By Jean-François Quénet
On the record book of Danilo Hondo, who became a professional cyclist with Agro Adler in 1997, prior to winning more than 60 races mostly with Team Telekom and Gerolsteiner, there are two stages wins and the overall classification of the 1996 Tour of Turkey, a race that is really becoming a big international event in 2008 with the participation of some of the world's best cyclists including Alessandro Petacchi and Andreas Klöden next week.
Hondo will be back in action in Istanbul on Sunday, where an inaugural criterium will take place at the same time of the start of Paris-Roubaix in Compiègne, France. The German will be lined up in Turkey by his Serramenti PVC-Diquigiovanni team that also features the winner of this year's Le Tour de Langkawi, Ruslan Ivanov from Moldova.
"I'll go there to improve my condition in view of the Giro d'Italia," Hondo explained. "But I also go to any race with the intention of winning something, that also goes for the Tour of Turkey."
This season marks his big return to racing, aged 33, after almost two years off following his controversial positive test at the 2005 Tour of Murcia in Spain. In February, his stage win at Le Tour de Langkawi in Batu Pahat, Malaysia, in front of a very competitive field of sprinters, saw him successfully come back, but three days later in Kuantan, the German was victim of a bad crash created 50 meters away from the finish line by CSF's Mauro Richeze.
"This accident didn't force me to have any break in my season," Hondo commented. "But my body was seriously affected by wounds and bruises. It had to work very hard for my immune system to be completely reactivated. Fortunately, it's all okay now."
After returning home from Malaysia, Hondo took part in the GP Lugano, GP Eroica, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo and the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, but couldn't renew his recent win. This generated some doubt in the cycling community about his ability of returning to the level he had some years ago. But Hondo himself denied this, even though he admitted, "I'm not very happy with my condition. I've done very hard training sessions and I've participated in these races. Sometimes, there is only a small line between being in good form and being too tired. Last week I also felt a bit ill. Maybe it's a good sign that my body is regenerating."
The German never stopped training during his two seasons off, so he didn't consider a possible delay in his preparation compared to his rivals. "I don't feel any different than before the break", he insisted. "Everything is in the head and it's a question of circumstances at races. I'm sure that my time will be coming sooner or later."
Turkey might be a famous holiday destination for German people, but Hondo will pay a visit with some serious cycling in mind, strongly believing that he is still one of the world's best sprinters.