By Andrew Hood
One of Spain’s best cyclists, Abraham Olano, announced Tuesday he willretire at the end of the 2002 season “to live a life without pressure and fully enjoy my family.”
The 32-year-old Olano said he made the decision to retire the day beforethe Spanish championships last weekend despite the fact that he and ONCEwere planning on Olano racing one more season.
“I began to realize things were changing when, as a cyclist whose lifeis based on suffering and training alone, I would be sad to go on trainingrides. I missed my family when I was traveling and I began to wonder aboutretiring, the moment is now,” Olano said.
Olano won just about every laurel in cycling, save the Tour de France.He won the world title in 1995, an Olympic silver medal at the 1996 timetrial and the 1998 Vuelta a Espana. Olano had the unfortunate pressureof being expected to fill the shoes left by Miguel Indurain when the five-time Tour champion retired in 1996. Olano’s best result at the Tour was fourth overall in 1997.
Olano said he will race in the Tour as expected and continue to racethrough the season “but I will try to enjoy more as I approach the endof my professional life.”
Cofidis for the Tour
The French Cofidis revealed its Tour lineup Tuesday and goes to theTour with high hopes for a strong showing in the GC. The team will shareleadership with David Millar, who will be shooting for victory in the openingprologue, and Andrei Kivilev, fourth overall in last year’s Tour. Alsoon the team will be three Spanish riders — Daniel Atienza, IñigoCuesta and Bingen Fernández, Italian Massimiliano Lelli, BelgianNico Mattan and French riders David Moncoutié and Cedric Vasseur.
Telekom announces team signings
Telekom announced Monday it will not be re-signing three riders, including the man who led the 2002 Giro d’Italia for 10 days Jens Heppner. Ralf Grabsch and Robert Bartko will also not be re-signed by the German squad. Team spokesman Olaf Ludwig said the team has signed Rolf Aldag, Torsten Hiekmann, Andreas Klier, Stephan Schreck and Steffen Wesemann to contracts for 2003.
The team’s big stars – Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel – are both under contractthrough 2003. No word on the status of Americans Bobby Julich and KevinLivingston.
Bartoli back next month
Italian star Michele Bartoli is back on the bike following his spillin the 2002 Giro and expects to return to racing in August. Bartoli, winnerof Amstel Gold in April, said he won’t be in top racing shape until laterin the season and has set such races as Tour of Lombardia, Paris-Brusselsand Paris-Tours as his top goals for the end of the season.
Kelme gets the green
The only green Kelme has to worry about these days is envy. The Spanishoutfit finally got its cash due from its top co-sponsor and has paid theback wages owed to Oscar Sevilla and other riders for more than three months.
Money was tied up in bureaucratic wrangling, according to officialsfrom Kelme’s co-sponsor, the tourist promotion arm of the regional governmentof Valencia. Costa Blanca will remain on Kelme’s jersey in the Tour deFrance and at least two more years.
The money crisis threatened to derail Kelme as the team prepares anonslaught on Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France. Vincente Belda, theteam’s outspoken sport director, believes Armstrong isn’t as invincibleas many believe.
Sevilla was owed more than 350,000 euros and petitioned UCI last monthto tap into the team’s reserve to get his money. The deal finally was hammeredout last week, lifting a cloud from the team going into Saturday’s startof the 89th Tour.
“They wished us good luck and they told us that they are solving the economic situation. Without a doubt, it’s the best moral they could have given us. We hope this support will continue for a long time to come,” Sevilla said.
Vuelta going loco?
As the season’s biggest race is set to start Saturday, cycling’s thirdgrand tour is proposal something that many are calling just plain “loco.”
Last week, Unipublic, organizers of the Vuelta a Espana, floated a ratherradical idea of starting the race with 32 teams and having the first weekof the race become one of elimination.
The idea is to take the top 32 teams in the UCI standings and dividethe peloton into two groups of 16 teams for the first week of the race.Teams would race against each other in a week-long “playoff” to earn aspot among the final 18 teams that would continue in the final two weeksof the race.
Unipublic’s Victor Cordero said the idea is only being considered, butit could very well happen if the response is positive. Cordero said theidea is to bring more teams into the grand tours, now limited to the topteams and a few wildcards. He also said it would animate the first weekof the race and give the race more interest among fans.
According to the plan, the top riders in each individual classification– the GC, mountain, points and hot sprints – would earn their teams’ automatic berth to the next round. The remainder of the teams would be selected based on their standing in the team GC, based on the combined time of each teams’ riders in each stage.
The UCI hasn’t come out against the idea, even hinting it would approvesuch an arrangement after further study. Others, however, haven’t beenso warm to the concept.
“We wouldn’t think of changing the Tour de France in this sense,” saidTour race director Jean-Marie Leblanc. “For the Vuelta, it could be aninteresting experiment if there is nothing that would harm the sport, butthe project would be very complicated and difficult to realize based onwhat I’ve seen so far.”
Others have outright ridiculed the idea. Vicente Belda, the outspokendirector of Kelme, said the project is unlikely to fly.
“Kelme is a team that pushes its riders to win major stage races and I don’t want to have to worry about the seventh day whether or not we’re going to be kicked out of the race,” he said. “A race is three weeks, not some game like this.”
Oscar Sevilla, second overall at last year’ Vuelta, said he was equallyskeptical about the idea.
“I haven’t studied the plan yet in detail, but it seems a little complicated, strange. I like a traditional race. Maybe I would change my mind if I learned more about it, but right now I like the Vuelta they way it is,” Sevilla said.
Sevilla speaks out
Sevilla is being played up in the Spanish press as the nation’sbest hope of dethroning Lance Armstrong in the 2002 Tour. Here are excerptsof an interview with El Nino.On the course: “The Tour is hard as usual, but I would like tohave a climbing time trial instead of a long flat one. But that’s what’sthere so we will fight. The Tour has long hard mountain stages. The stagesin the Pryenees are extremely hard, everything can happen there, win orloss it all. For the team time trial, we have a strong team and I believethat we will finish in the top-5.”On his time trialing abilities: “I’ve approved a lot in the timetrial. The last test I took was when I fell in Dauphine Libere, I was goingwell. If I hadn’t crashed, I would have finished fourth, which I believeis a good result.”On his fall at Dauphine: “It was a big disappointment. The daysafter the fall were hard. I had a bad hematoma, it hurt a lot and I hadseveral days where I couldn’t ride the bike. I was quite upset until thedoctor told me I didn’t break anything.”On his chances at the Tour: “I have allusions of winning, becausewithout these hopes, you won’t go anywhere in life. I know it will be verycomplicated, because you have to have both feet on the ground. I leavebelieving I can win, like I do for any race.”On his fitness: “I hope things go well. I am at a good level.If everything goes as well as last year, I can finish on the podium. Eventhough it’s complicated during 22 days, and anything can happen – a crash,a flat – I go with a lot of motivation and with a team that will supportme 100-percent.”