By Andrew Hood
Just where Jan Ullrich will ride next season is still unknown, but his chances of returning to Telekom took a blow this week when peace-making efforts between Rudy Pevenage and Walter Godefroot fell a bit short of the mark.
Godefroot has refused to allow Pevenage to return with Ullrich to Telekom (next year to be called T-Mobile), but Ullrich’s manager said Wednesday the door remains open.
“Ullrich’s return remains an option,” said Wolfgang Strohband, Ullrich’s manager who’s leading the negotiations. “Maybe we have to find another solution for Pevenage. What that could exactly be, we don’t know. We have time and can wait and see.”
Team Telekom issued a statement Tuesday that a meeting between team boss Godefroot and Pevenage had failed to end bitterness between the two former colleagues. Godefroot and Pevenage, both Belgians, haven’t spoken since Pevenage left Telekom in December to follow Ullrich to Team Coast.
Team Coast later disintegrated under mounting debt and Team Bianchi was born with Pevenage as the squad’s directeur sportif. Ullrich bounced back from a career-threatening knee injury and racing ban in 2002 to finish second to Lance Armstrong at the 2003 Tour de France.
Godefroot, Pevenage and Ullrich’s manager met in Brussels on Monday to try to pave the way for Ullrich’s return to Telekom, where he raced from 1995 to 2002 and won the 1997 Tour.
Dethroning Armstrong is Ullrich’s top priority for 2004, but his team is still up in the air. Bianchi is trying to find a co-sponsor to bolster the team’s budget to sign stronger support riders. Ullrich has also been linked to a new team sponsored by the Balearic Islands tourism board, which is expected to take over the iBanesto.com sponsorship.
Freire finding form right on time
Perhaps Oscar Freire should be called Mr. October. After a pretty quiet season, the two-time world champion seems to be finding his legs on schedule.
Freire won the opening stage Tuesday of the Giro della Provincia di Lucca (UCI 2.3) in the final tune-up before the Oct. 12 men’s road race in Hamilton.
“I already knew that I am going well. This victory reinforces and confirms my confidence going into the worlds,” Freire said. “The worlds are always good for me. I always have good results and because of that it motivates me more. My objective is the win the worlds, not just medal.”
Freire always rises to the top come autumn. He’s won two world titles (Verona in 1999 and Lisbon in 2001), finished third (Plouay in 2000) and second as a U-23 (San Sebastian in 1997) and was poised last fall in Zolder when he wheel was ruined in a late-race crash. He calls the Hamilton course “more open than last year.”
“Last year we knew it was going to end in a sprint. It’s clear you have to be more vigilant this year. This could favor (Alejandro) Valverde or (Igor) Astarloa, because the Italians, with Bettini, are going to be marked,” Freire said.
2004 Tour: Route rumors abound
There are early reports already outlining the route of the 2004 Tour de France, even though the official race presentation won’t be until October 23 in Paris.
While it’s been known for some time now that Liège, Belgium, will host the opening stage on July 3, more course details have surfaced in recent days.
According to some reports, the Tour will follow tradition and feature two individual time trials, one team time trial and hit the Pyrénées before tackling the Alps.
After the opening time trial in Liège, the Tour will ride through Belgium for two days before entering France. The team time trial will fall on Stage 4 between Arras and Cambral before the Tour pushes west across France with stops in La Havre, Caen, Saint Brieuc and Quimper. There will be a rest day and transfer to Limoges before the first time trial, between Saint Leonard de Noblat and Gueret.
Reports say there will be two summit finishes in the Pyrénées, perhaps Hautacam, before hitting Mont Ventoux, two more summit finishes in the Alps, either at Deux Alpes or Courchevel, and a stage into Sestrieres, Italy. The final time trial will be at Dijon.
Remember, of course, that’s all unofficial. Watch for the official course unveiling on October 23rd and report from VeloNews editor Kip Mikler, who will be attending the event.
Bartoli threatens to change nationalities after world’s snub
Left off Italy’s world championship team for the second year in a row, an angry Michele Bartoli is threatening to change nationalities.
