By Andrew Hood
Italian national team cycling coach and former race star Franco Ballerini has been called before a judge in Florence to answer charges of taking doping products in 1998, the year he won Paris-Roubaix for the second time, the Ansa news agency reported Sunday.
Ballerini will appear before a judge at Pistoia, just outside Florence on January 14, to answer charges of taking anabolic steroids.
His summoning comes following an enquiry opened by a court at Brescia which implicated former national coach Antonio Fusi and nine riders including Ballerini on charges of “sporting fraud,” a crime which now includes the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Ballerini’s case is being dealt with by authorities in Pistoia because he lives in the Tuscany region.
“I’m extremely calm and serene because I have nothing to reproach myself in this affair,” said 39-year-old Ballerini, who won Paris-Roubaix in 1995 and 1998, before retiring two years ago.
Petacchi looking forward to duel with ‘Lion King’
Italian sprint sensation Alessandro Petacchi said Sunday he was looking forward to crossing swords with compatriot and legendary rider Mario ‘The Lion King’ Cipollini in this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Petacchi, who last year won six stages at the Giro, four at the Tour de France and four in the Vuelta a España to become the first rider to win at least three stages in all the major Tours in the same calendar year, was speaking on Italian radio along with World Cup titleholder Paolo Bettini.
“I want to ride an outstanding Giro and my duel with Cipollini will be as engrossing as the clash between Gilberto Simoni, Francesco Casagrande and Dario Frigo in the mountains,” said 30-year-old Petacchi, who added he thought his record and the performance of two-time World Cup winner Bettini were both equal to that of five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.
Petacchi, however, admitted it would be difficult to repeat his feat in ’04.
“It will be a tough task to emulate last season. After Milan-San Remo, which remains my major goal, I will not compete in the Belgian classics so I can arrive fresh for the Giro and then go on to the Tour de France,” he said.
Bettini for his part was intent on capturing another World Cup title.
“No-one has succeeded in winning the World Cup on three successive occasions. That will be my absolute priority,” said the 29-year-old.
Euro’s say Armstrong vulnerable
The European press is already taking issue with Lance Armstrong’s ageas the Texan eyes what would be a record-setting sixth Tour de France victory.
None of the five-time winners won the Tour older than 31 and Armstrongturned 32 in September.
Eusebio Unzue, sport director at the new Illes Balears-Banesto, knowssomething about winning the Tour and led Miguel Indurain to five consecutivevictories. Unzue told the Spanish daily MARCA that age is catchingup with Armstrong.
“In the last Tour we saw that he’s already not as strong against theothers as he used to be,” Unzue said. “The conclusion is that he’s alreadybeginning his decline, even though I don’t want to necessarily say he cannotwin the Tour.”
Unzue said Jan Ullrich and Iban Mayo are the riders most likely to endArmstrong’s Tour reign.
“He will be less favored against the others, including Ullrich. I givehim 50-percent chance of winning,” Unzue said. “After last year, Armstrongwill be a man with more doubts than before, he’ll have less self-confidence,and, to the contrary, Ullrich is going up. … Win or lose, the Tour nextyear is not going to be easy for (Armstrong).”
Domina Vacanze add Nauduzs
Domina Vacanze has signed Lithuanian rider Andris Nauduzs to join theItalian team for the upcoming season, DataSport reported. The 28-year-old Nauduzs won the national title last year while racing with Panaria.
Nauduzs will play a role in setting up former world champion MarioCipollini for the bunch sprints. Domina Vacanze has reloaded its “zebratrain,” bringing back the Lion King’s former lead-out man Gianni Fagnini(ex-Telekom), David Clinger (ex-Prime Alliance) and Andrus Aug (ex-De Nardi).Giovanni Lombardi, who helped Cipollini win his world title in Zolder in2002, left the team to join Fassa Bortolo.
Martinez gets new start with Relax-Bodysol
Alberto Martinez – the Spanish rider best-known for beating Lance Armstrongat the 2002 Criterium International – is getting to know his new teammatesat the Relax-Bodysol team.
The team merges the Spanish Relax-Fuenlabrada squad with Belgian ridersfrom Patrick Lefevre’s new Division II team and Martinez recently finishedtraining with his new teammates and is looking forward to new challenges.
“There are some riders of real talent here, but I noticed a little bitof strain between the Spanish and the Belgian elements, but I would expectthis to diminish little by little,” Martinez told El Mundo Deportivo. “The fusion of the two teams is working well.”
After six years with the Euskaltel-Euskadi team, Martinez will leadthe team at such races as the Tour of the Basque Country and Tour of Cataluyna.
Jonker hopes to retire with TDU win
Veteran Australian racer Patrick Jonker hopes to go out in style andwin the Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under in what will be his final pro race.The 33-year-old will lead the UniSA team of South Australian riders inhis professional swansong at the TDU later this month.
“This will be the last one and I really want to win it this time,” Jonkersaid on the TDU web page. “Three times I’ve raced it and three times I’vefinished within 15 seconds of overall victory (two sevenths and a thirdoverall). I’ve had the opportunities to pull it off every year but it’salways the fast guys with sprint legs who pip me.”
Jonker, who also raced under a Dutch racing license, competed in sixTours de France and joined U.S. Postal Service in 2000, but injury kepthim out of the team’s Tour lineup. Last year he raced for a small Belgianteam.
“Now you have to be in a $10 million team to even get in the Tour de France and the difference between racing with U.S. Postal and racing with a lower ranked team is like ‘five star’ and ‘happy campers’,” he said. “So it’s time to hang up the professional wheels.”