The Week That Was...
With months rapidly turning into weeks until the beginning of the 2005 Tour de France, the psychological warfare has already begun with Discovery Channel Director Sportif, Johan Bruyneel, dismissing recent Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner, Alexandre Vinokourov, as a challenger for the overall. Speaking to Sportwerld.be, Bruyneel said, "I haven't forgotten his third placing in the Tour 2003. You can't allow Vino any freedom. He never gives up and will use every opportunity to attack. But I can't see him winning the Tour, as his climbing capabilities are limited. Lance and Ullrich are superior anyway." T-Mobile is expected to head into the race with a triple attack based on Jan Ullrich, last years surprise Andreas Kloden and Vinokourov.
After 17 years in the peloton and a staggering 189 victories, Mario Cipollini has officially retired from the sport. "Announcing my retirement one week before the Giro d'Italia is a painful but honest decision," said Cipollini. "The public will understand. I would have liked to be at the start of the Giro d'Italia in Reggio Calabria looking for the victory again, fighting for the pink jersey... Maybe, an 'old man' like me, who has given a lot to cycling and has received a lot, now has to recognise the right moment to stop. I thank the Liquigas-Bianchi team which has trusted me and deserves all my gratitude. I am honoured to have ended my career as a rider wearing the jersey of such a great team."
Speaking at a special press conference to answer the ensuing questions about his retirement, Cipollini expanded a little about the reasons behind his decision. "I didn't feel up to my usual standard. Two months ago I gave my best to win Milan-San Remo and in the same day I understood that it was time to admit my limits. My mind was still competitive, but I didn't have the legs. I'm really sorry not to take part in the Giro d'Italia, but I think that it's not right to betray the expectations of the supporters, of Liquigas-Bianchi...and, of course, my expectations. I have the winner's attitude and I can't play a secondary role. This decision, even if painful, is like a relief for me: it was getting more and more oppressive because I wanted to be what I'm not any longer."
Liquigas Sport's president Paolo Dal Lago accepted Cipollini's decision and explained that, "We appreciate Cipollini's correctness and professionalism. When Mario says he is not up to it, he is not speaking about opponents, but about himself. There are other athletes who end their careers taking things easy. Such a great champion can't stand to ride if he is not sure of being competitive. We are going to cooperate again because we have the same winning spirit."
Ivano Fanini of the Amore e Vita claims that this is not likely to be the end of Super Mario however as he has a contract to end his career with the small Italian squad. Having begun his career with the team in 1985, Cipollini has apparently pledged to end it with them.
Speaking with tuttobiciweb, Fanini said, "If Mario wants to stop racing, I respect his decision. But he knows that he has to meet us. Our agreement states that in case he defaults on his contract, he will owe us ?600,000. And I don't intend to renounce this."
"If Mario wants to come back and finish his career with us next year, I will be happy to open the doors of the team for him and do everything to prepare a high level squad, built around him. On the other hand, I don't intend to renounce that money: a figure that Cipollini can surely pay."
Lance Armstrong could this year be without one of his key domestiques in the Tour de France due to a nasty training crash in Austin while training with the Discovery Channel team leader. Viatcheslav Ekimov hit a pothole, crashing hard. Initial reports suggest that he has a broken sternum and a broken vertebra.
The injury is expected to keep Eki out of competition for four or five months however Director Sportif, Johan Bruyneel, commented that it would not likely end the Russian?s career. "Slava is not thinking of stopping yet," Bruyneel told Sportwereld.be. "He is as hard as nails. He hopes to be competitive again by the end of the season."
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