When two-time Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong arrived for the start of the Vuelta a Murcia, he and certain Tour rivals Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani were racing not so much for victory, but for conditioning as they build toward their showdown in July.
While Armstrong was building his fitness, he also mended his relationship with 1998 Tour winner, Marco Pantani. During last year's Tour, Pantani and Armstrong had engaged in a war of words following Pantani's stage victory at Mont Ventoux.
"A few nights ago we sat down face-to-face and ironed out our differences. There is a lot of mutual respect and admiration there and so it was a good thing." The meeting went so well, in fact, Pantani said he would donate one of his pink leader's jerseys from the Giro d'Italia for a silent auction benefitting Armstrong's cancer foundation.
"The rivalry lives but now it's only on the bike it's a sporting one only," Armstrong said. The frost on another piece of peloton drama Armstrong's grudge with former teammate and confidant, Kevin Livingston may be thawing.
In an interview with German publication Frankfurter Allgemeine, Armstrong indicated that he understands the decision made by Livingston to join up with rival Jan Ullrich and Team Telekom following Livingston's fall-out with the now-defunct Linda McCartney squad.
"(Livingston) clearly got into a situation where he was being taken for a ride, and was facing an abyss. If he had gone directly from U.S. Postal to Telekom and Ullrich, that would have been different," he said.
Virenque's ban reduce, but not by much
GENEVA (AP) - Richard Virenque's nine-month ban for taking performance-enhancing drugs during the 1998 Tour de France was upheld Monday but will end two months early.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday cited the "gravity of his offense.'' But Matthieu Reeb, secretary general of the CAS, told The Associated Press that the French cyclist had begun serving his suspension before the start of his ban in February.
The court said the ban will end Aug. 14 instead of Oct. 30.
Reeb said Virenque had been informed of the decision Monday through his lawyer.
The Swiss cycling federation announced in December it would suspend Virenque who is a French citizen but lives in Switzerland and holds a Swiss cycling license starting February 2001. The decision would have sidelined him for an entire season.
But under the International Cycling Union rules in effect at the time of the offense in 1998, the ban should have started earlier, during the winter months when cyclists do not race, CAS said. Since then, UCI rules have gotten stricter and winter months no longer count in a suspension.
CAS also said Virenque had already served a first suspension when the Festina team was excluded from the last two weeks of the Tour de France in 1998.
The court also took into consideration the one-month suspension imposed in February 1999 by Polti, Virenque's employers at the time.
The Festina team was ejected from the 1998 Tour after a stash of illicit products, including the performance-enhancing EPO, was found in a team car.
Virenque in December was cleared by a French court of charges that he helped supply drugs to his Festina teammates in the Tour de France. He had persistently denied having used banned substances until the trial.
Eight other people, including four former Festina officials, were convicted on similar charges.
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