By Jean-François Quénet in Nice
Davide Rebellin finished Paris-Nice in a very enthusiastic mood for himself as an overall winner and for the sport of cycling in general. "We've been having difficult moments, but cycling will continue, cycling will not die," the Italian commented after the final stage of 'the race to the sun'.
The Italian wasn't worried about a possible suspension by the UCI following his participation in an event sanctioned by the French federation, and forbidden by the international governing body . "We came here to produce a good race, to give a good spectacle and to do our job as bike riders," he said. "It's fair that we were here. Paris-Nice is one of the best races in the world. Everybody has to respect this race that is a big part of the history of cycling."
The Italian didn't take the UCI's threat seriously. "I've always thought that the UCI will understand that it's not possible to suspend all the riders, otherwise, who would compete in the other races? We'll find something for cycling out of this confusion, I'm confident. We'll talk to the UCI. We'll tell them that we've been here to work and all the other things aren't important for us."
According to the Venetian, the new anti-doping programs for which the UCI has taken most of the responsibilities has changed the face of cycling. "We have given our total availability to make our sport the cleanest possible," he underlined. "We give our blood, our urine, our hair. We can't do more than that. We are normal people, not gangsters, so we just ask the controllers to respect our private life. What happened with Kevin van Impe shouldn't be done, we've naturally protested against that today."
Rebellin stood near Philippe Gilbert on the start line in Nice when the Belgian from Française des Jeux gave a few words to support his compatriot who was harassed by controllers while he made arrangements for the funeral of his infant son last week.
"With all the controls we're submitted to, cycling now has a bit more credibility," Rebellin continued in response to an observation that Paris-Nice looked more human than in the previous years. "It helps the quality riders to express themselves. There were a lot of battles this week. There was a lot of spectacle also and many fans came along."
The Italian is so optimistic that he hopes to ride "for at least one more year and maybe two," although last year in February he stated that 2008 would be the final of his career. "Most of the riders of my age have quit cycling already," he realized. "I still have the strength, the capacity and above all the will to continue. It's not hard for me to keep living the life of a bike rider. It remains fun and I yet have a few races to win that I don't have on my record book. I'm a specialist of the Classics and the nicest of them is the world championship. Milan-Sanremo is missing but that's mostly for the sprinters. I also haven't won the Tour of Lombardy yet."
So there is more to be seen from the evergreen veteran of the Gerolsteiner team.