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Monday’s Euro-file: All hail King Mario; Zolder wrap up; Track needs a boost; Brard gets the boot

Italian newspapers were not in short supply of superlatives Monday after sprinter Mario Cipollini won the men's world championship road race title for the first time in his career. Cipollini, 35, exploded clear of the pack in a mass sprint finish to win the 159-mile race in Zolder, Belgium by two bike lengths on Sunday to become the first Italian since Gianni Bugno in 1992 to win the coveted rainbow jersey. Nicknamed the 'Lion King', Cipollini won with an average speed of 46.538kph, the fastest ever in a world championship, and saw him beat joint favorites Australian Robbie McEwen and

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Photo: John Pierce/Photosport International

Italian newspapers were not in short supply of superlatives Monday after sprinter Mario Cipollini won the men’s world championship road race title for the first time in his career.

Cipollini, 35, exploded clear of the pack in a mass sprint finish to win the 159-mile race in Zolder, Belgium by two bike lengths on Sunday to become the first Italian since Gianni Bugno in 1992 to win the coveted rainbow jersey.

Nicknamed the ‘Lion King’, Cipollini won with an average speed of 46.538kph, the fastest ever in a world championship, and saw him beat joint favorites Australian Robbie McEwen and Germany’s Erik Zabel.”King of the world”, headlined Corriere dello Sport. “Ten years after Bugno the Italian cyclist is triumphant. A superb squad and a textbook finish with Mario breaking McEwen. He couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and was flawless. The sprint was a masterpiece and the way he accelerated past McEwen should be in every cycling manual. Sublime.”

“Imperious Cipollini,” screamed La Gazzetta dello Sport. “The golden Lion King of Italy brings back the rainbow ten years after Bugno.

“His finish was as effective and explosive one can remember. He won the sprint of his life and was too hot for two other greats, McEwen and Zabel. It was a victory shared between all of the Italian national team.” “Cipollini is Italy,” trumpeted Il Messagero. “Thank you to you and a great squad.

“While the Italian football team disappoints, another blue jersey is triumphant, our aggressive cyclist rises to the test.”

Cipollini, a multi-stage winner on all three major Tours of France, Italy and Spain, was brilliantly led into the final straight by Alessandro Petacchi and Giovanni Lombardi, who had been leading the blue Italian train for the final few kilometers.

After a pile-up had decimated the race in the final kilometer, McEwen had to battle with Zabel for the wheel that would help launch his sprint, but the Australian champion could only manage second.

Cipollini, who had been touted as the winner of this race as far back as last year, came out of “retirement” to try for the rainbow jersey.

The blue-eyed Tuscan decided to call it a day earlier this year when his Acqua e Sapone team was not invited to participate in the Tour de France. But that was seen as a cry of desperation from a man who has had the lion’s share of the media spotlight over the past 10 years.
Copyright AFP 2002 Aussies sparkle as McEwen snatches silver from Zabel
Robbie McEwen came within a wheel rim of being crowned Australia’s first world road race cycling champion on Sunday as the world championships ended Zolder’s former Formula One circuit.

In a promising week for Aussie bike riders, McEwen’s silver medal behind race winner Mario Cipollini gave Australia its first ever men’s podium placing on the road at world championship level.

Australia finished with three medals, with silver going to Mark Jamieson in the men’s junior time trial and Nicolas Sanderson won bronze in the junior road race.

Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Italy 3 1 1 5
Switzerland 0 2 2 4
Germany 0 2 2 4
Russia 2 1 0 3
Spain 0 1 2 3
Australia 0 2 1 3
Sweden 1 0 1 2
Colombia 1 0 0 1
Lithuania 1 0 0 1
France 1 0 0 1
Netherlands 1 0 0 1
Finland 0 1 0 1
Portugal 0 0 1 1

Also on form was Sara Carrigan, who was within grasp of a bronze medal in the women’s time trial, and horribly missed out on bronze again when she finished fourth in the road race.

On Sunday’s final day it was Cipollini and the Italians – topping the medals table on five with three golds – who rejoiced after winning the peloton’s most prestigious rainbow jersey.

