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A Week of Positives for Maltese Cycling

Unknown Friday, April 3, 2009 , ,
Whichever way you look at it, these past few days were simply superb for local cycling.

Not only has the Tour ta' Malta 2009 been an astounding success, breathing new life into the sport and showing positive signs for the future, but there were also good showings by Maltese cyclists.

"I felt that I was in a good condition so I had a feeling that I would do well," David Galea said after finishing the Tour as first Maltese and sixth overall.

"This was a very tough race. The level was high and there were some quality cyclists here. The Maltese all worked very well together. Even though myself, Etienne Bonello and Maurice Formosa all hail from different clubs we helped each other in a way to ensure that we finished as high up the final table as possible."

Stephanie Magri, the first Maltese in the women's race and seventh overall, expressed similar sentiments.

"You're always looking for that little bit more," she replied when asked whether the overall result was to her satisfaction.

"Yet, I think that I've done well enough. My aims were to win the trophy for first Maltese woman and to break into the top ten both of which I've managed to do. This wouldn't have been possible without the support of a lot of people not least my coach Steve Wright."

Two years ago, Irishman Ryan Connor blew away the rest of the field with three days of superb cycling. Based on that performance, Connor started as favourite this year but it soon became apparent that the Sicilian cyclists he had beaten last time round were better prepared this time.

At first, it was Francesco Pizzo who laid down the marker by dominating the time trial but an unfortunate accident on the second day saw him falling down the rankings with eventual winner Francesco Guccione, and second-placed Masimo Rubino, stepping up.

"I was optimally prepared for this race," Guccione, 22, said.

"I wanted to do well as last time round I was frustrated with myself because I didn't come here in the best condition. The team worked hard for me. I always found them when I needed them."

The Dutch have a fine tradition in cycling and it is easy to see why as a selection of promising female cyclists from the north of Holland left their mark here.

The most impressive was Anne de Wildt, 19. She dominated from start to finish, only letting up towards the end of the final leg. Second two years ago, this victory was clearly something she wanted to notch up.

"I wanted to win. The route was good and suited my strengths perfectly," she said.

As with Guccione, de Wildt made certain that the work of her team-mates didn't go unheralded.

"Claudia Koster helped me a lot," she said of the second-placed cyclist overall.

"For most of the Tour I was running against the clock but it was important to have Claudia alongside me."

Such was de Wildt's dominance that it brought memories of when 'unknown' Briton Nicole Cooke won the Tour in 2000. Cooke is now Olympic and world champion and there are hopes that de Wildt could follow a similar path.

If that becomes the case, then it would be a feather in the Tour ta' Malta's proverbial hat.

"This race gives local cyclists the opportunity to compete on a high level," Malta Cycling Federation president John Zammit said before revealing that work has already kicked off for the 2010 Tour.

"Already we are having enquiries about next year. In fact, there was the head of the Sicilian regional cycling federation who has talked of a larger team the next time."

All this, apart from the obvious boost to tourism, also ensures that next year there will be the 16th Tour ta' Malta.

Maltese cycling's positive week, it seems, just keeps on getting better and better.

This article appeared on the Times of Malta of Monday, 30th March 2009. Photo courtesy of Ruben Buhagiar.

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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer