By Andrew Hood
Italian national team coach Franco Ballerini said performance in nextsummer’s Tour de France will be the key element in his selection of riderswho will compete in the Summer Games in Athens in August.Ballerini, who led Mario Cipollini into the rainbow jersey in 2002,was quoted in Datasport during a bike festival in Milan on what his thinkingwill be next summer.“The Tour de France will help me define the hierarchy of the nationalteam that will race in Athens,” Ballerini said. “The Tour is always thebest indicator of form in perspective of an Olympic Games.”The comments are sure to rankle some within Italian cycling as there’ssure to be a few major Italian stars who likely won’t be at the Tour butwho will still have Olympic ambitions.Armstrong wins BBC award
Five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong keeps scooping up theawards, with the latest coming from BBC, the British television and radiobroadcasters.The 32-year-old Armstrong was named “BBC Overseas Sports Personalityof the Year” for his record-tying fifth consecutive Tour victory.BBC wrote on its web site: “His efforts are all the more remarkableconsidering his battle with testicular cancer. … Armstrong’s chances ofbeating the cancer were less than 50/50, but intensive chemotherapy alongwith immense willpower helped him win the fight. Since then he has gonefrom strength to strength.”Armstrong was in Belgium last week to give a press conference in partto show support for team co-sponsor Berry Floor. Armstrong said his effortsto win a record sixth Tour de France will be his top goal for the 2004season.Casagranda meets new Saeco teammates at camp
Saeco riders got a chance to meet new teammate Stefano Casagranda atthe team’s mini-camp last week near Varese. The team underwent medicalcheckups and will reconvene for a Christmas party near the team’s headquartersin Gaggio Montano. The team’s official presentation will be Jan. 21 at11:30 a.m. in Turin.Casagranda, 30, became Saeco’s 24th rider for the 2004 season, the teamannounced on its web page. The veteran pro from the Trentino region willbe an important rider for the team, especially for the classics in Belgium.Saunier Duval thinking big
The new Spanish-based Saunier Duval team is thinking big in what willbe its premier season after taking over the title sponsorship from ViniCaldirola. The team will have its official unveiling this week in northernSpain when it will introduce its 18 riders for the 2004 season. Leadingthe team will be Juan Carlos Dominguez, Fabian Jeker and Martin Perdigueroand Joaquin Rodriguez.The team has an ambitious program and will start in both the Giro andthe Vuelta as well as contend on the World Cup schedule.Valverde wins all-star race
Some of Spain’s biggest got together over the weekend in the hometownof U.S. Postal Service star Manuel Beltrán for a weekend of racingand stretching the legs in southern Spain. Kelme’s Alejandro Valverde walkedaway with bragging rights while Oscar Sevilla made his debut in his newPhonak colors.Also joining Beltrán were Aitor González (Fassa Bortolo),Martin Perdiguero (Saunier Duval), Luis Pérez and Iñigo Cuesta(Cofidis), Francisco Lara, Sevilla and Valverde.
Plaza signs with Portuguese team
Spanish rider David Plaza will race next season for the small Portugueseteam Antarte Paredes. Plaza, 33, was left looking for a job after his TeamBianchi folded following the departure of star Jan Ullrich. The formerCofidis and Festina rider won the Tour of Portugal in 1999 with Benfica.