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World Cup leader Peter Van Petegem is looking to increase his lead in the competition tomorrow in Hamburg.
Since Tyler Hamilton's success in Liege Bastogne Liege three months ago the classics hard men have been involved in the major Tours; tomorrow sees their chance to return to the races they love - the single day ultra long, very fast, classic one day event.
Provided Van Petegem achieves a reasonable result he should however still lead the World cup standings after tomorrow's race - Hamilton (4th), Vinokourov (5th), Vandenbroucke (7th) and another Ivanov (9th), are not riding so only Michael Boogerd (2nd, at 140 points) Dario Pieri (3rd at 117) and Bettini (6th at 100pts) could take his place, but only if Van Petegem fails to score.
Van Petegem is well aware that a good result tomorrow is essential if he wants to win the jersey outright -
"For me, Hamburg is most the important of the three next rounds of the World Cup. It is that where I can take points most easily. And if I can fight for a few points in Saint-Sébastien and Zurich, so much the better.
"Amongst my main rivals tomorrow are Michael Boogerd who is second on the general classification, but I think that Boogerd will be aiming, following the example Hamilton and of Vinokourov, more for a result in San Sebastian and Zurich. Bettini, Museeuw and Boonen will be very strong competition and the entire Quick Step team is looking very good at the moment. However the characteristic of Hamburg, it is that its course - undoubtedly the easiest in the World Cup series - makes it a very open race. I know that Zabel and Ullrich will be very motivated and that Bartoli, proved in the TRW that it he is in great form. Consequently, it will be necessary me to remain vigilant!"
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Meanwhile Jan Ullrich's remarkable career turnaround after a career-threatening injury and a doping ban for taking Ecstasy during last year to a courageous and sporting ride to hassle Armstrong all the way to Paris will ensure that the usual one million strong crowds are even more vocal in their support than usual.
"Those who know me know that I'm always fired up after the tour. I'm certainly not coming just to take part," said the Bianchi rider, who has targeted the ITT World Championships in Hamilton later on in the year as his season target. Ullrich has also remained very tight lipped about speculation that he will return to Telekom next season. His work schedule is such that he may well intend to get as much from this season as possible before making any decisions.
Erik Zabel, who won the race two years ago, knows that not only will his team have to work extremely hard to keep the race together but also he has many rivals.
"Of the five remaining World Cup races, this is my favourite. Having said that, I know that there are about 20 riders who can win and I have to keep an eye on all of them."
”A small group could also break away," said Zabel. "It wouldn't be the first time that happened in Hamburg.”
Since our earlier article there have been a few changes to the bookies' favourites. Bettini moves up to be number one favourite, a lot of late money riding on George Hincapie has seen his odds shorten to 12-1, while from nowhere following his dramatic success in Tour du Région Wallonne, Julian Dean odds shorten to 14.00-1. Ironically Michelle Bartoli, who also had a brilliant race and was pipped from overall by a placings judgement, dips down to 11.00-1.
Latest Bookmakers Odds
BETTINI Paolo (ITA - QSD) 5.5
PETACCHI Alessandro (ITA - FAS) 6.00
ZABEL Erik (GER - TEL) 8.00
MUSEEUW Johan (BEL - QSD) 9.00
VAN PETEGEM Peter (BEL - LOT) 10.00
BARTOLI Michele (ITA - FAS) 11.00
McEWEN Robbie (AUS - LOT) 11.00
ULLRICH Jan (GER - TBI) 12.00
HINCAPIE George (USA - USP) 12.00
DEAN Julian (NZL - CSC) 14.00
World Cup Rankings
1 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Domo 200 pts
2 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank 140
3 Dario Pieri (Ita) Saeco 117
4 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC 100
5 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom 100
6 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Davitamon 100
7 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) Quick Step-Davitamon 92
8 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Saeco 91
9 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Fassa Bortolo 79
10 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Saeco 74
11 Vjatceslav Ekimov (Rus) US Postal Service - Berry Fl 74