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By Staff and wire reports
Former world cycling champion Mario Cipollini wants the Tour de France to grant him a final farewell appearance before the end of his career, Reuters reported Friday.
Speaking during the presentation of his Domina Vacanze team on the shores of Lake Como, the 36-year-old Italian said he deserved a place on the Tour because of his 185 victories as a sprinter over the last 15 years.
“I’m convinced I can still win stages in the Tour de France and I think I deserve a place in this year’s race as a kind of lifetime achievement award,” Cipollini said. “I don’t know how much chance we’ve got … but Domina Vacanze boss Ernesto Preatoni and I are going to do everything we can to convince the Tour de France director Jean Marie Leblanc to give us a place.”
Cipollini, who last rode the Tour in 1999, was upset last year when his team failed to gain one of the four wild-card invitations to the sport’s showpiece event despite him being the reigning world champion.
Famed for his devastating sprinting, Cipollini said he would love a crack at compatriot Alessandro Petacchi who racked up bundles of stage wins in the three big Tours last year.
“Even though everybody considers Alessandro Petacchi the best sprinter in the world just because he had one great season, I can’t wait to take him on and show I’m back.”
To be at his best for the Tour de France, Cipollini has decided not to ride on the track at the Olympic Games. -Reuters
Mancebo believes Armstrong vulnerable
Baleares team leader Francisco Mancebo has joined a growing band of riders who believe Lance Armstrong will have a fight on his hands if he plans to win a sixth Tour de France this year, according to AFP.
Spanish hope Mancebo, a former winner of the Tour’s white jersey for the best under-25 rider, finished in a respectable 10th place overall last year at under 20 minutes behind the American champion.
After a year of transition – following the near collapse of his ibanesto.com team prior to its rescue takeover by Baleares – Mancebo is hoping he can improve his chances of getting closer to the yellow jersey.
But he believes that time is closing in on US Postal’s team leader.
“Armstrong will not be as strong this year. Last year everyone saw he was not as strong as he has been and this year I think he will have to really fight if he wants to win the Tour,” Mancebo told AFP at the team’s pre-season presentation on Thursday.
“But he will come to the end of the road one day, just like everybody else.”
The 32-year-old Armstrong last year equaled the five-in-a-row record of Spanish legend Miguel Indurain – a former Banesto rider – and could go one better by becoming the first rider to win six Tours.
However Mancebo believes advancing years and a lack of motivation could leave the American short of crucial ingredients in the July 3-25 race.
“Age and motivation will be big factors,” added the 27-year-old Spaniard. “Will Armstrong still be as motivated? He has already won everything he can, fulfilled his career and won the world’s biggest race a maximum number of times. Of course, he could still be motivated by becoming the first rider to win six Tours, but this year will be more difficult for him.”
Germany’s Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour winner who is now back with the German T-Mobile (former Telekom) team, having run Armstrong a close race while riding for Bianchi last year, is also a major Tour contender.
“There are a lot of riders looking to be on great form for the Tour,” added Mancebo, who joked that Armstrong might be extra fatigued after spending time with pop singer Sheryl Crow. “This year he will be tired after touring with Sheryl Crow. No, I’m only joking. I’m sure he’ll be 100 percent.”
Mancebo admits he has a small chance of beating Armstrong – although he is more concerned about his new-look team posing a threat on the World Cup classics and the Tours of France and Spain.
“What’s important is that the team still has confidence in me, even though I’ve let them down a little bit last year. But I feel a lot more confident. I’ve matured, I’ve got more experience, I know the Tour de France well and I hope this year could be my year,” he added, before highlighting the final time trial on the Tour as a potential race-winner. – Copyright 2004/AFP
Heras: ‘Lance has one good year left’
Former teammate turned rival Roberto Heras still believes Lance Armstrong is the favorite for a record sixth Tour de France victory this July.
Heras, speaking with the Spanish daily MARCA this week, said Armstrong remains the favorite.
“Lance does not have any weak points,” Heras said. “I believe, at the minimum, he still has one good year left. He always ends the season very early and this will allow him to last longer than the others.”
Heras said Armstrong, then Ullrich, remain the favorites for Tour victory: “After that there is a group of riders with possibilities, including myself,” he said.
Heras said he learned a few things riding three years alongside Armstrong at U.S. Postal Service.
“His manner of preparing for his goals and his mentality, because he gives his body and soul for the Tour,” he said. “We saw him win last year when he wasn’t even at his best.”
Tour officials want tougher treatment for dopers
Tour de France organizers have urged cycling’s world governing body to make doping bans tougher in the wake of the Cofidis scandal, L’Equipe reported.
“I’m publicly and officially asking the UCI (International Cycling Union) to agree to a two-year ban,” said Tour organizer Patrice Clerc. “I’m sure that the majority of the riders are not cheating but we have to get rid of those who are.”
Clerc is the president of the Amaury Sport Organization, the owner of the Tour de France. Clerc said only if riders who fail tests are given a two-year racing ban will there be an incentive to clean up the sport.
“We must put our trust in the code of the World Anti-Doping agency (WADA),” he said. “We must stop arguing that a two-year ban would be too harsh a sanction. It will be an inch-by-inch, long-term fight. We all have to unite, riders, sponsors, federations, political authorities, justice, police.”
Dmitri Konyshev was arrested, along with three fellow members of the LPR-Piacenza team, for allegedly robbing and assaulting a Romanian prostitute in the Italian town of Montale, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported.
Konyshev – a winner of stages in all three major stage races as well second in the 1989 world championships and third in 1992 – and three others reportedly pretended to be police officers and tried to pull a prostitute into their car.
The woman escaped, but the four kept a purse. She contacted police, who apprehended the four cyclists and arrested them.