Nevertheless, Australia head coach Shayne Bannan was brimming with confidence after he was able to field a full squad of 12 riders for the men’s road race thanks to their current world ranking of eighth.

“The team worked extremely well today, everybody had a job to do and they did it really well,” Bannan told the French wire service AFP. “It’s the first time we’ve had a chance to have a full squad here challenging and I was really pleased with the way they did their jobs. There just happened to be a guy called Cipollini who’s not a bad sprinter, but Robbie certainly gave himself every opportunity. He’s beaten Cipollini twice this year and today Mario just pulled it off. He’s a little bit disappointed but you have to realize what you’ve achieved as well.”

As Cipollini was led in by his team until the 150-meter mark, McEwen tussled with Erik Zabel to get on the Italian sprinter’s wheel.

McEwen, who was visibly disappointed, accepted defeat but challenged Zabel’s accusations of thuggery while the two riders were jostling for the line.

“The Italians were pulling the sprint and when you’ve got two guys like (Alessandro) Petacchi and (Giovanni) Lombardi doing that there’s only one place you need to be, and that’s on Cipollini’s wheel,” said McEwen. “It didn’t quite come down to a ‘boxing match,’ as Erik said, but there was a few hands flying about out there. But that’s what happens in sprinting. Riding into the wind at the end of the race definitely cost me some energy. Whether it cost me enough to win the race I don’t know – but I’m a little disappointed because I had it in me to win today.”

Zabel meanwhile was happy with a bronze medal.

“I’m pretty happy with the medal, it was a good race and a good sprint,” said the veteran Telekom rider. “I was behind Mario and couldn’t pass him then Robbie came up behind me and flew past. There was no error on my part, Mario was just too fast.”
Copyright AFP 2002

Zabel still tops World rankings
UCI rankings as of Monday, October 14, 2002.
1. Erik Zabel (Ger) — 2479 points
2. Lance Armstrong (USA) — 2110
3. Robbie McEwen (Aus) — 1947
4. Paolo Bettini (I) — 1884
5. Mario Cipollini (I) — 1749
6. Dario Frigo (I) — 1627
7. Aitor Jimenez Gonzalez (Sp) — 1551
8. Roberto Heras (Sp) — 1455
9. Danilo Di Luca (I) — 1426
10. Francesco Casagrande (I) — 1404
11. Davide Rebellin (I) — 1244
12. Joseba Beloki (Sp) — 1233
13. Laurent Jalabert (F) — 1153
14. Erik Dekker (Nl) — 1151
15. Santiago Botero (Col) — 1131
16. Michael Boogerd (Nl) — 1112
17. Alex Zülle (Swi) — 1038
18. Alessandro Petacchi (I) — 1016
19. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Sp) — 1007
20. Peter Van Petegem (B) – 1006World’s marks the end Jalabert’s career
It wasn’t easy for French cycling hero Laurent Jalabert to approach his final race Sunday, closing out a 14-year career in which he won the world time trial championship and often held the rank of the world’s No. 1 rider.

“It was a difficult day for me,” said Jalabert. “Not as regards actually racing. It was my last race and I spent the day mostly thinking about my whole career. I even woke up at five o’clock this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep.”

Asked what his best memory was, Jalabert said: “Winning the world time trial title.”

The departure of France’s top rider, although exiled for much of the past decade, should speed up the search for a successor to fill his shoes, and those of his prestigious countryman Bernard Hinault. Hinault was the last Frenchman to win the Tour de France, claiming his fifth yellow jersey in 1985.

Jalabert never won the world’s biggest bike race, but to cycling fans his 138 career victories will mean much more.

“Jalabert has been the pillar of French cycling in recent years and his departure is going to leave a huge hole,” admitted Vincente Belda, the Kelme team manager. Jalabert has won just about every other important race from Milan-San Remo to the Vuelta a España. His flexibility has seen him win both the Tour de France’s polka dot jersey for the race’s best climber and the green jersey for the race’s best sprinter. Jalabert has also won five stages at the Tour and earned his career-best fourth place finish in 1995. That same year, Jalabert’s best, he won five stages on the Vuelta before winning the race overall. Jalabert has 18 stage wins from the Vuelta and three from the Giro d’Italia.

