By Andrew Hood
Freire wins season opener in Trofeo Mallorca
Reigning world champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) got his season started on a nice note with a sprint victory against Isaac Gálvez (Illes Balears) in Sunday’s Trofeo Mallorca.
With Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) and Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) also in the field for the opener of the five-day Mallorca Challenge, the three-time world champion made his season debut in the rainbow jersey a pleasant one.
Freire’s win comes as somewhat of a surprise, considering just yesterday the Spanish sprinter was complaining of an early season bout with the flu. He follows in the footsteps of some other big names winning sprints of late – Tom Boonen, Robbie McEwen and Mario Cipollini shared the spoils in Qatar last week, while in France, Tom Steels had already won two stages in l’Etoile de Bessèges going into Sunday’s final stage.
The pace was heated in Sunday’s Mallorca race, the official season opener for the Spanish racing calendar. While not part of the UCI’s ProTour, seven ProTour teams lined up alongside the continental Spanish teams to kick start the Iberian racing calendar.
Illes Balears snuffed all attempts to slip away in the short, 73km race along Palma de Mallorca’s posh seaside promenade. T-Mobile and Rabobank later lent a hand, keeping a lid on the bunch to set up the mass sprint.
Despite a nice setup by his Illes Balears team, Gálvez could only watch Freire squirt past his left shoulder to take the victory. Spanish rider Vicente Reynes came through third while Zabel took fifth.
The Mallorca Challenge – a series of five one-day races that also includes an unofficial overall classification despite the fact riders can start any of the week’s events – continues Monday with the Trofeo Port d’Alcúdia.
Trofeo Mallorca, (SPA 1.1), 76km
1. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank 1 hours, 32 minutes, 59 seconds
2. Isaac Gálvez (Sp), Illes Balears
3. Vicente Reynes (Sp), Illes Balears
4. Dimitri de Fauw (B), Quick Step
5. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile – all same time
Petacchi wins in Italy
Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) started his 2005 season on a winning note, taking victory in the GP Costa degli Etruschi in Italy on Sunday.
The 31-year-old Petacchi edged Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini (Liquigas-Bianchi) and teammate Francesco Chicchi to grab the Italian calendar opener.
Petacchi has already announced he won’t race in this year’s Tour de France to focus on the world championships later this season. In the meantime, his first major goal is Milan-San Remo on March 19.
Casper takes finale, Bichot takes cake in Bessèges
French sprinter Jimmy Casper (Cofidis) snagged victory in Sunday’s 148km fifth and final stage at the 35th l’Etoile de Bessèges.
Belgian veteran Tom Steels (Quick Step) won two stages during the season’s first stage race, but Freddy Bichot (FDJeux.com) hung on for overall victory after slipping away from the main bunch with an opening day victory.