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By Andrew Hood
Defending Vuelta champion Aitor Gonzalez has had a season he’d like to forget. Now he’s making a Vuelta he wants to remember.
Although he won a stage at the Giro d’Italia, Gonzalez couldn’t deliver the big win for his Fassa Bortolo team. Then his Tour de France was short-circuited by a virus that ran through the Fassa team and sent everyone home early except Ivan Basso and two teammates.
Going into the Vuelta’s second week, Gonzalez is slowly coming back to life, and he let the peloton see it on the Col del Portillón at 120km into Saturday’s eighth stage when he rode strongly over the steep climb.
Gonzalez attacked twice more on the final climb and quickly put the hurt on several riders.
“I’m back among the strongest and for that I am very content,” Gonzalez said after finishing 17th with a 10-man chase group that contained all the GC contenders. “I’m feeling better and better and feeling stronger as the race goes on.”
Fassa Bortolo enters Sunday’s stage with Gonzalez sitting seventh overall at 4:00 and Dario Frigo in fourth at 3:07.
“We are both in a good situation, and we’ll see who’s feeling stronger. If Dario needs my help, I will offer it,” Gonzalez said. “If we can make it through tomorrow’s stage, I think the podium will be in our favor.”
Rodriguez hopeful for stage victory
Fred Rodriguez says that if he can make it through Sunday’s difficult climbing stage into Andorra, he hopes to win a stage in the final half of the Vuelta a España.
“If you can make it through these next two stages, you can make it to the finish,” Rodriguez told VeloNews before the start of Saturday’s eighth stage. “I’m hoping to come around later for the sprints and maybe win one.”
Rodriguez said he’s feeling stronger after suffering with a cold before the Vuelta started and then getting hit with a stomach bug in the race’s first weekend. He also crashed coming into the finish in stage 3 into rain-soaked Santander.
Rodriguez said he’ll make his decision about racing the world championships based on how his form is coming out of the Vuelta.
“I’ve been in contact with the federation and we’ll see how I feel in the next week or two,” Rodriguez said. “I’ll also be racing Paris-Tours and some other races in Italy.”
Rodriguez made it though safely with the gruppetto, but was fined 100 Swiss francs, penalized 20 seconds and 10 points after taking an illegal tow.
Petacchi wants Vuelta points jersey
Fassa Bortolo’s Alessandro Petacchi promises he’s serious about arriving to Madrid with the points jersey on his back. The sprinter bristled at criticism when he pulled out of the Tour de France on the first mountain stage after winning four stages.
“If you look at my history, I always finish the big races. I am serious when I say I want to make it to Madrid,” Petacchi told VeloNews from the start village Saturday in Cauterets, France.
“The jersey will be difficult to win, but I want to try. If I can make it through today and Sunday’s stages, I’m sure I will be able to finish the race,” Petacchi said. “I come here with pretty good form, and I think I can win more stages. I will try to get points at the intermediate sprints as well once we are out of the mountains.”
Petacchi lost the jersey to ONCE’s Joaquin Rodriguez, who won Saturday’s stage and gobbled up points as part of an eight-man break. Petacchi safely finished within the time limit.
Petacchi became the first rider in history to win two or more stages in all three grand tours in one season when he nabbed his second Vuelta stage win coming into Zaragoza in stage 5. He also won six stages at the Giro d’Italia and four stages at the Tour de France.
Petacchi said he was angry that he didn’t finish either race.
“At the Giro I was eliminated with just a few days left while I had the points jersey. I was angry at that,” Petacchi said. “At the Tour, I was not feeling well. The team had a lot of sickness and I could not continue.”
Petacchi said his season won’t be over after the Vuelta, although he won’t be racing the world championships. He’ll race at Paris-Tours and perhaps the Tour of Lombardia next month.
Kirchen wins Paris-Brussels
Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo) won the 224km Paris-Brussels cycling classic on Saturday, edging Laszlo Bodrogi (Quick Step-Davitamon) by a second with Maryan Hary (Brioches La Boulangere) another three seconds away in third.
“This gives me a lot of ambition for the last month of competition and perhaps even for the world championships,” said Kirchen.
But much of the drama was played out behind the Fassa Bortolo rider.
Thirty-six riders broke away around the 11km mark and built such a massive lead that about 100 riders dropped out. Then, at 93km, another 34 riders – who were trailing by 10 minutes – were forced to give up because organizers could not ensure their security as well as that of the leading bunch.
The race, one of the oldest on the cycling calendar, has lost some of its shine in the last few years, but has remained popular with the public and local riders.
1. Kim Kirchen (Lux), Fassa Bortolo, 222.5km in 5:21:50
2. Laszlo Bodrogi (H), Quick Step-Davitamon, at 0:01
3. Maryan Hary (F), Brioches La Boulangere, at 0:04
4. Franck Renier (F), Brioches, at 0:09
5. Tony Bracke (B), Landbouwkrediet, same time
6. Oscar Freire (Spain), Rabobank, at 0:13
7. Luca Paolini (Italy), Quick Step, at 0:18
8. Aart Vierhouten (Ned), Lotto at 0:21
9. Marcel Strauss (Switzerland), Gerolsteiner, s.t.
10. Romans Vainsteins (Latvia), Vini Caldirola, s.t.
Martinez takes 40th Tour de l’Avenir
Spaniard Egoï Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) won the 40th Tour del’Avenir on Saturday. The 10th and final stage, run over 128km around La Crau, went to Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin (Jean Delatour).
The final stage saw many breakaways, including one by Belgian Frederik Willems, Australian Ben Day and Swede Jonas Ljungblad that had to be retrieved by Martinez and his teammates.
It also.was marked by two crashes toward the end of the race. The first came at 126km, after the group had ended a breakaway by Matthieu Sprick, but no one was seriously injured. The second, in the final sprint, saw Finn Jukka Vastaranta and Belgian James Vanlandschoot both break collarbones.
1. Samuel Dumoulin (F), Jean Delatour, 128km in 2:48:21
2. Moritz Veit (G), same time
3. Assan Bazayev (Kaz), s.t.
4. David Herrero (Sp), s.t.
5. Jimmy Engoulvent (F) s.t.
6. Dimitri Muravyev (Kaz), s.t.
7. Camille Bouquet (F), s.t.
8. Philippe Gilbert (B), s.t.
9. Théo Eltink (Ned), s.t.
10. Marcus Fothen (G), s.t.
1. Egoï Martinez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 35:29:38
2. Radoslav Rogina (Cro), at 0:02
3. Samuel Dumoulin (F), at 3:36
4. Philippe Gilbert (B), at 4:18
5. Pierrick Fedrigo (F), at 4:29
6. Thomas Lovkvist (Swi), at 4:42
7. Tobias Lergard (Swi), at 5:09
8. Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Sp), at 5:11
9. Jef Peeters (B), at 5:17
10. Nico Sijmens (B), at 5:25