By Andrew Hood
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Caffita) says he wants to win Saturday’s stage of the Vuelta a Murcia that finishes atop the Collado Bermejo and has been dedicated as the “Cima Pantani” in honor of fallen star Marco Pantani.
The defending Giro d’Italia champion is making is season debut in Spain and said he wants to make an early season test of his form. He can’t think of a better way than atop the twisting climb in the mountains of southern Spain. “I know it won’t be easy, but I would dedicate this win to Marco, who was my idol as well as my friend,” Cunego told Spanish journalists before the start of Wednesday’s first stage.
Cunego’s principal objective for the season is to defend his Giro title, but he will also make his Tour de France debut. In the coming weeks, he will race in the Semana Internacional, Vuelta al País Vasco, GP de Primavera, Flèche Wallone, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Tour de Romandie.
Cunego said he’s already feeling better than he did this time last year, something that should frighten his Giro opponents.
“I started my season at the Clasica Almería and despite the cold I feel good. I’ve had good sensations, taking advantage of the good weather in Italy, I made more training than other years,” he said. “I believe I rode some 6,000km and I’ve reduced my weight. Last year about this time I weighed 63kg and now I’m about 60kg.”
All-star cast to support Armstrong at Paris-Nice
Lance Armstrong will make his 2005 season debut this weekend at Paris-Nice, his first appearance in the “Race to the Sun” since 1999.
Armstrong has quite a history at the popular French race. According to the team’s web page, Armstrong’s best overall finish was second, just 43 seconds back of winner Laurent Jalabert, back in 1996 when he rode for Motorola. Armstrong also won a stage in 1995, staying away for the last half of the 176-kilometer stage five and he finished Top 10 overall in 1994.
Armstrong also raced Paris-Nice in 1998, but had to abandon and nearly quit cycling. Those were in the early days of Armstrong’s cancer comeback and he was unsure if he would be able to return to the elite levels of the sport. Armstrong, of course, did come back, returning to Europe later that summer to win such races as the Tour of Luxembourg and finishing fourth overall in the 1998 Vuelta. The rest, of course, is history.
Discovery Channel for Paris-Nice (March 6-13)
José Luis Rubiera
Devolder extends with Discovery
Discovery Channel’s classics discovery Stijn Devolder will remain in house for two more years, after team manager Johan Bruyneel penned the young Belgian to a contract extension over the weekend.
Devolder rode superbly over the weekend in Belgium, helping soften up Tom Boonen (Quick Step) with a series of ruthless attacks in the late going of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, leaving Boonen with nothing left in the tank to follow when George Hincapie followed Kevin Van Impe (Chocolade Jacques) with the winning break with about 6km to go.
“We agreed to the extension in between the races,” Bruyneel told Discovery Channel’s Dan Osipow. “This is a guy who made a big step for us last year and an even bigger step up this year. He will be a key rider for us in the Classics going forward. (The extension) was good for him and good for us to have clear relationship going forward. We can all focus on the races.”
Moreau forfeits Paris-Nice start; ‘Fast Freddie’ in
French star Christophe Moreau is zapped with the flu and won’t be able to start Paris-Nice on Sunday, which opens with a 4km prologue in a Paris suburb.
American Fred Rodriguez and Cadel Evans will be lining up for the Davitamon-Lotto for the debut of the ProTour March 6-13. Here are some other teams that have confirmed their lineups:
Lazlo Bodrogi (Hun), Alexandre Botcharov (Hun), Sébastien Joly (Fra), Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz), Jaan Kirsipu (Est), Benoît Poilvet (Fra), Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Bradley Wiggins (Gbr)
Cadel Evans (Aus), Mario Aerts (Bel), Axel Merckx (Bel), Christophe Brandt (Bel), Nico Mattan (Bel), Fred Rodriguez (USA), Johan Van Summeren (Bel), Leon Van Bon (Ned)
Thomas Voeckler (Fra), Jerome Pineau (Fra), Didier Rous (Fra), Laurent Lefevre (Fra), Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra), Rony Martias (Fra), Matthieu Sprick (Fra), Unai Yus (Esp)
Astarloza (Esp), Iñigo Chaurreau (Esp), Cyril Dessel (Fra), Andy Flickinger (Fra), Stéphane Goubert (Fra), Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra), Nicolas Portal (Fra), Ludovic Turpin (Fra)
Giro teams announced
The Giro d’Italia officials announced late Wednesday 22 teams will start this year’s Giro, with Ceramiche Panaria and Colombia-Selle Italia getting the nods to fill the extra slots after the 20 ProTour teams.
The race also announced 25 teams will line up for Milan-San Remo, with extra bids going to Acqua e Sapone, Panaria, Naturino, Barloworld and LPR.
For the Giro, Ceramiche Panaria will count on rising Italian star Emmanuele Sella, Julio Pérez Cuapio and Graeme Brown while Colombia-Selle Italia hope to get the strong rides out of Marlon Pérez, Rafaelle Iliano and Moreno di Biase.
The news of the exclusion was especially difficult for Barloworld and Comunidad Valenciana, two teams who were hoping for a spot in the Giro.
Teams for the 2005 Giro d’Italia
Bouygues Telecom (France)
Ceramiche Panaria-Navigare (Italy)
Colombia-Selle Italia (Colombia)
Credit Agricole (France)
Discovery Channel (USA)
Domina Vacanze (Italy)
Fassa Bortolo (Italy)
Français Des Jeux (France)
Illes Balears (Spain)
Liberty Seguros-Wuerth (Spain)
Quick Step (Belgium)
Saunier Duval-Prodir (Spain)
T-Mobile Team (Germany)
Team CSC (Denmark)
The 25th Vuelta a Murcia continues Thursday with a flat, 22km individual time trial starting and finishing in Alhama. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) won Wednesday’s first stage and could cede his leader’s jersey to teammates Michael Rich or Levi Leipheimer, who’s making his season debut.