Italian great Gino Bartali, famous for his epic duels with countryman Fausto Coppi, suffered a fatal heart attack on May 5 at his home near Florence, Italy.
In the bleak post WWII years of the 1940s and '50s, Italys cycling tifosi (fans) were divided between Bartoli and Coppi, the two great riders of the day. The two Italians transformed the Giro d'Italia, then raced over alpine mountain passes and dirt roads, into the second biggest race next to the Tour de France. Although barrel-chested and strong, Bartali was famous for his climbing abilities and his fans called him the Iron Man. Bartali, born in 1914, debuted as a professional at the 1935 Milan San-Remo race, and retired 19 years later, at age 40, with 170 career victories. Regularly seen at bike races up until his death, Bartalis one regret was never having won the World Professional Championship race.
Among his vaunted numbers:
Armstrong picks Ulrich
It had to start sooner or later. Will it be defending champ Lance Armstrong or 1997 victor Jan Ulrich for the Tour de France this year?
Armstrong took the first stab at deflating the pre-race bluster by saying that he thought a fit Ulrich would win the Tour.
I think that Jan Ullrich is the biggest talent in cycling and if he is fit and in shape I think he is the favorite for the Tour de France, Armstrong said earlier this week while touring a cancer clinic in Munich.
It was unfortunate he was not there last year but I feel confident that he'll feel prepared this year and we'll see, said Armstrong, who shocked the cycling world first by returning from cancer, then by winning the Tour a race in which he never was expected to be able to compete.
Armstrong continued to impress by taking fourth place in a four-man breakaway at the Grand Prix de Gippingen in Switzerland on April 30.
Combined with his strong race at Amstel Gold the previous weekend, Armstrong and team director Johan Bruyneel feel he is right on schedule for the July 1 Tour.
I started a little bit behind but I think in the last three weeks I've made big progress and I like to think that I am in better shape now than I was a year ago, Armstrong said.
Earlier in the week, Armstrong elaborated on his training schedule: I have been going at it pretty hard since January, with three solid months of racing and training. Now, I have two more months to go (before the start of the Tour de France) of hard training and I will be where I need to be."
US teams return from Europe
Two of the strongest U.S. professional teams, Saturn and Mercury, recently returned from successful racing in Europe.
Though not competing in the top World Cup events, each team performed above expectations while gaining valuable racing experience and training a necessity as they look forward one month to the USPRO Championships in Philadelphia in June.
Saturn had good success in the Ringerike Grand Prix, a Norwegian stage race held April 27-May 1, placing Chris Wherry and Barry in the top five in general classification.
Mercury is racing with a split squad, with one group in the U.S., and the other contesting Spanish stage races.
At the four-day Vuelta Ciclista a la Rioja, ending May 1, Henk Vogels won the first stage, duplicating teammate Gord Frasers success a few weeks earlier in the opening stage of the Criterium International. Mercurys Scott Moninger finished 20th overall, and Jesus Zarate won the Metas Volantes (attacking) and Special Sprints classifications at the Rioja.
Mercury is hoping to land an invitation to the Tour of Spain this September, and needs to impress in Europe, which they certainly have done so far.
Back home, Mercury continues to romp proving that they can stand traveling for the tough European competition. Gord Fraser won the Athens Twilight Criterium, April 30, in front of 25,000 cheering spectators. He and teammate Roy Knickman lapped the field.
No go for Marco
Ending slight speculation that he might compete in his home countrys national stage race, Marco Pantani said he wouldnt be racing. His name was on the start list for the Giro d'Italia, which starts May 13.
Its not true, said Pantani, who won the Giro in 1998 and was thrown out while leading the race last year. My name was put down because someone was probably hoping I would.
Pantani spoke to reporters in the Italian city of Ferrara, where he was being questioned as a witness in a doping case involving sports doctor Francesco Conconi. Pantanis name, along with those of several other high-profile cyclists, appeared on Conconis records marked EPO.
In response to questions about his return, Pantani said: I dont know right now when I will return to competition. I will return when my spirit is better. I wont make any promises, because it would be sad not to keep them. Im doing whatever possible to find tranquility and return.
When asked if he would return in time for the Tour de France, which he won in 1998, he answered:
It could happen Im training, although not much because many things have interfered with my life, although I havent left my profession.
Pantani is currently under indictment for allegedly using EPO in 1995, and will face a judge in October.