By Andrew Hood
Bianchi’s Jan Ullrich confirmed he will race in October’s world championships but remained doubtful on whether he’ll use the Vuelta a España as his warm-up.
“The focus of the remaining season is the world championships,” Ullrich told German television after the HEW Cyclassics race Sunday. “There’s a question mark whether I’m going to do the Vuelta, but I will see in two weeks’ time.”
Ullrich confirmed he’ll race in the next two rounds of the World Cup – Saturday’s Clasica San Sebastian and GP Zurich on Aug. 17 – but left his participation in the Vuelta up in the air.
“I would love to do both [the world championships and the Vuelta] but right now I feel very tired and will have to take a look at my shape before I make any decision,” said Ullrich, who won the 1999 Vuelta before taking the world time trial title that fall in Italy.
Universal grief for ONCE, Banesto departures
The Spanish cycling community continued to reel Tuesday with the news that ONCE would leave the sport at the end of the 2003 season. Along with Banesto’s departure at season’s end, Spain will suddenly be with its two marquee teams, leaving only the more modest Kelme and Euskaltel-Euskadi to represent the peninsula among the first division.
“The departure of Banesto is a drama, but in the same year to lose ONCE-Eroski is a funeral,” said Javier Minguez, a former director of Spanish teams. “This sport has given a lot to Spain, and if they leave and we’re left without teams, we will go from becoming a strong force to nothing.”
ONCE and Banesto were the standard bearers of Spanish cycling throughout the 1990s, winning five Tours with Miguel Induráin (Banesto) and three Vueltas with Alex Zulle and Laurent Jalabert (with ONCE).
Several of the top stars from both teams are sure to find contracts at other teams. Joseba Beloki said he’s talking with several foreign teams as well as Euskaltel-Euskadi and promises to make a decision soon; other riders, like Juan Miguel Mercado, who recently penned a deal with Quick Step, have already signed with new teams.
Still, others, however, are likely to have to settle for pay cuts and smaller teams or even leave the sport.
“It will leave many professionals out of work, from mechanics and support staff to the racers themselves,” said ex-pro Fernando Escartin. “We see a situation very complicated for Spanish cycling, and that will force the exile of the best Spanish cyclists to foreign teams.”
Transfer news: Hushovd, Steels extend
Norwegian star Thor Hushovd has refused an offer from Rabobank and has decided to extend for two years with Credit Agricole until 2005 while Belgian sprinter Tom Steels has re-signed with Landbouwkrediet for one year.
Latest UCI rankings
Jan Ullrich (Bianchi) continued his upward trajectory in the latest UCI rankings, moving from 26th into the top 20 to 19th position after finishing third in Sunday’s HEW Cyclassics. Italian Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) continued his grip on the No. 1 spot after winning at Hew. Italian Michele Bartoli (Fassa Bortolo) moved from 19th to 15th after success in the Tour of Region Wallonne last week in Belgium. Lance Armstrong (seventh) and Tyler Hamilton (10th) both remained in the top-10.
Top-20 world rankings issued by the International Cycling Union (UCI) on Monday (previous ranking in brackets):
1. (1) Paolo Bettini (Italy), 2,188.75 points
2. (2) Gilberto Simoni (Italy), 2,077.00
3. (3) Erik Zabel (Germany), 2,020.75
4. (4) Davide Rebellin (Italy), 1,917.00
5. (5) Iban Mayo (Spain), 1,730.00
6. (6) Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) 1,721.00
7. (8) Lance Armstrong (U.S.), 1,683.00
8. (7) Alessandro Petacchi (Italy), 1,682.00
9. (9) Dario Frigo (Italy), 1,541.00
10. (10) Tyler Hamilton (U.S.), 1,474.20
11. (11) Robbie McEwen (Australia), 1,364.00
12. (12) Francesco Casagrande (Italy) 1,291.00
13. (13) Danilo Di Luca (Italy), 1,222.00
14. (14) Aitor Gonzalez Jimenez (Spain), 1,171.00
15. (19) Michele Bartoli (Italy), 1,162.50
16. (15) Roberto Heras Hernandez (Spain), 1,153.25
17. (16) Baden Cooke (Australia), 1,113.00
18. (17) Mario Cipollini (Italy), 1,103.20
19. (26) Jan Ullrich (Germany), 1,060.00
20. (18) Francisco Mancebo (Spain), 1,059.00
Jean Delatour targets 19th Regio-Tour
Victorious in 2001 and 2002, the French team Jean Delatour will be aiming for its third consecutive success during the 19th edition of the Regio-Tour, which runs Wednesday through Sunday over 814km in the upper Rhine.
Fifteen teams comprising some 120 cyclists will start Wednesday’s 189.4km stage from Heitersheim to Guebwiller in Alsace, the longest of the Regio-Tour.
In the absence of defending champion Laurent Brochart, who moved to the AG2r squad, Jean Delatour’s hopes rest in particular on 2001 winner Patrice Halgand. Another former winner hoping to repeat is 1999 winner Grischa Niermann (Rabobank), whose Dutch team also can rely upon American Levi Leipheimer.
Also scheduled to start are Telekom’s Cadel Evans, returning to competition after a series of collarbone injuries, with teammates Germans Danilo Hondo and Kai Hundertmarck; Jens Voigt (Credít Agricole); and Italians Stefano Zanini (Saeco) and Fabio Baldato (Alessio), or Switzerland Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo).
August 6 – Heitersheim-Guebwiller, 189.4km
August 7 – 1st half-stage: Liel-Muellheim, 71.6km; 2nd half-stage: individual time trial, Muellheim-Muellheim, 14.4km
August 8 – Herbolzheim-Lahr, 188.2km
August 9 – Wehr-Neuenbourg/Rhin, 172km
August 10 – Emmendingen-Vogtsburg/Kaiserstuhl, 171.4km
– AFP contributed to this report