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By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong hinted Thursday he’ll skip June’s Dauphine Libéré race in his preparations for a run at a record sixth Tour de France victory.
The week-long French race has been the Texan’s final dress rehearsal every June en route to five consecutive Tour titles, except in 2001 when he raced and won the Tour de Suisse.
“I’m a little superstitious about the Dauphine,” Armstrong told the AP. “(Miguel) Indurain rode a fantastic Dauphine race there in 1996 and then lost the Tour to Bjarne Riis.”
Armstrong said he will start “training for real” in December, in Austin, Texas, then join his U.S. Postal Service teammates at team camp in January.
Tour wild cards to be known by March
Tour de France organizers will announce the list of teams admitted to the race before March 1 to avoid the controversy of recent years, Reuters reported Thursday.
“We reached a compromise between team chiefs who wished to be advised much earlier in the season and us Tour organizers who wanted to keep open the widest possible choice,” said Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc.
The Tour chief said the entry list would be announced before March 1. It will comprise the top 14 teams in the International Cycling Union (UCI) rankings and eight wild cards.
“For wild cards, we will no longer take into account the early season results like in the past but the strength of teams on paper,” Leblanc said.
Leblanc was criticized last season for refusing to select the team of Italian world champion Mario Cipollini because their results were not good enough.
Saiz confirms ONCE will ride on
More good news for Spanish cycling came Thursday when sport director Manolo Saiz confirmed his ONCE-Eroski team will ride on in the 2004 season.
Title sponsor ONCE is pulling the plug on the team after 14 years in the peloton, but Saiz confirmed to reporters at the 2004 Tour de France unveiling ceremony. While he didn’t say what the new title sponsor will be, it’s been widely reported that lawn and garden tool-maker Stayer will take over.
“It’s will be a Spanish team but with more international flavor,” Saiz told Europa Press. World’s test results expected today
Officials say test results from samples taken at the Hamilton road world championships earlier this month should be known later today (Friday), AFP reported.
Results were expected to be released Thursday, but officials said the test results were not finished. Four riders – world champion Igor Astaloa, Aitor Osa, Manuel Beltrán and Danilo Di Luca – gave urine samples to test for the possible presence of banned performance-enhancing products after they were found to have “abnormal levels” in pre-race blood screenings.
Urine samples are also being tested from Canadian rider Geneviève Jeanson, the only elite rider declared “not apt” to start the road world championships. Astarloa feels ‘stained’ by suspicions
Newly crowned world champion Igor Astarloa says he feels “stained” by allegations he might be doped
“It’s stained my image, but people will be tranquil again once the results are released and we can forget about all this,” Astarloa told reporters at a parade honoring him in his hometown of Ermua, Spain.
Astarloa was one of four elite men riders who gave urine samples to test for the possible presence of banned performance-enhancing products after they were found to have “abnormal levels” in pre-race blood screenings. Astarloa said he “no worries” about the pending release of the results.
“It surprises me that everyone is giving these tests such importance. You have to wait and see the results and nothing should happen, but this has stained the image of cycling and sport in general,” Astarloa said. Vandenbroucke, Quick Step part ways
Troubled Belgian star Frank Vandenbroucke and Quick Step-Davitamon have parted company despite having one year left on his contract, according to a release from the team Thursday.
“The Quick-Step Davitamon team and the rider Vandenbroucke have agreed by mutual consent to terminate the contract which tied them together for next season, from January 1, 2004,” a team release said. “The two parties took this decision after a difference of opinions on the planning of the rider’s future competitive activity.”
Vandenbroucke seemed to have gotten the worst behind him, bouncing back from injuries and a racing ban to finish second in the Tour of Flanders in April. But he was dogged by health problems throughout the rest of the season and stopped racing in September.
Earlier this month, a Belgian judge opened an inquiry against Vandenbroucke after investigators found banned doping products in his home in February, 2002.
Spanish rider Miguel Ángel Martín Perdiguero is the latest rider to join the upstart Saunier Duval team. Martín Perdiguero won stages this year in the Valencia and Castilla y Leon tours in Spain. The team has already signed Rubens Bertogliati, David Cañada,Juan Carlos Dominguez, Fabian Jeker and Alberto Loddo.Spanish brothers Unai and Aitor Osa have agreed to two-yeardeals to join the new Mallorca-Banesto team for the 2004-2005 seasons.The team is also hoping to sign local Balearic pros Toni Colom andVicente Reynes.Ceuta, a small Spanish holding perched on the Moroccan coast, is consideringsponsoring its own team, following the lead of the Balearic Islands whowill use the team to attract tourists.