By Andrew Hood

Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) sent another shot across the bow with a dramatic win in Tuesday’s Subida al Naranca one-day climbing race in northern Spain’s rugged Asturias region.

Just days after sweeping to victory in the Clasica Alcobendas in the mountains north of Madrid last weekend, the Basque rider punched the accelerator with 2km to go to drop the bunch on the short, but steep climb.

In further proof that the Alpe d’Huez stage-winner from last year’s Tour de France is hitting some fine early season form, Mayo set a new record up the 5.2km climb to the Naranco summit, covering the distance in 12 minutes, 7 seconds.

Five riders — Isidro Nozal (Liberty Seguros), Moisés Dueñas (Relax-Bodysol), Adolfo García Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme) and Chente García Acosta and Pablo Lastras (both Illes Balears) – tore away from the peloton at 45km.

The leading quartet worked well together and built up a four-minute gap at the Cat. 3 Alto de Orle at 72km. García Acosta lost contact over the Cat. 2 La Colladona and the leaders still had three minutes despite the hard-charging Euskaltel gang.

Lastras and Nozal, second overall in last year’s Vuelta a España, were finally caught with just 3km to go. Lastras tried another acceleration, but Mayo charged away with 2km to go and no one could respond.

Miguel Martín Perdiguero (Saunier Duval) came through at 24 seconds back while teammate and defending champion Leonardo Piepoli took third at 26 seconds back. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) rode at his own pace to finish 11th at 1 minute back.

Tim Johnson (Saunier Duval) did not finish. Neither did Christian Vande Velde (Liberty Seguros), who is racing for the first time since Tour of Valencia in February after securing his working papers earlier this month.

The 48th Vuelta a Asturias kicks off Wednesday with the a rolling stage to open the five-day race some 174km from Oviedo to Llanes along the rugged north coast.

38th Subida al Naranco (SPA 1.3), 162km
1. Iban Mayo Diez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi 4 hours, 3 minutes, 57 seconds
2. Miguel Martín Perdiguero (Sp), Saunier Duval +0:24
3. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval +0:26
4. Samuel Sánchez González (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi +0:43
5. David Arroyo (Sp), LA Pecol, s.t.

Scarponi takes lead, stage at Peace Race
While young gun Damiano Cunego (Saeco) is making headlines in Italy, another up-and-coming Italian won Tuesday’s fourth stage and jumped into the overall lead at the 57th Peace Race.

Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) joined three others in a late-stage break to charge to victory and grab the overall lead in the nine-day stage race across Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

“My form is getting better with the Tour de France in sight,” Scarponi said. “I am very satisfied and I must thank my team, which worked very hard today. I will try to keep the jersey until the finish.”

The victory is the fifth this season for the 24-year-old Scarponi and Domina Vacanze will be working hard to control the race until the final stage Sunday in Prague.

57th Peace Race (CZE 2.2), Stage 4, Lutherstadt Eisleben to Beierfeld, 207.5km
1. Michele Scarponi (I), Domina Vacanze 5 hours, 15 minutes, 35 seconds
2. Roger Beuchat (Swi), Vini Caldirola
3. Radoslaw Romanik (Pol), Hoop CCC-Polsat same time
4. Kurt Van De Wouwer (B), +0:03
5. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus), Domina Vacanze +0:15

Overall standings after four stages
1. Michele Scarponi (I), Domina Vacanze 14 hours, 37 minutes, 17 seconds
2. Roger Beuchat (Swi), Vini Caldirola +0:04
3. Slawomir Kohut (Pol), Hoop CCC-Polsat +0:08
4. Massimo Giunti (I), Domina Vacanze +0:24
5. Christian Werner (G), T-Mobile +0:27

Postal sponsorship will cost a bundle
A new sponsor for Lance Armstrong’s team will have to pony up $10 million per year, according to a story in USA Today.

With U.S. Postal Service ending is nine-year run as title sponsor at the conclusion of the 2004 season, team owners Tailwind Sports are busy looking for a new company to underwrite America’s top cycling team.

The Postal Service paid about $9 million per year, but Tailwind Sports CEO Bill Stapleton said introduction of the UCI’s new pro tour in 2005 will drive those costs up by at least $1 million, USA Today reported.

Under the racing schedule, 18 top teams will be required to race all three grand tours as well as select one-day and shorter stage races. Like most teams, Postal Service never raced all three grand tours, regularly skipping the Giro d’Italia in favor of the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.

The story also gave a hint of Armstrong’s racing future, reporting that Armstrong is under contract to race into the 2005 season and then will stay on in a non-racing role for two additional years.

Bettini back on top
Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) is back atop the UCI world rankings released Monday after flip-flopping with perennial No. 1 Erik Zabel (T-Mobile), who slipped to second. The other top positions remained largely unchanged, with Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) jumping from 18th to 10th thanks to his dominant win at Alcobendas over the weekend. Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola) nudged up to 11th from 16th while Ivan Basso (CSC) moved into the top 20 into 18th from 26th.

