By Andrew Hood
Gert Steegmans continues Katusha’s early season haul with the team’s second straight win at the Ruta del Sol in Tuesday’s 164km romp from the foothills near Granada to Córdoba.
The big Belgian blasted ahead of teammate and yesterday’s winner Danilo Napolitano to give the Russian-backed squad its seventh win on the 2009 season. Wim Stroetinga (Milram) came through third while Joost Postuma (Rabobank) finished safely in the main pack to retain the race leader’s jersey.
After an early breakaway was reeled in and a nasty crash early in the race sent two from Xacobeo-Galicia packing home early, Katusha played out its train to perfection yet again, with Filippo Pozzato ramping things up with 2km to go and then Napolitano returning the favor to Steegmans and letting his teammate to the flowers.
“The final was slightly uphill and Napolitano was on my wheel and he was ready to start if someone anticipated the sprint,” a happy Steegmans said after his second win of the year. “Pozzato was very fast and nobody was able to start their sprint. I started with 200 meters to go and I made a good sprint. My shape is good, but not super. I hope to improve my condition before the spring classics. After a rest, then it’s the Tour.”
Three riders – Floris Goesennin (Skil-Shimano), Javier Aramendia (Euskaltel) and Javier Ramírez (Andalucía-CajaSur) — peeled away on the Cat. 3 Alto de Puerto Lope in the opening hour of racing and built a gap of 3:41 at 42km.
Iban Mayoz (Xacobeo-Galicia) went down in a nasty spill coming down the descent with three other riders and he was whisked away by ambulance what with appeared to be a broken clavicle. Xacobeo’s David García later packed it in with consequences from the crash.
Rabobank and Katusha ramped up the crash to trim the lead to under two minutes with 25km to go. The break was neutralized with under 10km to go and Katusha kept a lid on any would-be aggressors to set up another mass gallop.
The Ruta del Sol continues Wednesday with the 162.5km third stage from Marbella to Benahavis. The five-climb stage could produce a successful breakaway, with the Cat. 2 Puerto de Ojén with under 40km to go potentially busting up the group.
Even if it all stays together, a rising finish into Benahavis with about 250 vertical feet in the final three kilometers will likely split out riders who still have a few winter pounds hanging on their frames.