By Andrew Hood
Spanish rider David Muñoz (Comunidad Valenciana) snatched the third stage of the Giro di Trentino in Italy on Thursday, but Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) remained safely in the race leader’s jersey.
With the win in the 168km stage from Romeno to Tione, Muñoz marks just his second victory of his career to go along with a stage in the 2002 Tour of Portugal. Muñoz escaped with five other riders just 10km into the day’s course and was fastest of the bunch.
Cunego, meanwhile, remained safely inside the peloton to retain the race leaders’ jersey. The 2004 Giro d’Italia champion sounded confident about holding on for final victory with just Friday’s mostly flat stage on tap.
“I don’t believe I can lose the race because we’ve gotten past the most difficult stages,” Cunego told AFP. “We don’t expect major changes and only a crash could prevent my victory.”
Cunego leads Luca Mazzanti and Eddy Ratti, second and third, respectively, by four seconds. The race concludes Friday with the 172km stage from Tione to Arco, a mostly flat route.
In other news, Cunego confirmed Thursday he will start Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège race in Belgium.
Petacchi keeps on truckin’ in Germany
Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) won his second straight stage in the Tour of Lower Saxony in Germany. “Ale-jet” simply outgunned the peloton in the 171km stage from Nienburg to Bickeburg and retained the leader’s jersey for the race, which concludes Sunday.
Taking second was Australian Graeme Brown with Austrian Peter Wrolich third. Danilo Hondo, racing for the first time since a one-year doping ban, took fourth to go with a second in Wednesday’s stage.
Knee may keep Ullrich out of Giro
Jan Ullrich might skip the upcoming Giro d’Italia because nagging knee injury has postponed his season debut until next week’s Tour de Romandie. Reports in Italy suggest that the 32-year-old Ullrich might not be up to the task of racing the grueling three-week Giro.
Team officials, however, sound optimistic about Ulrich’s imminent return. Last week, the team reported Ullrich was “back on track” with his preparation and that he was training without pain in his right knee, which forced him to cancel his scheduled debut at Circuit de la Sarthe earlier this month.
Following recent tests at Freiburg’s Uni-Clinic, team doctors told Ullrich to reduce his workload and undergo physiotherapy to heal the knee problems which have bothered Ullrich in the past.
“Jan is pain-free now and will progressively intensify the training load in the coming days, in order to be prepared for the Tour of Romandie,” said T-Mobile manager Olaf Ludwig on the team’s web page. “Jan is going to be perfectly taken care of in Italy and the weather conditions, too, are ideal.”
Some harbor serious doubts about Ullrich, who, as 1997 Tour champion, will be the only Tour winner lining up in Strasbourg on July 1.
Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis called Ulrich’s preparation “catastrophic” in a recent interview in the Danish paper BT and said Ullrich will have a hard go against Riis’s latest pupil, Ivan Basso.
“It’s obvious Ullrich doesn’t even like to race the bike, so I can’t understand why he still wants to be a racer,” Riis said. “It’s a waste of talent. I believe in him less and less.”
Hondo second in return
Danilo Hondo – back in his first race since a doping ban last March – finished second to Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) in Wednesday’s opener at the Tour of Lower Saxony in Germany.
Hondo joined continental team Lamonta after the UCI gave Hondo, 32, the green light to return to racing despite an ongoing conflict on the validity of a two-year ban for a failed doping test dating back to the 2005 Tour of Murcia.
“Naturally, I would like to get back to a ProTour team,” Hondo said on his web page. “There are still some discussions, but the most important thing is to get back to racing as soon as possible, so I decided to go with Lamonta.”
Hondo, a German sprinter who rides with a Swiss license, tested positive for the banned stimulant carphedon during the Vuelta a Murcia in Spain in March 2005.
Last year, Hondo appealed a one-year racing ban imposed by the Swiss sports disciplinary body, but in January, CAS ruled against Hondo and actually extended the original competition ban to two years.
Then in March, a Swiss civil court ruled to allow Hondo to immediately return to racing while it considers the validity of the two-year racing ban. Hondo’s lawyers argued the two-year ban is too stiff.
The case is believed to be the first time a civil court has over-ruled a decision by CAS, a non-governing body charged with settling doping disputes in sport. Other bids to challenge CAS rulings in civil court have regularly been shot down.
The case is still pending, but Hondo is already racing.
Mancebo back for Romandie
Francisco Mancebo – fourth overall in last year’s Tour de France – will start next week’s Tour de Romandie for his new Ag2r team. Mancebo has only raced a handful of events this spring as he’s slowing building his for a run at the Tour podium, then the Vuelta a España later this summer.
Ag2r for Tour de RomandieJosé-Luis ArrietaSylvain CalzatiCyril DesselJohn GadretStéphane GoubertFrancisco ManceboChristophe MoreauLudovic TurpinBoonen retains PT lead
Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic) held onto the ProTour lead Wednesday with 128 points despite not racing since Paris-Roubaix. The 25-year-old Belgium could see his run in the lead end if some of the top riders have a strong performance at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.
Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) remained in second with 105 points, but Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) jumped from ninth to third with 89 points after finish second in Flèche Wallonne while winner Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears) jumped from 16th to fourth with 86 points.
ProTour standings after Flèche Wallonne (rank and previous rank)
1. (1) Tom Boonen (BEL) Quick Step – Innergetic 129
2. (2) Alessandro Ballan (ITA) Lampre-Fondital 105
3. (9) Samuel Sanchez (SPA) Euskaltel – Euskadi 89
4. (16) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears 86
5. (7) Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC 85
6. (3) Fabian Cancellara (SUI) Team CSC 84
7. (4) Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) Team Milram 72
8. (5) Antonio Colom (SPA) Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears 71
9. (6) Filippo Pozzato (ITA) Quick Step – Innergetic 70
10. (22) Karsten Kroon (NED) Team CSC 60
11. (8) George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 60
14. (11) Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 52