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By Andrew Hood
Team Coast says its racing suspension is unfair and that the UCI is not treating them fairly. Coast was suspended last week by the UCI until further notice and could not take part in the start Sunday of Paris-Nice. Coast team manager Marcel Wüst said the team has shown documents to the UCI to prove they have paid riders and that their finances are in order.
“We have done everything correctly and given proof that the payments have been made on time,” Wüst told Reuters. “We feel we are not being treated fairly. We have done everything right and therefore the suspension should be lifted.”
Last week, Rudy Pevenage said if things are not cleared up within two weeks, star rider Jan Ullrich would start to look for another team. Ullrich left Telekom last fall and finally settled on a three-year deal with Coast, but Pevenage said the 1997 Tour winner has yet to be paid.
Ullrich’s manager Wolfgang Strohband said that’s not true and that Ullrich is not threatening to leave Coast.
“Obviously the matter has to be cleared up, but there is no such thing as an ultimatum,” Strohband told the German news agency SID. “Money has been paid to Ullrich. Other teams are naturally interested in Jan, but there is nothing to it.”The UCI was scheduled to review the case again on Monday.
LA feels good after Murcia
Lance Armstrong started his 2003 season in fine style, just missing a win in Sunday’s 12.9km time trial in the final stage of the Tour of Murcia. The four-time winner of the Tour de France is back in his home in Girona, Spain, and will next race in Setmana Catalana in late March. No decision has yet been made on whether or not Armstrong will start at Milan-San Remo on March 22, the season’s World Cup opener. Here are some excerpts from an interview published on Armstrong’s official web page:
Question: Despite the concept of this being a training-type race for you, the team was going for a win and you gave a solid effort in the final TT. But you can’t really “hold back”, other than not being a major attacking force, can you? Isn’t it more of a measuring stick kind of thing?
Lance Armstrong: Of course if I feel good, or even half-way good, I will try. I felt better than I expected and wasn’t digging myself into any holes so I tried to hang in there most days. My day-to-day recovery was also much better than I thought. As for the final TT, it’s my personal opinion that, no matter what my condition, I should always do the TT’s “all out”. They are such specific efforts that they need practice and I only have 3-4 chances prior to the Tour.
Q: What opinions / feedback do you have after this initial effort, team related and personally?
LA: The team is a little beat up now with some injuries / illnesses so we needed to have a strong week. To come away with a stage win, and almost a second one, was good for us. This team is really focused on the summer, so that always sits in the backs of the guys minds.
Q: Talk about Victor Hugo Peña, he seemed to be out of it after Stage 2, but then really rallied in Stage 4 to not only get the stage win but to get right back in the overall…
LA: Victor was en fuego (“on fire” – Editor). I’ve never seen him look so strong, lean, and aggressive. He’s a classy rider – he lost a bit of time on Stage 2 behind a small crash and that probably cost him a bit – he had to struggle to make it back up and the race had really started to fly by then. But he stayed focused and came back even stronger in the latter stages. He was upset with me though for edging him in the TT… ha ha!
Q: How’s George (Hincapie) doing these days, health-wise? We’re reading about him having a tough time so far this year, with crashes and general health problems seeming to be his norm, regrettably.
LA: George is having a tough time. There seems to be something wrong that is just hanging around. His power seems to be pretty good but his recovery is off and he doesn’t feel good in general. I’m not sure of the latest plans , but I hope he feels better soon.
Q: Did you have any problems with the Spanish / Euro media? We read a few interviews you did that seemed pretty upbeat and focused mainly on cycling.
LA: No, no real problems at all. The only slight problem is that I was doing media stuff every night and that gets stressful. It’s funny, you’ll have a guy that just stands around and expects a 20 minute interview and will wait till he gets it. On the other hand you have other media outlets who call Jogi – our press manager – and schedule stuff weeks in advance. With the demand these days these are the ones I do and not the others.
There’s just not enough time in the day for every one of them. … I got lots of war questions which are making me more and more uncomfortable. Their position is “Well, you’re the President’s friend, so what can you tell us?..” I suppose at the end of the day athletes should be athletes and not diplomats or politicians. While I’ve told them I hope we can avoid war (who doesn’t want to??), know this: I support the President and our troops 100 percent.
Gonzalez surprised at Reggio victory
2002 Vuelta a Espana champion Aitor Gonzalez said he was surprised he won Saturday’s Tour of Reggio Catabria on Saturday, his first race back since a contract dispute between Fassa Bortolo and Domina Vacanze postponed his season debut.
Gonzalez said he’s still overweight and building his strength for his major goal of the season, the Giro d’Italia.
“This year I didn’t do anything special,” Gonzalez told the Spanish daily AS. “I have been training well, but I am still a little heavy, three to four kilos overweight. When you make your debut, you’re a little afraid because you never know how things will go. But I felt good and I won. It was surprising and pleasing.”
Gonzalez said his season will include Setmana Catalana, Tour of Basque Country and Tour of Romandie but not any of the spring classics. Gonzalez said he’s happy with Fassa Bortolo.
“After the storm, it’s now calm. I didn’t think about winning Saturday, but it was something sweet that I didn’t expect. But I went with the mind to make something happen, because I wanted to give something back to the team after they’ve had so much patience with my case.”
Gonzalez also joked about introducing himself to Lance Armstrong, who told Spanish radio last week he didn’t know Gonzalez very well.
“I will go up to him (at Setmana Catalana) and say, ‘Hi, I am Aitor.’ This isn’t something that worries me much,” Gonzalez said. “To the contrary, it’s in my favor. Perhaps when I go up against him, I will have an advantage and intent to take advantage of this unknown factor. There’s no problem. He’ll know who I am soon enough.”
Jalabert to hit the TV booth
Laurent Jalabert is ready to hit the TV booth for French national television in the Tour de France this July, the French media reported. Jalabert retired at the end of the 2002 season and also penned a deal to help promote LOOK bikes. Jalabert reportedly will be providing race updates from a motorbike during each stage.