By Andrew Hood
Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) won the first round of the battle of theTour de France stars in Sunday’s prologue at the Dauphiné Libéré– but just barely.
Mayo made up for being second in Saturday’s Classique des Alpes andupstaged Americans Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) and Lance Armstrong (U.S. PostalService) in the 5.4km prologue to open the eight-day race high in the FrenchAlps in what’s the final exam for many favorites heading into next month’sTour.
Phonak’s Oscar Pereiro, fresh off his victory in Saturday’s Alps Classic,set a fast early time but Mayo came through less than a second faster thanHamilton to win the Dauphiné Libéré’s prologue fora second year in a row.
The 26-year-old winner at Alpe d’Huez in last year’s Tour says he’smotivated to claim victory this week.
“For me, after winning a stage and finishing second last year, I meanto attack every day to win this race just like Miguel Indurain did,” saidMayo, who finished in 7 minutes, 52 seconds (41.187 km/h). “It shows thatPhonak will be the team to watch.”
Phonak jammed five riders in the top eight, led by Hamilton who tooksecond at just 0.72 seconds off Mayo. For Hamilton, it’s the second timethis season he’s lost a race by less than one second. In April, compatriotBobby Julich (CSC) edged Hamilton by a half-second to take victory in atime trial at the Tour of the Basque Country.
Taking third was Armstrong, who said he’s feeling strong going intothe race he’s won two years in a row.
“My sensations were good and I’m happy. The hill was very tough, especiallynear the top and that’s when I was faster,” Armstrong told Reuters. “Igave it my all in the descent while being careful not to kill myself. Everything’sfine.”
Before the race, the Texan told the Dauphiné Libéré newspaper that he expects to be racing next year. News that the team’s title sponsor – U.S. Postal Service – is leaving cycling for NASCAR racing has led to speculation the 32-year-old Texan might retire.
“I can’t imagine retiring,” Armstrong said. “If there’s a team, I’llstill be riding. If as I hope my team (US Postal) finds a new sponsor thenI’ll be part of it.”
While U.S. Postal’s sport director Johan Bruyneel said Armstrong isnot “obsessing” about winning the the Dauphiné Libéré,Armstrong said he is very motivated to win the Tour de France for a recordsixth time.
“I’m still extremely motivated by the thought of losing, by the ideaof winning, by the wish not to disappoint my teammates,” Armstrong toldthe French daily that also sponsors the race. “I know what it means towear the yellow jersey up the Champs-Elysees five times. To see someoneelse with the jersey on his shoulders would be a nightmare.”
Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) posted a clean ride at 11.35 seconds slowerwhile George Hincapie (U.S. Postal Service) rode well to finish 12th at12.38 seconds slower. Floyd Landis (U.S. Postal Service) was 71st at 49.49seconds slower.
The sprinters will get a chance to stretch their legs in Monday’s 231kmStage 1 from Megève to Bron, hitting the Cat. 3 Col des Fleuriesto work up a good sweat.
56th Dauphine Libere (FRA 2.HC)
Prologue, Megève-Megève, 5.4 kilometers
1. Iban Mayo (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi 7 minutes, 52 seconds (41.187 km/h)
2. Tyler Hamilton (USA), Phonak Hearing Systems +0.72
3. Lance Armstrong (USA), US Postal Service presented by Berry Floor +01.41
4. Oscar Pereiro (Spa), Phonak +02.49
5. Michael Rogers (Aus), Quick Step +05.8510. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank +11.35
12. George Hincapie (USA), USPS +12.38
71. Floyd Landis (USA), USPS +49.49Overall standings after prologue
1. Iban Mayo (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi 7 minutes, 52 seconds (41.187 km/h)
2. Tyler Hamilton (USA), Phonak Hearing Systems +0.01
3. Lance Armstrong (USA), US Postal Service presented by Berry Floor +0.01
4. Oscar Pereiro (Spa), Phonak +0.02
5. Michael Rogers (Aus), Quick Step +0.0610. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank +0.11
12. George Hincapie (USA), USPS +0.12
71. Floyd Landis (USA), USPS +0.49
Heras wins to bolster Tour prospects
Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) snatched the overall in Sunday’s fifthand final stage at Euskal Bizikleta-Bicicleta Vasca in a clear demonstrationthat he’s building form just in time for next month’s Tour de France.
