By Andrew Hood
Levi Leipheimer, captain of the Gerolsteiner team, says he is one of “five or six cyclists” that can win the 2006 Tour De France.
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong retired after his victory last year and Leipheimer, sixth in this year’s Tour, insists he is capable of following in his compatriot’s footsteps.
“I want to get on the podium at the Tour de France,” said Leipheimer in a story from Agence France Presse. “I certainly think I am one of five or six riders capable of succeeding Lance Armstrong.”
Leipheimer, 31, showed his class by winning the 2005 Tour of Germany ahead of Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), who is expected to be a strong challenger for the title now his nemesis Armstrong has retired.
Ullrich won the 1997 Tour but has finished runner-up on five occasions (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003). He was third this year.
Euskaltel under pressure
Despite taking some big mid-season stage race victories, Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi has been given an ultimatum by team sponsors: Win more or else.
The team won the Dauphiné Libéré and the Tour de Suisse in June, but otherwise struggled through the major tours and spring classics. Top riders Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia, both in the top six in the 2003 Tour de France, once again struggled with poor results.
“We want to continue, but they have to give us a reason to do so,” Euskaltel president José Antonio Ardanza told the Spanish daily AS. “The future of the group doesn’t depend on the sponsors or the fans, but nearly completely on the team.”
Ardanza’s comments came just as the team is meeting this week in Spain’s Basque Country to make preparations for the 2006 season. He suggested that the team hasn’t lived up to expectations the past two years.
The doping allegations leveled against Tour de Suisse winner Aitor González, who tested positive for stimulants during this year’s Vuelta a España, haven’t helped, either.
More names for T-Mobile
T-Mobile continues to bolster the lineup of its women’s team, signing deals to bring Kimberly Baldwin, Lyne Bessette, and American rising star Rebecca Much onto the team. The riders are set to join up with teammates Judith Arndt and Ina Yoko Teutenberg in a pre-season meeting in Munich early next month.
“Lyne and Kimberly are top-class cyclists and former teammates of Judith Arndt and Ina Yoko Teutenberg, who will also race for us next season,” said sport director Andrzej Bek on the team’s web page. “Rebecca is well equipped for the international challenge. She holds dual German/US citizenship and she is definitely an exciting prospect for the future.”
T-Mobile also announced that British phenom Nicole Cooke, earlier linked to the team, will not be riding with the team in 2006.
“We have several talented athletes on board and as sometimes happens, we were not able to align Nicole’s personal goals with those of the team,” Bek said. “We wish Nicole the very best in her future racing career.”
Ullrich leaning toward Giro start
Just days after saying he wanted to win both the Tour de France and the Tour of Germany, Jan Ullrich is confirming earlier reports he’ll likely race the Giro d’Italia as well.
Ullrich said if he does go to the Giro, it won’t be to win.
“In 2006, I will focus exclusively on winning the Tour and if I went to the Giro it would be for preparation,” Ullrich said in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Kurier.
The 2006 Giro could see some big foreign riders. Along with Ullrich, such riders as Iban Mayo, Floyd Landis and Roberto Heras (if he’s cleared of doping allegations) are leaning toward racing the Giro.
Backstedt back on track
Magnus Backstedt will test the waters for a possible run at the 2008 Olympic Games as he makes his track debut at the Manchester World Cup event in December.
The 2004 Paris-Roubaix champion will compete in the individual pursuit. If things go well, he could make a run for an Olympic medal in China in two year’s time.
“This is not a switch from the road just merely making the most of the abilities that I have. The pursuit is an obvious choice and hopefully will inspire more Swedish riders to take up track racing,” Backstedt said on the team’s web page.
“This first outing is a fact finding mission and I am not putting any pressure on myself. I’ll also ride the points and scratch race as part of my research, I’m on uncharted territory here.”
Backstedt, who fell short last month in an effort to break the Derny-paced world hour record, said he’s already preparing for another Paris-Roubaix victory.
“I have just taken on a new performance coach and I am really focused and motivated for 2006,” he said. “The British public has really taken me to their hearts. That showed with the support I received at the Derny hour record attempt and I am looking forward to racing in front of them at the World Cup.”