By Andrew Hood
U.S. Postal Service – soon to be Discovery Channel – got its man after Ukraine sensation Yaroslav Popovych agreed to a three-year contract to join the team beginning in 2005.
Following weeks of speculation that the 24-year-old rising star was set to join Lance Armstrong at Postal Service, the team announced the news Monday.
“I’m really excited to get Yaroslav on the team,” said team director Johan Bruyneel. “He’s a young rider who has shown his talent on numerous occasions. … I’m sure he still has a great margin of progression (to make), and I see him as a future contender for the Tour de France in a few years. It’s great to have a big talent like him joining us. He really believes in our program.”
With Armstrong’s future uncertain beyond 2005, Popovych’s arrival gives Bruyneel a potential Tour de France winner to take over when the six-time Tour champion eventually decides to retire.
Popovych is often called cycling’s next great grand tour rider. In 2001, he won the U23 world title and claimed 36 racers in 2000-2001 earning him the nickname of Merckx of the amateurs for his ferocious appetite for winning.
After turning pro in 2002, Popovych finished 12th in that year’s Giro d’Italia, then turned in a strong third-place performance in 2003. He grabbed the maglia rosa in 2004 only to fade in the decisive climbing stages in the Dolomites against the fresher legs of eventual winner Damiano Cunego.
“Riding for the Discovery team in 2005 has been my ultimate dream,” Popovych said. “It’s a team in which I believe in and a team where I’m sure to receive the proper education from directors such as Johan Bruyneel and Dirk Demol to become a three-week stage racer.”Postal Service/Discovery Channel are also in the market for other riders to fill out the roster looking ahead to the Pro Tour in 2005. Other names linked to the team include Levi Leipheimer and Dario Cioni.
Valverde back in charge
Spanish sensation Alejandro Valverde picked up where he left off in June, winning the opening stage of the Vuelta a Burgos. Valverde took a three-week break while racing’s other big names raced the Tour de France, but he obviously wasn’t lounging at the beach. Revealing more facets of his “todo-terreno” attacking style, Valverde won atop the Cat. 1 Puerto de Altotero to take the leader’s jersey. Only Italian Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval) could follow when Valverde sprang free to drop the lead group of 11 riders. “I feel very good. There’s hardly any time until the Olympics, and this was an important test,” Valverde told Europa Press. “The intention is to be on top, but in a race of one day luck counts for a lot. Motivation is not what I am lacking.” The Burgos race continues Tuesday with the 170km second stage from Lerma to Aranda del Duero, with two Cat. 3 climbs early in the race.
García Quesada wins in Portugal
Spanish rider Adolfo García Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme) won the fifth stage of the 66th Volta a Portugal while compatriot José Miguel Elías (Relax-Bodysol) retained the overall leader’s jersey. García Quesada charged off the front of the peloton at 65km in the first ramps of the Puerto de Covide, a third-category climb and one of the two climbs that highlighted the day. He held on for a solo victory, 2:02 ahead of Juan Gomis (Saunier Duval) and 2:07 ahead of Russian Andrei Zintchenko. Elías, meanwhile, finished safely in the main bunch to retain the overall lead going into Tuesday’s 152km sixth stage between Fafte and Santa María da Feria featuring two Cat. 3 climbs.
Hermida, Dahle win Euro MTB crowns
Spanish rider José Antonio Hermida and Gunn-Rita Dahle of Norway swept to the European mountain bike championships Sunday in Poland, tipping both riders as favorites to win the Olympic gold medal later this month.
In the men’s head, Hermida attacked in the opening lap and held a three-minute winning gap to the finish. Fourth in Sydney in 2000, Hermida said now he wants nothing more than the gold medal in Athens.
“This win is great for the morale, and after missing the podium in Sydney, these Olympics are for me,” Hermida said.
In the women’s heat, Dahle stormed to yet another victory in what’s been domination for the Norwegian phenom. Polish rider Maja Wloszczowska was second at 4:25 back, giving yet another boost to Dahle’s status as favorite for gold in Athens.
European mountain bike championships
Women’s cross-country (26.8km)
1. Gunn Rita Dahle (Nor), 1:35:41
2. Maja Wloszczowska (Pol), at 4:25
3. Sabine Spitz (G), at 4:57
1. Anne-Caroline Chausson (F), 2:56:59
2. Marielle Saner (Swi), at 10:41
3. Tracy Moseley (GB), at 11:91
1. Anne-Caroline Chausson (F)
2. Jana Horakova (Cze)
3. Laettia Le Corguille (F)
Men’s cross-country (42.2 km)
1. Jose Antonio Hermida (Sp), 2:07:03
2. Lado Fumic (G), at 2:51
3. Ralph Naef (Swi), at 3:18
1. Steve Peat (GB) 2:36:22
2. Fabien Barel (F), at 7:04
3. Julien Camellini (F), at 7:49
1. Michal Prokop (Cze)
2. Lukas Tamme (Cze)
3. Leiv Ove Nordmark (Nor)
1. Vincent Hermance (F)
2. Mark Caisso (F)
3. Kenny Belaey (B)
Strong field expected for Clasica
Organizers are expecting a top field for the Clasica San Sebastian, the seventh stop on the 10-round World Cup series set for Saturday in the posh northern Spanish beach town of San Sebastian.
Most of the big names are expected to race before heading to Athens for the Summer Olympic Games. Expected to start are Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), world champion Igor Astarloa (Lampre) and World Cup leader Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner).
Bartoli to skip Olympics
Italian cyclist Michele Bartoli on Monday ruled himself out of the Olympics in Greece later this month because of his lack of fitness.
The 34-year-old Pisa-born rider, winner of the Amstel Gold Race in 2002, opted out after lengthy discussions with team coach Franco Ballerini. He has been replaced by 27-year-old Luca Paolini.