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Wednesday’s Eurofile: Baldato wins at La Panne, Quick Step suffering

Italian Fabio Baldato (Alessio) won the second stage of the Three Days of La Panne on Wednesday, a blustery, sunny day in Belgium. Gianluca Bortolami (Sidermec) continued his hold on the overall lead after finishing safely in the lead bunch. Two riders were reeled in with 22km to go in the 228km stage from Zottegem to Koksijde to set up the mass sprint. A strong tailwind pushed the bunch along nicely over the final circuits, with speeds reaching nearly 70 kph on the flats. Fassa Bortolo drove things home, but the veteran Baldato had the legs to beat Gerben Lowik (Bankgiroloterij) and Jimmy

By Andrew Hood

Bortolami

Bortolami

Photo: Graham Watson

Baldato

Baldato

Photo: AFP

Italian Fabio Baldato (Alessio) won the second stage of the Three Days of La Panne on Wednesday, a blustery, sunny day in Belgium. Gianluca Bortolami (Sidermec) continued his hold on the overall lead after finishing safely in the lead bunch.

Two riders were reeled in with 22km to go in the 228km stage from Zottegem to Koksijde to set up the mass sprint. A strong tailwind pushed the bunch along nicely over the final circuits, with speeds reaching nearly 70 kph on the flats. Fassa Bortolo drove things home, but the veteran Baldato had the legs to beat Gerben Lowik (Bankgiroloterij) and Jimmy Casper (Fdjeux.com), who came across third.

Several top riders have pulled out of La Panne, including Johan Museeuw (Quick Step), Baden Cooke (Fdjeux.com), Max Van Heeswijk (USPS) and Ivan Quaranta (Saeco). Other Quick Step riders such as Tom Boonen, Servais Knaven, Frank Vandenbroucke and Paolo Bettini are also sick with respiratory problems.

“Museeuw is pretty bad,” Quick Step director Patrick Lefevere told EuropeNews. Bettini, winner of Milan-San Remo, couldn’t start at La Panne due to a lingering cough from last weekend. “He called me on Tuesday by telephone and things aren’t going as well as we’d like,” Lefevere said.

La Panne concludes Wednesday with a split stage, with an 110km road stage in the morning and a 13.7km individual time trial in the afternoon.

Three Days of La Panne, Stage 2, Zottegem to Coxyde
1. Fabio Baldato (I), Alessio, 224km in 6:18:57
2. Gerben Lowik (Ned), Bankgiroloterij
3. Jimmy Casper (F), Fdjeux.com
4. Stefan Van Dijk (Ned), Lotto-Domo
5. Alberto Loddo (I), Lampre – all same timeOverall standings after two stages
1. Gianluca Bortolami (I), Sidermec, 10 hours, 55 minutes, 17 seconds
2. Bart Voskamp (Ned), Bankgiroloterij, at 1 second
2. Fabio Baldato (I), Alessio, at 0:25
4. Gerben Lowik (Nl), Bankgiroloterij, at 0:40
5. Dario Pieri (I), Saeco, at 0:46

Museeuw pulls out of La Panne
Johan Museeuw didn’t start Wednesday’s second stage of the Three Days of La Panne with a sickness. The Quick Step rider has been suffering with flu-like symptoms since early March, just days after he won Het Volk, and didn’t start Milan-San Remo to recover in time for Tour of Flanders. The news comes just four days before the start of Flanders, so Museeuw is hoping to feel 100 percent for Sunday’s second stop of the 2003 World Cup series.

Meanwhile, Sidermec’s Gianluca Bortolami won the opening stage Tuesday, after besting breakaway companion Bart Voskamp (Bankgiroloterij) in a sprint as the two fended off a hard-charging peloton in Zottegem.

Just as the day’s first break was reeled in, Bortolami and Voskamp escaped with 60km to go. Bortolami, winner of the Tour of Flanders two years ago, worked with Voskamp to build a small, but adequate lead. With 10km remaining, defending champion Peter Van Petegem and Fdjeux.com’s Christophe Mengin tried to bridge up to the break, but only managed to trim their lead to 20 seconds.

Voskamp and Bortolami held off their two pursuers, while the next two men finished a scant 13 seconds ahead of the field.

