By Andrew Hood
George Hincapie will line up alongside Lance Armstrong today for the opening stage of the Tour of the Algarve in southern Portugal. Hincapie was scheduled to race Ruta del Sol, but he came down with what he called “a stomach bug” and delayed his start to the 2004 season.
U.S. Postal Service sport director Johan Bruyneel told The Associated Press that Armstrong chose the Algarve race to kick off his season because he wants to spend more time in the United States later this spring.
“The main attraction is the date, because we’re starting racing earlier this year,” Bruyneel told the AP. “The Algarve weather’s also good, and the roads are, too. It’s good to start in a relaxed way, without too much pressure. It’s not a very hard race.”
Eight riders are set to race in Portugal, where Armstrong will be joined by the team’s new signings Jose Azevedo, Daniel Rincon, and Benjamin Noval.
“The team is in pretty decent shape,” Bruyneel said.
Huge crowd expected for Pantani’s funeral
As many as 40,000 cycling fans are expected to pay their respects at the funeral of Marco Pantani today in his hometown of Cesenatico, Reuters reported.
Pantani — the last man to win the Tour de France and Giro D’Italia in the same year — was found dead in his hotel room in the Italian resort of Rimini on Saturday. The precise cause of the 34-year-old’s death is not yet known, but an autopsy revealed he suffered a heart attack. Pathologists say the exact cause of Pantani’s death may take several weeks to establish.
Cesenatico’s church is expected to welcome Pantani’s relatives and close friends, while fans throng the streets outside. The mayor of the town – which is about 20km from Rimini on Italy’s Adriatic coast – has declared Wednesday a day of mourning.
Mourners are reportedly buying yellow, pink and white wreaths – the colors of Pantani’s cycling jerseys.
Pantani’s mother Tonina has blamed anti-doping investigators for driving her son to his death. She shouted at reporters and camera crews who had gathered in Cesenatico on Tuesday.
“Go away! Go away! You don’t have any right, you don’t have any respect,” she cried. “You killed him; leave us alone in our grief.” — Reuters
Gonzalez: ‘I’ve learned from my mistakes’
Aitor Gonzalez says he won’t make the same mistakes he made when he suffered through the 2003 season. The Fassa Bortolo rider says he’s aiming at the Tour de France as his top goal for his year.
“It’s obvious that things didn’t go as I had wanted them to last year,” Gonzalez told the Spanish daily DEIA. “I didn’t do well in the Giro and the rest of the season was not balanced.”
Gonzalez roared to victory in the 2002 Vuelta but admitted he spent too much time in the following off-season partying and being distracted by contract negotiations and other business deals.
The wiser and older Spanish rider vows he won’t make the same mistakes.
“I’ve learned from my mistakes,” he said. “This year I’ve more quiet. I’ve learned how important it is to stay tranquil in the winter.”