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By Andrew Hood
Swiss rider Beat Zberg (Rabobank) easily zipped past Spain’s Juan Antonio Flecha (iBanesto.com) to win Tuesday’s 158km second stage of Setmana Catalana. Phonak’s Gonzalo Bayarri came across third, but took the overall lead from Erik Zabel (Telekom) after strong placings in the opening two sprints.
Zabel lost contact with the leaders of the Category 1 Alt de San Pere de Rodes, a stunning climb high above Spain’s rugged Costa Brava. Two riders – Relax’ Oscar Laguna and Paternina’s Xavier Tondo — were off the front about 2 minutes at the base of the long, grinding climb, but the lead bunch gobbled them up before reaching the summit.
Four-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong looks like he might be thinking about overall victory in this five-day stage-race in the Cataluyna region he calls home while in Europe. For the second day in a row, Armstrong was right at the front of lead group over the long Category 1 climb.
Fassa Bortolo’s Dario Frigo was also strong at the front and Thursday’s climbing finish to Pal could be an exciting duel between two of cycling’s strong men.
Rabobank controlled the stage coming into the sunny flats at Empuriabrava, a series of canals lined with expensive vacation homes. Team Coast’s Jose Francisco Lara tried to escape the clutches of the group with 4km to go, but Rabobank’s Levi Leipheimer smothered the move. Relax rider Jose Manual Maestre tried to escape with just under 1km to go, but again the Rabos wanted the stage.
Zberg beat Flecha with ease to score his first win of the 2003 season. Viatcheslav Ekimov led the Posties again with 10th in the bunch sprint and moved into fifth overall. The 40th Setmana Catalana continues Wednesday with the 178km third stage from Castello d’Empuries to Parets del Valles. There are two minor rated climbs early in the stage, so it will likely finish in another sprint unless some riders can forge a successful escape.