Cycling: Laid back tour
The 2004 edition of the region’s annual five-day road race, the Volta ao Algarve, catapulted into the international limelight by the participation of Lance Armstrong, got off to a low-key start after being overshadowed by the friendly football international between England and Portugal on the same day.
Armstrong, too, seemed to be content to stay out of the headlines as much as possible, happy with a place in the pack during the first three stages, leaving the likes of Alberto Benito to grab the yellow jersey. This attitude changed during last Saturday’s 24 km time-trial between Vila Real Santo Antonio and Tavira, Armstrong unleash of his awesome power to take the stage one, 12, 19 and 30 seconds ahead of his closest pursuers and lifting himself from 71st to first place in the process. US Postal team-mates Floyd Landis and Hugo Pena finished second and third, with a further three US Postal riders in the top 30, to ensure that the team also assumed the overall race-leadership two minutes and 19 seconds in front of Team Rabobank in second place.
Having proven his point, Lance Armstrong seemed to be happy not to over-exert himself in midfield on the last day, as teammates Floyd Landis and Hugo Pena did the hard work up front. Landis took the stage and the title 26 seconds ahead of Pena, fourth on the day and second in the overall standings.Armstrong ended the tour in fifth, handing the US Postal team a massive three minute 20 second winning margin.
The Portuguese football title seems to have been decided before the end of February this season. Porto’s clear 3-0 victory last weekend, coupled with a defeat and a draw for closest pursuers Benfica and Sporting, sees the defending champions seven points clear at the top of the table.
Similar conditions prevail elsewhere in Europe. Celtic have gone clear of the field in Scotland and in England Arsenal’s 2-1 win over rivals Chelsea sees the Gunners seven points clear of Manchester United, who could only draw with Leeds.
Weekend results in Spain favoured Real Madrid, now five points ahead of Valencia. In Italy and France, AC Milan and Monaco are cutting out the running. And in Germany, champions Bayern will be hard-pressed to catch Bremen, also seven points to the good.
Full Speed Ahead
The winter break has passed almost as quickly as the new prototypes have taken the chequered flag during testing in Jerez. High-octane fans of the world’s leading motor sport can look forward to an exciting new season, introducing new exotic venues such as Dubai and Shanghai. The season revs up on March 7 in Australia and I will review each team’s chances on this page in the following weeks. Portugal’s RTP 1 TV will once again provide live coverage of training sessions and the races themselves.
On the eve of Britain’s best boxer of the last decade, Joe Calzaghe, stepping up a division to set up a dream match with arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world over the same period, Oscar de la Hoya, a new star is emerging on the horizon. Bolton’s 17-year old Amir Khan has won the England Schoolboys’ Championships for the last three years, holds the 2003 Junior ABA, Olympic, European Cadet and European Student Championships belts and has also been awarded the Ahmert Comert Cup for Europe’s most outstanding junior. Experienced judges are so impressed with the lightweight, whose father comes from Pakistan, that they have entered him for the European Senior Championships in Croatia, where a top-four finish would automatically qualify him for this summer’s Olympic Games in Athens. Great Britain coach Ian Irwin rates Khan as the best young English boxer he has seen in 20 years, a view that was underlined by a recent victory in Hamburg over the German champion and current world bronze medallist. Amir Khan does not indulge in the showmanship that brought about the demise of ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed. He is a serious boxer, tough, intelligent, with good eyes, excellent judgement and a fantastic work-rate. Should be fail to finish in the medals in Croatia, he has two further opportunities, in Bulgaria and Azerbaijan, to qualify for the Olympics.
New Competition – The Intercontinental Cup, disputed between the European and South American club champions since 1960, looks set to be abolished by FIFA next year and replaced by a club tournament between the six confederation champions affiliated to the world governing body. The South American Federation is strongly opposed to the move.
Algarve U17s – Last Saturday saw the start of the 27th Algarve International U17s Tournament in Lagos, Silves and Lagoa, a competition that Portugal has won on no less than 13 occasions. This year’s opponents are England, Finland and France, who also compete for a place in the European Finals in France later in the season. Since 1978, players like Michael Laudrup, Alfonso Perez and Rui Costa have represented their countries in the Algarve.
Portimonense – If the season were only to consist of away games, Portimonense would find themselves several steps closer to promotion. The Algarve club has conceded the least goals on their travels, lost fewer games than the competition and would currently occupy fifth place in the Liga de Honra. Unfortunately, three draws and five defeats at home, with only four wins, saw Portimão go into Sunday’s match away to Salgueiros, languishing in 14th place, 11 points off the promotion places. Recently signed midfielder, Ricardinho, was not on the pitch. Following various late night drinking escapades, the Brazilian has been suspended until further notice. His absence was keenly felt as Portimonense put on a lacklustre display that never saw them grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Following Salgueiros’ first-half lead, the result never seemed in doubt and the home team coasted to victory and fifth place in the league. Leaders Varzim and Estoril shared the points in a six-goal thriller and seem ripe for promotion at this stage.
A QUESTION OF SPORT
Last Week: Which female Dutch athlete, who won four gold medals at the 1948 Olympics in London, died recently aged 85? Answer: Fanny Blankers-Koen
This Week: Which American tennis player became the first man to complete the Grand Slam in 1938? And who was the only American to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon in the 60s? Answer: next week.