Garmin kind of day: Hunter wins in Murcia; Pate in break

Robbie Hunter delivered Garmin-Transitions its first win on the 2010 season after taking a sprint victory in Wednesday’s opening stage at the Vuelta a Murcia in Spain.

Hunter gets the win.
Hunter gets the win. |

Robbie Hunter delivered Garmin-Transitions its first win on the 2010 season after taking a sprint victory in Wednesday’s opening stage at the Vuelta a Murcia in Spain.

The South African out-kicked Graeme Brown (Rabobank) to win the 166.5km stage that featured a breakaway effort by Garmin-Transitions teammate Danny Pate. Vicente Reynes (HTC-Columbia) crossed the line third. (Click for a full Graham Watson Gallery)

Pate led a four-man breakaway that dominated the three-climb stage in what was Lance Armstrong’s European debut. Pate’s effort was foiled with less than 20km to go to set up the mass sprint.

Armstrong’s Euro debut

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Armstrong kicks off his European campaign. |

The 30th Murcia tour features a strong field that includes Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).

Armstrong is making his European debut at Murcia after racing earlier this year at Tour Down Under. Third in last year’s Tour de France, Armstrong said he’s keen to try his legs in Saturday’s time trial.

“I’ve tried to work on the positions and in various aspects of the training. Last year, I didn’t train enough on the time trial bike, and that was my error. It requires a lot of specific training that I didn’t do,” he said. “We’ve adjusted my position a little bit and we’ve also worked on the bike.”

Despite the super-star field, the Murcia tour started under a cloud of controversy because Spanish teams refused to participate over a dispute over fees that teams have to pay to cover insurance.

Added to the fact that organizers refused to invite Italian squads in a form of protest over the two-year ban imposed on local hero and three-time Murcia winner Alejandro Valverde, the field was relatively light, with only 16 teams and 111 riders starting. Despite the gesture of solidarity, Valverde’s Caisse d’Epargne team joined the boycott and did not race.

Pate in break

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Alexander Blain leads the break. |

Polemics aside, Wednesday’s first stage presented a stiff challenge. At 166.5km, the stage to San Pedro de Pinatar featured three rated climbs, ideal for a breakaway attempt.

The sprint teams would have the pressure to take control, but GC riders, too, wouldn’t want a rider to slip away and take control of the race on the first day. The pack’s fastest men included Graeme Brown (Rabobank), Cervélo’s Theo Bos, winner of Sunday’s Clásica de Almería, and Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Transitions).

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RadioShack ramps up the chase. |

Attacks came from the gun and the early protagonist was Pate, making his European debut after racing in Qatar and Oman. Joining him was Endura Racing’s Alexander Blain. Quick to bridge out were Rubén Reig (from Caja Rural — the only Spanish team partaking) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil).

The gap quickly grew north of 5 minutes at 25km, when American/Portuguese rider Joao Correia (Cervélo TestTeam) made an effort to bridge across.

The widening margin prompted the peloton, led by Cervélo and Rabobank, to up the pace and the leading quartet was kept on a two-three minute leash over the next climbs.

After passing the day’s final climb, the gap slipped under one minute with 35km to go, all but assuring a bunch sprint. The remnants of the break were neutralized with less than 20km to go.

The 30th Murcia tour continues Thursday with the 154.3km second stage from Calasparra to Caravaca.

Robbie Hunter gets the jersey.
Hunter in yellow. |

Top-10 – Stage 1
1. Robert Hunter (RSA), Garmin-Transitions, 166.5km in 4:15:40
2. Graeme Brown (Aus), Rabobank , same time
3. Vicente Reynes (Sp), HTC-Columbia, s.t.
4. Roger Kluge (G), Milram, s.t.
5. Daryl Impey (RSA), RadioShack, s.t.
6. Kristof Jezowski (Pol), CCC Polsat, s.t.
7. Michael Golas (Pol), Vacansoleil, s.t.
8. Russell Downing (GB), Sky, s.t.
9. Daniel Schorn (A), Team NetApp, s.t.
10. Ian Wilkinson (GB), Endura Racing, s.t.

(Full Results)