By Andrew Hood
Illes Balears seals deal with Valverde
The protracted negotiations between Illes Balears and Valenciana-Kelme over the fate of Alejandro Valverde were completed over the weekend, and the 24-year-old Spanish star will ride next year with the team that carried Miguel Indurain to five Tour de France victories.
Illes Balears secured the services of the hottest name in Spanish cycling after Valverde let it be known that he wouldn’t want to continue with the troubled Valenciana-Kelme after the team was overlooked for the Pro Tour set to begin in 2005.
The Spanish media was reporting Sunday that Illes Balears paid less than half of the original 2 million euros asked to buy out Valverde’s long-term contract with Kelme. The three-year deal is estimated to be worth 4.5 million euros.
Valverde will join Illes Balears along with teammate and confidante Cayetano Juliá. He’ll line up alongside established Illes Balears stars such as Spanish national champion Paco Mancebo, Vladimir Karpets, best young rider at the 2004 Tour, and Spanish time trial champion Iván Gutiérrez.
The team has scheduled a Monday press conference in Palma de Mallorca with team manager José Miguel Echávarri to officially present the team jersey to Valverde.
Sinkewitz edges Cunego in Japan
Germany’s Patrik Sinkewitz (Quick Step-Davitamon) edged past race favorite Damiano Cunego (Saeco) of Italy in the last 500 meters of the Japan Cup cycling road race in Utsunomiya on Sunday to take the title.
The Belgian rider, who was runner-up here last year, ended a one-on-one duel by leapfrogging over world No. 1 Cunego in the final stages of the last lap to finish in just over four hours.
Cunego, fresh from his win in the final leg of the World Cup at the Tour of Lombardy in Italy a week ago, finished less than a meter behind Sinkewitz in 4:01:31, one-hundredth of a second behind the winner. Third place in the 151.3km race went to Italy’s Manuel Quinziato (Lampre) in 4:02:14.
The 22-year-old Cunego, who caused a sensation by winning the Giro d’Italia in May, attacked strongly at the first uphill of the final lap, pulling away from the pack.
But Sinkewitz caught up with him midway through the lap, and although he surrendered a narrow lead to Cunego shortly before the 500-meter mark, edged ahead of the Italian on the home straight.
Sinkewitz, who knows the course well, said he had always intended to sprint at the last hill.
“It’s a good feeling. I hope I can do it again next year. I was second last year, so I came here to win the race this time,” he said. “The Saeco team is very strong, because they have the number one in the world. He (Cunego) needs to take points (to keep his ranking), so his motivation is very strong. It’s a great feeling to beat number one.”
With the victory, the German gave a himself a belated birthday gift after turning 24 four days ago. Sinkewitz, who was 10th in 2002 here, put an end to Lampre’s four-year winning streak, which included wins by Massimo Codol in 2000, Simoni Gilberto in 2001 and Sergio Barbero in 2002 and 2003.
Meanwhile, Cunego admitted that he was slightly tired after a restless night caused by a series of strong earthquakes nearby, but appeared satisfied with the runner-up finish.
The placement allowed the 23-year-old to secure his grip on the world’s No. 1 ranking.
“I have competed against him (Sinkewitz) for so many years now, so I know his tactics very well. It was a good race. A runner-up finish is not a bad result,” said Cunego, who was sixth here last year.
“This is the last race in the current world ranking points system and we will have a new ranking system next year. I’m really glad that I’m the last champion, the youngest champion,” he continued. “For the next year, my biggest target is to defend the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy). I want to have better results than I did this year. If I’m invited next year again, I really want to come back here.” –Agence France Presse
Boonen hospitalized with stomach pain
Belgian star Tom Boonen (Quick Step) was hospitalized over the weekend with stomach pain, the Belgian wire services reported Sunday.
The top-ranked Belgian was forced to pull out of the annual end-of-season race at the Amstel Curaçao Race in the Caribbean. The exact cause of the stomach pain hasn’t been disclosed.
Team manager Patrick Lefevere said Boonen has had stomach problems since the road world championships earlier this month. “It’s something serious, because if not he wouldn’t have gone to the hospital,” he added.
Spanish rider killed in accident
Jokin Ormaetxea (Costa de Almeria-Paternina) was killed over the weekend in a car accident when he drove off a road in Spain’s Basque Country.
According to police reports, the 24-year-old Spaniard was driving along a highway near Deba in northern Spain when his Audi A3 left the road and flipped after plowing into a hillside. Also in the car was fellow pro Joseba Albizu of Euskaltel Euskadi.
Both riders were transported to a local hospital, where Ormaetxea later died. Albizu, 26, was also seriously injured and remains in a Spanish hospital.