By Andrew Hood
Bobby Julich is one-for-one in Europe so far in the 2006 season, ripping to a narrow victory in Sunday’s opening prologue of the 64th Paris-Nice.
“I simply had killer legs,” he recounted on the team’s web page. “The route suited me perfectly and I really had the feeling that I was fast. It was a special feeling to start as the last one and be able to keep everyone behind me. It’s always a great feeling to win and it’s quite a good statistic to kick off my European season: one start – one win!”
Julich expressed surprise at his condition in a race where he didn’t expect to challenge for the overall. With his goals coming later this season, Julich was quick to add, “never say never.”
“I’m probably in better shape than I realized myself so now we’ll have to see what the race brings. Quick Step isn’t far behind with (Tom) Boonen and they’ll likely go for the jersey now, which is just fine by me,” he continued. “We’ll take it one day at a time without wearing the team down completely. I don’t think the race will be decided until the mountains in the Nice area and if my legs are as good as they were (Sunday) anything is possible.”
Team CSC boss Bjarne Riis was equally pleased with the victory, the first for the team in 2006 and the third straight Paris-Nice opener victory. Last year, Jens Voigt won the opening prologue and in 2004, ex-CSC rider Jorg Jaksche won a longer individual time trial.
“Bobby did a fantastic prologue. Technically, he was in a class of his own. There’s no doubt he’s in excellent shape even though he hasn’t peaked yet, which makes it all the more impressive,” Riis said. “Of course, we’ll try and defend the jersey, but I think there will be other teams with similar interests. There are three fairly flat stages before the race moves uphill and here the other teams will have to get out there and attack us in order to be a threat. From that point of view we’re in a dream position.”
Contador close, León Sánchez expecting tight race
Alberto Contador (Liberty Seguros) just missed winning Sunday’s prologue, stopping the clock three seconds off Julich’s winning time for fourth place. The promising Spanish rider isn’t sure what he can expect for the remainder of the week.
“Once again, I got stopped at the door. Last year I didn’t win this prologue by four seconds and this year by three,” Contador told reporters. “I feel even sorrier that Kaschechkin didn’t win, who was even close. The course was complicated, with a lot of curves. In any one of them, you could have made an error. But because it’s the first race of the year, I’m happy with my performance. Last year I arrived with a lot more kilometers in my legs, and even though I feel good, I’m not perhaps at the level of the others. We’ll see how the race advances and take it day by day.”
Another Liberty rider, Luis León Sánchez, winner of last year’s Tour Down Under, is expecting a tight race for this week’s Paris-Nice.
“I like this course a lot and I believe it’s one of the hardest of the past few years,” he said on the team’s web page. “There are three stages very important – Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday – that will decide the race. I think it’s going to be a beautiful race.”
León Sánchez – 102nd in the prologue at 25 seconds back – said he’s lost two kilograms of weight coming into this year’s season and hopes for a strong run up to July’s Tour de France.
“I’d like to do well here, then I should be okay in Castilla-León and then later I’ll do Three Days de la Panne to help Koen de Kort,” he said. “Later, I will start over with Alcobendas and Catalunya to be in the best possible way for the Tour, but I’ll go there without thinking of winning anything, but only to help Vinokourov.”
T-Mobile not pleased
T-Mobile brass were expecting more in Sunday’s opening prologue, with the best the team could manage was Linus Gerdemann in 86th in 6:29. Patrik Sinkewitz and Marcus Burghardt were even further down the rankings.
“We couldn’t really match the times of the specialists, so I am not too pleased about that. A few seconds in this discipline can make such a big difference to the overall standings,” said T-Mobile sport director Frans van Looy on the team’s web page. “Bobby’s win on this tough course is no surprise though. He already showed his fine early season form in California.”
Petacchi wins Tour of Lucca
Italian sprint king Alessandro Petacchi held off compatriot Claudio Corioni and German teammate Erik Zabel to win the eighth edition of the one-day Tour of Lucca held over 194km Monday.
Petacchi, one of the most successful sprinters of recent years, and Zabel, a six-time winner of the Tour de France green jersey for the points competition, joined the Italian Milram team at the end of last season.
Petacchi and Zabel’s big aim for this month is the Milan-SanRemo classic, which is held on March 18. Zabel is a four-time winner of the race, which Petacchi won for the first time last year. —Agence France Presse