By Andrew Hood
Telekom’s Santiago Botero won’t be defending his title at the Alps Classic or go up against Lance Armstrong in next week’s Dauphine Libere. Instead, the Colombian will be racing at the Tour of Germany and then the Tour of Catalunya as he prepares for the Tour de France.
“It’s a shame because I would have preferred to have raced the Dauphine, but the team isn’t planning on going,” Botero told VeloNews. “The Cataluyna race is a good one, but the climbs aren’t quite as long as the Dauphine, which is better preparation for the Tour.”
Botero won last year’s Alps Classic, beat Armstrong in the Dauphine’s time trial stage and then went on to pip Armstrong in the Tour’s first race against the clock. Botero won two Tour stages and finished fourth overall in 2002. He’s hoping to top that this year.
“I hope to be on the podium this year,” Botero said. “We have a strong team and we will animate the race. We will attack whenever we can.”
Botero left Kelme to join Telekom for the 2003 season, where he will share leadership duties with Paolo Savoldelli, Cadel Evans and Alexandre Vinokourov.
Ullrich tranquil in latest comeback
Jan Ullrich – racing in his first race with his new Bianchi team on Saturday – said he felt good despite stomach problems. The 1997 Tour champion came in with the main bunch in the Tour of Hainleite race in Germany in what was his debut in the Bianchi colors.
The 188.7km race around the German city of Erfurt was won by compatriot Enrico Poitschke of the Wiesenhof team.
“I’ve had a few stomach problems over the past few days but I felt all right,” said Ullrich, who was competing after a four-week break. “I’m satisfied because it was not an easy race.”
Bianchi, headed by Ullrich’s sports director, Rudy Pevenage, took over from Team Coast, whose license was withdrawn by the UCI for non-payment of riders’ salaries.
The team has been granted a license by the UCI and authorized to enter the Tour de France in July. Ullrich had joined Team Coast in January after a dismal year marred by a knee injury and a doping ban.
The 29-year-old German is regarded as the only rider capable of seriously challenging four-time champion Lance Armstrong’s supremacy.
Ullrich will continue to prepare for the Tour de France in the Tour of Germany June 3-9.
“I will start the Tour without stress,” Ullrich told the German news agency DPA. “I don’t start believing I will win the Tour. I will take the fight day by day. To win a stage would be fantastic.”
Ullrich’s new Bianchi team will be officially unveiled Monday in time for the start of the Tour of Germany. Ullrich will then race in the Tour de Suisse before heading to the Tour.
Ullrich said he’s been nagged by stomach problems for the past six days and says he’s so mad at his former Team Coast boss Guenther Dahms that “it’s better I not say what I feel.”
Concerning the gossip that Marco Pantani might join the team for the Tour, Ullrich only said, “I’ve read it, but I cannot believe it.”
Cipo’ decision expected Monday
Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc is expected Monday to decide whether world champion Mario Cipollini will be allowed to start July’s Tour. The cycling world reacted with shock two weeks ago when Cipollini’s Domina Vacanze team was not among the final four “wild card” teams invited to start the Tour. Riders, including Lance Armstrong, and the Italian cycling federation all spoke in Cipollini’s favor.
There’s strong support to include Cipollini’s squad as a 23rd team. Initially, the Societe du Tour de France shot down the notion, but continued support for the world champion seems to be indicating the French might make an exception for the popular rider.
“Cipollini sent a friendly letter to me,” Leblanc said in an interview. “There are new elements in the matter. He could not finish the Giro, but the UCI and all Italy are behind him. We will make a final decision Monday.”