Armstrong debuts at Murcia
By Andrew Hood
With Paris-Roubaix and the spring classics season just around the corner,U.S. Postal’s George Hincapie is hoping for a quick rebound from a virusthat has sapped his strength so far in the 2003 season.
What’s worrying the Postal classics strongman are the nagging after-effectsof the virus he said he caught before returning to Spain in February, andhe’s hoping it won’t derail his form in the most important part of theseason.
“It’s getting close to the important races, so pretty soon I’ll haveto make a decision if I’ll be able to race them properly. If I’m not 100percent, it’s hard for me to go do it,” Hincapie told VeloNews ina phone interview Tuesday. “But don’t think I’m not planning doing them– that’s the worst-case scenario.”
Hincapie is starting Wednesday’s Tour of Murcia — where four-time Tourde France champion Lance Armstrong is making his season debut — insteadof his scheduled start in Sunday’s start at Paris-Nice in an attempt tofind his racing legs.
“I’ve had a virus and it really lowers my energy. I can race, but Iget tired really fast,” he said. “I’ve been training as much as I could.I’m not in terrible shape, just not where I was last year.”
Hincapie said his spill in Saturday’s Het Volk was relatively minor,despite six stitches on the chin. He said four riders fell in front ofhim and he was toppled off his bike, cutting his chin, but otherwise notseriously injured.
“After the crash, I haven’t been getting any better so I want to tryto do an easier race,” Hincapie said. “I want to see after Murcia if Ican get back to normal before Milan-San Remo. I need to do some good training.I haven’t even been able to train properly.”
Hincapie’s health problems come at the worse time for the 29-year-old,but he’s hopeful things will clear up before the most important goals ofthe season, Milan-San Remo on March 22 and Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaixin early April.
“The team is looking good for the classics. Max (Van Heeswijk), (Slava)Ekimov and Tony (Cruz) are all riding real well,” Hincapie said. “Thesethings happen to everybody. I just need to get over this hurdle and tryto come back.”
A Q&A with Armstrong
Here are a few questions posted on Lance Armstrong’s web page on the eve of his season debut at Wednesday’s Vuelta a Murcia:
LA.com: What do you want to accomplish personally during thisfive-day event?
Armstrong: “Well, I’m not going to discuss my personal life …Seriously, I need to see where I am in relation to the others, althoughit’s not imperative to be at the front. I missed Murcia last year due toa stomach bug so I’m glad to be going back.”
LA.com: Has the team designated someone to ride for, or willthat work its way out as the race progresses?
Armstrong: “We’ll figure that out as we go along. Let’s not forgetwe have Victor (Hugo Peña) who won last year and has already finishedsecond in his first race this year in Portugal.”
LA.com: Johan said that you’ve ‘been even more fanatical aboutyour work than in previous years’ – do you agree, and does that mean you’rein better shape than in years past too?
Armstrong: “I’ve just finished some testing here in Spain andit appears my fitness, weight, and body fat are about a month ahead oflast year. Not that it really matters.”
LA.com: Milan-San Remo is listed as a possible race for you onMarch 22; have you made a decision yet?
Armstrong: “No decision yet. It’s a great race that’s also ‘goodtraining’ (being that it’s nearly 300km) but let’s not forget it’s very,very dangerous. I may be there, I may not.”
LA.com: What do you think about the USA Today articlethat listed hitting a baseball as No. 1 in the 10 hardest things to doin sports, and the Tour de France rated No. 8?
Armstrong: “Er, um, uh … are they serious? There’s simply noway to compare short events like that — or even running a marathon –to a three-week, 2500-mile race. No way.”
Postal team at Murcia
Joining Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service lineup are Michael Barry,Roberto Heras, George Hincapie, defending champion Victor Hugo Peña,Steffen Kjaergaard and David Zabriskie. Watch for a full race report latertoday at VeloNews.
Cuesta fractures shoulder
It was confirmed Tuesday that Inigo Cuesta fractured his right claviclein a spill Sunday in the Clasica Almeria. Cuesta will undergo surgery Wednesdayin Bilboa, Spain, interrupting his plans to start Paris-Nice on Sunday,the Spanish wires reported.
Perez Cuapio extends with Panaria
Some are calling Julio Perez Cuapio the purest climber since Marco Pantani and the Mexican rider will be staying with Panaria-Fiordo team through 2005 after signing a contract extension. Perez Cuapio, 26, is a winner of three stages in the Giro d’Italia, including two last year when he also won the best climber’s jersey. His presence of the second division Italian team assures he’ll race in the Giro, but severely limits his chances of racing in the Tour de France, where his team isn’t among the possible candidates to receive a wild-card bid.
Belda already narrowing down Tour, Giro teams
Kelme director Vicente Belda is already narrowing his list of candidatesfor the upcoming grand tours. With the loss of 2002 Vuelta a Españachampion Aitor Gonzalez and Santiago Botero, winner of two stages in the2002 Tour de France, Kelme is putting all of its hopes on Oscar Sevilla.Second in the 2001 Vuelta, Sevilla will be aiming for both the Tour andthe Vuelta and won’t begin racing until next month.
The short list for those likely joining Sevilla at the Tour includeRuta del Sol winner Javier Pascual Llorente, Quique Gutierrez, Toni Tauler,David Latasa, Ivan Parra, Jose Julia, J.M. Manzano and Juan Manual Cuenca.The short list for the Giro team includes sprinter Isaac Galvez, DavidMunoz, Julian Usano, Jordi Riera, Nacho Gutierrez, Constantino Zaballa,Alex Rodriguez and either Adolfo or Carlos Garcia Quesada.