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By Andrew Hood
The strongest man at the Vuelta a Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country)is out of the race. Francesco Casagrande, who blew apart Monday’sopening stage of the Spanish race, crashed on a railroad crossing as severalriders went down just 12 kilometers into Tuesday’s second stage and abandonedsome 40 kilometers later.The Fassa Bortolo strongman, one of the favorites for the 2002 Girod’Italia, was banged up but early reports indicate he did not break anybones.”I tried to continue but it hurt too much to breathe,” Casagrande saiden route to a local hospital for a checkup. “I continued for 40 kilometersbut it hurt too much.”Casagrande, a winner here in 1996, had been in great form as he preparedfor the May 11 start of the Giro d’Italia. No word yet on how long he mightbe out.One of the big losers of Monday’s fast-paced opening stage of the Tourof Basque Country was Euskaltel’s Alberto Martinez, a pre-race favoritewho beat Lance Armstrong at the Criterium International.Only 30 riders finished with the lead group and everyone else was leftgasping when Casagrande made two vicious attacks that
splintered the peloton on the final climb up the Alto de Bezi. Martinez,who finished second here last year, finished 53rd at 1:45 behind stage-winnerBeat Zberg (Rabobank).”I couldn’t do anything at the key moment,” Martinez said before Tuesday’sstage. “It’s clear the overall is done for me. Now I
will work for my teammates.”Saeco’s Danilo Di Luca, another pre-race favorite, also fellout of any chance for victory in Monday’s stage, finishing 5:44 back. DiLuca said he went to bed Monday night with a fever and couldn’t respondto the late attacks by Casagrande in Monday’s stage.Tyler Hamilton is suffering from allergies and the CSC-Tiscalicaptain suffered in Monday’s opening stage of the Vuelta a Pais Vasco,finishing 115th at 12:06 back. CSC sport director Johnny Weltz said he’snot concerned about Hamilton’s form for the upcoming Giro.”Tyler’s suffering from allergies and it’s the absolute worst time ofyear for pollen. The body just doesn’t work. He can’t breath,” Weltz said.”Tyler’s very motivated and that’s so important. We’re on schedule withwe want him to be. He’s been working so hard and it would be good for themorale to get a strong result before the Giro.”Spanish riders are frustrated and angry that ONCE and iBanesto.com won’tstart at the 2002 Giro because the race won’t be televised in Spain. Spanishtelevision didn’t want to pay for TV rights to broadcast the race live,so the two Spanish teams announced last week they wouldn’t be racing inthe first major stage-race of the season. Abraham Olano (ONCE) and
Unai Osa (iBanesto.com) finished second and third, respectively,and are distraught they won’t be able to defend their podium positions.”It disgusts me about our departure from the Giro, because it showsthat cycling is not as popular as before. If TV is not interested in thefirst big race of the year, then Spanish cycling is in trouble,” Olanosaid. “I’m disappointed. I don’t understand why they won’t televise it.With this, cycling loses and we lose.”The Giro was the top goal for both riders, who now will have to reconsidertheir seasons. Both Olano and Osa said they will likely focus on the Tourde France, which neither of them planned to race. Olano also hinted hemight start the Vuelta.”If it’s up to me, I’d like to finally make a debut at the Tour de France, which wasn’t in my plan,” said Osa. “For that, I will have to stop training now and change my preparation.”Kelme is the only Spanish team set to start the Giro, but CSC’s Weltzconfirmed that four Spanish riders from his team will start the Italianrace: Carlos Sastre, Marcelino Garcia, Francisco Cerezo and Manuel Calvente.