By Andrew Hood
Telekom’s Erik Zabel won the opening stage of the 2002Tour of Holland in a bunch sprint in Monday’s 220-km stage from Utrechtto Leeuwarden. Zabel edged Alexandre Usov (Phonak) and Jan Koerts,who came across the line third.
The race will be a showdown between some of the hottest sprinters inthe game. With the world championships in early October, riders will beramping up their form.
Joining Zabel at the start line Tuesday in Utrecht were 128 racers from16 teams, including Robbie McEwen (Lotto), world champion OscarFreire (Mapei), defending champion Leon Van Bon (Domo), IvanQuaranta (Alexia), Tom Steels (Mapei) and Jaan Kirsipuu (AG2R).Mario Cipollini (Acqua & Sapone) didn’t take the start.
The race totals 894 km in six stages over five days, including a 19-kmindividual time trial Thursday in Almelo.
The teams include: Domo-Farm Frites, Rabobank, Fassa Bortolo, Lotto,Bankgiroloterij, U.S. Postal Service, Mapei, Lampre, Telekom, CSC-Tiscali,Tacconi, Acqua e Sapone, Alexia, AG2R, Fakta y Phonak.
Stage 1 (today), Utrecht to Leeuwarden, 220 km
Stage 2 (Wednesday, Aug. 21), Dokkum to Apeldoorn, 176 km
Stage 3 (Thursday, Aug 22), Apeldoorn to Almelo, 75 km(sector A); Almelo-Almelo, 19 km individual time trial (sector B).
Stage 4 (Friday, Aug. 23), Arnhem to Sittard, 198 km
Stage 5 (Saturday, Aug. 24), Sittard-Geleen to Landgraaf, 206km.
Ullrich vows comeback still possible
Telekom’s troubled one-time superstar Jan Ullrich told the Germanpress he wouldn’t have had his knee operated on a second time if he wasn’tserious about a comeback. Just when that might be, the 1997 Tour de Francechampion admitted he still doesn’t know.
“I wouldn’t have undergone the operation if I didn’t have the motivationto return to cycling,” Ullrich said in Merdigen, Germany, where he’s recoveringfrom surgery. “I still don’t know when I will be able to return to training,but I hope to soon.”
Ullrich had his right knee operated on a second time last week to helpease pain that’s troubled the Olympic road champion since early in theseason. Ullrich is serving a six-month cycling ban after testing positivefor amphetamines after he took ecstasy pills in a night out partying inJune. Ullrich said he took the pills because he was depressed after aninitial knee surgery in May didn’t relieve the pain that sidelined himfrom the 2002 Tour.
UCI wants Pantani ban to stand
The International Cycling Union (UCI) on Tuesday appealed to the Courtof Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to reverse the recent acquittal of an eight-monthban for former Tour de France winner Marco Pantani, AFP reportedTuesday.
Pantani was handed the ban and a fine by the Italian federation in Junefor being caught in possession of insulin during last year’s San Remo raidsat the 2001 Giro d’Italia. The UCI was irked when an appeal commissionruled there was no real proof that the “Il Pirata” had taken the bannedsubstance despite police finding a syringe with traces of it in his hotelroom.
The UCI on Tuesday stated it wanted to re-impose the original eight-monthban, which was repealed July 13. Pantani, the winner of both the Giro andTour de France in 1998, has rarely hit the heights since his double triumphthat year. His last major win came when he won the stage to Courchevelin the 2000 Tour de France.
More Rumsas tests, more wrangling
A second doping test carried out on disgraced Lithuanian cyclist RaimondasRumsas, whose wife is still being detained as part of a doping inquiryin France, is negative according to Lithuanian government officials Tuesday,AFP reported.
“As we expected, the results of Rumsas’ test made in the Kreischa laboratoryin Germany clears Rumsas of any doping,” Rima Berloviene, the head of specialinvestigation group at the Lithuanian sports department, told the Frenchwire sevice.
Last week another test made in Sweden also came back negative. The Lamprerider finished third in this year’s Tour de France, but his performancehas since been marred after his wife was arrested on July 30 while transportingdoping substances from Chamonix, France to Italy.
Rumsas submitted himself to a doping test in the Latvian capital Rigain an attempt to prove that he did not dope during the Tour and continuesto insist the substances his wife was carrying were for his sick mother-in-law.Rumsas has refused to return to France for questioning and his wife remainsin a French jail. Rumsas was tested several times during the three-weekrace and all the results were negative, although one result did appearto show an abnormally high hematocrit level, but wasn’t over allowed levels.A high hematocrit level is an indication, though not proof, that an athletehas taken banned endurance-enhancer EPO (erythropoietin) – one of the productsfound in his wife’s possession.
The Lithuanian foreign ministry last week publicly expressed its concernover the detaining of Rumsas’ wife, saying it could harm Lithuanian-Frenchrelations.
Casero signs two more years with Coast
Defending Vuelta a España champion Angel Casero didn’twant to leave anything to chance and signed a two-year contract extensionwith the German Coast team. Casero had trouble finding a team last yearafter Festina folded despite his Vuelta victory.
According to the Spanish daily MARCA, the deal is worth an estimated450,000 euros per season, with bonus clauses for wins and podiums. Themain goal for Coast is to push higher in the UCI team rankings to securean invitation to the 2003 Tour de France. The team was overlooked the pasttwo years in wild card bids.
Freire rumors, CSC signs Hoffman, Sorensen
Rumors continue to fly that world champion Oscar Freire willsign with CSC-Tiscali. A Danish tabloid reported Monday that a deal isclose at hand, but Freire told the Spanish sports daily MARCA thathe’s in negotiations with CSC and Quick Step, which will take over thesponsorship of the Mapei team at the end of the season. Freire said he’slooking closely at both teams and waiting for the best offer.
“The negotiations are open, but there’s nothing signed yet. I have anoffer very interesting and now I am considering both teams,” Freire said.CSC-Tiscali has a big hole to fill, plus a lot of extra money, followingthe retirement of Laurent Jalabert at the end of the 2002 season.The team recently penned a one-year deal with Andrea Tafi. Meanwhile,the team continues to bolster its lineup and re-signed Tristan Hoffmanand Nicki Sorensen to one-year contract extensions.
Barel pips Vouilloz at French Cup DH finale
With the world mountain bike championships just around the corner,the French downhillers converged on Isola 2000 for the sixth and finalround of the French Cup downhill series. Fabien Barel won in 3 minutes,30 seconds on the steep course high in the Alpes-Maritimes.
Nicolas Vouilloz, who returned to French racing after missingtwo months following an injury in a serious crash at the beginning of theseason, finished less than half-second slower. Julien Poomans finishedthird while Nicolas Ortiz took fifth to seal the overall title.In the women’s field, Emeline Ragot won in 4 minutes, 8 seconds.Anne-Caroline Chausson didn’t race in any of the French Cups thisyear and instead focused on the World Cup.
Halgand takes first stage at Limousin in France, Ratti wins TreValle in Italy
French rider Patrice Halgand (Jean Delatour) won the 156-kmfirst stage of the 35th Tour of Limousin between Limoges and Gueret. Meanwhile,Eddy Ratti (Mapei) won the 196-km Tre Valle Varesine race in Italy,finishing nine seconds ahead of Danilo Di Luca (Saeco) and LaurentDufaux (Alessio).