What's Cool In Road Cycling

Tuesday’s Euro-Trash

And there’s plenty of it. Good news for the iBanesto riders who were on their way to the local job centre; bad news for a young Brit on the up; Levi fixes up another year with the Rabo’ boys, and Michele Bartoli takes the huff ……… again.

iBanesto.com extend their overdraft
In a surprise move, Spanish bank iBanesto.com have extended their commitment to cycling, having said they were ditching their hugely successful team at the season’s end. In doing so they’ve secured the future of a proposed Balearic Islands’ backed squad for 2004. Looks like the salesmanship of Echavarri and Unzue worked like a charm, and a lot of potentially jobless Spanish pros will still have a home.

The Balearic government will fund the team for 3 years, with iBanesto hanging on for 1 year as a co-sponsor. So the whole “where the hell do we get money from?” cycle can begin again on a less panicked scale next autumn. The name looks like being Islas Baleares Banesto, and they’ll be focussing more attention on races in northern Europe, aiming to get lots more Germans and Scandanavians to go and strut their holiday stuff where the sun shines a bit more often.

When is an Italian not an Italian?
When he’s a pretty p***ed off cycling demi-God. Giro di Lombardia winner Michele Bartoli, variously described this season as “washed-up” and “fading” by a number of so-called cycling experts, has indicated that he might get himself a new passport, flag and national anthem if Franco Ballerini forgets about him for next year’s worlds in Verona.

The ‘Light Warrior’ was so upset at being excluded from the Squadra Azzuri for the trip to Hamilton that he’s been making all the right noises about how the Belgians at least have respect for his abilities, and he might think about changing his nationality. Sounds more likely that Miki is making it 100% concrete that he’ll never get back into the famous blue jersey of the Italian team ever again.

But think about it seriously. If you were selecting the Belgian team, and were offered the huffy, 30-something Bartoli, winner of a paltry 7 World Cup races, you’d never pick him over any of Belgium’s miniscule number of major players, would you? Would you?

Cycling to meet soccer on next year’s Vuelta
Looks like we could have a fascinating situation in the 2004 Vuelta if Aitor Gonzalez is fit and participating. It’s just been confirmed that a time-trial will finish in the hugely impressive, and world-famous, Camp Nou – the home of soccer giants FC Barcelona.

Those with a decent memory will recall that Aitor endeared himself to a sizeable percentage of the Spanish population by donning the famous white shirt of Barca’s bitter rivals Real Madrid when he clinched the overall win in Real’s Bernabeu stadium on the last day of Vuelta 2002.

But there’s an awful lot of people in Spain who, quite frankly, hate Real. Aitor might get one hell of a reception, and not the one he hopes for if Barca’s fans turn out to give him a ‘warm welcome’! Could be a case of “See ya, Aitor! Wouldn’t wanna be ya!!”

Bloody mess for Charly Wegelius
Young British pro Charly Wegelius failed to start the season-ending Tour of Lombardy after a high blood count on Saturday. The former Mapei rider, now with De Nardi-Colpack, will be forced to sit out the next 2 weeks, and must submit himself for tests at the UCI HQ in Switzerland. Charley has pointed those questioning his honesty to check his background with former Mapei doctor, Aldo Sassi, who should be able to clear his name.

De Nardi say that Wegelius suffers from the after-effects of a motorcycle crash a number of years ago which resulted in his spleen being removed. It’s important to say Charley hasn’t tested positive, and hopefully things will be cleared up so he can resume fit and well next season.

Ljungskog continues her domination of women’s racing
Swedish superstar Susanne Ljungskog has finished the year on top of the women’s rankings, helped by consistent brilliance and a successful defence of her Worlds’ Road title.

Second-placed Mirjam Melchers of Holland closed in a little, and Nicole Cooke is up to 4th. But much like the mens’ game, we may be seeing a shift in power from the traditional cycling nations. As well as having a Swedish number 1, there are 4 Aussies (Carrigan, Gilmore, Wood and Gollan) in the top 20 which is currently rounded out by leading US rider Dede Demet-Barry.

Levi still a Rabobank customer
Levi Leipheimer has confirmed that he’ll stay with powerhouse Dutch squad Rabobank through 2004. Despite an injury-hit season where accidents and injuries stopped him fulfilling his aims, the paymasters are obviously happy that Levi can still produce the goods, and have offered another year. A good finish to the Vuelta showed that the American can still get up there and do a job, as long as he stays on the bike and not on the tarmac.

Garzelli to breathe a little easier
Not only is the end of the season the time for signing new contracts, it’s also the time for finally getting around to those irritating little tasks that non-bike riders take for granted. For example, going on holiday, getting married, and having a beer once in a while. Saunier-Duval’s superstar Stefano Garzelli is taking the fun just one step too far, and is getting his tonsils out, the crazy rock’n’roll guy.

Tonsil trouble got the better of our Stef’ when he struggled in the heat of the Tour de France back in July, and getting things sorted now should mean he’ll be back in peak form to challenge Gibi Simoni when the Giro kicks off next May.

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