By Andrew Hood
Alejandro Valverde (CV-Kelme) is the quintessential todo terreno, capable of victories in any conditions. Just a day after winning a sprint, Valverde took yet another win, this time up a twisting steep mountain road in the barren mountains of northern Spain.
The 23-year-old fought to his ninth victory of the season, enduring snow and fog up the steep climb to the Category 1 Alto de Morredero in the 133km fourth stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León (SPA 2.3).
Koldo Gil (Liberty Seguros) finished three seconds back, but slipped into the overall lead after overnight leader David Navas (Illes Balears) wilted under the extreme conditions. Navas remains in second at 19 seconds back with teammateIvan Gutierrez in third at 22 seconds back.
Tim Johnson (Saunier Duval) finished in a group with Joseba Beloki (La Boulangere) at 14:05 back. The American sits 68th overall at 22:35 back.
Don’t count Valverde out just yet. He’s fourth at 40 seconds back, thanks to lost time in the team time trial in stage 2. The race concludes Sunday with a 151km rollercoaster from Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo.
Cunego keeps on winning
Damiano Cunego (Saeco), the 22-year-old Italian who’s hitting the form of his career just in time for the Giro d’Italia, won Saturday’s G.P. Industria e Artigianato di Larciano (ITA 1.2).
It’s the young Italian’s fifth win within a month after taking two stages and the overall at the Giro del Trentino and another win at the Giro dell’Appennino. Cunego shot away from an 18-rider group to take the sprint that included world champion Igor Astarloa taking his first race with Lampre.
Høj repeats at Denmark’s ‘Paris-Roubaix’
Team CSC’s Frank Høj didn’t win last month at Paris-Roubaix, but he successfully defended his title at the GP S.A.T.S. (DEN 1.3), dubbed the “Paris-Roubaix” of Denmark because it’s held over rough farm roads.
The Danish team dominated the one-day race in northern Denmark, putting four riders in the top seven. Michael Sandstød attacked in vain with 40km to go, but held on to finish fourth at 2:05 back. Høj and teammate Michele Bartoli attacked and held a 33-second gap coming into the finish with Høj taking an exciting sprint against the Italian to claim the victory.
Fast Freddy’s the lone Yank in Giro
Fred Rodriguez (Acqua & Sapone) is the lone American starting the Giro d’Italia on May 8, according to a preliminary start list released by race organizers Friday.
“Fast Freddy” will be sparring with the likes of Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) and Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) in the sprints during the season’s first three-week grand tour, May 8-30.
Tom Danielson (Fassa Bortolo) and Tim Johnson (Saunier Duval) were missing from their respective team’s preliminary rosters. Both riders had hoped to earn a ride in the Giro in their first season racing with European-based teams.
Johnson is racing in this week’s Vuelta a Castilla y León race in northern Spain after competing in the Tour de Georgia last week in the United States. Johnson was sidelined this spring with allergies that kept him from training and racing for more than a month.
Danielson is racing at the Tour de Romandie in Switzerland and was hoping a strong ride would persuade team management to include him on the Giro roster.
When the team’s GC man Dario Frigo came down with a viral infection during Paris-Nice in March and looked unlikely to race the Giro, Danielson said his chances of earning a Giro spot were diminished. Fassa Bortolo announced this week that Frank Vandenbroucke would take Frigo’s place, but said they didn’t expect the Belgian to do more than hunt for stage wins.
David Clinger (Domina Vacanze) was an outside shot to make the Italian team, almost entirely built around delivering Cipollini to the line for the sprint finishes.
Tour de France challengers Lance Armstrong (USPS), Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) and Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) are all skipping the Giro to prepare specifically for the Tour.
The start list will likely change before the Giro’s start in Genova on May 8. Reigning world champion Igor Astarloa, who recently joined Lampre and is expected to race the Giro, was also not on the list.
Kroon outkicks Hondo in Frankfurt
Karsten Kroon (Rabobank) stole a march on the German sprinters on Saturday by winning the dash to the line at the end of the 210km Rund um den Henninger Turm.
The 28-year-old Netherlander, who also sprinted to a win in the ninth stage of the 2002 Tour de France, edged German Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner), who waited a little too long to react when Kroon made his move. Belgian Johan Coenen (MrBookmaker.com) was third.
Race favorite Erik Zabel (T-Mobile), winner here in 1999 and 2002, managed only seventh at 28 seconds back.
Kroon proved fastest of a group of five, the survivors of a 10-man breakaway that formed just 17 kilometers into the race. The group built a maximum lead of 8:30 before Zabel’s T-Mobile squad began working to bring the escapees back.
“It is good to beat the favorites on their ground,” Kroon declared with a smile. “I would never have thought of being able to beat Danilo in a sprint, even though I felt very strong.”
Hondo, 30, regretted “not being on top of the podium after working so hard. But it should be recognized that Kroon was the strongest today.”
1. Karsten Kroon (Ned), Rabobank, 5:21:10
2. Danilo Hondo (G), Gerolsteiner, same time
3. Johan Coenen (B), MrBookmaker.com, s.t.
4. Gregory Rast (Swi), Phonak, at 0:03
5. Torsten Schmidt (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:06
6. Bjorn Leukemans (B), MrBookmaker.com, at 0:28
7. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile, s.t.
8. Marcus Zberg (Swi), Gerolsteiner, s.t.
9. Eddy Mazzoleni (I), Saeco, s.t.
10. Sergio Marinangeli (I), Domina Vacanze, s.t.
11. Erwin Thijs (B), MrBookmaker.com, s.t.
12. Serge Baguet (B), Lotto-Domo, s.t.
13. Mirko Celestino (I), Saeco, s.t.
14. Michael Albasini (Swi), Phonak, s.t.
15. Petr Bencik (Cze), Ed’ System-ZVVZ, s.t.