Merckx votes Lance, other shorts

Eddy Merckx has ignored the valid claims of Damiano Cunego, amongst others, to nominate Lance Armstr

Eddy Merckx has ignored the valid claims of Damiano Cunego, amongst others, to nominate Lance Armstr

– Eddy Merckx has given Lance Armstrong his vote as the rider of the 2004 season. In an interview with Flandrian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the Cannibal, a close friend of Armstrong’s, declared: “There can be no hesitation about who was the top rider in 2004. Of course it was Lance Armstrong, who, as of July, holds the record for the number of victories in the Tour de France.” Merckx went on to name the remaining four riders who make up his top five performers in 2004. They are, in descending order, Oscar Freire, Paolo Bettini, Damiano Cunego and Juan Antonio Flecha. – Ivan Basso on Wednesday claimed that his home town of Varese’s bid to host the 2008 world championships was let down by an undemanding course. Varese, a provincial town situated close to the Swiss border in the north-west of Italy, faces opposition from Ireland and Holland to stage the 2008 event. Basso commented of the proposed 15km road race circuit, whose highlight is the 3km Ronchi climb: “Although the Ronchi would be climbed 17 times, there would be no big gaps created, even though in parts the gradient is 12%. This course could only throw up an interesting race if the riders make it very fast. The Torricelle in Verona in 2004 was harder as a climb yet Oscar Freire and Erik Zabel ended up fighting it out in a sprint: the race wasn’t fast enough to split the peloton apart.” Basso, whose future with the CSC team is now confirmed, said that he will rest for a further three weeks before recommencing training for the 2005 season. – A Lampre source today told procycling that, contrary to widespread reports, Caffita is yet to be confirmed as the team’s co-sponsor in 2005. Lampre boss Emmanuele Galbusera is apparently in talks with former Saeco owner Sergio Zappella with a view to prolonging Zappella’s association with cycling through the name of another of his companies. Among these are several interests Zappella retains in the Brazilian coffee trade. Zappella recently sold his controlling interest in coffee machine manufacturer Saeco to a large French investment company. Despite uncertainty about the team’s identity, its composition is beginning to take shape. Sixteen riders are arriving from Saeco, including world number one Damiano Cunego, Gilberto Simoni, Euvgeny Petrov and Dario Pieri. Giuliano Figueras and Alessandro Bertolini had preliminary agreements to join Saeco in 2005 but could now be back on the market. Gerrit Glomser and Juan Fuentes, both with Saeco in 2004, are also in limbo. Of the former Saeco technical staff, Claudio Corti comes in as manager alongside Lampre chief Giuseppe Saronni, while Guido Bontempi and Giuseppe Martinelli have been handed directeur sportif roles. From the existing Lampre structure, Saronni and directeur sportifs Maurizio Piovani and Fabrizio Bontempi look set to remain. The team will ride on Cannondale bikes.