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By Andrew Hood
Even though 1997 Tour de France champion Jan Ullrich walked away from Telekom, his future direction remains undecided. Ullrich is continuing in negotiations to rejoin former Telekom teammate and 1996 Tour champion Bjarne Riis, who now runs the CSC-Tiscali team.
Riis, however, is still trying to sign a co-sponsor for the 2003 season. Riis attended the road world championships in Zolder and had hoped to announce the completion of a deal with the man who helped him win the Tour in 1996, but it wasn’t to be. Riis is now working hard to bring Tiscali back for 2003 after negotiations with other co-sponsors fell through.
Ullrich’s agent Wolfgang Strohband, talking to the German wire service SID, said his client remains unsigned.
“CSC is talking to six possible sponsors, but Ullrich still has no offer. Jan won’t be going anywhere for less than 1 million euros a year,” he said. Strohband said Ullrich, who is currently suspended from racing until March 2003, hopes to begin training in the next two to three weeks.
Pantani and Cipollini dream team?
Troubled Italian star Marco Pantani didn’t discount the outside chance of racing in the 2003 season with recently crowned world champion Mario Cipollini.
“Me and Cipo’ together? It’s a dream of a lot of people. We’ll see,” Pantani told the Italian wires.
Moments after winning in Zolder, Cipollini hinted he’d be interested in racing next year with Pantani, the 1998 double Giro-Tour champion who’s been dogged with doping allegations.
Pantani’s Mercatone Uno team struggled through the 2002 campaign but Il Pirata vows to come back to challenge for the Giro and Tour de France in 2003. Banesto looks at final season
One of Spain’s storied teams is looking at one year from disappearing. Banesto (now iBanesto.com) is one of Spain’s cycling institutions, winning six Tours, two Giros and one Vuelta, but the Spanish bank is pulling out of its sponsorship at the end of the 2003 season. Team manager Jose Miguel Echavarri and sport director Eusebio Unzue are facing the possibility of not being in the peloton unless they can secure a new sponsor.
“I don’t want to look at it so tragically,” Echavarri told the Spanish daily AS. “We have a year to secure a sponsor to survive. It won’t be easy. Cycling is living through a moment of crisis and we don’t have a magic wand. But we bring experience of more than 20 years and a winning philosophy.”
Echavarri and Unzue started in 1980 with Reynolds and Banesto took over in 1990. The team went on to glory by winning the 1988 Tour de France with Pedro Delgado and then five consecutive Tours with cycling legend Miguel Indurain. The team continued with success by finishing second in the 1999 Tour with Alex Zülle behind Lance Armstrong and with Abraham Olano, who won the 1998 Vuelta.
Now facing just one year of guaranteed sponsorship, the pair are finding it hard to sign top riders for the 2003 season. The team lost out on signing Oscar Freire because Rabobank came offering a two-year deal instead of what Banesto could only offer one. The same thing just happened with recent Vuelta winner Aitor Gonzalez, who also wants a two-year deal.
The team is also looking at only racing next year with 20 riders. Many whose contracts are up this year have not been re-signed for next year, including Jose Maria Jimenez, Santi Blanco and the Pole Baranowski. Leonardo Piepoli also might be leaving.
Botero’s future up in the air
Recent world time trial champion Santiago Botero says he has a “50-percent chance” of staying with Kelme for the 2003 season. Botero said he will make a decision by next week.
“Even if I stay or go, I will always have fond memories of Kelme because it’s here that I became a racer,” he said. He will meet next week with Kelme chief Pepe Quiles to see if the two can hammer out a deal even though Botero still has one year remaining on his contract.
“I still have one year, but I have good offers from other teams and I am 30 years old,” he said. “If I stay, I hope they take into account my results and give me a little extra.”
Otxoa back on the bike
Javier Otxoa, the Spanish racer whose brother was killed when they were training in southern Spain nearly two years ago, will race again in the 13th Criterium Internacional de la Comunidad Valenciana on Nov. 10.
It was 21 months ago that his brother, Ricardo, was killed and he was knocked into a coma for two months. The former Kelme pro will also appear at an event paying homage to his brother.