Thu, Jul 03, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Withdrawals undermine Botero's chances on Tour

ON THEIR BIKES Colombian Telekom teammates Cadel Evans and Paolo Salvoldelli won't be on hand to help the time-trial champion beat Lance Armstrong in France

REUTERS , PARIS

Time-trial world champion and former King of the Mountains Santiago Botero looks, on paper, to be one of the few versatile riders with a chance of upsetting Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France.

The Colombian Telekom rider is the only man to have beaten the four-times Tour champion in a long time trial -- last year in Lorient.

Since the departure of German Jan Ullrich, Telekom have relied on more than one main rider and the German team had five leaders at the start of the season.

But team chief Walter Godefroot has had to cope with two late withdrawals and Botero will not have the support he had expected in the next three weeks on the Tour roads.

Promising Australian Cadel Evans broke his collarbone in May and Italian former Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Salvoldelli pulled out of the Tour because of illness last week.

Botero's closest aide and deputy leader will consequently be Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov, one of the most consistent stage race specialists in recent years but a rider who tends to tire out over three weeks.

Godefroot had declared confidently earlier this season: "We want to make life impossible for Armstrong.

"If he is unbeatable man to man, he will struggle more if he has to fight more than one leader in one team."

But now the Belgian will have to change tactics and his task will not be made easier by Botero's unusual preparation for the Tour.

Godefroot has seen little of his biggest hope in competition this season and will not be able to assess his current form until Saturday's prologue in Paris.

"When he signed with us, Botero insisted on keeping the same preparation as in previous years, that is to stay in Colombia until May and to resume competition at that time, in Spain," Godefroot said.

"It worked in previous years, so we agreed."

Botero was fourth overall last year, eighth in 2001 and seventh in 2000, when he won the King of the Mountains classification.

The Colombian finished third in his return race, the Classica Alcobendas, and fourth in the Tour of Asturias.

But he has made little impact since, leaving Godefroot in the dark.

"I cannot say I know him well. I have hardly seen him race this season and he was sick during the Tour of Germany," Godefroot said.

"My deputy sports director Frans van Loy was with him in the Tour of Catalunya and found him fat. But I'm pretty sure he'll be at the start of the Tour," the Belgian said with a grin.

Godefroot is used to overweight riders as Ullrich usually started the Tour carrying extra kilograms.

"Frans told me Botero was a nice, easy-going guy and very professional too. Everything should work out fine," the Telekom team chief said.

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