By Andrew Hood
Di Luca seals VPV deal
Danilo Di Luca started Friday’s 9.3km final time trial of the Vuelta a Pais Vasco with a 23-second head start on Bobby Julich.
Making up that much time seemed unlikely on such a short course that favored the climbing legs of Di Luca, but with the way Julich’s been riding these days, you just never know.
The Liquigas-Bianchi star only needed a quarter of that cushion to score the overall title in the hilly ProTour race in Spain’s Basque Country region. Di Luca finished a strong fourth at just four seconds slower than CSC’s Julich in a rainy, challenging time trial to score his first major win of the 2005 season.
Spaniard Alberto Contador (Liberty Seguros) took the stage, just five seconds faster than Julich, and moved into third overall.
“This victory is very important for me.,” said Di Luca. “It confirms I had been making good work in the last months and encourages me for the next goals,” said Di Luca. “My performance in the short final time trial (was) a surprise for me, too. I’ve taken my revenge – five years ago here in the Vuelta al Paìs Vasco I lost the final victory just in the last day.”
Spanish rider Aitor Osa (Illes Balears) held a one-second lead on Di Luca going into the short finale, which included a very hard climb at 6km into the course, with Julich poised at 23 seconds adrift.
Julich made it interesting, posting the fastest early time, but rain and the steep climb took away from his natural advantage in the race against the clock. Still, his strong ride moved him up from 13th to fifth overall.
It was at this very same stage that Julich won a year ago, marking the first victory in his remarkable comeback, which has included a bronze Olympic time trial medal and victories in Paris-Nice and Critérium International.
More worrisome than Julich was Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), who went into the final TT sitting third overall at five seconds back. Rebellin, who beat Di Luca last year in Fleche Wallone, could only take one second and finished second overall while Contador slipped ahead of Osa to claim the final podium spot.
In the morning 93km road sector, Jens Voigt (CSC) tore away from an early breakaway up the sharp climb at the Santuario de Arantzazu to snatch a victory. Voigt finished 1:14 ahead of David Blanco (Comunidad Valenciana).
Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Stage 5b, Oñati-Oñati, 9.3km
1. Alberto Contador (Spa), Liberty Seguros, 13:43
2. Bobby Julich (USA), Team CSC, at 0:05
3. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner, at 0:08
4. Danilo Di Luca (I), Liquigas-Bianchi, at 0:09
5. Oscar Pereiro (Sp), Phonak, at 0:11
14. Tom Danielson (USA), Discovery Channel, at 0:29
15. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, same time
Final overall standings
1. Danilo Di Luca (Ita), Liquigas-Bianchi, 18:13:53
2. Davide Rebellin (Ita), Gerolsteiner, at 0:03
3. Alberto Contador (Spa), Liberty Seguros, at 0:11
4. Aitor Osa (Spa), Illes Balears, at 0:14
5. Bobby Julich (USA), Team CSC, at 0:18
33. Tom Danielson (USA), Discovery Channel, at 2:45
78. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, at 14:50
Discovery’s Hammond still uncertain for Paris-Roubaix
Roger Hammond is still uncertain for Discovery Channel going into Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. Hammond crashed hard in Wednesday’s Gent-Wevelgem, and team director Dirk Demol said the team is giving the Brit classics specialist every chance to recover from injuries that include a broken right thumb and sprained ankle.
“He has been working the whole winter (for Sunday’s race) and doesn’t want to miss it,” Demol said on the team’s web page. “If the doctor agrees that he can ride, then it’s okay with me. We just want to make sure he won’t do any more damage to the thumb by racing on Sunday.”
On Thursday, George Hincapie, Leif Hoste, Stijn Devolder, Antonio Cruz and Ryder Hesjedal rode the first nine cobbled sections of the Paris-Roubaix course, which does without the Arenberg forest but includes new pavé.
“The course is changed a bit this year, with the Arenberg forest missing,” said Demol. On Thursday, he said, the team planned to begin riding the course at the 75km mark, shortly before the first cobbles start at km 97. On Friday, he added, “We’ll do 160km in total.”
Viatcheslav Ekimov and Michael Barry were scheduled to arrive Friday from the Circuit de la Sarthe, leaving the final spot for either Hammond or Volodymyr Bileka.
Besides Hammond, other Discovery Channel riders on the mend from illness and/or injury include Benoit Joachim, getting over a bad injury after crashing at the Three Days of De Panne, along with Hayden Roulston and Gennady Mikhaylov.
Bäckstedt ready for more
Defending Paris-Roubaix champion Magnus Bäckstedt says he’s feeling confident going into Sunday despite trying to shake off the aftereffects of a crash in Wednesday’s Ghent-Wevelgem.
“I’m in excellent form and proved it last Sunday at the Ronde van Vlaanderen and last Wednesday at Ghent-Wevelgem,” the big Swede said. “Unfortunately, last Wednesday I crashed on my right wrist. I immediately had an X-ray to see if the wrist was fractured. It’s not, but it’s still painful and will be even more painful on the cobble sections. I will try not to think about the pain and not to focus on it.”
Bäckstedt was a surprise winner last year after working into the decisive final break. He held off Tristan Hoffman and Roger Hammond to take the biggest win of his career.
“Cancellara, Flecha, Hushovd, Boonen, and Van Petegem,” said Bäckstedt, rattling off his top rivals. “I expect Quick Step and Discovery will control the race in the first phases. They will work hard to face in the best conditions the first cobble sections. Then, as usual, the group will ‘burst.’ If the weather is dry, a little group may cross the finish line. In case of rain, the selection will be very hard. Two or three riders could fight for the win.”
León Sánchez out 3-4 weeks; Serrano skips VPV finale
Promising Spanish hope Luis León Sánchez will be out for up to a month after breaking his wrist in a spill in Wednesday’s Ghent-Wevelgem. León Sánchez – winner at the Tour Down Under – was examined by doctors in Madrid, who said the injury was not as serious as previously thought.
The Liberty Seguros rider received a cast and will likely miss three to four weeks of racing. León Sánchez is still on the short list to make Liberty’s Tour de France team.
In other team news, Marcos Serrano wasn’t able to finish the Vuelta al País Vasco after a bad crash left him with heavy cuts and scrapes on his hip. X-rays found no broken bones and he still might be able to start Sunday’s Clásica de Primavera de Amorebieta.
Petacchi for Tour of Aragon
ProTour leader Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) who has not ridden since winning the Milan-San Remo race last month, returns to action at the Tour of Aragon April 13-17 in Spain, his team confirmed on Friday.
Petacchi will not ride in Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. He has made the Giro d’Italia his main objective of the 2005 season. –Agence France Presse