Zulle Says “‘Znuff”
– By Gordon Cameron –
The ongoing cash crisis in professional cycling has claimed one ‘name’ scalp over the weekend, and could be about to close out the career of another major star of the ’90s.
Swiss ace Alex Zuelle is reportedly so angry that he has been offered a contract with reduced terms by Team Coast that he has threatened to quit the sport altogether, rather than continue for less money. The bespectacled star had a strong 2002 season winning the Tour of Switzerland overall, and also taking a stage of the Paris-Nice race. Approaching 34, he is no longer the force he was in the Grand Tours, but is still as capable of producing the goods as anyone else on the Coast squad, who collectively had a less than stellar season.
This year’s results suggest he still has some big wins in his legs. It should be possible for such an experienced and capable a rider will find a home for his talents for at least another season.
In the past, Zuelle has finished 2nd in the Tour de France to record-equalling Miguel Indurain in 1995, and to a resurgent Lance Armstrong in 1999. The latter result came just weeks after Zuelle had returned to racing after a ban for his part in the 1998 Festina debacle – a situation, which at the time, looked like ending his career. He also won the Vuelta Espana in 1996 and 1997.
A number of other victories eluded him for various reasons including bad luck, illness and his almost total inability to avoid crashing at key moments. Of the 7′ 37″ deficit to Armstrong in 1999, over 6 and a half minutes were lost when he fell on the Passage du Gois causeway, effectively ending his victory hopes on the first weekend of that race.
Former French champion Francois Simon has decided to quit, though. He explained he was doing so after being unable to find a team for 2003. With many teams downsizing, and sponsors still being sought, this is a situation which we can expect to see more of in future if the world’s economies don’t show an upturn. Unimpressed with his recent results, current sponsors Bonjour declined to offer Simon a home for 2003.
Francois was the youngest of the legendary Simon brothers, a quartet of racers who stamped their personalities on French cycling over the last 25 years. Despite winning a Giro d’ Italia stage, and bravely holding the maillot jaune in the 2001 Tour de France, he was unable to emulate the results of his elder brothers, all of whom managed a stage win in the Tour.