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Thursday’s Euro-File: Looking to Paris-Tours; Kelme’s war of words continues

The 96th Paris-Tours on Sunday will be an exciting preview for the upcoming world championships in Zolder. The 257-km course from Saint Arnoult en Yvelines, just south of Paris, rolls through the lush wheat fields in central France to Tours. The course is similar in length to Zolder and doesn’t feature challenging features to break the race, so it will likely be a final chance for the sprinters to stretch their legs before heading to Belgium for the worlds Oct. 8-13. Domo’s Richard Virenque will be back to defend his surprise victory last year when he held on for victory after making an epic

By Andrew Hood

Can Virenque repeat or is there another surprise winner in store?

Can Virenque repeat or is there another surprise winner in store?

Photo: AFP (file photo)

The 96th Paris-Tours on Sunday will be an exciting preview for the upcoming world championships in Zolder. The 257-km course from Saint Arnoult en Yvelines, just south of Paris, rolls through the lush wheat fields in central France to Tours. The course is similar in length to Zolder and doesn’t feature challenging features to break the race, so it will likely be a final chance for the sprinters to stretch their legs before heading to Belgium for the worlds Oct. 8-13.

Domo’s Richard Virenque will be back to defend his surprise victory last year when he held on for victory after making an epic 240-km breakaway. Breathing down his neck will be a list of favorites for the world title, including Mario Cipollini (Acqua & Sapone), Oscar Freire (Mapei), Johan Museeuw (Domo), Jaan Kirsipuu (AG2R), Michele Bartoli (Fassa Bortolo), Baden Cooke (fdeux.com) and Robbie McEwen Lotto). U.S. Postal Service will also be racing, led by Belgian sensation Tom Boonen and Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov.

Paris-Tours is the penultimate stop in the 10-round World Cup series. Mapei’s Paolo Bettini holds a slim two-point lead over Museeuw. This course will be the Belgians best chance to grab the jersey back from the Italian before going into the finale at the Giro d’Lombardia later this month.Start list with team captain
Here is the initial start list for 96th Paris-Tours on Sunday. Complete start list expected by Friday.
France
AG2R PREVOYANCE Kirsipuu, Capelle
BIG MAT AUBER 93  Hunt
BONJOUR Magnien, Nazon
COFIDIS Planckaert
CREDIT AGRICOLE Hushovd, O’Grady
FDJEUX.COM Cooke, Mengin, Mc Gee
JEAN DELATOUR Dumoulin, Kritsov

Italy
ACQUA & SAPONE – CANTINA TOLLO Cippollini, Lombardi
FASSA BORTOLO Bartoli, Baldato, Petacchi
LAMPRE – DAIKIN Serpellini, Svorada
MAPEI – QUICK STEP Bettini, Clerc, Freire, Nardello
SAECO – LONGONI SPORT  Di Luca
TACCONI SPORT Bortolami, Frigo, Minali

Germany

GEROLSTEINER Rebellin
TEAM COAST Guidi
TEAM TELEKOM Hondo, Zabel

Spain
EUSKALTEL EUSKADI Martinez, Etxebarria
IBANESTO.COM Lastras
KELME – COSTA BLANCA Manzano, Lozano
ONCE EROSKI Beloki, Jaksche

Denmark
CSC TISCALI L. Jalabert

Belgium
DOMO FARM FRITES Virenque (winner in 2001), Museeuw, Vainsteins
LOTTO-ADECCO Mc Ewen, Van Petegem

Netherlands
RABOBANK Dekker, Wauters, Zberg

United States

US POSTAL SERVICE Boonen, Ekimov

World Cup standings (after eight events)
1. Paolo Bettini (I, Mapei), 272 points
2. Johan Museeuw (B, Domo), 270
3. Igor Astarloa (Sp, Saeco), 152
4. Michele Bartoli (I, Fassa Bortolo), 142
5. Dario Frigo (I, Tacconi Sport)
6. George Hincapie (USA, USPS), 124
7. Peter Van Petegem (B, Lotto), 121
8. Andrea Tafi (I, Mapei), 109
9. David Rebellin (I, Gerolsteiner), 109
10. Laurent Jalabert (F, CSC-Tiscali), 100
11. Oscar Freire (Sp, Mapei), 96
12. Lance Armstrong (USA, USPS), 90
13. Serguei Ivanov (R, Fassa Bortolo), 85
14. Jo Planckaert (B, Cofidis), 83
15. Fred Rodriguez (USA, Domo), 76Spanish hoping for world’s double
Spain has high hopes for the upcoming world road championships and national team coach Paco Antequera said Spain has a chance to double in the men’s elite competition.

The team comes stacked with defending world champion Oscar Freire looking strong for the road race and Aitor Gonzalez, fresh off his Vuelta a España victory, an obvious choice for the time trial.

“I believe we can double,” he told the Spanish sports daily AS. “Aitor has it better than Oscar. In a world’s course so flat, Oscar will have to fight for the victory in the final 200 meters of a sprint, if it comes down to that, will Aitor has 46 kilometers to impose his excellent form right now. … Without Armstrong or Ullrich, I believe that David Millar and Santiago Botero will be his big rivals.”

Also, Antequera defended his choice to include ONCE’s Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano over Angel Casero (Coast) for the time trial, saying Galdeano’s crash in the Vuelta wasn’t very serious. “He’s been training for 10 days specifically for the time trial and he’s a racer who’s gone head to head with Armstrong in the Tour.”

Gonzalez defends himself
It’s a game called polemica, a war of words played out in the headlines. On Wednesday, it was Kelme’s Vicente Belda calling Vuelta champion Aitor Gonzalez “undisciplined” and an ungrateful winner.

In Thursday’s MARCA newspaper, it was Gonzalez’ turn.

“I believe people have the wrong idea about me. They believe that I am aggressive and I never look back, but it’s not like that. I am tranquil, a friend to my friends, not self-centered and very generous,” he said. “I’m a professional and I tried to win the Vuelta. I feel the love of the fans. … I’d love to try my luck at the Tour to know how far I can go, because to compare myself to Beloki and Sevilla, who’ve already done well in the Tour, doesn’t do any good.”

On his comment about dethroning Armstrong in the 2003 Tour, Gonzalez backed off a little bit from his much-quoted statement of keeping the Texan from winning a fifth Tour.

“It’s something I said at a cocktail bar at 4 a.m. while I was celebrating the Vuelta victory. Armstrong is very Armstrong, and until something else happens, he’s the patron.”

Gonchar to Gerolsteiner
The Ukraine time trial specialist Sergei Gonchar has signed a contract with the German Gerolsteiner team, the wires reported Thursday. Gonchar reportedly was waiting on word from Andrei Tchmil, who was trying to negotiate a deal for Gonchar to join the Russia Itera team.

In the end, Gonchar decided to sign with Gerolsteiner where he will join team captain David Rebellin and new riders Udo Bolts, formerly of Telekom, and Markus Zberg, of Rabobank. Gonchar raced with Fassa Bortolo this season.