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By Andrew Hood
Garmin-Slipstream is still waiting for that elusive individual grand tour stage victory, but no one can criticize the U.S.-registered team for a lack of trying.
With second to Simon Gerrans in Tuesday’s 10th stage, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal once again put the argyle jersey at the sharp end of the action at the Vuelta a España.
The squad won the team time trial at the 2008 Giro d’Italia in its grand tour debut, but has since come enticingly close to a major stage win at the grand tours in two seasons at the elite level of the sport.
Garmin-Slipstream has participated in five grand tours since 2008: two Giros, two Tours and is halfway through its first Vuelta.
During those five grand tours, the team has accumulated an incredible list of close calls, with no less than 11 second places and eight third places for a total of 19 podiums in grand tour stages.
In 2008, its break-out Giro team time trial victory led the way for 12 wins on the season. The team also posted 37 second and third placings throughout the year, including two second places and two third places during its Tour debut.
So far through 2009, the team has enjoyed even more success, winning 15 races with seven different riders, including the team time trial at the Tour of Qatar to kick-start the year back in January.
American sprinter Tyler Farrar has been the most productive, claiming seven of the team’s 14 individual victories in 2009 in his breakout season that’s included stage wins at Tirreno-Adriatico, the Eneco Tour and the Vattenfall Cyclassics.
But peeling back the results sheet reveals how close Garmin has come to a hugely successful season. Counting Hesjedal’s second place into Murcia, the squad now claims 33 second places and 18 third places in 2009.
Among the second places includes nine in grand tours this year: three so far at the Vuelta; three at the Tour and three at the Giro. That number also includes second places at team time trials in both the Giro and Tour.
The team has also notched six third-places at grand tours this year, giving Garmin 15 second or third places in grand tours in 2009.
It should be one hell of a party when the team finally trades one of those podiums for its first individual grand tour stage victory.
(Statistics from www.cqranking.com)
Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) proved he’s a gentleman when he went to the Rabobank team bus before the start of Tuesday’s stage to apologize to Dutch climber Robert Gesink.
The Aussie was furious at the finish line in Monday’s stage after losing the leader’s jersey and blamed Gesink for shutting down his line to the sprint for the third-place time bonus, which he lost to Alejandro Valverde.
The Spanish sports daily AS reported that Evans complained about Gesink following Monday’s intense finish: “Gesink is an idiot. Doesn’t he realize I am fighting for the leader’s jersey? Why did he have to shut me down? It’s incredible.”
Gesink defended himself in the Dutch media, saying that he wasn’t intentionally trying to block Evans, adding that “Evans is a sore loser.”
At the suggestion of Silence-Lotto sport director Hendrik Redant, Evans offered an apology to Gesink before Tuesday’s start to mend the fences.
“I am sorry, I shouldn’t have acted like that,” Evans was quoted. “I was frustrated. I have nothing against Robert.”
GC fight narrowed
In what was heralded as the most competitive and wide-open Vuelta a España in years has quickly become a six-man battle.
The race for the Vuelta crown is still very tight, with six riders separated by barely one minute as the race nears its halfway point, but there are scores of big names whose chances for final victory are long over.
Among the major names missing or far out of contention include:
• Chris Horner (Astana): crashed out of stage four
• Kim Kirchen (Columbia-HTC): In yellow jersey in last year’s Tour de France, did not start stage 6
• Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank): Runner-up in 2009 Tour, did not finish stage 8, stomach flu
• Carlos Barredo (Quick Step): did not finish stage 9, stomach flu
• José Angel Marchante Gómez (Cervélo TestTeam): 19th at 5:31 back; twice in top 10 at Vuelta, now will try to win a stage
• Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank): 35th at 12:16; much-heralded grand tour rookie crashed into back of semi-tractor-trailer, suffered in stage to Aitana, third in Tuesday’s stage
• Alexander Vinokourov (Astana): 37th at 14:31; overall winner in 2006, Vinokourov was an enigma before his first grand tour in two years, fourth in Tuesday’s stage
• Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi): 89th at 35:10; Basque climber will try to win a stage next week and help teammate Sánchez
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