Ullrich, Garzelli and Armstrong rolled quietly over the first day finish line of the Tour of Murcia, comfortably midfield, but chaos hit the front of the pack.
While Austrian Werner Riebenbauer took the stage, Lotto rider Tayeb Braikia hit the barriers during the sprint and crashed back into the lead riders. In the ensuing carnage he came out scuffed but unsnapped. British USPS rider Jamie burrows was less fortunate, breaking his wrist as he got caught in the pile up.
Pantani was lucky to miss the crash and rolled in in 15th place. Despite pulling out of last weeks Valencia stage race with apparent ‘bronchitis’ he has already been throwing down gauntlets to Armstrong, declaring “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,”.
Meanwhile Ullrich and Armstrong are concentrating on a steady start to the season rather than the ‘Pirate’s’ sword rattling style. Ullrich has already talked to German newspaper “Die Welt”, saying, “I’ll worry about the Armstrong topic when the time comes. At the moment, it isn’t. Likewise, I am a minor topic for Lance at the moment. We are both preparing for the Tour de France. There I think, everyone will have enough to do.” Lance also seems untroubled by any desire to go head to head with Pantani or anyone else, concentrating entirely on his own form, using his personal website to declare “I feel really, really good, better than this time last year,” “I’ve never been off the bike and I’ve kept my weight down as well.”
So no excitement pending from the big men but stay tuned for all the worthwhile news from the season openers, including the Paris – Nice which starts this week.