By Andrew Hood
The small town of Zamora in northwest Spain will play host to some of the biggest names in the peloton for Monday’s time trial start of the Vuelta a Castilla y León.
Ivan Basso and Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel), Carlos Sastre (CSC), Denis Menchov and Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) and Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne) are some of the bigger names taking part in the five-day race across Spain’s northern meseta and rugged mountains.
Christian Vande Velde (CSC), Tom Danielson and Jason McCartney (Discovery Channel) are also penciled in for the start. Alberto Contador – fresh off winning Paris-Nice in dramatic fashion – will also be there for Discovery Channel.
“I will continue racing to see how the recuperation has gone after Paris-Nice, then I will race the [Vuelta al] País Vasco, which is another race I like a lot and I’d love to do well,” Contador said in an interview. “We come with a super-strong team with Leipheimer, Danielson, Basso. Any one of them can be a candidate for victory. With the time trial in the first day, we’ll see who we’re going to work for. Personally, I will be a little more relaxed than at Paris-Nice, without discounting anything.”
Many of the big stars are drifting to northern Spain to put in some race miles ahead of bigger goals later in the season. The relatively small race has risen in stature thanks in part to the disappearance of other Spanish races such as the Setmana Catalana and the Vuelta a Aragon.
Both Basso and Sastre will be returning from injuries. Basso hurt his wrist in a spill last week at Tirreno-Adriatico and was sidelined for Saturday’s Milan-San Remo while Sastre was lucky to walk away with just bruises after crashing hard due to heavy winds at the Vuelta a Murcia earlier this month.
“Even though I am not in the best shape, because of the stop I had after the fall at Murica, I forced things a little bit to be in the race of my ‘tierra,’” said Sastre, who lives in the province in El Barraco near Ávila. “I will try to slowly get back into a rhythm in order to keep recovering slowly.”
The race opens with a short, 10km individual time trial in Zamora that could make important time gaps between the overall contenders. Stages two and three zig-zag across the meseta of northern Spain where strong winds can be dangerous.
Thursday’s “queen stage” finishes atop the snowbound, Cat. 1 Alto de Navacerrada and will likely crown the winner. Friday’s finale should provide the sprinters with another shot at a stage.Vuelta a Castilla y León, March 26-30March 26, Stage 1 Zamora – Zamora, 10 km (ITT)March 27, Stage 2 Zamora to Salamanca, 157 kmMarch 28, Stage 3 Salamanca to Valladolid, 147.6 kmMarch 29, Stage 4 Valladolid to Alto de Navacerrada, 154.4 kmMarch 30, Stage 5 El Burgo de Osma to Soria, 162 km
TeamsDiscovery Channel (USA)CSC (Den)Rabobank (Ned)Liquigas (Ita)Agritubel (Fra)Caisse d’Epargne (Spa)Euskaltel (Spa)Saunier Duval (Spa)Relax-Gam (Spa)Grupo Nicolas Mateo (Spa)Vina Magna-Cropu (Spa)Orbea (Spa)Andalucia-Cajasur (Spa)Karpin-Galicia (Spa)Fuerteventura-Canarias (Spa)Benfica (Por)
Davis impresses at MSR
Allan Davis was a late pickup for Discovery Channel, but the Aussie sprinter almost pulled off a huge upset Saturday on the Via Roma when he finished second in Milan-San Remo.
“I have never had so many teammates around me at the end of a World Cup race. The team was incredible and having the guys there at the end gave me extra motivation,” Davis said in a Discovery Channel statement. “Popovych was incredibly strong at the end of the race and helped to get me in a great position in the final kilometers of the race. After that it was up to me. … With 300m to go I started my sprint and as I got up to speed Freire popped out of the line in front of me. I got on his wheel but he was just too strong to get around. I would have loved the win, but second at Milan-San Remo is still a great result and one of my career highlights. I hope to keep my good form going and am looking forward to the upcoming Ardennes Classics.”
The result comes at a good time for Davis, who is hoping to erase bad memories of last year when he was among five riders from the Liberty Seguros-Würth team listed in the Operación Puerto documents ahead of the 2006 Tour de France. He was later cleared of any link to the alleged doping ring by Spanish authorities.
Davis, 25, made his Discovery Channel debut at the Tour of California and will focus next on the Ardennes classics.
Discovery Channel was one of the main protagonists in the decisive closing kilometers, with Yaroslav Popovych sneaking away in a late attack over the Cipressa and then following another move on the Poggio.
“When you have six of your eight-man team in the front group as you close in on the finish you know the boys have put in a good effort. Allan was looked after all day by the guys and did a great job of saving himself for the final,” said assistant sports director Sean Yates. “Popo was equally as impressive, getting away twice in the final 15 miles of the race and putting a lot of pressure on the other Team’s. Obviously a win would have been great but we were all very excited with second place.”
Contador ‘proud’ to be ProTour leader
Alberto Contador – fresh off winning Paris-Nice in dramatic fashion – will be lining up this week in the Vuelta a Castilla y León, but he won’t be able to wear his ProTour leader’s jersey because the race isn’t among the 25-race series.
The Spanish climber retained his grip on the ProTour leader’s jersey through this weekend’s action and will be able to show off the jersey at the Vuelta al País Vasco in early April if he’s still leading the classification.
“Everyone would love to be leader of this ranking, just like it was before with the UCI. Anyway, I believe someone will take it away from me in the Classics, but for me it’s an honor to be No. 1 for a time,” Contador said in an interview. “I’d love to do well in the País Vasco, a race that I’ve loved. Then I will race the Belgian classics before taking a break and then return for the Dauphiné Libéré before the Tour de France.”
Contador has been relishing his breakthrough win at Paris-Nice, where he won two stages and grabbed the overall in an exciting final-day attack on the Col d’Eze.
“[Paris-Nice] has been a bit my confirmation in the international cycling panorama,” Contador said “I had this race in my sights and, from January in the California camp, we spoke and decide that I would be going for the win.”
Hamilton lining up at Coppi e Bartali
Tyler Hamilton (Tinkoff) is expected to line this week for the Settimana Internazioanle Coppi e Bartali (March 27-31) as he continues his preparations for the Giro d’Italia. Also expected to show up for the continental Italian race are ProTour stars Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), two-time Giro champs Paolo Savoldelli (Astana) and Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval), Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) and Michael Rogers (T-Mobile). Stages for Settimana Internazioanle Coppi e Bartali, March 27-31March 27, Stage 1a Riccione-Riccione, 95.2kmStage 1b Misano Adriatico-Misano Adriatico, 11.8km (TTT) March 28, Stage 2 Castel San Pietro Terme to Faenza, 175.6kmMarch 29, Stage 3 Scandiano to Serramazzoni, 165.9kmMarch 30, Stage 4 Carpi to Finale Emilia, 194kmMarch 31, Stage 5 Casalgrande to Sassuolo, 168.9km