By Andrew Hood
Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) won the trench war in Monday’s 231km first stage of the 56th Dauphiné Libéré, taking a bunch sprint ahead of former teammate Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) and Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com).
Prologue winner Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) retained the overall lead on a sunny day dominated by a long solo break by Jimmy Casper (Cofidis). Casper took a page out of the Jacky Durand racing manual, attacking in the first four kilometers of the Dauphiné’s longest stage.
The peloton was happy to let him ride away and at one point opened up an 18-minute gap. Once the bunch got a sniff of the looming finish line, the sprinter teams collaborated with Euskaltel and Phonak to reel in Casper to set up the specialists.
“I am honored that I am capable of winning a sprint in front of the best sprinters in the world, except Alessandro Petacchi, who’s not here,” Hushovd said after the win. “I am only sprinter on my team and that puts me under pressure, but it motivates me to see them work for me.”
There were no major changes in the overall standings but world time trial champion David Millar (Cofidis) lost some time as he got caught up in a pile up late in the stage.
The 56th Dauphiné Libéré continues Tuesday with the 181-kilometer second stage from Bron to Saint Etienne that hits four Category 4-rated climbs before the day’s main obstacle at the Cat. 2 Col de la Croix de Chaubouret about 15km from Saint Etienne.
56th Dauphiné Libéré
Stage 1, Megève to Bron,
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Credit Agricole, 231 kilometers in 6:03:47
2. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Cofidis
3. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra), Ag2r
4. Baden Cooke (Aus), FDJeux.
5. Oscar Freire (Spa), Rabobank all same time
Overall standings after one stage
1. Iban Mayo (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi 6:11:38
2. Tyler Hamilton (USA), Phonak +0:01
3. Lance Armstrong (USA), US Postal Service +0.:01
4. Oscar Pereiro (Spa), Phonak +0:02
5. Michael Rogers (Aus), Quick Step +0:06
Beloki to bail on Boulangere
Joseba Beloki will leave the French team Brioches la Boulangère at the end of this year, according to a report in the Spanish daily MARCA. Beloki penned a lucrative two-year contract last winter that he boasted made him “the third-best paid racer in cycling,” but the three-time Tour de France podium finisher has had nothing but trouble since then.
Beloki has been plagued with set-backs in his efforts to return to top form following his dramatic crash in last year’s Tour de France. Beloki’s spring has been littered with DNFs as he’s been unable to regain top fitness and on Sunday pulled out of the final stage of the Bicicleta Vasca in northern Spain.
Beloki knocked heads with the team last week after he openly complained he couldn’t use allergy medication that team officials insist is on the UCI’s banned substance list.
Beloki’s problems raise serious doubts about whether he’ll be able to race in the Tour de France, less than four weeks away. The Spanish rider is also upset the team is forcing him to race in the Route du Sud and participate in a team training camp in the Alps later this month, MARCA reported.
Beloki and Boulangere team officials met over the weekend to agree on Beloki’s departure. The team is losing its title sponsor at the end of the year after Brioches la Boulangère said it could not afford the costs to sponsor the team as part of the new Pro Tour.
Casagrande back for Swiss tour
Francesco Casagrande (Lampre) will make his return to racing at the Tour du Suisse later this month after recovering from tendinitis that sidelined him during last month’s Giro d’Italia.
“I had to watch the Giro in front of the TV,” Casagrande told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I never have had such a long break from racing. Now I am feeling better and the training is going better each day. I don’t have the pain in my left Achilles tendon.”
Casagrande will also race the Italian championships in late June and skip the Tour de France to regroup for the second half of the World Cup season with eyes on a start in the Vuelta a España.
No Tour for Rebellin
World Cup leader Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) won’t race the Tour de France next month and said it’s more important for him to focus on the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
“I like stage races, but I should try to defend my lead in the World Cup to the final,” he told the Italian wires. “Also, there are the Olympic Games and the world championships, competitions that I want to prepare for to the maximum.”
Steels wins Austria opener
Belgian sprinter Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) won the opening stage of the Tour of Austria on a 148km course in Salzberg.