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Europe this week have been focusing almost solely on
Lecce, Italy where the Giro d'Italia started yesterday. Team line-ups have been completed and confirmed throughout the week with Lotto-Domo and Fasso Bartolo being two of the last. Poor old Kelme though, such are the injuries plaguing their squad that they've only been able to line up with just eight riders. Making history is the CCC Polsat team - the first ever Polish Professional team to compete in the race headed by Pavel Tonkov - anybody remember him? Last years winner Paolo Salvodelli, not riding this year because of Team Telekom's focus on the Tour de France, is tipping either Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) or Aitor Gonzalez (Fasso Bartolo) to come out on top in three weeks time with Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola) his third choice just behind these two. Mr. Simoni, who is your favorite for this years Giro? "If I have to nominate one person, I'd think of Aitor Gonzalez". And Mr. Gonzalez, I presume Simoni is your favourite? "The Italians don't frighten me, because since last year I know that I don't have to be frightened of anybody if I am good". Fighting talk indeed. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>
One rider nobody should forget about is a certain Marco Pantani. Not the rider he once was but he's been steadily preparing with team mate Daniel Clavero in
Spain for another assault on his home tour in
Italy. A rider clearly not past his best though is The Lion King himself - Super Mario Cipollini. As if 6 victories in last years Giro were not enough, his goal this year is to break the record of Alfredo Binda's for all time stage wins in the event. Cipollini currently stands on 40 victories - one behind the Italian Legend. "To equal and perhaps beat the record of Binda really lifts me up."
In light of several un-sportsmanship events in recent Giro's, this year the organisers have made all riders undergo two hematocrit tests before the first kilometers have been ridden. So far, so good.
English speaking interests are quite high this year with six Australians in the race, three Brits and one American: Robbie McEwen and Nick Gates (Lotto-Domo), Scott Sunderland (Team Fakta - Pata Chips), Scott Davis (Once), Graeme Brown and Brett Lancaster (Ceramiche Panaria), Julian Winn (Team Fakta - Pata Chips), Charlie Wegelius (De Nardi - Colpack), Bradley Wiggins (FDJeux.com) and Guido Trenti (Fassa Bartolo).
Sunderland has found himself to be in some good form of late and says the "head is good, the morale is high, my body feels strong and I've come into late form". Meanwhile, ex Australian Sprinter Stephan Pate has been jailed on 11 charges including assaulting his wife on four occasions between December 02 and February 03.
One rider not taking part in the Giro is Tyler Hamilton. Following his victory last Sunday in the Tour of Romandy he said, "This is really fantastic. The Tour of Romandy and Liege-Bastonge-Liege have been a big objective all spring. To win both is incredible. It's beyond words". And