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By Andrew Hood
Telekom’s Erik Zabel has never raced in the Vuelta a España, but the veteran German sprinter let the peloton know Sunday he’s the quickest man in the race when it comes to a bunch sprint.
Zabel won his first career Vuelta stage in the first chance he got. Saturday’s individual time trial was dominated by David Millar (Cofidis), who easily retained his overall lead in Sunday’s 147-km (91-mile) second stage from Salamanca to Valladolid across Spain’s flat meseta.
The stage was flat as a pancake until the final kilometer, when the course shot up a steep hill to the finish. The profile blew up any chance for a “classic” bunch sprint, but Zabel’s Telekom team still had the firepower to lead him up the punchy climb to victory.
“In the closing kilometers of the stage our team took responsibility for the race. We knew the last kilometer was very steep and I didn’t want to lose the race because I was in a bad position,” said Zabel, after notching his 189th career victory.
With 100 meters to go, Mapei’s Oscar Freire came around Domo’s Robbie McEwen but couldn’t catch Zabel who won easily with arms in the arm by a bike length.
It’s been a long season for Zabel, who started the 2001 campaign off on a high note by winning yet again the Milan-San Remo race for the fourth time in March. He won his sixth straight green points jersey and won three stages in the 2001 Tour de France and followed it up with victory at HEW Cyclassics in August.
“I had some doubts about my form because I have only raced two important races since the Tour, but the Vuelta is an important race and you can’t come here just to train or be on vacation,” Zabel said. “I came here to win as many stages as possible.”
The race started slow and was marred by no less than 15 flat tires in the opening 20 kilometers. The first serious attack was by Jose Manual Vazquez of the Relax-Fuenlabrada team at 54 kms. He built up a 3 minute, 20 second-lead at 85 kms when Mapei and Telekom put down the hammer to reel him in. Cofidis controlled the race until the final 20 kms when Telekom pushed hard into the finish.
The much-hyped duel between Freire and Zabel ended with the German one-up on the former world champion. Freire promises more in the coming days.
“Zabel was the strongest today, there was nothing else that happened. Mapei did all they were supposed to do for me, but it’s unfortunate I couldn’t secure the victory. I am in good form and will fight for a victory tomorrow,” Freire said.
Race leader Millar finished ninth with the main bunch 3 seconds in arrears. All the pre-race favorites finished in the main bunch as well. ONCE’s Marcos Serrano, who broke his right shoulder in Saturday’s time trial, did not start.
The 21-stage, 2986-km (1,851-mile) Vuelta a España continues Monday with the 140-km (87-mile) third stage from Valladolid to Leon on the northern edge of the Spanish meseta.
VUELTA A ESPAÑA, STAGE TWO, SALAMANCA-VALLADOLID, Sept. 9
1. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom, 147 kms (91 miles) in 3 hours, 34 minutes, 28 seconds, (41.181 kph); 2. Oscar Freire (Sp), Mapei, same time; 3. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Domo, s.t.; 4. Angel Edo (Sp), Milaneza, s.t.; 5. David Extebarria (Sp), Euskaltel, at 3 seconds; 6. M.A. Martin Perdiguero (Sp), Cantina Tollo, s.t.; 7. Pedro Horrillo (Sp), Mapei, s.t.; 8. Janek Tombak (Est), Cofidis, s.t.; 9. David Millar (GB), Cofidis, s.t.; 10. Salvatore Commesso (I), Saeco, s.t.
Vuelta a España, overall standings after two stages
1. David Millar (GB), Cofidis, 3:49:27; 2. Santiago Botero (C), Kelme, at 1 second back; 3. Levy Leipheimer (USA), U.S. Postal Service, at 0:03; 4. Igor Galdeano (Sp), ONCE, at 0:17; 5. Joseba Beloki (Sp), ONCE, at 0:23; 6. David Plaza (Sp), Festina, at 0:24; 7. Jose Guitierrez (Sp), Kelme, at 0:25; 8. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Sp), ONCE, at 0:26; 9. Jorg Jaksche (G), ONCE, at 0:26; 10. Pedro Horrillo (Sp), Mapei, at 0:28
Others: 12. Abraham Olano (Sp), ONCE, at 0:31; 18. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Kelme, at 0:35; 31. Alex Zülle (Swi), Coast, at 0:46; 32. Roberto Heras (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, at 0:46; 50. Fernando Escartin (Sp), Coast, at 1:02; 75. Richard Virenque (F), Domo, at 1:14; 125. Marco Pantani (I), Mercatone Uno, at 1:43
Best climber’s jersey
1. David Millar, Cofidis, 6 points; 2. Robert Hunter, Lampre, 4; 3. Jose Luis Rubiera, U.S. Postal Service, 2; 4. Santiago Botero, 1.
1. David Millar, Cofidis, 32 points; 2. Erik Zabel, Telekom, 25; 3. Santiago Botero, Kelme, 20; 4. Oscar Freire, Mapei, 20; 5. Levy Leipheimer, U.S. Postal Service, 16
1. Kelme, 11:29:20; 2. ONCE, at 7 seconds; 3. U.S. Postal Service at 25 seconds; 4. Cofidis, at 32 seconds; 5. Festina, at 41 seconds.