Mayo wins on strength of TT
By Andrew Hood
Spain’s Iban Mayo ruled the final day of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco while CSC’s Tyler Hamilton finished second overall in a classic shoot-out in the rugged hills of northern Spain.
Hamilton rode strong in Friday’s rain-marred final split stage, finishing with the lead group of just three riders in the morning’s difficult climbing stage and then performed well in the afternoon time trial.
But it was Mayo who stole the show, winning the morning stage and the afternoon time trial to wrap up the overall title. It’s an important victory for his Euskaltel team, hoping for a bid to this summer’s Tour de France.
“This is easily the most important victory in my career,” Mayo said. “I want to thank my team and everyone who believed in me. This was very difficult, but I think I showed I am the strongest.”
Despite the foul weather, the racing-crazy Basques lined the road to cheer on their local heroes.
Hamilton did all he could and finished second just 12 seconds behind winner Iban Mayo in the prestigious race, considered Spain’s most important event behind the Tour of Spain.
Hamilton’s strong second-place finish is another sign the American will be a major player in July’s Tour de France, his top goal for the 2003 season. In his first two races this season, Hamilton won the King of the Mountains jersey at his season debut at Paris-Nice and finished sixth at Criterium International at the end of March.
No less than 31 riders entered the final stage tied for the lead with the same time, but scores of riders abandoned or lost contact over the climb-riddled morning stage. The selection was made on the stage’s final climb, the Category 2 Alto de Erlaitz just 20km to the finish line. Mayo and teammate Samuel Sanchez attacked hard and split the lead group. Hamilton joined Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo) in an exciting chase.
Despite a counter-attack by Mayo, the four topped the summit of the climb some 35 seconds ahead of the broken-up lead group. Frigo lost contact on the treacherous, slippery descent while Hamilton kept the two fearless Spanish riders in sight.
Coming into the finish, Mayo attacked to claim his second stage victory of the race to go along with his win in Stage 1 and all three finished with the same time. Frigo came across 22 seconds back and race-leader Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) and defending champion Aitor Osa (iBanesto.com) came across 47 seconds back.
If that wasn’t enough, there was still the afternoon 13km time trial.
Mayo proved he was the strongest, winning the race against the clock and claimed the overall prize despite continuing rain. ONCE’s Angel Vicioso was second, finishing less than a second faster than Hamilton, who finished third.
Tour of the Basque Country, final overall standings
1. Iban Mayo (Sp), Euskaltel, 18 hours, 59 minutes, 23 seconds
2. Tyler Hamilton (USA), CSC, at 12 seconds
3. Samuel Sanchez (Sp), Euskaltel, at 23 seconds
4. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 1:07
5. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme, at 1:15
6. Aitor Osa (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 1:30
7. Michael Rasmussen (Ned), Rabobank, at 1:39
8. Wladimir Belli (I), Lampre, at 1:46
9. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), Telekom, at 2:01
10. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, at 2:03Stage 5a
1. Iban Mayo (Sp), Euskaltel, 2 hours, 19 minutes, 37 seconds
2. Samuel Sanchez (Sp), Euskaltel
3. Tyler Hamilton (USA), CSC – same time
4. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 22 seconds
5. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme, at 47 secondsStage 5b
1. Iban Mayo (Sp), Euskaltel, 19 minutes, 55 seconds
2. Angel Vicioso (Sp), ONCE, at 11.8 seconds
3. Tyler Hamilton (USA), CSC, at 11.87 seconds
4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), Telekom, at 21 seconds
5. Samuel Sanchez (Sp), Euskaltel, at 22 seconds