By Andrew Hood
Aussie Michael Rogers won Monday’s 34km individual time trial and grabbed the overall lead of the Route du Sud race in southern France.
Rogers was fastest over the rolling course to score his fourth win of the 2003 season.
“The route was tricky. There wasn’t even a meter of flat,” Rogers said. “The roads were narrows and dangerous, making it easy to make mistakes. I was very cautious and thankfully everything turned out well.”
Rogers moves 1:51 ahead of Frenchman Nicolas Vogondy (Fdjeux.com) with one stage to go.
“Tomorrow there are two up hill sections roughly half way through the stage and the finish line is at the top of a 15 kilometer climb that has an average gradient of roughly 9 percent,” he said. “I will really have to give my all to defend my title. I just hope that it won’t be too hot tomorrow.”
27th Route du Sud, Stage 3, Saint Gaudens to Montrejeau (ITT)
1. Michael Rogers, Quick Step, 34km in 44 minutes, 57 seconds
2. Nicolas Vogondy, Fdjeux.com, at 1:51
3. Stephane Barthe, MBK, at 1:56
4. David Moncoutie, Cofidis, at 2:12
5. Pietro Caucchioli, Alessio, at 2:16Overall standings after three stages
1. Michael Rogers, Quick Step 9 hours, 55 seconds
2. Nicolas Vogondy, Fdjeux.com, at 1:51
3. Pietro Caucchioli, Alession, at 2:16
4. Stephane Barthe, MBK, at 2:29
5. Maryan Hary, Brioches, at 3:26
Pecharromán a rising star
Before the month of June, Jose Antonio Pecharromán was known as a quiet, polite fourth-year pro on the modest Paternina-Costa Almeria squad.
But in the last three weeks, Pecharromán has dethroned two of Spain’s biggest cycling’s stars to become the biggest emerging star since Francisco Perez (Milaneza-MSS).
The 24-year-old knocked off ONCE’s Joseba Beloki in the Bicicleta Vasca (June 4-8) and then upset defending champion Roberto Heras to claim final victory in Sunday’s Tour of Catalunya.
“I’m in the clouds,” Pecharromán said. “I’ve had to overcome a lot to earn these victories, usually saved for the big names in the peloton.”
Pecharromán dedicated the win to his father who passed away a few months ago and to the hard work of his teammates. Paternina-Costa Almeria is one of those Spanish teams that usually earn wins through against-the-odds breakaways, but with the emerging all-rounder Pecharromán, the team will have more options going into September’s Vuelta a Espana.
There’s already talk that Pecharromán won’t be long for the modest team, however. Big wins earn a lot of attention in Spain and with the recent pall cast over Perez following his failed tests during the recent Tour of Romandie, Pecharromán will likely received several offers from bigger teams for next season.
Heras, Hincapie on form for Tour
Although Roberto Heras came up short against Jose Antonio Pecharromán in the Tour of Cataluyna, U.S. Postal Service team officials say not to worry.
“Roberto rode a great race,” said Postal’s assistant director Dirk Demol. “Even though he finished second, I feel he is in better shape right now than he was when we won Catalunya last year. We simply could not stop Pecharromán.”
Demol said they were surprised by Pecharromán’s strength in Saturday’s 13km climbing time trial, when Pecharromán took out 52 seconds to Heras, who entered the stage as race leader.
”After (Saturday’s) time trial, Roberto got in the car with me and realized he had lost the race to Pecharromán,” Demol said. “For the first 10 minutes, the only word he could say over and over again was ‘unbelievable.’ He could not believe he lost over 50 seconds to him in 13 kilometers. Roberto rode strong … but nobody could believe Pecharromán. I have seen races like this, but mainly from riders like Lance (Armstrong). I think there is no doubt we saw a future champion.”
Demol said he was satisfied with how the team rode and gave extra kudos to George Hincapie, who finished second in Sunday’s final stage to prove he’s back in top shape going into next month’s Tour.
”After a full week of racing, George rode strong again today and nearly won. He is really back and in great shape,” he said.
Botero not 100 percent
Telekom’s Santiago Botero says he’s not in top shape going into next month’s Tour. Botero’s been nagged by a chest cold since May, first caused by allergies once he returned to Europe from training in the off-season in his native Colombia and then again after testing in the team’s wind tunnel.
Botero suffered during the Tour of Cataluyna, where he was hoping for more though he did finish third in Saturday’s time trial at 58 seconds off the winning time.
“I don’t feel that I am great condition,” Botero told the Spanish daily AS. “I hoped to be better, but we will see if I can become better before the Tour starts.”
After winning two stages and finishing fourth overall at last year’s Tour, Botero joined Telekom to lead the team in the Tour and has hopes to finish on the final podium. But Botero says he believes Heras will be on the final podium when the Tour ends July 27 in Paris.
“I am convinced Heras will be on the podium, he’s truly strong now,” he said.
Beloki leads ONCE for Tour
Seven of the nine-man lineup has been finalized for ONCE, with the final two slots up for grabs among five riders. Joseba Beloki, a three-time Tour podium finisher, will lead the team. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, fifth overall last year, won’t be starting after he broke his collarbone earlier this month.
ONCE for the Tour
Beloki, Angel Vicioso and Mikel Zarrabeitia (Sp), René Andrle and Jan Hruska (Cze), José Azevedo (Por) and Jorg Jaksche (G). The final two spots will be chosen from the following: Marcos Serrano, Mikel Pradera, Isidro Nozal, Angel Castresana and Rafael Diaz Justo. Bettini, Virenque lead Quick Step for Tour
Quick Step has shortened its Tour team down to seven riders with the remaining two spots yet to be decided. Leading the Belgian team will be Paolo Bettini and Richard Virenque. Quick Step for the Tour: Bettini (I), Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun), David Cañada (Sp), Kurt Van de Wouwer (B), Virenque (F), Piotr Wadecki (Pol) and Michael Rogers (Aus).
Bianchi signs Garcia Casas
Looking to bolster its lineup for the high mountains, Team Bianchi has penned a deal to bring on Spanish rider Felix Garcia Casas from BigMat. The veteran rider, who finished eighth overall in last year’s Tour of Spain, will help Jan Ullrich in the decisive climbing stages.
“We hope he can help us in the mountains,” Bianchi’s sport director Rudy Pevenage told L’Equipe. Team CSC was trying to sign Garcia Casas last month, but couldn’t reach an agreement with BigMat.
Durand out of Tour
There won’t be any attacks in the opening kilometers of this year’s Tour de France, at least from popular veteran Jacky Durand. The 36-year-old has not fully recovered from his crash during the Dauphiné Libéré race when he cracked his hip.
Durand, 36, has won three Tour stages in his career and is a popular figure among the French public. Durand, known for his epic breakaways and tenacious attacking style, wore the yellow jersey after taking the Tour prologue in 1995.