Overnight leader Angel Vicioso gave way to teammate Heras in the summitfinish to Alto de Arrate where Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) slippedaway to take an important for the veteran Spanish rider who’s gone winlesssince taking a stage in the 2001 Tour de France at Luz Ardiden.
Heras – who left U.S. Postal Service last winter to lead Liberty Seguros– came through 22 seconds back as part of a trio that included MiguelAngel Martín Perdiguero and Leonardo Piépoli (both SaunierDuval). Liberty Seguros worked hard to reel in the attacking Eladio Jiménez(Kelme). Heras took over on the climbing finish with Laiseka chasing hardto silence the critics.
American Tom Danielson (Fassa Bortolo) rode well to finish 11th as partof a seven-man chase group that came through 48 seconds back in the grueling,eight-climb stage that saw nearly half the peloton abandon the race. Three-timeTour de France podium finisher Joseba Beloki (La Boulangere), bedeviledall week with allergies, was among those earning a DNF on the day.
Danielson, who finished 19th overall at 6:54 back, will race next atthe Tour de Suisse with an eye on improving on his top 20 at the Tour deRomandie back in May.
On a sad note, a member of the Basque Country police force — Ertzaintza– died in a motorcycle crash en route to the start of the stage.
Euskal Bizikleta-Bicicleta Vasca, Stage 5
1. Roberto Laiseka (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi 3 hours, 47minutes, 34 seconds
2. Miguel A. Martín Perdiguero (Spa), Saunier Duval +0:22
3. Leonardo Piépoli (Ita), Saunier Duval
4. Roberto Heras (Spa), Liberty Seguros same time
5. Txema del Olmo (Spa), Milanezza +0:4411. Tom Danielson (USA), Fassa Bortolo +0:48
Final overall standings
1. Roberto Heras (Spa), Liberty Seguros 18 hours, 7 minutes,31 seconds
2. Roberto Laiseka (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi +1:24
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi +1:36
4. Koldo Gil (Spa), Liberty Seguros +1:40
5. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa), Euskaltel-Euskadi +1:4719. Tom Danielson (USA), Fassa Bortolo +6:54
Quick Step hog podium in Germany
Quick Step got plenty of kisses from the podium girls in the finale of the Tour of Germany (GER 2.2), with Tom Boonen taking the final sprint and Patrik Sinkewitz securing a breakthrough victory.
“I’ve been living a dream,” said the 23-year-old German after takingan 18-second victory over compatriot Jens Voigt (CSC). “This is the mostbeautiful day of my life. I want to thank the whole team for the help thathas given me in all the stages. For me it’s an honor to win the main raceof my country. Now I will rest then I will think about the Tour de Suisse.I would like to do well in Switzerland.”
Sinkewitz won the third stage and held off Voigt in Saturday’s summitfinish to claim the overall. He also won the mountain jersey. Boonen wonthe final sprint ahead of Germans Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteine) and SebastianSiedler.
“This morning I thought I felt tired. In the last two days I workeda lot for helping Patrik,” Boonen said. “Once on the road I felt that Ihad good legs and that I could try to win. I want to say thanks to Zaniniand the whole team that has piloted me very well in the final part of thestage.”
The win was victory No. 11 for the rising Belgian star and he said he’salready looking ahead to a showdown against Italian sprinter king AlessandroPetacchi (Fassa Bortolo) in next month’s Tour de France.
