With the star-studded RadioShack roster, Sébastien Rosseler never expected it would be him to score the new squad’s first victory.
The stocky Belgian rider pulled it off in Saturday’s hilly fourth stage at the Volta ao Algarve, powering away from a breakaway with nearly 30km still to go. He held on to win 20 seconds ahead of strong riders such as Mickael Delage, Irmanol Erviti, Preben Vanhecke and Egoi Martínez while André Greipel (HTC-Columbia) led the main across the line at three minutes back.
“I am surprised it’s me to win the team’s first race, because we have so many good riders,” Rosseler said in Tavira after the stage. “My sport director (José Azevedo) told me the peloton was closing in and said for me to go if I had anything in my legs. Yesterday, I bonked a little and lost 12 minutes, so maybe that was a good thing in the end.
I am still not in top shape for the spring classics, but this win is great for me and great for the team.”
The victory capped a strong showing this week in Algarve for RadioShack’s first European race of the season.
RadioShack went two and three in Friday’s summit finish behind race leader Alberto Contador, who scored Astana’s first win of the season on the Alto do Mahao summit to grab the leader’s jersey.
Contador finished safely in the pack Saturday to retain his 15-second lead to Tiago Machado, with Levi Leipheimer poised in third at 28 seconds back.
Astana was working hard to control breakaway attempts in the early going of Saturday’s hilly stage to Tavira. One early break featuring some GC threats was reeled in when Rosseler saw his chance when Martínez and Delage surged up the road.
After racing five years at Quick Step, Rosseler switched to RadioShack to have opportunities just like these. And he proved he’s ready to take advantage of the chances he gets.
“At QuickStep, we had two big captains with Devolder and Boonen, so you were always working for them and I rarely had a chance to try to win,” he said. “That’s one of the top reasons I wanted to come to this team. After five years at QuickStep, I thought a change would do me good. The team is really good. They know that we’re working hard and they give us a little space. It’s the first time in my career that I know my race program all the way through my first break.”
With such strong riders in the breakaway and a hilly course, HTC-Columbia didn’t seem too interested in forcing the chase to try to set up the sprint. Astana worked early to keep Contador in yellow, but Rosseler played the odds and it paid off in spades.
“This is good for my confidence heading into the spring classics,” Rosseler said. “It will be very different racing with RadioShack, because we won’t have to control the race or make the race like we always had to at QuickStep. We have four or five guys who can play a role in the classics, but we don’t have a big favorite, so that will take the pressure off us.”
Rosseler dedicated the victory to compatriot Gert Steegmans, who crashed out of the Algarve tour in Friday’s third stage with a dangerous crash that sent him to the deck and landing on the back of his head. Steegmans’ helmet was completely destroyed and it saved him from serious injury.
RadioShack sport director Dirk Demol said Steegmans might have suffered a minor concussion, putting his classics debut next weekend at Omloop Het Nieuwsblat into doubt.
Having Rosseler up the road also took pressure off the team going into Sunday’s decisive individual time trial.
Contador is the top favorite to win Sunday’s 17.3km TT stage and secure the overall, but the team is expecting strong rides from both Machado and Leipheimer.
“Levi isn’t close to top form yet but it’s the first time trial of the season, so you never know,” Demol said. “And Tiago is a pretty good time trialist. Contador should be strong, but you never know. I am sure we can keep a place on the podium, and maybe more.”
Forecasters are calling for strong winds and heavy rain, so riders won’t want to be taking unnecessary risks, perhaps opening the door for a surprise winner, especially if conditions are changing throughout the day.
Stage 4 Volta ao Algarve: Vila Real de San António (Cacela) – Tavira, 169 K
1. Sébastien Rosseler (B), Team Radioshack, 4:12:46
2. Mickael Delage (F), Omega Pharma-Lottoat, 0:20
3. Imanol Erviti (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:20
4. Preben Van Hecke (B), Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, at 0:20
5. Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:24
6. Iljo Keisse (B), Quick Step, at 2:50
7. André Greipel (G), HTC-Columbia, at 3:00
8. Wouter Weylandt (B), Quick Step, at 3:00
9. Samuel José Rodrigues Caldeira (Por), Palmeiras Resort-Prio, at 3:00
10. Graeme Brown (Aus), Rabobank, at 3:00
Overall, after Stage 4
1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Sp), Astana
2. Tiago Machado (Por), Team Radioshack, at 0:15
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Team Radioshack, at 0:28
4. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:35
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA), HTC-Columbia, at 0:35
6. Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:40
7. Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:43
8. Andreas Klöden (G), Team Radioshack, at 0:43
9. Matthew Lloyd (Aus), Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0:43
10. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Sp), Katusha, at 0:43