By Andrew Hood
Rumors are flying that Ag2r and Phonak will be the two wild-card teams selected for the 2005 Tour de France. The Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport tipped inside sources that these two teams will be selected for the Tour when the wild-card teams are announced Jan. 31.
Under new ProTour rules, 19 top teams are already guaranteed places in the Tour, leaving race organizers just two cards to play in rounding out the team list. In the past, French teams have been favored by Tour officials when issuing wild-card invitations.
Ag2r is the top French team overlooked in the ProTour selection and looks to have a lock on one of the spots while Phonak seems to be making the right moves to shake off a cloud of controversy following the team’s string of doping allegations.
Phonak fired top staff in the wake of alleged blood doping violations by Tyler Hamilton and Santi Perez, a charge both riders vigorously deny. Former world champion Oscar Camenzind also tested positive to EPO, an offense to which he admitted before retiring.
Phonak hired former Tour official John Lelangue as new manager and Juan Fernandez, the same sport director who helped steer Festina out of the trouble following the ill-fated doping scandal bearing its name. Petacchi won’t race Tour
Top sprinter Alessandro Petacchi has renounced any ambitions of racing in the 2005 Tour de France. According to a report in Thursday’s L’Equipe, Petacchi will skip the Tour and race in the Vuelta a España ahead of the 2005 road world championships in Madrid on Sept. 25.
Petacchi set a record in 2003 after winning four or more stages in each of the three grand tours. Last year, after winning nine stages in the 2004 Giro, Petacchi crashed out of the Tour without securing a stage victory.
The chance to shine in the world’s seems to be tempting for Petacchi. According to early rider reconnaissance trips, the Madrid course favors a sprinter such as Petacchi, Erik Zabel or Oscar Freire.
Merckx still dreaming for more
Axel Merckx says he’s hoping for bigger things in 2005 following his Olympic bronze medal ride in Athens last summer.
“This medal motivates me. I have a two-year contract and this year I will be 33. After that, it will be time to report,” Merckx said in an interview on the Belgian wires. “I want to do well again. I hope to do well in the Wallone classics and other one-day races that suit me.”
Merckx, who recently built a house in Canada, said he hopes to return to the Tour de France “for a good placing, but I would prefer a stage victory.”
Dierckxsens not done yet
Belgian veteran Ludo Dierckxsens thought his cycling career was over, but Landbouwkrediet-Colnago has come forward with a contract for the 40-year-old to race until the end of August. Pollack packs it in
T-Mobile rider Olaf Pollack has left early from the team training camp in Mallorca, suffering from pain in his right knee, the team reported. The team doctor diagnosed cartilage irritation as the cause of the pain and advised the 30-year-old sprinter to rest the knee for a few days.
“He couldn’t go on. He was in too much pain,” said press officer Luuc Eisenga. “After that, we will see what happens. Maybe the rest is what he needs, coming after the high intensity training of the last few days.”
Eisenga said the former Gerolsteiner rider is ‘jinxed’ with injury problems. Last week Pollack had to go for treatment for tooth ache.