“In this first part of season I have won 11 races beating so many greatsprinters. I would now like to be able to compare me with Petacchi, theonly one with which I have not competed,” Boonen said. “During the Tourde France I hope to have the opportunity to try to make a great sprintagainst him.”Tour of Germany (GER 2.2)
Stage 7, Chemnitz to Leipzig, 170km
1. Tom Boonen (Bel), Quick Step 3 hours, 53 minutes, 37 seconds
2. Danilo Hondo (Ger), Gerolsteiner
3. Sebastian Siedler (Ger), Team Wiesenhof
4. Fabrizio Guidi (Ita), Team CSC
5. Sergio Marinangeli (Ita), Domina Vacanze all same time71. Christian Vande Velde (USA), Liberty Seguros same timeFinal overall standings
1. Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger), Quick Step 26 hours, 17 minutes, 12 seconds
2. Jens Voigt (Ger), Team CSC +0:18
3. Jan Hruska (Cze), Liberty Seguros +0:23
4. Igor Galdeano (Spa), Liberty Seguros +0:28
5. Francisco Mancebo (Spa), Illes Balears +0:5453. Christian Vande Velde (USA), Liberty Seguros +29:44
Armstrong not fixating on Dauphiné
Two-time defending champion Lance Armstrong is the favorite to repeat victory as the Dauphiné Libéré kicks off Sunday with a 5.4km prologue in the French ski area Megève.
The eight-day race high in the French Alps is Armstrong’s final exam as he enters next month’s Tour de France with eyes on a record sixth Tour victory. But U.S. Postal Service sport director Johan Bruyneel said three-peating is not a major concern for the Texan.
“The Dauphiné Libéré is not an objective for Lance. He will test himself but there might be three or four other riders who are more focused on winning the race,” said Johan Bruyneel, director of Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team.
“We’ll ride the Dauphiné like we’ve ridden every race this year,” Bruyneel continued. “It’s important to come out of the Dauphiné Libéré strong. If he’s in a position to win, we’ll ride for him, but we’re not obsessing about winning the race this year.”
The Dauphiné Libéré has been Armstrong’s preferred pre-Tour tune-up and he raced the climb-riddled event in four out of the past five summers en route to five consecutive Tour victories.
The start list for the 56th Dauphiné Libéré reads like who’s who of Tour contenders. Besides Armstrong, there’s Tyler Hamilton (Phonak), Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank), Michael Rogers and Jose Miguel Mercado (both Quick Step), Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole), Iban Mayo (Euskaltel), Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre (Team CSC).
The highlight of the course is Thursday’s 21.6km climbing time trial at Mont Ventoux. Bruyneel said Armstrong will be motivated to win, but stressed that making a test for the upcoming Tour is the priority.
Stages for Dauphiné Libéré (June 6-13)
Prologue, June 6 — Megève-Megève, 5.4 kilometers
Stage 1, June 7 — Megève to Bron, 231km
Stage 2, June 8 — Bron to Saint Etienne, 181km
Stage 3, June 9 — Saint Etienne to Aubenas, 180km
Stage 4, June 10 — Bédoin to Mont Ventoux, 21.6km (ITT)
Stage 5, June 11 — Bollène to Sisteron, 149km
Stage 6, June 12 — Gap to Grenoble, 144km
Stage 7, June 13 — Grenoble-Grenoble, 200km
Rinero injured in Classique des Alpes
French rider Christophe Rinero (RAGT Semences-MG Rover) was seriously injured after crashing on the descent of the Col du Granier in Saturday’s Classique des Alpes in France.
Rinero fell into a ravine while chasing between groups in a spill that went unnoticed during the race and was only discovered by one of his straggling teammates in a later group.
Police scrambled into the ravine to find the race unconscious and quickly transported him to a local hospital. Rinero suffered head injuries and a possible broken femur, according to early medical reports.
Garzelli to race Swiss tour
Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola) will take the start Saturday in the Tour du Suisse, according to reports on the Italian wires. Garzelli said he’s recovered better than expected from the bronchitis that zapped him in the final week of the Giro d’Italia, when he won a stage in the penultimate day. Garzelli will line-up with teammate Pavel Tonkov in the nine-day race he won in 1998. Savoldelli delays comeback
2002 Giro d’Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli (T-Mobile) has delayed his planned comeback in the Tour of Austria (June 7-13). The oft-injured Italian said he will continue training near his home in Bergamo rather than to force an early comeback in the Austrian race.