By Andrew Hood
Most of Europe was racing Sunday as several countries capped a week’s racingwith the men’s road race taking center stage. Here’s a round up of themajor nations:France: Thomas Voeckler (La Boulangere) won a three-up sprintagainst Cyril Dessel and Benoît Salmon after the leading trio hada large enough cushion to play games over the final sprint. Sylvain Chavanel(LaBoulangere) led the main bunch through three minutes back.Belgium: Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet) won his second title inthree years after winning a three-up sprint on a flat 240km course. GeertOmloop (MrBookmaker) and Geert Verheyen (Chocolade Jacques) led the battleof the Geerts to finish second and third respectively.Denmark: Michael Blaudzun (CSC) kept the jersey within the Danishsquad after winning as part of a two-man break that dominated the race.Great Britain: Roger Hammond (Mr. Bookmaker) kept his Britishnational road title after sprinting to victory ahead of Tom Southam (AmoreVita) and teammate Jeremy Hunt (Mr. Bookmaker).Germany: Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) soloed to victory in the 210kmrace on a circuit course near Fribourg in the Black Forest. Stefan Schumacher(Lamonta) came through with the main bunch at 1 minute back to take secondwhile Giro d’Italia best climber Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) crossedthird. Tour de France favorite Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) was seventh.Holland: Veteran Erik Dekker (Rabobank) snuck away on the 216kmcourse near Rotterdam to claim the orange jersey, sprinting ahead of KoosMoerenhout (Lotto-Domo) and Arthur Farenhout (AXA).Italy: Cristian Moreni (Alessio), hot in Route du Sud last week,snubbed the favorites in a 262km course to win. Sergio Marinangeli (DominaVacanze) and Paolo Bossoni (Lampre) rounded out the podium.Norway: Tour de France green jersey candidate Thor Hushovd (CreditAgricole) edged Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC) and Morten Hegreberg (Jartazi)to win a bunch sprint up north.Spain: Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) is mastering his faceof pain by making a late-race counter-attack to win the Spanish title aheadof Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) and Francisco Lara (Costa de Almería).Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears) and David Latasa (Kelme) were reeled in withabout 5km to go after holding out on a long break. Liberty Seguros andSaunier Duval shared the work to neutralize the break, but Mancebo snuckaway with the win after counter-attacking Lara on the final 2.5km climbto conclude the race.Switzerland: Gregory Rast (Phonak) chugged away from the mainbunch to win about 1.5 minutes ahead of Sascha Urweider and Oscar Camenzind,who came in second and third, respectively.
Vande Velde’s Tour plans still unclearThere’s still no word from Liberty Seguros on whether Christian Vande Velde will be racing the Tour de France.
Vande Velde told VeloNews in an e-mail last week he still hadn’t heard an official word from the Spanish team on his Tour fate.
“You’ll probably know before I do,” he wrote.
According to a report on Spanish national television during Sunday’s national championship race, Vande Velde looks likely to get a nod. Secured for Liberty are Roberto Heras, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Isidro Nozal, Angel Vicioso, Dariusz Baranowski and Marcos Serrano. On the bubble are Vande Velde, Rene Andrle, Allan Davis, Koldo Gil and Jan Hruska.
Vande Velde brings solid strength in the team time trial as well as in medium mountains and has a close relationship with team leader Heras. Handicapping Vande Velde this season were hassles with a working permit, which kept him out of racing from mid-February until mid-May.
The 28-year-old left U.S. Postal Service at the end of last season to follow Heras to Liberty Seguros with the hopes of returning to the Tour. After making a strong Tour debut in 1999, Vande Velde missed the 2000 edition with an infected spider bite and then crashed out of the 2001 Tour. He was overlooked in 2002 and 2003 for Postal’s Tour lineup.
Vande Velde would be the seventh American expected to start the Tour next weekend if he gets the nod. Already pegged for a Tour start include five-time defending champion Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie and Floyd Landis at Postal Service; Tyler Hamilton at Phonak; Levi Leipheimer at Rabobank; and Bobby Julich at Team CSC.
An announcement from Liberty Seguros is expected early this week.
Beloki close to Saunier Duval
Joseba Beloki is close to signing a deal with Saunier Duval-Prodir to lead the team in the Vuelta a España. According to a report in the Spanish daily MARCA, Beloki’s attorney is in deep negotiations with the Spanish team.
The new team has had a solid opening half of the season, winning the Ruta del Sol, Setmana Catalana and Volta a Cataluyna, but is still looking for a big-time team leader. The addition of Beloki would also help the team in its efforts to join next year’s super league in the planned Pro Tour.
Beloki split with Brioches La Boulangere earlier this month when it became obvious the three-time Tour podium finisher was in no condition to race the Tour. Beloki struggled this spring to come back from injuries caused in a spectacular crash in last year’s Tour that left him with a broken wrist, elbow and femur.
Record 10 Aussies line up for Tour
A record 10 Australian riders look likely to start the Tour de France on Saturday in Liège. While a few of the team’s final lineups have yet to be finalized, particularly Liberty Seguros, the Aussies will have a strong presence in the peloton.
Stuart O’Grady, Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke will be duking it out for the points jersey and stage wins while Brad McGee and Michael Rogers will be looking to improve in the overall classification. Matt White will be marking his first Tour start after being overlooked on three years with U.S. Postal Service, while veteran Scott Sunderland looks like to make it to the Tour with Alessio. Aussies to Tour: Stuart O’Grady and Matt White (Cofidis), Robbie McEwen and Nick Gates (Lotto-Domo), Brad McGee, Baden Cooke and Matt Wilson (FDJeux.com), Michael Rogers (Quick Step), Scott Sunderland (Alessio) and Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros)