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By Andrew Hood
Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo), a young Swiss bull known more for his time trial than his sprint, surprised the favorites to claim the opening stage of the Setmana Catalana in Spain.
A group of about 40 riders cleared the Category 1 Alt de Sant Grau about 35km to go in the 165km stage and charged into rainy Lloret de Mar for a mass gallop. Rafael Casero (Saunier Duval) was caught with 200 meters to go and Cancellara relegated Milan-San Remo runner-up Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) to second place.
Spanish rider Javier Ramirez (Liberty Seguros) went on a long solo move starting at 65 kilometers that lasted until he was reeled in by the attacking Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) at 25 kilometers to go.
The lead bunch fractured over the Sant Grau as heavy rain pelted the riders, with Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) and Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) setting the pace. The cold and the rain seemed to get to Leipheimer, who lost contact over the final attack-riddled kilometers and rolled in 37 seconds back.
Mayo took risks attacking on the twisting descent and was forced to clip out of his pedals on a sweeping left turn to avoid crashing off course. Mayo bridged up to Ramirez, but Kelme wasn’t about to let the Euskaltel off so easily and quickly closed the gap.
Tour de France favorites Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) made the start, but Ullrich faded on the Sant Grau climb while Heras finished safely in the first group.
There was scores of attacks in the final 12km along a rolling coastal road into Lloret de Mar, but it came in for a bunch sprint. Pre-race favorite Valverde wasn’t in position for the sprint but remains optimistic for final victory.
“I don’t know if I have the same form as I did in the Tour of Murcia and my first peak of fitness ended in this race,” said Valverde, referring to his win earlier this month. “Today’s finish was a little strange, but I was close to getting one of the places of honor.”
The Setmana Catalana continues Tuesday with the 160-kilometer second stage from Lloret de Mar to Empuriabrava. With Thursday’s climbing stage likely to decide the race, teams will be working hard to control the group the next two days.
Setmana Catalana (UCI 2.1), Stage 1, Lloret de Mar-Lloret de Mar
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Fassa Bortolo, 165.5km in 4:27:06
2. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile
3. Bram de Groot (Ned), Rabobank
4. Beat Zberg (Swi), Gerolsteiner
5. M.A. Martin Perdiguero (Sp), Saunier Duval all same time
No rest for Freire
Oscar Freire enjoyed a quiet dinner with his wife and some close friends Saturday night following his Milan-San Remo victory, but that’s all he allowed himself.
“I can’t relax now,” Freire told the Spanish daily AS. “The victory at San Remo has put me into the World Cup lead. It’s a big boost for my motivation and I won’t allow myself to be behind looking for points like in the past years. We’ve just started, there are still nine classics left.”
The Rabobank rider said he will race in the remaining four spring classics on the World Cup calendar and then think about the overall title once the series returns in August following the Tour de France.
“Flanders is a race that many prepare for specifically, riders like Van Petegem, Museeuw, Vandenbroucke, Pieri … I know it will be difficult for me, but this year I will arrive stronger and I will defend myself,” he said. “I will focus all on the classics. Then there are the Olympics and the world’s. I still don’t know if I will race the Tour or the Vuelta.”Zabel tops UCI
Despite being pipped at the line at the end of Saturday’s Milan-San Remo, Erik Zabel continues to lead the UCI point standings, bettering second-placed Alessandro Petacchi by 178 points.The man who beat Zabel on Saturday, former two-time world champion,Oscar Freire, has jumped 20 places to 14th spot in the points race.Last year’s San Remo winner, reigning World Cup champion Paolo Bettiniof Italy, dropped one place to third with his compatriot Petacchi movingup to second. Americans Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton hold on to the seventh and 11th spots respectively.
1. Erik Zabel (G), 2325 points
2. Alessandro Petacchi (I), 2147
3. Paolo Bettini (I), 2049
4. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), 1802
5. Gilberto Simoni (I), 1643
6. Davide Rebellin (I), 1601
7. Lance Armstrong (USA), 1591
8. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kz), 1445
9. Iban Mayo (Sp), 1425
10. Michael Boogerd (Nl), 1390
11. Tyler Hamilton (USA), 1296
12. Francesco Casagrande (I), 1277
13. Jan Ullrich (G), 1258
14. Oscar Freire (Sp), 1235
15. Igor Astarloa (Sp), 1205
16. Peter Van Petegem (B), 1189
17. Isidro Nozal (Sp), 1160
18. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), 1121
19. Dario Frigo (I), 1082
20. Robbie McEwen (Aus), 1080
21. Mirko Celestino (I), 1039
22. David Millar (GB), 1021
23. Stefano Garzelli (I), 1019
24. Danilo Di Luca (I), 1017
25. Baden Cooke (Aus), 1013Rebellin’s classics in doubt
Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) could be in doubt for the spring classics following his crash in Saturday’s Milan-San Remo.
Rebellin tumbled to the ground after he fell into Michele Bartoli (CSC), who crashed into a guardrail on a sweeping right turn coming down the Cipressa. Rebellin injured his knee and injured his hip.
According to the Italian wire service ANSA, Rebellin is set to consult with a doctor this week and reconsider his preparations for Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel Gold, his primary goals in April. Rebellin underwent surgery in October on his left wrist to repair damage dating back to his spill last spring in Fleche Wallone. Millar back on track
World time trial champion David Millar (Cofidis) is confirmed to race in the Manchester World Cup event April 9-11 as part of his effort to earn a berth on the British track team for the Athens Summer Games.
It’s the first track appearance since November, though he’s been doing extensive testing with the British track coaching staff. Millar will also race the team pursuit for the first time.
“It is the perfect opportunity for David to experience the track in a serious racing environment and will keep the door open for Athens,” said British track coach Dave Brailsford.
Millar will join Chris Newton (Olympic bronze in the Team Pursuit and Former World Points Champion), Rob Hayles (Olympic Bronze in the Team Pursuit), Bryan Steel (Olympic bronze in the Team Pursuit) and Paul Manning (Olympic bronze in the Team Pursuit).
“I’m looking forward to it, it will be a great experience. I’ll have just under a week to prepare with the team so hopefully I’ll be okay,” Millar said on his web page. “I’ve tested for the Individual Pursuit so this will help me gain more experience on the track and see if riding in Athens is a viable option. It will also be good riding with Rob again.”
Millar raced Satuday’s Milan-San Remo and endured Paris-Nice, where he finished fourth in the opening time trial and suffered through the remainder of the race.
“The conditions were a nightmare throughout with the worst day being on stage four (ed: later cancelled). We were all waiting around for the decision on the race and had a snowball fight it was that bad,” Millar said. “It was a tough race after that and I sat up on most of the climbs and didn’t go with any of the breaks. I felt comfortable though and the racing is improving my form quickly.”
Ullrich, Heras line up for Setmana Catalana
Tour de France contenders Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) are among the headliners starting Setmana Catalana today through Friday in Spain.
Other big names taking the start in Lloret de Mar are Giro d’Italian fave Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola), Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) and Alejandro Valverde (CV-Kelme).
The opening stage is a circuit along the seaside resort at Lloret de Mar. Stage two runs north to Empuriabrava with the Sant Pere de Rodes climb just a few kms from the finish. Stage three goes from Montcada to Reixac while stage four finishes in Port del Comte. The final stage runs from Solsona to Parets de Vallés.
Spanish rider in coma
Spanish rider Gaizka Lejarreta (Alfus Tedes) remains in a coma after a heavy fall Friday in a race near Zamora, the Spanish wire service EFE reported. The Basque rider raced for ONCE from 1999-2001 and for La Pecol in 2002, but raced for smaller teams in Spain since then.
Lejarreta fell so hard on his head it broke his helmet. He was transferred to a local hospital and suffered swelling on the brain and remains in critical condition, EFE reported.