According to a report in L’Equipe, Bartoli is so upset with the rebuff he wants to race with another nation in 2004 to assure a place at the Summer Games and the world championships, set for Verona, Italy, next October.
“Obviously, I am not part of this family, but I can’t understand why,” said Bartoli, who’s coming into very strong form. “I’ve always been honest and I would collaborate with (Paolo) Bettini.”
Italian national coach Franco Ballerini left Bartoli off the world’s team for the second year in a row, in part because Bartoli is reputed as a rider who will only ride for himself. Ballerini has done a good job at bringing together the Italians under one leader and delivered Mario Cipollini into the world title last year.
Bartoli last raced in the worlds in 2001, when Bettini finished second and he was 11th.
“I’ve known for a long time I wouldn’t be racing at the worlds, but I don’t know why because I am feeling strong now,” Bartoli said after the opening stage of the Giro of Lucca. “I haven’t spoken with Ballerini, but my exclusion is not based on technical reasons.”
Cipo’ uncertain for worlds
There’s growing worry within the Italian camp that reigning world champion Mario Cipollini won’t be in good enough shape to help the team.
Cipollini has barely raced since the Giro d’Italia and abandoned the Vuelta a España after the first stage. Cipollini was pressured into starting the Vuelta after race organizers threatened to exclude his Domina Vacanze team if he didn’t show up as promised.
Cipollini was dropped on the opening team time trial and now Italian national team officials are worrying that the Lion King would be nothing more than dead weight.
Teams give Vuelta a ‘thumbs down’
Teams are poised to give the 58th Vuelta a España a “thumbs down” in a report to be sent to the UCI, according to a report in the Spanish daily Sport.
Francis Lafargue, press officer for iBanesto.com, was selected by the teams to write up the critique of the season’s final grand tour. Lafargue says the Vuelta has lost some of its appeal following a string of problems that plagued the three-week race.
“This edition has been bad,” Lafargue said. “In the report we will recount the decrease of quality. If the Vuelta is picked as the best grand tour of the season, I’ll jump off the boat.”
Despite Roberto Heras’s late-race heroics, many critics said this year’s Vuelta lacked the sport’s major stars, suffered through chaotic finish-line zones and didn’t have sparks that have attracted record crowds to the past few Vueltas.
The race’s title sponsor, Telefonica, pulled the plug after last year, leaving the organization to get by on less money. Lafargue said the Vuelta suffered due to poor planning and execution.
“The principal dark points of this Vuelta were on Sierra Nevada and La Pandera. Despite a large contingent of security, there was a lot of disorder. Some organization cars were already going down when the last climbers were still on course. What kind of respect is that?” he said. “At La Pandera, the Guardia Civil got rid of the soigneurs who are supposed to aid the riders, but the permitted the presence of children. At the time trial at Zaragoza, there were more Guardia Civil than fans.”
BankGiroLoterij losing sponsor
More bad news in what’s been a rough year for teams losing title sponsors. BankGiroLoterij will join other teams such as ONCE, iBanesto.com and fakta losing their title sponsor at the end of the season.
The team will likely end the season as the top Division II team, but team management is scrambling to try to find a new sponsor to step up, so it’s unlikely the team will bounce up to the Division I status.
Several of the team’s riders, including Bart Voskamp, have been linked to a new Division I Belgian team.
More Transfer News:
Domina signs Serri; Saunier takes over Vini Duval
Domina Vacanze has signed Eddy Serri to help bolster its sprinter division. With Giovanni Lombardi, Daniel Bennati and Alberto Ongarato leaving, Domina Vacanze will need warm bodies to help tow Mario Cipollini to the line. The team already looks to have the services of Gian Matteo Fagnini, Cipo’s set-up man in the Saeco glory days.Saunier Duval, the new Division I Spanish team that’s taking over the title sponsorship of Vini Caldirola, has signed David Cañada from Quick Step. The team is currently speaking with Vini Caldirola to continue as co-sponsor, but wants the team based in Spain with a heavy presence of Spanish riders. Other riders linked to the new team include Angel Casero and Fred Rodriguez.