By Andrew Hood
Breaking the all-time Giro d’Italia stage win record couldn’t ease the disappointment Mario Cipollini felt after being snubbed by Tour de France officials Monday.
“I want to speak to Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc face to face to find out why he didn’t invite me to the Tour de France,” Cipollini told Reuters. “I spoke to him on the telephone in March and he told me that if I wanted to ride the Tour and if I was competitive he’d be happy to (give) my team a place. I think I’ve been competitive but now he has changed his mind.
“I’ve heard the reasons he has given for not inviting me and my team but I think he’s trying to find any excuse he can. His reasons don’t stand up. Leblanc has been saying I have not finished the Tour for three years but in the meantime I’ve won 14 races, the Milan-San Remo World Cup race, Ghent-Wevelgem and the world title. If that’s not good enough for the Tour de France, I want to know what is.”
Cipollini wasn’t done. He said his world champion’s rainbow jersey should be enough to warrant an invitation for his Domina Vacanze team to July’s start of the Tour.
“The Tour isn’t just a French race, it’s the biggest race in the sport (and) it’s the third consecutive time I’ve been refused a place,” Cipollini told reporters. “I thought there wouldn’t be a problem this year because I’m world champion. I thought they’d be obliged to invite me as I represent the sport with my rainbow jersey but clearly I’ve been proved wrong.”
Tour teams: Italian association behind Cipo’
The Italian Professional Cyclist Association was quick to condemn the exclusion of Domina Vacanze from the 2003 Tour. The group sent out a letter Monday afternoon saying Cipollini deserved a place in the bunch.
“The refusal of invitation is a double-slap, first for the rainbow jersey of the world champion, which esteem is being diminished, and that of Mario Cipollini, who has done much for both the Tour and for cycling,” a one-page letter read.
Signed by Francesco Moser and Amedeo Colombo, the letter also said the group would press the UCI to institute changes in how teams are selected for the grand tours.
Tour teams: Giro organizers shocked
Carmine Castellano, organizer of the Giro d’Italia, told AFP the current system of selecting teams “isn’t working. Teams don’t come to the Giro because they are hoping to go to the Tour,” Castellano said, pointing out such teams as Phonak. “Mario Cipollini is a larger than life character for the Italian public. I am sure he is the same way with the French public.”
Tour teams: Meanwhile, back in Spain …
While all of Italy was up in arms, Spain was quite content on Monday evening. Euskaltel-Euskadi squeaked into the big dance for the third year in a row despite just one big win in the season. Take away Iban Mayo’s win at Tour of the Basque Country and his second place at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Euskaltel wasn’t much better, on paper at least, than the other teams left out of the Tour.
That didn’t stop the Basques from rejoicing, however.
“It’s logical we’re in because we’ve done the Tour before and we’ve done it well,” team boss Miguel Madariaga told a Basque newspaper. “This is a good thing for the fans to have the team in the Tour. They have always shown their support.”
He said the team comes with a motivated and talented line-up, and confirmed Iban Mayo, Samuel Sanchez, Unai and David Etxebarria, Roberto Laiseka and Haimar Zubeldia will be starting.
Tour teams: Phonak rider admits team lacked results
Santi Perez, a racer on the Phonak team, admitted the team didn’t have the results to warrant an invitation to the Tour de France.
“It’s sure we have a good time, and we’ve been doing well since the beginning of the season, but we lacked the results. We’ve had a lot of second and third placings, but the victories haven’t come,” he said. “We would have liked to have been there, but it wasn’t an obsession for us.”
He said the team will reload for the Tour de Suisse and try to earn a spot to start the 2004 Tour.
Hincapie back for Belgium
George Hincapie is expected to make his return to European racing in Wednesday’s start of the Tour of Belgium (May 21-25). Hincapie’s classics season was sidelined with a parasite and sinus problems and he returned to the United States to recover.
“It’s weird going over to Europe out of shape,” Hincapie said in an article published by Frankie Andreu on the U.S. Postal Service web page. “But I think I am healthy again. I believe it’s only a matter of time now until I’m good again. I am going to race the Tour of Belgium, and then maybe the Dauphine.”
Hincapie also said he won’t be racing at the U.S. pro championships in Philadelphia in June.
Zülle, Sevilla to headline Castilla y Leon
Phonak’s Alex Zülle and Kelme’s Oscar Sevilla are on the provisional start-list for Tuesday’s kick off the five-day Tour of Castilla y Leon in northern Spain (UCI 2.3). The race was originally scheduled April 30-May 4, but race organizers got permission to move the race to the dates vacated by the now-defunct Midi Libre race because of a visit to Spain by the Pope.
The race opens with a rolling stage Tuesday, followed by a team time trial Wednesday, another rolling stage Thursday and two harder days in the mountains. Saturday’s finale in Avila features a Category 2 and three passes over a Cat. 1 climb.