By Andrew Hood
The Union Cycliste Internationale has given former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich the all clear to return to competition in the Tour of Aragon in Spain on Wednesday.
The 1997 Tour champion received the news he had been waiting on from the UCI, which had refused to allow him to take part until Team Coast deposited a bank guarantee to cover the salaries of Ullrich and other riders on the squad.
Coast spokesman Marcel Wüst said he was elated by the news.
“I’ve had a SMS (mobile phone text message) from Jan Ullrich’s manager, Wolfgang Strohband,” Wüst told the French wire service AFP. “It’s five letters long and reads – UCI OK. That signals that the light is green, Coast has deposited its bank guarantee and Ullrich can race.”
At the start of the week the situation had looked bleak for the 29-year-old German who is returning after a year out of competition. A UCI official had said simply: “No bank guarantee, no Ullrich” in response to a question about whether Ullrich would be on the starting grid for the Tour of Aragon.
The Sydney Olympic champion, who as well as winning the Tour de France also finished runner-up four times, made his return to competition last week in the Circuit de la Sarthe. He finished 20th in the French race. Coast signed Ullrich in January but the team was suspended briefly two months later after financial irregularities were discovered in its salary payments to team riders.Copyright AFP2003
Zabel tops rankings
Erik Zabel (Telekom) remains atop the world rankings released Monday by the UCI. Zabel’s reign in the top spot ended after Milan-San Remo, but the consistent German bounced back to the top two weeks ago and now is hanging just four points ahead of Paolo Bettini (Quick Step).
Zabel finished 15th at Paris-Roubaix and with Bettini’s announcement he’ll be missing the Ardennes classics, Zabel looks likely to remain the world No. 1 into May. Lance Armstrong dropped one spot from third to fourth while Tyler Hamilton bounced from 23rd to 16th thanks to his strong showing at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, where he finished second overall.
UCI world rankings, April 14, 2003 (position in previous ranking):
1. (1) Erik Zabel, 2216 points
2. (2) Paolo Bettini, 2212
3. (4) Dario Frigo, 2087
4. (3) Lance Armstrong, 1978
5. (5) David Rebellin, 1739
6. (6) Robbie McEwen, 1625
7. (8) Aitor Gonzalez, 1502
8. (9) Roberto Heras, 1455
9. (7) Mario Cipollini, 1433
10. (10) Francesco Casagrande, 1427Others
16. (23) Tyler Hamilton, 1103
131 (139) Levi Leipheimer, 389
192. (118) Fred Rodriguez, 309
230. (105) George Hincapie, 275
French study helmet issue
Authorities from the French cycling federation and the national sports ministry met Monday in Paris to study efforts to require helmets in professional races possibly as soon as the next Tour de France. The French minister of sport said he’s in favor of requiring helmets, especially in light of the recent death of Cofidis’ Andrei Kivilev at Paris-Nice.
The UCI is considering making helmet use obligatory in all elite races in time for the Giro d’Italia, but French authorities decided to study the issue on their own in a meeting that lasted 1.5 hours, L’Equipe reported Tuesday.
“As employers, we are ought to be concerned with safety, which is our main worry, even though some riders don’t agree with us,” said Philippe Raimbaud of the French cycling federation. “We want to make it necessary to wear an approved helmet in all conditions of the race, including the time trial.”
The question of which type of helmet will be required under any new rules is sure to spark lively debate. Riders complain helmets are too hot, especially during summit finishes in the heat of summer. Time trial helmets are designed for more aerodynamic purposes than safeguards against a spill.
Dekker to start Amstel Gold
Rabobank’s Erik Dekker announced he will start Amstel Gold this Sunday, the first classic of the season for the Dutch star. Although Dekker pulled out of last week’s Tour of the Basque Country, he said he will start Amstel Gold to work for others such as Michael Boogerd and Oscar Freire. Dekker won the 2001 Amstel Gold in a two-man duel against Lance Armstrong, but missed last year’s edition after crashing in Milan-San Remo. Amstel Gold is the most important race for the Dutch based Rabobank team, which has either won or finished on the top-three podium every year since 1997.
Armstrongs reconciling marriage
Lance Armstrong’s wife says she and the four-time Tour de France champion are working at reconciling their marriage, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
In an interview with Outside magazine, scheduled to arrive on newsstands May 13, Kristin Armstrong said the couple spent several days in Nice, France, in late March. The couple announced their separation in February in an e-mail to the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. She said several events had strained their 4 1/2 -year marriage.
“We’ve had six homes, three languages, two countries, one cancer comeback, three children, four Tour de France wins and one rise to celebrity,” she said. “You’re not supposed to cram such a huge amount of events into such a small period of time.”