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By Andrew Hood
Peter Van Petegem won a huge victory just three days before the Tour of Flanders, taking the overall title at the Three Days of De Panne in Thursday´s double-stage.
Italian Fabio Baldato (Fassa Bortolo) won the morning road stage, but Van Petegem won the final time trial through the streets of De Panne to score the stage-win and the overall title.
With Lotto teammate Andrei Tchmil out of Sunday´s second round of the World Cup, Van Petegem goes into Flanders as the top favorite. U.S. Postal´s George Hincapie put down the fastest time early in the time trial until Van Petegem came across and Hincapie finished second in the race against the clock at 19 seconds back and moved into third overall, another sign that Hincapie is looking strong for his favorite races of the spring. USPS´ Dylan Casey also rode a strong time trial, finishing fourth at 29 seconds slower.
Tchmil, who suffered multiple injuries while racing in the second stage of Three Days of de Panne on Wednesday, has decided to prolong his career until the world road championships in Zolder, in October. The Russian-born Tchmil, who became a Belgian citizen a number of years ago, had initially planned to bring the curtain down on his colorful career in May after the one-day classics season had finished.
However the 39-year-old Lotto rider’s fall on Wednesday, which left him with cuts, two hand fractures and a double muscle tear in his right thigh, has forced him to rethink his plans. The former Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix winner says he wants to end on a high note.
“I don’t want to end my career with a fall,” Tchmil, who will now be out for most of the classics season in April, said Wednesday. “I always promised to end it with a victory.”
World No. 1 Erik Dekker left the hospital Wednesday in Holland following surgery for his broken left femur he suffered in a spill at Milan-San Remo. Team officials said Dekker, 31, could return to racing in May and possibly be ready to start the Tour de France. Dekker, the overall defending World Cup champion, finished second in last year´s Tour of Flanders and won Amstel Gold, beating Lance Armstrong.
Spanish rider Manual Beltran (Coast) will start at Vuelta a Pais Vasco next week after dropping out of Paris-Nice last month suffering from tendonitis.
The on-again, off-again efforts to get world champion Oscar Freire at the start-line for Sunday´s Tour of Flanders seem to be off again.
Freire didn´t start Three Days of De Panne under doctor’s orders to rest tendinitis in his right knee. Freire made a test Wednesday and said he still felt pain. “Now it seems unlikely to start in these conditions. Riding a race of 270 kilometers over cobbles is no way to ride with a sore knee,” he told the Spanish wires.
Freire now hopes to start at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel Gold.
The Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung is reporting that Jan Ullrich still hopes to start the Tour de France, but the Giro dÍtalia looks unlikely. Ullrich has only raced once this year — the Tour of Qatar back in January — and was sidelined indefinitely last month from over-training that caused pain in his right knee. Telekom sport director Rudy Pevenage was quoted as saying, “There are still there months to the Tour and we are hoping Jan can get back on the bike next week, and if all goes well, he can begin racing in May.”
Eddy Merckx was quoted in the same story: “If Jan isn´t back on the bike in three weeks, I don´t believe he will race in the Tour de France.”
Meanwhile, last year´s other Tour podium finisher — Spain´s Joseba Beloki — hopes to get back to racing again soon, perhaps starting at next week´s Vuelta a Pais Vasco. Beloki has been out of competition for several weeks after suffering pain in his Achilles tendon.
And, finally, Mario Cipollini is maintaining his reputation as one of the most style-conscious members of the peloton. His win at Milan-San Remo placed him in the lead of the World Cup standings. And while the Acqua & Sapone star can do little to change the look of his official UCI World Cup leader’s jersey, the rules don’t keep him from changing the look of his bike.
Cipollini will be showing up on Sunday’s Tour of Flanders astride a rainbow-colored Zebra – a.ka. a custom-painted Acqua & Sapone S-Works E5, whipped up just in time by the folks at Specialized in Morgan Hill, California.
Cipollini has been there before. In the old days, when he was on Saeco, he would often show up on a custom-painted Cannondale to match his pink leader’s jersey at the Giro, or a green one to match his points jersey at the Tour or even one to match the Tour’s yellow jersey.
We can expect a few more variations on the Zebra theme throughout the season, no doubt.