By Andrew Hood
Two big names moved to the front of the pack in Thursday’s climb-riddled 130km second stage of the Tour Mediterranean.
World Cup champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and world champion Igor Astarloa (Cofidis) finished 1-2 ahead of about 30 lead riders, with Bettini taking the stage and Astarloa grabbing the race leader’s yellow jersey.
The pair made headlines last fall when Astarloa suggested Bettini offered a pay-off to throw the road world championships in Hamilton. Astarloa quickly retracted the statement and the two have since made up. There was no sign of any hangover of bad feeling Thursday as the two were all smiles on the podium.
The stage from La Londe to Hyères hit four Category 1 climbs and the steep roads quickly caused a split in the bunch as only about 30 riders stayed with the favorites. Americans Bobby Julich (CSC) and Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) each finished in the front group as both show fine early season form.
Richard Virenque (Quick Step) and Frederic Bessy (Cofidis) were on the attack when Jorg Jaksche (CSC) bridged out on the final climb. Rabobank couldn’t risk letting the trio stay away and drove hard to check the move to set up the sprint.
The five-stage Tour Mediterranean continues Friday with the 122-kilometer third stage from Rousset to Berre l’Etang, a flat stage well-suited for 2002 world champion Mario Cipollini.
Tour Mediterranean (UCI 2.3),
Stage 2, La Londe to Hyeres, 130 kilometers
1. Paolo Bettini, Quick Step
2. Igor Astarloa, Cofidis
3. Sylvain Chavanel, Boulangere
4. Oscar Carmenzind, Phonak
5. Simone Masciarelli, Vini Caldirola all same timeOverall standings after two stages
1. Igor Astarloa, Cofidis, 6 hours, 3 minutes, 10 seconds
2. Sylvain Chavanel, Boulangere, +0:02
3. Paolo Bettini, Quick Step
4. Laurent Brochard, Ag2r, both same time
5. Jens Voigt, +0:06