bunch coming in on flat stages.
Under current rules, racers with bike troubles or who are caught up behind crashes in the final kilometer are awarded the same time as the winner. Garzelli wants to see the zone extended to the final three to five kilometers. The rule doesn’t apply in summit finishes or time trials.
“Riders like me, who are challenging for the general classification, are obliged to be at the front of the riders until the final kilometer,” Garzelli told L’Equipe. “But that means we get in the way of the sprinting teams.”
Fassa Bortolo’s Dario Frigo and Aitor Gonzalez, both favorites for the final Giro podium, lost 19 seconds in Wednesday’s fifth stage when riders went down about 1.5km from the finish.
“When we lost seven seconds the other day, we did not say anything so that one does not look like we are acting by personal interest,” Caldirola-Sidermec’s Franco Gini told L’Equipe. “Now we can speak about it. The argument was developed here a month ago. It is a question of increasing this limit from one to three kilometers.”
Giro news: Cipo promises more to come
Mario Cipollini promises he’ll break Alfredo Binda’s record of 41 wins before the 2003 Giro is over. The world champion spoke to reporters before flying back to Italy’s mainland for Friday’s sixth stage, which presents Cipollini with another chance to win his first stage of this year’s Giro.
“My form isn’t that great and obviously I’m not happy how things are going,” Cipollini told Reuters after losing to race leader Alessandro Petacchi by inches. “In the sprint in Catania, I had to come from behind Petacchi, which is not how I like to sprint. Then, in the last fifty meters, I hit a hole in the road which made my wheel jump.
Cipollini said he’s not ready to walk away, as some critics have suggested. He says there’s still more to come from the Lion King.
“Alessandro is riding really well and is very good at the moment but it’s not that he’s improved. The problem is that I’m not the real Mario Cipollini everybody knows so well,” he said. “I trained hard in April but I’m not going as well as I hoped. I’m not as fast or as powerful as I hoped. But give me a few more days to improve and you’ll see some good sprinting.”
Van Petegem back for Belgian tour
World Cup leader Peter Van Petegem will return to action in the upcoming Tour of Belgium, his Lotto-Domo team announced Thursday. The double-winner of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix has taken a short break since the end of the classics season in April but scratched a scheduled start in Friday’s Tour of Picardie.