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“Big Four” Build Up to The Tour

Big Four Build Up to The Tour

Armstrong, Ullrich, Pantani and Simoni all have active Spring campaigns planned as part of their build up to the Tour, but none yet have gone according to plan. Our correspondent from Italy Michele Tomasi translated this article from la Gazzetta della Sport.

They were ready to meet the others at Murcia, as good enemies, for the normal ballet of looks and quarrelsome promises. Simoni wished to be at Sanremo to start his chase of the Giro and Tour. But nothing.

Until now, the programs, for Armstrong, Ullrich, Pantani and Simoni have not shaped up as planned. In fact the “Pirata”, the most irregular rider last year, has so far been the most active of the “big four”. Last year, at this time, he collected many retreats, for many problems, but now in spite of a pain at one leg from the fall in Milano-Torino 1995, he continues to run. That means that in the wait to find the “pirata”, he pedals in the direction of the month of classics: he started at Ruta del Sol in February, then ran Murcia and Sanremo, with one only abandonment at the Almeira, due to the bad weather. At the “classicissima” finally he saw again Armstrong, who called him “elefantino” (little elephant). And which Pantani called Armstrong a “man which talks as a cartoon”.

The 2 men will cross wheels again Saturday and Sunday at Criterium International. After which the American will run Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem for his team-mate Hincapie, he will do his Ride for the Roses in Texas, Vuelta de Aragona to arrive at Amstel in about the same condition as last year, when he battled with Dekker for the victory. After suffering from an early season intestinal virus and a cold, monsieur “le Tour” at Sanremo was with the leader group, a bit ahead of Pantani, as he takes big steps to attack the 4th Tour. Pantani’s destiny will be decided next month: at Fleche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, then the Giro and hopefully an invitation to the Tour, which left him at home last year.

Announced at Valenciana, sure at Murcia, the german Jan Ullrich has been seen in January at Tour du Qatar and then disappeared. It seems which he will return to the races at Circuit of Sarthe (9-12 april), after his left knee pain has receeded.

And Gilberto Simoni, the winner of last Giro d’Italia, planned in the winter to be at Tirreno-Adriatico and after at Sanremo to help his team-mate Di Luca. He didn’t run either, due to lack of early seaon conditioning, which after Trofeo Laigueglia and Giro di Liguria was more evident. He returned to races this week at Settimana Catalana (he fell at 1st stage), with many kms in his legs for the inspection at the stages of next Giro. He will run Gp Indurain, Paesi Baschi, Gp Primavera, Fleche Vallone, Liegi, Giro del Trentino and Romandia. He knows that to win again is more difficult than to win the first time. And that the train to France doesn’t waits for latecomers.

Source: Gazzetta dello Sport
Translated by Michele Tomasi

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