By Andrew Hood
Kelme’s Alejandro Valverde just keeps on winning races.
The 22-year-old Kelme rider, already a winner at the Mallorca Challenge, a stage at Pais Vasco and the Clasica Primavera, won his fourth race of the spring in Friday’s third stage of the Tour of Aragon.
“Everything’s been going well and I’m hitting my strongest form right now, so I have to take advantage of it,” said Valverde, who jumped with 200 meters to go to beat Angel Edo (Milanezz-MSS).
iBanesto.com’s Leonardo Piepoli finished sixth in the fast, climbing finish into Illueca to retain the overall lead. Mikel Astarloza (Ag2r) went on a long solo break but was caught with 11km to go. Several riders tried to shake the peloton, including second-place Gilberto Simoni (Saeco), but Piepoli’s Banesto boys kept things under control.
“Things were a little disorganized there at the finale, because the final climb was harder than I expected, a mini-col,” said Piepoli, winner of Monday’s climbing finish to Cerler. “If I don’t win Aragon, it will be my fault because we come with a very strong team.”
The Tour of Aragon continues with the 160km fourth stage Saturday from La Muela to Borja. The stage features two Category 3 climbs in the final 60km, but wind will be the major antagonist.
Tour of Aragon, Stage 3, Illuesca-Illuesca
1. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme, 157km in 4:08:43
2. Angel Edo (Sp), Milanez-MSS
3. Michael Albasini (I), Phonak
4. Marco Pantani (I), Mercatone Uno
5. Mikel Artetxe (Sp), Euskaltel
6. Leonardo Piepoli (I), iBanesto.com
7. Isidro Noval (Sp), ONCE
8. Francesco Mancebo (Sp), iBanesto.com
9. Ricardo Serrano (Sp), Labarca2
10. Massimo Codol (I), Mercatone Uno – all same timeOverall standings after Stage 3
1. Leonardo Piepoli (I), iBanesto.com, 12 hours, 26 minutes, 39 seconds
2. Gilberto Simoni (I), Saeco, at 24 seconds
3. Manuel Beltran (Sp), Coast, at 26 seconds
4. Jose Jufre (Sp), Relax), at 39 seconds
5. Carlos Garcia (Sp), Kelme, at 48 seconds
6. Fabian Jeker (Swi), Milaneza-MSS, at 55 seconds;7. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), iBanesto.com, at 56 seconds
8. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Sp), Phonak, at 57 seconds
9. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 58 seconds
10. Jorge Ferrio (Sp), Paternina, at 1:03.
Hamilton pleased with early-season so far
Tyler Hamilton (CSC) says things are on-track for his assault on the Tour de France and told VeloNews he’s pleased with how his season has unfolded so far.
“I’m definitely happy how things have gone. Every year the early season has been kind of rough for me and it’s taken me a little while to get going, but this year is better,” Hamilton said. “I have one year under my belt with a new training program and I’m better adjusted to the team.”
Hamilton is enjoying a short break at his Spanish home in Girona before ramping up for the upcoming Ardennes classics. He’ll skip Sunday’s Amstel Gold, but will race at Fleche Wallone (April 23), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April 27) and the Tour of Romandie (April 29-May 4).
“The next couple of weeks are an important part of my early season,” said Hamilton, who finished second overall at last year’s Tour of Italy. “The Tour de France is the main objective this year, but it’s a long way away, so it’s nice to have something to shoot for.”
After winning the King of the Mountains jersey at Paris-Nice and taking sixth overall at the gritty, two-day Criterium International in March, he said he was pleasantly surprised to finish second overall at the Tour of the Basque Country last week.
“I didn’t expect to be on the podium at Basque Country. I would have been happy with a top-10, so second is a good achievement,” Hamilton said. “It’s nice to get a result like that when you don’t expect it because it confirms that all the hard work I’ve been doing is paying off.”
Hamilton hopes to do well at the Tour of Romandie and then take short break before his final preparations for an assault on the Tour de France in July.
Millar back for Dunkirk
David Millar said he’ll start the Four Days of Dunkirk and promised to be in shape to contest July’s Tour de France, the BBC reported Friday. Millar was seriously hurt when he was hit by a motorcycle during Criterium International in March and underwent hip surgery.
Britain’s top prospect said he’s distraught over the injury and his bad luck so far in the 2003 season.
“The injury has really played tricks with my mind. In the last few days I’ve felt exceptionally despondent,” he told BBC. “It’s totally soul destroying as I’d worked so hard to be in arguably the best shape of my career. I just feel cursed at the moment. I can’t think about cycling for now and shouldn’t be tempted to rush back too soon.”
Millar, 26, is often called a Tour contender for the future, but the Scotsman says he has more modest goals for this year’s Tour.
“I’ll be going for another stage win and anything else is a bonus,” he continued. “On top of that, my other major goal is gold at the World Championships in October. I’ll be going for it in the time trial and I think the road race will suit me as well.”
Ferrari insists he’s ‘scapegoat’
Controversial Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari denied accusations of doping at the latest hearing of his trial this week in Italy and insists he’s a scapegoat for the doping problems in cycling, reported Reuters.
Ferrari is accused by Italian prosecutors of doping riders in the 1990s and receiving banned drugs from a pharmacy in Bologna. Ferrari, a former university researcher who’s worked with four-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, faced more than five hours of questioning by Italian prosecutors.
“I am considered an evil person by the press for lots of reasons,” Reuters reported Ferrari as testifying. “I’ve become a scapegoat because I haven’t got anyone to protect me or to protect my back.”
During his testimony, Ferrari denied accusations from some riders who said that he told them to use performance-enhancing drugs.
“I’ve become a target for everybody and someone to blame for everything,” Ferrari said. “They (the teams) see me as someone who gets in the way. The teams want to get as much as they can out of the riders, but I try to protect the riders.”
Ferrari’s trial currently underway in Bologna started in December 2001 and expected to continue throughout the year. The next hearing is scheduled for May 14.