By Andrew Hood
Paolo Bettini would rather win the Tour of Flanders instead of another Milan-San Remo. That’s not to say the Cricket isn’t interested in Saturday’s classicissima, a race he won in 2003.
“Milan-San Remo is an objective, but this year I really like the Tour of Flanders, a race I’ve never won,” he said in an interview with the Spanish daily AS. “It’s not easy to say, ‘I wan to win a race,’ and later go do it. One of my characteristics is tenacity. When I set an objective, I prepare for it 100 percent to achieve it.”
The Quick Step star didn’t have his trademark bounce in Tirreno-Adriatico, where he didn’t win a stage. The Olympic champion has struggled with the flu and admitted he hasn’t come into the season in top form.
Bettini said he’s particularly proud of the Olympic gold medal, an honor he places above his three World Cup globes.
”It’s another thing. For me, the gold medal is the maximum for an athlete. I don’t say this because I won, but it’s the highest in sport,” he said. “The worlds are special inside cycling, but the Olympics are the measure of international sport. Oscar (Freire) has won three worlds, but many who’ve won the worlds won’t be remembered like the gold medalist.” Bettini also opined that the advent of the ProTour is good for the development of cycling: “For the racers, nothing’s changed much. Now there’s no World Cup, but the classics are still on the calendar. The change affects the teams, who had to change their structure. This has helped them become truly professional. This was fundamental.”Bruyneel satisfied with Paris-Nice
Lance Armstrong pulled out early and the team didn’t win a stage, but Johan Bruyneel walked away satisfied with Discovery Channel’s performance in last week’s Paris-Nice.
“What we saw over the last three days was a great deal of improvement from our guys,” Bruyneel said on the team’s web page. “It started on the Mont Faron stage on Friday. We weren’t able to say with the front guys but we definitely weren’t that far behind. We got better and better every day. To finish fourth in the team GC after our start, it’s a good indicator to who this team really is.”
Bruyneel said three weather-shortened stages didn’t help matters, creating a super-charged pace over the shorter courses, thus making it hard for his steed of riders to find their rhythm.
“It was a strange race. For the first few days, nothing really happened. The real race started on the road to Mont Faron and everybody in the race was still fresh. The first few stages were very intense and that was a bit of a disadvantage for us,” he said. “It was so fast every day and the group we had here weren’t really ready for that type of speed. It was good to see the team improve each day.”
T-Mobile stuck in rut with illness
T-Mobile rolled away from Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico without a win, but team staff say they hope a spat of the flu that’s sidelined their star riders will be resolved before the spring classics.
“It mostly comes down to some bad luck we suffered before the ProTour opener,” said sport director Mario Kummer. “Injuries and illness prevented us from selecting our best team to ride Paris-Nice. Of all the riders that started in Paris, only Olaf Pollack stayed healthy throughout the entire preparation program. Erik Zabel and Matthias Kessler, who are usually dependable flag-bearers, are just getting recovering from colds. You can’t win races in that condition.”
Kummer said he’s confident the German team will be back on the winning ways once the weather improves in Europe and their riders can recover.
“What’s important now is that we can start the next races with a clean bill of health. After that, good performances will take care of themselves,” he continued. “I have no concerns for the future once our riders get back on their feet. Furthermore, we have already shown in the first races of the season that we can mix it at the front. By that, I mean some of the individual placings posted by riders like Stephan Schreck, Olaf Pollack, Sergey Ivanov and Erik Zabel.”
Bettini, Boonen lead Quick Step
Quick Step will line up for Milan-San Remo with two clear threats for overall victory with 2003 champion Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen.
Bettini is shaking off the ill-effects of a mid-winter flu and isn’t expected to be at his best. The Olympic gold medalist didn’t win a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico this week and said he’s more interested in trying to win the Tour of Flanders, a race he’s never won.
Boonen, meanwhile, won two stages at Paris-Nice to continue his strong start to the 2005 season. On Monday, Boonen did a recon of the final sections of the course, including two passages up both the Cipressa and Poggio climbs. Het Volk winner Nick Nuyens could be a third option for the team.
Quick Step for Milan-San Remo
Eisel leading Française des Jeux
Austrian sprinter Bernhard Eisel will lead Française des Jeux in Saturday’s Milan-San Remo while Baden Cooke and Philippe Gilbert will also play leading roles for the French team.
Eisel already has three wins under his belt this season and has known success at the “classicissima,” taking 12th in 2003. Gilbert was 14th last year while Cooke is anxious to prove he can sprint against the best after a disappointing 2004 season. Brad McGee, who abandoned Tirreno-Adriatico last week with hypoglycemia, is also penciled in to start.
Française des Jeux for Milan-San Remo: Bernhard Eisel (Aut), Baden Cooke, Bradley McGee, Mark Renshaw and Matthew Wilson (Aus), Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Ludovic Auger and Frédéric Guesdon (Fra).
Injuries force McLeod to reassess season
South African cyclist Ian McLeod has been ruled out of action for several weeks following a crash at Paris-Nice, the first race of the new 27-race Pro Tour season, according to his Fdjeux.com team.
McLeod was due to launch his first season as a pro with the cosmopolitan French outfit, which would have seen the Scottish-born former Johannesburg rider compete in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro d’Italia.
But after sustaining a right thigh injury in a crash on the final stage on Sunday, the 24-year-old – whose compatriot Robert Hunter also crashed out of Paris-Nice – will now have to wait to show manager Marc Madiot, a former winner of Paris-Roubaix, the extent of his talents on the big races.
McLeod is set to leave hospital on Thursday, although it is unknown how long he will be out of action.
Madiot said: “He won’t be able to ride the Giro as we’d planned, it’s more likely he’ll ride the Vuelta a España in September.”
Among the non-French riders at Fdjeux.com are Australians Brad McGee, Baden Cooke and Mark Renshaw, Austrian Bernhard Eisel and Swedish talent Thomas Lovkvist.
(Agence France Presse
The Belgian semi-classic Nokere-Koerse gives the cobble-lovers a chance to stretch their legs ahead of next month’s major dates. The 193km course hits several sections of pavé and usually draws a big crowd among the Flanders faithful. Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Davitamon-Lotto, T-Mobile, Rabobank, FDJeux and Quick Step are among the ProTour teams lining up. Max Van Heeswijk was the winner last year, but Discovery Channel isn’t sending a team.