Three Days of De Panne Stage 1, Middelkerke-Zottegem
1. Gianluca Bortolami (I), Sidermec-Saunier Duval 196km in 4.36.32 (42.5kph)
2. Bart Voskamp (Nl), Bankgiroloterij
3. Christophe Mengin (F), fdjeux.com, at 0:20
4. Peter Van Petegem (Bel), Lotto, s.t.
5. Dario Pieri (I), Team Saeco, at 0:33
6. Bernhard Eisel (A), fdjeux.com
7. Danilo Hondo (G), Telekom,
8. Robert Hunter (SA), Rabobank
9. Enrico Cassani (I), Alessio),
10. Matteo Carrara (I), De Nardi, all s.t.

Sevilla on the mend
Oscar Sevilla hopes to start the Tour of Aragon (April 16-20) after missing nearly a month of training with injuries. Sevilla, runner-up in the 2001 Vuelta a Espana, wasn’t planning on racing until April, but he lost more than three weeks of training after having a cyst removed from his groin area.

“I rode 60 kilometers (yesterday), and even though my injury still hurt a little bit, I am happy,” Sevilla told the Marca newspaper. “To let the wound heal properly, I’ve barely moved in three weeks, and I’ve gained 2.5 kilos. Thank goodness, I have time before the Tour to get in shape.”

Sevilla noticed pain in late February and went to the doctor on March 12 and doctors operated to remove a cyst. Sevilla received five stitches and has been off the bike since March 5. Sevilla’s now eyeing the Tour of Aragon as his return to racing.

“I was planning on starting at Amorebieta, but now I have to wait a little longer. That’s not a problem, because until the Tour I have nearly three months to get in shape,” Sevilla said.

Kelme only Spanish team to start Giro
For the second year in a row, a fight over TV broadcast rights is keeping the Spanish teams, save Kelme, out of the Giro d’Italia. Eight foreign teams are among the 18 squads expected to start in Lecce on May 10 for the 20-stage, 3,449-km race, which ends June 1 in Milan.

Italian TV channel RAI is asking too much for rights to broadcast the Giro, at least according to its Spanish equals. Last year, the Giro was not broadcast in Spain and ONCE and iBanesto.com decided not to race. The story has repeated itself this spring, leaving Kelme as Spain’s lone representative in the 86th edition of the Giro.

Team CSC also opted not to race the Giro. Instead, Bjarne Riis’s charges will focus on the Tour de France and later the Vuelta a España. Last year, Tyler Hamilton finished second overall at the Giro, but the American is putting everything into arriving to Paris in top physical shape.

Defending champion Paolo Savoldelli isn’t starting, either. Savoldelli crashed while training in the Canary Islands early this year, but starting the Giro wasn’t among his plans as Telekom also has the Tour de France as its top goal.

There will be plenty of protagonists, however. The 2002 Vuelta a España champion Aitor Gonzalez will lead Fassa Bortolo in a showdown against Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) and Francesco Casagrande (Lampre). World champion Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) will be looking to break the stage-win record held by Alfredo Binda, and former champion Marco Pantani (Mercatone Uno) is sure to deliver some surprises.

The Italian teams include: Alessio, Panaria, De Nardi-Colpack, Domina Vacanze, Fassa Bortolo, Lampre, Mercatone Uno, Saeco, Tenax and Sidermec.

The foreign teams include: Landbouwkrediet-Colnago (Belgium); Lotto-Domo (Belgium); Team Fatka (Denmark); Fdjeux.com (France); Colombia-Selle Italia (Colombia); Gerolsteiner (Germany); CCC Polsat (Poland) and Kelme (Spain).

Pro group favors helmets
Mandatory helmet use would be fine among the pro ranks as long as everyone can agree, the Professional Cyclists Association (CPA) announced in a press release Monday. The group representing professional riders released a statement this work backing calls for mandatory use of helmets, which have gained new support following the racing death of Andrei Kivilev in last month’s Paris-Nice. The group also called for better security and safety during races.

The group also supported Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, a Spanish rider who could be banned from racing in France by a French anti-doping council after testing with high levels of salbutamol in last year’s Tour de France. According to UCI rules, Galdeano had medical permission to use the product, but urine tests revealed 1369 nanograms, exceeding the allowed limit of 1000 nanograms. The French group, at the urging of WADA, wants to evoke stricter guidelines and could ban Galdeano for taking a banned anabolic substance.

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