Italy’s 1998 Tour de France champion Marco Pantani extended a warm welcome to two-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong on March 6, when he declared he’d like to teach the Texan a lesson in this week’s Tour of Murcia. The race in Spain runs March 7-11.
Pantani, who’s currently enmeshed in a series of judicial investigations in Italy over doping offences, pits his wits against Armstrong and the 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich in this week’s 640km race.
While both Armstrong and Ullrich are making their seasonal debuts, 31-year-old Pantani will be seeking to put the disappointment of last week’s Tour of Valencia behind him where bronchitis forced him out before the fourth stage.
Pantani, who also took the 1998 Tour of Italy crown, brushed aside his legal troubles to focus on sporting matters with an attack on his American rival, with whom he had a war of words during last year’s Tour de France when he accused the Texan of being patronizing.
“This year I’d love a duel with Armstrong so I can teach him a lesson, I really don’t like that American way of his,” said Pantani.
The Italian’s outburst highlights the contrast between the two. Pantani’s Latin attitude pushing him to heroic feats of athleticism in the mountains, Armstrong remaining calm in pursuit of a steady game plan.
Olympic champion Ullrich, who was runner-up to both Pantani in 1998 and Armstrong last year, was due to ride in last week’s Tour of Valencia but pulled out in favor of beginning his season with a head to head with Armstrong. “Murcia has all the ingredients of a good stage race including mountains and time-trials,” commented Armstrong.
The Tour of Murcia takes in nine mountains, two of which are Category 1, before ending in a time-trial through the streets of Murcia on Sunday.
Wednesday: Murcia – Aguilas (146.9 km)
Thursday: Ceuti – Jumilla (162.3 km)
Friday: Cieza – Archena (152.4 km)
Saturday: Alcantarilla – Aledo (166.2 km)
Sunday: Murcia – Murcia (time-trial 12.3 km)
Copyright AFP 2001