By Andrew Hood
Mario Cipollini says he will pull out of the Giro d’Italia early to prepare for an assault on the 2004 Summer Games, according to the Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport .
The Lion King said he will race in the Giro until the first serious mountain stages and then head to Australia to train for what he hopes will be a slot on the Italian track team to race in the individual pursuit.
The 2002 road world champion has flirted with the track before, but this time seems determined to make a run for a gold medal. Overlooked for the 2003 road world championships team, Cipollini would likely have a hard time earning a spot on the competitive Italian team.
CSC to split Tour leadership with Basso-Sastre
Following the departure of Tour de France contender Tyler Hamilton to Phonak, Danish team is rebuilding its Tour team around newcomer Ivan Basso and 2003 Tour stage winner Carlos Sastre.
Both riders finished in the top 10 in last year’s Tour and will provide CSC with a one-two punch in its efforts to make a run for the final podium.
“We will arrive with a group of aggressive riders that can help Carlos and Ivan, who will be our men for the overall,” Riis was quoted as saying in the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet.
The Achilles heel for both riders is their weakness in the long time trials. Basso is sure to improve in the ITTs while the climbing race against the clock up L’Alpe d’Huez is sure to help the lithe Sastre.
Riis said the team will also be looking to win the team time trial, the discipline that’s become a major goal for the 1996 Tour winner. The team came close in 2002, but one of the riders punctured and left Laurent Jalabert out of the maillot jaune.
“We have a good group for the team time trial, with people like Bartoli, Voigt, Piil and Arvesen,” Riis said. “I believe with a bit of luck we can get the jersey in the first week.”
Kelme cleared for D1 status
The Spanish team Kelme made it under the wire this weekend to maintain its Division 1 status for the 2004 season after paying back salaries owed to riders as well as paid its bank guarantee for the upcoming season.
Kelme was in danger of losing its D-1 status if it didn’t settle the issues before Friday’s weekend, the Spanish daily AS reported. The team was forced to pay 400,000 euros in back salaries as well as a 600,000-euro bank guarantee.
The UCI is expected to release its list of first-division teams Monday. Zarrabeitia retires
Veteran Spanish pro Mikel Zarrabeitia told Spanish radio he’s retiring due to lingering back pain and because he’s “tired of unfulfilled promises and false expectations.”
The 33-year-old Basque rider turned pro in 1992 and raced for Amaya, Banesto and ONCE. His top results included second overall in the 1994 Vuelta and second in the 2002 Bicicleta Basca.
Zarrabeitia failed to reach agreements to secure a ride next year with Liberty Seguros and Saunier Duval.
Manzano signs with Milaneza
Spanish rider Jesus Maria Manzano has signed a deal with the Portuguese Milaneza team for the 2004 season. The former Kelme rider won a stage in this year’s Tour of Catalunya.