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Thursday´s Euro file

Jan Ullrich seems to be taking baby steps in his long road back to the elite levels of racing. Ullrich hasn't raced since last year's Tour of Qatar but won't be able to race until March 23, when his racing ban is lifted from his positive for amphetamines last summer. Ullrich has been training with Rudy Pevenage and Tobias Steinhauser in Tuscany, riding up to four to five hours per day. So far, the German wires report, there's no major pain in his knees, the Achilles heel that brought Ullrich all his problems last year. According to reports, he's not riding very hard,

Ullrich comeback will be slow

By Andrew Hood

Jan Ullrich seems to be taking baby steps in his long road back to the elite levels of racing. Ullrich hasn’t raced since last year’s Tour of Qatar but won’t be able to race until March 23, when his racing ban is lifted from his positive for amphetamines last summer. Ullrich has been training with Rudy Pevenage and Tobias Steinhauser in Tuscany, riding up to four to five hours per day.

So far, the German wires report, there’s no major pain in his knees, the Achilles heel that brought Ullrich all his problems last year. According to reports, he’s not riding very hard, with speeds under 32 kph. Ullrich’s new team – Team Coast – is also in the market for a new co-sponsor to help shore up finances. If things go well, Ullrich could be back in the bunch for Semana Catalane (March 24-28), which, coincidentally, is Lance Armstrong’s second scheduled race of the 2003 season. Hmm, will Ullrich be ready to take on Armstrong for the 2003 Tour de France? That’s what everyone wants to know.

VDB regaining spark?
Another comeback story seems to have new believers. Another one-time wunderkind – Belgium’s Frank Vandenbroucke – is also on the comeback trail and none other than Johan Museeuw believes VDB can return to the top. “I am convinced there are still beautiful moments ahead for Frank Vandenbroucke,” Museeuw said on Belgian newspaper.

“It is now a question of sparking what’s inside him. A big win isn’t even necessary to do this. A second or third place in a hard race would be enough for me to show that Frank is back.”

Vandebroucke, who’s been dogged by injuries and doping problems for the past several seasons, is taking it all in stride. He crashed in the Mallorca Challenge this week, but fears of broken collarbone were brushed off. He told Flemish newspapers this week: “I’ve become wiser. I will not make anymore great statements.”

Pantani continues to train in Canary Islands
Marco Pantani, Italy’s erstwhile cycling champion, continues to train in Spain’s Canary Islands while he awaits news on his future. It seems his Mercatone Uno team will be racing, albeit with a more modest budget and aspirations than Pantani is used to.

According to reports in the Italian Datasport news agency, Pantani is hoping for a big Giro d’Italia to mark his comeback. Pantani, however, is waiting news on his case involving an empty syringe found in his room during police raids at the 2001 Giro d’Italia.

Pantani was cleared by Italian authorities, but the UCI has appealed the case to CAS (an international sports tribunal), which could ban Pantani untilsometime in mid-April. A decision is expected in the next few weeks. Until then, Pantani continues to train far away from the media glare.

Sidermec to race in Vuelta a Murcia
The Italian Sidermec team of American Fred Rodriguez will race in the upcoming Tour of Murcia (March 5-9) in Spain after Portuguese Milaneza-MSS opted out so it could race in Paris-Nice (March 9-13). There’s a chance Stefano Garzelli will start for Sidermec if the UCI decides to reduce his sanction for his positive taken at last year’s Giro d’Italia. Murcia will also be the planned season-opener for Lance Armstrong.