By Andrew Hood
This might be Davide Rebellin’s last season, but don’t tell him that he’s done just yet.
The veteran Italian pulled off a thrilling victory in Wednesday’s third stage, a hilly course from Marbella to Benahavis through the hills along Spain’s Costa del Sol, out-kicking a stellar field to win for the first time this season.
Rebellin took down Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and relegated Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) to third in a victory that reveals the classics specialist might have one more trick up his sleeve this April before riding off into the sunset.
“It was a good finish because it took out some of the pure sprinters. I had good preparation over the winter and the weather of where I live in Monaco is ideal for training,” Rebellin said after scoring his 51st professional win. “The form is good, but I didn’t expect to win so early.”
Joost Posthuma (Rabobank) finished in the main pack to retain the leader’s jersey going into Thursday’s decisive final stage. Without time bonuses during La Ruta, Posthuma holds a slender, two-second lead to prologue winner Xavier Tondo (Andalcucía-CajaSur) with Martin Velits (Milram) at 5sec back.
The hilly, five-climb stage promised to deliver sparks. Four riders — Julián Sánchez (Contentpolis), Luis Ángel Máté (Serramenti), Francisco Javier Martínez (Andalucía) e Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) — decided they wanted a head start and tore away over the day’s second climb up the Cat. 2 Alto de Ojén at 11km.
The quartet built up a potentially dangerous lead of nearly nine minutes in the first 20km of racing. Katusha and Silence-Lotto put some fresh legs on the front to halve that gap at 80km.
The group was eventually reeled in with less than 20km to go, setting up another mass sprint.
But the rising finish over the final two kilometers eliminated riders such as Gert Steegmans and Danilo Napolitano, winners of the opening two stages, and opened the door for the likes of Rebellin and Co.
The peloton was all strung out in a long line on the 5 percent grade when Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) and Davide de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto) each tried to surprise the pack in the final half-kilometer.
Rebellin used his experience and improving condition to fend off Pozzato in the final 100 meters to take the flowers.
“It’s really too bad, above all for all the work from my teammates,” Pozzato said. “Rebellin was too strong and the final was perfect for him. I spent too much time to catch Flecha when he went at 500m. In the final 200m, I went first and Rebellin was on my wheel and he passed me in the last 80m. My shape is good and I hope to do well in my next races, at Laigueglia and Het Volk.”
Defending champion Pablo Lastras (Caisse d’Epargne) – fourth at eight seconds back — still believes he has chances for a repeat victory.
“Any race you start as defending champion you want to do well. The truth is I am feeling good right now, so we’ll see what happens,” Lastras told VeloNews. “(Thursday’s) stage should decide everything. I know the climbs well and the final climb (Cat. 1 Torcal) is not easy. I think it will all come down there.”
Lastas, 33, is out to prove he’s still a factor in the cycling world and wants to snag some early season results before heading to the Giro d’Italia later this season to help team captain Joaquín Rodríguez.
“I want to prove I can still be useful to the team. I had some injuries, but those are behind me now,” he continued. “I’d like to get a win or two early in the season and then help the team where I can. I still love being a pro despite the fact I am entering my 13th pro season. I still feel like a neo-pro, but with the experience of a veteran. I still have that spark.”
The 55th Ruta del Sol concludes Thursday with the 165.8km final stage from Torrox Costa to Antequera. The five-climb stage will prove a challenge so early in the season, with the Cat. 1 Puerto del Torcal topping out at just 14.6km from the finish line, serving up a high-speed run into the finish line.