By Andrew Hood
The 2003 season is over for reigning world time trial champion Santiago Botero, his Telekom team announced Wednesday.
Nagging stomach problems that forced the Colombian to pull out of the 2003 Tour are still bothering him, and his team said Botero will neither race the Vuelta a España in September nor defend his world title in October.
“Santiago must first fully recover,” said team doctor Lothar Heinrich. Medical tests revealed a stomach bacterial infection and lingering virus.
Botero finished fourth overall in the 2002 Tour, but pulled out of this year’s race after stage 17 after riding poorly. Tests conducted at the University of Freiburg in Germany revealed the problems.
Barbosa takes Portugal opener, five Kelmes abandon
Portuguese sprinter Candido Barbosa (LA Pecol) won the opening stage of the 65th Volta a Portugal on Wednesday, edging Spanish sprinters Alberto Benito (Antarte) and Angel Edo (Milaneza-MSS), who crossed second and third.
LA Pecol and Milaneza controlled the stage to bring it in for a mass gallop, and Barbosa was fast enough to hold the Spanish sprinters off and take the victory. Barbosa earned a 10-second time bonus to grab the overall leader’s jersey as well.
Meanwhile, five of the eight Kelme riders – Ignacio Gutiérrez, Francisco Cabello, Roberto Lozano, Jordi Riera and Constantino Zaballa – pulled out of the race with “stomach problems.” Team doctors said the riders were vomiting and had diarrhea overnight and could not finish the stage.
The 11-stage Portugal tour continues Thursday with the 148.7km second stage from Loulé to Beja. Fires and temperatures soaring higher than 100 degrees continue to threaten the area, and race officials say they are in close contact with firefighters. It’s likely the routes of the third and fourth stages could be altered to avoid affected areas.
65th Volta a Portugal (UCI 2.2), Stage 1, Albufeira to Tavira, 175.6km
1. Candido Barbosa (Por), LA Pecol, 4 hours, 37 minutes (38.036 kph)
2. Alberto Benito (Sp), Antarte
3. Angel Edo (Sp), Milanez-MSS
4. Luciano Pagliarini (Bra), Lampre
5. Jan Svorada (Cze), Lampre — all same time
Overall after 1 stage
1. Barbosa 4 hours, 36 minutes, 50 seconds
2. Benito +0:04
3. Edo +0:06
4. Nelson Vitorina (Por), Ravessa +0:09
5. Gerardo Fernandez (Arg), Antarte +0:09
Moreni wins Regio opener
Italian sprinter Christian Moreni won the opening stage of the Regio Tour in Germany, edging Spanish rider Eladio Jimenez (iBanesto.com) and Vloyomir Gustov (Fassa Bortolo), who came across the line third.
Four riders abandoned, including Michael Rich (Gerolsteiner) and Dario Pieri (Saeco) while Cadel Evans (Telekom) finished more than 16 minutes back as temperatures soared into the high 90s.
Meanwhile, the race marked the return of Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) and Cadel Evans (Telekom) to racing. Leipheimer was caught up in the crash that marred the first stage of the Tour de France, suffering injuries to his tailbone. Evans missed the Tour altogether after breaking his clavicle twice in the spring.
19th Regio Tour (2.3), Stage 1, Heitersheim to Guebwiller (France), 189.4km
1. Christian Moreni (I), Alessio, 4 hours, 36 minutes, 28 seconds (41.1 kph)
2. Eladio Jiminez (Sp), iBanesto.com – same time
3. Vloyomir Gustov (Ukr) Fassa Bortolo +0:02
4. Ronny Scholz (G), Gerolsteiner — same time
5. Christopher Jenner (NZl), Credit Agricole +0:16
Overall after one stage
1. Moreni 4 hours, 36 minutes, 18 seconds
2. Jimenez +0:02
3. Gustov +0:08
4. Scholz +0:11
5. Thorwald Veneberg (Ned), Rabobank +0:25
Serpellini wins GP Camaiore in Italy
Marco Serpellini (Lampre) won the one-day GP Camaiore race in Italy, finishing 3 seconds ahead of Saeco’s Danilo Di Luca. World No. 1 Paolo Bettini, fresh off his victory at the HEW Cyclassics World Cup race Sunday, came through in fifth place at 22 seconds back.
GP Camaiore (UCI 1.2), 193.5km
1. Marco Serpellini (I), Lampre 4 hours, 37 minutes, 31 seconds
2. Danilo Di Luca (I), Saeco +0:03
3. Luca Mazzanti (I), Panaria +0:04
4. Gianluca Tonetti (I) +0:05
5. Paolo Bettini (I), Quick Step +0:22
Positive EPO test for Kelme’s Javier Pascual Llorente
The Spanish daily MARCA reported Wednesday that Kelme’s Javier Pascual Llorente is the rider that tested positive for EPO in the centenary Tour de France.
