By Andrew Hood
The action was hot despite the cold and rain in Friday’s third stage of the Tour of Aragon in Spain. Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval) won a photo-finish, seven-up sprint against Oscar Laguna (Relax-Bodysol) as Denis Menchov (Illes Balears) retained the overall lead.
Zaballa and Laguna were part of a seven-man break that peeled away from the main bunch over the final Category 3 climb about 25km from the finish line, and the chase was on. Illes Balears checked an early move that chugged away over the day’s main obstacles – two Cat. 1 climbs in the opening 90km.
Menchov was part of the chase group, numbering about 25 riders, which came within five seconds of catching the escapees coming into rainy streets in Sabiñanigo along the Pyrenees foothills in northern Spain.
Jan Hruska (Liberty Seguros) tried to slip away with about 800 meters to go, but big Russian Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) helped bring him back. Laguna made his move for the victory with 100 meters to go after sitting on the back almost all the way home, but Zaballa pipped him at the line.
The overall remained mostly unchanged, but Josep Jufre (Relax-Bodysol) fell out of the top five after losing contact coming into Sabiñanigo. Menchov’s Illes Balears teammate Francisco Mancebo moved into fifth.
It should be relatively clear sailing for Menchov as the final two stages favor the sprinters, though dour weather is forecast for the weekend.
The 49th Tour of Aragon continues Saturday with the 192km fourth stage from Huesca to La Muela, an undulating stage with a Cat. 3 climb at 46km.
49th Tour of Aragon (SPA 2.2), Stage 3, Sabiñanigo-Sabiñanigo, 169km
1. Constantino Zaballa (Sp), Saunier Duval, 4:06:51
2. Oscar Laguna (Sp), Relax-Bodysol
3. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), Illes Balears
4. Peio Arreitunandia (Sp), Cafes Baque
5. Jan Hruska (Sp), Liberty Seguros – all same time
Overall after three stages
1. Denis Menchov (Rus), Illes Balears, 12:25:09
2. Stefano Garzelli (I), Vini Caldirola, at 0:04
3. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval, at 0:06
4. Koldo Gil (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 0:08
5. Francesco Mancebo (Sp), Illes Balears, at 0:45
Cadamuro takes Veenendaal race
Italian Simone Cadamuro (De Nardi) held off Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) to win Friday’s Veenendaal-Veenendaal race in Holland.
Five riders finished with the same with Jo Planckaert (Mr Bookmaker) coming through third. Mario Aerts (T-Mobile) led the main bunch through at six seconds back.
19th Veenendaal-Veenendaal (NED 1.2), 207km
1. Simone Cadamuro (I), De Nardi, 4:40:29
2. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Lotto-Domo
3. Jo Planckaert (B), Mr Bookmaker
4. Jans Koerts (Ned), Chocolade Jacques
5. Serguei Gontchar (Ukr), De Nardi – all same time
Armstrong gives boost to Georgia race
Lance Armstrong’s appearance in next week’s Dodge Tour of Georgia (April 20-25) is already paying off big dividends for race organizers. According to a report in the Macon Telegraph, Armstrong’s presence has helped the second-year race take hold.
“It’s had a ripple effect,” said Stan Holm, executive director of the Tour de Georgia on Armstrong’s commitment to race. “When we started the tour, we had a five-year plan to make it the premier racing event in North America. With Lance coming, it turned our five-year plan into a two-year plan.”
Race organizers have scrambled to increase security, issue more media credentials and even made the course more challenging this year in part to appeal to Armstrong, who will make a run for a record sixth Tour de France in July.
“It had an impact on us, but at the end of the day it’s a positive impact,” Holm told the Macon Telegraph. The race is expected to generate $30 million in spending, six times more than last year.
“I have to give (Armstrong) credit for all that, literally,” Holm said.
News Thursday that the flamboyant Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) will use the red clay hills of Georgia to prime for May’s Giro d’Italia give further prestige to the second-year race’s start list.
Even Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue got into the act, proclaiming next week the official “Tour de Georgia” week in the Peach State.
Mayo to skip Liège
Last year’s runner-up at Liège-Bastogne-Liège — Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) – won’t be back to make a run for victory later this month in the Ardennes classic.
The Alpe d’Huez Tour de France stage-winner rider told VeloNews that he’s taking the start of the 2004 “more tranquil” than last year, when he barnstormed to victory in the Tour of the Basque Country and finished second to Hamilton at La Doyenne.
“My goals come later in the season,” Mayo said after finishing second overall at the Basque Tour last weekend. “I’ve had a more tranquilo start to the season. I’m feeling stronger than I expected at this race, but I won’t be going to Liège. Everything for the Tour this year.”
Leading the “orange clan” in the Ardennes will be David Etxebarria and Samuel Sanchez. Both riders had strong rides in the Basque tour, with Etxebarria finishing third overall.
Euskaltel-Euskadi for Fleche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Astarloa entertains offers
Just a day after the Cofidis management team told reigning world champion Igor Astarloa he was free to entertain offers, at least three teams are already reportedly putting together offers.
Lampre, Quick Step and Saeco have shown interest in the Spanish world champion, according to a report in the Dario Vasco. Last year, Saeco let Astarloa go just weeks before he won the world title in Hamilton.
Last week, Cofidis took the extraordinary step to voluntarily pull itself out of competition following further revelations of alleged doping with former and current staff and team members.
“I’m going to wait to what happens with the team,” Astarloa told Europa Press. “They took the surprising decision to stop, which, I suppose, will be a good thing. The riders and staff are just hoping it’s for as short as time as possible.”
Astarloa, who joined Cofidis over the winter, won’t be racing in Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race in Holland and will unlikely defend his title at Fleche Wallone on Wednesday. Blanco nearing retirement
Spanish rider Santi Blanco (Bodysol-Relax) is reportedly close to retirement following injuries to his knees. A winner of a two stages at the Vuelta a España stage, Blanco is suffering from a condition that limits blood-flow through his knees to his legs.
“I have stopped racing now because it hurts when I train. Doctors say the only option I have is surgery,” Blanco told the EFE news agency. “But no one can guarantee that I will have a complete recovery. I’m 30 and it takes longer to come back. I’m looking at retirement.”
The Dutch semi-classic Veenendaal-Veenendaal (NED 1.2) provides a nice warm-up for Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race. Last year, Leon Van Bon (Lotto-Domo) held off Marc Wauters (Rabobank) for the win … The Tour of Aragon (SPA 2.2) continues Friday with the 169km third stage starting and ending in Sabiñinago. The stage features two Category 1 climbs in the first half before the peloton hits the Cat. 3 Alto de Navasa at 23km from the finish. This stage will be the final major hurdle for race leader Denis Menchov (Illes Balears) as the final two stages favor the sprinters.