Team CSC moved almost 300 points ahead of Rabobank in the team rankings.

Leading world rankings issued by the UCI on Monday (previous ranking in brackets)
1. (2) Paolo Bettini (Italy) 2,235.00
2. (1) Erik Zabel (Germany) 2,229.75
3. (3) Alessandro Petacchi (Italy) 2,137.00
4. (4) Davide Rebellin (Italy) 1,942.00
5. (5) Alejandro Valverde (Spain) 1,873.00
6. (6) Lance Armstrong (U.S.) 1,752.00
7. (7) Gilberto Simoni (Italy) 1,417.00
8. (8) Alexander Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) 1,381.50
9. (9) Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) 1,324.00
10. (18) Iban Mayo (Spain) 1,186.00
11. (16) Stefano Garzelli (Italy) 1,171.00
12. (10) Oscar Freire (Spain) 1,164.75
13. (11) Jan Ullrich (Germany) 1,162.00
14. (12) Jens Voigt (Germany) 1,155.60
15. (13) Robbie McEwen (Australia) 1,153.00
16. (14) Isidro Nozal (Spain) 1,150.00
17. (15) Danilo Di Luca (Italy) 1,133.00
18. (26) Ivan Basso (Italy) 1,062.50
19. (17) Francisco Mancebo (Spain) 1,039.00
20. (19) Baden Cooke (Australia) 1,036.00
20 (19) David Millar (Britain) 1,036.00

Valjavec wants top 10
Fresh off helping Phonak team captain Tyler Hamilton win the Tour de Romandie, Slovenian national champion Tadej Valjavec is chasing his own moment in the spotlight in the 87th Giro d’Italia.

Valjavec was key to Hamilton’s dominance at Romandie, helping ward off attacks by Saunier Duval in the climb-addled penultimate stage in Sion. Now the 28-year-old is looking for a top 10 finish in the season’s first grand tour.

“I am very pleased with my performance on the Tour de Romandie. It confirms my feeling that I can make up lost time above all in the last week of the Giro,” he said in an interview posted on the team’s web page. “I would like to win a stage and try to finish among the top 10.”

Valjavec bounced back from some early season illnesses to provide strong support in the Swiss mountains. Now he’s the captain for the Swiss team in the Giro.

“The first three stages are difficult enough and the third ends with a mountain arrival. After three sprint days, we head upward again. A few downhill sections come after that before the first rest day. The 13th stage, a 52-kilometre time trial ought to be a big turning point. Four mountain sections in the third week will then decide everything down to the last detail,” he said. “Because not too many top names are appearing in the tour, I give the team an excellent chance.”

Peron back for CSC
Andrea Peron (CSC) will return to racing in this week’s Tour de Picardie starting on Friday. The popular Italian rider broke his hip in March while training near his home in Marbella, Spain.

Recently, he’s been training from three to six hours around the Italian city Varese to return to racing.

“I think I’ve recovered really well and I’ve been training very hard, even though it was also important not to push for an early comeback. I feel very good, but only time will tell how good my form is,” said Peron, who raced with Lance Armstrong on Motorola in 1995-96. “My main objective is still the Tour de France, but I hope to be back at 100 percent in the Dauphiné Libéré. I assume the Tour line-up will be known about one to two weeks before the Tour starts, and I’m sure I’ll be a good help for the team if I’m selected.”

Racing today
The 87th Giro d’Italia continues Tuesday with the difficult 191km third stage from Pontremoli to Corno Alle Scale that’s sure to see the first major selection of the race. Race leader Brad McGee ( will have his work cut out for him to retain the overall leader’s jersey in the three-climb stage. The course hits at Cat. 2 climb at 53km followed by a Cat. 3 climb at 135km. The stage finishes with a 12.8km climb atop the 1,471-meter Corno alle Scale featuring ramps as steep as 14 percent. The 57th Peace Race (CZE 2.2) continues with the longest stage, 207.5km from Lutherstadt Eisleben to Beierfeld across Germany. The mountain stage takes in two Cat. 1s and two Cat. 2s before a short climb to the finish in Beierfeld. Lars Wackernagel (Wiesenhof) retained the overall lead following Monday’s stage won in a sprint by teammate and compatriot Sebastian Siedler. The 38th Subida al Naranco (SPA 1.3) opens a week of racing in northern Spain. With the Vuelta a Asturias on top Wednesday, the one-day 162km Naranco race hits a Cat. 3 climb at 71km, two more Cat. 2 climbs at 107km and 142km respectively, the Cat. 1 Alto de la Manzanedo at 150km before the final 6.5km grind up the Cat. 1 Alto del Naranco high above Oviedo. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) and Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) will be favorites for victory.