By Andrew Hood
Dane Lars Michaelsen won his first race since the 2000 season after he edged Ag2r’s Jaan Kirsipuu to take the 200km second stage of the Four Days of Dunkirk on Thursday.
The Team CSC rider overcame a back injury in February but missed the spring classics and only returned to competitive racing last weekend. Michaelsen, 34, cracked a vertebra when he crashed when a time trial handlebar snapped during a team training camp in Tuscany.
“He tried to come back for the classics and tried to race at Harelbeke (March 29) and De Panne (April 1-3), but he just wasn’t up for it,” said Team CSC sport director Sean Yates. “The spring classics are races where he would normally shine. He doesn’t want to hang on and get dropped. That’s not good for his morale. Now he’s 100 percent and he wants to make the most of the opportunity.”
Frenchman Frédéric Finot, the Jean Delatour rider who won Wednesday’s opening stage, retained the overall lead. The Four Days of Dunkirk continues Friday with the 191 kilometer third stage from Arras to Arques.
49th Four Days of Dunkirk
Stage 2, 200km, Sin le Noble to Bapaume
1. Lars Michaelsen, Team CSC 4 hours, 16 minutes, 55 seconds
2. Jaan Kirispuu, Ag2r
3. Rudi Kemna, BankGiroLoterij
4. Yuri Mitlushenko, Lanbouwkrediet
5. Stuart O’Grady, Credit Agricole
6. James Vanlandschoot, Vlaanderen-T Interim
7. Saulius Ruskys, Marlux
8. Damien Nazon, Brioches
9. Sven Vanthourenhout, Quick Step
10. Allen Bo Andersen, Team fakta – all same timeOverall standings after Stage 2
1. Frédéric Finot, Jean Delatour 8 hours, 52 minutes, 13 seconds
2. Stephane Berges, Ag2r + 0:06
3. Lars Michaelsen, Team CSC +2:11
4. Jaan Kirsipuu, Ag2r +2:15
5. Rudi Kemna, BankGiroLoterij +2:17
Cipo’ aims at Binda’s record
World champion Mario Cipollini wants to tie Alfredo Binda’s record of 41 stage-wins in the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia in Lecce on Saturday. Then Super Mario wants to break the record within the first week.
“The first stage in Lecce is a perfect opportunity for me to equal Alfredo Binda’s record of 41 stages,” Cipollini told Reuters. “Then hopefully I can then win another stage in the first week to make the record my own.”
Binda won his stages back in the 1920s and 1930s, but he was an all-rounder who won mountain stages as well as the overall title. All of Cipollini’s wins have come in the flats, something the Lion King is quick to recognize.
“I’m not a great champion like Binda or (Fausto) Coppi. I haven’t won any major stage races, but breaking the record would be something special and would give me a place in cycling history,” Cipollini said.
Without an opening prologue, the Domina Vacanze sprint ace has the chance to not only win the first stage and tie Binda’s record, but grab the race leader’s jersey, the maglia rosa, as well.
Hmm, pink? Rainbow stripes? You can be certain Cipollini already has the jersey design in mind.
“Winning the first stage, equaling the record and pulling on the pink jersey all from just one sprint would be an impressive triple,” he said. “After 15 years as a professional it is this kind of special sprint which really motivates me. I’m not that interested in winning small races any more, but three for the price of one on the first day of the Giro would be incredible.” Giro news: Simoni, Garzelli Casagrande, Gonzalez faves
The major Italian sports daily – La Gazzetta dello Sport – ranks four riders as its top picks for the overall victory. Saeco’s Gilberto Simoni, Vini Caldiroli’s Stefano Garzelli, Lampre’s Francesco Casagrande and Fassa Bortolo’s Aitor Gonzalez made the list.
The next line of contenders includes Mercatone’s Marco Pantani, Fassa Bortolo’s Dario Frigo and CCC-Polstat’s Pavel Tonkov.
Giro news: Gonzalez optimistic
Besides the dramatic victory in the GP Reggio in his return to racing back in March, it’s been an up and down spring for Fassa Bortolo’s Aitor Gonzalez. The 2002 Vuelta a España champion’s season was on hold until a contract dispute between Fassa and Domina Vacanze was resolved and since then he’s been marred by bouts with the flu.
Despite it all, the Spanish rider has a sunny vision of his assault on the Giro.
“The objective I have made is to make the Giro as best as I can and normally that means I will fight for the victory or land on the podium. I am in good condition, even though I hope to progress during the stages,” Gonzalez told the Spanish wires.
Fassa teammate Dario Frigo has had a much more successful spring, winning at Setmana Catalana and Valencia, and Gonzalez says the two will share leadership duties.
“Frigo and I come to the start with equal responsibility and later the road will decide who will help who. If it’s the case that we’re both strong, it will be the law of the strongest,” he said. “On this team we have lots of strong riders and they will be at the disposition of both of us.”
Tour wild-card race narrowing down
Riders are anxiously waiting the May 19 verdict for the invitations to go out to the final four wild card teams to start July’s Tour de France.
Teams on the bubble include Mario Cipollini’s Domina Vacanze, French teams Jean Delatour, Ag2r and Brioches la Boulangere, Phonak, Lampre and Euskaltel.
The teams that are already in based on previous criteria include: Team Coast, Gerolsteiner, Telekom, Lotto-Domo, Team CSC, Kelme, iBanesto.com, ONCE, Cofidis, Rabobank, Alessio, Sidermec, Fassa Bortolo and, of course, U.S. Postal Service. On Jan. 29, the Tour invited these four teams: Quick Step, Credit Agricole, Saeco and Fdjeux.com.
Based on public comments from various Tour officials, Domina Vacanze and Euskaltel seem to have the best chances among the non-French teams. With strong results from Ag2r and Brioches, the two French teams seem to be a likely choice to round out the top-four. Ag2r’s Laurent Brochard and Jaan Kirsipuu have already won several races, including the Criterium International and Camembert for Brochard and nearly 10 wins for the always reliable Kirsipuu. Brioches has scored wins with Didier Rous at Trophee des Grimpeurs and strong showings by sensation Sylvain Chavanel.
But it remains to be seen whether or not Tour general director Jean-Marie Leblanc will succumb to pressure to include Jean Delatour as well to add more French flavor for what will be the Tour’s centenary. The team has recently picked up a couple of wins at Romandie, La Sarthe and Route Adelie, just in time to be noticed.
Lampre isn’t expected to receive an invitation following the debacle with the detention of Raimondas Rumsas’ wife who was caught by French authorities with banned products in the trunk of her car. Rumsas finished third, but the Tour in recent years has been quick to eliminate any riders or teams with even a hint of scandal.
One of the season’s most exciting teams – the Portuguese Milaneza-MSS team – isn’t expected to earn a bid. The team said it hopes to earn enough points to enter the Top-10 club for the 2004 to gain entry to next year’s Tour.
Despite the recent addition of Alex Zülle, the Swiss Phonak team has struggled to post wins, the main criteria that Tour officials use to judge which teams will liven up the race.
Based on the latest UCI team rankings, Euskaltel is 10th, Ag2r 11th, Milaneza 12th and Brioches 13th. Lampre comes in at 15th, Domina Vacanze at 21st, Phonak 23rd and Jean Delatour at 27th. The next UCI rankings are expected May 11.