Coast gets two weeks to cough up cash for Jan
By Andrew Hood
Victor Hugo Peña scored U.S. Postal’s first victory of the season Saturday after taking the fourth stage of the Tour of Murcia and bounced into 10th overall.
Kelme’s Javier Pascual Llorente held on to the overall lead despite struggling earlier in the stage, but the stage-win must taste somewhat bittersweet for Peña. The Colombian won here last year and finished second at the Tour d’Algarve in Portugal last month, but got caught behind a crash in Thursday’s climb and fell out of contention.
Peña attacked up the final climb of the three-climb 167km stage from Cartagena to Alto de La Santa and held off Czech rider Jan Hruska (ONCE) to score the Postie’s first win in 2003 in the same race that saw four-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong make his season debut.
Friday’s stage included two climbs up the Category 1 Alto Callado Bermejo before the climbing finish to Alto de La Santa and not everyone was as excited as Peña was. So much so that 36 riders abandoned, including Posties George Hincapie, Michael Barry and David Zabriskie.
Armstrong gave Peña a hand up the second climb on Callado Bermejo before falling into an easier rhythm to finish 42nd and sits 35th overall at 9:40 back.
The day’s main protagonists were Michael Rasmussen, the former mountain bike world champion now racing slicks on Rabobank, and Spanish rider Joaquim Lopez (Paternina). The duo chugged away during the first climb up Bermejo and the main group fractured in their wake.
Kelme and Euskaltel led a group of 14 riders up the second climb to Bermejo when the leading pair’s gap got north of two minutes. Llorente was having some difficult keeping the pace and Peña made his move. Also jumping were Rabo’s Levi Leipheimer and Addy Engels and ONCE’s Jan Hruska.
With the Alto de La Santa looming, the leading four had a 1:31 gap with only 10km to go and Engels became the virtual leader. Engels made a solo move to take all the glory, but Peña and Hruska came around him with just over 1 km to go.
Llorente recovered nicely up the final climb to finish fifth at 31 seconds back to retain his hold on the overall lead. With a six-second time bonus, Hruska moves up into second place.
The five-day Murcia tour will be decided in Sunday’s flat 12.9km individual time trial. Llorente will likely have a hard time holding off Hruska and Euskaltel’s Haimar Zubeldia, who fell to third at after losing a few seconds to Llorente on the climb.
Stage 4, Cartegena to Alto de La Santa
1. Victor Hugo Peña (Co), U.S. Postal Service, 162km in 4:14:03 (10-second bonus)
2. Jan Hruska (Cze), ONCE, same time (6-second bonus)
3. Addy Engels (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:13 (4-second bonus)
4. Jose Luis Martinez (Sp), Paternina, at 0:28
5. Javier Pascual Llorente (Sp), Kelme, at 0:31
6. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 0:33
7. Cadel Evans (Aus), Telekom, at 0:35
8. Wladimir Belli (I), Lampre, s.t.
9. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Sp), Phonak, s.t.
10. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel, at 0:39OTHERS
25. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank, at 2:18
42. Lance Armstrong (USA), U.S. Postal Service, at 8:35 – 36 abandoned, including George Hincapie, Michael Barry and David Zabriskie.Overall after four stages
1. Javier Pascual Llorente (Sp) Kelme, 15:42:54
2. Jan Hruska (Cze), ONCE, at 0:10
3. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel, at 0:15
4. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 0:22
5. Addy Engles (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:24
6. Cadel Evans (Aus), Telekom, at 0:29
7. Jose Luis Martinez (Sp), Paternina, at 0:30
8. Wladimir Belli (I), Lampre, at 0:35
9. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Sp), Phonak, at 0:37
10. Victor Hugo Peña (Col), U.S. Postal Service, at 0:40OTHERS
26. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank, at 2:35
35. Lance Armstrong (USA-U.S. Postal Service) at 9:40.
Gonzalez marks season debut with victory
Aitor Gonzalez wasn’t drinking sangria all winter after all. The 2002 Vuelta a España champion returned to racing in dramatic fashion Saturday, winning the 194km Giro di Reggio Calabria in southern Italy two weeks after a contract dispute postponed his season debut.
Gonzalez got the okay in late February from the UCI to race once his contract dispute between Fassa Bortolo and Domina Vacanze was settled. But it came too late for Gonzalez’ planned season opener Feb. 23 at Luis Puig and then the Tour of Valencia, which started in his hometown of Sant Vicent del Raspeig on Feb. 25.
Gonzalez made a move with 20km to go to reel in an attacking rider and just kept on going. Gonzalez massaged a 20-second lead all the way into the finish, where the fast-charging group came across with the same time. Gonzalez got the win and Fassa Bortolo teammate Filippo Pozzato took second with Fabio Baldato (Alessio) coming across third.
Pevenage gives Coast two weeks to pay Ullrich
Rudy Pevenage, training this week with Jan Ullrich in Tuscany, told Reuters on Friday that the troubled Team Coast has two weeks to come up with money or he’ll take his star pupil elsewhere.
Pevenage said Ullrich has yet to see a dime from the German team that he signed with in January. The UCI banned Team Coast from competition on Thursday for allegedly not paying riders’ salaries and is expected to further review the case Monday.
“If things are sorted out and we get paid then we will continue with Team Coast, but if there are still problems in two weeks’ time we’ll start looking for another team,” the Belgian sport director told Reuters. “Their contracts started in January and there was supposed to be a bank guarantee to cover all our contracts but it doesn’t exist.”
There’s been speculation since last week that Ullrich would leave Coast for an Italian team, with Saeco and Mercatone Uno both being mentioned. Pevenage said Ullrich comes as a package and that won’t be cheap even in today’s cycling climate.
“My mobile telephone has been on all the time and so far no team has called me to make an offer,” Pevenage told Reuters. “The problem is that there is not much money in cycling at the moment and there are five of us in Jan’s entourage — Jan, his training partner, me, his mechanic and his masseur. That’s a lot of people to find money for.”
The 1997 Tour de France champion left his longtime home with Telekom last fall after suffering through a horrible year that saw him receive a DUI, undergo two knee surgeries and get banned from racing until March 24 after testing positive for amphetamines.
Millar scores prologue, Navigators hit Three Days of West Flanders
David Millar (Cofidis) won his first race against the clock since the2001 Vuelta a España, taking the opening prologue of the Three Daysof West Flanders on Friday. Millar, 26, is one of the best time trialistsin the game and was the surprise winner over Lance Armstrong in the 2000Tour de France prologue. Millar said he’s lost a little of his time trialingedge as he’s worked on trying to improve his climbing skills. At last week’sTour of Valencia, Millar said he wasn’t worried about his time trial drought.
“I know, it’s been a long time, but no, it’s not a problem,” he saidbefore the race. “Those things just happen. I’ve been close a few times.I think it will happen pretty soon. My form is coming around pretty good.It will happen soon.”
Well, pretty soon came pretty quick. Despite a strong winds and coldtemperatures, Millar won the short 7.6km prologue over fellow English-speakersBradley McGee and Michael Rogers, both of Australia.
The American Navigators team is also competing in Belgium as part ofits spring European racing campaign with Jeff Louder in 70th as the top-placedrider. Other Navigators racing include Vassili Davidenko, Siro Camponogara,Oleg Grishkine, Glen Mitchell, Ciaran Power, Henk Vogels and Chris Wherry.