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By Andrew Hood
Damiano Cunego won’t be taking on Lance Armstrong in this year’s Tour de France after all.
His Lampre-Caffita team confirmed Tuesday what many observers had already guessed: the Epstein Barr virus that sapped young Cunego’s strength is still nagging the Italian.
“Tests carried out on June 17 have shown a fall in the number of Epstein Bar Virus anti-bodies from 580 to 170, but this is still far from normal values of 0 to 20 and Cunego is still diagnosed as ‘recovering,’” the team said in a statement Tuesday.
“As a result the Lampre-Caffita team management and medical staff have changed the Cunego’s race program and not selected him for the Tour de France.”
The 23-year-old “golden baby” of Italian cycling was expected to be one of Armstrong’s big challengers in what would have been Cunego’s first Tour in what will be the Texan’s last.
After barnstorming to victory in the 2004 Giro, Cunego didn’t have the same fiery spark in his legs in this year’s edition.
Without Cunego, Lampre-Caffita is expected to name two-time Giro champion Gilberto Simoni as their team captain for the Tour. The nine-man Tour roster will be released later this week.
Bäckstedt on the hunt for stages
If Magnus Bäckstedt looks skinnier in this year’s Tour de France, that’s because he is.
The big Swede with speed says he’s slimmed down following his spring classics campaign with all eyes set on having a strong Tour. For Bäckstedt, that means winning anotherTour stage to go along with his breakthrough 1998 stage-victory.
“I’m focusing everything on the Tour this year, trying to do the first week well. I want to have a good time trial and then see what happens from there,” Bäckstedt told VeloNews. “I’d love to win a stage again.”
Backstedt dropped out of the Dauphiné Libéré, fatigued from what he likened to having “the tires glued on the wrong side.”
“I’m lacking 6-7kph on the flats on a normal day, I’m not moving forward. I’m just stuck on the road,” he said. “I had a week off after Paris-Roubaix and I’ve been going absolutely flat out since there. For me in the peloton, it’s all or nothing. There are no in-betweens.”
The 2003 Paris-Roubaix champ said he would take a few days easy to try to regain his edge ahead of the Tour. His primary goal is a stage victory, though the green jersey wouldn’t be so bad, either.
“We’ll see about the green jersey. We’ll take it as it comes,” he said. “A stage-win would be huge and we’ll take it day by day, and if I’m a contender for the green jersey, then we’ll see about that.”
González to reload for Vuelta
Everyone in Spain is asking why Aitor González – fresh off his dramatic Tour de Suisse victory – isn’t going to the Tour de France.
Well, the answer is he was never planned to go. Instead, the reborn TerminAitor will reload for the Vuelta a España, just as he planned back in February.
“We’re not going to change our lineup,” said Euskaltel-Euskadi sport director Julian Gorospe in MARCA. “The Tour is another planet and Aitor couldn’t fight for the GC. Also, we need strong men at the Vuelta and Aitor will be our base. He shouldn’t worry about that now, he should rest and get ready for the Vuelta.”
González’ victory comes just days after Iñigo Landaluze was the surprise winner at the Dauphiné Libéré in France, giving the orange-clad Basque gang a big boost of morale ahead of the Tour after struggling earlier this season to find a win.
“We’ll head into the Tour tranquilo,” Gorospe continued. “Our idea is to have Iban Mayo as our team leader and give everyone something to talk about, whether it’s the GC or stages.”
No Nozal for Tour
One name missing from Liberty Seguros’ Tour short-list released Monday was Isidro Nozal, the Spanish rider who wasn’t allowed to start the Dauphiné Libéré after giving a high hematocrit reading (52 percent) ahead of the race.
Nozal has served his 15-day “rest” period and will be allowed to return to the team, unlike ex-teammate Nuno Ribeiro, who tested high before the Giro d’Italia and was quickly fired.
Nozal is scheduled to line up this weekend for the Spanish national championships, but he won’t be racing the Tour de France as planned all season long.
“He’s been through a huge psychological stress these past few days and I know him well, he’s in no condition to race the Tour,” said team manager Manolo Saiz.