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By Andrew Hood
Italian Internet provider Tiscali has decided not to extend its sponsorship with the CSC team led by 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis, the Danish wires reported Wednesday. Tiscali had been part of Riis’ team since 2001 and its contribution was reportedly worth $2 million a year.
The news comes just as Riis is trying to secure enough money to sign 1997 Tour de France winner and former Telekom teammate Jan Ullrich. Riis has known that Tiscali likely wouldn’t remain with the team, but he was hoping to convince them to stay one more year with hopes of signing Ullrich.
Now Riis will have to hurry to find another co-sponsor to have the money to sign Ullrich and other riders such as Alex Zülle, who is not happy with a reduced contract offer from Team Coast.
Gonzalez wants Tour
Within hours of signing a two-year contract with Italian team Fassa Bortolo on Wednesday for a reported $700,000 per year, Aitor Gonzalez already was creating waves.
In 2003, Fassa Bortolo wants the 2002 Vuelta a Espana champion to defend his Vuelta title as well as aim for the Giro d’Italia. Gonzalez, who finished sixth in last year’s Giro and won two stages, could have finished on the Giro podium if he didn’t have a bad day in the final mountain stage.
“We still have to discuss my racing schedule,” Gonzalez told the Spanish sports daily AS. “I, of course, prefer to race in the Tour, but I also have to consider the commercial interests of the sponsor. Ferretti doesn’t believe I can race the Giro and then go to the Tour, where he also believes I could challenge Armstrong. But I’m already 27 and I’m at least interested in beginning to know the Tour.”
Telekom admits interest in Botero
Telekom team manager Walter Godefroot said Tuesday that he has made an offer to newly crowned world time trial champion Santiago Botero.
“We normally wouldn’t make offer to riders currently under contract, but Botero has assured us that there have been irregularities in his payment from Kelme and because of this, we’ve made an exception,” Godefroot told the German wires.
Telekom will be without the services of fallen Tour hope Jan Ullrich, who decided to leave the team after a difficult and scandal-ridden season. Ullrich underwent two knee surgeries and tested positive for amphetamines, which he’s currently serving a racing suspension until March. To fill the gap, Telekom has signed Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli, former mountain biker Cadel Evans, Italian Daniele Nardello and Belgian Mario Aerts.
LeMond says Ullrich can come back
Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond said he believes Jan Ullrich will be the toughest rival for Lance Armstrong in next year’s Tour. Speaking with the French cycling magazine Velo, LeMond said there are few others who can challenge the Texan.
“The course will decide the Tour. ONCE was closer this year. It’s a good Tour and racers who want to destabilize Armstrong will have to attack. That is the key. I think Ullrich will be his biggest rival if he can come back,” LeMond said.
LeMond won the 1986 and 1989-1990 Tours and was among the 21 Tour champions at last week’s Tour presentation in Paris. “Ullrich is still young. If he’s good in the head, he can come back and make a difference,” LeMond said. “The differences will be made in the Pyrenees and in the time trials, but the stage to Alpe d’Huez can also open big differences.”