By Andrew Hood
Acqua & Sapone’s Miguel Perdiguero edged-out Telekom’s Erik Zabel in a mass sprint and kept the Telekom ace from getting his hat-trick at the 39th Setmana Catalana.
Zabel, the winner of the first two stages, couldn’t get past Perdiguero while iBanesto.com’s Juan Miguel Mercado finished safely just a few seconds behind the lead group to retain his overall lead with just one stage to go.
Perdiguero was satisfied with the victory in Setmana Catalana’s penultimate stage after enduring some bad luck earlier in the season, with falls at the Vuelta a Valencia and Tirreno-Adriatico.
“I’ve been feeling good this year, but I had two crashes and my back has really been aching. I have a little bit of a cold,” Perdiguero said. “In fact, my directors wanted me to leave the race, but fortunately they didn’t do it and now I have won this beautiful stage.”
There was some rumbling among the Spanish press that Perdiguero was having conflicts with Acqua & Sapone star Mario Cipollini, something he dismissed:
“I have no problem with Cipollini. There is room for both of us on the team, even though I know when things get crossed, like at Tirreno-Adriatico, that the entire team is for him.”
Early on, a three-man breakaway – Spanish riders Angel Castresana and Rafael Casero and Dutch rider Bram De Groot – pulled away before being pulled back in time to set up the sprint. Horrible weather continues to mar Spain’s Cataluyna region, with wind and rain peppering the racers throughout the 176-km stage from Baga to Vic.
Meanwhile, Mercado is just one stage away from securing another impressive victory in young career. The young Spanish rider won the Vuelta a Burgos last August, then followed it up with a big stage-win at Lagos de Covadonga in the Vuelta a España and finished fifth overall.
“Mercado confirmed his maturity last year and now he’s going down the same road and he’s fulfilling the objectives that we have marked for him,” said ibanesto.com director Eusebio Unzue.
Mercado turned pro in 1998 at just 19 and raced with Javier Minguez on the now-defunct Vitalicio Seguros team. In 2001, he debuted with ibanesto.com and enjoyed his breakthrough season as a pro.
The five-day Setmana Catalana concludes Friday with the final stage, a rolling stage 144 kilometers from Vic to Sabadell, a suburb of Barcelona.
1. Miguel Perdiguero (Spa) 4hr 30min 39sec; 2. Erik Zabel (Ger) same time; 3. Stefan Kupfernagel (Ger) s.t.; 4. Fabio Baldato (Ita) s.t.; 5. Sebastien Hinault (Fra) s.t.; 6. Angel Edo (Spa) s.t.; 7. Gonzalo Bayarri (Spa) s.t.; 8. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) s.t.; 9. David Etxebarria (Spa) s.t.; 10. Thomas Bruun (Den) s.t.
1. Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) ibanesto.com 15h 45min 07sec; 2. Giuseppe
Guerini (Ita) at 15secs; 3. Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) 27; 4. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Spa) 34; 5. Fernando Escartin (Spa) 47; 6. Rui Lavarinhas (Por) 1:08; 7. Vladimir Belli (Ita) 1:15; 8. Gonzalo Bayarri (Spa) 1:23; 9. Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) 1:33; 10. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) 1:42