By Andrew Hood
It’s been a lonely road for Spanish rider Angel Casero since his hey-day after winning the 2001 Vuelta a España.
Since then, he spent two under-productive years at the ill-fated Coast and then sat out the entire season last year after Kelme couldn’t deliver its required bank guarantees and contract papers to the UCI.
Casero is set to return to racing in the coming days with Comunitat Valenciana (formerly Kelme) with more modest goals. His most important step will be simply to be racing again as a professional.
“I will have to suffer on the bike now to have options to win something perhaps by the end of March or early April,” Casero said in an interview with the Spanish daily AS. “It will be very important (to race again), because it’s been a very hard year.”
Casero was introduced alongside his teammates not as the star, but simply part of the team. That’s just fine for the man from Valencia, who’s anxious to be racing again.
“I only want to return to competition to try to be at the front and hunt for some victory,” Casero said. “At the smaller races, there are a lot of guys who can be there. For the Vuelta, (Vicente) Belda will decide who the team leader will be.”
Hushovd eyes green jersey
Thor Hushovd won 10 races last year, including a stage win at the Tour de France and runs in both the green and yellow jerseys as well as the overall French Cup crown. The Credit Agricole sprinter is now setting his sights on holding the green jersey all the way to Paris in this year’s Tour.
“(The green jersey) is one of my main objectives this year. I know that I can do it. Moreover, recruitment of boys like Kirsipuu should help during the major sprints of the Tour,” Hushovd said during the team’s recent training camp in south France. “I make progress every year and that is very positive. Leaving all my victories to one side, I was very regular throughout the season and that’s what enables me to carry off the final classification of the French Cup.”
The big Norwegian sprinter is working with his former trainer, who carried him to the amateur Paris-Roubaix and 1998 world titles. Hushovd said he’s worked hard to increase his endurance as well as watch his weight.
Before the Tour, Hushovd said he’s keen to shine in the spring classics.
“As a junior I won the Paris-Roubaix. I would like to win this mythical race again,” he said. “This is a race for warhorses. There is also the Tour des Flanders and I also dream of winning a Classic like Milan–San Remo. Generally speaking, each year, I want to do better. I believe that everyone, each season, can see progress. I want to be amongst the very best.”
Sørensen celebrates hectic victory
Nicki Sørensen scored a rough-and-tumble victory in Tuesday’s GP d’Ouverture La Marseillaise that saw two leading riders get lost with just 4km to go.
“I’m very happy to win. It’s always a great feeling. It was quite a confusing finish and it all got a bit hectic,” Sørensen said after holding off Team CSC teammate Vladimir Gusev for the win. “There were two riders who attacked shortly before the end and they would’ve probably made it if they hadn’t taken a wrong turn. The group I was in was led through the same roundabout twice and it was all very chaotic.”
Team CSC stormed into the 2004 season, snagging overall victories at Tour Mediterranean and Paris-Nice. The team is putting focus on early season races once again, but no one expected a win to come this fast.
“I won and that’s the main thing,” Sørensen contined. “The sprint was slightly uphill, and I managed to take advantage of this in the best possible way. I’m very happy with my start to the season and I hope I’ll be able to keep up the form I have right now.”
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) enters the third stage of the Tour of Qatar looking for a hat-trick. The 24-year-old Belgian sensation has won the opening two stages, pipping such stars as Robbie McEwen and Mario Cipollini.
Things get rolling in Italy with the GP Costa delle Etruschi (Ita 1.1).
The Spanish calendar kicks off with the Trofeo Mallorca (Spa 1.1), the first of four one-day races on the Spanish island of, you guessed it, Mallorca. There’s also an unofficial overall classification given over the four days, but riders can race any days they choose.
Europe’s first official stage race begins in France with the five-day Etoile de Bessèges (Fra 2.1).