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88th Ronde van Vlaanderen Preview: The Contenders
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 4/3/2004
88th Ronde van Vlaanderen Preview: The Contenders

Update - The Daily Peloton's Marianne Werz O'Brien is in Belgium and sends us this brief report for Saturday:

Paolo Bettini was out doing some "recon" work for Flanders today - the cyclo tourists with Baxter Sporting Tours caught up with him (or vice versa!) at the base of Koppenburg.

It had rained and the cobbles were like grease. Part way up the Koppenberg, with the cyclo tourists having one helluva time keeping upright, Bettini was forced off his bike and proceeded to walk the remainder when it became clear that biking was just not an option!

He was in good humour, joking with the spectators who were giving him a good-hearted ribbing about walking the climb!

As Frans Massens says below, it's the riders who make the game. Here's news from Flanders teams and riders, and the provisional startlist, compiled from official team information and the race startlist.

Il Grillo Paolo Bettini of Quickstep-Davitamon will put himself at the service of teammate Johan Museeuw, who stands to be the only man to win four editions of the Ronde van Vlaanderen this weekend. There are six World Cup wins between Il Grillo and the Lion of Flanders. Paolo Bettini is in form (he has already won two stages and the final overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, as well as a stage at the Tour Méditerranéen), and says, "This race always escaped me for various reasons.... I want to offer all my chances for Johan Museeuw. Next time, I will ride for myself."

Chocolade Jacques' Dave Bruylandts may take a pass on Sunday's race after a very close call with a minibus while training. He and his girlfriend were both injured, though Dave fared better than she did. Bruylandts has a bit of road rash, but Femke Melis, who rides for Benelux, suffered a head wound. Both spent a night in the hospital for observation.

The "mountain king" of Three Days of De Panne, Vlaanderen T-Interim's Frederik Willems, will be riding with the De Panne team at Flanders. He handily beat Johan Van Summeren and Sébastien Rosseler of Relax Bodysol in the mountains competition, with 35 points to Van Summeren's 19 and Rosseler's 7.

Team CSC was happy to use the Three Days of De Panne as a warmup for Sunday's Tour. Team manager Alain Gallopin said, "This has been a good exercise ahead of Sunday's Tour of Flanders and everyone seems ready for the task."

World Champion Igor Astarloa of Cofidis looks to be recovered from the auto accident he was involved in last week and will be taking the start line at Brugge.

The attitude at Gerolsteiner is one of "defensive optimism," according to boss Christian Henn. "The entire crew is in very good form this spring and showed this at the Three Days of De Panne," with a stage win and second overall by Danilo Hondo. "Three or four of us surely have the experience and the potential to play a good role, even if none of us is a 'hot candidate' for the podium."

Alessio-Bianchi's Michael Skelde, who crashed during the first stage of the Three Days in La Panne is still hospitalized at the Zottegem hospital where doctors, in addition to the skull fracture, have also diagnosed a small haematoma which is now in the absorption phase. Meanwhile, his teammates, minus Andrea Tafi, will be riding the cobbles this weekend in Belgium. Tafi has a fever caused by a cyst, and although he trained today has had to stop until he is recovered.

The Fassa Bortolo team held a news conference Friday in Belgium and an upbeat Frank Vandenbroucke said, "My physical condition is sure better than in previous years. I have arrived for this race without difficulties. I am not sick and I have not fallen; this will clearly be the race where I have a real possibility of succeeding. The team and my teammates give me a sense of calmness, and Ferreti's confidence in us is very stimulating; I want to do well for them."

"I have told Pippo Pozzato to race here without wasting energy; the experience to be able to do well is acquired by a knowledge of the field."

Filippo Pozzato commented, "The team and I see Frank in good condition with a strong intention to do well. Therefore we will all will try to do everything possible to facilitate a win. It is very nice that he regards me highly, but I still need experience to do well." The team rode the final 80 kilometers of the race course today.

Team leader Vandenbroucke also looks good to Rabobank's Erik Dekker (second at the Tour of Flanders in 2001), who says VDB is his favorite for the race.

Domina Vacanze's startlist will not include Mario Cipollini. He has decided to forego this northern Classic as well as Gent-Wevelgem.

