Discovery Team update

"To me, there are three clear favorites with Simoni and Cunego on one side and Basso on the other...

Bruyneel's thoughts on the Giro

"To me, there are three clear favorites with Simoni and Cunego on one side and Basso on the other side. They are the biggest favorites," said Discovery Channel's team manager Johan Bruyneel in a team statement published today.

"And you can see that both Lampre and CSC have assembled strong teams that are ready to go for it, control the race, protect their leader and work if they have to work. To me, those are the three favorites. But just behind them, I put Paolo [Savoldelli] in the first spot of the next group."

Despite an average performance at last weekend's Tour de Romandie, Bruyneel believes Savoldelli is ready to ride well in his favourite race: "I don't take Romandie has a measurement to where he is right now," he said. "For Paolo, normally he gets better during a stage race and I expect him to be better in the last week. He's already won the race [2002] and finished second [1999], and this is one of his big objectives this year. He has had a very, very good lead up to the Giro - turning in some good races and good training blocks. I think he's ready for it."

"Paolo can be on the podium if everything works out fine. He's not the clear favorite and thus we don't need a team to perform for a clear favorite. He needs guys around him to protect him and be around him in the mountains and then it's up to him to be with the best. He has great experience and knows what he needs to do to be ready. He's not the type to get nervous and crack in certain circumstances. I'm confident he can be there."

More on Ekimov

Reacting to the loss Viatcheslav Ekimov, who crashed badly while out training with Lance Armstrong last week in Austin, Texas, Bruyneel simply said: "Losing a guy like Eki is a big loss.

"It will difficult or even impossible to replace him because of his qualities, his experience and his position on the team and the way he knows the race and knows the team. He's been our captain on the road. We won't be able to find a substitute for him."

Asked if Eki immediately knew the extent of his injuries, Bruyneel said: "I think when he saw the x-rays, he knew," Bruyneel said. "He said the pain is almost gone but that he still needs to wear the corset for an undetermined period of time. In one month, he will have more x-rays done and they will then decide how long he needs to wear it."

Will he return to racing this year? "No doubt," said Bruyneel. "He said to put him down for the races in August and September."

And then there were 11...

With the loss of Ekimov, the inclusion of Belgian Leif Hoste in the final 11 riders that have a chance of making the nine-man Discovery team for the Tour de France came as a bit of a surprise to some. Said Bruyneel: "He's [Hoste] never been a real candidate as we expected him to turn in a real heavy schedule of spring races, but he's had to back off a bit following his crash [in Roubaix], and now he's in the picture. He will start again at the Tour of Catalunya and will be pretty fresh."

Hammond update

Although valiantly finishing Paris-Roubaix back on April 10 with a broken thumb, Roger Hammond finished outside the time limit and was therefore unclassified. Then to make matters worse, he found out later he had damaged this thumb even further.

Involved in the same crash that took down Peter Van Petegem, Hammond said "everything then shut down" after that point. "I could hardly ride my bike. I went from being in the front and feeling strong to suffering more and more, it was painful. Two or three sectors later, I had to ride with one hand in the zones, with just my fingers," he said. "In hindsight, I probably should have stopped, but I didn't want to climb off. I was hoping something would get better but I did think it was pretty ridiculous, what I was doing."

Hammond added that while his thumb is now healing properly, damage to the tendons and ligaments are causing him pain. "The pain is a lot less but I still have some problems, even holding a coffee cup."

Despite the injury, Hammond said he is still on the program that was set up for him at the beginning of the year. Next up will be the Tour of Catalunya in 12 days, followed by the three-race Wachovia Series in the U.S. [May 31 in Trenton, NJ, June 2 in Lancaster, PA, and June 5 in Philadelphia] and the Tour of Switzerland [June 11-19].

Creed update

Having raced only once this season at the Tour de Langkawi, Creed started noticing his fitness and energy levels drop alarmingly after the race and after months of searching, he believes he is close to figuring out what has been wrong.

"Unlike George's, mine is viral," Creed said when asked if he is suffering from the same condition George Hincapie had two years ago. "The virus flared up and the racing and training seemed to compound it."

Seeing the same Seattle-based doctor Hincapie saw when he was trying to diagnose his illness, which turned out to be a parasite, Creed's goal is to gain back fitness and race in Philadelphia. "I won't set the house on fire but want to be part of the race and be a valuable team member, not just make the start line," he said.

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