By Andrew Hood
Kelme’s Vicente Belda said Oscar Sevilla won’t know if he’ll race the Tour de France until the end of June. Sevilla has been dogged with problems following surgery this spring to remove a cyst in his groin area.
Belda said Sevilla returned to racing too early, and after abandoning the Tour of Aragon, had to go under the knife yet again. Sevilla returned to racing at the Tour of Castilla y Leon last week and rode stronger, but still lacks racing miles.
“At Castilla y Leon, he rode well even though he still hurts a little bit. This gives us optimism, but we’re still not sure about his future,” Belda told the daily AS. “He’s the team leader and this worries us for the Tour de France.”
All hopes for the Tour hinge on Sevilla following the departures of Santiago Botero to Telekom and Aitor Gonzalez to Fassa Bortolo. Sevilla will only race the Tour of Catalunya (June 16-22) before the Tour de France and will train primarily at home, Belda said.
“It’s better he trains at home instead of going to the race, because there if he feels bad he can get right off the bike,” Belda said.
Pantani still hinting at joining Bianchi
Former Tour de France winner Marco Pantani said again on Wednesday that his considering leaving Mercatone Uno to join the Bianchi team so he race in the 2003 Tour de France, Reuters reported.
“I’d love to ride the Tour de France again. It’d be an honor for me and I’d like to see what I can do against Lance Armstrong,” Pantani told reporters at the Giro d’Italia.
“My Mercatone Uno team hasn’t been invited and so the only way of riding is by joining another team. I’ve never had any problems with Jan Ullrich, I’ve close ties with Bianchi and my current team is not against the move, so I could ride the Tour with Bianchi,” the Italian said.
Ullrich, a 1997 Tour champion, will be racing with the newly formed Bianchi team which replaced the financially troubled Team Coast. Pantani said he will meet with his sponsors after the Giro ends Sunday to see if they would agree at letting the Pirate jump ship for the month of July.
“I’m always looking for the motivation to keep racing and the Tour would be perfect. It would also show I’m serious about racing again which should get Armstrong worried,” he said. “Last year I didn’t deserve a place because I wasn’t riding well but this year things are different, I’m competitive and would be a threat to Armstrong at the Tour.’
Pantani has overcome poor form and doping scandals to return to this year’s Giro in relatively decent form. Though he’s no threat for the overall victory – he’s sitting 10th at 10:11 back – he’s certain to make a run for a stage victory in the two remaining mountain stages.
No word yet on what Ullrich and his camp are thinking about Pantani’s plan. Ullrich’s Bianchi team will officially be rolled out Monday before Tuesday’s start of the Tour of Germany.
Zabriskie breaks leg, wrist in spill
U.S. Postal’s David Zabriskie suffered a broken leg and broken wrist Monday when he collided with a car during a training ride in Salt Lake City, team official reported.
Zabriskie, 24, was scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday after suffering a broken left leg and left wrist and abrasions and cuts in the incident. Team officials said Zabriskie, who was wearing a helmet, was traveling downhill at about 30 mph near his home when he collided with a vehicle that cut him off while turning.
Zabriskie, a strong time trialist known for his hilarious lounge-singer act, will miss the upcoming Wachovia Cycling Series, which begins June 3. Zabriskie had just returned to Utah after racing in the Tour of Belgium last week, which he abandoned after crashing in the first stage.
Hincapie satisfied with Euro return
U.S. Postal’s George Hincapie said he was satisfied with his return to European cycling in last week’s Tour of Belgium after a severe respiratory infection derailed his spring racing season. Hincapie finished a strong seventh overall in what he hopes is the first step toward making the Tour de France team.
“I felt better in the Tour of Belgium then I thought I would, Hincapie said in a team press release. “I have really only been training for three weeks, so I thought I would be worse (than I was). I was a bit nervous coming into the race because I had never been away from the races for so long and did not know what to expect. My expectations going in were to try and get through (the race) and I hoped that I could just gain some race fitness out of it.”
