By Andrew Hood
The dust is settling following Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, whichsaw Andrea Tafi (Mapei) score a huge upset over local favoritesJohan Museeuw (Domo) and Peter Van Petegem (Lotto). AmericanGeorge Hincapie proved he’s a Classics power, finishing an impressivefourth after making the final five-man selection.Lance Armstrong was a big help in the middle of the race, butHincapie could only watch as Mapei’s Daniele Nardello neutralizedlate-race attacks to secure the victory for his teammate Tafi. Hincapiegoes into Wednesday’s Ghent-Wevelgem as the defending champion and looksstrong for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix as the Classics move into full-swing.Acqua e Sapone’s Mario Cipollini finished ninth to maintain theoverall World Cup lead, but said he will not start Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix.”It’s a dangerous race and it’s not a race made for me. Also, the Societedu Tour de France (also Paris-Roubaix race organizers) didn’t invite melast year to the Tour, so I will not race,” Cipollini told Italian journalists.Cipollini, winner at Milan-San Remo holds the lead of the 10-race WorldCup with 120 points. Tafi is now second with 100 points and American FredRodriguez (Domo) is third with 79 points. Hincapie moves into eighthoverall with 50 points.Away from the Classics, this week’s main event is the five-day, six-stageVuelta a Pais Vasco in northern Spain. One of the most difficultearly-season stage races, Vuelta a Pais Vasco starts Monday with a 139km leg-tester featuring no less than six rated climbs (five Category 3and one Category 2 climbs) on a circuit starting and ending in Zalla.Tuesday’s 183 km second stage climbs from Zalla to Vitoria on the northernedge of Spain’s meseta and features four rated climbs, with the 1100-meterCategory 1 Alto de la Herrera at 146 kms. Wednesday’s 170 km third stagefrom Vitoria to Alsasua is perhaps the easiest of the race, featuring aCategory 1 climb early in the stage followed up by a Category 2 and twoCategory 3 climbs before a flat finish over the final 13 kilometers.Thursday’s 154 km fourth stage drops from the meseta back down to thelowlands of Basque Country, with three Category 2 climbs and two Category3 climbs animating the action. Friday’s split stage will prove decisive.The morning stage features six rated climbs coming in quick successionin the short 96-km stage, finishing with a Category 1 and two Category2 climbs in the final 35 kilometers. The afternoon individual time trialwill likely decide the champion. The 15.2 km course features a climb withgrades up to 6.2-percent to Alto Azkarate.The 2002 Vuelta a Pais Vasco by the numbers:755.2 – total kilometers, with an average stage-length of 151kms.152 – Number of starting racers, eight riders each from 19 teams.25 – Number of rated climbs; 4 category-one climbs, 11 categorytwo and 10
category three.24 – Number of Basque riders starting the race.6 – Number of stages, if you count two in Friday’s final splitstage.5 – Five of the last six winners are starting Monday at Zalla.They include: Francesco Casagrande (Fassa Bortolo, 1996), AlexZulle (Coast, 1995, 1997), Inigo Cuesta (Cofidis,
1998), Andreas Kloden (Telekom, 2000) and Raimondas Rumsas(Lampre, 2001).3 – Number of former star mountain bikers in the peloton, withCadel Evans and Dario Cioni from Mapei and Michael Rasmussenat CSC-Tiscali.0 – Number of summit finishes
Gunning for overall victory will be Saeco’s Danilo Di Luca,second overall in 2000, Telekom’s Alexandre Vinokourov, winner ofParis-Nice, and Euskaltel’s Alberto Martinez, who barely nippedArmstrong to win Criterium International last weekend.Other big names include defending Giro d’Italia champion GilbertoSimoni, back from an injury at Setmana Catalana, Alex Zulle (Coast),ONCE’s Joseba Beloki, back to racing after being treated by an acupuncturist for pain in his Achilles tendon, Francesco Casagrande(Fassa Bortolo), David Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Stefano Garzelli (Mapei), Juan Miguel Mercado (ibanesto.com) and Michael Boogerd (Rabobank).Absent is CSC-Tiscali’s Laurant Jalabert, a winner here in 1999,still recovering from a virus that sidelined him since Milan-San Remo.Last year’s Vuelta a Espana winner Angel Casero (Coast) is latescratch, out with severe muscle cramps he suffered in Saturday’s GPMiguel Indurain. Casero is scheduled to consult with a doctor Mondayin Barcelona to access his injuries and consider his options for startingthe Giro d’Italia in May.Euskaltel’s Martinez is one of the big favorites for final victory.Second overall last year and a rising star in Spanish cycling, Martinezspoke with Diario Vasco at the dawn of the race.”I feel good. I haven’t raced since Criterium International, but I’vebeen training as much as I could despite some rain,” Martinez said. “I’mtaking this race stage-by-stage. My tactics are clear. I going to go atthe maximum to limit my losses in the mountains and arrive at the timetrial ready to go 100-percent. I don’t like to be called the favorite becausethis race is very hard. The course profile looks like an electro-cardiogram.But I’d like to win, sure, because last year I was in second by just 5seconds and to win here is no small thing. To win this race, you have tobe strong plus have a little luck. It’s a competitive race with difficultclimbs, dangerous descents and narrow finishes.”American Watch: The Navigators’ Kirk O’Bee led thecharge for his American team, scoring a huge victory in Sunday’s GPde Rennes, the sixth round of the Coupe de France. The Navigators hadthree riders in the top-5Three Americans start at Vuelta a Pais Vasco: Tyler Hamiltonwith CSC-Tiscali, Bobby Julich with Telekom and Levi Leipheimerwith Rabobank.George Hincapie continues his assault on the Classics this week.Lance Armstrong will help Hincapie in Ghent-Wevelgem on Wednesdaybefore returning to Texas for his annual fundraiser Ride For The Rosesthis weekend. Armstrong’s back in Europe next week for Liege-Bastogne-Liege(April 21) and Amstel Gold (April 28).