By Andrew Hood
The 12-man Spanish national team left for Hamilton with high hopes ofdelivering Oscar Freire into his third world championships in five years.
“We are going with the intention of winning. We know it’s not easy,but we have a team that can do it and we’re going to fight for the gold,”said Spanish national team coach Paco Antequera in the Spanish dailyAS. “If we get another medal, we’ll welcome it.”
Freire, without a doubt, will be the Iberians leader. Since the Rabobankrider won his first world title in Verona in 1999, he’s won a second in Lisbon (2001) and took bronze at Plouay (2000). Last year he was poised for the final sprint when another rider’s pedal (the Spanish press said it was Mario Cipollini) chewed through Freire’s wheel in a final-lap pile-up.
“I feel motivated and I’ve prepared better than ever for the worlds.I am in good condition,” Freire said. “My objective is to win. I won’tbe happy with just any medal. Later the circumstances of the race willdictate your fate.”
Freire’s form is obviously on the rise, winning two stages andclaiming the overall at the Giro della Provencia di Lucca last week inItaly. But the Spanish team has more options in Igor Astarloa, a provenclassics rider and winner of Fleche Wallone this year, as well as suchwild cards as Francisco Mancebo, Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Sevilla.
“If you look at the names, we have the best team ever,” Antequera said.“Of course, like Italy, we come as one of the favorites and we’re not goingto avoid the responsibility of the race. We have to have riders in allthe breaks and we won’t have to work as hard.”
Antequera called Paolo Bettini the top rival and admitted if the weatherturns cold and rainy the Spanish riders will be handicapped.
Saiz looks to have ONCE replacement
The hot news out of Spain is that Manolo Saiz, sport director of the out-going ONCE team, has lined up a new sponsor to take over the team.
The latest issue of Meta 2Mil – a weekly Spanish cycling newspaper– reports that Stayer, an Italian home and garden tool manufacturer is poised to pick up the team’s title sponsorship.
The newspaper reported the deal will be announced after this weekend’sworld championships. Saiz is reportedly already signing up riders, including the stable of ONCE riders such as Joseba Beloki, 2003 Vuelta runner-up Isidro Nozal, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Isidro Nozal, Mikel Pradera, Angel Vicioso,Marcos Serrano and Aussie Allan Davis.
Other names linked to the team include Italian riders Giovanni Lombardi and Filippo Pozzato.
Road worlds set through 2007
Salzburg, Austria, edged out the Swiss city of Kuzak to host the 2006 road world cycling championships while Bordeaux, France will host the track worlds, the UCI announced from Hamilton, Canada. Other worlds sites for 2006 include Zeddam, Netherlands, for cyclo-cross and Rotorua, New Zealand, for mountain biking.
Next year’s road worlds are set for Verona, Italy, which hosted the1999 event, while Madrid will host the 2005 edition. The UCI already announcedthat Stuttgart, Germany, gets the nod for the 2007 road worlds.
More Spanish riders are penning deals for the upcoming seasons. Iker Camaño, 24, will join Euskaltel-Euskadi for two season.Santos González, the Domina Vacanze rider fresh off a strong Vuelta a España, looks likely to join Phonak.Rafael Casero, the 26-year-old younger brother of 2001 Vuelta champion Angel Casero, will join the bolstered Saunier Duval team, which is creating a new Spanish-heavy team for 2004.The Danish press is reporting that Michele Bartoli and Team CSC’s Bjarne Riis are once again in talks. Bartoli and Riis failed to reach an agreement last year and the Dane brought in Andrea Tafi instead for the 2003 season.