By Andrew Hood
Tour wouldn’t mind if Armstrong stayed away
Tour de France officials evidently aren’t losing any sleep over the prospect that six-time winner Lance Armstrong might not race in the 2005 edition.
Just a week after the 92nd edition of the Tour was unveiled in Paris, race officials said in an interview in L’Equipe that they’re not concerned if Armstrong doesn’t race next year.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Armstrong races another grand tour next year and return in 2006 to try the Tour again,” said Christian Prudhomme, director general of the Amaury Sport Organisation which produces the Tour. “To win seven Tours wouldn’t give him more glory because he’s already known as the man who beat cancer then won six Tours. Now, if he won a Giro or a Vuelta and then won the Tour, then no one could reproach him for that.”
Tour race director Jean Marie Leblanc went so far as saying Armstrong’s absence, followed by a comeback a year later, would be an ideal scenario for everyone.
“We can dream a little bit. Armstrong doesn’t come in 2005 and instead someone like (Damiano) Cunego comes and wins the Tour. The showdown the next year would be exceptional the following year,” Leblanc said. “Armstrong doesn’t have a true challenge in the coming year because he’s already the absolute record-holder. If he lets a year pass and wins other things and then challenges a new champion, that would be something different. The 2006 Tour would be very exciting.”
Last week, Discovery Channel team officials said Armstrong likely won’t decide until February at the earliest on whether he’ll go for a seventh Tour crown. The team has hinted Armstrong will likely focus on the spring classics before making the decision on the Tour. Others speculate that Armstrong might race the Vuelta a España and compete in the road world championships, though Armstrong has repeatedly insisted the Tour is the race that he prefers.
Vainsteins to retire
Romans Vainsteins has put an end to speculation about his future by publicly announcing his retirement from professional cycling. The 31-year-old Latvian said that the offers he had received to prolong his career were financially unsatisfactory.
“The decision to end my career is due to the lack of an adequate deal, economically speaking, which would give me the guarantee of riding Pro Tour events,” he said. The former Lampre, Vini Caldirola and Domo rider added that he would now assist in his brother’s management of a furniture company.
Vainsteins will be remembered as a talented sprinter-cum-rouleur whose progress was checked by a skittish, often confrontational, temperament. He often fell out with opponents and was accused of selfishness by teammates. Later in his career, his managers also bemoaned his lack of discipline. Lampre sacked him in October for precisely this reason.
The son of a Soviet Jew who changed his name from Weskheim to escape persecution during the war, Vainsteins retires with a respectable, if fitful, palmares. He won a stage of the Giro d’Italia and Paris-Bruxelles in 1999 and four stages of the Tirreno Adriatico in 2000.
That year he would also become world champion which a trademark sprint in Plouay. Weight problems and injuries reduced his effectiveness after that, with his best subsequent performance a third-place finish in the 2001 Paris-Roubaix.
Vainsteins announced on Wednesday that he will organize a race in his home town of Kuldiga in July to mark his retirement. –AFP
Barloworld leaves George hanging
Top South African rider David George learned last week he won’t be welcomed back for the 2005 season by the Barloworld-Androni team.
“I didn’t see it coming, I had a verbal agreement with John Robertson, the team’s manager, for next year,” said George in a newspaper interview, admitting that he’s clashed with team management. “I’m not prepared to compromise when it comes to professional cycling. At the same time I don’t see why people who are not the best of buddies cannot work together.”
George, who turned professional eight years ago when he signed with U.S. Postal Service, said he believed Barloworld were doing a good job but “the direction is not where I’d go.”
Barloworld was formed two years ago to give South African cyclists the opportunity of competing at home and in Europe. The first year George was a driving force who also captained the team, which included Frenchmen, a couple of Australians and eight South Africans. This season the face of Barloworld changed as the Frenchmen and Aussies were replaced by Italians and Italian company Androni became a joint backer.
“Barloworld was everything for me, the best of both worlds as a pro rider, now I’m at the crossroads,” George said.