By Andrew Hood
Azevedo: Ready for Tour with or without LA
Following his impressive fifth place last year, it’s no surprise Portuguese rider José Azevedo is putting everything into the 2005 Tour de France.
The big question now for Azevedo is in what capacity he will ride. All that depends on team captain Lance Armstrong, who said he won’t decide until this spring whether he’ll race for a seventh Tour crown.
If Armstrong does race, Azevedo will once again be the Texan’s faithful lieutenant in the high mountains. But if the six-time champion skips this year’s Tour, Azevedo will be the natural heir to the team’s leadership role and will aspire toward the podium in what would be a wide-open race.
Just like last year, Azevedo is set to make his season debut at the Tour of Algarve (February 16-20). From there, he’s scheduled to race in Paris-Nice, Setmana Catalana, Tour of the Basque Country, Tour de Romandie before the Dauphiné Libéré in June.
Vino’: ‘Tour is goal’
T-Mobile’s Alexander Vinokourov said he expects Lance Armstrong to race the Tour de France. And if the Texan does, he also expects T-Mobile to put on the heat with a triple attack featuring himself, Andreas Klöden and Jan Ullrich.
“We can work for each other and we can pile the pressure on Armstrong and the other contenders,” Vinokourov said in an interview on the team’s web page.
Vinokourov – third in the 2003 Tour – was KO’d in a crash during the Tour de Suisse that left his shoulder so badly injured he missed last year’s Tour.
“The crash totally derailed my season. It was June and at that stage I was fully geared up and focused on the Tour, then suddenly it was all over for me before it had even started,” he said. “That was hard, but once I was back training again I set myself some goals for the rest of the season, and all in all I was happy with the win at the Regio-Tour and the bronze at the world’s.”
Following the team’s training camp in Mallorca, Vino is heading to southern Spain for a two-week training camp at altitude with Andreas Klöden and other teammates.
“The Tour of Valencia is my first race. After that I have my sights set on good rides at Paris-Nice, the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Then the summer target is the Tour de France,” he said.
Cofidis hoping to leave past behind
Cofidis enters the 2005 season hoping to leave behind the scandalous headlines that plagued the French team in the wake of a doping scandal that rocked the team last year.
Cofidis cleaned house, changed management, introduced strict new doping and ethical guidelines, and got rid of riders at the heart of the doping allegations, including former world time trial champion David Millar.
“The program we announce last May, the doping controls, the biological and blood analysis, has been introduced and we’ve applied the rule. Cofidis has come out stronger after the crisis of 2004,” said company president Francois Migraine. “We hope to have a quiet yet successful season.”
Back for 2005 are Tour stage winners Stuart O’Grady and David Moncoutié while newcomers Sylvain Chavanel, Italian climber Leonardo Bertagnolli and Dutch rider Jans Koerts bolster the lineup.
Cofidis for 2005: Stéphane Auge, Frédéric Bessy, Jimmy Casper, Sylvain Chavanel, Arnaud Coyot, Hervé Duclos-Lassalle, Christophe Edaleine, Jimmy Engoulvent, Nicolas Inaudi, Amael Moinard, David Moncoutié, Damien Monier, Cédric Vasseur, Daniel Atienza, Bingen Fernandez, Luis Pérez, Leonardo Bertagnolli, Guido Trentin, Dmitriy Fofonov, Jans Koerts, Peter Farazijn, Thierry Marichal, Staf Scheirlinckx, Stuart O’Grady, Matthew White , Nicolas Roche and Janek Tombak.
Valverde covets classics
Snow forced Spanish sensation Alejandro Valverde onto the rollers as a cold front swept through Mallorca this week. Nearly a foot of snow fell on the typically mild Spanish island, prompting Valverde to stay indoors during a training session that continues through next week.
Valverde is set to make his Tour de France debut, but he says it’s to help Illes Balears captain Francisco Mancebo “and perhaps try to win a stage.”
His season’s top goal is to shine during the spring classics, with the final week of April set firmly in his sights.
“I want to be good in March and hit a peak in April,” Valverde told the Spanish daily MARCA. “Amstel and Liege are two races that I believe I can go well because they’re hard and selective.”
After the Tour, he’ll skip the Vuelta a España and prepare for the world championships set for Madrid the week after the Vuelta.