While American Lance Armstrong attracts the media plaudits for his four straight victories on the Tour, cycling aficionados cite the likes of Jalabert and Johan Museeuw of Belgium as professionals who can ride, and win, almost any race.

“Laurent Jalabert exemplifies talent, race intelligence, and he always wants to give 100 percent – a bit like a European Armstrong,” said Armstrong’s U.S. Postal teammate Roberto Heras.

But what should be a memorable send-off will be tinged with a touch of irony. French fervor over Jalabert has only been fairly recent – mainly because he spent the bulk of his career in Spain where his prolific riding for ONCE won him legions of fans. When ONCE’s manager Manolo Saiz fell out with Tour organizers in 1998, most people in France thought it was Jalabert’s decision too.

“After 1998 when ONCE refused to race in France my reputation took a knock,” he recently told France’s Velo magazine.

“For most, it was me who was refusing to ride in France and that was untrue.”

It was no coincidence that Jalabert’s popularity rose at home shortly after the hugely popular Richard Virenque finally admitted to systematic doping while part of the Festina team.

After ending his eight-year spell at ONCE in 2000 to join the Danish CSC set-up, Jalabert announced his decision to retire during this year’s Tour de France.

“I’ve had 14 years in an excellent career which began for me as a dream when I was 11 years old,” he said.

“I’ve got four beautiful kids I want to spend more time with,” added Jalabert, who will now work as a consultant for the French frame and component manufacturer Look. “I’m popular not because I never won the Tour, but because I stayed a simple guy who just went about his business on a bike and gave everything he had to the sport.”
Copyright AFP 2002

Verbruggen: Track cycling needs to change
Union Cycliste Internationale president Hein Verbruggen said Sunday that track cycling must undergo major reforms if it is to survive its current crisis of declining popularity. Clashes on the calendar with road cycling events has led to a decrease in television coverage for track, which, despite preceding road as cycling’s most popular discipline, now seems to generate interest only during the Olympics.

Verbruggen’s proposals, mainly regarding calendar changes, are thus being made to attract more television coverage. “If we don’t have television, there will be no sponsors and therefore no money,” Verbruggen, said. “Track is an extremely important discipline which has 12 Olympic titles attributed to it but at the same time is very hard to sell to television.”

As of 2005 the UCI wants to move track’s season-long World Cup competition from the summer to the winter months, and want the world track championships to be held in March instead of September.

Some nations have opposed the proposals for reform, arguing that a lack of velodromes in Europe could harm the chances of some countries to train and prepare riders for competition.

But Verbruggen insisted: “These are people who have become used to a certain situation and who perhaps lack a little bit of creativity to get used to a new idea. “Track won’t become a winter sport. It’s a sport which can be done 12 months of the year. We want to set up a calendar of international races which is of much better quality.” Responding to opposition, mainly from the French camp, Verbruggen added: “I have a lot of respect for the experts but I don’t know of many who don’t look beyond the interests of their own riders. Out of the 20 top ranked countries (for track), there are just two that have a problem as regards the lack of velodromes.”

Verbruggen, who pointed to the popularity of track at the Olympic Games in Sydney, said that cycling’s biggest “problem is to sell track cycling (to television). If we find a solution, then money will start circulating, track riders will start to earn salaries and younger riders can then be attracted to the velodrome.”

C.A. dumps Brard
The French Crédit Agricole team has fired Florent Brard after he tested positive for cortisone.

The 26-year-old Brard tested positive in August during the Tour de l’Ain, which he was using as a comeback after injuries suffered in a crash in the Midi Libre in May. Brard, French time-trial champion in 2001, was recruited by the bank-sponsored squad at the start of 2002 According to Brard, the offending cortisone was prescribed by his personal doctor. However, Crédit Agricole director Roger Legeay told AFP Monday: “Florent never mentioned on his health record that he’d taken this medication. None of our team rules were respected.”
Copyright AFP 2002