Team Saeco's Flanders team will be essentially the same as their teams were for La Panne, GP E3 Harelbeke and the Brabantse Pijl - Dario Pieri, Gabriele Balducci, Giosuè Bonomi, Antonio Bucciero, Salvatore Commesso, Paolo Fornaciari, Nicola Gavazzi and Jorg Ludewig, but with the inclusion of Mirko Celestino replacing Nicola Gavazzi. Celestino is convinced that he can do well at Flanders after an impressive start to the year.

"Self belief is the most important element if you want to do your best in a race like the Tour of Flanders," said Team Saeco directeur sportif Guido Bontempi earlier this week. "Mirko is in great form and loves this kind of race, so there is no reason why he can't be one of the main contenders."

Danilo Di Luca will not ride the Tour of Flanders - after a good ride at the Criterium International in France on the weekend, Di Luca will ride the Tour of the Basque Country in Spain before attacking the Ardennes classics: Amstel Gold, Fleche-Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

The Rabobank team have been training this week on the Flanders course, with the aid of team doctor Geert Leinders, who is intimately familiar with all these roads. Sports director Frans Massen is very familiar as well, coming in second behind Johan Museeuw in the 1993 edition of this race.

Massen said, "I have frequently ridden the Tour of Flanders. The route since then, however, has changed somewhat. Is it more difficult? It is just as difficult. There are differences - in my time the cobblestones were much worse. Now almost all the stones have been re-laid well. Yesterday I joked with Boogerd that in earlier days it was more difficult, but now that it is easy. The race is always cumbersome; it is the riders who make the game."

Oscar Freire would love to win Sunday's race, but says, "With Frans Maasen, the sporting director, I rode the course last week between kilometers 100 and 200. By evening, I had already forgotten half. I hope to make myself useful to Marc Wauters."

US Postal-Berry Floor is buoyed by George Hincapie's overall success yesterday at the Three Days of De Panne. DS Dirk Demol says to have a chance in Flanders, the team around Hincapie must be strong. "I think our team is much stronger than in the past," said Demol. "Max called to say he trained six hours on Sunday's course and said 'tell him I'm ready for Sunday.' So with George and Max at the level from a few weeks ago, plus Eki, Devolder, Cruz, Joachim, Pavel and likely Ryder, we should be ready."

Provisional Startlist

Serge Baguet
Niko Eeckhout
Leif Hoste
Thierry Marichal
Leon Van Bon
Peter Van Petegem (will wear backnumber 1)
Wim Vansevenant
Aart Vierhouten

Chocolade Jacques - Wincor-Nixdorf - Passage Fitness
Dave Bruylandts
Bert Hiemstra
Jans Koerts
Gerben Löwik
Chris Peers
Jan Van Velzen
Geert Verheyen
Bart Voskamp

Landbouwkrediet - Colnago
Ludo Dierckxsens
Jacky Durand
Geert Van Bondt
Johan Verstrepen
Bert de Waele
Ludovic Capelle
Lorenzo Bernucci
Marc Streel
Alternates: Tomas Vaitkus, Yuri Metlushenko

Mr. Bookmaker - Palmans - Collstrop
Geert Omloop
Andy De Smet
Roger Hammond
Jeremy Hunt
Jo Planckaert
Erwin Thijs
Kristof Trouvé
Michel Van Haecke

Quickstep - Davitamon
Frédéric Amorison
Paolo Bettini
Lazlo Bodrogi
Tom Boonen
David Bramati
Wilfried Cretskens
Pedro Horrillo
Kevin Hulsmans
Servais Knaven
Johan Museeuw
Nick Nuyens
Luca Paolini

Vlaanderen T-Interim
Kuyckx Jan
Van Huffel Wim
Willems Frederik
Gusev Vladimir
Demeyere Geoffrey
Schoonacker Jehudi
De Spiegelaere Bart
Van Speybroeck Wesley
Van Mechelen Wouter

Fabrizio Guidi (Ita)
Frank Hoj (Den)
Jakob Pill (Den)
Lars Michaelsen (Den)
Michele Bartoli (Ita)
Thomas Eriksen (Den)
Tristan Hoffman (Ned)
Max Sciandri (Gbr)

