By Andrew Hood
Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme has been through the wringer the past few weeks. First, the team has endured the indignity of fired racer Jesus Manzano’s charges of organized doping practices within the team, in a paid interview in one of Spain’s largest sports dailies.
Then the team was banned from the Tour de France, followed by the Giro d’Italia, which delivered the same bad news just yesterday. On the heels of all this, new title sponsor Comunidad Valenciana announced it is having second thoughts about spending 1.8 million euros to underwrite a team that only races in Spain.
But Alejandro Valverde, Spain’s hottest star, got some revenge in Friday’s windy, crash-marred third stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León.
Riders clipped tires with just 2km to go in the flat 140km third stage from Carrión de los Condes to Mansilla de las Mulas in northern Spain, causing a huge split in the peloton. Valverde and 16 others got through clean, but overnight race leader Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears) came through in a chase group at 16 seconds back, enough to cost him the lead to teammate David Navas.
Valverde easily held off Australian sprinter Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros) to score his eighth win of the season.
“This victory has a good taste because of all the lies that have been said about us,” Valverde said. “This victory is good for me and good for the team.”
The Vuelta a Castilla y León continues Saturday with a difficult 133km climbing stage from León to the Cat. 1 Alto de Morredero.
Di Luca out for three weeks
Danilo Di Luca (Saeco) will be sidelined for at least three weeks as he recovers from an inflamed prostate, the team confirmed Thursday.
Di Luca, who was forced out of last weekend’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège with an urinary infection, left the hospital after two days of analysis revealed the Italian suffered from a mixed acute prostatitis (both inflammatory and bacterial).
Di Luca will be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicines and won’t be fully recovered for at least three weeks, but will resume training next week, Saeco reported. Di Luca was not planning on racing the Giro d’Italia and should be able to recover in time for the Tour de France.
Saeco team captain Gilberto Simoni is undergoing his final preparations to defend his Giro title when the Italian grand tour starts May 8 in Genova. Simoni will race alongside rising star Damiano Cunego in the GP Industria & Artigianato on Saturday and in the Giro di Toscana on Sunday. Ullrich confirms pre-Tour schedule
Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) will race in both the Tour of Germany (May 31-June 6) and the Tour de Suisse (June 12-20) in his final preparations for the Tour de France.
Ullrich, whose early departure from Flèche Wallone on April 22 raised questions about his fitness, said he’s been training hard and promises to be ready to take on five-time champion Lance Armstrong in the Tour.
After skipping Liège-Bastogne- Liège, Ullrich also confirmed he won’t be starting this weekend’s German semi-classic at the Rund em den the Henninger Turm on Saturday in Frankfurt.
“I’ve changed my training program for the Tour,” Ullrich said on his web page. ��My form was not good enough that I would have made a strong placement. Deciding not to race in the two races doesn’t influence my chances in the Tour. I have a lot of kilometers in my legs, but I don’t have the hardness yet to race that hard.”
Ullrich also hinted that Rudy Pevenage, his former director at Team Coast, has met with T-Mobile team manager Walter Godefroot to mend fences. The two Belgians had a falling out with Ullrich’s departure from Telekom last year, when Pevenage followed Ullrich out the door.
Beloki brushes off spill
Joseba Beloki (La Boulangere) just can’t get a break, at least the kind he’d like. The 2002 Tour de France runner-up has yet to finish a stage race since his horrible crash in last year’s Tour and is trying to get through this week’s Vuelta a Castilla y León (SPA 2.3) in northern Spain.
But Beloki fell during Thursday’s 32km team time trial when he clipped tires with another rider during the rainy, windy stage.
“I have a scrape to my wrist and another abrasion that’s not important,” Beloki said after his French team finished 12th out of 13 teams. “It annoys me that I finished without raising my head, but it was nothing.” ‘Popo’ downplays chances
Yaroslav Popovych, the gritty Ukraine who clawed his way to third on the 2003 Giro d’Italia podium, said he’s not sure what to expect this season.
“I have a lot of trouble setting goals for myself,” Popovych told the French cycling monthly Velo Magazine. “I’m so afraid of failure. When I hear Italian journalists saying ‘Popovych can win everything,’ I feel uncomfortable.”
Popovych is a much-heralded amateur rider and former U-23 world champion. He’s been quietly preparing for the Giro, his top goal for the season. His Landbouwkrediet-Colnago team will be supporting him to push him back to the podium.
“To be perfectly honest, I consider myself to be a notch below [Gilberto] Simoni or [Stefano] Garzelli for the general classification,” he said.
Title sponsor reconsiders Kelme
Following the recent denials to race in both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, new title sponsor Comunidad Valenciana is having doubt about supporting the team, according to reports in the Spanish press.
Comunidad Valenciana, the regional government of the Valencia region along Spain’s central Mediterranean Coast, signed on as title sponsor to earn publicity throughout Europe. So far, the team has only raced in Spain and Portugal. Jesus Manzano’s recent declarations of alleged doping within the team only further complicate the matter, reports said.
“It’s necessary to see if it makes sense for the Valencia government to spend so much money on the team if it cannot get a return on the costs,” said Esteban González Pons, counselor of culture and sport for the governing body. “Any sensible person would reconsider support for the team.”