Rumsas and Tonkov to lead Lampre into 2002.

Two top tour riders who had no luck in 2001 due to team machinations will lead the Italian Lampre-Daikin squad in the major tours in 2002. Lithuanian Raimondas Rumsas (ex-Fassa Bortolo) and Russian Pavel Tonkov (ex-Mercury) both rode for teams that did not allow them to reach their potential this year. Rumsas, who in 2000 finished fifth in the Vuelta España and won the Giro di Lombardia, was all set to ride at least one of the grand tours this year. Despite a second place finish in Paris-Nice, he was overlooked for the Giro d'Italia and then, surprisingly for the Tour de France.
"In Fassa Bortolo I did not have room and Ferretti (directeur sportif) does not favour the foreign riders," said Rumsas at Lampre's team presentation today in Lake Garda. "I, a Lithuanian, did not have the same treatment as the Italians."
Rumsas, who will turn 30 next January, started his professional career in 1996 with Polish team Mróz, gaining several successes in the smaller races before he transferred to Fassa Bortolo in 2000. Although he won less races that year, his performances in the classics and the Vuelta lifted him to 26th on the UCI rankings - he seemed certain to be given a proper leader's role in 2001.
That did not eventuate, and a promise to ride the Tour de France was not fulfilled. Instead, an injured Francesco Casagrande was put into the Tour squad after he missed his chance in the Giro following a crash in the first stage. Casagrande did not last the first week in the Tour, and Rumsas was left wondering what might have been.
Not for too long however, as he realised that he must focus on the next season, and getting a new team was a priority. "I will also aim for short stage races, like the Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country before the tour. The classics? At the top of my objectives is Liege-Bastogne-Liege. This team already won it with Camenzind, history can repeat itself."

Pavel Tonkov Photo: © Lampre-Daikin

Pavel Tonkov is three years older than Rumsas, turning 33 in February. Although he is in the final years of his career, he thinks he can still be a protagonist in the big tours. In 1996 he won the Giro d'Italia, after an epic battle with Marco Pantani. He signed for Mapei and followed that up with two second placings in 1997 and 1998, then a fourth in the Vuelta España in 1999, and a fifth in the Giro and third in the Vuelta in 2000.
Unfortunately, his team for 2001 (Mercury) did not ride any of the major tours and Tonkov was left high and dry. In the second half of the year, he barely raced, in the meantime negotiating with various teams (iBanesto, Team Coast and Big Mat) for his signature in 2002. Tonkov eventually found a place in Lampre, his former team from the end of 1992 to 1995.
"Here I feel comfortable, with my family, and this is a great advantage. After the past four years with Mapei there was this terrible season with Mercury. It happens in this sport: if your team finishes, you are helpless, you lose your image, contracts, and confidence with the big teams."
He is now hoping to do something in the major tours in 2002, and believes that although he missed out completely on this season, he still has a good chance. "The basis of the result is the class and the personality of the athlete," he said. "I know the Giro will, I only hope I have the condition in order to fight to the end. I feel able to continue at a high level for about three years.
Tonkov will start his 2002 season with the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal from February 9-13.

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