By Andrew Hood
LA back in saddle in France
Lance Armstrong (USPS) returns to action in Wednesday’s opening stage of the Tour du Languedoc-Rousillon (FRA 2.1) in southern France.
The race signals the rebirth of the GP Midi Libre, which Armstrong won in 2002 but was not held last year. It’s also the five-time Tour de France winner’s first race since winning the Tour de Georgia in April.
“Lance seems to me very well mentally. Physically, he’s fitter than last year, which is not difficult given the problems he had,” Bruyneel told Reuters.
Armstrong returned to Europe last week and promptly went to Alpe d’Huez to scout the decisive climb which will be featured in a climbing time trial in this year’s Tour. Bruyneel said Armstrong rode the famous hill a dozen times and tested a new bike on it. The American won a stage at the top of the Alpe d’Huez in 2001.
“I can say Lance was very dedicated in his stage checks,” Bruyneel added. “Lance also went to check the next stage to Le Grand Bornand but he still has a lot of stages to work on.”
The Tour du Languedoc-Rousillon opens with the 167km first stage from Maury to Port Vendres and hits four Category 3 climbs along the way, with the last coming 7.5km from a rollercoaster run into the finish at Port Vendres near the Spanish border. Stage 2 covers 188km from Port Leucate to Narbonne and rolls over three Cat. 3 climbs and one Cat. 2 at 82.5km before a largely flat finish into Narbonne. Stage 3 pushes 162km from Ganges to Aigues Morte, a Medieval walled city along the coast. The course hits two Cat. 3 climbs in the opening 60km and features another largely flat run into the finish. The race becomes more difficult in the 161km fourth stage from Pont du Gard to the summit finish at Mende. The challenging course hits two Cat. 2 climbs and a Cat. 3 before the first of three Cat. 1 climbs starting with the Col de la Croix de Berthel at 95.5km. A gradual descent takes the peloton to the Cat. 1 climb to the Cote de Molines Balsiege at 138.5km. The final Cat. 1 climb takes the peloton to the Cote de la Croix Neuve summit.
The final 203km stage is no walk in the park, with a steep Cat. 2 in the opening 11km, followed by three Cat. 3 climbs over the next 85km. Riders cool their jets over the next 100km before hitting the first of two climbs on the Cat. 1 Mont Saint Clair. A quick descent leads to the climbing finish atop the summit above the seaside town of Sète.
Bruyneel said fans should not expect Armstrong to compete for victory in the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon or in the Dauphine Libere race, also in France, in two weeks.
“After the problems he had last year he decided to focus on the Tour and take it easy in events like this but if the race dictates he might be involved in the fight for victory,” he said.
U.S. Postal is also fielding a team at the Tour of Belgium (BEL 2.2), which also starts Wednesday.
“Victor (Peña) will be our team leader in Belgium, but I expect Max (van Heeswijk) to again go for stage victories and I’m sure our team’s two young Belgian riders (Stijn Devolder and Jurgen van den Broeck) will be motivated to show themselves on home soil,” Bruyneel said.
Tour du Languedoc-Rousillon (FRA 2.1)
Stage 1, May 19: Maury to Port Vendres, 167km
Stage 2, May 20: Port Leucate to Narbonne, 188km
Stage 3, May 21: Ganges to Aigues Morte, 162km
Stage 4, May 22: Pont du Gard to Mende, 161km
Stage 5, May 23: Florac to Mont Saint Clair (Sète), 203kmUPSP for Tour du Languedoc-Rousillon:
Jose Luis RubieraUSPS for Tour of Belgium:
Victor Hugo Peña
Jurgen Van Den Broeck
Max Van Heeswijk
Bruyneel says new sponsor in works
Johan Bruyneel also denied reports in the Italian newspaper Tuttosport that said Lance Armstrong would retire following the conclusion of the 2004 Tour de France.
Without revealing the name, Bruyneel also said the team has found a new sponsor to take over for U.S. Postal Service, which is ending its nine-year relationship with the team at the end of the season.
“The article did not quote Lance or anyone close to him. I think it’s wrong. I’m even certain it is,” Bruyneel said. “I can even tell you that we have found a sponsor for the team next season when U.S. Postal Service stops their involvement.”
Cunego, Simoni show solidarity
Giro d’Italia race leader Damiano Cunego says he’ll work for team leader Gilberto Simoni despite winning two stages and wearing the maglia rosa, Reuters reported.
“I’ve had a great start to the Giro by winning two stages and wearing the race leader’s pink jersey but, as I’ve always said, Simoni is the leader of the Saeco team and I’m here to help him win his third Giro,” Cunego said in a press conference on Tuesday’s rest day.
Cunego leads Simoni by 10 seconds in the overall standings after nine stages of the 20-stage race, while Franco Pellizotti of Italy is third 28 seconds behind. Tuesday was the first rest day as the riders recovered in the central Marche region.
“I’m here to learn from Simoni for the future. I’m only 22 and even though other riders have won the Giro at my age, there’s no rush,” Cunego continued. “I want to win the Giro one day but I also want to do things gradually.”
Cunego won stage two of the Giro to Pontremoli on Monday and to Montevergine di Mercogliano on Saturday, where he took the race lead from Simoni. His objective is to keep the lead until Saturday’s 52km-time trial in the northern city of Trieste.