Hincapie has been the only teammate to join Lance Armstrong in all four of his Tour victories, but the recent addition of Manuel Beltran to the team, Hincapie knows the competition will be tight.
“I would obviously love to go to the Tour, but I won’t know until after the Tour of Catalunya,” he said. “The team for the Tour is stacked this year and I have to prove that I am ready to do it. I would love to have a strong August and basically race until the Worlds, which is a goal of mine now.”
U23s cleanup in Europe
Good news coming out of the USPS U23 team in Europe. Patrick McCarty took the overall title at the 26th Ronde de l’Isard d’Ariège, while Saul Raisin finished third and took the best young rider’s jersey.
The folks at USA Cycling are reporting it’s the first time U23 national team has won a UCI Category 2.7.1 stage race. They’re also saying it’s is the most important stage race win for the U23 national team since Danny Pate and his teammates won the Triptyque Ardennais stage race (UCI 2.6) in Belgium in 2001.
The team opened the five-day stage race in France with a victory in the team time trial. Joining McCarty and Raisin were Will Frischkorn, Michael Creed and Tyler Farrar, who beat the German team by 25 seconds and 35 seconds over Credit Agricole’s U23 team.
In stage 2, the team worked hard to get McCarty into a break, who launched a solo attack in the final few kilometers to take the stage win and the race lead. Raisin worked to bring McCarty up the break then finished an impressive fourth in the stage and kept the Best Young Rider’s jersey.
The team defended McCarty’s lead during a double-stage day on Saturday and the final stage on Sunday, USA Cycling reported.
In other European action, Mark Fitzgerald finished 14th overall in the 37th Triptyque Ardennais and won the second stage of the 54th Fleche du Sud on May 16 and finished 26th overall.
Up next for the young guns are the Tour de Lorraine and the Tour de Gironde.
Trackie banned for two years
Former Olympic and world track champion Stefan Steinweg has been banned for two years for the possession of banned drugs, the German Cycling Federation (BDR) said on Wednesday.
Steinweg was found with the banned substances testosterone and human growth hormone by Australian customs at Melbourne airport in February. The 33-year-old, a gold medalist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and a former world madison champion, said he had not taken any drugs himself, Reuters reported.
Under BDR rules, because he was carrying the drugs, he had violated the anti-doping rules of cycling’s ruling body UCI. His ban runs until May 2005 and he was also fined 2,000 Swiss francs ($1,549), the BDR said in a statement.
Perez denies doping charges
Spanish rider Francisco Perez denied he took EPO despite showing trace of the banned drug at the recent Tour of Romandie.
“I am innocent because I have taken nothing,” Perez told Spanish sports daily Marca on Wednesday. “My conscience is clear; there must be some mistake with the laboratory or with the method used.”
News broke Tuesday that Perez, 24, had tested positive for the banned blood-doping drug EPO during a control at the Swiss Romandie race, where he won two stages and finished third behind winner Tyler Hamilton (CSC).
Dr. Manuel Pueyo, head of the Spanish Cycling Federation’s (RFEC) Anti-Doping Commission, told Marca a second “B” analysis will be conducted in June.
“We cannot yet talk about a positive, but rather a case in which the substance (EPO) has been detected,” he said. “Whether it can be classed as a positive test or not will be up to the federation to decide at the end of the process.”
The news puts a blot on the otherwise remarkable rise of the Milaneza-MSS team, which won stages at Paris-Nice and recently won the Tour of Asturias in Spain with Fabian Jekker.
Enrico Carpani, spokesman for the UCI, told Reuters that one competitor had tested positive for a banned substance on two different occasions during the Tour of Romandie.
He refused to confirm whether that rider was Perez but added that a B-test sample would now be analyzed and the results would be known on June 17.
No announcement has yet been made regarding possible sanctions or suspension for Perez from the Milaneza camp.