By Andrew Hood
Whether or not Lance Armstrong races the Tour de France this year won’t change anything for two of Italy’s hottest stars, but they both hope the six-time Tour winner will be there.
“I hope Lance races the Tour because I’d like to have a chance to race alongside him. He’s a great champion,” Giro d’Italia champion Damiano Cunego told VeloNews during Saturday’s Giro presentation. “I really want to race alongside Lance because I have a lot of respect for him as a rider and what he’s done. I hope he’s at the Tour this year.”
Armstrong remains mum on his Tour plans, though he’s contractually committed to racing at least one more Tour de France under his two-year contract with Discovery Channel.
Cunego will make his Tour debut after defending his Giro title in May. The 23-year-old insists he’s going to the Tour with little more ambitions than to get his feet wet.
“To think of winning the Tour in your first try is unrealistic. My main goal is try to make a good Giro, then I will think about the Tour,” Cunego continued. “The Tour is a different kind of race than the Giro and I want to go this year with modest ambitions. We will be more serious about the Tour in 2006.”
Ivan Basso, third overall in 2004, said even if Armstrong announces he won’t race this year’s Tour, his main goal remains the Giro. Basso decided last fall he wanted to race the Giro and is now putting everything on winning.
“Even if Lance decides he’s not racing the Tour, that changes nothing for me. I don’t think about what other people are doing. I only think about being completely prepared to make my own race,” Basso told VeloNews. “Right now I am only thinking about the Giro. The day after the Giro, I will start to think about the Tour. I don’t want to confuse things.”
Both Cunego and Basso will race both the Giro and the Tour, something Armstrong resisted during his career. Whether the Italians can shine in two grand tours in one season remains to be seen, but both expressed their respect for the Texan.
“Lance won six straight Tours – bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing – no can say anything. All these guys that talk – zip – they should just close their mouths,” Basso said. “Lance has beaten them all.”
VdV, Zabriskie to ride alongside Basso
Team CSC has a much larger American presence with the additions of Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie. While compatriot Bobby Julich will focus solely on the Tour de France as his season’s top goal, Vande Velde and Zabriskie are set to ride the Giro d’Italia to help team captain Ivan Basso make a push toward overall victory.
“I’m putting everything into being ready to help Ivan win the Giro,” Vande Velde told VeloNews after the Team CSC presentation Sunday in Tuscany. “I’m just looking forward to having a great Giro. I have no pressure at all before that.”
Team manager Bjarne Riis has already picked Vande Velde and Zabriskie, Luxembourg climbing sensation Frank Schleck as well as Italians Andrea Peron, Fabrizio Guidi and newcomer Giovanni Lombardi to protect Basso’s flanks at the Giro. The remaining two places for the team will be picked later, Riis said.
For Zabriskie, the Giro remains his top goal as well. After riding four years with U.S. Postal Service, the Vuelta a España stage-winner is looking forward to working for Basso.
“Ivan just the nicest guy you’ve ever met. He’s so laid back to be a captain of a team,” said Zabriskie, who’s entering a two-year contract with Team CSC. “I’ll be racing in the spring, but we haven’t targeted anything yet for me as far as results go. I’m just trying to be good at the Giro to help Ivan.”
Both Vande Velde and Zabriskie will return to the United States to race in the Tour de Georgia before the Giro.
Basso, Cunego duel has Italians in tizzy
The Italian press is hyping the Cunego-Basso duel at the upcoming Giro d’Italia as the big story of the year. The two young stars are giving Italian cycling a fresh shot in the arm after years embittered by doping scandals and the tragic death of icon Marco Pantani last February.
Cunego, 23, burst onto the scene last year, winning the Giro and capturing the world’s No. 1 ranking after a solid season with 13 wins while Basso, 27, was the only rider strong enough to stay with Lance Armstrong in the mountains of the Tour de France en route to a stage victory and third overall.
The Italian newspapers are full of stories about the looming duel, comparing it to the great rivalries of Italy’s glorious cycling past such as Bartali-Coppi and Sarroni-Moser. The latest issue of BiciSport is dedicated to the young stars’ imminent clash.
Basso says he pays scant attention to what the press says (he gestures that the hype enters his left ear and goes out his right), but admits the media frenzy only helps.
“I think it’s great,” Basso said of all the attention. “The more photos, the more news, the more attention, it’s great for Italian cycling and it’s great for the Giro.”
Cunego won’t rise to the bait, however, saying he has utmost respect for Basso.
“(Basso) is obviously one of the best climbers today and he will be one of the most dangerous adversaries,” Cunego said. “If they want to talk about a duel, OK, but it’s nothing personal. Basso is a nice guy and so am I.”
Veterans grimace at all the attention paid to the young guns. Stefano Garzelli, a winner in 2000, says he hopes he can upset the cart.
“I hope it’s me who can this Giro,” Garzelli said. “I think the more experienced riders such as me and Simoni can still be a factor. We shouldn’t be overlooked.”
All this provides plenty of fodder for the Italian press in coming months.
Linus Gerdemann Signs With Team CSC
Linus Gerdemann will be the 28th and final rider on Team CSC’s 2005 roster. However, the 22-year-old talent will have to wait for his debut till after May 1st, as he is riding the first part of the season for his current team, Wincor.
”Linus has made a huge impression during the training camp, and there is no doubt from our side of the table, that we want him on the team. He is a definite catch, and I predict a brilliant future for him. Of course he has a lot to learn, but the talent is there for everyone to see. We have managed to get together a large group of young talents, and it shall be very exciting to see how they develop. I’m convinced, that they will get the best possible conditions here with us,” said CSC manager Bjarne Riis.
”In Team CSC I feel that I have found my dream team. I been feel very welcome, and the team spirit makes me feel comfortable. The atmosphere is really good, and I feel, I have been given the opportunity to be part of something special. First and foremost, I look forward to becoming a part of the team, and in the long term to show, what I am capable of at this level,” said Gerdemann, who signed a contract till the end of 2006.