“I should be able to keep it until then because the next few stages aren’t that difficult but the time trial will open up the race,” he predicted. “I’ve never done a long time trial in an important race like the Giro and so I’m curious to see what I can do. I’d like to keep the race lead even after the time trial but if I lose it I’ll start working hard so that Simoni can win the Giro.”
Simoni, the 2003 Giro winner, sat next to Cunego in the Saeco team’s rest day news conference on Tuesday and made it clear there was no rivalry in the Italian team.
“I think that our rivals are afraid of us because they can see that we’re united,” Simoni said. “And when I say that I don’t just mean what we say in press conferences but in the key moments of the Giro when our team tactics are our winning edge.”
Simoni said he’s intent on winning his third Giro and said the real battle for the overall starts in the final week. Simoni said his top rival is Italian Stefano Garzelli, currently sixth 1:15 off the pace.
”I’m not going to lose sight of him just as I won’t lose sight of Yaroslav Popovych (fourth at 40 seconds) but I will be watching Garzelli a bit more closely. He’s my big rival just like last year when he finished second.”
Kelme in danger – again
The troubled Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme is awash with rumors surrounding its future since it has not paid riders in the month of April, MARCA reported. The latest rumors include team is said to be considering replacing sport director Vicente Belda following the scandal surrounding allegations of organized doping within the team by ex-rider Jesus Manzano. Other reports include the team selling its star rider, Alejandro Valverde, to earn up to 2 million euros to help stabilize the team’s financial footing. Team manager José Luis Aznar denied all those charges and insisted the delay in the riders’ salaries was a “bureaucratic” problem. As for Belda, his contract has been extended through 2006, Aznar said. But Valverde confirmed to MARCA that he’s been told by the team his contract might be sold to the highest bidder. Liberty Seguros sport director Manolo Saiz has also been contacted about possibly picking up the rising star. Belda told MARCA he couldn’t comment on specifics, but said the team’s financial problems are based on new title sponsor — Comunidad Valenciana — not releasing all the money it promised to the team.
Guidi back for CSC
Italian sprinter Fabrizio Guidi (Team CSC) will return to racing Wednesday at the Bayern Rundfahrt after breaking his hand in the Grand Prix E3 Harelbeke in March.
“I was in great shape coming into the spring classics, then I crashed in the first really hard Belgian race,” Guidi said on the team’s web page. “After 20 days of complete rest I could slowly start training again. This week will be very hard for me. But it’s all about getting back on form as soon as possible, because this is the most important part of the season.”
Guidi will travel to the United States to compete in the Wachovia races in Philadelphia.
Three five-day stage races start today while the 87th Giro d’Italia rolls on following Tuesday’s rest day. Damiano Cunego (Saeco) takes his 10-second lead over defending champion Gilberto Simoni into Wednesday’s 146km 10th stage from Porto Sant’ Elpidio to Ascoli Piceno with some early climbs, but the finishn is tailored for the sprinters. After losing to American Fred Rodriguez (Acqua & Sapone) on Monday, Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) will be motivated to capture his fifth stage victory. … The Tour du Languedoc-Rousillon (FRA 2.1) opens with the 167km first stage from Maury to Port Vendres and hits four Category 3 climbs along the way. … The Tour of Belgium (BEL 2.2) opens with the 184km first stage starting and ending in Ostende, with the finale held of four laps on a finishing circuit. … The Bayern Rundfahrt (GER 2.3) opens with the 208.7km stage from Selb to Roth.
UCI refines 2005 race schedule
The UCI released a refined version this week of the proposed race schedule for the 2005 season. The only major change was the addition of the national road and time trial championships in June.
Despite opposition from many within cycling, the UCI is moving ahead with its plans to create a “super league” of 18 elite teams that will be required to field teams in every race during the season.
Proposed calendar for 2005 season
March 6-13, Paris-Nice (France)
March 9-15, Tirreno-Adriatico (Italy)
March 19, Milan-San Remo (Italy)April 3, Tour of Flanders (Belgium)
April 4-8, Tour of the Basque Country (Spain)
April 6, Gent-Wevelgem (Belgium)
April 10, Paris-Roubaix (France)
April 17, Amstel Gold Race (Holland)
April 20, Fleche Wallone (Belgium)
April 24, Liege-Bastogne-Liege (Belgium)
April 26-May 1, Tour of Romandie (Switzerland)May 7-29, Giro d’Italia
May 16-22, Tour of Cataluyna (Spain)June 5-12, Dauphine Libere (France)
June 11-19, Tour of Switzerland
June 24, national time trial championships
June 26, national road road championshipsJuly 2-24, Tour de France
July 31, HEW Cyclassics (Germany)Aug. 3-10, Tour de Benelux
Aug. 13, Clasica San Sebastian (Spain)
Aug. 15-23, Tour of Germany
Aug. 27-Sept. 18, Vuelta a EspañaSept. 12-18, Tour of Poland
Sept. 22, world time trial (Madrid)
Sept. 25, world road race (Madrid)Oct. 2, GP Zurich
Oct. 9, Paris-Tours (France)
Oct. 15, Giro di Lombardia (Italy)