By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong wasted no time upon his return to Europe on Monday – he’s already been on a scouting mission to L’Alpe d’Huez.
The five-time Tour de France winner said the 15km climbing time trial will be a decisive stage in the upcoming Tour, when Armstrong will try to win an historic sixth victory.
L’Equipe reported Armstrong rode the legendary climb several times solo on Wednesday before being joined Thursday by teammates Manuel Beltran, Chechu Ruiera and Jose Azevedo.
Armstrong will return to racing next week for the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon (May 19-23) in southern France with limited ambitions.
“It’s a first race back in Europe where he hasn’t raced since March,” U.S. Postal’s sport director Johan Brunyeel told the French sports daily. “We’ll see on a day-to-day basis.”
Cardenas takes over in Asturias
Jonathan Gonzalez (Almeria-Patenina) held on in a long breakaway to win Saturday’s challenging three-climb fourth stage to El Acebo at the Vuelta a Asturias in northern Spain while Colombian Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque) slipped into the overall lead.
Earlier in the 180km stage, a group of 16 attacked over the El Pozo de las Mujeres Muertes (The Well of the Dead Women). Carlos Barredo (Liberty Seguros), winner of Friday’s stage into Aviles, crashed on the harrowing descent. Gonzalez attacked coming over the day’s second climb at El Connio and dropped Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears). He hit the final climb to Acebo nursing a lead over the fast-charging bunch and hung on to take the win as the overall favorites took shots at each other in the battle for the overall.
Gonzalez’ win is his second as a pro and his second at a climbing finish. He also won the sole summit finish at the Vuelta a La Rioja in Spain last month. Euskaltel’s Iban Mayo attacked too late to catch Gonzalez and finished second at 20 seconds back. Cardenas came through fourth at 32 seconds back. The Colombian held a gap of 1 minute and 24 seconds over Mayo coming into Saturday’s stage and didn’t need to do more than follow the Basque.
Overnight leader Luis Leon Sanchez (Liberty Seguros) lost more than 20 minutes to tumble out of the lead, but the 20-year-old put in a fine effort to keep the jersey through two difficult stages following his victory in Wednesday’s opener.
Christian Vande Velde (Liberty Seguros) and Tim Johnson (Saunier Duval) both finished more than 20 minutes behind the leaders in the grueling narrow roads of northern Spain. The race concludes Sunday.
48th Vuelta a Asturias (SPA 2.2), Stage 4, Cafes Toscaf to El Acebo, 180km
1. Jonathan Gonzalez (Sp), Almeria 4:47:26
2. Iban Mayo (Sp), Euskaltel, at 0:20
3. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval, at 0:23
4. Felix Cardenas (Col), Cafes Baques, at 0:32
5. Fabian Jeker (Swi), Saunier Duval, at 0:55
54. Christian Vande Velde (USA), Liberty Seguros, at 22:16
71. Tim Johnson (USA), Saunier Duval, at 29:55
Overall standings after four stages
1. Felix Cardenas (Col), Cafe Baques,16:42:51
2. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel, at 0:29
3. Iban Mayo (Sp), Euskaltel, at 0:46
4. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval, at 0:51
5. Jose Angel Gomez (Sp), Costa Almeria, at 1:10
44. Christian Vande Velde (USA), Liberty Seguros, at 23:57
81. Tim Johnson (USA), Saunier Duval, at 59:32
Boonen picks up another in Picardie
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) picked up his second stage in two days in the Tour de Picardie, taking a bunch sprint ahead of Jimmy Casper (Cofidis) and Saulius Ruskys (Oktos).
It’s the seventh win of the season for the tall Belgian, who entered the 2004 season intent on improving his punch in the bunch sprints. The efforts have paid handsomely with wins at Gent-Wevelgem.
“I want to say thanks to my teammates that have splendidly controlled the race,” Boonen said. “They worked very hard to catch the break of seven riders that has characterized the race. I only finished their job.”
Boonen consolidates his hold on the overall lead, 14 seconds ahead of Casper. The race will be decided in Sunday’s double stage.
Scarponi closes in on Peace Race
Swiss rider David Loosli (Saeco) won Saturday’s roller-coaster 185km eighth stage of the Peace Race, pulling 48 seconds ahead of Ralf Grabsch (Wiesenhof).
Italian Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) finished fourth to retain the overall lead going into Sunday’s final stage into Prague.
Peace Race (CZE 2.2), Stage 8, 185km
1. David Loosli (Swi), Saeco, 4:46:31
2. 2. Ralf Grabsch (G), Wiesenhof, at 0:49
3. Stephan Schreck (G), T-Mobile, at 2:02
4. Michele Scarponi (I), Domina Vacanze, same time
5. Radoslav Romanik (Pol), at 2:04