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By Andrew Hood
Oscar Sevilla will leave his longtime team Kelme and ride next season alongside Tyler Hamilton on the Swiss team Phonak, according to reports Wednesday in the Spanish press. Sevilla will reportedly sign a one-year, 800,000 Euro contract, with his major goals as top helper for Hamilton and podium contender for the Tour de France and team captain for the Vuelta a España. It’s bad news for Kelme, which insisted the team had a verbal agreement before the start of the 2003 Vuelta with the popular Spanish rider who missed this year’s Tour due to lingering problems with a cyst. “He has to give us an explanation,” said Kelme’s sport director Vicente Belda in the Spanish daily AS. “We have an agreement with him to extend his contract. It only lacks his signature. He doesn’t know the damage he’s caused to Kelme. This late in the season it’s not easy to substitute a rider like Sevilla. But others have gone and the team keeps going as before.” Sevilla’s departure is a sting for Kelme, which has lost a string of tour contenders to high-paying foreign teams. 2000 Vuelta winner Roberto Heras was lured away to U.S. Postal Service, 2002 Vuelta winner Aitor Gonzalez went to Fassa Bortolo and Tour stage-winner Santiago Botero transferred to Telekom. Team owner Pepe Quiles insisted there was a green light between the team and Sevilla. “I have the contracts ready to sign for more than a month. And now what am I going to do with them, wipe my ass or what?” Quiles told the Spanish daily MARCA. “What can’t happen is to leave like this. If they had told me a month ago it would have caused not even 10 percent of the hurt it does now. There is a team behind him, built around him and his style of riding. What do I do now with these riders? They have neither feet nor head.” Also expected to leave Kelme and join Sevilla at Phonak is Quique Gutiérrez, one of Sevilla’s best friends and confidantes. Sevilla’s agent said talks between Phonak have been going on for weeks. “We had things very advanced with Kelme, but there was no closed deal,” said Enrique Rodriguez. “Oscar has considered changing teams for awhile, but he wants to leave Kelme with a good taste in his mouth because that’s where he was made into a rider.” Rising star Alejandro Valverde, fresh off his third-place finish at the Vuelta and his silver medal at the road world championships, will likely be Kelme’s top man for the grand tours. Fakta and Alessio to merge for 2004
The Danish Team Fakta and the Italian team Alessio are set to merge for the 2004 season, according to reports in the Danish press. There have been rumors of a likely merge between Fakta and an unnamed Italian team for several weeks, but the talks are still in the works. “Everything appears to be OK now, even though there’s still some work to be done,” Fakta team manager Peter Nielsen told the Danish paper Politiken. “We are negotiating with a Danish sponsor and thanks to the merger with Alessio, we can guarantee that will be participating in all the major races.” Bettini denies he offered money to Astarloa
Post-race comments by new world champion Igor Astarloa that Italian Paolo Bettini offered him money to throw the race have caused a furor in the Italian press and both riders were quick to deny the accusations. “I absolutely deny having offered any type of offer that is contrary to the principles of the sport,” Bettini said in a statement. The Italian cycling federation issued a statement in support of Bettini and the rider even threatened to sue Astarloa for defamation of character. “It’s normal to look for collaboration with other riders in the end of a race as important as the worlds. I spoke with Astarloa because Igor and I are friends, but I never mentioned money,” Bettini said. “It might have been a misunderstanding.” The controversy stems from comments Astarloa made to the Spanish press moments after winning the rainbow jersey. As reported in the Spanish daily AS on Monday, Astarloa said: “I knew that we could arrive because everyone was riding very tired. Bettini was very interested and even offered me money.” On Monday, however, Astarloa said his comments were a “misunderstanding.” “I don’t what happened … but what my friend Bettini asked for was help,” Astarloa said. “The world champion medal has no price. You cannot buy it with money. Bettini asked me for help to eliminate the other rivals.” Astarloa also reportedly called Bettini to apologize for the misunderstanding. “I have a great friendship with Bettini. In the past we’ve been together on vacation in the Caribe,” Astarloa said. “After the race we even spoke about what happened during the race.” Astarloa thanks Freire, team
Despite the melodrama over the Bettini comment, Igor Astarloa continued the fiesta two days after winning Spain’s fourth world title. The Spanish team celebrated in high fashion Sunday night in Canada, hosting a raucous party that ended in a food fight and Astarloa getting thrown into the hotel swimming pool. “The most important thing is that we reached our objective and that was to win the rainbow jersey. I am going to be the one wearing it, but it’s thanks to all the riders on the team,” Astarloa told the Spanish wire service EFE. “I have to recognize the presence of (Oscar) Freire was fundamental. The challengers for the podium marked his wheel and they forgot about me. By them following Freire, it benefited me. Before I attacked I spoke with him to decide what we should do,” Astarloa said. “He said be wary of the breaks and try to get in one.” Astarloa was scheduled to fly to New York City for personal reasons and wasn’t returning to Madrid with the rest of the team. Astarloa said he wasn’t sure which races he might start this season, but hinted he’ll start the World Cup finale Saturday with the Giro di Lombardia. ‘Trittico Rosa’ dominates final week of European season
The 2003 European racing season closes out this week with the “Trittico Rosa,” a string of three races that starts with Milan-Turin (UCI 1.1) on Wednesday, Tour of Piedmont (UCI 1.1) on Thursday and the World Cup finale with the Giro di Lombardia on Saturday. Michele Bartoli (Fassa Bortolo), snubbed for the second year in a row from participating in the road world championships, returns as defending champion for the 88th Milan-Turin. Bartoli was fastest out of a 28-man group that included such names as Dario Frigo, Gilberto Simoni and Ivan Basso. The race starts in Novate Milanese and ended on the Fausto Coppi velodrome in Turin. The day’s main obstacle is the 620-meter Superga climb that comes just under 20km from the finish and usually breaks up the lead bunch. Luca Paolini won last year’s Tour of Piedmont in what was one of Mapei’s final victories before Dr. Squinzi pulled the plug on the team. The race starts in Novi Ligure about 30 miles north of Genoa and rolls up and down hills all day. The climb up the San Giorgio Monferrato isn’t particularly hard, but the race hits it three times before ending on the Corso Valentino in Casale Monferrato. Bartoli won last year’s final leg of the “Trittico Rosa,” the Giro di Lombardia, fastest in a 14-man break. The win pushed Bartoli into third overall in the World Cup while Paolo Bettini secured his overall title ahead of Johan Museeuw. The “Race of the Falling Leaves” almost always draws the world champion and Saeco, which is losing Igor Astarloa to Cofidis next season, will certainly pressure the Spanish rider to make an appearance. The race starts in Cantu and traces a well-established route that includes the Gallo, Sevlino and Berbenno climbs, with Berbenno just 28km from the finish into posh Bergamo. The three races will likely be the last the cycling world will see of several teams, which are either losing their sponsorship or changing title sponsors. Telekom next year will be known as T-Mobile while ONCE and iBanesto.com are both folding at the end of the season, though it looks likely ONCE will ride on next season with a new sponsors. Teams for ‘Trittico Rosa’:
Fassa Bortolo, Alessio, CCC Polsat, Panaria, Cofidis, De Nardi-Colpack, Domina Vacanze, Pinzolo Fiave, Gerolsteiner, iBanesto.com, Kelme, Lampre, Landbouwkrediet, Mercatone Uno, ONCE, Phonak, Rabobank, Saeco, Bianchi, Team CSC, Telekom, Tenax, Vini Caldirola. Quick Step and Lotto-Domo will start Saturday’s Giro di Lombardia.