Tour officials said near the end of the race that a rider was positive, but refused to disclose the name until the second counter-analysis was completed. MARCA published the story Wednesday, naming Llorente as the Tour’s lone positive doping case in 2003.
According to MARCA, Llorente tested positive for the performance-enhancing product in a test taken after the time trial to Cap Decouverte in Stage 12 and a counter-analysis confirmed the result.
Llorente, 32, enjoyed the best season of his career, winning the Ruta del Sol and the Tour of Murcia early in the year. At Murcia, Llorente beat Lance Armstrong in the final-day time trial to secure the overall title.
Reached in Madrid on Wednesday, Llorente confirmed the positive test, but blasted what he termed a “French campaign of persecution against Spanish cycling,” insisting that he was innocent of any wrongdoing and charging that the French test was unreliable.
“I am completely calm about it, but I don’t have any confidence in what the French are doing,” he told AFP. “Clearly there’s persecution going on against Spanish cycling. I talked with doctor Walter Viru and he told me we’d never used the product in question, that everything was within the rules.”
According to Llorente the positive result was down to “French detection methods, which are not reliable.”
“It’s a big coincidence that it’s always the Spaniards who are caught – there’s something fishy going on,” he said. “It was the same with Fran Perez and Aitor Kintana, who were unjustly punished.” The two had tested positive after the Tour of Romandy and Tour of Catalonia earlier this season.
The Spanish cycling federation will now consider a sanction for Llorente, who could receive a racing ban from one to two years. The news is just one more blow for the team which had a terrible Tour. Without star Oscar Sevilla, Kelme was not a factor in the Tour and walked away without challenging for a stage.
ONCE, iBanesto’s demise helps Euskaltel
The departure of the ONCE and iBanesto.com teams at the end of 2003 season will only help Euskaltel-Euskadi reload for the 2004 season. Euskaltel-Euskadi’s budget has been increased to $6 million, giving the distinctive orange-clad team more buying power.
The Basque team is poised to re-sign Haimar Zubeldia, fifth overall in the 2003 Tour de France, and hopes to retain the services of L’Alpe d’Huez winner Iban Mayo, though Mayo is being tempted with lucrative offers from such foreign teams as Rabobank and Quick Step.
Three-time Tour podium finisher Joseba Beloki said Tuesday in an interview with the Spanish daily AS he cannot afford to wait for ONCE sport director Manolo Saiz to try to find a new sponsor to take over the team. Beloki could return to Euskaltel, where he started his career, if he doesn’t find an offer from a foreign team.
While the top stars from ONCE and Banesto are already attracting attention from foreign teams (Juan Miguel Mercado has already signed with Quick Step), there are nearly 20 Spanish riders who will be looking for work.
Such riders as Banesto’s Unai and Aitor Osa, Pablo Lastras, Eladio Jimenez and Juan Antonio Flecha and ONCE’s Igor and Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano, Mikel Pradera and Mikel Zarrabeitia are among the top names Euskaltel will be considering.
Rabobank for Vuelta
Rabobank has shortened its list of riders for the upcoming Vuelta a España to 12 names. Two-time world champion Oscar Freire will be skipping the Vuelta and compete in other races as he eyes October’s world championships as his top goal for the second half of the 2003 season.
Rabobank is already putting pressure on Levi Leipheimer for a strong performance. Leipheimer, the first American to finish on the Vuelta podium when he finished third overall in 2001, has returned to racing after crashing out of the Tour de France on stage one.
Rabobank’s short list for the 2003 Vuelta: Maarten den Bakker, Robert Bartko, Jan Boven, Addy Engels, Mathew Hayman, Steven de Jongh, Karsten Kroon, Leipheimer, Ronald Mutsaars, Michael Rasmussen, Thorwald Veneberg and Beat Zberg.
Virenque re-ups with Quick Step; Nazon to AG2R; Jaksche to Gerolsteiner
Quick Step has signed Richard Virenque to a one-year contract extension. The 33-year-old Frenchman won a stage and claimed a record-tying sixth King of the Mountains jersey in the 2003 Tour de France.
Meanwhile, another French rider, Jean-Patrick Nazon, winner of the final stage of the Tour de France, will race next season with the AG2R team.
A team statement said that the 26-year-old Jean Delatour rider had signed a two-year contract.
Nazon, who wore the yellow jersey for a day during the Tour, won the last day’s stage on the Champs-Elysées, ahead of Australians Baden Cooke and Robbie McEwen who crossed the finish line shoulder to shoulder.
He will reinforce the AG2R lineup along with lead riders Laurent Brochard and Jaan Kirsipuu during the classics and the Tour de France, the team added.
Also Wednesday, the German team Gerolsteiner announced that it had signed ONCE rider Jorg Jaksche for the next two seasons.
Jaksche, 27, who finished 17th in this year’s Tour de France, had been with ONCE since 2001. ONCE announced on Monday that it would be withdrawing from cycling at the end of this year.