By Jean-François Quénet in Adelaide
The Liquigas team may be visiting South Australia for the first time, but their captain Luca Paolini is no stranger to the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, as he competed in 2001, 2002 and 2003 with Mapei and Quick Step. "I asked my new team to take me here again," the bronze medallist at the Verona World's in 2004 said. It's a perfect race for preparation. It's much harder to work efficiently in Europe at this time of the year, even in Spain where the temperature is between 10 and 15° nowadays. I remember how good I was back in 2003 after racing here."
That year, he was a major contender at Tirreno-Adriatico and captured his best placing so far in Milan-San Remo (3rd). "I definitely want a remake of 2003," Paolini declared. His race programme includes the one day races in Mallorca, the Trofeo Laigueglia, the Tour du Haut-Var and Classic Haribo, the GPs of Chiasso and Lugano, Milano-Torino, Tirreno-Adriatico and then all the classics, with the only notable exception being Paris-Roubaix. "Last year I crashed at Laigueglia, he recalled. I suffered a knee tendonitis until June. For three months, I wasn't even a bike rider but I saved myself in August." He won a stage in the Tour de la Région Wallonne, two stages at the Tour of Britain, he came 2nd in Hamburg behind his team-mate Filippo Pozzato and finished second four times in the Tour of Poland.
What's new for him this year is the life in a team without his best mate Paolo Bettini. "It will be much harder to have him against me than with me," said Paolini. "But it's been my choice to change team and I truly hope I'll be able to play a big win in a classic with Paolo. We're still good friends though. Our relationships haven't changed since I left Quick Step. Only at the races we'll become adversaries." Bettini obviously had a smoother split up with his pupil than with his mentor Michele Bartoli a few years ago.
Paolini looks in good shape already. He came seventh in the Jacob's Creek Down Under classic on Tuesday night in Adelaide on his 29th birthday, but he doesn't want to burn himself in Australia. "Since I trained very little at home before coming here, I prefer to have a quiet start. I don't want to spend to much energy. Our two young riders Eros Capecchi and Daniele Colli did very well in stage 1, we're here for them, we'll be happy if they can come out with some result and show what they can do on a bike."