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By Andrew Hood
Juan Miguel Mercado wrapped up the 39th Setmana Catalana, finishing with the lead group in a cold and miserable final stage, giving the young Spanish rider his first major win of the 2002 season.
The 23-year-old Mercado was the revelation of Spanish cycling last year, winning the Vuelta a Burgos in August followed up by an impressive win at the Lagos de Covadonga in the 2001 Vuelta a España. The iBanesto.com rider didn’t win a stage at Setmana Catalana, but earned enough time in the long climbing stage from Castello de Empuries to Pal on the third day to secure the victory.
“Mercado is no longer a revelation; he’s the real thing,” said iBanesto.com’s sport director Eusebio Unzue.
“The team worked very hard for me in this cold, wet stage today,” Mercado said after Friday’s 144-km fifth stage from Vic to Sabadell. “I’m content.
Things went well last year for me and I hope things continue the same way this year. I will continue to work hard to obtain my important goals we have set for the season.”
Next up for the Granada-based racer will be Vuelta a Pais Vasco (April 8-12).
A wet, cold day greeted the racers for the final stage of the Setmana Catalana. With 25 kilometers to go, four racers – David Etxebarria (Euskatel), Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), Vladimir Karpets (Itera) and Jorge Ferrio (Jazztel) — had built up a fast-dwindling gap of 5 minutes, 45 seconds.
Telekom and iBanesto.com were driving the chase group, though Ferrio was the only dangerous rider to Mercado’s lead, starting the stage more than 6 minutes back.
The four were working together well despite the wind and rain when Ferrio crashed after taking a right turn too wide and his back tire slipped when he crossed a traffic divider. He lost time changing his front wheel, leaving the other three riders to fight for the stage-win.
Etxebarria didn’t try to shake the leaders in the closing kilometers, setting up a three-man sprint. In the final meters, Karpets lost his pedal while Pereiro came around Etxebarria to deliver Phonak’s second stage-win of the race. Phonak’s Juan Carlos Dominguez won the time trial Tuesday and held the lead for one day before losing it to Mercado.
“I was surprised Extebarria didn’t attack in the finale, but I was confident I could stay with him,” said Pereiro, who crossed the line in 3 hours, 27 minutes, 20 seconds. Karpets crossed three seconds later and Ferrio came in fourth at 1:52 back while Martin Perdiguero, winner of Thursday’s stage, led the peloton at 2:26 back.
39th Setmana Catalana, Friday, March 29, 144 kilometers, Vic to
1. Oscar Pereiro (Sp), Phonak, 3 hours, 27 minutes, 20 seconds
2. David Etxebarria (Sp), Euskatel, same time
3. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), Itera, at 3 seconds
4. Jorge Ferrio (Sp), Jazztell, at 1:56
5. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp), ONCE, at 2:03
FINAL STANDINGS, Setmana Catalana
1. Juan Miguel Mercado (Sp), ibanesto.com, 19:04:53
2. Giuseppe Guerini (I), Telekom, at 15 seconds
3. Sergei Honchar (Ukr), Fassa Bortolo, 27 seconds
4. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Sp), Phonak, 34 seconds
5. Fernando Escartin (Sp), Coast, 47 seconds
15. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank, at 2:13