By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Cornuda, Italy
The day after the Primavera Rosa on a cloudy Palm Sunday in Veneto, Italy, the Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan women's cycling team presented its squad for 2005, and Cyclingnews was there. With two Anglophone leaders in Nicole Cooke and Rochelle Gilmore, Maurizio Fabretto's Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan squad for '05 is a horse of a different colour. Fabretto declared, "This team has gotten better every year over the ten years we have done it and we believe that 2005 will be no exception."
As she is expecting her first child this year, team stalwart and 1998 World Champ Diana Ziliute is sitting out the 2005 season. The petite 28 year-old is over her disappointment of being excluded from the Lithuanian team for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and is already planning a big comeback in 2006.
Runner-up in the Primavera Rosa, Nicole Cooke, is beginning her fifth racing season on an Italian team and the 21 year old Welshwoman seems to thrive in La Bella Italia. We asked "La Cooke" what her 2005 goals were and she related that, "Certainly to defend my Giro d'Italia title is the main one, and I want to have a good spring campaign as well, in races like Flèche Wallonne and Tour of Flanders."
Cooke's housemate in Italy is fellow Anglophone, Rochelle Gilmore of Stanwell Tops (NSW), Australia. "La Gilmore" is coming back to Fabretto's team and Italian racing after a season in S.A.T.S., and although her Italian may be a bit rusty, the speedy 23 year-old sprinter looks like she's on her way to a breakthrough season in 2005. Already winner of the first round of the Women's World Cup in Geelong, Australia, Rochelle told Cyclingnews, "I'm happy to be back in Italy and on this team. I'm really looking forward to having the team work for me in the sprints; I've felt strong every sprint I've done this year."
In Saturday's Primavera Rosa, Rochelle flatted at the worst possible time just before the Cipressa and ended up out of the action. Unfortunately absent from the Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan festivities today was Olympic MTB Champ Gunn-Rita Dahle, who was T-boned by another rider on the descent of the Cipressa in the Primavera Rosa Saturday and returned to her home in Stavanger, Norway to recuperate from her injuries.