By Andrew Hood
Quick Step-Innergetic stars Tom Boonen and Paolo Bettini promise to be in the mix at this weekend’s Milan-San Remo, but both men readily admit they won’t be 100 percent for the Italian classic.
Boonen pulled out of Paris-Nice ahead of Sunday’s finale after not winning a stage for the first time in three years with nagging back pain. The Belgian sprinter underwent chiropractic back treatments Monday and Tuesday and plans a long six-hour training ride Wednesday to test his condition.
“Tom has some nagging back pain and that’s never easy for the longest race of the season,” team spokesman Alessandro Tegner told VeloNews. “He will make a long test tomorrow, so we will know more. Tom has a lot of motivation for Milan-San Remo, but his major goal again this year is the Flanders-Roubaix week. He will try to win Flanders again to make it three in a row – that would be something special. At some point in his career, Tom will make Milan-San Remo his top goal for the spring, but not this year.”
Bettini, meanwhile, vows to finish Tirreno-Adriatico despite crashing twice, including a nasty spill over the weekend that left him with a banged up knee and ribs. A visit to the hospital Saturday evening confirmed the reigning world champion doesn’t have any broken bones.
“We hope that Paolo will be able to race Milan-San Remo, but he won’t be 100 percent, that’s sure,” Tegner said. “Paolo is tranquil. He knows there are a lot of riders who believe the race won’t end in a sprint finish this year and he’s hoping he can exploit that situation to his benefit. He might try something on the Cipressa or Poggio. If not, he knows there’s always Tom ready for the sprint.”
Following Tuesday’s conclusion of Tirreno-Adriatico, Bettini and his key teammates will train the remainder of this week in central Italy before convening to Milan on Friday ahead of Saturday’s start of the season’s first classic. Boonen will meet the team in Milan.
Boonen said he wasn’t worried that he didn’t win a stage during last week’s Paris-Nice. In the 2005 and 2006 editions, Boonen won five stages, including the first two road stages each year. This year, Boonen only contested the sprint into Maurs in stage three and mistakenly threw his hands up in celebration thinking he’d won the stage only to remember that Alexandr Kolobnev (CSC) had stayed away in an epic, 200km breakaway.
“It doesn’t matter if I win stages in Paris-Nice. The only sprint that matters is the one I will make into San Remo,” he said last week.
Contador relishes Paris-Nice win
Alberto Contador is the toast of Spain following his dramatic final-day siege over Col d’Eze that delivered his second stage win and overall victory at Paris-Nice.
The 24-year-old Madrileño is being hailed as the next big thing in Spanish cycling, with the Iberia press playing up that he’s the first Spaniard to win the “Race to the Sun” since Miguel Indurain won back-to-back editions in 1989-90.
Contador expressed satisfaction how the race unfolded, but downplayed whether he can be Indurain’s Tour de France successor. His immediate future includes a trip back to the Tour, but he knows he’ll be there to support team captains Ivan Basso and Levi Leipheimer.
“It’s an honor to win this race and be mentioned in the same breath as Indurain, but the Tour is something else altogether. Dreaming is free, but I have to continue working and making progress,” he said. “Nothing will change for me on the team. Discovery is strong and Basso and Leipheimer are the clear (Tour) leaders. We’re a team and nothing will change because of this.”
Discovery Channel rode impressively throughout the week, with Contador and Leipheimer as clear candidates for victory. After Contador won the summit finish to Mende, the team rallied around their young Spanish rider.
In Sunday’s, Discovery rode with domination that reminded some of the glory days of Lance Armstrong’s seven-year Tour de France run. The entire team rode tempo at the front and Tom Danielson, Levi Leipheimer and then Yaroslav Popovych buried themselves until Contador attacked on Col d’Eze.
Contador’s victory coupled with Leipheimer’s big win at the Tour of California gives Discovery two wins at the most important races so far in the 2007 season.
Team boss Johan Bruyneel expressed satisfaction with the team’s performances so far.
“Our team was able to come into 2007 very focused with our first year without Lance behind us. We have new riders, new goals and new objectives and I could not be happier with the how the guys have performed so far,” Bruyneel said in a team press release. “The Tour of California and Paris-Nice wins were a direct result of our guys riding as a Team behind their leader. Alberto pointing at the ‘Discovery Channel’ on his jersey as he won yesterday was his way of thanking his teammates and showing how happy he is on this Team. This was a tremendous win for our entire organization. Winning races can only help us as we look to solidify a new title sponsor for 2008.”
Basso, Sastre back in Spain
Banged-up Tour de France contenders Ivan Basso (Discovery Channel) and Carlos Sastre (CSC) both are expected to return to racing for next week’s Vuelta a Castilla y León in northern Spain set for March 26-30.
Basso’s European debut in a Discovery Channel jersey was cut short this week in Tirreno-Adriatico after a spill left him with an injured wrist. Luckily for the 2006 Giro d’Italia champion, nothing was broken and he’ll be able to continue in his preparation for this season’s major goals at the Giro and Tour.
Sastre was worse off in a high-speed tumble at the Vuelta a Murcia earlier this month and has only been able to return to full-strength training this week. Sastre is hopeful he’ll be able to race the five-day Spanish stage race that opens next Monday with an individual time trial.
Nothing broken for Mayo
Iban Mayo earned stitches on his left elbow after a crash in the opening 2km of Sunday’s finale at Paris-Nice, but he’s relieved that further examinations revealed nothing is broken despite major swelling.
“I am pretty banged up, it’s true. I have wounds all over, in the hip, the head, a heavy blow to my ribs, but at least we know nothing is broken,” Mayo told the Spanish wires. “We saw an island coming and I went flying through the air and four or five other riders fell on top of me. The truth is it was a pretty heavy fall.”
Mayo was sitting quietly 24th overall at 1:39 back going into Sunday’s four-climb final stage in Nice and was expected to pull even high in the GC when the crash took him out.
“Every day I was feeling better and the crash happened on a day that was ideal for me. For this, I am a little sad [about the crash], but, well, that’s cycling,” he said. “I wasn’t a great race for me, but I was demonstrated good condition. I saw that I am feeling better compared to other years at this time of the season.”
Up next, the Basque climber will try for a solid result at the Vuelta al País Vasco (April 9-14) and ride into the May 12 start of the Giro d’Italia in condition to help team captain Gilberto Simoni.
“I hope to have good form for the País Vasco, but my objective is to arrive at 100 percent for the Giro,” he concluded. “I know that in April I won’t be in top form, but the Giro gives me a lot of motivation because I’ve never raced there and I want to be in good shape.”