Euskaltel - Euskadi
Mikel Artetxe
Koldo Fernández de Larrea
Markel Irizar
Iñigo Landaluze
Egoi Martínez
Aketza Peña
Aitor Sillóniz
Josu Sillóniz

Liberty Seguros
Rene Andrle (Tsj)
Darius Baranowski (Pol)
Carlos Barredo (Spa)
Allan Davis (Aus)
Rafael Diaz (Spa)
Javier Ramirez (Spa)
Luis Sanchez (Spa)
Christian Vandevelde (Vst)

Relax - Bodysol
Wim de Vocht
Sebastien Rosseler
Bart Dockx
Cabre Xavier Florencio
Nico Mattan
Bert Roesems
Preben Van Hecke
James Vanlandschoot
Johan Vansummeren

Ag2r Prevoyance
Berges Stéphane
Brochard Laurent
Flickinger Andy
Kirsipuu Jaan
Krivtsov Yuriy
Nazon Jean-Patrick
Putsep Erki
Scanlon Mark

Igor Astarloa
Jimmy Casper
Jimmy Engoulvent
Peter Farazijn
Stuart O’Grady
Staf Scheirlinckx
Matthew White
Baden Cooke (Aus)
David Derepas (Fra)
Bernhard Eisel (Oos)
Frédéric Guesdon (Fra)
Christophe Mengin (Fra)
Francois Mourey (Fra)
Fabien Sanchez (Fra)
Matthew Wilson (Aus)

Robert Forster (Dui)
Danilo Hondo (Dui)
Sebastian Lang (Dui)
Olaf Pollack (Dui)
Marco Serpellini (Ita)
Peter Wrolich (Oos)
Markus Zberg (Zwi)
Michael Rich

T-Mobile Team
Mario Aerts (Bel)
Rolf Aldag (Ger)
Sergej Iwanow (Rus)
Andreas Klier (Ger)
Daniele Nardello (Ita)
Jan Schaffrath (Ger)
Stephan Schreck (Ger)
Steffen Wesemann (Ger)

Alessio Bianchi 
Magnus Backsted
Fabio Baldato
Martin Hvastija
Marcus Ljungquist
Cristian Moreni
Scott Sunderland

Fassa Bortolo
Fabian Cancellara (Zwi)
Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa)
Kim Kirchen (Lux)
Alberto Ongarato (Ita)
Roberto Petito (Ita)
Filippo Pozzato (Ita)
Fabio Sacchi (Ita)
Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel)

Alessandro Ballan
GianLuca Bortolami
Paolo Bossoni
Matteo Carrara
Alessandro Cortinovis
Andrej Hauptmann
Luciano Pagliarini
Romans Vainsteins

Team Saeco
Dario Pieri
Gabriele Balducci
Giosuè Bonomi
Antonio Bucciero
Salvatore Commesso
Paolo Fornaciari
Mirko Celestino
Jorg Ludewig

Domina Vacanza
Massimiliano Moors
David Clinger (USA)
Andris Nauduzs (Let)
Alexander Bajenov (Rus)
Gian Matteo Fagnini
Alexander Kolobnev (Rus)
Giunti Giunta
Gabriel Colombo

Oscar Freire
Michael Boogerd
Erik Dekker
Marc Wauters
Maarten den Bakker
Karsten Kroon
Steven de Jongh
Roy Sentjens

Michael Albasini
Oscar Camenzind
Martin Elmiger
Bert Grabsch
Nicolas Jalabert
Uros Murn
Gregory Rast
Alexandre Usov

US Postal Service-Berry Floor
Max van Heeswijk
George Hincapie
Viatcheslav Ekimov
Stijn Devolder
Antonio Cruz
Benoit Joachim
Pavel Padrnos
Ryder Hesjedal

Illes Balears - Banesto
Daniel Becke
Toni Colom
Isaac Gálvez
Chente García
Pablo Lastras
José Antonio López Gil
Steffen Radochia
Vicente Reynés

Crédit Agricole
Stéphane Auge (Fra)
Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra)
Sébastien Hinault (Fra)
Thor Hushovd (Nor)
Lilian Jegou (Fra)
Andrei Kasjeskin (Kaz)
Benoit Salmon (Fra)
Bradley Wiggins (Gbr)

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