By Andrew Hood
Team CSC boss Bjarne Riis took personal satisfaction in Bobby Julich’s dramatic victory in Paris-Nice. After all, it was the 1996 Tour de France winner who helped resurrect Julich’s fortunes by bringing him into the iconoclastic Danish team for the 2004 season.
Julich was quick to praise Riis for his revival. When asked before the start of Sunday’s stage how he could explain his winning ways, Julich gave a precise answer.
“One thing and that’s Bjarne Riis,” said Julich, who became the first American to the Race to the Sun. “Bjarne has a gift. He takes chances on people. We all believe in him. He made me feel like a man again. He gave me my confidence again. When I came to this team, he didn’t care about what happened in 1998. He was only concerned about 2004.”
Riis took that praise with trademark nonchalance.
“I’m happy to hear him say that, but I am just doing my job,” Riis said. “Bobby deserves this win. He’s been working so hard. He’s given everything to the team.”
Riis watched with pride as his big red machine dominated the post-race podium ceremony, with Julich collecting the yellow jersey, Jens Voigt the green and Team CSC the team classification.
Asked about his team’s start to the first season of the new ProTour, Riis was typically understated.
“Not too bad,” he said.
On the team’s web page, Riis was more effusive: “Today we have reached a big goal and this race once again showed our abilities as a team. Bobby really deserves this victory and it has been a pleasure to see how the team has supported him. We dominated the race, which takes a lot of discipline. I think the way our riders performed down here made an impact on the whole peloton. We can now look forward to the upcoming tasks and we could not have asked for a better start to the ProTour season.”
Julich not thinking about Tour
Following his big win at Paris-Nice, everyone was clamoring to ask Bobby Julich if he was ready to take on his longtime rival Lance Armstrong at the 2005 Tour de France.
“I’m not thinking about the Tour,” he said. “It’s not good to look too far ahead.”
Team CSC is building its Tour hopes around stage-winners Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre, but there certainly could be room for Julich if he’s riding strong. Especially with Basso taking aim at the Giro d’Italia and Sastre also keeping one eye on the Vuelta a España, Riis won’t mind having an extra card to play in the Tour.
Julich said his immediate goal is helping pay back the favor to teammate Jens Voigt as the German looks to defend his Criterium International title at the end of this month.
“Nothing changes,” Julich said. “Last year I had a new philosophy. Now I want to be competitive at every race I go to. I don’t want to wait for July.”
Valverde confident after stage-win
The monkey is finally off Alejandro Valverde’s back. Not that he really cared that much, but some cynics were snorting that none of his career victories came north of the Pyrénées.
All that changed Sunday in sunny Nice when made a torrid charge along the Promenade des Anglais to catch Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) dead on the line to grab his first victory on French soil.
“I am very satisfied. I won a stage and finished second in a race that I basically came here to experiment. Everything went better than I expected,” Valverde told the Spanish daily AS. “I tried to win the overall, but I ran into Julich, and above all, CSC, who brought a very strong team. I feel like I lost Paris-Nice with the escape in the fourth stage.”
Valverde also bounced into second overall thanks to a 10-second bonus, a result that bodes well as he sets his sights on the spring classics. Up next is Milan-San Remo, though his real objectives come later in April in the Ardennes.
“This win has boosted my confidence for San Remo. I am feeling better than expected,” he said. “I’ll do what I can. But from the way it looks, Freire is in great shape. He’s the world champion and the last winner, so he’s the big favorite.”
Cunego,Van Petegem out of MSR
Peter Van Petegem and Damiano Cunego are the latest two big names forfeiting this weekend’s Milan-San Remo. Rabobank’s Michael Boogerd already announced last week he’s giving the Poggio a pass.
Van Petegem said he knows where his bread is buttered, and it’s not on the dangerous roads of the Italian Riviera. The Flanders-Roubaix double champion, who is still shaking off the ill effects of a mid-winter flu, is saving his legs for his beloved cobbles next month.
“It’s a decision I took after the first day of Tirreno,” he told the Belgian daily La Dernière Heure. “I feel good, but not great. Besides, we know how this classic will end — always with a sprint.”
Defending Giro champion Cunego, meanwhile, doesn’t want to risk a crash when his real goals come in May and later in July, when he’ll tackle the Tour de France for the first time.
“I don’t feel ready to rub elbows for nearly seven hours on the coastal roads,” Cunego told L’Equipe. “I would be too afraid to compromise my season in a crash.”
Boonen scouts MSR course
Tom Boonen, fresh off two stage victories in Paris-Nice, scouted the Milan-San Remo on Monday before returning home to Belgium. Boonen rode for two and a half hours, climbing two times each up the Cipressa and Poggio climbs along with teammates Kevin Hulsmans and Guido Trenti.
“Taking a preview of the final of the Sanremo was a great idea. I’ve already taken part in this classic race twice but it is always a good idea to check the race route out beforehand,” Boonen said. “Riding alongside me was the experienced athlete Trenti who gave me a lot of important advice. It will be very important to start the Poggio in a good position, that way not risking being bottle-necked in the main part of the group and therefore having to use more energy than necessary to work your way up to the front of the group.”
Boonen, who finished 75th last year at 27 seconds behind the front group, said he’ll be using a 41 instead of a 39. I think this is the best choice and will help me in the action on the Poggio.”
“I think the race will be particularly difficult from the Cipressa onwards, that said, I think a few teams such as the Fassa Bortolo and the Rabobank will be controlling the race. We’ll have to do a good job in following in their tracks.”
Beloki sick with flu
Joseba Beloki, who continues to have fits and starts in his comeback season, is hoping to start Setmana Catalana next week if he can recover in time from the flu.
The Liberty Seguros rider pulled out Tirreno-Adriatico after coming down with a fever and visited the doctor Monday in his hometown in Vitoria, Spain. Beloki spent some time on the rollers and hopes to get back to racing as soon as possible.